Righteous power

In response to Nick Gillespie’s brilliant insight about journalists’ hypocrisy on drones:

I added a few thoughts about Gillespie’s fine piece here.  (Special guest appearance by Ace, because I thought immediately of something he wrote the other day when I was reading Gillespie.)  I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection of left-wing politics and power worship.  It seems initially contradictory, because they talk so often of their appetite for individual “freedom,” in areas they think judgmental conservative busybodies want to invade… but time and again, they fall head-over-heels for authoritarian rulers, and their domestic policy agenda is all about power and control.  

The key, I believe, lies with Rousseau’s idea of the General Will.  A good liberal thinks immense, indeed absolute power can be rightfully exercised as the expression of popular will; nothing is off-limits to those who would act For The People.  They’ll speak explicitly in these terms when they’re complaining about the Constitution, a document written by primitive fuddy-duddies in powdered wigs who had no idea just how much the modern benevolent super-State would be able to do for its citizens.  

Negative rights, in which people are forbidden from activities that might injure their fellows, may cause the liberal to chafe sometimes; but there is no limit to the rightful authority that can be exerted in the service of positive rights, in which people are compelled to actively do what the elite decides is best for everyone.  When this power is exerted on a massive scale, as in authoritarian China, the Left finds it breathtaking; they can only dream of the day when wise and compassionate American rulers might exert such control over their benighted masses.

This romance with enlightened power generates so much surplus goodwill among liberals that the stuff they don’t really care about, like the War on Terror, is reduced to mildly distracting trivia.  If the greatest liberal leader of the past century wants to blow away some terrorists, almost entirely on his own discretion… well, there’s no reason to worry, because he’s already established his benevolent bona fides.  And it’s not as if enthusiastic support for Obama’s drone strikes will hinder most liberals from instantly, passionately denouncing the same program if a Republican president tries to implement it.