One of my least favorite parlor tricks of liberals, including neoconservatives and libertarians, is to define “rational” as a very narrow range of individualist philosophical views, based on a few pseudo-scientific axioms of one kind or another, and thereby rendering it nearly impossible for one’s opponents to win an argument before the discussion has begun because their opponents’ concerns, such as the good of a nation or the Glory of God, are defined beforehand as irrational and irrelevant.
There is much of this in Ilya Somin’s recent discussion of the evils of nationalism over at Volokh or in a surprisingly dispassionate defense of disloyalty by David Schraub over at the University of Chicago. This is what Enlightenment Universalism is, of course. It rejects the organic, historical and blood ties of peoples. It rejects the idea that God and revealed truth might have some influence in our political and moral life. It denies that matters that cannot be reduced to philosophical formulae might also be true, such as the idea that men should not marry men, women should first and foremost be mothers, or that people who talk and act funny and have unpronounceable names should be treated differently than our native-born sons.
What I wrote in response to Schraub exposes this little sleight of hand that all-too-often avoids the merits of the issue:
Majorities in fact have real power and a real moral right to preserve themselves as a people. Unless they’re suffering from mass psychosis, they do and should impose certain standards on those who would benefit from the nation and its laws and its protection, not least not to actively aid enemies of the nation.
We sadly ask so little of citizens, particularly newcomers, who often have dual loyalties. We are in fact a remarkably tolerant people, and it’s gone too far, culminating in such ridiculous acts as serving in foreign armies by the President’s Chief of Staff and the mass murder of soldiers after repeated statements of disloyalty by the terrorist, Major Nidal Hasan.
Nations are safer, more secure, and more pleasant when people are loyal and have some sense of allegiance and community. There will always be loyalty of one kind or another, but where disloyalty to the nation is tolerated usually it’s reserved instead for some other nation or group, whether it’s one’s ethnic subgroup, one’s religious community, a foreign nation, or some combination of the three.
There is something very obvious going on here, and part of the answer is in the authors and their backgrounds. They are ethnic and religious minorities, and highly educated transnational cosmopolitans to be exact. They are not typical Americans, but their views are highly influential. Big surprise, “Uzair Kayhani” came to Schraub’s defense. I’m surprised Osama bin Laden himself didn’t pipe in. The views of these people are why the Army tolerated the anti-American rantings of Major Nidal Hassan. They are why we tolerate foreign tongues and weird styles of dress by foreigners in our cities. This is why it’s been drummed into us to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
The universalist enlightenment liberalism they are promoting is a set of rules that is very useful for minority tribes surrounded by a majority with different values and interests. These views advance the minority by rendering the majority’s dominance on cultural, economic, and political matters less so, such that its older standards of excellence are dismissed as exclusionary and morally suspect. Who cares if you were descended from those on the Mayflower? That’s ethnocentric and elitist. Who cares if your granddad fought in World War II? It doesn’t matter where you were born or what your family ever did, you’re just a citizen no different than an FOB in a Hijab.
Under this viewpoint, the majority’s becomes one voice in a multicultural chorus. Of course, in spite of its pretensions to fairness, it’s obviously a self-interested ideology. When these same minorities are in charge or in the majority–such as Jews in Israel or Chinese in China or Muslims in any Muslim country–they almost always adopt different and sensible rules aimed at the self-preservation of their nation and their religion.
I do not necessarily begrudge them such nationalism at home; within the limits of justice, it is natural and to be expected. But I do begrudge the attempt by alienated minorities of all kinds to redefine and rewrite the rules of the game in my home, where we have a majority, our own folkways, our own traditions, and our own way of life. Those traditions, of course, are and were very flexible. They were flexible enough historically that many minorities felt welcome here and did not, until recently, feel it terribly offensive to have Christmas as a federal holiday or to change their names from Chandrakumar to “Sean.” But this tolerance was not our only value. It was part of a broader tradition, that of a real nation with more than a creed but a real national character–courageous, risk-taking, unpretentious, in love with space and freedom, upwardly mobile, self-reliant, proud, God-fearing, patriotic, inventive, practical–but this character has been deliberately and maliciously erased by the deliberate efforts of a subset of minorities and newcomers, for whom such very minor indignities as Nativity Scenes, the “strong silent” WASPy ideal of masculinity, and the old informal rules of “fair business,” undermined their own rise to power.
Don’t fall for this trick, friends. What appears to be a fair, universalist, philosophical account of the good is often based on controversial and unproven premises; a little looking makes it clear often that the speaker is insincere, his arguments are sophistical, and that his goals are the same tribalism (in the ascent) for which he denounces you, even when you’re merely trying only to defend a known way of life.