"All the worth which the human being possesses, all spiritual reality, he possesses only through the State."
-- 19th century German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (pictured below). Hegel is the most influential philosopher of the Left -- inspiring Karl Marx, the American "Progressives" of the early 20th century and university socialists to this day.
"For a hundred years or more the defining division in politics, in Britain and elsewhere, was about the role of the state. Essentially progressives believed in its ability to improve society; Conservatives feared its interference stifled personal liberty.
-- Anthony Blair, Labour Party Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. (2006)
"To me, conservative means believing in a minimum amount of government and a maximum amount of freedom -- and keeping government out of people's lives and business -- and leaving people alone,"
-- Lyn Nofziger, long-time U.S. Republican insider (2005)
AN EXTENDED LOOK AT MODERN LEFTISM
By John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.)
This is the second paper in a series where I look at what Leftism is and why it is. I gave an overall summary here and now I want to look in detail at Leftist causes and show how they all hang together, despite some apparent inconsistencies. I want to give examples to go with the generalizations I made in my first paper. I want to present some case studies of Leftism at work, in other words
Focusing on Leftist leaders and activists:
Because they are very influential, this treatise will focus primarily on Leftist leaders: Politicians, activists, ideologues, intellectuals, academics and preachers of Leftism generally. And there is no claim that what is true of them is also true of the average Leftist voter.
It is now clear that Rightists are not systematically opposed to change but that "Western" Leftists seek it eagerly -- so attitude to social change is the defining characteristic of the political Left rather than of the political Right. Rightism ("conservatism") and Leftism are not opposites or mirror images, however, so Rightists in general are neither for nor against change as such. When they do want change, the changes that they favour are usually ones that remove or reduce interference in their lives by others.
The Leftist's dissatisfaction with the world about him and his burning desire to change it can come from many sources but for Leftist leaders and other preachers of Leftism in the economically successful "Western" democracies ("liberals" in contemporary North American terms), a major motivation is to fulfil the ego needs of the Leftist himself -- needs for self-advertisement, self-promotion, excitement, influence and ultimately power. And the prime source of power is the state, so Leftists love the state.
It was all summed up rather well in the debate over ratification of the U.S. constitution that took place in the 1780s. The debate was between the Federalists and the anti-Federalists. The anti-Federalists distrusted central government power and could be seen as most akin to the conservatives of today -- though both sides would be seen as conservative by today's standards. With prophetic insight, the anti-Federalist "Brutus IV" wrote what could be seen as a pretty good description of today's Democratic party leadership:
"...It is not to be expected that a legislature will be found in any country that will not have some of its members, who will pursue their private ends, and for which they will sacrifice the public good. Men of this character are, generally, artful and designing, and frequently possess brilliant talents and abilities; they commonly act in concert, and agree to share the spoils of their country among them; they will keep their object ever in view [government-controlled health care, anyone?], and follow it with constancy [sought since the 1930's]. To effect their purpose, they will assume any shape, and, Proteus like, mould themselves into any form - where they find members proof against direct bribery or gifts of offices, they will endeavor to mislead their minds by specious and false reasoning, to impose upon their unsuspecting honesty by an affectation of zeal for the public good; they will form juntos, and hold out-door meetings; they will operate upon the good nature of their opponents, by a thousand little attentions, and teize them into compliance by the earnestness of solicitation. Those who are acquainted with the manner of conducting business in public assemblies, know how prevalent art and address are in carrying a measure, even over men of the best intentions, and of good understanding. ... It is probable, ... the powerful influence that great and designing men have over the honest and unsuspecting, by their art and address, their soothing manners and civilities, and their cringing flattery, joined with their affected patriotism; when these different species of influence are combined, it is scarcely to be hoped that a legislature, composed of so small a number, as the one proposed by the new constitution, will long resist their force."
And that was written in 1787!
Leftists do not like all changes. Because power to dictate to others is their underlying motivation Leftists/liberals dislike the power-reducing changes that conservatives favour -- such as neo-liberal (pro-market) change. Change of that sort threatens the Leftist's access to power. We also see the primacy of power in the old Soviet system. We saw there that Leftists who had gained power suddenly became very opposed to change. The desire for change is at its base the desire for one particular sort of change: Putting Leftists in power so that they can reshape society into a mould that feels good to them. And why is power sought so single-mindedly? Why the single-minded egotism? At the deepest level, the Leftist leader appears to be psychopathic -- with the psychopathic disregard for all norms, morals, standards and ethics in the ruthless quest for personal praise and satisfaction.
It is because of their quest for power that Leftists come into conflict with conservatives. History shows that what has always motivated conservatives is resistance to government power -- in particular government encroachment on individual rights and liberties. So conservatives may either favour or oppose change to promote that cause.
A description of the political attitude domain in terms of two dimensions rather than a single Left/Right dimension is rejected here on both empirical and theoretical grounds. The pervasiveness and evolutionary origins of egotism and reality denial generally are also briefly considered below.
The most detailed causal chain proposed for preachers of Leftism, then, is as follows: Psychopathic personality > high ego need > hatred of an indifferent world > need for change > need for power > love of the State
Psychopaths are normally seen as lacking in emotions so it may seem perverse to say that Leftist leaders are both psychopathic and motivated by rage -- and it is certainly not asserted that ALL Leftist leaders are psychopathic. Psychopaths are however not totally lacking in emotions. What they lack is normal emotions. And one emotion that they do definitely display is rage -- in particular outrage at what they see as poor treatment of themselves by those around them. And Leftist intellectuals in particular display feeling of that sort too. It really burns them up that they are not as well-paid or as influential as successful businessmen, for instance.
I say much more about psychopathy and the Left here but note that I am talking about sub-clinical psychopathy above: psychopaths who are not so extreme as to get themselves into trouble with the law and the mental health system. Most human characteristics exist in degrees so a subclinical psychopath has normal human emotions to some degree rather than a total absence of such emotions. And there are, sadly, various avenues in life where some lack of normal human emotions can be advantageous -- anything requiring deceit, for instance. And Leftist leaders need a lot of deceit if they are to persuade people of the benefit in what are actually destructive schemes.
Some definitions -- clearing up the current confusion
The quotations given at the head of this treatise stress the importance of attitude to the State as a differentiator of the political Left and Right. We also however often hear that it is attitude to change that differentiates Left and Right. Which is correct? It is argued here that both characterizations contain important truths but that we need to go deeper into the psychology of politics before we understand what Leftism really is and why it is. And to support the psychological analysis we will be relying not on psychological experiments and surveys but on the realities of history itself.
The idea that conservatives are simply people who are opposed to change is so absurd that only an intellectual could believe it. All the conservatives that I know would like to see a HEAP of things changed about our society and no conservative government that I have ever heard of has lacked an active legislative programme. Yet the childish and counterfactual equation of conservatism and opposition to change finds its way into dictionaries and even into articles in prestigious academic journals -- such as the widely-noted paper in the prestigious Psychological Bulletin by Jost et. al. in 2003 (See here and see a critique here). So what is going on? My suggestion is that we are asking the wrong question. It is Leftism we need to define, not conservatism. When we do that, what seems folly suddenly makes sense.
But is there such a thing as Leftism and Rightism? Is not that whole division into just two categories far too simple-minded? I will go into that in some detail later (in my research career I spent years studying just that question) but let us start out here by acknowledging that most ordinary people do not fit very neatly into any political category and may hold to a mix of views that include what would usually be seen as both Leftist and Rightist ideas. Among professional politicians and in academe, however, there is perhaps generally clearer polarization. So what is it that makes any given view "Rightist" or "Leftist"? In contemporary North American terms, what is it that makes one an archetypal "liberal" or an archetypal "conservative"? What IS a Leftist or a Rightist position on any issue?
There does seem to be a divide there of considerable potency and generalizability and the demise of that great icon of Leftism -- the Soviet Union -- seems to have had little impact on the division concerned. Leftists may no longer have Communism to point to as a possible alternative system but they remain Leftists all the same. The banner proposal of Leftists since Karl Marx -- State ownership of the means of production or "socialism" no longer seems reasonable to all but a handful of diehards but Leftists are still Leftists and Rightists are still Rightists and never, it seems, the twain shall meet.
And the great rubric of "conservative" long fastened on Rightists seems equally moribund if "conservative" is understood in the dictionary sense. "Conservative" is generally defined as meaning "opposed to change" or "favouring the status quo" but from the Reagan/Thatcher years onward, it has been "conservatives" who have been the most notable advocates and practitioners of social and political change. Rightists have been almost revolutionary in tearing down the proud edifices of the Left -- with privatization, deregulation, welfare cutbacks, tax reductions etc. Judging by the politics of the late 20th century, Rightists LOVE change! Certainly, they have clearly and energetically changed what was once the status quo.
So what is going on? Again, what really IS Leftism/liberalism and WHY are people Leftist/liberal? What, if anything, do people have in common who describe themselves (and are described by others) as "Leftists", "socialists", "social democrats", "Communists" and (in North America) "liberals"? However unsatisfactory and apparently simplistic the Left/Right division of the political world may be, there is any amount of research showing it to be a powerful, ubiquitous and perhaps inescapable way of identifying both people and political parties (e.g. Budge et al., 1987; Ray, 1982; Bobbio, 1996) so we do need to answer such questions. We do need to find out what REALLY characterizes the Left/Right division.
A proposal about attitude to the status quo which turns the conventional wisdom on its head
The proposal here may seem at first paradoxical but it is that attitude to the status quo characterizes Leftists rather than Rightists. It is proposed that it is not Rightists who are in favour of the status quo. They are in fact indifferent to it as such, and may equally favour it or oppose it according to circumstances. Leftists, on the other hand, characteristically RESENT the status quo -- at least in the modern democracies. Whatever else the Leftist may be, the bedrock of Leftism is a strong dislike or even a hatred of the way the world is. So they have a strong desire or even a need for political change, often extreme change. As Hillary Clinton said in the run-up to the 2008 Democrat primaries:
"I want to make change, but I've already made change. I will continue to make change. I'm not just running on a promise of change, I'm running on 35 years of change. I'm running on having taken on the drug companies and the health insurance companies, taking on the oil companies. So, you know, I think it is clear that what we need is somebody who can deliver change."
And Barack Obama too made change the theme of his run for the nomination.
This does not, of course, mean that Leftists will favour all sorts of change equally. As Mark Steyn points out in his article "Capitalism is the real 'agent of change'", they certainly don't favour the sort of change that capitalism is constantly bringing about. What sort of change the Leftist favours will depend on what it is about the world that the Leftist dislikes. It will depend on the needs that drive his/her desire for change -- i.e. it will depend on WHY the Leftist hates the world about him/her. And there are even times when those needs dictate a defence of the status quo -- as I discuss elsewhere. In the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Left even found virtue in the principles of the 1648 (Yes. 1648, not 1948) "Peace of Westphalia"!
The Rightist, by contrast, generally has no need either for change or its converse. If anything, Rightists favour progress -- both material and social. So most Rightists are conservatives (cautious) not because of their attitude to change per se. On some occasions they may even agree with the particular policy outcomes that the Leftist claims to desire. They resist change, then, mainly when it appears incautious -- and they are cautious (skeptical of the net benefits of particular policies) generally because of their realism about the limitations (selfishness, folly, shortsightedness, aggressiveness etc.) of many of their fellow humans (Ray, 1972b, 1974 & 1981). So it is only vis a vis Leftists that the Right can on some occasions and in some eras appear conservative (cautious about proposals for social change). It is the Leftists who WANT change, not the conservatives who oppose it.
Few writers have a better claim to representing historic conservative thought than Edmund Burke yet note this summary of what Burke said:
"Far from opposing all reform, Burke insisted, "A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation."
The issue was not reform versus no reform; it was between the view that reform was a simple matter that could be engaged in sweepingly and the view that it required prudence and was best approached incrementally"
So conservatives have NEVER opposed change per se and it is little more than a calumny to say that they do. Caution certainly characterizes conservatives but attitude to change as such does not.
This broad idea that what Leftists basically want does not have to be the exact opposite or mirror-image of what Rightists basically want -- and vice versa -- may seem at first surprising but does have some precedents. Kerlinger (1967) suggested that Leftists and Rightists have different "criterial referents" and even thought that he had found in his survey research a complete lack of opposition between Leftist and Rightist attitudes. Kerlinger's reasoning is interesting but that he misinterpreted his research results has previously been shown in Ray (1980 & 1982 -- online here and here). Whether Leftist and Rightist objectives are opposite or just simply different, how Leftists and Rightists go about achieving their different basic objectives certainly generates plenty of conflict and opposition between the two sides.
Whatever Rightists might want, however, wanting to change the existing system is the umbrella under which all Leftists meet. Even at the height of British socialism, for instance, British Leftists still wanted MORE socialism. That permanent and corrosive dissatisfaction with the society they live in is the one thing that clearly identifies all Leftists. That is the basic thing that they all have in common.
All explanations, however, merely push the need for explanation back one step, so the proposal offered above raises immediately the question of WHY anybody would have such a need for swingeing change. In the second half of this monograph, precisely that question will be addressed but first we need to look at how a need for change leads to the particular campaigns we usually associate with Leftism.
A major problem, however, is that common features in Leftism can be hard to find. Not only do they seem to advocate quite different things in different eras, but even within a given era Leftists are extremely fractious and can even be murderous towards one-another (e.g. Stalin versus Trotsky). It is in describing his fellow revolutionaries (Kautsky and others) that Lenin himself spoke swingeingly of "the full depth of their stupidity, pedantry, baseness and betrayal of working-class interests" (Lenin, 1952). He could hardly have spoken more contemptuously of the Tsar.
This divisiveness of the Left does not however stop them from generally having some identifiable broad policy themes in common. There was great hatred and antagonism between Russian and Chinese regimes in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, for instance, but they were nonetheless both Communist (though I will not argue with the Trotskyite view that they were both in fact Fascist -- or "Bonapartist", to use the correct Marxist jargon).
We will see below how many Leftist positions flow from that need for change -- why, for instance, one of the most consistent themes to emerge in Leftist thinking is the claimed need for "equality" -- and the belief in "equality" then tends to lead on to support for government activism in such matters as redistribution of wealth generally, heavily "progressive" income taxes, inheritance taxes, foreign aid, feminism, homosexual rights and socialized medicine. Again for reasons explored in more detail below, Leftists also tend to oppose religion and the churches and this in turn tends to mean that they favour abortion and oppose or obstruct religious schooling and religious observance in various ways.
A doctrine that flows very directly from the Leftist need for change is their usual rejection of the idea of human nature. Leftists are usually emphatic that there is no such thing as an inherited, unchangeable human nature. Since Leftists want to change more or less everything, anything that is unchangeable is anathema to them. This root and branch rejection of heredity was of course what underlay Stalin's support of Trofim Lysenko's otherwise thoroughly discredited Lamarckian theory of evolution -- the idea that characteristics acquired in one's lifetime can be passed on to one's offspring. Marx himself clearly had Lamarckian ideas of a sort, believing that the "soil" and the geology on which one lived influenced what one became. Geras (1983) has however argued that this did not mean that Marx totally rejected the idea of human nature. Later Leftists, however, often have done so.
This denial of human nature is so unscientific and counterfactual that it seems pointless to say much about it here but I have made some notes on the matter here for those who do wish to explore the issue.
I might however note here that there is an excellent article by John O McGinnis that gives much more detail of the way in which genetic research keeps giving further support to conservative thinking on a whole range of issues. In fact studies come out almost daily which show that more and more human attributes are genetically determined. Read here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here just for starters. And note that among the research revelations is a strong genetic influence on political orientation and a genetic influence on religion.
Leftist Doctrine: Equality and the State
Not all Leftist doctrines, however, flow as clearly from love of change as their usual rejection of heredity does. So why do modern-day Leftists adopt their characteristic specific causes (anti-racism, homosexual rights, anti-globalization etc)? Why, for instance, is a present-day Leftist not usually allowed to be overtly racist?
It is in part (and see also below) because even a Leftist realizes that it is pretty vacant simply to be against the status quo. He has to have something a bit more substantial to say than that in order to get any attention at all. But his best attempt at finding something substantial to say is still pretty pathetic. What he says is: "All men are equal" and "The government should fix it". The proverbial Blind Frederick could see that all men are NOT equal and anybody who thinks that governments are good at doing things can only be pitied. Nonetheless, "Equality" is the Leftist's claimed ideal and government action is the way he proposes to bring it about.
So given his slender intellectual and rhetorical resources, the Leftist has to make up for their emptiness by advocating them both blindly and vigorously. And, if all men are equal, then all races must be equal too, mustn't they? Obviously so, one would think. So, if he allows any recognition of racial differences, the Leftist risks having to give up one of the two slender straws that he clutches at in order to give himself something to say.
But how do we explain the fact that it only in relatively recent times that anti-racism has become a mainstay of Leftist agitation? Again some history helps: The "Levelling" idea that has always characterized Leftists had a very long history before Marx espoused it. Such different people as the Christian fundamentalist "Levellers" in Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army and the slave-owning gentlemen who framed and espoused the American Declaration of Independence were attracted by the idea of equality. The latter therefore even incorporated into their Declaration an assertion that it was an obvious truth that "all men are created equal". (Though the Declaration was of course a public policy document rather than any attempt at a scientific treatise. See here for why the creator was resorted to in the matter).
"ALL" men? So blacks and whites are equal too? No. Believers in equality or policies of equality have always had to be good at ignoring anything inconvenient and the American declarers had little trouble in reconciling equality with slavery -- with what most people might think was its diametric opposite! How did they and others after them do it? They did it quite easily: Long before Hitler made it his central policy, the people of the world were for many thinkers divided up between "Menschen" (men) and "Untermenschen" (sub-men) and equality obviously did not apply to "Untermenschen" either as a statement of policy or as a statement of fact. So when the Hitlerian catastrophe thoroughly discredited and made obnoxious the idea of classifying certain races as being sub-human and hence outside the magic circle of "equality", Leftists found it expedient to hop on to the anti-racist bandwagon -- no doubt with some relief. It did make their advocacy a lot simpler.
Clearly, however, their anti-racism is nonetheless mere opportunism: History shows (See here and here and here) that they have no intrinsic committment to it. When racism was generally regarded as sound and reasonable they were for it. Now that Hitler has made the very word obnoxious, they are against it.
And WHY do Leftists rely so heavily on their two particular vacuous dogmas of "equality" and "The State can fix it"? It is because they are not really interested in solving any problems at all. They are only interested in stirring up change. Really solving social and economic problems in our complex society requires thought, detailed enquiry, in-depth understanding of the problem, creative thinking and patience -- and the typical Leftist is simply not interested in all that. All he or she wants is change. "Get the government to pass a law" is the Leftist's simplistic "solution". And simplicity always has a lot of appeal.
Let us look at Leftist thinking on both equality and government in more detail:
First, a little history: The Bolshevik revolution of 1917 under Lenin has had immense significance for politics since then but there were also three prior political revolutions that still have some modern lessons, The English revolution of 1642, The American revolution of 1776 and the French revolution of 1789. The British and American revolutions were essentially "conservative" revolutions designed to preserve traditional democratic rights and liberties and remove tyrannies but the French revolution was very different:
The French revolution is probably the earliest clear example of Leftism at work -- a vast social change that attempted to destroy all that went before it (even the traditional calendar!) and replace traditional arrangements by totally new ones that were grounded only in theory and which in fact very rapidly turned out to constitute a new and terrifying tyranny. Certainly the French revolution is the earliest clear example of high-minded ideals being used in some almost incomprehensible way as an excuse for a long and bloodthirsty reign of terror -- a reign of terror that consumed not only the enemies but also many of the friends of the revolution.
Perhaps one small quote will be enough to convey the horror that the French "idealists" unleashed:
"For example, mass murders of the political opposition, or those merely caught in the crossfire, were all too common during the Terror-and the methods employed were as efficient and coldhearted as those of modern regimes. When the guillotine was not fast enough in Lyons in early 1794, "the government's soldiers used cannonfire to gun down large batches of prisoners, with swordsmen finishing off those left half dead by rounds of grapeshot." That same year, the Jacobins used mass drownings in Nantes to kill off "enemies of the Revolution," claiming some 1,800 victims in this gruesome way. Burleigh notes that through these and other atrocities "up to a third of the population perished, a statistic roughly equivalent to the horrors of twentieth-century Cambodia."
And "equality" was of course one of the high-minded ideals motivating that horror. The French revolutionaries would appear to have the distinction of being the first to show that in some mysterious way one can at the same time believe in equality and practice tyranny! And, in an omen of Lenin and Stalin to come, that great child of the revolution, Napoleon, saw no contradiction in running a vicious police state while at the same time going to the trouble of actually enshrining in law the principle that all men are equal!!
Yet "all men are equal" (to the extent to which it is seriously meant rather than being merely a rhetorical ploy) is perhaps even more vacant an idea than the idea of relying on government -- since almost our entire social arrangements are predicated on all men (and women) NOT being equal: We don't regard criminals and honest people as the same, men and women as the same, sane people and mentally ill people as the same, kind people and unkind people as the same, attractive and unattractive people as the same, clever and dumb people as the same, athletic and unathletic people as the same, scientists and roadworkers as the same etc., etc. And there is no doubt that tall men and busty women have an easier time with the opposite sex. There is fierce discrimination rather than equality in the mating game.
So why are Leftists so enamoured of their absurd "equality" idea? Because if the Leftist is right and all men (and women) are really equal then EVERYTHING in our society is wrong and in need of being attacked and changed. It is a way for the Leftist to say (quite paradoxically) to others: "You are ALL wrong and I am better and wiser and kinder than you". Pretty good stuff for the Leftist!
But of all the things that their "equality" doctrine enables them to attack and perhaps change, nothing is more attractive to the Leftist than the rationale the doctrine offers for attacking the existing power structures, authorities, hierarchies and centres of influence that already exist in society. In the name of bringing about equality, Leftists get an excuse to tear down the whole existing structure of society -- something that they need to do to give themselves any chance of fulfilling their dream of taking over all power for themselves. It is the fact that he/she is not in charge of everything that the Leftist most of all wants to change. So "all men are equal" is a very handy doctrine indeed for the Leftist.
That the "all men are equal" maxim appears to have originally arisen partly out of Christian idealism and that a form of it is enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence (long before Napoleon similarly used it) does not make it any less risible today. A common attempt to make it less risible for the non-religious is to do as Napoleon did and add "before the law" to it. But that too is thoroughly counterfactual. Our treatment before the law is very unequal and seems destined to remain so. Most of us cannot afford the law at all. Clearly both the very rich and the very poor (who get legal aid in most advanced countries) are very much at an advantage before the law. This is not to deny that equality before the law is a worthy ideal: In a democracy it is obviously important for governments to be seen to be as fair and as impartial as possible in dealing with all their citizens -- but the imperative for that does not have to come from a quasi-religious myth.
Leftists are usually irreligious if not anti-religious (except insofar as Leftism itself is some sort of secular religion) so will often reject the notion that all men are "created" equal and will -- when pressed -- sometimes justify their endless and characteristic advocacy of equality by saying that what they really mean by their doctrine is that all men are of "equal value" or some such. But of equal value to whom? And how do we know? Short of resorting to religion again to answer such questions, the slogan then quickly reduces to a recommendation that all individuals be TREATED equally on all occasions -- and that is something that no human or animal society has ever done or seems likely to do, so the doctrine remains a pious absurdity.
(Having one LAW for all is a viable and rightly respected public policy but even that often does not result in equal treatment and in any case what Leftists generally seem to want is DIFFERENT laws and regulations for minorities and for others -- e.g. "affirmative action".)
And the competing conservative doctrine that each person should be treated "fairly" -- i.e. according to his or her "desserts", however determined -- seems to remain anathema to most Leftists, at least in theory (in part, perhaps, because it requires more complex judgments and so is less suitable for propaganda purposes). Conservatives also normally see it as fair that all children be given "equal opportunity" by the educational system but even that quite large ideal is usually still not nearly enough to satisfy Leftists.
One might argue that if blacks, women, gays etc. are entitled to advocate more rights for their respective groups, it is equally proper that (for instance) whites should vigorously advocate more rights for their group, but, being moderate as they are and because they are NOT strongly group-conscious, conservatives very rarely argue that. They are quite happy with equal opportunity.
Rawls: Theory rampant
The much-acclaimed ideas of John Rawls about equality and "social justice" (if "social justice" were just, it would not need the adjective) must represent something of a highpoint in the Leftist preference for simplistic theories over the complexities of reality but there are, nonetheless, a few useful things one can say about the Rawlsian edifice so I do so in a separate compendium
Procrustes and Moral Equivalence
The Leftist's ceaseless agitation for equality often makes him/her into a modern day Procrustes. In Ancient Greek mythology, Procrustes was an innkeeper who had beds of only one length so if a wayfarer came in who had legs longer than any of Procrustes' beds, Procrustes would cut off the legs of the wayfarer until they fitted his beds. Similarly today, if anybody is clearly not equal the Leftist is determined to force him to be equal or at least is determined to deny his inequality. Stalin, of course, made Procrustes look like a wimp. Anybody in Russia who looked unequal -- such as the kulaks ("rich" peasants) -- Stalin simply had executed.
Thankfully, Leftists in the economically successful "Western" democracies have never gained the power that Stalin had. Just as the anarchic savagery and bloodlust of the French revolution made the idea of revolution obnoxious throughout the rest of Europe for over 100 years (until 1917), so the murderous brutality and oppressiveness of Lenin and Stalin immediately fostered great and reasonable distrust of Leftism in aware populations worldwide and thus placed some limits on further Leftist access to power. Its inherent destructiveness makes Leftism self-limiting and self-defeating in many ways -- but only if people take note of what Leftist ideas actually lead to.
Despite that, however, Leftists in the "Western" world are still numerous and vocal and thus still do an impressive Procrustean job in many ways. Perhaps the best known example of that is the way they have succeeded in "dumbing down" our educational systems.
More generally, their constant refusal to acknowledge any real differences between people or groups of people tends to obstruct society from dealing in any way with those differences, no matter how important they may be. This constant lack of realism makes Leftists significant enemies of rationality.
A rather clear example of the current insane pursuit of at least nominal equality is the way that almost all students in some places now pass their final high-school examinations. In Britain in 2002, for instance, 94% of A-level students passed and the UK educational authorities, far from being embarrassed, asserted that they hope soon to get 100% of students passing (BBC Thursday, 15 August, 2002, GMT 04:29). This does of course achieve the Leftist ideal of Procrustean equality but at the expense of making an A-level pass completely uninformative, meaningless and useless. Despite such cosmetic and obscurantist nonsense, reality still asserts itself of course. As the bare certificate has now become meaningless, students subsequently have to be assessed in more difficult and complicated ways -- either by use of additional tests or by use of the relative marks each student got within the examination.
Another illustration of the quite foul depths to which the equality doctrine can sink is the repeated claim by Leftists of "moral equivalence" between very disparate people and groups. For instance, at the height of the Cold War, Leftists would routinely claim that Communist regimes and the economically successful "Western" democracies such as the United States were morally equivalent -- that neither was more blameworthy or praiseworthy than the other. When President Reagan called a spade a spade and described the USSR as an "evil empire", this was regarded as shocking and ignorant by US liberals. How anybody can see any equivalence between systems that murder millions without trial because of their suspected political views (as Stalin did in the USSR and Pol Pot did in "Kampuchea") and countries that either have no death penalty at all or agonize over every such penalty that they inflict (even when the penalty is for the most heinous crimes) defies imagination. Such "moral imbecility" is startlingly reminiscent of the psychopath and the role of psychopathy in Leftism will therefore be taken up later.
Other applications of the "Equality" mania
Beauty: In the name of equality and anti-discrimination Leftists find many other strange outlets for agitation. Perhaps one of the most bizarre is their apparent hatred of beauty. Yeagley writes vividly about how anti-discrimination ideology is now being stretched to abolish the concept of "beauty" here. Excerpt: So now, in the name of equality, all and any are equally beautiful. There is no hierarchy, no standard. Because of the political considerations connected with race, beauty is no longer the regnant reality of the beauty pageants.
Hunting: Because so many of his policies are at least nominally conservative, British Prime Minister Tony Blair occasionally has had to throw a sop to the Leftists of his Labour party to keep them happy. Once such sop was to cut the voting rights of the herediary peers in the traditional but relatively powerless House of Lords and later he tried to ban hunting to hounds. The ostensible reason for the ban was that hunting is cruel but the real reason was of course that fox-hunting is usually seen in Britain (rather erroneously) as an upper-class sport -- and hating the "Toffs" is a great British Labour Party tradition.
Australian anthropologist, Ron Brunton has written an excellent summary of the place of hunting to hounds in British society and endorsed the words of the Prince of Wales to the effect that if fox-hunting had been beloved of blacks and gays it would have been warmly approved of instead of being banned.
What neither the Prince nor Brunton have noted is that this is no theory. It is literally true in Australia. In Australia, blacks are even allowed to hunt animals from PROTECTED species if that is part of their "traditional" customs! The hypocrisy that Leftist hatreds engender really is breathtaking sometimes: Black cruelty is good; White cruelty is bad. Shades of Orwell!
Lynching myths: In the USA, Southerners are still viewed with great suspicion by Leftists. That does of course in part date back to the Civil War but the more recent "Jim Crow" era in the South is also a great pleasure for Leftists. They all bask in their self-righteous knowledge of how those wicked old Southerners of that era used to go around persecuting any blacks who got "uppity". And REALLY "uppity" blacks were regularly lynched, of course -- the ultimate expression of inequality.
The history of the matter is amazingly different. Lynching was a primitive way of dealing with crime and during the period concerned there were not only 3,445 blacks lynched but also 1,297 whites lynched! That's the history of it. Only 72% of lynchings were of blacks, which is about the proportion of all crimes committed by US blacks today. Lynching actually seems to have been FAIR! "To kill a mockingbird" is a great and famous novel but it should not be relied on as history.
Self-esteem: Another way Leftists have long had of justifying their mania for "equality" is to claim that inequality damages the self-esteem of the losers in any comparison and so any differential reward or praise of anyone must be avoided. The simplistic mental-health assumption involved is that low self-esteem is always bad and high-self esteem is always good.
Even the Leftist N.Y. Times has however now noted that self-esteem is not the psychological 8th wonder of the world that Leftists thought it was. The NY Times article (also reproduced here) reported rightly that high-self esteem can in fact be associated with a whole range of anti-social behaviours. Excerpt:
High self-esteem, studies show, offers no immunity against bad behavior. Research by Dr. Brad J. Bushman of Iowa State University and Dr. Roy F. Baumeister of Case Western Reserve University finds that some people with high self-regard are actually more likely to lash out aggressively when criticized than those with low-self esteem. The list of groups - neo-Nazis, street toughs, school bullies - who combine preening self-satisfaction with violence belies the power of one to ameliorate the other
See also here for some actual EFFECTS of the self-esteem emphasis that is still prevalent in American schools. Excerpt:
Today's college students are more narcissistic and self-centered than their predecessors, according to a comprehensive new study by five psychologists who worry that the trend could be harmful to personal relationships and American society. "We need to stop endlessly repeating 'You're special' and having children repeat that back," said the study's lead author, Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University. "Kids are self-centered enough already." ....
The study asserts that narcissists "are more likely to have romantic relationships that are short-lived, at risk for infidelity, lack emotional warmth, and to exhibit game-playing, dishonesty, and over-controlling and violent behaviors."
I myself have argued against the self-esteem gospel for some time and do so again later in this monograph so let me just mention here one little known aspect of the self-esteem research that is NOT mentioned in the NY Times article -- that US blacks generally are found to have high self-esteem.
This finding is actually a big deal for two reasons. The most obvious is that by almost any criterion blacks tend to be the losers in American society so should on Leftist assumptions be very low on self esteem. That they are not shows that Leftist theory is, as usual, totally divorced from reality.
The second important implication is that it undercuts one of the pillars of Leftist support for the abomination known as "affirmative action" (i.e. anti-white racism). The big argument was that Africans suffer a psychological "burden' because of their slave origins so need measures to boost their self-esteem and get them to achieve. Now that it has long been clear that their self esteem does NOT need boosting, we can no doubt expect a withdrawal of Leftist support for affirmative action can we? Not likely!
The whole argument was an utter nonsense from the start anyway. Like many Australians, I am a WHITE person whose ancestors came to my country chained up in the holds of ships. I am descended from two British convicts who were transported to Australia for minor crimes. I even know the names of the ships they came in and have one of their important documents posted here. But did that impose an awful psychological burden on me? I think you can guess the answer. And I suppose that several millennia of persecution (Genesis 46 tells us that even the ancient Egyptians looked down on the Hebrews) imposes a terrible psychological burden on Jews and makes THEM unable to achieve too??? But Leftists never do care about evidence or logic!
Genetic inequalities in IQ
An area of discussion that REALLY offends the Leftist equality dogma, however, is the idea that differences in intelligence are inborn and that differences in average group intelligence may therefore be inborn too. I realize, in fact, that in even mentioning this subject, I am taking a risk. I do however cover the subject in some detail here.
"Government" (the State) as the answer
"Account must be taken of every single article, every pound of grain, because what socialism implies above all is keeping account of everything" -- V.I. Lenin
Now that we have had a good look at Leftist notions of equality, we need to have at least a brief look at the characteristic Leftist love of maximal government. We see in Lenin's jealous remark above part of the foundation of the bureaucratic State that Leftism always creates, though Lenin himself went on to say that you could somehow keep account of everything without bureaucracy!
One hardly needs to give examples of government inability to solve problems but, if one is needed, the way Argentina's Juan Peron proposed to deal with rising prices is at least amusing: He threatened to shoot any shopkeeper who put his prices up! Needless to say this was a good way of getting shopkeepers to shut their doors and turn Argentina into one big black market -- thus driving prices UP -- but it was not a solution to anything. Risible though Peron's ideas may have been, however, the reliance on coercion by Communist regimes was not dissimilar and was equally counterproductive and impoverishing. Coercion of any sort or degree -- whether by governments or anybody else -- is generally a poor and ineffective way of doing things.
Furthermore, governments everywhere remove large slices of the workforce out of productive activity and into paper-shuffling so are principally successful at impoverishing their communities but Leftists in some way manage not to care about that despite their vocal claim to be concerned about poverty. If they really were concerned about poverty, they would want to REDUCE the number of things government did! That they do not shows the hollowness of their "concern".
The now worldwide trend towards privatization and deregulation, however, shows that even governments themselves eventually have to admit that their cures are often worse than the disease. When governments as diverse as the "Communists" of China and the Hindu nationalists of India have now embraced deregulation and privatization (with great success), the continuing Left/liberal infatuation with government exposes them as the dinosaurs in the world of ideas.
Not that old ideas need be wrong: The seminal conservative political philosopher, (and friend of American liberties) Edmund Burke (1907), was a great advocate of limited power for government and already in the 18th century saw that government attempts at "compulsory equalizations," would lead to "equal want, equal wretchedness, equal beggary" -- and 20th century Socialist and Communist governments amply validated that prophecy.
Nonetheless, Leftists DO constantly seek expansion of the role of government -- with Communism being the limiting case of that, i.e. the case where government is all-powerful. So why do they do such an apparently foolish thing? As the quote from Hegel at the head of this file shows, it is a Leftist propensity of long standing and great centrality so it cries out for explanation.
I will submit at length throughout this monograph (and also here) that the answer is psychological rather than philosophcal or theoretical but we might at this point take a passing look at the sort of rationale that Leftists do offer in an effort to appear as more than just control-freaks:
Their basic argument is that the State somehow has superior claims to the claims of the individual. The formulation of the ex-Marxist Mussolini is perhaps the most famous and extreme example of such thinking: "Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State". Mussolini, however, was of course far too untactful for modern tastes but muted examples of such thinking still abound on the Left -- as we see here -- where, under the heading "No, it's not your money", a modern-day mainstream Leftist quotes the thinking of philosopher Peter Singer as "proving" that none of us have any good claim to own anything: Everything we have is courtesy of the State. The explanation for such a counter-intuitive and plainly totalitarian claim is to say that the individual could accomplish nothing and would earn nothing without the community of which he forms part -- and that therefore he "owes" the community something in return. That is of course true. What is hilarious is that Leftists by some amazing feat of illogicality then immediately equate "the community" with "the government" -- which is in fact merely one part of the community, and a very parasitic part at that.
To see how parasitic, it is instructive to look at Britain in the year 1900. Britain at that time was the workshop of the world, had the world's largest navy (far larger than it is now), had an army that could muster half a million men if required (as it subsequently did in South Africa), had more effective policing than it has today, had justice and educational systems that were legendary for their quality, had a comprehensive welfare system and had extensive worker-protection legislation (principally introduced by the arch-Conservative Disraeli). So how much of the national income was spent by government at that time? 13.3%! Taxation there has since skyrocketed (government expenditures reaching 49.9% of the national income in 1984) and what have Britons got in return for all that extra tax? An army of clerks and petty dictators, principally. Clearly, Britain in 1900 shows that one can discharge one's obligations to "the community" without giving half of the national income to the government to squander.
So the whole argument is an evasion. Practically everyone (a few anarchists of various types excepted) agrees that we need government and owe it something. The only interesting debate is over the quantum -- how much do we need the government and how much do we owe it? And to claim that we owe it everything is simply a dogmatic assertion with no evident basis.
The plain fact is that what we owe the community we DO pay and have ALWAYS paid -- by working and providing our services in exchange for services that we receive from others. And people co-operate to create goods and services for one-another with or without government involvement. And even if we agree that we owe the government some of our money for the services it provides, that in no way implies that we owe something to each and every member of the community, regardless of how much they contribute to the community.
There is, for instance, nothing inconsistent with my admitting indebtedness to the community and also saying that I owe hobos nothing. They have done nothing for me so I owe them nothing. I may give them something out of kindness but that is all. It is of course typically dreamy and simplistic Leftist thinking to see "the community" as some sort of undifferentiated whole when it is in fact anything but and when people in every day of their lives make sharp and important distinctions of all sorts between different members of it. Leftists have such rigid and simplistic thinking that their analyses of the world have always concentrated on large and overgeneralized groups. It used to be "the working class" versus "the bourgeoisie" and now it is mostly "gays", "women", "minorities", "Zionists" etc. They just can't handle or allow for individuals in their thinking. Individuals are just too messy and unruly for them. Straitjackets for all!
How Left is Left?
Leftism is however a matter of degree and we need to remember that there are extreme Rightists who would regard more moderate conservatives as Leftists. I myself have been variously called both a far-Leftist and a far-Rightist, though not usually in such polite terms. So what is the best indicator of how Leftist someone is?
In answer, I think the basic guide is that the further Left we go, the more government intervention in people's lives is demanded and practiced. All governments exercise power over people's lives in one way or another but the more Leftist you are, the more pervasive and all-encompassing you will want that government meddling, influence and direction to be. And, by that criterion, note that so-called "Rightists" such as Mussolini's Fascists and Hitler's Nazis were FAR to the Left.
We have seen above how this love of big government is related to the Leftist's love of change and his/her underlying personality needs.
Note, however, that the intrusiveness of government into our lives is now very well advanced worldwide. ALL modern governments are more interventionist than they were 100 years ago. The 20th century was broadly a century of ever-advancing Leftism and we live at the end of that process. Government meddling and regulation CAN be rolled back -- Reagan and Thatcher showed us that -- but so far we have seen only a small amount of such rolling back. And, for all the Reagan/Thatcher efforts, the Western world is now more regulated and bureaucratized than it ever has been in history. Part of this is the work of the "Greens" -- who have managed to get an utter torrent of fresh regulation unleashed upon us. At least, however, government is not yet all pervasive and all-powerful in the modern-day Western world -- the way it was in extreme Left regimes such as Stalin's, Hitler's, Mao's and Mussolini's.
Although all the authoritarian governments that were responsible for megadeaths in the 20th century were Leftist, it must be noted that not all authoritarian governments are Leftist. Most governments throughout human history have in fact been authoritarian. They were usually called Kings or Emperors. And they were all pretty ferocious with those who were a challenge to their power. And they often came to power via military means. But, with very few exceptions, nobody would ever call them Leftist. Why not? Because it is WHAT THEY DO with their power that makes them Leftist or not. If they are just happy to stay in power they are neither Right nor Left but simply historically normal. But if they want to use their power to transform the whole of society and vastly reorganize everyone's lives, however, they are Leftist.
Such military-based governments still pop up in the modern world too. The regimes of Franco in Spain and Salazar in Portugal, for instance, had a security apparatus that ensured that they stayed in power regardless of what their people might want but, aside from that, they just let people get on with their lives as before and in fact resisted change of most kinds.
Pinochet in Chile and Suharto in Indonesia were also undemocratic, military-based regimes that were unscrupulous in protecting their power but many of their other policies were more like Western conservative governments: They encouraged gradual and cautious change. They used their power to free up their economies --- thus extending the liberties of their citizens in important respects. Thus they were clearly not Leftists either.
Both the static Franco/Salazar type of regime and the progressive Pinochet/Suharto type of regime are often referred to as conservative but that simply reflects the fact that both opposed the large-scale forced reorganization of society that is associated with Leftism. Neither type of regime shows much respect for human rights and individual liberties or any other of the philosophies that characterize conservatives in the Western democracies.
As a libertarian, I deplore all government meddling in people's everyday lives but conservatives have always realized that it is a matter of degree. And while all governments are tyrannical to some degree, Rightist governments are intrinsically less so. A Rightist philosophy does embody respect for the individual and his rights and choices. The mass murders of Stalin, Mao and all of the many other Communist regimes show us, however, how much respect for the individual is built into a Leftist philosophy. Once they obtain absolute power, Leftists have no respect for other people at all.
Why does it matter to us? Centrism and its implications
The sort of absolute power that the Communists often obtained in the 20th century now seems to be a thing of the past, so why should we worry now about Leftism? Do we in fact have any really Leftist political parties any more?
There is a good article on "Slate" (Reproduced here) by Mickey Kaus puts very convincingly the well-established view that the major political parties in a democracy both have to stay very close to the centre. Excerpt:
Think of it in ... well, cheap Darwinian terms. Imagine that we have a two party system, and each party is a collection of status-seeking individuals looking for power by winning a greater "market share" of the vote. Imagine that they each have their ideological principles --one is more to the left, one more to the right -- but these principles are quite flexible in the face of imminent or repeated failure at the polls. Over time, as each party crafts its message to maximize its appeal -- and adjusts its message after each election to regain any lost share of the votes -- wouldn't one expect the system to reach a roughly 50-50 equilibrium, in which every election was a cliffhanger?
This is particularly marked in Australia where the policy differences between the two major parties are so small that even a dedicated anti-Leftist like myself would not see it as a great threat if the Australian Labor Party got control of the Australian Federal government, though, as the Rudd/Gillard episode showed, a Leftist government would be much more wasteful and would run up the national debt. Illegal immigration to Australia, for instance, has been stopped dead with both parties in support of that.
The really interesting implication of centrism, however, is that you can only get big change by moving the whole political agenda in one direction or the other. This happened very markedly after the implosion of the Soviet Union --- after which socialism went out the window worldwide and market-based economic arrangements (particularly privatization of former government-owned businesses) were brought in by parties of every political stripe from Britain to Bangladesh -- not even excepting "Communist" China.
This rightward shift in the economic management agenda has been enormously beneficial -- with world poverty now becoming steadily "Africanized" (i.e. with India and China both rapidly becoming more prosperous under their new, more capitalist arrangements, populations stuck in poverty are now very largely restricted to Africa).
So the job of conservative/libertarian writers like myself is now to try to expose the destructiveness of government activism in ALL spheres. If we can convince enough people of that, we will have moved the political agenda in a way that the major political parties (whether Right-leaning ot Left-leaning) will have to follow.
There is more on the centrist nature of democratic politics here.
Largely because its intellectual resources were so slender, Leftist advocacy as we once knew it in the economically successful "Western" democracies clearly suffered a body-blow from the collapse of its great "alternative" and alleged exemplar of equality -- The Soviet Union -- so most Leftists have had to find new directions for agitation in recent years. Criticizing our unequal capitalist society has become much less plausible now that capitalism seems to be the only show in town.
This has by and large simply meant a redirection of the Leftist's energies into other well-established equality-seeking causes -- such as anti-racism, radical feminism and treating criminals as simple unfortunates who can be set on the right path with a bit more "education" (Criminals are equal too, it seems). There has been an attempt, in other words, to move the focus of agitation away from economic reform towards social reform. As well as such old ideas, however, there have also arisen various new foci for Leftist discontent and agitation.
Leftism is in fact Protean. It has no fixed beliefs or principles and what Leftists advocate changes all the time. Its only coherence is psychological. For instance, as I document at some length elsewhere, the contrast between the Leftism of the prewar (WW2) period and the postwar period is quite amazing. There is therefore a need to look at what Leftism is at the time of writing early in the 21st century:
One of the newer leftist causes is the "political correctness" movement. This movement functions in two major ways: It attempts to change the way we think about less fortunate groups in the world by altering the words we use to describe them, and, in good Nazi bookburning fashion, it also attempts simply to suppress knowledge and debate. For example, it suppresses mention of any proposition that offers explanations of why some groups are less fortunate and are likely to remain so regardless of any amount of Leftist agitation -- the claim that Negroes have an inherited lower average IQ than whites, for instance. For a relatively recent and striking example of such a suppression effort, witness the pulping of Brand's (1996) very scholarly book on IQ by his own publisher (Wiley of the US) when the political unpalatability (to Leftists) of his inheritance data became obvious. There is obviously no way that Leftists/liberals believe in such "bourgeois" ideals as freedom of speech.
Political correctness has now been entrenched in law in many countries -- as was shown in 2002 in Australia: An Australian conservative Senator gave a private interview in which he spoke disparagingly but not unreasonably or abusively of Australian blacks. The outcome? He was eventually found guilty in the Federal Court of breaching the Racial Discrimination Act -- at a cost to him of $10,000. There is no doubt that Leftists are deadly enemies of our liberties when even our elected representatives can have their freedom of speech punitively curtailed. See Alex Robson for more details of the case. Excerpt:
The Federal Court ruled that Liberal Senator Ross Lightfoot broke the law when he called Aborigines in their native state the most primitive people on earth: Justice Christopher Carr said the West Australian Senator had breached the Racial Discrimination Act with his comments to a journalist in May 1997. He ordered Senator Lightfoot to pay costs of up to $10,000.
And note this report from Britain of someone (Tyndall) who was JAILED there under "hate speech" laws.
The judge at our trial exhibited the typical do-gooder liberal attitudes in this respect. He could not possibly gainsay, and therefore condemn someone for saying, that blacks perform intellectually at a lower level than whites. At the same time his emotions could not bear the thought that this state of affairs was unchangeable and not capable of remedy by education and social engineering. The first thought was just about acceptable to him; the second was not. It is essential to the liberal's faith in his ability to guide people forward that he have the capacity to lift up the low by civic action, whatever their depressed condition. Offend that faith, and you make the liberal very angry!"
More details of the case can be found here
But anti-American hate-speech is OK, of course:
A Columbia University professor told an anti-war gathering that he would like to see "a million Mogadishus" -- referring to the 1993 ambush in Somalia that killed 18 American servicemen. At Wednesday night's "teach-in" on the Columbia campus, Nicholas De Genova also called for the defeat of U.S. forces in Iraq and said, "The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military." And he asserted that Americans who call themselves "patriots" are white supremacists.
Political correctness even has the potential to trump religious freedom. Church schools in the Australian State of Queensland had only a narrow escape from it in 2002. The Labor Party government in Queensland tried to pass a law that would have forbidden them from rejecting homosexuals as teachers in their schools. Excerpt from a report of 27 November:
Religious groups moved closer to resolving an impasse over the Queensland government's new anti-discrimination laws. Church and Islamic leaders today met with Premier Peter Beattie to discuss the bill, which will effectively remove the right of religious schools not to employ people in de facto or gay relationships.
An escape clause for church schools (but not other schools) was built in only at the last moment after some heavy lobbying. I suspect that a lot of conservative Roman Catholic Labor union leaders burnt the Queensland Premier's ear about the issue. Australia has a lot of Roman Catholic schools. I sent my son to one.
How heavily the Leftist obsession with equality (and their consequent procrustean unwillingness to handle the complexities of the real world) influences the PC movement can perhaps be seen most clearly in the actions of a British welfare agency who banned a job advertisement because it discriminated against UNFRIENDLY PEOPLE! A company placed the advertisement looking for a "friendly person" for a catering-related job but the local Job Centre rejected it because they said it "may discriminate against certain applicants". See here (originally from the Bolton Evening News of June 7th., 2002 but no longer online at that site).
Less of a laughing matter is the way political correctness can actually endanger lives. Take, for instance, the case of a UK surgeon reported in the UK Daily Mail of July 23rd, 2002 who had to stop in the middle of surgery because the immigrant nurses employed by Britain's cash-strapped National Health Service could not understand enough English to follow his instructions. He filed a complaint claiming that patient's lives were being put at risk by nurses who do not understand English. The immediate result? A threat of disciplinary action against the surgeon for racism!
For more on the destructiveness of political correctness in Britain and elsewhere see here.
And the logic of political correctness can be unbelievable. Leftist logic always leaves lots out but it is at least usually easy to follow -- far too simplistic if anything. But a recent innovation in political correctness -- that American Indians should not be allowed to use Indian mascots or use such Indian terms as "Braves" to refer to themselves or name their sporting teams -- leaves me crosseyed with the deviousness of its "logic". Apparently it is supposed to be "non-racist" and "inclusive" to ban Indians from referring to their own group names and their own past. I guess that whites who refer to themselves as "Anglo-Saxons", "Germans", "Italians" etc. will be in the firing-line next. And Americans who remember and praise the deeds of George Washington must be a bad lot too by the same logic. David Yeagley (an American Indian) has been fulminating about it for some time. He has good reason to be angry at such oppression in the name of "tolerance" (of all things!). Only George Orwell would not be surprised by it all.
So the supposedly "anti-racist" Left is now not only persecuting Jews again (particularly on U.S. College campuses) but it is now persecuting the poor old American Indians too, because they have the temerity to be proud of their warrior past! With friends like the Left, who needs enemies?
Censorship is however obviously not a dramatic enough pursuit for many Leftists so they have turned to such unlikely targets as globalization and the World Trade Organization as foci for their ire. That anti-globalization is a psychologically easy step from Leftism is explained in The Economist -- which concludes that the anti-globalization protestors of today are the direct intellectual heirs of Karl Marx. Excerpt:
"Anti-globalism has been aptly described as a secular religion. So is Marxism: a creed complete with prophet, sacred texts and the promise of a heaven shrouded in mystery. Marx was not a scientist, as he claimed. He founded a faith. The economic and political systems he inspired are dead or dying. But his religion is a broad church, and lives on."
The sole aim of the World Trade Organization is to increase co-operation and interdependence between nations and thus reduce barriers to the free movement of goods and people between nations, so one might naively have thought that the advocates of "all men are equal" would approve of it. That modern-day Leftists in the economically successful "Western" democracies oppose the WTO and other summit organizations with broadly similar aims (such as the Davos World Economic Forum) is, then, an index of how desperate they have become for something to protest about in the post-Soviet world.
Globalization as a general concept too is a rather surprising target for the Left -- given that the United Nations was once a great icon and hope of Leftists in the economically successful "Western" democracies and given that Leftists once prided themselves on being internationalists: "Workers of the world unite", the Comintern (Communist International) and the "international brigades" of Leftist volunteers who fought Generalissimo Franco in the Spain of the 1930s, for instance. And as Fonte (2002) points out at some length, Leftists today are very keen at using transnational organizations to achieve their aims where it suits them -- particularly if such organizations give them the prospect of achieving things that cannot be achieved through the ballot box.
And there are some remnants of support for globalization on the Left. Australian philosopher Peter Singer is something of a hero on the loony Left but he seems to have had an attack of good sense recently and come out IN FAVOUR OF globalization -- on the undoubtedly true grounds that it will reduce global poverty. This article by Gregg Easterbrook (apparently a moderate Leftist) reviews Singer's book and even makes the point that, as globalization has been progressing, global inequalities in income have been DECLINING. Excerpt:
Singer discusses the work of three Norwegian researchers who have applied buying-power indices to international income statistics, and found that from 1970 to 1997, as globalization was reaching around the world, international inequality steadily declined
It must be so sad for Leftists to hear even from their own that, under wicked old capitalism, the poor are getting richer, not poorer.
Globalization has of course been doing its work of spreading prosperity throughout the world for well over a century (at least since the repeal of the corn laws in 1846 by British Conservative Prime Minister Robert Peel) but only recently do Leftists seem to have discovered its "evils". Prince Albert, 19th century humanitarian and consort of Britain's Queen Victoria, was one of the most prominent early advocates of globalization -- precisely because of its effects in reducing poverty. So the Leftist opponents of globalization would appear to have been missing the big game for a long time!
If Leftists were sincere in their advocacy of the interests of the poor, they would in fact be urging MORE globalization. The biggest single remaining barrier to globalization in the world today is agricultural protectionism -- preventing farm products being imported by way of tariffs, subsidies and other barriers. Such protectionism is practiced principally by rich countries (Japan, the USA and the European Union) and hurts most the poor countries of the world who rely principally on primary production and exports for their livelihood. One of the few ways poor countries could get richer is by producing and selling primary products to us but it is the LACK of globalization in agriculture which prevents them from doing so. But when did we hear Leftists arguing for more globalization? That they do not shows the hypocrisy of their claim to care about the poor.
And even without globalized agricultural trade, the degree of globalization we have had has been highly beneficial to the poorer countries. As it says here:: "Evidence supplied by the World Bank and United Nations strongly suggests that multinational corporations are a key factor in the large improvement in welfare that has occurred in developing countries over the last forty years...." And, as a result the people of the third world are big fans of globalisation. Now why would that be? Simple. Because they know from experience that it makes them better off, not worse off -- contrary to what the lying Leftists of the West say.
It also shows something of Leftist motivation that their opposition to free trade generally puts them in league with big business and conservative farmers -- groups that they would normally anathematize. Obviously, being protestors matters more to Leftists than whom or what the protest is in aid of.
Opposition to globalization etc is however too readily identified as a lunatic fringe activity to satisfy everyone on the Left so other things needing change have had to be found. And, in fact, even reactionary change has been embraced. "Reactionary" was once almost a swear-word to the Left but, if a reactionary is someone who wants to put social and economic change into reverse gear and return the world to some sort of idealized and simpler past, the major reactionary movement in the world today is undoubtedly the "Green" movement. One sometimes gets the impression that only the entire elimination of the human race would satisfy the Greens in their desire to return the world to a pristine state. Certainly, no concession to their aims ever seems enough to satisfy them.
The wish for nature conservation and reclamation has a long and honourable past -- including among its advocates most English-language poets from at least the 18th century onwards (Who can forget William Blake's "dark Satanic mills"?). And no-one has ever set aside a greater area for nature conservation than US Republican President Theodore Roosevelt did -- and that was roughly a century ago. And only a little later, Benito Mussolini, the founder of Fascism, also showed great concern for trees and the environment. Mussolini was a Marxist, however (Bosworth, 2002).
And while there are still some environmental causes that represent undramatic, largely uncontroversial and sensible improvements to our quality of life and the prospects for our future (e.g. control of farmland degradation), many others are quite fanciful, extreme and ill-founded (as the statistician Lomborg, 2001, has shown at length). Modern-day "Greenies" go well beyond mere nature conservation in what they seek and are very strong and relentless advocates of change to practically all of our existing arrangements and systems. And that suits change-hungry and drama-hungry Leftists down to the ground. So therefore many "Reds" have in recent times become "Greens" and Red-Green alliances spring up with some frequency
The fact that nature conservation and reclamation has never previously in its long past attracted much Leftist attention does suggest that their recent interest in it lies not in the cause itself but rather in the drama and disruption that modern day Greenies create in pursuit of their goals. Many Green advocacy groups -- such as Greenpeace -- provide opportunity for drama and self-advertisement aplenty.
Even mainstream Leftist politicians see environmentalism as something of a life-saver for themselves. As Robin Cook, a senior member of the British Labour party put it in "The Observer" of October 8th, 1989: "The new environmental concerns could put Labour's ideology back in business. The politics of the environment are the politics of intervention -- firmer regulation, tighter planning and collective co-operation." No ambiguity there about what a Leftist wants.
The origins of environmentalism
Many people see environmentalism as a recent phenomenon. It is not. Read the typically Greenie quote following and find the one word I have deleted from it:
"We recognize that separating humanity from nature, from the whole of life, leads to humankind's own destruction and to the death of nations. Only through a re-integration of humanity into the whole of nature can our people be made stronger. That is the fundamental point of the biological tasks of our age. Humankind alone is no longer the focus of thought, but rather life as a whole . . . This striving toward connectedness with the totality of life, with nature itself, a nature into which we are born, this is the deepest meaning and the true essence of Socialist thought."
How many people would have picked that I missed out the word "National" before "Socialist"? Yes. It was a leading Nazi who wrote that. Environmentalism was a part of Nazism just as it is a part of modern-day Leftism. Like the Greenies of today, the Nazis wanted to take us all back to some imaginary and romanticised rural past. And of course the Communist Pol Pot in Cambodia actually tried it! For more on ecofascism see Peter Staudenmaier. Hitler and Pol Pot reveal how dangerous the Greens could be if ever they got real power. History can be most inconvenient! Though you don't need history to tell you that Greenies are people-haters.
Peaceniks, Vietnam and the fading of nationalism
The Vietnam war had a huge influence on the thinking of both the American Left and the American Right but it is something of a detour from current politics so I have decided to treat it as a separate topic in a separate article. See here.
A quote from that article may however be apposite here:
The idea that Leftists favour peace is of course absurd. The hate, anger and envy that drive Leftists make them inherently aggressive and bloodthirsty -- as we see whenever they gain absolute power -- from the French revolutionaries onward through Trotsky, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot -- not to mention more minor revolutionaries. And the great violence that often characterized "peace" demonstrations of the Vietnam era (see e.g. here) gave the lie to any claim that these Leftists were any different from their predecessors
Hate and "hate crimes"
This is a rather large topic in its own right so I have given it separate consideration elsewhere. Briefly, however, my argument is that Leftists leap to condemn even the mildest negativity as "hate speech" because they themselves are so hate-filled. It is a classic means of diverting attention from one's own failings to condemn loudly such failings in others. Psychologists call it "projection" and Christ knew of it too -- Matthew 7: 4,5. And Leftists even cover themselves against accusations of projection too -- how else but by claiming to find lots of projection in conservatives!
Mental health misrepresentations continue: suicide
So although Leftists undoubtedly hate "the rich", "WASPs" etc, their greatest hatred is for conservatives -- and one of their favourite ploys for attacking conservatives is to claim that conservatism is bad for your mental health. Britain's Leftist "Guardian" newspaper, for instance, had a good chortle over the claim that the suicide rate in Britain and Australia is higher during periods when Conservatives are in government. They imply that conservatism is so bad for your mental health that it can make you suicide.
This is, of course reminiscent of that old 1950s Marxist nonsense by Adorno and friends (still popular among psychologists -- see here or here) to the effect that conservatives have diseased "authoritarian" personalities! If you cannot beat conservatives in rational debate what could be better than a good old "ad hominem" response that says your opponent's arguments are wrong simply because he personally is a bad lot? One might as well argue that all dog-owners are evil because Hitler loved dogs.
The suicide statistics are of course fraudulent. The British study actually RULED OUT the period of the (Conservative) Heath government when suicide was low -- on the laughable grounds that Britain got natural gas about then and that made it too hard for many people to commit suicide. And even with that big fudge the pattern was still far from clear. As Katherine Mangu-Ward puts it in the "Daily Standard" of 30th September, 2002:
"Though the averages are higher for conservative administrations, when one looks at administrations individually, there are numerous exceptions to the supposed trend. For example, in addition to Heath, the suicide rate under Churchill was likewise low, while during Callaghan's Labour administration it was quite high"
Other standard points could and should be made about the "studies" concerned -- such as the old truth that correlation does not prove causation -- but the real clincher that was overlooked is the time-period when suicides are usually lowest. Guess when that is? When the nation is at WAR! So that means that low suicides rates are necessarily good??? So we need more wars???
All suicides are truly tragic but like everything else there are swings and roundabouts. Clearly there is NO automatic inference we can draw about people's overall wellbeing from suicide rates. Certainly, any claim that a low suicide rate indicates good times for the nation is laughable. On the other hand, if anybody wants to extend "Guardian" type logic to saying that being ruled by a Leftist government is about as good for you as having your country attacked by a foreign power, who am I to argue?
Conspiracy theories continue
There is a history of conspiracy theories here that endeavours to show that they are equally prevalent on the Right and the Left of politics. Hogwash! All the current conspiracy theories ("Bush was forewarned about 9/11" and all the rest) come from the Left.
Contrary to what the article claims, Ann Coulter's defence of Joe McCarthy against widespread condemnation is not a conspiracy theory. McCarthy IS still widely and systematically condemned despite being eventually proven justified in the general thrust of his enquiries. And JFK defended McCarthy too. And the idea of a new world order is no fairytale. President Bush senior openly proclaimed such an aim after the first Gulf war. And we have certainly got a new world order now -- though not the one envisaged.
The prime example usually given of a "Rightist" conspiracy theory is Hitler's theory about the Jews. But Hitler was a socialist! He himself from the very beginning proclaimed his socialism and love of the worker and put his claims into practice too. See here.
The fact of the matter is that conspiracy theories (in the 60's, "the CIA" was responsible for everything) are part and parcel of the simplistic thinking that is characteristic of the Left. That is not to say that there are NO conservatives who sometimes entertain conspiracy theories but such theories are nonetheless far and away the characteristic mental hidey-hole of the Leftist who cannot afford to face reality lest his entire conceptual house of cards come tumbling down.
David Brooks had an amusing article in the "New York Times" about the "neocon" conspiracy theories that are so popular even among the mainstream Left as an "explanation" of George W. Bush's foreign policy. This "definition" gave me a chuckle: "con is short for "conservative" and neo is short for "Jewish"". Some of the letter-writers to the NYT got very huffy about their antisemitism being described so blithely but you don't have to read many Leftist rants on the subject to know the truth behind what Brooks said.
Sins of omission and commission
Leftists sometimes argue, with their usual illogic, that it is OK for them to do harm with their addled programmes of action because conservatives ALLOW great harm to go on in the world -- such as the starving children in Africa. Philosophers Jim Ryan (post of March 3rd. 2003) and Eddie Thomas had a discussion about this.
There are various possible answers to the "argument" -- the best of which is probably a reductio ad absurdem (e.g. If I neglect my child, does that mean that you are right to murder your child?) -- but the one Jim chose and that Eddie was dubious about is that actively doing harm is much worse than allowing harm to go on. As Eddie, says, however, that surely depends a lot on the circumstances of the particular case.
I myself would identify the essential point in any answer as being that the amount of harm and suffering in the world is essentially infinite -- the world is full of harm going on all the time. So we HAVE TO allow most of it. Our own positive actions are different however. We have lots of choice about them. And if we do harm through them we should rightly be held culpable. We cannot solve all the world's problems but we can at least do our best to do no harm ourselves. As I recollect, that is part of the Hippocratic oath: "First do no harm".
One of the classic tactics that Leftists old and new use to attack people they disagree with is to do their best to portray their opponents as dumb buffoons. Almost any US Republican President gets so labelled. President G.W. Bush gained a Master's degree from Harvard but even he gets portrayed as an airhead. So this is really just another variant on the Leftist's reliance on lies.
The people Leftists hate most are not in fact conservatives but rival Leftists. And guess how Leftists have always described Benito Mussolini, the founder of the Fascist variant of Leftism? You guessed it: "Buffoon" is by far the most used word. Yet Mussolini read poetry and philosophy voraciously, including Socrates and Plato. He spoke several foreign languages, was always interested in discussing political and philosophical ideas with almost anyone, had considerable acceptance in his early days as a leading Marxist theoretician, wrote over 40 books, and was a tree-lover and environmentalist 50 years before Greenies were thought of. Dumb buffoon!
Advertising: The perennial enemy
A favourite whipping-boy of the Left has long been the advertising industry. If people want various non-essential material goods, that is presented by Leftists not as something legitimate and reasonable but as the result of demand "artificially" created by big business via advertising. All the evidence shows, however, that advertising in fact CANNOT create demand that does not exist. There has to be a pre-existing need or desire there first before the advertising will work. So advertising has to find some real need to work on.
Advertising people all know that, of course, and do their best to find a need at which they can target their products. Even then, however, they can come a cropper. The most spectacular example of a failure of advertising to create demand for a product was the stylistically different "Edsel" car produced and promoted by Ford from 1957. Ford spent a record amount of money on advertising and hired top advertising brains to promote the Edsel to absolutely no avail. The model was a complete flop.
So next time you hear Leftists complaining about the way advertising can "create" demand (thus making people's own choices somehow illegitimate), ask them to tell that to the guys who tried to sell the Edsel.
Modern Leftists even hate Christmas
If any further proof of the ill-natured motivations of Leftists were needed, the way they try to obstruct the enjoyment that ordinary people derive from Christmas would be a good case in point.
The great enemy of the Christmas spirit in literature is of course Dickens' Ebenezer Scrooge. And Scrooge was not exactly a loved or praised figure. That Dickens was a "social reformer" in his day does therefore make it all the more strange that the Left of today have adopted Scrooge as their own. As Trevor Sykes (a.k.a "Pierpont") reports:
"The kindergartens of Victoria have launched an anti-Santa campaign this Christmas. At last count, about 50 kindergartens had banned Santa and were going to entertain their tots with magicians or clowns instead so as not to offend minority groups.
If the teachers are really conscientious objectors to Santa and Christmas, Pierpont assumes they will not recognise Christmas at all and keep working right through the Yuletide holidays. If they did that, perhaps some Australian offspring might emerge from our education system with an IQ somewhere above single-digit levels."
The "liberals" of Canada carry their "multicultural" objections to Christmas almost to the point of insanity. Take a 2002 initiative of the City of Toronto to call their Christmas tree a "holiday" tree so as not to offend non-Christians and a similar move by the Canadian Mint to change "The Twelve Days of Christmas" in their advertising to "The Twelve Days of Giving" -- thus offending a lot of Christians. It seems that far from permitting and celebrating all cultures there (which was the original idea of multiculturalism) they have now got to the point of SUPPRESSING Christian culture!
It is of course a pure Leftist lie that Christmas "offends" non-Christians. Nobody had ever heard of any such thing until Leftists invented it and to this day I have yet to hear one non-Christian claim such offence. In reality the whole anti-Christmas project is nothing more than the usual childish Leftist attempt to draw attention to themselves by attacking worthy institutions that are in fact supports to the good life and comfort of ordinary people. Now that Buddhists, Confucians and Communists in Japan and China are eagerly adopting Christmas and its trappings, it really shows how "offensive" to other religions Christmas is, doesn't it? Even to Muslims, Christ is a great prophet.
The Left's "Third way"
After the demise of the Soviet Union, the great white hope of the Left became the "Third Way" (exemplified in Britain's Tony Blair). This is in fact an old Roman Catholic idea stemming from the famous pro-labour encyclical "De rerum novarum" of Pope Leo XIII in 1891.
Famous though it is, many people will not know what "De Rerum Novarum" says. It rejects Marxism but justifies intervention by the State on behalf of the workers and proposes that the best solution for working-class poverty would be some sort of combined action of the Church, the State, the employer and the employed. Such "corporatist" solutions were of course put faithfully into practice by various good Catholic sons -- such as Italy's Benito Mussolini, Spain's General Franco and Portugal's Antonio Salazar.
Tony Blair is an Anglican so he is more moderate and democratic than Mussolini or Franco but he too rejects the old Marxist nostrum of having government run industry while at the same time still using the power of the State to redistribute wealth from those who have earned it to those who have not. So the British Left's "Third way" and the current "American way" are now rather similar. Roman Catholicism is, after all, America's biggest religious denomination. And a majority of them probably still vote Democrat.
The "Third Way" in economics
But does it work? How good or bad is a "third way" for the economy and for national prosperity? The Blair era ended with reduced British living standards but other whipping boys can be found for that. Are there better examples of a "third way" that would enable us to judge it by its results?
An old favourite of Leftists -- Sweden -- would seem to be a good case in point. Sweden never did embark on the dismal road of government ownership of major sectors of the economy. It always followed the philosophy of letting businessmen make the money and then having the State redistribute most of it. So how has that affected Swedish living standards?
In mid-2002, there was a bit of a flurry in conservative circles about a study which showed Sweden in a bad light. It was pointed out that the average Swede was less wealthy than even poor Americans. Even an average citizen of a poor American State like Mississippi was better off than the average Swede. This was taken as some indication that "heartless" American capitalism was in fact kinder to the poor than was the Swedish welfare State.
This was of course a bit of a red rag to those who admire the Swedish welfare State and various refutations of the claim were produced. One of the chief debunkers of the claim was Prof. Mark Kleiman, from the UCLA School of Public Policy and Social Research:
Kleiman's claims had a number of apparent peculiarities in them, however, so I emailed him about some of them. It turns out that he conceded that Gross Domestic product (GDP) per capita is considerably higher in the USA than in Sweden but disputed that GDP is a good measure of average welfare.
This might seem surprising considering the very widespread use of GDP as a measure of national economic performance but is in fact an old point in economics. GDP is essentially an accounting measure that just adds up all the money that people earn and spend in a given year. Kleiman rightly pointed out that GDP is not the whole picture. A classical point is that GDP ignores the very valuable work done by housewives because it is not paid for in a way that accountants can measure.
As soon as you start "correcting" GDP to make it a better measure of welfare, however, you rush headlong into political judgments. For instance, Leftists might argue that a country with a highly multicultural population is a lot better for you in various ways so a country with such a population should get an extra mark for that. Conservatives, on the other hand, would probably argue that multiculturalism is a pain and would mark a country down for that.
So Kleiman is perfectly right to say that welfare is a matter of opinion but it still remains that on the most objective and most widely used measure of national economic performance, socialized Sweden shows up as considerably poorer than the more capitalistic USA.
I pointed all that out on my blog and Kleiman posted a not totally unreasonable counterblast. It should be noted, however, that all the countries which Kleiman mentions as poorer than Sweden have suffered heavily from even worse socialism than Sweden. Sweden is a high tax and high "welfare" place but has never had massive nationalized industries -- unlike most of the rest of Europe. That is why the comparison between the USA and Sweden is so interesting: Two highly capitalist economies of long standing that differ mainly in the different proportion of the national income that they divert into "welfare" expenditure. No prizes for guessing which one has forged ahead.
Kleiman also glided over the point that once you start trying to measure wellbeing instead of productivity you run into pluses as well as minuses. Swedes, for instance, have more leisure but also have to spend a considerably higher proportion of their income just to keep warm. All of which goes to show that economists who claim to be able to measure wellbeing simply reveal their politics. They should stick to the dollars and cents.
Some less disputable facts about Sweden, however, are these: "No new net jobs have been produced in the Swedish private sector since 1950. None of top 50 companies on the Stockholm stock exchange has been started since 1970. ...well over 1 million people out of a work force of around four million did not work in 2003 but lived on various kinds of public welfare programs, such as, pre-pension schemes, unemployment benefits, sick-leave programs, etc. Sweden has dropped from fourth to 14th place in 2002 among the OECD countries (i.e., affluent industrialized countries) in terms of GDP per capita since 1970".
The "Third way" in Canada
The comparison between the US and Canada is always interesting also: Two very similar populations with very different institutional arrangements. The US economy is much more free-market while Canada is much more welfarist and highly regulated. So how have the two been doing? A Bank of Montreal study shows that from 1988 to 1997, the GDP per head grew each year in the USA at more than TWICE the rate of the Canadian figure. Canadian unemployment is also now much higher. The same study also showed that it was not the productivity of the Canadian workforce that was at fault but rather the broader economic setting. Enough said.
For a discussion and much more data on the subject, see under "Land of Confusion" here. Excerpt:
Randall is speaking here of the "gaps" I described in August. Enumerated briefly, they include a gap in marginal tax rates, a gap in personal disposable income (and overall GDP per capita), a gap in labour productivity, a gap in unemployment, and a gap in the stability of the currency. Basically, between the U.S. and Canada, there's a "gap" in any indicator of economic health or standard of living you can conceive. Randall adds a new gap to this list--namely, a gap in the regulatory cost of financial services.
But no doubt Mark Kleiman and his ilk would again want to claim that life in Canada is still so much NICER! A safe claim: It all depends on how you define "nice".
I have not updated the above figures because subsequent political changes make any later comparisons difficult. As of 2015, Canada has for some time been governed by the prudent Harper regime while America has suffered the eccentric Obama regime. So stable comparisons are effectively impossible. A graphic illustration of how eccentric Obama's America became below:
US official statistics on such things as unemploynent also became very rubbery under the Obama regime -- as indeed they did under Britain's Blair regime. Leftist reliance on deception can easily seep into the bureaucracy -- or, indeed, be joyously embraced by it. Official statistics in Blair's Britain became about as reliable as Stalin's. See e.g. here and here. Police statistics became particularly corrupted, though that was not clearly shown until the Blair/Brown government had left office.
Is happiness unimportant?
On another tack, Leftists seem to have discovered only recently the academic psychology literature on happiness -- and it seems to have given them some inspiration. The research shows, of course, that money does not buy you happiness. "So why are we worrying about the government trying to give everyone higher incomes or a better standard of living if that will not make them any happier?", some are now asking. The simple answer: "Because almost everybody WANTS higher incomes" does not seem to have occurred to all of them yet. They also seem to think that if money will not necessarily make you happy then there is no reason why they should not take it off you in taxes. But, to use the same logic, if money is not going to make you any happier, why bother redistributing it to the poor??
Happiness research is, however, a big subject so I have covered it in a separate article.
The strange priorities of Leftist outrage
The causes that are highlighted by our Left-dominated media and made the target of outraged denunciations and agitation by Leftists generally today are remarkable for their selectivity. There seems at first to be no rhyme or reason in what a Leftist will express outrage about.
For instance, Leftists in most of the developed world constantly agonize about the "harsh" treatment that their governments mete out to illegal immigrants, no matter how lenient such treatment actually is. One gets the impression that only complete abandonment of border controls would satisfy Leftists. The Australian government, for instance, has had great success in deterring illegal immigrants by sending most of them straight to special prisons when they arrive. So Australian Leftists long mounted huge demonstrations against this policy even though the policy had huge support in the Australian community generally, even though the illegals concerned were treated humanely and even though the illegals were probably better housed and fed in their special prisons than they ever were in their homelands. There was also great agony expressed about the "damage" this policy will do to Australia's international reputation and "experts" were wheeled out to condemn the conditions under which the illegals are housed.
One would think, therefore, that if humane imprisonment of lawbreakers evokes such outrage, mass murder of innocents would induce utter paroxysms of Leftist agitation. And there are plenty of examples of mass murder going on all the time in the world: The incessant massacres of Muslims in India by Hindu fundamentalists and the constant massacres of Christians in the Sudan by Muslim fundamentalists, for instance. So what do we hear from Leftists about these really grave examples of human suffering? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Why? Why are Leftists so amazingly selective in their outrage? Why the hypocritical concern about minor examples of human suffering while they ignore really major examples of human suffering? The answer is obvious. Leftists are not concerned about human suffering at all. What they seek is to star in a drama where they can play David to someone else's Goliath. As with globalization, they want to oppose the consensus. They want to demonstrate in favour of unpopular causes, not causes that would be greeted by the population at large as worthy but too routine or distant to bother about. They are only "compasssionate" about causes that will give them the maximum ego-boost, causes that they believe will enable them to promote their fantasy view of themselves as as kinder and wiser and more caring than the population at large.
Selective Greenie Outrage
And if the targets that the Left choose for their outrage seem arbitrary and inconsistent, the selectivity of their "Green" allies is even more amazing. In Australia, for instance, Greenpeace mounted in 2002 a sustained campaign to shut down Australia's only refinery for producing motor fuel from shale. They ran around in their beloved rubber boats doing all sorts of obstructive things and intimidated any company that tried to supply motorists using the refinery's product. Australia's conservative government had to introduce special concessionary regulations to keep the refinery company afloat, so severe was the Greenie pressure on it.
Given the constant Greenie scares about how we are likely to run out of petroleum products in double quick time if we do not mend our evil ways, one might naively expect that they would rejoice at a beginning being made on unlocking the vast reserves of hydrocarbons locked up in shale. Shale is ubiquitous and could potentially supply all our needs for petroleum products for at least hundreds of years. That Greenies do exactly the opposite and attack shale usage makes clear how much they really hate ordinary people. Greenie extremists WANT people to be hurt by resource shortages so they frantically oppose anything that will make more resources available.
They justify their attacks on the shale refinery by claiming that is a heavy polluter -- which it apparently was to some degree in its startup stages -- but now that its pollution levels have been reduced to levels normal for the oil industry the Greenie extremists are in no way mollified.
And the pollution produced in Australia by this one refinery is of course absolutely minuscule compared to sources of atmospheric pollution elsewhere in the world. The now well-known "Asian brown cloud", for instance, is studiously ignored by Greenies -- even though it is a considerable threat to the respiratory health of more than a billion (Yes. Billion, not million) people. This brown haze that constantly lies over India and its neighbours seems mainly to be produced by the Indian practice of using wood fires to cremate their dead and cow dung to fuel cooking fires. It is produced, in fact, by exactly the sort of traditional "sustainable" low-technology village lifestyle that the Greenies are constantly advocating for us all.
The sad fact for Greenies, of course, is that village Indians will only be able to move to less polluting practices as they modernize and move to the more efficient and clean-burning forms of cooking and combustion that are common in the developed world. But spending time advocating that Indians do more to modernize would not at all assuage the hunger for drama and self-advertisement that seems to motivate Greenie activists. They have the same motivations as Leftists so it no wonder that there are so many Red/Green alliances.
The churches as opponents of the Left
For many people, one of the great attractions of Communism (and to a lesser degree of the Left generally) in the late 19th century and for most of the 20th Century was its opposition to the churches and their moral codes. Since the Leftist wants to tear down all existing authorities and centres of power, the Leftist had to oppose such strong existing authorities as the churches. This antagonism was of course particularly notable with the Roman Catholic Church -- the most powerful of the Churches. And the best weapon with which to defeat the churches was to attack the discomfort inflicted by religious moral codes.
Religions generally use their influence over people to help enforce conventional morality, including sexual morality. They do this because, like conservatives generally, they see moral codes as essential to the function of a civil society. If sexual impulses cannot be controlled, for instance, fathers would be in great doubt about which progeny are theirs and would be less likely to support the progeny concerned economically and in other ways -- with disastrous results for future generations. Before the welfare State came along, fathers were virtually essential for the survival of children.
But moral codes are onerous and Communism offered an escape from them. If all men were to become brothers and all resources were to be shared freely, fathers would not be needed for anything more than the act of procreation itself. This vision was of course a great attraction for both men and women and Leftists were always in the vanguard of sexual liberation. Sex sells and it certainly sold Leftism to many.
Thus Leftists were well-prepared when the advent of the contraceptive pill kicked away the practical foundations of conventional sexual morality. They were ready to justify what had just become practical -- irresponsible sex. So they seemed to have come into their own at that time (in the 1960s).
The pill soon caused libertinism to spread very widely, however, and sexual permissiveness soon therefore ceased to be characteristically Leftist. The longer term effect of the pill was in fact to deprive Leftists of one of their strongest sources of appeal. They are no longer the only libertines. Effective contraception has in fact changed social mores so much that it is now permissiveness which is conventional.
What human beings are, however, is dictated more by a million years of evolution than by any religious or political doctrine so the inborn needs for stability, fidelity, trust, affection etc that evolution had attached to human procreative activity ensured some survival of family stability and cohesion. This too meant that the churches became less relevant. It became clear that neither religion nor the church were essential to the survival of a civil society. The family survived with or without the church and with or without externally enforced moral codes. Only some churches and some conservatives have as yet adapted to that new reality, however.
Amusingly, the normal Leftist rejection of conventional Western religion does not seem to apply to primitive religions. American Indian beliefs, for instance, are normally treated with great respect and held up as wise by Leftists. Why? Presumably as just another way of attacking the churches. We are asked to believe that the Protestant Christianity which created the modern world is somehow inferior for some unknown reason. Powerful religion has to be attacked but non-threatening religion is OK.
Also at work when Leftists praise primitive religions is of course the normal Leftist hatred of modern Western civilization in general and of the USA in particular. Anything non-Western or non-Christian is therefore welcomed and praised. And the common Red/Green pretence that primitive practices were more "in harmony with nature" is something of a joke. Primitive peoples constantly used fire to clear land and trap game and this constant fire-load on the environment did of course greatly change the landscape and its resident species from what they "naturally" once were. Primitive man probably changed the landscape nearly as much as modern man did, in fact. Only very high rainfall forests would have been unaffected by fire. And the desertification of large areas on the margins of the Sahara is the work of primitive sheep and goat herders in quite recent times.
Nonetheless, from the personally irascible Rousseau onwards, Leftists (and now Greenies) have always loved to romanticize primitive, tribal life. But here is a quote from Matthew Parris -- who saw it close-up for many years:
"In particular I noticed how tribalism - really only an anthopologist's term for an extreme form of communitarianism - seemed tohave dinned the individualism out of people, so nobody cared or dared to take a lead or differ notably from the others. Some people will tell you tribe (or village, or community) humanizes, brings comfort and security. I thought it was stifling, and brutal in its way.
Historian Keith Windschuttle has a good review of a book about the "Noble Savage" myth and there is also a post at Marginal Revolution showing that in primitive societies an average of about 30% of all male deaths are caused by warfare! And the Lestists think primitive man is peaceful! The post also shows that deaths from warfare in the US and Europe are the tiniest fraction of that.
And in another article, Windschuttle points out how nonsensical are the Leftist claims about how wonderful primitive people were. Aside from the mythical Tasaday, they were usually extremely brutal and selfish in fact. Windschuttle reports for instance the "frequently murderous level of violence Tasmanian men heaped on their women" .
He notes that even Leftist historians who criticize him in fact confirm his account: "How violent, Clendinnen asks, were Aboriginal men toward their women? "Very", she answers. "What the newcomers saw as remarkable --what I would think would be remarkable anywhere --were the blows Australian men publicly, casually, dealt their women for trivial offences, and their ready resort to weapons. Their women were, literally, browbeaten."
Leftist Infiltration of the mainstream churches
The modern Leftist acceptance of non-threatening religions might also help to explain how Leftists have come to infiltrate many of the historic Protestant churches of the "Western" world in recent years. The Presbyterian, Anglican and Methodist churches in particular would appear to have suffered considerably from the secularism of the modern world and appear in consequence to have largely lost their way. They have certainly lost much of the power and influence they once had and no longer seem very sure of what they should stand for. So Leftists now see such churches as more of an opportunity than a threat and have in fact in many cases become part of such churches and have replaced the Gospel of Christ with a pseudo-Christian gospel that exploits traditional Christian teachings of love and compassion to promote the usual Leftist amorality and the usual Leftist goals of enforced equality between people.
The churches also provide Leftists with a "bully pulpit" (to use Theodore Roosevelt's famous phrase). As part of their wish to aggrandize themselves, Leftists love to preach to people and urge on them the error of their ways. The churches are of course ready-made for that and also have some prestige and some reputation for good intentions that is useful to the Leftist in getting his/her message listened to. So Leftists have every reason to infiltrate and use the mainstream churches.
The way they have done so is discussed at some length here
The U.S. Democrats HATE Bible-believing Christians. Why?
I look at that question at some length here. But briefly, there are 3 interrelated reasons:
1). Real Christianity (as distinct from the social Christianity that denominations such as the Episcopalians are known for) and Leftism are rival religions. That explains both the historic Soviet Communist opposition to Russia's strong traditional Christianity and the opposition of the U.S. Democrats today to the still strong following for traditional Protestantism in America.
2). Real Christians favour the GOP very strongly in their votes. Although conservatism and evangelical Christianity are far from the same thing (otherwise there would not be -- say -- Catholic and atheist conservatives), there are two major ways in which evangelical Protestants and conservatives share a basic philosophy. They both believe that man is "fallen" and imperfectible and they both believe in the importance and supremacy of the individual in finding his own salvation and welfare. With such basic beliefs in common, the wonder is that the alliance between Protestant Christians and conservatives has not historically been stronger.
3). Leftists need to feel superior to someone else in order to boost their own ego. But being "superior" can only be relative. Superior to whom? So the Leftist always needs to feel superior to particular people or groups. There has to be some group that they don't need to pander to and which they are free to put down and hate. But Leftists are not supposed to feel superior to those people they could most easily feel superior to (homosexuals, blacks, poor people etc) so Christians, conservatives and others whom they see as permissible targets "cop the lot". All their hatred is poured out through the openings that their poses do allow. And Christians are one of the permissible targets. Though that old standby -- the Jews -- also seems to be making a comeback. And the fervour of hatred towards Christians that the Leftists currently pour out reflects both how limited their opportunities for preening themselves now are and how badly in need of propping up their egos are after their many defeats from the fall of the Soviet Union on.
Anyone who doubts that Leftists do see themselves as superior beings should trawl through the archives of my LEFTISTS AS ELITISTS blog for a while. That will set any doubts completely at rest.
Abortion: Only conservatives care
Abortion is a difficult issue for conservatives. They seem to be fairly evenly divided about it. But Leftists are not. Leftists almost all seem to favour abortion. Why?
The key to understanding that is simple. When Leftists get into absolute power -- as they often did in the 20th Century -- we soon see what their "compassion" really adds up to. From Stalin to Pol Pot, Leftists showed that they do not care about human life at all. They murdered millions. So what are a few unborn babies to them? A mere bagatelle!
Rightists are divided because they are the only ones who genuinely care and it is a situation of conflict between the rights of the child and the rights of the mother. I myself think it is patently obvious that abortion is murder. A baby that would survive if born premature is destroyed by an abortionist and we are told that no crime has been committed! Absurd.
But my libertarian instincts also tell me that coercion is not the way to stop abortion. I leave coercion to the Leftists. Paying mothers to have the baby would work a lot better. Good old capitalism again! A payment of (say) $10,000 to all mothers who produce a healthy baby should do the trick. And with the now catastrophically low birthrates in most of the developed world we probably need such an incentive scheme for all mothers anyway.
So conservatives should be helping to support and encourage reluctant mothers rather than threaten them with the law -- perhaps even setting up special, discreet, resort-style homes for them during their pregnancy.
I am pleased to note that President Bush argues for policies similar to what I have outlined above and I am absolutely delighted that Australia's most eminent Catholic, the traditionalist Cardinal Pell, actually put such policies into practice before he was elevated to the Vatican. I quote from a January 2005 announcement:
"One of the last announcements Cardinal George Pell made before taking his annual leave this week was to introduce a program, new to Australia and only the third of its kind in the world, to provide support to pregnant women who are contemplating abortion. "We want to respond to the needs of women facing an unexpected or difficult pregnancy by providing them with life-affirming options," he said. "Through the program, expectant mothers and, if required, their families, will be provided with social, emotional and practical support to enable them to continue with their pregnancy to full term. Women need real alternatives to abortion, and this new program is targeted to meet the specific needs of women contemplating abortion."
Racism and the Left
Some allusion has already been made here to the fact that Leftists make much of their "anti-racism". Anti-racism became so central to Leftism in the second half of the 20th century, however, that a much more detailed consideration of the phenomenon seems reasonable at this point. Since my more detailed comments add up to a rather large article in its own right, however, I present them elsewhere. The central points of my separate article are that some form of racism seems to be virtually universal, that Leftists have in the past been fierce racists and that anti-racism was adopted by the Left in the second half of the 20th century as a temporary expedient which was never wholehearted and which is now being steadily abandoned.
Fascism lives: Mussolini as a Leftist prophet
The ideas of Benito Mussolini (1883-1945), the founder of Fascism, are remarkably similar to the ideas of modern-day Western Leftists. If Mussolini was not the direct teacher of modern-day Leftists, he was certainly a major predecessor. Modern-day Leftism is largely Fascist. What Leftists advocate today is not, of course, totally identical with what Mussolini was advocating and doing 60 to 80 years ago in Italy but there are nonetheless extensive and surprising parallels. Nonetheless, Mussolini is very much a side-issue in modern-day politics so I will refer people elsewhere to read my discussion of what the historical reality of Fascism was. See here. Although Leftists today often call conservatives "Fascists", the truth is the reverse. If the behaviour of modern-day Leftists seems Fascist, it is because modern day Leftism IS Fascist!
Supporting the socialist Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein grew up as a cadre in the highly ideological and dogmatic Ba'ath party structure. His speeches, from the time he entered government in 1968 until his demise, had a consistent ideological, pseudo-intellectual character, even if in the final decade a layer of Islamist rhetoric was added. From his first declarations to his last, he always presented the Arabs as the master race, whose history and accomplishments are glorious. He has always had a mystical belief in self-purification through violence, the notion that the soul is elevated through warfare and killing.
And who created Saddam's Ba'ath Party? One Michel Aflaq:
MICHEL AFLAQ was born in Damascus in 1910, a Greek Orthodox Christian. He won a scholarship to study philosophy at the Sorbonne sometime between 1928 and 1930 (biographies differ), and there he studied Marx, Nietzsche, Lenin, Mazzini, and a range of German nationalists and proto-Nazis. Aflaq became active in Arab student politics with his countryman Salah Bitar, a Sunni Muslim. Together, they were thrilled by the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party, but they also came to admire the organizational structure Lenin had created within the Russian Communist party.
For details of Iraqi Fascism under Saddam Hussein and the generally Leftist and Arab support-base for it see here
Support for Islamic extremism
In this discussion of late 20th century and early 21st century Leftism, I have left until last the most recent and, arguably, the most curious manifestation of Leftist thinking -- their support for the most reactionary form of Islam.
The Left of the Western world seem unable to find a bad word to say about, or any will to resist, what has widely come to be known as "Islamofascism" -- the revival of Islamic supremacist thinking that became so influential among Muslims in the late 20th century and which graduallly impacted more and more on the Western world as time went by -- with the attacks on New York and elsewhere on 9/11/2001 being the most spectacular example of that.
Islamic thinking has always included major themes that Leftists have campaigned against to the point of hysteria in the Western world -- the belief in killing homosexuals, subjugating women, extreme sexual puritanism, theocracy, unconditional obedience to a divine being etc.
So how come such beliefs are anathema to Leftists in the Western world but evoke no protest if Muslims are advocating them? The Leftist failure to oppose reactionary Islam certainly puzzles many (including a small group of sincere Leftists and at least one feminist) but in fact it provides a good test of the account given here about what Leftism really is.
And the reason why the Left are friendly to Islam could hardly be simpler: As I pointed out in the beginning above, hatred of the world about them is fundamental to Leftists. They are people who are consumed by and fundamentally motivated by hate. And that is also true of the Islamofascists. Both groups are great haters. And they hate the same thing. They hate everyday Western culture. They hate the "system" of Western capitalism.
So what the Left advocate in the Western world is merely instumental to their desire to attack the prevailing culture. It is not fundamental to Leftism in any way. It is the underlying hate that is fundamental and they recognize as brothers in arms the haters of the Islamic world.
Given the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by Democrat President Truman, today's Leftists probably figure that, if fundamentalist Islam ever became a serious threat to the West (and hence a threat to their own comfort), it would simply be wiped off the map. That is certainly what they would do if they had their hands on the levers of power. In the meantime, however, they enjoy the disruption and discomfiture that the Islamists visit on their fellow citzens in the West.
LEFTISTS IN POWER
Although it seems most unlikely that it will ever happen again, there were many occasions in the 20th century when the most extreme form of Leftism -- Communism -- did gain great power in certain countries. Does that experience tell us anything about Leftism?
This paper started out with an endeavour fairly characteristic of modern Anglo-American analytical philosophy (Hospers, 1967): An endeavour to analyse and make coherent the way terms like "Leftist", "Liberal", "Socialist", "Communist" etc are commonly used. Once an underlying focus for such terms had been "discovered", the psychology underlying that focus could be considered. And what was "discovered" was that a love of change -- particularly mandated change -- defined Leftism in its various guises and varieties. The analysis was however principally of what Leftism/liberalism is in the economically advanced countries of the contemporary "Western" world -- where Leftists have only ever had partial success in implementing their programmes. So what happens when Leftists get fully into power? Does the same analysis apply?
For a start, it should be obvious that the personality and goals of the Leftist do not change just because he gets into power. He is still the same person. And that this is true is certainly very clear in the case of Lenin -- who is surely the example par excellence of a Leftist who very clearly did get into power. In his post-revolutionary philippic against his more idealistic revolutionary comrades, Lenin (1952) makes very clear that "absolute centralization and the strictest discipline of the proletariat" are still in his view essential features of the new regime. He speaks very much like the authoritarian dictator that he was but is nonetheless being perfectly consistent with the universal Leftist wish for strong government power and control over the population -- as long as they are in charge. So Leftists in power certainly do not cause the State to "wither away" -- as Marx foresaw in "The Communist Manifesto".
Lenin's conception of the function of the State shows why:
"Essentially the state is the power exercised over the masses by a group of armed men separated from the people." From the April Theses See here
"The state is a special organization of force: it is an organization of violence for the suppression of some class" From The state and revolution. See here.
That makes the Leftist position pretty clear, I think. The State exists to suppress people. How useful that is! So power-mad people such as Leftists like big government and do all they can to foster it.
After 1917 change did continue for a few years in Russia while the Communists consolidated their power (e.g. by "liquidating" the Kulaks), but after that Russia settled into a tyranny where State-directed industrialization was the only form of change allowed. After the completion of the revolution, change in Russian society was in fact repressed ferociously. Certainly, no challenges to Russia's new power structure were allowed. At its most basic it was power that mattered, not change. Stalin murdered millions without a qualm to ensure his power.
But that very State dominance of Russian life did of course eventually cause advanced social and economic sclerosis and stagnation in Russia and its satellites -- leading ultimately to the complete collapse of the Soviet system via Gorbachev's "perestroika" (reconstruction). "Perestroika" implies change so change was in fact the poison that finally destroyed Lenin's legacy. So does that mean that the Soviets were not Leftists? If hunger for change is the defining feature of Leftism, then surely the Bolsheviks ceased to be Leftists in 1917! Surely Lenin and his comrades became conservatives at that point!
Ludicrous though that proposition sounds at first sight, it is precisely the common usage today. Defenders of the old Soviet order and those who wish to return to it in post-Gorbachev Russia are usually referred to in the press as "conservatives". Clearly, the press has adopted the simple (though very unsatisfactory) dichotomy of being for and against change as the definition of Leftism and Conservatism. This does however create the very large problem that precisely the same political policies that are seen in one country (Russia) as being conservative are seen in other countries (e.g. the USA) as wildly Leftist (See also McFarland et al, 1992).
Since change IS in fact obviously somehow involved in the Left/Right dichotomy and since the aims and practice of the Bolsheviks were perfectly concordant with basic Leftist desires everywhere, this is something of a dilemma. Which is basic? Desire for change or desire for power? In earlier papers here and here, I have leant towards the solution of dismissing the role of change altogether and saying that either Leftists or Rightists will oppose or support change depending on whether they are in power or not. I proposed that it is simply the love or suspicion of State power that defines the Leftist or Rightist. And, as a statement about the psychology of Leftists and Rightists, I still adhere to that view. I think it is evident that most Leftists have a strong basic need for power and control and that that flows very simply into the policies that they advocate.
I also think, however, that a DEFINITION of any collectivity should rely primarily on what the collectivity does rather than on a theory about how the group is motivated. One has to define the group before one can study it. And a definition of the "Western" world's Left (but only the Left) in terms of attitude to change both makes sense of common usage and is readily amenable to psychological explanation. Regrettably, however, it seems clear that one cannot define Leftists as being the change-hungry ones of ALL the world and of all times. It is a definition that is fully applicable only to the present economically successful "Western" democracies because it is only there that advocacy of change enables the Leftist to satisfy his/her ego needs.
If a definition of limited applicability is unattractive, however, we can also grasp the other horn of the dilemma and say that Leftists who attain power cease to be Leftists! This jars a little but does make sense psychologically: Once the Leftist's hunger for power and control is satisfied, he no longer seeks change and in fact actively opposes it. He then opposes change for the same reason that he opposes neo-liberalism: It threatens his power and control. He becomes a conservative (opponent of change) in a way that a Rightist generally is not. There can be no doubt that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were Rightists but they actively worked to REDUCE the power, influence and control of the governments that they led. The contrast is very clear. Not everyone is as power-mad as the Leftist. And that hunger for power makes the Leftist IN POWER the most ferocious conservative (opponent of change) of all.
But there is an exception to every rule and the exception in this case is a most instructive one: Mao Tse Tung. Mao's "cultural revolution" was a very strange phenomenon unparalleled in other Communist regimes. And it appeared to do nobody any good -- including Mao himself. It was a vast but entirely destructive upheaval. But it is just what one would expect of someone in love with change. In the case of Mao, we saw a survival into the post-revolutionary era of the old pre-revolutionary longings. He was so in love with change that he had his revolution all over again. Mao was so thoroughly in charge of China, that he could indulge his natural inclinations without endangering his power and what those inclinations were is precisely what we see in Leftists of the economically successful "Western" democracies to this day: a love of change, preferably revolutionary change. So we can see that power comes first in a Leftist's scale of values but the longing for change per se comes a close second.
In the "West"
This conclusion drawn from the grand sweep of history has some counterpart on a much more humble scale in findings from survey research in one of the economically successful "Western" democracies. Ray (1984) found from a large random sample survey of Australians conducted in the Cold War era that Leftists were sensation-seekers even when the sensations concerned were the sensations provided by consumerism. Rather contrary to their usual image, Leftists were found to be materialists who enjoyed buying mass-marketed "quality" consumer goods even more than Rightists did. Their love of new sensations was so great that they even sought out those provided by their ostensible "enemy" -- consumer capitalism. Clearly, like Mao, their love of novelty was so deep-seated that it overcame other considerations.
Although Leftists in the economically successful "Western" democracies have never gained power on anything like the scale achieved by Mao and Stalin, there have of course been Leftist governments in the economically successful "Western" democracies on many occasions and these have certainly managed to lay the stifling and impoverishing hand of bureaucracy on many endeavours. The twin disciplines of the ballot box and constitutional constraints have however limited what such governments can do. Their power has always been far from absolute.
In summary, bitter experience has shown that Leftists in power are very dangerous and destructive people. Where their power is effectively unchecked, they generally seem to resort sooner or later to mass murder (as in the case of the French revolutionaries, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Jim Jones and many Communist regimes and movements worldwide) and where they are partially thwarted by strong democratic traditions and institutions, they at least bring about large-scale impoverishment (as in post-independence India and pre-Thatcher Britain). By contrast, conservatives just muddle along with piecemeal reforms that don't require them to murder anybody. So giving any power to Leftists is a most dangerous thing to do and working to prevent that happening is a matter of no small importance.
Leftists in academe
The above cartoon refers to events such as those at Columbia university in 2006. Other examples here
As a Luntz poll dramatically showed (Horowitz, 2002), and as Fred Singer explains, there is one area in the USA where Leftists have almost achieved a monopoly of power over at least hiring policies: The humanities and social science schools of the universities and colleges. An overt conservative finds it almost impossible to gain employment in such places and the message to the wider community emanating from such places is almost unfailingly "liberal". So Leftists in power are once again seen to be very jealous of their power, intolerant of diversity, opposed to free speech and oppressive and discriminatory in their employment practices: All things that they would normally try to deny but which in fact simply make them typical Leftists.
The widely-read Chronicle of Higher Education has at last given coverage to the problem of Leftist bias in academe and what David Horowitz is doing to overcome it. There is also a site here run by students themselves which gives even more information on how huge the problem is. There is an article here by David Horowitz that makes clear that there is actually what amounts to a blacklist against hiring conservative professors at almost all U.S. universities. The Chronicle has an attempted reply by a Leftist (Stanley Fish) to Horowitz which admits that the Left "have won the curricular battle" (meaning that what is taught at U.S. universities is Leftist) but goes on to such absurdities as claiming that political correctness is used by Leftists as "irony". He must be the only one in the world who thinks it is a joke!
Other attempts have been made to downplay the extent of Leftist influences in America's colleges and universities -- such as a study published in 2006 by sociologists John F. Zipp and Rudy Fenwick under the heading "Is the Academy a Liberal Hegemony? The Political Orientations and Educational Values of Professors" but they collapse when looked at closely.
This is what passes for education at the University of Michigan. Read this excerpt from one female student's account of a COMPULSORY "course" she had to do there:
We had to go around and talk about at least one way in which we have been/are oppressed. When my turn came up, and I answered that I have never been oppressed, the instructor corrected me, saying that I must have been, as I'm female. I persisted, saying that being female has never been anything short of a blessing for me. The instructor was relentless, insisting that I was necessarily oppressed at one point in my life. The instructor asked to speak with me after class. He was visibly shaken and angry. He told me that my classroom behavior was disruptive in the least (although I was never voluntarily disagreeing), and that I would be kicked out of class and would thereby lose my job and my housing for the next year unless I learned to be more cooperative."
And note this report. Excerpt:
Kahn had required students, to achieve full credit, to write letters to President George W. Bush "demanding" that he not go to war with Iraq. Several students requested that they be allowed to complete the assignment by expressing their own opinions, which would mean, in some cases, writing letters in support of President Bush's foreign policy. Kahn told the students that letters supporting the president would not be acceptable and would not receive credit. Several students refused to turn in the assignment and were penalized.
And America's academics also show their allegiances in the most practical and persuasive way -- with their money. They really do put their money where their mouth is. Note this summary of donations to the campaigns of the Presidential candidates in the year 2004:
"The Federal Election Commission could not have foreseen that when it required employment information on political donations of over $200, it would expose scandalous uniformity in a university community that advertises its diversity. The Sacramento Bee reported that the University of California system gave more to the Kerry campaign than any other single employee group, and that Harvard was second, with only 15,000 employees to UC's 160,000. Campus bloggers computed the percentages of Kerry contributions over Bush: Cornell 93%, Dartmouth 97%, Yale 93%, Brown 89%."
Even the old Soviet Union could hardly have done a better job of constructing a lockstep Leftist monoculture. "Diverse" it is not.
And the Leftist domination of higher education has of course long ago trickled down to the High School level. A good example of the deceit that leads to is reported here under the heading: "Race only skin deep": A group of students were shown how to examine one particular genetic marker that was already known to be widespread among different races. When they found that people of all different races in their class had the marker, that was presented as "proof" that there is no such thing as racial differences. Pity about all the OTHER millions of genetic markers that were NOT examined! The old nonsense about all races sharing more than 99% of their genes was also trotted out as proving that there is no such thing as race biologically. Somehow they forgot to mention that we share nearly as high a percentage of genes with chimpanzees. So by that reasoning humans and chimps are really the same too. Let's reserve more college places for chimps! Down with chimpism! The truth of course is that percentage of shared genes is a total red herring. Differences in just ONE critical gene out of millions of genes can make a huge difference to one's life -- as many people with genetic illnesses have sadly found. The students were also apparently told that "scientists know that traditional notions of race no longer hold up". I guess they must have just overlooked what these geneticists found! See also here for more on the genetics research.
The courageous Edward Feser looks at WHY academics are overwhelmingly Left-leaning. He lists a number of explanations which do undoubtedly play a part but he omits what I think is a major factor: From my observations, Leftist academics are basically second-rate thinkers. Originality is the Holy Grail of academe but most academics in fact have nothing new to say at all -- so they say silly things just in order to appear different. They use perversity to create a false impression of profundity. Leftism is their substitute for originality. It was precisely because I DID have something different to say that I got so many articles published in the academic journals. Even though my articles generally undermined Leftist views, their having that all-important originality got them published. And how my fellow academics hated me for it! In most years I got more articles published than the rest of my university department put together. That I could do easily what they found so hard to do was real heartburn for them.
And in my own field I was repeatedly able to show how second-rate was the writing being produced. But this article about Marxist Terry Eagleton makes "second rate" look like a vast overestimate. The guy has gone from being a big defender of postmodernism (also called "Theory" in literary circles) to now saying it is all wrong but still calls himself a Marxist and is still treated worshipfully by other Leftists. How desperate can you get? They've got about as much intellectual rigor as a flea! It's not what you say but whom you hate that counts. But we read: "Nowadays Mr. Eagleton lives the life of an academic superstar" so I think that tells you all you need to know about Leftist intellectuals. They are just con-men but some people are fooled.
Just to emphasize what a dead-end "Theory" is, there is also a scathing review here (by a feminist author) of Eagleton's After Theory -- excerpt:
"What I hoped to find in After Theory was ideas about what type of thinking and writing might flourish in a post-theory world. I soon discovered that Eagleton doesn't seem to be the least interested in thinking, only in potted ideas... Eagleton himself is so bombastic it's hard to read him straight... After Theory takes us into a vacuum where bits of past theories collide, supported only by vacuous commentary".
Finally, this academic survey of Canadian university professors by Nakhaie & Brym (See also here) gives a good reply to the claim that there are some academic disciplines that tend to the Right. For the survey, professors rated themselves on a scale of 1 to 7 in terms of Right to Left -- meaning that a score of 3.5 would mean neither Right nor Left. Table 5 shows that the only subgroups that averaged below 3.5 (i.e. were slightly Rightist) were professors of accounting, finance and mechanical engineeering. But they were all only slightly below the midpoint. They were in other words centrists rather than Rightists. Professors in all other disciplines tended Left, mostly well to the Left. The most far-Left group was, of course, the sociologists -- the most meaningless of all the disciplines. I taught in a university school of sociology for 12 years so I have some cause to know the emptiness of most sociology. There is more on the causes of academic Leftism here.
The "stupidity" accusation against conservatives
On the rare occasions when they feel pressed to justify their vice-like grip on higher education, the explanations that Leftist academics give are little credit to them. One of the most publicized apologias was by a Duke University philosophy professor -- commenting on why he does not hire conservatives to teach philosophy: "We try to hire the best, smartest people available," Brandon said of his philosophy hires. "If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire. Mill's analysis may go some way towards explaining the power of the Republican party in our society and the relative scarcity of Republicans in academia". So he takes an attack by Mill on his political opponents that Mill made in Victorian-era Britain and treats it as good information about the USA today. And even if that were a reasonable thing to do, note the non sequitur: Even if stupid people are generally conservative (and there is no EVIDENCE offered of that; I have met a lot of stupid Left-voters in my time), it does not follow that conservatives generally are stupid. Note the usual Leftist elitism too. Brandon is clearly implying that society generally is stupid. Nice type!
One reason why the accusation that conservatives are dumb gains some weight is the great preponderance of Leftists among professors. That overlooks, however, that the situation was not always thus. Up until the 1960s, the professoriate was in general politically moderate. There were of course exceptions. The elite universities have always tended Left. The best known examples of that are England's two great universities, Oxford and Cambridge. We have all I think heard of the Cambridge spies (Philby et al.), and the Bloomsberries were far Left too. Such leftism can perhaps most economically be described as a "spoilt brat" syndrome. Less well known is the prewar fascination of Harvard with Nazism -- which was a popular form of socialism in its day.
The general moderation of the pre-1960s professoriate was however its undoing. Precisely because of its moderation, it came under ferocious attack from the 1960s student radicals and it responded in a typically moderate way -- apologetically. Curricula were revised in response to the radical demands and more and more Leftists were hired and promoted. And when in the course of time the radical academics so appointed rose in seniority and power, they behaved in a typically unscrupulous way and used their power to squeeze out as many conservatives from academe as they could. So smart conservatives these days go on to get rich in business while the Leftist academics fume away in their ivory towers!
Perhaps most amusingly, however, it should be noted that the Democrats and the GOP split the college-educated vote about equally in the 2004 Presidential election. In other words, about half of the people whom the Leftist professors themselves have certified as academically able in fact vote GOP!
The intellectual poverty of the Left shows itself very clearly in their lack of ideas. The only way that they can ever think of for bringing about their desired utopias is the brutishly simply one of FORCING people to behave in the "right" way, by way of legislation in democatic societies or on pain of death in Communist societies.
We have an excellent example of such brainlessness in a 2006 article by Ronald Aronson which argues that "The Left Needs More Socialism". The article consists of nothing but one long wail about the injustices of the world and simply ASSERTS that socialism is the answer -- with no supportive reasoning at all about HOW socialism might fix things -- which is all the more remarkable given the known FAILURES of socialism to fix anything. A few illustrative quotes:
"With corporate capitalism everywhere in command, the outlook is for increased poverty, more environmental degradation, ever more uneven distribution of resources and the undermining of traditional societies and ways of life... Doing battle against the prevailing inequality means invoking the idea that we all belong to a community, as opposed to the illusion, voiced famously by Thatcher, that "there is no society, only individuals." ... On the road to shaping an alternative, the left might respond with a time-honored socialist insight, namely that "I" only exists within a "we," and that unless we look out for everyone, no one is secure.
Note the non sequitur in the last sentence. It is reasonable enough to say that "I" only exists within a "we" but such a statement is only trivially true. Our socialist friend, however seems to think that the truth concerned also implies that "unless we look out for everyone, no one is secure". But England and early America existed in excellent security long before there was any welfare legislation! It is true that private charity at that time looked after the less fortunate but I don't think that private charity is what our socialist friend is advocating!
And another counterfactual assertion above is that capitalism will increase poverty. Since capitalism is provably the the best and surest way of increasing wealth, the statement is deliberately wrongheaded. And it is of course the advanced capitalist societies that have done most to clean up their environment and prevent further degradation of it. You have to be devoid of all knowledge and understanding of how the world actually works (and has worked) to spout the nonsense that our brainless socialist does.
Just to REALLY mess up the party, however, let it be noted that a rare adult general population survey that obtained both IQ scores and a record of political attitudes was Martin's study (which I helped write up for the academic journals). And that study showed that it was LEFTISTS who were most likely to be dumb. The correlation in the general population between anti-authority attitudes (which Leftists pride themselves on) and low IQ was quite substantial as such correlations go. So survey research shows that it is in fact Leftist attitudes that are associated with stupidity! More on that here
Fortunately, the best brains in America have always gone into business first rather than into any form of teaching. And the fact that the US has survived as a thriving and generally healthy society is proof that it does not need its nutty "liberal" professors. They have only a message of hate to purvey anyway -- mostly hatred of America -- and most people are decent so few of them will be long persuaded by such a message.
So this monopolization of academe by Leftists ought perhaps to be of some concern but its main effect is probably that it simply makes our universities boring. The message emanating from them is so predictable that it is hardly worth attending to. And in a pluralistic society there are many alternative sources of information and influences on attitudes. The internet and Right-wing radio commentators such as Rush Limbaugh in the USA and Alan Jones in Australia spring obviously to mind as alternative sources of information and countervailing influences on the public mind.
Leftists in the media
Perhaps because most of them are the product of a university or college education, journalists tend to be Left-leaning to various degrees as well. There is much evidence of that in US sources (see for example the summary in a December 11th., 2002, article by Michael Kelly, an article on Greenie brainwashing in schools and also Cook, 1998) but the Australian case is probably much less well-known. Following are listed three research reports published in the academic journals that demonstrate clearly that Australian journalists are overwhelmingly to the Left of the Australian general population in their attitudes: Henningham (1995, 1996 and 1998). The author of the studies cited is now retired from the Chair of Journalism at the University of Queensland and is Australia's specialist in such matters.
In a way, though, it hardly needs an academic study to show how Leftist Australian journalists, academics and media commentators are. In Australia's 2001 Federal election, the conservative coalition government was returned to power on the back of Prime Minister Howard's strong and effective opposition to illegal immigration from the Middle East. So strong was popular support in the Australian general population for this stance that even the nominally Leftist opposition party (the Australian Labor Party) dared not oppose it publicly for fear of being totally routed at the polls. Yet in mid 2002 the media were still absolutely brimming with denunciations of the Prime Minister and his Minister for Immigration as "heartless", "Fascist" etc. because of their immigration policy. It is of course these media figures who are the real Fascists -- opposing as they do a policy that has been given the overwhelming support of Australian voters. What the Australian people want seems to be of absolutely of no interest to these anti-democratic Leftist "commentators". Only if the government were completetely undemocratic and defied the popular will would they be happy.
And British journalists seem to be no better. Speaking at a meeting of British Trade Unions, Jeremy Dear, General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists said of the US and British war on terrorism"If justice was the motive we would be considering sending troops in now to end Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory". (Source)
And the American media still commonly treat former Communists as little short of heroes -- as in the case of John Randolph: "But the tributes to this un-American symbol of Hollywood subversion just don't stop... Let me tell you about the real John Randolph. He was a member of the Communist Party USA during its heyday. This was during the time that Josef Stalin was murdering millions in the name of communism in the Soviet Union. And the Communist Party USA took its orders and received its funding from Moscow".
One of the most unarguable examples of how facts are subjugated to "spin" in what seems like factual reporting in the American media would have to be the contrast below in how two of America's major newspapers described the same speech by George W. Bush:
"As expected in a speech to fellow heads of state and diplomats, President Bush on Tuesday dispensed with the red-meat phrases beloved by his supporters on the campaign trail. . . . Instead, the president was conciliatory, intent to show that he can play with others. He didn't quite break out in Esperanto, but he spoke admiringly of the principles and values embodied by the United Nations."--editorial, Los Angeles Times, Sept. 22, 2004
"Mr. Bush delivered an inexplicably defiant campaign speech. . . . Even when he talked about issues of common agreement, like the global fight against AIDS and easing the crushing third-world debt, Mr. Bush seemed more interested in praising his own policies than in assuming the leadership of an international effort. The speech would have drawn cheers at an adoring Republican National Convention, but it seemed to fall flat in a room full of stony-faced world leaders. Mr. Bush has never exhibited much respect for the United Nations."--editorial, New York Times, Sept. 22, 2004
So unfactual is the account given that you would never guess that the same speech was being described: A truly Soviet achievement.
It is a tribute to the good sense of ordinary people that the constant Leftist slant that they get through the mass media has not convinced everyone.
The prime focus in this monograph has been on defining and explaining what Leftism is. It would nonetheless be remiss not to give also some account of what Rightism is. If Leftism and Rightism are NOT mirror-images in what they advocate, as this work asserts, some such account does appear necessary in order to complete the picture. I have written one book and many previous papers for those who wish to study conservatism at length (See Ray, 1972b, 1973, 1974, 1979 & 1981) but I have also put up a comprehensive article on the topic here. The central contention of the article is that attitude to change is as irrelevant to conservatives as it is central to Leftists and that a defence of individual rights and liberties against the encroaching power of the State has always been what defines conservatives. Conservatives are not, of course, as simplistic as anarchists or extreme libertarians. They do believe in SOME role for the State -- but they have always seen it as a role that should be minimized and have always believed that the individual should have important rights versus the State. And that Rightist desire to limit the power of the State crashes right up against the Leftist desire to extend the power of the State.
A possible countervailing influence to their cultural dominance that some Leftists are beginning to notice (Bates, 2001) is the amazingly popular Homer Simpson. There is rather a good wrap on The Simpsons here. Excerpt:
"Conservatives and libertarians should appreciate The Simpsons for regularly showcasing much that they hold dear.
"There's no ideological requirement to work here," executive producer Al Jean says by phone. Though free marketeers and liberals write the show, Jean says they agree on this: "We mistrust authorities and people who try to hold people down. We believe more in individuals and families."
The Simpsons are a nuclear family led by an atomic power-plant engineer and a stay-at-home mom. They regularly attend church and occasionally seek spiritual advice from their minister, Reverend Timothy Lovejoy. Marge Simpson even homeschools Bart when he is expelled for misbehavior."
It seems to me that although Homer is merely a cartoon character and ostensibly an object of ridicule meant to evoke disgust, his great popularity is due at least in part both to his believability and his grossness. And one reason why he is believable and why people are amused by his grossness is that ordinary people can often see, to some degree, an uncensored or more honest version of themselves in him. So it seems to me that a more subtle and accurate reading of him would see him as a strong and believable character with Rightist views whom many people identify with or even envy to some degree precisely because he is unapologetic about his failings -- failings (such as greed) that are in fact common and normal ones. His utter lack of political correctness must be refreshing where people are so often (and so boringly) being urged to be goody-goodies. And an example that one can identify with will always have infinitely more influence than any amount of preaching, nagging and exhortation. It might not be drawing too long a bow to say that, for many ordinary people, Homer, makes at least one form of Rightism at least attractive and maybe even lovable. Homer could, in other words, have much more influence as a model than is immediately apparent or generally realized (See also Pinsky, 2001 and Appleyard, 2002).
Even if all that is completely untrue, however, Homer has undoubtedly given high visibility and exposure to one type of Rightist view and kept such views very much on the mental agenda of ordinary people at the same time as Leftists have been trying so hard to get them off the agenda. It is after all commonly said that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Because of Homer, total political incorrectness constantly spends long periods pervading perhaps hundreds of millions of living-rooms worldwide -- and does it in an entertaining and pleasant rather than a boring way. It is amusing to speculate that Homer Simpson might well be a greater influence on the public mind than the influence all of our universities put together. So low the relevance of our universities would appear to have sunk now that they are in the hands of the Leftists. So in our universities and elsewhere, Leftists are a good example of Lord Acton's axiom that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
It must be acknowledged, however, that many conservatives would not identify with Homer in any way at all. His attitudes are mainly "Rightist" in that they completely defy the unnatural and oppressive "political correctness" that Leftists have managed to make dominant in other media sources. By constantly engaging in politically incorrect behaviour in so many people's living rooms, he shows that politically correct behaviour is not as compulsory and as universal as other media sources would like to pretend. He shoots down the artificial liberal consensus.
Wait! There's more
Now that I have used both history and the present to illumine just what Leftism IS and note what Leftists DO, I want to go on to look more closely at WHY people are Leftists. I want to look, in particular, at the psychological and sociological underpinnings of Leftism. You can find that file HERE
Full citation details for all references used in this monograph can be found here