Peter Bowerman – July 30, 2018
1986 saw the publishing of the seminal work, The Closing of the American Mind, by University of Chicago professor Alan Bloom. One of Bloom’s many assertions in this exceptionally important—and intellectually daunting—book was this:
While man’s “natural rights”—which, in the case of our country, mean “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”—used to be the foundational principles of our country, they’ve been largely supplanted by the ideas of openness, tolerance, inclusion, and diversity. Was Bloom prescient or what?
In the book’s introduction, he wrote:
The old view [of what it means to be an American] was that, by recognizing and accepting man’s natural rights, men found a fundamental basis of unity and sameness. Class, race, religion, national origin or culture all disappear or become dim when bathed in the light of natural rights, which gave men common interests and make them truly brothers.”
But, of course, all that, according to Bloom, is ancient history. He continues:
The recent education of openness has rejected all that. It pays no attention to natural rights or the historical origins of our regime, which are now thought to have been essentially flawed and regressive. It is progressive and forward-looking. It does not demand fundamental agreement or the abandonment of old or new beliefs in favor of the natural ones. It is open to all kinds of men, all kinds of lifestyles, all ideologies. There is no enemy other than the man who is not open to everything.”
Summing up his point, he asks the obvious question:
But when there are no shared goals or vision of the public good, is the social contract any longer possible?”
Pretty good question, no?
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness (LLOPH)
The brilliance of the Founding Fathers continues to amaze. By virtue of what they created, they well understood that they were presiding over the birth of a nation of people who, by virtue of vast differences in geography, background, upbringing, education, religion, frames of reference, belief systems, and so much more, were unlikely to arrive at much of a consensus on anything.
With one crucial exception, of course: The goodness and rightness of their newly minted freedom. They certainly agreed on that, and it made for a most effective societal glue.
Think about it. Those natural rights—the foundational principles of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness (LLPOH)—essentially say, “I may not agree with you, and we may have fundamentally different beliefs about how the world should work, but as a member of society, I am committed to protecting and respecting your rights to LLPOH—as long as it doesn’t demonstrably infringe on my pursuit of the same—and you must commit to the same.”
And frankly, that’s all one is obligated to do in order to be a citizen in good standing in our society—and for that society to work. Though I am none of the following, I am well within my rights as a citizen of this country to be irredeemably racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, or any other unappealing specimen of humanity, as long as I respect your rights to LLPOH.
The minute my unenlightened beliefs translate into actions that infringe on your LLPOH, I should expect the rule of law to come down on me—and hard.
The Irony of Not Tolerating Intolerance
Of course, there’s nothing inherently undesirable about diversity, tolerance, inclusion, and openness as concepts; they’re how I live my life. But, that’s my choice, and in this country—last I checked—we get to choose. They become a problem when they become the de facto governing principles of a country—which, for all intents and purposes, they have.
When an increasingly larger and more influential segment of society—concentrated in the media, government, academia, and the popular culture—essentially demonizes and shuts down anyone who doesn’t fully, loudly, publicly, and continuously embrace and espouse these ideals, true freedom takes a serious body blow.
It’s gotten so ridiculous that showbusiness entertainers and actors are attacked for the unforgivable sin of not taking a public and vocal progressive stance on the issues of the day (Taylor Swift). And heaven forbid you should take the contrary position like Kanye West recently did.
Though thankfully, there’s a chuckle to be had here: One can only be darkly amused by the delicious irony of those espousing diversity, tolerance, inclusion, and openness being mighty intolerant, exclusive, and closed to the diverse perspectives of others.
Those doing the condemning would be wise to get a refresher in the power, simplicity, and brilliance of one’s natural rights. And to realize that, by definition, living by these rights—and letting others do the same—is the only way this grand experiment of ours can work.
This article was originally published at Fee.org. Peter Bowerman is an Atlanta-based freelance writer, and author of the acclaimed Well-Fed Writer series on commercial freelance writing.