Friday, February 11, 2005

Leftists and Civility

The Right has not cornered the market on civility, as witness the aptronymic Michael Savage. But in my experience, liberals and leftists are worse in the civility department than conservatives. If you don’t agree with me on this, then this post is not for you. To try to prove my assertion to libs and lefties would be like trying to prove to them that such major media outlets as the New York Times tilt leftward. To achieve either goal, I would have to possess the longevity of a Methuselah, the energy of a Hercules, and the dogged persistence of a Sisyphus – and I still would not succeed.

So, given that conservatives are more civil than libs and lefties, why is this the case? One guess is that conservatives, for whom there is a defeasible presumption in favor of traditional ways of doing things, are more civil due to a natural piety with respect to received modes of human interaction. Civility works, and conservatives are chary about discarding what works. They were brought up to be civil by parents and teacher who were themselves civil, and they see no reason to reject as phony or ‘precious’ something that is conducive to good living. They understand that since we live in a world of appearances, a certain amount of concern with them is reasonable. They also understand that by faking it a bit, one brings oneself to actually feel the emotions that one began by faking. For example, by saying ‘Good Morning’ when I don’t quite feel like it, I contribute to my own perception of the morning as good.

But leftists, many of whom are of a rebellious and adolescent cast of mind, have a problem with what they perceive to be phoniness. They are always out to unmask things, to cut through the false consciousness and the bourgeois ideology. Connected with this hatred of phoniness is a keen sensitivity to hypocrisy. So when Bill (William J.) Bennett was caught wasting money on the slot machines in Las Vegas a while back, the libs and lefties pounced and denounced: "Hypocrite!" they cried.

So pouncing and denouncing, they proved that they do not know what hypocrisy is. Although Mr. Bennett’s behavior was suboptimal, it was neither illegal nor immoral: he’s got the dough to blow if that’s his pleasure. Given his considerable accomplishments, is he not entitled to a bit of R & R?

A hypocrite is not someone who is morally perfect or who fails to engage in supererogatory acts. Nor is a hypocrite one who preaches high ideals but falls short. Otherwise, we would all be hypocrites. But if everyone is, then no one is. A hypocrite is someone who preaches high ideals but makes no attempt at living up to them. The difference is between failing to do what one believes one ought to do and not even trying to do what one says one ought to do.

The leftist obsession with perceived phoniness and perceived hypocrisy stems from an innate hatred of moral judgment, a hatred which itself seems fueled by a confusion of moral judgment with judgmentalism.

So perhaps the answer is this. Leftists are less civil than conservatives because they do not see civility as a value. They don't see it as a value because it smacks of a bourgeois moral ideology that to them is nothing but a sham. Adroit unmaskers and psychologizers that they are, incapable of taking things at face value, they think that none of us who preach civility’s value really believe what we are preaching. It really has to be something else, just as the desire for democracy in Iraq really has to be something else: a desire for economic and military hegemony.