Wednesday, September 26, 2007

taking exception to exceptionalism

When we make exceptions, we ought mostly to make them for other people, not for ourselves.

Trivial example: you expect other people to be nice and not rude in small, everyday ways around house and office. And you demand this of yourself; the fact that you have your period or had a crappy day at the office is no justification for wailing on the innocent, unsuspecting party at home: the kid, the friend, the spouse. You should put your own stuff in perspective and rise above that. And we expect this of others, generally. But we do, and I think should, make exceptions sometimes: oh, she didn't mean anything by that, she's worried about her dad; I know he was rude, but he's under this huge deadline. So while of course I'm not arguing to only be nice to other people and beat up on yourself, I am saying, given our tendency to make excuses for ourselves, blame others, avoid accountability, whine, and so on, the general presumption ought to be to make an exception (not a rule, of course) for the behavior and attitude of others, but not for your own.

We know this. By the end of high school or one's first job, one hopes.

But the current administration, the only one even remotely likely to be one I could even sort of support on a whole host of ethical issues, has treated 9-11 and our superpower status and our heritage as the Good Guy on the Right Side and the "fact that we're at war" (which we're not: Iraq is not a war, it's a diversion, a party favor for a rich country that can send some guys to fight small countries with one hand, while basically we're just watching tv) as carte blanche to create an exception for us (really, for our government) for *everything*.
Everyone else has to play by the rules, but not us. Everyone else has to have transparent, public trials of those they find threatening to their regime, but we don't. It's wrong for other people to detain people without trial or contact; but not us. It's a sign of their evilness for them to not tell their people the truth, but it's a sign of our special responsibility as protectors of our people that we do not do so. They shouldn't engage in assassinations, but we can. It's bad of them to beat people and not observe the Geneva Conventions, but we're not bound by them.

And what is happening? The creeps of the world have caught on. They may be evil, but they aren't all stupid. First Putin and then every other lowlife in the world now uses Bush-Rove-Rumsfeld-Cheney (BRRC) logic to justify their disregard for the international order, their contempt for due process, their snubbing of world opinion, their rudeness to one another, and their sweeping away of democratic rights and liberties. This is of course because they recognize that exceptionalism, when made the rule for one country, is a general denial of law and rights, which are based on the idea that no one is exception except very exceptionally, i.e., very rarely, briefly, and limitedly.

But the BRRC group were fundamentally anarchists: they denied that they were accountable to anyone or that any law applied to them except the ones they made to justify what they were going to do anyway. It is not only lawless, it is deeply contemptuous of the rule of law, and utterly dismissive of the basic mindset of constitutionalism. More than a little ironic from people who use the rhetoric of strict constructionism. They mean it in another sense: I will construct the laws I want, and they will constitute justice for everyone else. But this is the argument of Thrasymachus in Plato's Republic, and Machiavelli, and every dictator literate enough to bother justifying his actions in history. This is not just a reversal of Clinton; or the revenge of 60s conservatives who resented being outshouted on Vietnam, although it is those things. It is a reversal of Franklin Roosevelt, and indeed of Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt, of the whole 20th century *except* insofar as US military and economic power compared to other nations gave us, they thought, a belated chance to have a 19th-century-like global empire. But it's more; it's monarchism, and of a Stuart or even Plantagenet sort. Check out the Brit's site on the Magna Carta. There's stuff Alito, Scalia, Roberts, and Thomas want to do, in keeping with Gonzalez and Cheney, that the barons at Runnymede wouldn't have put up with.

As an evangelical Christian deeply disturbed by, even if not always sure what to do about, abortion on demand, gayism and sexual / relational chaos generally, the warehousing of the elderly, online porn, the exclusion of religion from public life and schooling, the intellectual hegemony of naturalistic secularism, and many other developments which have, more and less, as much appeal to me as to anyone in this generation of vapors, I've got to say, these BRRC radicals, who used Bush as an all too willing front, and now as fall guy, really deeply scare me. It feels like Rome in the first century BC, as guys like Cicero and Cato feel the republic slipping away from beneath them.

We need leaders who unequivocally accept Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, stare decisis (starting with the rulings of Marshall and Jay), the Bill of Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Conventions, the UN Charter--and, oh, say, the Ten Commandments while we're at it. Why do we even have to say this sort of thing at this late date? And evangelicals were duped into helping engineer this coup de regime.


Anonymous Quixote said...

Glad to see you blogging again! But a question: is religion really all that excluded from public life? I mean, religion is very much misused in mainstream discourse, but that's quite different from absence.

I'm pretty young, without much basis for comparing contemporary society to what's 'normal' or at least what's happened before, but I tend to think that things are generally better now. I mean abortion, divorce rates, sexual/relationship confusions might be bad, but they're preferable ills to chattel slavery or disenfranchised women, etc.

So while our current problems are bad, I try to keep them in perspective. If nothing else, it's good news that these are our problems rather than the previous set.

2:26 AM  

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