Is VFR engaged in a Lenin-type suppression of dissent?

Stuart S. writes:

I’m always interested to read what you have to say, and find myself in vehement agreement with your point of view most of the time.

However, your sustained attacks on people such as Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer, and Melanie Phillips have caused me some unease, and I’m trying to figure out why.

In some ways, your quest to expose the liberalism of these other writers seems to be your first priority, and reminds me of Lenin’s quest for ideological purity in the early days of the Russian Marxism as a political party, when Lenin battled all forms of heresy.

Here are my questions:

1) Do you intend to start a political party?

2) Do you view traditional conservatism as an ideological movement like Bolshevism at the beginning of the 20th Century?

3a) If yes, your virtual excommunication of Pipes, Spencer, and Phillips makes sense. Can you, therefore, describe the traditional conservative ideology?

3b) If no, isn’t raising the general awareness of the threat of Islam to this country and the West in general, even when done by “fellow-travelers” such as Pipes, Spencer, and Phillips, exceedingly useful to your ultimate goal (which I share) of reducing and ultimately eliminating the presence of Muslims in the United States?

LA replies:

I’m at a loss to see how you could think that I am “excommunicating” Pipes, Spencer, Phillips, et al.

First, they are all much more prominent and mainstream than I am. I’m obviously not in a position to excommunicate anyone.

Second, since Pipes and Phillips and Spencer are not traditionalists, how can I excommunicate them from something to which they do not belong?

Third, it seems to me there is something in the air we breathe today, certainly in the schools, that tells people that disagreement is tantamount to hurting or violating people in some way and is to be avoided. I sense some of that attitude in your suggestion that I am excommunicating people.

As for Pipes, I think his analysis of Islam and his continuing hopes for its reform are wrong. But how am I excommunicating him, in the sense of saying that he is a person with whom one should have nothing to do? There is nothing in my writings about Pipes to suggest that. Also, everyone and his brother nowadays disagrees with Pipes’s moderate Islam thesis. The single most often repeated sentence in the conservative blogosphere is, “I respect Dr. Pipes, I’m a fan of Pipes, but I think he’s just plain wrong on moderate Islam.” So I am hardly alone in my criticisms of him, though it is true I have spelled out my problems with his position more than anyone else has.

Re Spencer, I’ve criticized the liberal aspects of Spencer’s thought (which he refuses to own up to) . At the same time I’ve complimented his writings (which he has never done to me). Excommunication should be made of sterner stuff.

I critiqued the liberal aspects Melanie Phillips’ position on Islam. She herself says she is a liberal. I think my exchange with her was useful. Many readers thought it was valuable. Sustained rational disagreement and debate is something that hardly exists today and people hunger for it. But I don’t see how anything I said about Phillips adds up remotely to excommunication. Just today I linked a radio program in Britain that she was on. Was this in me excommunication?

Melanie however said her discussion with me was over, so maybe she was excommunicating me.

On the question of a political party, I do believe that a political organization is needed to represent traditionalism, but no such organization exists at present. Nor is my behavior anything like that of a political party or a party boss. I argue for the positions I regard is true and correct, and against the positions I regard as false and harmful. For you to equate that with the Bolshevik party and with Lenin’s totalitarian control of the Bolshevik party is off the wall.

As for your last question:

“‘If no, isn’t raising the general awareness of the threat of Islam to this country and the West in general, even when done by ‘fellow-travelers’ such as Pipes, Spencer, and Phillips, exceedingly useful to your ultimate goal (which I share) of reducing and ultimately eliminating the presence of Muslims in the United States?’”

Since your ultimate goal is the removal of Muslims from the U.S., and since that’s what I argue for, then am I not helping advance that goal by showing the weaknesses and contradictions of those who see the threat of Islam, but don’t complete their thought? What could be more important than exposing a soft conservatism that gives people the feeling that the Islam problem is being “handled,” when in fact it is not?

At the same time, these three writers continue to write and influence people. To the extent that they are spreading warnings of the dangers of Islam, how am I preventing them from doing that? How have my criticisms of certain aspects of their thought put any crimp on their own efforts to reach people who would never read me in any case?

Finally, let me repeat that sustained criticism of an established position that one regards as false or inadequate is both useful and valid in itself, and is a way of building up a better understanding to replace the established position.

I am attempting to advance something that I call traditionalism. How can I define and advance traditionalism, without showing the differences between it and the dominant mainstream positions?

Jeff writes:

Many young people (as you say) are not used to proper intellectual criticism and can’t “take it” so to speak. So they moan that you (Lawrence Auster) are being nasty or purist or Leninist or whatever other names they can think of.

Very infantile, very boring. This is part of a dumbed down ethic that is permeating the intellectual arena. I say to them: GROW UP! I also add that if they (the readers) want to play with the big boys (girls) then stop moaning every time the game gets rough. Lawrence Auster (you) gives us some of the most insightful criticism of other peoples’ ideas on the Net. He is never “personal” or “nasty” in those criticisms. It doesn’t mean the readers have to agree with his particular criticisms of other people’s ideas. I myself think some liberalism is good for Western society. I do not always agree with Lawrence Auster but I am not going to whine that Auster’s motives are dodgy, rather I am going to reply to his points (which are often brilliantly made). If Phillips (a self proclaimed liberal) or Spencer (who certainly seems to have liberal ideas) or Pipes (another conservative writer with liberal ideas) or Hirsi Ali (an out and out liberal who many conservatives love) are criticised by Auster for their liberalism and the readers don’t agree with that criticism, then it is up to those readers to show why that criticism is wrong. They (the readers) can do that by showing how those particular commentators are NOT expounding liberal ideas or if the commentators are putting forth some liberal ideas as Auster says, why those liberal ideas are a good thing for Western society. What they should not be doing is psychoanalysing the motives of Lawrence Auster. End of story.

Stuart S. replies:
My questions were seriously meant. I am seeking information and understanding from you, and, again, the preface to this entire discussion is I am in basic, fundamental agreement with you.

I certainly don’t believe there is anything wrong with disagreement or expressing it. And you do so with a high and appropriate degree of civility. This is not the point. Rather, you tend to expend a lot of real energy and digital ink on targets who seem, at first glance, to be useful. I think, for example, Katrina van den Heuvel is far more dangerous than Pipes, Spencer, and Phillips combined.

Perhaps there is a maximalist program in which Pipes, Spencer, and Phillips serve no purpose at all; but on a minimalist basis—which I describe as raising the general public awareness that Muslims are not like us and should not be here because, ultimately, they will undermine our way of life—they are very useful.

How important is raising general public awareness? All I can say is must be a massive, initial task. I’m almost 45 years old, and a surprising number of people I know, around my age and a few years younger, watch Jon Stewart on Comedy Central as their *primary* source of news. This country is in deep trouble, and surely there is a finite limit to the number of times we can hit the snooze button. Any serious-minded, non-specialist, general reader surfing Pipes’s and Spencer’s web sites must come away with the sense that, yes, Islam is a major problem.

That may not be a “sufficient” condition to get Muslims out of here; but surely it is a “necessary” first step. From that vantage point, I would think what Pipes and Spencer do is helpful.

Now, Melanie Phillips. Frankly, I don’t care if she is a Liberal. What she as done is very brave, and I don’t doubt her life is in danger. Britain is not America, and the Conservative Party has long been in disarray. I don’t think there are outlets for the discussion of conservative positions, as there are, thankfully, in this country.

I’m sorry you take offense at my suggestion that there is something Bolshevik in how I think you are proceeding.

If you haven’t studied Lenin, you should. Your anger/impatience with my question is misplaced. Make the attempt to separate the political tactics he employed before the Revolution versus the policies he implemented in power. It is the former that is relevant here. Lenin said (about a group called “the Economists” who presaged the Mensheviks in several ways), “I found the stick bent in one direction; to straighten it out, it had to be bent in the other direction. And this is what I did.” [This may not be the exact quote, but it is close enough.]

If you (we) do see the need to develop a political party, it isn’t too early to consider what ideas might bind such an organization together. Also worth thinking about is the relationship between ends and means. Are there methods of persuasion that will be effective, or is the country so far gone that what confronts us is revolution or civil war? How sacrosanct is the Constitution, or, like Lincoln, must we suspend parts of it to save the rest?

Speaking for myself, I think the entire notion of “ideology” is dangerous. I like the way David Horowitz put it in his autobiography….some people see what they believe, while others believe what they see, [again, not an exact quote.] To me, the former is ideology (and utopian) and the latter is traditional, non-ideological, and realist. Am I wrong?

LA replies:

I don’t see what your problem is with me. There are thousands of mainstream conservatives who attack a van den Heuvel and her like. There is no one who takes the positions I take, except me. Your suggestion adds up to saying that I should become like every other conservative.

I find it ironic that you say you are in vehement agreement with me most of the time, since a major part of what I am about is the criticism of mainstream conservatism.

And to the extent that the three writers you mention are raising public awareness of the Islam problem, how am I undermining that? I have not in the slightest criticized Spencer’s criticisms of Islam, yet you say that I have. On Pipes and Phillips, I say their positions are inadequate from the point of view of their own criticisms of Islam.

On the question of forming a political party (or at least a political point of view), I still don’t see your objection. I am arguing for the formation of a non-liberal politics in this country and the West, as the only way to Western survival and recovery. The views of Phillips, Pipes, and Spencer are inadequate to that task. Yet the mass of conservatives imagine that they are adequate. I am arguing for the position that I think is needed. I don’t see a problem in this.

I have not thought about these things in a strategic sense beyond what I’ve already described.

Ben writes:

I didn’t even read this article all the way through to be honest because I really can’t take this. I personally feel you are very kind with your criticism and this was uncalled for. Why should we not criticize these people? They are saying things that are idiotic and are not going to work. Why should I sit here and say nothing when people suggest that men blowing up subways is a result of poverty, discrimination, and other choice stupidities. Or that we need to do away with Christianity even more than we already have so that Muslims will feel even more comfortable than they are. I’m getting tired of it. They blame everything but Islam itself. Spencer is not guilty of this but he is guilty of defining the West as secular. This is obvious by his undying support of Hirsi Ali who wants to dismantle Christianity in the West.

It’s the same thing when you criticize “conservatives” such as Ann Coulter or whomever. There’s always somebody sending an email saying that she is holy and beyond reproach. I call BS on this type of criticism of Mr. Auster. This is why I read VFR, because I’m am sick of the worship of “conservatives” on our side.

As Jeff said:

“Very infantile, very boring. This is part of a dumbed down ethic that is permeating the intellectual arena.”

I agree and I will go a step further. I also don’t believe everything must be done according to some unwritten law of politeness concerning debate and discussion established by (polite) liberalism. This is why preachers give no good messages anymore nor do we have any statesmen. They are all so polite that they don’t say anything worth reading or hearing.

LA writes:

Stuart replies below with further comments that I think are overblown as well as insulting to myself and others. Just as he portrayed my disagreements with certain writers as “excommunication,” he portrays people who agree with me as “flatterers” and “raving fans.” So basically no position taken by me or by VFR readers is ok in Stuart’s eyes. However, while I think his treatment of me and his specific concerns about me are silly, he does raise the interesting question of what would happen if traditionalists got into power, and I address that issue at the end of my reply below.

Stuart writes:

Unfortunately, you still miss the point. To describe the early Bolshevik party as “totalitarian” in its inner workings is misleading (aside from being factually false), since political parties are voluntary organizations of like-minded people. What Lenin did was define what was then called Social Democracy in such an ideologically pure and narrow manner that he eliminated people who, many years later, might have staved off the excessive excesses of full-blown Stalinist totalitarianism. [LA: I note the correction. I should have said ideologically pure rather than totalitarian.]

I’m happy to argue the history (assuming you know more than the “Lenin was a bad guy” version) and the might-have-beens in history, but I’m making a different point.

1) Your ideas suggest certain political conclusions.

2) If you seriously intend to implement your ideas, you will need some sort of political party to do so.

3) What this party will look like and how it will function depends to a large extent on both the goals it promotes and the like-minded people it attracts.

Now, if your pre-eminent goal is to expunge Muslim influence from the United States, I would guess that Pipes, Spencer, and Phillips could be very useful political allies in a fashion that Katrina vanden Heuval could never be. [Expunging Muslim influence is of course one of several goals, not my pre-eminent goal.]

If your primary goal is to be different from most conservatives (LA: “There is no one who takes the positions I take, except me.”) or other like-minded people who share some, but not all, of your views, and you feel compelled constantly to highlight the liberal chinks in their intellectual armor, then two possible conclusions follow:

a) You are not serious about real politics as it actually exists today in America, and thus have no hope of changing it; or

b) Your drive for absolute ideological purity will generate a political party that can only operate by fomenting a total revolution in this country, and it is precisely in such circumstances that tough-speaking but mild-mannered intellectuals with seemingly good ideas get crushed by far more ruthless operators.

Surely you recognize that this is exactly what happened to the Girondists in the French Revolution and the Cadets and Mensheviks in the Russian. To think otherwise—to pretend that your ideas and powers of persuasion would be sufficient to halt a revolution once in motion before it devours society totally—suggests a rather large liberal chink in your intellectual armor. Such revolutions spin out of control in ways that no individual or political party can fully control, and would horrify you and me if such a thing happened here.

You failed to address my points about ends versus means in this endeavor, revolution leading to civil war, and the possibility of suspending parts of the Constitution to save the rest. This is rough stuff that has nothing to do with whether you are nice to people like Pipes, Spencer, and Phillips—not to mention Ann Coulter. As I said earlier, you have given no one cause to question your civility in debate. I’m sure it is flattering to have raving fans like Ben and Jeff, but—Larry—you really don’t need them to buttress your position. Their comments add nothing to our discussion.

Yes, I now understand I have (to use your words) a problem with you, and it is simply this: your need for maximal ideological purity severely limits the effectiveness of what I take to be an important goal you and I share—constraining and ultimately removing Muslim influence from this country. I’d sacrifice ideological purity and seek like-minded allies to achieve this, PRECISELY to prevent a broader revolution that would destroy all we care about and hold dear.

You place a higher priority on the perfection of your notion of traditionalism, and would happily stumble into a revolution you would be utterly unable to control. This is what happens when intellectuals fall in love with the absolute correctness of their own ideas.

It is in this sense that I detect certain tendencies in your thinking that strongly resemble Lenin, and are best described as Leninist. This is far from being some sort of “very infantile, very boring” criticism based on a misguided notion of polite discourse. It is a substantive, political criticism you might wish to consider.

LA replies:

This is so far beyond anything that I’m dealing with at VFR that I really don’t know how to reply. Stuart persists in seeing me as someone who is in the act of seeking power; therefore my so-called demand for ideological purity, or, alternatively, my inability to grasp the dangerous nature of the forces I am invoking, is a danger. In reality, far from being powerful or seeking power, I recognize that the traditionalist view is at present utterly powerless in America. I recognize that we are in the midst of a civilizational collapse, that none of the mainstream forces in society are opposing it, and that the best I and others who think like me can do is to draw attention to this catastrophe and try to create a body of opinion that stands apart from and opposes the mainstream orthodoxy that is allowing it to happen. So clarity and consistency in getting to the bottom of issues are a primary concern for me.

Obviously the implementation of my goals, one of which is the removal of Muslim influence from America, does not exist as a real prospect under present circumstances. My effort is to build up a body of understandings that can help lead to that. In order for that goal and other goals to be realized, there would have to be a revolution in this country, a revolution in which the rule of society by modern liberalism is comprehensively rejected. My hope has been that as the disasters of liberalism become more clear to people, such a revolution would occur. I have not envisioned or thought about how precisely such a rejection of liberalism would happen. It is too far off. My effort has been to establish the understandings that would make it possible.

Stuart presents two alternatives. His first alternative is that my ideas, because they oppose everything that currently is, have no hope of changing America. The second is that my ideas are so powerful that they can set off a violent revolution which I won’t be able to control.

In reply to the first, as I have said, the only way we can move beyond the current liberal/conservative mainstream is by critiquing it consistently and in depth and showing a different path. I have no idea if this can lead anywhere, but I am hopeful that liberalism cannot survive and that something like traditionalism will come more to the fore. However, as I’ve said numerous times, I think this abandonment of liberalism can probably only happen as the result of massive destruction of the society—not the revolutionary destruction that he fears, but the destruction brought by liberalism itself.

But let’s say the apocalyptic events I’ve often spoken of in the abstract actually do come to pass and that as a result real political change becomes possible. Then Stuart’s second alternative (as absurd and risible as it is) becomes at least discussible: that the revolution I will have fomented, because it’s based on ideological purity, would lead to the rising up of bad and violent men over whom I, as an ineffective intellectual, would have no control, leading to (what?) a traditionalist dictatorship?

Stuart’s premise is that my ideas (based on dread ideological purity) are potentially dictatorial and murderous. I don’t see how anyone who has read me can say this. The sheer absurdity of translating my criticisms of, say, Daniel Pipes views of Islam into a totalitarian political program is too absurd for words.

So let’s leave aside Stuart’s overheated imaginings and deal with a less impossible, though still distant scenario. Let’s say a conservative / traditionalist party aimed at saving this country from the Third-World invasion and restoring our national sovereignty and culture came to power. If the left in this country had not already been discredited and silenced by the leftist-caused disasters that enabled the conservatives to come to power in the first place, the left would proceed do everything in its power to block the measures needed for the salvation of the country. We would enter a condition of civil war, with everything that that implies. To save the country, the left would have to be suppressed.

The only way violence and the necessity of excessively tough measures could be avoided would be if two conditions obtained: (1) that the leftist-caused disasters had made the mainstream of the country decisively abandon their liberalism, thus depriving the left of their power and influence; and (2) that a civilized, non-liberal, workable understanding of politics and culture were already available giving people in the process of abandoning their liberalism an alternative position to adopt. If there were no civilized non-liberal alternative, people would adopt uncivilized non-liberal alternatives. So, my “ideologically pure” and dangerously ineffective approach to politics may turn out to be the most practical way to lead to a non-liberal, civilized future for this country.

Finally, I repeat, as I do every time I discuss this topic, that by non-liberal I do not mean the literal rejection of all values and ideas that have ever come under the rubric of liberalism; I mean that the rule of society by modern liberalism comes to an end.

Jonathan writes:

You write:

“Stuart presents two alternatives. His first alternative is that my ideas, because they oppose everything that currently is, have no hope of changing America. The second is that my ideas are so powerful that they can set off a violent revolution which I won’t be able to control.”

I think this statement really gets at the essence of your exchange with this reader, and demonstrates something you discuss often: the degree to which liberalism infects the Western psyche. I’ve noticed that whenever politicians are confronted by a proposal such as, “we should deport illegal immigrants,” the Democrats say, “That’s dangerous and people would be hurt” (clearly alternative two), and the Republicans say, “Rather than alienate the Hispanic community we should embrace it” (implicitly alternative one).

[LA adds: I think what Jonathan means is that non-liberal ideas are seen either as so hopelessly out of step and so impractical that they must be abandoned (first alternative), or as so dangerous that they must be abandoned (second alternative). Either way, they must be abandoned.]

Liberalism, by insisting first that we can’t have “a monopoly on truth,” and then that we can’t know truth at all, does a great injustice to serious thought. As Ben wrote, “This is why preachers give no good messages anymore nor do we have any statesmen. They are all so polite that they don’t say anything worth reading or hearing.” I think it’s not just that people want to be polite; their ability to think has been fundamentally affected. That is, whenever someone (such as yourself) takes a firm stand on a position, liberals (i.e., most Americans) are put off by it, without regard for the intellectual content of what has been said. They have been conditioned to be suspicious of anyone claiming certainty in the realm of ideas.

[LA adds: Yes, the same applies to an idea stated with certainty as to a non-liberal idea, as discussed above. A statement made with certainty is either hopelessly out of step with our relativistic, multipolar reality, and thus laughably impractical, or else it is dangerous.]

Jonathan writes:

I am sorry if I was unclear. Your reading of my comments is accurate.

LA replies:

Well, it’s a terrific insight:

“As a non-liberal, you are laughably impotent or else you are (at least potentially) the most dangerously powerful person on earth!”

Bruce B. writes to me:

You don’t need any more “raving fans” but I can’t keep my mouth (fingers?) shut.

To me VFR is not about “ideological purity” but about a fixed frame of reference. A socio-political coordinate system in which the origin is non-liberal or pre-liberal. I constantly find VFR quotes that are essentially precise-prose versions of things my great-grandparents used to say. Pre-1960’s common sense for the hyper-rational modern mind.

Traditionalists are virtually impotent! You can’t and aren’t excommunicating anyone. You can’t and aren’t starting any broad revolution. What you are doing is providing a perspective that was once almost universal and is now virtually non-existent.

LA replies:

Yes, and in order to provide that perspective, which is a tiny minority voice in the midst of an all-encompassing liberal ocean, we need to draw lines between our position and that of liberalism.

At the same time, we are not just “hold-outs,” There is the hope that our non-liberal or pre-modern-liberal perspective will start to gain a broader influence.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 18, 2006 06:10 AM | Send

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