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America: Mall or Stadium?

Liberals expect shoppers to be committed citizens. Human nature doesn't work like that

Ed West writes in the Spectator (UK):

I appreciate that, for American liberals in particular, patriotism is not about where your ancestors came from but an ideal, and an attachment to a set of values. This is heartfelt and genuine, and you are certainly right to abhor racism, but if you try to ignore human nature you will fail in whatever your goal is. Another result of multiculturalism is that the more diversity there is, the more white support there will be for radical right-wing parties at the national level. This is happening across Europe, and it can only be further accelerated when the multicultural party promotes identity politics, as the Democrats are masters of – because either no one does identity politics, or everyone does. This is where Trump comes along.

Donald Trump is not my cup of tea; he is the very antithesis of those mild-mannered northern European values I outlined earlier and as a human being does not seem to possess a single redeeming feature. But the nationalism he espouses, which seems like a derivative of Patrick Buchanan’s 1992 platform, would paradoxically make the United States in the long term far more like the egalitarian social democracy the Left likes.

How do people who like both equality and diversity square this contradiction? On the most part they don’t, because as Damon Linker observed recently in The Week, they have come to view any attachment to the local and real over the global and abstract as morally deviant:

Underlying liberal denigration of the new nationalism — the tendency of progressives to describe it as nothing but ‘racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia’ — is the desire to delegitimise any particularistic attachment or form of solidarity, be it national, linguistic, religious, territorial, or ethnic… cosmopolitan liberals presume that all particularistic forms of solidarity must be superseded by a love of humanity in general, and indeed that these particularistic attachments will be superseded by humanitarianism before long, as part of the inevitable unfolding of human progress.

Is it any surprise then, that across the western world the centre-left is sleepwalking to irrelevance? The proposition nation is a noble concept, and one against which the white identity politics of the Alt Right is hard to morally articulate, but it is very much a utopian one, and certainly something that has never been tried before in a democracy. Liberals boast that demography is on their side, which it certainly is, but when they achieve their goal they might not like what they have created. The more utopian dreams fail the more virulent its believers tend to become towards opponents, but it doesn’t solve the existential contradictions. As a child, I remember a superpower tried changing human nature to create a paradise on earth; that didn’t work out too well.

Here’s the problem, as I see it. Is the American nation (or any nation) more like:

  1. The diverse crowd that gathers at the shopping mall on Saturday afternoon, or
  2. The diverse crowd that gathers at the football stadium on Saturday night?

The difference is that the only thing the first crowd shares little more than a geographical space, but the second crowd shares not only a geographical space, but a purpose.

Our problem is that we want the solidarity and sense of purpose that the football stadium crowd possesses, but without its shared sense of a mission greater than the individuals engaged in it. I don’t think this is a problem that politics can solve, but it is certainly a problem that politics can exacerbate. As the next four years will demonstrate.

Instead of the Stadium as a symbol, I might have used the Cathedral, but of course America, as a foundationally secular nation, is better represented by a stadium. Plus, these days, Cathedrals function more like Malls, in the sense I mean in this post. There’s not much shared sense of purpose there, only a diverse group of people gathered in a particular geographical space to pursue private ends. The Mall really is the symbol of our place in this time.