Let’s call it “the debate is over” syndrome, referring to a term used most often in relationship with climate change but also by President Barack Obama last week in reference to what remains his contentious, and theoretically reformable, health care plan. Ironically, this shift to certainty now comes increasingly from what passes for the Left in America.A few observations:
These are the same people who historically have identified themselves with open-mindedness and the defense of free speech, while conservatives, with some justification, were associated more often with such traits as criminalizing unpopular views – as seen in the 1950s McCarthy era – and embracing canonical bans on all sorts of personal behavior, a tendency still more evident than necessary among some socially minded conservatives.
But when it comes to authoritarian expression of “true” beliefs, it’s the progressive Left that increasingly seeks to impose orthodoxy. In this rising intellectual order, those who dissent on everything from climate change, the causes of poverty and the definition of marriage, to opposition to abortion are increasingly marginalized and, in some cases, as in the [Mark] Steyn trial, legally attacked.
- People who are serene in their beliefs don't worry about being challenged. They don't necessarily enjoy the challenge, but they accept that the challenge is coming.
- As Eric Hoffer and others have noted, the nature of the belief isn't as important as the need to impose the belief, if you are a true believer. And faith in a mass movement is usually a substitute for a lack of faith in oneself.
- You will always find people who are authoritarian in nature, or willing to support authoritarians. The predilection to boss people around is present in any setting.
- Every generation becomes the Establishment eventually.
Back to Kotkin:
This shift has been building for decades and follows the increasingly uniform capture of key institutions – universities, the mass media and the bureaucracy – by people holding a set of “acceptable” viewpoints. Ironically, the shift toward a uniform worldview started in the 1960s, in part as a reaction to the excesses of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the oppressive conformity of the 1950s.
But what started as liberation and openness has now engendered an ever-more powerful clerisy – an educated class – that seeks to impose particular viewpoints while marginalizing and, in the most-extreme cases, criminalizing, divergent views.
On this observation, Kotkin is wrong. The tendency toward a clerisy has always been part of human interaction. There's little difference operationally between Michael Mann and Caiaphas, the high priest who plotted to eliminate Jesus. The whole point of being the high priest is that you get to impose your will. And the high priest will always have supporters.