The Infinite State is Our New Religion

big brother2

Megan McArdle discusses liberal outrage to the Hobby Lobby ruling as follows.

In this context, “Do what you want, as long as you don’t try to force me to do it, too” works very well, which is why this verbal formula has had such a long life. But when you introduce positive rights into the picture, this abruptly stops working. You have a negative right not to have your religious practice interfered with, and say your church forbids the purchase or use of certain forms of birth control. If I have a negative right not to have my purchase of birth control interfered with, we can reach a perhaps uneasy truce where you don’t buy it and I do. But if I have a positive right to have birth control purchased for me, then suddenly our rights are directly opposed: You have a right not to buy birth control, and I have a right to have it bought for me, by you.

That’s a very good point. It’s why positive rights ultimately mean the elimination of all rights, not just religious freedoms. It turns everyone into agents of the state who have state obligations to other people.

And this is where she stumbles a bit.

In the 19th century, the line between the individual and the government was just as firm as it is now, but there was a large public space in between that was nonetheless seen as private in the sense of being mostly outside of government control — which is why we still refer to “public” companies as being part of the “private” sector…

For many people, this massive public territory is all the legitimate province of the state. Institutions within that sphere are subject to close regulation by the government, including regulations that turn those institutions into agents of state goals — for example, by making them buy birth control for anyone they choose to employ. It is not a totalitarian view of government, but it is a totalizing view of government; almost everything we do ends up being shaped by the law and the bureaucrats appointed to enforce it. We resolve the conflict between negative and positive rights by restricting many negative rights to a shrunken private sphere where they cannot get much purchase.

I think the focus on the state is in some ways a mistake. What we are seeing is an emerging ideological authority that uses the state as one of its mechanisms of power, alongside everything from cultural institutions to organized activism. It makes no meaningful distinction between governments, non-profits, elected officials or activists. It sees itself as omnipresent and omninterventionist.

When everything is politicized, then nothing is private. That’s one of the creepier and nastier things about the left. Nothing is truly interior. Everything is subject to external regulation, whether through the power of the state, through mob power, through cultural power, or any other number of social justice interventions.

The state is public, but so is what you eat for breakfast. Everything is connected and everything is regulated, one way or another.

Hobby Lobby insisted on the right of religious dissent, but our new religion is the left’s infinite state and there is no right of dissent from it.


    “I think the focus on the state is in some ways a mistake. What we are
    seeing is an emerging ideological authority that uses the state as one
    of its mechanisms of power, alongside everything from cultural
    institutions to organized activism.”

    I think that’s true. But notice that as statism advances, these non-governmental organizations become gradually incorporated into the state: labor unions get a license to extort money, community agitators like ACORN become government funded, the arts and finally even the press come under state control.

    • Daniel Greenfield

      except it transcends the state, the state is just another institution to the left that it uses to impose its views

      it’s more accurate to say that the state, along with NGOs, the media, academia, etc is being fused into a vast ideological machine that controls all aspects of life

      • liz

        With thousands of tentacles already gripping us… the EPA and the IRS, the DOSJ -( Department of Social Justice)… the NSA… Obama care.. And every town now has its “Office of Sustainability”, and “Americorps”, etc., etc… ad infinitum.

      • truebearing

        If I understand your point correctly, you are saying that the elite Left is becoming an all-powerful political conscience, with the government, all institutions, technology, the media, the arts, etc. at the disposal of these “enlightened ones” to coerce every citizen into the straight jacket of political correctness.

        Unfortunately, your insight appears to be right.

        • Daniel Greenfield

          We’re becoming an ideological dictatorship that is, at least for the moment, decentralized, at least in public view, and uses the state as one of its institutions.

          Think of the Communist Party’s takeover plans. It was the Party that mattered. The State was a vehicle for it.

      • Texas Patriot

        DG: it’s more accurate to say that the state, along with NGOs, the media, academia, etc is being fused into a vast ideological machine that controls all aspects of life

        There’s nothing wrong with a whole nation dancing to the same tune. So long as it’s God’s tune.

        Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

        Exodus 19:3-6

        What is it about the concept of “if-then” that people don’t understand?

        • hooneybee

          The Almighty was speaking of Israel, not Texas honey.

          • Texas Patriot

            The Almighty created Texas too, you know. ;-)

        • megapotamus

          And I suppose YOU know what the covenant is? This is the kind of crap that harms us seriously with persuadable youngsters and minorities. Is this anything other than a call for the merging of church and state? That might be Christian (though I don’t think so) it surely is not American. It is antithetical.

      • Jason P

        “It’s the culture, stupid.” Yes, that’s true. Obviously politics follows culture. Some qualification is needed on “vast ideological machine” as “Texas Patriot” sees nothing wrong if that ideology was religious.

        If by ideology you mean dogmatic and stifling–a culture of conformity that can’t examine and consider alternatives in an atmosphere of respect and good will–that’s a good point. That is a culture doomed to enshrine its mistakes. If you mean we have a totalitarian mindset before we have a totalitarian state, that too is a warning worth making. If you mean we are shouted down, intimidated into silence, kept in our internet ghetto, and safely ignored by both private and public powers, that’s too is a point worth making.

        I think libertarians understand the oppressive power of the state. It’s the oppressive power of this culture that is sometimes lost in conservative and libertarian discussions.

        • Daniel Greenfield

          It’s 19th century thinking. The State is the final piece in the puzzle. It’s like the door of the prison. But before that the bars are already in place.

  • tedh754

    What if The President gave an order, and those receiving it understood it to be outside his authority, and they refused to follow it? Just wondering.

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  • Pete

    The infinite state will do your thinking for you.

    * Documents ‘provided by Edward Snowden’ reveal list of GCHQ’s tools
    * Software was designed to breach computers and manipulate internet
    * Listed tools include ones designed to search for private Facebook pictures
    * Others can change an online poll’s outcome and censor extremist material

  • onecornpone

    And IF we survive this tsunami of Statism with the smallest degree of freedom in tact, the tyrannical thugs are lacing the bureaucracy top to bottom with their sycophants who will remain in place for decades flipping switches and turning knobs to protect their statist turf, behind the scenes.

    • pete-unlinked

      yup. it’s got me horrified for my nieces and nephews and grands-
      it’s gonna take billions of legal dollars and decades in the attempt to restore some of the recently stolen freedoms and liberties

      it doesn’t help to have to hear “If we can just get the govt OUT of marriage, then everyone can get what they want.”

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      • Habbgun

        Or maybe just pitchforks…’d be surprised what you can do with pitchforks and torches and organized marches on the local den of thieves known as the Democratic club.

        • megapotamus

          Pitchforks aside, sorry Pete but I would say your train has sailed. The only way out is through. A mutated Churchill would have said, when you are going through He!! don’t stop for a cigarette break. This is why I so favor the Guatemalan Incursion. Bring ‘em all in, sign them up for everything. Who will be hurt? Not me. (Or not much, anyhow.) Replace the McDonalds morning crew of black Americans with teenage Hondurans. I am even more in favor of replacing the UAW’s recalcitrant rednecks with a bevy of Bolivian beauties. Let the chips fall. I don’t use EBT. Forward.

  • Randy CA

    She does not understand what a “public company” is.

    It is not in the space between the government and the individual. It is a company whose ownership shares are traded publicly (in an open market), as opposed to a closely held company whose ownership shares are traded privately (if they are traded at all) among a small group of individuals.

    • megapotamus

      Yes, that was a bit jarring from this notorious wunderkind of the ‘Libertarian’ cool kids.

  • Habbgun

    When I worked in corporate I distinctly didn’t like it. It wasn’t a rationale functioning entity. It was fiefdoms and people trying to pull out the capital into their own pockets and run. It was never about seeing the conditions improve it was about maintaining the status quo in sales using every means legitimate or illegitimate and having upper management pocket the profits which came at the expense of long term viability. Jobs went overseas not just because of labor cost but because there was less pressure for accountability. When the money went overseas it was harder to trace. No one really knew where and to who it all went.

    Leftists thrive in this environment. They naturally understand the goals, the game and they have no morals or religious beliefs to come into conflict with the real corporate goals. Think Dilbert’s pointy haired boss on steroids. That boss could very well be a loyal, life long Democrat and when he hangs a big picture of Obama on the wall he says he is the revolutionary and Dilbert is the over privileged white male. Corporate is surreal.

    • Daniel Greenfield

      Groupthink is the real threat

  • megapotamus

    When you hear a scoffing dismissal of ‘limited government’ ask, so you favor INFINITE government, right?