“‘I Disagree With You’ Does NOT Mean I Hate You”: Robert George Calls Out the Hard Truth Behind Cultural Power

Robert P. George, Facebook / Emily Mills, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

“I disagree with you …” does not mean I hate you.

It doesn’t even mean I don’t love you. Ditto for “I disagree with your choices …” or “I can’t in conscience affirm the way you choose to lead your life …”

Indeed, it may well be out of regard–even love–for you that someone cannot endorse your convictions, actions, or ideological goals.

These points are obvious and, in truth, should go without saying.

And yet, people today often smear as “bigots” and “haters” those who disagree with them or who decline to affirm and even publicly endorse their choices. And they do that because the strategy has proven to work.

Fearful of the smears, people submit to the bullying and permit themselves to be intimidated into silence and even acquiescence. 

Of course, to pull it off, those conducting the smear campaigns need to have cultural power behind them.

But when they do–when, for example, they’ve got the news and entertainment media’s cooperation, plus that of the intellectual establishment, leading philanthropic and civic organizations, the mainline churches, Big Tech and much of the rest of corporate America–their success is virtually assured.

But that means that as a practical matter the strategy will work today only when deployed by progressives for progressive causes.

As David Brooks has observed, the ideological left has a near monopoly on cultural power.

So here’s an example of what would NOT work:

Imagine that the Catholic Church decides that August will be Catholic Faith Month.

The Catholic bishops declare that, though no one is required to become a Catholic, any criticism or statements of any kind against Catholic teaching, including the Church’s moral teaching, or practices (such as veneration of the cross or prayers to saints) will be considered evidence of anti-Catholic bigotry.

People who criticize or distance themselves from Catholic beliefs or practices are carrying out the vile tradition of know-nothingism that has marred the history of our country.

Moreover, during Catholic Faith Month, organizations who do not want to be marked as bigots must participate in, and businesses must sponsor, Catholic processions in cities across the country–processions featuring statues of saints and other indicia of Catholic practice.

Media, starting with PBS, must officially recognize Catholic Faith Month and offer special programming for it, including programming on the long history of anti-Catholic bigotry.

(Sins and excesses committed by Catholics or bad things done in the name of the Church may be mentioned, if at all, only in passing and at most fleetingly.)

Municipalities and businesses must fly the Vatican flag and use its yellow and white colors in their logos and in advertising. Those who decline to go along will be presumptively regarded as know-nothings and publicly shamed as bigots and haters.

This would fail, right? Of course it would.

Cultural power would not be behind it. And that is despite the fact that genuine anti-Catholic bigotry exists, and occupies territory on both the right and left.

And it is despite the fact that Catholics (particularly those who allow it to be known that they are believing and not merely nominal or “cultural” Catholics) have suffered genuine and serious discrimination from the founding of America to the present.

And it is despite the fact that know-nothingism is an undeniable historical reality and still lives in the hearts of some non-Catholic Americans (again, from the left to the right).

I point these things out not to say that it’s too bad that the Church can’t successfully run a campaign of intimidation against people who don’t accept her creed.

On the contrary, I would vehemently oppose a smear campaign run by the Catholic Church, just as I oppose campaigns of intimidation conducted in the service of any cause or ideology.

I point it out simply to call attention to the ways in which cultural power is used to enable people to run such campaigns. Indeed, it is a condition for their success.

Originally posted to Facebook.

[See also: “Fear Empowers Bullies”: Powerful Advice for Conservatives from Robert George]

[See also: “Poison in the Bloodstream of the Church”: Robert George Nails the Heart of the Sex Scandals

Robert P. George
Robert P. George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University.