The three pillars of liberal morality are engagement, compassion, and inclusiveness; its corresponding demons apathy, hatred, and exclusiveness. The shorthand word for the three cardinal virtues is niceness; for the three supreme vices, meanness. Nice is a word familiar among middle-middle class Americans, who have been liberalized whether they know it or not: the sort of people who use neat as an adjective or exclamatory utterance, 30 years after Woody Allen had fun with it in Annie Hall. Mean, on the other hand, is in circulation pretty much across all the strata of liberal society, including those that are unconscious of the fact that they are liberal. Indeed, it is a word that is used almost exclusively by liberals, with equal exclusivity, to describe conservatives—hardly ever liberals or radicals themselves.
As man is said to be the only animal who knows he is going to die, so a conservative is a man who knows that he is mean. Some conservatives take pride in their meanness; others are indifferent to it; still others are made uncomfortable by it, despite knowing that to be mean is to lack compassion, even sympathy, for people and situations liberals consider worthy of both. Liberals perceive such people and circumstances—Kenneth Minogue called them “suffering situations”—everywhere, in their backyards and yours, but also in those of a Kenyan farmer and a Myanmar Muslim besieged by angry Buddhists, previously regarded by Western liberals as being as peaceable and nonviolent as potted lotus plants. The news, whether delivered by the newspapers, the tabloids, television—nearly all of them liberal organs—or the internet, is a ceaseless chronicle of unremitting human suffering, misery, and agony; of meaningless death and destruction, endless war, and every conceivable manner of atrocity perpetrated by man against man, and nature; of hatred and greed, lies and hypocrisy, revenge and retribution. These horrors and unpleasantries are reported in print with the gravity considered appropriate to the event by newspaper reporters; over television with the exploitive sensationalism preferred by anchormen who think that quality equally appropriate to the medium. Neither the faux disinterest of the Times reporter nor the vulgarity of the CBS or CNN anchorman conceals a confident expectation of the compassionate concern, urgency, or outrage with which their message will be received by their subscribers. One may imagine the horror they would feel, could they know that the response to these heartwrenching stories, in the meanest of mean quarters, is the laughter appropriate to Dickens’ account of the death of Little Nell. What they cannot understand is how the unnatural system of inverted moral values invented by modern liberalism makes the temptation to mean and cynical reactions nearly irresistible by nonliberals.
The thin liberal skin, and the even thinner outer wall of the liberal heart, encourage the liberal himself to recognize innumerable suffering situations on any given day around the world. Because the news media are largely operated by liberals, the result is a 24-hour cycle of journalistic reports of unquantifiable pain and misery intended to solicit compassion and calls for immediate remedial action. Not even a saint can love everyone on earth, except in the most abstract sense, if only because he cannot possibly establish a personal acquaintance with each of the six-and-a-half billion individuals on earth, and because true love is an individual, not a collective, experience. Love is not the equivalent of concern for someone or something, yet what is true of love is, to a lesser degree, true of concern as well. Only God can truly love, or be personally concerned for, each and every one of us, and only a social psychopath is capable of convincing himself that he loves as God does, at a personal level and on a scale without earthly limit. (Such a person, if he has sufficient funds available to spread largesse around the world, is always recognized as a public benefactor. In fact, he is one of a handful of the world’s most dangerous citizens who deserve to be locked away for their own good and that of the global public.) All sane and honest people recognize that the heart has its limits as well as its reasons, and that this is, on balance, a good thing. Pain like an arrow arriving from a far distance inflicts a shallow wound, and that, too, is good. T.S. Eliot thought it better that most people spend their lives in the same place where they were brought into the world. Similarly, people are best off as a rule sticking to their own business and reserving their supply of limited human feeling, care, and affection for those closest to them: their family, their friends, their community, their country. In modern therapeutic society, where everyone’s greatest desire is that he should be recognized as a “normal” person, an awareness of the natural limits of human compassion should be a comforting thing. We are not meant, most of us, to suffer and bear the pains of the entire world, save in the sense the Apostle had in mind when he wrote to the Christian community at Rome, “I have in my heart a great sorrow, and a continual suffering.” So people are justifiably resentful when they perceive that their sympathies are being unfairly appealed to by utter strangers on behalf of even greater strangers belonging to wholly different cultures and living halfway round the earth. There is nothing sinful, immoral, or humanly irresponsible about an Iowa farmer’s, or a Chicago contractor’s, careless, even irritable, reaction to the latest car-bombing in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan. So what? is a reasonable response in the circumstances, not a “mean” one. Even Good enough for them, while seemingly harsh, reflects a just anthropological and historical appraisal of a people who are not “like us,” inhabitants of faraway countries whose very existence must be taken on faith (is “Afghanistan” an urban myth or the basis of an international conspiracy?) by ordinary people, and for whom only our clinically mad government in Washington thinks “we” have a responsibility of any kind.
The limited reserves of compassion common among us all, and a resentment of having our emotions unreasonably provoked and unfairly manipulated, are the natural conditions for the growth of an easy cynicism and a hardened dismissiveness deplored by all liberals. They do not, however, endanger the illiberal soul in the way the inversion of traditional moral systems does. This is an inversion performed by liberals for whom public and personal morality, charity, generosity, human compassion, and humanitarianism mean precisely the opposite of what people of every age and every culture have meant by these things. And this inversion easily warps traditionally minded people’s moral response to suffering situations, where liberalism has reversed or blurred the roles of the sufferer and the agent of his suffering by introducing moral and emotional confusion and encouraging frustrated and angry reactions that may endanger the souls of conscientious persons brought up in traditional moral and religious systems.
The Thirty Years’ Invasion of the societies of the West by scores of millions of Third World people has provided innumerable examples of this moral confusion, and its related moral dangers, created by liberalism. The Camp of the Saints, Jean Raspail’s novel about the fictive invasion of France by tens of thousands of immigrants arriving from Calcutta in a flotilla of rusting hulks on the shores of peaceful Provence, tackles directly the moral dilemma presented by mass migration to Europe, and elsewhere. Raspail acknowledges that this dilemma is at once critical and finally insoluble in moral terms. To turn the Indians away is to hand them a death sentence; to accept them is to condemn France to progressive ruination and ultimate destruction. The French left welcome the invaders with open arms. The civilized French minority resist them, and Raspail embodies their patriotic views. As a man of the right, he adopts the traditional moral response to the threat to Ourselves against the morality of liberalism, whose sympathies are reflexively with the Other. Raspail, a humane man in the humane tradition of Western morality, is hardly oblivious to the moral claims of that Other, but he is nevertheless impervious to them. He can well imagine the sufferings of the invaders, but he can foresee also the future suffering of France and her people—his people, his country, his civilization. So, recognizing their claims, he takes his stand against the Enemy. To write, after all, is to act; and Jean Raspail and his Professor Calguès, the elderly scholar who draws himself up to his French supper, his wine and his silver, his bread and cheese and fruit, while dismissing from his mind the misery on the beach below his house, are equally guiltless of moral blame. (“There’s no sharing in love. The rest of the world can go hang. They don’t even exist.”)
Not every Westerner who resists mass immigration has the intellectual refinement or the moral discernment of men like Jean Raspail, for every one of whom there are numerous restrictionists who, though politically in the right, are also morally in the wrong. Liberalism’s inverted code of morality—our primary duty is to the Other, the sinner is really the victim, what is called perverted really is normative and deserving of our moral support, even our loving acceptance—is a temptation to adherents of the old morality to ignore and finally compromise their inherited code of love, justice, generosity, and Christian charity. Thus the unnatural, inverted morality of social liberalism too easily begets the counterinversion of Christianity, so that a call to divert American troops to the American border is changed to a battle cry to “Shoot them all before they cross the Rio!” Indeed, it is one of liberal morality’s greatest dangers that it threatens to corrupt what is strong and true after it has destroyed what is weak and false. Traditional morality holds that we must be neither morally disarmed, nor mentally disarranged, by human suffering and that, in any case, suffering is not of itself a sign of virtue, far less the moral superiority liberal morality attributes to it. The death of millions of people from AIDS is a tragedy, but surely the fact that they brought their deaths upon themselves absolves the distant spectator from the Christian debt of empathy, and all but the most abstract sort of “compassion.”
To decline to be obsessed with the “scandal” of blackness, poverty, homophobia, “sexism,” discrimination, “otherness,” and “exclusion” is not “meanness.” It is moral sanity. Nor is the “meanness” of which liberals complain restricted to adherents of the old morality. It thrives, rather, where the new morality has been unshakably established by acts of angry spiritual rebellion, and the ancient tradition deformed and twisted by deliberate provocation, righteous anger, and justifiable frustration.