So I’m going to be speaking at Hampden-Sydney Thursday night at 7:30 on what remains my view on the change we can actually see. I still see two basic Lockean movements against BIG GOVERNMENT: The first is the implosion of all the safety nets—from pensions and unions and tenure to government entitlements (not to mention families and churches) on which we’ve come to rely. The main cause is individualism—displaying itself in the liberation of women for political and economic life, the birth dearth, and in other ways. The other movement I see is the increasingly successful judicial war against the big or moralistic government of the states—as seen, for example, in the galloping movement toward the right to same-sex marraige as part of the deconstruction of the traditional or relational understanding of marriage itself. In both cases, I’m talking about movements toward personal autonomy.

How do fit Obama into this scheme? Well, you’ll have to show up. I can’t say come by if you’re in the neighborhood unless you live in Farmville. Here’s a provocative snippet that I might or might now actually say out loud:

Even the main philosophical inclination in our country—articulated, of course, by our liberal theorists—these days is much more Lockean than Progressive (or, of course, dutifully Stoic or Christian). Our alleged moral experts—such as our Rawlsians—think only suckers think of themselves as wholes greater than themselves. The bottom line, they say, is the person—or the secure perpetuation of the being or the autonomy of all particular persons alive these days. No particular person should be subordinated to God, country, History, or even family or some other biological imperative. Even eugenics, as promoted, for example, by the transhumanists, has become intensely personal. The point of biotechnology is to keep ME—as opposed to the species or the citizenry—from being extinguished or replaced—a very Lockean point!

Our Lockeans and Rawlsians are, in principle, transhumanists. If we can inventively overcome or free ourselves from the limitations of our biological condition, we should. Any free and rational being, they say, would want to have his or her being more secure or less biologically limited, and they don’t share the Christian belief that it’s reasonable to hope that our personal freedom becomes more than biologically contingent through God’s grace. In that respect, of course, the natural right of the Lockeans is not really living according to nature, and the faith in History (or political reform) is replaced by faith (supported already by lots of works) in technology and biotechnology. We can say that “natural right” has defeated History if we mean the Lockean natural right to make ourselves more than merely natural, merely political, or merely Historical beings.

Articles by Peter Lawler

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