In the vein of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism comes a scathing and reasoned critique of the politics of liberal compassion—and why liberals’ lack of interest in the results of their policies renders them unfit to govern.
For decades, conservatives have chafed at being called “heartless” and “uncaring” by liberals, without ever challenging this charge. Instead, they’ve spent their time trying to prove that they really do care. Now, political scientist William Voegeli turns the tables on this argument, making the case that “compassion” is neither the essence of personal virtue, nor the ultimate purpose of government.
Liberals have built a remarkable edifice of government programs that are justified by appeals to compassion. Yet as Voegeli shows, they are indifferent whether these programs fail or succeed. Instead, when the problems these programs are created to solve fail to disappear, they propose to fix underperforming programs with more money, or more programs. Meanwhile, conservatives who challenge their effectiveness on practical grounds are met with charges of being “heartless right wingers.”
Voegeli explores various programs that have become battlefields between Conservatives fighting for more efficiency, and Liberals fighting for the status quo. Along the way, he explains the philosophical underpinnings of the Liberal project that created and reinforce this misapplied ideal of compassion, and why, without a major change, Liberals must be considered unfit to govern.
Claremont Review senior editor Voegeli (Never Enough: America's Limitless Welfare State) reviews today's politics of compassion and the ways liberals use its rhetoric. Arguing that it is central to modern American liberalism, he sets out to define the "proper scope of compassion's ambit." Voegeli persuasively asserts that denunciations of conservative heartlessness are calculated purely for political appeal, not policy effect. He also eviscerates as phony the "politics of kindness." Readers otherwise interested in Voegeli's points about the nature of progressive dreams and promise-making may find that his use of "bullshit" as a leitmotif coarsens this book-length essay. In particular, he is interested in what he calls "sincere bullshit," the unexamined ideas that people hold in an age when "we can be anything we want to be." Some of the examples inspected here include dogmatic thinking about gun control, the environment, and diversity. The smattering of vulgar language notwithstanding, Voegeli's book is scholarly and lucid. Whether it can find an audience is another question. Though the title misleadingly suggests a narrowly focused attack on the Democratic Party, the book's complexity will not appeal to Tea Party partisans looking for simple solutions and snarkier reads. And Progressives, for their part, will surely not be intrigued by a book that trenchantly critiques their movement as an ideology powered by cant and self-love.