Intermezzo: Sundry Institutions
Professor Noam Chomsky is the Left's -- indeed, political philosophy's -- rara avis: someone who views socialism as the fulfillment, not an antipode, of classical liberalism. But how can one seriously maintain that political liberty led directly to its own denunciation as "sham-liberty"? That the call for the "abolition of private property" was a linear development of the classical liberal defense of private property? That Cobden and Bright were, in effect, the parents of Marx and Engels? These absurdities aside, is Chomsky's thesis coherent even on its own terms, or is it as volatile as tri-Marxism?
To quote those terms directly:
Classical liberalism ... was opposed to the church and the state ... for a reason: because those were the striking examples of centralized power. What it was really opposed to was centralized power that's not under popular control. Nineteenth-century corporations are another form of centralized power completely out of public control, and by the same reasoning we should be opposed to them. If you take classical liberal thought and apply it rationally to more recent conditions, you become a libertarian socialist and a kind of left-wing anarchist.
Here Chomsky erects an analogy between the Church and the Corporation that immediately collapses of its own weight. The classical liberals did not view religion the way socialists (of any stripe) view business. The classical liberals did not advocate the abolition of religion -- by either government or "anarchists." They did not declare that the religious "power" of the Church must be destroyed or even regulated. They did not condemn the Church as a totalitarian institution whose hierarchy oppresses the masses -- and then call for the obliteration of the free market of religion. They did not call for all religion to be placed "under popular control."
The only "power" of the Church that the classical liberals opposed was its tie to the State; all they demanded was that government remove itself from religious affairs. And they didn't call for the oppressive functions of the State's power (e.g., persecution of dissenters) to be placed "under popular control," but for those functions to be abolished. Government wasn't democratized; it was limited -- to the protection of life, liberty, and property.
If the Church and the Corporation are to be considered equivalent institutions, then both are to be either equally separate from the State (the classical liberal -- and modern libertarian -- position) or equally subject to the State (the position of all socialists -- from the Russian Revolution's totalitarians to the Spanish Civil War's "libertarian socialists" and "left-wing anarchists," who destroyed churches and slaughtered believers, among other acts of "revolutionary" violence). It means that government protects economic liberty and doesn't persecute "economic power," just as it protects religious liberty and doesn't persecute "religious power." In American terms, it means having the Corporation as unnationalized, unregulated, untaxed, and unfunded as the Church -- again, the separation of Firm and State. And however Chomsky may cavil about definitions of "socialism," none of it merits our indulgence: Anyone who really wants to treat commerce the way classical liberals treated religion isn't a socialist in any sense.
(And if we may one moment more continue exchanging chairs and teaching the professor: Corporations are not "completely out of public control" -- that is, if "public control" means market discipline and consumer sovereignty -- which is no doubt why they keep running to "democratically elected" politicians for protection from it.)
Quarto: Annus Mortis
1989 is rightly regarded as the year of death for the Left, but the cause of death was neither the fall of the Berlin Wall nor the decline of the Soviet Empire that that symbolized. The fatal last straw was a little-publicized event halfway across the globe.
A clique of Critical Legal Studies professors at Harvard Law proposed that the professoriate and the custodial staff switch positions every six months. And? Well, nothing -- the proposal went nowhere. Absent its own Berlin Wall, Harvard could not stop the flight of professors to other schools; absent control of all media, it could not prevent the news from getting out and its reputation from suffering. The "scholarly eminence per person at Harvard," observed Dean Robert Clark, "is seriously below that at several competing law schools."
Credit where it's due: Here were Marxists who understood the implications of ideology as it related, not to the masses of the Third World, but to their own lives. The division of labor had always been assailed by Leftists as the very root of "class" and all inequality. Why, then, not abolish it within their own domain?
And yet, they would not translate this egalitarian theory into practice. What colorless "radical feminist" was really going to leave her lectern for a cart and allow the black cleaning woman to decide what should constitute "Women and the Law 101"? Would not and could not: What elderly Old Leftist was actually going to do heavy lifting? And exactly how is a Spanish-speaking nineteen-year-old janitor going to teach "The History of the Common Law"? Here, as everywhere else, the beloruchki did not leave the ranks of the ruling class for those of the working class -- even temporarily.
The Left's only alternative to absurdity was hypocrisy -- about as damning a circumstance as reality could impose. But this one struck at its heart in a way even the atrocity of Communist practice or the obscenity of Western apologetics couldn't. Now the question was raised: If the theorists of absolute equality could not practice what they preach even within their own world of theory, who would ever practice it anywhere? What hope, what rejoinder is there -- that maybe it'll work at Berkeley?
Contrast the stillbirth of the positions switch with the growth of censorship wherever Leftists are the heads of state or the heads of the sociology department. They have no trouble translating this authoritarian theory into practice (against political freedom in the first case and "academic freedom" in the second) precisely because it establishes their authority, i.e., their position as the ruling class. So what will the call for political and socio-economic "equality" ever be but Orwellian code for the abolition of all equality by a Marxian elite?
It was only the belief in this "call" -- this façade -- that kept the Left alive.
The feminist anti-pornography campaign was notable for several reasons: its insistence that modern pornography was the "theory" to the ancient evil of rape's "practice"; its adopted Marxian disdain for liberty and evidence (e.g., Kathleen Barry: "It is costly for us to be diverted to false issues like freedom of speech or ... trying to prove through research what we already know through common sense."); its alliance with authoritarian conservatives and the Reagan Administration; and most striking, its eventual eclipse by the campaign against the "rape culture," which by 1993 led to an anthology of essays by such American feminists as Gloria Steinem, bell hooks, Andrea Dworkin, and Susan Griffin.
What is the "rape culture"? Considering how the writers point to everything from religion to sports to (of course) capitalism, we should really ask: What isn't the "rape culture"? To which only one answer emerges: the feminists themselves. It is only they, their ideas, and their actions that are not in any way indicted. They find guilt everywhere but in the mirror.
On the face of it, the very concept of a "rape culture" is an absurdity. How does one logically contend that the crimes of sociopaths reflect the values of society? Are we similarly a pedophilia culture, a murder culture, etc.? What, then, do feminists gain from this demonization of everyone else?
The canonization of themselves. It is widely but erroneously believed that Nietzsche's "beyond good and evil" refers to the rejection of any notion of right and wrong. He was in fact comparing two warring archetypes of right and wrong: "good and evil" vs. "good and bad." Among the differences, the man of "good and bad" wants an "enemy" in whom "there is nothing to despise and very much to honor," he explains in On the Genealogy of Morals.
Picture, on the other hand, "the enemy" as the man of ["good and evil"] conceives him -- and here precisely is his deed, his creation: he has conceived "the evil enemy," "the Evil One," and this indeed is his basic conception from which he then evolves, as a corresponding and opposing figure, a "good one" -- himself!
It is the evil of the Other that determines the good of oneself. Consequently, the greater the former, the greater the latter. What moral distinction did self-professed "feminists" gain from opposing only rape? Not much: Who doesn't oppose rape? In contrast, the anti-pornography campaign cast them in the role of crusaders -- against violence and for "equality" and "civil rights." But even this placed them only in the company -- i.e., on the same moral plane -- as the Religious Right and many other Americans. But the "rape culture"! Now their moral distinction, their moral superiority, was unmistakable when contrasted to the great evil of the masses.
For Leftists, all evil is mass evil -- "systemic," "institutional" evil -- against which only they stand. Just look at how over these past decades American racism has contracted in practice (largely because of the revolt against government-imposed segregation) but exploded in Leftist theory. The "rape culture" has also become a "racist society." It's gone from bigotry being the province of an Archie Bunker to this being a nation of Archie Bunkers -- and worse. Contemporary America is routinely described by such figures as Julianne Malveaux ("two hundred million white racists"), Joe Faegin ("every major aspect of life [here] is shaped ... by racist realities"), and Maulana Karenga ("increasing racism and continuing commitment to white supremacy") in terms honestly applicable only to apartheid or Nazism. But it's a progression not without its own logic: The greater the evil of the social masses, the greater the good of the socialist elite.
And how to make that evil greater but by making it absolute, i.e., manifested in every possible alternative? Consider this in relation to one of the Left's more asinine projects: Is the purpose of "politically correct" Newspeak to construct a language free from bias? An intriguing answer can be found in the example of feminist "thealogian" Mary Daly. Using a sometimes-specific term in a universal sense (e.g., "the pseudo-generic 'man'") will earn an accusation of sexism, while using only universal terms (e.g., "human") will draw an accusation of deliberately trying "to avoid confronting the specific problems of sexism." No matter what language a person uses, the Left reserves the right to condemn it for bias -- and to damn him as evil.
(And to exempt itself from any standard. After all, if not to "gender angle" the tragedy of violence, why speak of only a "rape culture"? What about other acts of violence against women -- robbery, assault, murder? Has it anything to do with the fact that these, too obviously, are also crimes against males?)
Even the economic inequality of the market substantiates the moral superiority of the Left, since the latter is the singular good that will vanquish the evil of the former. "Greed," like rape and racism, is judged yet another evil spreading throughout society. And the greater the evil of the social masses, the greater the need for the good of the socialist elite. "What you need," reveals Catharine MacKinnon, "is people who see through literature [!] like Andrea Dworkin, who see through law like me, to see through art and create the uncompromised women's visual vocabulary." While the Left condemns the free market for a division of labor based on ability and the alleged concoction of "false needs," its own politics centers on the dire need of the endarkened masses for axiological experts.
It is precisely the mechanics of this moral elitism that produces a superstructure of political elitism, the coercive rule of self-appointed experts, which is what every socialist government to date has been. What the Left has always condemned "capitalism" for most profoundly is its legal egalitarianism, its "formal equality" -- that is, its granting of political equality to moral unequals. In such a society, a Catharine MacKinnon has no more power than anyone else to censor others. Would-be Lenins and Maos and Castros are reduced to the Man on the Street. Each citizen controls his own property, and no cete of socialists is authorized to redistribute that wealth according to any scheme.
The equality of political liberty is the fundamental evil the Left opposes -- and the foremost evil the Left seeks to abolish. The feminists didn't legislate an end to rape, but an end to freedom of speech. What they achieved (especially in Canada) were laws that controlled speech in accordance with their dictates. And once they established this in connection to pornography, they then went on to declare that everything was pornography, i.e., an agent of rape causation. (The title of that 1993 text? Transforming a Rape Culture.) The Communists didn't end hunger and poverty, but any economic (and cultural) activity not under their direction. This abolition of capitalist evil -- of capitalist "sham-liberty" -- is the one undisputed accomplishment of all socialist revolutionaries and the reason for their praise (and often iconization) by the West's would-be revolutionaries.
And like all aspects of the Left, it traces back to the same source -- Marx: "[While] its heart is the proletariat," the "head of the emancipation is philosophy," i.e., the theory class of the socialist elite. So much for the endless ruminating as to why the "workers' struggle" so engages intellectuals. In time, that "heart" has come to be identified with the Third World, minorities, women, the environment, but in every incarnation it remains an organ to be controlled by that "head," an epistemological and ethical hierarchy who will rule as philosopher-tyrants. The Republic of Marx (to paraphrase Bakunin)
will not content itself with administering and governing the masses economically. It will also administer the masses culturally, concentrating in the hands of the State the formation of character, the development and spread of ideas, the standardization of language, the control of literature and the arts, the content of education, and finally the codification of the duties of each citizen to the only moral authority -- the State. All that will demand an immense virtue and many heads overflowing with "good intentions" in this government. It will be the reign of ideological virtue, the most aristocratic, despotic, arrogant, and elitist of all regimes. There will be a new class, a new hierarchy of real and counterfeit humanists and scholars, and the world will be divided into a minority ruling in the name of the Good, and an immense evil majority. And then, woe unto the mass of evil ones!
The Communist state was never anything so much as an Inquisition launched against, not a handful of heretics, but the whole populace, for whom freedom would be only the freedom to do evil.
What flows from these premises fills every stream of collectivism. Forget about outright socialism and even such features of American social democracy as foreign aid (especially to foreign dictators) and corporate subsidies. Consider instead the most basic function of the "welfare state": care for the needy. What justifies the concentration of all "welfare" dollars into the hands of government except the notion that society will starve the poor but the State won't? Yes, the government -- essentially, a handful of guys with guns -- will be more compassionate and generous with the people's money that the people themselves -- the entirety of the population -- will. With that as a concession, is it any wonder that this limited welfare state continues to grow beyond its limits (possibly with socialized medicine as the next domino)?
Contempt for the masses, not compassion for the poor, motivates the welfare statist, a disciple manqué of the Gotha Marx. It is from his creation of an "evil" entity -- the "greed," "selfishness," and "materialism" of all others, of society -- that he derives, with his advocacy of redistribution, an opposed "good" identity -- his own "social conscience." For a Michael Moore, the evil of America -- of capitalist society -- is that it will not "guarantee" free, unlimited medicine for all as a political right, while his own good is to be found right there in his support for such a noble (i.e., paper) proclamation. His position doesn't come from a focus on the reality (theoretical and empirical) of health care as provided by the market vs. the State, a reality well known in Canada (which didn't legislate free, unlimited medicine for all, but government control over all areas of medicine) and brilliantly dramatized in the Québecois export The Barbarian Invasions, the 2004 Oscar winner for best foreign language film. If the good is to be found in the market -- in "civil society," the explicit enemy from Marx to Chomsky -- what is to be gained from setting oneself apart from -- above -- it?
Leftists have a very real reason for wanting their moral status -- their moral superiority -- to be established in that way (as opposed to more conventional, "reactionary" ones). When challenged for any studies supporting the claim that feminist censorship would stop rape, Susan Brownmiller responded: "The statistics will come. We supply the ideology; it's for other people to come up with the statistics." All right, so let's move from the issue of women's safety to that of women's health, where feminist laetrile peddlers are claiming that their product will stop breast cancer. When pressed for any kind of proof, a representative releases this: "The statistics will come. We supply the ideology; it's for other people to come up with the statistics." Moving back to the original context, is Brownmiller's statement any less corrupt, any less contemptible?
When Viva magazine editor Patricia Bosworth made revisions in an article submitted by Andrea Dworkin, Dworkin "threw me to the ground and practically pinned me. She physically held me there and said, 'I won't let this run until the cuts are restored.' If you know how slight I am and how big she is, you can imagine my dilemma. We reached a compromise and the piece, which was about the horrors of Chinese footbinding, ran." The horror of a physical assault of a woman in the workplace, however, didn't prevent Dworkin from going on to provide the introduction to 1992's Sexual Harassment: Women Speak Out. ("The verbal assaults and some physical assault are endemic in the environment, a given, an apparently inevitable emanation of the male spirit.")
And in 1984, a 23-year-old woman in Minneapolis, then the epicenter of the anti-pornography campaign, took gasoline and immolated herself. When confronted with the news of this horrific and pointless tragedy, Catharine MacKinnon simply responded: "Women feel very desperate about the existence of pornography. This doesn't single her out. People make choices on how [to protest it]." Unbelievable. The feminist who cries for the nonexistent victims of "snuff films" (feminism's blood libel against men) can't even conjure a tear for a young woman who actually set herself on fire in the name of MacKinnon's own movement. The feminist who wants to hold others responsible for the violence they (allegedly) inspire gives absolutely no indication that she believes herself in any way responsible for inspiring this act of violence, much less that she should be held so legally. The feminist who propagates a dehumanizing lab-rat ideology of behavior, who denies that adults can make truly free decisions regarding their own lives (such as a young woman posing for a magazine), now tells us that people can "make choices" -- such as a young woman dousing herself with gasoline. Observe how MacKinnon doesn't even seem worried that -- or particularly bothered if -- other women might make similar "choices."
But as grotesque as all these things are, what's worst is how utterly they pale compared to the justifications the Left has given over the decades -- the eggs-omelet analogy and its many equivalents -- for the destruction of the lives and liberties of untold millions of common people by socialist kakistocracy. The "moral" impulse of the Left is (to borrow the poet's terms) the passionate intensity of the worst who think themselves the best.
Leftism constantly reveals itself for what so many have called it: a religious dogma. The religious aspects are innumerable, including the doctrine of a sinful humanity that needs the saving gospel of an elect that itself cannot fall from grace, an elect ordained to construct and control an earthly theocracy. The dogma is to be found in the attempts to juggle internal contradictions and insulate itself from empirical falsification. When the vision before one's eyes is eclipsed by the vision behind one's eyes, dogmas become outright delusions. And just as the sun itself is useless to a blind man, all the reality in the world will not liberate a mind enslaved by delusions, be they of grandeur or anything else.
David Horowitz, Left Illusions: An Intellectual Odyssey, 2003.
Erich Isaac and Rael Jean Isaac, The Coercive Utopians: Social Deception by America's Power Players, 1984.
Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Leftism Revisited: From De Sade and Marx to Hitler and Pol Pot, 1991.
Tibor R. Machan (ed.), The Main Debate: Communism vs. Capitalism, 1987.
Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, 1922.
Ronald Radosh, Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left, 2001.