December 9, 2009

"Exchanging real for fake emotion"

I highly recommend a new piece by Roger Scruton in The American Spectator, Totalitarian Sentimentality:

...As the state takes charge of our needs, and relieves people of the burdens that should rightly be theirs -- the burdens that come from charity and neighborliness -- serious feeling retreats. In place of it comes an aggressive sentimentality that seeks to dominate the public square. I call this sentimentality "totalitarian" since -- like totalitarian government -- it seeks out opposition and carefully extinguishes it, in all the places where opposition might form. Its goal is to "solve" our social problems, by imposing burdens on responsible citizens, and lifting burdens from the "victims," who have a "right" to state support.

The result is to replace old social problems, which might have been relieved by private charity, with the new and intransigent problems fostered by the state: for example, mass illegitimacy, the decline of the indigenous birthrate, and the emergence of the gang culture among the fatherless youth. We have seen this everywhere in Europe, whose situation is made worse by the pressure of mass immigration, subsidized by the state. The citizens whose taxes pay for the flood of incoming "victims" cannot protest, since the sentimentalists have succeeded in passing "hate speech" laws and in inventing crimes like "Islamophobia" which place their actions beyond discussion. This is just one example of a legislative tendency that can be observed in every area of social life: family, school, sexual relations, social initiatives, even the military -- all are being deprived of their authority and brought under the control of the "soft power" that rules from above.

This is how we should understand the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama. To his credit he has made clear that he does not deserve it -- though I assume he deserves it every bit as much as Al Gore. The prize is an endorsement from the European elite, a sigh of collective relief that America has at last taken the decisive step toward the modern consensus, by exchanging real for fake emotion, hard power for soft power, and truth for lies. What matters in Europe is the great fiction that things will stay in place forever, that peace will be permanent and society stable, just so long as everybody is "nice." Under President Bush (who was, of course, no exemplary president, and certainly not nice) America maintained its old image, of national self-confidence and belligerent assertion of the right to be successful. Bush was the voice of a property-owning democracy, in which hard work and family values still achieved a public endorsement. As a result he was hated by the European elites, and hated all the more because Europe needs America and knows that, without America, it will die. Obama is welcomed as a savior: the American president for whom the Europeans have been hoping -- the one who will rescue them from the truth.

How America itself will respond to this, however, remains doubtful. I suspect, from my neighbors in rural Virginia, that totalitarian sentimentality has no great appeal to them, and that they will be prepared to resist a government that seeks to destroy their savings and their social capital, for the sake of a compassion that it does not really feel.

Posted by John Weidner at December 9, 2009 9:23 AM
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