Slippery Slopes, Causation and Liberalism

I told the girl behind the counter at the cafe I visit on my lunch break at work that I was thinking of becoming a Catholic because of the social changes that are taking place in our society. Possibly a due to a purely psychological reason though. Just feel the need for a “safe harbour” amidst those changes. Hopefully, this post will help you see why.

On Monday I was listening to “Kresta Live” with Al Kresta interviewing Francis Beckwith. As this portion of the show was ending, an annoucement came on for “Catholic Exchange.” The announcer was talking about President Obama’s “evolving stance” on marriage. I went to the Catholic Exchange website and looked up the article that the announcement was about. You can read that here:

Essentially, the idea behind the article is that if the President was evolving then it would have meant that the traditional idea of marriage that he moved FROM was wrong and if THAT is the case, then same-sex marriage might be wrong. That is, making it exclusive for heterosexual and homosexual couples. Next it might be something else. Polygamy, polymory or incest between consenting adults. According to the article, the problem with evolving or progressing is that it never stops. In one sense this may not be true as some would argue that it would stop with marrying, say, your toaster.

Now, this argument, which we call the slippery slope argument has been dismissed by SSM advocates. Everything from mere dismissal to dismissal via scientific studies (so far). That is, scientific studies that show why incest would or should not be socially acceptable. One young Catholic gal wrote on her blog about how Catholics are bemoaning and grieving the loss of Christendom as an era in America and how that needs to be respected here:

What I want to suggest here is why I think the slippery slope is still legitimate in this context ( it’s not as if the slippery slope as an argument per se is invalid, as there have been many policies that have gone down the slide of the slippery slope after all).

Over the past ten years I began looking at sphere sovereignty because I resonated with much of what Richard Mouw spoke about (I definitely see him as being more of a “generous orthodoxy” type because much of what should inform the contextualization of the gospel is tradition and I still think the “younger evangelicals,” a term I first heard coined by Robert Webber, though more liturgical are predominantly ahistorical) as well as on the behest of Jim Skillen. So you start drawing the connections between who’s who and sphere sovereignty. Another name very much associated with sphere sovereignty is my online friend, David Koyzis. You begin to find out that Abraham Kuyper was the father of sphere sovereignty and that Herman Dooyeweerd was a largely instrumental in the philosophical area.

As I began reading Koyzis’ work (his book as well as his blog) he spoke about liberalism being in five stages and thinks that we are more than likely in the fourth stage but you can see the fifth stage being worked out presently as well. His prediction is that after the fifth stage we may likely return back to stage one. I won’t go into detail into each of the stages that Koyzis writes about, but I do want to write down the stages and then share a few quotes from his blog to inform us about how liberalism works out. So the stages are:

1. The Hobbesian commonwealth
2. The night watchman state
3. The regulatory state
4. The equal opportunity state
5. The choice-enhancement state

Now, Koyzis goes on to say this (from his blog with links)

“Each stage beyond the second sees a progressive expansion in the reach of the state, as sovereign individuals, desiring to pursue their own ends, continually alter the terms of the social contract when these ends demand it. At the second stage, the parties to the contract wish to keep government as small as possible, but as the combined effects of their self-seeking lead to inevitable abuses, government is called on to rectify these. Because liberalism recasts political community as a voluntary association, there is no fundamental reason to oppose the state’s expansion as long as the citizens wish it. Thus at its third stage, liberals come to expect government to curb the large corporate concerns. At its fourth stage, they call on government further to secure equal opportunity. And finally, in its fifth stage, corresponding to the last four decades, liberals call on government to cushion the impact of a wide variety of personal choices whose consequences would otherwise be destructive.”

“In my Political Visions and Illusions I trace the development of liberalism through five stages, beginning with the Hobbesian commonwealth, through the night watchman state, the regulatory state and the equal-opportunity state and finally to the choice-enhancement state. My argument is that the cultural shifts of the 1960s marked the transition between the fourth and fifth stages — from a focus on the expansion of material opportunities through state intervention to an emphasis on expanding the human capacity to choose, period. In the choice-enhancement state, government undertakes to maintain a benign neutrality towards a variety of personal lifestyle choices, ostensibly on the grounds of freeing individuals from oppressive constraints on their freedom. Hence Pierre Trudeau could claim that the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation, a conclusion difficult to contest on the surface. Yet personal choices are not without consequences, not only for the individuals themselves but also for their immediate and extended communities. These consequences are by no means equal in their impact on the larger society, with some more evidently diminishing of human flourishing than others. Therefore, in order to maintain the illusion of equality of lifestyle choices, the state is called upon to compensate for these unequal consequences by means of the very welfare state programmes established during the previous stage of liberalism for different reasons.”

“Liberalism has moved through more than one stage beginning with Thomas Hobbes and culminating in its most recent manifestation in North America. The eschatological vision of liberalism may be less obvious than in Marxism, but it can be said to consist of a society in which everyone acquires equally a maximum degree of personal autonomy, by means of either a small government getting out of the way or, more recently, an expansive government actively intervening to increase the range of personal options available to all.”

“Although I do not treat consumerism per se in my Political Visions and Illusions, I wonder whether its political manifestation might not correspond to what I have called the choice-enhancement state, that is, the fifth and latest stage in the development of liberalism. There is an undergirding assumption in our culture that it is good for individuals to have an expanding array of choices set before them, much like a buffet table with a variety of edible delicacies to tempt the palate. Politically this assumption translates into two possibilities: (1) government should free up the economic marketplace to allow individuals to pursue their own rational self-interest; or (2) government should intervene to expand the number of choices available to individuals and to compensate for the inevitable negative side-effects of those choices. In any event, it is taken as axiomatic that governments should not pursue policies supportive of some choices over others, lest it become an oppressive legislator of the good life. That choice might entail obligations or responsibilities does not enter the picture. Over the long term this is a recipe, not for freedom, but ultimately for tyranny.”

That right there is the slippery slope folks. It is liberalism that opens the door for autonomous individuals to make more and more lifestyle choices. Choices which tell the government to “get out of the way” in order to make those choices or asks it to act as some “neutral arbitrator” (though it isn’t acting neutrally under this liberal scheme of things) to increase the range of choices that one would be able to make aka., polygamous, polymory, incestuous, etc. Once the “bitter fruit” of these choices has been tasted, liberalism asks government to step back in to deal with the fallout. Ultimately, the slippery slope argument should be understood against the backdrop of this historical motif. I think one could say that it really is not a question of a slippery slope (yes, things will lead from one thing to another in the particular issues), but of causation. And contra the Catholic gal above, it’s not so much that I would bemoan this sad state of affairs as much as I bemoan the fact that contemporary society is quite oblivious to the philosophical underpinning for said state of affairs.


About BBBCanada

Love to read. Politics fall along the sphere sovereignty tradition of Kuyper, Skillen and the Center for Public Justice. Theologically, I fall somewhere between Eastern Orthodox and Pentecostalism and Open Theism within a post-conservative/neo-Calvinist tradition. View all posts by BBBCanada

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