May 10, 2001
columns provoke a lot of reaction, most of it positive, some of it negative.
I get many letters and e-mail messages from intelligent, literate readers who are
often embarrassingly generous, even when they argue with me on a particular
point. But now and then I also get less admiring messages.
I suppose its only natural that fan mail
should go to my head a little. But the really serious threat to my humility is my
Im flattered when thoughtful people
enjoy my work. But Im also flattered when morons rail at it. I can
truthfully report that most of my negative mail does no great credit to those who
write it: its typically crude, vituperative, unreasoned, full of name-calling,
non sequiturs, and misspellings. Sometimes its obscene.
Any refined person would be ashamed to write
such puerile stuff. Im glad to antagonize the sort of people who do write it.
It amuses me when they try to insult my intelligence: it doesnt occur to
them that Id be truly worried if they agreed with me.
Whats really obtuse about
these people is that they assume I do agree with them. They dont bother
debating; they call me names, most of which (apart from the obscenities) can be
summed up in the word bigot. If I oppose state racial favoritism, Im
a racist. If I laugh at feminism, Im sexist. If I
criticize Israel, Im anti-Semitic. If I consider
homosexuality a perversion, Im a homophobe. And of course
Im ignorant and reactionary.
All these charges assume that I accept the
standards they imply, when the whole point is that I dont accept them
or I wouldnt be arguing against them. Im supposed to shrivel
up (and shut up) when some fool calls me names, and meaningless names at that?
In essence, such people are like members of a sect who abuse others in a sectarian
vocabulary that means nothing to nonmembers. They heap furious threats of
damnation on people who dont believe in their hell.
The liberal litany of abuse is based on the
assumption that we all have a duty to keep abreast of the latest moral fads, a duty
to repudiate our own traditions. The old is bad, the new is good. If you still believe
the things Western man has always believed for instance, that sodomy is
an ugly vice you are now a bigot.
Such invective has all the weighty authority
of a teenage clique calling you a square. It means only that
youve committed the mortal sin of failing to keep up with a self-defined
smart crowd. The ever-shifting orthodoxy of the new, as against the permanence
of the old, is inculcated and enforced by the mass media, an organized system of
For this reason I instinctively sympathize
with people who refuse to be bullied into conformity with the Latest Thing. I
admire the reactionary Catholic, the Orthodox Jew, the fundamentalist Protestant,
the Mormon, the die-hard Confederate anyone who has the guts to prefer a
tradition to a compulsory modern fashion. I may disagree with him, but at least I
know hes not made of jelly. His inner life resists external pressure.
I profoundly disagree with Abraham Lincoln,
but I respect Lincoln for arguing like a man. He never tried to win a debate with
vacuous name-calling. He appealed not to trendy slogans, but to permanent truths.
Thats why his arguments are still interesting and will remain so, long
after todays trendy causes have blown away like dead leaves. Right or
wrong, those arguments issue from the depths of a real mind, not the partisan
impulses of a mere sect.
The root of liberalisms folly is its
conviction that the future is on its side. Condemning the past, unable to conceive
of the permanent, it thinks it knows in advance what the future will be; and it
imagines a Judgment Day on which the progressive sheep will be separated from
the reactionary goats.
Bigotry, the favorite term of bigoted
liberals, now means the refusal to accept liberalisms vision of the future
a New Society of enlightened government, social justice, and sexual
freedom. Somehow that future never arrives, but keeps receding from reach; yet
the true believer keeps awaiting it anyway, and damning those who doubt it.
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