February 27, 2014

Why are Americans so deferential?

The Tory Telegraph's U.S. editor asks:
Why are Americans so darned deferential?
By Peter Foster       World Last updated: February 26th, 2014

It is an orthodoxy of American politics – and indeed America more generally – that the "land of the free" doesn't do dynasties and class-based deference, when everyone knows perfectly well that they do. 
I've been pondering this piece of cognitive dissonance this week after Jeb Bush – the former Florida governor and younger brother of Dubya – hinted that he's seriously considering a tilt at the White House in 2016. 
Of course that immediately sparked the old debate over the "dynasty" question, since if Jeb won the nomination and faced off against Hillary Clinton, the list of White House occupants since 1988 would read Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama and then … Bush or Clinton. 
As a Brit living in America, I often hear American friends making assumptions about how deferential and class-bound Britain is, particularly in comparison with America with its eponymous dream and meritocratic ideals. 
Perhaps this anachronistic view of Britain is down to watching too much Downton Abbey – Hillary Clinton, rather disturbingly, is a big fan – but it never ceases to surprise me how accepting of authority Americans are, and how lacking in self-awareness they are about the culture of deference in their own country. 
This is not just exhibited in the obvious power of American political families to captivate the voting public in a way that is unthinkable in Britain – people are already speculating, only half-jokingly, about Chelsea Clinton's 2032 bid for the White House – but extends to almost all office and holders of official rank. 
It starts at the top with the President of the United States who attracts a level of bowing and scraping that a British Prime Minister could only dream of, and continues right on down to the lowliest beat-cop or tinpot airport security or immigration official who bullies and berates the citizenry in a way that would cause a riot in Britain. 
Perhaps the people are cowed by the knowledge that any insolence is liable to be met with a drawn firearm or Taser-zap from which there will almost certainly be no legal recourse, but the sheer compliableness of the US public surprises many of us foreigners. 
The US media is also reflects that culture of deference. American pundits shudder at the mention of the British "tabloid press" – an appellation it extends to pretty much all forms of British journalism – but that is partly because the US media seems to have become institutionally incapable of appreciating the value of judicious disrespect. 
The British media is indeed often thuggish and cruel, but it does have an anti-establishment, insurgent quality that seems largely to have gone missing in America. 
 
Anybody have any suggestions for how to investigate quantitatively how these perhaps disparate phenomenon vary over time or from one country to another?

I have a vague sense that JFK's presidency had something to do with a lot of this: his James Bond looks, his brothers, his glamorous consort, his nearly blowing up the world in 1962, and his martyrdom, they all combined together to make his uncool successors, such as Johnson and Nixon, unsatisfactory. From this point of view, what happened in The Sixties after 11/22/63 was less a revolt against authority than a demand for more awesome authorities.
 

64 comments:

Auntie Analogue said...


I remember this unseemly effort: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-08-16/richard-nixon-s-palace-guard.html

Anonymous said...

Americans want their Brits like Downtown Abbey but...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wa3eoMnMC80

"What's Oxbridge about saying hello?"

"Shut it, Love Actually!"


On the other hand the movie is a satire about British political hacks being deferential to and jealous of the awesome power of the White House.


The grass is always greener.

Anonymous said...

Most Americans with families have home mortgages they haven't paid off? WWII mobilization put people in a deferential mind toward "the government" and the Cold War institutionalized it? Imposition of desegregation by force showed all Americans, even city hall, that you can't fight the government with the atom bombs? US citizens are all too aware, since maybe the 1920's, of government's computational power, databases that will catch up with you in the end, and the information reach of the IRS?

It all adds up to "you can't fight city hall, and it's stupid even wasting your time thinking about fighting DC."

Or so it seems.

Anonymous said...

We let the media determine our celebrities and unlike Brits seem to feel they, the celebs, are good at ruling.

We are also bound by "cool" which is how Obama became Prez and the rest of the world was just as willing to see "cool" as, well, cool, when of course, it isn't.

Look at how Euros cooed over Obama, the candidate, Obama, the first year Prez.

Hell, they gave a damn Nobel when he had done nothing to even deserve consideration.

Anonymous said...

JFK came off as a rich playboy airhead, not as anyone resembling James Bond. The US media is deferential to Obama because he's Black. It wasn't deferential to his predecessors. But it doesn't really matter whether or not the US media is deferential to US presidents because US politics is not WYSIWYG. The people who claim to be deciders here aren't. The US media is as deferential to the real powers that be here as all other countries' medias are to theirs.

Anonymous said...

As in everything, it comes down to race. Till about the 1970s, I would argue White Americans were quite irreverent about authority (certainly more so than the Brits or other Europeans) whether local politician or cop, all the way up to President, a sort of "oh, brother" because (i) people in authority weren't terribly better off than most Americans and (ii) Whites still were confident enough in the future for themselves and their children that they felt they could afford to be Cavalier about a whole host of things--whether it was Civil Rights and voting for a dramatically expanded welfare state or letting their children try sex or drugs in ways they'd never experienced.

As things unraveled, economically and socially (Watergate, the disaster of Vietnam, the flight of manufacturing) insularity and paranoia set in that demanded order and a return to "how things were" or how people imagined things had been. Hence, you have the patriotic revivalism of Reagan, etc.

We created whole new narratives about WWII and the American past, a statism and patriotism quite at odds with American history. Consider the difference in tenor, maturity and intelligence of, say, "The Longest Day" and "Saving Private Ryan". Because the lives of White Americans were becoming less and less stable, they decided that the abstraction of the state could fill in for the voids left by broken families and economic uncertainty.

Of course, the nightmare of 9/11 was the final nail to ensure that White Americans would for the foreseeable future defer to all authority all the time.

Too, politicians now are in whole different economic and social class compared to the past. Politics (as in a lot of corrupt societies) has become a gateway to ridiculous wealth and privilege. That was rarely the case before. We defer to these people because, well, they're quite a bit above us in many ways.

As to blacks and other minorities, it's doubtful they've ever felt "American" enough to care much about the country's long-term viability, assuming that in the end they'd be getting the leftovers regardless.

Alexandros HoMegas said...

Americans are much more deferential to authority and woship the USG, even those who want "smaller government".

Anonymous said...

Currently seeing this expressed in our local figure skating club. The elites whose kids are already privileged with figure skating lessons and private school kvetching over the local community not feeling it necessary to fund a 500k upgrade on the ice rink so that their kids can figure skate all summer.

Anonymous said...

So the British press has an "anti esablishment insurgent quality"?

Sounds like typical Fleet Street self-flattery.

All newspapers and BBC are pro EU
All newspapers and BBC are pro immigration

The clamp down on free speech in these matters is more effective here precisely because journalists peddle this "free, rumbustious and independent minded" rubbish.

Journalists in UK are the most close minded left wing, deferential Narrative obsessed group you can imagine.

Anonymous said...

We're stupid, is the short answer.

Anonymous said...

Re: Downton Abbey -

You know how Whiskey always says white women LOVE LOVE LOVE black males? Well, in a recent comment over at SBPDL, he said the ratings for DA dropped this season because of the introduction of a WF/BM romance.

I tell ya, that boy don't know if he's comin' or goin'!

Anonymous said...

Its because Americans view their president as a king not as a civil servant.

Jorn said...

For me, the first step in quantifying stuff like this is usually to re-think it as a simulation game: each player is trying to earn deference-points, and throws-of-the-dice/ draws-of-a-card nudge factors like media bias or glamour or dynasticism up and down...

Auntie Analogue said...


I'd venture that Americans are now more deferential than they've ever been as a hangover, or palimpsest, from what used to be common good manners, common courtesy. Left-radicals took advantage of Americans' good manners and common decency to impose their political correctness, not just through left-radical domination of Enemedia-Pravda (which Deep State and globalist corporations seized upon as an ideal means of controlling Americans, especially White Americans) but also through Left-radicals domination of education in which they succeeded at "changing the knowledge base" (for examples of which see Christina Hoff Sommers book 'The War Against Boys') which was, of course, nothing more than the imposition of anti-American ideology upon every institution and individual in what used to be our country.

The result today is that what used to be good manners are now perverted into totalitarian repression by means of campus and corporate speech codes, obligatory - and most certainly enforced - deference to minorities regardless of the (mis)behavior of minorities - including deference even to illegal alien imminvaders. Americans today - even the Tea Party - clam up or pay lip service to their New Masters because Americans have learned on their own and from examples ("Pour encourager les autres") that they see evermore frequently in Enemedia-Pravda that any heterodox expression is instantly punished. Americans have been conditioned to know, to fully expect, that they can lose their jobs, homes, careers, even their own children if their employer, the state, or even civil action by their own neighbors or coworkers, through those entities imposition or manipulation of radical anti-liberty policies, choose to come down on them like stink on you-know-what.

Deference has increased also because people know that the Left-radical domination of government, education, and Enemedia-Pravda means that no actual dissent is tolerated, and that dissenters are punished publicly until they recant à la Paula Deen and Jason Richwine, or are penalized by even more severe measures.

This increasing repression is why Orwell cautioned us that "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act," and that "Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness." Anyone who nowadays refuses to "GET WITH THE PROGRAM," learns straightaway that he suffers official ostracism, humiliation, expropriation, and even lifelong blackballing (if indeed today I may say "blackballing") for his dissidence, or even for his attempt to hold onto his genuine individuality and dignity. Of course part of THE PROGRAM is that non-whites, non-Christians, radical homosexualists (John Derbyshire's apt term) are exempt from having to follow the rules which apply only to those whom THE PROGRAM is calculated to keep constantly in a state of humiliation and self-abnegation, whose byproduct is, of course, deference bordering too often on grotesque obsequiousness.

Anonymous said...

http://www.fbi.gov/sandiego/press-releases/2013/more-than-50-people-indicted-in-massive-fraud-ring

Hadn't seen this story before on FSU/CIS folks coming to the US on student visas and pulling off an IRS tax refund scam.

Anonymous said...

Worked with journos in London, well to the left of society. We do at least have some papers that lean vaguely right and I would say the US is much more deferential, but as you say degrees.

Anonymous said...

A large part of it is that there seems to be an assumption that American "elites" got there entirely through their own awesomeness. They, like, totally deserve it. No accident of birth (either by inheriting anything associated with social class, or by inheriting cognitive ability), corporatist shenanigans or outright fraud for them. Oh no.

This probably has something to do with their hostility to the very notion of innate cognitive ability and other characteristics. You can't be smug about an accident of birth. It's irrational, and it - rightly - incites great hostility.

Peter the Shark said...

Till about the 1970s, I would argue White Americans were quite irreverent about authority (certainly more so than the Brits or other Europeans)

I agree. Americans used to be wise-asses. Look at the tenor of most writing about WWII in the 1940s/50s. Americans were patriotic, but very suspicious of institutions. The US armed forces and officers were often mocked (in a good natured way) in the popular press, a very different tone than you find nowadays. Today the armed forces are treated either with total reverence or total disdain.

On the other hand, the lack of clearly defined social class also lies at the root of American officials going on "power trips." In the UK or France just because a police officer puts on a uniform does not, and will never, give him real social authority over someone born into the upper or aristocratic classes. This true for politicians as well. In the US in the absence of birth class as a governing social principle we tend to fetishize meritocracy and The Law, the guarantor of meritocracy. So those who execute the Law or make Law have far too much authority.

Hunsdon said...

Foster said: and continues right on down to the lowliest beat-cop or tinpot airport security or immigration official who bullies and berates the citizenry in a way that would cause a riot in Britain.

Hunsdon said: Doesn't seem to describe the Right Sector guy (who is, of course, not American at all).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8JC-ZjqFb4

If he's speaking the "West Galician" Ukrainian, it sure is salted with enough Polish that I can't understand him, except for the Russian cussing he does.

Anonymous said...

>All newspapers and BBC are pro EU
>All newspapers and BBC are pro immigration

You're right, except for the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Daily Star and the Daily Express of course.

Anonymous said...

As a first approximation of a Coefficient of Dopey Journalistic Awe, I suggest the ratio of the number of times a public figure is mentioned to the number of times he is quoted directly. The higher the number, the less anyone is actually thinking about what he's saying. He's already been sanctified, or vilified, and his job now is to serve as a symbol. And journalists like that. They want to judge books by their covers, because reading books (especially ones whose authors are still writing them) takes too long.


How applicable this might be across cultures, I am unsure, but I do feel that in the case of Brazil at least, it might hold up. Brazilian politicians seem never to go away until they die, but their words are rarely seen or heard.


Well, quotability is much on my mind right now. Recent posts about Bill Moyers, Spike Lee, and Thomas Friedman, and frequent mentions of Hillary Clinton, make me wonder: have any of these people ever said anything you can remember? It's amazing how public figures can hang on and on, actually become public institutions, without anyone even trying to remember how they first captured attention. Right now, I am in the former Yugoslavia, which, when it was still the present Yugoslavia, moved P.J. O'Rourke to observe: "Most modern horrors are optional." Isn't that a great quote? Has any "awesome" person nowadays ever said anything as great?

difference maker said...

Very briefly:
It is precisely the lack of a class system that has led to this deferentialism.

The space race and the crime wave encourage this cooperation, among other imagined great projects esconced in official history

Luke Lea said...

Name recognition in a mass, media-driven society of 300,000,000 diverse people who don't know much about anything may have something to do with it.

sunbeam said...

It's the nature of the American beast.

I'm still not entirely clear exactly who Jessica Simpson is, or how she got famous.

Or why when I go through the grocery store checkout I see photos of the Kardashians, particularly that enormous rear end one of them has.

Look America 2014 is pretty much what Huxley described in Brave New World. None of the genetic engineering (well not yet), but the rest of it is pretty spot on. You even have proxies of a sort for soma. Anyone ever think it was weird how many people take antidepressants? And how they are prescribed for all kinds of things?

People know what is going on at some level though.

Here is a link to a speech by the boss villain at the end of the latest Metal Gear Solid game.

"Senator Armstrong I have a dream speech."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmWQd8zhEg4

Well worth watching. Sadly he appears to be some kind of Libertarian, but a lot of that speech was spot on.

Mr. Anon said...

For a long time the people in this country most deferential to authority were liberals: consider the obeisance paid by Democrats to the Kennedy cult, or the ridiculously high regard in which liberals hold academia, or the way they will wave around a supposed scientific truth (there is no such thing as race!) as if it were a talisman.

In truth though, the whole country now seems to be becoming more slavish and obediant to authority.

Anonymous said...

Amount of time spent in public school? Perhaps any school setting. The school to prison pipeline the Blacks complain about is the school school system Whites and Asians go to. It might as well be the school to military pipeline.

It is also the welfare state. One reason poor blacks in New York City are so well behaved in comparison to the 1960s is some time in the 1990s the government started cutting off welfare benefits from those that weren't.

Probably families have more wealth to give kids stuff, so the kids are rewarded for being differential.







Cail Corishev said...

Has any "awesome" person nowadays ever said anything as great?

I have a long file of brilliant quotes that I've gathered from various places. But yeah, they all seem to come from bloggers most people have never heard of, or characters in books and TV shows. Maybe part of the requirement for being an "awesome" public figure today is that you don't have deep thoughts, or at least that you keep them to yourself.

You could make a whole book out of incisive quotes from Chesterton, but you couldn't do the same thing with all the people writing for the New York Times in the last decade. But that figures: "journalism" has become so PC that people with ideas have moved to different venues.

A Brit said...

Americans, I think, tend towards regarding rebellion in a rather all or nothing way.

It might be down to your historical makeup - either you're a subject of the Crown or you're a rebel, but in either case you're a "true patriot" who is rather unquestioning of his local idea of what authority ought to be, whether that's the "Founding Fathers" or whatever.

The idea of deferring a bit, but not actually that much doesn't really sit right with you.

Americans have a bias to assume people are at these extremes of being either totally obedient or of rebellion. And that tends to become a self fulfilling prophecy.

leftist conservative said...

the way that a child is raised predicts the man he becomes. A child raised a certain way will not depart from that as a man.

The fruit don't fall too far from the tree.

To understand america, know its true origins.

American began not really as a landing place for the puritans. That was a minor episode.

America began as a slave labor campe for the lower class whites of the british isles.

They were brought over here to hoe the fields. Most of them were sold, often at auction, often in chains.

The Narrative is that they were 'indentured,' free after 7 years.

Untrue for most of them. Most of them lived short, brutal lives and were worked to death.

When the whites of the british isles wised up and the white slave supply dried up, the black slaves were brought in.

The wealthy slaveowners divided the poor whites from the blacks through laws created to prevent the poor whites and blacks from uniting against the rich.

The slaves, white and black, were controlled by a cruel, authoritarian culture.

That same culture is still dominant in america today.

Most white americans are the descendants of slaves.

And we still are slaves in our minds.

The fruit don't fall too far from the tree.



Benjamin I. Espen said...

One big difference between US and UK press is defamation law. In general, it is a little easier to win such a case in the UK [although the UK law was recently changed]. It might be interesting to look at libel and slander suits over time to see if there are any trends. On the surface, one might think the greater protection in law offered in the US would make for a more pugnacious press, but that doesn't really seem to be the case.

Class probably also features into this. As some of the commenters have noted, America lacks an explicit class system [but has an implicit one]. The press in America sees itself as a middle-class profession requiring a college degree, when it formerly was a working class job.

Anonymous said...

Rulers demand deference only if they want it. Our recent crop of presidents have come from either 'unsettled' backgrounds, (in other words, broken families) like Obama and Bill Clinton; or the upper class, like Bush. The former demand deference because they're insecure, and the latter demand it because they expect it, having been deferred to all their lives.

A president who was raised plain old middle class would likely be a lot more relaxed about the issue.

Mike said...

As a foreign born US citizen the complete acceptance of authority here is perplexing. The answer to everything is "oh they wouldn't do that to me" over any issue - from blatant, taped police brutality (even murder) to the security services listening to everyone's calls.
To the commenter that said all English news is pro-Euro and pro-immigrant you might want to try reading a wider cross section.

Gubbler of the Society of Reformed Chechenistics said...

The media were not deferential to Bush. To be sure, due to Clinton fatigue--and maybe some conscience over having served as agents for Clinton for so long--, the media did go easier on Bush in 2000. And 9/11 made the nation rally around him. And when Bush was willing to fight wars for Israel, even Lib Jews urged him on in the pgs of NTY and New Republic. But once the war went badly, Hurricane Katrina hit, and Bush talked like a retard in public, the media ripped into him. And the media are treating the idea of Jeb Bush as a joke.
There is no deference there.
And the media were not deferential to McCain and Palin in 2008 though downright reverential toward Obama. So, it all depends on who/whom stuff.

Media deference went up and down over the yrs. Even conservatives said nothing about the fact that FDR was a cripple. Lib media were mum about Eisenhower's affairs. LBJ got away with murder, even literally. Media went easy on McCarthy for awhile and then turned on him totally.

Same with foreign leaders. In the late 60s and early 70s, media were deferential to Mao and Castro. And Deng and Gorby in the 80s. And the media promoted Mujahadeen as 'freedom fighters'.

The media were most combative and probing from 1965 to 1979. Vietnam, Civil Rights movement, Nixon's presidency, Watergate, and youth culture made things very tense and exciting. Also, Jews held the media but other top institutions were still held by wasps. So, there was ethnic conflict.

But then came the 60s/70s burnout. Boomers got older, looked back and felt embarrassed about all the trouble they caused(Check Pinker's view of the 60s), crime got out of control in big cities, even leftists lost hope in USSR and Red China, and etc. And they became parents and discovered permissive parenting isn't a good idea.
So, they were willing to be for more law and order. Also, Jews became more of the establishment and began to defend parts of it.

Also, boomers who took over the media didn't want young ones to rebel against them as they themselves had rebelled against the greatest generation. So, PC was instituted that made students from kindergarten to college into teacher's pets of 'progressive teachers'. If radicalism had once been irreverent, it became a matter of reverence toward radical professors, cult figures like MLK, and holiness of Jews and homos.

When wasps were the elites, they had feisty challengers in Jews, Negroes, homos, and feminists.
But once 'victim' groups took over the power(especially Jews), it was construed as 'racist', 'homophobic', or 'antisemitic' to call out on their power. So, even though most American Jews spit in conservatives' eyes and most blacks hate the GOP, American conservatives go out of their way to worship Jews and win over Negroes.

Jews are certainly not deferential toward white conservatives, but since white cons are out of power, it doesn't matter. Deference matters in regard to those in power, and no one dares to be anti-deferential when it comes to Jews and Negroes. And homos too. Judgepacking is spreading 'gay marriage' all around, but there isn't a single conservative politician to denounce it.

As for UK, it arrests people for twitter posts. Its PC laws are far more stringent than here. And when blacks rioted a few yrs back, the media dared not state the facts but offered civil and gentlemanly discourse about why blacks might be acting that way? Lack of tea and crumpets in their community, I wonder.

At any rate, maybe UK is still a bit rowdier in some ways because white britons still hold much of the power. It's okay to beat up on white politicians. But suppose Britain became more diverse and its politics became more 'diverse'. It might not be so politically acceptable to be as hard on non-white power-players as on white ones.

David said...

Anon. at 2/27/14 9:49 PM nailed it IMO,

but I typed the following in a caffeine frenzy and am fond of it, so...

Americans have been deferential to the power of money from Day One. Puritan ledgers had the superscription "For God and Profit." The Prosperity Gospel (God will give you money if you follow His will) has always been popular here. The country was set up for people to make their fortunes.

A tingle goes up the leg of the American when his betters - millionaires and billionaires such as [fill in the blank with a national politician's name] - strut their stuff. After all, they do have money.

Sure, we want to be JFK; but more importantly, we secretly nourish a desire to be Bill Clinton or Michelle Obama. These people are looked up to not only because they have money but also because, having money, they represent our aspirations.

The result is that anyone who putatively represents the American system - even a traffic cop - is deferred to. Someone successful like Steve Jobs would never talk back to a traffic cop. (Or so we are led to assume.) Nor would the successful local auto dealer with the shiny wristwatches talk back. You shouldn't talk back to your boss at work.

After all, how do you expect to get ahead if you rock the boat?

Anonymous said...

http://theweek.com/article/index/257126/how-conservatives-lost-the-culture-war

The Founders wanted fecal penetration among men to be associated with marriage.

Anonymous said...

I think these US vs UK things are mostly divide and rule. The simple fact is both countries are ruled by the banking mafia and that similarity is bigger than any differences.

Rohan Swee said...

Are Americans really more deferential to authority than Brits or Europeans in general? Certain segments of the population (like Obama true believers) are appalling butt-kissers to authority, that is true. Also, Parliament is less boring than Congress. But Americans don't seem to be anywhere near as tyrannized by petty authority as Brits are these days. And it doesn't look as if they are doing anything about it (beyond complaining in comment sections).

We still have our guns (and knives) after all, and though we may get sacked for writing "racist" comments on facebook or twitter, we do not yet have to worry about being hauled off to the station for impious tweeting. Haven't been through a UK airport in a while, but I somehow doubt I'd be treated to the sight of doughty defenders of freedom and privacy refusing the standard security degradations. Didn't some old white guy get himself into a pickle recently for daring to ask why the burka-clad got to sail through security unmolested by the SOP lesser beings were subjected to?

What I have noticed is a tendency of certain Brits to become hysterical over things like the usage of "sir" and "ma'am", confusing old-fashioned good manners with obsequiousness. I myself have had consistently good experiences with the manners of British persons, but their reputation in these matters does seem to have fallen precipitously of late, at least in Europe.

Simon in London said...

Yep, I've said this myself quite a few times right here!

"extends to almost all office and holders of official rank"

I see it in my own field of Law. The deference paid to outrageous tinpot-dictator judges in the US is very striking. No British judge could make the kind of declarations US judges routinely do, and expect anything other than to be traduced by the press.
Of course our lawyer-led new Establishment has worked to muzzle the press and institute American-style tyranny (without the minimal protections still afforded by US respect for free speech and other Constitutional rights), but in Britain it really is 'tyranny' - naked force, the iron boot on the throat of the people. The British people may often be apathetic and resigned in the face of such tyranny, but there is very little of the US style conniving in their own enslavement, no sense that the tyranny's clothing itself in legalism somehow makes it legitimate.

Why do Americans do this? How can you look at a Supreme Court judgement that has absolutely no legal basis, and accept it as something which ought to be obeyed?
The Supreme Court, and the US legal system in general, posits a frame in which the court system can declare or order absolutely anything at all, with no legal basis, and this should be obeyed because a court has so declared/ordered. You need to start rejecting this frame.

Simon in London said...

A lot of the comments here are "Well those guys are powerful, of course we defer to them". But it doesn't work that way in Britain, or many other European countries, That kind of attitude is usually a mark of feudal third-world cultures. In Britain we may (with grumbling) knuckle under to superior force, but we rarely if ever show American-style deference to it. We probably show more deference to the Royal Family these days precisely *because* it no longer commands force over us. It's not just us; I don't think the French show anything like US style deference to their overlords, and their overlords have at least as much power over them as the US equivalents. No, Americans *choose* to be deferential.
I remember watching "The West Wing", a scene where some journalist refuses to stand for the Sun King - the President - at some White House function. Aaron Sorkin expects the viewer to cheer as the President then lambasts the journo for this lack of deference!

Simon in London said...

anon:
"You're right, except for the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Daily Star and the Daily Express of course."

Yes, the comment you responded to was particularly moronic.
Even the leftie and neo-liberal papers don't dare cheer for uncontrolled immigration & the EU too strongly; they know the people won't stand for it.

Simon in London said...

Peter the Shark:
" In the US in the absence of birth class as a governing social principle we tend to fetishize meritocracy and The Law, the guarantor of meritocracy. So those who execute the Law or make Law have far too much authority."

This feels accurate - that there is a fetishisation of Merit and the Law as its agent.
It's certainly not about pure fear of raw State power, contrary to some commnenters above. Americans are not (yet) peons. Gun-toting red-blooded Americans who would die in the last ditch fighting against any invader will still show the exact deference to corrupt institutions, worthless celebrities, and outrageous court judgements, that the Telegraph article discusses.

Anonymous said...

As has already been stated, this deference is new and an offshoot of the war on whites. It's the deference of a people living in an occupied country. Black brownshirts at the bottom and the Fed Gestapo at the top enforce it. And the more multi-cultural the land-mass that use to be America becomes the more deferential whites* become lest the whole phony charade comes apart and they lose their 60" TVs. It's the Stockholm Syndrome - the oppressed have a very real short-term reason for fawning over their oppressors. When the TVs go anyway it will take a little more direct pressure to get that deference.

*When this author says Americans he basically means white people, it's one of those weird "The White Is Silent" examples that permeate public discussion in this country. For example, when feminists say men, they mean white men, they don't talk much about the rather un-feminist attitudes common in non-whites.

Art Deco said...

Peter Foster has not met many cops or security guards in our part of the country. I am well into middle age and I've managed to get barked at by a cop once - in Toronto. I got a sarcastic remark out of a New York state trooper once. That's it.

Anonymous said...

Downtown Abbey is some gross crap.

Now, you can't even escape into genteel entertainment without being sermonized about interracist BS.

What's the point of looking to the past to fill it up with PC agendas.

It's like 'gay marriage'. Selling that stuff as something clean and mainstream.

Anonymous said...

the US media seems to have become institutionally incapable of appreciating the value of judicious disrespect.


Nah. The US media is capable of immense amounts of disrespect - towards figures on the right. The hatchet jobs they've done on various Republican politicians over the years easily surpass anything you'll see in the British tabloid press.

The US media is slavishly subservient to the Democratic Party and to left-wing causes in general.

Peter Foster must have a very poor memory if he thinks George W Bush was treated "deferentially" or with "respect" by the US press.

Albrecht said...

The MSM functionaries whom the writer equates with "Americans" are dogs of the state. While they reflexively attack any threat to state power, they just as reflexively roll over and pee whenever the state raises its voice. One might think this would be a slander of real Americans, but it's not. Because the minds of most Americans are entirely shaped and filled by TV they tend to respond the same way, witness Watertown, Mass. Good dog!

Thomas O. Meehan said...

I owe this take on the late great Gene Shepard and I have no idea how to quantify it, but here goes.

The true religion of America is show business. Our culture is so infused with what we have seen and heard in the movies, TV and other media that we confuse our elected leaders with celebrities, whom of course we worship as the larger than life figures. By worshiping celebrities, actors, TV personalities etc. we became vulnerable to confusing the bums we elect with the objects of our desire.

The larger than life images on the screen provide us our attitudes and mores. Standing up to them is like defying the gods. When we see our mayors, congress critters on TV we unconsciously accept them as beyond our level.

Philip Neal said...

You ask how deference might be quantified. One indicator might be incidents in which a public figure makes a sheer silly mistake like flubbing the name of the town he is in. Do reporters hush it up or make hay with it? And are they more forgiving of some public figures than others? Given enough data you might be able to do some counting.

Mike said...

@ Simon

Surely the reasons are obvious?

European institutions evolved over time and play little part in the national myth. Europeans, if anything, mythologize their culture, language, ethnic group. America as a "project" is about setting up a uniquely fair, enlightened, and just government.

Every group has reverence for some aspect of its culture that they feel represent the best about themselves; in France, perhaps its the language (and the literature, philosophy, etc). In America its the governing institutions.

The Supreme Court, and the whole legal system, isn't just a function, its the repository of fairness and part of what Americans feel make them special. The Supreme Court is meant to be a sanctified institution whose role is nothing less than august national arbiter.

I see nothing puzzling, once you understand American history, and in particular its foundation myth of creating a new and uniquely fair system of government, in the fact that Americans have a slight attitude of reverence towards the very thing that serves as the basis for identity.

Simon in London said...

Gubbler:
"At any rate, maybe UK is still a bit rowdier in some ways because white britons still hold much of the power. It's okay to beat up on white politicians. But suppose Britain became more diverse and its politics became more 'diverse'. It might not be so politically acceptable to be as hard on non-white power-players as on white ones. "

I think this may be a good point, but more generally - diverse societies don't have free and open debate, they can't afford to when it could lead to civil strife. And they often look to uniting features to rally around, creating a culture of deference to those icons. France is a Proposition Nation like the US, but the ethnic-French still feel themselves to be in charge, and that may make a difference.
I think the correct slogan would be "Diversity is Slavery" - though Diversity of the population may be Strength for the high-asabiya ruling elite that lords over it.

Simon in London said...

Mike said...
"@ Simon

Surely the reasons are obvious?

European institutions evolved over time and play little part in the national myth. Europeans, if anything, mythologize their culture, language, ethnic group. America as a "project" is about setting up a uniquely fair, enlightened, and just government.

Every group has reverence for some aspect of its culture that they feel represent the best about themselves; in France, perhaps its the language (and the literature, philosophy, etc). In America its the governing institutions.

The Supreme Court, and the whole legal system, isn't just a function, its the repository of fairness and part of what Americans feel make them special. The Supreme Court is meant to be a sanctified institution whose role is nothing less than august national arbiter.

I see nothing puzzling, once you understand American history, and in particular its foundation myth of creating a new and uniquely fair system of government, in the fact that Americans have a slight attitude of reverence towards the very thing that serves as the basis for identity."

I basically agree - but while the Constitution and Bill of Rights were always sacred documents, the Supreme Court wasn't originally created as a sacred cow. Nor was the Presidency, from what I can tell. They developed that way, and their sacralised character isn't really obvious (to me) until the FDR administration - which is also when the Supreme Court started ignoring the Law, ignoring the real Constitution, and doing whatever it and the President wanted.

It rather seems to me that the sacralisation of Supreme Court and Presidency occurred at the exact same moment that the Constitution ceased to be effective as a living document - something that had to be respected, and amended if necessary by process, rather than ignored or wilfully misread by a corrupted Supreme Court. And the more corrupted the Supreme Court became, the more it was sacralised, the more its judgements became above question, until you get stuff like Roe vs Wade.

dearieme said...

Your mistake is having an elective monarchy. Some countries have stumbled onto the brilliant solution of having a constitutional monarch as national symbol, while political power is exercised by their somewhat despised politicians. As Hayek routinely argued, it's often best to have systems that are there result of human action rather than human design.

Anonymous said...

Regarding this topic of American deference to authority, how do our European comrades view the American State of the Union addresses? Does such a phenomenon of imperial pomp exist anywhere on the continent or in the UK? From the entrance of the president into the chamber, to the rousing, standing applause (no grumbling please, or you'll get the Joe Wilson treatment), it's all more befitting of the treatment a king of third world dictator would receive, is it not?

What's interesting about the SOTU is that the US constitution only calls for the president to inform congress on the, well, state of the union, by whichever means he cares to, basically. For most of US history, that was simply a written letter; this was done as recently as Carter. Unfortunately, the progress of the imperial presidency in amassing power in DC, and the advent of the TV politician, has turned the SOTU into something quite different. (On that topic, didn't Steve once offer up some analysis on how the SOTU has been dumbed down? I mean, literally, the sophistication of the words, the metaphors, it has become objectively simpler and more pandering over the years. That's the nature of the beast and the medium anymore...)

Anonymous said...

I don't know how it works in the UK, but the problem here is that our journalists used to be the stereotypical ink-stained wretch with no particular love or respect for their "betters". In the US, the J-schools are teeming with the scions of privilege without the intellectual wattage for careers in law or finance.

Crawfurdmuir said...

"Regarding this topic of American deference to authority, how do our European comrades view the American State of the Union addresses? Does such a phenomenon of imperial pomp exist anywhere on the continent or in the UK? From the entrance of the president into the chamber, to the rousing, standing applause (no grumbling please, or you'll get the Joe Wilson treatment), it's all more befitting of the treatment a king of third world dictator would receive, is it not?"

The State-of-the-Union Address strongly resembles in its pomp and circumstance the Queen's Speech from the Throne, which is given at the opening of the British Parliament. The difference is that these days, the Queen is a figurehead and reads a speech prepared by her ministers. She is head of state, but not head of government. In the United States, the President is both head of state and of government.

Washington and Adams delivered State-of-the-Union addresses in person, but Jefferson discontinued the custom because it seemed too monarchical to him. He delivered the Constitutionally-required message in writing, as did all of his successors in office until Woodrow Wilson. One can date the beginning of the "imperial presidency" to Wilson's presidency, not only in this, but in many more substantive aspects.

Crawfurdmuir said...

Peter the Shark wrote: " Americans used to be wise-asses. Look at the tenor of most writing about WWII in the 1940s/50s. Americans were patriotic, but very suspicious of institutions. The US armed forces and officers were often mocked (in a good natured way) in the popular press, a very different tone than you find nowadays."

Anon. wrote: "As has already been stated, this deference is new and an offshoot of the war on whites. It's the deference of a people living in an occupied country."

Both very true - but let's not forget that the "war on whites" has been accompanied by the "war on men." Feminism is quite humorless.

Recall Seinfeld's recent remark about the alleged racial and sexual imbalance among comedians being purely a question of who was funny. Women may be many things, and although one has to acknowledge a handfull of great comediennes, in general. humor and wit are not female traits.

A man may react to an unpleasant or humbling experience with anything from quiet stoicism to an attempt to laugh it off - often humor is his way to deal with discomfort. One thing to which no man of normal psychology ever resorts in such situations is the female stock in trade - tears. In the face of a woman's tears, every man is powerless. If he should give in to them, woman gets her way; should he ignore them, he'll be branded a cad.

Women are not usually jocular, and the closest they come to wit is snarkiness. In the face of male jokes, taunts, witticisms, puns, and other forms of clowning, the female sex responds as did that archetype of femininity, Queen Victoria: "We are NOT amused!" Oddly enough, today this is especially true of the most strident feminists.

Consider how the stock figure of the bossy female in older American comedy (e.g., in the films of W.C. Fields or the Marx Brothers) has disappeared from more recent comedy. Even though such viragoes are more common than ever, we daren't make fun of them any more.

The disappearance of irreverence towards figures of authority follows in direct sequence from the ascendancy of women who (as the old saying went) wear the pants in their families - if indeed they have families. The American male has been wussified; society is in the thrall of schoolmarms and Nurse Ratcheds. We WILL be made to take our castor oil, whether we want to or not. Is it just coincidental that our current governmental arrangement is called a "nanny state"?

Mr. Anon said...

"Simon in London said...

Why do Americans do this? How can you look at a Supreme Court judgement that has absolutely no legal basis, and accept it as something which ought to be obeyed?

The Supreme Court, and the US legal system in general, posits a frame in which the court system can declare or order absolutely anything at all, with no legal basis, and this should be obeyed because a court has so declared/ordered. You need to start rejecting this frame."

In answer to your question, I have no idea. Many Americans, perhaps most (or at least most of those who ever bother to think on the matter), view the Supreme Court as a college of oracles, who make manifest the law as written down in the Constitution (even as they trample it's intent and even it's letter) - in much the same manner as a Priest calls forth the flesh of Crist from a wafer.

There are some Americans - I am one - who view the Supreme Court as having rendered itself illegitimate and having surrended it's authority, through it's gross usurpations of our traditional liberties - the traditional liberties of Englishmen that our Founding Fathers sought to enshrine, even as they declared themselves to not be Englishmen.

BTW, Thanks for your many insightful posts from the UK - you are one of the best contributors to the comments on this website.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

I don't know how it works in the UK, but the problem here is that our journalists used to be the stereotypical ink-stained wretch with no particular love or respect for their "betters". In the US, the J-schools are teeming with the scions of privilege without the intellectual wattage for careers in law or finance."

Bingo. J-school is the default major for kids who are not bright enough for engineering or business but too bright to be teachers.

Simon in London said...

Mr Anon:
"BTW, Thanks for your many insightful posts from the UK - you are one of the best contributors to the comments on this website."

Thanks - I think maybe being married to a Tennessean and having spent some time there gives me a bit better aspect on actual America and Americans than most foreigners have. And the shock of Bush's Iraq disaster 2003-6 broke my Cold War faith in classical liberalism and started me questioning a lot more. I remember before the 2003 invasion, saying things like "It seems a bad idea, but I'm sure they know what they're doing..." - I doubt I'll ever say that again.
And of course once you start questioning the official narrative (and don't accept the official alternative, where one is offered - eg either Classical Liberalism & Capitalism, or Left Liberalism & Socialism) then the questions keep coming. Steve Sailer has certainly influenced my thinking a lot over the years - he tends to be either right about stuff, where it's obvious (the "boring & depressing" predictable stuff, as Steve would say), or where it's non-obvious at least raises good questions.

I don't trust his film reviews, though. The Incredibles was a terrible movie. >:)

sunbeam said...

The Incredibles was a great flick.

Enjoyable. Rewatchable. Only other one like it is Megamind.

What do you think is a good movie? I'll warn you though I don't watch a lot of them.

Rohan Swee said...

What a peculiar thread. First, it is taken as given what I haven't seen demonstrated at all and which I doubt is true - that Americans as a whole are more deferential to authority. Yes, the members of the press are (highly partisan) bootlickers, and snakes don't slither and crawl as well as our Beltway class. So how much of the population falls into these classes?

E.g., Simon in London: Why do Americans do this? How can you look at a Supreme Court judgement that has absolutely no legal basis, and accept it as something which ought to be obeyed?
The Supreme Court, and the US legal system in general, posits a frame in which the court system can declare or order absolutely anything at all, with no legal basis, and this should be obeyed because a court has so declared/ordered. You need to start rejecting this frame.


???

Yes, perhaps you ought to introduce Americans to the idea of judicial over-reach. Now there's a concept one never hears about in America. If only Americans would begin criticizing their judges for judicial activism, instead of accepting all judgments as like unto the will of God.

Instead, we got things like Roe v. Wade 40+ years ago, and nary a peep out of the populace about it since then.

Of course our lawyer-led new Establishment has worked to muzzle the press and institute American-style tyranny (without the minimal protections still afforded by US respect for free speech and other Constitutional rights), but in Britain it really is 'tyranny' - naked force, the iron boot on the throat of the people. The British people may often be apathetic and resigned in the face of such tyranny, but there is very little of the US style conniving in their own enslavement, no sense that the tyranny's clothing itself in legalism somehow makes it legitimate.

And this is just silly, Simon. "Well yes, Britons, just like Americans, are eating all the shit that our rulers shovel at us, and we're not actually doing anything about it, or even saying sweet FA in response (because after all we have no First Amendment to shout about, as a lot of those lickspittle Americans still manage to do)...but by God, in our hearts, where you can't see it and can't here it, but where it really counts, we're much less deferential to our scumbag overlords than Americans! (Now, it would be interesting to talk about why certain groups, say, MPs, absolutely do not operate in the oozily dull and deferential manner of their American counterparts. But that these instances constitute a significant contribution to GND is open to question.)

Who are these "connivers"? Yes, there are certainly naïfs running about, who still believe that the rule of law, and truth, justice, and the American Way(tm) will prevail and triumph. Touching, aren't they? But I wouldn't call them "deferential". I see their equivalents in the Brits I talk to who somehow still think "tolerance" and all that other good old stuff in the grab bag of national characteristics is going to save Britain. (You claim in this thread to have possessed that kind of naïveté not so very long ago yourself - that the system worked, that our rulers knew what they were doing.) And there's just a lot more room in America to shelter one's innocence and remain in denial.

Harry Baldwin said...

I'm struck by the fact that no one ever asks the president a challenging, substantive question, such as, "Why does a nation with high unemployment and a declining job market need a constant stream of immigrants?"

It appears that journalists both on the right and left operate within a narrow frame of permissible disagreement. Journalists also like to ask politicians horse-race type questions such as, "Do you think the troubled roll-out of the ACA will hurt the Democrats' chances of holding the senate?" Either it will or won't but this kind of question is guaranteed to produce a canned answer of no particular value.

Even when an interviewer is not being particularly deferential, for example Bill O'Reilly in his recent interview with Obama, his questions are more in the vein of impertinence than seriously challenging. The one good question he had that Obama couldn't satisfactorily answer was, "Why didn't you fire Kathleen Sebelius?"

As far as the deference of the public, the Brits have little standing to call us out on that. In the past 25 years, they have permitted their government to completely disarm them. I can't see this happening in the US without serious bloodshed. Even in a liberal state like Connecticut, the law demanding the registration of "assault weapons" has been largely flouted.

Simon in London said...

>>sunbeam said...
The Incredibles was a great flick.

Enjoyable. Rewatchable. Only other one like it is Megamind.

What do you think is a good movie? I'll warn you though I don't watch a lot of them.<<

Well, of recent movies I have seen, bearing in mind everything I've seen recently has been a cartoon at the behest of a 6-year-old - I don't get to watch grown-up movies.

Despicable Me 2 - very good, main character is obvious ripoff of Manfred the Baddie. I liked how Gru never wavered in his commitment to being a good guy when tempted by the villain. The romance was well done and the wedding at the end was great, touching.

Epic Movie - amazing 3D, otherwise pretty dull. Boilerplate Hollywood.
Mr Peabody & Sherman - terrible, but 6 year old loved the poo jokes.

Lego Movie - Pretty good. I liked the message that the genius creative types needed the ordinary guy's procedural discipline to actually accomplish anything. Six year old and I have been singing for days now "Everything is Awesome, Everything is Cool when you're part of a team..."

Anonymous said...

"Now, you can't even escape into genteel entertainment without being sermonized about interracist BS."

Someone is overly angry about not getting laid.