2004-04-29

Authority Figure

Islam taught me not to confuse authoritarianism with authority.
- Irshad Manji


Some of them are harmless. Somewhere early in life, these people internalized an image of themselves as failures; thus, they are only able to see themselves as victims. But victims of whom, or or what? Well, it could only be the big, bad United States Government. And so, since misery loves company, they ennoble themselves by aligning themselves with those others who, in their imagination, are also the “victims” of American oppression.

Those with a more comprehensive worldview have generalized the oppressor/victim paradigm to include everything in the world. For them, “power” is inherently evil and everyone must be either a victim or an oppressor. Lacking any other ethical framework, their whole claim to moral legitimacy stems from their status of being “not-in-power”.

Very often they buy into what Leon Wieseltier memorably called the “romance of dissent”. This is protest for its own sake, opposition for its own sake. It is not directed at achieving any goal other than itself. It is the kid at the back of the classroom throwing spitballs. Whatever the government does, they’re against it – because it’s a good excuse to go out and get attention. And so they block traffic and then complain that their “rights to free speech are being violated”.

What drives these people? A few are honest, seasoned activists who have simply taken a wrong turn (see below), or who were deliberately misled by other, less well-intentioned “progressive” leftists whom they’d come to trust. Others might have had a traumatic experience with a parent or teacher in early childhood, or else were uncommonly spoiled. What they share is a refusal to accept – either for themselves or for others – the moral responsibility that goes with legitimate authority.