How moral liberalism became anti-American liberalism
passed the 1960s civil rights acts, it was because we thought it was the right
thing to do. We did it in order to become a more moral country—objectively, as well as in our own eyes and in the eyes of the world. But from the moment the civil rights laws were passed, all of American history up to that moment now appeared as immoral
. And so, as a result of passing these moral
laws for moral
reasons, America became immoral
in its own eyes, lost the ability to appeal to standards of morality in public life and in its own history, and began to hate itself.
Similarly, the 1965 Immigration Act was passed in order to bring immigration law into harmony with our ideal of non-discrimination. We did it in order to become a more moral and non-racist country—objectively, as well as in our own eyes and in the eyes of the world. But as soon as the Immigration Act had been passed, America’s entire history and national identity prior to the passage of the Act, an identity maintained in part by immigration restrictions, now appeared as immoral and racist. And so, by the mid 1990s, the conservative writer David Frum said to me in a letter (after I had written to him criticizing his attacks on immigration restrictionists) that America was morally required by its past history of racial discrimination to have an open immigration policy today. In other words, instead of arguing like an early-’60s liberal that we had to have open immigration for a positive moral reason, because it was the right thing to do, this “conservative” was arguing like a late-’60s leftist that America must have open immigration for a negative moral reason, because we are a guilty country.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 04, 2004 12:18 PM | Send
This is an incisive analysis of how conservatives became first liberals and then leftists.
Liberals found that moral intimidation was an effective tactic, and have since gone in for it wholesale. For example, they have sought to breathe new life into failed welfare state policies with the claim that “we must do it for the children.” The tactic fits well with their general approach of attacking motive, rather than addressing arguments.
That sort of liberal evaluation implies that we had, and still have, a duty to admit people into a welfare society, even though this involves aggression upon the citizenry, via net public subsidy of the immigrants. It implies that the aggressor has rights, but that the victim of aggression (the net taxpayer) has none at all. The majority had, and still have, the right not to have their standard of genetics averaged down or changed by tropical-adapted populations, in this context. Also, the language standard of the majority need not be brought lower because of some non-existent right of foreigners to non-discrimination when they apply for visas. Egalitarianism is not morally ideal, unless the killing fields of the khmer rouge were instances of moral idealism. As to the historical progression; there would have been some new anti-americanism arising as stated, but the same elements were also anti-american in the 20’s and 50’s. There were anti-capitalists and anti-individualists looking for excuses to hate what they were already disposed to dislike.
Mr. Bolton is making a good point, and implying an even better point: what we call relativism or non-judgmentalism does NOT originate out of a mere benign if naive belief in equality and tolerance, as is claimed; it originates out of active animus or guilt toward one’s own culture or the standards of one’s own culture. It is both the belief that one’s culture deserves to be brought low, and the method by which the destruction is carried out.
Who is “we” here? Lots of conservatives then and now have criticized these laws as unconstitutional and invasion on the right of association and contract. Perhaps they were necessary to undo equally unjust laws aimed at subjugating the black race and violating their rights of contract—this is the argument of Richard Epstein—but that does not mean these types of laws are morally legitimate in an absolute sense. Ideally people should be allowed to hire and fire whomever they please for any arbitrary reason they wish, just as they can pick friends and mates on that basis.
I am afraid that I cannot quite follow Mr. Auster’s argument. The mental transition he describes — ie to regarding previous American history as immoral, etc. of course occurred. But did it follow logically? If it did, why did previous reform movements, such as unionization, the abolition of slavery, votes for women, and Prohibition for that matter, NOT lead people to conclude that all American history wbefore those changes as immoral? As far as I can tell, noone reacted in this way, no matter how ardently they supported these real and alleged reforms. The attitude was, America was good, now it’s better. I do not think Mr. Auster really catches the corkscrew nature of the thinking of modern leftists, or for that matter jerks like Frum. Perhaps your are too sane!
Good question by Mr. Levine. One answer is that those earlier changes did not involve as profound a change. Even with the abolition of slavery, whites still did not regard blacks as equal with themselves, and there was still a strong element of particularism they were holding on to. Also, slavery had only existed in the South, so the dominant part of the country, the North, was not “repenting” and turning around, but rather was victoriously imposing something on the South.
Abolition ended slavery. It did not end or delegitimize white particularism. The Civil Rights acts did that. And that made all the historically preceding white particularism of our nation and civilization seem evil. Women’s vote simply gave women the vote. It did not take a historical outgroup and say, “You have no right to think of this outgroup as an outgroup.”
Perhaps another reason for the difference is that those earlier changes did not take place in the Sixties.
I suspect the last line in Mr. Auster’s post of 6:09 PM is the closest thing to an explanation, vague though it is. I do not agree that the civil rights acts were revolutionary, at least not until they were “interpreted” by the courts to permit discrimination against whites. All they did (in their original meaning)was enforce on the South what was already more or less accepted in the North, e.g. nondiscrimination against blacks. I think Mr. Auster has been taken in, to some extent by ethnic group whiners and leftist propaganda. The civil rights movement did not suddenly begin in the 1960s or even the 1950s and had long been chipping away at various forms of discrimination, e.g the integration of the military and professional sports, which dated to the 1940s. For that matter, the Supreme Court had already turned against discrimination in higher education (state universities) in the 30s.
If polls mean anything, most American whites came to accept blacks as roughly equal to whites in the early 1940s.
To continue, I would also suggest that the changes in the position of women, and the relations between the sexes, have been historically more important than civil rights for blacks; and the unionization of American labor, in the 1930s and 1940s, was at least as great change as anything made by the civil rights movement.
Alan Levine makes some very strong arguments here. Let’s go back to that final sentence of Mr. Auster’s previous post. Prior to the baby boomers’ coming of age in the 1960s, the attitude towards changes, even profound changes, vis-a-vis the previous America was one of adding to or buliding upon the work of earlier generations. Only after the baby boomers’ embrace of leftism and abandonment of God and traditional morality in the 1960s did we see a widespead acceptance of the notion that the earlier America was irredeemably evil.
Of course, there were plenty of leftists and communist sympathizers who had already positioned themselves in major institutions in both government and private sectors (Abe Blumrosen being a perfect example) who were quite willing to take the opportunity to implement destructive policies like affirmative action. Neocons like Frum , baby boomers that they are, have substituted this new, public “morality” for the traditional morality they rejected in the 60s and 70s. Thomas Sowell wrote a great article on this phenomenom a few years ago entitled “Baby Boomer Virtues.” As a member of this generation, I can only say that I’m utterly horrified and apalled at the profound hubris and blind arrogance of many of my contemporaries.
I thank Mr. Levine and Carl for making me do some re-thinking on this. They are right that the civil rights Acts and the Immigration Act by themselves could not have led to the idea that the whole history of the country prior to those acts was evil. It was those acts, combined with the Sixties generation with its hatred of its parents and hatred of America, that led to that idea. Carl puts it well:
“Only after the baby boomers’ embrace of leftism and abandonment of God and traditional morality in the 1960s did we see a widespead acceptance of the notion that the earlier America was irredeemably evil.”
We’re being awfully harsh on “baby boomers”— a term a lot of us detest and reject, by the way. Let’s not forget that the “greatest generation” liberalized divorce, legalized abortion, watered down education, destroyed cities with “urban renewal”, enacted the college draft deferment, crucified Barry Goldwater for telling the truth about Social Security, nearly ratified the “Equal Rights Amendment”, and subscribed to Playboy— all long before their children could have any effect on the political or commercial marketplace. (They also were less likely to vote for Ronald Reagan than were their children.) Too many showed their level of hometown loyalty by running off to Florida or Arizona at the first opportunity.
If any birth cohort hated its parents and country, it would have been those born during or just before the Second World War. They were in small families and were spoiled individually. Children in the Truman and Eisenhower years were born into larger families, and while spoiled collectively (e.g., the early vote, college loans and expansion), there were just too many of us to get personally individualized warping.
Mr. Caesar makes some interesting points about the generation that was immediately before the large segment known as “baby Boomers” (a term I dislke as well). Even with the list of foolish and destructive policies given above that clearly were supported by the earlier generation, the basic premise behind most of these was that they were building and advancing liberty - even though they were really advancing liberalism. Despite the folly and selfishness, most of that generation were still patriotic in respect to the earlier America.
Prior to the accession of the baby boom generation, It would have been quite inconceivable for a US President to travel overseas and give a speech in which the entire history of the United States prior to the civil rights era was denounced as a period of irredeemable evil and darkness. This is exactly what happened a year ago during Bush’s tour of Africa. The only ones in the country as far as I can tell who were outraged and offended by such a Marxist rant were those of us at VFR, along with a few Paleoconservatives here and there.
Vast swaths of the citizenry, having been taught this lie from their days in public school, simply accept this idea as a moral truism. BTW, the later generations accept the lie as well
I’d be inclined to agree with Carl here — our general ideas are much in line. I would have to qualify his view on the generation preceding the Baby Boomers (I don’t like that term either!) by resurrecting a point made by Irving Kristol back in the 1970s: that his generation had failed, spectacularly, to transmit its own, presumably sound values, to its offspring.
It might be churlish, but worth noting, that minicons like Wm. Kristol have helped prove his point.
It is an unexplained historical event of some magnitude; the rise of the (anti-caucasian) race-baiting anti-culture in this country, which has even captured the support of the otherwise loyal and patriotic conservative elements. The thesis of a booby-trapped racial-egalitarian effect has explanatory power; but is it something mainly chosen or suffered? Did the left stumble upon a method (racial ad hominem comments) that proved productive? Or, did the left, at that exact point, despair of their high hopes of a class war here, and fall back on the racial approach? If so, would they be satisfied with the results so far, or hungering for more? One approach that the right has used successfully, has been to accuse their opponents of racial provocation and divisiveness.
The “race-baiting” John Bolton notes seems to have appeared — or, at least, poked it head aboveground — in the early and middle 1960s. At any rate, both James Burnham and Jacques Barzun took note of it in books published in 1964-1965. At that time the left’s “morale” in other respects seems to have been pretty. So this particular brand of filth was not simply compensation or a fall back for lost hopes, though at a later date it may have served as such.
Some possible confirmatory evidence for the Auster thesis on the rise of the unpatriotic left (and right) occurred to me. That is, as against the alternative account of a sudden dechristianization after 1964. Compare several hypersecularized countries in Europe with the comparatively religious population here. The examples are Finland, Italy and Iceland - which had little immigration and no minorities thought to be in dire need of equalization. If the dechristianization caused the traitorousness-valorization which is to be explained, it should have appeared in those countries also. The defeat of Goldwater and the Berkeley outbreak look like possible buildups to the disjuncture of the Auster thesis, or did they follow?
Leftists have viewed race as a means of destroying the Aglo-Protestant civilization of the US since the 1920s, if not earlier. One of the first Marxist writers to trumpet the opportunity of using American blacks as the oppressed übermenschen was Isidore Cohen? (I’m reaching way back into my mental databank here, please correct me if I’m wrong) who advocated the destruction of the white Anglo-Protestant nation then in place by promoting racial mixing with blacks, as I recall.
The notion about the left’s falling back upon race as a last resort is not entirely accurate, as it has clearly sought to use race as a means of achieving its evil agenda from the earliest days. Even so, the left’s failure to turn unionized workers against America may have resulted in the takeover of the “movement” by the race-baiting “new left” in the 60s and 70s, which resulted in certain members of the “old left” declaring themselves to be “conservatives” - the birth of Neoconservatism (right-liberalism), who briefly embraced the doctrine of color-blindnesss - quickly abandoned with the Grutter descision in place. (The ideal of a colorblind society was only one of several issues that resukted in the split with the left wing of liberalism.
When the growing prosperity of all in the capitalist economies blew up Marx’s theory of the “immiseration” of the proletariat, leftists went in search of replacement icons, and they moved to add racial and sexual “oppression” to their complaints as to why we needed a revolution that would install themselves in power. American’s are sensitive to any claim of injustice, and so the left, for whom the deepest essence of reality is always oppression and exploitation, enjoys much more attention and respect than it should get. Anyone who is aware of the high degree of selectivity of leftist indignation, and of how they remain utterly impassive in the face of any injustice that doesn’t serve to further their agenda, keeps their complaints in perspective. Pascal Bruckner, a leftist French member of Medecins Sans Frontiers, became so disgusted with this that he wrote a book, “Tears of The White Man,” showing how selective, agenda oriented compassion was really not compassion at all, just the attempt to exploit such feelings for advantage. We have a further wrinkle here in the US, where much of the liberal indignation seems to be in the nature of narcissitic moral preening.
“Anyone who is aware of the high degree of selectivity of leftist indignation, and of how they remain utterly impassive in the face of any injustice that doesn’t serve to further their agenda, keeps their complaints in perspective.”
This goes in my collection of quotes. I’ve never seen this stated so clearly.
This is an example of taking a familiar idea and carrying it through to completion, instead of just bouncing off the surface of it. How often have conservatives asked rhetorically of liberals: “Why do you care about THIS [say, white oppression of blacks in Africa], but not about THAT [say, black oppression of blacks in Africa]?” But the conservative always leaves it as a rhetorical challenge implying some kind of hypocrisy on the part of the left, but not spelling out the decisive conclusion about the left. The decisive conclusion is that the left DOESN’T CARE ABOUT THE THINGS IT PROFESSES TO CARE ABOUT. It doesn’t care about oppression. It uses the charge of oppression to target parties it doesn’t like.
One of the great intellectual failures of modern conservatives is that they think the charge of “hypocrisy” is sufficient to win an argument. Hypocrisy is not the problem. Everybody is hypocritical in various ways. Charging someone with hypocrisy carries no particular charge. Also, hypocrisy is not necessarily so bad, since hypocrisy may only be an affirmation of standards that the person may actually believe in but is not acting consistently on in all circumstances. For example, a politician who presents an image of a happy family life but in fact has cheated on his wife may be a hypocrite, but he may really believe in fidelity as the standard, he’s just failing to live up to it in his own life.
But the leftist hypocrisy points to something far graver. The left claims to care about oppression, and seeks to destroy “oppressors” when it gets them in their sights. But the left really doesn’t care about oppression per se. It only cares about advancing its agenda and power. A great demonstration of this in recent years was when the feminists, who a few years before had sought to destroy Clarence Thomas over an infinitely lesser charge of merely speaking to a woman and had destroyed Bob Packwood for grabbing women and kissing them, didn’t come to the side of Juannita Broaddrick in her charges that Clinton had raped her. That proved conclusively, not just that feminists were “hypocrites,” (again, a charge that carries no particular charge), but that the feminists literally don’t care about the things they profess to care so passionately about. They only use these things to destroy the people they don’t like and advance their own power.
If conservatives in debates with liberals did what I’ve done here, if they went beyond merely saying, “You liberals care about this oppression, but you don’t care about that oppresion,” and if they instead said, “You liberals DON’T CARE about oppression. You just want to use the charge of oppression to oppress your enemies,” that would expose the left for what it is and alter the whole course of political debate.
I suppose that leftist ideology precludes real compassion because it sees all evils as structural, that is, proceeding from the structure of society. Intervention to alleviate or commiserate with the sufferings of an individual, or to appropriately punish a wrongdoer, is a distraction from the urgent business of working to overturn the structure, and thereby usher in a supposed transcendent state in which all conflict and injustice will have ceased. However, the spectacle of wrongdoing and suffering can be employed to fire public emotion. For leftists, criticism is the highest activity, mobilizing indignation that will overturn the structure.
Thucydides is giving a fairer account, from the left’s point of view, of what the left is doing. Yes, the left would say that protecting Clinton while trying to destroy Thomas is not really a contradiction because protecting Clinton helps advance the feminism that will ultimately destroy all structural oppression.
But this only points to the essential leftist evil. They use the language of morality and justice, but they divorce themselves from actual considerations of morality and justice because they have identified morality and justice with a particular desired transcendent political objective, in pursuit of which _everything is permitted_. Therefore the essence of leftism is to lay claim to morality and justice while actually perverting them into their opposites.
Yes, it is the essential inhumanity of reducing individuals to puppets in their ideological show and using suffering instrumentally that is the terrible failing of the left. They think abstract ideas are more important than human beings, while the normal person instinctively sets abstractions aside to succor a fellow human being. When President Reagan was shot, he joked with the doctors as he was being rolled into surgery, “I hope you guys are Republicans.” This joke cuts deeper than was realized at the time.
Looking back over this thread, I noticed Reg Caesar’s comments about the characteristics of the small “birth cohort” of the 1930s and early WW II. I cannot agree with his characterization. It was proverbial, already in the 1950s, that people born in the Great Depression were rather conservative. (Some liberal writers were already grumbling about that.) One of my own teachers, the able liberal historian Albert Romasco, pointed out to me back in the late 60s that people of his generation, born c. 1930, were more conservative than those born before or after, (he didn’t like that!) and everything I have seen or read since tends to confirm this.
The foregoing discussion of the nature of leftism between thucydides and Mr. Auster is one of the finest I’ve seen anywhere. The profoundly evil nature of this movement stands unmasked. Thanks, Thucydides and Mr. Auster!
Another way to phrase some of the points made in this thread about leftism is that leftism is the kind of utilitarianism that you get when God is removed from the picture. Without transcendence, there is no absolute right or wrong to oppose utilitarianism. With an atheistic utilitarianism, one can always say that certain individuals today can be sacrificed for the greater good of tomorrow. The number of people who will live in the future always exceeds the few Juanita Broaddricks of today. For that matter, if one is a member of the Khmer Rouge, the number of fellow Cambodians slaughtered in the killing fields is less than the number who will some day enjoy the grand new society that one is building.
Thus, the “greatest good for the greatest number of people” need not be limited to “people living today”. At this point, any form of totalitarianism can be rationalized. Harming one person to help two persons is only opposed effectively, and in great numbers, by those with a religious faith that prohibits it.
In short, what looks like hypocrisy is simply consistency by another standard. The trick is to expose that standard and— this is critical— not to bash them over the head with it, as is the temptation, but to get the folks “in the middle” to do that for you.
To Mr. Levine— Veteran conservatives like Wm. Buckley would speak of a “lost generation” on which conservative arguments were wasted. Of course, they were socially conservative, compared to today, because that was the dominant paradigm. But getting political and economic arguments through to a significant plurality of them was hopeless. Social Security is manna to them.
The cohort they refered to was probably born right after WW1, but would have stretched into the 30s when Mr Romasco, my mother, and Archie Bunker were born. (Archie was a union man!) The radical bunch were born along with Abbie Hoffman (b. 1936) and Janis Joplin (b. 1943). That’s whom I referred to.
The “early boomers” born right after the war were sucked into the McCarthy/McGovern movement, but then the “late boomers” under Ike shifted to the Reagan camp. (Of course, “shift” would mean no more than going from 55-45 to 40-60, if even that.)
Also—I don’t know why this is, but I’ve heard it said and my own unscientific observations back it up—the people born in the ’30s were more atheistic than other generations.
This is all to the good; that you would expose profoundly anti-moral qualities of the left. what if socialism is mass-murder as an end-in-itself, and such that the killing and the general destruction are the content of the ideal which is sought? The power that one observes to be longed-for is not every kind of power, such as the ordinary power to arbitrarily rule a traditional society, but a unidirectional capacity that seeks the greatest possible destruction. The left was frequently pro-racist in the first half of the twentieth century, and pro-fascist when it suited them; even now their politics is guild socialist, as in the 30’s. Yet the enthusiasm for destructive power , for unlimited aggression, has never deserted them. Those who wanted to limit the destructive potential of government were vilified and accused of being agents of oppression. But what the left wants not to be oppressed is the capacity for aggression in a population; this is what they want there to be freedom for. If our culture is afflicted by an evil of this nature, shouldn’t the public agencies of culture, such as government schools, be privatized in order that a better spirit might re-order them? Or does the right not yet believe that spontaneous responses to a culture thus given over for reorganization, would leave religious institutions in a position of superior influence?
Mr Auster wrote: “The decisive conclusion is that the left DOESN’T CARE ABOUT THE THINGS IT PROFESSES TO CARE ABOUT. It doesn’t care about oppression. It uses the charge of oppression to target parties it doesn’t like.”
Thucydides wrote: “I suppose that leftist ideology precludes real compassion because it sees all evils as structural… They think abstract ideas are more important than human beings, while the normal person instinctively sets abstractions aside to succor a fellow human being. “
Thucydides and Mr. Auster aren’t off by much here though I would have said Thomas Sowell’s division of the world into leftist mascots and scapegoats was closer to the mark. A constant theme I’d try to get across in my own news writing was, “Evils are created systematically, but they are experienced individually.” A brutally honest rendition might be “The evils that we care about are the ones created systematically and even then, only if they impact on a demographic that we care about.”
So it’s not that our concern for the problems of our adopted mascots isn’t genuine. It’s that it’s disproportionate, and it glosses over the fact that the way to get adopted as one of our mascots is by being in conflict with one of our scapegoats.
I think of this as another bit of early Cold War baggage, a holdover from the time when the CPUSA’s prime directive was “defend the Soviet Union at all costs”. You could get purged from the party for failing to ignore Soviet oppression and many people did. Today the purge committees are gone and there isn’t even an available foreign power to be agents of, but the old habits die hard.
There’s a campaign running right now in Montreal over the impending deportation of 200 Palestinians whose refugee claims were rejected. They’re from the Lebanese camps, not the Territories. The villain in this story isn’t the Israeli Army, it’s the press-gangs of the Palestinian factions — of which the leftist-oriented ones like PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) and DFLP (Democratic Front) are the worst offenders. The refugees would rather live in a Western country that won’t discriminate against them in law than an Arab country that does. They’d rather have jobs and homes and families than be used as cannon-fodder in an unwinnable war. When they showed up on the local Palestinian activists’ doorstep asking for help in getting all these things, it did go against the grain but it didn’t get them turned away either. The feeling was, “If we are what we say we are, we have to do this — no matter where it leads.”
The opposing catch-phrase is “we’re not social workers.” When I hear that one, I know exactly what’s going to happen next. Someone will draft a leaflet blaming whatever-it-is on global capitalism, we’ll put on our black ski masks and go dance with the local riot squad. Anything to do with housing tends to work more like this. Anything specifically to do with gentrification invariably works like this.
In his post, Mr. Hechtman refers to certain leftist tactics as a hold over from the Cold War. This seems to be to be a hopeful statement, suggesting that as we progress further and further from the Cold War things will improve. But although the Soviet Union financed and directed leftist subversion worldwide, its demise does not seem to have improved much of anything. I’m truly mystified and despairing about this fact, which I’ve never seen convincingly explained.
Is Mr. Auster saying (1) the Left uses their ends to justify their means and (2) conservatives should focus mainly on pointing this out instead of accusing the left of hypocrisy?
It seems the charge of hypocrisy is an attempt to charge the Left with item 1. Moreover, it seems one is limited to using the charge of hypocrisy because the Left often points out plausible distinguishments and points out their attempts to fight oppression. I don’t know of any set of facts to support the idea that there is conclusive evidence the Left is utterly ruthless.
The left, when trying to escape limits on power, uses its means to ‘justify’ its ends. The ‘ends’ are propaganda items like peace,love,brotherhood, equality, altruism, charity, compassion, material progress and so on. The means are mass murder, tyranny and general destruction; these are the actual objectives. Nihilists don’t like to have to even pretend to have any values; so the resort to what sounds like moral principles, for them, requires a justification, so to speak. Advocates of nihilistic dictatorship will have to use dishonest propaganda methods; and especially those in which a false, or falsely-used, moral ideal covers up the destructive power-seeking. The overt passion for destruction is too risible to the general public without the pseudo-moral cover.