The Civility Gap

One of the unspoken truths of the political and ideological wars which rage around us is the civility gap between the left and conservatives. Anyone who has fought in these battles knows just what I mean.  To be sure, there are exceptions among conservatives, those who are not civil, but they receive no quarter from the broader conservative movement.

Once -- long ago -- when I used to respond to leftist e-mails about my articles, I knew from the first few words of their e-mails what sort of people they were: angry, arrogant, and nasty.

Their e-mails always began with insults and went downhill from there. These people, who had never met me and who had only read one of my articles, had determined that whatever bile or venom they could fling on me was acceptable. These leftists had the manners of Nazis, their Siamese twins ideologically. I would respond, always, politely -- much to their chagrin sometimes. I would also ask them, civilly, if there were any facts which I could present which would change their minds. In every single case, no facts, however well-documented, could sway their mind, which was marinated in noxious misology.

Conservatives have criticized my articles more often than leftists, but their critiques almost never have personal attacks. They discuss legislative votes, public statements, and philosophies of government and society. Conservatives are civil, even when they strongly disagree with me. Other conservatives, I am sure, encounter the same difference in manners between leftists and conservatives. Why is this so? I think for three reasons:  

First, most conservatives are religious. They may be Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish, but within them burns real, living faith. Courtesy, kindness, and respect are ineradicably intertwined in the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. Treating people as you would like to be treated, among countless other rules the Blessed Creator has enjoined us to follow, simply prohibits the sort of savagery which pockmarks leftism.

Second, conservatives believe in markets. We usually -- and carelessly -- think of markets only in terms of the hurly-burly of financial markets of Wall Street. Yet we see the virtue and vitality of markets more clearly in the quiet sidewalks of Maple Street. Markets transcend money and economics. Treating our neighbors decently, treating strangers decently, watching our language when around children, ladies, or the elderly -- these and countless other signal "transactions" in the marketplace of human interactions largely determine what sort of life we will lead.  

The left dislikes all forms of markets and believes instead in coercion -- the officious bureaucrat, the obnoxious teacher or professor, the monopolistic leftist media stalking the Palin family, the "comedians" and "entertainers" whose purpose for existence seems to be spiteful mockery of America and its culture -- these people trust force and pressure more than liberty and choice. 

Third, conservatives believe in truth. Leftists like Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Castro, Mussolini, Howard Dean, and Al Gore believe that ideology is truth. There is no point in really looking beyond ideology, and any facts which contradict their ideological reality must be false. So the real "progressives" (those who believe that the human condition can be improved through thoughtful and honest reflection) are invariably conservatives. Our problem with global warming, for example, is that it is a lie. Our problem with socialism is that it always fails and creates human misery. Our problem with leftism is that it is, more or less openly, based upon an utter absence of scruples, with honesty the first casualty.

Those who seek truth behave entirely differently from those who seek to crush truth. We listen to the left because we want to hear what they have to say. Most of us can state the arguments of the left better than Howard Dean or Barack Obama could ever recapitulate conservative positions. When the left has a point, as with the corruption of Nixon, we agree with them (Nixon resigned when Republican leaders, including Goldwater, told him he must -- in stark contrast to Clinton when caught in a web of outlandish lies and perjury). Those who truly want the free flow of information do not invent "speech codes" for college campuses and do not try to create a climate in which the political or ideological impact of each word must be weighed before spoken. Conservatives, then, are like true Americans -- plain-talking, really listening, open-minded, but independent-thinking people. 

All of this means that conservatives want a civil society. So we behave decently. We believe that God connects us to every single human being, including leftists, so our reality has no Juden and no Kulaks, only fellow creatures of a loving God. We believe that the panorama of free markets enriches all human lives. And we grasp our finite knowledge, so the search for truth is serious and lifelong, which means we listen as well as speak. Civility is the mark of grownups seeking goodness. That is why conservatives are naturally, happily polite and respectful. 

Bruce Walker is the author of a new book: Poor Lenin's Almanac: Perverse Leftists Proverbs for Modern Life.
One of the unspoken truths of the political and ideological wars which rage around us is the civility gap between the left and conservatives. Anyone who has fought in these battles knows just what I mean.  To be sure, there are exceptions among conservatives, those who are not civil, but they receive no quarter from the broader conservative movement.

Once -- long ago -- when I used to respond to leftist e-mails about my articles, I knew from the first few words of their e-mails what sort of people they were: angry, arrogant, and nasty.

Their e-mails always began with insults and went downhill from there. These people, who had never met me and who had only read one of my articles, had determined that whatever bile or venom they could fling on me was acceptable. These leftists had the manners of Nazis, their Siamese twins ideologically. I would respond, always, politely -- much to their chagrin sometimes. I would also ask them, civilly, if there were any facts which I could present which would change their minds. In every single case, no facts, however well-documented, could sway their mind, which was marinated in noxious misology.

Conservatives have criticized my articles more often than leftists, but their critiques almost never have personal attacks. They discuss legislative votes, public statements, and philosophies of government and society. Conservatives are civil, even when they strongly disagree with me. Other conservatives, I am sure, encounter the same difference in manners between leftists and conservatives. Why is this so? I think for three reasons:  

First, most conservatives are religious. They may be Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish, but within them burns real, living faith. Courtesy, kindness, and respect are ineradicably intertwined in the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. Treating people as you would like to be treated, among countless other rules the Blessed Creator has enjoined us to follow, simply prohibits the sort of savagery which pockmarks leftism.

Second, conservatives believe in markets. We usually -- and carelessly -- think of markets only in terms of the hurly-burly of financial markets of Wall Street. Yet we see the virtue and vitality of markets more clearly in the quiet sidewalks of Maple Street. Markets transcend money and economics. Treating our neighbors decently, treating strangers decently, watching our language when around children, ladies, or the elderly -- these and countless other signal "transactions" in the marketplace of human interactions largely determine what sort of life we will lead.  

The left dislikes all forms of markets and believes instead in coercion -- the officious bureaucrat, the obnoxious teacher or professor, the monopolistic leftist media stalking the Palin family, the "comedians" and "entertainers" whose purpose for existence seems to be spiteful mockery of America and its culture -- these people trust force and pressure more than liberty and choice. 

Third, conservatives believe in truth. Leftists like Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Castro, Mussolini, Howard Dean, and Al Gore believe that ideology is truth. There is no point in really looking beyond ideology, and any facts which contradict their ideological reality must be false. So the real "progressives" (those who believe that the human condition can be improved through thoughtful and honest reflection) are invariably conservatives. Our problem with global warming, for example, is that it is a lie. Our problem with socialism is that it always fails and creates human misery. Our problem with leftism is that it is, more or less openly, based upon an utter absence of scruples, with honesty the first casualty.

Those who seek truth behave entirely differently from those who seek to crush truth. We listen to the left because we want to hear what they have to say. Most of us can state the arguments of the left better than Howard Dean or Barack Obama could ever recapitulate conservative positions. When the left has a point, as with the corruption of Nixon, we agree with them (Nixon resigned when Republican leaders, including Goldwater, told him he must -- in stark contrast to Clinton when caught in a web of outlandish lies and perjury). Those who truly want the free flow of information do not invent "speech codes" for college campuses and do not try to create a climate in which the political or ideological impact of each word must be weighed before spoken. Conservatives, then, are like true Americans -- plain-talking, really listening, open-minded, but independent-thinking people. 

All of this means that conservatives want a civil society. So we behave decently. We believe that God connects us to every single human being, including leftists, so our reality has no Juden and no Kulaks, only fellow creatures of a loving God. We believe that the panorama of free markets enriches all human lives. And we grasp our finite knowledge, so the search for truth is serious and lifelong, which means we listen as well as speak. Civility is the mark of grownups seeking goodness. That is why conservatives are naturally, happily polite and respectful. 

Bruce Walker is the author of a new book: Poor Lenin's Almanac: Perverse Leftists Proverbs for Modern Life.