Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Damon Linker at The Week thinks we social-justice sissies are unfair to Trump voters, imagining them "motivated by bigotry, fear, and selfishness, all of which makes them angry that various outsiders are threatening to take away their abundant 'privileges.'" We've got them all wrong, he says -- what these people are is nationalists, and as Linker explains it they're not so bad:
But the real problem with the way [Vox's Zack] Beauchamp and so many others on the center-left talk about those on the nationalist right is that it displays outright contempt for particularistic instincts that are not and should not be considered morally and politically beyond the pale.
Wait. "Particularistic"? That's a new one.
On the contrary, a very good case can be made that these instincts are natural to human beings and even coeval with political life as such — and that it is the universalistic cosmopolitanism of humanitarian liberalism (or progressivism) that, as much as anything, has provoked the right-wing backlash in the first place.
Linker uses "humanitarian" or "humanitarianism" seven times in the same negative way. So, it would seem, "particularism" is the opposite of "humanitarianism," hence the backlash. But what's wrong with humanitarianism? In my day, a humanitarian was Albert Schweitzer, or the winners of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscars like Jerry Lewis, Debbie Reynolds, Danny Kaye, et alia.

Apparently Trump supporters find something obnoxious about humanitarianism, and want particularism instead. But what is it? Let's find out!
Underlying liberal denigration of the new nationalism — the tendency of progressives to describe it as nothing but "racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia" — is the desire to delegitimize any particularistic attachment or form of solidarity, be it national, linguistic, religious, territorial, or ethnic.
Ah, "particularistic"! So, it could be a particular love of country, rather than love of the family of man; love particularly of English-speaking people, rather than non-English-speaking-people; love of your particular vale or holler, rather than anywhere else; and love of your particular ethnicity, rather than... other ethnicities.

Yeah, that last bit -- here in the real world (as opposed to punditland), we've all met people who'll explain why they feel that way, and that's pretty much where that form of "particularism," usually known by grosser names, gets its exceedingly bad rap. But Linker can't get why that should be:
If people gave up their particular attachments easily, conceding their moral illegitimacy, that might be a sign that the humanitarian ideal is justified — that human history is indeed oriented toward a universalistic goal beyond nations and other forms of local solidarity. But experience tells us something else entirely. The more that forms of political, moral, economic, and legal universalism spread around the globe, the more they inspire a reaction in the name of the opposite ideals. The Western world is living through just such a reaction right now.
This was much better explained by Lorraine Hansberry in A Raisin in the Sun, when Lindner offers the Youngers a deal to not to move into his similarly particular neighborhood.
LINDNER: Well, I want to give you the exact terms of the financial arrangement—
WALTER: We don't want to hear no exact term of no arrangements. I want to know if you got any more to tell us ‘bout getting together?
LINDNER (taking off his glasses): Well—I don’t suppose that you feel. . .
WALTER: Never mind how I feel—you got any more to say ‘bout how people ought to sit down and talk to each other? . . . Get out of my house, man. (He turns his back and walks to the door.)
LINDNER (looking around at the hostile faces and reaching and assembling his hat and briefcase): Well—I don't understand why you people are reacting this way. What do you think you are going to gain by moving into a neighborhood where you just aren't wanted and where some elements—well—people can get awful worked up when the feel that their whole way of life and everything they've ever worked for is threatened.
WALTER: Get out.
LINDNER (at the door, holding a small card): Well—I'm sorry it went like this.
WALTER Get out.
LINDNER (almost sadly regarding WALTER) You can’t just force people to change their hearts, son.
Call it "particularism" or whatever else you like, guy. We see you.

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