In the era of liberal tolerance as the official state religion, its high priests continuously invite us to publicly reaffirm the dogma that in a liberal society, all lifestyles are equal. Following John Rawls’s classification of “the basis for self-respect” as one of the social goods that the state must distribute fairly, such public declarations serve the liberal state in its attempt to secure equal respect for every citizen and their chosen lifestyle. If necessary, the state reserves the right to restrict voices that challenge the premise of equality of all lifestyles.
So I was positively surprised to come across the audacious meme above, which made me laugh and made me come up with the following thesis:
“Equal recognition of all lifestyles is only possible under the assumption that the observed unit is the (already existing) individual (an existing free individual). But an individual can only assert his freedom if he had been born before. Therefore the question of equal recognition of all lifestyles has to include the question of responsibility towards the not-yet-existent human beings because such a responsibility secured the existent individual’s own freedom.”
The dictatorship of the living
In another way: For the logical sustainability of the liberal argument of equal appreciation, we must assume that the subject of freedom is always us, only us, that is – us, the currently living, who postulate this norm of equal recognition. The preassumed subject of such liberal equal recognition is us, not “us and everyone who will say ‘us’ after us”.
From the future generations’ point of view, the postulate of equal recognition of all lifestyles appears narcissistic and racist (racist in the sense of discrimination based on an unchosen characteristic, i.e. the time of one’s (non-)birth). – The freedom of future generations is missing from the equation. Their freedom appears to be something for which we, the living, have no ethical and moral responsibility, something beyond our influence.
Indeed a considerable limitation of freedom?
Progressives seem to assume that if we call lifestyles that (without justification) do not involve procreation “second-rate” lifestyles, we considerably limit one’s freedom. With such an assumption, they propose a thesis that all the societies that came before our “emancipatory Heureka” were fundamentally less free. (If we agree that freedom is the defining feature that distinguishes humans from animals, then liberals subtly describe those societies as less humane, which sounds like a rather suspicious suggestion). I used the syntagma “without justification” in a previous statement with a reason. Of course, in all cultures, there are socially recognised modes of unmarried life—for example, that of a priest or an ascetic monk. We can even recall non-married female teachers. But beyond these socially justified exceptions, we can ask:
“Why should anyone for no particular reason be exempt from the ‘chain of justice’ or ‘chain of generosity’? Why should someone need not repay the favour of being born into existence by doing this favour to someone who does not yet exist?”
There is a special ethical weight in having a child. A parent exercises an almost monstrous superiority to and responsibility for a child. It is something that the nonparent avoids. And given the ethical weight of parenting, it is difficult not to connect abstention from parenting with a more comfort-oriented lifestyle. Put differently: A nonfamilial lifestyle needs an extra (ethical) justification to answer the question, how will you pay back for being born into existence? It is not to say that it is impossible to offer such a justification. It just has to be offered and presented.
But well. Suppose we accept that giving birth and raising children is not in any significant way connected to human essence and that it is virtuous just the same as a nonfamilial lifestyle. Doesn’t this point to the belief that the existence of society and the non-existence of society are equally desirable options? Furthermore, is this not the affirmation of the idea that in preserving human life, there is nothing a priori better than in not preserving it?
Existence as celebration
How to overcome this indifference? It seems to me that we can avoid this nihilism only if we define life as a celebration, if we equate life with the religious experience of joy and gratitude for our mysterious existence, or, to use religious language, with the gratitude for the grace of our salvation. For celebration is something which in itself carries the connotation of affirmation, confirmation and desire for continuation and eternity.
To be even more radical: It is only by defining life not as bare existence but as some sort of glory itself that it becomes possible to argue against the liberal imperative of equal appreciation of all (“non-violent”) lifestyles.
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