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The Infinite State is Our New Religion

Posted By Daniel Greenfield On July 15, 2014 @ 11:02 pm In The Point | 23 Comments

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.


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