Why liberals are incoherent
the New York Post
, John Podhoretz identifies a key to the contradictory statements of Sen. John Kerry
(as well as of General Clark) on the Iraq war: As Podhoretz points out, Kerry never had any principled belief in his initial yea vote on the war resolution last year. So, when Democratic voters, egged on by Howard Dean, became more vociferously anti-war, Kerry had to shift ground to an anti-war position and found himself trying to reconcile the irreconcilable.
However, I think Podhoretz gets it wrong (at least with regard to Kerry if not Clark) when he says that the reason for Kerry’s behavior is that “These guys don’t believe in much of anything in their heart of hearts. They personify political ambition. They commit to nothing.” The view of liberals as simply unprincipled, which is the way conservatives tend to see liberals (it’s the way they’ve always explained Clinton, for example), misses the obvious reality that liberals are committed to liberalism. The confusion arises from the fact that since a consistent liberalism, i.e., leftism, would mean the destruction of the existing society, or at least the end of their own mainstream careers, the liberals are continually forced to compromise their leftist principles.
Liberalism is a schizoid compromise between leftism and reality. Leftism is civilizational suicide. But liberals don’t want literally to commit suicide, they want to exist. So they compromise, by minimally supporting the things needed for, say, national defense, while whining about and undercutting the very national defense they are supporting. Al Gore’s Senate speech announcing his yea vote on the Gulf war resolution in January 1991 symbolized this attitude. Never did a legislator vote for a bill so resentfully and grudgingly and in such bad grace as Gore did on that occasion. He authorized the then President Bush to conduct a war, but he made it clear that the decision sickened him. Similarly, Kerry, the real Kerry, is anti-war, he despises war, he despises any expression of independent national strength on the part of the U.S. But in the war resolution debate in 2002, he was forced against his own inclinations and beliefs to vote yes. In doing so he was behaving as a liberal rather than a leftist, compromising his leftist principles in order to preserve both the safety of the country and the viability of his own career. But soon afterward the leftism re-asserted itself, and he started doing leftist things like calling for “regime change” in the United States.
For liberals, leftism is principle, while reality is nothing but unprincipled pragmatism. For example, what is that wretched program The West Wing about, week after week, but the compromises that a principled leftist president and his worshipful staff must make with a nasty reality that refuses to accommodate itself to their leftist purity? And why is the entire show, which takes place in the White House, a well-lit building if there ever was one, filmed in bizarre, three-quarters darkness? It is to suggest how the characters (and we the viewers) are guilty of participating in the dark, non-leftist reality of America.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 13, 2003 09:51 AM | Send
When running for President in the early 1992 primaries, Bill Clinton was asked how he would have voted on the Gulf War. Clinton answered, “I would have voted for the war resolution, but I agreed with the arguments that were made against it.”
Thanks to Mr. Auster for my greater understanding of liberalism and leftism. This is definitely another copy, paste, and cross-reference for the categories of liberalism, leftism, and the unprincipled exception.
Besides hearing it multiple times before here, I think the concrete stories about Senators Kerry and Gore helped. When I think of or hear of any one of the these three ideas, I will think of Kerry’s and Gore’s behaviors and recall all three principles.
This illustrates why a traditionalist and conservative television and film network is needed badly. There could easily be an hour long series that explains through story this and other realities Mr. Auster explains, but such a series won’t get aired on any existing network.
Kerry’s and Gore’s behavior can be explained using Jack Wheeler’s theory. (I’ll add some filler here so that my post won’t serve as a spoiler to the article Mr. Auster links to later on.)
Mr. Wheeler says liberals are afraid of envy, the Evil Eye. Mr. Wheeler used the example of an Amazon tribeswoman crying in grief over how ugly and unhealthy her beautiful and healthy newborn baby was. Her performance was to avoid having anyone in the tribe envious of her and her baby and ultimately dangerous to her and her baby. Gore and Kerry sided with the envied and powerful American armed forces but first had to make a public demonstration they were not part of a powerful country but were only doing what the evil powerful country was making them do.
Mr. Auster continues to impress with his concise and cogent renderings of leftist insanity and short-lived liberal compromises with reality. It is no jest when I say this brilliant interpretative key is worthy of book-length treatment.
Thanks very much for Mr. Cella’s kind comments and for the other comments as well. I agree with his suggestion. The whole idea of liberalism as seen through the prism of the unprincipled exception would be a worthy subject of a book.
The starting point for this meditation was: liberalism is insane, it’s based on lies about man, God, world, and society. How, then, does liberal society actually function and continue to function—and not only function, but thrive and prosper? The answer is the unprincipled exception. The unprincipled exception is a key that leads us into, not liberal theory, on which there are libraries of tomes, but liberal _practice_. Yes, there are books on liberal practice written by social scientists who accept the underlying premises of liberalism, sophistical tracts which teach public men the workings of the system and the tricks of the trade. There are also books that analyze the structure of modern liberal and capitalist society from a Marxist point of view. But to my knowledge there are few critical books on liberal practice—meaning, how does the whole liberal system _function_?—written from a non-liberal, traditionalist point of view.
I once suggested to Jim Kalb the founding of an “Institute for the Study of Liberal Society.” The left, of course, gained its current power by erecting an entire intellectual/cultural infrastructure devoted to the critique and debunking of Western bourgeois society. That is what the traditionalist right needs to do vis à vis the left-liberal society in which we now live.