Russell Kirk, that conservative sage, referred frequently in his work to “the moral imagination.” It was an idea taken from his muse, the English statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke. “By this ‘moral imagination,’” Kirk wrote in a 1981 essay, “Burke signifies that power of ethical perception which strides beyond the barriers of private experience and momentary events.” The moral imagination is the concern of true artists and philosophers. “Such imagination lacking, to quote another passage from Burke, we are cast forth ‘from this world of reason, and order, and peace, and virtue, and fruitful penitence, into the antagonist world of madness, discord, vice, confusion, and unavailing sorrow.’”
Madness, discord, vice, confusion, and sorrow make for a fitting segue to discussing MTV, whose “news” arm on Monday released a 90-second YouTube video — “2017 Resolutions for White Guys” — featuring a rainbow palette of actors explaining how white men could “do a little bit better in 2017.” Suggestions include: “Learn what ‘mansplaining’ is, and then stop doing it,” stop saying “Blue Lives Matter,” because that “isn’t a thing,” and “try to recognize that America was never ‘great’ for anyone who wasn’t a white guy.”
To be fair, MTV has a long, storied history of dumbing down American culture. Before Madonna was promising sexual favors to Hillary Clinton voters, she was the channel’s belle, MTV going so far as to devote an entire day (October 30, 1986) to fan-made music videos for her song “True Blue.” So it’s no surprise that it is carrying forward its proud tradition in the realm of politics.
But conservatives who have read their Kirk might spy a broader lesson: A facile moral imagination dominates our popular culture and our politics.
MTV News may have the lowest IQ of our culture-shaping forces, but its view is hardly uncommon. Lena Dunham recently posted a video anticipating the “extinction of white men.” These and other bovine types sanctimoniously harangue “white guys” for made-up crimes, its apparently having never occurred to them that just as being white does not impart any moral superiority, neither does being female, or black, or gay.
But there is no more subtlety among the sophisticates. Jamelle Bouie, a political analyst for CBS News, has declared that “there is no such thing as a good Trump voter.” Bouie and Ta-Nehisi Coates and others merely lend a patina of urbanity to a storybook vision of the world in which minorities are heroes and “white guys” are villains.
Here’s the MTV video in full:
Strictly as a matter of electoral politics, the Left might consider rethinking its position. Donald Trump’s ascendancy has more than a little to do with the fact that, from ThinkProgress to the New York Times, “white” has become a pejorative. But far more important should be the rudimentary moral failure of creating a politics in which there are not competing priorities advanced by people of goodwill, but only good guys who deserve to be in charge and bad guys who need to be reformed — or, barring that, stamped out.
#related#A robust moral imagination could conceive of a politics that moves beyond the solipsism that gives us black-versus-white arrangements and the other Manichaean frameworks that the Left seems determined to impose. Some would suggest that such a politics was envisioned by the Founders and those faithful to their spirit, who dreamed of a nation in which “all men are created equal” and marked by “malice toward none, charity for all.”
Others, though, apparently would dismiss them as “white guys.”