The Drivers of Political Cruelty and Arrogance

Stuart Schneiderman had a post on the question:  Should Government Produce Happiness?   One commenter said:

We might say Nazi Germany tried to produce happiness by promoting national pride, and racial pride. They created myths of superiority and suddenly if you had blond hair and blue eyes, you instantly gained status and could walk down the street with other special people and scheme collective revenge against the people who are wrongfully trying to hold you back. This suggest populist leaders at least are good at identifying scapegoats and unifying people against common enemies. You can project all your shortcomings on your external enemies and righteously hate them for it. Certainly it must feels like happiness when you believe your specialness (personal and collective) will soon be honored, and you’ll work very hard to make it happen.

I’m not sure that “populist” is really a proper description of a political movement which stood for absolute top-down rule…but there’s no question that the Nazi ideas of racial superiority led to a feeling of ‘specialness’ on the part of many if not most followers.  Also, many people who did not have a strong affinity for Nazi ideology…or any affinity at all…still felt a strong pull toward the movement, for reasons of a need for group belonging.  As an example,  I saw a documentary in which a strongly anti-Nazi German said that despite his clear recognition that Naziism was evil, he had still felt a sense of loss and by not being part of the circle of warmth that he perceived in the Nazi rallies.

But, as I noted in the comments to Stuart’s post, it is serious mistake to identify these motivations with only “right wing” movements such as Naziism. In-group identification and arrogance, the use of scapegoats, and the evil pleasures of political cruelty…all these things are major features of today’s “progressive’ movement.  I have documented many examples of this in prior posts, for example here.  While some have claimed that the violence, intolerance, and harassment so common on the Left is a reaction to Trump, there was clearly a lot of this going on long before Trump became a political factor.  It was going on, especially, in American’s universities, and it should have been clear that this toxic behavior would spread beyond the campus into the wider American society.

Sarah Hoyt:

If I could communicate just one thing, across the increasing divide of language and thought to the left it would be this: that warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you’re running someone down is not righteousness.  It’s just the feeling apes get when they run off another ape.

If you’re part of a band and all of you were piling on an outsider — or an insider who was just declared an outsider and run off — you’ll also feel very connected to your band, and a feeling of being loved and belonging.  It’s not real. It’s the result of a “reward” rush of endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine that flood your body after stress and a perceived “victory.”  Oxytocin, particularly, promotes a feeling of bonding with those around you.

Just remember, as you’re high fiving each other and believing that something that feels so good has to be good and morally “just” you could be the victim tomorrow.  Because the feelings don’t last, and that rush of “righteousness and victory” is addictive. Those who are your comrades today will be looking for someone to kick in the face tomorrow. And it really could be you.

I’ve previously quoted some related thoughts from the American writer John Dos Passos.  In his younger years, he was a man of the Left, and, like many leftists and some others he was very involved with the Sacco and Vanzetti case.  But he was more than a little disturbed by some of those that shared his viewpoint.  Describing one protest he attended, he wrote:

From sometime during this spring of 1926 of from the winter before a recollection keeps rising to the surface. The protest meeting is over and I’m standing on a set of steps looking into the faces of the people coming out of the hall. I’m frightened by the tense righteousness of the faces. Eyes like a row of rifles aimed by a firing squad. Chins thrust forward into the icy night. It’s almost in marching step that they stride out into the street. It’s the women I remember most, their eyes searching out evil through narrowed lids. There’s something threatening about this unanimity of protest. They are so sure they are right.

I agree with their protest:  I too was horrified by this outrage.  I’m not one either to stand by and see injustice done.  But do I agree enough?  A chill goes down my spine..Whenever I remember the little scene I tend to turn it over in my mind.  Why did my hackles rise at the sight of the faces of these good people coming out of the hall? 

Was it a glimpse of the forming of a new class conformity that like all class conformities was bent on riding the rest of us?


Quoting Dos Passos and connecting his observations to our own time, Jay Nordlinger wrote:

I know these people. I saw them in Ann Arbor. I saw them in many other places afterward.  Today, you can see them on campuses as “SJWs”: “social-justice warriors.” You can see them wherever there is arrogant, intolerant extremism (no matter which direction it’s coming from).

The thing that frightened Dos Passos in the attitude of these protestors–who were, remember, his allies–is, as Nordlinger noted, quite similar to the thing that is so disturbing about so many of today’s “progressive” protestors.  Dos (as he was called) was entirely correct to be disturbed by what he saw, but I don’t think he diagnosed it quite correctly.  Though he refers to the protestors he observed as “those good people,” quite likely many of them weren’t good people at all–even if they were right about their cause–but were rather engaging in the not-good-at-all pleasure of conformity and the enforcement thereof, and would given half a chance have gone all the way to the even-worse pleasure of bullying.

Some of them may not actually enjoy cruelty–at least not initially–but engage in it in order to fit in.  Goethe’s character Gretchen falls to some degree into this category.  After finding that she is pregnant by Faust, she is talking with her awful friend Lieschen, who (still unaware of Gretchen’s situation) is licking her chops about the prospect of humiliating another girl (Barbara) who has also become pregnant outside of marriage. Here’s Gretchen, reflecting on her own past complicity in such viciousness:

How readily I used to blame
Some poor young soul that came to shame!
Never found sharp enough words like pins
To stick into other people’s sins
Black as it seemed, I tarred it to boot
And never black enough to suit
Would cross myself, exclaim and preen–
Now I myself am bared to sin!

There’s a lot of this…”sharp enough words like pins to stick in other people’s sins”, combined with the pleasure of preening, going on today.  (Even some crossing of selves, among “progressive” Christians.)  And many if not most practitioners thereof will, unlike Gretchen, likely never repent.  Indeed, I suspect that many who initially ‘just go along’ soon develop a taste for cruelty, as tigers who eat one human are said to develop a taste for human blood.

See A Desire to Fit In is the Root of Almost All Wrongdoing, also C S Lewis on The Inner Ring.

One feature common among today’s ‘progressives’…and maybe among those of Dos Passos’s time too…is coupling the feeling of courage that they get from believing that they are defying law and convention with the feeling of security they get from conforming to an in-group. For a lot of people, the ability to combine submission (to the group) with aggression (toward the designated targets of the group) is very attractive.

None of these types of human behavior is new, of course, but they do seem to be getting a significant boost from the nature of social media and are definitely getting a significant boost from today’s institutionally-irresponsible Democratic Party and its leadership.


26 thoughts on “The Drivers of Political Cruelty and Arrogance”

  1. We are all susceptible to this. I left liberalism partly because of this joy in hatred and politics as social bond, largely under the influence of that very essay by Lewis. Graduation speeches have certainly come down in the world, haven’t they? Before that I had been part of it, especially in high school and college. It is indeed a delicious warming drink in a cold world.

    I see it again among conservatives now. I could ingratiate myself to one group or another by saying I saw it more among the GOPe or among Trump supporters. See how easy the game is? I am not all that sure. It predates the rise of Trump; I have seen both subgroups engage in it but don’t have an impression of percentages. I don’t recall it in libertarians. The Christian Right is accused of it and the news will bring examples of Christians acting in that bad way, but i have never seen it myself, not in forty years. I may just run with a reasonable crowd and have better friends than I deserve.

    It is easy enough to see how it arises. For those who have risen to the call of Donald Trump (not those who simply prefer him to anything the Democrats and half the Republicans are putting up) there is this sense of not having been heard for many years. It is hard not to say “Hail fellow, well met!” upon discovering there are others who feel the same. For the GOPe, they bond because they have slogged in the trenches these many years while the newcomers were sitting on their couches complaining. There are some longstanding stalwarts who have labored thanklessly, and they like the company of those who have been with them.

    There are conservatives who love cruelty also, and some are arrogant. It is not as widespread as on the left, but these things can change quickly.

    There is an experiment I have asked a few liberals to run over the years. So far as I know, none has tried it. Stake out a position in opposition to your own crowd. We all have a little something where we aren’t quite on board with the rest. See how you get treated. That will tell you something, about them and about yourself.

  2. It’s always been much easier and quicker to destroy than to build, and as Hoyt says, the rush is at least as strong. There have been other times when the breakers seemed to be in the ascendant. Here, they always burned out before causing too much damage.

    The 20th century saw first Russia, then Germany descend into the nihilistic abyss, eventually to drag most of the rest of the world with them. Has something changed in the last 20-30 years that now makes us vulnerable? Have all the pessimists and nay-sayers managed to convince a critical mass of opinion that the only way to get ahead in America is at the expense of someone else? This is exactly the condition that most of our ancestors fled when they came here.

    America has always been about optimism. Your doing well didn’t preclude me from doing well. I don’t believe that has changed, have I missed something? Negative advertising was once as rare as profanity in the mainstream press. That has certainly changed.

    Both sides of the political spectrum seem to be completely consumed with preventing the other side from accomplishing anything; and succeeding. Maybe the Democrat Presidential candidates, when they aren’t at each other’s throats, are a hopeful sign. At least they are advocating some change, ruinously expensive and infinitely improbable, but “for something” nevertheless. (not an endorsement)

  3. I find Trump support among many casual acquaintances, sometimes surprisingly. Some are anti-abortion or evangelicals.

    You would think his libertine life would alienate many of those people. They look at the lies they have been told for years by people they think are allies, and this is a lot of what I call the GOPe. Paul Ryan is now the exemplar of this group. He has joined the Board of Fox News and is advising the Murdoch boys to “distance the company from Trump.” I have seen some drift left the past two years or so and expect it will lose half their audience, Why would he advise this ?

    Libertarians, of which I consider myself one, are also drifting to Trump, in spite of his immigration positions. I think they see the Climate alarmism of the left as a genuine threat to freedom.

    The gun culture, of course is another although I doubt Trump has ever owned a gun.

    “Populism” is an ideological term, best explained by Steve Bannon. The break with Trump was over practical governing versus theory.

    We live in interesting times,

  4. My impression is that Trumpers do not see a zero sum game. Mexico quickly acceded to his request for help on their southern border from stopping the flood to ours because that was not a zero sum – their people wanted that action and Trump’s request stiffened the reasons. Do the low levels of unemployment in minority communities and higher wages in the lower levels mean the wealthy aren’t doing well? Trump may in dealing with those he sees (and often correctly) as his enemies or opponents. But then the current mess seems a loss for Biden as well as for Trump. I wish he weren’t tacky in his tweets but that is not the same as the overall thrust of his policies.

    Leninthink article is not likely to make us all that tolerant of where the left is going but it shouldn’t. If we don’t see that kind of warning every once in a while, we are likely to lose our sense of perspective – if we think everything the left does is a miniature form of it, we also will have lost that grounding.

  5. The bit about Ryan makes my blood run cold. Exactly what does he think the nation/the company has to gain by being yet another Trump bashing public voice? Does he think Congress’s inability to rid us of Obamacare is easily forgotten?

    Yes, I’m not crazy about some Fox voices. Hannity’s (and some others’) positions are too pro-Trump to help their arguments – and not to get repetitive. However, what could have possessed Chris Wallace to ask Mnuchin why he was posing like a Bond super villain, showing his shapely wife his signature on the newly printed bills. Why I wondered, did that analogy come to mind? Because the left had put it on a blank receptor. Of course, Mnuchin replied (as only I suspect a movie mogul would) that he appreciated the scene being compared to one of the greatest franchises.

    Anyone that thinks gun laws, abortion, religious freedom, free speech on campus aren’t going to be main drivers in the next election hasn’t been getting my e-mail. And anyone who thinks those don’t mean a big audience for voices like Fox’s isn’t a great businessman.

    This is pretty far from the absolute power corrupts absolutely more universal thoughtfulness of the original post. The lust for power & belief in Utopia of her own planning in Warren’s eye should remind us of this history – but then, I doubt anyone nurtured on Zinn will. A lot of candidates seem to be just grifters – but so was Griffith in his debut. We’ll see.

  6. My guess is that Ryan thinks the GOP base is dumb and easily led, and that if Fox News would just be more like himself, Bill Kristol, etc., all this silly Trump business would go away and the party would get back to where it used to be.
    He is very, very, very wrong.

  7. This stuff is not happening in a vacuum.

    Boris Johnson, Trump and Netanyahu are all under attack. Why ? The issues are similar. The Netanyahu stuff is very similar to what is alleged against Trump.

    The criminal probes against Netanyahu relate to actions he took to secure positive media coverage that are similar, if not identical to routine political behavior. The two major probes against Netanyahu – dubbed Case 2000 and Case 4000 allege that Netanyahu acted criminally when he met with media owners in bids to secure more positive coverage.

    In Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of having breached the public faith when he met with Yediot Ahronot publisher Arnon Moses in an effort to secure positive media coverage. Yediot Ahronot’s coverage of Netanyahu has been unstintingly negative. In Case 4000, prosecutors allege Netanyahu accepted a bribe in the form of positive media coverage on Walla news portal from Walla owner Shaul Alovich. Like Yediot, Walla coverage of Netanyahu has almost uniformly hostile.

    Leading jurists from Prof. Alan Dershowitz of Harvard University to Prof. Avi Bell from Bar Ilan University agree that the legal proceedings against Netanyahu are political and based on prejudicial and selective enforcement of statutes which prosecutors are interpreting inventively.

    Sound familiar ?

  8. Indeed Michael K, one can also make allusions to the tangenti police that waged 20 years of lawfare against Berlusconi, who raised similar hackles in the eyes of camillieri (mostly in the Montalbano footnotes) the series is quite enjoyable, Conte turned out to be a loyal puppet of the eu, displacing salvini, who is the inheritor of the Italian brand of populism,

  9. and Carolyn glick has shown disappointment in Netanyahu, she joined shaked and bennett’s faction, but she sees the fraud at the heart of this, of course the treehouse has outlined ig Atkinson’s part in the fisa fraud, and Gordon’s revision of the complaint form, noonan gets none of this, quelle surprise, but holman Jenkins is at least curious,

  10. We are under sustained attack by the left and I’m not sure we can win.

    Althouse’s blog is besieged with trolls, that makes it less useful. Ricochet, which I have quit twice over their TDS, is now swinging into the Trump orbit.

    I still think we are behind on our 15 yard line and 4th and 4.

  11. Chin up, Mike. Things aren’t so bad. It seems clear that this CIA leak story (I refuse to call him a whistleblower, that’s just a pitiful attempt to give him legitimacy. Similarly to how the term “Steele dossier” was an attempt to give garbage opposition material some veneer of respectability.) is erupting now to get ahead of FISA-gate, declassification, etc. The argument will be made that any steps to go after the cretins responsible for the abuse of power targeting Trump and team is merely a distraction from this, when of course reality is the exact opposite. But they couldn’t come up with anything with any substance, and they didn’t count on Trump releasing the transcript, so now they have nothing. I’m not necessarily hopeful that the criminals will actually pay for what they did, but I’m pretty confident that Trump and Barr are at least going to make some serious attempts. The Dems wouldn’t be in such a panic otherwise.

  12. “. . . it is serious mistake to identify these motivations with only “right wing” movements such as Naziism.” [David Foster, above]


    I read your cogent comments here and over at Neoneocon. I’m sorry to point out, however, that you have succumbed to the leftist fraud of thinking that the Nazis were a right-wing movement. The were in fact leftist socialists. The actual name of the party was the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, that is the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. It is even in their name.

    As I’m sure you are aware, every time one finds the assignation “Peoples'”
    (as in the Peoples’ Army, the Peoples’ Republic, etc.) you are almost always seeing an organization that has little to do with the people it serves. In fact, it was the Volkswagen (“the People’s car”) which Hitler himself promoted.

  13. Liberal lynch mobs are nothing more than people who have not progressed beyond being part of the “in” crowd in high school, where emotion trumps reason.

  14. Agree that we are all susceptible to this. However, left wing politics and culture tend to systematically denigrate mainstream religion and other traditional systems that provide checks on some of the extremes of organized politics. The modern American Right isn’t as bad in this regard. Also, people who dislike mainstream religion or other traditions seem often to be attracted to left wing politics as a substitute.

    Perhaps the challenge for each individual is to understand that most of us are innately attracted to mob and other predatory behaviors that we should avoid, and to better understand his own motivations in supporting particular political leaders or movements. Most people won’t be so reflective, and will question their politics only when their politics obviously hurt them, and often not even then.

  15. T…I am pretty familiar with Nazi ideology and have read many source documents such as this 1932 explanation of Nazi principles from Joseph Goebbels:

    …which does explicitly state Socialism as one of the four main cornerstones of the Party.

    However, there are important differences between Marxist ideology and Nazi ideology. In a nutshell, Marxism is a bastard child of the Enlightenment, while Naziism, like Fascism in general, is explicitly counter-Enlightenment. There is a fascination with mysticism in Naziism that is absent from Marxism.

    Intellectuals have generally been more attracted to the Marxist flavor, with its faux-logical theoretical structure and an implied promise of a more powerful role for people like them. (Although plenty of intellectuals such as Heidegger went along enthusiastically with Naziism, intellectuals were not the motive power of the movement to the degree that were (and largely still are) with Marxism.

    Naziism was obsessed with race, whereas Marxism is obsessed with class.

    I see today’s “progressives” as being in many ways closer to historical Naziism than to historical Marxism, though they show influences of both.

  16. I once heard a businessman give a talk in which he made a fairly strong case that we underestimate the power of peer pressure on investment decisions. Its influence is not restricted to teenage girls!

    We humans are herd animals — and most of us are going to want to run with the herd, even while telling ourselves that we are making rational choices. Thus today the herd blames alleged Anthropogenic Global Warming for everything that goes wrong, while the 16th Century reports from the Conquistadores praised God for everything that went right in their conquest of the Americas. Running with the herd.

    The intriguing question is — who or what determines which way the herd will run? You can see this with flocks of birds in flight, suddenly swerving and flying in a different direction. Which bird made that decision? Or is it all random? Tomorrow, will the MeToo movement make chastity belts the essential new fashion item and require table clothes to cover the provocative legs of tables?

  17. “Tomorrow, will the MeToo movement make chastity belts the essential new fashion item and require table clothes to cover the provocative legs of tables?”

    A professor wound up in serious trouble when, while riding an elevator, he responded to a man’s question about what floors people wanted with: “Ladies Lingerie”.

    This is at least a crazy as the covering of table legs to avoid sexual provocation….which may not have actually happened, but this really did.

  18. There is an interesting essay at Taki’s Magazine, which I read more and more as an alternative to the Wall Street Journal, for example.

    It’s by Steve Sailor and is about Michel Foucault, the patron saint of “intersectionality.”

    “Power” was Foucault’s favorite word. His woke followers assume that he was of course on the side of the marginalized against the powerful. But if you pay careful attention, you may notice that Foucault saw power less as an illegitimate usurpation than as the capability to get things done.

    Foucault was aroused by power, as the title of his book on the history of prisons, Discipline and Punish, ought to suggest.

    “It’s not clear that Foucault, who was extremely smart, believed the things his dumber acolytes take for granted.”
    That Foucault was not a good person was obvious to at least a few leftists.

  19. Most of the distinctions between Marxism an Naziism disappear when you examine their actions. The “underlying philosophies” of both are built on cartoon versions of economics and psychology that serve as sort of cover rather than anything real or binding on their practitioners.

    The Nazis avoided destroying Germany when they took over by the simple expedient of co-opting the industrial and land owning class rather than shooting them out of hand. The threat was always just below the surface. In the early years it was mostly bluff but became very real after 1933. In this way the race construct was much superior to that of class. The Jewish minority, while disproportionately productive, was small enough that it could be eliminated without crippling the economy as a whole.

    Lenin’s deliberate destruction of the entire productive class would have been disastrous if he had faced any outside intervention. Since there was no more chance of outside powers mobilizing against him then, than there is of a present mobilization against Iran, the consequences were swept away into mass graves in their millions.

    Mussolini went from generous senior mentor to Hitler to very junior toady so fast, you have to wonder if he didn’t get dizzy. His “philosophy” was built on the greatness of ancient Rome. Much less murderous, at least to Italians, ultimately dissolving in a sort of comic opera farce.

    All were equally willing to commit industrial scale murder to get and retain power. All were intent on destroying any opposition to their holy vision. There may be distinctions but few differences, the dead are depressingly uniform.

    The Green Great Leap Forward is of a piece with this. No sane person could believe that it could happen other than at the point of a gun. Nor could a sane person doubt that the ultimate cost would be billions dead of starvation and disease.

  20. This suggest populist leaders at least are good at identifying scapegoats and unifying people against common enemies.

    Why else would a group yell “racist, sexist, homophobe,” except to cover up its own severe, perverse flaws? In the USA being “blond and blue-eyed” is called “protected class,” enforced in law, ennobled in academia.

  21. It’s just the feeling apes get when they run off another ape.

    I’ve compared the Left to that scene in “2001” where the apes fight over a water hole, even to their faces. No recognition; never sinks in; no retribution, either.

  22. Lenin’s deliberate destruction of the entire productive class would have been disastrous if he had faced any outside intervention.

    There was quite a bit of opposition, led partly by Churchill.

    Trotsky’s Red Army was better than they were. Much like the early French Revolutionaries that won at Valmy.

  23. Kornilov was perhaps the only effective leader among the White Russians, had Kerensky been smart, he would have loosed him on Lenin, Savinkov was effective when he was in opposition against the Czar, Azev being his hold card who was controlled by the Okrana, the former was an associate of Sidney Reilly, the Bond figure before there was such a thing,

  24. The British and the U.S. had a small number of troops and encouraged some disinterred Czechs along the Trans-Siberian RR while trying to supply and advise the anti-communist remnants of the Imperial Army. The effort was mostly too little too late and devolved into a fiasco. We decided to settle for withdrawing most of our people. Most of the worst terror and destruction didn’t happen until a good while after we had left them to their own devices.

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