Revolutionaries with American Passports
In the excerpt below Peter Berger attempts to explain why some Americans fall in love with authoritarian regimes. His explanation may well be part of the story but I think that for many young Leftists it is rather simple: They hate America and need to find some alternative to it. So they look to regimes that are most unlike America.
That those regimes are in most ways very unattractive explains why most American Leftists don't emigrate to their nirvana but rather remain safely at home. That way they can build castles in the air about their supposed "alternative" society without having to face all the realities of it.
The fools who do put their money where their mouth is generally don't stay for long. The famous philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein migrated to Soviet Russia in 1935 but lasted less than three weeks there
But why do American Leftists hate America? There are a variety of reasons which I set out here but both political stance and tendency to happiness are highly hereditary -- so many are simply born whiners whom nothing suits -- JR
For over fifty years now, cohorts of young, well-educated Americans have become supporters of a long string of bloody revolutions and tyrannical regimes, united by the two traits of socialist ideology and hostility to the United States. What is one to make of this?
Any identity is better than none.
For reasons which are not mysterious and which can be analyzed sociologically, modernity undermines taken-for-granted identities. No longer an unavoidable destiny, an individual’s identity increasingly becomes a matter of choice. This can be experienced as a great liberation, especially in its early phases. It can also be experienced as a burden. There is a deep human longing for certainty concerning the things that matter most —among which, as Immanuel Kant classically formulated it, is an answer to the question “Who am I?”
As a result, there is a market for any movement that purports to provide a certain identity, one that can be relied upon beyond the precarious products of individual self-construction. That is the great attraction of all totalitarian movements. It is the psychological benefit of all fundamentalisms —religious or secular. The promise is always the same: “Come and join us. And we will give you what you have longed for —you will know who you really are.” The promise is kept —if and as long as the individual adheres to the ideology of the movement. Part of such adherence may be the denial of realities that contradict the ideology.
I think that the psychology of the Westerners who convert to radical Islamism is quite similar to that of the leftists discussed above. Of course this type of Islamism has distinct disadvantages, not only the unpleasant possibility of being killed in Waziristan if one takes the conversion to an active conclusion, but also a rigorous sexual code that has little appeal for those raised in post-1960s Western societies.
Leftist [loyalties] rarely get you killed. Very few Americans have volunteered to join guerrillas in the jungles of Latin America. And, even while wearing Che Guevara T-shirts, these “soldiers of the revolution” can enjoy the sexual freedom allowed in Western democracies. They also have the freedom to proclaim their new identity with impunity. In important sectors of elite culture this identity can even be a passport to prestige and tenure.
Despite the poor prospects, reason should not be discarded in efforts to pry individuals out of the St. Vitus dance. It is comforting to recall Freud’s view, that “the voice of reason is quiet but persistent.” But I know of one contingency that has a good chance of de-converting these revolutionaries with Western passports —if they actually reside for a while in the totalitarian society they had admired from afar.
Mitch Daniels, Indiana's Republican governor, says what must be done to rescue America from stagnation and decline
America, he said, faces "a survival-level threat," a new "Red Menace" consisting of ink. No enterprise, public or private, "can remain self-governing, let alone successful, so deeply in hock to others as we are about to be." Some people accept or "even welcome" a "ballooning of the state" that consigns America to "a gray parity" with other profligate nations. Such people believe history is controlled by a "leftward ratchet," always -- never mind "the Reagan Interruption" -- moving toward a more powerful state.
For such people, the task now is merely defensive: The Obama administration's spending commitments -- e.g., the health care law is designed to "engulf private markets and produce a single-payer system or its equivalent" -- will produce a leviathan state and reduce the American world pre-eminence some people deplore.
Focusing on earmarks (a "pernicious practice" but a "trifle") and "waste, fraud and abuse," says Daniels, trivializes the task of administering "bariatric surgery" to a "morbidly obese" government. He favors restoring to presidents the power to impound appropriated funds ("you'd be amazed how much government you'll never miss"). But the big twofold task is to reform entitlements and produce economic growth -- "a long boom of almost unprecedented duration."
Americans must say "an affectionate thank-you" to the last century's major social welfare programs -- then sunset them, after those Americans "currently or soon to be enrolled" in them have passed from the scene. Social Security and Medicare should be updated to conform to Americans' "increasing longevity and good health." Medicare 2.0 should respect Americans' dignity and competence by empowering them to make "their own decisions" by delivering its dollars directly to individuals, and expecting them to "pay for more of their routine care like the discerning, autonomous customers we know them to be."
To spur economic growth, we must "untie Gulliver": "The regulatory rainforest through which our enterprises must hack their way is blighting the future of millions of Americans." Barack Obama's recent executive order to prune the forest was, Daniels said, akin to the world's leading rap music producer suddenly expressing alarm about obscenity. And Daniels thinks conservatives' "first thought" should be about "those still on that first rung of life's ladder":
"Upward mobility from the bottom is the crux of the American promise, and the stagnation of the middle class is in fact becoming a problem, on any fair reading of the facts. Our main task is not to see that people of great wealth add to it, but that those without much money have a greater chance to earn some."
Author of the most succinct characterization of the Obama agenda ("shock-and-awe statism"), Daniels has practiced the lean government he preaches. Under him, Indiana has its fewest state employees since 1978, the nation's lowest state government employment per capita, the lowest effective property taxes and the third-lowest per capita spending. So he has the credentials to counsel conservatives about the need to compromise in the interest of broadening the constituency for difficult reforms.
"Change of the dimension we need," says Daniels, "requires a coalition of a dimension no one has recently assembled," including people who "surf past C-SPAN to get to SportsCenter." Which may mean ideological dilution: "Purity in martyrdom is for suicide bombers" and "King Pyrrhus is remembered, but his nation disappeared." Daniels has "no interest in standing in the wreckage of our Republic saying 'I told you so' or 'You should've done it my way.'"
He reminded his listeners that when he was serving Ronald Reagan, the president admonished him and others that "we have no enemies, only opponents." The case for less strident conservative rhetoric is practical: "As we ask Americans to join us on such a boldly different course, it would help if they liked us, just a bit."
Do not, Jefferson warned, undertake great departures on "slender majorities." Conservatives criticized Democrats for doing just that regarding health care. Big changes, Daniels knows, will require a broad majority, perhaps one assembled after 2012 by someone with his blend of accomplishments, aversion to pandering and low-key charisma of competence.
Liberty, 21st Century-Style
Finally, the national conversation about democracy is relatively mature and serious. Save for some TV news anchors, just about everyone seems to understand that democracy is a tricky thing.
That skepticism was hard earned. The last decade provided painful lessons for everyone, on both sides of the ideological aisle. Liberals, who were once naively optimistic about democracy promotion, turned dour when President Bush became naively optimistic about it. And then supporters of Bush's freedom agenda learned a tough lesson from, among other things, the disastrous-but-democratic elections that put a terrorist junta in charge of the Gaza Strip.
Hence the irony of so many small-"d" democrats quietly celebrating the fact that Egypt is living under undemocratic martial law, rather than democratic Islamic law as interpreted by a Muslim Brotherhood caliphate.
This new consensus -- that democracy is about more than mere lever-pulling on Election Day -- is progress.
Democracy is essential to a liberal order, but it is less important than the rule of law, honest courts, individual rights (including property rights), and the institutions -- legal and cultural -- that nurture them.
George W. Bush famously proclaimed that the desire for freedom burns in every human heart. I'm sympathetic to such notions and the statecraft that drives such pronouncements. But that doesn't get us very far. What drives the urge for liberty?
The notion that we all crave personal liberty is a fairly new notion, historically. Most of the calls for freedom over the centuries have been in the context of national, not personal, liberation. The 20th century began with an atrocious war allegedly fought over something called "self-determination," but the "self" in question wasn't the id, ego or super-ego, or the individual soul. The "self" in "self-determination" referred to the captive nations of Europe.
Freedom fighters have generally battled for the collective right to fly a national flag, not the individual right to burn one. Conservatives loved the movie "Braveheart," with all of its beautiful language about freedom, but it's worth remembering that the freedom the Scots fought for was the freedom to replace the authoritarian traditionalism of the English with the authoritarian traditionalism of the Scots.
The great change, as Francis Fukuyama chronicled in his book "The End of History and the Last Man," has been the evolution of individual self-determination. Fukuyama borrows a term, "thumos," from the ancient Greeks to explain the transformation. Thumos, or "spiritedness," encompasses the instinct for justice, respect, integrity.
"People evaluate and assign worth to themselves in the first instance, and feel indignation on their own behalf," Fukuyama writes. "But they are also capable of assigning worth to other people, and feeling anger on behalf of others."
Indignation, the driving passion of all revolutions, shares a root with "dignity," a person's -- and a people's -- sense of self-worth. A major cause of Middle Eastern political stagnation, for instance, has been that Arab and Muslim dictators have linked their people's self-respect with the Palestinians' plight.
More positively, in our own country, the Civil Rights movement and the women's movement were, at their core, what Harvard philosopher Harvey Mansfield calls "honor-seeking movements."
To understand continuity between the old conception of liberty and the modern one, you need to understand that freedom in the West mostly means "free to be me." Freedom in much of the rest of the world remains "free to be us."
The genius of liberal democracy is that it allows both conceptions to flourish simultaneously, often in healthy tension. Far from perfect, liberal democracy offers the most people the most respect possible.
The tumult in Egypt and throughout the Middle East is a generational conflagration between different conceptions of thumos -- old and modern, Muslim and nationalist, collective and individual. In the long run, I'm not too worried about liberal democracy's prospects in the Middle East. Modernity brings prosperity, and prosperity fuels an insatiable appetite for respect, and that demand for respect is what topples tyrannies.
I'm more concerned about what is happening here. Thumos continues to evolve in Western democracies, which is not the same thing as saying it continues to improve.
Our current fiscal woes, not to mention the riot of dysfunction that often goes by the name "political correctness" and the thumos-on-the-cheap that we call the self-esteem industry, are in no small part attributable to the perversion of our sense of self-worth. For millions of Americans, it seems that respect must be paid in the form of cash tribute. How else to explain the inviolable sanctity of our aptly named "entitlement" system?
Great civilizations die when the people believe their personal dignity demands more than the society can possibly provide. Sadly, that conversation has barely begun.
Sweden overtakes US in competitiveness: "Sweden is the world’s second most competitive country, the World Economic Forum said in its annual ranking, hailing the Scandinavian country for its transparent institutions, efficient financial markets and the world’s strongest technological adoption. Switzerland topped the overall ranking in The Global Competitiveness Report 2010-2011. Sweden overtook the US and Singapore this year to be placed 2nd overall." [Sweden has had a conservative government for some time]
Poll: 51% of GOP primary voters believe Obama born abroad: "In a shocking finding, more than half of GOP primary voters believe President Barack Obama was not born in the United States, according to a new poll. Fifty-one percent of 400 Republican primary voters surveyed nationwide by Public Policy Polling said they ascribe to the controversial birther conspiracy theory — despite the fact that the state of Hawaii has posted [a computer printout of] Obama’s certificate of live birth."
Proof of government inefficiency: "Over the past 40 years, the manufacturing sector has more than doubled production while cutting one-third of the workforce, whereas government adds more and more personnel without actually making government services more effective. Imagine, then, how much money government can save, and how much more the private sector can produce, if those 12.4 million excess government workers were in the private workforce."
Obama’s sea of red: "In the days and weeks leading up to the release of his budget, President Obama and his spokesmen warned us that it would contain 'tough choices' and 'painful cuts.' Having increased government spending by 21.4 percent during his first two years in office, Obama would now be intent on imposing 'fiscal discipline.' Hah! By the administration's own estimates, Obama's $3.7 trillion budget would raise this year's budget deficit to $1.65 trillion, the largest pool of red ink since the end of World War II."
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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)