Why Does Liberalism Have “Favored Groups”?

School Lockers

Two recent developments in the news brought into focus the issue of liberalism and favored demographic groups. One was the not unexpected reaction of Hillary Clinton and others on the left to the Brussels airport attack by ISIS-linked Islamic terrorists. They were less oriented to considering how to respond to the terrorists and protect innocent civilians from more attacks than to cautioning against anti-Moslem rhetoric. This was in character for an American and, more broadly, secular Western left that in recent years seems to have made Islam its favored religion. The other news item was about the continuing turmoil in public schools in St. Paul, Minnesota, resulting from new policies aiming to avoid a disproportionate number of disciplinary actions against minority students. This, in turn, followed both from the school district’s trying to inculcate into its employees that they have to counteract “white privilege” and pressure from the Obama administration to reduce the disparities in school disciplinary sanctions—even if minority students commit the most infractions. The turmoil, by the way, has included wanton classroom disruption and physical assaults on teachers.

The question to ask is: Why does the left respond in this manner? Why does it seem reflexively to come to the defense of certain groups? Why does it seem to want to shield minority students in St. Paul and nationally who in truth commit a disproportionate amount of school disciplinary offenses and crimes (due mostly to poor character formation caused by fatherlessness, lack of religious upbringing, and the influence of “the street”)? Why is it so concerned about stigmatizing Moslems or focusing attention on their communities when radicalization appears to be occurring in some of them and their mosques, and when even the so-called “moderate” Islamic organizations won’t speak up against the Jihadists? We hear generally that “political correctness” is hampering the War on Terror. The bottom line is that the left doesn’t want to hold the members of certain groups responsible for their actions.

I suggest that several things motivate the left. Perhaps the most fundamental reason why they seem to smile on Islam is their disdain for Christianity and Christian culture. It is something like “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” This is rooted primarily in the fact that traditional Christianity holds people to moral standards above their own making, and thereby offends the left’s notion of the autonomous self. Sex is the central issue here for the left.

Next, the left almost instinctively supports groups that it thinks are oppressed. That’s fine, so long as it’s true—but which groups are oppressed often depends on the left’s flawed historical understanding. So, it believes falsely that it was the West that suppressed Islam—that, for example, the Crusades were an example of Christian Europe’s imperialism. As far as the U.S. is concerned, the left believes it has historically been an imperialistic power and we have projected that into the Middle East—which explains much of the Islamist behavior towards us. Similarly, it thinks that because blacks were enslaved and oppressed by Jim Crow earlier in American history racism is always with us and any of that group’s problems are inevitably caused by it.

While it’s understandable that the left is concerned that race prejudice could reassert itself if we let down our guard, it’s simply unreasonable to claim that the conditions of the Jim Crow era prevail today. It’s also outrageous to excuse even the criminal actions of minority group members and to permit—and not even be troubled by—the anti-Caucasian racial bias witnessed in places like the St. Paul schools.

In a certain sense, this is entirely consistent with the left’s deeper view of society and morality. The left sees people mostly as members of groups, almost at times ignoring their individuality. If you’re a member of a favored, “oppressed” group you’re likely to get a pass. The left is fundamentally relativistic—it doesn’t believe in the natural moral law—so should we be surprised that it doesn’t want to acknowledge that miscreants are violating it?

Such blindness to the truth, or twisting of it to see the actual victims as somehow the oppressors, can only be the result of a fervent, almost unquestioned attachment to ideology. The leftist’s problem is one of the will maybe even more than one of the intellect. He’s emotionally tied to a “progressive liberal” ideology, which has been shaped increasingly by cultural Marxism and other secular influences. Modern ideologies are substitute religions, which sweepingly shape one’s worldview and whose adherents have all the fervor of actual religions—irrespective of whether the evidence supports them. The pseudo-religious character of leftist ideology—along simply with the strategy that the more you demand, the more you get—helps explain the absolutist positions asserted by the leftist interest groups that have been so influential in shaping the public policy positions of the Democratic party in recent decades.

These interest groups help explain the extreme, sometimes irrational positions taken by many “progressive” politicians today. They organize public support for them, help fund them, and provide the materials that influence them. So, “civil rights” groups, which are especially close to Democratic party politicians, pretty much become the arbiters for them about what “correct” civil rights positions are—regardless of whether the positions are reasonable and supported by the facts.

Equality has been the battle cry of the left for a long time. Tocqueville warned long ago that focusing on it could threaten liberty—and so it has happened. Not only has it done this, but it has also undercut a true sense of equality. In the name of equality, the left has made its favored groups more than equal, holding them to lesser standards than “unflavored” groups and promoting their “equality” at the cost of treating others as less than equal. This, of course, has happened because they have operated from a flawed conception of equality in the first place, since the left’s underlying philosophy is at war with nature in general and human nature specifically. One has to understand human nature, of course, before he can understand human dignity, which is a prerequisite to a true notion of equality.

Sometimes “progressive liberal” politicians seem to decide their position on a public policy question on the basis of what becomes the left’s mainstream position. This was clearly seen with same-sex “marriage,” which even Barack Obama before the start of his presidency opposed. Even those not on the left will often shrink from opposing what suddenly becomes the “new normal”—especially if it concerns favored groups—for fear of being tarnished by the media.

Also, political ambition factors into the equation. Sometimes “progressive” politicians will change even long-standing positions on individual issues that dissent from leftist orthodoxy when they are angling for higher office and seek funds and support from leftist interests. We’ve seen this happen with some notable Democrats who were pro-life until they started to aspire to higher office and didn’t want to oppose the feminist lobby and the “favored group” of non-conservative women.

Another reason why we see the left embrace almost irrational thinking about favored groups and the like is, simply, that they follow those they are around. This is what they hear in the circles they move in, these are the views expected and the ones reinforced. In many cases even outside of politics, such as in mainstream journalism, the universities, and increasingly even in the corporate world cultural leftism is the ruling orthodoxy. People don’t advance and often can’t even enter if they don’t buy into it. Often, even if people aren’t in those arenas, they are reluctant to dissent or even speak up. The leftist opinion-makers have so shaped the weltanschauung even in the broader society that average citizens hold back from saying the obvious about abusive behavior by members of favored groups for fear of being labeled “racist,” “sexist,” “homophobic,” etc.

Sometimes the anger and frustration the average citizen feels at the condescending attitudes of the opinion-makers who think they know better—they are the gnostics of our time—boils over, as with the striking repudiation of the “go-along, get-along with the left” Republican “establishment” in the current presidential campaign.

Then, there’s just the problem of pure ignorance. So many of those who embrace the favored groups mentality and the other unreasonable tenets of leftism are products of university educations where they learned almost no serious philosophy, gained no sense that truth could even be possible, learned even surprisingly little history that was genuinely objective, never really learned how to think, and fed a heavy diet of leftist ideology. Additionally, the millennials experienced a university ambiance—which for many was also part of their pre-college educations—where hard questions were not permitted, especially those challenging something like the favored group mentality, because that might intrude on someone’s “safe space.”

The “safe space” phenomenon brings to mind one final reason why those who lean left won’t face down behavior such as that of the minority-group classroom juvenile delinquents in St. Paul. They say that if we try to understand them, “reach out” to them, reason with them, and use new culturally “sensitive” approaches even the most hardened of them will come around. This view certainly follows from the belief that they are victims—though not, again, of family pathologies and poor formation—but of racism. It follows more deeply, of course, from the left’s flawed view of human nature. That view is rooted, at least indirectly, in Marxist thinking. It believes that: man is simply good and there is no inclination to evil in him, malaise occurs only because of flawed institutions and social arrangements, and that those designated as victims are absolved of responsibility because some other class or group, such as racist Caucasians, put them there.

As stated, many of the left’s views about favored groups are irrational. The left’s increasing irrationality in general and its heightened repressiveness are its Achilles heels. However, to bring it down people need to courageously and consistently speak up and resist it. When it comes to calling it out on its false claims of equality and anointing of favored groups, they need to do it regardless of the left’s attempts to vilify them as every manner of bigot.

Stephen M. Krason


Stephen M. Krason's "Neither Left nor Right, but Catholic" column appears monthly (sometimes bi-monthly) in Crisis Magazine. He is Professor of Political Science and Legal Studies and associate director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is also co-founder and president of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists. He is the author, most recently, of The Transformation of the American Democratic Republic (Transaction Publishers, 2012), and editor of three volumes: Child Abuse, Family Rights, and the Child Protective System (Scarecrow Press, 2013) and The Crisis of Religious Liberty (Rowman and Littlefield, 2014); and most recently, Challenging the Secular Culture: A Call to Christians (Franciscan University Press). His next book is Catholicism and American Political Ideologies (forthcoming from Rowman & Littlefield).