Are You a Liberal? You Have an Inner Trump

In The Empire Strikes Back, part of Luke Skywalker’s training to become a Jedi involved a trial where he had to go into a cave imbued with the dark side of the Force. While there he fights a mirage of Darth Vader, decapitates it, and the fallen helmet explodes revealing Luke’s own face. Luke was taken aback and it must have been a sobering moment for him as he realized that his failure in this test of his mettle meant that until he could control the Force properly–and not give in to anger, fear, and aggression, which are manifestations of its dark side–he was deep down the same as the foe he hated. I was reminded of that scene and its larger lesson when perusing articles about Steve Bannon’s worldview and realized that his position on immigration is of a piece with the intolerance of Lockean liberalism for the “unnatural man.” It’s ironic since liberalism is typically lampooned as being tolerant to the point of lunacy but that’s far from true. As William Appleman Williams explains in Contours of American History, liberalism was formulated by John Locke as an intolerant, close-minded, and authoritarian ideology:

“Locke’s broad defense of the existing state as a trustee for society and his harsh judgment on those who did not behave as natural men served to justify the status quo and invest its defenders with an enthusiasm which often transformed them into righteous crusaders against social innovation and new ideas … Locke undercut the very individualism he proclaimed so loudly. He defined the relationship between the state and the individual in such a way that the individual was in reality charged with justifying his resistance to the state instead of the state being held strictly accountable to the individual according to a corporate value system. This was nothing new, for Hobbes and others had advanced similar arguments before the Revolution, but Locke sustained the tradition while clothing it in liberal rhetoric. Going even further in this direction, Locke defined the natural man as one who did not cause trouble by asserting and acting on different standards. This axiom extensively reinforced the authoritarian bias of his philosophy. For by this reasoning it became unnatural to exercise one’s individuality in a manner or for a purpose which conflicted with the accepted norms. While it is true that these limits may be broad, and may even be extended under the circumstances of an expanding or secure empire, it is also true that they became progressively narrower under less permissive conditions. And at that point, unfortunately, conformity becomes, with Locke’s philosophy, the only acceptable form that responsibility can assume… Men were justified, said Locke, in criticizing the existing state of affairs in the name of this individualism but when they did so from any other point of view they became unnatural men and hence beyond the pale… “God gave the world to men in common,” Locke admitted, “[but] He gave it to the use of the industrious and rational, not to the fancy or covetousness of the quarrelsome and contentious.” … For Locke, therefore, individualism was a right and a liberty reserved for those who accepted a status quo defined by a certain set of natural truths agreed upon by a majority. Within such a framework, and it is a far narrower set of limits than it appears at first glance, the natural laws of property and labor were deemed sufficient to guide men’s pursuit of happiness.”

That Steve Bannon is faithfully following in Locke’s footsteps can be easily seen here:

“People who do not sign off on this set of shared values [Judeo-Christian nationalism] should not be welcome in the US. This logic forms the basis of Bannon’s opposition to immigrants, whose lack of democratic “DNA,” he believes, will harm society. “These are not Jeffersonian democrats,” Bannon said last year, referring to immigrants heading from Muslim majority countries to Europe, USA Today reported. “These are not people with thousands of years of democracy in their DNA coming up here.”

So Bannon is well within the liberal tradition in his aversion to allowing into the country certain immigrants who won’t accept the American status quo. This means that former CIA director Micahel Morell was also wrong when he asserted that President Donald Trump’s attempt to restrict immigration from Muslim nations is an action “which so clearly contradicts the foundational values of our nation” when Lockean liberalism was the ideology of the Founding Fathers. Trump’s ban might be imprudent or unnecessary but it would in no way contravene liberalism.

To finish off with another film analogy, Bannon and Trump (and other right-wing liberals like them) are like Colonel Jessup in A Few Good Men only instead of saying “You want me on that wall! You need me on that wall!” they would change this to “You want me preserving the United States as a capitalist republic! You need me protecting liberalism from the illiberal, unnatural men!” and liberals would have no choice but to yield to this reasoning. They couldn’t disavow Bannon and Trump without disavowing Locke. At that point, liberals would realize that–like how Luke Skywalker had an inner Darth Vader–they have an inner Donald Trump