Friday, August 3, 2012

Do libertarians hate America as liberals do?

I was in my car listening to a segment of "Alternative Radio." Morris Berman, a leftist author, was chuckling about how stupid and/or corrupt Americans are. It seems that we have no redeeming features.

I grew up with a lot of America-bashing, but it was all idle talk. Not one of those who blamed the US for horrible situations across the globe ever emigrated to a more moral country. Instead, it was like a liberal parlor game--what outrage has America committed now?

I don't play this game. I'm aware and unafraid to point out the wrong that America has done, but also to point out what it's done right. I also realized that despite the incessant complaints I grew up with, I love this country and there isn't another place I'd rather be. This is my home, for better or worse, for richer or poorer. We have an incredibly rich history (good and bad all mixed up together) and many aspects that make me incredibly proud.

Morris Berman doesn't seem to feel the same way. He bashed just about everything after WWII. Also, the core of Americans is rotten. I didn't catch the details there, but I bet the evidence he presented was probably one-sided.

What's funny is that I hear echoes of this in what libertarians say about the growth and depredations of government. Ron Paul can talk on and on about how America invades other countries and that causes blowback and also the federal government is regulating all this dang stuff. However, when Ron Paul does this, he doesn't sound like a pompous, aging, radical blowhard hypocrite.

There is an important difference--the libertarians don't bash the American people. Dang pompous liberals, please take note.


Anastasios said...

Well, I suspect that liberal "hate" of America is a very complex phenomenon. For some it is a parlor game. For some it is a true expression of belief, that is, as Bill Galston would put it, they really do long for a different kind of culture and love another country's dream much more than that of America.

Why don't they emigrate? Well, in a lot of cases it is rank hypocrisy. Although it is patently true that measures of economic success are slippery and notororiously difficult to compare, nevertheless in terms of actual lived experience there is quite a lot of economic difference between America and Western Europe or whatever other area. Many Americans visiting London have the feeling of slipping back to sometime in the 1980s in terms of crime, dirt, and inconvenience (albeit as our English friends would point out that is not statistically fair), whereas as Matthew Yglesias has pointed out if we woke up tomorrow and found we had the German economy there would be a lot of very, very unhappy people out there.

On the other hand it is true that emigrating to one of those countries is not like immigrating into America. The language barriers are obvious, but most countries that liberals tend to admire have fairly severe barriers to entry, along with social systems that put great burdens on "outsiders." Even moving to Canada or Australia is far from an easy proposition. You essentially need to get a job there first (and they have all sorts of legal and social barriers to that) or be under forty, in good health, and have quite a bit of money in the bank.

On the other hand, conservatives I would just point out are far from free of such contradictions and hypocritical opinions. Working in the defense sector, I regularly meet people who are loudly patriotic, even jingoistic, but who also scramble madly for assignments that allow them to live in Europe or Asia. When I recently confronted one such jingo who has been hanging onto a job in Frankfurt-am-Rhine with a death grip, he finally said with some exasperation "I just like living in Europe, okay? I don't have the money to live in a good city and American suburbs and small towns are mental death traps. It's the greatest country in the world but Europe is better for my situation."

People can be amusing.

ModeratePoli said...

A political faction free from contradiction would be a bigger surprise than that conservatives are sometimes hacks too.

I bash conservatives plenty. I thought I'd give liberals a whack, especially in light of this reminder (Alternate Radio) of an unpleasant aspect of a classic liberal.

I agree liberal trashing of America is complex. However, with all the analysis that liberal academics do, have they addressed this? Please tell me if you know of any. It would probably be must more enlightening than "they just hate America."

Anastasios said...

Well, of course the problem is that any analysis would almost inevitably become a political argument in its own right. Perhaps it is best to look at classic works on America by liberal intellectuals and try to see what patterns reveal themselves. Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind is one such, but the great classic is Hofstadter's Anti-intellectualism in American Life. Goodman's Growing up Absurd is also worth a look. A modern contender would be Jacoby's The Age of American Unreason. One might also look at Wilentz's Age of Reagan. Oddly, many liberal criticisms of America mirror those of paleo conservatives (many would actually put Bloom in that category). The works of Russel Kirk show this, as, perhaps surpringly, do the essays of Gore Vidal and H.L. Mencken. Also Tocqueville is a touchstone for both liberals and traditionalist conservative types.

Anonymous said...

It is quite simplistic, I know, but I chalk some of it up to that one of America's central stories contains a large dose of individual and bootstrapping effort while much of Europe embraces the all-for-one, one-for-all identity. This isn't to say those stories are all true or exclusively true, just that they are the popular myths.

Most of it is hypocrisy as you've both said or simply grass is greener-ism, IMHO.

But, I agree with MP's main thesis that the grumbling from the left does tend to be more about Americans as people, while from the right it tends to be about the system or a very narrow subset of actors (politically active liberals).

Anastasios said...

I suppose, as Truth points out, much of it comes down to aesthetics. Liberals of the modern variety tend to find the kind of individualism celebrated by the right to be vulgar, I.e. ugly and stupid, which is where they overlap with paleo-cons, I.e. with traditional elitists. They also find it morally unworthy, although one suspects the moral judgment rises from the aesthetic one.

Therefore, in that America has an individualist culture, they tend to see that culture as, at its root, a celebration of ugliness and stupidity, often backed up with dark strains of violence - that is, as a permanent bacchanalia of bullies and thugs. And it must be acknowledged that many of the cultural values liberals find comforting and rewarding require elitist, even quasi-aristocratic milieus for protection and nurturance. To put it crudely, you don't expect to find Texas oil millionaires in Greenwich Village theatres or NFL players in the MOMA. In that preservation of the cultural expressions they find important is a psychological outrider for preservation of self, liberals often I think regard this as a struggle for life in some sense. (That by the way is something many conservatives do not understand. They just do not get that when they say that things like the NEH ought to be cut many liberals hear a desire to wipe liberals out of existence).

I suspect the love of Europe and Asia you find in many liberals is an instinctive resonance with aristocratic strains in those cultures. That is, Europe is a place where they might be safe from the menace, the barely restrained violence, that they sense in much of American culture, particularly the right.

ModeratePoli said...

@Anastasios, I suspect you're right, but the corollaries are painful: Liberals really do represent a foreign, invasive, unAmerican ideology. Ouch. Also, the real Americans actually are fighting for the soul of America, and the US made a big mistake letting in all these immigrants with their incompatible cultures.

Wow. I don't like these conclusions, but I see better where they come from. I'm proudly from an immigrant family (2 and 3 generations back), so I've always seen the openness and integration of immigrants as a big plus. But if you look at immigration as a negative, suddenly the conservative view of the country makes much more sense. (Excuse me, I'm in the middle of an epiphany which may actually fall apart soon, but is mind-altering right now.)

Well, I should process this away from the keyboard. Thanks, Anastasios, for the insights.

Anastasios said...

Yes, I think that is an important aspect of American society that is generally unappreciated, that is that many different cultural groups feel they are under threat of violence, of a kind of extinction event, at the hands of their enemies. Conservatives, many of them, really do think that the ACA and it's death panels are designed to hurry white conservatives into the grave. Liberals really do often think that conservatives are Neanderthals, that is to say stupid, violent, childishly greedy, and longing for death and blood with an intensity that rivals sexual orgasm. Conservatives think of liberals as a disease in the body politic, liberals look at said body and see a syphilitic gangster not worth weeping over.

In the best of possible worlds, liberals would see that without the gifts and virtues of conservatives the nation cannot be sustained and defended (there is a reason they call it conserving) while conservatives would see that without the gifts and virtues of liberals the nation is not worth sustaining or defending (it is not a fluke that they are called liberal arts). But we are very far away from that, and it is a pity and a danger.

Sigh. That we should live to see such times.

ModeratePoli said...


"That we should live to see such times." It's been this way for all my life that I can remember. It was certainly as bad in 1968.

But one correction I'd make is that the liberal agenda is due to immigrants. Certainly some of it was already fermenting here with abolition, transcendentalism, and some liberal church movements such as the Universalists.

There is also a tradition of welcoming immigrants from different cultures. Rhode Island was founded and chartered with that ideal.

So I'm feeling somewhat less that these "liberal" ideas were invasive.

Anastasios said...

Well, who after all is an immigrant? And who has seniority? After all, the Unitarians of whom you speak, or at least their ancestors, were already here when the Scots-Irish, those mainstays of True Americanism, arrived. Indeed one can argue, although with less certainty, that most black families have roots that sink deeper into American history than the Scots-Irish. Nor are Native Americans known for their political conservatism. It could be said that it is modern conservatism that is invasive, the result of an influx of a primitive warrior culture expelled from rural Britain by economic collapse in the mid-18th century.

But, of course, none of that really gets at our modern problems. What matters is not who is the real American. What matters is our current cultural situation. Specifically can America be preserved and if it can be, should it be? I blow hot and cold on both questions, depending on the context and the circumstances.

Anonymous said...

I was hoping for an answer to the title question: do Libertarians hate America the way Liberals seem to? MP, you seem to think that Ron Paul's statements about foreign entanglements sum up the Libertarian view, and so give all Libertarians a pass as to attitudes towards the American people. From what I've seen, the only American people Libertarians like are fellow Libertarians. They say extraordinarily derisive things about fellow-citizens who aren't able to support themselves financially, or sympathize with those who aren't able to support themselves financially. Those Libertarians want both groups gone--emigrated or dead, it doesn't matter which. That's not to excuse America-bashing on the part of Liberals, but most Liberals nowadays don't go so far as to exclusively find fault with their homeland. That's why it makes such a splash when one publishes a book (called "provocative" in the blurb) that does.

ModeratePoli said...

Ron Paul certainly doesn't sound as angry at Americans as Morris does. Most of the libertarians I've encountered on blogs don't sound as angry either. But most on "Alternative Radio" do, and some in my liberal enclave town do. I won't generalize to all liberals or all libertarians, but there's enough of the trend that liberals should be careful.

Have the libertarians you've personally encountered really of the "kill-them-or-deport-them" variety? I haven't encountered that. It sounds more white-supremacist than libertarian. Libertarians don't generally support the government abridging your right to stay in the country and stay alive.