Thursday, January 17, 2008

Thoughts On The Modern Left From Peter Hitchens & Arthur Brooks

This post looks at two recent articles on the nature of the modern left. Though the word "narcissistic" appears in neither, both paint a picture of how narcissism infects our modern "progressive" left - a group that has left classical liberalism in the dust. The first, from Arthur Brooks in the WSJ, points out that the modern left is today more intolerant and less rational than today's conservative.

The second is a fascinating article by the Daily Mail columnist, Peter Hitchens. Like many of the most eloquent and incisive of today's modern conservatives, Peter started life on the other side of the fence. Like Thomas Sowell, Hitchen's had gone so far left as to embrace communism. As he entered adulthood, Hitchens was marching in support of Ho Chi Min and against British authority.

Both articles contain some very insigtful thoughts, not the least of which is this from Peter Hitchens: "Selfishness needs to attack things that demand self-sacrifice - family, marriage, duty, patriotism and faith." That statement explains a great deal of what we see in the narrcissitic left of today. It explains what otherwise seems irrational.

At any rate, this first from Arthur Brooks in the WSJ in his article, "Liberal Hate-Mongerers:"

. . . What about liberals? According to University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone, "Liberals believe individuals should doubt their own truths and consider fairly and open-mindedly the truths of others." They also "believe individuals should be tolerant and respectful of difference." Indeed, generations of academic scholars have assumed that the "natural personality" of political conservatives is characterized by hostile intolerance towards those with opposing viewpoints and lifestyles, while political liberals inherently embrace diversity.

As we are dragged through another election season, it is worth critically reviewing these stereotypes. Do the data support the claim that conservatives are haters, while liberals are tolerant of others? A handy way to answer this question is with what political analysts call "feeling thermometers," in which people are asked on a survey to rate others on a scale of 0-100. A zero is complete hatred, while 100 means adoration. In general, when presented with people or groups about which they have neutral feelings, respondents give temperatures of about 70. Forty is a cold temperature, and 20 is absolutely freezing.

In 2004, the University of Michigan's American National Election Studies (ANES) survey asked about 1,200 American adults to give their thermometer scores of various groups.

. . . [T]hose on the extreme left give President Bush an average temperature of 15 and Vice President Cheney a 16. Sixty percent of this group gives both men the absolute lowest score: zero.

To put this into perspective, note that even Saddam Hussein (when he was still among the living) got an average score of eight from Americans. The data tell us that, for six in ten on the hard left in America today, literally nobody in the entire world can be worse than George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

This doesn't sound very tolerant to me -- nor especially rational, for that matter. To be fair, though, let's roll back to a time when the far right was accused of temporary insanity: the late Clinton years, when right-wing pundits practically proclaimed the end of Western civilization each night on cable television because President Clinton had been exposed as a perjurious adulterer.

In 1998, Bill Clinton and Al Gore were hardly popular among conservatives. Still, in the 1998 ANES survey, Messrs. Clinton and Gore both received a perfectly-respectable average temperature of 45 from those who called themselves extremely conservative. While 28% of the far right gave Clinton a temperature of zero, Gore got a zero from just 10%. The bottom line is that there is simply no comparison between the current hatred the extreme left has for Messrs. Bush and Cheney, and the hostility the extreme right had for Messrs. Clinton and Gore in the late 1990s.

Does this refute the stereotype that right-wingers are "haters" while left-wingers are not? Liberals will say that the comparison is unfair, because Mr. Bush is so much worse than Mr. Clinton ever was. Yes, Mr. Clinton may have been imperfect, but Mr. Bush -- whom people on the far left routinely compare to Hitler -- is evil. This of course destroys the liberal stereotype even more eloquently than the data. The very essence of intolerance is to dehumanize the people with whom you disagree by asserting that they are not just wrong, but wicked.

In the end, we have to face the fact that political intolerance in America -- ugly and unfortunate on either side of the political aisle -- is to be found more on the left than it is on the right. This may not square with the moral vanity of progressive political stereotypes, but it's true.

Read the entire article here. Interesting is it not. Those who are least tolerant and rational are projecting their paradigm on conservatives and describing the "politics of hate" as conservative's most vile trait. I have long believed that modern conservatism is the last bastion of classical liberalism, and things such as this Brooks article only reinforce that belief.

And there is this brilliant essay from Peter Hitchens in the UK's Daily Mail. It harkens back to 1968 - and it does much to explain the mindset of our modern left:

It was 1968, I was 17, in Grosvenor Square and hurling mud at the police. I felt fear, and a rapid, intense thrill that I could cast off every rule I'd been brought up to believe in.

Very soon it will be the 40th anniversary of the day I threw lumps of mud at the police in Central London. I had precious little idea why I was doing it, though I can confirm that riots are fun for those who take part in them, and that rioters usually riot because they enjoy it.

I wasn't oppressed, deprived, abused, underprivileged, poor or any of the other things people give as justifications for this sort of oafishness. I had no excuse then, and offer none now. I was a self-righteous, arrogant, spoiled teenage prig, and yes, I know quite a lot of people think I am still more or less the same, only middle-aged.

But if I am going to write about the Sixties, 40 years on, then I can only do so if I am ruthlessly honest about how awful I was, and that means admitting I was even worse than I am now. So this is not a piece of nostalgia about the wonderful Sixties. It is a shameful confession, and an attempt to explain why my generation has, in general, been so destructive and wrong. . .

. . . I can vividly remember the intense, rapid, thrilling moments as the demonstration against the Vietnam War turned nasty; the sudden, urgent shoving, the unsettling feeling of being surrounded by strangers, supposedly my allies, the clatter of hooves, the struggle to save myself from being pushed to the ground, the wordless yelling all round me, the feeling that I could cast off every rule I had been brought up to believe in, and get away with it. It was exhilarating, and wholly stupid. I was 17, the right age to be a soldier, not so much fearless as ignorant of what real pain felt like.

At the time, some newspapers claimed the violence was pre-planned. If so, nobody had told me. It was quite a respectable gathering, as opposition to the Vietnam War had by then become pretty general. Among the crowd, though not misbehaving, was an Oxford student called John Scarlett, who later wrote a letter to The Times, describing himself as 'a Conservative' and saying the police had been 'unnecessarily violent'.

This individual is now Sir John Scarlett, and head of MI6. He was wrong about the police, by the way. They behaved reasonably and with a great deal of restraint. Anybody in Grosvenor Square that day who was surprised when it turned rough hadn?t been paying attention.

We were all supposed to be escorting a then youthful Vanessa Redgrave, in a rather fetching headband, as she delivered a petition against the Vietnam War to the American Embassy. A fat lot most of us cared. We weren't pacifists. We were clueless rebels, indulging in childish shock-tactics to annoy our elders. We thought we wanted the communists to win, and I am pretty certain I carried a North Vietnamese flag and that I joined in with the moronic chant 'Ho! Ho! Ho Chi Minh! We shall fight and we shall win!' among others.

Ho Chi Minh, for Heaven's sake. I am only glad the rhyme didn't include Pol Pot, but most of us hadn't yet heard of him. I can't claim to have been sorry when violence came. There would be other, even worse, occasions - once when I led a charge against a police line outside Oxford Town Hall and was astonished when the beefy constables broke and scattered before us. Having wantonly destroyed authority and order, we had no idea what to do next, a moment of sharp revelation that nagged at me for years afterwards, and may have helped me recover.

For I was suffering from a collective lunacy, and a particularly virulent version of it, that would eventually carry me into a revolutionary organisation just a few inches from the borders of terrorism, and at one of whose meetings I had a nasty confrontation with a man I am now certain was an IRA killer. How on earth does the privately educated son of a Royal Navy Commander end up in such company? It needs explaining. And my explanation is that millions of us went barmy. Mass insanity is much more common than the individual kind, but much less studied. Let us call it the 1968 disease.

In that year, several strands of folly came together in the happy, free, wealthy West. We had our little festival of manufactured wrath in London. French students had a far greater one in Paris. Though most of us had little idea of what we wanted, we succeeded almost completely in overthrowing the society we had grown up in, with the miserable results we now see.

Was there something in the air of that year that made us all susceptible, like the mysterious shiver that goes through the landscape in early spring ? Or was it the result of the great baby bulge that had come after the Second World War ended in 1945? Were there just too many adolescents, hormones churning, concentrated on the European landmass all at once?

For at exactly the same moment, a wave of genuine protest gathered in the subjugated, miserable East. While I was having my fun revolution, Polish students were being beaten by militiamen and put in prison for peaceful dissent, and Czechoslovakia was having its brief spasm of warmth, light and freedom, before Warsaw Pact tanks brought chilly darkness back to Prague, where it would remain for 20 years afterwards.

We, who were self-centred yahoos, succeeded in our futile cultural revolt. They, who were brave, selfless and honourable fighters for national independence and liberty, were crushed. While our good society lacked the conviction to defend itself, their evil states did not hesitate to deploy the truncheon and the boot to stay in being. We barely noticed. Their story didn't fit in our unhinged world view.

Adolescent or not, I knew better. Gently brought up in a comfortable home by loving parents, diligently taught by broad-minded teachers, cocooned in a world where crime and violence never happened, imbued with the tolerant values of Anglican Christianity, I had nothing to be revolutionary about.

So I am not trying to offer excuses when I put forward this explanation. There is nothing new about the bad causes I supported. They have flourished throughout human history - when the forces of good are weak. The Bible is full of complaints about cruel mobs, sexual licence, children rebelling against their parents, self-indulgent generations squandering peace and prosperity and bringing doom on their own nations.

Shakespeare's account of Timon's curse, already ancient when he wrote it 400 years ago, is a summary of all the nightmares of a failing civilisation. Religion, peace, instruction and manners are all to be flung aside: 'Obedience fail in children! Slaves and fools, Pluck the grave wrinkled senate from the bench And minister in their steads! To general filths convert green virginity! Do it in your parents? eyes! . . . Son of sixteen, Pluck the lined crutch from thy old limping sire; With it, beat out his brains.? . . . Lust and liberty, Creep in the minds and manners of our youth, That 'gainst the stream of virtue they may strive And drown themselves in riot!? Darkness is a negative thing. It rushes in when the light is dimmed. It needs no conspiracy or organisation, though there were plenty of gleeful people around in those days, happy to hurry things along because it suited their desire to do exactly what they wanted. It was fun for them . . . for us, I ought to say. We would learn later these ideas were not so attractive when everyone else adopted them too.

This organised selfishness was the main reason behind the May 1968 riots in Paris. Selfishness needs to attack things that demand self-sacrifice - family, marriage, duty, patriotism and faith. And above all, it needs weakness and confusion among those in charge, if it is to succeed as it did then, and still does.

Leafing through the newspapers of four decades ago, I was reminded sharply of how authority seemed to have lost its nerve, and people to have lost any sense of belonging. Perhaps it was the accumulated shame and defeat of Suez, seeping into every institution. Perhaps it was the Profumo affair, after which our politicians and judges all seemed funny and deflated.

Perhaps it was the 1965 funeral of Winston Churchill, which was also the funeral of the British Empire, leaving all British people who witnessed it shaken, bereft and afraid for the future.

Perhaps it was the frenzied destruction of familiar townscapes and the appearance everywhere of hideous, howling concrete piazzas, which so many at that time - unbelievably - thought were superior to the old buildings they replaced. And I remember beginning to notice, around about the time I was 12, in 1963 and 1964, that authority had begun to lose the will to live. It was easier to get away with things - bad manners, sloppy schoolwork, lateness, laziness, breaking and above all bending the rules. I learned quickly to exploit every weakness.

That great destroyer, Lenin, advised his fellow apostles of chaos: 'Probe with the bayonet: if you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, then push.' And more and more, it was mush we met. The year before my first riot, in 1967, I remember still being at school when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were arrested in the famous West Wittering drug bust.

This made a special impression on me since we used to have our family holidays each August in a rented house at West Wittering, West Sussex, in those days a profoundly conservative resort. The very idea of Jagger, Richards and Marianne Faithfull, clad only in a rug, roosting subversively in this cosy place was revolutionary in itself. Was nothing sacred? Jagger was not just a rock star, but a herald of cultural revolt.

He had recently declared, moronically: 'Teenagers are not screaming over pop music any more, they're screaming for much deeper reasons. We are only serving as a means of giving them an outlet. Teenagers the world over are weary of being pushed around . . . they want to be free and have the right of expression, of thinking and living without any petty restrictions.' Richards, even more of a Blairite before his time, had said: 'We are not old men. We are not concerned with petty morals.' Now both were in the dock, and Judge Leslie Block (a naval veteran who had genuinely fought for human freedom) sent them to prison - Jagger for three months, Richards for a year.

This was shocking. Did the Establishment still have a spine after all? Youth was not outraged - 56 per cent of people aged between 21 and 34 thought the sentence was too light.

The protest came - as so often in those days - from the elite itself. Lord Rees-Mogg, now my fellow-columnist, then editor of The Times. said the sentence was unfair and denounced as 'primitive' those who thought that the future Sir Michael Jagger had got what was coming to him. This, plus an expensive legal team, led to Jagger's rapid release - almost into the arms of Lord ReesMogg, who greeted the freed rock singer, as he stepped out of a helicopter, on live television.

I watched greedily, and concluded with absolute certainty that night that nobody was in charge, and that I could do anything I liked from now on. And I duly did.

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