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Hate Mail

May 10, 2001

My columns provoke a lot of reaction, most of it positive, some of it negative. I get many letters and e-mail messages from intelligent, literate readers who are often embarrassingly generous, even when they argue with me on a particular point. But now and then I also get less admiring messages.

I suppose it’s only natural that fan mail should go to my head a little. But the really serious threat to my humility is my hate mail.

I’m flattered when thoughtful people enjoy my work. But I’m also flattered when morons rail at it. I can truthfully report that most of my negative mail does no great credit to those who write it: it’s typically crude, vituperative, unreasoned, full of name-calling, non sequiturs, and misspellings. Sometimes it’s obscene.

Any refined person would be ashamed to write such puerile stuff. I’m glad to antagonize the sort of people who do write it. It amuses me when they try to insult my intelligence: it doesn’t occur to them that I’d be truly worried if they agreed with me.

[Breaker quote: How my enemies 
flatter me!]What’s really obtuse about these people is that they assume I do agree with them. They don’t bother debating; they call me names, most of which (apart from the obscenities) can be summed up in the word bigot. If I oppose state racial favoritism, I’m a “racist.” If I laugh at feminism, I’m “sexist.” If I criticize Israel, I’m “anti-Semitic.” If I consider homosexuality a perversion, I’m a “homophobe.” And of course I’m “ignorant” and “reactionary.”

All these charges assume that I accept the standards they imply, when the whole point is that I don’t accept them — or I wouldn’t be arguing against them. I’m supposed to shrivel up (and shut up) when some fool calls me names, and meaningless names at that? In essence, such people are like members of a sect who abuse others in a sectarian vocabulary that means nothing to nonmembers. They heap furious threats of damnation on people who don’t believe in their hell.

The liberal litany of abuse is based on the assumption that we all have a duty to keep abreast of the latest moral fads, a duty to repudiate our own traditions. The old is bad, the new is good. If you still believe the things Western man has always believed — for instance, that sodomy is an ugly vice — you are now a “bigot.”

Such invective has all the weighty authority of a teenage clique calling you a “square.” It means only that you’ve committed the mortal sin of failing to keep up with a self-defined smart crowd. The ever-shifting orthodoxy of the new, as against the permanence of the old, is inculcated and enforced by the mass media, an organized system of peer pressure.

For this reason I instinctively sympathize with people who refuse to be bullied into conformity with the Latest Thing. I admire the reactionary Catholic, the Orthodox Jew, the fundamentalist Protestant, the Mormon, the die-hard Confederate — anyone who has the guts to prefer a tradition to a compulsory modern fashion. I may disagree with him, but at least I know he’s not made of jelly. His inner life resists external pressure.

I profoundly disagree with Abraham Lincoln, but I respect Lincoln for arguing like a man. He never tried to win a debate with vacuous name-calling. He appealed not to trendy slogans, but to permanent truths. That’s why his arguments are still interesting and will remain so, long after today’s trendy causes have blown away like dead leaves. Right or wrong, those arguments issue from the depths of a real mind, not the partisan impulses of a mere sect.

The root of liberalism’s folly is its conviction that the future is on its side. Condemning the past, unable to conceive of the permanent, it thinks it knows in advance what the future will be; and it imagines a Judgment Day on which the progressive sheep will be separated from the reactionary goats.

Bigotry, the favorite term of bigoted liberals, now means the refusal to accept liberalism’s vision of the future — a New Society of enlightened government, social justice, and sexual freedom. Somehow that future never arrives, but keeps receding from reach; yet the true believer keeps awaiting it anyway, and damning those who doubt it.

Joseph Sobran

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Copyright © 2001 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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