[Editor's Note: Jamie Glazov will speak and sign copies of his book at the Luxe Hotel in Los Angeles, Calif., at 7:30 p.m. May 14. Registration and reception begin at 7 p.m., and registrations can be made by e-mailing Stephanie Knudson at the Freedom Center.]
There are many contexts one can choose from when reading Jamie Glazov’s new book United in Hate: The Left's Romance With Tyranny and Terror. It can be seen as a historical work, tracing the last 90 years’ worth of communist tyrannies, Islamist terrors and their intellectual supporters. Or one can see it as a sociological analysis, building off of Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer to try and grapple with the conundrum of the radical mind. Still another way to view it is as a polemical work in the tradition of David Horowitz’s many sucker-punches to the political Left, singling out such icons as Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, and Naomi Klein as examples of a disturbing pattern.
Perhaps the last lens one might ever think to use to look at United In Hate is as a spiritual book. Matters of God, religion, and mysticism are surely the last things to be on most readers minds as they progress through Glazov’s catalog of horrors. Nevertheless, perhaps considering the text in this fashion can yield one of its most satisfying understandings.
The principle question posed by United In Hate is summed up in the book’s introduction: why is it that “progressives” who long for a better world can end up supporting communist dictators and Islamist suicide-bombers? Glazov answers in somewhat different terms than I will. He primarily explores the question in psychological terms in chapter 2, “The Believer’s Diagnosis.”
My answer, though: the Left has stumbled into this romance through taking a wrong turn spiritually. They’ve taken the basic spiritual drive and mystical quest in a profoundly destructive direction. The key to understanding this lies in a careful reading of the book’s most consequential chapter, “Cravings for Death.” In it Glazov lays out a shared desire of both progressives and Islamists: the suicidal urge to sacrifice oneself for the idea. He highlights such progressive “martyrs” as Rachel Corrie and Tom Fox, both leftists who went to the Middle East to serve as human shields on behalf of Palestinian terrorists. Glazov quotes Mennonite minister and left-wing Evangelical Ron Sider, who helped inspire the movement: “We must take up our cross and follow Jesus to Golgotha. We must be prepared to die by the thousands.”
Sider wasn’t speaking without biblical backing. The call for self-sacrifice is all over the New Testament. The phrase he was citing is from Matthew 16:24-25:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25For whoever wants to save his life[h] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
This call to renounce the self runs across religious traditions of both East and West. And there’s a simple reason for it: The need to transcend the self and achieve oneness with “God” is a universal human drive and the key pursuit of the mystical quest.
Whether we realize it or not that’s what we’re all trying to do. We’re continually trying to move beyond ourselves, to be a part of something bigger and more important, to become one with the universe, to escape the isolation of our consciousness. And people often pursue this in entirely secular ways. Why do we watch films, read poetry, listen to music, stare at paintings? Why do we have a few beers, smoke a few joints, or drop LSD? Why do we jog for miles? Why do we meditate? Why do we fall in love and get married? The answers are all ultimately the same: to get beyond ourselves.
The “progressive” radicals and Islamic radicals that Glazov identifies and talks about in United In Hate are doing exactly what radicals always do: taking the idea, whatever it might happen to be, to its logical conclusion, no matter how illogical it might seem to everyone else. They’re taking the desire to become one with God to its conclusion through committing suicide. Because once we die our consciousness is no longer isolated and we truly are one with existence, one with God.
The radical has fallen victim to the same problem as the drug addict. He’s taken the quest for union with universe to an extreme, destructive conclusion. How can we as individuals and societies avoid this?
While Glazov still has yet to write his own answer to this spiritual/political problem, there are plenty of relevant books to consider which seek to show how we can resolve the problem of living in a world of divided individuals. Israeli politician and former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky’s recent Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role In Protecting Democracy is instructive in demonstrating how societies can tackle the problem of achieving unity while still supporting the importance of the individual.
Sharansky shows in his book how the same movements whom Glazov attacks in United In Hate are also waging an ideological war on the concept of identity, urging for an end to the nation state and religious diversity – if we’re all just the same then we can have peace and utopia. (In this we have the same suicidal tendency manifest in a different way.) Sharansky challenges this argument on numerous fronts, the one relevant for this discussion involves his reflections on both his pro-Israel allies in the American Evangelical community and his experiences in the Soviet Gulag:
In prison I came to the conclusion that people with strong identities are the best potential allies. The same is true in free societies. Obviously, such an alliance will demand a commitment to the core principles of democratic life… It is surely better to have a society armed with strong identities framed by democracy than a society of strong democrats indifferent to identity.
So how can we as a culture avoid the spiritual wrong turn that the radicals have made? It’s not as complicated as one might think. We can achieve a sense of unity through a shared respect and celebration of our different identities. This is what democratic capitalism is all about – being one and being separate simultaneously. We can develop our own identities, our own individual expressions of spiritual truth, but still unite with others who come to different conclusions.
In this fashion we can end up not united in hate, but in democracy. And while this might not be the divine union the radicals desire, perhaps if they gave the American Idea a shot they might find it more spiritually satisfying than they could ever imagine.