America’s Self-Appointed Ministers of Culture

by Jonah Goldberg
They disdain our values yet ignore anything backward beyond our borders.

Editor’s Note: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (Hey look at me! I don’t have to change the gender settings on my salutation! Take that Facebook),

So, imagine you’re a young Saudi guy logging on to Facebook for the first time. It asks you to state your gender. It then gives you 58 options. You take out your fingers — the simple man’s calculator — and start counting along. Male, female, whatever uncle Ahmed is . . . okay three. I count three.

What are these other 55 things?

You might think: Maybe those burkas don’t just cover women?

It’s not often I denounce Western cultural imperialism. And I’m not really going to here. But you have to have some sympathy for people around the world who don’t necessarily want their gender horizons broadened on Mark Zuckerberg’s timetable.

In fairness, as of now, Facebook hasn’t said whether it will make these options available on sites worldwide yet, but it’s probably coming. If Facebook would yield to the 58-genders lobby here, what is the rational argument for not yielding to it for Mexico or Dubai? Canada, I gather, is already gender-neutral. But you get the point.

Interventionist at Home, Laissez-Faire Abroad

It’s hard for Americans to fully appreciate the fact that America really has a culture as real and specific as France’s or China’s. Immigrants get this. Foreign tourists get this. But normal Americans tend to think the way we do things is simply the way things are done. I don’t mean this in a condescending or critical way. Rather, one of the great things about American culture is that most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about culture. (While we have a lot of ridiculous bureaucrats spending money on artsy stuff, if anybody proposed a national “Minister of Culture” like they have in Europe, most Americans would be horrified.)

Not surprisingly, the further left you move the more the attitude towards American culture becomes hostile; that it needs to be changed, reformed, broadened, folded, spindled, and mutilated. Meanwhile, the conservative view is that American culture (i.e. traditional culture, broadly speaking) is pretty great, with a few rough spots here or there.

What I find fascinating is how these attitudes tend to be reversed when we look past our borders, particularly on the left. The Left is forever sensitive to the idea that we not “impose” our values on other societies. At home, we need to extirpate every last hint of traditionalism. Indeed, being a traditionalist in America — which makes you quite modern by global standards — makes you a backward yokel in the eyes of the academic Left.

Campus lefty to normal person: “Heh. You probably think there are only, like, 13 genders! What are you, a caveman?”

(It’s hard to appreciate how thick this campus bubble is. Watch Melissa Harris Perry explain (from a college campus, no less), how we need to junk “the idea that kids belong to their parents, or that kids belong to their families.” I have no doubt she thought she was explaining — womansplaining? — common sense and was shocked to discover that in our culture we actually think our kids really are our responsibility. And when people start talking about “collective ownership” of our children, we start re-watching Red Dawn for practical tips.)

But if I condemn the backward attitudes or customs of some foreign country; if I talk about how maybe it’s a good thing that some tribal peoples are giving up a subsistence lifestyle; if I ridicule the habit of covering your women in burlap; many of the same people are suddenly like “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Who are you to judge?” Or, “Like America is perfect?”

No, not perfect. But much, much better.

It’s true that conservatives are more receptive of late to the idea we shouldn’t impose our culture on others. I think this is a symptom of the Right’s general exhaustion with the Middle East and the rise of to-hell-with-them-hawkery. But the motives are far less inconsistent. This impulse isn’t driven from the view that these other cultures are in any meaningful way better than ours. Rather, it stems from the view that they’re not worth the effort anymore.

Anyway, as America’s cultural exports — not just movies and music, but things like Facebook too — become ever more poisonous and destructive to traditional culture it will be interesting to see whether it will dawn on the left that foreign anti-Americanism has less to do with imperialism, colonialism, or a cartoonish theory of capitalism and more to do with things like exporting 58 gender categories around the world.

Back in the USSR

During the Olympic opening ceremonies I criticized — in the piquant flavor Twitter encourages (I believe I used the term “jagwad” at one point)  — the repugnant whitewashing of Soviet history on my TV screen. In response some people on Twitter came back at me to condemn, in the words of one admittedly Canadian critic, my “ethnocentric and imperialist” tweets. So here I’m the imperialist for reminding people that the Soviets invaded, conquered, and occupied literally dozens of countries. Got it. I’m the ethnocentrist for remembering that for all the talk of internationalism, the Soviets were a thoroughly Russian empire with a population policy to make sure it stayed that way (white Russian women could receive a “Hero of the Motherland” medal if they had lots of kids. Swarthier types from the Asian colonies? Not so much).

Communism Deserves Our Hatred

My column today is on the aforementioned whitewashing, and I’m particularly fond of it, even though I had to leave so much on the cutting-room floor. You see, the Soviet Union really was an evil empire. (You can check my work. It murdered and enslaved millions = evil. It invaded countries, appropriated their resources, and controlled their governments, schools, and cultural institutions = empire. What am I missing?) And I have no tolerance or patience for people who roll their eyes at such statements.

I remember when the Soviet Union started to crumble. I repeated something stupid I’d heard on Crossfire about how conservatives would be bummed at the loss of anti-Communism as a political issue. Or something like that. My father was visibly disgusted. As patiently as he could he explained the moral vacuity of the idea. It was like saying an abolitionist would regret the ending of slavery or a pro-lifer would regret the end of Roe v. Wade (those weren’t his exact words, but it was the gist). You see, real anti-Communists were really anti-Communist. Hatred of Communism wasn’t simply a position, or a foreign-policy necessity, or a cultural pose: It was a moral obligation.

When I see hipsters wearing Mao hats or Lenin T-shirts, I’m grateful. It’s like truth-in-labeling. For now I know you are: Woefully ignorant, morally stunted, purposively asinine, or all three.

If you aren’t an anti-Communist — a passionate anti-Communist, not an anti-Communist of the rhetorical box-checking variety — please don’t talk to me about how the Iraq War was immoral or how Bashar Assad is evil or how imperialism, slavery, and colonialism are forever stains on the American soul. Because there is no indictment of America — or any other nations! —  that can be delivered credibly by someone willing to defend the record of Soviet (or Chinese) Communism.

As I note in my column, it’s generally agreed upon that the Nazi Holocaust was worse than the Soviet Terror. I am reminded of when Robert Conquest, one of the greatest chroniclers of Communism’s evil, was asked by a writer for Le Monde, if the Holocaust was “worse” than Stalin’s crimes:

“I answered yes I did,” Conquest recalls, “but when the interviewer asked why, I could only answer honestly with ‘I feel so.’” Nonetheless, he adds, “Whatever view one takes, without feeling the Holocaust one cannot feel, or understand, Stalinism.”

I think this gets it as right as you can. If the Holocaust was worse it is because it feels so. But only barely and for reasons that are impossible to articulate, given the enormity of Communism’s transgressions. I agree with Conquest, but I would never want to make that case to a Ukrainian. To tally up the barbarities one-against-the-other is to translate two incomprehensible horrors into a game of points and demonic trump cards.

That said, there is at least one way in which the Soviet horrors were far worse than the Nazis’. As a cultural matter, the Soviets pretty much got away with it. Nazism is forever synonymous with evil (at least in the West). Communism is not. Meredith Vieira would never call the symbolic end of Nazism at a German Olympic ceremony, “a bittersweet moment.” Call Hitler a monster and you are repeating a boring truism. Call Lenin or Stalin monsters and you are revealing your silly obsessions or hang-ups. “Who cares?” comes the sophisticated response or, even worse, “Who?”

This gag would never work with an Adolf Hitler.

The Next-In-Line Thing

My first column of the week was on the 2016 race. Basically, the Democrats and Republicans may have switched places. Historically, the Democrats prefer “outsiders” while the Republicans prefer the guy whose turn it is:

Since 1940, with the arguable exception of Barry Goldwater, Republicans have nominated the guy next in line. Thomas Dewey almost beat Wendell Willkie for the nomination in 1940, so in 1944 — and 1948 — it was his turn. Dwight Eisenhower, whom both parties wanted as their nominee, was a special case, given that whole invading-Europe-and-defeating-Hitler thing.

But Richard Nixon had been Ike’s vice president in 1960, and in 1968 Republicans believed he had been the victim of John F. Kennedy’s stolen election, so they nominated him again. Gerald Ford was Nixon’s VP and the sitting president in 1976. Still, Ronald Reagan almost beat him in the primaries, so the next time around the Gipper got a shot.

In 1988, Reagan’s VP, George H. W. Bush, had his turn. Bob Dole (Ford’s running mate in ’76) had almost beaten Bush in ’88, so he got the nod in ’96. George W. Bush was nominated in 2000, in part because the rank and file felt nostalgic for his dad during the sordid Clinton years. In 2008, John McCain cashed in his runner-up coupon for the nomination. And in 2012, Mitt Romney did likewise.

A really important point I left out of the column is that you are free to send me large piles of cash c/o the NR home office (mark the envelope “Personal”). Also, as a matter of analysis it’s important to note that Republicans do not vote for the next-in-line guy because they think it’s important to give him his “turn.” They do it because of the way GOP primaries work. Typically, the field fills up with a bunch of candidates going for the same slice of the pie — the “real conservative” slice. Meanwhile, the next-in-line guy tends to be more moderate and establishment. But he also understands that he needs to woo the base. So he spends four or eight years doing that. That way he can count on the bulk of the moderates and a sufficient slice of the activists. This was how Nixon, Bush I, Bush II, McCain, and Romney did it. (Reagan did it the other way around, for the most part. He had the base in his pocket and once he convinced enough of the moderate/establishment types he was golden.) This time around, the GOP may want more of an outsider. It may get one, too. But the outsider who wins is the one who gets a plurality from both columns. Same as it ever was.

Zoë Update

It’s been made abundantly clear to me that many of you have been simply scrolling past my pellucid and penetrating prose, preferring puppy postings and pictures. Well, who am I to pander? (“Um, you’re you. Pandering in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1” — The Couch.) So, here ya go. Puppy video! My dearly departed Cosmo the Wonderdog had a younger running buddy/cousin named Buckley who lives up the block with my sister-in-law’s family. Now Buckley is the  elder statesdog and Zoë is the undisciplined padawan. As you can see here Zoë is something of a chewer these days. This morning, around 5:00 a.m. I heard a chowmp-crunching sound from her dog bed. She was chewing on my wife’s reading glasses. Anyway she is doing great, loves the snow, and is having  great fun. Alas, she is constantly starving while hypocritically disdainful of dry dog food. She is already a ferocious, if untrained, chaser of squirrels and birds. She’s going to the vet for her first normal — as in not parvo-related — check up today, which is why I have to hurry up and finish this “news”letter.

Various & Sundry

As I said last week, I will be in Boulder at the end of the month. Though now I have the details for you. (Excitingly, btw, I’ve lost a good bit of weight since this picture. “Lost” is probably the wrong word as I know where to find it.) It would be great if I could have some friends in the audience. Lord knows I’ll have some non-friends there.

Next week, I will be in Phoenix and in Colorado Springs. I’d love to see you there, too. But fortunately, I know there will be friends in the audience at these events.

Here’s the latest Glop Podcast. Click for the disturbing image of Rob Long, stay for the words and stuff.

Here’s me on Fox talking about Hillary and my 2016 column.

Here’s a great piece by Matt Continetti on the smug Clinton-protecting condescension of the MSM towards the Free Beacon, among other things.

Here’s some truly awful news. Crocodiles climb trees.

Bank of America sends letter to “Lisa Is a Slut McIntire.”

Quick thinking! Ten- year-old boy steals car, tells cops he’s just a dwarf who forgot his license.

Cat house!

Awesome: Sweet Child of Mine, New Orleans style.

If the media had their priorities right, they would be all over this: The destruction of the Death Star was an inside job! (language warning).

If Zoë played Scrabble.

I bring you: the World.

For the ladies (and at least 37 of the 58 other genders): Fifty signs your boyfriend is serious about you.


Dog reunited with owner after a year. (You can skip some of the early stuff because Queen Latifah is involved and it drags on, but the last minute or two are worth it because the dog doesn’t recognize the owner at first. Then love bomb.)

Awesome pic of the day.

Destined for a Darwin Award?

So now IKEA is telling us not to put babies in Tupperware?

Prince’s hair through the ages.

Lost in Google translation.

Curling controversies.

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