The Left’s Rejection of “Mediating Institutions”
After all, Mitt Romney’s the guy who said corporations are people. No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people. People have hearts. They have kids. They get jobs. They get sick. They thrive. They dance. They live. They love. And they die. And that matters. That matters. That matters because we don’t run this country for corporations, we run it for people.
Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, speaking to the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday evening, brilliantly encapsulated what is wrong with the left in America, and she did it by articulating a message that speaker after speaker in Charlotte claimed to abhor, but which they actually believe in. What Warren was all about was radical individualism.
In the view of the left, there are only two entities that matter: the individual, and the state. The individual, who in the words of one notorious video from the convention “belongs to the government,” is granted a certain degree of autonomy (above all, the freedom to kill unborn children), but is ultimately not competent to run her life without help from the state. What’s more, when the individual realizes that there are some things he cannot accomplish on his own, he is left with only one place to turn, which is to the government, which is the only way that we do stuff together.
This desiccated vision of society is in direct contrast to what Alexis de Tocqueville observed as being the genius of the American experiment. He celebrated the countless ways in which Americans interacted with and influenced the public square through what later came to be called “mediating institutions”–churches, civic societies, fraternal organizations, and innumerable other voluntary associations that served not only their members, but their communities as well. These institutions, he said, were the backbone of American life, and the primary bulwark against the kind of tyranny that had long dominated Europe.
When the left views American society, it simply doesn’t see these institutions, or worse, dismisses them as reactionary and obstructive of “progress.” They are viewed purely as expressions of private interests, needs, or desires, and at best of no consequence to the real work of improving the country, and at worst positive hindrances to be caged or, if need be, destroyed.
Businesses are, of course, numbered among these mediating institutions. Through their activity, goods and services are provided to the community at large. That activity, if conducted to the benefit of the business, is neither wholly altruistic nor wholly rapacious–either extreme would result in the extinction of the business, either through a lack of innovation and adaptation to the market, or through a rejection of its products by the public. The exception is when a business is able to cozy up to the state in such a way that it ceases to be a mediating force, and becomes simply an accessory to government control (think Solyndra, which survived as long as it did solely because of government largesse, as the state attempted to use its power to determine an economic outcome undesired by the population as a whole).
Businesses are mediating institutions in large part because, contra Warren, they are people, or rather are made up of individuals who voluntarily pool their efforts and talents in an attempt to play a specific role in the public square. Does that mean that businesses don’t pursue their own interests? Of course not. But it does mean that businesses must reckon on the ways that their actions effect, sometimes to benefit, sometimes to hurt, others. Do they sometimes act in ways that hurt others, or even the community at large? Certainly. That, however, doesn’t mean that the state should therefore be empowered to act as a kind of super-parent, kissing every boo-boo and making rules to insure that nothing bad ever happens again, because preventing the bad may well prevent the good, as well.
The threat that people like Elizabeth Warren pose to America is not simply in the form of misguided policies. It takes the form of a worldview best characterized as “radical individualism,” in which nothing stands between me and the state, which is responsible for my welfare and makes the big decisions with which I cannot be trusted. It is a worldview that is antithetical to all that Christians–who see God, rather than the state, as the source of all that is good and right, and as the Giver of the rights and responsibilities upon which we order our lives–believe. We should be first in line to reject such thinking.
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