Clark Stooksbury pokes fun at a risible post by an excitable right-wing tribalist who appears to believe that George Zimmerman is being railroaded, and is the latest victim of the Left’s assault on civilization itself. Stooksbury points out that Zimmerman has been charged not with “racism,” but with second-degree murder. It may be the case that Zimmerman is not guilty of this charge. We’ll see. One does not have to accept the legitimacy of Sharpton and Jackson, two of the most base, repugnant figures in American political life, to recognize that an unarmed teenager was killed under mysterious circumstances, and that a trial is warranted. This does not assume Zimmerman’s guilt; in fact, under the law, Zimmerman must be presumed innocent of murder unless it can be proved otherwise in court.
For tribalists and their propagandists, though, the most important principle above all is defending the tribe and its causes. Indeed, if it were not for this, Jackson and Sharpton, rabble-rousers and shakedown artists, would have no career. I am often made aware of how conflicted I am as a conservative on the subject of populism. When I see the corruption (moral and otherwise) of elites, I strongly feel like a populist, and an angry one. But more often, I strongly fear the mob, and the mob’s mentality. Elites are never more corrupt, it seems to me, as when they refuse their duty to use their power and authority to protect the powerless from the mob.
On my trip to France, I read a good book, “The Hare With Amber Eyes,” by Edmund de Waal. In a NYT column last fall, Roger Cohen traced the outlines of the book. “Hare” is a memoir of de Waal’s Jewish forebears in Western Europe. He is descended from an extremely wealthy, extremely cultured clan of assimilated Jews who lost everything to anti-Semitic violence of the Nazi era. His direct ancestors had everything taken from them in Vienna by the Nazis, but the French branch of the family also suffered terribly in Nazi-occupied France. You cannot blame the Germans alone for this. De Waal’s book is not a political polemic, but he makes clear that the French anti-Semitism coalescing around the Dreyfus case was a precursor to the Nazi plunder. The occupying Germans had something to build on.
To read the chapters in which de Waal recounts the shockingly swift, utterly brutal stripping of his great-grandfather’s fortune and possessions by the new Nazi government of Austria, and the rape and plunder of all they had, is profoundly unsettling. Nobody could have been more apparently secure in Austria, or more patriotic, than the wealthy, assimilated Jews of Vienna. The emperor had not tolerated anti-Semitism. But the emperor belonged to an ancien regime that fell with the end of the Great War. Now the mob was in control. And the mob knew whom it hated, and blamed for all their sufferings.
It is a liberal conceit that the only mobs, in the political sense, are right-wing mobs. This is not true. As someone who had his life threatened by a Sharpton-led mob of black racist rabble, I can testify to this first hand. Far more broadly and genteelly, it seems to me that a “mob,” in the political sense, can be any group of like-minded people who are committed by instinct and disposition never to hold themselves — their principles, their words, their deeds, etc. — to critical account. A mob, almost by definition, lacks humility. I was thinking about the mob principle this morning while reading, via Sailer, this fascinating interview with the Pulitzer-winning playwright Bruce Norris, whose more controversial plays take on liberal elite hypocrisies. Excerpts from the interview:
BN: There’s a lot of intolerance in liberal audiences, of which I count myself a member, of any sort of self-investigation or questioning of the depths of our own principles.
ED: How do you know when you have a play?
BN: I find myself in an argument, and often it’s a political argument, at a restaurant or bar with friends. And when I find myself on the losing side of that argument, and having to articulate why I’ve taken up that position, I think that’s when a play begins to percolate for me. Whenever I find myself losing, I have to understand why I can’t articulate this better, and I have to divide the argument up among various people that I know, or various people that I’ve created, to
come to some sort of solution for myself.
ED: What was the argument that ignited Clybourne Park?
BN: At the beginning of the Iraq War, I was in a conversation in a restaurant with some people, and I was questioning the notion of whether or not we should, in a blanket fashion, “support the troops.” I felt that we had no responsibility to support the troops if we disagreed with the campaign that they were waging. And one friend of mine, a very, very liberal woman who grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, said, “Hispanics are overrepresented in the military relative
to their numbers in the population.” And I said, “Well, so what you’re telling me is that I should, out of deference to the sensitivity of this particular minority, abandon my political position about the illegitimacy of a war because I should be more concerned about their feelings?” And I felt, as a white man, that kind of Rush Limbaugh outrage at having to suppress my political thoughts for the social niceties that my liberal friend was intent upon me observing. So that was the genesis of the outrage that the white man, Steve, in the second act of Clybourne feels.
ED: In Clybourne Park, you say that de Tocqueville says, “The story of American history
is in private property.” Do you think that bleeds into your other work about what it is that we own, people trying to hang on to their private property, to what is their territory?
BN: I got into a conversation yesterday with the literary manager out here at the Taper. She’s in her twenties, and she said to me that she found it upsetting that Clybourne Park doesn’t show any way forward for how we resolve the problems of race and property and territory. And I said, “But we’ve never been able to resolve them.” And she goes, “I know, but as a liberal I feel that we should.” And I said, “You know, I wish that was the case, but I’m a pessimist by nature and I don’t expect that we ever will. I think there’s something essentially rotten in human nature that will not allow us to resolve those problems.” And she said, “Well, that’s a very conservative attitude to have.” And I said, “Yes, I think it’s rather surprising that I am a liberal, because I have a rather pessimistic worldview.”
I agree that it’s surprising that Norris is a liberal, given his worldview. I am a political conservative primarily because I see a conservative disposition to be the best way — though not the only way, and, God knows, not a fail-safe way — to protect the civil order and the rule of law against the passions of the mob — whether the mob are snarling Nazis or Sharptonites in the streets, powerful elites running roughshod over the many, genteel utopians holding positions of privilege, or, frankly, ourselves, and whatever tribe or tribes to which we belong. To understand that you too can easily become part of any mob is the beginning of a kind of wisdom. Ever see The Sorrow and the Pity? To watch that film is to grasp how easily any of us could have become collaborators with the mob, and how difficult it would have been to have been heroic when put to the test. But I digress…