One of my Federalist colleagues recently observed that, “When I write pieces that upset liberals, I get angry, personal hate mail. When I write pieces that upset social conservatives, I most often get this: ‘I appreciate your well written article and I will pray for you, sir, that you will find the God who loves you.'”
This absolutely tracks with my experience—and as an atheist, I’ve got a certain track record of writing pieces that upset religious readers. I get the occasional angry or dismissive comment, but on the whole the reaction is an almost annoying amount of Christian charity. Not so when I take on, say, the environmentalists.
Why the difference? Why is the Angry Left so angry?
Some of the Federalist staff were discussing this, and we came up with a couple of possibilities.
Rich Cromwell quipped: “It’s the difference between dealing with those who are certain they’re following the edicts of the one true faith and dealing with Christians.” Heh.
Then there’s the fact that “Progressives” convince themselves that everything they’re doing is for the greater good, which supersedes the rights of any individual. It’s a case of “the humanitarian with the guillotine“: we’re doing this for the overall good of humanity, so it’s OK to start killing people. Or to be really, really mean to them in the comments field.
There’s the fact that advocacy of big government is by its very nature a quest for power and control, for the ability to use force against others—a cause that naturally attracts the bitter and intolerant.
There’s the fact that those of us on the right are accustomed to encountering a lot of ideological opposition. For most of our lives, the left has controlled the high ground of the culture, such as it is: the mainstream media, Hollywood, the universities, the arts. So we’re not used to crawling into a “safe space” and hiding from ideas we disagree with, which makes it easier for us to regard ideological opposition with a degree of equanimity.
But beneath all of these factors, there is something deeper, something more elemental. Something metaphysical.
I hate to say William F. Buckley was right, but I think it’s all about immanentizing the eschaton.
The “eschaton” is a term from theology, where it refers to the ultimate end state of creation—basically, what will happen after the final judgment. So “eschatology” speculates about the nature of heaven and God’s final plans for mankind. Outside of theology, the “eschaton” is a stand-in for the final, ideal goal we’re hoping to reach.
There are three basic views of what this ideal state is: the supernatural, the individual, and the social.
In its original context, for the traditional American Christian, the “eschaton” is supernatural: it is life in heaven. That means it’s something that will happen regardless of the state of this wicked world, and your place in it is dependent on you and your own inner spiritual state, not on other people. Hence the Christian’s confounded complacency. If I’m not on board with his religious vision, well, that sucks for me when the Rapture comes. Because my religious critic is a nice guy, he’ll pray that eventually I see the light and accept Jesus into my heart. But at the end of the day (or of history), it’s no skin off his soul.
For someone like me, who is not religious but an individualist, the ultimate end state I am seeking is in my own life. It’s about my family, my work, my home, my own personal interests. The goal I’m seeking is about things I have a lot of control over, much more than it is about other people. Politics is mostly just something that gets in the way of the real business of life. Our ideal end state is that we can reach the point where we’re able to think about our own lives and not have to care about politics any more.
For the secular leftist, the end state is social and necessarily political. It is all about getting everybody else on board and herding them into his imagined utopia. There are so many “problematic” aspects of life that need to be reengineered, so many vast social systems that need to be overthrown and replaced. But the rest of us are all screwing it up, all the time, through our greed, our denial, our apathy, our refusal to listen to him banging on about his tired socialist ideology.
For the Christian, the ideal end state is safely in the next world and therefore is never in doubt. For the individualist, it’s in his own life, and it’s mostly under his direct control. For the leftist, however, it is all outside his control. It requires other people, a lot of other people, and those SOBs usually refuse to cooperate. Talk about rage-inducing.
If the whole focus of your life is on getting everybody else to agree with you on every detail of your politics and adopt your plans for a perfect society, then you’re setting yourself up to be at war with most of the human race most of the time.
Which means an awful lot for the Angry Left to get angry about.