Stanley Fish, CS Lewis and Might Makes Right

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Stanley Fish, probably the most noted American literary theorist of our time, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times on March 12, 2012 called Two Cheers for Double Standards in which he demonstrated how deeply wed he and other members of the Left in this country are to the Orwell axiom from Animal Farm that some animals are more equal than others:

If we think about the Rush Limbaugh dust-up from the non-liberal — that is, non-formal — perspective, the similarity between what he did and what Schultz and Maher did disappears. Schultz and Maher are the good guys; they are on the side of truth and justice. Limbaugh is the bad guy; he is on the side of every nefarious force that threatens our democracy. Why should he get an even break?

There is no answer to that question once you step outside of the liberal calculus in which all persons, no matter what their moral status as you see it, are weighed in an equal balance. Rather than relaxing or soft-pedaling your convictions about what is right and wrong, stay with them, and treat people you see as morally different differently. Condemn Limbaugh and say that Schultz and Maher may have gone a bit too far but that they’re basically O.K. If you do that you will not be displaying a double standard; you will be affirming a single standard, and moreover it will be a moral one because you will be going with what you think is good rather than what you think is fair. “Fair” is a weak virtue; it is not even a virtue at all because it insists on a withdrawal from moral judgment.

I know the objections to what I have said here. It amounts to an apology for identity politics. It elevates tribal obligations over the universal obligations we owe to each other as citizens. It licenses differential and discriminatory treatment on the basis of contested points of view. It substitutes for the rule “don’t do it to them if you don’t want it done to you” the rule “be sure to do it to them first and more effectively.” It implies finally that might makes right. I can live with that.

Go here to read the appalling rest.  Well that is that, as they say.  When the position of an opponent is that we can do what we want because we are wearing the white hats and you fools are wearing the black hats, there are many reactions that are called for and none of them involve rational discussion since the adversary has indicated that he is not interested in debate but rather in raw power.  I can only hope that Fish will eventually reveal that this is in the nature of Swift’s  A Modest Proposal, but I fear that such is not the case, and that bodes ill for the prospect of long-term domestic peace in this country.

CS Lewis In Mere Christianity dealt with the issue of fairness and judging people by the same standard:

Everyone has heard people quarrelling. Sometimes it sounds funny and sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however it sounds, I believe we can learn something very important from listening to the kind of things they say. They say things like this: “How’d you like it if anyone did the same to you?”-“That’s my seat, I was there first”-“Leave him alone, he isn’t doing you any harm”- “Why should you shove in first?”-“Give me a bit of your orange, I gave you a bit of mine”-“Come on, you promised.” People say things like that every day, educated people as well as uneducated, and children as well as grown-ups. Now what interests me about all these remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man’s behaviour does not happen to please him. He is appealing to some kind of standard of behaviour which he expects the other man to know about. And the other man very seldom replies: “To hell with your standard.” Nearly always he tries to make out that what he has been doing does not really go against the standard, or that if it does there is some special excuse. He pretends there is some special reason in this particular case why the person who took the seat first should not keep it, or that things were quite different when he was given the bit of orange, or that something has turned up which lets him off keeping his promise. It looks, in fact, very much as if both parties had in mind some kind of Law or Rule of fair play or decent behaviour or morality or whatever you like to call it, about which they really agreed. And they have. If they had not, they might, of course, fight like animals, but they could not quarrel in the human sense of the word. Quarrelling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong. And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are; just as there would be no sense in saying that a footballer had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about the rules of football.

What Professor Fish has done is to say, in the words of Lewis, “To hell with your standard”.    This is one of the more chilling statements on the divisions within American society that I have read in quite a while.  Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom in a superb post sums things up nicely:

To the progressive, your social and political worth — in fact, your very claim to morality — comes from your various identity politics alliances. That is, your morality is a function not so much of what you do, but rather of where you claim to stand, and with whom.

Professor Fish has merely put into words what many of us fear:  that discussion in this country on major political and social issues is increasingly monologues of the deaf and that the very basis of any discussion, a shared standard of fairness, is vanishing.  Professor Fish says that he can live with the non-standard that might makes right.  If that is going to be how our political and social discourse is now to be carried out, I am very afraid that a great many Americans will eventually not be able to remain alive under such a rule of conduct.


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  1. “Professor Fish says that he can live with the non-standard that might makes right. If that is going to be how our political and social discourse is now to be carried out, I am very afraid that a great many Americans will eventually not be able to remain alive under such a rule of conduct.”

    That’s why there is a Second Amendment. You may not like my saying this, but liberal leftists really do understand only one thing, and it’s the same thing that Islamic fascists understand: overwhelming force. To both of them, might makes right, and it always has, and it always will.

    I hope that in November these people can be thrown out peaceably.

  2. Without an appeal and obedience to a higher Law, might does make right and sometimes we cannot avoid that. We are to turn the other cheek, but that does not mean that we are to be doormats. Of course, you should always clean your own house first. For us, that means it is time for an Inquisition within the Church and then the rest of the country. We have to expel those who do not adhere to the American Creed as expressed in the language of Natural Law in our Declaration of Independence. I know this seems extreme; however, the chasm of polarization in this country cannot be bridged. It will eventually come down to the will to power in a mobocracy, or a vigorous return to the Rule of Law in our Republic. I see no benefit in waiting.

    I am not advocating violence, but if those who ascribe to the doctrine of power will eventually take us there. We either decline into chaos-tyranny-totalitarianism or restore the Republic. The tolerant ‘liberal’ mindset cannot tolerate lack of power – it has to be taken from them.

    Viva Christo Rey!

  3. There are no coincidences. In the previous post, the pro-death logic that we exist only to serve our masters was exposed. Now, it is revealed that we exist only to serve those powerful enough to maintain that mastery.

    “The only real power comes out of a long rifle.”
    Joseph Stalin

    If this is what they want, then let them come.

  4. Very glad that you have raised this issue through the Fish op-ed. I’ve noticed for a good long time, having to exist professionally in the liberal teapot, that a ‘letist’ is almost instantly recognizable as they most often insist on impolitely discussing their ‘religion’ before all else. In other words, before even, or within seconds of, any exchange of pleasantries, one will hear utterances as if being read off of a “Fishwrapper” screed. The second thing immediately noticeable is that culturally there is no connection, not in language (post modernists are at war with reason and faith), ideas, even culture. Even once harmless and unoffensive discussions about sports or weather are fertile for leftist diatribe.

  5. All mankind is the intellectual property of our Creator, as emblazoned in our founding principles. Anybody, from president to pastor, who refutes out founding principles has cast himself into an abyss. Let him be anathema.

  6. Paul P @ 0555 (God Bless Gen’l Robin Olds and the “Triple Nickel!”)

    Nail on Head!

    The motivation for lying liberals’ and repressive progressives’ Seventy Years War on The Second Amendment was to make it so we could not shoot back when they came for us.

    God made us. Sam Colt made us equal.

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