National Review / Digital
The Church of Grievance
Occupy Wall Street’s dangerous creed

(Darren Gygi)


If chief executive officers of corporations have appropriated shareholders’ funds, have not bureaucratic drones seized, and on a vaster scale, taxpayers’ funds? A bureaucrat who is paid $100,000 a year to do something that does not need to be done, or is actually harmful, is no more laudable than a CEO who pays himself five times as much as he would be prepared to work for. But it would be wrong to hate all bureaucrats indiscriminately, both because many really do try to serve the public interest and because such hatred feeds on itself and can lead to the Oklahoma City bombing. There is nothing quite like hatred for getting things out of proportion.

Those who see evil only in corporate greed see its symbols everywhere, for example (and perhaps especially) in buildings that, by comparison with an individual or his belongings, are huge and sumptuous. The huge and sumptuous are a provocation to the dissatisfied and anxious, who draw an invidious comparison with their own condition. They come to see these symbols almost as individuals, or extensions of individuals, whom they blame for their dissatisfaction. By causing the symbols harm, by destroying them, they are therefore acting against human evil itself. Churches, synagogues, palaces, mansions, banks, and offices have always been the object of popular outrage or resentment. To destroy leads to a relief of feelings, if never to an amelioration of one’s actual situation. How many of us have never felt the urge to destroy something in a fit of rage, though we know perfectly well that a smashed plate or cup will avail us nothing?

When these natural, or at any rate common, reactions are united to an ideology they become very dangerous indeed. The idea that our whole society is illegitimate, founded substantially on injustice, fraud, and misappropriation, justifies almost any violent or destructive behavior. Normal inhibitions evaporate; smashing a window or setting fire to a bank becomes a virtuous act, an act in favour of the people. The world, no matter how complex, has been divided neatly into them and us: them, the bloodsuckers, the parasites; us, the victims of the bloodsuckers and parasites:

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. . . . Oppressor and oppressed stood in constant opposition to each other. . . .  Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinct feature: It has simplified class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other — Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.

I quote, of course, from the Communist Manifesto. If we replace the words “bourgeoisie” and “proletariat” with “Wall Street” and “common people,” we recognise an attitude to be witnessed not far from the offices of National Review. Just because it is wrong, a grotesque simplification, does not mean it is not gratifying — and dangerous.

For the moment in our societies religious buildings are safe (that is one sign of the decline of the importance of religion), though there is no guarantee that attacks will not return. Much more serious and dangerous at the present conjuncture is a festering hatred of all that, whatever its defects, errors, and crimes, has made us the most fortunate and privileged people in history.

– Mr. Daniels is the author of Utopias Elsewhere and other books.

November 28, 2011    |     Volume LXIII, No. 22

Books, Arts & Manners
  • Tyler Cowen reviews Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics, by Nicholas Wapshott.
  • Richard Brookhiser reviews Masscult and Midcult: Essays Against the American Grain, by Dwight Macdonald.
  • Joseph Tartakovsky reviews Design for Liberty: Private Property, Public Administration, and the Rule of Law, by Richard A. Epstein.
  • Jacob Mchangama reviews Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide, by Paul Marshall and Nina Shea.
  • Ross Douthat reviews Margin Call.
  • To Mann, or not to Mann? John Derbyshire responds.
The Long View  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Athwart  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Poetry  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Happy Warrior  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
The Bent Pin  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .