Monday, July 16, 2007

Wind Shift

UPDATE: below

Ever since Richard Hofsteadler published his famous 1964 Atlantic magazine essay "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," it has been an article of faith that conservatives are crazy--dangerously so--and their actions illegal--even if slow to cite any "law" violated--which has become "blinding Bush-hatred"--no matter what he does. So, for example, in March, Senator Hillary Clinton dusted off and re-played the "Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy" card; later, Carl Bernstein -- of Watergate fame and author of a new Hillary bio -- subsequently pronounced the '07-08 version accurate. Of course, accusations that Gitmo transgresses the Constitution, international law and human rights are as common-place as they are uninformed. The 2004 Democrats argued "the United Nations is the world's last, best hope, and every jot of its writ should always be respected, unless it inconveniences Saddam Hussein. . .[and] unilateral U.S. diplomatic pressure is always wrong, unless it is brought to bear on Israel." Finally, although Bin Laden touted his responsibility for September 11th and the science seems clear, plenty still think the attacks were a phony prop for war.

Wait a minute. . .what does this have to do with the supposedly irrational right? Nothing: in truth, Hofsteadler's thesis was less scholarly than advocacy and didn't age well. Oh, conspiracists still "deny the available evidence, maintaining that appearances deceive." Yet, for some time, as even liberal Glenn Greenwald admits (while still demonizing the right), free speech is swamped by those claiming "that Bush's behavior is exceedingly simple to explain. He is, they asset, simply Evil, and is only motivated by a one-dimensional desire for profit and power." So, despite (because?) unparalleled channels of communications, today, "the paranoid style is firmly on the left."

In Thursday's Wall Street Journal, Fred Siegel explains the shift:
During his presidency, Kennedy had repeatedly criticized the irrationalism of far-right-wing anticommunists and their segregationist cousins. . . Thus when Kennedy was shot on Nov. 22, 1963, it was widely assumed that his killer was the kind of hate-filled reactionary who believed Kennedy to be selling out America to Soviet Communism and to be showing too little resistance to the civil-rights movement. . .

In the minds of liberals, then, Kennedy's killer should have been a right-wing fanatic. But he wasn't. Oswald was a man of the hard left. He had defected to the Soviet Union. When he found that country too bureaucratic, he returned to America and began proselytizing for Fidel Castro and his supposedly new brand of the third-world revolution. Nor was Oswald an irrational, discontented Dostoevskian loner, as some depicted him. He was in fact a joiner of movements and something of a self-defined intellectual who thought that his mixture of Marxism and anarchism made him smarter and more sophisticated than his frivolous peers.

Jackie Kennedy was distraught at the nature of Oswald's political identity. Her husband, she said, "didn't even have the satisfaction of being killed for civil rights. . . . It had to be some silly little communist. It even robs his death of meaning." But not for long.
Siegel reviews James Piereson's new book Camalot and the Cultural Revolution, which I've not yet read. According to Siegel, the book details how Kennedy's death de-coupled the left from reason--a sine qua non since the French Revolution. Noting the Broadway revival of "Inherit the Wind" -- the liberal chestnut about the Scopes "Monkey Trial" -- Siegel goes beyond the book in search of the "progressive" future:
Mr. Piereson's own argument is persuasive and well-presented, but liberalism was never as reasonable as he assumes. The irrationalism that exploded later in the 1960s had been a component of left-wing ideology well before. Herbert Croly, the liberal founder of the New Republic magazine, was drawn to mysticism. In the 1950s ex-Marxists fell over themselves in praise of Wilhelm Reich and "orgone box," hoping that sexual therapy might replace Marxist theory as the toga of the enlightened. And in the very early 1960s a veritable cult of Castro, informed by Franz Fanon's writings on the cleansing virtues of violence, emerged among intellectuals searching for an alternative to middle-class conventions.

It's not reason that is at the heart of modern-day liberalism but rather the claim to superior virtue and, even more important, to a special knowledge unavailable to the unwashed or unenlightened. Depending on the temper of the time, such virtue and knowledge can derive disproportionately from scientism or mysticism--or it can mix large dollops of both. "Camelot and the Cultural Revolution" lays bare the long-ignored failure of intellect that hastened the decline of American liberalism. If liberals can belatedly come to grips with their failure to acknowledge Oswald's political identity, they might be able to celebrate a revival that involves more than a Broadway show.
As Betsy Newmark argues:
[I]t's not that liberals lost the power to argue about their superior qualities. It's that so much of the liberal proposed solutions had been tried and had been shown to have failed. Suddenly, liberals had to face arguments that weren't based on theory, but actual analysis of what had happened when liberal solutions had been put into practice. Actual data was available and it didn't favor liberal solutions to helping the poor, fighting crime, or improving education. So, all liberals were left with were their superior motives: they were just the better people and recognition of their desire to do well should be enough.
The post-war right wasn't blameless--for decades, lefties justly accused conservatives of bolstering dictators merely because they weren't Commies. We probably did err on the side of "the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend" (though it promoted stability and prosperity). But Bush doesn't do that today--for example, and unlike Dad, he has distanced America from Saudi Arabia. Yet progressives who embrace every Euro or Islamic cause -- and suspend their hatred of "hate speech" for Israel -- seem blind to their reverse reactionary tendency today, as I've observed:
If "tolerance" is to endure, it must mean something other than "anti-Americanism." If the left has a future, it must be able to identify, then condemn, tyranny. And if the Democratic Party is to survive, it needs to rethink its priorities.
Start with this: The winds have shifted, and paranoia primarily enters stage left.


National Review's Rich Lowry calls Piereson's book "eye opening":
From a distance of nearly 50 years, the liberalism of 1960 is hardly recognizable. It was comfortable with the use of American power abroad, unabashedly patriotic, and forward-looking. But that was before The Fall. . .

His kind of liberalism -- "tough and realistic," as Piereson puts it, in the tradition of FDR and Truman -- was carried away in the riptide of his death. . . Thus, the assassination curdled into an indictment of American society: "Kennedy Victim of Violent Streak He Sought to Curb in Nation," read a New York Times headline. Until this point, 20th-century liberalism had tended to see history as a steady march of progress. Now, the march had been interrupted by the country's own pathologies. "Kennedy was mourned in a spirit of frustrated possibility and dashed hopes," Piereson argues, and that sense of loss came to define the new liberalism.

American history no longer appeared to be a benign process, but a twisted story of rapine and oppression. "With such a bill of indictment," Piereson writes, "the new liberals now held that Americans had no good reason to feel pride in their country's past or optimism about its future."

Their agenda took on a punitive edge, focused on compensating victim groups and expiating the country's guilt.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Starting with the literary and arts movements from the 50's on, progressives have considered themselves the natural inheritors of the intellectual status, and the influence that comes with it. As those nursed on liberal paranoia (I was one) in the 60's and 70's grew older and attained some power in the world, this entitlement became more pronounced.

They felt it came to flower when Clinton was elected in 1992. The left clearly didn't like him that much, but were satisfied that he and his bride were one of them. As he proved increasingly feckless and then corrupt, their choices became two: abandon Clinton and their long-awaited power, or abandon reality.

James DeMeo said...

I read the Fred Siegel article in WSJ Opinion Journal, which was great except for the often-repeated disinfo about Wilhelm Reich. Here is my email to the WSJ-OJ, which was not printed. Seems impossible to get a letter-to-the-editor defending Reich from such falsehood, but perhaps on internet the truth will emerge:

To: WSJ-OJ, on Fried Siegel's article:
I agree wholeheartedly with the overall spirit of Mr. Siegel's analysis, but must object emphatically to the interjection of Wilhelm Reich's name and work as an example of something "supported by the left". While it is true, that during the period when Hitler rose to power in Germany, Wilhelm Reich wrote a lot on the attempted marriage of psychoanalysis and Marxism, as an effort towards the prevention of human neurosis and emotional armoring as he called it, this work was embraced by only a small percentage of Marxists. And among today's chaotic left-politic, Reich's ideas have mostly been distorted as a justification for sexual license than for the authentic push for ending child abuse, liberating women and legalizing contraceptives, increasing human happiness and sexual responsibility as Reich advocated. His work is continually distorted today by the pornographic Left, as if Reich advocated some kind of sexual free-for-all, which is simply false at all levels. By today's "standards", Reich would be considered something of a prudish moralist. And this same Marxist and pornographic Left today usually hates Reich's later work on the the orgone energy, or life-energy. Orgone is an embarrassment to them, and one regularly reads ridicule articles aimed at Reich's later work authored by Marxists, or in left-liberal magazines. Why is this? Part of the reason is, that Reich himself denounced the communists as power-seeking brutes as early as 1932, in his book "Mass Psychology of Fascism", identifying them as functionally identical to the Nazis, calling them "Red Fascists". And his analysis of the communists and pornographic characters as "freedom peddlers" is scathing in its penetrating analysis and condemnation... perhaps for this reason, Reich was singled out by the immoral hard-left for malicious attacks in the same left-liberal press, his later staunch anti-communist position being mischaracterized as "paranoia". From various sources, today we know Reich's detractors were hard-leftists, several of whom were in open communication with Soviet spy rings in the USA, such as the Cambridge Five and Silvermaster rings (see Jim Martin's "Wilhelm Reich and the Cold War"). It is reasonable to speculate, that Stalin's minions never forgot or forgave Reich for his early abandonment and harsh public criticisms of their behavior, and so turned the fury of their "smear machine" against him, creating falsehoods which later were picked up and spread in the facts-be-damned press. On the orgone issue, even this cannot be so easily dismissed, as from today's perspectives we see similar concepts being widely used in mainstream science -- from acupuncture in biology, to equally mysterious "dark matter" of astrophysics. (see "Heretics Notebook: Emotions, Protocells, Ether-Drift and Cosmic Life-Energy, With New Research Supporting Wilhelm Reich" for example). The point is, the Left does a great job in brutally assaulting and smearing people they don't like, and then blaming their downfall upon "right-wing extremists". Reich was a victim of this disinformation procedure, dying in prison with his books burned by the "consumer-activist" Roosevelt-era Food and Drug Administration, no less a victim than was Jack Kennedy. The only difference is, they could not so easily misportray Kennedy as a left-wing pacifist, and his assassins as right-wingers. But they are trying.