James Taranto’s “Best of the Web Today” column in the WSJ‘s online version is a well written roundup of current events, with healthy dollops of humor. Yesterday’s edition offers an interesting consideration of the attitudes of the soi-disant elite/ruling class, and why they’re up in arms about the rest of us, a phenomenon I’ve talked about before. That he manages to bring Roger Scruton into the discussion is a bonus.
The attitude in question is a mix of condescension and contempt:
In part it is the snobbery of the cognitive elite, exemplified by a recent New York Times Web column by Timothy Egan called “Building a Nation of Know-Nothings”–or by the viciousness directed at Sarah Palin, whose folksy demeanor and state-college background seem terribly déclassé not just to liberals but to a good number of conservatives in places like New York City.In more cerebral moments, the elitists of the left invoke a kind of Marxism Lite to explain away opinions and values that run counter to their own. Thus Barack Obama’s notorious remark to the effect that economic deprivation embitters the proles, so that they cling to guns and religion.
I’ve described this as a sort of “liberal person’s burden,” where out of some sense of noblesse oblige, the people under discussion decide that, being better than the rest of us, they need to run our lives as much as possible, and that furthermore, the great unwashed should be grateful when they decide we should have more of what we earn, as if it were their rightful decision to make. It’s a scorn for those of us who attend state colleges (or none at all), for those of us who aren’t terribly interested in running someone else’s life, but in turn prefer to tend our own gardens without interference.
Scruton has a term for it as well, which Taranto uses: oikophobia, a fear of the common. Scruton shortens oikophobes to “oiks”:
The oik repudiates national loyalties and defines his goals and ideals against the nation, promoting transnational institutions over national governments, accepting and endorsing laws that are imposed on us from on high […]and defining his political vision in terms of universal values that have been purified of all reference to the particular attachments of a real historical community.
The oik is, in his own eyes, a defender of enlightened universalism against local chauvinism.
Scruton was talking about European elites, but Taranto considers their American cousins:
[O]ur oiks masquerade as–and may even believe themselves to be–superpatriots, more loyal to American principles than the vast majority of Americans, whom they denounce as “un-American” for feeling an attachment to their actual country as opposed to a collection of abstractions.
Once more, we see the unattainably perfect being used as the enemy of the good; we see American exceptionalism being embraced only as a stick with which to beat Americans. The motivation for this may be what Pascal Bruckner calls “the Tyranny of Guilt,” or it may simply be a level of narcissism that pushes the oik to set himself apart from his countrymen, or it may be any number of other reasons.
But one of the aspects of narcissism is that it’s a reaction to feelings of inadequacy — like Spenser’s House of Pride, the elaborate edifice of moral superiority conceals the shameful dungeons beneath. And when the narcissist’s inner emptiness is exposed, what results is often rage and assault. This is what we see in the continual play of the race card, in the constant cries of bigotry as a means of thwarting discussion, and in the determination that opponents are stupid or venal. The narcissist finds it only fit that he or another of his elect should rule the rest, and they rage at any who would dare to oppose it.
This is what must be overcome if we wish to be free.