Below the fold is a short letter of mine in Princeton Alumni Weekly (PAW), responding to a critique by Yoram Hazony of “liberalism” in an earlier article in PAW. I kept the letter brief to maximize the chances of its getting printed, but there’s more to say; I’ll say it here when I get the chance. Most of what’s said in the article is head-shaking nonsense, but Hazony in particular takes the gaslighting to outlandish extremes. Leave it to these allegedly child-loving sophists to use their children as rhetorical props when ideology demands it.
In his comments to PAW, Yoram Hazony ’86 describes liberalism as “a preposterous doctrine because it was devised by men who knew little about [real life]. Hobbes, Locke, Spinoza, and Kant never had children ….”
Well, Jesus Christ, St. Thomas Aquinas, and the adherent popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, and nuns of Roman Catholicism “never had children,” either. One inference we could draw is that like liberalism, Christianity is a preposterous doctrine devised by men who knew little about real life. Another is that a person can have children but lack even a minimal sense of intellectual responsibility. Such a person might well say whatever played to the peanut gallery of the moment, regardless of the fallacies it expressed, and regardless of its connection to reality.
As a former editor-in-chief of The Princeton Tory amply familiar with “The Founder,” I incline toward the latter inference in this case. For present purposes, I only suggest that a choice be made between the two inferences, and I invite readers of PAW to make it.
Here’s a link to the original article. Scroll to the bottom for the full list of responses.
A re-tweet (obviously intended with endorsement) from Hazony’s Twitter feed below, just to underscore the thought that these people really mean the things they say, no matter how idiotic or detached from reality. Matthew J. Peterson is the co-founder of the organization “New Founding,” yet aother “NatCon” organization: “Build the America you want to live in.” This is the America he wants the rest of us to live in:
“the adherent popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, and nuns of Roman Catholicism ‘never had children,’ either”
Well, they weren’t supposed to, but some of them did. Pope Alexander VI, for example.
Hazony should laud the non-adherent Catholic clergy, since they had two sorts of life-experiences that the adherent ones lacked, and that he so loudly seems to valorize. One is the experience of having children. The other is the experience of engaging in brazen, unapologetic dishonesty. Combine these two life-experiences, then put them tantalizingly within reach of political power, and the result is some simulacrum of Yoram Hazony’s political career.
When I was a junior at Princeton, Hazony lived nearby but was a grad student at Rutgers. Despite that, he had enough “pull” at Princeton to bring prominent speakers to campus. The speaker he brought in my junior year was Meir Kahane, author of They Must Go. Kahane loudly, aggressively, and explicitly made the case at Princeton that the Palestinians of the West Bank should either be subjugated, expelled, or killed. I was one of maybe two people in a crowd of 300 to take issue with that. I’ve never forgotten it–not just that Kahane said it, but that almost everyone in the hall regarded it as a live option to be contemplated and perhaps pursued.
Hazony sat calmly throughout Kahane’s talk, taking in the man’s edifying message, then spent the next few decades of his life working as hard as possible to bring it fruition in Palestine. We’ve now finally reached the point where he might actually be successful. Hazony was Netanyahu’s “intellectual adviser” at Madrid in 1991. We’re now at the cusp of Kahane’s, and Netanyahu’s, and Hazony’s long-awaited civil war, a war they’re confident they can win:
Ethnic cleansing becomes plausible precisely where liberalism is regarded as preposterous. I guess we’ve arrived there–and in the name of the children, no less. As for Alexander VI, as far I’m concerned, Hazony has a fair bit in common with him–not just fatherhood, but a fraternity-in-spirit that goes well beyond that.
Anyway, to paraphrase Ayn Rand, this topic is too evil to be discussed much further. So let me leave it there.
A more obvious version of the argument of my PAW letter now belatedly occurs to me: According to both Judaism and Islam, God is childless. Yet God is omniscient and prescriptively infallible. So parenthood can neither be a necessary condition of knowledge nor of wisdom. If parenting really is a necessary condition of one or both, as Hazony claims, then either God has to be a parent, or God’s prescriptions are as “preposterous” as anything one finds in liberalism.
I wonder whether Hazony has a take on why such thinkers as Milton, Montesquieu, Diderot, Richard Cantillon, Destutt de Tracy, Jean-Baptiste Say, William Godwin, Wilhelm von Humboldt, James Mill, John Stuart Mill, Charles Dunoyer, and Gustave de Molinari managed to be pioneers of liberal thought despite being married and having children (a stepdaughter, in J. S. Mill’s case).
He regards Selden, Hume, Smith, Ferguson, Burke, and JS Mill as proto-nationalist conservatives, Mill on the basis of the defense of ethno-nationalism he gives at the end of On Representative Government. But Selden is the big hero, for having rescued Hebraic ideas and revived them for use in European thought. Put differently, Selden (like Herzl) is a bridge from Jerusalem to London, and from there to Washington. I’m guessing Selden was married and had children, but haven’t checked.
I guess I would add (with the benefit of a night’s sleep) that Hazony’s thesis is so all-out phony that counter-examples will be of limited use in responding to it (including mine, in the PAW letter). A better strategy is to turn the dialectical and rhetorical tables and ask for a justification of the claim itself. Why should anyone think that parenting gives someone a unique epistemic advantage in political life that the childless lack, and that can’t be compensated for some other way? If formative personal experiences have such epistemic significance, why not other experiences that go under the radar screen, like being the victim of child abuse? Or living decades under a military occupation? Or raising a family under one? Or having to escape an abusive political environment and migrate to another country without proper documentation? Or doing so, and having to leave one’s family behind?
Somehow, in the right-wing political universe, it’s a virtue to reinforce the privilege of the already-privileged classes, while gaslighting everyone into thinking that those classes are persecuted. It flouts common sense in an Orwellian way to claim that The Family is somehow marginalized and demonized in American politics and culture. But that is the Big Lie these people want to promulgate. They want to stand before us, pretend that reality does not exist, and confabulate a pseudo-reality more congenial to their tastes. Then they sit around complaining about post-Modern assaults on realism and truth. Virtually every policy in this country is sold as being somehow “family friendly.” As far as our policy makers are concerned, the single and the childless may as well not exist.
I know it sounds overwrought to some ears, but this is what fascism looks like. After the whole rigamarole of “Never Again!” here it is, abetted by some of the very people who so loudly swore that they’d resist it to the end.