(The following is my guest post at Jay Adler’s blog, Sad Red Earth, which he asked me to write following a comment I left under one of his recent posts. If you want to get more background on my post, you can read his two posts which I’m responding to (hyper links in first sentence), but you don’t need to, as I think the piece mostly stands on its own. Though I’m sometimes in disagreement with his politics, his blog is always interesting, and his observations are thoughtful and quite erudite. His contribution to the blogosphere can’t be overstated.)
I’ll stay clear of Newt Gingrich’s completely indefensible reduction of President Obama as quoted in “The Churchill Doctrine”:
“What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?” Gingrich asks. “That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.”
Instead I’ll focus on Jay’s follow up, based on Christelle Nadia response to Jay’s post, at The Republic of Dissent, and the broader points he makes about race, culture, and determinism. I won’t address every item, simply the broad themes in his reply I deem as worth exploring.
“If it does not mean anything at all that we are a nation of immigrants and not of an identifying ethnic stock, does not mean anything that we are the inheritors of a European colonizing culture and not of – among the most bitterly – colonized African cultures, does not mean anything if our President, as I dreamed in that post, might someday be the descendent of a conquered American Indian nation, and not of their conquerors, then what does anything mean?”
Let me ask:
First, it may not mean “nothing”, but it doesn’t appear as if you explain precisely what it does mean? What does “a nation of a European colonizing culture” mean? What is its significance? Are Americans to be divided into those descending from colonizers vs. those descending from the colonized? Is there not, a huge distinction, in your mind, between, a protestant immigrant from England and a Jewish immigrant who escaped Poland in the 1930s?
Does one inherit the sins of his fathers? And, if so, does one also inherit the achievements of his fathers? If so, don’t we also, as European Americans (whatever that denotes to you), also inherit the noble sacrifices of our ancestors which defeated the twin totalitarian movements in the 20th century – fascism and communism?
Why do many on the left who mock the notion of “American Exceptionalism” – the inherited mantle of the grit, determination, and unimaginable sacrifices made my so many Americans in the service of the successful battles against the totalitarian movements, her contribution to the spread of democracy around the world, and civil liberties and economic prosperity that would have seemed simply unimaginable to generations of men and women throughout history – seem so eager to accept the inherited guilt of a people who, admittedly, also colonized and enslaved?
Further, while I don’t deny that, if my father were of Kenyan background, I’d likely see Churchill much differently, let me ask: do the descendants of “colonized” African people also inherit their own ethnic/national legacy of brutality, misogyny, and oppression against one another? (You wouldn’t deny, would you, that even historically colonized people have their own history – prior to, and after, colonization? You, further, wouldn’t deny, would you, that they possess moral agency, and can’t possibly be reduced merely to the sum of their experiences with European colonizers? You seem, in certain passages to admirably reject the rigid categories of post-colonialism but, in others, seem to accept them – at least in your understanding of the West’s (and the America’s in particular) relationship with those previously colonized.
Post-colonial ideology, in its essence, assigns quite arbitrary, and static, moral labels – and represent s an intellectual paradigm which, in my mind, has, more than any other political dynamic, eroded support for, and confidence in, the Western world (not to mention, Israel) among progressives.
Such an ideology (what Pascal Bruckner terms “the tyranny of guilt”), which sees the world through this facile, and seemingly immutable, oppressor vs. oppressed paradigm, I fear, also has the deleterious effect of sapping the moral confidence of the U.S. – a confidence which will be desperately needed to fight the scourge of radical Islam and any subsequent totalitarian movements which may emerge.
I once read that Churchill’s greatness lie in his ability to inspire the British people to see themselves as courageous as he saw them. That is, though the British people were compromised – as all people are – with historical moral failings and human frailty, Churchill understood that he couldn’t rally a nation to defeat the existential threat posed by Nazism which was plagued by self-doubt and guilt.
I have argued elsewhere that – while, naturally, it’s okay for other nations to possess that same cockiness, that same self-assurance of its own proud legacy and achievements – it does concern me if Americans (and an American President) not only accepts that others may feel the same way, but views such views as a negation of the truth of their own exceptionalism. (Look at it on a personal level. I might intellectually understand that other men may be as “in love” with their wives as I am with my wife. But, on a deep and personal level, I quite honestly can’t fathom how anyone can love anyone else as deeply as I love my wife. My wife, Chana, is the most incredible woman I’ve ever met, and I really can’t fathom – nor do I care to understand – how I could ever possibly love another woman as much as I love Chana. This lack of curiosity isn’t ignorance, nor is it chauvinism. It’s called loyalty, and is, it seems, fundamentally consistent with human nature.)
Beyond this emotional reality – the human tendency to “discriminate” in the positive sense of the word (that is, to choose one from another) however – it is also a fundamental rational truth in the political realm that merely because every nation thinks that it is great, doesn’t mean that it is, in reality, so. This seems to be the fundamental argument of multiculturalism – this stubborn refusal to acknowledge that not all civilizations are indeed equal. Some have produced exceptional cultures, governments, and economies, and others have not. Is this even debatable?
I love my wife as I love my country – not uncritically, but unconditionally – out of passion, loyalty and reason.
Finally, while Obama may have a view of Churchill (based, perhaps, on his ancestry) that isn’t in sync with mine (I have a paperweight on my desk which quotes Churchill: “never, never, never give up” as an inspiration for me personally, and for me as an Israeli, a citizen of a nation who stubbornly refuses to surrender to its enemies.), I hope you would agree that the truth or falsehood of ideas (or the merit of one’s achievements) have nothing to do with their racial, ethnic, or religious origins. The mantra (epithet) of the “Dead White Male” back in college – used to describe what the multi-cultural set thought was the inherent irrelevance of the Western classics (in literature, philosophy, etc.) due merely to the color or gender of the author – has always struck me as, at the very least, ad hominem, and inherently anti-intellectual.
The notion that we are, at the core, more than sum of our racial, ethnic or religious identities; that human nature is universal; that the insights of Sophocles, Shakespeare, or Thomas Hobbes into the challenges of the human condition are as relevant to a boy with Jewish Eastern European parents growing up in Philadelphia as they are to a kid who grew up in Hawaii, Indonesia, and Illinois to a Kenyan father and a white European mother are profound and important truths. They are, also, it seems, quintessentially classical liberal notions – and, yet, fundamental truths which many on the left seem to have tragically abandoned.
UPDATE on October 19th: