Thursday, February 16, 2012

Expanding the Secular Square

There has been a lot of thoughtful commentary on the HHS Mandate the last couple of weeks. Ross Douthat and Yuval Levin argue that Obama levels the ‘little platoons’ of civil society in favor of expanding the power of the state. Here is Levin:

“In this arena, as in a great many others, the administration is clearly determined to see civil society as merely an extension of the state, and to clear out civil society—clearing out the mediating layers between the individual and the state—when it seems to stand in the way of achieving the president’s agenda. The idea is to leave as few non-individual players as possible in the private sphere, and to turn those few that are left into agents of the government.”

Our Tea Party and Libertarian friends will see this as further evidence of Big Gov’t getting bigger, and they’re right, but it important to note the President thinks of himself as the true champion of individualism. The mandate is in the service of freeing the individual from her biological bonds. The proper distinction here is not individual v. state, but the state v. intermediary institutions.

David Brooks says the plurality of the little platoons is being replaced by the uniformity of technocratic administration, a topic dear to our Ivan the K.

On a different note, Carson Holloway says the HHS mandate reveals the logic of liberalism as a creeping and creepy secularism: “…for an older generation of liberals religion had to be kept private in the sense that it could not try to control the government for its own distinctively religious purposes. A more ambitious set of liberals then came to claim that religion had to be private in the sense that religious believers should not bring their moral convictions to the political and legislative process. Now, much more ambitious liberals hold that religion must be private in the extreme sense that it must not be allowed to engage, in its own way, with the society at large. Religious institutions may enter into and interact with society, but only if they leave their religiosity behind in doing so.”

Jefferson’s famous “Wall of Separation between Church and State” has been used to prevent the influence of religious belief on public policy. Now that wall is being further expanded to separate belief from action. Feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and instructing the ignorant were once considered Works of Mercy and thus matters for the private sphere. In the latest stage of liberalism, such actions must conform to secular standards of morality as dictated by the state. The next step in the privatization of religion is to make it a matter of the mind and nothing more. And in this particular case that means keeping Catholics in the closet.

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