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Tolerance and equality in a progressive liberal world

A recent Gallup social ideology poll reported that for the first time since its polling began in 1999, an equal portion of Americans identify as social liberals as identify as social conservatives. In part, this may be because younger generations are sympathetic to the criticism of the conservative social order from progressive liberal ideology: namely, that it passively undermines or actively discards tolerance and equality for the vulnerable and minorities in society. Given the ascendance in the Gallup polling of social liberalism, it seems reasonable to examine what the cherished values of tolerance and equality might look like in the progressive liberal social order.

Consider a few examples with me. In recent weeks, a series of letters and petitions have been written by supporters of gay marriage protesting the fact that university-affiliated individuals at Utah State University, Utah Valley University and the University of Utah signed a legal brief in support of traditional marriage for the current Supreme Court marriage case.

In the UVU letter, various university professors wrote that while “all of us … have the right to speak publicly as private citizens on controversial issues … [the president of UVU] has a special responsibility to avoid public pronouncements that would harm his ability to carry out his duties.” In the University of Utah letter, medical students posed a series of questions to a medical school professor who signed the brief, including a question regarding his ability to work with LGBT patients or students.

In both instances, these actions on their surface would seem to further the values of tolerance and equality for the LGBT community, reflecting the progressive liberal position. But their preferred tactic is to imply that those who publicly voice an opposing opinion to the progressive liberal view are also expressing a professional deficiency that suggests they may not be capable of being an effective university leader or trustworthy doctor. This kind of rhetorical attack is designed to marginalize those who voice opposition to the progressive liberal line, and to encourage others who hold such views to keep them in the closet, as it were.

Now of course, such attempts to socially marginalize a targeted group and to prevent them from living authentically through social limitations on public expression based on how someone identifies themselves is exactly the kind of behavior that progressive liberals decry as promoting intolerance and inequality, when it is connected to the conservative social order. And yet, there was a stunning lack of critique of the letters from progressive liberal leaders both in the state and nationally.

This point is critically important, because it suggests that such actions of intolerance and inequality would, in fact, be tolerated in the progressive liberal order, ironically, in the name of tolerance and equality. Evidently, as long as the rhetorical attacks of intolerance and inequality are targeted at the “right groups,” they suddenly mutate from an ugly expression of hate and bigotry into an acceptable form of debate and expression. This, of course, is wonderfully convenient for the cause of progressive liberal ideology.

Now it should surprise no one that such inconsistency and incoherence, if not hypocrisy, should come to exist in a progressive liberal social order. This is because such outcomes are a natural result of the imperfect aspects of human nature that have existed and been documented in all of recorded human history. Authentic conservatism and reasonably informed political philosophies tend to recognize this reality. Progressive liberal ideology, on the other hand, seems to willfully blind itself to it amidst the aura of its noble goals and values. Tolerance and equality are good in the progressive liberal social order, and so it stands to reason that all that is done in the name of tolerance and equality is also good, even appropriately targeted intolerance and inequality.

For the sake of the country, we should hope that progressive liberal ideology comes to a better understanding of both human nature as well as the ugly intolerance that would use progressive liberal ideology as a political screen, and embraces the humility of thought that should result. Otherwise, it risks destroying the very values and freedoms that it claims to cherish.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Derek Monson. Thanks for listening.

This post is a transcript of the Sutherland Soapbox, a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. 

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