Last week in Denver, almost all the values of the post-1960s left were exhibited in one act.
It happened on the Denver mayor’s most important day — the one in which he was to deliver his annual State of the City Address. The day was to begin with the singing of the National Anthem by the black jazz singer Rene Marie. But Ms. Marie had, by her own admission, long had other plans. Instead of the National Anthem, she sang “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” a song written in 1899 and often referred to today as the Black National Anthem.
What Marie did embodied a plethora of leftist ideals and characteristics: Ethical relativism, multiculturalism, the supremacy of feelings, the belief that artists are above normal ethical standards and group victimization.
We begin with ethical relativism. The left’s opposition to Judeo-Christian values is first and foremost an opposition to objective, or universal, ethics. Ethics and morality are relative. There is no objective or universal standard of right and wrong. We are each the source of our own values.
These lessons were learned well by Marie. The notion that lying to the mayor of Denver (a Democrat, as it happens) when she agreed to his invitation to sing the National Anthem was unethical or immoral is foreign to Ms. Marie.
But how could she morally defend something so obviously immoral?
That is what ethical relativism made possible thanks to a number of values of the left.
One such leftist value is multiculturalism. Since the 1960s, a major goal of the left has been to weaken American national identity and replace it with other cultural, national, racial and ethnic identities (in effect, changing the motto of the United States from “From Many, One” to “From One, Many”). It has pursued this goal through bilingual education, election ballots in multiple languages, numerical guidelines in American history textbooks concerning the percentage of space allotted to given minorities, opposition to declaring English America’s national language, and rendering the term “flag waving” a pejorative that implies quasi-fascist sentiments.
One could well imagine a member of any number of other minorities substituting a different song for the National Anthem. The left has successfully taught millions of Americans to honor other national identities while either fearing or disparaging American nationalism. That lesson, too, was clearly learned by Marie.
The idea of a Black National Anthem is a multiculturalist paradigm. A black freedom song, a black hymnal, songs that gave African slaves on American soil some comfort and hope in the midst of their suffering, and, for that matter, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” — these all fit perfectly into an American national identity. Indeed, all Americans should know such songs. But a Black National Anthem, when substituted for the National Anthem, means that there are two nations on American soil, a black one and an American one.
The left’s second contribution to Marie’s value system has been its elevation of feelings above other values. For example, one determines right and wrong on the basis of how one feels (as opposed to, let us say, asking what one’s religion, or God, or any moral law that transcends one’s own feelings would say on a given matter).
Now, the elevation of one’s feelings above other considerations is generally viewed as a form of narcissism. And while narcissism is as old as humanity, until the 1960s it was generally regarded as a character flaw. Since the 1960s, however, it was more often heralded as a virtue. From recreational drug use to recreational sex, acting on one’s feelings, actions of self-centered narcissism, has been glorified.
The core of this attitude lies in the left’s veneration of feelings. How one feels became all-important. It even determines morality, the rightness or wrongness of an action. Thus, a generation of young people has been raised with the question, “How do you feel about it?” not “Is it right or wrong?”
Thus, Marie justified what she did in terms of feelings: “I want to express how I feel about living in the United States as a black woman, as a black person,” she said. Her feelings were what mattered, and they were more important than elementary decency.
A third contribution of the left’s values to what Marie did is the elevation of the artist to the status of demigod. If the feelings of mere mortals can determine what is right and wrong, the feelings of an artist are even more important.
There is no hubris like that of many contemporary artists. At some point in the second half of the 20th century the belief arose that artists formed a moral elite.
Given the moral idiocies that have been more the norm than the exception among 20th century artists — the countless artists who have glorified Communism, Fascism and Nazism — facts alone render the idea of artist-as-moral-beacon foolish. But even in theory the idea has no merit. There is nothing in art that renders an artist more morally elevated than a sanitation worker.
Sure enough, being an artist was Marie’s justification for her dishonesty. Asked on her website, “Wasn’t this dishonest?” she responded:
“I can see how it may be perceived that way. But I looked at it a different way: I am an artist. I cannot apologize for that. It goes with the risky territory of being an artist.” Marie also told the press, “I don’t think it is necessary for artists to ask permission to express themselves artistically.”
Artists are above morality. While you and I should not deceive people, artists may.
The fourth contribution of the left to the Marie episode is its constant reinforcement of a sense of victimhood among all Americans who are not male, white, heterosexual and Christian. The moral consequence of this is that the victim, like the artist, like the feelings-determine-morality individual, can do more or less whatever he pleases.
It should be noted that many individuals on the left condemned what Marie did. And it is not for me to judge whether they did so out of conviction or political necessity; one must generally judge actions, not motives. But to the sincere liberal and leftist, I ask: Do you not see how left/liberal values made this episode possible?
Individuals on the left may condemn what happened in Denver City Hall on July 1, 2008. But, in fact, it was a triumph of leftist values.
Final note: If you do not now fear for America’s future, please go on the Internet and watch the Denver city officials respectfully watch a woman substitute her own song for that of the National Anthem. Watch how not a single official stopped her, or even demanded that the National Anthem be sung afterward. And listen to the applause. Then you will fear for our country’s future.