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E-Pluribus | August 11, 2022
Politicians gonna politic, whatever happened to human rights groups, and a microcosm of American polarization via the Methodists.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Scott Lincicome: … But We Won’t Do That
It would not be exactly breaking news to report that politicians don’t always say what they mean or do what they say they will, but in his latest for The Dispatch, Scott Lincicome examines Congress’s stated priorities versus what Congress actually puts into legislation. Often, there is little more than a passing resemblance between the two.
The obvious counterargument to my concerns here is that these political compromises, while admittedly ugly and inefficient, are the necessary price to get anything done in Washington these days. However, this argument fails for several reasons. First, it ignores how these political compromises can not only reduce the policies’ efficacy but actually do more long-run harm than the admittedly-messy status quo. Take the EV credits, for example: Supporters now claim that, thanks to vigorous industry lobbying, the strict origin rules will eventually be watered down in subsequent executive branch regulations, similar to how current Buy American rules allow for waivers under certain conditions. Yet, leaving aside that the planet’s supposed hopes are now in K Street’s hands (LOL), this approach to policymaking ensures further politicization, bureaucratization, uncertainty, and delay—precisely what you don’t want if you’re trying to encourage long-term investment in cutting-edge industries.
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Second, embracing politicized half-measures risks undermining future consensus on better, more lasting reforms—in the same or different areas. Large majorities seem to (quietly) agree, for example, that immigration and STEM education are essential to future U.S. technological competitiveness - not just in semiconductors or clean energy. Yet picking the low-hanging semiconductor subsidy fruit without any education or immigration reforms could eliminate what might very well have been the most potent motivation for making those needed changes. And if the omission of key reforms like these or the inclusion of political sweeteners undermines a policy’s efficacy or results in high profile failures, it’s sure to undermine public confidence in government generally and support for future (more worthwhile) proposals.
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To be clear: None of this argues for simply doing nothing—about climate, China, or anything else. (Though China seems to be handling things themselves just fine these days.) But it most certainly does argue for acknowledging the limits of, and having more humility about, “transformative” federal policy: the grandiose, perfect schemes concocted in our finest planners’ minds are most certainly not what end up getting passed by Congress because actual members have competing, often overwhelming non-economic (political) priorities.
Read it all here.
Armin Rosen: The Ailing Human Rights Industry
In 2021, Pluribus explored the changing prerogatives of civil liberties and free speech organizations. In a sprawling piece for Tablet, Armin Rosen takes a similar look at the human rights industry and the struggles it has experienced in the last five year or so as illiberalism and authoritarianism have been on the move once again.
Has either approach—the elite self-seriousness and sanctimony of Big Human Rights, contrasted with the freewheeling and heterodox HRF—really accomplished much? The world of 2022 is a nightmare compared to that of five years ago, the last time I was in Oslo for the forum. The list of things that have gotten worse is long and sobering. Any remaining hope that the Twitter and Facebook-driven revolutions of the Arab Spring would usher in an era of freedom and democracy in the Middle East has evaporated. . .
Powerful bad people are defeating powerless good people, just as they have for millennia.
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None of the world’s recent tragedies can be laid at the feet of HRF, and even HRW and Amnesty are relatively blameless. But in Oslo it was clear that the post-World War II human rights paradigm was crumbling under realities that are both current and also somehow premodern. Powerful bad people are defeating powerless good people, just as they have for millennia. Laws, values, and idealism are less immediately tangible than bullets and poison gas. Citizens of the major democracies have demanded their governments turn inward, such that from an American vantage point the atrocities of Aleppo or Xinjiang look like they’re happening farther and farther away from us. The modern world’s various channels of idealism—multilateral organizations, NGOs, democratic governments, technological innovators—are some combination of impotent, cravenly self-interested, or complicit in the broader decline.
When the rebels of the human rights world survey the wreckage, the most honest of them now see a landscape where victory isn’t inevitable, old dreams have been replaced, former certainties no longer hold, and idealism’s very survival requires a retreat into cold reality.
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What next, after utopia? Many of the liberating hopes of the 20th and 21st centuries have taken a pretty awful beating lately. The dream of de facto global governance under a multilateral liberal regime has proven delusional or worse. Only an idealogue still argues that freer markets automatically result in freer societies. These days, no one talks about the emancipatory potential of social media unless they work for a social media company. The internet might spread ideas and connect activists to one another, but it’s also a means to surveil and manipulate people on an unprecedented scale, as well as a medium through which young children get hooked on Chinese government-owned spy apps and slightly older children get hooked on porn. By now we know that liberal democracy is a superior way to organize society while also being as potentially dangerous as most other messianic ideas.
Read the whole thing.
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Bonnie Kristian: What the Methodist Split Tells Us About American Political Polarization
Noting that churches can be “the canary in the coal mine” when it comes to society writ large, Bonnie Kristian writes for Reason about the current upheaval in the Methodist church and what it has to tell us about political polarization in America.
If you're not a Methodist, though, why should you care? For starters, non-Methodists should care about rising secularity and its potential implications for religious liberty. As religiosity declines—and especially religiosity which entails beliefs and practices that put adherents significantly at odds with the American mainstream—religious liberty will most likely be of personal interest to an ever-smaller portion of Americans.
A Methodist who is functionally a Unitarian and wholly supportive of gay marriage has much less need of religious liberty protections in the America of 2022 than a Methodist who is opposed to gay marriage and believes that requires her to, say, refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. There are plenty of people who will defend religious liberty to the hilt even if they are not themselves religious, but that kind of principled, consistent civil libertarianism is rarer than we might wish. Many people in practice will only defend the rights they themselves exercise. That means waning religiosity comes with the risk of waning religious liberty.
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Last is the worrisome prospect that history could rhyme. After all, this wouldn't be the first time the Methodist communion in America has split: The denomination's current nominal unity is actually a reunity. Methodists' best-known previous division came in the run-up to the Civil War, when the Methodist Episcopal Church, then America's largest Protestant denomination, schismed over slavery. The Baptists' Triennial Convention split the same year and for the same reason, which is how we got the Southern Baptists.
Historians and contemporaries alike agree those church splits prefigured and advanced the national division and war that came a decade and half later. And now, as then, formal church separations can make it easier to view the other side as an enemy, perhaps to be confronted with violence, so that what was intended to be a de-escalation measure becomes escalatory instead.
Read it all.
Part of a longer thread, here’s Ross Douthat on the usual progressive trump card:
Nico Perrino of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression on one college’s attempt to suppress criticize of… communism?
And finally, via the College Fix, one art school professor, Camille Paglia, has had it up to here with the pronoun police: