James Burnham, among others, thought that a big part of the liberal psychological syndrome was guilt. He made the concept of white liberal guilt famous. But now that liberals have become progressives, we do not hear much about liberal guilt anymore. In fact, most of them do not seem to feel guilty about anything as the liberal “syndrome” has devolved into a more and more corrupt and narcissistic emphasis on power and the money that comes from it. Just check out Hillary and Bill. Barack and his wife are not slackers in this regard either.
As liberal guilt becomes part of a fading memory of a more civilized albeit less authentic era, we are faced once again with a theoretical gap in right wing thinking. What is the syndrome, the psychology of the lefty, which mystifies us daily for its ambition to control the lives of other people? What is going on in these busybodies? What is this personal condition among people on the left which it is so hard for us to identify with and, therefore, understand? If the theory of liberal guilt is passé, because the liberals that were faking this guilt (it should have been called the theory of “liberal false guilt”) have passed away and the new progressives believe only in the guilt of right wingers, then what new theory can we construct to account for people who think and behave the way lefties think and behave today?
In much of liberal contract theory about the nature of justice (see, e.g., John Rawls), since the rise of the theory of liberal guilt, we find the liberal harping not on guilt, but on a strange formal theory of justice. This theory of justice becomes very strange indeed because it finally and explicitly separates itself from the concept of desert (of deservingness). In the liberal contract theory of justice, people in an “original position”, with no knowledge of relative future outcomes, would always construct a social contract which requires the successful to subsidize the less successful. In other words, if people did not know about their relative superiority and inferiority ahead of time, they would hedge their bets and every one of them, insofar as they were rational maximizers, would agree to an essentially socialist contract.
Now, of course, this “original position” with its “veil of ignorance” is a rationalist fantasy. It never existed. Instead, justice has been described by competing traditions rooted in history including Christianity, “conservatism,” “libertarianism,” and liberalism itself which cannot be abstracted from its own western historical context. There is no such thing as an original position with a neutral, tradition-transcendent language with which to discuss the nature of justice and forge a contract. When liberal contract theorists describe the “original position” and “justice,” they begin with a liberal paradigm of language, just as conservatives start with a conservative paradigm of language. One of the criticisms of liberal contract theory demonstrates the incommensurate nature of this language, of these rival ways of describing practical reality. The criticism is that the liberal notion that people would not be willing to risk a relatively modest or even poor outcome, as a part of accepting the risk implied by a primary value called ‘freedom of association’, simply expresses a controversial view of human nature.
And so this formal, contract theory of liberal justice, which is liberalism’s attempt to refute the notion that liberalism is primarily a psychological syndrome rather than a serious theory about practical, lived reality, suggests a somewhat new theory of why progressives, who tell us that they come wrapped in reason, are the crazy-control-freak-busybodies they are; why they are not embarrassed by proposals to control the details of our lives; why they are not liberal at all.
My theory, the Dahlberg Theory of Progressive Fear, is that lefties understand, in a fashion which is ironically consistent with liberal contract theory (as the liberal response to being psychologized back in the sixties) that in a state of complete freedom of association they would, in fact, be marginalized — socially, economically, religiously, culturally, politically, even academically. People like Hillary are not authentically impressive, except for their audacity. She never would have made it big, or even medium, in the law, in medicine, in business — even as a Walmart greeter. She could only make it big in big government as a representative of everyone who identifies with her underlying fear — her understanding of the fact that she would be marginalized in a truly free country without a big government.
She would not be marginalized because of her race, or even a lack of education. She would be marginalized because of a lack of moral and intellectual discipline. She would be marginalized for a complete lack of real leadership which is rooted in moral and intellectual credibility. Remember Benghazi. Remember the fact that she has literally no major accomplishment to point to from her entire political career. Remember that writing a dissertation about Saul Alinsky is not an announcement of moral and intellectual discipline. It is the explicit announcement of a poseur — of the intention to pose.
Lefties are people who fear marginalization as the consequence of a lack of moral and intellectual resources. They have inadvertently said so in their formal theory of justice. They are unwilling to cultivate these resources like the rest of us. In other words, part of this fear-of-marginalization-syndrome is moral laziness and narcissism.
Lefties are absolutely correct in concluding that they would be marginalized in a state of complete freedom of association. So this is a powerful, causal explanation of both their formal theory of justice and their day to day, authoritarian, busybody behavior. Most of the liberals I knew in college were intellectually inferior. They just did not have the discipline even when they had the intelligence.
Lefties insist on ways of limiting the hegemony of others in all of the crucial departments — the economy, the culture, politics, religion. Progressivism is, ironically, arrested development. It cleverly labels itself to convince fools that it is the opposite.
Lefties learn very quickly that they can mitigate their marginalization, as morally inferior human beings, by turning up the fuss factor.