In a series of recent posts at Mirror of Justice, Robert George has declared his full entrance into the culture wars. He's apparently come to the conclusion that there is no longer any hope of compromise or discourse between Catholics and supporters of equality, and so the only way for Catholics to proceed is to "win" by successfully imposing their own restricted sexual morality on the rest of the country.
Paul Horwitz wrote a post at Prawfs bemoaning the fact that moderates are put in a hard place when trying to deal with opposing groups who have no interest on discourse. I think he raises some good points, but here I want to focus instead on the distortions that the "culture warrior" stance can cause, even to an ostensibly well-educated, thoughtful academic.
Throughout his recent posts, George often seems to be fighting shadows and not understanding even basic distinctions. That's because he's gone beyond being unwilling to work with the "other side", and gotten all the way to willful or negligent misrepresentation of what they say.
Take the post that started the recent series, in which George complains about the fact that the demand for civil equality includes, well, demands for civil equality. But he begins by making a misleading reference to past arguments:
It was only yesterday, was it not, that proponents of sexual liberalism were telling us that the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex partnerships would have no impact at all on the lives of those persons and religious and other institutions that hold to the traditional conception of marriage as a conjugal union?The characterization sounds plausible, because we take it as a reference to an old and obviously true argument: "my right to marry will not affect your marriage." The argument was then and now obviously true: the right of two men to have their marriage recognized by the state will in no way affect the marriage between two straight people.
But George seems to have conflated that argument with one that I, at least, never once heard: that somehow civil equality would not be accompanied by...well...civil equality: that powerful institutions would remain free to discriminate against couples based on their gender. Or, in his words:
The fundamental error made by some, I believe, was to imagine that a grand bargain could be struck: "We will accept the legal redefinition of marriage; you will respect our right to act on our consciences without penalty, discrimination, or civil disabilities of any type. Same-sex partners will get marriage licenses, but no one will be forced for any reason to recognize those marriages or suffer discrimination or disabilities for declining to recognize them."I was surprised when I read that: I didn't remember ever hearing about that bargain. And I doubt anyone even really suggested it, because what George is talking about would be an empty marriage right. You can get married, but those with the power don't need to recognize it. If that's marriage equality, then we already have it.
So why is George conflating this real argument with his imagined straw man? I imagine part of it is that he would like to forget that there were (and, to a certain extent, still are) people who would seriously advance the "argument" that "gay marriage just ruins marriage for the rest of us." He'd like to explain his memory of arguments that marriage equality wouldn't have an "impact" on straight people in a way that paints his fellow travelers in a better light.
But more of it, I suspect, has to do with the conscious and subconscious effects of the "culture warrior" viewpoint. He sees this struggle as life-and-death: if not for him, then for the cultural values that he holds dear. And, with that in mind, he's willing to distort the truth and caricature his opponents in order to rally the faithful to fight off the infidels. It's a culture war, but it's also a holy war. And when God is "on your side," all bets are off.