Untimely Observations

Overcoming Hipster Liberalism

Having read Jim Kalb on hipster liberalism, I find there is much in his essay I agree with and even more that I disagree with. His description of the self-absorbed individual who yaps constantly about equality but has no moral center applies to most academics of my acquaintance. This description also pertains to the college-age students I encounter; and I agree with Jim that these students and their degree-carrying mentors have been insufficiently socialized in any traditional sense. These individuals never manage to grow up, found families and integrate themselves into what Jim and I would regard as normal, or even quasi-normal, human communities. The types of associations to which these free-floating human tissues attach themselves are collections of singles or lifestyle activists who in our media culture are depicted as members of PC-certified communities.

Where I disagree with Jim is in his characterization of such types as merely narcissistic products of a rudderless society. It seems to me that much of what he is criticizing is planned destruction. It is the achievement of the managerial state, public education, and the cultural industry to have produced uprooted, hedonistic individuals, seeking their own ego-enhancement together with greater equality for supposedly oppressed minorities and lifestyle exhibitionists. (The lack of traditional authority is not the same as the absence of control.)

These are not position that individuals arrive at without guidance from above. Most academics and young professionals of my acquaintance couldn’t have an original idea if they tried. They all think exactly as they’ve been programmed for decades. In a traditional society, they would act like everyone else. In our society, they act in a similar way, but harbor the ridiculous illusion they have independent thoughts and are running their own show.

Their strange tendency to weep about the oppression of those groups featured as victims in The Authoritarian Personality while simultaneously showing arrested development in the acceptance of social responsibility is no accident. Our fellow-Americans are programmed to hate bourgeois Christian society and to love themselves, as long as this autoeroticism or self-esteem does not interfere with the obligatory victimology pushed by cultural Marxist teachers and state managers.

Admittedly there are other causes for what Jim describes, misused affluence, diminishing parental management, and the tendency of adolescents to pursue ersatz lives in Internet chat rooms and through Facebook encounters. But these are not sufficient causes for explaining what we’re observing. It is not simply narcissism but a cluster of attitudes that are in play, including a radical reaction against traditional mores together with a high degree of adherence to Political Correctness, especially among American youth between 18 and 32, who voted overwhelmingly for Obama.

Although I share Jim’s skepticism that white nationalism and other expressions of the irritated Right can solve our dilemmas, I’m not sure that I see many plausible contenders for this honor at the present time. Unlike him, I don’t view the Catholic Church as being able to offer a way out of the temporal storm. In fact judging by the social statements proclaimed by Popes since the pontificate of John XXIII, it would seem that on gender roles, immigration, and the distribution of wealth, Jim’s confession does not seem to represent much of an alternative to garden-variety Protestantism. The only confessions that seem truly medieval in their social teachings are Missouri Synod Lutherans and traditional Calvinists; nonetheless, it would be hard to make a convincing case that all conservatives should convert to these religions in order to save our social fabric. Even if all contributors to this website became old-order Presbyterians or swore allegiance to Luther’s doctrines, it is doubtful that a counterrevolution would be breaking in very soon. And so while our neo-Nietzscheans and others who may strike Jim as a bit far-out are not providing workable social solution, collective solutions at this point may be hard to come by. Paths to individual salvation are of course another matter, but the selection of such a path is not the same as saving our society from its present suicidal course.