Are We Red Yet?

In Reflections on a Ravaged Century (New York, 2000), his classic study of twentieth-century politics, Robert Conquest emphasized that democratic capitalism was far and away "the best and most hopeful arrangement available to us" in the real world (196).  Compared with what prevailed and still prevails in Russia, China, and other communist and formerly communist states, Western democracy is a paradise of freedom and opportunity.

Yet even Conquest, who passed away in August 2015, saw that democracy was threatened from within by radicals who wish to supplant liberty with centralized state power.  He wrote that "many of our present-day problems arise from ... mental attitudes that, though not usually ideological in the totalitarian sense, show a family resemblance" (196).

Conquest warned about the totalitarian-style attitudes of those who are excessively interested in political change and who show little interest in apolitical activities such as family life, church, and civic groups.  During the past quarter-century, under Reid, Pelosi, the Clintons, and Obama, progressivism has taken on just this frenzied quality.  The modern-day Democratic Party has waged uncompromising political warfare, and it continues to do so with present-day Schumer-style obstructionism.  For the left, politics is just what Conquest feared it would become: a cult-like devotion to politics to the exclusion of all else.  And this excessive politicization is what links the American left today with totalitarianisms of the past.

In a chapter entitled "In a Wayward West," Conquest analyzed the nature of this threat to democracy.  His analysis was prescient, to say the least.

A telltale sign of totalitarian leaning is the central role of the activist – what would later be called the "community organizer" or the environmental or human rights crusader.  "The trouble" with these individuals, Conquest writes, is "a belief in various 'certainties' accepted on insufficient grounds" (199).  I would say "carbon pollution" is one of these certainties, but other examples include the left's stubborn refusal to face the threat of Islamic extremism (or even to utter the phrase) and the "certainty" that Islamists, beneath their rough exterior, are people like ourselves, civilized and open to reason.

There are other grand "certainties," all of them fraudulent, surrounding issues such as gun control, transgenderism, abortion, and the implementation of single-payer health care.  It was just such certainty over the "right" of homeownership, even by millions who possessed no ability to make mortgage payments, that precipitated the global financial crisis of 2008-2009.  By forcing lower mortgage standards on banks, including no-doc and no-down payment loans, government fomented unprecedented speculation, leading to eventual collapse in 2007.  As Peter Wallison has documented, beginning in the early 1990s, Rep. Barney Frank and others began a long campaign to cut lending standards so as to make middle-class housing widely available, even to those who were incapable of repaying their loans.  This intrusion by the state into the market economy had disastrous consequences.  Using its considerable regulatory power, government forced banks to go along.

It is just such a use of force based on ideological certainty that is the hallmark of totalitarianism.  Asked to justify Stalin's crimes, Western intellectuals such as George Bernard Shaw, Jean-Paul Sartre, Romain Rolland, and Eric Hobsbawm responded that the executions and deliberate starvation of millions were an acceptable price to pay for socialism.  In this instance, "certainty" attached itself to a concept – the idea of a socialist utopia – that had ceased to hold any concrete meaning and that, as a reified abstraction tied to nothing real, could not be challenged by facts.  Socialism was a word that was meant to end discussion – much like "climate change" today, where attempts to discuss the matter are generally met with the familiar response that "the science is settled."

Or, more ominously, it is much like the sinister universalism that attempts to appease Islamic extremists or that concludes an agreement with Iran on the false certainty that all human beings are fundamentally rational and well meaning.  As Conquest elsewhere points out, those who sought to appease Hitler and those who overlooked Stalin's bloody crimes lacked the "imagination" to realize that evil truly exists.  Many in FDR's State Department believed that Stalin and Mao were "democrats" who shared their own values.  FDR himself insisted that he could "manage" Uncle Joe – just as Obama seems to have believed that he and those who succeeded him could manage the ayatollahs.

Those certainties become the basis for agreements forced on the American people that ultimately lead to catastrophic consequences.  And catastrophe is always met, by liberals, at least, with demands for an even greater expansion of state power.  The Sedition Act of 1918, the New Deal, LBJ's Great Society, Obama's governing by executive fiat, and now the menace of the Better Deal – all are justified by the crises that liberalism itself triggered or fabricated.  

Our totalitarian-like system is designed to grind down and deaden the mental and physical life of the individual so as to create obeisance.  That relationship is at the heart of totalitarianism: absolute power of the State on the one hand, absolute obedience and dependence on the other.  The masses rush to abase themselves before the image of the Great Leader, wishing to see themselves seized and violated.  All too often, they want to be ground down; they want to submit.  And any individual who stands in their way, those like Conquest who warn of the loss of liberty, is the enemy.

Those who have viewed Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will may recall scenes in which young faces are shown gazing up, their eyes glowing and expectant, fascinated with their führer – that same führer who would soon send them to their deaths.  There is in the human heart an instinct for death, a need to see things brought to their conclusion, even to a fiery Götterdämmerung.  It is naïve to think this passion exists only in Germany or Russia.  

For Western democracies, catastrophe can be averted only by a widespread revolt of the masses demanding a return of liberty.  The Trump movement is just such a revolt.  The left's desperate effort to derail Trump shows just how much of a threat he is to their dream of a system that at least "resembles" totalitarianism.  They fear that Trump might just succeed in restoring our liberties to a semblance of what they were before political correctness and educational regimentation.  They can't imagine a future without obeisance to the state. 

For the left, the fixation on activist politics continues, even as Trump begins to unwind mindless regulations and restore a climate of freedom.  For progressives, "certainties" concerning race, class, gender, the environment, and universalism are their very basis for identity.  They are literally unable to conceive of life as free and untrammeled.  Their game plan is to hobble Trump until they can regain control in 2018 and 2020, and then proceed with the destruction of liberty.

The ultimate goal of the left is global enslavement within a totalitarian system.  As Robert Conquest argued, liberals in the West may not be "totalitarian in the ideological sense" – that is, they are not explicitly fascist or communist, but they are certainly motivated by the same fascination with radical politics and the same lust for power.  We can debate just what form the future progressive state would take if they were to succeed, but there is no doubt that it seeks power that resembles the absolute power of the totalitarian state.

Conquest was right: there is a family resemblance between the left today and the brutal totalitarianisms of the past.  We must never allow the left to gain control of government.  Because at that point, we will see that it's more than just a resemblance.

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).

In Reflections on a Ravaged Century (New York, 2000), his classic study of twentieth-century politics, Robert Conquest emphasized that democratic capitalism was far and away "the best and most hopeful arrangement available to us" in the real world (196).  Compared with what prevailed and still prevails in Russia, China, and other communist and formerly communist states, Western democracy is a paradise of freedom and opportunity.

Yet even Conquest, who passed away in August 2015, saw that democracy was threatened from within by radicals who wish to supplant liberty with centralized state power.  He wrote that "many of our present-day problems arise from ... mental attitudes that, though not usually ideological in the totalitarian sense, show a family resemblance" (196).

Conquest warned about the totalitarian-style attitudes of those who are excessively interested in political change and who show little interest in apolitical activities such as family life, church, and civic groups.  During the past quarter-century, under Reid, Pelosi, the Clintons, and Obama, progressivism has taken on just this frenzied quality.  The modern-day Democratic Party has waged uncompromising political warfare, and it continues to do so with present-day Schumer-style obstructionism.  For the left, politics is just what Conquest feared it would become: a cult-like devotion to politics to the exclusion of all else.  And this excessive politicization is what links the American left today with totalitarianisms of the past.

In a chapter entitled "In a Wayward West," Conquest analyzed the nature of this threat to democracy.  His analysis was prescient, to say the least.

A telltale sign of totalitarian leaning is the central role of the activist – what would later be called the "community organizer" or the environmental or human rights crusader.  "The trouble" with these individuals, Conquest writes, is "a belief in various 'certainties' accepted on insufficient grounds" (199).  I would say "carbon pollution" is one of these certainties, but other examples include the left's stubborn refusal to face the threat of Islamic extremism (or even to utter the phrase) and the "certainty" that Islamists, beneath their rough exterior, are people like ourselves, civilized and open to reason.

There are other grand "certainties," all of them fraudulent, surrounding issues such as gun control, transgenderism, abortion, and the implementation of single-payer health care.  It was just such certainty over the "right" of homeownership, even by millions who possessed no ability to make mortgage payments, that precipitated the global financial crisis of 2008-2009.  By forcing lower mortgage standards on banks, including no-doc and no-down payment loans, government fomented unprecedented speculation, leading to eventual collapse in 2007.  As Peter Wallison has documented, beginning in the early 1990s, Rep. Barney Frank and others began a long campaign to cut lending standards so as to make middle-class housing widely available, even to those who were incapable of repaying their loans.  This intrusion by the state into the market economy had disastrous consequences.  Using its considerable regulatory power, government forced banks to go along.

It is just such a use of force based on ideological certainty that is the hallmark of totalitarianism.  Asked to justify Stalin's crimes, Western intellectuals such as George Bernard Shaw, Jean-Paul Sartre, Romain Rolland, and Eric Hobsbawm responded that the executions and deliberate starvation of millions were an acceptable price to pay for socialism.  In this instance, "certainty" attached itself to a concept – the idea of a socialist utopia – that had ceased to hold any concrete meaning and that, as a reified abstraction tied to nothing real, could not be challenged by facts.  Socialism was a word that was meant to end discussion – much like "climate change" today, where attempts to discuss the matter are generally met with the familiar response that "the science is settled."

Or, more ominously, it is much like the sinister universalism that attempts to appease Islamic extremists or that concludes an agreement with Iran on the false certainty that all human beings are fundamentally rational and well meaning.  As Conquest elsewhere points out, those who sought to appease Hitler and those who overlooked Stalin's bloody crimes lacked the "imagination" to realize that evil truly exists.  Many in FDR's State Department believed that Stalin and Mao were "democrats" who shared their own values.  FDR himself insisted that he could "manage" Uncle Joe – just as Obama seems to have believed that he and those who succeeded him could manage the ayatollahs.

Those certainties become the basis for agreements forced on the American people that ultimately lead to catastrophic consequences.  And catastrophe is always met, by liberals, at least, with demands for an even greater expansion of state power.  The Sedition Act of 1918, the New Deal, LBJ's Great Society, Obama's governing by executive fiat, and now the menace of the Better Deal – all are justified by the crises that liberalism itself triggered or fabricated.  

Our totalitarian-like system is designed to grind down and deaden the mental and physical life of the individual so as to create obeisance.  That relationship is at the heart of totalitarianism: absolute power of the State on the one hand, absolute obedience and dependence on the other.  The masses rush to abase themselves before the image of the Great Leader, wishing to see themselves seized and violated.  All too often, they want to be ground down; they want to submit.  And any individual who stands in their way, those like Conquest who warn of the loss of liberty, is the enemy.

Those who have viewed Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will may recall scenes in which young faces are shown gazing up, their eyes glowing and expectant, fascinated with their führer – that same führer who would soon send them to their deaths.  There is in the human heart an instinct for death, a need to see things brought to their conclusion, even to a fiery Götterdämmerung.  It is naïve to think this passion exists only in Germany or Russia.  

For Western democracies, catastrophe can be averted only by a widespread revolt of the masses demanding a return of liberty.  The Trump movement is just such a revolt.  The left's desperate effort to derail Trump shows just how much of a threat he is to their dream of a system that at least "resembles" totalitarianism.  They fear that Trump might just succeed in restoring our liberties to a semblance of what they were before political correctness and educational regimentation.  They can't imagine a future without obeisance to the state. 

For the left, the fixation on activist politics continues, even as Trump begins to unwind mindless regulations and restore a climate of freedom.  For progressives, "certainties" concerning race, class, gender, the environment, and universalism are their very basis for identity.  They are literally unable to conceive of life as free and untrammeled.  Their game plan is to hobble Trump until they can regain control in 2018 and 2020, and then proceed with the destruction of liberty.

The ultimate goal of the left is global enslavement within a totalitarian system.  As Robert Conquest argued, liberals in the West may not be "totalitarian in the ideological sense" – that is, they are not explicitly fascist or communist, but they are certainly motivated by the same fascination with radical politics and the same lust for power.  We can debate just what form the future progressive state would take if they were to succeed, but there is no doubt that it seeks power that resembles the absolute power of the totalitarian state.

Conquest was right: there is a family resemblance between the left today and the brutal totalitarianisms of the past.  We must never allow the left to gain control of government.  Because at that point, we will see that it's more than just a resemblance.

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).

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