Beware the New Barbarians
An ultra-liberal movement is ripping its way through American culture. I call its purveyors the “new barbarians.” When we think of barbarian, we often picture Neolithic-looking creatures in animal skins, wielding giant clubs.
But these “new barbarians” do not use force. They use rhetoric, the blunt edge of politics, and the giant club of political correctness to storm the gates of spiritual orthodoxy, the rule of law, and the intellectual and moral traditions of America’s Founding Fathers.
It was G. K. Chesterton who astutely observed that the real mark of a barbarian is not that he uses violence but that he wages war against values. Such barbarism, he said, is characterized by “the destruction of all that men have ever understood, by men who do not understand it.”
Within hours of the tragic shooting in January 2011 in Tucson, Arizona—before any evidence had surfaced about the motives of the clearly disturbed individual who killed several people and seriously wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), the verbal pillorying of conservatives commenced. So did cries that seemed to call for the suppression of free speech.
Liberal blogger Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos declared, “Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin.” Liberals on Capitol Hill blamed conservative talk radio, demanded reinstatement of the nefarious “fairness doctrine,” and recommended legislation making it a crime to use certain figures of speech.
A liberal civil-liberties law group, the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), speculated the assailant had right-wing political ties, which he does not. But it was red meat for the liberal New York Times and MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann who picked it up and ran with it.
The SPLC should have known better. It earned its reputation by admirably going after violent neo-Nazi groups and brutally racist skinheads. But lately the SPLC has become part of the new barbarians. Late last year it put conservative Christian organizations like American Family Association and the Family Research Council on its list of official “hate” groups because they promote traditional ideas on issues of sexual morality.
The new barbarians, including the left-leaning Common Cause, have also tried to storm the U.S. Supreme Court. Apparently they disliked the high court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which protected the free speech rights of advocacy organizations both large and small, including conservative ones. The court shot down portions of a crippling federal regulation that threatened to censor the broadcast of an unflattering documentary on now-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her run for president in 2008. The new barbarians have mounted a vicious attack against conservative Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas, alleging a wide range of supposed ethics and conflicts-of-interest charges. Some pundits have suggested this may be an attempt to get some or all of these justices disqualified from certain controversial, high-profile cases.
Not all liberals belong to the barbarians. To their credit, progressive law commentators like CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin and Harvard Law School’s Noah Feldman have soundly criticized the attacks on the justices.
Nevertheless, the club of political dirty tricks is disrupting the constitutional separation of powers. It is being wielded in a mean-spirited way that made its modern appearance during the Senate confirmation hearing of Robert Bork when he was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1987. The Senate refused to confirm him during an embarrassingly partisan battle that focused not on his brilliant record as a federal judge or his stellar qualifications but, rather, on the traditional constitutional values he believed in. The new barbarians are warring against fundamental values. Some within the group may even be well-intentioned; but they are warring nonetheless.
Years later, in his book Coercing Virtue: The Worldwide Rule of Judges, Bork quoted James Madison on his greatest fear for the new republic he had helped to establish. It is worth repeating: “I believe,” Madison said, “there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”
The strategy of the new barbarians is not a massive invasion but a persistent erosion; they manipulate by politicizing words, using loaded meanings rather than bullets. Their ultimate target will not be a fortress or walls but, rather, those who speak out boldly and clearly on social, moral, and spiritual issues with a worldview forged in God’s eternal Word.
After all, those foundations are the most formidable walls against radical, secular liberalism. The last and only real hope for civilization is always truth, and truth springs from the transcendent values of a God who has communicated His demands for righteousness, the sinful frailty of man, and His compassionate plan of redemption.
Those were the moral presuppositions that informed our Founding Fathers. Those were the timbers from which they hewed our constitutional form of government.
Beware the new barbarians who would tear down the bulwarks of freedom and set fire to the foundations of our republic.