Why the Left Hates the West

They don’t, not really, although one could be excused for thinking so.

I think the old observation that, “when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail,” better explains the Left’s unremitting criticism of, and apparent animus toward, the free world.

The hammer-and-nail effect bedevils us all. Everyone tends to view problems from the perspective of the conceptual tools they have to fix the problem. For example, I am a techno-geek. When presented with a problem, I always think of some technological fix first. Business people tend to see free trade and commerce as solutions. People with military or police backgrounds think in terms of force and security, etc.

Even worse, the hammer-and-nail effect seduces us with the vision that our little cultural or social subgroup will get the glory, status and power that comes from solving the problem du jour. We choose models of problems not only based on our experience-driven world-view but also based on our egotistical need to have others see us as the problem solvers.

Articulate intellectuals affect the world solely by the use of persuasive communications. They produce nothing material such as food, clothing or shelter. They do not organize or manage production or distribution systems. They do not fight. They do not heal. Instead, they talk. They express. They influence the world by altering the behavior of those who do all the things that articulate intellectuals do not.

They tend to see every problem as one solvable by using persuasive communication to alter some actor’s behavior. However, in any given situation, some actors are easier to persuade than others. Articulate intellectuals can most easily persuade people of their own culture and those with the most access to various means of communication. Therefore, a western articulate intellectual can exert enormous influence over his fellow citizens of the free world but comparatively little influence over members of non-free and non-western societies.

The ability to alter the behavior of free, western societies and governments is the articulate intellectuals’ hammer. Consequently, the “nail” they see in every problem is the behavior of someone in the free West. When faced with a conflict between a western, liberal democracy and some form of autocracy, they compulsively seek to place the blame squarely on the liberal democracy.

Leftism as an ideology criticizes western society because leftism is overwhelmingly the politics of articulate intellectuals. All the tenets of leftism function to create a society in which the articulate intellectual occupies the highest positions of status and power in society. (Marx famously described his predicted communist utopia as a society in which individuals would be differentiated only by their innate intellectual ability.) So the hammer of the articulate intellectual becomes the hammer of the Left and the nail of the articulate intellectual becomes the nail of the Left. To lay claim to the ability to solve a problem, leftists must define that problem as arising from a negative behavior of liberal democracies.

For example, during the Cold War people could choose between two basic models of the conflict: 1) The conflict originated due to the internal dynamics of communist states whose ideology told them they would be in permanent conflict with all non-communist societies, or 2) that the fearful and irrational behavior of liberal democracies drove communists to act aggressively out of self-defense. If the non-communist Left in the free West chose Model 1 they would have basically defined themselves out of having any influence over the events of the Cold War, because western articulate intellectuals had very little influence over a society with state controlled communications. However, if they choose Model 2 they suddenly became key players in the drama. In fact, Model 2 implied that only articulate intellectuals could save the world by altering the destructive behavior of the free West.

The Left’s take on the Arab-Israeli conflict follows the same dynamic. If the Arab autocracies are the main drivers of the conflict, then leftists will have little to contribute to the resolution, but if the problem is Israel’s liberal democracy, then again the leftist articulate intellectual becomes central to the solution.

The Left’s opposition to the liberation of Iraq also results from its hammer-and-nail delusion. They can only inject themselves into the conflict by seeking to undermine the liberation and democratization of Iraq. Their ability to influence the anti-democratic forces is negligible, so any positive role that articulate intellectuals could play would be very small. They would fulfill the same role as articulate intellectuals did during WWII. Articulate intellectuals played a very minimal role in WWII because as group they overwhelmingly supported the war regardless of their political persuasion. They contributed a little bit here and there but no one sees WWII as a conflict in which articulate intellectuals played a key role. By contrast, the history of the Vietnam war is largely one of the actions of leftist articulate intellectuals. Contemporary leftists see the horrific results of the “peace” movement in that era as a triumph, not because they approve of the terrible fate that befell the people they abandoned, but rather because it represented the social and political domination of the articulate intellectual in western society.

The same dynamic underlies leftist explanations for other problems of the modern world, such a poverty, crime and the environment. Leftists desperately need the world’s problems to spring from the behavior of elements within liberal democracies, so that they can feel important and control events.

So in the end, the Left’s incessant and blanket criticisms of liberal democracies, and their de facto allying with despots of all stripes, result not from hatred of their societies but from the narcissism of leftists as individuals. This narcissism has compounded over the generations into a terrifying force supported by massive libraries of baroque rationalizations.

It would be funny if it didn’t get so many people killed.

41 thoughts on “Why the Left Hates the West”

  1. Brilliant! Another story that comes to mind is the man crawling on all fours looking for something under a streetlamp. A man stops and asks him what is he doing. “I’m looking for my keys!” “Where did you lose them?” “Over there somewhere.” Why are you looking here?” “The light is better here.”

  2. Not much here but the usual generalizations badmouthing the liberals. Now if you want to talk about “getting people killed,” how many Americans and civilians have died as a result of the Bush invasion? Now who is getting people killed and for what? a sectarian struggle that is now regional and now, having toppled evil Saddam (ye: evil) Iran no longer held in check and is virtually running the middle east. But give us moe generalizations about how bad the West is (oh,the Dems were in charge when the Axis defeated but let us not note that)

  3. This a good example of the ridiculiousness of the Left.

    Denis Prager Show.

    “Dennis talks to Chris Hedges who sees Christian conspiracies all over the place. Hedges is a former foreign correspondent for the NY Times and author of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.”

    Chris Hedges’s premise is that Christian Fundamentalists are just as dangerous as Islamic Fundamentalists.

    Listening to him defend his POV leaves one struck on how blind someone can be.

  4. Notice David’s objections all seem to be based on body count.

    If that’s the case, how can it be that he can’t muster any words of support for our prescence there now?

    The past is the past, and no amount of complaining can change it.

    So looking at the present, if body count is a concern, how can anyone not be FOR the American presense there?

    Also, what does it say about our country that having invaded the place and ran into some problems, that we’re just willing to pack and leave and let them fend for themselves? I would be so shamed for having not followed through with the committment that was made.

    Does that mean staying there no matter how inactive or incompetent the Iraqis are ? No. But when a plan that has hope of sucess is brought forth , as the current plan is, then it does mean one should hold their tongue and wait and see what happens.

    If one cares about the body count , that is.

  5. “It would be funny if it didn’t get so many people killed.” or if it wasn’t so costly.

    Capitalism is part and parcel of Western society and, in large part, is the proximate cause of the culture’s material success. Leftists are anti-capitalist (and hence anti-west) because their their economic well-being is tied up with an anti-capitalist outlook. Somehow the historic success of capitalism is overlooked in favor of a “top down” distribution of wealth.

    Educators, union members, government bureaucrats, and welfare-recipients are all not reimbursed for their services in the free maket. They are all paid by fiat. Because this is so there are huge dislocataions of economy. Money truly isn’t everything – but the things that are important and can’t be bought should not be paid for. Small wonder that members of these special groups encourage the institutions that suport them. The entitlement they express is sometimes startling and they are not concious, largely, of their special status (Speaking to an NEA educator one is impressed with the self-righteous frevor of a little lady who really has the scrupples of a teamster head buster).

  6. Excellent post. I’d note that the class of those who “affect the world solely by the use of persuasive communications” is broader than the class usually thought of as “intellectuals.” The former class includes, for example, entertainers and lawyers, many of whom are devoid of intellectual interests. I like the phrase “the word people”…the older word, *clerks* may also be applicable.

    A lot of the phenomenon of hostility to one’s own society is also explained by C S Lewis in a brilliant essay which I excerpt here.

  7. I have to agree. I have come to the same conclusions, but always thought in terms of the susceptability of a society to change from social pressure. Protesting the actions of China or Zimbabwe is somewhat futile since they don’t care what people think. However, protesting against the Western democracies has a far greater chance of success.

    So, it’s a waste of time to protest China. It’s much more efficient to protest the US, France or Israel. People gravitate to what works. The articulate individual won’t bother with a larger injustice in China since he knows nobody in China gives a hoot about what he and his fellows think. He’ll concentrate on lesser problems in the US where he has a far greater chance of success.

  8. david still,

    Not much here but the usual generalizations badmouthing the liberals.

    You argument would have prima facia merit if my argument centered solely on Iraq but since my arguments doesn’t do so, your argument doesn’t even get out of the gate. I am talking about a systemic fault in Leftist thinking that started in 19th century and has grown only stronger ever since. In every conflict between a liberal-democracy and autocracies of any kind or size, the Left has taken the side of the autocracies every time. This pattern is simply irrefutable.

    How do YOU explain the Left repeatedly leaping to the defense of autocrats at every available opportunity? (And no, I am not exaggerating. The pattern is utterly consistent without one exception that I have been able to find.)

    I think you need to think long and hard about whether the opposition to the liberation and democratization of Iraq will turn out any better than did the “peace” movement that fought so hard for a communist victory in Indochina. The Leftist of the 70’s won political power and brought Indochina democide, 15 more years of continuous war, millions of refugees, horrific political oppression and wrenching poverty that continue to this day. They set a template which has led every little two-bit gain with an AK-47 and a rocket launcher think they can take on the US and win. A precedent that kills Americans even today.

    Why would any humane person wish to recapitulate such a horrific failure? Why do so many Leftist think that the catastrophe of the 70’s is something to admire and emulate?

    The only logical reason is that they care more about themselves and their own status and power than they do anyone else. They remember the 70’s fondly because that was a time they exercised dominance and power. End of story.

    If you want to refute my argument you must come up with another explanation for why the Left ALWAYS holds liberal-democracies to blame for all the troubles in the world. Until then, your just blowing hot air.

  9. Eliot,

    I have come to the same conclusions, but always thought in terms of the susceptability of a society to change from social pressure. … People gravitate to what works. The articulate individual won’t bother with a larger injustice in China since he knows nobody in China gives a hoot about what he and his fellows think. He’ll concentrate on lesser problems in the US where he has a far greater chance of success.

    I agree in part but I think it is very important to note that Leftist do not claim that is what they are doing. Leftist do not say, for example, that 90% of the Arab-Israeli conflict originates with Arab autocrats but that they concentrate on the 10% caused by Israel because that is all that they can really affect. Instead they claim that they believe that 90% of the problem lays with Israel and that if Israel would change its behavior then it would not matter much what the Arabic autocrats do.

    The problem with the pragmatic approach you describe is that an honest, unselfish articulate intellectual would have to admit that they have very little to contribute in solving some of the greatest problems of the day. Most contemporary Leftist can’t stand to sideline themselves in such a fashion so they chose models of causations for problems that places the blame squarely in the free west where they can become the key actors in the drama.

  10. This theory should be put to an empirical test. I propose the problem of Kashmir. The left has had comparatively little to say about Kashmir, because the US plays virtually no role there.

    If your theory is correct, then India, as the more Westernized country in the dispute, is clearly in the wrong. We should be on the lookout for indications of this attitude.

    David Foster, I think your link went astray, as I was led to a different post. I found it anyway. That’s a humdinger of an essay! Have you suggested the Lewis collection for the reading list?

  11. I agree with Shannon’s observation that Western leftists focus on the West’s problems out of a sincere belief that they can play a role in solving them. More important, Western leftists focus criticism on their own societies out of an insistence on taking responsibility for the actions of Western societies and a recognition that the responsibility for improving a society outside one’s own is relatively small.

    Adults learn to accept responsibility for their own actions and to solve problems by changing their own behavior, taking action themselves.

    Children, by contrast, tend to try evade personal responsibility by focusing blame away from themselves or by arguing that however bad their actions are, the actions of others are worse. Sound familiar?

    The pattern also shows up in parenting. Some parents equate criticism of their children with disloyalty or betrayal. They argue that someone who loves their children won’t criticize them, especially when children from other families are worse.

    Other parents insist on focusing criticism on their own children because they are responsible for them, not others, and because the criticism is far more likely to have an effect. Likewise, they avoid criticism of other children, not because they think the other children are good or better than theirs, but because they have little or no responsibility for them.

  12. Wes: I disagree with the assertion:

    “leftists focus on the West’s problems out of a sincere belief that they can play a role in solving them. More important, Western leftists focus criticism on their own societies out of an insistence on taking responsibility for the actions of Western societies and a recognition that the responsibility for improving a society outside one’s own is relatively small.”

    Nancy Pelosi is going around denying the Iraq war is America’s war, instead she always insists on saying “This is Bush’s war and he has to find a way out of this mess”

    If Leftists can’t take repsonblity for this , then nothing else really matters.

  13. “Nancy Pelosi is going around denying the Iraq war is America’s war, instead she always insists on saying `This is Bush’s war and he has to find a way out of this mess.’
    That’s a very good point, James. It’s important …

    [Post Deleted for veering off Topic]

  14. I hope you’re not suggesting that I think that the Right has exclusive ability toward defending the country.
    >Pelosi suggests that Bush values, not American values, are what brought us the war in Iraq and its failure.

    [Post deleted for veering off topic]

  15. Wes Turner,

    Western leftists focus criticism on their own societies out of an insistence on taking responsibility for the actions of Western societies and a recognition that the responsibility for improving a society outside one’s own is relatively small.

    If that was the actual mechanism then Leftist must believe that liberal-democracy is a far greater evil in the world than is any form of autocracy. Remember, Leftist do not argue that the actions of liberal-democracies aggravate conflicts, they argue that the actions of liberal-democracies control conflicts. Leftist repeatedly argue, in many different situations, that if liberal-democracies had acted differently in the past that the conflict would have never arisen and that if they would alter their behavior now, the conflict would go away.

    Leftist repeatedly advance a model in which only the free-West ever acts with intention. All other entities merely react to Western actions. Leftist have a kind of cultural egocentrism which prevents them from seeing that other people have their own cultural, social and political environments that drive them act regardless of actions taken within the West.

    For example, I went to college before the end of the Cold War and I was taught in all seriousness that true cause of the Cold War was the actions of the free-West. Most Leftist sincerely believed that Communist acted aggressively solely in reaction to the irrational fear driven actions of the free-West. When the Cold War ended, however, it became absolutely clear that the communist model of political evolution caused them believe that they would always be in conflict with the non-Communist world until historical inevitability granted them ultimate victory. There was no action that the West could have taken that would have altered this model. If the West acted conciliatory, the Communist took it as a sign of decadence and weakness. If the West stood firm, the Communist took it as a sign of capitalism inherently aggressive nature. The internal dynamics of Communism created and sustained the Cold War and it ended when communism lost it grip on power. The free-West was basically just caught up in the communist wake.

    The Left is not interested in accepting responsibility for the actions of the Western world . The Left never claims responsibility for the actions of the Left. Leftist never say that they, as a subgroup of Western society, ever caused any problem anywhere. They always claim that the actions of their internal social and political competitors caused the problem. They “accept” responsibility for Western actions only as a means of gaining power internally.

    (For example, when a Leftist says, “We’re a racist society,” what they really mean is that “You are a racist and should shut up and do what I say,”)

    Leftist are not mature. In fact, they are just the opposite. They are very smart individuals who lack emotional self-awareness. They always operate from the axiom that they, and they alone, are humanity’s only true altruist. They never stop ask themselves if their political ideas are actually very self-serving.

    I don’t think Leftist are as individuals evil people but as a subculture they let their collective desire for how they wish the world to be trump their intellectual discipline.

  16. Thanks, Shannon. I spent last evening – inspired by you – contemplating the immature responses of the left as I know them. Getting into an argument about “who’s the grown-up” seems inappropriate, but those arguments among children are generally who wants the authority, not who wants the responsibiity. And when it comes down to responsibiity, the actions of a congress controlled by the left to Petraeus and a slow bleed, of the faculty at Durham to criticism of the faculty, of the consistent hue and cry from the left that seems to equate criticism of their stances with criticism of their persons (and to criticize the persons rather than the arguments of their opponents) – these may all be approaches honed by the communists but are essentially those of people who want authority and not responsibiity, want freedom of speech but are unwilling to develop the thick hides necessary to participate in such a marketplace.

  17. Shannon: Now you seem to be describing the views of the radical leftist fringe, not mainstream liberalism. In that case, you are correct. Almost all of these radicals are desperately seeking emotional development or, more simply, power, through politics. And that is why their views do tend to be exaggerated to the point of irrationality. In that specific aspect, the radical rightist fringe is identical.

    That leaves the views of mainstream left-of-center Americans or Westerners. What, do you think, accounts for them?

    When you say, for example, that “Most Leftist sincerely believed that Communist acted aggressively solely in reaction to the irrational fear driven actions of the free-West” you cannot be talking about Francis Fitzgerald or Bill Moyers or Noam Chomsky or Robert F. Kennedy or David Halberstam or Martin Luther King. These are among the people who represent the mainstream of the left side of the political spectrum in America and their views on the Cold War bear little or no resemblence to the ones you describe.

    Your initial point that leftists have a “change the world by persuasion” attitude is an important insight into the difference with rightists. But your follow-up comment suffers from not distinguishing between views of radical and mainstream leftists.

  18. Shannon,

    That’s a very good point you make about my comment. If the left admitted they were simply doing what little could be done by protesting the democracies, then I would probably accept that as as honest effort to make the situation marginally better. If one can fix something, but not everything, then fix the something.

    But, you are right. They define the small area they can effect as the entire problem, and ignore, or even deny, the much larger aspect of the problem. Much more distressing is this leads them to ally with the folks responsible for 90% of the problem so they can claim success in dealing with the 10% of the problem.

  19. Wes,

    I suspect you’ve lost your ability to influence me when you consider Noam Chomsky mainstream. Of course, he was anti-Lenin and did believe that Russia failed to live up to the great ideals of communism. That makes him less, not more, centrist. It doesn’t mean that his stance on the cold war was a reasonable nor “middle” one. For instance, here is his view on Viet Nam & Afghanistan:

    “I never criticized United States planners for mistakes in vietnam. True, they made some mistakes, but my criticism was always aimed at wehat they aimed to do and largely achieved. The Russians doubtless made mistakes in Afghanistan, but my condemnation of their aggression and atrocities never mentioned those mistakes — which are irrelevant to the matter–though not for the commissars. With our ideological system, it is impossible to perceive that anyone might criticize anything but mistakes” (I suspect that totalitarian Russia was more open in that regard).

    This is his from 31 Mar. 1995, quoted in Robert Barsky’s A Life of Dissent. Perhaps the most telling comment is his belief that no open marketplace of ideas exists in the west. This perennial complaint of those who have not won out in that marketplace arises not from idealism but fanatacism, not from care for the people but from elitism, not from realism but myopia: it is the view of tyrants & ideologues throughout history.

    I am somewhat curious about your opinion of the killing fields of Cambodia and the deaths that occurred in Vietnam following our departure – do you see these as our fault, the fault of the west, the fault of capitalism, or a recurring pattern we saw throughout the twentieth century whenever certain beliefs were put into practice?

    (I think you may be fairly new to our blog and twice I have made arguments that Chomsky’s insights on language were important – most linguists would argue that. I don’t dislike Chomsky blindly; I do dislike him.)

  20. Wes Turner,

    Now you seem to be describing the views of the radical leftist fringe, not mainstream liberalism.

    I don’t know, is Jimmy Carter on the radical leftist fringe these days? He has written a book placing all the blame for the Arab-Israeli conflict squarely on Israel. John Kerry built his political career by advancing the idea the Vietnam conflict arose solely from the actions of the US. Is he on the radical fringe? Is your average college professor in the humanities on the radical fringe?

    The problem is that since the 60’s, what was once the radical Left has become the mainstream. Pro-American liberals are all Republican now. After all, an evil neocon is merely a contemporary American who feels the same way about America and its relationship to the world as did JFK.

    The Left/Right divide in America used to be about class. Now it is about culture. Prior to the 70’s, middle-class and working class people muted the voice of the articulate intellectual in Leftist politics. Now that restraint is largely gone.

    The basic problem is that far more people today make their living by some form of persuasive communications. The pool of people who share the world-view and systematic cognitive faults of the articulate intellectual (for want of a better term) has grown significantly.

  21. Ah, Shannon, it’s postings like this that keep me coming back to Chi-town on a regular basis.

    A few somewhat disconnected comments.

    WW2 was not an exception to the rule you cite. The “old left” was squarely against the US and other western powers taking military action as long as the SU was allied with Germany. Once that relationship exploded with Barbarossa, suddenly the left was all for war. This support stopped and turned on a dime, however, by the time of the Korean conflict.

    I think your analysis is very, very strong, but leaves out two crucial elements of the collectivist mindset.

    First is the repeated denial of the principle of cause and effect. This is implicit in your analysis, but should be explicit. There is never any honest evaluation in the collectivist analysis as to the dangers of concentrated political and social power in a few, politically motivated people. The repeated, calamitous consequences of such a power monopoly is simply blanked out, and often denied, while the relentless assertions that such a “solution” is vital to rescuing society from the evils of capitalism or bougeous(sp?) democracy go on, as you point out, as if the hammer of state power is the only tool in the toolbox, as, of course, it is.

    Secondly, the studies showing that, in any group, but especially tight knit political/cultural entities with constant interaction, the more disciplined and radical members tend to drag the rest of the group toward their fringe positions applies here very powerfully. This tendency is part of the answer to the question above about the identity of who you are actually talking about. The coup d’etat in 1972 by which the “New Left” took over the internal control positions of the Democratic party is a perfect example of this phenomenon.

    Anyone who didn’t believe in the “true doctrine” as put forward by the increasingly radical leftist activists who controlled the precinct and caucus level machinery was summarily driven out of the party. One obvious result was the election of Reagan, who benefitted from an enormous crossover vote by blue collar and other disaffected Dems who saw little or nothing in their party to support.

    Thanks again for a marvelous article.

  22. “is Jimmy Carter on the radical leftist fringe these days? He has written a book placing all the blame for the Arab-Israeli conflict squarely on Israel.”

    This is not true. Carter writes:

    “There are two interrelated obstacles to permanent peace in the Middle East:

    “1. Some Israelis believe they have the right to confiscate and colonize Palestinian land and try to justify the sustained subjugation and persecution of increasingly hopeless and aggravated Palestinians; and

    “2. Some Palestinians react by honoring suicide bombers as martyrs to be rewarded in heaven and consider the killing of Israelis as victories.”

    This is but one many examples where Carter spreads the blame to both key parties in the conflict. There are many passages as well where he details the ways in which Arab countries have failed to play a constructive role in the formation of a Palestinian state, not only because they fail to make it a priority, but also because they lack the domestic political maturity and interest to do so.

    What I liked most about Carter’s book is that it is based very firmly on his decades of personal experiences dealing directly with the leaders directly involved in the conflict. His direct involvement in the subject exceeds that of any living American and the book shows that, page after page.

    If you consider Carter a leftist, then you would certainly call me a leftist. My views on Iraq and Vietnam are nuanced and far, far from laying blame solely on the U.S. I do, however, tend to focus my criticism on the U.S. when it comes to those two wars, but only for the reasons you mention in your original post: it’s where I think I have a right and responsibility to contribute and a chance of some success.

    So what do you make of a leftist like me, who believes the communists share responsibility for the cold war, and the Russians and Chinese for Vietnam? How do I fit into your view of leftists? What are my motives?

  23. What about the narrative of oppressed vs oppressor? I think that explains a lot of (to me, anyway) seemingly contradictory attitudes toward liberal western democracies ‘vs’ non-western, non-democracies (key being non-western, of course). Also, some people don’t know as much as they think they do.

    I spend a lot of time on an Indian-American blog, Sepia Mutiny, and what I see from the Indian diaspora who are left of center, and Indian leftists, is that the narrative of oppressed vs opressor is the overwhelming template with which to view the world and world conflicts. Orientalism, colonialism, racism, self-identity as minorities within a larger majority, become the main dynamics. At least, that’s my interpretation and I don’t think it’s always the wrong way to the look at the world. Also, some people are amazing, well, badly informed about the world. As am I, I’m sure. None of us is all-knowing. I had a comment-conversation with one commenter that went like this:

    Me: Yes, the history of slavery and the treatment of native americans was a disgrace and a dark spot in US history. Note, I don’t say the US is uniformly horrible, or that this means the US is not a great nation. No nation is perfect.

    Commenter: Yes, I agree with you, and I can’t think of another country in the last 300 years that had that kind of past as part of it’s beginnings as a nation.

    Me: Stunned blog-silence and then a comment about the jews in Europe, Bengal famine in India, etc, etc.

    So, it’s beyond weird, this narrative of oppressor vs oppressed and it is fed by incomplete information and buttressed by absolute certainty.

  24. Oh, and I wanted to add this comment and direct it at Wes Turner, whose comment I found very interesting. I understand why you would feel that you have more sway, more ‘power’ over what the US does and so you focus your energies on that change. What used to bother me about this attidude, as a kid and whenever I would hear adults around me arguing about India and the US and some political issue (and they almost always kind of blamed the US, unthinkingly, although if you pressed them they would admit that Indian politicians really could screw things up) was that I felt it was letting those screwed up politicians off the hook. I thought if you concentrated your criticism only on western democracies, you sort of allowed poor governance to continue or flourish. Aargh, I wish I were a better writer! Does what I’m saying make sense?

  25. a good pop culture book on this topic is “The New Thought Police” by Tammy Bruce (self-described lesbian feminist former head of NOW in Los Angeles, now on the Right after realizing the nature of the Left)

  26. MD: you are certainly correct about the kind of leftist drivel found on left on some blogs. It’s often exaggerated to the point of irrationality and originates more in the emotional needs of its authors than in fact or logic.

    We can say exactly the same thing about rightist drivel found on some blogs. This is a fact of political life, not something that belongs to a particular ideology. Arguing against extremists of any stripe is a waste of time. Since they haven’t arrived at their views with the benefit of facts or logic, they will not be delivered from them via any amount of rational argument.

    Shannon and Ginny assert that Western leftists present the world in good and evil terms, with the West, or industrial democracies, being evil.

    This is at odds with the right’s ubiquitous claim that liberals base their analysis on “moral equivalence” of industrialized democracies and authoritarian/totalitarian countries. Shannon’s and Ginny’s claims also contradict one of the Republican party’s favorite talking points: that American liberals “don’t understand evil.” Bush, mimicing Reagan’s cartoon-friendly description of the Soviet Union as the “Evil Empire,”, declares North Korea, Iran and Iraq an “axis of evil” and the media’s right wing noise machine forthwith lambastes anyone who disagrees with the use of that label as “soft on evil.”

    Clearly, it is liberals who seek to spread blame for international conflict across opposing parties, where is conservatives insist that the blame lie exclusively outside themselves, i.e. their country. The liberal world view is persistently gray, while conservatives vehemently assert a black and white, good vs. evil world.

    Is Iran, for example, “evil” or a mix of good, amoral and evil? As a leftist, I argue it’s a mixed bag there, with many, many good people and good ideas co-existing with many, many bad ones. But to suggest that any mainstream liberal would or has asserted that the U.S. is evil and Iran good is entirely without foundation.

    One of the most interesting of Shannon’s assertions is that leftism is an ideology of “articulate intellectuals.”

    If we look at the ideologies as represented by the greater mainstream media, which includes books, movies, music and so on, this is clearly the case. It is easy to see America as a place where articulate leftist intellectuals wage political war with inarticulate anti-science, religious, or religion-oriented conservatives.

    A more careful look, however, reveals that the American intellectual scene includes a sizable, powerful segment of rightists at think tanks, universities, the media. law, science and business–all of whom are every bit as articulate as their leftist counterparts. Why then, the misperception that liberals are, to put it crudely, smarter?

    My theory, based on observation more than research, is that while the highly educated wings of both ideologies have much in common, the undereducated conservative is quite a different animal from the undereducated liberal.

    The undereducated conservative is more religion-oriented, even if not conventionally religious, than the typical low-education liberal. Faith, ideology and nationality therefore plays a much greater role in the low-watt conservative’s mind than in the low-watt liberal’s. In an age of increasing quantity and faster flow of information, that segment of conservatives feels far more under seige and far more ideologically aggreived than liberals. To put it crudely, the dumb end of conservative politics is rife with loudmouthed simpletons.

    This segment of conservatives gets exposure in the media far beyond its numbers and is probably also overrepresented in the “swing voter” column, leading politicians to court them more insistently than mainstream articulate conservatives. Rush Limbaugh is a multimillionaire because he was among the first to capitalize on this phenomenon, with Fox News Channel following suit.

    The dumb end of liberal politics is, by contrast, very quiet, very disorganized and less interested in asserting itself ideologically or even in identifying itself ideologically. This is a very “live and let live” crowd. For them, the Iraq war is mostly a “bummer,” but not something they’d interrupt an afternoon of bong hits or vegetarian feasting to protest. “Politics dude, that’s some crazy stuff, don’t let it harsh your mellow.”

    There are an awful lot of smart Americans. Some of them are conservative, some are liberal. The persistence of both ideologies in a free, wealthy, dynamic country like the U.S. shows that it’s folly to dismiss either as soley a product of bad thinking.

  27. The loud-mouthed simpletons with whom I’m acquainted tend to be academics, but we can let that one lie.

    Of course, virtues arise from believers in all ideologies and so do vices. To be conservative is, above all else, to accept the fallen nature of man. (To the Deist conservative, man may not sin, but he is sure likely to commit errata.)

    But I notice that you don’t deal with the question I asked, why were millions – 1/3 of the population – killed in Cambodia? If you want to argue that life is complex and American bombing during the Vietnamese war are partly to blame, I would accept that as a first step. But any respect for your position could only come if you also acknowledged that the pattern in Cambodia was one repeated again and again in the twentieth century. Otherwise, you are merely mouthing platitudes and really believe that tragically disproportionate outcomes are equivalent. You are ignoring human nature and what encourages the best in it (a sense of the divine in all others, humility, self-reliance) and what encourages the worst (covetousness, dependence, willfulness).

  28. Yes, communist totalitarianism ended up outdoing fascist totalitarianism in last century’s death toll. But I don’t see how that is relevant to a discussion about the motives of American, or Western, leftists.

    If you’re looking for the patterns of genocide, you need acknowledge that totalitarianism predates Marxism by a very long time and is indeed outliving Marxism’s demise as an organizing principle for governments.

    If you’re going to argue against Stalinism, fine. Good luck finding an intelligent opponent.

    And I ignored your question, Ginny, because the answer seemed so obvious: the Khmer Rouge, on one else, is responsible for the killing fields. Not the Russians, not the Chinese, not the Americans or French or British. What happened in Cambodia is the product of a unique history, culture and circumstance. To try and shoehorn those events into an ideologically defined “pattern” is to preclude any meaningful understanding of what actually happened.

  29. Great Essay Shannon.

    So it’s simply a matter of them taking something that is complex, difficult or even scary and changing it into something more manageable and palatable, regardless of the reality – AKA denial.

    It seems to be expanding on the left as well. (Who would have thought that the left would take the lead in promoting conspiracy theories – once the realm of paranoid, end of the world Christians.)

    Dr. Sanity had a write-up on the psychological implications of denial that helps explain some of the lefts behavior:


  30. Wes Turner,

    … the Khmer Rouge, on one else, is responsible for the killing fields. Not the Russians, not the Chinese, not the Americans or French or British. What happened in Cambodia is the product of a unique history, culture and circumstance.

    You’re rather missing the point. Yes, the Khmer Rouge were killers and deserve the proximate blame for the actual killings but one side of the West’s internal political division recognized them as killers and fought to keep them reaching the position of power they needed to affect their democide while the other side of the actively undermined those efforts claiming to believe that the rule of the Khmer Rouge, while not ideal, would be better than the conflict needed to keep them from power.

    When the Left gained power, they cut off support to anti-communist forces, while the Communist superpowers stepped up the support for their proxies. The communist won due to largely to significant material advantage created by their superpower support. So, as a direct result of the foreign policy decisions of the American Left, the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia and then began their unprecedented democide.

    The Right correctly predicted the consequences of a Khmer Rouge victory, and the communist victory in Vietnam, because the Right had a much more accurate model of human political behavior than did the Left. The Western Right’s basic model allows them to see the primary locus for the origin of destructive acts as residing in non-Western, non-free actors. Nothing about such a model undermines a Rightist claim to the ability to resolve the problem. (Indeed, their hammer-and-nail effect drives them to the opposite)

    The Left incorrectly predicted the consequences of a Khmer Rouge victory because placing the primary locus for the origin of destructive acts in a non-Western, non-free actor undermines their claim to the ability to resolve the problem. The hammer-and-nail effect causes the Left to systematically adopt fatally flawed models of conflicts When we base policy on such flawed models, the results are often tragic for everyone involved.

    The contemporary Left has committed the cardinal sin of post-enlightenment thought. They allow their own egos and desires systematically warp their thinking. The consequences of this selfish behavior are far from trivial.

  31. Shannon: If America’s failure to destroy the Khmer Rouge means that Pol Pot’s genocide is America’s fault, what do you make of all the other disasters the American government has failed to prevent? Are they ALL the American government’s fault? If not, why single out Cambodia?

    Did Nixon’s decision not to attack China make America responsible for the mass murders there? Did his decision to open relations with China make him and the American government complicit in Mao Zedong’s depradations?

    Is the U.S. responsible for the Gulag because it failed to invade the Soviet Union?

    I don’t understand how you get around to blaming America for the actions of brutal dictatorships.

    Your view of how and why the Khmer Rouge killed so many in Cambodia is based on several completely unsupported assumptions.

    The first and most important is your assumption that continued American military aggression in Southeast Asia would have prevented the Khmer Rouge from killing the millions it killed. It is possible that America would have fared no better against the Khmer Rouge than it did against the North Vietnamese. You can speculate, but you can’t draw conclusions blaming opponents of the war based on the totally unsupported assumption that America would have automatically won the war. You just don’t know. Pretending that you do isn’t persuasive.

    Secondly, you ignore the role the American bombing of Cambodia in creating the conditions under which the Khmer Rouge could take control.

    Thirdly, you ignore the dishonest and severely anti-democratic tactics the American government employed in starting and continuing the Vietnam war. You may think those tactics were warranted, under the circumstances, but when they are exposed and the American people rebel accordingly, you can’t blame them, can you? Do you really expect Americans to want to be lied to?

    Had the government presented the situation in Vietnam honestly and determined that military aggression was the only remaining option, the American people would have surely supported it. Instead, LBJ and Nixon lied repeatedly about the war and the exposure of these lies lead the American people to oppose the war. You can’t blame that one on “the left.”

    Shannon writes that leftists were: “claiming to believe that the rule of the Khmer Rouge, while not ideal, would be better than the conflict needed to keep them from power.”

    Firstly, what was the “conflict needed to keep them from power?” Shannon invents wholecloth the notion that American military power alone could have prevented the Khmer Rouge ascendence. Rather, history shows that communist insurgencies in the region were not popular on their own, rather, they required substantial support from outside governments AND, more important, the kind of chaos and torn social fabric created by the kind of vast bombing campaigns American undertook in Cambodia.

    Shannon: Have you really found a “grand unifying theory” of politics–It’s All the Left’s Fault? C’mon. You know life, and history and politics are far more complicated than that.

    As long as you continue to believe that understanding what happened in Cambodia is as simple as understanding that the left is always the bad guy, you’re mind will remain small.

    You’ll spend all of your days chasing facts to support your ideology, rather than shifting your ideology to fit new facts you discover.

  32. I agree with your post but suggest that there is still a large and important moral failing on the part of the academics and “public intellectuals,” if you will, whom you describe. It hardly takes a great insight to see how one-sided their positions are, whatever the motivation, and a truly intelligent, concerned, and reflective person would realize that because his contribution is so one-sided, perhaps he had best not participate because his contribution will be unfair and pernicious.

    Well, maybe there are a lot of such people who see this and we just don’t hear from them, but as for the ones we DO hear from, I cannot excuse the moral vacuousness of their positions by just saying that they can have more influence on those who already think much like them, whereas they leave the truly evil alone because what can they do, anyway… so, it’s all OK and they do not bear any responsibilityfro, in essence, disarming their own side in a fight.

    Sorry, if that’s the case then these people are not trying to solve a difficult problem in a fair and moral way, they just want to either (a) hear themselves talk, and/or (b) feel important in that they affect the issue regardless of the outcome they encourage. But I cannot accept that they are so stupid as to not see what they are doing.

    Nothing admirable or even excusable here.

    Of course it would go totally against form for academics, but sometimes one should realize that a particular situation or issue is beyond one’s competence or responsibility and just SHUT THE F**K UP!

  33. Marty: you sound very confused. Are you saying academics should speak up about human rights abuses, or shut up about them? Are you suggesting that an American academic has equal responsibility for what happens in, say, Rwanda or Cambodia, as for what happens in Washington D.C.?

    Also, are you suggesting that sins of omission are morally equivalent to sins of commission?

  34. Wes,

    Either speak up with passion and conviction and consistency appropriate to the level of the abuse, about the worst abuses by places like China, North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc., as well as the lesser ones committed by the US, Israel and the West, or shut up about all of them. One can, you know, just not talk about something when one has nothing constructive to offer and bears no responsibility; it’s not necessary to mouth off about every damn thing that comes along.

    The American academic, in general, has little or no responsibility for any of this, and most of them just like to hear themselves talk. If they wanted real responsibility they would run for office or work in the legislative or executive branches in areas that deal with international relations and international human rights issues. That’s my point, they bear no responsibility and therefore feel permitted, even obliged to mouth off in a totally irresponsible fashion.

    And, No, I’m not suggesting censorship, if they want to be jerks and undermine freedom there is no legal recourse, they are free to do so. And, I know that if they lose that freedom after a terrorist attack or a military or diplomatic or economic defeat to which their words and actions contributed, they will never, ever look in the mirror and ask if they played a role in that, because that would be too close to recognizing responsibility, and THAT just doesn’t happen with such folks.

    No, I’m not confused, but from reading this thread it seems to me you have trouble with even simple moral judgments, blaming peripheral parties while ignoring the real criminals, and engaging in sophistry when that is your only recourse. People like you are the problem I’m addressing, so of course you don’t see it.

  35. Let me put it another way. In America, the abuses in North Korea, China, et al, are not at issue. Outside of a miniscule fringe of extremists, no one is arguing that North Korea’s dictatorship is anything other than a cruel, destructive, despotic regime. No one is arguing that Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is anything less than deeply shameful.

    Who needs to be convinced that North Korea’s government is awful? Who doesn’t already know that the Saudi Arabian monarchy isn’t a democracy, that China executes people for selling bad wine and Cuba jails journalists and harrasses gays?

    On the other hand, America’s human rights record in Iraq is hotly contested, point-by-point. Is America making things better or worse in Iraq? Is American security better served by invading North Korea or by negotiating with it? What is the best way to confront security threats posed by undemocratic regimes in a nuclear-armed world?

    These are legitimate, debatable questions about which honest, intelligent people can sincerely disagree. Informed people cannot sincerely debate whether North Korea abuses human rights, whether gays are treated fairly in Iran or whether Cuba is right to jail journalists that it says are “undermining” its economic security.

    Very many Americans, including academics, are sincere and intelligent. More important, they are among the world’s most broad-minded people. They understand that criticizing your country is a way of strengthening freedom, not “undermining” it. This is one reason American academics are the best in the world, drawing the best students from across the planet.

    You mention North Korea and other totalitarian/authoritarian regimes: one thing they have in common is that the vehemence with which they insist on equating dissent with disloyalty. You insistence on the same, Marty, is highly unAmerican.

  36. “criticizing your country is a way of strengthening freedom, not “undermining” it….” is a ridiculously broad statement, and, if academians broadly hold to it, they are ridiculous.

    “This is one reason American academics are the best ….”
    I’m sure if it was vital to their purpose, “criticizing one’s country” would be part of the job description.

  37. Tyouth: Excellent point! What I actually mean is: Criticizing your country almost always strengthens it and almost never undermines it.

    I can imagine a case where an academic argues, for example, in favor of banning criticism of one’s country. I suppose that would “undermine” freedom.

    The notion that academians should not be objective about their native country is always an affront to freedom.

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