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Home/Rod Dreher/Nationalists Vs. The ‘Who, Whom?’ Left

Nationalists Vs. The ‘Who, Whom?’ Left

So, Milo Yiannopoulos is about to go on at LSU across town, and I’m not there. I spent most of the afternoon in bed asleep, having another *&%$# mononucleosis episode, and I’m still trying to recover. It’s weird how it manifests episodically, and how there’s no way to predict what’s going to instigate it, or how bad it’s going to be. Today was especially not good. I’m sorry that I won’t be able to have a first-hand report for y’all.

Today I read a student op-ed in the LSU Daily Reveille by Anjana Nair, an undergraduate woman and self-described “minority,” who lamented the fact that Milo was being allowed to speak on campus. In the United States. Of America. She wrote, in part:

I once thought I loved free speech. As someone involved in media, the First Amendment was my best friend. That is, until I faced the reality that people, like they do to all good things in the world, abuse it and use it as justification for reckless and hateful behavior.

One of the main proponents of this pseudo-patriotic ideology is a man is bringing his controversy to an already vulnerable University community: Milo Yiannopoulos.

This is something. Maybe I’m remembering my undergraduate years as a student journalist at LSU in a poetic haze, but I can’t recall any of us, liberal or conservative, ever calling for censorship of political speech on campus. In fact, I think we would have been ashamed to publish such an opinion. If not, we ought to have been. But then, we didn’t think of ourselves as “vulnerable.” More:

Progressive movements can sometimes be quite overwhelming. It’s hard when a white man has to watch minority groups gain equality in the world. Now, all the sad white men who have been taken out of the spotlight have banded together under one supreme leader — Trump — who will lead them to the promised land of white supremacy once again.

How convenient for Anjana Nair. All her political opponents are nothing but racists and sexists. Worse, they have the gall to ignore the right of people like her never to confront speech that makes them feel distress (“This in turn leads to an atmosphere in which only the ones inflicting the harmful speech feel comfortable”).

And there’s this howler:

It’s a battle in which old ideologies don’t account for modern day realities. When the First Amendment was written, it couldn’t have accounted for Twitter battles and social media showdowns influencing human opinion and behavior. It couldn’t have foreseen the existence of people like Yiannopoulos and Trump, who force us to define what abusive speech is.

If only the Founding Fathers had been able to foresee the existence of Twitter, they never would have written the First Amendment. For the first time in American history, we have to define what abusive speech is. Ay yi yi…

Here’s the thing: Anjana Nair’s opinion is not limited to undergraduate snowflakes. Damon Linker, himself a liberal, has a powerful column today arguing, in effect, that the basic view that Nair expresses in crude form is widely shared has blinded liberals to the world they actually live in. Excerpts:

The latest and most ambitious of these liberal hit pieces is by Vox‘s Zack Beauchamp, who marshals a range of academic studies to defend the view that the electoral success of right-wing movements across the Western world — from the rise of Trump and the outcome of the Brexit referendum to recent strong showings for far-right parties in European countries from France to Hungary — is not mainly a product of economic anxiety but rather a result of “racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia.”

As Beauchamp puts it in a summary statement that verifies what an awful lot of liberals appear to believe: “The ‘losers of globalization’ aren’t the ones voting for these parties. What unites far-right politicians and their supporters, on both sides of the Atlantic, is a set of regressive attitudes toward difference. Racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia — and not economic anxiety — are their calling cards.” (In another passage, Beauchamp adds that “the privileged” are “furious that their privileges are being stripped away by those they view as outside interlopers.”)

There you have it — a perfect distillation of liberalism in 2016: Trump voters and their analogues overseas have “regressive attitudes.” They’re motivated by bigotry, fear, and selfishness, all of which makes them angry that various outsiders are threatening to take away their abundant “privileges.” They certainly have no justification — economic or otherwise — for their grievances.

Linker says that the deeper ideology motivating liberalism is “the desire to delegitimize any particularistic attachment or form of solidarity, be it national, linguistic, religious, territorial, or ethnic.” So:

Concerned about immigrants disregarding the nation’s borders, defying its laws, and changing its ethnic and linguistic character? Racist!

Worried that the historically Christian and (more recently) secular character of European civilization will be altered for the worse, not to mention that its citizens will be forced to endure increasing numbers of theologically motivated acts of terrorism, if millions of refugees from Muslim regions of the world are permitted to settle in the European Union? Islamophobe!

Fed up with the way EU bureaucracies disregard and override British sovereignty on a range of issues, including migration within the Eurozone? Xenophobe!

As far as humanitarian liberals are concerned, all immigrants should be welcomed (and perhaps given access to government benefits), whether or not they entered the country illegally, no matter what language they speak or ethnicity they belong to, and without regard for their religious or political commitments. All that matters — or should matter — is that they are human. To raise any other consideration is pure bigotry and simply unacceptable.

What liberals like this really despise, says Linker, is people’s attachment to ordinary human things. This is why they can only understand it as bigotry when people resist those who try to take those things away from them. Read the whole column. 

Milo Yiannopoulos is not Russell Kirk any more than Donald Trump is Edmund Burke. The point here is simply that far too many liberals have fallen into the lazy habit of refusing to grant any moral standing to their opponents, and deciding that they don’t have to take them seriously, because these people are nothing but haters — and the power of the state (or the university) should be marshaled to silence them. You want to know why some people are voting for Trump? Because they perfectly well understand that a Hillary Clinton administration would be filled with people like this.

I would add a couple of things to Linker’s analysis. One, cosmopolitan conservatives — some libertarians, and business Republicans — are guilty of the same thing. The globalist types, I mean. Along these lines, a reader e-mails this story from the Telegraph reporting that the OECD has reversed its earlier warning that a pro-Brexit vote would wreck the British economy. The reader says:

I think this story from Britain about how the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has completely reversed its forecast for the post-Brexit economy is interesting in light of your post about what happens if Trump wins.  I think far too many of the people who operate at the highest levels of finance and government live in such invincible ideological and cultural bubbles that they can’t even tell when their analysis is being warped by the reigning groupthink and passions of the clique they travel in.

Even worse, some of them may know its wrong, but excuse their fear-mongering as helping the “greater good.” I think there was a lot of that in the Brexit debate and I think there’s a good deal of it going on with this election.  I’m not voting for Trump and I think he’s bad for the country, but I don’t really have a lot of faith in the prognosticators at this point either.

Second, Linker is not entirely correct that cosmopolitan liberals demand that everyone give up their particularist attachments. To the contrary, if you are non-white, female, LGBT, worship in a non-Christian religion, or any combination thereof, you are encouraged to make your particular attachment central to your identity, and to claim privileges attached to it — while simultaneously denying the same to white, male, straight, Christians (or any combination thereof). 

They call it social justice when they do it, but bigotry when we do it. Is there any wonder that more than a few people who stand to be dispossessed by the advance of this ideology call it b.s., and have ceased to care if they’re called bigots for fighting it? If only at the level of intuition, more than a few of these people have come to understand that the liberal project has devolved away from old-fashioned liberalism, which is about principle, towards pure power politics of the “Who, whom?” variety (“The whole question is — who will overtake whom?” — Lenin).

Like I keep saying, the identity politics embraced and used as a cudgel by the Left logically legitimizes the same thing on the Right. The only thing that keeps it in check is the stern disapproval by elites in media, politics, academia and otherwise, who stigmatize anyone who disagrees as bigoted and eager to return, in Comrade Nair’s phrase, “to the promised land of white supremacy once again.” That, and the cowardice of conservative politicians who are so afraid of being called bigots by the media that they don’t defend principle, or the people who vote for them.

What happens when people who are told by these elites stop believing that they should be ashamed of themselves for the things they love, and when they stop believing that the Republican Party is interested in standing up for them? Donald Trump, that’s what. If nothing else, the inability of so many liberals to grasp this elementary truth is a massive failure of imagination. And it may well cost them the presidency this fall, in the same way that it cost the GOP elites control of their party.

It is hard to draw clear lines between loving what is one’s own and hating the Other. This is universally true of human beings. A very good thing about old-fashioned liberalism is that it at least tries to compel us to think about what is universal and what is particular, and how we can build a peaceful, workable world that balances them. We are losing that ability, and may have lost it. The Left’s being unable to tell the difference between a Klan rally and orthodox Christians at Sunday worship, and demanding that this moral blindness be written into law, is destroying liberalism, and with it the possibility for peaceful co-existence.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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