Nov 13, 2006

Defeat as morally pure

Via Glenn Reynolds comes this article by Josh Manchester titled "Why intellectuals love defeat." A must read.
In his book The Culture of Defeat, the German scholar Wolfgang Schivelbusch described the stages of defeat through which nations pass upon losing a large war. He examined the South's loss of the Confederacy, the French loss in the Franco-Prussian War, and the German loss in World War I. He saw similar patterns in how their national cultures dealt with defeat: a "dreamland"-like state; then an awakening to the magnitude of the loss; then a call that the winning side used "unsoldierly" techniques or equipment; and next the stage of seeing the nation as being a loser in battle, but a winner in spirit. Schivelbusch expanded upon this last as such:

"To see victory as a curse and defeat as moral purification and salvation is to combine the ancient idea of hubris with the Christian virtue of humility, catharsis with apocalypse. That such a concept should have its greatest resonance among the intelligentsia can be explained in part by the intellectual's classical training but also by his inherently ambivalent stance toward power."
I think this is only partly true. It isn't power that the intelligentsia opposes, but American power.

Intellectuals didn't despise power when they were licking the boots of Stalin in the 20th Century. They love, love, love Fidel Castro and Che Guevara remains an icon. But the left intelligensia has always prided itself on its championing of the underdog, so intellectuals could and did justify the oppression of Stalin as necessary to remaking society for the benefit of the lower orders. Fidel may have gone over the top now and then, but Cuba has universal healthcare. And strongman Yasser Arafat was transformed into a champion of an oppressed, stateless people because he pitted himself against the powerful (!) Israelis and their allies in the United States.

But the United States is no underdog. Vietnam was supposed to be our undoing, but even after that defeat we continued to grow in strength and in wealth while our nemesis the Soviet Union eventually disintegrated. And that infuriates the left. In their view, balance won't be restored until we've had our comeuppance.

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