The Arrogant Self-Righteousness of Vichy Liberalism

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There was a time when liberalism was the undisputed philosophical underpinning of Western Civilization. Consider the first liberal: John Locke's ideals freed the world from kings and tyrants and their arrogant self-righteousness that assumed the citizenry was put on earth just for them to command. The forces of liberalism changed the authoritarian paradigm, leading people to believe that consensus was more important than accidents of births.

But by the 20th century, liberalism had changed, coming full circle. Today the advocates of modern liberalism no longer embrace liberty and tolerance, but a new type of ruler: a benevolent government determined to make people equal by whatever means possible. Government is again the means by which to control society, but this time, for "noble" causes.

Except for the "classical liberals" who still adhered to the traditions of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson, most modern liberals embraced the redistribution of wealth, larger government agencies, and a bureaucratic society dependent on the largesse of the political system. They have legislated womb-to-tomb economic policies reminiscent of 1930s–40s national socialism in Europe, embodied in the Vichy regime in France — hence my term "Vichy liberalism."

Vichy liberals have somehow failed to realize that the larger the ruling authority, the greater the temptation for abuse. In addition, as that abuse enlarges, so does an arrogant self-righteous attitude toward citizens, as if ordinary people were put on the earth merely to provide the political elite with money and employment.

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's refusal to resign after being caught trying to sell Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder illustrates this feeling of entitlement. Saying he had done nothing wrong, the liberal Democrat also tried to fire some critical editors from the Chicago Tribune and to solicit a bribe from a hospital.

A less publicized case of arrogant disregard for people occurred in Carmel Valley, California, during the 2008 fires. Ivan Eberle, a well-known wildlife photographer, was commended for heroism in saving the Monterey Institute for Research Astronomy observation station on Chews Ridge from a raging wild fire. A few days after the fire, he was visited by six Monterey County Sheriff and charged with the crimes of battering a firefighter and interfering with a firefighting crew in the line of duty.

Calling the charges "ironic" and "truly bizarre," Eberle said he felt that his "constitutional rights were violated to an egregious degree." To him, the charges filed by the fire department were in retaliation for his public criticism, as he had spread the word that the firefighters refused to help him save the observatory, which is also his home. To Eberle, the firefighters were acting with "willful negligence or dereliction of duty."

Eberle believes the bogus charges stem from his quick actions to save the observatory. When a large tongue of flames raced toward propane tanks next to a grove of pines, he unrolled a fire hose from the facility's hydrant and bumped into a sleep-deprived firefighter. Although the observatory is the only structure on Chews Ridge, Eberle single-handedly saved it. Nobody from the fire department would help. Similar to the theme of Fahrenheit 451, the firefighters seemed to have forgotten their primary purpose.

So how could such arrogant misconduct occur? Some have pointed to the consolidation of local volunteer fire departments with more formal, government-operated ones. Years earlier in 2001, the Valley Volunteers Inc. in Carmel Valley Village merged with a government fire department in the Mid-Valley area. The merger quickly turned sour. In 2004, the volunteer fire department circulated a petition for "detachment," arguing that their privately raised million-dollar fund had been squandered and that the two groups had different philosophies on how to operate a fire department. Although explicitly told that a detachment could easily be arranged if either side found the merger unsatisfactory, the LAFCO government agency in charge of such disputes refused to allow the separation. Many of the citizen firefighters quit the department, saying that they were being "treated as subordinates" by the new consolidated fire department.

The most dangerous threat from Vichy liberals is that they do not trust ordinary people to do the right thing. Instead, government control and bureaucracy are substituted to run society. Politics and officiality overshadow anything that citizens attempt to do, preventing society from self-organizing into a system to which people are willing to dedicate valuable time and money. Unfortunately, as consolidation grows, so does an attitude that only government can solve problems, leaving the citizenry defenseless and dependant. Obviously, government has gotten too big for it britches, and its arrogance is showing through.

January 1, 2009