The Common Good
April 2006

Politics With Purpose

by Michael Lerner | April 2006

There is little that is "neutral" or "value-free."

In his new book, The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right, rabbi, social activist, and Tikkun magazine editor Michael Lerner argues for a progressive spiritual politics that goes beyond the “intolerant and militarist politics of the Religious Right” and the “often spiritually empty politics of the Left.” Following is an excerpt.

What the Religious Right does, in essence, is to blame all liberals and progressives for the values of the capitalist marketplace. And they can get away with this tactic as long as the only answer most people hear from the Democrats and the Left is, “Keep your values out of the public sphere, which should remain neutral.”

Ironically, the liberal, value-free, nonideological discourse has been appropriated by the champions of global capitalism. They present capitalism as above mere politics and as simply seeking “progress” as it destroys local economies and cultures and puts in their place the mechanisms of a global system. Global capitalism always claims to be apolitical and to have no agenda except allowing people to buy whatever they want. Those who critique the logic of the market are portrayed as ideologues, whether they be from the Left or the fundamentalist Right.

A progressive spiritual politics agrees with the Religious Right that there is no such thing as a neutral public sphere. Our political institutions, our economic institutions, and our dominant culture are all suffused with values. And by and large today those values are rooted in an ethos of materialism and selfishness that is corrosive to human life, to community, and to religious and spiritual values.

So when the Religious Right orchestrates its campaign to pack the judiciary with people who share its worldview, it is unpersuasive for liberals to yelp about the need for judges who will be more “neutral” or “professional.” There is little that is “neutral” or “value-free” or “professional” or “a matter of expertise” when the courts address issues of abortion, gay marriage, torture, reduction of civil liberties in order to fight terrorism, or the teaching of evolution or intelligent design in schools. Where a judge or an elected official or an academic teaching in a university stands on these issues reflects a worldview.

Yet instead of liberals defending their own worldview and trying to convince others to share it, too often they hide behind procedural issues or issues of competence, expertise, or professionalism, and then act shocked when the Right insists on championing its values. But this approach fools no one and convinces no one. It would be far more honest for those on the Left to acknowledge that they have a worldview and that it is not any less partisan than the worldview of the Right, and then to explain to people why they think it is the worldview that will create a society benefiting the most people and most in accord with our highest moral intuitions.

The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right, by Michael Lerner. Reprinted with permission from HarperSanFrancisco. © 2006

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