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November 28, 2004

Less Contempt

Kwame Anthony Appiah: November 28, 2004

Gerald Dworkin says that Garrison Keillor's joke wasn't funny. But it was. (I know he meant one shouldn't have laughed not that one didn't. But I don't think one shouldn't have.)  It’s a mistake, I know, to try to explain a joke, so I won't try; but part of the background to why we can laugh is that nobody, least of all Garrison K, really has any intention at all of trying to stop evangelical conservatives from voting. He was teasing them, as a moderately serious Lutheran from Lake Wobegon might tease anyone who said too much about their religious views in public.

Still the contempt issue is important and understanding it depends, I think, on recognizing an important asymmetry. Some of those right-wing evangelicals apparently care whether or not we have a good opinion of them. (If they didn't, the resentment they display toward the "liberal media," would make no sense.) Whereas I know no one among the liberal media elite or among liberal academics who cares very much that many right-wing evangelicals have contempt for us. We care how they vote--for instrumental reasons; we may even care that they are mistaken, for their sakes; but we don't feel diminished by their contempt. It doesn't threaten our self-respect. (The situation is analogous to the one that obtains with respect to social respect in class and status based hierarchies: a peasant can spit when milord walks by, but it won't damage his lordship’s self esteem. But when milord brings his handkerchief to his nose as the peasant approaches, the peasant is stung.)

Part of the truth here, I think, is that American anti-intellectualism contains a seam of intellectual insecurity. It's not that the no-nothings are sure we're wrong, it's that they're afraid we'll win the argument, because we're better at arguing. They feel about us the way many Greeks appear to have felt about the Sophists: sure they won the argument but that was not always because they were right. But they're also not sure that we're wrong. The discussion about what we ought to be doing about the cultural divide seems sometimes to presuppose that they'd want to talk to us if we showed up respectfully and offered, as we now say, to "dialogue." But they don't want to talk to us, a lot of them. And this, I think, is part of why.


Now all of us succumb sometimes to the temptation to look away from the evidence that might undermine beliefs we're happy with. So I'm not saying that "they" are doing something "we" don't do. But if I'm right, their resentment of what they perceive as our contempt reflects not a certainty that they are right but a worry that they may not be. And if I'm right, they may well continue to suspect we have contempt for them, however polite we are, and however carefully we police our humor. Because the reason they worry about our supposed contempt is that deep down they actually worry about truth and reason and whether it's on their side. Our attitudes worry them only to the extent that those attitudes reflect intellectual values they share. Deep down it's not our attitudes but attitudes of their own that they're struggling with or suppressing that make the issue painful. In sum: our contempt matters only as a projection of their doubts.

I realize that some will think this analysis is itself a sign of contempt or, at least, of condescension. So let me make two things clear. First, I know there are smart, savvy, right wing evangelicals who are not intellectually insecure. And, second, appraising someone as having succumbed to one of the many forms of human escape form reason is not eo ipso to contemn them.

But as it happens, I'm inclined just to deny that I have contempt for most right-wing evangelicals, especially the sort of people that I have in mind in offering this analysis. I have big disagreements with them, for sure. Even if I were still an evangelical myself--yes, I was one once--I would have a big disagreements with them, since I think that biblical fundamentalism demands serious attention to the texts, and many of them appeal to the texts in a way that strikes me as lacking in the requisite seriousness. So I would be happy to talk to them on their terms about issues like gay marriage, because I think a serious Christian position on this issue would entail a kind of loving acceptance that too much right-wing Christian talk (and here I include some Catholic and Episcopal bishops along with lay evangelicals) doesn't display.

In these circumstances I think it would be better to show up first with an offer to listen than with an offer to talk. And here I think what Gerald Dworkin says was absolutely right. Because once we listen we'll find lots of things that we agree about and that we can work together on.

What would not be helpful would be a new form of condescension that consisted in pretending to think that (what we regard as) bad arguments and false claims bolstered by them are in fact worthy of respect. But nobody loses the right to be respected as a human being just by succumbing to this most banal and regular of human failings.

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Comments

Posted by: david

"(The situation is analogous to the one that obtains with respect to social respect in class and status based hierarchies: a peasant can spit when milord walks by, but it won't damage his lordship’s self esteem. But when milord brings his handkerchief to his nose as the peasant approaches, the peasant is stung.)"

I agree with your analysis but not the analogy. In the past European status based hierarchies with which I am familiar, peasants could suffer more than stinging for a sign of disrespect towards a noble. The rules of the road enforced discipline, without a great deal of concern for the noble's self-esteem.

Posted by: david | Dec 6, 2004 11:27:15 PM


Posted by: Conservative

After reading Garrison Keillor's _Homegrown Democrat_ I'm disinclined to find his joke humorous.

I won't pretend to speak for all conservatives, but I might say a little about the issue of contempt. Leftist contempt doesn't threaten my self-respect, and it doesn’t matter as a projection of my doubts. As a person who thinks that community is important I find it troubling when members of my community do not have a good opinion of me. Leftist contempt also strikes me as a reflection of their sureness that they've got things right, and that my ideas don't have to be taken seriously. My resentment of perceived contempt reflects not a certainty that I am right but a worry that you might not be either. It is a kind of snobbery that I find off-putting. I tend to think that my liberal friends have well reasoned positions, and that we simply differ on some particular point that we find primary.

Speaking of contempt I take it that when you say, " American anti-intellectualism contains a seam of intellectual insecurity. It's not that the no-nothings…" that in the context of your post you mean conservatives. I'll grant that we have our own fair share anti-intellectuals and no-nothings, but it's not as if the left doesn't have its own fair share. If I've read this right it sounds pretty contemptful despite your denial that you have no contempt for most right-wing evangelicals.

Posted by: Conservative | Dec 7, 2004 12:22:43 AM


Posted by: Dan Kervick

The problem, it seems to me, is that it is very difficult to maintain unalloyed respect for somebody "as a human being", if they are full of opinions and arguments we regard at bottom as not just mistaken, but woefully ignorant. Their opinions are at least one important part of them, and to judge opinions as profoundly ignorant is one way to have contempt for those opinions. And if we are comtemptful of a significant portion of the opinions, then we are contemptful of a significant portion of the person. Further, where there is great ignorance, we sometimes suspect a lack of intelligence. We can't honestly avoid the fact that intelligence is a greatly desired and admired human trait, and that we experience the lack of such traits as contemptible.

But while opinions are a significant part of the whole person, they are not the whole person. A person is made up not just of the opinions they hold, but of the habits, values and the emotional states and responses that characterize their personality, and the way all of these things are integrated. If they possess sufficient virtues outside the intellectual realm, we may sincerely admire someone of whose opinions we think very little.

I have found that the best way, then, to cultivate respect and build solidarity is to identify and to dwell more on those virtues, and dwell less on the deficiencies.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Dec 7, 2004 1:19:38 AM


Posted by: Realish

But Dan, it's the deficiencies -- in public, reasoned argument -- that are most relevant to the political sphere, no? I mean, it's fine for you to respect your neighbors on the grounds you describe (I do too), but it's not going to help the political situation, is it?

Posted by: Realish | Dec 7, 2004 2:30:52 AM


Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw

Some of those right-wing evangelicals apparently care whether or not we have a good opinion of them. (If they didn't, the resentment they display toward the "liberal media," would make no sense.) Whereas I know no one among the liberal media elite or among liberal academics who cares very much that many right-wing evangelicals have contempt for us. We care how they vote--for instrumental reasons; we may even care that they are mistaken, for their sakes; but we don't feel diminished by their contempt. It doesn't threaten our self-respect. (The situation is analogous to the one that obtains with respect to social respect in class and status based hierarchies: a peasant can spit when milord walks by, but it won't damage his lordship’s self esteem. But when milord brings his handkerchief to his nose as the peasant approaches, the peasant is stung.)

I think you go profoundly astray in this understanding of why conservatives rail against the liberal media. It isn't about being liked. It is about believing that the liberal media distorts the truth and manipulates beliefs by using such distortions. They rail against the political and social power which they believe is being corruptly used.

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw | Dec 7, 2004 3:29:27 AM


Posted by: Paul Callahan

I'm not sure I buy the premise. As a liberal, it does bother me that the right-wing feels contempt for me, even when--especially when--it is so obvious to me that they're wrong. I'm not elite, and my academic credentials are in a technical field so maybe I'm not a perfect fit.

For instance, it bothers me to no end when I read Ann Coulter saying God told us to exploit the earth and that I'm a wuss for shedding a tear over the extinction of a species, wearing a sweater instead of blasting the heat, or looking for fuel economy when buying a car. Even if I didn't think there was an assault in progress on environmental regulations, these words would continue to bother me. It bothers me that I'm considered unpatriotic for caring about the world as a whole instead of the narrow interests of my country, screw the other 95% of humanity. It bothers me that more than half Americans don't grasp the beauty of self-organizing systems and therefore cannot stretch their imagination enough to even begin to understand that evolution is the only reasonable model that fits the numerous observations about life on earth.

It doesn't bother me to the extent that I think I have any right to stop people from saying this, although in the case of evolution, I would do what I can to stop them from passing their wrong-headedness to the next generation. In any case, words can be really annoying, even if they don't come with the threat of effective action. In the case of the American rightwing, they obviously do come with action, rendering the point moot. But I just want to announce myself as a liberal sincerely bothered by people who express their utter contempt for people like me.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Dec 7, 2004 10:49:53 AM


Posted by: Don

"In these circumstances I think it would be better to show up first with an offer to listen than with an offer to talk."

This may be the most insightful cpomment I've seen a liberal make since the election. I think listening is what the Democrats most lack. Having recently rad the Thomas Frank book "What's the Matter with Kansas?" I;ve been turning this over in my mind quite a bit. The driven 'cons' of the blue-collar parts of Johnson County are the spiritual descendents of the Granger movement. Yet they aren't Democrats. Why not?

I think it's because of a number of things, but largely because of affirmative action and abortion. Particularly the latter. Frank asks why these people don't vote their rconomic interest. My answer would be that the Democrats don't do a very good job of defending that economic interest. They want to tax the rish and give to the poor but mostly end up missing the rich and taxing the higher end of the working people pretty extortionately. A lot of the freedom of action of both political parties is limited by various international treaties, so the economic issue has lost a lot of it's impact.

If the Democrats position was to tax me harder to give the money to people on welfare how does that benefit me? And increasingly I questioned how it benefitted the welfare recipients?

Looking back at the Granger movement I came to a startling conclusion: That William Jennings Bryan 'Boy Orator of the Platte' and three-time Democratic nominee for President - would not be a Democrat today. Why? Because Bryan was a very sincere evangelical Christian. He would have been completely appalled at the modern Democratic position on abortion.

Remember the national conventions this year. The Democrats put no strong pro-life figures on the podiu, Indeed I remember no strong dissidents of any kind (from the Democrat orthodoxy) of any kind on that podium. The GOP had Rudy Giuliani and the Governator make major speeches, and former 'yellow dog' Democrat Zell Miller made the keystone address. This year may have seen the rise of the Yellow Dog Republican in the South and Plains states, as several high-quality Democratic candidate lost - simply because of the party lable. Tom Coburn (D, OK) would have been a much better senator than Brad Carson (R) will be - but Coburn would have been a vote in the Democratic Caucus. A vote for Pelosi rather than Bush.

I'm beginning to think that people like Coburn lost because of things like Farenheight 9/11 energized the vote all right. It energized and polarized the other side. The people that Moore despises.

Therefore under the circumstances the very best thing that Democrats can do is to work with the other side. Damp down the anger and try to do something productive. Cut out the 'chimp' talk. Anger sin't going to do it for you....

Posted by: Don | Dec 7, 2004 12:52:59 PM


Posted by: Ethesis (Stephen M)

people like Coburn lost because of things like Farenheight 9/11 energized the vote all right

Yes, the Right could not have asked for a greater gift, a combination of innoculation and inspiration wrapped up in a spokesman who was perfect in his contempt and banality.

9/11 probably won the election for Bush.

Posted by: Ethesis (Stephen M) | Dec 7, 2004 3:23:56 PM


Posted by: SamChevre

In discussing contempt, it’s well worth going back to the basics of sociology. Contempt is directed downward in a hierarchy, and resentment is directed upward. It is almost always safe to say that the actual distribution of power is reflected in who is contemptuous and who is resentful. While the resentment may be focused on the contempt itself, it is a reflection of the general damage that being overpowered causes. (For example, if you listen to older Southern blacks talk about segregation, much of the resentment was focused on gestures of contempt—refusal to use titles and even family names is one frequent theme—but this certainly wasn’t the locus of most of the actual damage that segregation did.)

Looking at the changes in the experienced world in the last 50 years, it is easy to see that the small-town evangelicals (who are the hard core of the Republican party) have been the ones on whom the most changes were forced. From the civil rights movement (with the unforgettable image of the 82nd Airborne in Little Rock), to the feminist movement (with its considerable contempt for traditional social norms), to the increasing secularization of jurisprudence marked by the 1960’s Court cases forbidding school-sponsored religious activity, to the closing of local schools to promote greater equality, to the steady strangling of effective social sanctions for non-traditional sexual activity (by means of welfare and anti-discrimination law), the lived world in which these people were comfortable has been forcibly changed to conform to more egalitarian and more cosmopolitan ideals. Concurrently, the economy that sustained them has been more and more damaged by free trade, environmental laws, and the loss of US manufacturing dominance; meanwhile, the economic bases of the urban cosmopolitans—the academy, white-collar businesses, advocacy organizations—have exploded in power and influence.

Taking all this into account, small-town evangelicals fury at the contempt they sense is a predictable response to their loss of control over their own environment.

Both Russell Arben Fox and Timothy Burke have written fairly extensively on this topic.

Posted by: SamChevre | Dec 7, 2004 3:26:42 PM


Posted by: sam b

I think there are ample counterparts on the secular left who hold the same contempt and also care how the evangelicals vote. The contempt is on both sides and it just gets amplified when one is out of power.

Posted by: sam b | Dec 7, 2004 7:47:19 PM


Posted by: tadeusz

SamChevre makes some good points, except when he says contempt is downward. The Victorian middle class felt contempt for the poor as lazy, and the aristocrats as...lazy. This charge against the aristos, at least, was probably correct.

The Right feels contempt for the Left due to the Left's confused reasoning powers which more closely resemble a bueruaucrats (sp!) obfuscatory jargon than actual logic, all too often; and to the refusal to actually grapple with the serious problems facing us today.

An example of this is is Abu Ghraib. The Right abhors this evil, but understands it in context. The Left thinks the actions of a few overturn the actions of tens of thousands.

Many on the Right understand the Left, but few conversely. This is in part because many of the Right used to be of the Left.

See Ronald Reagan, Zell Miller, Christopher Hitchens, and David Horowitz. And know that the man who headed Swift Boat Vets would have supported Edwards for President.

Its is also, in part, because your side still has the choicest shouting platforms. Not for long, to be sure, but the NYT still outweighs Rush Limbaugh. Your side just did not apparently have a vision other than a negative one of "Bush bad" and "We'll be better than Bush". So we know what you think, and how you feel. You told us at 120 decibels, and some hardheads among you think that cranking up the volume on Hate Radio to 140 decibels is going to win converts. What do you do when that does not work, throw bombs?

There is a better way, and I'm glad this blog is trying to find it. Listen. Go invite some person you think is an unreconstructed Nazi to the party, and maybe you will learn something.

Or maybe not, for there's another reason, for the Right's contempt of the Left. The Left knows it all already, they are the anointed ones of history, and they only have to persuade their inferiors better, not actually listen to their fellow citizens. And that kind of ignorant, closed-minded arrogance does inspire a certain contempt wouldn't you think?

Tadeusz

Posted by: tadeusz | Dec 7, 2004 8:01:22 PM


Posted by: rtr

Libertarian’s have contempt for thieves, rapists, and murderers because their *actions* are violent aggressive behavior that materially worsens the lives of others. Both the left and the right (but most especially the left) have lost much respect for private property and are therefore clueless to the culture of entitlement thievery they have created that now permeates not just the government but American society like a disease. Fans at basketball games feel like lottery ticket winners when players brawl in the stands. The “left” is making a huge blunder in regarding the “right’s” advance as moral issues spawned from a rejuvenated evangelical base. How many evangelicals have posted to this blog? (and I’ve seen many comments from those explicitly not regarding themselves of the left but rather the rational mainstream types) For would it not be much more terrifying to the left if the their economic intellectual debates were becoming a huge losing liability hidden only by the fact that the mainstream right has moved in a big way to the left regarding government entitlements yet the limits of socialist expansion are well within sight?

The article is laughable in its proclamation for yearned for reasoned discourse from the right as it appears to me that it’s not even certain the left has awakened from its Marxist poly-logist (logic being dependent upon multiple “class” perspectives) cultural-relativist roots though the recent public proclamations of the likes of Robert Reich for “reason” seems startlingly different from a mere decade ago when the Clinton presidency was pushing for universal health care before Bill reversed course and signed NAFTA.

The left has been ignoring the public substantive socialism vs. free market debate for decades, preferring instead indoctrination at the academic level. And for good reason, as the self-proclaimed elite academic intellectual lite weights from the likes of Michigan, Stanford, and other various New England liberal arts colleges would be intellectually spanked on any number of substantive issues regarding free trade, minimum wage, etc. that touch on the economic aspects of the fundamental socialism vs. free market debate at a much more influential blog site such as www.mises.org (that the Chicago Becker-Posner blog garners mention shows how out of touch the left is). It took Mises.org a few weeks to find this blog.

The term “liberal”, which classically meant a belief in the minimization of the State was co-opted by the American left. The term “liberal” is now regarded with the same general disdain as the term “socialist”, and the left is in denial as it attempts to hide their welfare redistribution agenda which is socialist in its nature, waiting for the inevitable point of no return when a democratic majority class of government largess recipients votes away [I can feel the pained expressions upon inserting the word *steals*] from another minority class of government largess providers.

It’s baffling the left alleges a false “anti-intellectualism” when substantive discourse has never been at a higher level with the free market dispersion of information in the form of the internet and the exodus from the television news of ABC, NBC, and CBS to cable (Fox News per se). As a regular viewer of Fox News, CNN, CNBC, and MSNBC the right’s evangelical voters are not the swing voters just as union members and welfare recipients are also not swing voters.

I could go on and on but suffice to say the article is choc full of arrogance. Paul Craig Roberts is not the end all of rational positions on economic issues. It’s the same misguided belief that regarded Mark Shields to David Gergan as the left to the right on the McNeil-Lehrer news hour. If the left feels intellectually empowered and superior tackling right wing evangelical straw men then it is just another symptom of denial from the legal-philosophy academic wing strikingly lacking representatives of the economics discipline. How easy it must feel to believe that a mere “cultural divide” is all the stands in the way of the triumphant return of the march of state socialist welfare redistribution programs ala FDR's Great Society and Johnson's New Deal.

I say this as a wake up call in the hope that both the left and the right come to the realization that their primary contempt for each other emanates from the same source: not attitudes, but actions with real felt effects instigated by political force which deprive social and economic freedom to conform to political rulers ideals. As a libertarian I seem to be classified as socially left and economically right and it is my belief that this is the only basis upon which any sort of "Great Compromise" can be instituted.

Posted by: rtr | Dec 7, 2004 10:59:10 PM


Posted by: Jeff Licquia

Right or left, wisdom is most likely found when one considers another's disagreement to be at least as likely to be one's own fault as the other's.

This is why I am here. If your own words are to be believed, this is why you're here, too. So why throw around your supposed intellectual superiority? If you really believe you're right, you should be able to defend your position without the need for arrogance, as should I.

Indeed, when you insert parenthetical disclaimers such as that in your last paragraph, you acknowledge that respect for the views of others has been a hallmark of reasoned discourse, a hallmark you realize cannot be left behind so easily.

As what some would call a right-wing evangelical, I don't fear you or your words; I've probably read more fearsome thinkers than you already. I do hope that some of you will suppress your ego long enough to have a conversation instead of a lecture. It doesn't seem that there is any shortage of people who think they're better than me, though, so if this describes the writers on this blog, then perhaps I should move on.

Posted by: Jeff Licquia | Dec 8, 2004 12:49:53 AM


Posted by: Ethesis (Stephen M)

He was teasing them, as a moderately serious Lutheran from Lake Wobegon might tease anyone who said too much about their religious views in public.

That was the feeling I got from it.

BTW, I liked the conclusion:

What would not be helpful would be a new form of condescension that consisted in pretending to think that (what we regard as) bad arguments and false claims bolstered by them are in fact worthy of respect. to be listened to just long enough to sneak up and educate/convert the target ....

You are correct on that point.

Posted by: Ethesis (Stephen M) | Dec 8, 2004 1:26:14 AM


Posted by: Pppanther

The left kids itself if it believes that the right is fearful that they are wrong or that they are concerned with how the left views the right.

The fact is that most on the right view the left primarily as arrogant, contemptuous, elitist pricks (i.e., "you're an ignorant boob, let me enlighten you"); secondarily as ungodly, licentious, immoral heathens (i.e., "you're a brainwashed boob, your opinions on abortion, sodomy, and religion should be kept to yourself"); thirdly as unpatriotic, pacifistic near-traitors, (i.e., "your a jingoistic boob, the US is the real terrorist; no blood for oil..."), and fourthly, as economically naive, collectivist and socialistic statists, (i.e., "you're a victim-of-false-consciousness boob; you need to start voting your class interests, corporations are evil, and the government must be in charge of healthcare, etc., etc.")

The fact is, the bases for these opinions are true. The left does, in fact, hold and express the opinions from which these views are generated. They place different values on them and generate them from different premises, but the conclusion are there.

Posted by: Pppanther | Dec 8, 2004 9:05:10 AM


Posted by: Peter Burfein

A Response from a Red-State Evangelical:

 As I read Appiah’s essay on contempt, I couldn’t help myself from repeatedly thinking, “These
people really don’t understand us.”
I am one who would be classified, for political purposes, as a red-state evangelical (with
conservative Lutheran nuances). I believe in the authority of the Word of God. I believe that each
and every Word of Scripture is placed there by the Lord. In my mind, this is utterly rational, and in
that same mind, several tenets of liberalism simply boggle it.
Enlightening, however, was the free psychoanalysis, namely, that my political and moral
positions grow from an underlying fear of rationalism, a fear that my opponents might be right, and
I, wrong. I finally understand where this “-ophobe” trend in liberal rhetoric comes from. Liberals
really do believe, in their heart of hearts, that we conservative evangelicals blindly hold to our views
as a compensatory reaction to what’s really going on in our core: We deep down know that
evolutionism is right; we deep down would love to be sexually promiscuous (perhaps even with our
own gender!); we deep down are so dreadfully fearful of all those smart-witted college professors
who scoff at the Scriptures. In short, we really are that two-dimensional character from American
Beauty, that ex-marine suburbanite who had secret homosexual longings.
Would, for the liberal’s sake, that this were so....would that it were so.
First off, let me give you a real phobia on the part of evangelical Christians: Infernophobia.
Yes, that’s lesson number one in this little sociological class on us red-staters. Subcategories of this
phobia are theophobia, hamartiphobia, and thanaphobia, that is, fear of hell, fear of God, fear of sin,
and fear of death. If you want to understand us, begin with this! We are Christians because we don’t
want to go to hell. And so we cling to a Savior, Whose authority in our lives is rooted in His
resurrection from the dead and the testimony of the Holy Spirit’s fruits in our lives, namely, joy,
peace, goodness, etc.
The rational case for our world view isn’t difficult to us. We see evil, death, selfishness, and
lots of suffering in the world, and we know that things could be much, much better. The Biblical
model for explaining this is as rational a model as has yet arisen on the stage of human thought!
People are basically selfish and given to evil. Death is the only absolute. The battle between good
and evil is as innate to the human understanding as anything (think kids and the movies which make
millions). Does the evolutionary model – which sanctions selfishness – explain this? If so, why do
humans innately deem selfishness as on the wrong side of the moral equation (the paradoxically cultic
leader Ayn Rand notwithstanding)? Does the liberal, socio-psychological model – which claims to
move “beyond good and evil” – explain this? If so, how on earth do those who claim to move beyond
good and evil so quickly condemn as evil such things as war and poverty?
There are simply too many inner contradictions in other models, that to our minds, they simply
do not have compelling authority. And for that matter, it should humble our opponents that our
model has withstood the test of time for thousands of years, and that to this day – even in our
Enlightened society – it claims more adherents than the opposing model, and is gaining adherents in
other parts of the globe.
Let’s also underscore this little truth: If tomorrow it were proven beyond a shadow of a doubt
that there is no God, no Jesus, and no resurrection, this would not be a fearful thing so much as a
liberating thing (at face value)! I am not a homosexual but I am an adulterer (I’m speaking ironically
now...yes, Christians can speak ironically). I love married women. I don’t know where this comes
from, how I came to this point in my life, but I simply love married women. I suppose I was born this
way. The only thing that keeps me faithful to my wife is duty, well, that and the fear of hell. Every
day I suppress my true feelings and must live life in the closet as to my true adulterous feelings. But
whether it’s duty or fear of hell, there is a compelling authority keeping me faithful to my wife,
namely, the Word of God. If this authority were to be deflated, I would be freed up to pursue
whatever pleasure agenda I had. But until such happens, I am kept in line, to be dutiful, to be selfless,
and to be merciful to others. Again, does evolutionism give me such a compelling authority? No.
By my reading of the theory, I should follow my feelings to their natural conclusion and have sex with
my neighbor’s wife; let the weak be damned! Does liberalism give me a compelling authority? No.
Given their defense of homosexual marriage, my guess is that they would march in favor of tolerance
for adulterers. “Ah, but homosexuality doesn’t hurt anyone. Adultery does.” Oh, so now liberals
want to bring in those medieval ideas about good and evil, that hurting someone is somehow “bad”?
There are simply too many inner contradictions in what are supposedly such “rational”
arguments. I struggle to understand how the liberal, evolutionary, or libertarian model of the world
would keep order in society. I struggle to understand how a model whose logical end must be pure
selfishness will organize social beings. And so in the end – and this is the really scary thing for us –
it would come down to exactly what we fear politically: The ordering agent in society will necessarily
be some claimant to the “true” rationality, whether that be an Ayn Rand devotee or a liberal. But
imagine that society. We swing back and forth between these two positions, each claiming “we’re
the real rational ones,” and each ready to order my life according to their notion of rationalism, either
living by the dictates of one browbeating me to live more rationally self interested, or by the dictates
of the other nagging me to care about the poor.
And we’re the ones accused of imposing morality? At least our morality has some universal
authority, an understanding of human nature which also happens to correspond with most people’s
innate understanding of the human plight.
The model by which we order our lives just happens to fit perfectly with the model that orders
our society. This is the basis of our constant appeal to the Christian roots of our nation. We
understand perfectly that not all the forefathers were According to Hoyle Trinitarian Christians. They
were deists; they were unitarians; by my reckoning, most of them were rank heretics in their beliefs.
But they understood perfectly clear that as a philosophical postulate, we have no rights but that they
are a gift from our Creator. Does the evolutionary model give us rights? On what basis? By what
authority? When Bush says “Freedom is not our gift to Iraq, but the Almighty’s gift to all people,”
this resonates perfectly not only with our understanding, but with the most rational model around,
the model picked up by our forefathers.
Again, if human rights and dignity are not rooted in our creation in God’s image, but homo
sapiens is just an accidental slice of a constantly evolving species, what possible basis is there for any
sort of “rights”? No one has given me a more rational case than the rational case given by
implications in the Word of God, namely, that our Lord created us not to be killed, stolen from, or
mistreated, and that a certain amount of compassion and mercy is to be given for the weak and those
who for no fault of their own fall on the “not fittest” side of the equation.
The forefathers also understood the most rational anthropology, based on experience, that
humans are basically selfish and evil. Hence, the checks and balances, and the rule of law, the check
of the majority on those who err from the civil norms, and a check of the minority on a majority
inspired by mass hysteria. The Christian model says that this innate selfishness is a result of a
corruption of original humanity, and therefore rightly to be checked. The evolutionary model says that
this innate selfishness is the very definition of a species, and therefore, the ultimate trajectory of the
species, to be tolerated, condemned, condoned, or whatever one wants. A do-gooder liberal may
argue that we should work together for the good of the species; an Ayn Rand libertarian says we
shouldn’t. Who’s right? Who cares! We’re beyond good and evil here, remember? My greatest fear
is that liberals are building their case from the used parts of Christian ethics, and that they are fighting
a losing battle against what must necessarily be the implications of an evolutionary – dog eat dog –
progression through history. When they lose this case – and the Christian world view will have fallen
way out of favor – what world view will remain?
To return to the issue at hand, the question comes down to one of authority. When it comes
down to models by which we will organize ourselves as a free people, whose authority carries the
greatest compelling weight. To the red-state Christian, all the inner contradictions of liberal
“rationalism” simply do not compel us. Why homosexual marriage but not pedophilia marriages, or
group marriages, or whatever marriages? Because you can trust that most Americans will go “eww”
when hearing of those other forms? But we used to go “eww” at homosexuality. Give it a few years,
and liberals must face the fact that if a 14 year old can consent to an abortion, she can also consent to
have an affair with her 40 year old female teacher. Why not? What compelling case will you make?
“Eww”? Well, how intolerant, pedophobic, and stuck in the Middle Ages you are! Perhaps you have
secret, guilty longings for 14 year old boys which is the source of your irrational fear of pedophilia!
I can at least offer more than “eww.” I can offer an authority which has withstood the test of
time and which is held by a billions of people.
Or, why is war and greed evil but not adultery and fornication? Because war and greed hurt
others? Have you ever heard of broken families and the resultant emotional mess it passes on to the
children? So, why may we legislate to impose one morality, but not another?
But, and this will surprise most people, evangelical Christians do not believe in imposing their
religion on others. For there also is a libertarian element to red-state evangelicalism which must be
explained. Millions of evangelicals are just as pro-life as they are anti-tax and anti-regulation. Further,
they steadfastly hope that do-gooder bureaucrats and academicians will leave their self-righteous moral
cant out of their lives. But understand our affinity with libertarians. In the circle jerk tenor of fora
such as these – which reduce most red-state people and positions to two dimensional caricatures – the
evangelical cannot possibly have a libertarian mindset. After all, Christians want to run the country
by the Book of Leviticus!
But for us, there is no logical leap whatsoever. Where the liberal believes in loads of arbitrary
absolutes which have no ultimate basis but his own placard or bumper sticker, we believe in actually
very few absolutes, each of which have a specific and clear basis in two authorities, the Bible and the
Constitution. And for that matter, our appeal to Biblical authority generally is because it supports
something which has universal witness. For example, we hardly desire to establish the doctrine of the
Trinity, the Virgin Birth, or the Resurrection as governmental policy, but when it comes to several
moral issues which affect society at large, we take positions which could just as well be taken by an
atheist, Muslim, or Jew. Our moral positions are not specifically Christian or even biblical!
As such, we take a strict constructionist view of the Constitution because it best guarantees
individual freedom, granting only specific powers to the government, whose main purpose is to protect
life, liberty, and property. Also, the Constitution establishes the only moral framework to which each
citizen of our country has bound himself. The same cannot be said of some liberal’s morality which
is rooted in his favorite 19th century philosopher de jour.
We as evangelicals hold to these three absolutes of life, liberty, and property as having the
authority of not only the Constitution but also the Scriptures. On these terms, our views on abortion
do not stem from the Bible, but from the Constitution’s guarantee of the right to life. Our opinion is
informed by the Bible, but ultimately appeals to something universal: the right to life. On homosexual
marriage, the issue is not homosexual acts per se; most Christians will not fight their last battle on the
hill of anti-Sodomy laws. But our case is built on something more fundamental, namely, that in order
for us to govern ourselves as a society, certain words, institutions, and ideas need to have an accepted
meaning. Homosexual marriage advocates want to revolutionize the very meaning of marriage, a
meaning which opens the door to any sort of arbitrary arrangement of any sort of human (or animal)
life for any sort of purpose deemed right for any sort of reason, of which none of us has the right to
judge! We see a danger in revolutionizing established meanings of words, a danger one might sense
if, say, some group wanted to change the meaning of “race” in all our civil liberties laws to mean only
“the human race,” and then leave it up to the states to define who can rightfully be called part of the
human race. You can see where this is going! In order to govern ourselves, words must have
meanings. A society built on deconstructionism has as enduring a structure as, well, deconstructionism
has had as good philosophy. Again, inner contradictions bring the structure crumbling down.
So in conclusion, I hope this essay gives some insight into evangelical thinking. We hardly fear
the contempt of east cost liberals and libertines, or the self-righteous droning of entertainers who can’t
make it outside of the public radio sector. To think otherwise is self-flattery. Indeed, the tired use of
some Freudian anthropology to explain how we think is simple-minded, to an “emperor has no
clothes” degree. To wit: “Yeah, I hate you because you’re just so danged smart and I can’t keep up.
Now, just in case I missed, how were you explaining the innate moral evil of war in the context of a
godless, valueless, evolutionary model other than your fading bumper sticker?”
We simply carve our beliefs on the basis of simple and clear authorities, which – for our money
– are the most rational explanation and model for what we know by experience.
Please, try again.

Posted by: Peter Burfein | Dec 8, 2004 3:12:02 PM


Posted by: AlanC9

I'll give a couple of your questions a shot, Peter; I'm assuming they were serious questions and not just rhetoric:

"Does the evolutionary model – which sanctions selfishness – explain this? If so, why do
humans innately deem selfishness as on the wrong side of the moral equation (the paradoxically cultic leader Ayn Rand notwithstanding)? "

That one's simple. The evolutionary model simply doesn't imply selfishness. As a social species, selfishness is counterproductive in humans. Generally speaking, you get better outcomes for everyone if people are working towards the best outcome for their extended family/village/tribe, rather than for purely individualistic goals. But a temptation to engage in purely selfish behavior is also present for any particular individual, if he can get away with it. He gets the benefit of the selfless actions of the other members of the group, plus the benefit of his own selfish actions.

There's nothing in the evolutionary view of human nature that's too incompatible with the Biblical view you describe, though obviously they must disagree on the source of man's propensity to evil.

Note that "evolutionism" and "leftism" aren't quite the same thing. Many leftists strongly disagree with sociobiological explanations of human behavior. I think they're going to lose that argument, and lose badly; the tabula rasa idea has been discredited everywhere except certain academic circles. You should find that fight amusing from the sidelines.

"Again, does evolutionism give me such a compelling authority? No. By my reading of the theory, I should follow my feelings to their natural conclusion and have sex with my neighbor’s wife; let the weak be damned! Does liberalism give me a compelling authority? No."

What do you consider to be compelling authority? For me, and I believe for many liberals, being true to my own beliefs is compelling enough to keep us on the straight and narrow.

Take adultery. I think that a world in which people didn't honor their commitments would be very undesirable. So committing adultery is bad. I don't commit adultery because I don't want to be a bad person. It really is just that simple.

You could say that I'm cutting out the "authority" middleman, and simply taking the values straight.

As for making adultery illegal, I can see a case for treating it like any other breach of contract. But I don't think the consequences of such a regime would be desirable.

"Does the evolutionary model give us rights? On what basis? By what authority?"

Again, most liberals aren't in the authority business in the first place. They simply think that rights are a good way to organize society. Not because humans are basically selfish and evil, but because they are generally shortsighted and prone to impose tyranny on each other in the name of some greater good. This isn't too far from the sentiments you yourself express. If anything, your post reminds me of how many fundamental values are actually shared by both evangelicals and liberals.

Of course, there are those pesky differences, like gay marriage. Gay marriage doesn't revolutionize the meaning of marriage for me. If anything, preventing a loving couple from entering into a marriage because they're of the same sex does more violence to the concept. If you're trying to preserve the core meaning of "marriage", it's too late. That battle was lost years ago, when people started to talk about marriage in romantic terms.


Posted by: AlanC9 | Dec 8, 2004 4:51:33 PM


Posted by: Jeremy Pierce

You mention that you're a former evangelical and that you admit that many evangelicals are intelligent with well-reasoned views. Yet you have also talked about those who are anti-intellectual and who have not reasoned their views out at the level of academic rigor but just have very strong and intuitively felt values. Are you being condescending to them? It's hard for me to read the first half of your post and not think that the average blue-collar red-stater would find it condescending.

Of course, maybe you'll argue that it's ok to be condescending to them, but I don't think you want to say that. I thought you were trying to avoid the charge of being condescending, and I don't think you intended to come across that way (which undermines the claim that you don't care what people think, by the way).

I must admit that the force of the sense of condescension from the first half of your post was highly mitigated by the second half of your post, most of which I thought was highly insightful, as I think much of your work is, but then when I re-read the first half in light of that I still felt as if it sounded condescending from the perspective of many blue-collar red-staters (of which I am not one; I'm fairly conservative on a number of issues, but I'm from the northeast). Part of why it sounds to me as if it will sound condescending to many is that I just find your psychological explanation to be far from the truth. I agree with some of the commenters on that, so I won't repeat any of that.

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce | Dec 8, 2004 6:02:27 PM


Posted by: Peter Burfeind

In response to AlanC9:
Thank you for your response.
(1) You make a good argument for selflessness. Which is in part exactly my point. YOU make the point. And why should I arrange my life according to what YOU alone argue, or want to institute as government policy? Talk to a libertarian, and they would argue on rational premises that selflessness is counterproductive to human progress. They make a good argument too. MY point is that both arguments lack simple authority. You can make an argument; and the libertarian can make an argument; but the bottom line is "why should I be compelled by either?" This is what I mean by authority. The conservative appeals to authorities higher than "what so or so argues." We appeal to authorites which are rooted in universal truths, such as the constitution and the revealed Word. Further, because the arguments are rooted in a higher authority, they actually lead to a MORE rational ordering of an argument. We don't fall into those inner contradictions mentioned in my essay.
(I am interested in your leftist in-fighting on evolutionism to which you refered. Could you expand on that? I've out of the loop on that one.

(2) Your argument against adultery (I. Kant? (As one professor said, "And he didn't")) also lacks no authority than your own self assertion. Why should your self assertion be mine? Many people get away with adultery with no problem. To say "you take your values straight" lacks this rather important, but obvious, detail: What values? You speak passively, as if you receive your values from the outside. Yet, from where? From yourself? But then we're back to argument by self assertion. And again, what makes your self assertion greater or morally superior to my self assertion? Yet, this is exactly what a liberal does in terms of views on the war, poverty, and regulation: they claim to have a morally superior position, yet their morality is based in nothing but their own self assertion. Is this what moral debate comes down to? Various self asserters trying to get the majority of people to believe what they assert, and do so by any means available... music... rhetoric... sloganeering. Why yes, this is what moral debate has come down to.

(3) On gay marriage, why limit it only to "loving couples." Everything leveled at us for our intolerance of gay marriage could be leveled at you on account of the limits imposed by that word "loving" and that word "couple." What about loving groups? What about lusting couples? What about lusting groups? etc. etc.

In general, you admit that liberals do not have an authority to which to appeal. And as a red state conservative evangelical trying to enlighten, I'm just saying that this is why your positions and statements are not compelling to many, many Americans. It is also why, if I may be a bit curt, your party keeps on losing. You claim that we should think something, but have no authority beyond your self assertion, which not only is logically lacking, but sort of narcissistic, I think, in the minds of many people, who therefore perceive that narcissism as elitism.

Posted by: Peter Burfeind | Dec 8, 2004 7:15:09 PM


Posted by: slarrow

I was going to post something far snarkier about the breathtaking arrogance exhibited by this post and certain comments, but the reasoned, calm approach by Peter Burfeind has settled me down quite a bit. Suffice it to say:

(a) The reason right-wing evangelicals dislike the contempt poured on them is because...people dislike being the targets of contempt. Moreover, we don't recall electing the contemptuous to their position of "superiority." A strong element of American cultural history is that we don't acknowledge the notion of our "betters" in a society. However, there are exceptions to this rule; there are people who believe that societies have "betters", and they're them. Thus, the resentment of which the professor speaks arise from a strong sense of fair play that has been violated.

To put it more bluntly: we right-wingers resent the contempt because we think it comes from people who cheat by grabbing an artificially exalted position. Left-wingers are dismissive because of the arrogance and insularity that is possible due to the labors and efforts of the hoi polloi. Rather than see their lack of feeling about their artificially inflated position as a worrisome deadening of the moral sense, they view it as confirmation of their own superiority. But right-wingers are the provincial ones. Yeah.

(b) Echoing Peter's point, liberals emphatically are in the authority business. It's just that they think they're the authority. This sense gets reinforced in echo chambers like universities and newsrooms and cocktail parties so that when people like the Professor venture out into the larger world of debate, it's clearly the other side who's got the problem because they just won't submit humbly to the words from On High.

If you're really interested in getting through to the Right, you're going to have to drop the narcissism and automatic dismissal of certain arguments and appeals. I challenge you to engage them and expose your baseline propositions; you may not find them so unassailable as you think.

Posted by: slarrow | Dec 9, 2004 11:32:47 AM


Posted by: Brea

As a well-read conservative college student, there are a few things in particular that bother me about liberal contempt for conservative ideas and conservatives themselves.

I read a lot of conservative intellectuals and I try hard to find thorough and convincing refutations of their arguments. It is very difficult to do - almost all of my liberal professors and the liberals I read prefer to dismiss the arguments with contempt and insults. If they bothered to actually engage the ideas and answer them, my mind could easily be changed. The positions I hear in class almost never mention a contradictory piece of evidence, whereas most of what I read in the conservative spectrum grapples directly with its critics and answers their substantive points. I think that this contempt liberals have for conservative ideas has crippled their own powers of reasoning. They are so convinced in their own minds (possibly BECAUSE none of their teachers presented anything more than a straw-man opposition) that they can just chant the magic words "ignorant, racist, something-phobic" and those arguments disappear. Unfortunately for them, this is not particularly convincing to most of the younger generation, especially when we see much more rigorous intellectual habits on the other side.

Posted by: Brea | Dec 9, 2004 12:51:05 PM


Posted by: Smathews

What an echo chamber! You can't even spell "know-nothings" and you expect us to buy that the reason conservatives are angry that the entire broadcast spectrum is dominated by liberal media hacks is that we feel inferior? Nuts to you and this website - and I look forward to 2006 and 2008.

Posted by: Smathews | Dec 9, 2004 3:24:10 PM


Posted by: AlanC9

Admit *liberals* don't have authority to appeal to? It's a stronger position than that, Peter. You don't have any authority to appeal to either; you may claim some trancendental sanction for your values, but there's no reason for me to respect that claim. Sure, you've got universal truths. So do I. Some of them are even the same. A couple aren't.

Appealing to "universal truths" just isn't a useful form of argument. It's effective rhetoric, sometimes, but it's got no logical force unless the universal truths are either logically provable or are already accepted as axioms by the other party. Or accepted as convenient lies; I find it convenient to act as if I believe that the human mind is something more than a byproduct of various collections of neurons firing, even though this belief is rapidly becoming untenable.

And yes, it's quite possible that a substantial majority of Americans do feel that need for authority, if only to keep themselves in line. The fears that you mentioned don't strike any responsive chord in me at all, but they very well might for most Americans. A political party that appeals directly to people like me almost certainly won't be competitive in the U.S.

I wasn't plugging "selflessness" so much as rational cooperation; my target was the argument that belief in evolution implies radical egocentrism and selfishness. That simply isn't implied by the theory. Quite the opposite.

I wasn't making a big deal about my views on adultery since I thought that the proposition that adultery is bad didn't need much of an affirmative defense on this board; the point was that I don't require any "authority" to keep me from straying. Though in retrospect, the dice were a bit loaded there. My primary sin is sloth, not lust.

"On gay marriage, why limit it only to "loving couples?" Umm... you were the one talking about needing to preserve the common understanding of the meaning of words, right? From where I sit, marriage is something that loving couples do, and so gay marriage is logical and even inevitable. If you disagree, that just shows that the supposed common meaning was disintegrating before gay marriage became a political issue. (You've still got a strong majority today, true, but you've lost almost everyone under 30.)

As for the liberal infighting, the fight's going to break out - has already broken out - over how much of human intelligence and behavior are biologically determined. This is going to be attacked because it will supposedly sanction discrimination, and will be used to limit attempts to build a "just" society. There's a famous incident involving Edmund Wilson getting a pitcher of ice water dumped on his head at a conference, followed by protesters chanting "You're all wet!" Not exactly the ideal of reasoned discourse.

Posted by: AlanC9 | Dec 9, 2004 4:20:45 PM


Posted by: Peter Burfeind

Alan, again, thank you for your engagement.

You write "the human mind is [no]thing more than a byproduct of various collections of neurons firing."

Well, my accidental collection of neurons makes me anti-abortion, pro-war, anti-gay, and pro-Capitalism. Hitler's accidnetal collect of neurons made him anti-Jew, pro-war, and pro-statism. Your accidental collection of neurons makes you anti-war, pro-abortion, and pro-gay.

What is simply mind-boggling to us right wingers is that you don't see the incongruity of trying to make a rational case for ANYTHING according to this model. Why are your accidental neurons more rational than mine? What if the tragectory of evolutionism leads to belief in God? Why not? That's the whole problem with epistomology under evolutionism: It by definition is accidental...all life forms, all thought forms, all everything forms...are accidental.

Which leads to only one conclusion: Might makes right. This is why our right wing friend in the world of college (above) is frustrated. His teachers understand that the only authority behind their positions is bare self assertion; therefore, they can dictate the parameters of "reason" in the classroom by simple fiat, where Christianity loses out. Why can they? Becuase they can, because they're in charge, and they will make their collection of neurons the standard for other collection of neurons.

Hey, T Rex eat Brontosaurus...that's what evolutionism shows. So, why not Professor Smarty eat Simpleton Christian.

On gay marriage, I'm only arguing according to your own rules. I'm claiming that words have meaning, and that the accepted meaning of marriage is "between one man and one woman." This is rooted yes, in tradition, experience, revelation, etc. But even our rational constitution assumes all sorts of meanings whose source is these same things.

You assert a new definition: Marriage means "between loving couples." But where does this come from but your own self assertion alone? And I'm simply refering you to some other collections of neurons who (a) are offended that you exclude lusting groups or just...any group, and (b) wonder why you have the right to delineate what marriage is. Beyond that, you yourself are appealing to tradition and a universal truth, namely, the tradition that "loving" is an element of marriage. But then you sneak in a brand new, very non-traditional, very-non-based in universal truths view about what "couple" means, that is, any two human beings. (Yet, at this point I imagine you would be traditional enough to exlude humans who are too young (even if they consent?); yet, you must realize that this is pure arbitrarianism...albeit allowed under your model, because your accidental collection of neurons can accidentally declare by fiat anything you dang well please.

Posted by: Peter Burfeind | Dec 10, 2004 12:23:33 PM


Posted by: Bernard

Peter, it's hard to know where to start, but I'll take a stab.

'What is simply mind-boggling to us right wingers is that you don't see the incongruity of trying to make a rational case for ANYTHING according to this model.'

You'd be surprised how many right-wingers have no problem at all making a rational case without reference to divine fiat. It's a misconception that belief or disbelief in a divine authority affects the rationality of an argument. Reference to God doesn't provide an answer so much as an embargo on further questioning (Q- 'why would God do that?' A- 'Don't question God!').


'Which leads to only one conclusion: Might makes right.'

Another conclusion which can just as easily be attributed to religious dogma as to naturalism. Why does God get to make the decisions? Because he's the one with the power.


'Hey, T Rex eat Brontosaurus...that's what evolutionism shows. So, why not Professor Smarty eat Simpleton Christian.'

If you're arguing that christians shouldn't eat meat, I'll leave that one for the other christians to call you out on. If you're arguing that T Rex and Brontosaurus are of the same species (dinosaur, presumably), then you may want to double check.

'On gay marriage, I'm only arguing according to your own rules. I'm claiming that words have meaning, and that the accepted meaning of marriage is "between one man and one woman."'

The normal explanation in support of gay marriage is that the government's business is solely in dictating the civil terms of formal union and that in denying this to voluntary gay partnerships they create an unreasonable double standard. I don't think gay marriage is worth the political effort being spent on it, but it's as well to understand the argument so that you can effectively address it (as other right-wingers already have).

Posted by: Bernard | Dec 10, 2004 12:45:09 PM


Posted by: Peter Burfeind

Bernard, thank you for your response.

Let me clarify my argument. I do not believe that God qua God should be the ultimate sole authority in political discourse. Why? Because God is Trinitarian and revealed Himself in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. To what end? The salvation of mankind.

As you can see, there is little in this dogmatic formula from which to craft a political argument.

I am speaking more generally about authority. And to be clear, let me ennumerate them.

(1) The U.S. Constitution. This is our social contract. This is what every citizen of our nation subscribes to implicitly. By contractual obligation, then, we can appeal to this as an authority.

(2) The "Creator." If it was good enough for the deist founder of the Democratic Party, Thomas Jefferson, it should be good enough for us today. Indeed, pure rationality served as Jefferson's guide. How can you have rights unless they are granted from above? Indeed, how can you. I'd hate to think my rights were based on nothing more certain than some self-perceived enlightened fellow's rational argument. I'd hate to think that my rights had no further grounding than "Prof. Bob says I have rights, and he's really smart." No, I'd rather appeal to the Creator (which I privately confess to be the Trinity, but obviously this is not elemental to the political purpose of having a Creator as a philosophical postulate, the basis of rights).

(3) Tradition. What does "color" mean in the constitution? If we got deconstructionistic, we could say that color is really the white people, for white is the presence of all colors in light, where black is the absense of all colors. We could say that declare that color is a word used only by elitist whites who think their race is pure. We could argue any number of nutty things to the end of proving that blacks are not covered by those amendments ending slavery. But obviously, in discourse, we can rely to a certain extent on generally accepted tradition. Indeed, without tradition we could have no discourse whatsoever.

(4) Experience. What real rational argument is there to deny 12 year old girls the right to copulate with 40 year old female teachers, especially if she consents? She consents to all sorts of things, the color of her room, the style of her hair, the toppings on her pizza. So why not 40 year old female teachers? In the Renaissance, 12 year old girls were engaged to men much older to them. Why? Because their bodies said they were ready. Evolutionism equipt them to have babies as soon as they hit puberty. So if (a) they are ready for sex, (b) can consent, and (c) make a decision to partner with their 40 year old teacher, what rational case can be made against it? Experience founded in tradition MUST be a legitimate source of making a case. It is this same experience and tradition by which many conservatives reject gay marriage. It is a revolution in the traditional way of understanding marriage; and further, it must mean something that experience and conscience simply does not accept it.

This is my point. Conservatives by definition appeal to authorities -- not just God -- which are more universally grounded: The Constitution, the Creator, tradition, and experience. And we simply believe that too many years in the ghettos of acadamia lead too many brains to drift into too many meandering, platonic odysseys in too many fits of self congratulatory narcissism.

With leisure comes lots of time to think up lots of things which one believes are really insightful.

Conservatives are a hard-working lot who use their brains for more tangible, productive things which actually expand the economy and the supply of capital. I can hold in my hands a newly engineered device, crafted by brilliant minds, funded by capital, mass marketed, produced by wage earners, which will better humanity.

I can't, on the other hand, have time to figure out some lazy brainiac's ideas on how he'd re-engineer society to be perfect.

As they say...Marx never met a working man.

Posted by: Peter Burfeind | Dec 13, 2004 10:44:31 AM


Posted by: Jeff

I recognize that this thread seems to have died a natural death and resuscitation may be too late. I think there are some interesting aspects to it however.

First, anti-intellectualism in American life is of long duration as Hofstadter pointed out fifty years ago. Nor is it confined to conservatives, nor is it typical of those who produced the ideas that animate modern conservatism, most of whom were intellectuals and many of whom were academics.

Second, there is a new and profound suspicion of academics among conservatives, who frequently believe that the universities have become totally intolerant of differing ideas and are nothing but fountains of subsidized propaganda. Personally, I think this position is wildly excessive, but there is certainly ample evidence that the deference and protections due to serious scholarship are grossly abused for political purposes.

This is a grave charge so I provide an example. E. Blackwood of Purdue wrote an article for the May 2004 issue of Anthropology News in which she said: "Pointing out that there are many forms of marriage and family ... [has] not successfully destabilized heteronormative models of kinship ... it is fruitful to submit the heterosexual couple to sustained criticism ... efforts to decenter marriage require attention to complex issues." Now I am not claiming that the preceding is typical, nor am I even claiming that Blackwood has no serious scholarly intent. But I absolutely am claiming that she is engaging in politics, and to the extent that Purdue receives state funds, she is doing so at public expense. Many people would find her position highly offensive and would object vehemently to being taxed to help advance her political agenda. I propose no solution to what I see as a complex issue, but I point out that the failure to find a solution holds real risks for the future of American universities.

Third, a similar point relates to conservative suspicion of what many call the "mainstream media." Some hate Dan Rather, for example, not because they get the vapors if they do not have his good opinion, but because, out of malfeasance or nonfeasance, he abused a position of trust to vouch for a bunch of forgeries to the public.

In short, some of the anger you perceive may be traditional anti-intellectualism, but some of it reflects a perception by some intellectualy engaged people of failures by the academy and the press to abide by the social contract that gives them privileges.

Posted by: Jeff | Dec 16, 2004 7:06:06 PM


Posted by: Immanuel Kant

I did note after the Bush victory that Bush-supporters seemed oddly defensive. One would have expected, after the victory, a sort of feeling of relief, peace, and contentment in the Republicans. Instead, I read and heard much about how 'oppressed' the right felt by the left -- ! This after Bush has won for the second time in a row. And even bringing up the election or the Bush victory would result in such anger, such a heated reaction, in Bush-voters, when they won (and the Republicans control most, if not all, branches of government right now). It is really hard to see where this touchiness is coming from if it isn't a guilty conscience on some level somewhere (well, OK, it could be a delusion or lack of connection to reality). After the exlection, the Democrats I saw seemed floored, pensive, self-critical, sad (I even saw crying on the subway) -- as one would expect. But not touchiness. I don't like knee-jerk psychoanalyzing, but this odd touchiness in the victor needs some explanation, and seems to go to the point of this thread to some degree. Did anyone else note this touchiness?

Posted by: Immanuel Kant | Dec 31, 2004 4:45:55 AM


Posted by: the old european

re:SamChevre makes some good points, except when he says contempt is downward. The Victorian middle class felt contempt for the poor as lazy, and the aristocrats as...lazy. This charge against the aristos, at least, was probably correct.

Nope. The Victorian "middle" class of capitalists and industrialists, who were on the ascendant, re-parcelled their age-old resentment of the aristocrats as contempt for aristocratic laziness in an attempt to stake out a moral position above that of the old power elite they were soon to replace. in other words, the apparent "contempt" of the middle classes for the aristocracy was partially, at least, a triumphalist by-product of their own deeply ingrained forelock-tugging, self-hating, resentful class consciousness, delivered in terms of their own (carlyle et al) self-publicity.

Posted by: the old european | Jun 14, 2006 3:12:01 PM


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