Stanley Fish, professor of law at Florida International University, illustrates a logical confusion as fundamental and pervasive as it is difficult to identify. In short, Professor Fish confuses the way a belief is held by some people with the logical character of that belief. Take the following, for instance.
>Mr. Rose may think of himself, as most journalists do, as being neutral with respect to religion — he is not speaking as a Jew or a Christian or an atheist — but in fact he is an adherent of the religion of letting it all hang out, the religion we call liberalism.
>The first tenet of the liberal religion is that everything (at least in the realm of expression and ideas) is to be permitted, but nothing is to be taken seriously. This is managed by the familiar distinction — implied in the First Amendment’s religion clause — between the public and private spheres. It is in the private sphere — the personal spaces of the heart, the home and the house of worship — that one’s religious views are allowed full sway and dictate behavior.
Here Fish is speaking of the attitude of Westerners to the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published recently in Denmark. There seem to be two basic confusions. First, Fish confuses the *political* neutrality of liberalism toward different kinds of metaphysical or theological claims with the *psychological* neutrality of individuals who affirm one or other (and there are many indeed) variation on liberalism. Individuals who embrace one or other of the liberal views caricatured by Professor Fish may do so as if it were a religion, but that doesn’t mean that the view is a religion–a religion, that is, of the sort characterized by liberalism.
Second, Fish employs the surprisingly amateur anti-liberal device of calling any recommendation for action, qua recommendation for action, a moral claim.
>This is itself a morality — the morality of a withdrawal from morality in any strong, insistent form. It is certainly different from the morality of those for whom the Danish cartoons are blasphemy and monstrously evil. And the difference, I think, is to the credit of the Muslim protesters and to the discredit of the liberal editors.
It’s vacuous to assert that all systems involving beliefs and actions are of the same logical order. If all action-inducing claims are moral claims, then none of them are. Liberals, of all stripes, consider this distinction between controversial moral claims and political structures to be the aim of their many and varied arguments for the superiority of their view. They may be wrong. But they’re wrong on the merits of their arguments, not because, as Fish alleges, they don’t have an argument.