Richard Mourdock and “The Women’s Vote”

Mourdock Draws Criticism for Rape Comments in Indiana Senate Debate –

And Republicans wonder why they’ve reached a glass ceiling in their drive to court “the women’s vote.” Yet, in all honesty, Republicans are not so much misogynist as much as they are misanthropist in general; and it is their misanthropy, their hostility toward human beings, that drives their misogyny, their hostility toward women. The difference is not incidental. Here’s why.

Let us suppose that what Richard Mourdock meant to say was that God loves and cares for every child born into the world, no matter how that child arrived. My best guess is that most of us would share his sentiment, if not his theology. But, now, let us suppose further that Richard Mourdock had gone on to say that because God loves and cares for every child born into the world, he believes that as a nation we have an obligation to make sure that that child enjoys sufficient health care, education, housing, and nutrition, not simply until that child can take care of itself, but, since all of us remain God’s children for our entire lives, until that child goes to meet his or her maker. Let us suppose Richard Mourdock had said this. What then?

Had Mourdock made this second statement, he would have lost nearly every Republican vote — women’s vote, men’s vote, it doesn’t matter. Why? Because this second statement challenges a much more fundamental principle of contemporary Republican ideology: freedom. Yes, God loves and wants to care for every child born into the world; but that is completely different from us as a nation demonstrating our love and care for every child by substantively providing that child with health, education, and welfare; because, in the Republican’s current lexicon, public provision of these goods relieves children and their parents of the moral responsibility they have to get a job and provide for their own. According to this lexicon, market freedom is God’s preferred means for providing for every child born into the world; public assistance, because it undermines market freedom, does more harm than good. Men and women (and their children, wanted or not) need to be subjected to the moral discipline of the market.

Now, I want simply to point out that this free market mantra is embraced and repeated by every single movement Republican; by women as well as by men; by Catholics as well as by Protestants and Jews. And, while it is surely true that the harm spread by this mantra falls unequally on women, children, and the elderly, it in no way intends to single out women, children and the elderly. Rather does it intend to subject all people to the strict discipline of the market. This is why Todd Aikin’s and Richard Mourdock’s remarks are not so much misogynist as they are misanthropist. They display a hostility not only toward women, but toward men as well. And this helps to explain how it is possible for women to embrace the Tea Party or the right wing Christian social agenda. Yes, there may be just a touch of self-loathing here; but this should not bring us to overlook the huge helping of hostility toward all people: men, women, children, the elderly, you name it.

So, what is it about market freedom that generates, even cultivates, this kind of universal hatred? Let me suggest that what generates this hatred is confusion over two very different sorts of freedom; market freedom and substantive freedom. Market freedom takes its bearings from the Kantian notion of the absence of constraint. Freedom = Nothing. Substantive freedom, by contrast, takes its bearings from “the conditions that make for freedom.” This is the classical Abrahamic (Jewish, Christian, Muslim) understanding of freedom. It always is bound to ask: freedom for what (not freedom from what)?

We can now appreciate why market freedom is not simply misogynist, but misanthropist as well. Market freedom plays upon the human propensity for us to blame our conditions for bad outcomes. If we are the subject of a bad outcome, then this bad outcome has to be the consequence of an unfavorable condition. Under such circumstances, freedom would entail the elimination of all conditions. Individuals are free only when they are unconditioned. This longing for the absence of constraint takes on a moral quality when individuals suffer from conditions that they have brought upon themselves; justice entails that they suffer for the conditions that they have produced. This helps to explain why the wealthy man or woman who has taken control and responsibility for the conditions that shape their lives is also considered both moral and free.

It is not difficult to see why, in this free market universe, while the rapist should be held responsible for his crime, his victim should also be held responsible for her choices — whether or not she carries the fetus to term. Nor is it difficult to see why, in this free market universe, the greatest crime possible is to relieve individuals of the consequences of their choices or the choices of others — say, by feeding, housing, clothing, or otherwise caring for them. When the public provides these goods for individuals, it short-circuits the consequences that ought to follow from their choices.

Substantive freedom — the freedom that rests at the core of most of the world’s religions and ethical systems — takes a completely different, nearly the opposite tack. Because it is grounded in our responsibility for one another (rather than upon the Kantian concept of the abstract, mathematical, individual, who is, literally, nothing) substantive freedom always asks about the conditions that make for freedom. I am not free to learn if I do not know how to read and write. I am not free to think and breath if I am not healthy, safe, and secure. I am not free to work for a living where employers deem my marginal cost of living still too high to hire me. And so on.

So, just as market freedom leads to an ethic of individual punishment and responsibility, so substantive freedom leads to an ethic of community service and public responsibility.

The marvel here is that right wing Christians have adopted as their ethical and political road map a system that was explicitly developed and promulgated as a secular, objective, scientific system directed against their faith. And anyone who doubts this fact has clearly never read (or never understood) Immanuel Kant, Friedrich von Hayek, or Ayn Rand.