The American mentality is unabashedly elitist. Indeed, mediocrity is anathema to the American way of life. Much of the Americans’ ire toward communism has nothing to do with its tyranny, but with their animus toward equality. John Steinback had it right: Americans see themselves as the temporarily embarrassed millionaires rather than as the exploited proletariat. In most countries, there is no shame in showing solidarity with the working class. Yet, to an American mind, the very concept of solidarity is an affront to their dignity, as it implies that they are average rather than exceptional. The concept of American exceptionalism goes far beyond the abstract patriotic ideals, and it is an integral element of Americans’ daily lives.
America has deeply seated roots undergirding the ethos of exceptionalism. One may turn to two classical works in sociology that explain the origins of such presumptuous attitudes: the Wayward Puritans by Kai Erickson and the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber. Kai Erickson has shown that deviant behavior sheds light on the nature of socially acceptable behavior. The American Puritans cultivated a great sense of pride in their righteousness by focusing on the allegedly deplorable actions of outsiders. They did not want to be merely good Christians; they desired to “purify” their soul by becoming the most earnest worshippers possible. By contrasting their lofty ideals with that of the benighted outsiders, they continuously found inspiration to pursue their arduous endeavor of spiritual achievement.
Consistently with Erickson’s observations, Max Weber has also shed light on America’s contempt for mediocrity and the desire to ostracize aberrant people. Weber has shown how the creed of Calvinist theology informed the Puritans’ attitudes toward wealth distribution and the elites’ responsibility to the less fortunate. Calvinists believed in predestination, positing that all people were preordained to either be saved or to be damned to hell. While they believed that God worked in mysterious ways, they searched for fruits of the spirit, which indicated what God had decided for each person. Consistently with the Puritan adage that an “idle mind is the devil’s workshop”, they believed industriousness to have been the most important fruit of the spirit. Consequently, they reasoned that because wealth stemmed from a vigorous work ethic, affluence must have been an important indicator of one’s status among the elect. Working with this assumption, they concluded that the privileged had no responsibility to the indigent because their state of deprivation was a consequence of God’s will. This explains why American Christians often have a strong attachment to the free market and a reflexive aversion to welfare programs.
The PC academics and the most influential televangelist voices in the American Christendom have a few things in common.
1. Thought-control: one fundamental difference between Christians and practitioners of other faiths is that the former regard the act of entertaining unholy thoughts as a sin. By contrast, Buddhists, Hindus, Shintoists, and followers of other Eastern creeds that were not influenced by the Judeo-Christian worldview focus more on the challenge of resisting temptation rather than on monitoring the thoughts of their fellow believers. Just as the Christians are not content with merely preventing immoral behavior, the academic zealots will not relent when they see that minorities and LGBTQ are treated respectfully. Instead, they will go a step further by insisting that all White men are sexist and racist, and therefore they need to be remanded to a “sensitivity training” camp where even the slightest vestige of unholy thought must be excoriated with priestly fury.
2. Self-aggrandizement: building on the Calvinist admonition exhorting Christians to demonstrate their status among the elect, American Protestants highly value industriousness, which they see as a prerequisite for the acquisition of wealth that demonstrates their salvation. To a televangelist, there is no such thing as being “successful” and pure enough. Hence, they continuously strive to exorcise the demons of sloth from their souls by engaging in spiritual self-flagellation that pushes them to pursue self-aggrandizement. I see the same phenomenon among academic activists. To them, there is no such thing as being sufficiently non-racist or non-sexist. They must be anti-racist and anti-sexist, and it’s not possible to be adequate in either respect. The Puritans of the church and the university see themselves as fundamentally sinful and insist on a pursuit of lifelong contrition that constitutes an integral component of their spiritual purification.
3. Disdain for the underprivileged: far from being concerned with the well-being of the penurious Americans and the diminution of the middle class, the American “clerisy” are happy to facilitate the rapidly widening gaps of wealth inequality. The leading voices of political activism in academia have come a long way since the George W. Bush administration when they blamed the Republican-leaning natural resource corporations; they now see no problem with the tech oligarchy emerging as an anti-competitive force in the market. While the Democrats have previously been known as advocates of the middle and the working class, today’s partisan academics are more concerned with gender pronouns than with the dissipating social safety net.
Thomas Hobbes famously argued the university and the church constituted direct threats to the Leviathan’s sovereignty in the state of nature. While the representatives of these institutions may often see themselves as rivals who compete with one another for cultural influence, the similarities between them are more significant than the differences. In light of the decline of religious belief in America, Americans turned to the university for moral guidance and social cohesion that the church had previously provided. While these two needs were met in a secular manner, the core Puritan worldview that defined the American culture remains highly influential in the university. The Puritans’ contempt for mediocrity and disdain for the less privileged draws a stark contrast between America’s tolerant attitude toward wealth inequality and the European concept of the noblesse oblige.