I recently had an interesting conversation with a young friend of mine — ‘young’, in this case, meaning less than half my age. My friend and I started off by agreeing that the recent referendum in Ireland, endorsing same-sex marriage by a rather amazing 60% majority, was excellent and gratifying news. But then my young friend gobsmacked me by saying that he wished this result had been achieved by some other means than a popular vote. Unless I misunderstood him, which is possible, he seemed to believe that a court decision, based ostensibly on some text like the US constitution, would have been preferable, as offering a more secure foundation for the right so obtained than the fickle whimsies of… 60% of the people. In Ireland!
I don’t think my friend is a particularly political guy — at least, the topic has never come up before — but I would be amazed if he were a right-winger. In fact, I would bet he isn’t.
I think what he may have been exhibiting is something very American, namely a dislike and distrust of the rabble, cherished even by many of the rabble themselves (a category to which I certainly belong; perhaps my friend has a trust fund I don’t know about, but I suspect he’s rabble too).
This is a pretty extraordinary phenomenon, when you think about it. Of course it’s not surprising that the ‘founding fathers’ hated and distrusted the people; they were a thoroughly elite body. But it’s pretty remarkable that this mentality has been able to reproduce itself so well for so long, among people who are anything but elite, and have had plenty of opportunities to figure out what the elites are really up to. My friend, for example, has certainly lived long enough to see the Supreme Court in action for a while now, and might have drawn some conclusions about what that sorry row of scarecrows is all about. But unless I misunderstood him, he would be happier with his rights in their custody than in the custody of his fellow-citizens.
Is this just the tyranny of received opinion? Or does it reflect a certain factitious sense of elite status among relatively educated liberal folks?
Or am I just over-interpreting? A very insightful former girlfriend of mine once said that I was the sort of guy who would show up for a friendly backyard game of touch football, all kitted out in cleats, shoulder pads, and a regulation helmet.