Aspiring American Elites versus America

Here’s a video in which various Harvard students assert that the United States is a worse threat to world peace than is the terrorist organization ISIS.

This isn’t a statistically-valid survey, and we don’t really know from it what proportion of Harvard students share these views.  But there are certainly a disturbing number of highly-educated (or at least highly-credentialed) Americans who feel this way about their country.  I am reminded once againtof an essay that C S Lewis wrote in March 1940.  At that time, there was evidently a movement among British youth to “repent” England’s sins (which evidently were thought to include the treaty of Versailles) and to “forgive” England’s enemies.

Young Christians especially..are turning to it in large numbers. They are ready to believe that England bears part of the guilt for the present war, and ready to admit their own share in the guilt of England…Most of these young men were children…when England made many of those decisions to which the present disorders could plausibly be traced. Are they, perhaps, repenting what they have in no sense done?

If they are, it might be supposed that their error is very harmless: men fail so often to repent their real sins that the occasional repentance of an imaginary sin might appear almost desirable. But what actually happens (I have watched it happen) to the youthful national penitent is a little more complicated than that. England is not a natural agent, but a civil society…The young man who is called upon to repent of England’s foreign policy is really being called upon to repent the acts of his neighbor; for a foreign secretary or a cabinet minister is certainly a neighbor…A group of such young penitents will say, “Let us repent our national sins”; what they mean is, “Let us attribute to our neighbor (even our Christian neighbor) in the cabinet, whenever we disagree with him, every abominable motive that Satan can suggest to our fancy.”

Lewis points out that when a man who was raised to be patriotic tries to repent the sins of England, he is attempting something that will be difficult for him.

But an educated man who is now in his twenties usually has no such sentiment to mortify. In art, in literature, in politics, he has been, ever since he can remember, one of an angry minority; he has drunk in almost with his mother’s milk a distrust of English statesmen and a contempt for the manners, pleasures, and enthusiasms of his less-educated fellow countrymen.

It’s hard to believe that this was written more than 50 years ago–it’s such a bulls-eye description of a broad swath of our current “progressives.” (The only difference being that many of them today are a lot older than “in their twenties.”)

But now Lewis comes to the real meat of his argument.


All Christians know that they must forgive their enemies. But “my enemy” primarily means the man whom I am really tempted to hate…If you listen to young Christian intellectuals talking, you will soon find out who their real enemy is. He seems to have two names–Colonel Blimp and “the businessman.” I suspect that the latter usually means the speaker’s father, but that is speculation. What is certain is that in asking such people to forgive the Germans and Russians, and to open their eyes to the sins of England, you are asking them, not to mortify, but to indulge, their ruling passion. (emphasis added.)

And here comes the two-by-four, right between the eyes.

The communal sins of which they should be told to repent are those of their own age and class–its contempt for the uneducated, its readiness to suspect evil, its self-righteous provocations of public obloquy, its breaches of the Fifth Commandment.

Exactly. Many “progressives”–and not just the religious ones–have uncritically and without reflection adopted the ideas and values of “their own age and class”–and, while doing so, they have congratulated themselves on their courage and independence of thought. Thus, they can enjoy a great feeling of righteousness without running the risk of condemnation by those whose opinions really matter to them. Who cares if the conservative authority figures–such as the Bush administration back when it was in power–would disapprove of your statements (if they ever heard of them, which they likely won’t), when there are so many nods of agreement in the faculty lounge or among the other associates at the law firm? Those are the people you see ever day, after all, and the ones who really matter for your career…

There are some “progressives,” particularly among the Trustafarians, who are indeed driven by a personal sense of guilt, but I think this motivation is pretty clearly the rare exception rather than the rule. For the most part, “progressives” feel no personal guilt at all…they think the rest us, those outside their circle of assumed moral superiority, should be the ones feeling guilty. And regarding Frost’s formulation, if you observe these people pursuing their careers and their social status goals, it’s pretty clear that the typical “progressive” has no problem at all “taking his own side.” What they do have a problem with is taking the side of the larger society, whose history and the majority of whose members they hold in contempt.

The Lewis essay is titled “Dangers of National Repentance,” and appears in the collection The Grand Miracle.

The attitude represented by the Harvard students in the video, like the attitude represented by the young Brits of whom Lewis wrote, can be thought of a sort of societal auto-immune disease.


23 thoughts on “Aspiring American Elites versus America”

  1. It’s all about “superiority”… sense of…

    It’s one thing to feel all superior about the jungle tribesmen over there or whatever. But to feel massively superior to your postman, to all those people in the mall, to so many of the people you work with, etc etc…. ahhhhh, that’s a whole other level now.

    So by loathing and deconstructing your own civilization, you get to be both intellectually and morally “superior” to not only your peers, but to millions who have come before, and who had the gall to bequeath unto you a civilization which is less than perfect. Hell, some of even died to bequeath that less than perfect, canya bleeve it?? The fools.

    It is really not one iota deeper, not one iota more complicated, not one iota more profound, than that one simplicity. I get to be better than you all, on the cheap. No work req

  2. I get to be better than you all, on the cheap. No work required, no sacrifice, no complexities, I don’t even have to feel “uncomfortable”. I just get to be….. “superior”, and pretty much leave at that.

    In terms of emotional economics, there is actually a certain cost/benefit logic to it.

    It may kill us all, but surely that is someone else’s problem. (whom I will be “superior” to when they mention that, BTW.)

    (Don’t know how comment #1 up there posted itself on me all of a sudden. Apologies.)

  3. Well said Andrew.

    And the flip side to maintain that superiority over those who did do the work? “you didn’t build that”.

  4. I do think the question was ambiguous as I saw a couple of students asking “worldwide ?” It seems that it looks worse that it might be. Still, Harvard students are obviously feeling very “privileged” to use their own term.

  5. The last couple of generations have little understanding of two things: what communism was really like and why defeating it was important and, second, proportionality & objectivity. I think this education prepared them for the double talk of many about our current troubles. And kept them subjective. I see a signal in their choice of “expressed” when quoting others, even in argument papers. The writer didn’t express – said, says, argued, thought, contended, acknowledged – yes, the author might have done many things. An objective argument should not be approach as an “expression.”

    Back to my hobby horse:
    The refusal to face the evils of communism prepared us to refuse to face the evils of radical nihilistic Islam. And wide swaths of people who equate the war on women in America (a farce if ever there was one) to that on women under Sharia suffer from disproportion.

    This semester, for the first time, a student argued that life under communism would be ideal and another that the Cold War could have gone either way because America’s economy wasn’t that great. I get the feeling not that they think they are riling but pleasing me. You don’t have to be immersed in the Black Book of Communism nor followed trajectories of, how many now, economies of countries whose Marxist choices led to privation and misery. You just have to keep your eyes open. But these not particularly stupid students have been fed a vicious, narrow and blinkered history – as have some of my younger colleagues. And Civil Rights! I just graded a paper that talked about the countless people that died in the bitter Civil Rights struggles of the 60’s, where African Americans (in the country as a whole, as far as I can tell) had “zero” human rights until King’s 1963 speech.

    Yes, sometimes I despair.

  6. 1) The refusal to face the evils of communism prepared us to refuse to face the evils of radical nihilistic Islam.
    2) This semester, for the first time, a student argued that life under communism would be ideal…

    Regarding point 1, I think that was and is by design, so that you can get the result in point 2.

  7. Also, I’m remembering reading about the comments made by certain American and British religious leaders during the late 1930s and through 1941.

    German militarism, said one Methodist minister, “may be provoked by bitter belief..that there is no peaceful way of solving a desperate economic problem.” Condemnation of Hitler, according to a leader in the United Church of Christ, was a “short-circuited, adolescent hatred of individual leaders.” And a Unitarian minister in New York said that “If America goes into the war, it will not be for idealistic reasons but to serve her own imperialistic interests.” The it’s-all-our-fault line was echoes by a Reverend Holmes, who said that a German victory should be viewed as “the punishment for our transgressions.” Stunningly, comments along these lines continued to be made in 1940 and even in 1941.

  8. “Some thoughts about communism as an opponent compared with radical Islam as an opponent:”

    “Man-made ideologies, lacking genuine spiritual roots, depend on success for their credibility. ”

    Communism was opposed by many as “godless communism,” in addition to the economic and freedom arguments. One attraction of radical Islam is the fact that it is “religious” and seems to offer a system of belief that is attractive, especially, to young people in England who are reacting to the hedonistic culture. I think we have less of those and most Muslim recruiting in this country is in prison among angry blacks.

    One potential problem for the west on Islam is that Islam is adopting the Creationist view that is popular among fundamentalist Christians. The article is about a name we have mentioned here recently. Adnan Oktar

    “Darwin and his theory are dead,” says Mr. Oktar, founder and honorary president of the Science Research Foundation, an Istanbul outfit dedicated to debunking the Victorian-era English naturalist. Darwin, says his 52-year-old Turkish scourge, is “Satan’s biggest trick on humanity.”

    Mr. Oktar, who briefly studied interior design, hasn’t had much success swaying scientists with the weight of his research. “He is a complete and utter ignoramus,” says Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and Oxford University professor.

    Oktar, of course, is influential with Recep Erdogan, prime minister of Turkey.

    Islam, like Christianity, holds that God created the world and its creatures. But the Quran leaves more room for acceptance of evolution than does the Old Testament, which states that the world was created in six days. Creationism, says Prof. Kence, was originally a “Christian import,” but has gained traction among Muslims, thanks in part to Mr. Oktar.

    I have recently gotten into ugly debates on two different conservative blogs about evolution. One was Ann Althouse, the other Ricochet. In both debates, evolution was attacked by a surprising number of participants and I wonder if evolution is becoming a weak point in conservative consensus. Social conservatives seem to regard evolution as the Devil’s work and this may weaken the conservative case among the secular and libertarians.

    My concern is with science and the role of evolutionary biology in the coming dominance of genetics in medicine. I do worry a bit, hopefully unnecessarily, about the credibility of the west’s case against Islam.

  9. The credible Western case against Islam was made by Urban II. When this model is followed the case is credible. When it’s derivative model of Malmuk is followed by either the actual Malmuks or 19th Century European Powers doing the same thing it’s also credible, although it’s biting us now. This is what happens when you forget who the help is and who isn’t I’m afraid. Malmuk works both ways, just like Holy War.

    Our current model is not.

    The idea that science and credentialism’s decline weaken our case is risible. This is about our Civilization, not the fate of the High Priests of it’s decline [the Credentialed].

    Science tried to replace God and quite miserably failed everyone MikeK, it’s time to let God be God, let Religion be Religion and then Science will actually be very happy I would think to go back to being Science. It’s really horrible as Religio [bonds]. Sorry but as a Priest class…Experts SUCK. They’re even worse when it actual power, no idea what to do and no morals, backbone at all.

  10. Experts have ascended to the levers because the idiots elected by welfare seeking [women] voters have no idea what to do with this machine they’ve inherited, so they called the wise old Wizards in.

    Who have no idea either.

    If only National Politics worked like Campus Politics, and our Campus Politics wasn’t the epicenter of madness it might have bought the Entitled in the Title more Time.

  11. Mr. Foster ,

    Your Title begs a Question:

    “Aspiring American Elites versus America”

    What plan for Victory do these Elitti aspire to if America realizes it’s plight and fights back?

    Which arguably America may have. We’re certainly buying an awful lot of guns, although we don’t say why unless some retarded politician talks about taking them away.

    Hmmm. What could we be thinking…?

  12. Communism, thank God, tumbled down a generation ago. I doubt it has anything to do with the conclusion that the country that, since the fall of communism, has attacked Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya – and whose president was keen to attack Syria – might be more of a worldwide threat than the loonies of ISIS. Especially since apparently the USA has, both deliberately and accidentally, armed ISIS.

    Put otherwise, why has the US, which under Reagan picked its enemies with care and skill, decided to flail around killing people by the hundreds of thousands, on grounds that are manifestly flimsy or entirely false?

  13. “decided to flail around killing people by the hundreds of thousands, on grounds that are manifestly flimsy or entirely false?”

    I suppose this refers to Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. Bush had a real dilemma in 2003 about Iraq. Afghanistan was easy.

    Paul Wolfowitz tried to explain why Iraq wear such a problem but his statement was ignorantly or willfully misunderstood.

    The US deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz – who has already undermined Tony Blair’s position over weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by describing them as a “bureaucratic” excuse for war – has now gone further by claiming the real motive was that Iraq is “swimming” in oil.

    The latest comments were made by Mr Wolfowitz in an address to delegates at an Asian security summit in Singapore at the weekend, and reported today by German newspapers Der Tagesspiegel and Die Welt.

    Asked why a nuclear power such as North Korea was being treated differently from Iraq, where hardly any weapons of mass destruction had been found, the deputy defence minister said: “Let’s look at it simply. The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil.”

    This is probably tendentious. Then truth is that Wolfowitz was trying to explain why sanctions would not work in Iraq. Iraq quickly undermined them by lining German and French and Russian pockets with oil. A billion dollars in cash was found in the house of one of his sons. The left is determined to ignore this.

    I agreed with the invasion but not with Bremer’s “nation building.” We should have turned the place over to the exiles. And left with some residual force to see that they behaved.

  14. “Put otherwise, why has the US, which under Reagan picked its enemies with care and skill, decided to flail around killing people by the hundreds of thousands, on grounds that are manifestly flimsy or entirely false?”

    The answer is we didn’t. Nowhere have we or are we systematically killing “hundreds of thousands” deliberately or systematically. No, instead we have placed ourselves under restricted rules of engagement that have cost us dearly in lives, wounds and resources in an attempt to kill those who have declared war on us, committed atrocities upon us or their own innocents or both while hiding among their non combatants including children.

    We may not have always chosen our time, place and means as wisely as possible, especially in hindsight, but our intentions were not the issue. We didn’t pick our enemies, they picked us. Characterizing our combat operations as “flail”[ing] around is just ignorant. “Keen” to attack Syria? How about pushed into thinking about a campaign of “incredibly small” proportions to attack the WMD of Assad and his henchmen after they had employed them? They have and are killing tens of thousands of innocents as a matter of strategy and we have no way of knowing if the WMD are gone or not. If Barry was so keen to do it, why didn’t he when he said he would (the whole “red line” thing)? Get a grip on reality.


  15. Isn’t the geographic setting of Iraq and Afghanistan – and not unimportantly Iran – what Bush saw in the map? And wasn’t the aim of two stable, open market, somewhat democratic nations a useful step towards not oil but stabilization? Maybe it wasn’t ever going to work; maybe those who said there was no “plan” were incapable of seeing what needed to be implicit rather than explicit. I don’t know.

    Certain belief systems take democide in stride while bewailing the deaths of war. Violent deaths by governments remain violent deaths – and war is quicker and less numerous than terror. Stability and open government generally are not petri dishes for democide.

  16. I’m not sure why you continuously allow the new penguin to repeatedly derail threads with its anti-US patter, but anyway—

    Your mistake in this post is to describe the elites as being American. They are not, except by accident of birth.

    The people who are responsible for the steady decline of the US economically, culturally, and militarily are members of an international, cosmopolitan, tranzi elite who no longer believe in such quaint notions as nations or patriotism or allegiance to principles.

    Our “friends” in Europe have turned themselves over completely to a totally disconnected group of chatterers whose only true allegiance is to the growth in power and resources of the EU superstructure, and their own ambitions and desires for influence and grandiose lifestyles.

    But the ordinary working citizens in the various nations that comprise the Union? They count for little or nothing at all.

    The very same entitled, credentialed fledgling oligarchs have long dominated the political, social, academic, and entertainment leadership in this country.

    They consult with each other about what is best for their interests and advancement, about what should be said in this situation or that in order to placate the masses, and they celebrate each other incessantly, going to gala balls, giving each other awards, extolling each other as magnificent humanitarians or compassionate leaders, even when it is commonly known they would have their limo drive over crippled children to get to the latest party rather than inconvenience themselves.

    Many years ago, I remember reading a story in some magazine about the terrible invasion of the sea lamprey into the Great Lakes, and its parasitical life cycle, which was threatening to destroy the fabulous lake trout which had long thrived there.

    That is the image that comes into my mind when I consider the current schools of parasites who swim through our society, sucking out it’s life blood, and contributing nothing to it’s improvement or advancement.

    It has been faddish for quite some time to compare our current seeming dissolution to the Roman Empire as it tottered and staggered through the last phases of its existence.

    But it is Byzantium, in all it’s pretentious glory, which was destroyed by the endless factionalism of the oligarchic groups vying for power and riches, that is the true model.

    And the Islamic fanatics pounding at the gates, waving their swords, and screaming threats?

    Just an odd coincidence, surely.

  17. “Stunningly, comments along these lines continued to be made in 1940 and even in 1941.”

    Documents the duration of thorough corruption of Protestant churches.

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