Advancing a Free Society

Sneering at America

Monday, June 27, 2011

In 1941 George Orwell observed, “England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution.” What Orwell saw as a fashion of the elite has now become widespread in America, where the media, popular culture, and academics have made sneering on one’s own country a sign of cosmopolitan sophistication and intellectual superiority.

This reflexive disdain for anyone showing affectionate pride in the United States has enabled the sort of behavior that recently took place in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl at the Gold Cup soccer finals between America and Mexico. The 90,000 spectators were overwhelmingly Mexican, and they lustily booed the American team and waved Mexican flags. Even the terminally liberal Los Angeles Times wondered, “In what other country would the visitors have home-field advantage?” One fan interviewed about this behavior displayed a bizarre cognitive and moral dissonance: “I love this country, it has given me everything that I have, and I'm proud to be part of it. But yet, I didn't have a choice to come here, I was born in Mexico, and that is where my heart will always be.”

Immigrants always have been tempted to maintain dual loyalties, so such myopic ingratitude is unexceptional. In the past, though, it was usually downplayed to avoid a backlash from insulted Americans who felt no compunction in telling immigrants bragging about their countries of origin to catch the next boat back. What is new and different these days is the climate that makes some immigrants assume not just that they have a right publicly to indulge such behavior with impunity, but that any protest is itself a sign of xenophobic jingoism, if not outright racism. This climate is a consequence of the psychological freak Orwell identified, and ultimately derives from left-wing ideology. For those of a Marxist bent, America has always been the great enemy––not just for its alleged oppression, inequality, and exploitation, but for the spectacular success of its liberal democracy and free-market capitalism in giving freedom and opportunity to millions of people. For the left, to champion America is to cheer for the country that definitively repudiated leftist claims to possess a superior political-economic order.

Related to this network of ideas is multiculturalism, which grafts identity politics––the notion that identity is predicated on collective grievances that one possesses by virtue of being a member of a historically victimized ethnic group––onto the old Leninist demonization of Western imperialism and colonialism. To the multiculturalist, the white Euro-American is always guilty, his crimes the consequence of a uniquely oppressive culture and history manifested in colonialism, imperialism, racism, and irrational fear of the dark-skinned “other.” Any display of pride in Western culture is unseemly and insensitive, if not racist or bigoted, even as the victim “of color” is encouraged to indulge such chauvinism, since his culture has been victimized by Western crimes and hence is superior and worthy of celebration.

It is incoherent ideas such as these––like all bad ideas, false to human reality and repudiated by history––that account for this elevation of contempt for one’s own country into a mark of superiority and sophistication. And the consequences of such disaffection are much more serious than just the bad manners and ingratitude displayed in the Rose Bowl. As Orwell pointed out about the roots of England’s feckless foreign policy before the war, the “sniggering of the intellectuals at patriotism and physical courage, the persistent effort to chip away English morale and spread a hedonistic, what-do-I-get-out-of-it attitude to life, has done nothing but harm. It would have been harmful even if we had been living in the squashy League of Nations universe that these people imagined. In the age of Fuhrers and bombing planes it was a disaster.” This danger is just a real today, and has been worsened by the institutionalizing of such “sniggering” in our media and schools, and by a President who dismisses American exceptionalism and centers his foreign policy on apologizing for America’s alleged imperfections and crimes.

A people faced with a passionate enemy like terrorist jihadists will find their resolve weakened if they lack a passionate loyalty to the core principles and beliefs that their way of life expresses, and an equally passionate confidence that their country, flaws and all, is essentially good and so worth fighting and dying for. But what Churchill in 1933 called the “mood of unwarrantable self-abasement” he saw among British intellectuals undermines that loyalty and confidence, and creates “defeatist doctrines” such as appeasement. If dangerous then, how much more insidious and deadly such fashionable “self-abasement” is today, when it is widely considered to be the mark of intellectual sophistication to view with indifference or even approval those who disrespect America even as they enjoy its freedom and opportunity.

(photo credit: Jen)