The single most dangerous thing about leftists is their capacity for self-delusion. Most leftists really do believe that they personally know what is best for everyone.
Beyond their personal intellectual and moral hubris, leftists think they know best because they believe themselves to belong to a line of ideological descent which has always been altruistic, benevolent and always proven correct in the long run. The reason they believe that is because leftists know nothing of their own history. Instead, they take a simplified, cartoonish view of their ideological predecessors that can only be described as hagiographic. Any mistakes or evils perpetrated by anyone that leftists identify with are simply written out of leftists’ history.
The cult of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, whose face still shows up on non-ironic t-shirts, as well as the leftist history of the Kent State shootings, shows how this hagiography gets perpetuated.
Here is a representative example of Guevara’s hagiography from the current (as of today) Wikipedia entry for him.
Following the Cuban Revolution, Guevara performed a number of key roles in the new government. These included instituting agrarian reform as minister of industries, serving as both national bank president and instructional director for Cuba’s armed forces, reviewing the appeals and firing squads for those convicted as war criminals during the revolutionary tribunals, and traversing the globe as a diplomat on behalf of Cuban socialism. [emph. added]
“When you saw the beaming look on Che’s face as the victims were tied to the stake and blasted apart by the firing squad,” said a former Cuban political prisoner Roberto Martin-Perez, to your humble servant here, “you saw there was something seriously, seriously wrong with Che Guevara.” As commander of the La Cabana execution yard, Che often shattered the skull of the condemned man (or boy) by firing the coup de grace himself. When other duties tore him away from his beloved execution yard, he consoled himself by viewing the slaughter. Che’s second-story office in Havana’s La Cabana prison had a section of wall torn out so he could watch his darling firing-squads at work.
Compare the hagiographic Wikipedia entry on the Guevera’s infamous “Motorcycle Diaries” with some of what Guevera actually wrote:
“My nostrils dilate while savoring the acrid odor of gunpowder and blood. Crazy with fury I will stain my rifle red while slaughtering any vencido [surrendered/captured enemy] that falls in my hands!” [bracketed text added]
Guevera’s military tactics were ruthless and vile. In Bolivia, he perfected the strategy of “fighting to the last peasant” by intentionally forcing peasants into the line of fire in order to “radicalize” them. He conducted fighting retreats through peasant villages intending that the following army would destroy the village and kill villagers in pursuit of his forces. Worse, he committed atrocities against military personnel, even killing their families, and then framed innocent peasants for the acts for the sole purpose of drawing down a horrific vengeance down on the innocent peasants. Needless to say, he had no compunctions about killing any peasants in his zone of control who did not kowtow to him.
Guevara was a vicious, megalomaniacal sociopath who wanted to be the next Stalin or Mao. (Indeed, Stalin in his younger days was a figure very much like Guevara.) He overtly and clearly stated his desire to destroy America and to exterminate millions of Americans in the process.
Yet today he is considered to be a figure worthy of admiration by the far (20% most) left in America. Go to any college campus and you will see admiring posters and t-shirts. Even Robert Redford, one of the few leftists who actually spent tens of millions of dollars of his own money on charitable causes, made a hagiographic movie about Guevera.
The vast majority of leftists, however, know nothing about the real Guevera. All they know is the hagiography that came straight out the Cold War-era Soviet propaganda mill. Worse, they don’t even bother to question the hagiography at all. If you try to confront them about their mindless adoration, they will reflexively change the subject to some real or imagined evil of non-leftists somewhere in the world’s history. They are emotionally incapable of thinking about Guevera in anything but positive terms.
Richard Cohen’s vile little diatribe attempting to link the Tea Party to the 1970 Kent State shooting is saturated with leftist hagiography. This is his central thesis:
Bullets had killed those kids, sure — but they were fired, in a way, from the mouths of politicians. The governor of Ohio, James Rhodes, demonized the war protesters. They were “worse than the Brownshirts and the communist element. . . . We will use whatever force necessary to drive them out of Kent.”
There are two things that are delusional about Cohen’s perspective on Kent State. First, he assumes that the National Guard opened fire because they hated the college students’ ideology and not because they feared violence. Second, he leaves out the fact that the protesters were actually acting like Brownshirts and were protesting in de facto support of totalitarian communist superpowers. Indeed, many of leaders of the Kent State and other protests considered themselves to be communists fighting for world revolution.
In the leftists’ hagiography, the Kent State protesters were completely peaceful. They “performed a sit-in” in college campus buildings and were singing and putting flowers in the barrels of the Guardsmen’s guns when the Guardmen’s ideological hatred of the pure and noble leftists finally overwhelmed the Guardmen’s humanity and they brutally opened fire. All those killed at Kent State are martyrs to the evil of the American right. Therefore, Cohen argues by implication, since the left is so good, wonderful and infallible in all things, anyone who argues with leftists today is just as evil and hate filled as the governor and the Guardsmen were back in 1970.
Unfortunately for Cohen and his hagiography, the shootings at Kent State were preceded by a month of increasing violence. The “peaceful sit-in” of the ROTC building was violent with doors kicked in, desks and filing cabinets destroyed, burned or tossed through windows. ROTC officers and students as well as school officials were physically attacked. All this culminated in a riot the night before the shootings in downtown Kent, that resulted in broken windows, arson, stonings and beatings that overwhelmed the Kent police force. That pattern of increasing violence and destruction, not the governor’s ideological opposition to the protesters’ support of communist goals, caused the governor to call out the National Guard. The violence continued the day of the shootings with rock throwing and shouts of “kill, kill, kill”. The Guardsmen were on edge because of the violence, not the ideology.
Cohen and other leftists always dehumanize non-leftists such as the Guardsmen, turning them into caricatures. In the minds of Cohen et al, the Guardsmen are evil Nazis salivating to kill the pure and noble leftists. In reality, the Guardsmen felt exposed and frightened. They did not have full anti-riot gear or support and could not have withstood the human wave attack of an enraged mob. They were all too aware of how easy it would have been for the mob to overwhelm part or all of the Guard’s line and pull out and beat to death individuals. Worse, they all knew they were tightly bunched together making them an easy target for anyone with a firearm in the crowd or surrounding buildings. Given the previous pattern of escalating violence and the frothing anger directed at them, they had every right to expect they might be attacked with lethal force.
The Kent State shootings should have never happened but the moral onus for the deaths ultimately lies upon those who initiated the violence in the first place. Had the protesters not tried to impose their will on the governance of the university by force, had they not attacked people and destroyed property, the Guard would have not have been called out in the first place and would have never been in a position to overreact and make a mistake.
In the end, the idea that the Guard opened fire out of ideological hatred of all that is good and pure is really just a manifestation of the left’s own narcissism and megalomania. They are so convinced not only of their rectitude but of their critical importance to the world that they convince themselves that they are actually important enough for non-leftists to want to kill them. The thought that the Guard saw them not as world changing revolutionaries but just as spoiled, violent children just doesn’t play into the self-hagiography of the individual leftists.
In the end, the real story of Kent State was that of radical leftists directing violence on their fellow citizens in order to advance and inflate their own egos, and as a side effect to advance the interests of totalitarian, communist superpowers. Their egoism, moral blindness and self-delusion caused them to create circumstances in which lethal mistakes where probable. That is the reason, and the only reason, that five people died at Kent State.
Why are leftists so prone to self-delusion? Why are they so ready to believe that they themselves and their predecessors never make any mistakes?
Firstly, leftists always want quick and easy answers to problems like poverty which have dogged humanity since the dawn of history. They don’t want to hear that such problems can’t be really “solved” but simply mitigated or improved slightly. They would prefer to be sold the fantasy of a quick and easy fix whose implementation is blocked only by the selfishness and outright evil of non-leftists.
Secondly, leftists have powerful need to view themselves as intellectually and morally superior to everyone else. They have the need to see themselves as the heroic protagonist in the story of the modern world. Since they use the same methodology today to arrive at their justifications as did the leftists of the past, they must create a narrative in which the leftists of the past were always proven correct and infallible.
To this end, every event, every history, every fact is shaped and bent by the aggregation of the emotional need of millions of leftists to view themselves as infallible, crusading heroes. This emotional need creates a niche in the free market of ideas which the professional intellectuals of the far left are all too glad to fill with stories of leftwing hagiography. After a few generations, what started as an emotion-driven market niche evolves into a distinct subculture whose tenets become unquestionable. It becomes a secular religion whose tenets are unquestionable and where virtue becomes defined as believing in those self-same tenets.
Guevara must have been a hero because most contemporary leftists believe he was too much like them not to be. If Guevara was a villain, what does that say about them? Likewise, if the protesters of Kent State were selfish, arrogant and gullible what does that say about leftists today who mimic their positions in contemporary context?
Why don’t leftists ever recognize their fantasies as self-serving delusions? I believe it is because most leftists, and certainly the professional intellectual leftists who fabricate and sell those fantasies for money and prestige, live in a nonempirical world. Empiricism is the final test of any idea. This is the fundamental idea of science but it holds true in all fields of human endeavor. An idea must manifest in a physical form and interact with the material world before its truth can be truly verified. Business people have ideas of businesses all the time but the only real test of the idea is to create the business and see if it thrives. Generals create weapons, tactics and doctrines only to see them all disintegrate when real war breaks out. Engineers build objects and machines that must work.
Leftists, however, live in a world isolated from physical consequence. They pay no material consequence for the failure of the ideas. It is not as if any of the leaders of the Kent State rioters ever ended up with hands bound, kneeling in the mud of a Cambodian rice paddy waiting for a raped and brainwashed 12 year old to suffocate them by wrapping a plastic bag tightly over their heads. No radical leftwing radical professor of the era lost his job for failing to predict the psychotic nature of the Khmer Rouge or the consequences of the horrific rule of Cambodia. No American leftists has ever paid a serious material consequence for any error, no matter how sweeping. It is always someone else who pays.
It was the Kulaks, Ukrainians, idealistic communists and others who paid the price for Stalin, not the legions of western leftists who ignored his crimes and cheered him on. It was the Chinese peasants who starved to death during the Great Leap Forward and not the college student with the “Mao more than ever” t-shirt. Less dramatically, it is the poor of America who suffered from crime, permanent joblessness and the disintegration of families because of leftists’ policies, not the ivory-tower intellectuals who created those policies.
In the specific case of Indochina, the “peace” movement failed catastrophically to bring peace to anyone. The people of Indochina suffered horribly. However, since the “peace” movement ended with the far left dominant in American politics and culture, American leftists see it as a great victory and seek to recreate it at every opportunity. Why shouldn’t they? They personally or collectively don’t expect to pay any material consequence for their selfishness and self-absorption.
This isolation from physical consequence lets leftists swim through life in a haze of self-delusion. Without physical consequence, absolutely everything in their lives become just a fictional story. This is why leftists are so keen on the idea that everything is a “narrative”. In their world, everything is just a narrative.
The left’s specific narrative explains everything for them because the market forces in the free market of ideas evolved a story custom-fitted to feed the left’s own emotional needs. In this custom-fitted narrative, they are virtual super beings, free of the moral and intellectual failings of lesser beings and therefore always correct and always deserving of power and dominion over lesser beings for the good of all. Who wouldn’t like to buy such a flattering image of themselves?
Non-leftists are saved from delusion only because the material world impinges on those of us who live and work outside of the ivory tower. We can’t believe anything we want, because we have to make things function. We pay a heavy and immediate price for our self-delusions.
But perhaps the era of the left’s isolation from physical consequence has ended. During the Vietnam era, the military they despised protected them from the communists they lionized, but today’s military cannot protect them from the terrorists who filter across borders. It is not inconceivable that the left’s de facto support of various terrorists may someday literally blow up in their faces. The vitality and uniqueness of America once protected them from the consequences of their economic ideas (such as runaway unions), but today America is not so vital nor so unique and must fight for its place in the world economy. As a result, leftwing-dominated areas of the country are imploding economically. The poor and marginalized are growing weary of promises of betterment that never arrive. They have begun to try and escape the fantasy by seeking non-leftist solutions like voucher schools.
The left will either grow up and leave the world of childish fantasy or fade into history. Until then people like Richard Cohen can sit on our collective cultural couch in nothing but their underwear and their Che t-shirts, eating Cheerios while watching yet another episode of “Leftist Hagiography Today” on the TV.
The rest of us can do nothing but shake our heads as we pass by on the way out the door to another day of real work and real consequences.