As the sociologist Manuel Castells generalized, “Elites are cosmopolitan, people are local.” People with university values favor intermingling. People with neighborhood values favor assimilation.
What’s made the clashes so poisonous is that many members of the educated class don’t even recognize that they are facing a rival philosophy. Many of them assume that anybody who disagrees with them on immigration and such must be driven by racism, insecurity or some primitive atavism. This smug attitude sends members of the communal, nationalistic side into fits of alienation and prickly defensiveness. It’s what makes many of them, in turn, so unpleasant. ~David Brooks
I like the sociologist’s generalisation, since it seems to suggest that elites aren’t actually people. It also suggests that ”elites” have to be conditioned to accept rootlessness and ”cosmopolitan” attitudes, as these are the farthest things from normal. This would help explain how they manage to hold such strange views about the world and their fellow citizens. Of course, this idea of town v. gown as the explanation for our political conflicts is a reprise of Brooks’ opposition between so-called “progressive globalists” and “populist-nationalists.” Generally, I think he describes the division correctly, though I don’t necessarily buy the prog-globs’ self-description of themselves as being “cosmopolitan.” Many of them are not cosmopolitan in the sense that they are genuinely “open” to or curious about other cultures and peoples. They espouse universal ideals and values, so what need is there to trouble themselves with foreign traditions that should be cast aside in favour of these values? They are convinced that no one could actually prefer their own customs and religion to the exciting world of individualistic self-definition and anomie. According to this view, all people naturally desire what we already have. We are the mountain, and Muhammad will, must, come to us. A more unpleasant and hateful idea is difficult to imagine.
They are cosmopolitan in reaction against the definitions of their own native culture, but many of them usually find very little of value in foreign cultures that extends beyond exotic food and textiles. They are the ones alienated from their homes, but they cannot truly be at home anywhere else, either. Trying to belong to the whole world, they find no place for themselves anywhere. This makes them rather obnoxious and domineering, as they seek to make everyone else just as rootless as they are–and so they advance policies of “openness” and “integration” that are aimed at nothing so much as breaking down cultural, ethnic and religious lines and dis-integrating nations. This sort of cosmopolitanism is almost entirely negative. In the West, it comes partly from a rebellion against any distinctive forms of Western and Christian identity and partly from an attempt to identify the creations of our civilisation with the universal aspirations of all people. These are the people who never think that they are harming other people by attacking their cultures and traditions–it is always an emancipation. “Look, we are making you more open and worldly! You should thank us!” The natural, normal reaction of most people to throw things and shout abuse at such “benefactors” is the “unpleasantness” that Brooks describes. (Unmentioned in this discussion of a conflict of “values” is the deeply undemocratic nature of the bill that was almost foisted upon the country and the tyrannical refusal up till now to enforce the laws of the land–you don’t have to be a “neighbourhood” guy to see what is wrong with these things.)
As for being unpleasant, there is nothing quite so unpleasant as the rich, Eastern transplant legacy frat boy telling the people of this country that they don’t want to do what’s right for America. What would he or any other member of the elite know about America? Except for political campaigning, changing planes or vacationing at their enormous ranches and ski lodges, these people hardly venture out into the interior of this country. Whether they are in business or government, such “cosmopolitan” people have the cosmopolitanism of having been to two dozen airports where they encounter the same globalised junk pseudo-culture wherever they go. These are the sort of people who don’t just fly over the interior because it is quicker–they truly don’t want to go to any of the places between the coasts. This is generally fine by the rest of us, since we wouldn’t want them to visit anyway.
These people are legitimately cosmopolitan in that they would like to think that they are not citizens of any particular place. To be a “citizen of the world” is the epitome of meaningless, oceanic detachment from your origins and your home. It has never been clear to me why someone should become more like this the more educated he becomes, since the more education you have the more likely it is that you realise how wildly abnormal this sort of detachment is. Perhaps I take this view because I am a product of many (maybe too many!) years of formal education and have somehow not bought into this nonsense about “openness.” It is a little story that globalists tell to flatter themselves with the idea that they are more “open” and inquisitive and interested in the rest of the world, but mostly they just want to make the rest of the world as bland, self-referential and provincial as Manhattan and D.C.