Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Insidious Threat to Freedom

Edward Cline's post on The Sensitivity Syndrome got me thinking how potent are the New Leftist ideologies of multiculturalism, environmentalism, feminism, etc. The New Left is far more dangerous -- far more sturdily constructed -- than the Old Left ever was.

The Old Left was Marxism. Marxism is an economic theory with a lot of strange ideas for which Marx never gave evidence. For instance, Marxism holds that history progresses from feudalism through capitalism to socialism, the dictatorship of the proletariat. Late in his life Marx scribbled a note that maybe society could jump from feudalism to socialism, and when Engels published this passage the Bolsheviks made much of it, as they wanted to argue that Russia needn't pass through modern capitalism on her way to socialism. They were rather impatient to get to dictatorship as fast as possible.

The entire theory was nothing but a rationalization for state power. It was a reactionary philosophy, a reaction to the greatest, most liberating revolution in history: the coming of capitalism and the industrial revolution. Though Marxists called themselves "progressives," they were regressive through and through. (Today's progressives are no better.)

The 20th century served as a vast laboratory showing in experiment after experiment that capitalism (freedom) leads to wealth creation and happiness and socialism (state power) leads to poverty and slavery. It is remarkable that an illogical, discredited economic theory prevailed in the east as long as it did.

The New Left is not burdened by Marx's fantasies, and is therefore more effective. Its goal is the same as Marxism: the destruction of capitalism (freedom) and the reordering of society under state power. Instead of a relatively shallow economic theory, the New Left is organized around the more philosophic idea of egalitarianism.

Egalitarianism is how altruism is effected in society. Altruism demands that the strong sacrifice to the weak, the rich to the poor. Egalitarianism is how this gets done. In their quest to make everyone the same, egalitarians never focus on making the poor richer or the less intelligent more intelligent. Instead, they make the strong weaker. They redistribute money from the rich to the poor. They stop honoring the smartest student as valedictorian and just call the entire graduating class valedictorian. They stop one side from winning in children's soccer and declare both sides the winner. The strong are punished for the sake of the weak.

Egalitarianism is the most destructive doctrine in history because its destructive purpose is never mentioned and seldom understood. Egalitarians never say, "We want to destroy X"; instead, they announce, "In X there are no standards -- nothing is better than anything else." When there is no standard of value, then you lose all value. The destruction is done for the altruistic purpose of helping the weak.

Multiculturalism, for instance, does not set out explicitly to destroy capitalism. Multiculturalists say instead that all cultures are equal. We must not impose our way of life on some neolithic tribe on a remote island, but leave them alone to wallow in their squalor. We must not offend Muslims with cartoons of Mohammed because we are strong and they are weak. The strong must sacrifice to the weak.

Environmentalists hold that man must sacrifice his interests and productivity to plants and animals and even rocks. Environmentalists (usually) do not attack man as evil, but merely claim that nature has an intrinsic value apart from man's values. It is a highly abstract form of egalitarianism.

Feminists in their more collectivist variety do not just want individual rights for women; they want women to be considered metaphysically equal to men even in physical areas in which they are not as strong. Thus women who cannot carry a man out of a burning building are given employment as fire fighters under lower standards.

Affirmative Action does not strive to give minorities equal individual rights, but preferences at the expense of the majority. Minorities are not lifted to the level of the majority, but standards are lowered for them.

The New Left assault on capitalist culture has been a brilliant success, much more successful than blundering Marxism ever was. Consider: in the 1950's communism was reviled in a movement led by Senator McCarthy. Many on the left disagreed that communism was bad, but it was clear among all that we were not communist. We were capitalist (or to be exact, a mixed economy) and our enemy was communist. Our school children were not indoctrinated in dialectical materialism.

Today the New Leftist attacks on capitalism are held as moral ideals in our culture and indoctrinated into children throughout their 12 years in public education (government schools). The New Left has succeeded where the Old Left failed. Now we are taught egalitarian ideas that destroy the standards of value of capitalism. As a result, our culture is changing. State power is growing and freedom is disappearing.

The growth of the state is never done explicitly, never with clarity. It is always done in a kind of fog. Statists do not discuss their ultimate purpose, but stop at altruism. "It is our duty to help the little guy," they announce as they pass new regulations strangling corporations, violating property rights and stealing wealth.

Statists are wise to focus their arguments on altruism, because it is the ethics of religion. This morality is already accepted by most Americans. When New Leftists expand the state in the name of altruism, their religionist opponents are disarmed.

The New Left is so successful that it not only steers the Democrat Party, but its premises have penetrated deep into the Republican Party. John McCain, the presumptive nominee for President from the Republican Party, talks about expanding "national service" and "taking on" industry.

John McCain promises to "reform" Wall Street. This will mean an expansion of government intervention in the economy. When Democrats promise anything so bold, conservatives scream that their opponents are socialists and a threat to freedom. The Republicans' own candidate is just such a threat to freedom.

The ideas of the New Left are so widely accepted and so uncontroversial, sitting as they do on 2,000 years of Christian morality in the west, that they go unnoticed like the air we breathe. For the ignorant masses educated in public schools, seeing the New Left is as hard as describing the taste of water. It's just there like a metaphysical fact of nature. Marxism never came close to such success.


Jim May said...

I do not agree with the idea that the New Left's ideologies are "potent". Rather, the reverse is true: they are diseases that were easily resisted by our cultural immune system a hundred years ago, but are a danger now becaue that immune system -- the Enlightenment -- has been destroyed by the AIDS virus of Kant's epistemology.

The transition of the Left from its older to newer form simply occurred in time with that decline. The Old Left still found it necessary to appeal to Enlightenment values to being people's guard down; now that those values are gone, it's simply no longer necessary; accordingly, the Left finds itself able to be more and more brazen. The new ideologies were implicit in the Old Left, and are explicit in the New.

Were the men of the 18th century here, they would be speechless at our impotence, at our timid willingness to tolerate what to them would be the most blatantly suicidal ideas.

Myrhaf said...

Could we say the New Left should not be potent, but it is by default because of modern philosophy?

Jim May said...

More or less, in the same way a vehicle gets "faster" as it encounters less rolling resistance.

The bigger question for me now, is how this fits in with the position held by many Objectivists that the Left is no longer as dangerous as the Religious Right (who are "potent" in the same manner, for the same reason).

My position has always been that the Left is in a much stronger position *right now* (having been in operation for a century or so), while the Religious Right will be the ultimate threat long term, in part *because* of the Left having cleared the way for them -- so they will cover ground much faster than the Left did. So for me, the question needs to be asked: where is the best focus of our limited time and resources? When do we shift the focus of our as yet miniscule efforts? Is it time already (vote Obama) or too soon (risk McCain)?

It looks to me like you are heading for the "abstention" camp either way.

madmax said...

Excellent essay 'Haf. I'm glad you delved into egalitarianism. Many on the Right throw that term around but they don't really understand its connection to altruism. And of course they don't understand altruism. But I find it interesting that not all altruists are egalitarians.

So it leaves me with the question what exactly caused egalitarianism? It seems to be a species of moral intrincism; ie that value is inherent in things themselves apart from any objective considerations. But who/what was most responsible for this? Rousseau? Kant? Wesley style Protestantism that preached "good works"? What unleashed Christian altruism in this way? I ask because it wasn't always so. Christian Europe had been altruistic for centuries without being crusading egalitarians. My guess is that Kant's "categorical imperatives" had something to do with it but I am not sure.

Myrhaf said...

Today's leftists are actually radical subjectivists, not intrincists. But subjectivism leads to altruism and egalitarianism just as much. If you can't know reality, then you can't judge it, thus you would conclude that getting rid of standards and not discriminating between good and bad is wise.

Jason H. Bowden said...

"So it leaves me with the question what exactly caused egalitarianism?"

Christianity, in the sense that all men are equal before the Christian God. Christianity isn't completely to blame for modern egalitarianism, given Christianity de-divinized the state, and didn't even attempt to make men equal on Earth.

During the Renaissance, Christianity began to decay and men became more this-worldly in orientation, but didn't want to fall into an abyss of nothingness and despair. So more thoughtful people began to "immanentize the eschaton" as Eric Voegelin described it -- people sought faith in the State again as the source of all meaning in their lives, just like in ancient Egypt, Rome, and almost every society in human history. The Christian idea of the inviolable person is lost; Asian ideas of us being cogs in a cosmic wheel are asserting themselves. The egalitarian ethos itself isn't even completely intact. I fear Myrhaf is correct-- in a society where equality of right already exists, egalitarianism is just a word hiding the urge to destroy what exists.

madmax said...

"Christianity, in the sense that all men are equal before the Christian God."

But all men are not equal before the Christian God. There are the elect and the damned; the believers and the non-believers. Christianity stresses this.

"Christianity isn't completely to blame for modern egalitarianism, given Christianity de-divinized the state, and didn't even attempt to make men equal on Earth."

This I agree with and would add that Christianity doesn't make all men equal in the afterlife either. The damned suffer hellfire and damnation while the elect enjoy everlasting bliss. That is non-egalitarian. Christianity was non-egalitarian in application for 15 centuries. The Christian era was very hierarchical and rigid. It was not concerned with making all men equal in condition in practice although I agree that Christianity can legitimately be interpreted this way.

"During the Renaissance, Christianity began to decay and men became more this-worldly in orientation, but didn't want to fall into an abyss of nothingness and despair."

I agree with this too and I think it is fair to argue that, whatever its flaws, Protestantism contributed to this too by stressing "good works" in this life. Many Christians interpreted that to mean secular, this worldly productivity and joy.

"So more thoughtful people began to "immanentize the eschaton" as Eric Voegelin described it -- people sought faith in the State again as the source of all meaning in their lives..."

Hegel is the chief example of this.

But I'm still curious as to which philosopher(s) contributed most to the rise of modern egalitarianism. If it is built on subjectivism as Myrhaf suggests, does this mean it is the child of the post-moderns? Or are the seeds sown earlier?

Myrhaf said...

Equality was one of the main values of the French Revolution. It might be that Rousseau is the culprit.