In one of the most iconic scenes in cinematic history, Alex DeLarge, a young, murderous convict, is strapped to a bed with his eyes propped open and forced to watch videos depicting horrific acts of violence. The sounds of his favorite musician, Beethoven, or “Ludwig van”, as Alex calls him, stream through the air. Part of an experimental program to rehabilitate violent criminals, within two weeks, Alex is declared “reformed” by Britain’s Minister of the Interior and paraded as an example of the government’s ability to reprogram serious offenders. The prison chaplain objects that Alex has been robbed of his “free will,” but the governor of the prison responds that his goal is not ethics, but to decrease the prison population.
In the world depicted in A Clockwork Orange, government bureaucrats seek to perfect society through the repression of human nature. Through psychological instruction, it is thought that even the most deranged criminals can be forcibly reformed. Criminals, in this framework, need not seek betterment through free choice of the will. Ultimately, Alex regains his sociopathic tendencies and the entire concept that a person can be internally reprogrammed without freely choosing to embrace good is exposed as folly. Lurking behind the naiveté, however, is a sense of foreboding. While watching A Clockwork Orange, one cannot help but be struck by the type of society in which Alex flourishes as a deviant: it is world without beauty or color and driven by utilitarianism. It is a world without hope. While the government ministers care nothing for Alex’s humanity (his despicable crime’s aside), and only wish to reform his outward behaviors, it is this very dehumanization coupled with an ignorance of human nature that feeds into, and exacerbates, Alex’s sociopathic tendencies.
A Clockwork Orange depicts a cold, dehumanized society in which the government treats individuals as social experiments and culture as a sociological laboratory. There, an all encompassing welfare-state employs the techniques of psychological conditioning to rob individuals of their moral worth, free will, and dignity. What is particularly appalling is that these acts are supposed to facilitate the public good.
In 2008, Barack Obama did not hide his sympathies or ideological commitments. He was an unapologetic “progressive,” whose often-stated, very clear objective was to remake the very fabric of civil society. He wanted to make society a little more “fair.” He indicated that he would wield the awesome powers of the presidency to effectuate reforms that “spread the wealth.” In his vision of the world, everything is equal, the government enforces the terms of this equality, and the state subordinates the dignity of individual persons to this overarching goal. Then-Senator Obama determined that he would play the role of Kubrick’s Minister of the Interior and attempt to remake human nature to comport with his own vision of the social order.
What is so appallingly naive about President Obama is his unflagging commitment to programs that are supposed to help people but are really nothing more than social experiments. For instance, the Affordable Care Act was intended to ensure that more American’s had access to health insurance. The president’s opponents warned that the proposed law was cumbersome and costly, and that it would not result in wider coverage. In fact, they further warned that the vast majority of Americans would face increased premiums while the quality of their coverage would decline or become unaffordable. The president promised that coverage would remain unchanged for most Americans, and that “you can keep your doctor” and your present coverage if you liked it. This statement did not contain even a scintilla of truth. I can hear Fur Elise in the distance, can you?
To the president and his allies, a lie is not a moral wrong when it is levied to advance their own (clear throat here) morally superior social policies. The clear message from the White House is that ends justify the means and the president’s “sophisticated” vision of the world can only be understood by a select intellectual elite. Ah, yes, this simultaneously (1) explains the inability of conservatives to understand the president and (2) dispenses with the need for truth telling.
Because the president refuses to engage his opposition on a philosophical or practical level, he paints dissenters as either inept or the pawns of special interests. He hides behind a veneer of elitism and his apologists have convinced themselves that the president need not explain himself. In one remarkable display of pedantry after another, the president lectures the entire nation about how anyone opposed to his plans is either uninformed or heartless because such persons must not care about the poor and sick. Further, he insinuates that dissenters must not possess the mental agility to penetrate the lofty citadels of his intellect. The president operates under the assumption that he and his omniscient disciples can refashion the social order along their own “enlightened” vision, and do so beneath a delusional facade of compassion. Now I hear the Ninth Symphony.
Given his love of grandstanding and intellectual acumen, I often wonder if the President just fails to grasp the broad scope of political and cultural reality. In truth, he seems clueless as to the tectonics of cultural change and the role of the individual, and the contingent, in history. I am positive that the president believes his policies will engender a fairer, more enlightened, freer, and more diverse world, and sees those who stand against them as being on the wrong side of history. This must explain, at least in part, his almost obsessive distaste for those who challenge him. Like the Minister of the Interior, the president sees the world as strictly bifurcated between righteous rationality on the one side and evil on the other. He fancies himself the heroic protagonist in a narrative of progressivism and human enlightenment; however, the president fails to acknowledge, even momentarily, that his ideas may run contrary to the constitution of the human spirit.
He never considers whether his grand designs, eloquently presented to the public and carefully packaged for a slogan driven media, comport with the essence of humanity. With Bentham and Mill, the president distills normative judgments concerning policy issues from the strength of their perceived utility. He is all too willing to risk the well-being of many individuals in a pitiful search for a grand panacea, that, in theory, should solve every social ill. Like all utilitarians, the president is willing to cast away those inconvenient obstacles that stand in the way of his magnificent designs, forgetting that these obstacles have an intrinsic value predicated upon their humanity. Some unfortunate souls, in this view of things, must be forsaken for the good of the general welfare. In present day America, these persons are the hard-working, responsible citizens who purchase their own health insurance and will now be forced onto a plan that is more expensive, provides services they do not need, and fails to offer essential health benefits.
President Obama’s vision of the present world is bitter and embattled–it is not a happy place. His public frustrations stem from an inability to understand why his ideas for universal social perfection are not endorsed by half the population. What the president fails to grasp is that the world he envisions is one that turns citizens into subjects, in which everyone has the same economic resources, lives in the same depressing public housing, goes to the same (brain-washing) state schools, and whose mental and physical welfare is placed exclusively within the hands of a coercive bureaucratic government. Forced contributions to bloated federal welfare programs, supported by oppressive taxation, do not create a moral society in which we can pat ourselves on the back for taking care of the poor. The president should recall the observation of the classical philosophers that virtue cannot be the product of external compulsion.
For all of the President’s rhetoric about the value of diversity, his policies tend toward the creation of a society of stale mediocrity and boredom. It is a world where hope is derived from government dollars snatched from a shrinking pot of struggling taxpayers. Despite the president’s best efforts, he cannot refashion the constitution of human nature to comport with his own intellectual preferences, at least without smothering the human spirit. If the power of the state is set toward the elimination of free will and social variety, the citizenry will ultimately forget the intrinsic value of the human person. Maximilian Kolbe and Alexander Solzhenitsyn knew this all too well. Now, we are already witnessing the devastating consequences of this monstrous view of humanity in a wave of violence that has gripped America; nevertheless, it is easier for politicians to blame the means of violence rather than address the deep social problems that cause such rage in the first place. It is easier to blame inanimate objects than to take responsibility for the fact that we are tearing the fabric of society asunder by condemning moral conviction and social standards as judgmental, bigoted, and un-inclusive. We are breeding a society robbed of its humanity and starved of moral imagination. We are creating a soulless world in which Alex DeLarge is already becoming all too real. I have a strong suspicion the president and his “progressive” allies can hear Ludwig van too, but convince themselves it is the Ride of the Valkyries.
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