Throughout this essay I use “left” and its cognates rather than “progressive” or “liberal” (in the modern, authoritarian sense). The latter terms exemplify doublespeak, an indispensable tool of leftism, inasmuch as “progressives” often endorse regressive economic and social policies, and “liberals” embrace a sanitized version of fascism. This essay draws on many years of reading and observation. Rather than weigh it down with links, I have listed some relevant and supporting books, essays, articles, and posts in the bibliography.
Imagine all the people sharing all the world….
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Make peace or I’ll kill you.
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Conservatives are the new liberals, and liberals the new fascists.
Bill Vallicella (Maverick Philosopher)
Here I will try to paint a comprehensive picture of leftism, as a reference point for future posts and as a guide to those readers who are open to the truth behind the “compassionate” facade of leftism. Specifically, I will address the left’s agenda, the assumptions and attitudes underlying it, the left’s strategic and tactical methods, the psychological underpinnings of leftism, the heavy economic and social costs of realizing the left’s agenda, and the remedy for leftism in America.
Ideologies breed in-groups. Most people like to belong to or identify with something bigger than themselves — clan, religion, social group, company, or nation, for example. Leftists are different only in what they identify with. Even libertarians, who claim to renounce the state — or more than a minimal state for the defense of citizens from force and fraud — are cliquish; they put great store in their self-identification, spend a lot of time ferreting out heresies against their creed, and spend a lot of time defending their various interpretations of libertarianism.
Only conservatism of a certain kind is non-ideological. This kind of conservatism can be described, but the description is that of a disposition toward politics in its broadest sense, which is
the process and method of decision-making for groups of human beings. Although it is generally applied to governments, politics is also observed in all human group interactions. [Wikipedia, as of December 11, 2004]
Michael Oakeshott describes conservatism as a disposition in Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays. I classify conservatism — of the true, traditional kind — as a kind of libertarianism (right-minarchism). But the classification is meant only to locate the conservative attitude toward the state in relation to other attitudes. I don’t mean to imply that conservatism of the kind described by Oakeshott is an ideology or creed with tokens of membership.
(There are many people who claim to be conservative, but who are not. I will address them at various places in this essay.)
Leftism also originates in a disposition, as I will discuss, but it ends in an ideology: a collection of particular (if often abstract and shifting) objectives toward which political outcomes should be directed, nay, coerced. Leftists are abetted in their efforts by enablers of various kinds, who may not be leftists by disposition but who lend support (intellectual and material) and votes to the leftist cause because of the allure of its proclaimed goals or promised benefits.
With that essential business out of the way, I summarize leftism and delve several of its facets.
There are, spread throughout thIS entry, many aperçus about leftism. This one comes closest to a summation of the left’s motivations and aims:
The most obvious assumption [of leftism] is that perceived “problems” — perceived by leftists, that is — must be “solved” by state action.
That statement warrants elaboration. Leftism isn’t just sympathy for the poor and oppressed or fear for the fate of mankind. If it were, an overwhelming majority of human beings would be leftists. Leftism is the conjoining of those attitudes and the deluded belief that the best (and sometimes only) vehicle for redressing “wrongs” and remedying “problems” is the use of state power to command the necessary resources and coerce the necessary actions.
The presumption of governmental omniscience and omnipotence has many anti-libertarian implications. Here are some leading examples:
Income and wealth belong to the state.
The property of individuals and businesses is the state’s to control.
Individuals and businesses do not have freedom of association.
Religion, beyond ceremonial observances, has no place in the governance of the populace and must not be allowed to influence or interfere with that governance.
The state decides basic social questions, such as (but far from limited to) the nature of marriage and gender.
The state decides religious and scientific matters, such as (but far from limited to) the legality of teaching alternatives to neo-Darwinianism and the “correctness” of carbon-dioxide-driven “climate change”.
All persons are born equally meritorious in all respects, regardless of their (apparent) intellectual and physical endowments (“nurture” 100%, “nature” 0%), and must be accorded the same opportunities regardless of their endowments.
Exceptions may be made for persons who govern, “entertain”, play professional sports, deliver “news” and opinions, profess and administer at expensive universities, or are otherwise deemed worthy of special treatment — because some people are “more equal” than others. But at every opportunity, the exceptions will be limited to those persons who confess to the omniscience and omnipotence of the state.
Despite universal equality of merit, the state may authorize the killing of some otherwise blameless persons (e.g., children in the womb, the elderly) if they are deemed to be “unequal” (or simply an inconvenience to others).
Despite universal equality of merit, some persons commit acts that are called crimes because “society” denies them a “fair share” of economic rewards and social recognition.
Dissent from the foregoing positions (and others not listed here) is punishable by ostracism, loss of position, and in some cases (there should be more) civil and criminal penalties. (Execution isn’t out of the question.)
Most leftists won’t admit to such absolutism and barbarism, and will try to find “acceptable” ways of characterizing their implicit views. But leftism is what it is, and shouldn’t be sugar-coated.
Leftists have an agenda, though it varies over time, and sometimes contradicts an earlier position on a particular issue. The first thing that is wrong with leftism is the presence of an agenda. Leftism isn’t the only ideology with an agenda, so it’s not unique in possessing that undesirable dimension. But I am focusing here on leftism, so I’ll leave it at that.
Why is the possession of an agenda a “bad thing”? Individual persons have agendas, that is, specific goals and preferences regarding the relative desirability of those goals. But, in the conservative disposition, those individual agendas are the basis of social interactions (which comprise economic ones) through which people find a modus vivendi in voluntary, peaceful coexistence and mutually beneficial cooperation — liberty, in other words. The state becomes involved only as a referee of last resort and enforcer of socially evolved, civilizing norms (e.g., prohibitions of murder, theft, fraud, etc.).
The possession and advancement of an agenda by a sizable group of persons is meant to inhibit and suppress the modus vivendi that would occur naturally. The agenda, in other words, is meant to substitute the preferences of a segment of a society or polity for the host of individual preferences that can and would be reconciled through social (and economic) intercourse.
It should go without saying that this substitution will always necessarily be carried out by the use of force, or the threat of it. And the state, in its various manifestations, will provide the force.
Leftism, in short, is an ideology of bullies. It’s not the only one, but it’s the leading one these days. The right — by which I mean the statist right, not conservatism — is just the left with a somewhat different agenda.
Leftism began in earnest, as a mass movement, during the French Revolution, with its infamous Committee of Public Safety (the Red Guards of the day). The Committee conducted the Reign of Terror against “enemies” of the Revolution, that is, anyone who questioned or challenged the actions of the leading revolutionaries. Such has been the standard practice of leftist movements and regimes unto the present. The American left’s use of coercion and violence differs in degree but not in kind from the practices of leftist dictators from Robespierre to the Castros. The American left’s current methods include aggressive political correctness, the suppression of unwelcome views on college campuses (of all places), and the use of state power to punish untoward thoughts (e.g.,
thought-crime hate-crime laws and penalties for expressing opposition to same-sex “marriage”).
American leftism isn’t monolithic. It’s a coalition of interest groups, united by overlapping aims and a worldview that was articulated by Robespierre (discussed below). The overlapping aims of the groups range from the venerable one of claiming a larger share of economic output to newer ones, such as exalted status for newly discovered “victims” (e.g., persons who wish, for one reason or another, to deny that their gender is the one that is emblazoned on their genes.) These various aims are served best when the left succeeds in seizing control of state power; most of the aims wouldn’t advance far in a world of peaceful, voluntary coexistence.
The left’s essential confusion about aims is evidenced not only in shifting positions on particular issues (e.g., for Prohibition, then against it) but also in the incongruous juxtaposition of puritanism and libertinism. Thus it is good for “us” to eschew economic growth in order to “save the planet”, and it is good for “the children” to regulate smoking and tax it heavily. But at the same time the left champions the “right” to engage in behaviors long condemned as unhealthy and immoral, such as homosexuality, transvestitism, and abortion. These shifts and contradictions lend support to my view (discussed later) that one of the root causes of leftism is adolescent rebellion: If the “grown ups” think it’s good, it’s bad — and vice versa.
The rationale for the left’s agenda du jour is found in the phrase made famous by Robespierre during the French Revolution: liberty, equality, and fraternity. These words have special meanings in the left’s usage:
- liberty — to do whatever one feels like doing, and to suppress whatever one doesn’t like
- equality — which others will be forced to pay for (in property rights, money, jobs, promotions, etc.) and bow to (or else)
- fraternity — but only with the like-minded of the moment.
(I wrote that earlier this year in a post about contemporary left, without having considered the provenance of the phrase. I am struck by the centuries’ long durability of leftist doublespeak.)
It’s true that most contemporary leftists don’t go around saying “liberty, equality, and fraternity”, but the phrase captures the implicit rationale for the left’s agenda. Consider, for example, these excerpts of the Wikipedia article about left-wing politics (my comments in bold):
Leftist economic beliefs range from Keynesian economics and the welfare state through industrial democracy and the social market to nationalization of the economy and central planning [1. “equality” through control]…. During the industrial revolution, leftists supported trade unions [2. “equality” and “fraternity” through property theft]. At the beginning of the 20th century, many leftists advocated strong government intervention in the economy [3. see #1]. Leftists continue to criticize what they perceive as the exploitative nature of globalization [4. because willing workers who are making more than before are being “exploited” and therefore denied some kind of “liberty”]….
The global justice movement, also known as the anti-globalization movement or alter-globalization movement, protests against corporate economic globalization, due to its negative consequences for the poor, workers, the environment, and small businesses [5. see #4 re “poor, workers, … and small businesses”, and see below re environment]….
From the 1970s onwards, environmentalism became an increasing concern of the left, with social movements and some unions campaigning over environmental issues [6. revenge against “fat-cat capitalists” for being “more equal” than others]…. Some segments of the socialist and Marxist left consciously merged environmentalism and anti-capitalism into an eco-socialist ideology [7. see #6, and consider that leftists put job protection about consumer interests, except where “consumer protection” is a facade for business-bashing, all for the sake of “equality”]…. Environmental degradation can be seen as a class or equity issue, as environmental destruction disproportionately affects poorer communities and countries [8. see #6 and #7]….
In the 21st Century, questions about the environment have become increasingly politicized, with the Left generally accepting the findings of environmental scientists about global warming [9. more of the same]….
The Marxist social class theory of proletarian internationalism asserts that members of the working class should act in solidarity with working people in other countries in pursuit of a common class interest, rather than focusing on their own countries. Proletarian internationalism is summed up in the slogan, “Workers of all countries, unite!”, the last line of The Communist Manifesto [10. more faux egalitarianism, which American workers resist because of globalism and illegal immigration]….
The original French left-wing was anti-clerical, opposing the influence of the Roman Catholic Church and supporting the separation of church and state. Karl Marx asserted that “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” [11. the “intellectual” left still embraces this aspect of Marxism; the left’s “liberty” excludes religious liberty]…
Religious beliefs, however, have also been associated with some left-wing movements, such as the civil rights movement and the anti-capital punishment movement. Early socialist thinkers such as Robert Owen, Charles Fourier, and the Comte de Saint-Simon based their theories of socialism upon Christian principles [12. cleverly conflating voluntary charity and “charity” by governmental coercion, in the name of “equality”]…. Other common leftist concerns such as pacifism, social justice, racial equality, human rights, and the rejection of excessive wealth can be found in the Bible [13. more coercive governmental policies for the sake of “liberty” and “equality”]….
Social progressivism is another common feature of modern leftism, particularly in the United States, where social progressives played an important [14. but not exclusive] role in the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights, and multiculturalism [15. which seems to be an excuse for tolerating practices and beliefs that aren’t tolerated if they observed by white Americans of European descent, for the sake of “equality” and “fraternity”]. Progressives have both advocated prohibition legislation and worked towards its repeal [16. a leading example of the opportunism of “progressivism”, which also embraces abortion as a means of controlling the population of “dark” people, in the spirit of “fraternity”]. Current positions associated with social progressivism in the West include opposition to the death penalty and the War on Drugs, [17. leftism and personal responsibility are antithetical, thus income redistribution, etc., for the sake of “liberty” and “equality”] and support for legal recognition of same-sex marriage, … distribution of contraceptives, public funding of embryonic stem-cell research, and the right of women to choose abortion [18. that have more than a whiff of adolescent rebellion about them, and which conflate license with liberty, but are justified in the name of “liberty”].
There’s much more, of course. But I will add one notable contradiction and then be done with it.
The contradiction is the left’s defensive reaction to the following observations: Most contemporary terrorists are Muslims; Muslims adhere to some rather “unenlightened” anti-feminist and anti-homosexual beliefs, extreme manifestations of which are illegal in America. An overt objective of a large fraction of Muslims (including many in the United States) is to remove themselves from the jurisdiction of American laws, if not to force Americans to submit to Islamic law. These well known and indisputable facts, when stated by a non-leftist as reasonable grounds for resistance to the encroachment of Islam in America, are shouted down by leftists crying “Islamophobia”, “racism” (though Islam isn’t a race and Muslims are of various races), and other derogatory epithets.
Leftists defend Islam reflexively — in the spirit of “liberty, equality, and fraternity” — heinous acts and tenets notwithstanding. They do so to signal virtue (defense of a “victim” group), to signal solidarity with other leftists (until some influential leftists decide that Islam no longer deserves victimhood), and to rebuke those with the temerity to challenge the encroachment of Islam (the enemy of their enemy is their friend).
But I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s time to move on.
ASSUMPTIONS AND ATTITUDES
Leftism is built on several assumptions and attitudes. They aren’t mutually exclusive, nor are they consciously adopted. In fact, leftists would (nominally) reject most of them.
The most obvious assumption is that perceived “problems” — perceived by leftists, that is — must be “solved” by state action. This assumption has psychological roots, to which I’ll come, and it draws on some of the following assumptions and attitudes.
A zero-sum perspective leads to the belief that some persons’ gains must mean losses for others. This perspective is alluded to when leftists talk about “shares” of income, as if there were a national income floating in the sky, shares of which are meted out by mysterious and sinister forces in cahoots with those who earn the highest incomes — “the 1%” or “the 0.1%”. Perish the thought that incomes — even incomes earned by so-called crony capitalists (who are often leftists) — reflect the value of the products and services from which those incomes are derived. Perish that the thought that Bill Gates, to take but one example, is super-rich because he founded a company that provides operating systems and software that are used by billions of people. Perish the thought the Bill Gates didn’t become super-rich by stealing money from the poor (how would that work?), and that his company actually made people better off by employing thousands of persons and providing tools that enable untold millions of persons to earn more than they would earn without such tools. But all of that is lost on the left, whose zero-sum mentality propels state actions (income redistribution: progressive tax rates, tax credits for low-income persons, food stamps, etc) that necessarily diminish the incentive to engage in job- and income-creating entrepreneurship exemplified by Bill Gates and emulated (on a much smaller scale) by millions of aspiring business owners.
Leftists don’t like markets, especially when markets yield results that leftists dislike. When that happens, markets “fail”, according to leftists. In reality, markets fail only when they yield results that are dictated by the state, that is, results other than those which would obtain in the absence of state action. Leftists lead the charge for dictated results. Regulation, which leftists love because it “protects” people from “rapacious” business interests, benefits the crony capitalists whom leftists love to hate. Almost every agency of every government in the United States is in the business of devising or applying regulations of one kind or another. Leftists abhor some of those regulations (e.g., laws against abortion and marijuana use), and will go to great lengths to overturn them. But those are the exceptions that underscore the rule.
Another thing that leftists don’t like about markets is that they (are thought to) create “winners” and “losers” because they invite competition. In fact, markets mostly create winners because they enable willing buyers and sellers to engage in exchanges that make both parties better off. If competition is such a bad thing, it’s a wonder that there are any rich leftists, inasmuch as most of them became rich by selling a talent, a service, or a product — and successfully competing against other sellers of the same or similar talent, service, or product.
And a lot of those rich leftists are driven by the so-called profit motive. “Profit” is a dirty word on the left. But profit is nothing more than a signal to prospective sellers of services and products that there’s an opportunity to make some money. And if those prospective sellers heed the signal, not only will they be better off, but they’ll make consumers better off by offering them more choices, lower prices, and higher quality products and services.
But “little people” are hurt by competition? How so? Competition helps to ensure that “little people” get value for their money. It has made millions of different products and services affordable by “little people”. It has provided jobs for “little people”, which is why they can afford the fruits of competition. Competition may have put Mom-and-Pop stores out of business, but what sprang up in their place? Many times the number of convenience stores and, of course, supermarkets and big-box stores that offer a far greater variety of products at much lower prices. In sum, consumers put Mom-and-Pop stores out of business.
The nostalgia for Mom-and-Pop stores is just that: nostalgia. I share it because I’m old enough to remember real Mom-and-Pop stores, including one that sold delicious homemade bread. But should hundreds of millions of people have far fewer choices and pay more for them just to slake my nostalgia? What about the nostalgia of future generations for Costco and Wal-Mart, when they have gone the way of Mom-and-Pop stores, Sears (soon to be put out of its misery), Newberry’s, Kresge’s, Woolworth’s, and all the other companies of an imaginary golden age? Should online retailing be banned for nostalgia’s sake?
Well, “little people” are ripped off by big business, aren’t they? Please re-read the preceding paragraphs, and consider that competition is a safeguard against rip-offs. The biggest rip-off, for “little people” and everyone else, occurs when regulation (beloved by leftists) stifles competition.
The thing that leftists hate most about competition is that it’s conducted by private parties and often leads to results that leftists dislike (i.e, “market failure”). Therefore, in the left’s view, the best way to ensure “market success” is to socialize the provision of essential products and services. This has been tried before, of course, with a notable lack of success in the USSR, Communist China (before it shifted to a quasi-market economy), Cuba, Venezuela, and hordes of other socialist regimes. Britain, which escaped the worst excesses of socialism when Margaret Thatcher privatized most industries, remains saddled with socialized medicine. Despite the mountain of true horror stories about the poor quality of health care (and lack thereof) offered by Britain’s National Health Service, hope springs eternal among American leftists that it would be different here. (This is symptomatic of the usual response to problems created by state action, namely, double down on state action.)
Insurance, in the left’s view, isn’t something that one buys as a hedge against the unpredictable. It is, rather, something to be provided by the state as guaranteed compensation for the predictable. Old age and discretionary treatments and procedures (e.g., birth control, abortion, and regular checkups — which are a waste of money) are the most prominent of predictable conditions that give rise to “social insurance”, as the left likes to call it. Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security aren’t “social insurance”, they’re just subsidies exacted from tax-paying Americans for the benefit of everyone whom leftists view as deserving of subsidies.
The risible term “social insurance” is meant to justify what the left calls “rights”. Rights are what a leftist believes people should have, regardless of the costs borne by those pay for those “rights” through taxes; regulatory constraints; lost jobs, promotions, and university admissions; and so on. This is a complete perversion of the idea of rights. If I have a right that you must pay for, then I effectively deprive you of the same right, or at least diminish your chances of enjoying that right. In sum, the left’s “rights” are really privileges.
The left often justifies its “rights” as the means of rectifying injustices done to “victims”, such as the imaginary victims of “Islamophobia” discussed earlier. Thus blacks have a “right” to be hired before better-qualified whites. (That’s not how the law reads, but that’s how EEOC minions try to make it work. It has a perverse effect to the extent that employers find subtle ways of screening out blacks before they formally apply for jobs, as a way of avoiding the complications that arise if black applicants aren’t hired or are hired and later fired.) Thus taxpayers are burdened by payments to possessors of various “welfare rights”, even though it has been found many times (e.g., here) that applications for such “rights” diminish sharply when work requirements are attached to them.
I could go on and on, but it will be quicker to name the persons without “victims’ rights”, namely, white, male, heterosexual Christian Americans of European descent who are gainfully employed, of sound body and sound mind, and disinclined to file age discrimination suits even if they are fired from a job when they are older than 40. I don’t know the fraction of the population represented by those non-victims, but it’s safe to say that “victims” (as defined by the left) comprise the vast majority of the population of the United States. And of course it’s the non-victims who are usually guilty until proven innocent, in the left’s telling of events.
It would be simpler just to blame it all on the Vikings, Columbus, the white settlers of Roanoke Island, the Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers, and be done with it. The left does some of that, though the Vikings and the settlers of Roanoke Island seem to get less than their fair share of blame — perhaps because they didn’t stick around.
The constant search for “victims” points to a common attitude among leftists: condescension, born of a false sense of superiority. Whence that sense? Well, leftists are a reality-based community, as they are wont to put it. Not that we’ve encountered realistic assumptions or attitudes thus far in this essay, nor would we if we were to venture into such matters as the catastrophic-anthropogenic-global-warming hoax.
But no matter, leftists believe in “science”, that is, in the cherry-picked evidence which comes their way and “proves” what they choose to believe. That is why, for example, leftists like to flaunt the results of one study which purports to show that the minimum wage has “little” effect on unemployment (as if “little” were acceptable), when dozens of studies (e.g., the one discussed here) have found a large negative effect. Their belief in “science” gives them cover for their dictatorial schemes, the details of which they entrust to government “technocrats”.
Two big assumptions underlie everything else said and done by leftists. The first, and most obvious, is that leftists prefer one-size-fits-all government “solutions” to “problems” over the voluntary working out of a modus vivendi. This goes to leftist condescension. In the left’s view, the “little people” — and businesses, big and small — just wouldn’t know what to do in the absence of government action or, more precisely, wouldn’t do the “right thing”. (Isn’t it wonderful to have such the vast store of knowledge and super-computational skills that enable right-minded leftists to ascertain the proper resolution of countless social and economic transactions between hundreds of millions of people with myriad and always changing wants, tastes, preferences, skills, and abilities?)
There’s a deeper assumption at work in the left-wing mentality. It’s an assumption that permeates the thinking of many non-leftists, as well. It’s the idea of a social-welfare function. A voluntary exchange results when each of the parties to the exchange believes that he will be better off as a result of the exchange. An honest voluntary exchange — one in which there is no deception or material lack of information — therefore improves the well-being (welfare) of all parties. An involuntary exchange, as in the case of tax-funded medical research, cannot make all parties better off. No government agent — or economist, pundit, or politician — can look into the minds of millions of people and say that each of them would benefit from this or that government program and therefore willingly pay a certain amount of money for benefits received. But that is the presumption which lies behind government spending, of which leftists are the loudest and leading proponents.
Leftists usually will favor government spending without trying to justify it with numbers; they just know that it’s “a good thing”. But they’re often abetted by practitioners of the quasi-science of economics. Many — too many — economists will say that if the “social benefit” of a program equals or exceeds its cost, the program is presumably justified because the undertaking of it would cause “social welfare” to increase. But a “social benefit” — like a breakthrough in medical research — is a always a benefit to some persons, while the taxes paid to elicit the benefit are nothing but a burden to other persons, who have their own problems and priorities.
Why doesn’t the good offset the bad? Think of it this way: If a bully punches you in the nose, thus deriving much pleasure at your expense, who is to say that the bully’s pleasure outweighs your pain? Do you believe that there’s a third party who is entitled to say that the result of your transaction with the bully is a heightened state of social welfare? Evidently, there are a lot of voters, economists, pundits, and politician who act as if they believe it.
Most political agnostics (the great mass in the center who have been taught that it’s government’s job to “do something” about their particular problems) and many conservatives enable the left’s agenda. The conservatives (real or nominal) do so either because they’re stupid, hopeful of finding common ground with their political enemies (a hope founded on stupidity), or (and most commonly) eager to win votes by eschewing the “meanie” label (and its many equivalents) that leftists love to hang on conservatives.
That brings me to the final assumption of leftism that I will address here: The spending of other people’s money is “compassionate”. Well, that’s the cynical story line of (usually) atheist leftists who like to invoke Christ in support of big government.
STRATEGY AND TACTICS
It follows that a leading strategy of the left is to invoke state action in the name of “compassion”.
Another of the left’s leading strategies was enunciated by FDR’s trusted adviser, Harry Hopkins: “We shall tax and tax, and spend and spend, and elect and elect.” The key is to sell big government by playing up the benefits and playing down the costs — or ignoring them or claiming that “the rich” will bear them. The more people who learn dependence on government, the more reason to expand it and the more support for its expansion.
There are, of course, some well-to-do leftists who welcome the opportunity to pay taxes, and advertise their willingness. Some will even parrot Oliver Wendell Holmes’s empty-headed bit of rhetoric: “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.” You’d think there would be a limit as to how much must be spent for a “civilized society”, that is, one which is minimally troubled by fraud and aggression. But given the left’s expansive view of the requirements of civilization (discussed above), “enough” is never attained or attainable. More is always better than less when it comes to government spending.
And why this is so, in the leftist view, is that government officials and minions aren’t prey to the failings that pervade private dealings. They are — by some mysterious process that is thought to be missing from the private sector — capable of delivering high-quality services of relevance to people’s “problems” at “reasonable” cost. This is known as the nirvana fallacy, which is not only an assumption of leftism but also a perennially successful basis for the sale of leftist schemes. And a lot of people swallow it because they believe, against all experience, that government is filled with experts whose sole aim in life is to guide “the people” on the path to greater happiness.
Big government wasn’t sold in a day, of course. It began in earnest during the Progressive Era, when muckrakers attacked the so-called trusts (e.g., Standard Oil) that had actually made life better for most Americans while employing millions of them. But the “fat cat” image successfully attached to capitalism during the Progressive Era has persisted. And it has been augmented by the a long parade of “benefits” that, once bestowed, are defended tenaciously and successfully by voters, left-wing politicians, and faux conservatives who value the perks of office more than principle.
The bestowal of an entitlement is an element of a hoary device employed by the likes of Stalin and Hitler (another leftist), namely, salami tactics:
The term is also known as a “piecemeal strategy”, as used by the Nazi Party … to achieve absolute power in Germany in the early months of 1933. First, there was the Reichstag fire of February 27, 1933, which rattled the German population and led to the Reichstag Fire Decree, which suspended many civil liberties and outlawed the Communist Party and the Social Democrats. An estimated 10,000 people were arrested in two weeks, soon followed by the Enabling Act on March 24, 1933, which gave Hitler plenary power, allowing him to bypass the Reichstag and further consolidate power. Hitler and the Nazis continued to systematically establish totalitarian control by eliminating potential opponents, such as trade unions and rival political parties. They also established organizations with mandatory membership, such as the Hitler Youth, Bund Deutscher Mädel and Arbeitsdienst. The Enabling Act was renewed in 1937 and 1941. Finally, on April 26, 1942, the Reichstag passed a law making Hitler the oberster Gerichtsherr, the supreme judge of the land, giving him power of life and death over every citizen and effectively extending the Enabling Act for the rest of the war. This gradual process of amassing power is today lumped in as Salamitaktik (salami tactics). [Wikipedia, as of July 19, 2017]
Most recently in American politics, Obama used salami tactics (a.k.a. the ratchet effect and the slippery slope) to ensure against the complete repeal of Obamacare. For it is unlikely that the GOP-controlled Congress will eliminate two of Obamacare’s costly mandates: guaranteed coverage of “children” under 26 and coverage of preexisting conditions (discussed earlier). You would think that conservatives would want to eliminate a source of dependence on government and two key sources of the massive premium increases instigated by Obamacare. But here again we are faced with so-called conservatives who prefer perks to principle.
The most devious salami tactic of all — so devious and effective that it’s really a brilliant grand strategy — was the seizure of university “education” curricula by leftists. Schools of “education” have churned out millions of willing acolytes for the left’s preferences, on matters ranging from government (more) and internationalism (sing “Kumbaya”) to “climate change” (bad humans), unfettered immigration (good Mexicans), and gender confusion (you are what you say you are). Public-school teachers are in the vanguard of vigilantism against the mere thought of guns and the mere mention of God. And yet public-school teachers are so “indispensable” — just ask them and their board-of-education enablers — that they are more sacrosanct than Santa Claus. And so is “school funding” (more, more, more), a shibboleth that politicians of all stripes must utter or be damned, despite the fact that massive increases in “school funding” have done nothing to improve the education of America’s children.
It has become trite to observe that leftists are better than conservatives at hewing the to a party line and working together to realize an agenda. But the observation is so accurate that I couldn’t resist repeating it. Leftists are united and firm in their belief that government cures all ills, and united and firm in their definition of ills (until an influential leftist signals a change of course). Conservatives have the great disadvantage of disunity that arises from a paradox: A true conservative is loath to become a public official or serve in any kind of governing capacity. (Law-enforcement, yes, because conservatives understand the need to keep barbarians at bay.) Most politicians who run for office as conservatives are really something else entirely. “Opportunist” is the best that I can come up with at the moment.
Given the pervasive influence of leftist teachers and professors, it’s no wonder that most reporters and news executives leftists. It’s easy for left-wing politicians and “activists” to strike chords that resonate with the media. Just focus on purported benefits, ignore costs, portray opponents as “meanies”, and Bob’s your uncle: another sympathetic story in The New York Times, The Washington Post, other major dailies, most broadcast news outlets, and the slave papers owned by the big chains. The left plays the media like Itzhak Perlman plays the violin, and most Americans dance to the tune.
The occasional scandal is soon forgotten because the left-wing media controls the microphone, and its heart is in “the right place”. Shades of Bill Clinton, the sexual predator and perjurer, whose female lawyer gave him a pass because his party is the party of feminism.
Leftists (and their enablers) can be assigned to one or more of these not-mutually-exclusive categories:
- Controllers – Just do it our way because (a) we have “science/social justice” on our side; (b) because we want it that way even if the “science” is phony and “social justice” is nothing but a slogan; and (c) we have the power to make you do it our way, and we love to use power.
- Risk-avoiders — Someone somewhere was harmed by something, or might be harmed by something, so we’re going to enforce some rules in the vain hope of preventing more harm, and we don’t care (or even think) about the cost of those rules in foregone economic growth, employment, personal liberty, or self-reliance (i.e., learning from experience).
- Token “liberals” (including many so-called libertarians) — Liberty is desirable, as long as it doesn’t have consequences of which we disapprove, such as “market failure”, any kind of discrimination (except against our ideological enemies), (relative) poverty, or the merest hint that an innocent person has been imprisoned. (In fact, “too many” people — of the wrong color — are in prison (even though the crime rate is much lower as a result.) And liberty means the absence of violence except in the final (and probably futile) throes of self-defense (if then) because everyone is a sane and reasonable as we are.
- Free-riders – If government is giving away “free” stuff or granting privileges to certain groups, I’m all for more government handouts, I just don’t want to pay for them. (This is a position held mainly by blacks and Hispanics, and in the past by most working-class whites. It’s unlikely that blacks and Hispanics will defect from their opportunistic embrace of leftism, and working-class whites may return to the fold in large numbers if — as is likely — their expectations of a Trump presidency are disappointed. In fact, the ranks of the working class will be swelled by unemployed and underemployed millennials, degreed and undegreed, whose unemployment and underemployment make them easy prey for advocates of “free” stuff.)
Controllers are authoritarian and arrogant (especially the more intelligent of the lot), often with an overlay of neuroticism and psychopathy. Risk-avoiders usually are neurotics with low self-esteem. Token “liberals” are neurotic authoritarians, often with low self-esteem. Free riders are incompetents (by nature or habit, or for lack of marketable skills) with dysfunctional traits (e.g., low self-esteem, neuroses, addictions, low intelligence) that lead to dependency on other people, mind-altering substances, or both.
It’s reasonable to ask if the traits mentioned in the preceding paragraph are exclusive to leftists. They’re not, of course. Right-statists certainly must have some of the same traits — especially authoritarianism. But right-statists, as have said before, are simply left-statists with a different agenda. And as I have also said before, left-statists wield far more power and are (and have been for decades) a far greater threat to liberty in America than left-statists.
That is so because the psychological traits of left-statists are made manifest in rhetoric that gives them a great advantage in political warfare. It is the rhetoric of false compassion, of caring about “victims” (many of whom — the incompetents — are opportunistic leftists), all of which can be done by turning to government. (See, for example, Scott Johnson, “The Socialist Temptation“, Power Line, July 2, 2017.) This tendency is borne out in the work of Jonathan Haidt and his colleagues at MoralFoundations.org, whose
theory proposes that several innate and universally available psychological systems are the foundations of “intuitive ethics.” Each culture then constructs virtues, narratives, and institutions on top of these foundations, thereby creating the unique moralities we see around the world, and conflicting within nations too. The five foundations for which we think the evidence is best are:
1) Care/harm: This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.
2) Fairness/cheating: This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, we emphasize proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]
3) Loyalty/betrayal: This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it’s “one for all, and all for one.”
4) Authority/subversion: This foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.
5) Sanctity/degradation: This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions)….
Much of our present research involves applying the theory to political “cultures” such as those of liberals and conservatives. The current American culture war, we have found, can be seen as arising from the fact that liberals [leftists] try to create a morality relying primarily on the Care/harm foundation, with additional support from the Fairness/cheating and Liberty/oppression foundations. Conservatives, especially religious conservatives, use all six foundations, including Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, and Sanctity/degradation.
Arnold Kling captures some aspects of this taxonomy in The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divides:
In politics, I claim that progressives [leftists], conservatives, and libertarians are like tribes speaking different languages….
Which political language do you speak?… [T]hink of one of your favorite political commentators, an insightful individual with whom you generally agree. Which of the following statements would that commentator most likely make?
(P) My heroes are people who have stood up for the underprivileged. The people I cannot stand are the people who are indifferent to the oppression of women, minorities, and the poor. (C) My heroes are people who have stood up for Western values. The people I cannot stand are the people who are indifferent to the assault on the moral virtues and traditions that are the foundation for our civilization. (L) My heroes are people who have stood up for individual rights. The people I cannot stand are the people who are indifferent to government taking away people’s ability to make their own choices.
The central claim of this book is that (P) is the language of progressives, (C) is the language of conservatives, and (L) is the language of libertarians. If the theory is correct, then someone who chooses (P) tends to identify with progressives, someone who chooses (C) tends to identify with conservatives, and someone who chooses (L) tends to identify with libertarians.
I call this the three-axes model of political communication. A progressive will communicate along the oppressor-oppressed axis, framing issues in terms of the (P) dichotomy. A conservative will communicate along the civilization-barbarism axis, framing issues in terms of the (C) dichotomy. A libertarian will communicate along the liberty-coercion axis, framing issues in terms of the (L) dichotomy.
Note that the progressive is not using the phenomenon of oppression per se as a means of expressing a political viewpoint. Rather, the progressive believes that certain groups or classes of people intrinsically fall into categories of oppressor or oppressed.
And so it goes. Leftists become so detached from reality that they believe that anyone who speaks the language of “liberation” is actually in favor of it: Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Chavez, and on and on. Back in the days before communists and their progeny became slick salesmen of statism, Friedrich Engels (Marx’s sidekick) let it all hang out in “On Authority” (1872):
A number of Socialists have latterly launched a regular crusade against what they call the principle of authority. It suffices to tell them that this or that act is authoritarian for it to be condemned….
Authority, in the sense in which the word is used here, means: the imposition of the will of another upon ours; on the other hand, authority presupposes subordination….
… [T]he necessity of authority, and of imperious authority at that, will nowhere be found more evident than on board a ship on the high seas. There, in time of danger, the lives of all depend on the instantaneous and absolute obedience of all to the will of one….
A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?
Violence is a good thing if your heart is in the “left” place. And violence is in the hearts of leftists, along with hatred and the irresistible urge to suppress that which is hated because it challenges leftist orthodoxy — from climate skepticism and the negative effect of gun ownership on crime to the negative effect of the minimum wage and the causal relationship between Islam and terrorism.
There’s something about conservatives that causes leftists to invoke the “H” word — Hitler, that is — and its close substitutes: Nazi and fascist. I have a little story that illustrates the tendency and suggests its cause. I was visiting Austin years ago and fell into a discussion with my brother-in-law and his wife, both ardent leftists and active in local Democrat politics. They had recently moved to the affluent Northwest Hills section of the city, ostensibly to enable their daughter to attend the schools in that part of the city, which are by reputation better than the ones in South Austin, where they had been living. Northwest Hills is mostly white; many of the whites are Jewish; and the non-white population is mainly of East Asian origin and descent. Blacks and Hispanics are seldom seen in Northwest Hills, except as employees of the city and local businesses, and as nannies and yard men. South Austin is much less affluent than Northwest Hills, and far more heavily populated by Hispanics.
The brother-in-law and his wife were apologetic about their move. Though they didn’t put it this way, they had revealed themselves as hypocrites about ethnic diversity and their supposed sympathy with the “less fortunate.” But their hypocrisy was excused by their concern for their daughter’s education. (A classic example of leftist hypocrisy, in the same mold as Democrat presidents — Clinton and Obama most recently — who sent their children to private schools in mostly black D.C.) They were especially chagrined because they (and their leftist ilk) referred to the denizens of their new neighborhood as “Northwest Nazis.” The appellation arose from the fact that Northwest Hills was then (and still is) more Republican than the surrounding parts of heavily Democrat Austin.
I thought to myself at the time, how utterly wrong-headed it is for leftists — who are ardent fans of dictatorial statism — to refer to Republicans as Nazis. Republicans generally oppose the left’s dictatorial schemes. But leftists like my brother-in-law and his wife — who are given to equating Republicans with fascists, Nazis, and Hitlers — are themselves ardent proponents of the expansion of the fascistic state that has been erected, almost without pause, since the New Deal.
The practice of applying such labels as Hitler, fascist, and Nazi to Republicans — and especially to conservatives — strikes me as psychological projection. That’s not a new explanation, but it’s a sound one. The following quotations are excerpted from two blog posts (here and here) by Australian psychologist John J. Ray, who has done a lot of research and writing about the left and its delusions:
I have been looking at the differences between the Left and the Right of politics since 1968, when I submitted my Master’s dissertation on that subject. And my aim has been to understand WHY Leftists behave like SoBs so much of the time. How is it that implementing Leftist policies always results in harm and destruction of some sort, if not mass murder?
So my interest has been not only in Leftist claims and policies but also in their underlying psychology. I think, in fact, that it is only at the psychological level that Leftism can be understood. And, in that, I find myself in a degree of agreement with Leftist psychologists. Leftists never stop offering accounts of the psychology of conservatives, adverse accounts, of course. It is one of the more popular fields of research in psychology. So Leftists are most emphatic that you need to delve into the psychological realm to understand politics. In any argument on the facts they will be defeated by conservatives so impugning the motives of their opponent is essentially all that they have left.
I am VERY familiar with the Leftist claims in that regard. Most of my 200+ academic journal articles were devoted to showing that the research they relied on in support of their claims was flawed, often hilariously so.
But there was one redeeming feature in their research. In purporting to describe conservatives they usually were quite clearly describing themselves! An accusation that they never seem able to let go of, despite much contrary evidence, is that conservatives are “authoritarian”….
* * *
The concept of “authoritarianism” as an explanation for conservatism has been like catnip to Leftist psychologists. They cannot leave it alone. It first arose among a group of Jewish Marxists in the late 1940s and was published in a 1950 book called “The authoritaian personality” under the lead authorship of a prominent Marxist theoretician, Theodor Wiesengrund, who usually used as his surname the stage name of his Spanish dancer mother — Adorno.
The theory underlying it failed in all sorts of ways so it fell out of favour after the ’60s, though it still got an occasional mention. For more on the Adorno work see here.
In the first half of his first book in 1981, “Bob” Altemeyer gave a comprehensive summary of the problems with the Adorno theory and submitted that it had to be discarded. He then went on to put forward a slightly different theory and measuring instrument of his own that rebooted the concept of authoritarianism as an explanation of conservative thinking.
That theory and its accompanying measuring instrument (the RWA scale) also soon ran aground, however. Altemeyer himself admitted that scores on the RWA scale were just about as high among Leftist voters as Rightist voters — which rather ruined it as an explanation of conservatism. The death knell came when it was revealed that the highest scorers on the RWA scale were in fact former Russian Communists! Right wing Communists?? For more on Altemeyer’s confusions see here. Or more concisely here.
So the RWA scale lost most of its interest after that, though it is still cautiously used on some occasions — e.g here.
But … Leftist psychologists did not give up. A group of them including Karen Stenner, Stanley Feldman, Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler revived the old ideas and invented a new questionnaire to measure the concept. And reading their “new” theory is like a trip back into the 1940’s. Conservatives are still said to be sad souls who live in a state of constant and unreasonable fear.
The amusing thing is that there is some reality behind their theory. The key word is “unreasonable”. How much fear is “unreasonable”? Is all fear “unreasonable”? Obviously not. Fear is an important survival mechanism. We would all be eaten by lions etc. without it. And conservatives do fear the probable results of the hare-brained schemes put forward by Leftists. Conservatives are nothing if not cautious but to the superficial thinkers of the Left, that caution seems like fear. So from a conservative viewpoint Leftists are not fearful enough. They do not fear the “unforeseen” and adverse side effects that invariably accompany any implementation of their schemes.
So, despite the laughable psychometric characteristics of their new measuring instrument, which I set out yesterday, they have in fact achieved some grasp of reality. They have just not grasped that caution can be a good thing and have not thought deeply enough about the distinction, if any, between caution and fear. So all their writings amount to little more than an adverse value judgment of things that are in fact probably desirable.
So why all the mental muddle from them? Why does the old “authoritarianism” catnip keep them coming back to that dubious concept? Why have they not learnt from its past failures? Easy: It’s all Freudian projection. They see their own faults in conservatives. The people who REALLY ARE authoritarian are Leftists themselves. Communist regimes are ALWAYS authoritarian and in democracies the constant advocates of more and more government control over everything are the Left. The Left are the big government advocates, not conservatives. What could be more authoritarian than Obama’s aim to “fundamentally transform” America? It is the Left who trust in big brother while conservatives just want to be left alone.
It’s true that conservatives have respect for authority, which isn’t the same thing as authoritarianism. To a conservative, respect for “authority” means respect for the civilizing norms that are represented in a lawful institution when it acts within its traditional bounds. For example, conservatives respect presidents when they strive to restore and sustain the constitutional order; conservatives therefore disrespect presidents who blatantly violate that order.
What about Mussolini and Hitler, who are usually thought of as right-wing dictators and therefore labeled as conservative? I return to John Ray, who has this to say about Mussolini:
Let us listen initially to some reflections on the early days of Fascism by Mussolini himself — first published in 1935 (See the third chapter in Greene, 1968).
“If the bourgeoisie think they will find lightning conductors in us they are the more deceived; we must start work at once …. We want to accustom the working class to real and effectual leadership“.
And that was Mussolini quoting his own words from the early Fascist days. So while Mussolini had by that time (in his 30s) come to reject the Marxist idea of a class-war, he still saw himself as anti-bourgeois and as a saviour and leader of the workers. What modern-day Leftist could not identify with that?…
“If the 19th century has been the century of the individual (for liberalism means individualism), it may be conjectured that this is the century of the State.
This is Mussolini’s famous prophecy about the 20th century in the Enciclopedia Italiana….
“Laissez faire is out of date.”
To this day the basic free market doctrine of “laissez faire” is virtually a swear-word to most Leftists. Quoted from Smith (1967, p. 87)….
And Mussolini’s “Fascist Manifesto” of 1919 (full translation by Vox Day here) includes in Fascist policy such socialist gems as (I quote):
* The nationalization of all the arms and explosives factories.
* A strong progressive tax on capital that will truly expropriate a portion of all wealth.
* The seizure of all the possessions of the religious congregations and the abolition of all the bishoprics, which constitute an enormous liability on the Nation and on the privileges of the poor.
* The formation of a National Council of experts for labor, for industy, for transportation, for the public health, for communications, etc. Selections to be made from the collective professionals or of tradesmen with legislative powers, and elected directly to a General Commission with ministerial powers.
* A minimum wage.
* The participation of workers’ representatives in the functions of industry commissions.
Elsewhere, Ray says this about Mussolini and his aims:
“Fascism” is a term that was originally coined by the Italian dictator Mussolini to describe his adaptation of Marxism to the conditions of Italy after World War I. Lenin in Russia made somewhat different adaptations of Marxism to the conditions in Russia during the same period and his adaptations came to be called Marxism/Leninism. Mussolini stayed closer to Marx in that he felt that Italy had to go through a capitalist stage before it could reach socialism whereas Lenin attempted to push Russia straight from semi-feudalism into socialism. Mussolini’s principal modification of Marxism was his rejection of the notion of class war, something that put him decisively at odds with Lenin’s “Reds”….
Mussolini’s ideas and system were very influential and he had many imitators — not the least of which was Adolf Hitler….
…Mussolini was quite intellectual and his thinking was in fact much more up-to-date than that would suggest. He was certainly influenced by Marx and the ancient world but he had a whole range of ideas that extended beyond that. And where did he turn for up-to-date ideas? To America, of course! And the American ideas that influenced him were in fact hard to miss. They were the ideas of the American “Progressives”. And who was the best known Progressive in the world at that time? None other than the President of the United States — Woodrow Wilson….
Ray takes up FDR’s resemblance to Mussolini, and defers to Srdja Trifkovic’s “FDR and Mussolini: A Tale of Two Fascists,” which includes these observations:
Genuine conservatives … may argue that FDR and Mussolini were in fact rather similar. They will point out both men’s obsessive focus on strong, centralized government structures, their demagoguery, and especially their attempt to overcome the dynamics of social and economic conflict through the institutions of the corporate state.
For all their apparent similarities, however, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a more deleterious figure than Benito Mussolini, and his legacy proved to be more damaging to America than Il Duce’s was to Italy. This is not a case of good versus bad, or of two equal evils, but of bad versus even worse: Roosevelt was a more efficient, and certainly more successful, fascist than Mussolini.
As for Hitler, I return to John Ray and his monograph, “Hitler Was a Socialist“:
It is very easy to miss complexities in the the politics of the past and thus draw wrong conclusions about them. To understand the politics of the past we need to set aside for a time our own way of looking at things and try to see how the people involved at the time saw it all. Doing so is an almost essential step if we wish to understand the similarities and differences between Nazism and Marxism/Leninism. The following excerpt from James P. O’Donnell’s THE BUNKER (1978, Boston, Houghton Mifflin, pp. 261-262) is instructive. O’Donnell is quoting Artur Axmann, the Nazi youth leader, recalling a conversation with Goebbels in the Hitler bunker on Tuesday, May 1, 1945, the same day Goebbels and his wife would kill themselves after she killed their children.
“Goebbels stood up to greet me. He soon launched into lively memories of our old street-fighting days in Berlin-Wedding, from nineteen twenty-eight to thirty-three. He recalled how we had clobbered the Berlin Communists and the Socialists into submission, to the tune of the “Horst Wessel” marching song, on their old home ground.He said one of the great accomplishments of the Hitler regime had been to win the German workers over almost totally to the national cause. We had made patriots of the workers, he said, as the Kaiser had dismally failed to do. This, he kept repeating, had been one of the real triumphs of the movement. We Nazis were a non-Marxist yet revolutionary party, anticapitalist, antibourgeois, antireactionary….
Starch-collared men like Chancellor Heinrich Bruening had called us the “Brown Bolsheviks,” and their bourgeois instincts were not wrong.
It seems inconceivable to modern minds that just a few differences between two similar ideologies — Marxism and Nazism — could have been sufficient cause for great enmity between those two ideologies. But the differences concerned were important to the people involved at the time. Marxism was class-based and Nazism was nationally based but otherwise they were very similar. That’s what people said and thought at the time and that explains what they did and how they did it.
“Stalin and I are the only ones who envisage the future and nothing but the future. Accordingly, I shall in a few weeks stretch out my hand to Stalin at the common German-Russian frontier and undertake the redistribution of the world with him.”
… Consider this description by Edward Feser of someone who would have been a pretty good Presidential candidate for the modern-day U.S. Democratic party:
He had been something of a bohemian in his youth, and always regarded young people and their idealism as the key to progress and the overcoming of outmoded prejudices. And he was widely admired by the young people of his country, many of whom belonged to organizations devoted to practicing and propagating his teachings. He had a lifelong passion for music, art, and architecture, and was even something of a painter. He rejected what he regarded as petty bourgeois moral hang-ups, and he and his girlfriend “lived together” for years. He counted a number of homosexuals as friends and collaborators, and took the view that a man’s personal morals were none of his business; some scholars of his life believe that he himself may have been homosexual or bisexual. He was ahead of his time where a number of contemporary progressive causes are concerned: he disliked smoking, regarding it as a serious danger to public health, and took steps to combat it; he was a vegetarian and animal lover; he enacted tough gun control laws; and he advocated euthanasia for the incurably ill.
He championed the rights of workers, regarded capitalist society as brutal and unjust, and sought a third way between communism and the free market. In this regard, he and his associates greatly admired the strong steps taken by President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal to take large-scale economic decision-making out of private hands and put it into those of government planning agencies. His aim was to institute a brand of socialism that avoided the inefficiencies that plagued the Soviet variety, and many former communists found his program highly congenial. He deplored the selfish individualism he took to be endemic to modern Western society, and wanted to replace it with an ethic of self-sacrifice: “As Christ proclaimed ‘love one another’,” he said, “so our call — ‘people’s community,’ ‘public need before private greed,’ ‘communally-minded social consciousness’ — rings out.! This call will echo throughout the world!”
The reference to Christ notwithstanding, he was not personally a Christian, regarding the Catholicism he was baptized into as an irrational superstition. In fact he admired Islam more than Christianity, and he and his policies were highly respected by many of the Muslims of his day. He and his associates had a special distaste for the Catholic Church and, given a choice, preferred modern liberalized Protestantism, taking the view that the best form of Christianity would be one that forsook the traditional other-worldly focus on personal salvation and accommodated itself to the requirements of a program for social justice to be implemented by the state. They also considered the possibility that Christianity might eventually have to be abandoned altogether in favor of a return to paganism, a worldview many of them saw as more humane and truer to the heritage of their people. For he and his associates believed strongly that a people’s ethnic and racial heritage was what mattered most. Some endorsed a kind of cultural relativism according to which what is true or false and right or wrong in some sense depends on one’s ethnic worldview, and especially on what best promotes the well-being of one’s ethnic group
There is surely no doubt that the man Feser describes sounds very much like a mainstream Leftist by current standards. But who is the man concerned? It is a historically accurate description of Adolf Hitler. Hitler was not only a socialist in his own day but he would even be a mainstream socialist in MOST ways today. Feser does not mention Hitler’s antisemitism above, of course, but that too seems once again to have become mainstream among the Western-world Left in the early years of the 21st century.
I have no doubt that the American left — from Woodrow Wilson (if not Teddy Roosevelt) to the present day — is aligned with the political aims of Mussolini and Hitler, which were (beneath the rhetoric) the political aims of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. Regarding Hitler and Stalin, I turn to chapter 6 of Revel’s Last Exit to Utopia, with the proviso that Revel’s references to communism and socialism apply equally to leftism, whether it is called progressivism, liberalism, or liberal democracy:
Communism’s stoke of genius was to authorize the destruction of liberty in the name of liberty. It allowed liberty’s enemies to carry out their work of annihilation, or to exonerate those who carried out the work, under a “progressive” rationale….
[A]n element of the left, more numerous than might be thought, needs to think that anyone who isn’t a socialist must be a Nazi….
There are two sorts of totalitarian systems. There is the kind whose ideology is what I would call direct, and which is readily decipherable: Hitler and Mussolini always made it plain that they despised democracy, freedom of expression and culture….
Communism differs from direct totalitarianisms in that it has recourse to ideological dissimulation…. A detour via Utopia allows an ideology (and the power system that it purports to legitimize) to proclaim one success after another without interruption, while in reality its results are diametrically opposed to the vaunted agenda…. The intellectual trap of a totalitarian ideology”mediatized” by Utopia is therefore much more difficult to foil than that of direct ideology because, to utopian believers, actually occurring events can never prove their ideology false.
France … invented this politico-ideological configuration with Robespierre and the Jacobin dictatorship…. Western intellectuals, never having lived under actually existing totalitarianism, clung [and cling] obstinately to its utopian facade….
Utopian totalitarianism’s infinite capacity for self-justification, in contrast to direct totalitarianism, explains why … so many of its servants go about unscathed by feelings of shame or regret. Perched in their immaculate Utopia, they absolve themselves of crimes to which they were the angelic accomplices, in the name of ideals they have shamelessly trampled underfoot. [pp. 86-91, passim]
Violence, hatred, and suppression don’t go with leftists’ self-image of “compassion” and “rationality”, so leftists engage in a lot of wishful thinking. (“Imagine all the people….”) Thomas Sowell calls it the unconstrained vision; I call it the unrealistic vision. It’s also known as magical thinking, in which “ought” becomes “is” and the forces of nature and human nature can be held in abeyance by edict; for example:
- Men are unnecessary.
- Women can do everything that men can do, but it doesn’t work the other way … just because.
- Mothers can work outside the home without damage to their children.
- Race is a “social construct”; there is no such thing as intelligence; women and men are mentally and physically equal in all respects; and the under-representation of women and blacks in certain fields is therefore due to rank discrimination (but it’s all right if blacks dominate certain sports and women now far outnumber men on college campuses).
- A minimum wage can be imposed without an increase in unemployment.
- Taxes can be raised without discouraging investment and therefore reducing the rate of economic growth.
- Peace can be had without preparedness for war.
- Regulation doesn’t reduce the rate of economic growth and foster “crony capitalism”. There can “free lunches” all around.
- Health insurance premiums will go down while the number of mandates is increased.
- The economy can be stimulated through the action of the Keynesian multiplier, which is nothing but phony math.
- There can be a single-payer system of health care without “death panels”.
- “Green” programs create jobs (but only because they are inefficient).
- Every “right” under the sun can be granted without cost (e.g.,
affirmative actionracial-hiring quotas, which penalize blameless whites; the Social Security Ponzi scheme, which burdens today’s workers and cuts into growth-inducing saving).
To round out the psychological profile of leftism, one must add to magical thinking the closely related nirvana fallacy (hypothetical perfect is always better than feasible reality), large doses of neurotic hysteria (e.g., the overpopulation fears of Paul Ehrlich, the AGW hoax of Al Gore et al.), and adolescent rebellion (e.g., the post-election tantrum-riots of 2016).
But to say any of the foregoing about the left’s agenda, the assumptions and attitudes underlying it, the left’s strategic and tactical methods, or the psychological underpinnings of leftism, is to be “hateful”. Nothing is more full of hate than a lefitst who has been contradicted or thwarted. So through the magic of psychological projection, those who dare speak the truth about leftism are called “haters”, “racists”, “fascists”, “Nazis”, and other things that apply to leftists themselves.
Labeling anti-leftists as evil “justifies” the left’s violent enforcement of its agenda. The violence takes many forms, from riotous rebellion and terror (e.g., the French Revolution), to suppression by force (e.g., Stalin’s war on the Cossacks), to genocide (e.g., the Holocaust), to overtly peaceful but coercive state action (e.g., Stalin’s “show trials”, forced unionization of American industry, imposition of crop quotas, suppression of religious liberty and freedom of association, the theft of property, and almost every form of economic regulation).
The left’s ascendancy in the United States has been attained at horrendous cost, as is has been wherever else it has taken hold — from the France of the 1790s to the Venezuela of today, with intervening stops in Germany, Italy, Russia, China, and on and on and on.
The economic cost to Americans has been massive. Since the end of World War II, taxation and regulation have caused the rate of real growth to decline from about 4 percent to about 2 percent. That’s a one-year loss of more than $300 billion in today’s dollars, or about $1,000 every year for every citizen of the United States. It means, among many things, fewer jobs and a significantly lower standard of living for poor Americans.
The immense cost of the regulatory-welfare state is well hidden by the surfeit of government programs that provide benefits to various interest groups, across the economic spectrum. But all that those programs do is to redistribute a “pie” that is much smaller than it would have been because of taxation and regulation, and from which large slices are taken to compensate armies of politicians, bureaucrats, and their cronies.
More devastating than the economic toll is the loss of liberty that results from government intervention in social and economic affairs. Social and economic liberty are indivisible; taxation and regulation diminish prosperity and thereby diminish liberty (the ability to choose where one lives, with whom one associates, etc.).
Direct attacks on liberty are on the rise, as well. The attacks have thus far been concentrated in the academy: “trigger warnings”, “safe spaces”, (un)”free-speech zones”, disinvited and shouted-down speakers, railroaded professors and alleged rapists, and the violent takeover of some campuses. But the direct attacks on liberty will spread, and spread rapidly, if today’s leftist — who aren’t your father’s or grandfather’s “liberals” — succeed in gaining firm control of Congress and re-take the White House. Freedom of speech will be suppressed to “fight hate”; “hate groups” (i.e., pro-liberty organizations) will be driven out of existence; politicians who dare speak the truth about the left, its agenda, and its protégés, will be persecuted, prosecuted, and imprisoned; and the economic and social affairs of Americans will be regimented to fit the left’s agenda.
It can happen here. Why? Because too many Americans will go along with it. In 2015, I took the Freedom Scenarios Inventory at yourmorals.org. I was shocked by the result — not my result, but my result in comparison with the results obtained by other users.
Here is a description of the test:
The scale is a measure of the degree to which people consider different freedom issues to be morally relevant. As you may have noticed, this inventory does not include perennially contentious freedom-related issues like abortion or gun rights. These issues were deliberately excluded from this scale, because we are interested in what drives people to be concerned with freedom issues in general. On the other hand, people’s stances on well worn political issues like abortion and gun control are likely to be influenced more by their political beliefs rather than their freedom concerns.
The idea behind the scale is to determine how various individual difference variables relate to people’s moral freedom concerns. Throughout the world, calls for freedom and liberty are growing louder. We want to begin to investigate what is driving this heightened concern for freedom. Surprisingly little research has investigated the antecedents of freedom concerns. In the past, our group has investigated clusters of characteristics associated with groups of people who are more concerned with liberty (i.e., libertarians), but this type of investigation differs from the current investigation in that we are now interested more in individual differences in freedom concerns – not group differences…. It seems that many psychologists assume that many types of freedom concerns are driven by a lack of empathy for others, but we think the truth is more complicated than this.
The test-taker is asked to rate each of 14 scenarios on the following scale:
0 – Not at all morally bad
1 – Barely morally bad
2 – Slightly morally bad
3 – Somewhat morally bad
4 – Morally bad
5 – Very morally bad
6 – Extremely morally bad
7 – Extraordinarily morally bad
8 – Nothing could be more morally bad
Here are the 14 scenarios, which I’ve numbered for ease of reference:
1. You are no longer free to eat your favorite delicious but unhealthy meal due to the government’s dietary restrictions.
2. You are no longer free to always spend your money in the way you want.
3. You are not always free to wear whatever you want to wear. Some clothes are illegal.
4. Your favorite source of entertainment is made illegal.
5. Your favorite hobby is made illegal.
6.. You are not free to live where you want to live.
7. By law, you must sleep one hour less each day than you would like.
8. You are no longer free to eat your favorite dessert food (because the government has deemed it unhealthy).
9. You are no longer allowed to kill innocent people . [Obviously thrown in to see if you’re paying attention.]
10. You are no longer free to spend as much time as you want watching television/movies/video clips due to government restrictions.
11, You are no longer free to drink your favorite beverage, because the government considers it unhealthy.
12. You are no longer free to drive whenever you want for however long you want due to driving restrictions.
13. You are no longer free to go to your favorite internet site.
14. You are no longer free to go to any internet site you choose to go to.
I didn’t expect to be unusual in my views about freedom. But it seems that I am:
That my score in green. The score of the average “liberal” is in blue, and the score of the average conservative is in red.
A lot of people — too many — are willing to let government push them around. Why? Because Big Brother knows best? Because freedom isn’t worth fighting for? Because of the illusion of security and prosperity created by the regulatory-welfare state? Whatever the reason, the evident willingness of test-takers to accede to infringements of their liberty is frightening.
It can happen here.
A remedy requires a diagnosis. What went wrong? How did so many Americans come under the spell of big government?
Think back to 1928, when Americans were more prosperous than ever and the GOP had swept to its third consecutive lopsided victory in a presidential race. All it took to snatch disaster from the jaws of delirium was a stock-market crash in 1929 (fueled by the Fed) that turned into a recession that turned into a depression (also because of the Fed). The depression became the Great Depression, and it lasted until the eve of World War II, because of the activist policies of Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt, which suppressed recovery instead of encouraging it. There was even a recession (1937-38) within the depression, and the national unemployment rate was still 15 percent in 1940. It took the biggest war effort in the history of the United States to bring the unemployment rate back to its pre-depression level.
The relatively brief but deeply dismal era did what the so-called Progressives of earlier decades had been unable to do: It converted vast numbers of Americans to the belief that their well-being depended not on their voluntary, cooperative enterprises but on the central government’s incessant intervention in their social and economic affairs. Most Americans of the era — like most human beings of every era — did not and could not see that government is the problem, not the solution. Victory in World War II, which required central planning and a commandeered economy, helped to expunge the bitter taste of the Great Depression. And coming as it did on the heels of the Great Depression, reinforced the desperate belief — shared by too many Americans — that salvation is to be found in big government.
The beneficial workings of the invisible hand of competitive cooperation are just too subtle for most people to grasp. The promise of a quick fix by confident-sounding politicians is too alluring. FDR became a savior-figure because he talked a good game and was an inspiring war leader, though in the end he succumbed to pro-Soviet advisors and gave half of Europe to Stalin.
With war’s end, the one-worlders and social engineers swooped on a people still jittery about the Great Depression and fearful of foreign totalitarianism. (The native-born variety was widely accepted because of FDR’s mythic status.) Schools and universities became training grounds for the acolytes of socialism and amoral internationalism. Dependency on government has become deeply ingrained in the psyche of most Americans.
But not everyone is addicted to government. There are millions of Americans who want less of it — a lot less — rather than more of it. Here are the options for liberty-loving Americans:
1. Business as usual — This will lead to more and more government control of our lives and livelihoods, that is, to less and less freedom and prosperity (except for our technocratic masters, of course).
2. Rear-guard action — This option is exemplified by the refusal of some States to expand Medicaid and to establish insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. This bit of foot-dragging doesn’t cure the underlying problem, which is accretion of illegitimate power by the central government. Further, it can be undone by fickle voters and fickle legislatures, as they succumb to the siren-call of “free” federal funds.
3. Geographic sorting — The tendency of “Blue” States to become “bluer” and “Red” States to become “redder” suggests that Americans are sorting themselves along ideological lines. As with rear-guard action, however, this tendency — natural and laudable as it is — doesn’t cure the underlying problem: the accretion of illegitimate power by the central government. Lives and livelihoods in every State, “Red” as well as “Blue,” are controlled by the edicts of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the central government. There is little room for State and local discretion. Moreover, much of the population shift toward “Red” must be understood as opportunistic (e.g., warmer climates, right-to-work laws) and not as an endorsement of “Red” politics.
4. Civil disobedience — Certainly called for, but see options 5.
5. Underground society and economy — Think EPA-DOL-FBI-IRS-NSA, etc., etc., and then dismiss this as a serious option for most Americans.
6. The Benedict Option, which refers to a tactical withdrawal by people of faith from the mainstream culture into religious communities where they will seek to nurture and strengthen the faithful for re-emergence and re-engagement at a later date. But leaving people to their own devices is precisely what leftists will not do. They will insist on enforcing edicts that suppress freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, and property rights in the name of “liberty” (because they see the oppressed as oppressors), “equality” (because the imaginary oppressors must be brought down), and “fraternity” (because “we’re all in this together” and must therefore bow to the state’s whims).
7. A negotiated partition of the country — An unlikely option because, as discussed above, leftists will not countenance the loss of control over millions of lives and livelihoods.
8. Secession — This is legal and desirable, but (a) it is likely to be met with force and therefore (b) unlikely to attract a critical mass of States.
9. Coup — Military personnel (careerists, in particular) are disciplined, have direct access to the tools of power, and many of them are trained in clandestine operations. Therefore, a cadre of properly motivated careerists might possess the wherewithal necessary to seize power. But a plot to undertake a coup is easily betrayed. (Among other things, significant numbers of high-ranking officers are shills for the regulatory-welfare state.) And a coup, if successful, might deliver us from a relatively benign despotism into a decidedly malign despotism.
10. A return to federalism — The governments of some Blue States have led the way by ignoring the central government’s de jure but unconstitutional power to criminalize marijuana; by striking out on their own to combat AGW (foolish and futile, but constitutional); and by defying national immigration law (unconstitutional but a convenient precedent). Instead of fighting those actions, today’s GOP-controlled central government should signal the governments of Red States that it will turn a blind eye to similar actions on their part.
The Trump administration has taken steps in that direction. There is the administration’s decision not to defend Red State challenges to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy of the Obama administration, which invited a flood of welfare-dependent immigrants from Mexico and points south. Further, the Trump administration and Congress have rolled back and challenged many Obama-era instances of regulatory overreach.
Red State governments should take the hint and aggressively pursue a contemporary version of nullification: a concerted and vigorous campaign to ignore any act of the central government that exceeds its enumerated and limited powers under Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution. Congress could encourage such a campaign by passing a join resolution along these lines:
It was only by the grace of nine States that the Constitution took effect, thereby establishing the central government, which thereby became a party to the constitutional compact. The people of each of the nine States — acting only for their respective States and not for the nation as a whole — voluntarily created the central government and, at the same time, voluntarily granted it limited and enumerated powers. The States understood and agreed that the central government would exercise its limited powers for the general benefit of the States and their people. Every State subsequently admitted to the union has done so with the same understanding and agreement.
But the central government has breached the compact many times over by exceeding the powers granted to it. In fact, the central government’s abuse of power has been so persistent and egregious that a reasonable remedy on the part of the States — individually or severally — is to declare the Constitution null and void. Such a course of action would, however, jeopardize the welfare and safety of the citizens of the United States in the fraught times.
To preserve the Union and thereby to ensure justice and domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general well-being of the citizens of the United States, and secure for them the blessings of liberty, this Congress does therefore resolve that no State is obliged to obey or enforce a law, regulation, judicial order, or other directive of the central government that is not consistent with the powers expressly granted the central government by the Constitution.
Further, actions taken by States pursuant to this resolution shall not be challenged in an inferior court of the United States, and are outside the purview of the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction.
Congress should adopt such a resolution while the GOP still controls both houses, and send the resolution to President Trump for enactment.
Would this mean that some States could pursue anti-libertarian policies at will? Of course, but they do already. What this really means is that some States — many, I hope — would pursue libertarian policies by ignoring federal laws that unconstitutionally infringe on the rights and powers of the States and the people thereof.
Maintained separately, here, for ease of updating.