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MacIntyre: The aristocracy of victimhood

JOSEPH PREZIOSO / Contributor, Guy Smallman / Contributor | Getty Images

Western liberal democracies have been engaged in a narrative of political and social progress, believing themselves superior to all that came before. According to this story, the scientific revolution led to the Enlightenment, which produced new social technologies to replace the backward superstitions and traditions that once governed human relations. Armed with a more scientific and rational understanding of human affairs, these new political technologies would free those who had once been subjects of the state.

Popular sovereignty, rule of law, and constitutional government were supposed to protect the rights of the individual from the whims of capricious rulers. This ambitious project has now proven a failure, as democracies across the West seem to be, in unison, creating an aristocracy of favored groups.

In America, trans activists can storm state capitol buildings and BLM protesters can riot for weeks on end while January 6 protesters rot in jail. In Canada, transgenderists can punch their opponents in the face without penalty while police chuckle in approval. In the United Kingdom, those praying silently outside abortion clinics are arrested while Muslim grooming gangs prey on women with little to no fear of reprisal. These nations all share a tradition of Western liberal democratic government and also seem to have simultaneously developed a social class with special privileges and the ability ignore the rule of law as long as they are punishing the political opponents of the ruling elite.

For many this feels like a radical shift in the way that Western nations are run, but in truth, this has been happening for a long time and has been formalized in U.S. law for decades. Affirmative action and disparate impact have warped the American legal system, not only allowing bias, but in many cases legally mandating it as long as that bias benefits groups that have been granted the status of victim.

Even when the practice is not formally mandated by law, it is enforced culturally by institutions like corporations and universities. Harvard is currently arguing in a Supreme Court case that it must continue to use racial bias in its admissions if it wishes to obtain a diverse student population. The university’s lawyers take for granted that labeling those groups who are elevated through racial preference as “disadvantaged” absolves the institution of any wrongdoing.

What many in the West never grasped was that the leftist concept of social progress was always destined to dismantle classically liberal constitutional government. The left is a coalition of groups who benefit from the destruction of natural hierarchies. The organic limitations inherit in family, church, community, and even biological sex are an unacceptable barrier to the leftist conception of progress.

While legal equality was originally the stated goal, when it failed to reliably produce equal outcomes, there was no way the left was simply going to shrug, assume this was the natural order of things, and go home. Many conservatives attempt to hold the left to account for the linguistic transition from equality to equity, but this is a mistake, because for progressives, these terms were always one and the same.

In order to “progress” beyond the natural social hierarchies, one must engineer society itself. If legal equality is achieved but inequality of outcome persists, then the only remaining option is to privilege some and suppress others in hopes of deriving the desired result. Legal equality must be dismantled because it failed to generate the unstated expectation: equality of outcome.

At first, people did not object to special privileges being granted to those who were characterized as disadvantaged. Most Americans are generous and kind people who would genuinely like to see others succeed and are happy to help those who have ended up on the bottom of the social pyramid. This is especially true when it comes to the civil rights movement, which many Americans saw as a noble correction of a deep wrong that had previously existed in their society. The population at large was willing to grant a form of emergency power to the movement, often ignoring the violation of legislative procedure and prior understandings of constitutional rights in order to fix a historical wrong.

Activists took notice, and it quickly became standard practice for groups who had no claim to the specific historical legacy of the civil rights movement to join themselves to its narrative. Any group that did so successfully gained access to the supra-constitutional framework and moral authority granted by the civil rights movement. As this trend continued, and more traditional understandings of religion and American identity collapsed, the civil rights narrative took their place. America became defined by its ability to discover human rights for increasingly obscure minority groups and export those rights to the rest of the world.

Instead of going to war for security interests, America and the wider West now go to war on behalf of democracy and LGBTQ rights. Anyone who opposes those rights basically opposes the new Western religion and is probably in league with both Hitler and Putin. The wrong side of history is a scary place to be.

Each of these increasingly obscure social minorities is grafted onto the civil rights narrative and given a quasi-sacred victim status that grants them access to the special privileges that lie beyond rule of law and constitutional order. Eventually society reaches a tipping point where the incentives for being an oppressed minority are greater than for being someone who is naturally elevated due to the legal equality granted under the rule of law and the constitutional order.

Couple that fact with the almost deistic elevation through victimhood, and the drive to achieve this new aristocratic status becomes overwhelming. Who would not want to be on the right side of history while getting to punch people they hate in the face?

This has brought us to a very strange place where Western regimes must continually parrot the rhetoric of freedom and constitutional rights while exercising an ever-increasing level of totalitarian state control to impose their artificial and inverted social hierarchy. Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau lecture countries like Iran or Russia about human rights violations while arresting their own political opponents, stealing the bank accounts of protesters, and jailing meme makers.

The West now values the maintenance of a totally artificial social hierarchy over its commitment to legal equality, but this feat of social engineering is by its very nature incredibly fragile. The weight of the inverted social pyramid makes it increasingly unstable, and the social engineers who erected it must search relentlessly for any remaining barriers to power that they can dismantle. Progressives hope that by securing enough power, the state will be able to preserve this artificial construct before it comes crashing down around them.

The West has a vast amount of wealth and can fight for a very long time, but those who make war on reality will always find that it ends in disaster. Maintaining an aristocracy of victimhood will inevitably cost more social capital than any civilization can produce. Let us hope that progressive hubris is brought to heel before that final bill comes due.

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