Joe Sobran (before he went off the deep end) had a very good essay almost 20 years ago in National Review that defines the conservative ethos with great precision. He noted that the essential feature of the left is alienation and resentment. It rings as true today as it did then:
There are two possible basic attitudes toward social reality. One of these, as I say, has many names, but I will call, it, for convenience, Nativism: a prejudice in favor of the native, the normal, and so forth, reaching an extreme in lynchings and pogroms. Its most ghastly form was German National Socialism. [C.R.: I don’t totally agree with this point, as I think the Nazis were an offshoot of leftism in many important respects, but his main point is correct.]
The other attitude I am forced, for lack of a better word–or any word at all–to call Alienism: a prejudice in favor of the alien, the marginal, the dispossesed, the eccentric, reaching an extreme in the attempt to “build a new society” by destroying the basic institutions of the native. The most terrible fulfillment of this principle is Communism.
It would be natural to assume that Nativism would be more destructive, because native forces would seem to be better situated in most cases to destroy the alien than alien forces to destroy the native. But for some reason history hasn’t worked out that way. What is plain, at any rate, is that Alienism is far from a marginal force. It offers malcontents of all sorts an ideology or gnosis that enables them to interpret normal life maliciously as a crude though somewhat disguised struggle between oppressors and victims. If the oppression isn’t obvious, that is because the oppressors are so cunning and their victims so totally subjugated that even their perceptual powers are in thrall. Acquiring the liberating gnosis is called “consciousness-raising.” The process enables the initiate to strip off the mask of oppressive structures and see capitalism as exploitation, freedom as “repressive tolerance,” and prosperity as “invisible poverty.”
Liberalism and Marxism are variant forms of Alienism; so are feminism and “gay liberation,” for that matter. Liberalism does all it can to accommodate its sister ideologies without overtly endorsing them; and it is bound to insist that the real peril to humanity is always some form of Nativism. This accounts for its obsession with the Nazi period, its endless search for old Nazis, its wild alrm over the most eccentric expression of neo-Nazism, and above all its attempts to link its enemies with Nazism. The liberal campaign against South Africa–whose racial caste system is far milder than the tribal caste systems of states like Burundi –is a symbolic effort to nominate a clear and present successor to Nazism, and the scale of material evil and suffering created by apartheid hs nothing to do with its status in liberal demonology.
We don’t have to choose between Nativism and Alienism. A healthy native is not an all-out Nativist, but rather has a code of hospitality and gallantry that takes into account the position of the alien; and the reasonable marginal member of society is not bound to be a fanatical Alienist, even though there are those who would like to inflame his resentments. Both perspectives have their stories to tell. Both can be accommodated by civility and the rule of law, without privileges for either, although it is a mark of the surprising power of Alienism that its favored minorities do, in spite of majority sentiment, enjoy privileges based on race.
There is no militant Nativism to speak of in America; but there is militant Alienism, and it has power not only in the law but in the current culture propagated by the media and the academy. The very fact that Alienism was nameless until I came along, while there were a dozen words, all invidious, for Nativist attitudes, shows how thoroughly entrenched the Alienist perspective is.
The very meaning of Alienism’s vocabulary has changed in keeping with the success of its aggression against traditional America. At one time “McCarthyism” referred to the smearing of putatively innocent liberals as Communists; but recently the identification of Communista as Communists has earned them the title of “victims of McCarthyism.” “Racism” used to refer to conscious discrimination against blacks by whites who would probably have agreed that the term fit them; now it is used to intimidate opposition to racial quotas and busing by libeling people who still hold what used to be the liberal position, namely, that the state should be color-blind.
Shakespeare was well acquainted with alienation; several of his major characters are social malcontents. But he takes a different view from that of the liberal culture: he depicts them less as victims than as troublemakers. As always, he allows his characters their eloquent say; but Richard III, Shylock, Iago, and Edmund, for all the provocation of being hunchbacked, Jewish, passed over for promotion, and illegitimate, remain villains. Their societies are required to deal sternly with them. Their self-rationalizations cut no ice when the chips are down, and they know it. Whatever just resentments are generated by their social situations, they are expected to behave themselves. Coriolanus is both more magnificent and more monstrous than these other malcontents; when he is finally cut down, his tragedy lies in his having created the situation in which he is doomed, although he too has been wronged.
Its moral reflexes conditioned by liberalism, America today is incapable of such objectivity about evildoers bearing credentials as victims. All of us have had our consciousness raised, willy-nilly. Serious moral criticism of ethnic and sexual subcultures is pretty much taboo, despite unpleasant facts that stare us in the face. Even criminals (though not white-collar–i.e., white–criminals) have had their vogue as victims.
Alienism will settle for nothing less than the complete inversion of the normal perspective. Jean-Francois Revel catches the theme in an arresting remakr: “Democratic civilization is the first in history to blame itself because another power is working to destroy it.” The native in the West has accepted the Alienist critique with remarkable passivity; his morale is at an all-time low. He regards it as his duty to tolerate, without even voicing an objection, people who want to destroy his way of life, prey on his children, and desecrate everything he used to hold sacred.