Skip to comments.Can There Be a Decent Left?
Posted on 03/14/2002 5:40:27 AM PST by jalisco555
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Unfortunately, I don't think he can make the intellectual leaps necessary to realize that the only 'leftist' or liberal politics that make any sense at all would be a return to the classical liberalism of the Enlightenment and the early 19th century before the development of socialism and Marxism (very different in the early stages, before the fomer was infected by the latter). The values embodied in the classical liberal worldview -- liberty, private property, equality of opportunity and under the law, etc.- are under attack today from both those who describe themselves as liberals and many on the right whose authoritarian impulses are strong.
Someone once asked me the difference between 'libertarianism' and 'classical liberalism'. My response was that classical liberalism requires (fittingly enough given the term 'classical' implying a connection with the ancients) a sense of proportion and a connection with reality that seem unnecessary for libertarianism.
A holy war against infidels is not, even unintentionally, unconsciously, or objectively, a left politics. But how many leftists can even imagine a holy war against infidels?
the favorite posture of many American leftists: standing as a righteous minority, brave and determined, among the timid, the corrupt, and the wicked. A posture like that ensures at once the moral superiority of the left and its political failure.
Blaming America first. Not everything that goes badly in the world goes badly because of us. The United States is not omnipotent, and its leaders should not be taken as co-conspirators in every human disaster.
I am stunned and amazed a leftie would come up with this. While I suspect I would disagree with this guy on many, many things, it's refreshing to see reason and a snese of proportion on the other side.
So too with Marxist historical theory. The U.S. is regarded as imperialist not so much for its activities, (many of which, as the author points out, do not really fit that description), but because according to that historical theory the most powerful country must, ipso facto, be imperialistic by definition and all its political activities dedicated to that bent. Rather than allow the model to be modified (in many ways this is more a religious orthodoxy than a political model) the Marxist simply squints his eyes hard enough so that the appearance of the world fits the model. At some point the eyes close completely and the viewer is in a blind, purely theoretical world with little connection to reality. So too the American left.
There is, in addition, an element of intellectual laziness in the propensity of the left to define, and especially to mischaracterize or caricature its opponents, and leave its own definition to a comfortable and conveniently vague "we're against that." This is how they can define the right as authoritarian and fascist, take the "power to the people" cant as a political stance, and ignore their own authoritarian and fascist means of attempting to effect that stance. That's the other guys, dontcha know, not us.
What we are seeing here is a classic case of severe cognitive dissonance being realized by its victim. This is a healthy thing if the victim does something about it, such as the reexamination of precepts the author is attempting. But the other classic response to cognitive dissonance is much more prevalent in the American left - denial.
Walzer has invited his colleagues to grow up. Very few of them will accept the invitation, since a major facet of the Leftist psychological syndrome is perpetual adolescence, but the article provides some small comfort for conservatives nonetheless, because in it the author concedes the propriety of certain core principles of conservative thought, for example, when he says "a tough materialist analysis would be fine, so long as it is sophisticated enough to acknowledge that material interests don't exhaust the possibilities of human motivation (emphasis mine).
Marx is dead --- caput --- finito.
I wish that were true. I fear it isn't.
Isn't the problem that, should the left give up these four traits, there would not be anything recognizably left about it? These traits come from somewhere. I believe they are an outgrowth if the personality that finds itself comfortable on the left. It would be no fun to be on the left if you could not have infantile thoughts and behave in infantile manners. These people like feeling alienated and guilty. If you took away these four traits, they would have to invent four new silly behaviors.
Accordingly, I think the problem is much deeper than Walzer imagines. These types of traits have a firm base in the needs of people who infest the left. They will not give them up willingly. The problem for Walzer is to develop some alternative that does not look like Middle of the road liberalism.
But the problem goes further--middle of the road liberalism is driven by the ideas of the hard left. Bill Clinton apologizing all over africa, Gore's endorsement of Kyoto type solutions. These are weak versions of the reparations folks and the ELF. If the hard left went away because of its silliness, the middle of the road left would have to reinvent it.
The problem is in the fundamentally elitist notions on the left. 'We know how the world works and we know how to run things to make everything almost perfect.' That has underpinned every leftist approach of which I am aware. Anything is justified in achieving that goal. Nevermind that they know nothing about how the world works and that their solutions invariably make things much worse. They are driven by this erroneous belief and it always takes them to nasty, brutish revolutions and governance.
"There exists a subterranean world, where pathological fantasies disguised as ideas are churned out by crooks and half-educated fanatics for the benefit of the ignorant and superstitious. There are times when that under-world emerges from the depths and suddenly fascinates, captures, and dominates multitudes of usually sane and responsible people. And it occasionally happens that this subterranean world becomes a political power and changes the course of history."
When norman Cohn wrote that in his Warrant for Genocide, he was referring to Nazism, but the shoe certainly fits when it comes to the criminal totalitarian Left. Given the body count racked up by communist totalitarians, Hitler was a rank amateur, Kamal Attaturk was a relative piker.
Walzer, like his late colleague Irving Howe, has a divided conscience. They both came out of an environment very similar to neo-conservatives like Kristol and Podhoretz and with age they can't help but be disappointed by younger leftists repeating the same old mistakes, but their left-wing emotional ties and self-identification overpowered their intellectual qualms about leftism.
The neo-conservative parallel suggests the complexity of the problem: to break with irrational and harmful illusions without simply surrendering to power and the hope of exercising it. From the outside, it looks just like another silly conflict between the loony left and the cynical and opportunistic left, but those inside necessarily take it more seriously.
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