There should be no get-out-of-blame cards based on ideology.
Michael Esfeld provides a helpful frame for our current moment, writing for the American Institute for Economic Research, with reference to Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies:
The open society is characterized by recognizing every human being as a person: the person has an inalienable dignity. When we think and act, we are free. This freedom gives rise to fundamental rights. These are rights of defense against external interference in one’s own judgement about how one wants to conduct one’s life.
By contrast, according to Popper, the intellectual enemies of the open society are those who claim to possess knowledge of a common good. This knowledge is both factual-scientific and normative-moral: it is moral knowledge about the highest good together with technocratic knowledge about how to steer people’s lives in order to achieve this good. Therefore, this knowledge stands above the freedom of individual people, namely above their own judgement about how they want to shape their lives.
Esfeld’s essay is worth a read, but by way of continuing the conversation, I’d focus in on something that I think he doesn’t get quite right:
The burden of proof thus is reversed: it is no longer required to provide concrete evidence that someone impairs the freedom of others with certainty of their actions. Rather, everyone must prove from the outset that their actions cannot have unintended consequences that potentially harm others. Accordingly, people can free themselves from this general suspicion only by acquiring a certificate that clears them – like a vaccination certificate, a sustainability passport or a social pass in general. This is a kind of modern sale of indulgences.
Progressives don’t actually have any problem with unintended consequences. It’d be more accurate to suggest that they don’t care about them at all… provided the motivation — which is to say, the ideological intention — is correct.
Indeed, so strong is this rubric that it can be better to do harm than to do good. Prove indisputably that traditionalist cultural policies mixed with free market principles would free minorities from poverty, and the progressive will still reject it with moral indignation. The real measure is not the well-being of actual people, but the rejection of inherited social models because they are an affront to the progressive god.
As Esfeld intimates, what moderns supposedly require in order to be free of guilt is not a certification, as if our techno-bureaucrats are conducting an objective review of our actions to certify that they are free of adverse consequences. Rather, the get-out-of-blame card is an indulgence — and not even of the theologically intricate and defensible sort that Catholics still seek to this day, but rather a simplistic assertion that the elite priestly class approves of the person’s beliefs.
Any objective measure would leave at least some degree of openness. The closed society of progressives, however, is entirely subjective.
Featured image by Zulmaury Saavedra on Unsplash.