Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Left vs. right: mistaken vs. evil?

Today I want to recommend this post by Clive Davis. He quotes Roger Scruton as saying that those on the left consider those on the right to be evil, whereas the right considers those on the left to be merely mistaken.

I think that, as a generalization, this holds up fairly well. But there is no question that there are numerous exceptions. There is a vocal segment on the right that considers the left to be evil. Recall the group that thought Clinton had murdered Vince Foster, for example, and you need look no further.

Scruton writes that, " if I can persuade [those on the left] that I'm not evil, I find it a very useful thing." I recall a similar effort at persuasion on my part. It worked with some of my friends and relatives, but didn't work with others. But I resent, and still resent, their idea that any supporter of a hawkish or conservative cause should automatically be regarded as "evil until proven not-evil." This was a revelation to me, and not a pleasant one.

Davis's post goes on to quote writer Nick Cohen as crediting (or blaming?) his own change of heart on certain topics to having read Paul Berman's book Terror and Liberalism. (Hmm, perhaps that's next on my list.) Here's Cohen on the subject of changing one's mind:

I didn't see a blinding light or hear a thunder clap or cry 'Eureka!' If I was going to cry anything it would have been 'Oh bloody hell!' He convinced me I'd wasted a great deal of time looking through the wrong end of the telescope. I was going to have to turn it round and see the world afresh. The labour would involve reconsidering everything I'd written since 11 September, arguing with people I took to be friends and finding myself on the same side as people I took to be enemies.

I consider it highly ironic that, in his autobiography Radical Son, David Horowitz fingers none other than that very same Paul Berman as having been one of his most most vicious attackers when Horowitz underwent his own neocon conversion (I plan to say more about this topic in a subsequent post). Life is an interesting journey, is it not?

22 Comments:

At 3:18 PM, July 05, 2005, Anonymous NeoDude said...

Wolfe goes on at one point to suggest that American conservatives have embraced Schmitt's dialectic:

Liberals think of politics as a means; conservatives as an end. Politics, for liberals, stops at the water's edge; for conservatives, politics never stops. Liberals think of conservatives as potential future allies; conservatives treat liberals as unworthy of recognition. Liberals believe that policies ought to be judged against an independent ideal such as human welfare or the greatest good for the greatest number; conservatives evaluate policies by whether they advance their conservative causes. Liberals instinctively want to dampen passions; conservatives are bent on inflaming them. Liberals think there is a third way between liberalism and conservatism; conservatives believe that anyone who is not a conservative is a liberal. Liberals want to put boundaries on the political by claiming that individuals have certain rights that no government can take away; conservatives argue that in cases of emergency -- conservatives always find cases of emergency -- the reach and capacity of the state cannot be challenged.

From:
http://www.danieldrezner.com/archives/002150.html

 
At 3:21 PM, July 05, 2005, Anonymous NeoDude said...

Wolfe goes on at one point to suggest that American conservatives have embraced Schmitt's dialectic:

Liberals think of politics as a means; conservatives as an end. Politics, for liberals, stops at the water's edge; for conservatives, politics never stops. Liberals think of conservatives as potential future allies; conservatives treat liberals as unworthy of recognition. Liberals believe that policies ought to be judged against an independent ideal such as human welfare or the greatest good for the greatest number; conservatives evaluate policies by whether they advance their conservative causes. Liberals instinctively want to dampen passions; conservatives are bent on inflaming them. Liberals think there is a third way between liberalism and conservatism; conservatives believe that anyone who is not a conservative is a liberal. Liberals want to put boundaries on the political by claiming that individuals have certain rights that no government can take away; conservatives argue that in cases of emergency -- conservatives always find cases of emergency -- the reach and capacity of the state cannot be challenged.

From:
http://www.danieldrezner.com/archives/002150.html

 
At 5:04 PM, July 05, 2005, Anonymous Joseph said...

I find Paul Berman's partisanship and prejudices to be often quite a hindrance to his reasoning abilities. (Tom Friedman in some ways suffers this blight). The resentment shown at times toward those of the opposing team doing the "good deeds" often leads to offensive disclaimers, back-stabs and qualifying statements that demean and belittle.

I will add that by far the biggest shock for me is in fact to truly realize the utter contempt and prejudice held by those on the left towards others, but not only those they hate, but even those they presume to help, totally unbelievable! Was I that bad or did I simply tolerate it? (Much like in sports being glad the "dirty player" is on your team and as such tolerated). Probably more the later but the former certainly was to some degree part of my thinking. Also the lack of proper context when making political comparisons, judgments and even justifications. If the liberal-left wants to understand conservatives they must lose the prejudice, I have been doing a lot of volunteer work in my community and I have found myself working along side quite a few enterprising conservatives with religious inclinations, trust me they are not the stereotype the MSM and leftists paint them to be.

 
At 9:20 PM, July 05, 2005, Anonymous Larry said...

An interesting post.

The frequent use of the word "evil" by some on the left to describe their opponents on the right is often just an indication of a kind of sad and bitter desperation on their part (at losing the argument). But if we took seriously the notion that political and ideological standpoints have moral bases and implications, then wouldn't there be at least the possibility of evil on the left, too? Forget the "Who killed Vince Foster?" silliness -- what about Michael Moore and his horde of supporters, including his many Hollywood boosters? "Evil" might be over the top, admittedly, and in any case may give them too much credit -- but morally contaminated they surely are.

Can we say that of the left in general? Clearly there are degrees of moral culpability (Stalin and Pol Pot, for example, would qualify as evil if anyone at all does), but I do think that a kind of moral fault line runs through socieities over this political division -- so that, even for opponents that we respect (and they are many), and even if we feel and say that they're simply mistaken, still, what they're mistaken about fundamentally are certain of their moral choices.

 
At 9:42 PM, July 05, 2005, Blogger Dymphna said...

Life is an interesting journey, is it not?...

Considering the alternatives, I'd have to agree with you.

I know you read him, but I recommend Shrinkwrapped's latest on extremism. It helps give me words for what I intuit. Which is what shrinks are supposed to do, I suppose. I do hope he considers a book length exploration of the topic; we need one badly. If you have any influence, please suggest same.

I would *never* consider a political conversation with a liberal friend; not if I value the friendship, and with a precious few I do. I'm not sure they know my views. When the subject comes up, I say (as vaguely as possible) that the economy is my main interest and that I follow Bastiat's views. That usually ends the conversation. But if it doesn't I then go on to talk about the Corn Laws in England in the 1800's. Their eyes glaze over and the friendship survives more or less intact.

But those have to be very special friends, like my chum of many years' standing who is an editor of some sort at the Smithsonian. Our friendship is based on the fact that we married much younger men at the very same time and these men are good friends. So I will prevaricate when necessary.

Another two friends, one who works for the Bureau of Mines and has some kind of hard science PhD and another who is a geologist, are surprisingly(to me)liberal. I ducked and avoided until we had an experience of taking care of a mutual friend who was dying. In the aftermath, they both sent me a "please help save NPR" chain letter and I wrote back, saying gently why I thought Public Broadcasting ought to be a grown-up. So far, we're still speaking, but I think it's because we see each other 3 or 4 times a year and have other, better things to talk about.

All of which is to say, if anyone has liberal friends and they don't want to lie but they still want to preserve friendships, take the economics tack. You'll have to bone up a bit on the subject, but Larry Kudlow is a big help. As is crazy Jude Wanniski.

Once I "turned" -- back in the very early '80's -- I went underground. It's simply not safe for one's mental health otherwise. Especially if you live in a blue climate.

Resentment is futile. You won't change anyone and they are very invested in their world view. It would be unkind in the extreme to threaten that perspective.

Jes smile and keep movin'...

(and read Shrinkwrapped).

 
At 9:43 PM, July 05, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This theme has been explored at length by Thomas Sowell in

A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles
and

The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation As a Basis for Social Policy

 
At 10:39 PM, July 05, 2005, Blogger Goesh said...

It's a bad polarity that needs healing and some reconciliation, somehow. My sister is a raging Liberal and I am hard right bent, so we just never discuss politics, as we each know the other is wrong.
What a bind our nation is in, though there have been much worse times. We all tend to focus on the immediate here-and-now, sort of Gestalt approach to it all, and we selectively forget our history. I mean we almost had a second civil war during the civil rights days, and who today would want to live through the great depression or the rationing of WW2? Amazing isn't it how 50 years ago most Blacks couldn't vote and 60 years ago Americans of Japanese descent were rounded up and put in camps. A middle ground will evolve somehow in some way. I guess my biggest concern with Liberals is they really don't have what I think is a viable solution for islamic terrorism. I find this frustrating and at times it makes me angry, but I don't regard them as evil. For some reason they seem too cowardly and afraid to be evil.

 
At 11:22 PM, July 05, 2005, Blogger Michael B said...

Another nice post. Fyi, Roger Scruton edits a very small but often intriguing quarterly entitled Risk of Freedom.

 
At 12:05 AM, July 06, 2005, Blogger PatCA said...

Another good post. I think that their lives, our lives, are so soft that war is almost an intellectual abstraction, so they can spend a lifetime posturing as morally superior beings because they are "anti-war." Thus all of us who might be pro-war, in this case, to free millions of oppressed ME people from their jihadi oppressors, are simply evil.

They never think of consequences-- because they don't have to--and go nuts if you mention them. (Good advice about economics, Dympha!)

Politicians don't have the luxury of ignoring consequences and 9/11 was the consequence of 30 years of fake pacifism.

 
At 4:23 AM, July 06, 2005, Blogger Dreamer said...

I agree with all of the points heretofore stated. I wonder if the issue of the Iraq war might not be as divisive if it were originally proposed as a struggle against fascism? (instead of a hunt for WMDs or a war against terrorism)
...
Michael

 
At 5:42 AM, July 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The most frightening aspect of this all is that this country desperately needs two viable political parties. There is no other means to keep whichever party is in power in check if there is not a viable alternative. As the left becomes increasingly more radicalized the Republicans have less incentive to behave themselves and act responsibly.

 
At 6:05 AM, July 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about "Leftism vs. Liberalism: which one is hijacked by genocidal utopians who believe in subjecting the unwashed masses to the dream of living a World-wide Socialist nightmare".

 
At 6:58 AM, July 06, 2005, Blogger Goesh said...

Great commentary, PatCa in particular about our lives being so soft that war is an intellectual abstraction. I think the Left in general still holds out hope that somehow these islamic fundamentalist killers can be reasoned with. That is what truly scares me and what will more than anything else will result in a suitcase nuke being set off here in America. The Left cannot reconcile the fact that there is a very small portion of humanity that only respects brute force greater than themselves. Incarceration with therapy and rehabilitation doesn't work with our own domestic terrorists, i.e. violent felons, so it sure the hell won't work with jihadists. Islamic terrorists must really tremble at the thought of being confined in a controled climate environment, with 3 good meals a day, full free medical care, free legal representation, a fully stocked library with educational opportunities, conjugal visits, excercise equipment, a mosque and extreme Leftists watch-dogging the warden. Boy! That'll deter em' from killing our children!

 
At 8:45 AM, July 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just don’t get you guys.

Some kid blogged, about how he had designed a nuclear powered car in fourth grade: he drew a box in the middle of the chassis where the reactor was, and some tubes that brought the nuclear stuff to the back wheels. He commented that he should have patented the design.

This is exactly how the Bush regime dead-enders talk about foreign policy: we'll spread freedom, we'll defeat the terrorists, and we’ll make the world safe for democracy. All of them good ideas and all of them objectives that I share.
However, you people have **NO IDEA** how to attain the objectives. You have no more detailed plan for pulling it off than that blogger had a detailed schematic for the plumbing of a nuclear car. It's just fourth-grade fantasies.

“Wouldn't it be nice?”

And of course if anyone challenges pro-war types with facts, statistics, or metrics, then they either whine about pessimists, or revert to full McCarthyite type by charging treason.

This is how dictatorships are run: with unquestioned, unthinking obedience to the Dear Leader. And this is how they run into trouble in the end, when Baghdad Bob (or "Comical Ali" as the British press called him) simply can't own up to the mounting evidence of failure, simply can't pierce the Dear Leader's bubble.

Democracies are run with accountability, transparency, attention to detail, respect for facts, and constant questioning.

You want WW2 without the sacrifice and work.

 
At 9:20 AM, July 06, 2005, Blogger Goesh said...

Well! You sure told us a thing or two, Anonymous! You're right of course. We were able to reconstruct Japan and Germany in 12 days when WW2 ended. Imagine that! We are obviously failing in Iraq because all the women are not wearing low-slung jeans 2+ years after a full scale invasion and bombing campaign. Be of good cheer! Coca-cola I just learned is about ready to start pushing its product in Iraq! How's that for Democracy in action, eh??
What's the latest slogan for Coke anyway? Be all you can be? Wait! That's for the US Army,sorry. You know what? I like the traffic jams in Baghdad, pictures of which I have seen on TV, and I like those protests, that last one I heard about being some guys wanting police jobs. I like people walking 14 miles to vote then wagging a purple finger. Sounds like a blueprint for democracy to me. I like the Iraqi blogs that are filled with hope, and some questions. Hell! I even like most Democrats and a few Liberals. You are the other half of a nation polarized over how to combat terrorism. I'm sorry we don't agree on everything, but who said we were all supposed to feel good all the time? That is a Liberal political philosophy that simply has never manifested itself in anyone's life and never will.

 
At 11:07 AM, July 06, 2005, Anonymous terryt said...

Thanks for that response Goesh. I'm with you.
Anonymous must be reading only the NYTs and is unaware of all that's going on in Iraq.

this anonymous wrote "Wouldn't it be nice?" and "unthinking, unquestioned obedience to our Dear Leader.."
huh?

A display of bias and a limited exposure to information.
hey anonymous, try reading The Weekly Standard or Austin Bay or Amir Taheri or the Wall Street Journal's op-ed pages. there has been much criticism along with huge support for the Bush admin policies and actions in Iraq and the region. Maybe you're missing out on the information about schools opening,services being restored and new reasons for hope in Iraq, in spite of continued violence.

 
At 12:05 PM, July 06, 2005, Blogger knoxgirl said...

"This is how dictatorships are run: with unquestioned, unthinking obedience to the Dear Leader."

Last I checked, Bush was elected. Similar results in GB and Australia as well, with the reelection of pro-war Blair and Howard. Just because the results don't come out like you wanted them doesn't mean these countries have become dictatorships.

Nor are those who disagree with you mindless fools who eat up everything spoonfed to them by said "dictators".

"if anyone challenges pro-war types with facts, statistics, or metrics, then they either whine about pessimists, or revert to full McCarthyite type"

I would also submit that *some* Liberals have a tendency to "whine" and charge McCarthyism, knee-jerk style, as soon as anyone disagrees with them. Instead of say, presenting "facts, statistics, and metrics (?!)"

 
At 2:05 PM, July 06, 2005, Blogger Michael B said...

"And of course if anyone challenges pro-war types with facts, statistics, or metrics ..." Anon 9:45 am

None of which you did, to the contrary. Very much to the contrary.

Additionally, you make it sound as if the Michael Moores, the MoveOns, et al., have little to do with the dissenters and the arguments they forward are those invoking only the highest and the most circumspect and vaunted epistemological standards. Puhleez. The Left is seeking Tet, 1968, redux. The softer Left and a variety of pseudo or naive "liberals" are acting as little more than kowtowing, unthinking conformists within the Left's initiatives.

Where are the millions among the Left protesting even Darfur? Where are these millions protesting Mugabe's Zimbabwe? Where were they protesting even Rwanda? Where are they in protest of the graft and mismanagement and ineffectiveness of the UN and other trans-national presentations of moral authenticity?

 
At 6:34 PM, July 06, 2005, Blogger jaed said...

I'm kind of surprised that anyone continued reading our anonymous friend after "Bush regime dead-enders". Direct comparisons of Bush supporters to Baathists is kind of a strong signal that there's not going to be anything thoughtful in the rest of the post, isn't it?


I wonder if the issue of the Iraq war might not be as divisive if it were originally proposed as a struggle against fascism?

It was. This didn't help. Speeches about Saddam's tyranny, the torture of the Iraqi people, and the need to change our longterm course of supporting ME dictators for the sake of "stability" were more or less ignored by the mainstream. (Where they weren't ignored, they were denounced because the implication was and is that overthrowing Saddam Hussein won't be enough; he wasn't the only "stability"-protecting dictator in the region.) When we went to the UN Security Council, and when it was necessary to emphasize an argument that body would care about, the resulting discussions of WMDs got a lot of attention; the possibilities were lurid and there was a great deal of technical detail to talk about, many experts to come forward and give their opinions, lots of file photos and film, all catnip to news producers and editors. It's a much easier story to tell than one about the critical importance of democracy to peace. But that doesn't mean the previous speeches and discussions didn't happen.

 
At 9:03 PM, July 06, 2005, Blogger Dreamer said...

Thanks, Jaed. If you have any links to said speeches I'd love to get my hands on them in anticipation of future debate.

Anonymous: Did we convince you or did you just cut and run?
...
Mike

 
At 9:39 PM, July 06, 2005, Blogger TmjUtah said...

Being caught out in a mistake in public can be embarassing. But honest mistakes that are acknowledged and learned from are the most valuable tools available when people try to improve themselves.

Pursuing an agenda comprised of mistakes for decades, and finally reduced to defending that agenda by means of personal slurs or rationalizing away the failures is counterproductive, not to mention intellectually dishonest. As time goes by these practices become reflexive, and ultimately drive others to ignore you.

That's how national parties die.

Political parties are formed to achieve common goals. In a republic the people that carry the standards and seek responsibility are beholden to their constituents and face the judgement of the people every two, four, or six years.

What's left of the elected Democrat caucus and the national party leadership is desperately attempting to maintain their positions and power. They are willfully blind to the reality that people vote their own interests - not the interests of the office holders - especially when the office holders are so starkly disconnected from the duties and responsibilities their offices are supposed to hold. That's not opinion - that's objective fact demonstrated by three decades of election history.

Unless all those voters are dupes, of course - which is one argument that seems to be more readily embraced and loudly repeated as the collapse of the Left in America accelarates.

You can only build so many upholstered outhouses and post offices in West Virgina. Embracing Castro, indicting America based on its material wealth, and treating people with Christian religious beliefs like mental defectives doesn't win much ground in a nation where people remember the Cold War, the malaise of the seventies, or regularly attend church...

Only a liberal would champion a public policy that kills millions of potential constituents in the womb. There's a lot of money in the abortion industry, but buying votes never works nationally unless you can keep the population dependent on government for subsistence.

Welfare reform and tax equity kind of put paid to that, didn't it?

We live in interesting times.

 
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