Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Totalitarianism of the American Left

In the last few days we have seen examples of the ugliest aspect of the left, its growing totalitarianism. Radicalism is no longer seen only in the Communist or other fringe parties of the left, but has now infected the Democrat Party.

First, the Obama campaign threatened TV stations with legal action because they carried ads criticizing their candidate. Then they tried to use the Justice Department to shut down GOP donors. Then they tried to stop a radio show from interviewing Stanley Kurtz, who is examining documents to discover the extent of the relationship between Obama and former Weatherman terrorist William Ayers.

Second, since the announcement of Sarah Palin as McCain's VP, the left and the MSM have gone into a frenzy, attempting to assassinate her character. The effort climaxed with a bizarre, completely unfounded rumor that Palin's fifth child is not actually hers, but is her teenage daughter's baby.

Third, "demonstrators" have been using force to terrorize citizens traveling to the Republican National Convention.

The most shocking events are described by Jim Hoft, who was on a bus that was attacked from above when a group of protesters dropped sand bags on to the top of the bus. This is attempted murder: if the protesters had succeeded in hitting the windshield, a sand bag would have crashed through and killed the driver. The resulting accident would have killed or injured others on the bus. To my knowledge, the left-wingers/would-be murderers were not caught.

A little later, a busload of Cub Scouts were en route to the convention, where they were to present the colors to open the convention. A group of protesters--liberals, Obama supporters, or whatever--blocked the road, surrounded the bus, and attacked it, rocking the bus back and forth, denting and scratching the sides, and generally terrifying the children trapped inside. The left-wing protesters attacked a number of buses in the same way, but there is something especially despicable about attacking a group of Cub Scouts.

Stopping free speech, intimidation, character assassination and the thuggish initiation of force are all aspects of totalitarianism. (One aspect we have not yet seen is cheating on elections, a trend John Fund has been following. We should see plenty of this on November 4th.) However bad the right might be in potential, the left is actually there now.

If I had to find one fundamental reason for the corruption of the American left, I would say that the left is the party of modern philosophy. Universities are dominated by the left and vice versa. Modern philosophy has long been radically subjectivist, teaching that there are no absolutes and reason is inefficacious. Postmodern philosophy is irrational and even nihilist.

What happens when a faction no longer has confidence in reason? The void is filled with force. The left regards argument and persuasion as games to be played in the pursuit of power. But they have no confidence in these games. They really believe in force, and force's handmaidens, lies and smears. Reason is just a game, but the need for force has a metaphysical reality to them.

In the pursuit of power, the left holds that the end justifies the means. Saul Alinsky taught this creed in his book Rules For Radicals. Among the young New Leftists who absorbed Alinsky's teaching were Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

I have to think that America is fortunate that the last 40 years have seen only two Democrat presidents. Had it been reversed and the Republicans had been out of the White House most of the time, freedom would be gone today.

The nihilism of the New Left is the one thing that makes me uncertain to this day of Leonard Peikoff's position that our greatest danger is the religious right.

In essence, the Democrats stand for socialism, or at least some ambling steps in its direction; the Republicans stand for religion, particularly evangelical Christianity, and are taking ambitious strides to give it political power.

Socialism—a fad of the last few centuries—has had its day; it has been almost universally rejected for decades. Leftists are no longer the passionate collectivists of the 30s, but usually avowed anti-ideologists, who bewail the futility of all systems. Religion, by contrast—the destroyer of man since time immemorial—is not fading; on the contrary, it is now the only philosophic movement rapidly and righteously rising to take over the government.

Given the choice between a rotten, enfeebled, despairing killer, and a rotten, ever stronger, and ambitious killer, it is immoral to vote for the latter, and equally immoral to refrain from voting at all because “both are bad.”

The right is in perilous decline; it's worse than it was 20 years ago. So far Republicans have been protected by their relative non-intellectuality. I would not say they have been protected by religion, but they have been protected by having another belief system to turn to instead of modern philosophy. But religion cannot protect them forever from philosophy. We will see America's religious people become more irrational and more willing to use force.

Republicans are, I think, beginning to lie and smear more -- I detect unfairness among their radio propagandists -- but they still have much to learn from the left here. The left, after all, invented Borking. Sarah Palin is currently suffering the left and its propaganda arm, the mainstream media, in full frenzy, attempting to define her according to their "narrative." (Postmodernism holds that there is no truth, just competing narratives.)

But if Leonard Peikoff is correct and religion is the only growing long-term threat, then we should see the left become more religious -- especially if it concludes that power cannot be won in America without religion. I think we're beginning to see this in some of the ways Obama has respected religion. My nightmare scenario is the Great Rapprochement: religion and environmentalism join forces in a movement dedicated to sacrificing happiness on this Earth. It would be the ultimate anti-capitalist movement.

One of the Republican Party's most statist politicians, a man who thinks everyone should sacrifice for something greater than himself, is about to accept the nomination for President. The idea that the individual should sacrifice to the collective is a fundamental premise of totalitarianism. The decline of the right is about to accelerate. Fasten your seatbelt.

UPDATE: Welcome Two-Four readers. I would disagree with Billy Beck that the religious right can never be as bad as the nihilist left because they hold some values. Their values are intrincicist, not grounded in reality. Their values and their more fundamental premises of God and faith will lead them to oppose reason and freedom; in the end they will use force to impose their values on the rest of us -- because that's God wants.

Just look at history. The Inquisition, the divine right of kings, the Aztecs, the regime of the mullahs in Iran -- religious dictatorship can be a lot worse than today's Democrats, although the Republicans are not that bad yet. At this moment in history the American left is much farther down the road to dictatorship than the right. But things can change fast.

What makes religion potentially a powerhouse is that socialism has lost its messianic fervor. Religion is filling the black hole of postmodernism -- with the wrong values. In the long run I think Peikoff is right, but I am uncertain if his philosophic point of view applies to the election of the moment. For instance, if Obama was running against Goldwater, then it would be clear that the Republican was superior and for the next four years at least, we would be better off with him in office. Of course, Goldwater is long dead and the Republicans have embraced big government, so things are not simple at all in 2008.


Dismuke said...

Turns out that there was yet another attack by the Brownshirts:


Perhaps they can get some of Nancy Pekosi's back door contacts with the FARC down in Columbia (which came to light with the computers that the Columbians captured from the terrorists) to put in a word to Hugo Chavez or Castro to see if they can get Vladimir Putin to loan them some of his radioactive isotopes. That's a far more efficient way to accomplish the same objective than throwing a caustic substance on a bunch of senior citizens. Give them time. Give the time.

Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

I'm the only non-Christian in my neck of the woods and they accept me fine. Sure some of them are a bit loopy but most are good neighbors. I don't fear the religion of Christianity but I do fear the religion of Marxism.

As for Mac's call for service to country, I recently wrote:

"I know several libertarian-minded bloggers who are not happy with Mac's call for service to the country but they seem to forget that this country would not even exist if not for the sacrifices and service of the Founders in a time of war. True, American are not ready to become mindless myrmidons of a Big Brother state but putting country first is a manifestation of a truly American trait: enlightened self-interest."

Dismuke said...

Patrick - It is true that free people will often pull together for a common cause when they face a common adversity and that it is in their self-interest to do so. But is not what John McCain has in mind when he speaks about service to the country. He means service as an end in itself - service, i.e., altruistic sacrifice, as a virtue.

It is also true that McCain is probably not a Marxist and, unlike the Left, he does not hate the United States. But he is still a statist - and to the degree that his calls for national "service" are implemented, he is only blazing a trail for the Marxists/Leftists to ultimately take over what he started. Indeed, that sort of statist "trail blazing" has ALREADY happened: One of the things that the Obama campaign is trying to use in order to silence critics who are attempting to get word about William Ayres out is a law named....MCCAIN/Feingold.

Finally, back in 2004, John Kerry attempted to get John McCain to run as his Vice Presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket. That John Kerry, the profoundly evil traitor who former POW McCain calls a "close friend," saw McCain as someone politically compatible - well, that pretty much confirms what was already quite obvious about McCain. Like Kerry, McCain is a statist - he is just not as obnoxious in the verbiage he uses to express it.

Anonymous said...

Apart from the intelligentsia and the doyens of its colleges and Universities, Americans, by and large, have always looked askance at philosophy and philosophers. This is particularly true of modern German philosophy and, quite frankly, Americans were right to mistrust it. It is the central reason why America did not go down the same totalitarian road that Europe traveled in the first half of the 20th Century.

Conversely, what Americans by and large have always trusted are the principles and articles of faith of Religion: it has always been to Religion that Americans have turned in search of answers.

Unlike their European counterparts of the late 19th Century, American Progressives understood all this. They also understood that the collectivism/statism they espoused was perfectly compatible with Religion. Consequently, it was through the churches that Progressive program and so-called liberal ideas were spread through American culture.

Dr. Peikoff is correct that Religion is a crucial danger to individual rights and the future America; however, he is disastrously wrong in his suggestion that Religion is either "on the rise" or a new phenomenon. Religion has always been a force in American life.

Both parties are advocates for the Progressive idea. It should come as no surprise to anyone that, after a brief 40-year hiatus on the political left, Religion has returned to its original place as the foundation for that idea.

madmax said...

"Dr. Peikoff is correct that Religion is a crucial danger to individual rights and the future America; however, he is disastrously wrong in his suggestion that Religion is either "on the rise" or a new phenomenon."

I agree with your point about religion always being a force in America and I agree. But I think Dr. Peikoff is right that "religion is on the rise" when understood in proper context. Dr. Peikoff's point, as I understand it, is that religion is taken seriously intellectually whereas it wasn't 30 and 40 years ago. It has been argued that the Left based its socialist arguments exclusively on Marxist, Hegelian grounds starting in the 50's and 60's. Well today they are basing them more and more on religion. They are doing this because the Religious Right has been so successful culturally and politically. So in that sense, Peikoff is right. But so are you, religion has always been strong in America. Its just that the Enlightenment really restrained it and if not for Rousseau and Kant, would have killed it.

Anonymous said...

"It has been argued that the Left based its socialist arguments exclusively on Marxist, Hegelian grounds starting in the 50's and 60's. Well today they are basing them more and more on religion".

I would say that today they are basing them more and more on religion, as their predecessors did did prior to the 1950s. THAT is my position.

I would also ask: by WHOM in America was religion not taken seriously 30 or 40 years ago?

madmax said...

"I would also ask: by WHOM in America was religion not taken seriously 30 or 40 years ago?"

That is a good question. My guess is Peikoff would say the intellectual establishments; ie universities. But I don't know how religious America was in the 50s, 60s and 70s compared to now. In many ways the culture now is both religious and secular in different contexts and in different locales.

Jennifer Snow said...

I agree that the Left's vicious totalitarianism is scary as hell--but doesn't the fact that they've already been reduced to using force demonstrate the fact that they are LESS of a threat?

The religious right hasn't started this yet because they aren't yet at the paranoid stage--they still have ideals and still believe they can win. They have an organizing principle (a misintegrated one).

I think Peikoff's argument is still as valid as ever. Disintegration is not as dangerous in the long run as misintegration.

ml/nj said...

Anyone who Associates religion with evil just doesn't understand the problem. If someone attacks me because I am Jewish and I fight back it is not anything about MY religion that causes the fight. I certainly do not care what someone else wants to believe as long as that someone does not want to force me into a small set of unpleasant choices.

More often than not the someone doing the forcing would be a Muslim or other areligious person. NO ONE that I know on the so-called "Christian Right" is talking about forcing me to do anything.

Islam is no more a religion than Nazism was. It merely wears the cloak of religion. Islam is a military organization, and it has always been a military organization. Military organizations kill, and kill often. Stalin killed. Hitler killed. Mao killed. I could go on. None of these men had any religious belief. The assorted Popes, of my lifetime at least, have harmed no one.

Rob Diego said...

I have said for years that the left is a bigger threat because they are so irrational due to their skeptical base. However, I've also said that once they see religion as the weak link in their chain, they will become religious. So the take over will come from the left. I agree, religion is evil, but there is a strain in religion that has been there since the founding that acknowledges the Constitution and free markets. Many religious people see the Constitution as protecting them from other religious groups and the government. Also, the influence of classical economists has been more obvious on the conservatives, many of whom favor free markets...though sometimes for the wrong reasons. There still are conservatives who are in favor of abortion rights, though they are few and barely vocal. I agree with Peikoff's premise and see the same trends he sees and I'm closely watching them. I've thought very much about this issue but I fear the Democrats more because they will bring the Fairness Doctrine and Obama has clearly shown that he will use the government to disenfranchise his political opposition, possibly even jail them. Obama has clearly told us what he will do and seldom does he talk about doing it through Congress. It is he who will decide and we must fear that. In the past, I've thought the best tactic was to promote advocates of freedom to ensure that the left does not take over...we do this by means of voting for free market conservatives as much as possible and put them on notice that we think the Constitution and individual rights are the authorities they need, not God. There are many religious people who still agree with that but they are fewer today than in the past. I've always thought the proper tactic was to buy time by promoting as many "free market" advocates as possible while Objectivist intellectuals educate the country about individual rights - to whatever degree possible. To just turn it over to the totalitarian left puts my children at risk and I just don't see how Peikoff can justify that. And I say this with the deepest respect and admiration for Dr. Peikoff. What we need is time to educate. If we give up power to the left, we'll never get it back and the Constitution is over as an influence on our society and many Objectivists will be disenfranchised and out of a job. This is a difficult issue but in my view it is more a tactical issue rather than a philosohical one or rather it is a tactical issue that is intended to buy time so we can advance the philosophical principles of a free society. The truth is that there are more "civilized" people in the conservative movement. Can someone point out the flaw in my thinking? I'm willing to consider changing my mind and voting Democratic, but I can't see it yet. Philosophy moves everything but right now it is a battle of tactics. If we don't see this, then we don't realize that the founding of our country was also accomplished when it was tactically possible. Someone laid the groundwork (The Enlightenment philosophers). We have to have time to lay that groundwork again in order to save this society.

mtnrunner2 said...

Really we are talking about which is worse: hanging or firing squad?

That said, I believe the source of Peikoff's opinion is the relative degree of moral fervor and integration of the respective philosophies.

The idea is that pound for pound, the nihilism of the Left is culturally less powerful because it is offers no positive goal, and therefore conflicts openly with people's desire for a better life. It's simply too obvious to most people that the Left still offers us only a dreary future of economic malaise and decreased freedoms. Note how the Left attempts to claim that what it offers is a better life for the average person. Without this positive motive, it would have nothing to offer, and its philosophy would not integrate with our very obvious need to survive and prosper in this world.

The Religious Right is also nihilistic (by pushing a supernatural realm they court destruction in this one) but couches its talk in positive terms by wrapping it up with something some people already regard as a very powerful positive in their lives: God and religion. For this reason, they think they are getting something great even though they are really sacrificing to a nonexistent deity instead of the state. The dreamy talk of how America is God's country is simply a way of harnessing their blindly fascist plans to a "positive" life philosophy.

For these reasons, a religious-based politics poses more of a threat. Religion has been honing its techniques for millennia, and it works. It is a force to be reckoned with.

Rachel said...


Religion's evil lies in its insidious appeal and in its systematic nature. It's comparison with opium is apt. What dictators need is sheep for the slaughter, willing drones for whatever they deem necessary to gain and hold power. Religion doesn't always resort to direct use of force. But its adherents are driven by values, and passionately. This is more powerful than nihilism; the absence of values cannot compare to false values.

And the recent popes most certainly have harmed a great many and far more long-range than any dictators. Roman Catholicism in particular has advocated for decades the kind of asceticism and self-denial that America is only now adopting. I couldn't help but think of the Second Vatican Council when I was reading about Amendment 48, in Colorado. The cry that birth control would be effectively banned is exactly the conclusion the Council reached. The parish I grew up in was conflicted about whether to heed the papal order forbidding the use of birth control (with the exception of what they call the "rhythm method", which consists of following your cycle and abstaining from sex when you are presumed fertile).

At the time, I wondered that educated, generally free-thinking, American adults could follow Rome in the face of the obvious consequences. Now I see that religious forces don't have to resort to dropping sand bags on buses because they can simply take control of the government's guns. And who'd want sandbags if they could order the police around?

I too am conflicted as Myrhaf and others are as to whether we should fight a tactical battle against the nihilist Left or stick to the strategy of resisting the religious Right. But in any case, it's just not true that religion is not talking about forcing anyone. There are only reason and force. Religion does not use reason. What's left?

Religion is evil.

mike18xx said...

in the end they will use force to impose their values on the rest of us -- because that's God wants.

No; that's what Allah wants.

Christ was a pacifist ...which is why, outside of some nut bombing an abortion-clinic every ten years or so, and "Intelligent Design" rubbish in a fraction of schools, the Christian-right has been essentially toothless when it comes to preventing legistlation they're opposed to.

ml/nj said...

Rachel said: "Religion's evil lies in its insidious appeal and in its systematic nature. It's comparison with opium is apt. What dictators need is sheep for the slaughter, willing drones for whatever they deem necessary to gain and hold power. Religion doesn't always resort to direct use of force. ..."

It's interesting then that the great dictators of the 20th Century rejected all rejected religion. I guess they didn't get the message that they could have used religion, instead of gulags and death, to turn their masses into willing drones.

Except for Islam, I cannot think of any religion that has used force in any way shape or form since at least the Middle Ages; and force is what we are talking about here, or at least it is what I am talking about. Evil is forcing me to do something that I strongly do not want to do.

It's too bad that you associate the Church with evil. From my perspective they are the only major organization for which morality is a major focus. They do not force anyone to do anything. They merely tell people what they think is right and what they think is wrong. No one, including you, has to listen to them if he/she doesn't want to.

Rachel said...

The morality of religion is altruism. Altruism requires some to sacrifice their lives (freedoms, wealth, health) to others.

Colorado's Amendment 48, The Defense of Marriage Act, Bush's support for Faith-Based Initiatives - These are only three examples (and only American ones at that) of religion's advocates using, or attempting to use, force, the force of government power, to curtail freedom, which means the freedom to act based on one's own judgment. This is definitely harm caused by the initiation of force.

As for dictators like Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, they could not have wielded such vast power if those they commanded had been unwilling. In the case of Nazi Germany, Hitler rose to political power on an explicitly altruist basis, an altruism that the population had accepted for ages, an altruism born from religion. The same is true of the source of Stalin's and Mao's power bases. That the dictators themselves used non- or anti-religious propaganda is essentially irrelevant.

As I mentioned before, paraphrasing Ayn Rand, there are only two ways to deal with men: force and reason. They are mutually exclusive. Religion disavows reason in its approach to men. Religious ethics, when projected into the realm of politics, offer nothing but force based on faith. This is evil.

mike18xx said...

Except for Islam, I cannot think of any religion that has used force in any way shape or form since at least the Middle Ages


When Christians initiate force non-Christians, they do so contrary to the teachings of their prophet (the Lutheran Reformation was mainly over this -- in the Middle Ages, few people could read Latin bibles; Martin Luther translated it into German.... and the schism was on).

When Muslims initiate force against kafir, they are doing so in accordance with their prophets dictates to establish the Universal Caliphate. (This is why the fanatics say of the others, "You are not true 'Muslims'" -- and they are correct.)


(And you're overlooking Kokka Shintō. He wasn't called the "God-Emperor" for nothing.)

ml/nj said...

Rachel said: "The morality of religion is altruism. Altruism requires some to sacrifice their lives (freedoms, wealth, health) to others. ..."

I guess if you define religion in your own image, then it can be anything you want it to be, including evil.

The Jewish Torah sage Hillel, when asked to describe Jewish Law as concisely as possible, said, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study it." When I don't steal from my neighbor, or I don't fart in his face, I am not being "altruistic" as you would put it. Not everything is black and white. And by the way that "commentary" that Hillel was talking about is entirely reason.

Not coincidentally Jesus is to have said, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."

I'm not sure what Bush has to do with this discussion. You seem confused. I think you should go and read some of that "commentary" Hillel was talking about.