In the wake
of the Tucson shootings, there has been a new call to "tone
down" political rhetoric. Of course, much of the call
to "civility" has come from the left — accompanied
by hateful, uncivil rhetoric — which seeks to both politically exploit
the situation as well as shut down its opposition.
One of the
loudest voices for "civility" comes from Jim
Wallis and the Sojourners group, which seek to espouse a "Progressive
Gospel" in which Christianity is melded with the Welfare State.
After the shooting, Wallis wrote that it was "an attack
on the soul of the nation," which is nothing less than
a declaration that the only Gospel is a political gospel.
(I give credit
to Wallis for not joining in with the New York Times in blaming
Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin for the shooting, and the rhetoric on
his own "God's Politics" blog has been more conciliatory
than what one sees elsewhere from the Left. I also support Wallis'
criticism of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and his condemnation
of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.)
I do find the latest "call to civility" from Wallis and
his group to be interesting, given the history of Sojourners and
the political viewpoints that have come from the magazine Sojourners
over the years. What I find is not that they support civility for
its own sake; rather, "civility" is a political tool by
which people accept the worst of what the state does, and do it
In 1979, the
government of Vietnam was attempting to impose its communist "vision"
upon unwilling people, and the government used summary executions,
concentration camps, and other acts of coercion. The result was
grinding poverty, starvation, and an exodus of refugees, called
"the boat people." Many people saw this refugee crisis
as a natural outgrowth of tyranny, but Wallis saw things differently.
people," you see, were nothing more than slaves to capitalism.
“Many of today’s [Vietnamese] refugees were inoculated with a taste
for a Western lifestyle during the war and are fleeing to support
their consumer habit in other lands.” (Sojourners, September
1979, signed editorial)
To be honest,
the idea that people would put their very lives at risk to take
rickety boats onto the open seas, to be possibly murdered by pirates,
and to live for years in squalid refugee camps so that they might
have the opportunity to shop at Wal-Mart (which Wallis also hates)
is an obscenity. However, his statement, as well as events that
have occurred since then, also provides a window into his view of
One does not
have to look to Vietnam to understand that Wallis openly endorses
predations by "Progressive" governments against its citizens.
After the Waco massacre in 1993, I scoured a number of issues of
Sojourners, trying to find any mention of the worst government-caused
domestic bloodbath since Wounded Knee of a century before. There
was nothing; it is as though Waco and its aftermath never happened.
The political left supported Janet Reno and her assault on the Branch
Davidians, so in the view of Wallis and others, they got what they
have read nothing in Sojourners that deals with the police
excesses of the Drug War. (The latest
issue deals with the racial disparities of the Drug War as well
as the issue of mass incarceration, but it does not go to the heart
of the problem: the expansion of the power of the state itself.
Instead, Sojourners calls for restraint upon whom the government
arrests to be accompanied by the growth of state power to control
what people eat, think, and do. No one there seems to notice the
magazine and Wallis have condemned any kind of violent rhetoric
that is aimed at expansion of the U.S. welfare state apparatus (even
if that expansion is accompanied by state-sponsored violence), nonetheless
they also have given almost uncritical support to some of the most
violent and murderous regimes in history. Pol Pot wiped out a quarter
of the population of Cambodia in the name of establishing communism?
This act of genocide totally was ignored by Sojourners while
For that matter,
Wallis openly supported the worst excesses of Mao's China (while
endorsing the same kind of economic program imposed by Mao in his
"Great Leap Forward" that led to the slaughter of millions),
and he has had no problem with both violent rhetoric and
violent revolution in the name of imposing communism. "Civility"
applies only to silence people who believe that the "Progressive"
state also is a violent state.
not even willing to apply the rules of civility to himself and Marvin
Olasky from World magazine when Olasky
found that Wallis' organization was receiving money from George
Soros' Open Society Institute, which pushes atheism and abortion
on demand. In return, Wallis publicly called Olasky a "liar"
until Olasky published the tax records and other official statements
that proved beyond a doubt that Wallis had received $325,000 from
Soros, not a trifling sum. (After being fully exposed, Wallis apologized.)
So, in seeing
Wallis and his organization through the years, we come to understand
that if the state seems to impose a "Progressive" vision
through expansion of the welfare-security state, any opposition
to such a vision is illegitimate. If one speaks against the "death
panels" that always seem to accompany state-controlled medical
care, then one is lying. If one objects to the massive new influx
of criminal penalties that will be used to enforce the worst provisions
of "ObamaCare," then one is both a liar and also an "uncivil"
other words, "civility" is a one-way concept. The state
— and especially the state that imposes a "welfare" vision
upon others — is free to engage in violence, use violent rhetoric,
and kill or imprison anyone who stands in the way of such a "vision."
One is not "uncivil" unless he or she opposes such a regime,
even if the opposition is only in the form of words.
not want a "civil" society in which people respect one
another and serve each other. Instead he agitates for a society
in which the state is a master and everyone else is to be subservient
to the implementation of raw state power. "Civility" and
mutual respect for each other does not come from such a political
and social arrangement, but I think that Wallis understands that
point perfectly. And like the poor boat people, if we don't like
this kind of regime, then it is our own fault. However, we are not
free to leave, and we certainly should not be free to say publicly
(or privately) that we don't like it. Instead, we must learn to
love Big Brother.
L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him
mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland,
and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig
von Mises Institute. He
also is a consultant with American Economic Services. Visit