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Gnostic Liberalism

Knows what's the matter with Kansas -- and with you (Dean Drobot/Shutterstock)

Emmett Rensin, an editor at Vox, has written a tremendous piece criticizing what he calls “the smug style of American liberalism.” Rensin, 26, is a self-described socialist, and boy, does he do a number on American liberals for building an entire politics on looking down their nose at the right-wing rubes. Excerpts:

There is a smug style in American liberalism. It has been growing these past decades. It is a way of conducting politics, predicated on the belief that American life is not divided by moral difference or policy divergence — not really —but by the failure of half the country to know what’s good for them.

In 2016, the smug style has found expression in media and in policy, in the attitudes of liberals both visible and private, providing a foundational set of assumptions above which a great number of liberals comport their understanding of the world.

It has led an American ideology hitherto responsible for a great share of the good accomplished over the past century of our political life to a posture of reaction and disrespect: a condescending, defensive sneer toward any person or movement outside of its consensus, dressed up as a monopoly on reason.

Yep. Five minutes ago, nearly everybody would have had difficulty accepting transgenders in bathrooms and locker rooms. Now if you don’t embrace it fully, you are a hater who deserves mockery and disdain. More:

Elites, real elites, might recognize one another by their superior knowledge. The smug recognize one another by their mutual knowing.

Knowing, for example, that the Founding Fathers were all secular deists. Knowing that you’re actually, like, 30 times more likely to shoot yourself than an intruder. Knowing that those fools out in Kansas are voting against their own self-interest and that the trouble is Kansas doesn’t know any better. Knowing all the jokes that signal this knowledge.

The studies, about Daily Show viewers and better-sized amygdalae, are knowing. It is the smug style’s first premise: a politics defined by a command of the Correct Facts and signaled by an allegiance to the Correct Culture. A politics that is just the politics of smart people in command of Good Facts. A politics that insists it has no ideology at all, only facts. No moral convictions, only charts, the kind that keep them from “imposing their morals” like the bad guys do.

Knowing is the shibboleth into the smug style’s culture, a cultural that celebrates hip commitments and valorizes hip taste, that loves nothing more than hate-reading anyone who doesn’t get them. A culture that has come to replace politics itself.

The knowing know that police reform, that abortion rights, that labor unions are important, but go no further: What is important, after all, is to signal that you know these things. What is important is to launch links and mockery at those who don’t. The Good Facts are enough: Anybody who fails to capitulate to them is part of the Problem, is terminally uncool. No persuasion, only retweets.Eye roll, crying emoji, forward to John Oliver for sick burns.

And:

If the smug style can be reduced to a single sentence, it’s, Why are they voting against their own self-interest? But no party these past decades has effectively represented the interests of these dispossessed. Only one has made a point of openly disdaining them too.

Abandoned and without any party willing to champion their interests, people cling to candidates who, at the very least, are willing to represent their moral convictions. The smug style resents them for it, and they resent the smug in turn.

The rubes noticed that liberal Democrats, distressed by the notion that Indiana would allow bakeries to practice open discrimination against LGBTQ couples, threatened boycotts against the state, mobilizing the considerable economic power that comes with an alliance of New York and Hollywood and Silicon Valley to punish retrograde Gov. Mike Pence, but had no such passion when the same governor of the same state joined 21others in refusing the Medicaid expansion. No doubt good liberals objected to that move too. But I’ve yet to see a boycott threat about it.

One more:

Make no mistake: I am not suggesting that liberals adopt a fuzzy, gentler version of their politics. I am not suggesting they compromise their issues for the sake of playing nice. What I am suggesting is that they consider how the issues they actually fight for have drifted away from their egalitarian intentions.

I am suggesting that they notice how hating and ridiculing the people they say they want to help has led them to stop helping those people, too.

I am suggesting that in the case of a Kim Davis, liberalism resist the impulse to go beyond the necessary legal fight and explicitly delight in punishing an old foe.

I am suggesting that they instead wonder what it might be like to have little left but one’s values; to wake up one day to find your whole moral order destroyed; to look around and see the representatives of a new order call you a stupid, hypocritical hick without bothering, even, to wonder how your corner of your poor state found itself so alienated from them in the first place. To work with people who do not share their values or their tastes, who do not live where they live or like what they like or know their Good Facts or their jokes.

Read the whole thing.  I find it impossible to say anything that can improve this essay. This is why people like me would be open to voting Democratic at times, but pull back, because we know that deep down, the people who run the Democratic Party hate us.

 

 

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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