David Foster at Chicago Boyz offers an interesting take on a stock phrase — “liberal guilt.” It’s suggested that liberal whites, for example, are motivated by remorse for the past maltreatment of visible minorities. While we could debate the efficacy of feeling guilt about a past for which one is not responsible, Foster turns to C.S. Lewis for a different perspective on the phenomenon.
In point of fact, Foster suggests, liberals don’t feel guilty, because they attribute the sins not to themselves, but to their countrymen, whom they tend to see as a great unwashed. In short, it’s merely a pharisaical manifestation of the usual lefty elitism.
But actual morality involves self-scrutiny; we are, after all, expected to be aware of the logs in our own eyes before we condemn the motes in others’ eyes. This is the hard part, which is why so many people (on both the Left and Right) skip it, preferring to get right to the business of condemning those other louts.
As Foster observes:
Many “progressives”–and not just the religious ones–have uncritically and without reflection adopted the ideas and values of “their own age and class”–and, while doing so, they have congratulated themselves on their courage and independence of thought. Thus, they can enjoy a great feeling of righteousness without running the risk of condemnation by those whose opinions really matter to them[…]
For the most part, “progressives” feel no personal guilt at all…they think the rest [of] us, those outside their circle of assumed moral superiority, should be the ones feeling guilty.
Now where I find this interesting is in the notion that conservatives, and especially religious conservatives, are frequently pilloried for hypocrisy — and often for good reason. But hypocrisy is a pretty universal condition, and I would argue that the sort of self-righteousness Foster discusses is perhaps a species of meta-hypocrisy. And as Lewis notes, that self-righteous anger actually gives us a pretext for continued hateful behavior.
In any case, Foster notes that Lewis (as he so often does) gets to the heart of the matter: As ever, we should tend to our own sins before we pillory others for theirs. On our own, we are all of us the great unwashed.