Shiloh is no Yellow Dog, Plus the Red and the Blue

Shiloh Bucher has a terrific post — short, but deep — about why she’s no longer a Democrat, and it has generated a bevy of interesting comments. Take a look.

One of her reasons is that she believes in the rule of law while the Dems don’t seem to. I think this point is of increasing importance, and I’d like to try to say why since I’m convinced there is more to it than mere political expediency. Republicans, after all, are not incapable of expediency, and yet I think there are real differences between the parties on the rule of law, important differences.

This may be a stretch, but I’d like to argue that the two parties are separated by some fundamental philosophical differences that operate below the more familiar differences, even more familiar philosophical differences, such as different approaches to taxes, or states rights, or big government. Everyone is now familiar with the Map of Red and Blue, but I’d like to suggest that the Red and the Blue represent more than geography. In part reflecting the urban/suburban v. rural/small town split, but also drinking from different intellectual currents, increasingly the Democrats are more sophisticated, the Republicans more simple-minded (which I mean in a non-pejorative sense) and common-sensical.

To return to where I started, take laws. Sophisticated Democrats see them as malleable; simple-minded Republicans see them as meaning what they say. Democrats see constitutions as “living,” the meaning of statutes as fluid and adaptable — in short laws as recommendations or suggestions rather than commands. Republicans tend to see meaning as more fixed.

Assuming for the sake of argument that these distinctions have some merit, I think the explanation can be found in a powerful modern intellectual current that has cut something of a philosophical chasm between the two parties, leaving them further apart than at any time I can recall and at least resembling, if not more, the profound party differences that separated the Jeffersonians and the Federalists in the new nation or the regionalized parties that resulted in civil war.

This current is called many things, depending on which eddies that ebb and flow in it one wants to emphasize, but let me highlight two: multiculturalism and relativism. In a number of different arenas today the Republicans are like the Lone Ranger: as often as not, when he comments to his colleague some version of “we’re surrounded,” the Democrats reply, “Speak for yourself, white, male, Euro-American!”

More seriously, multiculturalists oppose any judgments that require “privileging” (for some reason, they like to turn nouns into verbs) the principles and values of one “culture” over those of another. They regard what were formerly (and still by Republicans) regarded as American principles as simply the culture-bound preferences of one sub-group of Americans. Multiculturalism, then, goes hand-in-hand with relativism, a rejection of absolutes — whether derived from our history, the Constitution, or laws passed by state legislatures. Plain text ceases to embody plain meaning, and is subject to more and more interpretation. In a world where principles no longer bind and no law is final, the importance of lawyers — who are increasingly trained to manipulate text — and courts become more and more important.

C.D. Harris makes what I take to be a similar, or at least a compatible, point on his excellent blog, Ipse Dixit. He mentions a number of current campaigns where it might well be in the Republicans’ interest to drop their current candidate and substitute a stronger one, and then comments:

I’ll be blunt: Any leftie who would argue that none of these scenarios should be allowed, but that the NJ Democrats should be allowed to replace The Torch is completely unprincipled. It’s all or nothing, folks.

I think this is literally true. By “literally,” I mean that I’m not using “unprincipled” as a synonym for bad person but simply as a description of an intellectual tradition and position in which principles are minimized, meaning is fluid and not fixed, and rules are recommendations. I should add that although I myself have little sympathy with this tradition (as if you couldn’t tell), it has an ancient and honorable lineage, and many people far brighter than I adhere to it. Indeed, some of my best friends are “unprincipled” in this sense. (Someone is sure to raise the objection, so let me reply now: I do not regard the argument that electing Democrats is the highest principle as what I mean by a principled argument.)

In short, the NJ Dems are a perfect expression of their party. And now here’s a truly frightening thought: insofar as they succeed, the whole country becomes more like New Jersey.

UPDATE – C.D. Harris has an exceptionally interesting response to this post on his fine blog, Ipse Dixit.

Say What?