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Symposium: Leaving the Political Faith: Part II By: Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, October 21, 2005


Dark Night of the Soul 

FP: Thank you Dr. Chesler. We now move on to the second round of this discussion, entitled “The Dark Night of the Soul,” which will explore the stage of your intellectual journey where you began to be haunted with doubts – second thoughts – about your political faith. Tell us what events engendered this chapter in your lives and how your new suspicions began to change you. 

 

Mr. Bradley?

 

Bradley: When I moved to the Middle East in the late 1990s, to learn Arabic and work as a journalist, I bought my left-wing baggage with me. You have to understand that, in the UK, being on the Left automatically means being pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli. Even those on the Left who have never traveled to the region, and never talk about Middle Eastern politics and culture, will suddenly launch into a violent anti-Israel tirade once this topic comes up.

Some on the Right attribute this hostility to latent anti-Semitism. It goes almost without saying that an anti-Semite's criticism of Israel is by default anti-Semitic; but I never knew any Lefties who were in any way anti-Semitic, and would never have put up with that on a personal or political level. And I was certainly never part of that trend myself:
one of the first books I reviewed as a journalist back in the early 1990s for the Independent on Sunday was Hitler's Willing Executioners by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, which I said should be read by everyone. 

The reality is more -- to go back to my earlier point of the Left always wanting to portray itself as the great savior of the mass of victims in the world -- that the Palestinians are the quintessential victims: of occupation, of neocolonialism, and so on.

It took me quite some time to see through this garbage and weed it out of my writing, and the way I finally managed to was not by reading a particular article or book or being convinced by a specific individual but by encountering the reality of the Arab world on a daily basis, speaking the local language, immersing myself in that environment, year after year.

Of course the Palestinians have suffered and continue to suffer, but this "blame game" played by the Left -- of always rendering that suffering passive, always laying the blame at others' doors -- does not reflect the reality I saw.

Tammy Bruce's observation, that "Leftist politics, like a vicious circle, rely on the damaged as foot soldiers," is nowhere more relevant than the love affair of the Left with the Palestinians. The great French writer Jean Genet, who had a sympathy for the Palestinian cause, nevertheless got it just right when he wrote in Prisoner of Love that they only really come into their own when a camera is trained on them and they are playing the role of victim, basking in the media spotlight.

The Arabs, I came to see, are largely to blame for their own malaise. Period. If they cannot help themselves, how can outsiders help them? Now whenever anyone -- be it an Arab or a Left-wing Westerner -- bring the Palestinian question up, my response is: "Can you name three Arab regimes that have killed more Palestinians than has the Israeli government? I can." It stumps them completely.

This relates to a broader realisation on my part: that the Left never offers any kind of practical solution to the world's problems. It's all deferred until the day of global revolution and the establishment of the Socialist Utopia.

So when the Iraq war came, there was all the predictable criticism -- the West was friends with Saddam, the West continues to support Arab dictatorships despite the pro-democracy rhetoric. And they are right. But what did the Left ever propose that would help solve this problem? And what did the Arabs ever do to address the issue of Saddam's vile regime? What are they proposing now? To withdraw the troops from Iraq? And then?

Practical solutions would necessitate abandoning their false idealism. Better, for the Left, to render people victims, because it also renders them helpless. Then they become lost souls in need of saviour -- the hard-Left's fantasy come true.

 

FP: So, Mr. Bradley, very briefly, tell us the ingredients of you “leaving the Left” and some of the ingredients of this development. Have you lost some friends? Have you had to give up a part of your character? What pain have you endured, etc.?

 

Bradley: I view the move entirely in positive terms, particularly when it comes to character and intellectual development. Because I travel so much, new friendships are constantly being made; and those I have abandoned tend to be with people who still adhere to the old ideologies. It is their loss, not mine...

Abandoning the straight-jacket of the hard Left has liberated me -- I am now able to see many sides to each issue, and I am willing to meet and discuss politics and religion with a much wider variety of people than would previously have been the case. We don't always agree -- and that's fine. The goal should always be to increase each other's understanding. I think, on that level, my writing has improved, too, especially as a result of me abandoning the anti-Israel and anti-American claptrap that used to creep in from time to time.

All I can say is that thank God it happened before I published my book, Saudi Arabia Exposed, otherwise I would be having to distance myself not just from certain of my past writings but also the tome that has allowed me to address a much wider audience than before.

The only cause for anxiety is the feeling that the shift in my political standpoint might be interpreted in some quarters to have been more opportunistic than genuine, or at the very least less than sincere. But the most important thing for me is that it has happened. One always has to live with unpredictable consequences, and I am ready to face them.

 

FP: Michael Lopez-Calderon, your dark night of the soul?

 

Lopez-Calderon: My doubts began to emerge about a decade ago when I was challenged by teaching colleagues who were themselves freed from the left’s university-based cloistered environment.  They had been working in the real world for decades and thus uncontaminated by the latest trends in “scholarship.”  My colleagues often asked one simple question:  What are the left’s solutions?  Real world, real time, pragmatic solutions, not fantasies about the “inevitable” Utopian triumph.  I began to realize that all of the works of Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Edward Said, a then more Leftist Christopher Hitchens, the writers at The Nation, and most of my professors were heavily skewed toward criticism but incredibly light on solutions. 

 

John R. Bradley’s statement “that the Left never offers any kind of practical solution to the world's problems” bears an uncanny resemblance to what I had written nearly four years ago about my earliest doubts of the left: “However, there was one troubling, recurring weakness about the Left that kept reappearing like termites, eating away at my wooden edifice of arguments and premises: The Left offered no solutions. … We hammered and chipped away at America, but unlike Jean-Antoine Houdon, we created detritus instead of magnificent sculptures.”  The left has a tendency to embrace failed causes, losers, and the envious.  As part of the latter, it reserves a special place of loathing for those that succeed in the corporate world and the market place.  That's why Ward Churchill’s "Little Eichmanns" statement was met with indifference in some leftist circles and celebrated in others. 

 

Also what I saw happening to those of us on the left was the growth of an unexpected elitist hostility to ordinary folk.  Many of my leftist friends and a few colleagues adopted the position that the masses were not only deceived, but had also played a willing role in their deception.  Here we were, the harbingers of an ideology that purported to stand with the ordinary folk, and yet we despised practically everything they embraced, e.g. family, faith, consumerism, money-making, patriotism, and so forth.  We did not live in a world where most lived, ensconced as we were in universities.  Near the end of my university years, I began to notice this strange contradiction of “loving humanity but hating people.”  I’ve realized since that it was part of the stock-in-trade of the unrealistic vision of the left, and blaming the failure of that vision not on the flawed assumption of the ideology but rather on the ingratitude of the “great unwashed” that we sought to liberate.    

 

FP: Ah yes, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s portrait in The Brother’s Karamazov of the socialist revolutionary who loves humanity from a distance but despises human people up close.

 

Mr. Thompson tell us about the emergence of your second thoughts and the upheaval they caused within you.

 

Thompson: My rite of passage has come as a series of small steps over several decades. When I was a staffer for Sen. Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio, the Park Service embarked on a campaign to acquire private property for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. As an avid environmentalist, I wanted to believe the property acquired in this way would be preserved for future generations. I watched as the Park Service coerced hundreds of families to sell their homes and their land and move away. Many of these residents had protected and conserved their local ecology for generations, and now their homes were being boarded up, devastating the local community.

 

It was truly appalling to behold a government agency charged with preserving natural resources act with no apparent appreciation for preserving cultural resources. I lobbied to get my boss to take up the homeowners’ cause and was deeply disappointed when Metzenbaum in effect sided with a definition of “public interest” that didn’t include individual people and families. In retrospect, I began leaving the left’s plantation when I left Metzenbaum’s staff. After relocating to California, I subsequently worked to defeat federal legislation that probably would have destroyed the Big Sur coast in the name, once again, of preservation.

Like Phyllis Chesler, I identified with the early spirit of the civil rights and feminist movements, which seemed to me essential steps toward fulfilling the American dream for all Americans. I already mentioned that I had a hard time justifying the civil rights establishment’s rejection of equal opportunity and embrace of enforced equal outcomes. I felt the same ambivalence as feminism began shifting from the premise that women and men should enjoy legal and civic equality, and began morphing into a mean spirited, men-hating, anti-family crusade.

 

As a journalist in the mid-1980s, I took a close look at radical feminism’s claim that, for five thousand years, sadistic and power-hungry men allegedly imposed domination and control over women. This makes men pigs but they don’t seem to realize it also makes women sheep. You can’t be as strong and as intelligent as men and also be permanently “oppressed.” I discovered Janet Chafetz’s excellent book Sex and Advantage, which argues compellingly that patriarchy was a conscious co-creation of men and women in the face of largely brutal circumstances. Quick example: a pregnant woman can easily handle a digging stick, but not an animal-drawn plow. Pregnant women who attempt to do so, place themselves at high risk for miscarriage. So it was to women’s evolutionary advantage not to plow. Far from men seeking to keep women barefoot in pregnant in the caves while males ruled the fields, both men and women decided it made sense to consider heavy plowing male work.

As with John Bradley, my separation from the left has been a fundamentally positive experience. No loss of friends because most everyone I know has been aware of my evolving political thinking for quite a while. One radical left-wing relative accused me of “selling out” and I quickly agreed: I’ve sold all my shares in a worldview based on fostering learned helplessness in an expanding network of grievance groups and blaming the United States for everything that goes wrong in the world. I experienced a marvellous sense of liberation when I came out of the closet with my essay
“Leaving the Left.” There’s nothing quite like the sense of alignment that comes when inner beliefs and outer actions become congruent.

 

Kamolnick: "The Dark Night of the Soul" was for me a series of interconnected events that became exploding universes ricocheting off one another in a process that has not stopped. 

 

Unlike John Bradley, Michael Calderon or Keith Thompson, my "second thoughts" were very much disengaged from the pragmatics of social change. I was in fact very involved as an organizer and activist on several fronts, from several left-of-center causes to hard-core Marxist-Leninism, but I have always considered myself first and foremost a student of social and political theory. Unlike most of the activists I knew on the political left, I had to read Marx, and Lenin, and Sandino, and the history of socialist thought. I had to be convinced intellectually, logically, at least that is what I told myself.

 

It is a truism that "love is blind" so I have to add to the intellectual odyssey an affective dimension, an emotional attachment. I have not sorted this out yet. I think that Tammy Bruce's identification of a psychological motivation is crucial, though I think rather than being a kind of affective disorder or "mental disorder" as she and Michael Weinstein (aka: Michael Savage) argue, it is part of a more normal aspect of human willing run-a-mok.

 

Why some individuals are more prone to throw themselves in full-throttle to advance a cause or ideal that would collapse under more skeptical inspection is not a pathological phenomenon in history, but is what in all likelihood grounds huge parts of human value. Nietzsche's great question: What is the relation of the will to truth, to the will to live? That is a real question for those who believe a fully disenchanted world is actually what most human beings wish for and want. So the need to believe in something--an unconditioned absolute--is unquestionably at issue, whatever its aetiology. 

 

My "second thoughts" arose beginning in about 1987-88 during a year-long rereading of Marx's texts as a graduate student enrolled in a seminar. My doubts were radically incubated by three hard-hitting commentaries on Marx: L. Kolakowski's, Main Currents of Marxism (especially volume 1: The Founders), Schlomo Avineri's The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx, and finally the most brilliant work of Marxist commentary I have ever read, J. Tabora, The Future in the Writings of Karl Marx: An Evaluation Based on Primary Sources. I do not recall how I discovered these writers--possibly books shelved next to those I meant to check out--but their logical deconstruction of Marx's value theory and theory of alienation was, I finally had to admit, logically fatal. That realization led me to struggle for the better part of the past fifteen years to work out a post-Marx theory of human nature and political obligation. 

 

At the precise moment that my intellectual and edifice was logically crumbling I had a dissertation to write and a bit later, a newly-landed university position to occupy. The last two publications to register the orthodox Marxist vision--my dissertation, and an article in the Review of Radical Political Economics based on it--marked my farewell to metaphysical Marxian utopianism. Beginning in about 1992 I struggled mightily not to succumb to several post-metaphysical post-Marx seductive radical theories that offered in effect Marx substitutes (i.e. postmodernism, poststructuralism). From 1994 on, I have slowly worked my way through several major bodies of contemporary thought; reconnected with the classical Western heritage in ethics, philosophy, and social theory, and the biological and psychological sciences; and most recently in my book The Just Meritocracy offer what I hope is a significant contribution to a post-Marx theory of social inequality in the United States.   

 

There is no question that my friendships, acquaintanceships, academic relationships, and even filial relationships have had to weather this storm. Or that in order to maintain certain friendships I just have to press the pause button on certain topics. But I believe in the end that the scholar's calling, like that of the genuine religious calling, can never place allegiances to one's own friends and family, above the allegiance to that which is actually true, no matter the cost.

 

I have learned to be generous with former leftists, and more recently some current ideological rightists, by viewing "the will to believe" as a psychological need, and as an all-too-human temptation. Also, over the past decade or so I have somehow maintained my academic standing in the sociology profession, and in my department, though it does get lonely at times, and it deeply disappoints me to think that my more Hobbesian vision of the black heart beating in our chests necessarily positions me in the minds of complacent Leftists as a fascist or neo-fascist. 

 

Finally, I have also learned that my own journey is simply part of the historically-predictable negation registered by yet another generation of learned Marxists who find themselves committed far more to what is right, than to being right. It is a price that must be paid, or rather, I must pay unless I am willing to live a lie. I conclude with a quote from Max Weber which I have had on my office door for many years now: "There is absolutely no 'unbroken' religion working as a vital force which is not compelled at some point to demand the credo non quod, se quia absurdum--the 'sacrifice of the intellect."

 

FP: Ms. Bruce, your dark night of the soul?

Bruce: Unfortunately for me, it was several events. I say unfortunately, because there were quite a few situations I chose to ignore because the price of dissenting—loss of friends, banishment—was too high. Not that I was the Golden Girl of NOW. I was a constant thorn in the side of national leadership, but still I belonged. I have always looked for family, and I felt I had found it. What I was willing to ignore to be accepted still astounds me.
 
One of the earlier instances was in 1991, when Bill Clinton was running for president and I was one year into my presidency at Los Angeles NOW. Clinton, of course, had asked for and rightly expected the support of the feminist establishment. I supported him then and voted for him. I believed he was the best man on our issues and was excited with the potential.
 
I walked into a meeting of national feminist leaders where the endorsement of Clinton was being discussed. Instead of how quickly they could endorse the man, the discussion centered around whether or not they should do so. Why? Because the election of Democrat would negatively affect their fundraising. You see, they had so associated the feminist movement with the Democratic Party, they felt the election of Clinton would send a message that there had been actual success, and so feared donations would dry up if he were to be elected.
 
The cynicism of this, and the willingness to sell women short for money, was my first “click,” that something was wrong.
 
The second episode came courtesy of my feminist mentor, Toni Carabillo.  For the life of me I don’t recall the details of the issue we were discussing, but I knew I was upset that the feminist establishment wasn’t doing enough to solve a problem. Toni then shared with me a fundamental leftist maxim—every now and then you must rub salt into the wound.
 
If we had too much success on the issues, she explained, then we might not be here in the future, and yet we would always be needed. So, in the long run, while it seems harsh, she told me, it really is better for women overall.
 
In other words, we were helping destroy the village so we would be here in the future to save it. Or more likely, only save it a little bit. The cycle would never end, with success never quite reached, always within our grasp, with the Great Oppressor never quite vanquished, but weakened. Always perpetually needed, because of constant, unending victimhood, yet laced with enough success to make it seem like actual success was just around the corner. Always possible, yet never manifest.
 
I especially relate to Phyllis Chesler’s note that she “also still believe[s] that trying to help others, to repair the injustice in the world, is an ethical choice.” It is indeed the reason why I entered the Left, and remains at the heart of my politics and activism. Ironically, it is also why I left the left. It does come down to ethics, the deeply personal variety, where commitment to the issues eclipses our desire to please people or to belong. For women I think this is especially challenging, but then again, being free to become ourselves as women is the whole point of feminism, isn’t it?

FP: Thank you, Ms. Bruce. Can you add a little bit about the fallout when you left the Left? You had feared that you would lose your family and community. Did you? Give us a little portrait, an anecdote or two, to illuminate what happened when you informed  your leftist comrades and leftist feminists that you were about to commit the greatest sin of all: leaving the political faith.

 

Bruce:  I have to admit in many ways I envy Keith’s note that he didn’t lose any friends during his transition. I certainly did, but my “transition” was never really apparent. Perhaps it’s not our politics that have changed at all—it’s what we’re willing to put up with. It’s finally refusing to continue to go down the wrong road, knowing it leads us away from the truth of our convictions as Classical Liberals.
 
The most basic realization that I had been banished was the fact that my phone stopped ringing, and my calls were not taken. Activists I had worked with who were completely invested in the establishment of course were out of my life. But then, I didn’t want them in it. The most surprising thing to me, however, was the fact that reporters I had dealt with for years on the issues and with whom I thought I had a good relationship, actually stopped taking my calls or returning messages.
 
I also think Keith must have made better choices than I did when it came to so-called friends. There are a lot of damaged people in the feminist establishment, with leadership being the most severely troubled. It didn’t matter to me, however. I ignored the malignant narcissism, anger, betrayals, threats, and manipulation. Some people would be surprised at the “Feminist Violence” directed by so-called feminists at other women. Phyllis’s book “Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman” is a must read on this chilling reality.

 

While there were obvious examples that I was being shunned after I resigned from Los Angeles NOW, probably the most shocking event I experienced occurred while I was still president, and precipitated my resignation. At a press conference called to specifically condemn me by then-NOW president Patricia Ireland, I was called a racist by Ireland because I had ignored the “racial” issues involved with the OJ Simpson murder trial. She actually used the term “racially insensitive” perhaps either to avoid a lawsuit or at least as a bow to my hard-won credentials. Either way, Ireland had decided to eat one of her own, in public, because I did not bow down to the race-baiting of Johnny Cochran and dared to be a feminist first.

After “The New Thought Police” was published, invitations to fund raising events and other get-togethers also stopped. But then new ones began to arrive—I was finding that while I was indeed alone politically, there was, shall I say, an informal group of the Politically Alone. David Horowitz was the first person to reach out to me. I’ll always remember his call to me—it felt like I was on an island and there was David, rowing out to me in a little boat, waving and shouting “Hi!”

 

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Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and is the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. His new book is United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at jglazov@rogers.com.


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