VDH’s latest column, a profound indictment of the hypocrisy of much of our contemporary culture, has stirred a sense of anger inside me that I haven’t felt for a while. Maybe it’s VDH’s mastery of the art of juxtaposition, but I know of no starker picture of the difference between liberal theory and practice than his latest piece. It is a brief but devastating disrobing of our hollow culture. Are you angry after reading it? Good.
I mention it for two reasons:
(1) It is not mentioned enough.
(2) Lifestyle Liberalism (a.k.a. Limousine Liberalism, Bollinger Bolshevism, MasterCard Marxism) is now the dominant strain of progressivism. It is, quite simply, the striving to make oneself appear hip in order to achieve social status. That’s it. It is, psychologically and sociologically, a very simple concept. Say what you will about the Old Left, at least they tried to practice what they preached. Many donned Mao tunics and eschewed “bourgeois” lifestyle. Many actually were poor. Now it’s the complete opposite: in order to be “downtrodden” you must try very, very hard to appear so. You must be fashionably unfashionable, richly impoverished, powerlessly empowered, rebelliously trendy. You must become an expert on racial statistics, but never wander into Detroit, Inglewood, or Newark. You must live in Brooklyn, but in Carroll Gardens, not Brownsville. You must hate Christianity but write your master’s thesis on the awesome tradition of the black church. You must wear a keffiyeh but have bought it from Urban Outfitters, not a shack in Marrakech. You must hate affluence more than poverty, all the while affecting to believe the opposite, while using the fruits of the former to create a commodified version of the latter.
Well, we humans are rather primitive. Nobody wants to feel ostracized, so you do what you must in order to remain part of an in-group. This includes mouthing all the right slogans. The average college student is deathly afraid of disagreeing with his radical classmates and professors. If he does, he might not get the girls, he might fail the course, etc. The impulses for going along with absurd claptrap are mostly sexual in nature. Don’t agree? You’re not hip. Not hip? No status. No status? No sex.
This started in the 1960s at the universities and has trickled down to pretty much every corner of contemporary Western society. Universities are hellholes. The atmosphere of most humanities classrooms is as close to the feeling of being in Pyongyang as you’re likely to get in the United States. Everyone is on edge, petrified of saying the wrong thing. Even mildly dissenting opinions must be cloaked in the language of radical chic. Free speech means freely agreeing with the professor. But it is no longer just in the universities. American culture is fast becoming a very large classroom.
Regardless of what people actually think of radical chic, they go along with it in varying degrees in order not to be consigned to the margins of society. Czeslaw Milosz called this socio-political phenomenon “ketman.” I call it tragedy.