Skip to comments.Goodbye, All That: How Left Idiocies Drove Me to Flee
Posted on 01/02/2005 2:33:24 PM PST by OOPisforLiberals
Goodbye, All That: How Left Idiocies Drove Me to Flee
by Ron Rosenbaum
So I went up to the antiwar demonstration in Central Park this weekend, hoping to hear some persuasive arguments. After a couple of hours there, listening to speeches, reading the hate-America literature, I still dont know what to think about Iraqwill an attack open a Pandoras box, or close one?but I think I know what I feel about this antiwar movement, or at least many of the flock who showed up in the Sheep Meadow.
A movement of Marxist fringe groups and people who are unable to make moral distinctions. An inability summed up by a man holding a big poster that proudly identified him as "NYC TEACHER." The lesson "NYC TEACHER" had for the day was that "BUSH IS A DEVIL HANDS OFF NORTH KOREA, IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN . "
Yes, Bush is "a devil" compared to those enlightened regimes that torture and murder dissidents (like "NYC TEACHER"). Bush is certainly "a devil" compared to enlightened leaders like Kim Jong Il, who has reduced the North Korean people in his repulsive police state to eating moss on rocks; or to Saddam Hussein, who tortures and gasses opponents, and starves his people to fund his germ-war labs; or to the Taliban in Afghanistan, who beat women into burqas. Yes, surely compared to them, Bush is "a devil." Thank God New Yorks schoolchildren are in such good hands.
Back in 1929, Robert Graves published a memoir with the endlessly evocative title Good-Bye to All That. He was leaving England, saying goodbye to a society he felt was deeply implicated, however triumphant, in the horrors hed witnessed firsthand in the trenches of the First World War.
Goodbye to all that. The phrase occurred to me when I heard the sad news that Christopher Hitchens was leaving The Nation. Sad more for The Nation, a magazine Ive read on and off since high school, now deprived of an important dissenting voice amidst lockstep Left opinion. Mr. Hitchens was valuable to The Nation, to the Left as a whole, I argued back on Jan. 14 in these pages, because he challenged "the Left to recognize the terrorists not as somewhat misguided spokesmen for the wretched of the earth, but as Islamo-fasciststheocratic oppressors of the wretched of the earth." He was leaving in part, he said, because hed grown tired of trying to make this case in a venue that had become what he called "an echo chamber of those who believe that John Ashcroft is a greater menace than Osama bin Laden."
The Nation still has assets of course: the incomparable polymath literary critic, John Leonard; the fierce polemical intelligence of Katha Pollit, which I admire however much I might disagree with her; some serious investigative reporters. And recently Jack Newfield, who long ago co-authored an important book on the populist traditionstill a faint hope for a non-Marxist Left in America.
But Mr. Hitchens loss is a loss not just for the magazine, but for the entire Left; its important that America have an intelligent opposition, with a critique not dependent on knee-jerk, neo-Marxist idiocy. And its important that potential constituents of that opposition, like Nation readers, be exposed to a brilliant dissenter like Christopher Hitchens.
And the level of idiocy one finds in knee-jerk Left oppositionalism is sometimes astonishing. Id like to focus on two particular examples that have led me to want to say my own goodbye-to-all-that as well.
Before I get into the two idiocies that tipped the scale for me, I want to make clear that saying goodbye to idiocies on the Left doesnt mean becoming a conservative, neo- or otherwise. I think I made that clear in a column published here on Jan. 28 of this year, "Where Was the Values Crowd When Dr. King Needed Them?" In that column, I argued that just as the Left had failed to come to terms with its history of indifference to (at best) and support for (at worst) genocidal Marxist regimes abroad, the Right has failed to come to terms with its history of indifference to (at best) and support for (at worst) racism and racist political allies here at home.
Its ironic, considering what Im about to write, that I got a nice note from that hard-core Old Red folkie, Pete Seeger, thanking me for my Dr. King column. But you know, I still can understand people like Pete Seeger joining the Party back in the 30s during the Depression, when it looked like unregulated capitalism had cruelly immiserated America, when racism and lynchings reigned down South and it looked (looked, I said) as if the Soviet Union was the only force willing to stand up to Hitler. But to cling to Marxism now, after all weve learned in the past 50 yearsnot just about the Soviet Union, but China and Cambodia ?
I must confess that my own learning curve was on the slow side, having grown up reading The Nation and The New Republic and believing that the evils of Soviet Communism were a figment of J. Edgar Hoovers imagination. My slow learning curve had a lot to do as well with coming of age during the Vietnam War and covering antiwar demonstrations, where I found myself seduced by the brilliant Groucho Marxism of Abbie Hoffman (I still miss his anarchic spirit). And (more culpably) I was fascinated by the Dostoevskian moral absolutism of the Weather Underground, although never, thank God, by the pretensions of Marxism to be a "science of history."
I still identify myself as a contrarian, libertarian, pessimist, secular-humanist, anti-materialist liberal Democrat who distrusts the worship of "the wisdom of the market." Someone who was outraged (and outspoken in these pages) about the Bush-Baker election tactics in Florida, for instance. But not stupid enough to think wed be better off with Al Gore as President now; not stupid enough to think Al Gore is smart. (See my Nov. 6, 2000, column, "Als Screwy Scrawlings Cant Pass for Intelligence"). Anyway, all this is a preface to the Tale of Two Idiocies that has led to my own goodbye-to-all-that moment.
Lets begin with the little idiocy, the later one, because I think it was the straw that broke the camels back. In fact, I think I came across it shortly before I had heard of Mr. Hitchens farewell. One irony of it is that this little bit of idiocy was penned by a former Hitchens acolyte, a sometime Nation writer now living in London who appended a cruel little addendum to what ostensibly was a review, in Londons Times Literary Supplement, of Tom Hanks Road to Perdition.
At the close of an uninspired review of an uninspired film (How many times must wannabe intellectuals quote Robert Warshow when speaking of gangster films? Shouldnt there be some kind of statute of limitations?), the writer graces us with this final reflection:
"Still, if Road to Perdition ultimately fails as entertainment, it offers rich material for allegory. Maybe it was because I attended a screening on Sept. 11, but I couldnt help seeing Hanks as an American everyman, a pure-hearted killer who will commit no end of mayhem to ensure a better life for his children. Imagine Willie Loman with a tommy gun, and youll see what I mean. You dirty rats! Attention must be paid."
But of course! What a brilliant point hes making in the course of preening his anti-Americanism before his audience of U.K. intellectuals. What does Sept. 11 remind him of? The way Americans are killers. Sept. 11 becomes, in his lovely leap of logic, really about Americans being pure-hearted killers capable of "no end of mayhem," infinite evil deeds. Doesnt everybody think that way? (Everybody in his little circle, I imagine). Sept. 11 reminds them that Americans are first and foremost murderers, so lets not spend a moment acknowledging that little matter of Sept. 11 being a day on which 3,000 Americans were murdered by the "pure-hearted killers" of Al Qaeda. Who, when not committing mass murder, stone women as punishment, torture gays, crush free thought by executing dissidents. No, they get a pass (and the 3,000 become non-persons). Because they hate America, they must be for liberation, and so we cant blame them; we must accuse ourselves of being killers. In fact, we should thank them for providing our witty writer with an occasion for reminding the world that the "American everyman" is a killer.
That one paragraph is a useful compression of the entire post-9/11 idiocy of one wing of the Left. Thats what Sept. 11 has come to mean to much of the Left: a wake-up call for American self-hatred. Mr. Hitchens was one of the few who challenged that consensus.
But when I say goodbye-to-all-that, its a goodbye thats been brewing ever since the Really Big Idiocy, the one I encountered barely a month after Sept. 11, from a more illustrious figure on the Left, an academic Left paragon.
It was a mixed gathering with a heavy representation of Left academics, and people were going around the room and speaking about the attacks and the response. Over and over, one heard variations on the theme of, "Gee, its terrible about all those people who died in the towers and all"that had already become the pro forma disclaimer/preface for America-bashing"but maybe its a wake-up call for us to recognize how bad we are, Why They Hate Us." The implication was evident: We deserved it. It would be a salutary lesson. It was the Pat Robertson wing of the Left in full flower: Sinful America deserved this Judgment from the sky. Crocodile tears could be shed for those people who died in the towers, but those buildings were so ugly, they were such eyesores, they were a symbol of globalist hubrisit was as if the terrorists who flew the planes into the towers were really architectural critics, flying Herbert Muschamps, not mass murderers.
No, we must search for the "root causes," the reasons to blame the victims for their unfortunate but symbolically appropriate deaths. And on and on, until I felt myself already beginning to say goodbye to the culture that produced this kind of cruel, lockstep thinking. Until finally, the coup de grâcethe Big Idiocy, the idiocy di tutti idiocies. It came from the very well-respected and influential academic, who said that there was at least one thing that was to be welcomed about 9/11: It might give Americans the impetus to do "what the Germans had done in the 60s"make an honest reassessment of their past and its origins, as a way to renewal.
Reassessment of our past: Clearly he was speaking admiringly of the 60s generation in Germany coming to terms with its Nazi past, with Germanys embrace of Hitler.
At that point, having sat silently through an accumulation of self-hating anti-Americanism, I couldnt take it any more. Im not a demonstrative patriot; I dont believe in putting God in the Pledge of Allegiance, for instance. I dont believe in making people pledge at alltheres something collectivist about it. But this last was too much: We should be grateful for 9/11 because it would allow us to reassess our shameful, even Nazi-like, past?
"Isnt there an implicit analogy youre making between America and Nazi Germany?" I asked. "Its just an analogy," he said. Well, goodbye to all that, goodbye to the entire mind-set behind it: the inability to distinguish Americas sporadic blundering depradations (dissent from which was sometimes successful) from "Germanys past," Hitlerism. It was "just an analogy." O.K., then, let me make an analogy here, one that I believe goes to the "root cause" of Left idiocy of this sort.
The analogy that occurred to me grew out of a conversation I had several years ago with the philosopher Berel Lang, author of Act and Idea in the Nazi Genocide, a talk that took place in the course of researching my book, Explaining Hitler. Mr. Lang is an extremely thoughtful and meticulous thinker on the question of degrees of evil, and the role of intentionality in determining them. He was speaking about the question of whether one could say there was "a history of evil"whether Hitler represented a new fact, a new landmark in that history, and if so, what the next step might be.
I suggested the "next step" might be Holocaust denial, because the deniers had found a diabolical way to twist the knife, compounding the pain of the survivors by negating and slandering the memory of the murdered.
Mr. Lang demurred, because he had his own notion of what the next step in the history of evil might be. The paradigm for it, he told me, was the postwar career of Martin Heidegger, the Nazi-friendly philosopher beloved to distraction by postmodernists (and Hannah Arendt).
All of whom apologized for him, despite an increasingly damning series of revelations that disclosed his toadying to Hitlers thugs in order to attain professional advancement, hailing Hitlers Reich as the ultimate synthesis of politics and his philosophy.
But that wasnt what made Heidegger a new chapter, Mr. Lang said; it was his astonishing postwar behavior. After everything came out, after it was no longer possible to deny at least post facto knowledge of the Holocaust, nothing changed for Heidegger. He felt no need to incorporate what happened into his philosophy. "His silence," Mr. Lang said, "it wasnt even denial. For him, it wasnt important! It wasnt important . Now if you ask which of them is worse the Revisionists [Holocaust deniers] deny it occurred, but their official position, at least, is that if it occurred, it would have been wrong. But Heidegger knows it occurred, but its just not importantits not something to distort history to deny. For Heidegger, this is not history to concern oneself with."
Not history to concern oneself with .
Heres the analogy: Heideggers peculiar neutrality-slash-denial about Nazism and the Holocaust after the facts had come out, and the contemporary Lefts curious neutrality-slash-denial after the facts had come out about Marxist genocidesin Russia, in China, in Cambodia, after 20 million, 50 million, who knows how many millions had been slaughtered. Not all of the Left; many were honorable opponents. But for many others, it just hasnt registered, it just hasnt been incorporated into their "analysis" of history and human nature; it just hasnt been factored in. America is still the one and only evil empire. The silence of the Left, or the exclusive focus of the Left, on Americas alleged crimes over the past half-century, the disdainful sneering at Americas deplorable "Cold War mentality"none of this has to be reassessed in light of the evidence of genocides that surpassed Hitlers, all in the name of a Marxist ideology. An ideology that doesnt need to be reassessed. As if it was maybe just an accident that Marxist-Leninist regimes turned totalitarian and genocidal. No connection there. The judgment that McCarthyism was the chief crime of the Cold War era doesnt need a bit of a rethink, even when put up against the mass murder of dissidents by Marxist states.
The point is, all empires commit crimes; in the past century, ours were by far the lesser of evils. But this sedulous denial of even the possibility of misjudgment in the hierarchy of evils protects and insulates this wing of the Left from an inconvenient reconsideration of whether America actually is the worst force on the planet. This blind spot, this stunning lack of historical perspective, robs much of the American Left of intellectual credibility. And makes it easy for idiocies large and small to be uttered reflexively. (Perhaps the suggestion I recently saw on the Instapundit.com Web site calling for an "Anti-Idiotarian" party might be appropriate.)
Recently I saw the strangest documentary, a film with a title that sounds like a Woody Allen joke: Blind Spot: Hitlers Secretary. Its a New York Film Festival pick and well worth seeing, just for the example of willed, obtuse blindness on the part of the secretary when she claims that she was insulated from all the terrible things happening during the war. But even Hitlers secretaryunlike Heidegger, unlike the knee-jerk anti-American Leftfeels the need to make some gesture of dismay at her "blind spot" in retrospect. But not the know-it-alls of the Left, who have never been wrong about anything since they adopted Marxism as their cult in college. What would the harm be in admitting that one didnt know as much at in college as history has taught us now?
But noooo (as John Belushi liked to say). Instead, we get evasions and tortuous rationalizations like the Slavoj Ziz^ek zigzag: This extremely fashionable postmodern Marxist academic will concede the tens of millions murdered by Stalin, etc., but its "different" from the millions murdered by Hitler, because the Soviet project was built on good intentions, on utopian aspirations; the tens of millions dead were an unfortunate side effect, a kind of unfortunate, accidental departure from the noble Leninist path that still must be pursued.
Its sad, though, because one senses that Mr. Hitchens forced a lot of people on the Left to confront their blind spot, their on-bended-knee obeisance to anyone in the Third World who posed as a "liberator," from Mao to Castro to Arafat and the Taliban. This was why Mr. Hitchens was so valuable and hopeful in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, hammering away at the point that the Islamo-fascists werent friends of the oppressed, they were oppressorsof women, gays, poets and all dissenters.
But now, a year later, it seems that despite Mr. Hitchens and a few other voices, such as Todd Gitlins, the blind-spot types have won out on the Leftthe blind spot to Marxist genocide obscuring any evil but Americas. You could see it at the Sheeps Meadow. You can see it in the hysterical seizure on Enron and other corporate scandals: See, we were right all alongcorporations and businessmen are (surprise!) greedheads. This excuses averting their eyes from anti-American terrorismfrom people and regimes preparing to kill Americans rather than merely diminish their 401(k)s. Enron was the fig leaf many on the American Left needed to return to their customary hatred of America. Because America isnt perfect, it must be evil. Because Marxist regimes make claims of perfection, they must be good.
So, for my part, goodbye to all that. Goodbye to a culture of blindness that tolerates, as part of "peace marches," women wearing suicide-bomber belts as bikinis. (See the accompanying photo of the "peace" march in Madrid. "Peace" somehow doesnt exclude blowing up Jewish children.)
Goodbye to the brilliant thinkers of the Left who believe its the very height of wit to make fun of George W. Bushs intelligencethereby establishing, of course, how very, very smart they are. Mr. Bush may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer (I think hes more ill-informed and lazy than dumb). But they are guilty of a historical stupidity on a far greater scale, in their blind spot about Marxist genocides. Its a failure of self-knowledge and intellectual responsibility that far outweighs Bushs, because theyre supposed to be so very smart.
Goodbye to paralysis by moral equivalence: Remind me again, was it John Ashcroft or Fidel Castro who put H.I.V. sufferers in concentration camps?
Goodbye to the deluded and pathetic sophistry of postmodernists of the Left, who believe their unreadable, jargon-clotted theory-sophistry somehow helps liberate the wretched of the earth. If they really believe in serving the cause of liberation, why dont they quit their evil-capitalist-subsidized jobs and go teach literacy in a Third World starved for the insights of Foucault?
Goodbye to people who have demonstrated that what terror means to them is the terror of ever having to admit they were wrong, the terror of allowing the hideous facts of history to impinge upon their insulated ideology.
Goodbye to all those who have evidently adopted as their own, a version of the simpering motto of the movie Love Story. Remember "Love means never having to say youre sorry"?
I guess today, Left means never having to say youre sorry.
Great point! I'd never thought of it that way. In other words, criticism went from being a sort of meditation on a literary text to a thing unto itself, unleashed and eventually becoming more important than the original text.
Probably some of the initiators of this (I.A. Richards, for example) didn't really have this in mind, but because the fundamental nature of Communism/leftist thought is ahistorical, their theory enabled literary criticism to could become a vehicle for any bizarre interpretation, reinterpretation or radical rip-off that the left wished to impose upon a particular work or even a particular phrase.
Okay. Got it. Appreciate your point of view and I appreciate your thoughtful response.
D'OH! I meant AGAINST, obviously. Hey, too much New Years...still...
I knew you meant that. Don't sweat it.
I'd hoped that the pride of the South had held up a bit better than that.
I feel for ya man... but imagine what its like for me in MA.
It took this guy 30 years to find Marxist evil remains the basis of Liberalism?
Jeez. Talk about slow on the up-take.
Well to be perfectly honest the 'Dixie Democrats' went over to the Republican side after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which Southern Democrats viewed as a betrayal by LBJ. Nixon became president as a result.
Old labels, like old clothes rarely fit well with age.
Bush is "a devil
I really wish the left would make up its mind (major assumtion on my part). he's either the devil incarnate, or he's dumber than a post. So which is it?
"Left means never having to say you're sorry?" I beg to differ, they are sorry alright.
The South had been Democratic since Reconstruction. It was Democratic during Jim Crow; it was Democratic during the 60s. Painting racists in the South as "conservative" is a bit of a stretch, to say the least.
They may have been "conservative" in the sense of sharing certain values with modern conservatives, but that's a bit like saying that Iranian mullahs are just like American conservatives in that they oppose gay marriage.
Not really. I don't recall any attempt to "read them out" of the conservative movement for violating its principles, as WF Buckley did for the John Birch society. The AFL-CIO similarly "read out" Communist-dominated unions.
Movement conservatives were generally perfectly happy to work alongside southern racists in pursuit of common goals.
These people who profess to believe that everything is random and that Pat Robertson has no right to force his "hang ups" on others but can't see their own hypocrisy must be the stupidest people on earth. Intellectuals indeed!
I pretty much agree with you on the above, especially your remark that racist conservatives are in violation of their principles. In fact they are actually behaving like leftists by identifying people as members of a group rather than as individuals.
But I do think that most "conservatives" have left racism behind, which is a form of "coming to terms" with it.
I have an artist friend who thinks the same way. It's a gross contradiction, IMO, since true leftist thinking comes close to requiring the kind of lockstep thinking that the writer deplores.
My opinion is that many who call themselves "liberals" embrace the contradiction at least in part because the word "liberal," with its allusion to liberty, seduces them.
I absolutely agree with your first part. But they get no credit for this, and are generally viewed by their opponents as wanting to reinstate Jim Crow, but just realizing that it isn't possible.
Which is why I disagree with your second part. "Coming to terms" would involve publicly recognizing that they were wrong in the past.
Although I really hate to lend support to any further orgy of apologizing.
No, they weren't. The South was dominated by the Democrat Party until the early 1980s. The so-called "conservatives" you malign were Democrats. They may not have been as socially liberal as today's Democrats, but they were still Democrats. And "conservatives" had no goals in the South that hinged on appeasing Southern racists at all.
To equate "conservative" Democrats of the 1960s with the conservative Republicans of today is a nice rhetorical trick. Unfortunately, it doesn't wash. Why? Because the ideals of republican conservatism are not identical with conservative ideals simply stated.
[i]mark[/i] Very good, thank you for posting. The most bigotted people I know are liberal friends who speak out vociferously against the War. Spittle and everything - it's nasty.
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