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A Meditation on Hope and Change By: David Solway
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, December 05, 2008


Under the rubric of “hope and change,” explicitly or implicitly, the Left has always been enamored of grand historical schemes and demagogic archetypes of social and political salvation. Thus in the 20th century it made common cause with the dictatorship of the proletariat and in the 21rst, from all appearances, with the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate.

Evidence for this most recent entente was furnished by Cairo’s Al Ahram Weekly [early May, 2007] which commented approvingly on the close relations between “the anti-global left and Muslims,” congratulating the Left for “finally overcoming its traditional resistance to the cultural conservatism of Islam” and concluding that “likewise Muslims are reaching out to the left.” The ad-hoc collaboration between the international Left and the Islamic Right, or Islamofascism, is the Monadnock in today’s political peneplain, as we witness the rise of yet another form of the politics of fascism. It is, we might say, a marriage made in Jannah, the Islamic heaven.

One of the more acute and convincing studies of the historical relation between the Left and the politics of fascism comes from Jonah Goldberg who, in his newly released Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, has shown the astonishing extent to which modern liberal progressivism derives its premises from the same ideological matrix as vintage fascism: statist intervention in private life, “faith in the perfectibility of man and the authority of experts,” mass education, secular schools, “the quest for community,” the proliferation of legal measures regulating personal behavior, university speech codes, sumptuary laws, the minimum wage, large pensions, anti-free market economics, to name only a few.

All these are policies that were championed by the Fascist government in Italy and the National Socialist regime in Germany, which the Left has incorporated into its overall agenda. And yet the term “fascist” has become the preferred imprecation of modern liberals in their war against a conservative philosophy that promotes the free market, individual autonomy, political stability and limited government—principles grounded in classical liberalism itself and that are about as unfascist as they can get.

Goldberg’s analysis, however, is not entirely unique. Indeed, the contradiction in terms between Fascist and Leftist imperatives is only apparent. Hannah Arendt’s monumental work The Origins of Totalitarianism clearly revealed the sociopolitical kinship between Fascism and Communism, especially in their attempt to remake the individual as a loyal and passive monad of the State. And it has been observed many times before that the extreme Left and the extreme Right close the political circle, their respective policies being often remarkably similar, especially with regard to their congenital antisemitism. The brown stain is not easy to get out.

The difference today is that it is the mainstream Left and the far Right which, while opposed in some important respects, agree on their mephitic attitude to Israel and the Jews, and the mainstream Left and the Muslim conservative “Right” which are in accordance in their campaign against American foreign policy of recent years, the bedrock principle of the autonomy of the individual, a transparent and nonaligned press, and—again—Israel, the so-called Jewish Lobby and Jews themselves.

The rapprochement between the “right wing” Islamic totalistic state and the “left wing” Western nanny state is rather frightening, as if a secret sympathy were at work which goes some way to explaining the apologetic stance adopted by Western intellectual and political elites toward Islam. Fascist Germany too, we recall, cemented a strategic alliance with the Muslim world, hosting the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem as an honoured and valued guest in Berlin. Although the geopolitical situation is no longer the same, certain compatibilties remain in play.

Obviously the liberal-left is in no way tainted by the spectre of political repression, terror, secret police and kill squads; yet there exists a profound affinity between the hegemonic Islamic state and the Left-oriented welfare state, which clarifies much that seems counter-intuitive in the West’s cozying up to the Muslim world.

They are brothers under the skin, that is, they are equally adept in the use of sophisticated propaganda techniques—a mainstay of Fascist regimes—and equally preoccupied with state control for the ostensible benefit of their subjects: in the first case, the communal and spiritual cohesion (asabiyah in Arabic) of Muslim congregants, in the second, the social reprogramming of a secular electorate. It’s not just about oil; it’s about a shared vision of social dominion. The European Union in particular, with its unelected bureaucracy in Brussels regimenting the minutiae of political and civic life—“right down to beer and sauages,” as Robert Cooper put it in the Observer Worldview—is a harbinger of the future as envisioned by the Western Left.

For both Islam and the Left, the inner motivation involves the arrogation of power in the hands of a patrician oligarchy which knows what is best for the laity, with predictable consequences. Shari’a courts imposing their sway in the Muslim world, “Human Rights” tribunals legislating against free speech in the West; the Islamic drive toward establishing a unified Caliphate, the European movement for transnational governance; state domination of the media in the former, the reign of media political correctness and liberal bias in the latter; Islamic universities enforcing a single “party line” among faculty and students, Western academia in the grip of rigid political allegiances and behavior codes—the relation is that of complementarity, the one being only a milder and more insidious version of the other.

Just as the autonomous individual who exercises moral and political agency is foreign to Islam, so the private citizen who takes mature responsibility for the conduct of his or her destiny is slowly becoming a disappearing species in the West, where there are fewer and fewer Todd Beamers to be found: “Let’s roll” has morphed into “Let’s roll over.” In either instance a form of corporate infringement, whether clerical or bureaucratic but perforce hierarchical, deprives the individual of both entitlement and accountability, which is to say, of answerable freedom. There is something coming to the fore in the psyche of the West that we might almost call Islam Lite, a parallel initiative aiming at paternalistic rule and collective authority at the expense of the individual citizen.

This is a dormant gene in the “liberal” body politic, a tendency or temptation that Alexis de Tocqueville understood well and warned about as far back as 1835-1840 when, in Democracy in America, he wrote: “It must not be forgotten that it is especially dangerous to enslave men in the minor details of life.” The individual citizen begins to find that he has no way to dongle his privacy and security—his records accessible, his home open, his right to defend himself impeded by legislation, his use of power sources soon to be monitored, his habits and amusements closely audited and often forbidden by law, his public utterance gelded, his union ballot on the verge of losing the protection of privacy, his income increasingly subject to redistribution, his legitimate authority over his children compromised by the courts.

Emmanuel Sivan’s characterization of the modern Islamic state in Radical Islam: Medieval Theology and Modern Politics seems equally true of our own: “The [Islamic] state is more powerful and interventionist than ever. It is no longer content to leave civil society to its own devices. The state encroaches even upon the social spheres, which used to be considered beyond its purview—family, education, use of spare time, and so on.”

Our own society is starting down the same treacherous road, retreating from the pressures of reality into moral overcast and trumped-up antagonisms, blaming Israel for the Middle East and America for the world. Our universities, in the words of Civil Rights officer and Manhattan Institute Fellow Abigail Thernstrom, are becoming “islands of repression in a sea of freedom.” (Though the sea of freedom is fast becoming a lake.) Speech and writing are falling under intensive scrutiny and are increasingly liable to legal prosecution.

Our “thinking classes” identify with the suffering of an abstract, third-world population and the hypothetical complaints of an implacable enemy at the expense of our own security, behaving like the intellectual progeny of Dickens’ Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House whose soul was captivated by the plight of African children while her own went unattended. As citizens we seem to be content to yield our decision-making freedom to an overriding and ascendant managerial class at every level of the social gantry. Our governing presbyters believe—or pretend to believe—they are renewing the body politic when they are only succumbing to an obsolete paradigm of social organization. And all this, we remember, under the sign of “hope and change.”

These are words that should signal the alarm immediately. It is no accident, to take a recent instance, that the Marxist/Islamist candidate for the Presidency of Kenya, Raila Odinga (who claims on persuasive evidence to be the cousin of Barack Obama), ran his campaign under the jingles of “Change We Need” and “Vote For Change.” This is pro forma. The “hope” part, no doubt, had to do with the putative influence of his American cousin, who actually visited Kenya and participated in the campaign. The violence that Odinga unleashed after his defeat, which propelled him to the office of the Prime Minister, might also give hopers and changers pause for reflection.

In the context of the liberal-left, I believe it is fair to state that while hope is sometimes for the better, change is generally for the worse. Hope, however, was the last element remaining among the contents of affliction-laden Pandora’s box, leading to the much-touted question of whether it is a blessing or a curse. And change in its dirigiste, top-down version, which qualifies as “fascism” in its most pejorative aspect, embodies the tyrannical authority of old age. This is the clue to understanding the power of all collectivist social projects. They are not an expression of vitality, of real hope and change, but a sign of dotage, of the desire to put affairs in rigorous order and preserve that order by dogmatic fiat. They imply the parsimony and command associated with advancing years. There is something static and and even testamentary about them.

Let us look to the current political moment. The mantra of “hope and change” that America has taken to its heart belies the reality of a society that has made a Faustian bargain with its own bedevilled future. This is only another way of saying that America has elected the Eurabian candidate and that the reconciliation between the two continents is now well under way, to the grave detriment of the former. Europe is growing enervated and varicose, unable even to reproduce itself; the model it provides for both the American leadership and electorate will only induce America to age before its time. Renewal, so far as it is possible, then becomes a function of immigration, whether legal or illegal.

I will be told that the new American President is a young man, which is true; what is also true is that a fresh face is the best possible mask for a moribund ideology. The recycling of hack advisors and stale officials from a previous administration is only further proof of what can be done to avoid innovation in thought and policy under the mandate of change and the rhetoric of hope.

Here in America, the sad reality is that we are now taking our cues for political change from “old Europe” and our hope for group solidarity, or asabiyah, from the example of Islam. But this is nothing more than galloping cultural sclerosis. The truth is, I’m afraid, that under all the hype something rather dismaying is happening. It is as if we are becoming a community of old men who wear fedoras and drive Buicks, a klatch of old women who glitter in bling and gladrags. We have become, in effect, the vanguard of a civilization on the wane.

And this sorry state of affairs may account in part for one of the most acerbic ironies of our so-called intellectual culture. It may help to explain why the jihadists in all their vigor and violence are admired and defended by so many Western liberals. Though Islam in itself may be regarded as an ideological relic, an Ancient of Days, its terrorist warriors are seen as enterprising, flamboyant and dynamic. They appeal to those among us who have already capitulated and grown superannuated. As such, they represent the revival of a failing consummation. They are the antidote to civilizational senescence. They are Viagra for the impotent.

Were the situation not so impendingly catastrophic, it would be utterly ludicrous and trivial—Bob Hope on the Road to Mandalay, chump change on the Bourse. An apter description of our devolving condition would be Shakespeare’s “th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame.” For in surrendering to a slogan that dissembles its opposite, we are only setting ourselves up for more of the same old same old.


David Solway is the award-winning author of over twenty-five books of poetry, criticism, educational theory, and travel. He is a contributor to magazines as varied as the Atlantic, the Sewanee Review, Books in Canada, and the Partisan Review. He is the author of The Big Lie: On Terror, Antisemitism, and Identity. A new book on Jewish and Israeli themes, Hear, O Israel!, will be released by CanadianValuesPress this fall.


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