Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Why don't we have an elite?

Why do liberals wish to make things which matter not matter? Mark at Western Survival gives this explanation:

I think that what is going on here is that liberals, in their well-intentioned, understandable, and laudable desire to make the world a better place, wish to "deconstruct" - i.e., eliminate - any aspect of human identity that leads to friction, with the single (unprincipled) exception of political identity.

What Mark is describing here is the neutrality strand within liberalism. This is one of the strands of thought making up modern liberalism. I can't vouch for the historical accuracy of what this strand claims, but I do know that many liberals like to view their philosophy in its terms.

The argument runs something like this. After the religious conflicts of the 1600s, it was decided to order society not by religious authority, but "neutrally" according to a concept of equal rights.

The highest principle was less to assert a religious truth than to tolerate a variety of religious claims; to repress favouritism and discrimination toward one's own religious view in order to keep the peace; and to recognise the equal claim of others, their equal right, in matters of religion.

Equality, tolerance, non-discrimination as a means to secure social peace.

However, the highest principle was gradually extended in its reach to other kinds of truths and values on which society had traditionally been based. Western man increasingly adopted a stance of public neutrality toward the things which matter.

Mark himself describes this mix of equality, non-discrimination, neutrality and social harmony as follows:

Liberal thinking goes something like this:

Egalitarianism is what is right and moral. No one is better than anyone else, so no one should have any significantly better circumstances in life than anyone else. To be a good person, you must be an egalitarian.

Ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, nationality, language, religion, and culture are aspects of human identity that lead to favoritism and discrimination and thus power and wealth inequalities and social friction.

Because these sources of identity lead to inegalitarian outcomes, these sources of identity must either be eliminated or made unimportant.

If people's only significant source of identity were as liberals - people with no religious, ethnic, gender, national, class, or cultural identity - most of the strife in the world would be eliminated.

So what's wrong with the "neutrality strand" within liberalism? Mark argues that the problem is that the sources of identity targeted by liberals can't in reality be eliminated. Therefore, a more realistic goal would be the adoption of international norms in which important sources of identity could exist without friction or strife.

Mark sets out his argument persuasively, and I encourage readers to visit his site and read the entire piece. There are, though, a few additional arguments I would like to add.

First, the adoption of a neutral stance toward things which matter leads to a major defect in modern Western man, namely a failure to project. Mark captures this defect at the very end of his description of how liberals see things (as quoted above):

If people's only significant source of identity were as liberals - people with no religious, ethnic, gender, national, class, or cultural identity - most of the strife in the world would be eliminated.

If people have no religious, ethnic, gender, national, class or cultural identity, then they are empty men fit only to observe and admire the "colourful" life they witness in the non-liberal subject, in the "other". They lack a "self" to carry confidently into the world. They have too little to project on their own account.

Second, Mark is right to highlight the free pass given to political identity. Liberals do allow themselves to be passionate about their political identity, to identify with larger political entities (i.e. with political 'teams'), and to assert superiority on the basis of political beliefs. There isn't the same adoption of a neutral stance when it comes to political identity and belief.

As a clear (although unusually extreme) example of this, consider the views of Marieke Hardy, an Australian left-wing scriptwriter:

I'm afraid I can't get past politics in a friendship. It would be difficult for me to even get to friendship stage without working out which 'team' my potential friend may bat for, but let's just say for the sake of argument that somehow I've gotten all dizzy for paldom before discovering my potential best mate is a Young Liberal. Okay.

Me: Wanna go see a movie tonight?
New friend: My word, yes!
Me: Hey, funny thing. I've never asked who you vote for!
New friend: That is funny, isn't it?
Me: Hilarious!
New friend: Haha!
Me: So who is it?
New friend: John Howard!
Me: Goodbye forever!
New friend: Cheerio!

I know my parents have Liberal voting friends ... I'm glad that they could see past politics to break bread with their comrades and neighbours, but it's just too big a deal for me. It's too important.

I have a particular group of friends who I adore. They are rabid lefties. They also have two very close mates who openly vote Liberal. When I discovered this I was very shocked, and didn't deal with it very well. I'm now able to be at larger dinner parties with them and make polite conversation, but we all know that there will be no further friendship entered into.

Another Australian leftist, Catherine Deveny, has made it known that:

Even if the Liberal Party promised me everything I wanted ... I still wouldn't vote for them because they are not my team.

For these politically correct women, politics is a source of identity which is considered important and which allows a partisan loyalty to a larger collective.

Yet this is exactly what isn't allowed for the other sources of identity, such as traditional ethnic or national loyalties.

Not only is this a double standard, it represents a distortion in the way human loyalties are understood. After all, the distinction between the Labor and Liberal Parties isn't really that important. It hardly deserves the kind of passion given to it by the women quoted above.

Furthermore, if political identity is the one area in which we don't have to adopt a stance of neutrality, but can discriminate, assert a collective allegiance or even assert superiority, then it becomes one permissible means by which individuals can seek distinction in the modern West.

It's not surprising, therefore, that our cultural elite seeks distinction through holding the right political beliefs, rather than through (real) cultural refinement, or the expression of character, or service to family or nation.

This means that, despite the egalitarian idea within liberalism, there is still an elitism in Western societies, but a lazy one based on little more than holding to certain beliefs.

A recent example of this kind of lazy elitism is the argument of English columnist, Patrick West, that Australians are "white trash" because we are "some of the most coarse, racist people on earth".

West's complaint is not only that we lack refinement, but that we fail to measure up to liberal political belief by having too much ethnic loyalty and therefore being "racist".

West even seems to suggest that our deviation from liberal belief is so great that we better fit the role of "colourful other" rather than liberal subject:

I don't mean to be rude to the Australians, who are really quite charming and part of me does warm to their earthy sense of humour and childlike joie de vivre.

The Australian writer Guy Rundle thinks the Patrick West view of Australians is common amongst the English commentariat. According to Rundle:

As an Australian in Britain, you simply get used to it. More often than not such anti-Australian sentiments find their expression in the leftish mainstream press, where ostensible liberalism often serves as a mask for cultural elitism.

It is a cheap elitism. To claim it, you don't actually have to be elite in any field or in any aspect of personal character. You simply have to look with disdain on mainstream, working-class culture and hold to liberal, cosmopolitan views.

We won't have a true elite until we return to more demanding, non-ideological forms of seeking distinction.


  1. I appreciate your reference to my blog post and I found your extension of my argument very interesting. I agree.

    Your last sentence - "We won't have a true elite until we return to more demanding, non-ideological forms of seeking distinction" - is insightful. I would add that my intuition tells me that we will not return to more demanding forms of seeking distinction until we are forced to do so by life-threatening necessity.

    I don't fully understand how we came to a point where so many very intelligent people believe the leftist nonsense that they do, and where plain old everyday common sense norms of human life have come to be associated only with the "working class". I think of the working class as a group of people who aren't particularly bright but reliably plod along in their jobs. To associate non-leftist beliefs with this sort of person is a disservice to non-leftist beliefs, yet that is what so many intelligent people do.

    Why? How did collectivism and the whole leftist worldview come to be thought intelligent and correct by so many smart people? How did a philosophy which penalizes excellence and exalts mediocrity and sameness attract so many people who should be smart enough to see the inherent - and I think, glaring - flaws in such beliefs?

    When we start seeing Ayn-Rand-character sorts of people celebrated by the intellectual elite instead of the Che Guevaras and Al Gores, we will know the world has once again righted itself (no pun intended). But I am guessing that won't happen until the real-world penalty for adopting leftism is fully felt by these smart, deluded people. Poverty, racial persecution and violence, loneliness, childlessness, emptiness - these are the real results of adopting leftist policies. (I am reminded of the confessional letter of an aging feminist you blogged about once.) Apparently our Western societies are going to have to suffer an as-yet unknown amount of these things before these smart people realize they have been wrong. It seems as though leftism is a sickness which can spread either through a population of uneducated have-nots who envy the success of others, or through a population of smart people living in a society buffered from life's realities by prosperity built on capitalism. I've noticed that the leftist elite tend to be people who do not have to concern themselves much with economic realities: students and young people, heirs to wealth, tenured faculty.

  2. What are these "more demanding" forms of elitism you speak of? From the text, it seems you are advocating national identity or religious affiliation or ethnic pride above "politics". But aren't these also "political", at least insofar as they are antagonistic? None of these things exist without defining identity as superior to others claiming a different identity. Is there a specific identity you preference? The mention of Western societies is suggestive, but is that where you draw the line? Is it sufficiently narrow to claim status as an elite? Sorry, but I think you're dog-whistling here, and your definition of "leftist" elitism is a misrepresentation of liberal thinking. Please be more demanding of yourself. It might be worth reading, then.

  3. I think Mark is talking about a return to some of the civic virtues, requiring hard work and talent, within the framework of a revitalized traditional Western society.

    I wouldn't go so far as to say today's elite don't work hard or are defined by their "laziness" or their "political correctness." It isn't as simple as more radical equals more prestigious, though there are those, especially minorities, feminists, etc., who build careers on this. But the conformity of liberal PC does have a stranglehold on our institutions and a leader certainly has to pay considerable homage to it, as well as to expend much of his energy on bureaucratic tasks.

    Certainly liberal elites are confident in being public with their beliefs. My university alumni magazine just had a cover story on "alternative" families, a shameless piece of propaganda. There was not the least indication the author thought anyone would object. Yet ironically, liberals convince themselves they are being "courageous" in the face of some imagined reactionary "backlash" of "hate."

    The mysterious power of modern liberalism seems to have to do with people being protected from (or rendered unaware of) the consequences of limitless "tolerance." I was reading the Old Testament recently with the penalties of stoning for adultery, the ruthless extermination of enemies, etc. People could not be "tolerant" because in many of these matters it was a matter of life and death, for individuals, and for the community. Now we are in the opposite position, where we are so committed to liberalism that we become more committed to it the more its consequences come back to hurt us.

    Of course, what Mark of WS calls "leftism" is increasingly indistinguishable from mainstream liberalism.

  4. As someone who was for years a "liberal" or "progressive", and who has since returned to the older traditions, I wonder how some people who invest their whole identity into their liberal/leftist ideology would cope with anything which shook their ideological allegiances.
    I've noticed that here in America, many, many people are more fiercely attached to their political party labels now that national identity and ethnic/kinship identity and religious affiliations have all been weakened. So, feeling the lack of the more natural allegiances like ethnicity and kin and nation and yes, even race, people become fanatically attached to their political 'tribes.' It can't be just coincidence that ideology has stepped in to fill the vacuum left by the absence of those more primal identities. And given their open rejection of those primal identities, including even gender, liberals are all the more attached to their ideology.

  5. Adultery was ever a matter of life and death to a society? I'll grant skin diseases as a reason for an exclusionary zone & period, but stoning adulterous women was just patriarchal nonsense we have blessedly grown out of, in most parts of the world. Liberalism, as I see it, and in every tradition I grew up in, whether religion or Western Civilization, seeks to broaden the availability of such maturation. Of course, with people finding themselves outraged at "alternative families" or advocating a return to race-based separatism, there's a long way to go, clearly.

  6. gregory, you're making a whole lot of explicitly liberal assumptions without even realizing it, while staring down your nose at our host here, so let me spell them out for you for clarity's sake.

    Firstly, in spite of your protestations that liberal beliefs are being misrepresented, you actually confirm much of what OzCon is saying. Specifically, you equate "political" with "antagonistic." And you do this by suggesting that national identity or ethnic pride as such is inherently hostile and antagonistic.

    You furthermore, absurdly, suggest that "None of these things exist without defining identity as superior to others claiming a different identity." That's simply false, period, full-stop. It's also exactly what OzCon is saying liberals believe--that the annihilation of particular identities is necessary in order to annihilate the notion that one person is in any way superior to another. Now, it's obviously unture that identifying onesself as Japanese necessarily entails disdain for all non-Japanese, or that identifying onesself as female necessarily entails a belief in one's superiority over men. However fervently liberals might push the notion that merely having a distinctive identity is a form of hatred, they can always be counted upon to deny that this is what they believe in the next breath.

    You're also missing something really, really big: That the forms of identity we're talking about are (by and large) elements of our identity that we do not choose for ourselves. This is totally distinguishable from political identity, which is worn like a fashion and selected from among what are thought to be more or less desirbale options. Liberals, of course, are passionately devoted to the elimination of all forms of identity not personally constructed by the individual (except when they are trying to claim a genetic basis for various sexual perversions). In your belief that all such identities are oppressive, you also come to believe that sexual identity, racial identity, and so on are all exactly like political choices--they are something we construct and choose for ourselves, no different from deciding what shoes to wear. You assume this without even knowing it is possible to see it otherwise.

    No, I think OzCon understands liberalism perfectly well, and there is no "caricature" going on here.

  7. Anonymous, a fine comment.

  8. Marieke Hardy and Catherine Deveny ought to just LOVE Eva Herman's new book:


    Admitted to regretting her three divorces, and condemned abortion

    By Gudrun Schultz

    BERLIN, Germany, March 20, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A leading German TV-moderator and anchorwoman of the country’s top newscast caused an uproar last year when she admitted to regretting her three divorces, and condemned abortion, Die Tagespost reported.

    Eva Herman published her account of the fatal flaws in a career-oriented lifestyle in a bestselling book entitled “The Eva-Principle: Toward a New Femininity,” released last year. Now she’s published a second book, this one containing letters from women supporting her rejection of feminist self-fulfillment propaganda, reported Der Spiegel news magazine.

    Her sequel, Dear Eva Herman, captures the responses of women who welcomed the admission that professional success had not compensated for the loss of genuine family life. [Read more ...]

    [Hat tip to Taki's new web-site, Taki's Top Drawer.]

  9. For the benefit of our friends in other parts of the Anglo-sphere, it may be a good idea to note that in Australia, the Liberal Party is considered the conservative political force in State and Federal parliaments.

    I can see this being a little confusing to American readers who may not understand why a "liberal" will be disinclined to vote for the "Liberal Party."

    The point to remember is that the Liberal Party was founded by Robert Menzies (later Sir), who earlier founded the United Australia Party with the help of William Kent Hughes. Both Hughes and Menzies were active within the Young Nationalists before that too. As I understand it, the UAP was heavily populated with former members of the New Guard (which itself was made famous by its founder's sympathetic motions towards interbellum Italy). The liberalism of the Australian Liberal Party, at least as I understand it, is the Classical Liberalism of Sir Edmund Burke.

    Otherwise, another brilliant piece by the editors of OzConservative. All this time I thought I was the only traditionalist in Australia (!) but now that I've found your site, it's reassuring there are more of us out there. Unfortunately, we're far too few and far between to really impact on the legislative and cultural agenda. Very sad really.

  10. Anonymous, glad you've found the site. Hope you find future articles of interest.

  11. The fundamental principle of liberal thought in my eyes is wrong. From what I read here it is clear to me that they are against anything imposed on by circumstance of birth and wish the individual to be self made. This is impossible. In a liberal society babies are born to an environment which is rampant with liberal ideology. This means from an early age they learn; what liberals have come to implement in society as social norm. There is societal pressures to hold a certain world view and live a certain way of life. Now these views maybe "liberal" in nature but they actively indoctrinate the person. This is against the fundamental principle of liberalism and I have no idea how they can not notice this inherent flaw.