(Shown above, that fine old palaeo-neo-liberal William Ewart Gladstone.)
Liberals often wonder why people hate them so much, and it’s a good question. Most of the liberals I know are kindly, conscientious individuals. They’re not hard-hearted and they’re frequently generous. They’re usually gay-friendly and anti-racist. They devote themselves to charities and the PTA at their kid’s school, and pledge to NPR. What’s not to like?
But the good question has a good answer. Liberals, though they are mostly amiable as individuals, show quite a different character en masse and on the political plane. They are, in a word, authoritarian. They distrust and dislike the unwashed, uneducated masses — roughly defined as people who don’t listen to NPR — and they really do tend to think that great matters and affairs of state ought to be in the hands of experts.
This has come out very clearly in the response to the Brexit vote. I’ve been really shocked by all the liberal carpet-chewing. The corpse of ‘populism’ has been exhumed yet again, like poor Cromwell’s, and dragged through the streets and trampled upon.
(In fact this happens so often that the shabby, dilapidated cadaver hardly ever gets a week’s rest in its shallow Midwestern grave. Amazing how an ancestral fright can be handed down לדור ודור. Great-great-granny Mildred — a staunch Progressive and close friend of Bob LaFollette — was startled once by a garter snake, and her multitudinous progeny still shudder at the sight of anything sinuous.)
The Leavers have been roundly castigated as ignorant, bigoted, chauvinistic fools. Really, after all, why else would anybody distrust the gnomes of Brussels? The latter all went to good schools, and know their trade. (What their trade might in essence be is a topic perhaps best left alone.)
And of course the Remainders are enlightened folk about to be drowned beneath the whelming tide of barbarism — like the last shivering Roman Britons, speaking their carefully-enunciated provincial Latin among themselves around the flickering hearth as the days draw in, after seeing the last Legion off.
My favorite trope — endlessly replicated on Facebook, of course — comes from the aforementioned NPR. It consists of a snippet from Google Trends showing that there was a big spike in searches for ‘what is Brexit’ vel sim. after the polls closed on Thursday(*). NPR, in its inimitable finger-wagging, schoolmarmish manner, concludes that
…[I]t was after the polls closed when British voters started to think seriously about the implications of their choice.
Alas, hoi polloi. They just don’t do their homework, and that’s why they didn’t go to Haverford, like me.
Of course there are any number of other explanations for this spike. For one thing, as we all know, Google tries to anticipate your search query, and it’s very easy to go with whatever they suggest. Google does not tell us what its top suggested search was, during the hours in question, when you typed in ‘Brexit’ or ‘EU’.
But the best thing about NPR’s moralizing is its tacit assumption of unitary agency on the part of “British” voters and “their” thinking about “their” choice.
We have no way of knowing whether the spike was driven — as NPR suggests, in its usual oblique, dishonest way — mostly by exiters suddenly asking themselves “what have I done”? Of course that’s a picture which pleases NPR’s smug, liberal audience, with its firm belief in the self-evident value of technocratic, top-down institutions, and so it’s the fairy tale NPR chooses to tell.
But it’s a lot more likely that everybody, leavers and remainders alike, was looking for ammo to argue the point down the pub next day.
(*) Incidentally, this does not reflect independent research by NPR. The original item appeared in Google’s official Twitter feed. Google tweets, NPR retweets.