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October 16, 2005

Elite Opinion

Insty linked to a recent Michael Barone column that's a pretty good read. It's about the left's growing subculture that disdains their country’s history and tradition.

He argues how reverence for America’s history gives one a sense of place, how, as in both the military and religion, ties to the past imbue a feeling that you’re part of an something that makes demands on you, give you a sense of something that you have to live up to. But, Barone writes:

not all of us cherish ties to past traditions. "America's business, professional, intellectual, and academic elites," writes Samuel Huntington in his 2004 book Who Are We? have "attitudes and behavior [that] contrast with the overwhelming patriotism and nationalistic identification with their country of the American public. . . . They abandon commitment to their nation and their fellow citizens and argue the moral superiority of identifying with humanity at large." He believes that this gap between transnational elites and the patriotic public is growing. Huntington knows whereof he speaks: He's been at Harvard for more than half a century. …


"A nation's morale and strength derive from a sense of the past," argues historian Wilfred McClay. Ties to those who came before--whether in the military, in religion, in general patriotism--provide a sense of purpose rooted in history and tested over time. Secular transnational elites are on their own, without a useful tradition, in constructing a morality to help them perform their duties. Most American's sense they need such ties to the past, to judge from the millions buying books about Washington, Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson, and other Founding Fathers. We Americans are lucky to live in a country with a history full of noble ideas, great leaders, and awe-inspiring accomplishments. Sadly, many of our elites want no part of it.
He calls these guys the ‘transnational elites,’ politely giving them the benefit of the doubt, only willing to ascribe to them the notion that history has put us in a place where the notion of of individual, self interested nation-states is outdated.

Maybe that’s some of it, putting a positive spin on ‘em, but, frankly, their real underlying unifier is worse: a shared notion that America is ‘bad’ or, toward the gentler end of their spectrum, that America ain’t exceptional (and don’t you forget it, pal!). From those who believe it’s just one nation, no better than others, to those who know it's somehow worse, the most wicked possible. All united in one Nascar sneering, ‘theocracy’ chanting, culture of ‘non-rubes’ that wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere near a Wal-Mart or a non-ironic use of the flag - that couldn’t let a sentence fragment of the slightest America praise pass uncorrected without a spittle-laden “Yes, but…” diatribe in rejoinder.

Despite the occasional ‘Don’t question my patriotism!’ façade, it’s more and more in the open. But what I wonder is, where does it come from? Why should it be so prominent now?

Historically, this strain's been around since the rise of the Soviet Union. It wasn’t much more complicated than America ain’t ‘Uncle Joe’s’ workers' paradise, its philosophy and politics at odds with history's next great leap. But how’d the America hatin' metasticize, burst and spread to a larger, more public place in leftyism's innards?

One theory I’ve heard put forward (forget by who) says that a lot of lefties really turned against their country over civil rights. That a group was raised in the ‘50’s, brought up in golden, comfortable age by their parents and society to believe America really was the greatest, that it truly was a shining city on a hill, elevated over other countries by its principles, its Americanness.

But when they saw that America could be bad, could deny justice and decency to it’s own citizens, it wasn’t just a failing, it was the deepest hypocrisy possible.

That stuff is hard to take. Imagine you’re in a 7-11 and you see a customer next to you palm a couple packs of gum and walk out without paying. Bad. Imagine though, that that person is a cop, wearing a uniform that’s supposed to signal it stands for exactly the opposite. But you were raised to believe officers embodied justice! A deep challenge.

I think something in this is true. Much like the old saw that there’s no greater hater of the Catholic Church than an ex-Catholic, there’s no greater hater of a country than one who was raised from the crib to believe in her perfection.

And, while we’re on religion, lemme get into that. Ace has talked about this before, and it’s something I agree with. Man has a hard-wired need to worship, to have a life-ordering faith that gives meaning to the hum-drum banality of our existence. And the mere fact you don’t believe in a God doesn’t mean that goes away, doesn’t mean that you won’t still view life as a struggle between the forces of light and darkness.

Morality, denied a diety, remains a struggle against the non-believers. And because lefties believe more strongly in the blank-slate perfectibility of man and the papal infallibility and effectiveness of governmental institutions run by a decent, like-thinking bureaucrat elite, well, heaven can be achieved here on earth (if only the non-believers would stop rigging the elections.) And because America doesn’t live up to that religious perfectibility, and seems dominated by black-heart infidels, well, how could they not pray for its Armageddon?

Maybe that doesn’t explain fully why America should be the worst nation on earth to them, but it might explain why those who might otherwise think it has failings should exacerbate and dwell on those flaws with a fanaticism and fervor, explains their shaking and their dilated pupils, their revering deep Chompsky-Kaballah secrets of America’s true history at a level approaching mystic ecstasy.

But, of course, that’s the back room stuff. What makes it to the newsletter for the cultural elite’s rank and file, is the general sense of superiority, an inchoate sensibility that their country is flawed and, ultimately, ridiculous. An inexhaustible touchstone for smug, condescending, blue-state laughter at its expense.

How long can a country get away with that message broadcast from on high? Even the rubes catch on that they’re the rubes after awhile, that their betters aren’t laughing with them, but at them. Everyone likes to be in on a joke. How long before their kids learn to laugh at them too? What happens then? What happens when that country is really tested, when sacrifices are required?

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posted by Dr. Reo Symes at 04:12 PM

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