The World of 'They're Just Kids'
Last week a liberal mother called into the Hugh Hewitt show and guest host Dean Barnett asked her what she thought about the accusations made by the New Republic's Baghdad Diarist: Scott Thomas Beauchamp. Did she think his accusations made against fellow soldiers in Iraq were credible? The caller responded, as we all like to do when we don't want to answer a question, by dodging the issue. They're just kids, she said.
Instead she seemed to assume that the acts had occurred, but that our young soldiers in Iraq did not bear responsibility for them. No doubt it was the neocon politicians that bore responsibility. The soldiers that Bush had sent out to Iraq were just kids.
But just who is called to responsibility in the progressive world?
Our liberal friends insist on the highest standards of accountability from the US armed forces. For them the eternal shame of the Vietnam-era My Lai massacre requires that every reported lapse of conduct in the armed forces be investigated to the utmost. In this, they are joined by conservatives.
Our liberal friends also insist of the highest standards of accountability in the conduct of business and finance. Malfeasance and even accidental error in business execution demand the severest penalties. In this, they are joined by conservatives.
Our liberal friends are so impressed by their fitness to judge the military and the private sector that they believe themselves competent to judge everything. There is a great division between the self-correcting world of accountability, the world of the commercial middle class, and the world of "I am a mother; they are just kids."
We experience the liberal argument of omnicompetence in all sorts of ways. I am a social scientist; they are victims. I am a professor; they are students. I am an artist; they like kitsch.
"The self-conscious being casts judgement upon himself," writes conservative British philosopher Roger Scruton in An Intelligent Person's Guide to Philosophy. The self-conscious person judges her actions against a high moral standard, and willingly judges her actions both when they meet that standard and when they do not.
Our liberal friends, dwelling in the flatland of a material world, do not enter into this democratic community of judgment. They believe in a world that is non-judgmental. They mean by this, of course, that they are not to be judged. They are called instead, by virtue of their education and their compassionate understanding, to judge others.
But Scruton has news for them. When an individual refuses the culture of judgment, one that usually involves submission to the judgment of a higher power, that individual substitutes a culture of self-transcendence, "the overcoming of human nature, in that higher and stronger version of it, which is the Übermensch" of Nietzsche. That is the self-validating assumption of "I am a mother; they're just kids."
We all promote our own judgments beyond their warrant and too easily judge others. But the liberal mother goes further. In her need to "support the troops" she demotes US soldiery in Iraq from responsible men to non-responsible "kids." There is an assumption, Scruton says, in our ideas of freedom, right, and duty, that "every player in the moral game counts for one, and no player for more than one."
But not all humans can be accounted full players in the game; the law has long recognized that some people must be counted as having diminished responsibility and not be counted as full players. Should we count twenty-year-old soldiers as having diminished responsibility? And what does it say if we do?
Half a century ago, led by liberals, America confronted its Race Question, and began to take full responsibility for the original sin of its founding. Today it is time to confront the Liberal Question: Why do liberals exempt so many people, by reason of diminished responsibility, from the great "moral game?"
We must have a national conversation to discover why, and examine the corollary: why it is that liberals often exempt themselves from the democratic community of self-conscious beings and count themselves as more than one in the moral game. We must ask whether America can reach the sunlit uplands of peace and justice unless we confront this question.
We are self-conscious Americans, committed to freedom, rights, and duty, and we would like to know.
Christopher Chantrill is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. See his roadtothemiddleclass.com and usgovernmentspending.com. His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.