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Sally Kohn Shows How the ‘Liberals’ Got So Illiberal

Sally Kohn at TED@NYC Auditions – October 8, 2013, Joe’s Pub, New York, NY. Photo: Ryan Lash

Sally Kohn demonstrates how the power to control our economic lives implies the power to control everything else.

Just as I was writing about the importance of the right to be wrong, along comes The Daily Beast’s Sally Kohn to demonstrate exactly my point with a strident anthem of illiberal liberalism.

If gay marriage is “the end zone dance of the culture wars,” then Kohn spikes the football. “Don’t wanna marry everyone who are entitled to marry legally under the law? Then don’t run a wedding business.” Her premise is that the state has unlimited license to run your life unless you make a plea for some kind of special exemption. Judging from her column, all such pleas will be shot down with the dismissive decree that “the grounds for doing so are thin.”

The most chilling passage is this one: “It’s hard to argue that opposing marriage equality is a central tenet of Christianity when majorities of Christian voters support same-sex marriage.” My Christian colleagues will be surprised to discover that the tenets of their religion are now determined by public poll. But the real point of this is that Sally Kohn and her ilk now get to determine for you what your “legitimate” beliefs are.

What is interesting about Kohn’s piece is that it reveals the mechanism by which “liberals” have become systematically illiberal. I’m old enough to remember a time when they supposedly just wanted to regulate the economy but wanted the government to stay out of our personal lives, particularly our sex lives. All of that now seems hopelessly antique, and Kohn’s column reveals why: the power to control our economic lives contains within it the power to control everything else.

Why does Kohn presume that the government has the right to force the Hitching Post in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, to perform gay weddings? Because it is a business rather than a non-profit organization. In the worldview of the so-called liberal, to engage in commerce is to deliver yourself bound hand-and-foot to the state.

It’s the theme Kohn keeps coming back to, because it’s all she’s got. “The first thing you need to know is that most ‘wedding chapels’ are not actually chapels. They are private businesses.” “State and federal laws generally exempt religious institutions from having to perform gay marriages. Yet the Hitching Post Lakeside Chapel is not a church or a synagogue or a mosque but a private business.” “Conservatives are already trying to conflate the issues here, saying that Coeur d’Alene is forcing ‘Christian pastors’ to perform same-sex weddings or ‘face jail’—deliberately blurring the line between this for-profit chapel and actual religious institutions and entities.”

All right, so what if it is a business? Then it’s the state’s way or the highway.

These entrepreneurs have chosen to incorporate as private businesses, with all the legal rights and privileges that entails. That means they have to follow the laws that apply to private businesses. Don’t wanna marry everyone who are entitled to marry legally under the law? Then don’t run a wedding business. After all, the government isn’t forcing you to be in that line of work.

So if your decision about how you want to earn your livelihood conflicts with Sally Kohn’s feelings about how you should do it, it is your responsibility to upend your life and change careers—at least, until she wants to regulate the next field you choose.

There is a reason why this approach tends so inexorably toward totalitarianism: because practically everything human beings want to do in life has a commercial aspect.

Officiating weddings, which is a spiritual activity, involves a small payment for the officiant and perhaps also the renting of a venue for the ceremony or reception—which then puts the state in a position to dictate everything about it. Engaging in commentary on current events might involve broadcasting your ideas through a media company, which might have the misfortune of being owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose ventures should be broken up “in the public interest.” Run for public office, and you will have to raise money to get your message out—but private donors have to be regulated, limited, maybe eliminated altogether because we don’t want the ugly world of money and commerce exercising any influence over politics.

This is how the “liberals” got so illiberal, because there is no hard and fast dividing line between regulating “only” our economic lives and regulating everything else. All aspects of human life find an expression in commerce, so if you regulate that, you regulate everything. Which they are now happily proceeding to do.

That’s why it has been such a long time since I’ve encountered a “liberal” who is still liberal in any meaningful sense.

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