By Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J. ( articles ) | Apr 10, 2003
In 1999, movie reviewer James Bowman criticized Terrence Malick's film The Thin Red Line for retrofitting World War II infantrymen with Vietnam-era moral postures. Bowman remarked that Malick's characters belonged "not among the citizen soldiers who actually won the war but to the post-60's aristocracy of feeling."
The phrase "aristocracy of feeling" comes happily to mind in trying to analyze that curiously smug air of condescension which surrounds so many haute couture pacifists. It's not that their remarks are unreasonable; being The Enlightened, they manage to convey that it's in poor taste to care whether they're reasonable or not.
Discussing the failure of the cultural elite to engage pro-life arguments on abortion, Joseph Sobran wrote, "The enlightened don't owe the unenlightened a rational debate, because in their minds there are no real differences of opinion or philosophy, only differences of motives." Bull's eye. Those who belong to the aristocracy of feeling simply presume the moral superiority of their motives. If your opponents are bad men a priori, who cares if their arguments are better?
As it happens, Sobran himself is vigorously opposed to the war. I do not find his arguments persuasive -- but they are indeed arguments, arguments that ask for refutation, arguments that are egalitarian in assuming the rationality and good will of those who would contest them. If he succeeds in showing his opponents they're wrong, then of course they'd be wicked in pursuing their original course. But the beautiful people begin from the conviction of their own righteousness and the baseness of everybody else, and from that starting point no argument is possible. Like a duchess at the opening of a shopping mall, they intend their remarks to elicit not debate, but gratitude that such a person should deign to take notice of the occasion at all.
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