(Okay, okay, I put the word "nominalist" in the title only because I couldn't think of a better one. Don't shoot!)
There was a time, long ago, when I was young and rather too fond of playing the "There's no connection" game. Here's how the game is played. Person A criticizes some policy or even some use of language. Person B says that the policy doesn't necessarily have the problems that A attributes to it or that the language doesn't necessarily mean what the person takes it to mean. Hence, there's no connection between the two and person A is just hung-up or over-worried. In the area of language, and in Christian circles (I've seen it especially among young Protestants), this takes the form of something like pure nominalism--the idea that it doesn't matter how we use words, because they have no meaning in themselves and refer to nothing essential. I saw it in a conversation not long ago: Person A suggested that it's not such a good idea to connect an important word like "holy" with a distinctly non-holy followup word. Person B scoffed at this as "legalism," because, said B, "People give words their meaning," and since speakers presumably do not wish actually to assert as a propositional matter that the unpleasant substance in question is holy, why then, there is nothing to object to in the expression!
In politics, the "there's no connection" game is particularly evident when liberals are unable to see the "choice devours itself" phenomenon that I have discussed on numerous occasions. Suppose, for example, I were to link this story and connect it to the "choice devours itself" phenomenon. It's obviously an instance. Here is a girl literally being dragged to an abortion facility by her mother to be forced to have an abortion. One might ask why this was even an issue. Hey, all those people at the abortion facility are pro-choice, aren't they? The intimation from the girl that this was against her will would guarantee that they wouldn't perform the abortion, right? Right? So there should have been no fear, no terror, on the part of the girl about being dragged into the abortion clinic as some sort of sinister place, right? Those are all pro-choice feminists in there who just want to help her carry out her choice, right?
Um-huh. Not right. The girl was scared, and with reason. The so-called "pro-choice" operators of the abortion clinic could not be depended upon to refuse the abortion and to make sure it was the girl's choice. And people who have run crisis pregnancy centers will tell you that forced abortions on minors are a reality in America, technically illegal or not. But if I were to cite this as an instance of how choice devours itself, how the rhetoric of choice eventually leads to tacit and even active approval of the very opposite of choice, even for the people (the pregnant women) who are supposed to be granted choice, my liberal commentators would be completely confused. The court granted a restraining order, didn't it? The forced abortion didn't occur, did it? And individual pro-choicers can be found who will condemn the mother's attempt. There is no necessary connection between legalizing abortion and forcing women to have abortions. So move along, folks, nothing to see here. The whole "choice devours itself" phenomenon is just a chimera of a blogger's over-stimulated brain.
The trouble with both of these incidents of "there's no connection," or one part of the trouble, is a refusal to deal with the reality of human nature as we actually find it. Motivated to defend something or other (be it abortion or bad language), the person playing the "there's no connection" game insists that the only connections that count are abstract, logical connections. If it would be possible (for aliens, say) to mean something unobjectionable by a swear word, then we should pretend that all the people around us swearing up a storm mean nothing objectionable by their foul language and that we should not judge them! If pro-aborts needn't logically approve of forced abortions, either in America or in China, of pressure on the elderly by family or government to commit suicide, etc., then there is no connection between approval for chosen death and approval for forced death. The fact that there seems to be a connection in fact, in history, in human nature, is something we are supposed to ignore.
Now, by this time I suspect many of my conservative readers are in full agreement with me. So just to be a bit perverse, I'm going to make a connection to something that, I entirely admit up front, is a less creepy illustration of the "there's no connection" problem: I'm talking about authoritarian sympathies among conservatives and self-styled distributists and their fellow travelers. If one points out the problems we have actually seen with the welfare state (in response to proposals for further government programs or defenses of present ones), if one cites the Acton-esque comment that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, I fear that a certain type of authoritarian-inclined conservative will tell you that there's no necessary connection between, say, government-controlled healthcare, government welfare, government control of education, etc., and the abuse of said powers. This type of conservative imagines a theoretical Christian monarchy or Christian government, endowed with tremendous centralized power but always or at least nearly always using it wisely and benevolently. (I am still planning at some time to write a far more extended post on this topic. You can look for it under the header of "The Kingdom of Frank the Just" in case I ever get around to it.)
The trouble here, too, is an insistence on acknowledging only necessary connections and a refusal to deal with human nature. Acton's dictum is true not because of the facts of immutable logic but because of the facts--which should probably be regarded as immutable in a different sense--of fallen human nature and limited human nature, non-omniscience, etc. Centralized government power rarely works well because of factors like human limitations in knowledge, the near impossibility of overseeing the behavior of citizens without harassing the innocent, and the phenomenon of perverse incentives and the desire of human beings to get a free lunch. What Thomas Sowell calls the tragic vision, in contrast to the vision of the anointed, constitutes wisdom in the political realm because of human nature and human limitations. These are not things that can be overcome by mere good will and Christian benevolence, much less by hereditary authority!
My apologies if, for the sake of a post, I have done what Dr. Johnson criticized in the metaphysical poets and yoked heterogenous elements by violence together. If my readers find themselves stopping to think carefully next time they begin to make heavy weather out of a statement beginning, "There's no necessary connection..." I will have accomplished something of value.