I thought I'd maybe add my own angle to the Hart debate going on over at Feser's blog. I don't intend to address the controversy head on, and I think Feser and the comboxers are doing a fine job of that. What I want to do is focus in on a particular point he made in his most recent post. While identifying the reasons why a natural law defense should be attempted in the public sphere, Feser writes:
"The second reason is that the liberal, who claims to favor intellectual pluralism in the public sphere, needs constantly to be forced to put his money where his mouth is. If you press against him natural law arguments against abortion, “same-sex marriage,” etc., then you thereby compel him either seriously to engage with those who object to his social liberalism, or to reveal himself as a hypocrite. But if you fail to press such arguments, you cannot blame him if he dismisses opposition to the liberal social agenda as without a rational foundation -- and if he is also able to convince the fence-sitters that it lacks one."
I think this is actually a pretty interesting thing to talk about, and I want to do so within the context of Canada's most recent (apparently not) controversial Supreme Court decision.
As Feser rightly notes, I think the general liberal strategy, at least when it comes to things like homosexuality, is to just ignore the actual debate or caricaturize the opposition in such a way that they could never be taken seriously. And I think this is the fault of both sides. Liberals for their ignorance, and conservatives for their laziness. That is, there aren't a lot of easily accessible defenses of natural law (or any traditional morality at all) out in the modern world. Now, I'm not saying that everything should come in simple Wikipedia graphs, but there's often nothing. I think traditionalists have a problem with sort of resting on other people's laurels; they assume that some smart guy in the past has figured it all out a long time ago before there was Netflix, and that they aren't really going to add anything worthwhile. Whether or not this is true or not, it's not really a helpful strategy.
And this is a problem. And not just for goodness' sake. For people like me who actually have a personal investment in the issue, it's a really big problem. People on the pro-gay side constantly have groups and soldiers on the march for them, justifying their way of life. I have almost nothing. Or at least nothing of substance. I have to spend hours trying to find legitimate philosophy on the subject. But there is tons of pro-gay, pro-liberal philosophy being constantly published and taken as the norm. But there's next-to-nothing on the other side. Or what is on the other side is so religious that it could never be taken seriously. If it's true and right, show others, even if it's hard. If it turns out it's not true and right, you should at least know; you're talking about people's lives after all.
Anyway, what does this have to do with Canada? Well, apparently Canada's Supreme Court (not sure if this should be capitalized (check the Bluebook)) just upheld the conviction of a fellow who was passing out anti-gay pamphlets. The pamphlets (and he) were calling homosexuals sinners and sodomites and were calling for, in so many words, a change in Canada's social and political policy as it concerns homosexuality. I'm pretty sure this guy, William (Bill) Whatcott, is sort of a bigger deal in Canada, but I don't really know anything about him. At any rate, he was convicted under a hate speech law for passing out the pamphlets, and the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the conviction, despite his claims that such laws violate his fundamental right to free expression.
I do not want to discuss Canada's Supreme Court's legal analysis. And I'm sure someone could do a pretty complex analysis (I'm positive some law review up in Canada is doing one right now (in the snow with maple syrup or whatever)), but I don't know enough about Canadian law to do anything like a real analysis, and I don't write on this thing to do more law stuff. From what I've read, I do think it's pretty bad law, and I think (or I'm positive) that our Supreme Court would go unanimously the other way, but again, not what I want to talk about. The most important thing you should get from the decision is that their Supreme Court held that certain speech, if it is "likely to expose" certain groups to "hatred" (which is only vaguely (and synonymously) described with words like "detestation" and "vilification" in the opinion), can be punished. What I want to talk about instead is Feser's quote in light of legal decisions like these.
I'm not sure if this story was unpopular because it happened in Canada and no one cares about Canada (sorry, Canada), or because it presents such a difficult problem from the liberal mindset that no one wants to bring it up. Now, I think the United States has a pretty decent tract record of separating the argument from the right to speak (see Westboro), but the LGBT movement is a pretty strong thing, and I think a lot of people in this country think that "hate" is some special category that has to be controlled, even if it means telling people that they can't talk.
Which is sort of the point I want to make. That is, people in the conservative or traditionalist camp have been so caricaturized or are so lazy themselves that their viewpoint has become equated with "hate" in such an extreme way that their position becomes so weak that, in places like Canada, it can be judicially brushed aside. Now, I'm not the type of person who holds free expression sacrosanct, but I absolutely think that this decision (and any others like it) was a mistake. The reason it's a mistake, of course, and any person should be able to see this, is because it effectively ends the debate in the public square. The society, all the way up to the top, has said that homosexuality is really actually okay, and that anyone who doesn't think so is so wrong that the only reason they could still be going on is because they are full of hate, something not worth protecting.
Feser says that liberals claim to favor intellectual pluralism. They do. That's correct. I mean, it's true that they claim to favor it. But for Canada having a position that is against homosexual behavior has become so meaningless that it's not even worthy of pluralism. This is obviously hypocritical, but it doesn't matter. The position has been so relegated to the backwoods, with things like Nazism, that to even make room for it is just to sort of humor the liberal mindset. Which is what good liberals did before, I guess; the weird kids could sit at the table, just so the liberals didn't look hypocritical, but they'd be ignored and mocked. Now they're just kicking them out altogether. And I think this has a lot to do, honestly with the fact that the only people who get any voice in the matter are people who quote Bible verses, etc. And this, again, is both side's fault. The Bible-versers get the most worked up (because it's not nuanced, and it's easy), and the liberals on the other side focus on them (because it's not nuanced, and it's easy). It's just bad philosophy and straw-manning all around.
What I'd really like to know is if some of the stuff I say on here could meet the legal definition of hate in Canada. I don't think so, but I could see an argument being made: that the conclusions of my arguments cause people to condemn and (ultimately) hate homosexuals, that the language I use, "defective," is likely to cause people to take action against homosexuals. For example, I was arguing with some fellow, and I linked him to my blog, and he responded with something like, "don't send me to that hate-filled trash!" And I think this is meaningful. Because the consequence of natural law arguments is that homosexuality is condemned, the same consequence of much less sophisticated arguments, the natural law arguments can be labeled as hate.
Now, please do not read this as a defense of Hart's position. I don't think defending natural law is pointless in the modern world. On the contrary, I think it's the most important thing a conservative can do. That's what I mean by this post and this whole blog. In fact, that fellow who I was arguing with, as soon as he got done with all the "hate" language, could see that I had won the argument from the beginning. All I mean by this post is that it's becoming more and more difficult, especially in light of decisions like the Canadian one, to actually have a legitimate conservative voice. And I don't mean that people are incapable of understanding the arguments, that they can't be appealed to in the social context they reside (which is closer, I think, to Hart's point). I just mean that people are trained and are reinforced by their legal systems to assume the arguments are bad. In other words, it's not that the people are incapable, ultimately, of giving the arguments a fair shake; it's just that the game's been rigged from the beginning. The players aren't able to see all the pieces.
(Also, please do not think that I think quoting Bible verses is necessarily a bad thing. It's not. It's just not particularly helpful when it's the sole ammunition in complex moral debates.)
I really do think a lot of First Amendment law is ridiculous. I don't think, for example, that virtual child pornography should be protected under the First Amendment. But I do appreciate that our Court errs on the side of protected speech. This issue is, at the very least, still legally live in our country. It may be philosophically pretty dead, but no one's afraid to really get their hands dirty, like they might be in other countries. Not that our Court is some great thing, but I'd be embarrassed, Canada.