Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Conservatism

Four Horsemen of the Progressive Apocalypse

That's the cover  story of the current deadtree National Review.  The four essays analyze the writer-activists who shaped the left today. Jonah Goldberg, Tiffany Jones Miller, Bradley C.S. Watson, and Fred Siegel profile Richard Ely, John Dewey, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Herbert Croly.  These well and lesser-known thinkers wrote beginning about a century ago, and in a sense they live today in the mind and policies of not just the left but of much of the right and center as well (consider especially the jurist Holmes).  All have in common the desire to replace the political and moral foundations of American constitutionalism and its rule of law and limited government with an enlightened elite.  The point here is that their theorizing succeeded in practice.  To confront the left we need to understand its roots, and these essays expose them brilliantly.

So far no excerpts at NRO, but pick up the issue at your bookstore/magazine shop, as this issue presents thoughtful journalism at its best. 

Categories > Conservatism

Discussions - 5 Comments

"To confront the left we need to understand its roots, "

Yes, but a big part of the problem is that most of today's left is itself oblivious to these roots. Most are unaware of the foundational premises on which their entire project is based. Indeed, they're largely unaware it's even a "project" -- they've bought into (or been ingrained in) the ideology at its surface level, and in this regard function as the proverbial useful idiots.

The problem with this is that it becomes nearly impossible to debate the left at the level of premises, which ultimately is where a debate must be won or lost. The typical leftist operates with a host of givens but without an understanding of their source, and so it's difficult to challenge these givens in a way that moves the argument anywhere.

These people don't understand that their specific ideas -- about equality, justice, fairness -- are radical in the larger American context. If they ponder this context at all, they see the American narrative as a story of increasing, improving equality over time. They don't see it for what it truly is: the steady erosion of the liberty that was meant to define the country.

Today's left is not part of some long, smooth continuum from the country's founding -- rather, it is the product of the deliberate, dramatic detour undertaken a century ago as outlined in the National Review cover story. The typical leftist is incapable of grasping this, because he is ahistorical.

So it's all fine and well for defenders of liberty to study the modern left's roots -- we certainly must -- but as long as the left itself remains clueless, it's a debate between adults and children. And somehow the children wound up with all the power.

Agreed, ignorant armies clashing by night. As you note, most on the left assume they are upholding American ideals--consider the narrative of colonials vs. the Empire, equality vs. slavery, equality for women vs. oppression, the people vs. corporate interests, etc. Most liberals assume something like this as a true history of America, when the history of liberty and equality reveals something rather different. Conservatives need to educate both themselves and their opponents. That can occur at different levels and ages.

I think Chris makes a fair point but maybe another way to put what Ken is saying is that while it may be true that "[t]he typical leftist is incapable of grasping this, because he is ahistorical," most people are not "typical" leftists . . . or even leftists at all. The ideological leftist is not going to be persuaded to give up his leftism because of some inconvenient facts (like that their policy prescriptions tend more often to do the opposite of what they suggest they'll do . . . or that they've got their origins in some very unsavory places) but the typical person who means well and is disposed (in the broadest possible sense) to love his country but is, very generally speaking, persuaded by a typical leftist, is only so persuaded because so many conservatives are arguing about the wrong things. I think the true history of America does matter to those people and, if they knew it, they would adjust their views. And, frankly, in the end, those are the only people worth worrying much about. Besides, speaking the truth about America in this way is the only thing that can be done that has any hope of working. For that reason, the ignorance on our side about the true origins of the modern Left is more appalling than the ignorance on the Left itself. That the Left is ignorant of its own roots is an indication of how far-reaching and successful it has been. It was a conscious effort on the part of so many of them to re-cast their ideology as American in nature . . . "fulfilling the promise of America" etc. etc. That knot has to be untied before we can hope to see any real success for conservatives. It does not help our cause that so many on our side in a reaction against the Left have bought into their arguments about the meaning of Equality and Liberty and rights and have, therefore, sought to make a case against them.

"It does not help our cause that so many on our side in a reaction against the Left have bought into their arguments about the meaning of Equality and Liberty and rights and have, therefore, sought to make a case against them."

Could you expand on this, please?

If you want to buy a house, you will have to get the home loans. Furthermore, my brother always utilizes a bank loan, which occurs to be the most fast.

Leave a Comment

* denotes a required field
 

No TrackBacks
TrackBack URL: http://nlt.ashbrook.org/movabletype/mt-tb.cgi/14696