Tuesday, October 05, 2004
The Current Civil War And The Demise Of Liberalism
Opponents of conservative political philosophy have been successful in conjuring negative associations to conservatism that have nothing in common with its true meaning as a philosophy of government. Nationalism, militarism, racism, cruelty, ignorance, narrow-mindedness, and "fascism" are all now seen to lurk in the hidden hearts of those who merely favor the autonomous individual and limits on the authority of the state. College and high school texts and teachers have successfully erected a myth that somehow the Nazis and Hitler were the end result of extreme "conservatism" (Hitler and his National Socialist Worker's Party actually despised the values of classical liberalism and espoused a violent style of socialism / collectivism). Over recent decades the values associated with liberalism have transformed as well.
By the 1960's in America, it was clear that a liberal was left of center and favored a degree of centralized government intervention into the lives of the country's citizens but, in most cases, a liberal did not despise market economics or the nation in general. They certainly would not have favored "speech codes" on college campuses or other authoritarian expressions of the left's collectivist ideal.
The present state of political discourse in America has seen the emergence of a radical transformation in the meaning of liberal. Some liberals today have been honest enough to break away from America's liberal Democratic party and redefine themselves as "progressives" (a euphemism, none the less). "Progressives" are leftists, they make no secret of the fact that they despise the free-market and despise the United States. They are kindred spirits of authoritarian collectivists. It's no surprise that Fidel Castro is one of their heroes and communism is not a bad word in their vocabulary. They are, for all practical purposes, communists -- but we can't say that (!). To label anyone a communist today would reflect back on one's self. You would be seen as resurrecting "McCarthyism" and the environment of "witch hunts." Accurately labeling an ideological opponent's affiliation with an authoritarian ideology that has killed millions would reflect badly on you for pointing it out. Those college and high school texts and teachers previously mentioned have successfully molded this context as they have our definition of conservative and liberal. We all "know" that McCarthy was some crazy fascist who harassed innocent Hollywood "liberals." In fact, McCarthy had nothing to do with such events. McCarthy's valid inquiry was into security risks in the State Department and the army. As it turns out, Soviet archives have confirmed that the Cold-War Marxist enemy had a vast network of operatives in many positions in the US government. To note such conditions is not paranoid right wing extremism, it's practical observation of a fact one would expect to occur in such circumstances. The country was in a battle with a state and ideology that sought the complete elimination of human liberty on a worldwide scale. McCarthy had the nerve to question the employment status and credentials of spies who had infiltrated the government at the time. The "Hollywood witch hunt" issue that is in-accurately associated with McCarthy was actually the work of the House Un-American Activities Committee (an organization originally founded for the purpose of investigating the Ku Klux Klan).
Today, many who are still referred to as "liberals" are really "progressives" and, as a statement of fact, communists in their sympathies if not their goals. Whether one thinks that being a communist is a good thing or not is of course up to individual choice (ironically). The ideology was responsible for over 100 million deaths under totalitarian government in the last century. Of course their goals were noble -- supposedly. To be sure, some who follow the "progressive" cause are merely romantic idealists and don't have a conscious intention to establish prison camps and purges, but ignorance on the part of those who defend tyranny is a weak excuse. The original intention of most tyrants was not blood stained pages in history. The "problem" arose when they realized that not everyone supported their vision of a "progressive" enforced communal future.
Forty years ago it would have been reasonable to disagree with a liberal on government spending, social programs, or the best way to deal with a mutually despised enemy. People could be close friends and have such different views. Neither party in their respective viewpoints would hate their own country or it's market system of free exchange or cheer for its decline and defeat at the hands of radical thugs.
Today, many of those still described as liberals are -- indeed -- leftists. To use the word "liberal" for them is to soften the reality of an ideological stance with brutal implications. From the French Revolution to Kim Jong Il's prison state, leftism always has been an ideology that despises the autonomous individual and diverse and open society. It has always sought the established rule of "philosopher kings" for the abstract end of a collectivist order, usually justified on the grounds of "the need for equality." They often hide behind esoteric titles like, "progressive," "feminist," "antiwar 'activist'," or "professor of critical theory," to name a few.
Saying one's goal is to "help poor people" is one thing, establishing reeducation programs is altogether different (one need only attend a teacher education program at an American university to sense the reality of such potentials in the leftist's train of thought).
Senator Joseph Leiberman is a liberal. Noam Chomsky, Oliver Stone, and Michael Moore are leftists. They are very different perspectives. Perhaps it is time we acknowledge the difference.
Whether leftists still comfortably ally themselves with the Democratic Party or attend cocktail parties with Hollywood's best the reality is clear, they are not mere liberals. To sympathize with a brutal Iraqi dictator or Cuban autocrat is not an attribute of liberalism. (There's no way around it, the Left wanted to leave Saddam Hussein in power).
Today's new New Left is merely the old left with the aid of a laptop. They hate free enterprise (which created the laptop). They hate America and its history. They hate any system that will not bow to the schemes of collectivist-statism. They're not "liberals."
The philosophical war occurring in the US at this point in its history is not some cooperative debate on how best to proceed in our constitutional system. It's a civil war between those who would defend free society and those who would impose the values of authoritarian collectivism. This is a battle between right and left, but to imply that it's a battle between "conservatives" and "liberals" would assume that liberals are still active players at all -- they're not.