I have stirred up my fair share of controversy in commenting on the current racially-motivated conflict that is besetting the United States. In doing so, I have expressed opinions that certain “holier-than-thou” types consider to be manifestations of evil but lack the moxy to express that sentiment directly. I, however, have never lacked the moxy to incur society’s wrath and the stigma of “evil.”
Thank God for Bible-thumping, gun-toting, home-schooling parents.
What kind of society is it that declares a principled opposition to a political movement to be “evil” or “immoral?” I am sure that sociologists, historians, and philosophers could provide better answers than a troublemaker like me ever could, but I am astute enough to call it like I see it: a society that does so is no longer a society, but rather a tyrant.
I call it the Madison-Mill paradigm due to the writings of James Madison and John Stuart Mill. Both Mill and Madison discussed the power of social forces and their potential effect on individual liberty, but they did so in different contexts and for different purposes.
Madison wrote for the purpose of defending the proposed United States Constitution and political structure. In establishing a federal government, the framers of the original Constitution had rejected the Greek conception of government by the people – a pure democracy – adopting a republican form of government that resembled the Roman republic and borrowing various improvements such as the separation of powers from the works of French philosopher, the Baron de Montesquieu. Madison and Alexander Hamilton foresaw that Americans, accustomed to responsive local government that more closely resembled the pure Roman model or the Greek conception, would oppose the American conception of constitutional republicanism. Consequently, in the Federalist Papers, Madison and Hamilton presented their case against the pure Roman model or the Greek conception.
For our purposes, Madison’s argument against the Greek conception of pure democracy in Federalist #10 is the relevant one because it discusses the effect of an out-of-control social majority. Madison argued that a modified form of republican government would check what he termed “the violence of faction.” He describes the ills of this violence as follows:
Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.
In Madison’s view, the solution to check the majority’s worst impulses was to refine ideas by passing them through a more sober body of representatives. The refinement process would contain the more radical and dangerous threats to liberty to localities where they could ultimately be more easily rejected instead of condemning an entire nation to live under them.
Unlike Madison, Mill did not write as someone constructing a government but rather as a philosopher. In his 1859 book, On Liberty, he discussed in excellent detail the nature of society’s power over the individual through its institutions. His discussion of “social tyranny” and “the tyranny of the majority” are relevant for our purposes.
Mill introduced the concepts of social tyranny and social liberty, and he spilled much ink discussing their relationship to political institutions. He, however, did not stop there, and became the first philosopher to describe a different kind of tyranny:
Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself.
Mill’s description is not immediately recognizable in a modern lexicon, but he is plainly referring to society’s attempt to constrain individual liberty by moral stigmatization.
We cannot underestimate the effectiveness of moral stigmatization. It is the ultimate expression of the “violence of faction,” which is why I call it the Madison-Mill paradigm. Paraphrasing Aristotle, man is a social being who naturally needs human interaction. Moral stigmatization inevitably leads to society withdrawing itself from a person. For example, if I told you that I was a convicted felon who had a conviction for stealing, you would likely not hire me to work for you even if God sent Paul the Apostle himself back to earth to personally tell you that I am living in Ephesians 4:28.
When moral stigmatization attaches itself to a disagreement on ideas, it quashes the free development and expression of ideas far more effectively than a political crackdown ever could. The result is that society operating outside of its political institutions holds tremendous power over free expression. When it attaches moral stigmatization to an ideological viewpoint, it no longer acts as a society, but rather as a tyrant.
America has been heading toward a place for quite some time where its society has stopped being a society and has become a tyrant. Whether it’s political correctness, patriotic correctness – yes, I agree with the holding of Texas v. Johnson – or labeling anything and everything systemic racism, America has begun attaching a moral stigmatization to ideas. That’s a dangerous path to start heading down and one that we all had better be trying to stop with all our might.
In conclusion, I have a loose end to tie up. Some folks who read this post know me, and they know my faith. They will inevitably ask me to comment on the relationship of social tyranny through moral stigmatization to certain political topics such as abortion, gay marriage, etc. As this article already exceeds 1000 words, I am running out of space to discuss the topic here, but I am more than happy to provide my view on that topic in a future post or to discuss it publicly with you in a forum where the discussion can occur in an organized fashion. For now, I will say that you’ll find my view to be logically consistent even if you disagree with it.