If you think it's offensive for a Muslim group to exploit the 9/11 atrocity, you're an anti-Muslim bigot and un-American to boot. It is a claim so bizarre, so twisted, so utterly at odds with common sense that it's hard to believe anyone would assert it except as some sort of dark joke. Yet for the past few weeks, it has been put forward, apparently in all seriousness, by those who fancy themselves America's best and brightest, from the mayor of New York all the way down to Peter Beinart.
What accounts for this madness? Charles Krauthammer notes a pattern:
Promiscuous charges of bigotry are precisely how our current rulers and their vast media auxiliary react to an obstreperous citizenry that insists on incorrect thinking.Krauthammer portrays this as a cynical game: "Note what connects these issues. In every one, liberals have lost the argument in the court of public opinion. . . . What's a liberal to do? Pull out the bigotry charge, the trump that preempts debate and gives no credit to the seriousness and substance of the contrary argument."
-- Resistance to the vast expansion of government power, intrusiveness and debt, as represented by the Tea Party movement? Why, racist resentment toward a black president.
-- Disgust and alarm with the federal government's unwillingness to curb illegal immigration, as crystallized in the Arizona law? Nativism.
-- Opposition to the most radical redefinition of marriage in human history, as expressed in Proposition 8 in California? Homophobia.
-- Opposition to a 15-story Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero? Islamophobia.
Now we know why the country has become "ungovernable," last year's excuse for the Democrats' failure of governance: Who can possibly govern a nation of racist, nativist, homophobic Islamophobes?
But this has its limits as a political strategy. Krauthammer writes that "the Democrats are going to get beaten badly in November," and no one will credit him for boldness in that prediction. Some may disagree with his reckoning as to the reason for that likely loss: that "a comeuppance is due the arrogant elites whose undisguised contempt for the great unwashed prevents them from conceding a modicum of serious thought to those who dare oppose them."
But can anyone argue that a show of contempt is a winning political strategy? The question answers itself and implies that the contempt is genuine.
What is the nature of this contempt? In part it is the snobbery of the cognitive elite, exemplified by a recent New York Times Web column by Timothy Egan called "Building a Nation of Know-Nothings"--or by the viciousness directed at Sarah Palin, whose folksy demeanor and state-college background seem terribly déclassé not just to liberals but to a good number of conservatives in places like New York City.
In more cerebral moments, the elitists of the left invoke a kind of Marxism Lite to explain away opinions and values that run counter to their own. Thus Barack Obama's notorious remark to the effect that economic deprivation embitters the proles, so that they cling to guns and religion. (Ironically, Obama recently said through a spokesman that he is Christian.) Here's Robert Reich, Bill Clinton's labor secretary, explaining "The Anatomy of Intolerance" to readers of TalkingPointsMemo.com:
Many Americans (and politicians who [sic] the polls) don't want a mosque at Manhattan's Ground Zero. . . .
Where is all this coming from?
It's called fear. When people are deeply anxious about holding on to their homes, their jobs, and their savings, they look for someone to blame. And all too often they find it in "the other"--in people who look or act differently, who come from foreign lands, who have what seem to be strange religions, who cross our borders illegally. . . .
Economic fear is the handmaiden of intolerance. It's used by demagogues who redirect the fear and anger toward people and groups who aren't really to blame but are easy scapegoats.
So if some Americans are afraid of people "who have what seem to be strange religions," it must be a totally irrational reaction to "economic insecurity." It couldn't possibly have anything to do with an act of mass murder committed in the name of the religion in question.
And Reich doesn't just fail to see the obvious. He dehumanizes his fellow Americans by treating their values, feelings and opinions as no more than reflexive reactions to material conditions. Americans in fact are a very tolerant people. Even in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, there was no serious backlash against Muslims. What makes them angry--what makes us angry--is the bigotry of the elites.
The Ground Zero mosque is an affront to the sensibilities of ordinary Americans. "The center's association with 9/11 is intentional and its location is no geographic coincidence," as the Associated Press has reported. That Americans would find this offensive is a matter of simple common sense. The liberal elites cannot comprehend common sense, and, incredibly, they think that's a virtue. After all, common sense is so common.
The British philosopher Roger Scruton has coined a term to describe this attitude: oikophobia. Xenophobia is fear of the alien; oikophobia is fear of the familiar: "the disposition, in any conflict, to side with 'them' against 'us', and the felt need to denigrate the customs, culture and institutions that are identifiably 'ours.' " What a perfect description of the pro-mosque left.
Scruton was writing in 2004, and his focus was on Britain and Europe, not America. But his warning about the danger of oikophobes--whom he amusingly dubs "oiks"--is very pertinent on this side of the Atlantic today, and it illuminates how what are sometimes dismissed as mere matters of "culture" tie in with economic and social policy:
The oik repudiates national loyalties and defines his goals and ideals against the nation, promoting transnational institutions over national governments, accepting and endorsing laws that are imposed on us from on high by the EU or the UN, though without troubling to consider Terence's question, and defining his political vision in terms of universal values that have been purified of all reference to the particular attachments of a real historical community.
The oik is, in his own eyes, a defender of enlightened universalism against local chauvinism. And it is the rise of the oik that has led to the growing crisis of legitimacy in the nation states of Europe. For we are seeing a massive expansion of the legislative burden on the people of Europe, and a relentless assault on the only loyalties that would enable them voluntarily to bear it. The explosive effect of this has already been felt in Holland and France. It will be felt soon everywhere, and the result may not be what the oiks expect.
There is one important difference between the American oik and his European counterpart. American patriotism is not a blood-and-soil nationalism but an allegiance to a country based in an idea of enlightened universalism. Thus our oiks masquerade as--and may even believe themselves to be--superpatriots, more loyal to American principles than the vast majority of Americans, whom they denounce as "un-American" for feeling an attachment to their actual country as opposed to a collection of abstractions.
Yet the oiks' vision of themselves as an intellectual aristocracy violates the first American principle ever articulated: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . ."
This cannot be reconciled with the elitist notion that most men are economically insecure bitter clinging intolerant bigots who need to be governed by an educated elite. Marxism Lite is not only false; it is, according to the American creed, self-evidently false. That is why the liberal elite finds Americans revolting.
Monday, August 30, 2010
From James Taranto: