What is “Liberalism?"
In my previous article in Front Page Magazine, I argued that people who describe themselves (and are described by others) as "Leftists", "socialists", "social democrats", "Communists" and (in North America) "liberals" do have some things in common. And that is important. 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).
An important part of what I proposed was that what Leftists basically want does not have to be the exact opposite or mirror-image of what Rightists basically want — and vice versa. This 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). 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.
My basic proposal, then, is that most (but not all) Leftists/liberals are motivated by strong ego needs — needs for power, attention, praise and fame. And in the USA and other developed countries they satisfy this need by advocating large changes in the society around them — thus drawing attention to themselves and hopefully causing themselves to be seen as wise, innovative, caring etc. Rightists by contrast have no need either for change or its opposite and may oppose change if they see it as destructive or favour change if they see it as constructive.
We will see below why one of the most consistent themes to emerge from the Leftist’s love of change is the claimed need for "equality". And the belief in "equality" also tends to lead to support for such things as redistribution of wealth generally, heavily "progressive" income taxes, inheritance taxes, foreign aid, feminism, gay rights and socialized medicine. Again for reasons explored 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 in various ways. So let us now briefly look at some of these characteristic Leftist/liberal themes to see how they relate to basic Leftist motives.
Something that Leftists have had in common from the beginning is the rejection of any idea of "human nature". Basically, Leftists seem to believe that "education" can change almost anything in human behaviour. This root and branch rejection of heredity was of course what underlay Stalin's support of Lysenko's otherwise thoroughly discredited theory of evolution — the idea that characteristics acquired in one's lifetime can be passed on to one's offspring. So how do such views flow from a yen for change?
Quite obviously, any idea of human nature says that important things about human beings just CANNOT be changed and that does not suit the change-loving Leftists at all. So Leftists simply reject what does not suit them — regardless of the enormous evidence in favour of inherited characteristics. The entire discipline of behaviour genetics should not exist from a Leftist point of view.
Conservatives, by contrast, not only have the view that there are important and essentially ineradicable inherited human characteristics but they share with Christians the view that those characteristics are of a "fallen" kind: characteristics of selfishness, aggressiveness, untrustworthiness etc. That Christians and conservatives share such a central belief about human nature is of course a large element in the general compatibility between Christianity and conservatism and the frequent opposition between Christians and Leftists (e.g. "Godless" Communism versus the Roman Catholic church).
This conservative (and scientific) rejection of the Leftist idea that human beings are infinitely malleable does of course pose a major threat to the Leftist's assumptions, theories and programmes and it is one that the Leftist cannot really rebut so the usual Leftist response is simply an ad hominem one: To abuse and demonize conservatives for lacking "compassion". Abuse takes the place of argument (Krauthammer, 2002).
For many people, one of the great attractions of Communism (and to a lesser degree 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, Leftists tended 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.
This might also explain how Leftists have come to infiltrate many of the more orthodox churches in recent years. The Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist and Catholic 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 managed to enter such churches and replace the Gospel of Christ with a pseudo-Christian gospel that exploits traditional Christian teachings of love and compassion to justify the usual Leftist goals of destroying the normal differences and differentials that exist between people in the wider community.
Modern-day Leftists have an obsession with racism and fiercely attribute all racism to their political opponents and deny it in themselves. This is however utter nonsense. Take this description of a political programme: A “declaration of war against the order of things which exist, against the state of things which exist, in a word, against the structure of the world which presently exists”. You could hardly get a more change-oriented or revolutionary programme than that. So whose programme was it? Marx? Lenin? Stalin? Trotsky? Mao? No. It was how Hitler described his programme towards the end of “Mein Kampf”. And the Left pretend that Hitler was some sort of conservative!
So virulent racism CAN exist on the Left. Most Leftists are just dishonest about acknowledging it, that is all. They think that by relabelling it they perform some sort of magic trick that makes it go away.
It might be noted, moreover, that Leftists seldom seem to live among the minorities that they ostensibly champion. They are "limousine liberals" in Spiro Agnew's memorable phrase. What most Americans really think of at least some minorities is shown graphically by the phenomenon of "white flight" (US whites normally abandon suburbs that acquire more than a 5% Negro population) but we do not seem to see Leftists rushing to fill the houses left vacant by that. If deeds speak louder than words, this would tend to point to the Leftist's anti-racist advocacy as being mere empty rhetoric.
And there is much more in history to show that the current Leftist opposition to racism does not go very deep:
Before World War II, anti-racism was certainly NOT the mainstay of Leftist doctrine that it is today. Who was it who said: "What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money."? No. It was not Adolf Hitler but Karl Marx himself (Marx, 1844). See Blanchard (1984) for a full discussion of Marx's antisemitism.
And who was it who wrote this? “Not until my fourteenth or fifteenth year did I begin to come across the word 'Jew,' with any frequency, partly in connection with political discussions.... For the Jew was still characterized for me by nothing but his religion, and therefore, on grounds of human tolerance, I maintained my rejection of religious attacks in this case as in others. Consequently, the tone, particularly that of the Viennese anti-Semitic press, seemed to me unworthy of the cultural tradition of a great nation”. Some kindly liberal wrote that, no doubt? Some anti-racist? Some Leftist? The sentiments are certainly ones that anti-racists could only applaud, are they not? But those words are actually the words of Adolf Hitler, writing in “Mein Kampf”. And we all know what he ended up doing!
And from 1901 to 1966 the Australian government had an official policy known as the “White Australia” policy — a policy which forbad non-white immigration into Australia. In other words, for most of the time that “slegs blankies” ruled as the guiding policy in South Africa, its English equivalent (“whites only”) ruled in Australia too. And who were always the most ardent supporters of that policy? The Australian Labor Party — Australia’s major Leftist party. It was an Australian Labor Party leader (Arthur Calwell) who became famous for his remark that, "Two Wongs don't make a white". The policy was eventually abolished by a conservative government under Harold Holt. So Leftists can be as racist as anyone else if it suits them.
This is also shown by the way Jews were heavily oppressed up until quite recently in Russia under the Soviet system. The Soviet Gulag may not have been as regularly fatal as Hitler’s concentration camps but that is about the best that one can say of it.
It is also a matter of historical record that, after the Nazi-Soviet pact, Communists worldwide immediately became vigorously pro-Hitler. So Leftist “principles” are obviously very flexible. It is reasonable to conclude therefore, that, if Hitler had won and Stalin lost the war, Leftists would now be justifying their constant clamour for change and their bids for power as furthering Nazi ideals rather than “humanitarian” ideals.
Nonetheless, the way contemporary “Western” Leftists constantly hurl the labels “Nazi” and “Fascist” at anybody they disagree with suggests almost an obsession with Nazism. Such an obsession is also suggested by the way TV programs about Hitler and Nazism always seem to be available from our Left-dominated media. Programs about Stalin’s Russia are as rare as hen’s teeth by comparison.
This continuing Leftist obsession with Nazism might make some sense if Nazism were uniquely evil but, horrible and massive though the Nazi crimes were, they were anything but unique. For a start, government by tyranny is, if anything, normal in human history. And both antisemitism and eugenic theories were normal in prewar Europe. Further back in history, even Martin Luther wrote a most vicious and well-known attack on the Jews. And Nazi theories of German racial superiority differed from then-customary British beliefs in British racial superiority mainly in that the British views were implemented with typical conservative moderation whereas the Nazi views were implemented with typical Leftist fanaticism and brutality (cf. Stalin and Pol Pot). And the Nazi and Russian pogroms differed mainly in typically greater German thoroughness and efficiency. And waging vicious wars and slaughtering people “en masse” because of their supposed group identity have been regrettably common phenomena both before and after Hitler (e.g. Stalin’s massacres of Kulaks and Ukrainians, the unspeakable Pol Pot’s massacres of all educated Cambodians, Peru’s “Shining Path”, the Nepalese Marxists, the Tamil Tigers and the universal Communist mass executions of “class-enemies”). Both Stalin and Mao Tse Tung are usually “credited” with murdering far more “class enemies” than Hitler executed Jews.
It seems an obvious conclusion, then, that the constant Leftist excoriation of Hitler and the Nazis stems not from the unique horribleness of Nazism but has as its main aim an effort at camouflage — an effort to disguise or hide from public awareness the real kinship that exists between Nazism and other forms of Leftism. They just cannot afford to have people realize that ALL the great mass-murders of the 20th century were the product of Leftism.
It might not quite be racism but the one group of people that all Leftists love to hate is Americans. Even American liberals such as Chomsky hate America with a passion. And the events of September 11, 2001 surely show that hatred of America (whether by Muslim fantasists, Japanese Bushido fantasists, Leftist fantasists or any other fantasists) can be as malign, mindless and dangerous as any other form of prejudice. And it must be noted that Muslim fundamentalists are very much like the Greens and the Left in their dislike of the modern capitalistic world and in their dream of turning us all back to some sort of an idealized primitive past. No wonder so many Leftists condone Muslim terrorism! And if the Muslim fundamentalists want to return us all to a feudal state, the various Communist regimes actually did. Stalin, Mao, Kim Il Sung etc were as much God-kings in their time as any Pharaoh of Egypt ever was.
That racism lurks just beneath the surface in Leftists is also shown vividly by their constant adoption of double standards when speaking of populations of European and non-European origins. There is always an acceptance of barbarity among non-Europeans and a corresponding expectation that people of European origin “should know better”. For instance, Leftists constantly cast up the undoubted evils of (European) Nazism so that there can hardly be anyone in the Western world who is unaware of those evils. But how often do Leftists excoriate the simultaneous and arguably greater Japanese atrocities against the Chinese? I have never heard a single Leftist do so. And Western countries are often criticized by Leftists for their “harsh” treatment of illegal immigrants (treatment which rarely leads to any deaths) but we hear hardly a word about the mini-holocausts that are occurring all the time in Africa. Certainly no Leftist that I have ever heard condemns such holocausts. If they do it is nothing compared to the attacks that they mount on the much more benign countries of European origin. Clearly, Leftists have an underlying view of the difference between the “civilized” and “savage” races that is little different from the views of such heroes of past British Imperialism as Rudyard Kipling.
A more general point in this connection is made by Dalrymple (2002): “Socialist and anti-Semite alike seek an all-encompassing explanation of the imperfection of the world, and for the persistence of poverty and injustice: and each thinks he has found an answer. There are other connections between left-wing thought and anti-Semitism (usually believed to be a disease of the Right alone). The liberal intellectual who laments the predominance of dead white males in the college syllabus or the lack of minority representation in the judiciary uses fundamentally the same argument as the anti-Semite who objects to the prominence of Jews in the arts, sciences, professions, and in commerce. They both assume that something must be amiss — a conspiracy — if any human group is over- or under-represented in any human activity, achievement, or institution.”
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".
"ALL" men? So blacks and whites are equal too? No. Believers in equality have always had to be good at ignoring reality 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". 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 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. They oppose racism today solely as a way of making a claim that they are the “good guys”.
Edmund Burke (1790) has some claims to being the founding theoretician of conservatism and he claimed that loyalty to one's group, tribe, nation etc is a basic human instinct. And the famous military theorist, Von Clausewitz (1972) noted over 150 years ago: that "Even the most civilized of peoples, in short, can be fired with passionate hatred for each other" (p. 76). So what does modern social science tell us?
Let us look initially at the literature of academic psychology in particular: Brown (1986) surveyed the large body of extant psychological research on the question and concluded that group loyalty and group identification are rooted in "universal ineradicable psychological processes". In other words, group loyalty is not only normal but universal. And another psychologist particularly active in research into feelings of group identity concluded: "Not only is ingroup favouritism .... not related to outgroup dislike, it also does not seem causally dependant on denigration of the outgroup" (Turner, 1978, p. 249). See also Brewer & Collins (1981, p. 350) and Brown, Condor, Mathews, Wade & Williams (1986).
And this is moderate compared with what can be found elsewhere in the social science literature. For instance, Hechter (1986) claims that all racism is rational while the prominent French anthropologist Levi-Straus (1983) not only claims that ethnocentrism is universal and inescapable but also claims that it is desirable — on the grounds that it promotes cultural diversity. And the sociobiologists, of course (e.g. Mihalyi, 1984/5; Van den Berghe, 1981) regard ingroup favouritism as universal not only to man but to all social animals. Perhaps most extreme of all, Volkan (1985 & 1988) says that we all actually NEED group enemies and allies.
But few Leftists are interested in such findings and therefore often carry their condemnation of people's thinking about groups to a ridiculous and unfair degree. They tend to characterize as racist almost anyone who is honest about his or her perfectly normal feelings of group identity — however harmless and non-malevolent those feelings may be. In other words, present-day Leftists tend to find racists under every bed. They are so wedded to exorcising the demons in the world about them that an imaginary demon will do if a real one cannot be found.
They do so because it is in fact just a ploy for them — a ploy to obtain kudos. The reality that we all like our own group and our kind best (Park, 1950) is simply ignored by Leftists. A simple blanket condemnation of all manifestations of group awareness is the usual limit of their intellectual prowess. Leftists must need all of their talent for denying reality to avoid condemnation of the vast passions generated worldwide by international soccer matches!
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.
And "equality" was of course one of those high-minded ideals. 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!! So why this obsession with equality?
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.
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 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.
If it shows nothing else, their assertions of moral equivalence show the utter amorality of Leftists. Stalin's heirs are among us. His mass murders certainly appear to be regarded by many Leftists in the economically successful "Western" democracies as merely awkward from a PR point of view rather than wrong. In psychiatry, amorality is the mark of the psychopath — the "moral imbecile" who just cannot tell right from wrong and who commits murders and other heinous crimes with a clear conscience as a result. "Moral equivalence" would therefore appear to be reasonably described as psychopathy in politics.
New Leftist Directions
The demise of the Soviet Union left a large gap in what Leftists could advocate. Nobody now believes in the old Leftist mantra that the government should “own the means of production” (i.e. run businesses). 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.
One of these 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.
How heavily the Leftist obsession with equality (and their consequent procrustean unwillingness to handle the complexities of the real world) influences the political correctness 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 the Bolton Evening News of June 7th., 2002.
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 Telegraph 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!
In addition to their devotion to “political correctness”, Leftists have also forged alliances with the “Green” movement to the point where Reds and Greens are often largely the same people. 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.
Few people can be unaware of the violent attacks made by Leftist demonstrators in Seattle, Davos, Genoa and elsewhere on organizations that foster globalization of the world economy. These demonstrations obviously gave the Leftists concerned the attention and publicity that they crave but also showed vividly their hypocrisy.
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.
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.
The main reason why Leftists have recently become such opponents of globalization would appear to trace back to their traditional ties to the labor unions. Globalization does tend to relocate simpler jobs to poorer countries and the Leftist's union allies tend to oppose the changes to employment that this brings about. Unlike other Leftists, unions generally dislike change. They dislike change because it requires workers to find new jobs and that is understandably distressing to the workers concerned even if at the end of the day the cheaper goods now coming from overseas mean higher living standards for all. The Leftist however feeds on discontent so conveniently turns a blind eye to the longer term benefits of globalization and assists unionists in opposing it. The change-loving Leftist assists change-hating unionists! The corrosive discontent and hatred of existing power centres that motivate the Leftist enables him to ignore the incongruity of this alliance. Again we see that leading a protest of any kind is far more important than what the protest is about.
The Making of a Leftist
The appeal of Leftism to the average person is simple: The Leftist offers something for nothing. And that is always hard to resist — fraudulent though it usually is. If the Leftist offers to redistribute somebody else’s wealth into your pocket, that is one hell of an appealling scam to those who stand to benefit from it.
But the Leftist’s advocacy of equality is not all it seems. The Leftist's passion for equality is only apparently a desire to lift the disadvantaged up. In reality it is a hatred of all those in society who are already in a superior or more powerful or more prosperous position to the Leftist and a desire to cut them down to size. Leftists really aim at (and sometimes succeed at) the equality of making everyone poor rather than the equality of making everyone rich.
This explains the common puzzle of why it is that modern-day “liberals” are still indulgent about the old Soviet system. As Amis (2002) points out, the many people in literary and academic circles today who once supported Stalin and his heirs are generally held blameless and may even still be admired whereas anybody who gave the slightest hint of support for the similarly brutal Hitler regime is an utter polecat and pariah. Why? Because Hitler’s enemies were “only” the Jews whereas Stalin’s enemies were those the modern day Left still hates — people who are doing well for themselves materially. Modern day Leftists understand and excuse Stalin and his supporters because Stalin’s hates are their hates.
Much the same explanation applies, of course, to the similar puzzle of why the French military dictator, Napoleon, is to this day generally regarded as a hero even though practically every family in the France of his day lost a son in his wars. The figures for Napoleon’s Russian campaign alone are horrendous. He took 600,000 men into Russia but brought back only 70,000. In terms of loss of life, Napoleon’s wars were every bit as bad for France as Hitler’s wars were for Germany but Hitler is universally (and justly) reviled whereas Napoleon is still admired! Napoleon, however, justified all his actions as extending the French revolution to other lands and this explanation still resounds favourably with today’s Left-leaning intellectuals.
Such vast egotism and hunger for power and attention does of course make a mockery of the Leftist's claim to be in favour of equality. Like the pigs in George Orwell's "Animal farm", the Leftist wants to be "more equal than others". He wants to rule or at least dominate. Beneath his deceptive rhetoric, he is the ultimate elitist. He actually despises most of his fellow men and thinks that only he and his clique are fit to run everything. The last thing he wants is to be lost in a sea of equal people. This was of course amply shown in the Soviet Union, where membership of the Communist Party became the only pathway to the good life — conferring on the member all sorts of privileges and access to goods and services not available to other Soviet citizens.
Guilt, Compassion and "Limousine Liberals"
Another psychological motivation for Leftism that is sometimes mentioned is one that I have always had severe doubts about: Guilt. The claim is that affluent people feel bad (guilty) when they see how poorly others are doing and want to rectify that by getting handouts for the disadvantaged (but not from their own pockets of course). They are "limousine liberals". I have always seen this as just another Leftist hoax: They may sometimes explain their motives in such a high-minded way but if they really felt guilty there is plenty they could do to help others rather than agitating to tax them to the eyeballs.
The undoubted fact that Left activists and agitators (from the Bolsheviks on) tend to come from affluent families does not to me point to guilt as their motive at all. Rather the "limousine liberal" phenomenon shows me that those who have all that they want materially then seek other luxuries: such as self-righteousness, praise, power and excitement — particularly the excitement of being demonstrators in the case of "rich kid" Leftists. And if the young limousine liberal can have praise and self-righteousness along with his/her excitement what a good deal it is! It is much the same motivation that causes self-made rich men (such as Bill Gates) to become highly philanthropic. Bill Gates has power and wealth so he now seeks praise and righteousness.
Various US writers whose opinions I respect (e.g. Levite, 1998) do however disagree with me about the genuineness of the Leftist's guilt so maybe I am missing something. I can only say that all the Leftists I have met in Australia have seemed to me much more angry and hostile than guilty. So maybe guilt politics is mainly an American phenomenon. Why? Perhaps because the USA was founded by religious fanatics whereas Australia was founded by convicts. Cultural attitudes could be long-lived.
There is however one variation on the Leftist guilt theme that might have more weight to it: The idea that some people want to be compassionate or believe that they should be compassionate but know that they really are not. This could perhaps arise from pressures put on them during their upbringing or from formal and informal pressures exerted on them by those they associate with in (say) their churches. Knowing that they themselves lack compassionate feelings, they do the next best thing and advocate loudly that the State (i.e. the taxpayer) should be more compassionate and thus absolve them from having to do anything compassionate personally. They might also hope that by loudly proclaiming their "compassionate" political views, their lack of personal compassion will be overlooked. This could explain the Leftist politics of many clergy in the Church of England (and in associated Anglican churches worldwide). Some "limousine liberals" could also fall into this category.
There is some support for this idea in the survey finding that the Americans who give the highest percentage of their income to charity are the very rich whereas those who give least are Leftists and liberals (Cooke, 2002). But this should not be surprising. From the French revolutionaries to Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, Leftist "compassion" has never been evident in their deeds!
Anyone who thinks that claims of compassion necessarily indicate compassion might also consider the example of California's Rev. Jim Jones with his Leftist "People's Temple". The Rev. Jones was much opposed to racism and devoted to equality and compassion for the disadvantaged but still managed to massacre hundreds of his followers in Guyana (http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/~remoore/jonestown ). Jim Jones' actions make no sense as indicators of real compassion but make a lot of sense as indicating a frustrated love of power: Very Leftist!
And the many Leftists, even US Leftists, who, in the name of "anti-imperialism", actually voiced approval for the murderous onslaught on New York's World Trade Centre on Sept. 11, 2001 certainly showed their degree of compassion clearly enough. The great influence that US culture undoubtedly has on the rest of the world is seen as sufficient to justify the murder of thousands of US citizens innocently going about their business. It is again clear that a hatred of any power but their own is what drives Leftists, not compassion.
Leftism as a Religion
For some people, Leftism appears to work as a sort of religion for atheists. There would appear to be a strong inborn need for religion in human beings. Even in the present skeptical, scientific and materialistic age about half of all Americans are churchgoers and years of indoctrination into atheism by the Communists seem to have left the Church stronger than ever in Russia and Poland. And even among people with no formal religious affiliations, very few are outright atheists. Christians such as Billy Graham sometimes say with some cogency that there is a “God-shaped void” in people. They would have to admit, however that some pretty Satanic things can get packed into that void sometimes.
So Leftism could be seen as a Godless religion — something that meets the religious needs of those who for various reasons are dissatisfied either with other religions or with supernatural ideas in general. Not all religions have a dominant God or father-figure at their centre (e.g. Taoism, Confucianism, Shinto) and a religion that dispenses with the supernatural altogether does not therefore seem impossibly paradoxical. The identification of Leftism as a religion has often been made and the ability to believe in things that sound good but have very little supportive evidence would certainly seem to constitute a common core between Leftism and other religions. Both Leftists and the religious could, in other words, be seen as the wishful thinkers of the world: A very large throng. And, as a religion originally emanating from the economically successful "Western" democracies, Leftism is typical in being very proselytizing and intolerant of competing religions.
And, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, some might argue that Leftism is now more than ever a secular religion. In other words, now that it is crystal clear how awful really Leftist governments are, only faith could keep anyone still believing in the desirability of Leftism.
And anyone who has spent much time among Leftist intellectuals (As I have. I spent 12 years teaching in a School of Sociology at a major Australian university) will be aware of how the writings of Marx are treated as a form of holy writ. Leftist thinkers constantly involve themselves in nitpicking debates about “What Marx really said”, just as Christian sectarians constantly argue about “What the Bible says”. In our universities, Marxism is undoubtedly a form of theology. So Leftism can even meet people’s need for theology! And anyone who knows their mediaeval history or the history of the Byzantine empire will know how overwhelmingly important theology can sometimes be to human beings.
From a Christian point of view, of course, one could well see the Left as the Devil’s religion. It denies God and wears the compassionate clothes of Christ to cloak the black and hating heart that its destructive deeds reveal.
Interestingly, the most powerful form of Leftist religion would appear to have been Nazism. Nazism was Leftist in that it was explicitly socialist, in that Hitler justified everything in the name of “the people” (Das Volk), in that the Nazi State was all-powerful, in that the Nazi party supervised German industry minutely and in that Hitler and Stalin were initially allies (It was only the Nazi-Soviet pact that enabled Hitler’s conquest of Western Europe. The fuel in the tanks of Hitler’s Panzers as they stormed through France was Soviet fuel). And like any Leftist, Hitler did not like sharing power with the churches or anybody else.
But Hitler was smart enough to make good use of people’s religious inclinations rather than simply oppose them. He did this in two ways: He eventually made peace with the churches as long as the churches did not visibly oppose him. His concordat with the Pope is of course famous in that connection. His own Catholic education and often-expressed Christian beliefs obviously helped with that. So you could eventually be both a good Catholic (for instance) and a good Nazi. And secondly, Nazism itself was also self-consciously religious in that it promoted its celebrations of “Germanic” traditions as an improvement on and alternative to the churches.
And it did that well: Hitler often appealed to God so that was no cause for alarm (unlike atheistic Communism); Nazism had its holy book in the form of “Mein Kampf”; It had saints such as Horst Wessel; It had magnificent religious ceremonies such as its constant torchlight parades, huge rallies and impressive loyalty oath ceremonies; It had inspiring marching songs by way of hymns. It had its Messianic and undoubtedly inspiring leader in the person of Hitler. And the way the Hitler Youth and the Volksturm fought to the bitter end in Berlin is certainly the sort of committment that most churches could only envy.
Other Causes of Leftism
There are, however, many other reasons for Leftism:
Because of its pretensions to standing up heroically for various difficult causes, Leftism can seem "cool" to many of the unthinking young and not so young. Particularly in the worlds of academe, the media and entertainment, being Leftist means being "in" with the "smart" crowd. Not to be Leftist is to be left out. How awful! Even if such people can see faults in Leftist thinking, they are afraid to come toward the Right for fear of losing the approval of others around them.
Some people become liberals because they are genuinely outraged by things that they do not understand and are unwise enough to want to change those things willy nilly. In particular, they may be genuinely grieved by the unhappy experiences of others and want to fix that ASAP without being wise enough to seek for means of fixing it that have some prospect of working or that are not self-defeating. They might, for instance, be disturbed by the impact of rising rents on the poor and propose rent-control as a quick-fix solution — though a few minutes of thought or the most elementary inquiry should tell them that rent control will after a time also have the effect of degrading and shrinking the existing stock of rental accommodation and drying up the supply of new rental accommodation, both of which make the poor much worse off in the long run.
Some are Leftists because they are still young and unaware of most of life's complexities so that the drastically simple "solutions" and mantras proffered by the Left simply seem reasonable. Leftism has the appeal of simplicity.
Some Leftists, again particularly the young, are idealists who find the imperfect state of the real world unsatisfying. That there is some genuine idealism even among extreme Leftists is shown by the exoduses from Communist Parties in the economically successful "Western" democracies that followed the violent Soviet suppression of the East German, Hungarian and Czechoslovak uprisings against Communist rule in 1953, 1956 and 1968. Once the real nature of Communist regimes became too clear to be denied, honest decent people whose wishful thinking had led them to believe Communist protestations of benevolence and good intentions saw the light and abandoned Communism. In the USA (in New York particularly), some liberal intellectuals even saw enough in the Soviet actions of those times to cause them to abandon "liberalism" and found neo-conservatism. Similarly in Australia of the 1950s and '60s, the Andersonian libertarians of Sydney were also intellectuals who might otherwise have been Leftists but who were united by realism about Soviet brutality.
Some Leftists know that they themselves are weird by general social standards so preach change towards greater tolerance for all weirdness out of sheer self-interest. As George Orwell apparently once said long ago: "There is the horrible — the really disquieting — prevalence of cranks wherever Socialists are gathered together. One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words 'socialism' and 'communism' draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex maniac, Quaker, 'nature-cure' quack, pacifist and feminist in England."
Leftists in academe
As the Luntz poll recently and dramatically showed (Horowitz, 2002), 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.
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.
Another possible countervailing influence that some Leftists are beginning to notice (Bates, 2001) is the amazingly popular Homer Simpson. 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 times 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.
Leftist Egotism as a common human failing
Egotism has been pinpointed in this paper as a major psychological source of a Leftist orientation. It seems reasonable therefore to have a more searching look at egotism in general.
There is no dispute that thinking well of oneself is in general healthy, normal and desirable. But it is very difficult to point an optimum level of self-satisfaction. That ego can very easily go beyond an optimum is nonetheless surely clear. It could even be argued that excess ego is the besetting "sin" of the human race, that people generally are far more in love with themselves than is wise. By this I mean that many if not most of our troubles can be traced to people thinking too highly of themselves. Let us consider some examples:
As perhaps the most obvious instance of egotism, crime involves the criminal thinking that he alone matters and that (for instance) the person who has worked to earn possession of certain assets is not nearly so entitled to those assets as the criminal (thief) who wants them. The thief is putting his wants far above any consideration for others.
In the post-Soviet world, one of the most pernicious forms of excessive ego is nationalism and racism. We all know how Hitler's incredible ego gave birth to the notion that he and his fellow Teutons were a superior race and thus justified and brought about the slaughter of some of Europe's best and brightest (the Jews). But even in the last decade of the second millennium there were Hitlers everywhere, from Serbia to Rwanda. Everywhere the folly of believing that those like oneself (i.e. those of one's own group, tribe, nation or race) are somehow better or more worthy is leading to mass slaughter of outgroup members. How much a little humility would do towards preventing such evils.
Perhaps it is my Presbyterian upbringing but it seems to me that another great egotistical evil that afflicts many in all societies I know of is gambling. It causes significant losses to many and is quite disastrous to some — leading to poverty, broken marriages, crime etc. Yet even vision-challenged Frederick knows that the house always wins in the end and that 99% of gamblers lose in the end. Even those who win big at the lottery etc generally seem to blow it all and rapidly return to poverty. So why fight such extremely adverse odds? Why devote oneself to fighting losing battles? Why destroy one's hard-earned money so pointlessly? Ego. The gambler thinks he is special. He must (almost by definition) think that he can beat the odds. He thinks that he has special powers or special luck. What a fool! Gambling could then be seen as a rather pernicious form of mental illness if one did not understand that it is derived from our dominant human folly of excess ego.
Religion is perhaps the most pervasive expression of ego. Ego thinks that he or she is so important that he/she cannot really die and that the creator of the universe is concerned about his/her every thought and deed! How unrealistic! How ludicrous! How egocentric! If the universe does have a creator, such a creator is surely far above any human passions or concerns and has far bigger things to concern him/it than worry about what some priest does with his penis (for instance). And yet what evils have been perpetrated in the name of religion! Without excess ego, we would, for instance, have no Islamic fundamentalism.
And that secular religion known as Socialism or Communism is another case of vast ego. Some middle-class academic theorists were egotistical enough to think that they could with a little thought remake all of mankind's economic arrangements for the better overnight. They thought that they could repeal some of the deepest human passions by legislation and "education". From Lenin to Pol Pot they killed millions in their procrustean attempt to make humanity fit their preconceived notions. What towering ego and what a vast evil! Despite the now almost universally acknowledged failure of the Communist experiment, however, the ego that drove the Communists and their ilk has not gone away. In modern Leftists it still leads to pervasive "equalizing" follies, but on a less ambitious scale.
One of the great virtues of capitalism is that, in capitalism, excess ego is largely self-correcting. I may think I have this great idea that will enable me to sell millions of products or services and put everything I have into the project in the firm belief that I will make millions out of it. But if I am wrong and I am not as clever as I thought I was, people will not buy and I will go broke. I will learn a lesson in humility the hard way.
Humility versus Self-Esteem
So in the end I am again struck by the insight of that much quoted but little heeded wise man — Jesus Christ — in his preaching of humility and concern for others (e.g. Matthew 5:3-5; 18:4; 23:8-12). It does seem to be just what the human race needs. The "self-esteem" gospel that passes for wisdom among present-day psychologists is the antithesis of this in that it positively fosters the growth of ego. In Christian terms this psychological credo could perhaps well be characterized as the Devil's gospel. In my own personal terms, I would simply say that for the good of us all we need less self-esteem, not more.
The self-esteem gurus would no doubt argue that Hitler had to have LOW self-esteem to perpetrate his anti-social evils. If, however, the self-proclaimed "leader" (Fuehrer) of the "master-race" (Herrenvolk) was short of self-esteem, what meaning could the concept have? If Hitler had low self-esteem, how would we ever recognize high self-esteem? We would need some pretty circular definitions, I suspect.
This does however highlight the seeming paradox that many of those who seem to have very high self-regard also often seem to a have high need for that self-regard to be reinforced. The person with excess ego also seems to have a high ego-need. This is hardly surprising, however. There is much in the world and in life that tells each of us about our inadequacies, failures and mistakes so any person who has a high level of self-love has a lot of attacks on that self-love to fend off, counteract and defend against. The higher one's self-love, the more there is to attack and the more one will have a need to get it justified in some way. Humility would make life a lot simpler and realism a lot easier. It is no wonder that the inflated ego of the Leftist makes him/her an habitual denier of reality.
The Biology of Egotism
From the viewpoint of theoretical (evolutionary) biology, high self-esteem was probably once necessary and adaptive. In pre-modern times, when human life was generally "nasty, brutish and short" (to misquote “Leviathan” by Hobbes), it took a lot of ego to carry on and think that one could survive and do well. Without a lot of ego, a rational man might well have been tempted in such times to "drop his bundle" (give up, cease the struggle, lie down and die). Only unrealistic egotism could support in him the belief that he could do better than the common lot of man at that time and thus keep on struggling and surviving. Now that survival and a good lifespan is for most of us more or less guaranteed and boredom is a far greater problem than enough food or other material basics, excess ego has lost its point and has only negative consequences — as outlined above.
Denial of reality
"The most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind." (H.L. Mencken)
There would seem to be some possibility that excess ego can be curbed. The traditional Christian preaching of humility certainly assumes that. It is doubtful, however, that another underpinning of Leftism can be much influenced: Denial of reality.
Denial is perhaps best known through the work of Sigmund Freud as a classical neurotic symptom or coping mechanism. Instead of dealing with uncomfortable truths, the neurotic acts as if those truths simply do not exist. This is, of course, very maladaptive and creates at least as many problems as it solves.
Sadly, however, it would seem that reality denial is far from limited to psychiatric cases. Denial would appear to be in fact much more common even than excess egotism. Human beings generally do not handle reality well. That is why humans are such a drug-using species. Whether it be alcohol, cannabis, opiates, Khat, cocaine, nicotine or merely caffeine, few of us seem able to face life without chemical crutches. Straight reality is generally too much for us.
Religion too is essentially a reality denying exercise. As Marx famously said, it is the "opium of the people". Those of us with ultimately Judaic traditions delude ourselves into believing that somewhere there must exist some real counterpart to the omnipotent and benevolent father we thought we had in our early childhood and those of us influenced by Eastern religions generally believe that our elder family members continue to be able to help us even after death. We invent imaginary helpers and benefactors to replace the lack of real ones.
But WHY are human beings so uncomfortable with reality? Why do they use so many means to "escape" it? Again it probably goes back to more primitive times when reality was very oppressive and dispiriting. Only those who could escape reality in some way had the heart to carry on. So a talent for ignoring unpleasant truths was adaptive. In the modern world, however, reality is much more benign and, as Freud saw, denying it can easily descend into the psychopathological.
So any attack on the reality-denying habits of Leftists would appear doomed to failure. Even such an overwhelming reality as the utter collapse of the world's 70 year experiment with Communism caused them not at all to abandon their equalitarian mania but only to change their focus somewhat.
So what are Rightists?
The prime focus in this paper has been on defining and explaining what Leftism is. It would nonetheless be remiss not to give also at least a skeletal outline of what Rightism is so I will now do that. If Leftism and Rightism are NOT mirror-images, as this paper asserts, some such account does appear necessary in order to complete the picture. I have, however, written one book and many previous papers for those who wish to study conservatism at greater length (See Ray, 1972b, 1973, 1974, 1979 & 1981).
In the late 20th century, it was a common rhetorical ploy of the more "revolutionary" Left in the "Western" world simply to ignore democracy as an alternative to Communism. Instead they would excuse the brutalities of Communism by pointing to the brutalities of the then numerous military dictatorships of Southern Europe and Latin America and pretend that such regimes were the only alternative to Communism. These regimes were led by generals who might in various ways be seen as conservative (though Peron was clearly Leftist) so do they tell us anything about conservatism?
Historically, most of the world has been ruled by military men and their successors (Sargon II of Assyria, Alexander of Macedon, Caesar, Augustus, Constantine, Charlemagne, Frederick II of Prussia etc.) so it seems unlikely but perhaps the main point to note here is that the Hispanic dictatorships of the 20th century were very often created as a response to a perceived threat of a Communist takeover. This is particularly clear in the case of Spain, Chile and Argentina. They were an attempt to fight fire with fire. In Argentina of the 60s and 70s, for instance, Leftist "urban guerillas" were very active — blowing up anyone they disapproved of. The nice, mild, moderate Anglo-Saxon response to such depredations would have been to endure the deaths and disruptions concerned and use police methods to trace the perpetrators and bring them to trial. Much of the world is more fiery than that, however, and the Argentine generals certainly were. They became impatient with the slow-grinding wheels of democracy and its apparent impotence in the face of the Leftist revolutionaries. They therefore seized power and instituted a reign of terror against the Leftist revolutionaries that was as bloody, arbitrary and indiscriminate as what the Leftists had inflicted. In a word, they used military methods to deal with the Leftist attackers. So the nature of these regimes was only incidentally conservative. What they were was essentially military. We have to range further than the Hispanic generals, therefore, if we are to find out what is quintessentially conservative.
It might be noted, however, that, centuries earlier, the parliamentary leaders of England — led by Fairfax, Cromwell etc. — did something similar to the Hispanic generals of the 20th century. Faced by an attempt on the part of the Stuart tyrant to abrogate their traditional rights, powers and liberties, they resorted to military means to overthrow the threat. There is no reason to argue that democracy cannot or must not use military means to defend itself or that Leftists or anyone else must be granted exclusive rights to the use of force and violence.
What modern-day Rightists of the English-speaking world are, then, traces right back to the German invaders who overran Britannia around 1500 years ago and made it into England. They brought with them a very decentralized, largely tribal system of government that was very different from the Oriental despotisms that had ruled the civilized world for most of human history up to that time. And they liked their decentralized system very much. So much so that the system just kept on keeping on in England, century after century, despite many vicissitudes. Only the 20th century really shook it.
Where the English get their traditional dislike of unrestrained central power is not the main point or even an essential point of the present account. Nonetheless, tracing that dislike to the ultimately German descent of most of the English population might seem colossally perverse in view of Germany's recent experience. Was not Hitler a German and was he not almost the ultimate despot and centralizer of power in his own hands? One could quibble here by saying that Hitler was NOT a German (he was an Austrian) and the Israeli historian Unger (1965) has pointed out that Hitler was much less of a despot than Stalin was but neither of those points is really saying much in the present context.
The important thing here again is to see things with an historian's eye and realize that recent times are atypical. Right up until Bismarck's ascendancy in the late 19th century, Germany was remarkable for its degree of decentralization. What we now know as Germany was once always comprised of hundreds of independent States (kingdoms, principalities, Hanseatic cities etc.) of all shapes and sizes: States that were in fact so much in competition with one another in various ways that they were not infrequently at war with one-another.
And it was of course only the fractionated and competing centres of power existing in mediaeval Germany that enabled the successful emergence there of the most transforming and anti-authority event of the last 1000 years: The Protestant Reformation. Despite the almost immediate and certainly widespread popularity of his new teachings among Germans, Luther ran great risks and would almost certainly have been burnt at the stake like Savonarola, Hus and his other predecessors in religious rebellion had it not been for his (and our) good fortune that he was a Saxon. His Prince, Frederick III ("The Wise") of Saxony gave him constant protection. As one of the Electors of the Holy Roman Empire, Frederick was strong enough and independent enough to protect Luther from Pope, from Emperor and from other German potentates.
So only after Bismarck engineered the defeat of the French at Sedan in 1870 did most of Germany become unified — with the Germans of the Austrian lands remaining independent even then. And to this day Germany has a Federal system very similar to that of their largely Germanic brethren in the United States, Canada and Australia — a system of State governments which markedly limits central (Federal) government power. So the German origins of the English do make their historic dislike of concentrated power at the Centre just one part of a larger picture.
In 1066, William of Normandy disrupted the traditional decentralized and competitive power structure of England to some degree but by the time of King John and Magna Carta it was back with a vengeance. Even in the reign of that great Tudor despot, Henry VIII, there were still in England great and powerful regional Lords and many less powerful but numerous local notables representing local interests that the King had to take great care with. Even Tudor central government power was highly contingent, far from absolute and much dependant on the popularity of the ruler among ordinary English people. And when the Stuarts, with their doctrine of "the divine right of Kings", ignored all that and tried to turn the English monarchy into something more like a centralized Oriental despotism, off came the head of the Stuart King.
A Conservative Revolution
And the parliamentarians who were responsible for beheading King Charles I in 1649 were perfectly articulate about why. They felt that Charles had attempted to destroy the ancient English governmental system or "constitution" and that he had tried to take away important rights and individual liberties that the English had always enjoyed — liberty from the arbitrary power of Kings, a right to representation in important decisions and a system of counterbalanced and competing powers rather than an all-powerful central government. It is to them that we can look for the first systematic statements of conservative ideals — ideals that persevere to this day. And they were both conservatives (wishing to conserve traditional rights and arrangements) and revolutionaries!
So right back in the 17th century we had the apparent paradox of "conservatives" (the parliamentary leaders — later to be referred to as "Whigs") being prepared to undertake most radical change (deposing monarchy) in order to restore treasured traditional rights and liberties and to rein in overweening governmental power. So Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were not at all breakaways from the conservatism of the past. They had very early and even more determined predecessors. Nobody who knew history should have been surprised by the Reagan/Thatcher "revolution". And it was in deliberate tribute to the parliamentarians of Cromwell's day and their immediate successors that two of the most influential conservative theorists prior to Reagan and Thatcher both described themselves as "Old Whigs" — Burke (1790) and Hayek (1944). Hayek described Whig ideals as "the only set of ideals that has consistently opposed all arbitrary power" (Hayek, 1960).
Many influential conservative writers of the past (e.g. Burke, 1790) have held that Christianity is an essential foundation for conservatism — though others (e.g. Hayek, 1944) disagree. A large part of the reason for that is the traditional role of the church as arbiter and enforcer of morality in general and sexual morality in particular. Although suspicious of authority generally, conservatives have never shrunk from the need for authority if they consider it essential to the functioning of a civil society. And morality has always to them seemed essential for any kind of civilization. And morality generally has to be taught and to some degree enforced. It does not always come naturally. And both the church and the State have generally seemed needed for setting and maintaining moral standards.
In the modern world, however, it is clear that civil society and a modicum of morality (both sexual and otherwise) can survive without the church so the Burkean view that religion and its moral codes are essential to a good life can no longer be reasonably maintained by conservatives or anyone else. Christian conservatives still claim, however, that traditional Christian moral standards make for a better society than it otherwise would be and sometimes agitate energetically for such standards to be widely applied. Their view of the benefits of Christian standards may well be correct but if they try to have such standards applied to non-believers they are simply mired in an obsolete past. They are mistaken about what is essential.
Other theories of conservatism
Perhaps the best-known work on political psychology is that by Adorno et al. (1950) — who claim that conservatives are pro-authority whereas Leftists are anti-authority. This vast oversimplification is perhaps an understandable mistake given the characteristic opposition by Leftists in the economically successful "Western" democracies to the existing centres of authority and power in their countries and given the characteristic acceptance by conservatives of those same authorities but it once again lacks in historical perspective. What Leftists oppose is not authority as such (or there would be no Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao etc.) but only authorities that they do not control; and what conservatives favour is not any and all authority but rather carefully limited authority — only that degree of central authority and power that is needed for a civil society to function. See Ray (1988, 1989 & 1990) for a more extensive critique of the Adorno claims.
The biggest mistake that has been made by psychologists (e.g. Altemeyer 1981 & 1988) and others, however, is to identify conservative motivation with opposition to change. Obviously, from Cromwell to Reagan and Thatcher, change has never bothered "conservatives" one bit — but preservation of their rights and liberties from governments that would take those rights and liberties away always has. THAT is what has always made a "conservative" — and it still does.
One dimension or two? As is evident from the above, describing the entire domain of political attitudes in terms of a single Right/Left dimension does have its problems. For this reason various authors (e.g. Eysenck, 1954; Rokeach, 1960; Kerlinger, 1967) have proposed that an adequate description of world politics really needs two dimensions. They propose, for example, that the Left-Right dimension be supplemented by an Authoritarian/Permissive dimension. So that democratic Leftists and Rightists are Permissive Leftists and Rightists whereas Communists and Fascists are Authoritarian Leftists and Rightists.
Although such proposals have considerable intuitive appeal, they do not, unfortunately, seem to coincide with how people's attitudes are in fact organized when we do surveys of public opinion. It is very easy to find people's attitudes polarizing on a Left/Right dimension but nobody has yet managed to show in a satisfactory way any polarization of attitudes on the postulated second dimension (Ray, 1980 & 1982).
The account of Left/Right attitudes given in this paper suggests why this is so. For a start, the assumption that Fascists or Nazis are Right-wing is false. Hitler himself energetically claimed to be a socialist and Mussolini (the founder of Fascism) was a lifelong Marxist. The evidence for this has been summarized at great length in two previous papers (See Musso.txt and Hitler.txt on my website) so will not be further elaborated here.
Historically, the core of conservatism has always been a suspicion of government power and intervention and conservatives therefore accept only the minimum amount of government that seems needed for a civil society to function. So it is no wonder that there is no authoritarian version of conservative ideology. If it were authoritarian it could not be conservative.
Leftism, on the other hand, IS intrinsically authoritarian and power-loving and will always therefore tend in the direction of government domination. It is only non-authoritarian to the extent that is thwarted by external influences (such as democracy) from achieving its aims. Leftists in democratic societies do of course commonly deny authoritarian motivations but that is just part of their "cover". Deeds speak louder than words.
CONCLUSIONSAlthough Leftists in the economically successful "Western" democracies have (thankfully) never gained power on anything like the scale achieved by Mao and Stalin, there have of course been Leftist governments and influential Leftist politicians in the economically successful "Western" democracies countries 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 politicians and governments can do. Their power has always been far from absolute.
But in all cases, bitter experience has shown that Leftists in power are very dangerous and destructive people. Where their power is effectively unchecked, they generally seems 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.
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