Liberalism’s Imaginary Enemies
By Bret Stephens
Wall Street Journal
November 30, 2015
Little children have imaginary
friends. Modern liberalism has imaginary enemies.
Hunger in America is an imaginary
enemy. Liberal advocacy groups
routinely claim that one in seven Americans is hungry—in a country where the
poorest counties have thehighest
rates of obesity. The statistic is a preposterous extrapolation from a
dubious Agriculture Department measure of “food insecurity.” But the line
gives those advocacy groups a reason to exist while feeding the liberal
narrative of America as a savage society of haves and have nots.
The campus-rape epidemic—in
in five female college students is said to be the victim of sexual
assault—is an imaginary enemy. Never mind the debunked rape scandals at Duke
and the University of Virginia, or the soon-to-be-debunked case
at the heart of “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about an alleged sexual
assault at Harvard Law School. The real question is: If modern campuses were
really zones of mass predation—Congo on the quad—why would intelligent young
women even think of attending a coeducational school? They do because there is
no epidemic. But the campus-rape narrative sustains liberal fictions of a
never-ending war on women.
Institutionalized racism is an
imaginary enemy. Somehow we’re supposed to believe that the same college
administrators who have made a religion of diversity are really the second
coming of Strom Thurmond. Somehow we’re supposed to believe that
twice electing a black president is evidence of our racial incorrigibility.
We’re supposed to believe this anyway because the future of liberal
racialism—from affirmative action to diversity quotas to slavery
reparations—requires periodic sightings of the ghosts of a racist past.
I mention these examples by way of
preface to the climate-change summit that began this week in Paris. But first
notice a pattern.
Dramatic crises—for which
evidence tends to be anecdotal, subjective, invisible, tendentious and sometimes
fabricated—are trumpeted on the basis of incompetently designed studies,
poorly understood statistics, or semantic legerdemain. Food insecurity is not
remotely the same as hunger. An abusive cop does not equal a bigoted police
department. An unwanted kiss or touch is not the same as sexual assault, at
least if the word assault is to mean anything.
Yet bogus studies and statistics
survive because the cottage industries of compassion need them to be believed,
and because mindless repetition has a way of making things nearly true, and
because dramatic crises require drastic and all-encompassing solutions. Besides,
the thinking goes, falsehood and exaggeration can serve a purpose if it induces
virtuous behavior. The more afraid we are of the shadow of racism, the more
conscious we might become of our own unsuspected biases.
And so to Paris.
I’m not the first to notice the
incongruity of this huge gathering of world leaders meeting to combat a notional
enemy in the same place where a real enemy just inflicted so much mortal damage.
Then again, it’s also
appropriate, since reality-substitution is how modern liberalism conducts
political business. What is the central liberal project of the 21st century, if
not to persuade people that climate change represents an infinitely greater
threat to human civilization than the barbarians—sorry, violent
extremists—of Mosul and Molenbeek? Why overreact to a few hundred deaths today
when hundreds of thousands will be dead in a century or two if we fail to act
Here again the same dishonest
pattern is at work. The semantic trick in the phrase “climate
change”—allowing every climate anomaly to serve as further proof of the
overall theory. The hysteria generated by an imperceptible temperature rise of
1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880—as if the trend is bound to continue
forever, or is not a product of natural variation, or cannot be mitigated except
by drastic policy interventions. The hyping of flimsy studies—melting
Himalayan glaciers; vanishing polar ice—to press the political point. The job
security and air of self-importance this provides the tens of thousands of
people—EPA bureaucrats, wind-turbine manufacturers, litigious climate
scientists, NGO gnomes—whose livelihoods depend on a climate crisis. The
belief that even if the crisis isn’t quite what it’s cracked up to be, it
does us all good to be more mindful about the environment.
And, of course, the chance to
switch the subject. If your enemy is global jihad, then to defeat it you need
military wherewithal, martial talents and political will. If your enemy is the
structure of an energy-intensive global economy, then you need a compelling
justification to change it. Climate dystopia can work wonders, provided the
jihadists don’t interrupt too often.
Here’s a climate prediction for
the year 2115: Liberals will still be organizing campaigns against yet another
mooted social or environmental crisis. Temperatures will be about the same.