The last two weeks have been brutal for our liberal friends, and they just don't understand what went wrong.
Obviously, they said, this whole 9/11 Mosque controversy is about rights, the right of freedom of religion. Moslems have a right to worship and government has no right to circumscribe that right. Anyone who disagrees is a bigot. Period.
Our liberal friends, I reckon, were put on this earth for one great thing. They were put on this earth to midwife the civil-rights revolution. In their finest hour in the early 1960s they insisted on realizing the promise of the American revolution that all men are created equal. They insisted that the original sin of the American founding should be redeemed. They risked a lot in pushing through the civil-rights acts, and lost the South for a generation, just as Lyndon Johnson feared. Conservatives like Barry Goldwater and Bill Buckley didn't get it; they got all caught up in legalisms.
The trouble is that liberals, put onto this earth for that one thing, want to fit every issue into the civil rights mold. They are like the hammer: everything looks like a nail. They've made women's rights into a civil-rights issue, gay rights into a civil-rights issue. And now they want Muslims to be an historically marginalized group and apply the civil-rights solution to them too.
The conservative retort to liberals on the 9/11 mosque issue is simple, and it illustrates what conservatives were put on this earth to do.
Conservatives say to liberals: Yes, of course Muslims have a right to put up a mosque anywhere they want. The question is: should they exercise that right. Or should they think about the insult that such a mosque, so close to a site where 3,000 people, mostly Americans, were killed by Muslim terrorists, represents to New Yorkers and most Americans. Should Muslims, in a spirit of friendship and kindness, forbear to exercise their undoubted rights.
We conservatives are saying is that politics in particular and social relations in general are not just about rights and the rule of law. Life is not merely a mechanical thing about following the rules. Nor is it just an adversarial proceeding as in a court of law. Nor it is a blind application of bureaucratic rules. Life is give-and-take. Life is friendship. Life is restraint, holding back when you know you are about to hurt an acquaintance.
Indeed, if you try to reduce everything to a pound of flesh you will find that you inevitably end up committing one cruel injustice after another. The quality of mercy is not strained / It falleth as the gentle rain from Heaven.
This need to blend rules with the sentiment of mercy and friendship has been at the heart of modern conservatism since Edmund Burke railed against "sophisters, economists, and calculators" 220 years ago. Here is the full quote from his Reflections on the Revolution in France.
The age of chivalry has gone and that of economists and calculators has set in, and the glory of Europe has departed.
Perhaps Burke was a little overwrought that day.
In the next few years we will see conservatism applied to the moral and material mess created by the bureaucratic leviathan we call the welfare state. Conservatives will be doing what they were made to do: pointing out that you cannot reduce the social relation--the caring things like care of the aged, care of the sick, the education of children--to rules and bureaucracy.
That's what conservatives are on this earth to do. To show liberals where they went wrong.