The PoliticalrnVocationrnby Paul GottfriedrnHuman Dignity andrnContemporary Liberalismrnby Brad StetsonrnWestport, Connecticut: Praeger;rn186 pp., $55.00rnIn his book on declining social moralityrnand the transformations of liberalrnideology, Brad Stetson goes after deservingrntargets. He unmasks the liberalismrnthat holds the media, universities, andrnthe publishing industry in thrall andrnstresses the will to total domination thatrnaccompanies liberal concerns aboutrnracism, sexism, self-actualization, andrnthe costs of low self-esteem. For Stetson,rnthese concerns are the basis of an attackrnagainst individual responsibility and selfconstraintrnupon which an older, authenticrnliberalism rested.rnThe new liberalism seeks to establishrnthe state “as a highly qualified, desired,rnand efficient supplier of what peoplernneed, whether morally or materially.”rnBehind this expanded state lies arn”normative vision” which Stetson callsrn”anthropocentrism,” a belief that individualsrncan do as they please since technologyrnand scientific political managementrnwill make the gratification ofrnindividual desires possible without thernimposition of attendant social and moralrnduties.rnStetson has much to say in his studyrnthat is both correctiy stated and transpar-rnF O R B A C KrnI S S U E S ^rnplease callrn1 •800-877-5459rnently true, especially in his comments regardingrnliberal ethical theory as an elaboraternjustification for its exponents’ vices.rnIt makes sense for theorists to create “universally”rnapplicable arguments to excuserntheir private weaknesses and for the unrepentantlyrnweak to be drawn to vocationsrnthat allow them to ignore and excuserntheir faults. Stetson’s invectivernagainst those who misrepresent humanrndignity expresses a proper sense of moralrnoutrage, and I found myself respectingrnthe author in spite of his failure to breakrnnew ground.rnFor the major —perhaps the exclusivern— source of Stetson’s critical commentaryrnis movement conservatism.rnHence the tedious quotations fromrnGeorge Will, Robert Bork, William Bennett,rnDinesh D’Souza, and other conservativerncelebrities, all of whom assure usrnthat American liberalism lost its way inrnthe 1960’s and that multiculturalism,rn”radical feminism,” and a derailed civilrnrights movement—not the governmentrn—are the real causes of America’srnundoing. Stetson quotes George Will onrnthe danger of conservatives’ “blanket disdainrnfor government and hence for thernpolitical vocation,” and adds his ownrngloss: “in strongly reacting againstrnstatism, [conservatism] risks disablingrngovernment, which is an important vehiclernfor character formation.” Moreover,rnStetson (again echoing Will) expressesrnadmiration for liberals who participatedrnin the civil rights movement. True torncurrent conservative rhetoric, he attacksrnexcesses and derailments without criticizingrnthe movement itself and trots outrnsuch obligator)’ cliches from “Dr.” Kingrnas “the content of their character, not therncolor of their skin.”rnStetson fails to consider the content ofrnthe “liberalism” that he abhors. Instead,rnhe merely provides contemporary illustrationsrnof human depravity. Depravity,rnof course, is as old as sin, and it is not surprisingrnthat a depraved but literate societyrnshould create a rationale for its vices.rnMore noteworthy is the overshadowingrnrole played by public administrators,rnjudges, cowed or opportunistic politicians,rnand their media lackeys in extendingrnthe power of the state into everyrnhuman relationship. But Stetson is reluctantrnto blame the government for thernsocial disintegration that disturbs him.rnSuch criticism, when it does show up inrnhis book, is directed specifically at thern”liberal state,” a creation (Stetson explains)rnof recent times, not to be confusedrnwith the “government,” which wernmust not in any way “disable.” Unfortunately,rnmost of his well-intentioned distinctionsrnare unfounded. The “liberalrnstate” and the neoconservative “government”rnbear more than a slight familyrnresemblance, and the civil rights movementrnof the early 60’s became the statistrnjuggernaut of the 70’s without losing itsrnbase of support or abandoning the intentionsrnof King, who favored both reparationsrnand affirmative action for blacks.rnThe “liberal state,” moreover, did not beginrnthe project of modifying social behaviorrnin the 60’s and 70’s: it was movingrnin that direction as early as the ProgressivernEra and the New Deal. ThoughrnStetson may view favorably the beginningsrnof this process to create a morern”democratic citizenry,” these may fairlyrnbe seen as preliminary stages of the “liberalrnstate.”rnLike other conservative critics of contemporaryrnliberalism. Stetson never explainsrnwhy ordinary people accept bullyingrncontrol over their lives. While thernliberal state and the media do raise selfesteemrnfor certain marginalized “victims,”rnthey also vilify white, Eurocentric,rnheterosexual Christian civilization andrntreat white Southerners as the descendantsrnof bigoted sadists. Though the liberalrndispensation makes occasional exceptionsrnfor repentant Southerners (inrnparticular for a lecherous but liberalrnPresident from Arkansas), it fails as a rulernto grant equal dignit}’, the right to collectivernself-expression, or even equal protectionrnunder the law to members of everyrngroup. Clearly some victims are worthierrnthan others; for every one discoveredrnand courted by the therapeutic state, arndesignated victimizer is identified andrnpunished.rnThe “liberal state” is more than a perversernSanta Glaus, enabling its subjectsrnto behave like irresponsible adolescents.rnIt also judges and damns, shakes downrn”sexist” and “racist” corporations forrnhundreds of millions of dollars, and inflictsrnstandards of political correctnessrnupon a disintegrating society. Whateverrnelse it may be, the liberal state is aboutrnthe exercise of unaccountable power.rnBut why should it give back its power,rnparticularlv if it has not met formidablernresistance, least of all from “conservatives”rnlike Mr. Stetson?rnPaul Gottfried is a professor of humanitiesrnat Elizahethtown College inrnElizabethtown, Pennsylvania.rn34/CHRONICLESrnrnrn