Andrew Sullivan’s non-neutral neutrality (Part III)

Non-moral morality
Andrew Sullivan’s second fiskable quote:

My belief in this boundary for political debate is not based on morality as such. It’s based on a political judgment. That judgment is that in a society where so many people differ on so many vital, irresolvable issues – especially the meaning of life, the fate of our souls, the morality of sex, the salience of gender, the true beginning and end of life – we should keep the law as neutral as possible, so it does not become oppressive of people’s freedom to decide for themselves what is true or untrue, right or wrong. This requires certain virtues – the ability to tolerate immorality in one’s neighbors, moderation, restraint, openness to debate.

This statement refutes itself.
Read that again, and this time notice the use of moral terms like “should” and “virtues.” Sullivan disclaims any moral basis for his recommendations, but before the paragraph ends he can’t help but slip back into moral language. If moral arguments on these issues are truly out-of-bounds, why should anyone take Sullivan’s recommendations seriously? By definition, the opposite viewpoint would be equally moral.
So why the use of “should” and “virtues”? Here’s why. Sullivan can’t honestly remain neutral and also hold any views at all. Neutrality isn’t possible.
Andrew’s making moral claims of his own, but he won’t come right out and say so. He labels his advocacy as amoral “political judgment” to conceal his own moral judgments. Why? I suspect he worries that in an argument acknowledging the existence of moral standards, his own beliefs will be found wanting. In a situation like that, it’s much easier to disparage your opponents and sling epithets at them than it is to admit that you’re mistaken. Then, after writing your views into law (either by legislation or by lawsuit), you can unleash the raw power of the government against your opponents … while comforting yourself with rationalizations about your own “neutrality.”


A non-solution solution
Finally, a third quote:

Just as Christianists want to obliterate distinctions between civil law and God’s law, so they want to describe such virtues of restraint as acquiescence to sin. And yes, in religious terms, they are. But acquiescence to others’ sins is another way of saying political toleration. And it is political toleration that is under threat in America right now. It’s time Christians and conservatives brushed up on their John Locke and came to its defense.

That’s it? Acquiescence to others’ sins is synonymous with political tolerance? If so, then Sullivan’s whole post violates his own principle. He refuses to acquiesce to the sin of “Christianism”, and so falls under condemnation for his own intolerance. A truly neutral person would allow “Christianists” to advance their agenda, but Sullivan declares it politically out-of-bounds and hopes the government will put teeth in his views.
If we were to adopt his formulation of “political tolerance”, then nobody involved in the political process could voice any moral objections of any kind. Neither Christians nor conservatives could come to the defense of political toleration, as he so smugly invites them to do. No liberal could argue for the moral value of personal autonomy as a reason to permit abortion, nor could Andrew himself advocate government endorsement of same-sex marriage. Such would be intolerant of political conservatives.
The product of Sullivan’s “acquiescence to sin” is nothing less than the exercise of raw, unfettered majority rule. No moral argument for defending the rights of minority views would pass the tolerance test. For that matter, the concept of “rights” would become meaningless. Rights are immutable moral goods that should not be violated lightly, but in Andrew Sullivan’s ideal political world such moral concepts are out-of-bounds.
So who made Andrew Sullivan the ultimate arbiter of political and moral good and evil? His professed “humility in the face of God” apparently doesn’t apply to his own attack on conservative Christians. I think St. Andrew canonized himself because his favorite pet issue doesn’t stand a chance in an open political process, and he needs some other kind of authority to get it done.
Here’s hoping that I don’t have to read another version of “Thus sayeth Andrew, amen” anytime soon.

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