Friday, February 5, 2010

Condescension Dissected

A terrific WaPo column today by Gerard Alexander, titled "Why Are Liberals So Condescending?" Here's a brief sample, but you should definitely read the whole thing:

It's an odd time for liberals to feel smug. But even with Democratic fortunes on the wane, leading liberals insist that they have almost nothing to learn from conservatives. Many Democrats describe their troubles simply as a PR challenge, a combination of conservative misinformation -- as when Obama charges that critics of health-care reform are peddling fake fears of a "Bolshevik plot" -- and the country's failure to grasp great liberal accomplishments. "We were so busy just getting stuff done . . . that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are," the president told ABC's George Stephanopoulos in a recent interview. The benighted public is either uncomprehending or deliberately misinformed (by conservatives).

This condescension is part of a liberal tradition that for generations has impoverished American debates over the economy, society and the functions of government -- and threatens to do so again today, when dialogue would be more valuable than ever.

Liberals have dismissed conservative thinking for decades, a tendency encapsulated by Lionel Trilling's 1950 remark that conservatives do not "express themselves in ideas but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas." During the 1950s and '60s, liberals trivialized the nascent conservative movement. Prominent studies and journalistic accounts of right-wing politics at the time stressed paranoia, intolerance and insecurity, rendering conservative thought more a psychiatric disorder than a rival. In 1962, Richard Hofstadter referred to "the Manichaean style of thought, the apocalyptic tendencies, the love of mystification, the intolerance of compromise that are observable in the right-wing mind."

Regular WaPo columnist Charles Krauthammer also weighs in on the subject:

This being a democracy, don’t the Democrats see that clinging to this agenda will march them over a cliff? Don’t they understand Massachusetts?

Well, they understand it through a prism of two cherished axioms: (1) The people are stupid, and (2) Republicans are bad. Result? The dim, led by the malicious, vote incorrectly.

Both columns reminded me strongly of this 2007-vintage classic post from Ace of Spades (proving once again that the Blogosphere is, as usual, years ahead of the print commentariat). Again, if you haven't already, read the whole thing:

I don't believe conservatives or liberals are more intelligent, generally, than the other.

But I do believe liberals believe zealously, rabidly that they're more intelligent.

1 comment:

  1. Liberals believe they are so intelligent because so many of them are PhD college professors. They've never heard the expression "Those that can't do, teach."

    Leftist economic theory includes the line: "Well, that's very good in practice, but how is it in theory?" There is an unlimited supply of books on Marxist theory, and not so many on the much simpler, but arguably much more successful capitalist thinking. It's harder to find work, but much easier to get a doctorate using Marxist thinking.