I was a little disappointed when the January issue of The New Criterion arrived and I saw that a large chunk of it was occupied by a symposium called "Reagan, Thatcher, and the Special Relationship." "That sounds a bit dull," I thought. (The "special relationship" is that between the United States and Great Britain, and with the English-speaking nations generally.) Much of it, however, has proven to be quite interesting. I am skeptical that any sort of serious renewal can be expected in nations such as the U.S. and the U.K. which are so far gone in cultural deterioration, but I'd like to think it's a possibility, because I think that on balance Anglo-American civilization has been a force for good in the world--in worldly terms, at any rate; I'm not prepared to make guesses about how many souls have been saved in Spain's colonies vs. England's.
One of the pieces in the symposium is by Daniel Hannan, of whom I've heard good things, but I had not until now actually read anything by him. In a piece called "The Right Side of History" he explores the question of why patriotism is a virtue (and I do I think it's a virtue, in proper perspective) associated mainly with conservatives in the English-speaking world. The whole essay is available online, and I recommend it, but I want to quote this passage, which I think is a good description of how another virtue, sympathy for the weak, has become perverse on the left.
The liberal Support for the underdog is balanced by other tendencies in conservatives, such as respect for sanctity. In Leftists, it is not. Once you grasp this difference, all the apparent inconsistencies and contradictions of the Leftist outlook make sense. It explains why liberals think that immigration and multiculturalism are a good thing in Western democracies, but a bad thing in, say, the Amazon rain forest. It explains how people can simultaneously demand equality between the sexes and quotas for women. It explains why Israel is seen as right when fighting the British but wrong when fighting the Palestinians.
History becomes a hierarchy of victimhood. The narrative is fitted around sympathy for downtrodden people. The same group can be either oppressors or oppressed depending on the context. Hispanic Americans, for example, are ranked between Anglos and Native Americans. When they were settling Mexico, they were the bad guys; when they were being annexed by the United States, they were the good guys.
All historians, of course, have their prejudices. My purpose is simply to explain why national pride in Anglo-American culture is so concentrated on one side of the political spectrum. The answer, quite simply, is that there are very few scenarios in which the Anglosphere peoples can be cast as the underdogs....
Anti-American and anti-British agitators around the world have taken up nationalist language—the only nationalism of which English-speaking progressives generally approve. George Orwell wrote disparagingly of “the masochism of the English Left”: its readiness to ally with any cause, however vile, provided it was sufficiently anti-British.
Poor white Americans provide another example. As, say, miners or sharecroppers exploited by capitalists and landowners, they are victims and an almost saintly level of virtue is attributed to them. As bearers of racial prejudice, or even of simple traditional Christian moral principles, they are evil, governed mainly by irrational hatreds--"bitter" and "clinging to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them." (Everybody recognizes that quote, right?)
The truth of course is that both their virtues and their defects coexist, as they do in every group and every individual. Naive idealizing of the other is an equal-but-opposite reaction to the idealizing one's own nation or culture. I've often thought that liberal anti-Americanism has a masochistic element, and am pleased to find Orwell making a similar observation. As is so often the case, a worthy impulse unbalanced by other virtues becomes unhealthy.