American Elephants


The Origins of Liberalism: A New History by The Elephant's Child

The “narrative” of the Left, to use a newly favorite leftist word, contains a view of America as “an exceptionally guilty nation, the product of a poisonous mixture of territorial rapacity emboldened by racism, violence, and chauvinistic religious conviction, an exploiter of natural resources and despoiler of natural beauty and order such as the planet has never seen.” ( Thank you, Howard Zinn) So says Wilfrid M. McClay in a review of Fred Siegel’s new book: The Revolt Against the MassesThere is as well a second view “in which all of history is seen as a struggle toward the greater and greater liberation of the individual, and the greater and greater integration of all governance in larger and larger units, administered; by cadres of experts actuated by the public interest and by a highly developed sense of justice.”

It’s an important book, “a critique of liberalism by someone who came out of the left.” Siegel believes that liberalism has come to be the mortal enemy of the ordinary working people who are the backbone of America.

Siegel traces modern liberalism back, not to Woodrow Wilson’s progressivism, but to the aftermath of World War I, and the intelligentsia’s view of  the dreary middle class nature of American society.

Between January of 1920 and July of 1922 when the Twenties began to roar, the country endured an economic collapse nearly as steep as that between 1929 and 1933. But the plummet was followed by a rapid recovery under Harding, who was devoted to less government through lower taxes and less regulation. This might have seemed a vindication of the American way, particularly as compared with Europe’s ongoing woes. But the short, sharp downturn, resolved without government intervention, drew only passing intellectual attention. Literary elites soon returned to their central themes. …

[The radicals of 1922] many of them Harvard men, were driven by resentment. The so-called lost generation…was “extremely class-conscious.” They had “‘a vague belief in aristocracy and in the possibilities of producing real aristocrats through education.” They went to Europe “to free themselves from organized stupidity, to win their deserved place in the hierarchy of intellect.” They felt that their status in America’s business culture was grossly inadequate, given their obviously exceptional intelligence and extraordinary talent. Their simmering anger at what they saw as the mediocrity of democratic life led them to pioneer the now commonplace stance of blaming society for their personal failings. Animated by patrician spirit, they found the leveling egalitarianism of the United States an insult to their sense of self-importance.

Well, the radicals of 1922, the radicals of the sixties, not all that much difference. The Democrats of 2014 have a remarkably squalid bench. Hillary is supposed to be the first woman president, but her accomplishment list is scanty, her tenure as Secretary of State is measured in frequent-flyer miles, and a “reset” button. Her tenure as a senator in a safe Democrat seat has nothing to add to the resume. Her claim to qualifications is as Bill’s wife. If you remember, she started out the Clinton reign by wanting to be the co-president. The people were not impressed. Bill was a natural political animal. Hillary simply does not have his political instincts.

The alternate to Hillary is being drummed up as Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) the faux-Indian law professor from Harvard, who is unable to understand the simple direct meaning of the Hobby Lobby case. She issued her “11 commandments” for Progressives this week, which only show that her understanding of cause and effect, and how regulation works is remarkably thin.

Tom Sowell recently pointed out that: “The fundamental problem of the political Left seems to be that the real world does not fit their preconceptions. Therefore they see the real world as what is wrong, and what needs to be changed, since apparently their preconceptions cannot be wrong.”

As I said, the new word is “disproportionate” Sowell adds: “A never-ending source of grievances for the Left is the fact that some groups are ‘over-represented’ in desirable occupations, institutions, and income brackets, while other groups are ‘under-represented.’ From all the indignation and outrage about this expressed on the left, you might think that it was impossible that different groups are simply better at different things.”

Yet runners from Kenya continue to win a disproportionate share of marathons in the United States, and children whose parents or grandparents came from India have won most of the American spelling bees in the past 15 years. And has anyone failed to notice that the leading professional basketball players have for years been black, in a country where most of the population is white?

Most of the leading photographic lenses in the world have — for generations — been designed by people who were either Japanese or German. Most of the leading diamond-cutters in the world have been either India’s Jains or Jews from Israel or elsewhere. …

If the preconceptions of the Left were correct, central planning by educated elites who had vast amounts of statistical data at their fingertips and expertise readily available, and were backed by the power of government, should have been more successful than market economies where millions of individuals pursued their own individual interests willy-nilly.

And to return to where I began, with Wilfrid McClay: “The arrogance that looks upon the actual lives of ordinary people with pity and disdain is, at least potentially, the same arrogance that knows what would be better for those pathetic folks, and presumes itself fit to impose upon them a new way of life that is more fitting and fulfilling than their present condition, had they the wit to realize it.”

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