Thursday, June 30, 2005
LEFTIST AUSTRALIAN PLAYWRIGHT SHOWS HER IGNORANCE
Australian elections are usually fairly close so it is unwise to prophesise about likely outcomes. Nevertheless, the successful Liberal Party federal council meeting in Canberra last weekend should serve as a reminder that for the moment, political conservatives are in the ascendancy. In any event, they will be in office until at least the end of 2007. In order to deal effectively with a government, it is important to understand the men and women who comprise it. On the evidence, this is a significant weakness among many who make up what remains of the contemporary left - or what Robert Manne refers to as his fellow members of the "left-liberal intelligentsia". This is demonstrated in Hannie Rayson's play, Two Brothers, commissioned by the Sydney Theatre Company and showing in Sydney after a season in Melbourne.
Rayson is a fine playwright who has several works on her résumé including Hotel Sorrento and Life After George. The latter is a witty, sympathetic but insightful send-up of the Melbourne University academic left. Clearly, she understands the left-liberal intelligentsia. In Two Brothers, however, Rayson exhibits no comprehension whatsoever of political conservatives. This is not surprising since she told journalist Matthew Westwood that she does not "really understand" what she terms the "conservative mindset". In researching her play, Rayson felt the need to visit businessmen in gentlemen's resorts (the Melbourne Club and the Savage Club) and sought to find out the thought processes of what she depicts as private-school educated, Liberal-voting, conservative men. It seems an unnecessary search since her family was in property development and her Who's Who entry reveals an education at a private Protestant girls' school in Melbourne - the same one, in fact, as she satirises in Two Brothers.
The play runs the line that the navy was complicit recently in allowing a boat with asylum seekers to sink, acting on instructions from a conservative government in which James "Eggs" Benedict is a senior minister. He is the bad brother. Then there is Lachlan Benedict, a leftist community lawyer who, of course, is the good sibling. It's as trite and as cliched as that.
The assertion that the navy allowed asylum seekers to drown was emphatically denied by the navy's former maritime commander, Rear-Admiral G.F. Smith. What's more, no one has been able to produce any evidence to substantiate this assertion which traduces Australia's sailors. Obviously Rayson finds conspiracies make more compelling stories than facts. Robin Usher reported (in The Age, April 12) her as saying that she modelled the "bad" brother on Howard ministers Peter Costello and Philip Ruddock and the "good" brother on the left-inclining community activist Tim Costello. Since then Rayson has distanced herself from this. Yet the message is clear in any objective viewing of her play's message.
The portrait of the conservative politician in Two Brothers is so over-stated as to turn what purports to be a drama into a parody. Not only is "Eggs" Benedict (played by Garry McDonald) involved in the deaths at sea of hundreds of women and children, he is also into hand-to-hand murder, stabbing a refugee to death at the start of the play. The message of Two Brothers is that conservatives are virtually by breeding evil and dishonest. The play is showing, after a group of Liberal MPs (including Judi Moylan, Petro Georgiou, Bruce Baird and Russell Broadbent) successfully led a campaign to release long-term detainees from mandatory detention. This cause was supported by many conservatives including, towards the end, high-profile commentators Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine and Alan Jones. Such complexities of political life seem beyond Rayson's (leftist) understanding.
She is not alone. Similar messages are hawked in the media by such luvvies as cartoonist Michael Leunig and broadcaster-columnist Phillip Adams. Following a cartoon in The Age, in which Leunig depicted a US marine in Saturn-mode devouring a child, a reader wrote to the editor complaining this reminded him of the "primitive communist anti-America propaganda" which he "was exposed to almost daily" growing up in Stalinist East Germany. Quite so. But Leunig has become The Age's poster boy. In The Weekend Australian Magazine on March 5, Adams described the US electorate as "wilfully ignorant", so much so that Americans vote against their self-interest. He said Howard should "try a little Mussolini-style goose-stepping" on his morning power walks. Get it?
In her John Pilger-like documentary Truth, Lies and Intelligence, on SBS last Thursday, Carmel Travers presented only one view - that George Bush, Tony Blair and Howard are compulsive liars and immoral. This despite the fact that all three were re-elected recently. It seems that Travers holds the Adams view that Americans, Australians and the British live in "the world's first dumbocracy".
The contemporary left in Australia, Britain and the US still does not realise how far attitudes have changed since the terrorist attacks on the US on September 11, 2001, and in Bali just over a year later. There is a new intellectual self-confidence among opponents of the left-liberal intelligentsia which is well analysed in Brian C. Anderson's South Park Conservatives.
The author refers to the impact of the "fiercely anti-liberal comedic spirit" which consumes the TV series South Park and the film Team America, which fits into this genre. No wonder, the ABC's in-house TV critic, David Stratton, gave Team America only one star out of five since, alas, it played "into the hands of George W. Bush". Now, what could be worse than that from a leftist perspective?
If the left is to successfully challenge the dominant non-left intellectual ascendancy it must first understand that conservatives are not necessarily evil or ignorant. To defeat a political opponent requires knowledge - not base prejudice. Two Brothers is not only bad theatre. It is also poor politics.
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
A UNIONIST COMMENTS ON THE ELITE DOMINANCE OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
Once upon a time, the federal Labor Party's unambiguous defence of workers' jobs and their livelihoods was seen as progressive. It was admired and respected. These days, the people running the party machine - the apparatchiks, advisers and politicians - are no longer attuned to the basic aspirations of honest working men and women but sing a completely misguided (and electorally wrong) tune. They seek to appease the unappeasable. They place their faith not only in the free market, but also in the shallow and cheap propaganda of a wealthy, inner-city elite that has a barely concealed contempt for people from the outer suburbs or the bush. They have fallen for Green propaganda that has been consistently found to be embellished or inaccurate. Worst of all, they believe these policies are in the best interests of the country.
Today, Labor is paying the price. On economic policy, it seems to be torn between succumbing to free market ideology or restoring the welfare state. On social and cultural issues it is trying to please inner-city metropolitan dwellers and university-educated professionals on the one hand, and traditional supporters living in the outer suburbs and regions on the other - constituencies with diverging, if not contradictory, views....
The fact is, cultural and social issues are increasingly influencing the way people vote. This development has exposed the gap between Labor's core constituencies. Their lifestyles and aspirations are so different as to appear irreconcilable. Inner-metropolitan voters are attracted to a secular, socially progressive party and have been the biggest beneficiaries of privatisation and globalisation. In the regions and outer suburbs, there is scepticism, if not antagonism towards economic rationalism, and family and community are still important....
One mystifying question for Labor is this: how did it end up in the web of the cafe latte set, given that it had a leader who could contest the culture wars against John Howard? Last year Labor appeared to have a good chance of re-establishing itself in regional and outer suburban Australia. After all, Mark Latham came from western Sydney, had written extensively about the vast gulf between inner-metropolitan dwellers and residents in the outer suburbs and regions, and had sided with ordinary Australians against inner-city professionals who have the time and money to pontificate on issues that do not affect them personally.
Initially his performance was consistent with his cultural analysis. He talked about the need to involve people in politics, labelled the politicians' superannuation scheme a rort, responded to the Redfern riots by asking where the parents were, opposed recognition of gay marriages and pre-empted the Government's decision to abolish the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. However, it was all downhill from there. Recall that Latham imposed Peter Garrett, the epitome of the cafe latte set, on Labor in the eastern Sydney seat of Kingsford Smith. And who could forget the disastrous Tasmanian forest policy?
Since last October's election, there has been an attempt to rewrite history by claiming that Howard set Latham up on forest policy. The fact is that both leaders had the same information, the same pressures and the same choice. Howard got it right and Latham got it wrong. Labor must learn the lesson. It can promise different groups different things, but it cannot promise them contradictory things. It must accept that there are times when it cannot satisfy both constituencies and has no choice but to identify either with the outer suburbs and regions or with the inner-metropolitan voter....
But Labor has an opportunity. It needs to admit that its historical supporter base and its potential supporter base are culturally conservative. Labor must choose. It can continue the way it has in recent times, allowing itself to be dominated by an inner-metropolitan, latte-sipping minority and avoiding hard questions. Alternatively, it can seek to represent the mainstream.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
LIBERAL JUDICIAL ELITE SCORNS THE LITTLE GUY
Funny that! Liberals used to say they were on the side of the little guy!
Most Americans know that for fifty years Liberal Judicial Activists have been the real extremists on our courts, especially the Supreme Court. However, some people haven’t yet learned this lesson and believe the Clintonian-style lie that judges such as Antonin Scalia represent “extremists” who would deny people their constitutional rights. How ironic, then, that in Kelo et al v. City of New London, Liberal Activists themselves have accomplished more real “judicial education” than Conservatives, Libertarians and Moderates might achieve in years as they delivered a punch in the gut to the private property right Americans hold dearest, ownership of one’s home.
First, the basics of the case. In an attempt to enhance its economic environment and tax revenues, the city of New London, Connecticut, exercised its power of eminent domain to seize homes and then turned the land over to a private company for commercial development. A number of homeowners sued the city, claiming that the taking violates the Fifth Amendment, which speaks only of the right of government to take private property for “public use,” a public road, for example. The case eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued its ruling on June 23, 2005.
In that ruling, the Supreme Court’s most Liberal members were joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy to prevail in a 5-4 decision favoring the City of New London. True to the “activist” philosophy of Judicial Liberals, the majority supported its decision by arguing that the Fifth Amendment’s words “public use” can also be “interpreted” to mean “public purpose.”
In her dissenting opinion, which was joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Scalia and Thomas, Justice O’Connor correctly points out that applying the standard of “public purpose” to justify the state’s taking of private property exposes every piece of private property to taking, for any arm of government can easily show that in exercising the power of eminent domain, it may, in O’Conner’s words, “generate some secondary benefit for the public such as increased tax revenue, more jobs, maybe even aesthetic pleasure.” What owners of private property, asks O’Connor, could prove that they are maximizing the use of their property with respect to how it might serve a “public purpose.”
Having thus exposed the flaw of Justice Kennedy’s argument that the ruling protects the public from unlawful takings by insisting upon the need for due process, O’Connor turns her attention to the majority’s invocation of Federalism as part of its reasoning. (Can we even imagine the hypocrisy of Liberal Activists who invoke the principle of Federalism?) With respect to this argument, Justice O’Connor simply points out that fundamental constitutional rights cannot be suspended or mitigated by states and municipalities, thereby not only exposing the error of the majority view but also helping Americans to understand the Liberal Activist agenda.
With respect to Justice O’Connor’s observation about constitutional rights, most Americans understand and accept the fact that the Constitution enumerates certain rights and reserves decisions regarding topics about which it is silent to the states. For example, most Americans agree with Liberals that the right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment must be strictly protected. But why is it, the great majority of Americans should ask themselves, that Liberals do not react to the rest of the Constitution in the same way they react to the First Amendment, preferring, instead, to ignore the Constitution’s language (as in the Liberal reaction to the Second Amendment) or to divine in the Constitution new language and new rights (as in the Liberal obsessions with the “rights” of criminals and the “rights” of the state to serve as the People’s Nanny).
The answer to the question lies in the brother and sisterhood Liberalism shares with other Leftist philosophies: a belief in the goodness of a welfare state controlled by an “intellectual” elite who reject the Jeffersonian idea that democracy can survive only if political power is held close to the people. This fundamental belief explains why Liberals invented the idea of Liberal Judicial Activism, a judicial theory which allows Liberal judges to substitute what they think the law ought to say for Washington’s democratic idea that legitimate law can be established only “by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people.” It also explains why in Kelo et al v. City of New London Liberal Activist Justices jumped at the opportunity to weaken private property rights, once again increasing the power of government over individuals and further establishing themselves as the nation’s Ultimate (though nefarious) Nannies.
Monday, June 27, 2005
French bureaucrats refuse to give up lavish free homes as economy wilts
Privileges of the French elite at taxpayer expense
The celebrated palace of Louis XIV at Versailles was once home to 20,000 artistocrats. Today, its illustrious apartments are inhabited rent-free by a new kind of nobility - lucky employees of the French Republic. The concept of "egalite" may be enshrined in the French constitution but, when it comes to free housing, some are proving more equal than others. Staff at the chateau, who range from directors to gardeners and maintenance workers, are housed in 200 coveted "grace-and-favour" apartments, which are considered the ultimate "job perk".
Almost 200,000 politicians, civil servants and public sector workers benefit from free or low-rent accommodation in France. The perk is estimated to cost French taxpayers more than a billion euros a year and millions more in undeclared taxes, and it has become the focus of increasing public outrage about the squandering of state money.
State prosecutors who have investigated the perk, which dates back to the 1940s, estimate that although its property portfolio could earn the state about 1.4 billion euros a year, rental income only totals 30 million euros (19 million pounds). Since that investigation was carried out three years ago, nothing has changed, even though France is battling to cut public spending and kick-start its ailing economy.
Those who could change the system, which was enshrined in 1949, are the ones who benefit most from it. Grace-and-favour housing is allocated not only to national and local politicians and government mandarins, but also to bank employees, hospital and museum workers and even, in some cases, public creche and swimming pool staff.
A number of public workers defended the perk, citing the "absolute necessity" of living near work in case of emergency.
Their claims meet with some scepticism from investigators: "In reality, housing benefits have become a way to bump up the remuneration of staff in important but unfair proportions," they said.
One French MP, Rene Dosiere, the vice-president of the Parti Socialiste, said: "For a long time I've been aware of the meandering nature of administrative life, but I've never understood quite what sort of urgency the General Treasurer might face." According to Le Point, a respected news magazine, five architects working for the Historic Monuments service at the Ministry of Culture were allocated apartments from which they ran private practices. After enjoying 15 years of rent-free housing in two of the country's grand palaces, Le Point claimed, two stayed on even after retirement.
Other beneficiaries are less grateful. According to Capital, a financial magazine, Christian Poncelet, the president of the Senate the higher house of the French parliament, was allocated a second luxury apartment after turning down the first, in a chic Left Bank building, because it was on the fifth floor. "His dog suffers from vertigo," said one of his staff....
The state prosecutors found the Ministry of Culture, with its portfolio of apartments in magnificent national palaces, including Fontainebleau, the Louvre and Versailles, guilty of some of the worst abuses. The director of the Louvre lived in a 236 sq metre (2,540 sq ft) flat, while the chief security officer's was even bigger, at 254 sq metres (2,734 sq ft). Even the museum's technical director enjoyed a flat of 121 sq metres (1,302 sq ft), which is large by Paris standards. All three were rent-free. Other apartments - some up to 600 sq metres (6,458 sq ft) - were let for rents "which could in no way be called normal", said the report. Investigators were astonished that the benefits were declared to the tax authorities "by neither the tenants nor those who employed them", nor even, it added, "by directors of the fiscal services".
The uses and abuses of grace-and-favour accommodation were highlighted in February, when Herve Gaymard, the finance minister in President Jacques Chirac's right-of-centre government, moved his wife and eight children into a 9,800 pound -a-month flat paid for by public funds. Mr Gaymard was forced to resign after it was revealed that he also owned a number of properties, including a flat in Paris that was rented to a friend.
In 1995, Mr Chirac's own housing arrangements came in for scrutiny when it emerged that he rented a 189 sq metre (2,034 sq ft) property on the Left Bank for only œ1,220 a month. The flat turned out to belong to City Hall, over which Mr Chirac had presided as mayor.
Sunday, June 26, 2005
Enlightening the stupid, God-fearing Georgia redneck
Post lifted from the inimitable Mike Adams
For years, I have argued that anti-religious bigotry is a serious problem in higher education. Recently, a memo was circulated at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville, Georgia, which broaches this controversial subject. Below, I have reproduced it in its entirety:
Recently, the university submitted an initial proposal that reponded [sic] to a Ford Foundation RFP. The funding program is called Difficult Dialogues and addresses the growing intolerance on university campuses surrounding religious pluralism and cultural and racial diversity.
GC&SU 's proposal identified a concern involving deeply held religious belief's precluding or interfering with the principles of academic freedom and the enterprise of questioning and discussing controversial subjects. Universities with proposals that meet the criteria for the Ford Foundation review committee will be notified in late June and asked to submit final proposals.
In the event that GC&SU ‘makes the cut’ and is asked to participate in the next stage, we would appreciate having anecdotal evidence of religious faith making civil, balanced, classroom discussions virtually impossible. Are there faculty who experience this? Would you agree that such attitudes are widespread at GC&SU or, to the contrary, fairly isolated?
Please send me your opinions on this matter or anecdotal evidence and use, ’Difficult Dialogues Anecdotes’ in the Subject space.
Thank you, Gregg.”
The author of this e-mail, Gregg Kaufman, is the Director of the Coverdell Institute at GCSU. Prior to accepting that position in October 2004, Kaufman served for 30 years in the Lutheran ministry. He has a Master’s in Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary.
Kaufman’s email reminds me how much I hate it when liberal colleges and universities greedily seek corporate funding for research. We really have to get the corporations out of the academy if we are going to construct a perfect society based on Marxian principles. Don’t you agree, comrades?
But, of course, such grants are necessary for those who make a living addressing “the growing intolerance on university campuses surrounding religious pluralism and cultural and racial diversity.” These executives of “Diversity, Inc.” demand high salaries to bravely combat the forces of religious faith, which fuel the bigotry of God-fearing Georgia rednecks at places like GCSU. If they didn’t, the State of Georgia might be faced with an outbreak of monkey trials and cross burnings. That could hurt Georgia tourism badly.
But Kaufman misses a golden opportunity by asking the university community whether they agree that the interference of religious faith with academic freedom is “widespread at GC&SU” or “to the contrary, fairly isolated.” This question is incomplete and simply measures two degrees of the same belief, rather than one belief and another that is “to the contrary.”
Imagine the following survey question:
Please indicate whether you, a) strongly agree, or b) slightly agree, with the following statement…
George W. Bush is an idiot.
Obviously, there are those who “slightly disagree” and “strongly disagree” with the above statement. But, why measure those contrary opinions when you’ve already made up your mind?
It is my contention that the belief that academic freedom is sometimes used as an excuse to suppress deeply held religious beliefs is also one worth measuring. And maybe the Coverdell Institute at GCSU can get some more of that corporate funding by seeking anecdotal evidence of the suppression of such religious beliefs.
As you read the following excerpts from the Pace University student newspaper (which I am sending to firstname.lastname@example.org ), decide whether there is a growing intolerance towards Christianity, which comes from liberals who preach tolerance, diversity, and the need to respect perspectives other than one’s own:
…With last year's box office flop The Passion of the Christ failing to receive any attention and with scientific nonsense diluting the minds of citizens and students alike, the time has come to bring to attention the teachings of the unknown prophet, messiah and handyman Jesus Christ.
…Last week, students were saved by "Jesus Awareness Week," a five-day, back-to-back radical good time filled with events and seminars geared toward spiritual "education" and prevention techniques for students to avoid burning in Hell for all of eternity. Events included a gathering at which students discussed their thoughts on God, a seminar on personal spirituality, a session aimed at teaching students about PCF and a "prayer journey."
The whole holy hubbub ended with some of the participants flocking to a 30-hour famine to honor, suffer, rejoice and reflect.
…The week-long God-a-thon was broadcast vibrantly on the sidewalks surrounding the school in chalky, neon graffiti.
…"I think it's shit," sophomore Alex Colon said. "I don't even understand why they're having it."
One question students asked, "Does this belong on our campus?"
It is difficult to answer since the University does not have a religious affiliate. Because Pace is a private university, it remains immaculately secular. All student clubs and organizations have the right to hold such events, no matter how adverse their opinions. That is, of course, unless they are Godless heathens. Students who oppose organizations such as PCF and their doings should remember one thing: our nation was built upon freedoms and liberties. If you do not accept Jesus into your heart, go back to whatever awful country you came from.
…There is no doubt that students benefited from this past week's eye-opening events. Pacers came out in masses to celebrate the life of Jesus H. Christ. Thanks to the PCF, the Christian faith rose from obscurity to enjoy five days in the spotlight. It was wonderful to see a brief abandonment of reason, logic, scientific discovery and progressiveness at our institution of education.
Is the hatred of Christianity making civil, balanced discussions virtually impossible on your college campus? If so, do not despair. Call the Ford Foundation today!
Saturday, June 25, 2005
ELITIST INTELLECTUALS OUTDONE BY THE DESPISED MORMONS
In the middle of the nineteenth century, two bearded prophets appeared who made a universal appeal to the poor and downtrodden of the earth. One lived in London, and his name was Karl Marx. One lived in Salt Lake City, and his name was Brigham Young. One, Marx, had science on his side. The other had the Book of Mormon. Marx argued that he had determined the iron laws that govern the movement of history, and told the poor and downtrodden, "Organize socialist parties, and try to overthrow the capitalist system." Brigham Young told the wretched immigrants who showed up on his door step in Salt Lake City, at the end of the weary and dangerous journey across the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains, "Go first and plant vegetables. Learn to feed yourself by the sweat of your own brow."
Of the two men, Marx had by far the greatest following. The Communist Manifesto, after all, was a much more cogent and compelling work than the bizarre text transcribed by Joseph Smith under the guidance of the angel Moroni. Yet whose prophecy has proved more fruitful? Go visit Russia and see what Marx's followers achieved, then travel halfway across the earth to visit Salt Lake City.
How is it that a religion like Mormonism has been able to solve problems that, so far, no purely secular system has been able to solve? Why did Brigham Young's culturally backward followers flourish and prosper in the desert, whereas Marx's most brilliant disciples ended by killing tens of millions of human beings in the name of progress? What was Brigham Young's secret?
Brigham Young believed that man was put on earth to do hard physical work with his hands, and he believed this was the only sure way to achieve salvation. Marx and his followers believed that man had been put on earth to enjoy it, and looked forward to a millennium in which mankind could eventually be freed from Adam's curse -- the cruel necessity to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow. Machines could do the work for us; technology would free us to devote our time to the pursuit of higher things. Manual labor would become a thing of the past -- as it has for so many modern Americans, at least those who have received college educations; and the same is no less true for the educated elite around the world who occupy positions of economic power and political influence that exempt them from the necessity to do life's dirty work.
Karl Marx dreamt of a world without hard labor; Brigham Young made a religious duty of it, and, indeed, an honor and a privilege. God had blessed us by giving us something genuinely productive to do, like growing the crops that will keep us from starving, like taking people's garbage out of the suburbs and the cities, or building people's houses, or landscaping their yards, or looking after them when they are sick.
In the eyes of Brigham Young, manual labor was collaboration with the Almighty in his ongoing effort to improve the world. The world, according to this point of view, was not created finished and perfect, as the educated theologians have vainly tried to argue; rather, it was deliberately left in an extremely unfinished state. Why? So that man would have a meaningful task to perform: so that he would become a co-creator of the universe.
Nor were the Mormons alone in sanctifying hard work. Their attitude was ultimately derived from the teachings of John Calvin, who preached what Max Weber would make famous as the Protestant work ethic -- an ethic that emerged in the Puritans, the Quakers, the Methodists, the Shakers and all the other various religious communities that glorified hard work and that inevitably ended up by making the members of these communities so prosperous that their wealth began to endanger the well being of their soul.
The theology of hard labor is radically at odds with the theology of the intellectual. The intellectual wants to contemplate the world, and to understand how it works. The man who works with his hand wants to change it, and to reshape it into a more desirable form. Nothing matters to him about an idea except what William James called its "cash value" -- its significance in the day-to-day life of concrete people.
The American philosophy known as pragmatism should best be understood as a method by which intellectuals can try to come to terms with the religions of hard work. It looks at a figure like Brigham Young and it says, "I grant you that there is much that is frankly silly and absurd about Mormonism. Yet look at what the Mormons were able to do. They took a desert and transformed it into a garden."
At the conclusion of The Communist Manifesto, Marx had said "Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains; you have a world to gain."
Lucky the fate of those workers of the world who decided to unite in Salt Lake City under the guidance of Brigham Young. They did not gain a world; they made one, just as the Protestant Dutch made their land by dredging it up from the sea. They took what God had not finished and they finished it for him, and for themselves.
As a young man, Marx had argued in his Theses on Feuerbach that philosophy had contemplated the world long enough, and that the time had come to change it. But when intellectuals decide to improve the world they inevitably make a mess of it. Only those religious fanatics who have been crazy enough to believe that hard work of individuals was a sacred duty have succeeded in changing the material condition of mankind for the better.
Friday, June 24, 2005
WHY BRITISH INTELLECTUALS STILL LOVE THE OLD MISANTHROPE
One of the station’s finest programmes, In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg, is running a poll to find the nation’s favourite philosopher. Borrowing some of the techniques, although none of the razzmatazz , of BBC television’s quest for the nation’s greatest Briton, Radio 4 has asked a variety of advocates to put the case for great thinkers, from Socrates to Heidegger. Whereas BBC One had Jeremy Clarkson putting the case for Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Rosie Boycott arguing for Diana, Princess of Wales, as our greatest Briton, Radio 4 has Richard Sorabji standing up for Aristotle,and Robert Kaplan leading the cheering for René Descartes. As one can see,we are talking intellectuals here. Which is why, troubling as it may be for some of us, it shouldn’t be too surprising that the philosopher running away with the race at the moment is Karl Marx.
The author of The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital may be the godfather of more misery, death and criminality than any other figure from the last 200 years. But he speaks, across the decades, and over a mountain of corpses, to an eternal yearning on the part of intellectuals. Marxism appeals to the thwarted dignity of the intellectual, flattering the academically inclined by playing to their sense that the world does not value them as it should.
Karl Marx has the answer to the central question that most troubles contemporary intellectuals. Not, “what is the meaning of life?” but “if you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”. For all those who form our intellectual classes, the readers of the New Statesman and the London Review of Books, the lecturers in sociology and cultural studies, the Arts Council England administrators and LEA curriculum advisers, life is plagued with a nagging injustice. They possess what they believe to be superior insights to the majority, a more cultivated mind, a more refined sensibility, a broader intellectual range. And yet they don’t enjoy the worldly success, or esteem, of those coarser souls who devote themselves to the grubby business of commerce and exchange. How can this injustice be explained? There must be something deeply, systemically, wrong with the way society is organised.
And Uncle Karl provides just such an over-arching, deeply satisfying, all-encompassing explanation. The system is wrong. Capitalism is not just unjust, but inherently illogical and destructive of the true, transcendant value of things. In Marx’s own words, it “has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.” And a pretty poor wage at that.
Marxism offers much more, however, than just an explanation of the injustice that leads money to become the principal scale of value, and the intellectual to be valued at a level well below his true worth. It also privileges the intellectual with a leading role in the organisation and leadership of society. Marxism presents a world which can only really be made intelligible by theory, and thus only properly understood, and shaped, by the theoretically literate. The workers, poor dears, are in a state of “false consciousness”, unware of the reality of their exploitation. History proceeds through a dialectic between forces which only intellectuals can effectively discern. And progress is brought about by a vanguard enlightened enough to have freed themselves from illusions and skilled enough to see the hidden meanings behind events.
Marxism can have a myriad applications. There are Marxist literary critics, such as Terry Eagleton, who can see the hidden truths in texts which eluded not just previous readers but the author himself. There are contemporary Marxist polemicists, such as Noam Chomsky or John Pilger, who can work out the real, and diabolical, motivation behind the actions of George W. Bush even though the President himself is too stupid to realise what he’s up to. But what unites the Marxist approach to every issue is the privileging of the intellectual’s elite status as society’s natural guide.
The persistence of Marxism’s appeal among intellectuals isn’t just apparent in the success of Karl in Radio 4’s poll. It is visible in the fêting of Marxist apologists from Eric Hobsbawm to George Galloway; it is audible in the cries of the anti-globalist movement; it is discernible in the hostility towards America and Israel, nations that have survived years of Marxist- inspired assault, and it is also detectable in the enthusiasm some intellectuals still feel for the European project, another construct of elites built on dubious notions of historical inevita- bility.
For some of us, history remains a better guide to human action than theory. And history teaches us where the Marxist celebration of intellectual leadership and theoretical purity leads — to the gulag, the mass grave and the crushing of the human spirit. But Radio 4 is, not yet, giving us the chance to vote for Gibbon, Macaulay, Thucydides or Robert Conquest. And if we must therefore celebrate a philosopher, let us at least choose one whom history vindicates. After all the horrors we have witnessed in the 20th century, success for Karl Marx in any poll would suggest we have learnt nothing.
It would be far better if the thinker who predicted where Marxism would lead, the proper sceptic and champion of Anglo-Saxon empiricism, Karl Popper, were to triumph in Radio 4’s contest. Much more than Marxism, the insights of the philosopher who championed the open society, and took on its enemies, are genuinely appropriate in our time
Thursday, June 23, 2005
ELITE CHURCHMEN ANTI-ISRAEL AND ANTI-AMERICAN
And they show an utter lack of principle about it. Any real morality is alien to them
Two regional conventions of the United Methodist Church (UMC) have voted to divest from companies that do business with Israel. A conservative Methodist activist is critical of that decision coming from the two groups within the eight-million-member denomination.
Last year, the Presbyterian Church USA voted overwhelmingly to endorse a divestment campaign against the Jewish state. Now the New England and Virginia Annual Conferences of the UMC have called for their denomination to divest stock in firms whose products have been used to destroy Palestinian homes. In Virginia, the resolution was proposed by the state chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. The Palestine News Agency has lauded both of the Methodist conferences for taking action against what it calls "apartheid Israel."
Mark Tooley, who heads the United Methodist Action Committee for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, says mainline "church elites" are very hostile to Israel primarily because the Jewish state is an ally of the United States. He asserts that "through their lens of liberation theology, they want to see Israel as the 'western oppressor' of the Palestinians as the Third World 'victims.' "But I think that perhaps among at least mainline church elite, there is at least unconscious anti-Semitism perhaps involved in some cases," he adds.
Liberal mainline leaders who embrace the divestment campaign, he says, must be challenged strenuously. "I think there possibly is an underlying issue of some latent anti-Semitism," Tooley says, "but more broadly I think it's a deep theological problem and an issue of a deep political bias." The IRD spokesman points out that while the United Methodist Church has been quick to condemn Israel for alleged human-rights abuses, the denomination's General Conference has refused to consider resolutions on human-rights violations in China, North Korea, Iran, Vietnam, Pakistan, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Syria, and Egypt. "[T]he religious Left is so concerned about Israeli human-rights violations, real or perceived, but has nothing to say about Arab human-rights violations -- even when those violations include persecution of Christian minorities," Tooley says.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
THE HYPOCRITICAL HOLLYWOOD ELITE
The McCarthy era, and particularly the persecution of leftists in Hollywood in the 1950s, remains fresh in our cultural memory. It has been the subject of numerous books, documentaries, and movies, usually following the same basic template: brave dissenters standing up for the right to espouse unpopular beliefs, right-wing bullies leading a witch-hunt against ''un-American activities," victimized political innocents, despicable sellouts who ''named names" to save their careers.
A different, far more complicated story is told in the new book, ''Red Star Over Hollywood: The Film Colony's Long Romance with the Left," by the husband-and-wife team of historian Ronald Radosh and writer Allis Radosh. Unlike ultra-right diva Ann Coulter, the Radoshes make no apologies for McCarthyism. But their book, based on much previously unavailable material from interviews and archives, serves as a welcome antidote to the glamorization of the Hollywood Left.
The American Communist Party, the Radoshes remind us, was not merely a progressive organization that stood for workers' rights and social justice. It was an arm of Stalinist Soviet Russia, an organization that replicated Soviet-style totalitarian control in its own ranks as best it could without the power to incarcerate and shoot people. Party members often faced severe pressure to toe the party line in their work and could be chastised for ''reactionary habits of thought" such as ''individualism." While most of the Hollywood communists' work in film was nonpolitical, the US wartime alliance with the Soviet Union gave them the opportunity to produce several films that were out-and-out Soviet propaganda vehicles, such as ''Song of Russia" and ''Mission to Moscow."
The Communist Party's complete subservience to the Soviet diktat became evident in 1939, when the Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact turned American communists overnight from zealous antifascists into staunch opponents of war with Hitler. This prompted pro-New Deal liberal Democrats such as actor Melvyn Douglas, who had previously allied themselves with communists in anti-Nazi groups, to cut those ties.
''Red Star Over Hollywood" meticulously documents the ways in which some blacklist victims put a cosmetic gloss on their own history. However, if the communists aren't cut any slack in this book, neither are the anticommunist bullies on the House Un-American Activities Committee. The committee ruined quite a few people who had at most a tenuous connection to left-wing causes and posed no security risk. Perhaps worst of all, it demanded that witnesses ''name names," including friends and family members -- names the investigators already had -- to prove their loyalty. While it's absurd to treat the blacklist as somehow equivalent to the Soviet purges (as did, for instance, the 1998 CNN series ''Cold War"), this insistence on a ritual sacrifice of the personal to the political did have an odiously Soviet whiff about it.
But the iniquities of McCarthyism are well known and much deplored; those of the Hollywood Left still tend to be shrouded in a veil of romanticized respect for rebels. Responding to an excerpt from the Radoshes' book in The Los Angeles Times, screenwriter Michael Sloane, whose 2001 movie ''The Majestic" dealt with the blacklist, waxed poetic about artists who were simply ''having opinions and expressing ideas" (in support of a state that allowed none). In 2003, writing about the death of film director Elia Kazan, who reluctantly agreed -- primarily out of conviction -- to testify before Congress about communism in Hollywood, once-blacklisted screenwriter Bernard Gordon fulminated that Kazan ''helped to support an oppressive regime." As a heroic contrast, Gordon held up playwright Lillian Hellman -- a lifelong champion of a regime that murdered millions.
In The New York Times Book Review, reviewer Stephen Kafner acknowledges the factual accuracy of ''Red Star Over Hollywood" only to dismiss it as a pointless inquiry into an episode that will forever remain grist for ''fantasists" on both sides. But setting the record straight is important. There is a reason the Hollywood Left clings to what the Radoshes call the ''fable of innocence destroyed by malice": this fable props up its moral authority to this day. From the height of this authority, today's celebrity radicals blast American policies while ignoring the evil of a Saddam Hussein.
It is often said that McCarthyism provides a cautionary tale for our own era, when dissent once again risks being branded as unpatriotic. That is a real danger. But the Radoshes' book gives us the other side of that cautionary tale: Some people who cloak themselves in the banner of ''dissent" stand for things that are truly reprehensible.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Dick Durbin and our post-patriotic elite
Post lifted from The American Thinker
How wrong can you be? No, we are not talking about the analogical genius, Senator Dick Durbin (D. al-Inois). We are talking about the great Mark Steyn, a genuine genius columnist who calls Dick Durbin unpatriotic. Come now, Mr. Steyn. Dick Durbin isn’t unpatriotic. He is post-patriotic.
Among the many things that our American liberals ask us to swallow in our own best interest is the idea that it is an act of lèse majesté to call them unpatriotic even though they are utterly embarrassed by patriotism. Who has not heard the liberal across the dinner table dismissing nationalism as dangerous and aggressive? But we are not allowed to call them on it.
This power play began after World War II when it came to public knowledge that a number of people with first names that sounded like last names had been passing government secrets to the Soviet Union. We call this time the McCarthy Era.
The McCarthy Era taught liberals that their ideas of a post-nationalist world did not go down too well with the American people. By the skin of their teeth they managed to swim back into the mainstream through a successful counterattack upon Senator McCarthy. Ever since, when caught in a post-patriotic act, they have waved the bloody shirt of McCarthyism to cow their accusers into silence.
Alger Hiss and Dexter White were unpatriotic and proud of it, and so are today’s liberals—in their hearts. Hiss and White believed in a world higher and better than nation states. From their experience in the 1930s they knew that the age of capitalism and fractious nation states was coming to an end, and they wanted to be part of the exciting and altruistic movement that would create a new world order to replace the old, failed system. There would be no place for atavisms like patriotism in the post-patriotic world that they wanted to build.
Today, as they continue with the project to replace the nation state with something higher and better, our post-patriotic elitists have a problem.
They have not offered anything to replace patriotism. This was suddenly made obvious in May 2005 when the French and the Dutch people rejected the proposed EU constitution. The governing elite and the international professional class with graduate degrees may feel comfortable with the European idea, but average people do not. They still adhere to their national loyalties.
Liberals are wrong about nationalism. It is not an embarrassment, it is a miracle. How was it ever possible to get people to shake loose from clan and tribal loyalties, a belonging based on blood, and accept the abstract membership in the modern nation state? The answer is embarrassing, of course.
“Toute ma vie je me suis fait une certaine idée de la France,” wrote General de Gaulle. The first Frenchman to have de Gaulle’s “certain idea about France” probably had it around the time that the English Henry V and his band of brothers were beating them up at the battle of Agincourt. The idea of Italy was created in conflict against the hated Austrian occupiers; the idea of a united Germany was imprinted into the Germanic peoples in the Franco-Prussian War. Local loyalties can only be melted in the crucible of war.
The EU constitution failed because the national loyalties of the Europeans remain un-melted. The French, to their credit, understand this and propose to unite the Europeans in the moral equivalent of war against the United States. Unfortunately, there are plenty of Europeans—Brits, Poles, Czechs, and Balts, for a start—who lack the proper enthusiasm for such a project.
Perhaps in another 50 years we can all unite against neo-imperial China. The time to abandon our patriotism will come when we combine with others to fight a common foe.
But wait a minute! We don’t have to wait half a century to face a common foe. We already have one, the dark forces of Islamic terrorism. Here is the very opportunity that the western liberals have wanted: the chance to melt particularistic nationalistic patriotisms in a cleansing war against a homophobic, intolerant, patriarchal ideology.
Yet the liberals have gone AWOL. Instead of rallying the nationalism of the peoples of Europe and North America into a new integrated post-nationalism they have reacted like bureaucrats, searching diligently for undotted “i”s and uncrossed “t”s.
They would rather miss the chance to grow the world beyond stultifying nationalism and patriotism than join with George W. Bush and the theocrats.
Maybe Dick Durbin and Co. are doing us a favor. Our modern elites seem incapable of building anything but top-down bureaucracies like the welfare state and the EU. So it is better for them to spout their offensive similes. Their mischievous post-patriotism is just the thing to keep them out of joint—and out of power.
Monday, June 20, 2005
Our Liberal Betters
Post lifted from Dummocrats
Some Democrats have responded to this blurb with a hearty "Aha!":
Strategists for both presidential campaigns detected a late shift to Bush by lower-income voters who were concerned about terrorism and values. Matthew Dowd, former chief strategist for Bush-Cheney, said these voters "decided they were voting in the national interest rather than their self interest on both the economy and national security."
"See!", they say, "those idiot red staters don't understand that our policies are better for them. Those nasty Republicans have tricked them into being so afraid of terrorists and gays that they'll vote against their economic self-interest. The fools!"
Ignore for a moment the faulty premise that conservative economic policy is worse for lower-income voters and instead concentrate on the disdain the Dems have shown for these people. They sneer at them and think they're idiots because they won't vote for simple take-from-the-rich-give-to-the-poor promises. Apparently the only people allowed to rise above their own self-interest are the super-rich liberals: the Kennedys, Kerrys and George Soros of the world (not to mention assorted Hollywood princes and princesses). Thank
God for our enlightened liberal elite!
As for the rest of us, we should just screw what we think is best for our country and vote for whoever will pander to us the most. What a nice peek into the liberal mindset.
Maybe the Dean-led Dems figure that since they've accused those who didn't vote for them of being (in no particular order): stupid, prejudiced and foolish, they should throw them a bone and point out that at least they're not selfish (although they should be)? I guess that's one way to reach out to the other side. ;-)
Sunday, June 19, 2005
LEFTIST EGOTISM AS A DISEASE: A LIBERTARIAN VIEW
“Liberal” is a funny word. Like “conservative,” it can mean a lot of different things. In many cases it can have a very positive connotation. For the purposes of this column I refer to persons who hold a series of political positions that early 21st century Americans define as “liberal.” This means supporting high levels of government spending for social welfare programs, a hostility toward the military and police powers of the state, and a general feeling that government in the hands of like minded folks is the greatest goal of the human race.
Liberal’s disease involves a subset of liberal-oriented people. Its chief symptoms are negativity, jealousy and an enlarged ego. Liberals who focus all of their attention on the need to help others don’t have this disease. They are only concerned with the potential good that can be done for those in need. Liberals who don’t claim great knowledge or expertise in the understanding of public policy don’t qualify since they don’t have the ego symptom of this disease.
The person suffering from liberal’s disease is most easily identified by the types of arguments they make. Words like “greed,” “selfishness,” and “exploitation” spatter their writings and speeches. Emotive language rather than reasoned arguments take center stage. The hatred of the “rich,” “capitalism,” etc., is the center point. Such a person will dismiss arguments about workers having a higher standard of living in free market economies than they do in socialist ones on the grounds that free markets allow some people to have “too much money.” One can only assume that this attitude springs from jealousy and envy.
The problem of jealousy becomes more evident when the ego aspect of this disease is also examined. A person with liberal’s disease is often highly educated. If not formally educated they have made up for it by having done a lot of reading. In discussions they are always quick to quote some famous author of philosopher in a childlike attempt to substantiate their status as an intellectual. They love to find statistics and studies that seem to support what they are exposing. The problem is, despite all of their readings and studies, the ability to think in a logical and rational manner eludes them. They are pseudo-intellectuals. They have knowledge, but lack wisdom, understanding and the ability to engage in rational thought on issues involving economics.
This disease is prevalent among journalists and educators. It is particularly engrained in our university system. The tax-funded support of this sort of irrational babbling by university professors is one of the greatest threats to a healthy democracy. University professors are particularly at risk of falling into this problem due to their own internal ego rankings. The University ranks people by numbers of degrees and academic achievements. Those in this system believe very strongly that they are the best and the brightest, the top achievers in America. Why then do they earn so much less than financiers and industrialists? Answering this question can lead a less secure person to feelings of jealousy and contempt for anyone in the world with more money. There is a deep psychological need to tear down the leaders of the capitalist system and the system itself that allow those leaders to earn so much more than those in academics.
Of course the problem of left-leaning academics in our university system and in our news media is not news. The issue in my thinking is to what extent this problem may have its roots in a genuine mental disorder. And of course what should we do about it. Libertarians do not support involuntary funding of education. So in a libertarian model the same market place that exists in business would apply to universities. Less affluent students would be paying their own way and would be much more serious about the extent to which the courses they selected furthered their career goals. Universities would have to adapt to attract students. Streamlining of curriculum and dismissal of dead weight personnel would vastly reduce this whole problem. Clowns like Ward Churchill would be on their way out the door.
Since the media exist as a creature of the market the issue in this case has to do with the economic sophistication of the consumers of their product. A populace who has been exposed to basic economic thought in their education system is much less likely to be tolerant of the left in media than those brought up on the socialist myths that currently predominate. Market supported media reflect the views of their audiences.
It is a great irony that the free market system that pays the taxes to support public education is torn down by the socialists who set the curriculum. Let’s find ways to change this.
Saturday, June 18, 2005
Sorry Liberals: Being Arrogant Does Not Make You Right
Back during the Presidential Election, Kerry enthusiasts were constantly gushing over the perceived intelligence of John Kerry. If it was not praises toward his "nuanced" approaches of how to creatively surrender to the United Nations and international terrorists then it was how all of his aides had to run around carrying dictionaries just so they could understand his "big words." Well, the truth is out. Eight months after everyone quit caring about John Kerry's records, he has finally released them to "The Boston Globe." Chance of chances, these records show that Senator Kerry was a "C" student with a virtually identical grade average as the stuttering, slack jawed, ignoramus George W. Bush. And, Kerry's aides needed dictionaries to understand him? Suddenly it is much easier to understand why Kerry ran such an inept campaign and how they thought voting for the $87 billion before he voted against it made any sense. Kerry chose to surround himself with die hard liberals who made the congenital mistake of all liberals by assuming that arrogance equaled intelligence and being right.
Arrogance is as much a part of liberalism as feathers are to being birds. In 2004, while under fire for the lack of intellectual diversity in the Philosophy Department at Duke University, department chair Robert Brandon misquoted John Stewart Mill and stated that conservatives were disproportionately stupid, and therefore underrepresented in academia. Being one of the intellectual elite, Professor Brandon must be well aware of the need to have supporting evidence for such and outrageous statement. And, what might that evidence be? Certainly not any quantitative facts.
According to Laubach Literary Action (now Proliteracy Worldwide), 51% of adult illiterates in the United States live in the metropolitan suburb strong holds of liberalism that surround our major cities with an additional 44% living in cities, but only 8% in conservative rural areas. I am not saying that liberals leaders are illiterate, however, I am saying this is the left's target audience. Many rank and file liberals cede their thinking to the liberal elite giving deference to their arrogance. They assume if a person is haughty about their views, mock those who do not hold them, and have some letters behind their name, then by proxy they must have thought it through and be right. It saves them the time of researching the complex issues of the day and thinking for themselves and enables them to share the coveted "mantle of intelligence" of the left. It also frees them up to spend their time on the Internet spewing profanity laced personal insults to all those with whom they disagree, always attacking the person but never refuting their ideas. "How dare you say I'm wrong when I agree with Professor X, AbC XyD, at the University? Your (sic) nothing but a @#%$ing *&@$# with a big nose. And your wife's fat, too!"
The truth of the matter is the liberal elite's arrogance is based on nothing beyond their arrogance. They feel they are right for the simple fact they think it. And, Heaven help you if you disagree. While conservatives rely on history, philosophy, the Bible, and a full understanding of human nature as a basis of their beliefs, the left supplants these with dubious claims of "tolerance" and "sensitivity." When the need for facts arises, they create their own through a series of unscientific and biased studies from some leftist think tank or polls from the "unbiased" media. For example, in the last election, the "LA Times" and a poll showing Kerry well ahead of Bush but neglected to mention that they surveyed disproportionate numbers of Democrats. Junk science is creating a junk society where how something sounds is more important than its substance or impact. Liberals push contradictory programs based on contradictory values based on nothing but the changing currents of their whims, then react with pathological "outrage" whenever you point out that their ideas do not work.
Infused with a sense of self importance, liberals are hacking a paradoxical path of destruction through our society for no other reason than they just feel like it.
If it is the slaughter of the unborn, liberals ignoring all scientific evidence that a fetus is a living human being, because babies cannot vote so why should they care. When confronted with Europe's economy collapsing under the weight of its social welfare system, liberals just ignore it because they do not "feel" that it will happen here. And the impact of allowing gays to marry is ignored because the left just does not feel there will be one.
The arrogance of the left is nothing but a smoke screen designed to stifle the debate of those who do not agree with them. Armed with nothing but their opinions and disinformation (plus a healthy mean streak to vehemently attack any dissenters) the left is trying to replace the foundations of our culture with a house of cards. Modern liberals need a lesson from the true liberals from ages past. People like Socrates, Plato, and Locke who understood that just because you believe something does not make it true, and you should not mess around with things you do not understand.
Friday, June 17, 2005
DEMOCRATS WANT MINORITIES BACK ON THE PLANTATION
In the minds of many liberal Democrats, Hispanics and African Americans must seem to come in only two varieties: deferential or defective. And according to one angry caller -- who was, from the sound of it, perfectly at home in a blue state -- I fall into the second category. "I think you're deluded," he said, "and maybe insane." I'm just guessing, but something tells me the caller would probably say the same thing about Janice Rogers Brown, who two years ago was nominated by President Bush to fill a vacancy on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Last week, Brown was finally confirmed but not before Senate Democrats and their accomplices in left-leaning advocacy groups such as People for the American Way did their best to try to paint this black conservative and California Supreme Court chief justice as an "extremist" whose views are outside the mainstream. Translation: Brown doesn't defer to liberals. So she must be defective.
By the way, here's something I've noticed: When conservatives criticize a person of color, they often insult you. But liberals usually are condescending. They don't say they're upset as much as "disappointed" in you. And so it was that the caller was disappointed in me. What fired him up was a column I'd written about Alberto Gonzales, the nation's first Latino attorney general. In it, I argued that liberal Democrats weren't really interested in promoting diversity unless they get the credit for it, and that this explained their lukewarm reaction to Gonzales -- an American success story whose nomination by President Bush they can't claim credit for.
It's not that the Democrats are suddenly anti-minority. I just think they're skittish and insecure when it comes to their own minority outreach efforts, such as they are. And so each time Bush or another prominent Republican tries to make minorities feel at home in the GOP, Democrats worry that the hold that they have on these groups may weaken and they won't be able to do much about it. Just as they can't do much to stop Bush from appointing Hispanics and African Americans to top positions in the Cabinet and in the federal courts, something that further frightens and frustrates liberal Democrats. And when Democrats oppose these nominees, it's usually not because of who these nominees are or even because of what they believe. Rather, it's because of what they represent and what it means in the grand scheme.
Just look at the line that was being advanced by Sen. Barbara Boxer of California. "Her life story is amazing. It is remarkable," Boxer said of the California jurist as the Senate was debating Brown's nomination. "What I don't like is what she is doing to other people's lives. Her story is amazing, but for whatever reason, she is hurting the people of this country, particularly, right now, in my state."
So this is the Democrats' dilemma. How are they supposed to market themselves to minorities as the one-and-only party of opportunity when Bush is putting nonwhite faces in high places? Better to try to paint the Republican Party as a restricted club, as Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean did recently when he described the GOP as "pretty much a white Christian party." And minority Republicans as aberrations.
I bet all this would come as news to Janice Rogers Brown, who attends church regularly. Just as I bet it would come as news to Miguel Estrada, the Hispanic gentleman who, at one point, seemed headed for the D.C. appeals court for which Brown is now confirmed -- until his nomination was unfairly derailed by rank racial politics. Estrada is a top-shelf Washington lawyer who had, after coming to the United States from Honduras and graduating with honors from Columbia University and Harvard Law School, worked as an assistant U.S. attorney and an assistant solicitor general. Yet none of that prepared Estrada for the meat grinder of the judicial confirmation process. Before long, Estrada was -- in an experience that must have seemed surreal to him at the time -- fending off accusations from white Democrats that he "wasn't Hispanic enough." That was Estrada's defect.
It was also complete nonsense. I don't see why liberals won't say what they really mean. It's obvious that what concerns them is not that these nominees aren't real minorities, but rather that they aren't their kind of minority. You know, the kind that asks for permission before they speak and makes sure that what they say falls in line with the views of their liberal benefactors.
Thursday, June 16, 2005
The French public may be demanding straight talk, but they shouldn't expect to get it from their leaders until the 2007 presidential election. President Jacques Chirac reacted to the rejection of his beloved European Constitution by appointing an old ally, career diplomat Dominique de Villepin, as his new prime minister.
Americans first heard of Mr. de Villepin in 2002 when he was Mr. Chirac's foreign minister and traveled to developing nations that served on the U.N. Security Council stirring up opposition to the U.S. position on the Iraq war. The New York Post famously depicted Mr. de Villepin and his German counterpart with the heads of weasels and a headline borrowed from blogger Scott Ott: "Axis of Weasels."
Now the haughty published poet and author of a laudatory biography of Napoleon has been charged by Mr. Chirac with reinvigorating confidence in France's economy and foreign policy in the aftermath of last month's sweeping repudiation of the European Constitution--and implicitly the country's aloof leadership--in a public referendum. Given France's key role in Europe, the success of his efforts will help determine how well Europe recovers from an economic slump and if relations with the U.S. will improve.....
It is difficult for Americans to appreciate just how removed from the French people the nation's bureaucratic elite is. Its arrogance is mind-boggling. One of Mr. Chirac's ministers privately compared the public's repudiation of the EU Constitution to a self-indulgent temper tantrum. Listen to former president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the prime architect of the now-rejected 448-article European Constitution, when he was asked to respond to complaints that voters would have trouble understanding the dense document: "The text is easily read and quite well phrased, which I can say all the more easily since I wrote it myself."
Jean Michel Fourgous, a parliamentary member of Mr. Chirac's Union for a Popular Movement, bemoans his party's refusal to adopt more transparent and consultative government. He told Time magazine that the country has "been hijacked by an intellectually brilliant elite that's dangerously ignorant about the economy." He notes that while the current government is made up largely of people who call themselves conservative, 80% of ministers have never worked at all in the private sector. The few who have "are tolerated, but shoved into subaltern posts."
Small wonder then that those who realize France must change are pinning their hopes on Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of Mr. Chirac's party and the new interior minister, who has announced he will leave office by the end of next year to explore a likely run for president. While he is no Ronald Reagan or even Tony Blair, Mr. Sarkozy cautions against an overly romantic attachment to France's current economic model. "The best social model is one that gives work to everyone," he told an audience recently. "That is no longer ours."
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
A LOOK AT THE BACKGROUND OF LEFTIST ELITISM FROM EX-MARXIST, FRANK FUREDI
This is an excerpt from an expanded version of the article that I put up a few days ago
From Europe to America: the populist moment has arrived. On both sides of the Atlantic, the political class has become convinced that the people do not know what is best for them.
At first sight, opponents of the EU Constitution appear to have very little in common. In France, campaigners for 'Non' often sought to defend their system of welfare arrangements against an institution that they believe has come under Anglo-Saxon neo-liberal domination. British eurosceptics oppose the bureaucratic and regulatory ambitions of Brussels. In Holland, some 'Nee' campaigners feared the loss of their national identity and the entry of Turkey into the EU. Others used the referendum to simply have a pop at their political representatives.
The incoherence of the populist reaction against the EU has been seized upon by EU technocrats to call into question the validity of the referendums that rejected Brussels. From the perspective of the Brussels technocrat, the overwhelming rejection of the EU Constitution by the French and Dutch electorates is merely the confusing signal transmitted by a politically illiterate electorate. Along with sections of the media, pro-EU campaigners often represent this rebuff of the EU as both irrational and incoherent.
The movement against the EU has brought together old political foes from the left and right, far-left opponents of a 'capitalist' Europe and far-right nationalists who are suspicious of anything that is remotely foreign. Since the marriage of convenience between such disparate forces cannot last, some supporters of the EU feel entitled to minimise the significance of the rejection of the EU Constitution.
However, to interpret the outcome of the French and Dutch referendums as having little to do with popular attitudes towards the EU is an exercise in self-delusion. How human beings vote is never a simple, straightforward matter. People do not simply respond to a script handed down from above and vote in accordance with the instructions set out by the political classes; their voting behaviour is influenced by a variety motives and emotions. Sometimes people cast a ballot to vote positively for something they desire, and sometimes their vote represents a negative act of thwarting their political masters.
Teaching 'them' a lesson has an honourable tradition for a democratic electorate, as even the likes of Winston Churchill discovered. Voting is not simply about saying yes or no; it is also about making a statement. It can represent a call to arms, or it can be a cry for help. All these complex and contradictory influences should not detract from the fact that when people voted 'No' to the EU Constitution they actually meant 'No', and were expressing their opposition to the treaty.
Supporters of the EU treaty should not draw comfort from the fact that their opponents are driven by a variety of different and contradictory motives. The fact that French communists and the French far right have very different attitudes on many issues does not necessarily diminish the significance of the populist reaction against the EU. It may actually mean that as we move into the twenty-first century, the traditional division between left and right has lost some of its significance.
It is worth noting that while campaigners against the EU Constitution promoted diverse issues, they all expressed a sense of estrangement from their political institutions. Today, this response is often motivated by a sense of disengagement and a mood of anti-politics. It also frequently expresses a revolt against the values upheld by the political class and its institutions. The lower classes embrace values that are essentially focused on their nation and community, while the elites are oriented towards a cosmopolitan and globalist perspective. In France, those who voted 'No' came predominantly from the lower classes, and the most enthusiastic supporters of the 'Yes' campaign were members of the French cultural, economic and political elites.
The referendum was as much a clash of values - what in the USA is called a Culture War - as a conflict over what constitutes legitimate authority. People are bemused by the managerial and instrumental language of EU technocrats. And importantly, they believe that the EU is not of their making. By their very existence, movements such as the Dutch 'Nee' campaign draw attention to the lack of legitimacy of the focus of their opposition. It is not surprising that the emotional and political distance that separates the public from their representatives has acquired a particularly intense character around the EU.
Those who are genuinely interested in European unity need to engage with the sense of disenchantment expressed by the French and Dutch electorates. Ensuring that people feel at home in Europe is far more important than cajoling people to accept another top-down diktat from Brussels. And this means, first of all, rejecting the anti-democratic assumptions and prejudices behind the political elite's reaction to the 'No' vote.
Demonising the people
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the populist rejection of the EU treaty, the manner in which the 'No' campaign is disparaged by professional politicians betrays a powerful anti-democratic temper. It appears that professional politicians attempt to account for their isolation from the electorate by pointing their finger at the incompetence of the public. On both sides of the Atlantic, the political class has drawn the conclusion that the problem with the people is that they do not know what's in their best interest. This sentiment is particularly widespread among liberal and left-wing activists and thinkers.
'People getting their fundamental interests wrong is what American political life is all about', notes Thomas Frank in his US bestseller What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. Otherwise, Frank argues, how could they possibly vote for the Republicans? The belief that people are too stupid to understand the complexities of public life was also widely expressed during the heated exchanges that surrounded the recent referendums on the EU in France and Germany. Margot Wallstrom, vice president of the EU, commented on her blog that the Constitution is a 'complex issue to vote on', which can lead many citizens to 'use a referendum to answer a question that was not put to them'.
According to this view, since the people cannot be trusted to understand the finer points of legal documents, important decisions need to be left to the professional politician. Andrew Duff, Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament (MEP), agrees that consulting the electorate is a distraction from getting on with the job. After the referendums in France and Holland, he stated that 'the experience begs the question of whether it was ever appropriate to submit the EU Constitution to a lottery of uncoordinated national plebiscites'.
The people are not only regarded as politically illiterate. They are also depicted as simpletons who are likely to be swayed by demagogues. In the context of the Brussels bubble, a demagogue is anyone who is critical of the EU project. As far as European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was concerned, his eurosceptic opponents have crossed the 'border from democracy to demagoguery'. He claimed that a 'populist trend' is seeking to 'undermine the Europe we are trying to build' by 'simplifying important and complex subjects'.
In the USA, this sentiment has been systematically articulated by Democratic Party activists, who cannot understand why many blue-collar workers vote for Republicans. According to George Lakoff, one of the most influential thinkers in the liberal wing of the Democrats, 'people do not necessarily vote in their self interest'.
The belief that the public is too simplistic or too gullible has led some Democratic Party activists to blame the defeat of their presidential candidate in two successive elections on the stupidity of the people. One liberal activist, Michael Gronewalter, states that 'civility and intelligent dialogue are useful tools among intelligent people' but are inappropriate for engaging with the public. He argues:
'I really think the problem is that we liberals are in general far more intelligent, well-reasoned and educated and will go to astonishingly great lengths to convince people of the integrity and validity of our fair and well thought-out arguments. The audience, in case anyone has been paying attention, isn't always getting it! I suspect the problem is not the speaker - it is most of the audience.'
'The audience', which is another name for normal human beings, is implicitly blamed for not getting the incredibly sophisticated message articulated by very clever political activists. In recent times, this apparently hopeless mass of illiterate voters has been condemned for mindlessly embracing the politics of the so-called religious right.
In the USA, the left's apprehension with the growing influence of the religious right is motivated by the suspicion that it finds it difficult to connect with the emotional and cultural life of ordinary folk. But instead of attempting to overcome this barrier, it prefers to dwell on the irrationalism of those who can be so easily swayed by the religious right. In a roundabout way, the left's denunciation of the religious right represents a critique of the mental capacity of significant sections of the electorate.
According to one Democratic Party activist, the American public has become a sort of 'fast food electorate' and it is as if 'Americans suffer collectively from a plague of Attention Deficit Disorder'. In the EU this recalcitrant public is dismissed as a bunch of backward-looking xenophobes. After the rejection of the EU treaty by the French and Dutch electorates, the Liberal Democratic MEP Andrew Duff's characterisation of the opponents of the EU Constitution was neither liberal nor democratic. 'The rejectionists are an odd bunch of racists, xenophobes, nationalists, communists, disappointed centre-left and the generally pissed-off', he told Parliament Magazine.
Throughout history the political elites have tended to be anxious and sometimes hostile to public opinion. Most of the classical studies of public opinion, especially those written from a liberal perspective, tend to be negative about their subject matter. Often, it is the liberal disappointment with the inability of the people to do what is in their interest that shapes the discussion, in which public opinion is invariably treated as a 'problem'. The American commentator Walter Lippman's 1922 study, Public Opinion, provides the classic statement: he warns that the proportion of the electorate which is 'absolutely illiterate' is much larger than we suspect and that these people who are 'mentally children or barbarians' are natural targets of manipulators.
This view of public opinion has dominated the Anglo-American literature on the subject. Frequently it has conveyed the patronising assumption that the public does not know what is in its best interest. As Edward Pager, an American sociologist, argued in 1929, 'public opinion is often very cruel to those who struggle most unselfishly for the public welfare'.
So the tendency to stigmatise populist politics as a symptom of psychological disorder and irrationalism has a long history. In his important study The Populist Persuasion, Michael Kazin notes that in the USA during the Cold War, populism became the 'great fear of liberal intellectuals'. They blamed mass democracy and an 'authoritarian' and 'irrational' working class for the rise of McCarthyism. Indeed, their hostility to McCarthyism, like their antagonism to the religious right today, was underpinned by distrust and antipathy towards 'the very kinds of white American-Catholic workers, military veterans, discontented families in the middle of the social structure - who had once been the foot soldiers in causes such as industrial unionism, the CIO and the Popular Front in the 1930s and 1940s'. A decade later, these people were perceived as the enemy of liberalism.
Whereas 'formerly liberals had worried about the decline of popular participation in politics', now 'they began to wonder whether "apathy" might not be a blessing in disguise' notes Christopher Lasch in The True And Only Heaven, his study of the populist revolt against the liberal elite.
Elite apprehensions towards populism were linked to the belief that the mental outlook of the 'lower classes' was distorted by their brutal upbringing. It was claimed that the emotional outlook of the working class created a propensity to adopt anti-democratic and authoritarian causes. The comments of the American political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset, a leading voice on this subject during the Cold War, is paradigmatic in this respect: 'to sum up, the lower-class individual is likely to have been exposed to punishment, lack of love, and a general atmosphere of tension and aggression since early childhood - all experiences which tend to produce deep-rooted hostilities expressed by ethnic prejudice, political authoritarianism, and chiliastic transvaluational religion.'
A contrast between the emotionally refined middle classes and the emotionally illiterate working classes was also forcefully drawn by Hans Eysenck, a well-known British psychologist. Eysenck claimed that 'middle-class Conservatives are more tender-minded than working-class Conservatives; middle-class Liberals more tender-minded than working-class Liberals; middle-class Socialists more tender-minded than working-class Socialists, and even middle-class Communists more tender minded than working-class Communists'.
Lipset and Eysenck's pathologisation of the political behaviour of the lower classes continues to influence leftist attitudes today. George Lakoff, whom Howard Dean has described as 'one of the most influential political thinkers of the progressive movement', characterises Bush supporters as dominated by a 'strict father morality' which is hostile to 'nurturance and care'. That's another way of saying that they are morally inferior people. And they are certainly inferior to progressives, who apparently have a 'nurturant family' orientation'. In Eysenck's vocabulary, progressives are more 'tender-minded' than those nasty brutes in Ohio who voted for Bush.
Through counterposing two different types of moral beings, Lakoff and his adherents can reconcile themselves to the fantasy that it was their moral superiority that lost them the election. In this way, they prove to be no less committed to playing the moral card then the target of their opprobrium - the religious right. The difference between the two is that Lakoff has seen the 'psychological light', whereas those with a 'strict father morality' have opted for the 'religious light'.
The view that the public is too stupid to grasp the high-minded and sophisticated ideals of American liberals expresses a profound sense of contempt towards people. Furthermore, it uncritically transfers responsibility for the contemporary malaise of political life on to the simplistic and uneducated electorate. From this standpoint, it is not the inability of liberal politics to connect with significant sections of the public that accounts for John Kerry's defeat in 2004, but the narrow-mindedness of the electorate.
This attitude is not confined to the USA. It was not so long ago that the ascendancy of the Thatcher era was blamed by British leftists on the influence of working-class authoritarianism. Left-wing and liberal academics characterised Thatcherism as a form of authoritarian populism that had somehow seduced sections of an easily misled working class. They argued that a heady mixture of nationalism, racism and appeal to self-interest created a powerful right-wing populist movement that provided Thatcher with grassroots support.
In those days, it was fashionable to poke fun at 'Essex Man' and 'Essex Women', supposedly the embodiment of the irrational but materialistic and selfish supporters of Thatcher who would not respond to the high-minded appeals of left-wing politicians. Today, a similar argument is used to account for the limited gains that the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the British National Party (BNP) have made in working-class constituencies such as Barking.
Populism is here to stay
It is rare for leftists and liberal political thinkers and activists to make a direct denunciation of people's mental capacities in a culture that professes to be anti-elitist. Such stereotyping would meet with condemnation if it were directed at minorities or another section of society. That is why contempt is usually transmitted through euphemisms, and nods and winks.
In the Sixties, critics of populism pointed the finger at 'hard hats' and 'materialist' working people. Today in the USA, such attitudes are expressed through terms like 'Nascar Dads', 'Valley Girls, 'Joe six-pack' or 'rednecks'. Lakoff claims that Bush's popularity with the Nascar dads is due to their common identification with strict father values. The Old Cold War thesis of the 'authoritarian working class' has been recycled to helps liberals rationalise their sense of isolation from everyday society. The pathological roots of backward attitudes is to be found in the poor quality of parenting experienced by Lakoff's stereotype conservative.
In the UK, Nascar dads have a different name. They are dismissed as 'chavs', 'white van men', 'Worcester Women' or 'tabloid readers'. Since these are people who cannot be mobilised for progressive causes, the best course of action is to try to isolate them and minimise their influence upon society.
A stark example of the regard in which populist campaigners are held by those who pride themselves on being part of the liberal, cosmopolitan elite was provided recently by the Australian Eric Ellis, the southeast Asian correspondent for Fortune magazine, writing in the British Spectator about 'the weeping, xenophobic hysteria in Australia over the conviction of Schapelle Corby for smuggling drugs into Indonesia'. 'The demographer Bernard Salt says the Corby matter explodes what has always been the myth of Australian egalitarianism', writes Ellis. 'Salt has previously noted, controversially, that Australia, like most countries, has an educated minority, a cultural and cosmopolitan elite that directs its politics, its economy, its popular culture, with the majority functioning as essentially its market'. Ellis continues:
'But the elite aren't calling the shots on this one. There has been talk of a "redneck coup". And the circus shows no sign of packing up. A new lawyer has just been appointed to handle Our Schapelle's appeal. I met him last week, and he did not disappoint me. His name is Paris Hutapea, and he carries two sidearms (a Beretta and a Walther), sports shiny blue suits and an impressive mullet, and drives to work in a Humvee. His fingers drip with opal and diamond rings. He and [Schapelle's] big sister Mercedes should hit it off.'
The tendency to treat supporters of populist campaigns as the enemy betrays a feeble attachment towards democratic politics. After all, supporters of populism constitute an important section of the people and they need to be taken no less seriously than those whose views appear more enlightened.
It is also important to note that populist movements are influenced by a variety of contradictory motives. Disenchantment with the political system and the elites can lead people to adopt a narrow-minded divisive attitude of them-and-us towards other groups. But populist movements are often influenced by an aspiration for social solidarity, and by an egalitarian impulse. It is worth recalling that historically many populist movements, such as the Chartists, were associated with the politics of the left. As Kazin observed, in the USA for over a century the language of populism was an inspiration to movements of the left. It was only in the 1940s that American populist political discourse began to migrate from the Left to the Right. In principle, there is no reason why the populist imagination should be monopolised by one single political voice.
More here. For more on Lakoff see here
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
MAO THE ELITIST
The author of Wild Swans and her historian husband, Jon Halliday, have torn away the many masks and falsehoods with which Mao and the Communist party of China to this day have hidden the true picture of Mao the man and Mao the ruler. Mao now stands revealed as one of the greatest monsters of the 20th century alongside Hitler and Stalin. Indeed, in terms of sheer numbers of deaths for which he responsible, Mao, with some 70 million, exceeded both.
Far from being the first Chinese communist leader to stand up for the Chinese peasantry and to respond to their needs and lead them out of exploitation, Mao is exposed as a man who disdained the peasants, despite his protestations to the contrary. He is shown during his command of armed forces in the countryside in the late 1920s and early 30s to have lived off the produce of the local peasants to the extent of leaving them destitute. He consciously used terror as a means to enforce his will on the party and on the people who came under his rule. In the course of the Long March, Mao is shown to have had no qualms in sacrificing thousands of scarce fighting men in fruitless diversions to serve no other purpose than to advance his bid for leadership.
His callous disregard for the lives of comrades and fellow Chinese became more evident once he commanded the larger stage of China itself. Against the advice of his commanders on the ground, Mao persisted in prolonging the Korean war in the expectation of tying down hundreds of thousands of American troops, regardless of the disproportionate sacrifice of far greater Chinese casualties. The livelihood of China's peasants was tightly squeezed through most of Mao's rule, not simply to meet the needs of industry and the urban population, but also to pay the Soviet Union and the east Europeans for the development of advanced weapons - especially for the development of nuclear weapons.
The suffering of the peasants plumbed new depths during Mao's hare-brained scheme to overtake Britain and the United States in the disaster known as the Great Leap Forward, which led to the starvation and premature deaths of 30-40 million people. To the end of his life Mao continued to sacrifice the Chinese people in his search for superpower status......
Mao himself comes across as a uniquely self-centred man whose strength was his utter disregard for others, his pitilessness, his single-mindedness, his capacity for intrigue and his ability to exploit weakness. He neglected his wives, whom he treated cruelly, and had no time for his children. He loved food and reading and had an infinite supply of young women. Mao lacked personal courage and had some 50 villas built for him in different parts of China, which were constructed to withstand bombing and even nuclear attack.
Mao had none of the skills usually associated with a successful revolutionary leader. He was no orator and he lacked either idealism or a clear ideology. He was not even a particularly good organiser. But he was driven by a personal lust for power. He came to dominate his colleagues through a mixture of blackmail and terror. And he seems to have enjoyed every minute of it. Indeed what he learned from his witnessing of a peasant uprising in his home province of Hunan in 1927 was that he derived a sadistic pleasure from seeing people put to death in horrible ways and generally being terrified. During the Cultural Revolution he watched films of the violence and of colleagues being tortured.
Monday, June 13, 2005
ANOTHER CRAZY ACADEMIC ELITIST WHO DESPISES MOST OF HIS FELLOW COUNTRYMEN
University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill got all sorts of press coverage in January for calling the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks "little Eichmanns." Timothy Shortell, a professor at Brooklyn College, may well have Mr. Churchill beat. In fevered Weblog entries and online journal articles bearing his teaching affiliation, Mr. Shortell has called religious people "moral idiots" and "ugly." He called America "fascist" and likened Republicans to Nazis.
Mr. Shortell's outlandish remarks stirred coverage in local papers, including the New York Sun and the New York Daily News earlier this year. His remarks deserve revisiting on the occasion of a small victory for Brooklyn College: Its sociology department, Mr. Shortell announced this week, won't be having him as its chairman as expected. As the New York Sun reported this week, Mr. Shortell fired off an angry e-mail to colleagues to announce the news, citing "venom" and claiming his rights were violated.
America is fascist, Mr. Shortell thinks, and Republicans resemble Nazis. "Just as any fascist state, the megalomania of the ruling elite is paid for in working class blood," he writes. And Republicans take their cues from old Nazi leaders. "Someone really ought to do a comparative study of this administration and the propaganda techniques of Nazi Germany. Karl Rove owes a lot to Joseph Goebbels." Call it a draw between Mr. Churchill's "little Eichmanns" and Mr. Shortell's bloodthirsty, Goebbels-loving fascists.
Hatred for religion is where Mr. Shortell's singular demerits become evident. "Christians claim that theirs is a faith based on love, but they'll just as soon kill you," Mr. Shortell says. "Can there be any doubt that humanity would be better off without religion?" he writes. "These moral retards are running around pointing fingers and doing real harm to others. One only has to read the newspaper to see the results of their handiwork. They discriminate, exclude, and belittle. They make a virtue of closed-mindedness and virulent ignorance. They are an ugly, violent lot." No word on where Mr. Shortell, a social psychologist by training, found the data to support all this.
That Mr. Shortell should get so much less coverage than Mr. Churchill perhaps demonstrates how commonplace such nonsense is in the academy.
Sunday, June 12, 2005
'To say or imply that the public is too stupid to grasp the high-minded and sophisticated ideals of the advocates of the EU is to express a profound sense of contempt towards ordinary people'
Europe's political classes, particularly on the left, are bending over backwards to claim that no doesn't really mean no. This is an insult to democracy, writes Frank Furedi
Increasingly, the political class has drawn the conclusion that the problem with the people is that they do not know what is in their best interests. This sentiment can be found on both sides of the Atlantic and it is particularly evident among liberal and left-wing activists and thinkers. "People getting their fundamental interests wrong is what American political life is all about," notes Thomas Frank in What's the Matter With Kansas?, his US bestseller. Otherwise, he asks, how could they possibly vote for the Republicans?
The same belief that people are too thick to understand the complexities of public life has been widely expressed during the arguments that have followed the referendums on the EU constitution in France and the Netherlands. Margot Wallstrom, vice-president of the European Commission, commented in her blog that the constitution is a "complex issue to vote on", which can confuse many citizens. In this confused state they may be led to "use a referendum to answer a question that was not put to them".
In the view of the EC president, Jose Manuel Barroso, his Eurosceptic opponents had crossed the "border from democracy to demagoguery". Barroso claimed that a "populist trend" was seeking to "undermine the Europe we are trying to build" by "simplifying important and complex subjects". After the French and Dutch votes, the Liberal Democrat MEP Andrew Duff commented that "the experience begs the question of whether it was ever appropriate to submit the EU constitution to a lottery of uncoordinated national plebiscites". And there was nothing liberal or democratic about his characterisation of the constitution's opponents as he told Parliament Magazine: "The rejectionists are an odd bunch of racists, xenophobes, nationalists, communists, disappointed centre left and the gen-erally pissed-off."
At first sight this "generally pissed-off" mob may indeed appear to be both irrational and incoherent. The opponents of the constitution certainly do not seem to have much in common. French campaigners for Non often sought to defend their system of welfare arrangements against an institution that they believe has come under Anglo-Saxon neoliberal domination. In contrast, the British Eurosceptics fear not a laissez-faire Europe, but the perceived bureaucratic and regulatory ambitions of Brussels. It was said that some No campaigners in the Netherlands feared the loss of their national identity and the entry of Turkey into the EU. Others, however, simply used the referendum to have a pop at their political representatives.
So what is going on? Hostility towards the EU has assumed a variety of national forms, and within member countries sceptics have been inspired by different, even contradictory motives. Some Dutch people felt the constitution would encroach on their country's tolerant lifestyle, but others felt that it ought to have a stronger religious element. Surveys carried out after the referendum indicate that Dutch No voters did not match the xenophobic caricature drawn by their opponents - only 2 per cent, for example, stated that Turkey's EU entry attempt was an issue for them. In the Netherlands, as in France, No voters felt estranged from their political institutions, a mood reflected sometimes in a vague disengagement and sometimes in active anti-political attitudes - frequently expressed in the form of revolt against many of the values upheld by the political class and its institutions.
This is not exclusively a problem for the EU. The reactions of the French and Dutch electorates echo the views of the people who supported the North-East No campaign in Britain last November. In this referendum, 78 per cent of voters rejected John Prescott's plan for regional devolution. Not one of the 23 council areas involved in the referendum supported this scheme, dreamt up, voters clearly believed, by out-of-touch politicians far away in London.
Not surprisingly, however, the problems associated with the emotional and political distance separating the public from their representatives are particularly intense when it comes to the European Union. Ordinary people have rarely been involved in or consulted about the direction of this institution, so we should hardly be surprised if they do not share the technocrats' enthusiasm for it. When they give vent to their scepticism, however, they are dismissed as simple or naive, lacking the sophistication to grasp the complex issues of the day. Look back on the past three weeks and recall how often the No campaigners and voters have been characterised - by the cultural elite, business leaders and the media - as backward and short-sighted. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the EU constitution, this disparagement betrays a powerful anti-democratic trend. Politicians are simply reluctant to accept the verdict of the electorate. The reaction of the Greens in the European Parliament to the referendums, for example, was to issue a statement claiming that "it is evident that this No is not a real No against the constitution but a clear vote of protest against the internal policies of the national governments of France and the Netherlands". Apparently the Greens possess a privileged insight into the internal life of the voter and can tell when voting No actually means something different.
To say that the outcome of the French and Dutch referendums has little to do with popular attitudes towards the EU, as the political elites are saying, represents an exercise in self-delusion. Certainly it is true that the way human beings vote is never a simple, straightforward matter. People do not simply read a script handed down from above by the political classes and make a choice exclusively on those terms. No, their voting behaviour is influenced by a variety of motives and emotions. When they cast a ballot it may mean that they have voted positively for something they desire, or it may be a negative act meant to thwart their political masters. Teaching "them" a lesson has an honourable tradition for a democratic electorate: ask the many former representatives ousted in recent decades from positions they thought secure. So voting is not simply about saying "yes" or "no"; it is also about making a statement. It can represent a call to arms and at the same time it can be a cry for help.
But none of these complex and contradictory influences should detract from the simple fact that when people voted No they actually meant No; whatever else they may have been doing, they were also expressing their opposition to the constitution. Nor should supporters of the EU constitution draw comfort from the diversity of motives of their opponents. That French communists and the French far right both said No on 29 May, even though they have very differing attitudes on most other issues, may confirm that as we move into the 21st century the conventional divisions between left and right have lost significance; but it does not diminish the blunt significance of their verdicts. There is no getting around it: this is a populist reaction against the EU. More than that: however many issues were bound up in the No campaigns, a common thread was that sense of estrangement from political institutions. The "lower" classes, it seems, embrace values that are essentially focused on their nation and community, while the elites are often oriented towards a cosmopolitan and globalist perspective.
In France, those who voted No came predominantly from the working classes, while the most enthusiastic supporters of the Yes campaign were members of the French cultural, economic and political elites. The referendum was as much a clash of values - what in the United States is called a "culture war" - as a conflict over what constitutes legitimate authority. By their very existence, the populist No campaigns draw attention to the lack of legitimacy of the EU. Their supporters are bemused by the managerial and instrumental language of EU technocrats. And most important of all, they believe that the EU is not of their making. It would be folly, or worse, to ignore this. Those who are genuinely interested in European unity need to engage with the sense of disenchantment we now see expressed. Ensuring that people feel at home in Europe is far more important than cajoling people to accept another top-down diktat from Brussels.
To say or imply that the public is too stupid to grasp the high-minded and sophisticated ideals of the advocates of the EU is to express a profound sense of contempt towards ordinary people. Furthermore, this attitude uncritically transfers responsibility for the contemporary malaise of political life on to the supposedly simplistic and uneducated electorate. Those involved in liberal and left-wing politics, by implication, are not at fault for their failure to connect with significant sections of the public; it is the narrow-mindedness of the voters that is to blame. This will not do. When political elites complain about xenophobic populism, they merely distract attention from their own inability to engage with ordinary people in a conversation about Europe.
It was not so long since left-wing and liberal academics characterised Thatcherism as a form of authoritarian populism that had somehow seduced sections of an easily misled working class. They argued that a heady mixture of nationalism, racism and the appeal to self-interest had created a powerful right-wing populist movement that provided Thatcher with grass-roots support. In those days it was fashionable to poke fun at "Essex Man" and "Essex Woman", supposedly the embodiment of the irrational but materialistic and selfish Thatcher supporters who would not respond to the high-minded appeals of left-wing politicians. Today we see similar methods used to account for gains that Ukip and the British National Party have made in working-class constituencies such as Barking. As Margaret Hodge, the local MP, noted recently, the truth is her voters are alienated and feel that the issues which matter to them are ignored. This pattern, in which leftists and liberal political thinkers and activists belittle the mental capacities of ordinary people, is strange in a culture that professes to be anti-elitist. Stereotyping of this kind would meet with condemnation if it was directed at minorities. That may be why the contempt is often transmitted in euphemisms, nods and winks. In the Sixties, critics of populism pointed the finger at "hard hats" and "materialist" working people. Today in the US, the same attitudes find expression in terms such as "Nascar dads", "Valley girls", "Joe Six-pack" and the venerable "redneck". In Britain we have "chavs", "white van men", "Worcester Women" and "tabloid readers". The message is clear: these are people who cannot be mobilised for progressive causes, so the best course is to isolate them and minimise their influence.
All of this betrays a feeble attachment to democratic politics, not on the part of white van man but of his detractors. The supporters of populism are part of society and they need to be taken no less seriously than those whose views appear more enlightened. Remember that populist movements may be expressing a great variety of feelings. Disenchantment with the political system and the elites can lead people to adopt a narrow-minded, resentful, them-and-us attitude. But equally, populist movements can reflect an aspiration for social solidarity and even an egalitarian impulse. Historically, many populist movements - the Chartists, for example - were associated with the left.
Rather than demonising people whose views they do not like, liberals and the left need to show a genuine commitment to democratic engagement. That so many people adopted such strong views against the EU constitutional treaty is no bad thing. It is certainly preferable to the scourge of voter apathy and political disengagement. And it provides an opportunity for dialogue and democratic renewal. Unfortunately, it appears that the political class that wrings its hands over falling voter turnout would rather people were apathetic than that they voted against the EU constitution. That sort of response will not make populism go away.