This horse should be dead but the damn thing keeps getting up. You know if you want to run other people’s lives that probably means you don’t respect them.
Taranto, highly partisan if highly entertaining, in his May 12 Best of the Web Today complained of Timothy Noah’s “Conservatism as Pathology: Are Bush Supporters Literally Insane?” in Slate. Franks has a current essay, “What’s the Matter with Liberals” in NYRB. Franks and Noah, Taranto contends, ignore American perspectives — few of us think of ourselves as “working class.” He quotes Noah:
The working class’s refusal to synchronize its politics with its economic interests is one of the enduring puzzles of the present age. Between 1989 and 1997, middle-income families (defined in this instance as the middle 20 percent) saw their share of the nation’s wealth fall from 4.8 percent to 4.4 percent.
Of course, this has some problematic assumptions. Percent of the nation’s wealth isn’t the same as wealth, for instance. And that economic interests are paramount may be Marxist theology, but that isn’t a church we all attend.
Update: Brooks discusses the Pew report on class differences in voting patterns, combined with his usual and attractive delight in variety.
Going to Noah, it is easy to see why the headline — he spends several paragraphs in a short column on the theories of “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition.” He notes these theories “fit” Bush’s vision and relationships. Then he argues that voters may have been driven by some “terror management” problem. To be fair to Noah (although the reader might wonder if this kind of free-floating hack psychology is just the result of having to meet deadline or if he suddenly realizes such musings might not have the desired effect), he concludes
The further you get into this line of thinking, I’m afraid, the more ridiculous it starts to sound. I’ve never observed, and I doubt you have either, that members of the working class demonstrate a greater tendency than people higher up the income scale to be more fearful, or more threatened, or more intolerant of ambiguity, or more irrationally fearful of death, or more inclined to pick fights with their parents, or more sex-deprived.
Well, okay. That’s nice. But what’s with the rest of the column? Is he saying that others are crazy in his party? Or does he realize this is all pretty much beside the point; real people vote for real reasons.
Why do the editor and writer think this worth our time; sure, it lets them bring up the “scientific theory” about conservatives and gives them a chance to do condescending pop-analysis on the family Bush. All these allow a certain Olympian distance and reinforce our sense that this distance is to put those of us who think of ourselves as part of the broad “middle class” (whom they see as oppressed “working class”) in our proper place. They can’t figure us out but they know where we belong.
If we see ourselves as in the “middle class” (which I suspect most of us consider anywhere from those above the bottom 5 or 10% to those below the top 5 or 10%), we see universality. (Sure, we don’t figure street people or Warren Buffett live as we do, but, well, we probably think they aren’t all that different from us, either.) If we see ourselves divided into classes, we see a country of factions.
And under it all is the extremely irritating position that socialism or progressivism or whatever Franks wants to call collectivism would make our lives better.
Okay, this is a dead horse. But today I recalled Taranto’s screed when I followed Instapundit’s link to Neeka’s Backlog. She points to the work of Professor James Mace on the Ukraine:
The Ukrainian Famine of 1932-1933 occurred within the context of the so-called “Stalinist Revolution from Above,” a violent experiment in social transformation in which state-orchestrated paranoia about and external enemies was used to blame shortcomings on the of class enemies. Like Naziism, Stalinism attempted to explain the world as a struggle between different categories of people, some of whom were considered inherently deleterious and whose elimination was an essential requisite toward the attainment of a new and better state of affairs. . . . But what Hitler and Stalin had in common was a dualistic view of human society as composed of two implacably hostile forces, the “good” force destined for victory (Aryans for Hitler and the proletariat for Stalin) which could only liberate itself and achieve its destiny by destroying utterly the forces of evil (for Hitler, Jews and Gypsies, which he considered racially polluting elements, and for Stalin, representatives of “exploiter classes”).
She compares Mace’s take with that of Duranty. From his biography she quotes:
Duranty was a great admirer of the first Five-Year Plan (adopted in 1929) which, according to him, “succeeded far better than anyone abroad expected.” Discussing the plan, he says that in “the final issue the crux of the struggle came in the villages where an attempt was being made to socialize, virtually overnight, a hundred million of the stubbornest and most ignorant peasants in the world.”
Well, I suspect that the American farmer can match stubborn (you want to see stubborn look at Victor Davis Hanson’s passionate Fields Without Dreams). But, enthusiasm for grand schemes (“Stalinist Revolution from Above”) is not created if those pawns. at least in a free society, suspect the great leader finds them stubborn, stupid, or, even, unaware of their own best interests. Collectivization seldom ends well. Those “stubborn and ignorant” farmers in the Ukraine were not the ones proved wrong by history and I have my doubts conservatism is a pathology. I’m also pretty sure people are unlikely to win elections by musing that their opponents are “literally insane.”
Such musings may fill up an idle column but I suspect they are filling up too many idle minds as well. That this seems the default topic when deadlines loom doesn’t bode well for a rosy, kumbaya, bi-partisan future.
A. Mace includes the often neglected Gypsies, whose losses and tragedies have been forcefully voiced by Ian Hancock.
B. Usual anecdote. I read Franks because some people whom I respect and feel deep affection for gave it to me – thinking of me as a quintessential “Kansas” person. Once in a conversation, I said something about, I believe, Laura Bush. (It may have been someone else from some other party, but monied & powerful.) The husband looked at me and quite sweetly (and sympathetically) said, “Ah, you believe that these people are like you.” I said, “But they are.” And he said, “It’s touching you think so.” I suspect he was pretty much a red diaper baby; he continues with a political vision shaped by that background. (At our age we simmer down a bit; they were merely Dean supporters.) That Fitzgerald view, that the rich are different, is one I’ve always found disturbing. That as much as any dehumanizing of the poor denies the universality of human experience. The rich may have more square feet to move around in this life, but, well, it is the same life. They are born, fall in love, procreate, sin & transcend, fail & succeed, love & hate. Eventually, they die. What more or less do any of us do?
C. Second anecdote: A couple of years ago I was watching C-span as they reviewed the new books out for the year. A New Yorker (I can’t remember if he was a critic or worked for a publisher or was a buyer) picked up one of Hanson’s next books shortly after Field Without Dreams came out and described Hanson as an “autodidact” who, surprisingly, “really could write.” Think about that one for a moment.
D. The summary of “Political Conservatism” is instructive:
In their paper the authors point out that much more research has been done in this century on right wing extremism than has been the case of left wing extremism, and so they conclude that some of their conclusions might be conditional on more research in this neglected area being done. One of the reasons why right wing extremism has been so heavily studied is the fact that this century has been convulsed so violently by right wing extremism, notable examples being Hitler and Mussolini, and the kind of national extremism that resulted in such bloody conflicts as World War One. These great disasters led to great interest in studying conservatism and the right wing in general since there is an obvious correlation manifestations of conservatism and the potentiality for just this kind of destructive right wing extremism that was one of the tragedies of the previous century…While angered Republicans in Congress might raise a hue and cry about ‘bias’ and ‘unfair criticism of conservatism and the right wing’ it is a fact that right wing extremism was one of the most damaging movements of the last century, not just in loss of life (Nazism, and third world right wing despotism) but also in ruin of lives (McCarthyism) and it is for this reason that so much attention has been focused on studying and understanding right wing tendencies (not just simply a desire to express a bias).
The disadvantaged might embrace right-wing ideologies under some circumstances to reduce fear, anxiety, dissonance, uncertainty, or instability (e.g., Jost, Pelham, Sheldon, & Sullivan, 2003; Lane, 1962; Nias, 1973), whereas the advantaged might gravitate toward conservatism for reasons of self-interest or social dominance.
We thus see in the case of fascism that ideological content and structure support each other. There is no incompatibility between them and thus psychological conflict is not engendered or guilt feelings aroused. For this reason, authoritarian ideological structures may be psychologically more reconcilable—more easily “attachable” —to ideologies that are antidemocratic than to those that are democratic in content. If a person’s underlying motivations are served by forming a closed belief system, then it is more than likely that his motivations can also be served by embracing an ideology that is blatantly anti-equalitarian. If this is so, it would account for the somewhat greater affinity we have observed between authoritarian belief structure and conservatism than between the same belief structure and liberalism. (p. 127)
Extremely conservative and authoritarian attitudes may lead … to an actively hostile or dominant approach to dealing with socially sanctioned scapegoats and devalued out-groups (and) may lead to a more passively submissive or deferential posture toward authorities, which would make its subscribers ideal candidates to follow the next Hitler or Mussolini. Thus, extreme right-wing attitudes “lock” people into a “dominance submissive authoritarian embrace”.
Of course, the French countered this with their The Black Book of Communism. Actually, it’s been forty years since I took a psych course but I think they once had something called “projection.” That conservatives are “anti-equalitarian” but fighting a “Revolution from Above” may seem to some a paradox; to me, this has all the marks of a contradiction (dare we say hypocrisy?) The side that charges the other is materialistic only considers materialism as a driving force; the side that argues it fights for the little man sees them as expendable pawns on the way to Utopia.