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On Glenn Beck and “Social Justice”

16 March 2010

I think Glenn Beck’s recent comments and the breathless reactions to them can be described pretty simply:

First, the drooling critics are deliberately misconstruing him to score a few political pionts of their own.  And it has worked better than Beck probably hoped.

Second, Beck himself is being deliberately provocative.  (Not wisely, and not in a wise manner, and certainly not the way qb might have chosen to do it, but that’s what Beck’s doing.)  And it has worked, but not in the way Beck probably hoped.

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There’s social justice as such, and then there’s “social justice” as it has come to be construed in modern, post-War-on-Poverty[TM], progressive politics.  My guess is that Beck is lambasting the latter because he strongly believes in the former, because he believes the latter stands in the way of achieving the former in any meaningful, sustainable way.  He believes, along with the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan (among many other credible intellectuals who hold similar views), that certain strains of policy err on the side of institutionalizing the patterns of behavior that end up enslaving the so-called “oppressed.”  And he believes, with good reason, that progressives, race hustlers, union thugs, and neosocialists (even the self-avowed communists!) have so co-opted the term “social justice” that only a shocking bit of rhetoric will break it loose and permit it to be defined as it ought to be:  in terms of legitimate opportunity rather than socially engineered outcomes – the latter of which, sadly, seldom obtain anyway.

One of the attributes that Moynihan so deplored in the “social justice” of the left – and lest we forget, he was a Democrat until the day he died, may he rest in peace – was what he unforgettably termed “defining deviancy down.”  It is the same set of noble – if we can assume that, anyway – but deeply misguided impulses that brought the heavy hand of Congress to enforce a perverse laxity in mortgage practices.  It is the same set of impulses that is giving us the current monstrosity known as Senate Bill 3200 (2009), perhaps the most massively cynical, extraconstitutional power grab ever attempted since FDR’s court-packing scheme.  “Social justice” is a euphemism, code language for a pretty well defined set of progressive principles intended to expand the reach of the federal government and convert the culture of malignant, degrading dependency from an annual to a perennial crop.

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So I think Beck really hurt himself and the conservative cause with this way of phrasing the theme.  Allan Bloom did it much more gracefully and credibly.  But if I’m right about what Beck intended, what he’s actually saying is the truth.  There’s social justice, and then there’s “social justice.”  We need to purge American politics of the latter so we can see our way more clearly to the former.

qb

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