True Believers, leftism, irrationality, collectivism, Marx, Hitler and Mussolini

by Rudd-O published 2016/03/25 14:15:00 GMT+0, last modified 2016-11-20T12:19:32+00:00
What they won't tell you — they have far more in common than you have been told.

From Tom Naughton's blog, we get a very well-reasoned connection between the monstrosities caused by True Believers, their origins in history (archive link) and their direct connection to today's rise of the cultural Marxists.  Bold text is my doing to his writing.

I'm copying it merely to preserve the good writing (as good blogs have been disappearing with alarming frequency lately) but you should go to Tom's site and read it there.

Without further ado, Tom's writing:


[...] let me explain what I don’t mean by a True Believer:  I’m not talking about anyone with strong beliefs.  Yes, some people are close-minded because they’re swept up in a True Believer movement.  As Hoffer put it:

It is the true believer’s ability to shut his eyes and stop his ears to facts which in his own mind deserve never to be seen nor heard which is the source of his unequalled fortitude and constancy. 

But many people have strong beliefs because they’re well-informed and committed to principles.  I was a liberal as a young man, probably because my parents were.  They still are.  It wasn’t a proud moment for me to fly home and see an Obama sign in their front yard.  Now I’m a libertarian with strong beliefs, which I formed after reading quite a few books on history and economics.  I became a libertarian by opening my mind, not by closing it.  My parents, meanwhile, are still mystified as to how they ended up with three “right wing” libertarian offspring.

But even as a committed libertarian, I’d rather discuss politics with a well-read and committed socialist (and I had an actor friend in California who fit that description) than with a wishy-washy moderate.  I can’t for the life of me understand people who voted for Ronald Reagan, then Bill Clinton, then George W. Bush, then Barack Obama.  The media calls them swing voters or moderates.  I call them people with no flippin’ idea what they actually believe.

Some have mentioned religious fanatics as examples of right-wing True Believers.  If they want to impose their religion on others if they want to kill the nonbelievers, or convert them all, or pass laws requiring prayer in public schools then yes, I agree.  But I also have friends who are deeply religious and know I’m not.  Guess what?  They’re still my friends, and they’ve never tried to convert me.  Their faith is personal, and they have no interest in using the power of government to impose it on anyone else, or even in convincing their friends to join the cause.  They believe … but they hardly fit Hoffer’s description of True Believers.

I’m also not talking about people who annoy you because they oppose your politics.  If loud Tea Party protesters bother you because you support health-care “reform” and you really, really wish they’d just shut up and go away, fine.  But that doesn’t make them True Believers of the stripe Hoffer described.  They are not trying to impose their vision on anyone; they are protesting against having a trillion-dollar health-care “reform” package imposed on them.  They’re resisting collectivism, not advocating for it.

If you’re more comfortable with a definition of True Believers that includes more right-wingers, be my guest.  But I’m talking about Hoffer’s definition, not yours.  With that in mind, let’s summarize Eric Hoffer’s description, some of which I mentioned last week.

  • They often have low self-esteem and are typically frustrated with their own lives or the world in general.
  • Fanaticism appeals to them because it provides a sense of idealism, identity and certainty.
  • They value the collective more than the individual and believe individuals should be willing to sacrifice themselves for the collective good.
  • They believe that by imposing their beliefs, they can bring about a better future.
  • They can ignore or rationalize away all contrary evidence, as well as logical inconsistencies in their own beliefs.
  • They consider anyone who doesn’t share their beliefs an enemy and want to silence those who disagree.

To that summary, I’ll also add more quotes from Hoffer himself:

  • Nonconformists travel as a rule in bunches. You rarely find a nonconformist who goes it alone. And woe to him inside a nonconformist clique who does not conform with nonconformity.  (But enough about my decade in Hollywood.)
  • Their innermost desire is for an end to the 'free for all.' They want to eliminate free competition and the ruthless testing to which the individual is continually subjected in a free society.
  • Unless a man has talents to make something of himself, freedom is an irksome burden.
  • The explosive component in the contemporary scene is not the clamor of the masses but the self-righteous claims of a multitude of graduates from schools and universities. This army of scribes is clamoring for a society in which planning, regulation, and supervision are paramount and the prerogative of the educated
  • We all have private ails. The troublemakers are they who need public cures for their private ails.
  • The real “haves” are they who can acquire freedom, self-confidence, and even riches without depriving others of them. They acquire all of these by developing and applying their potentialities. On the other hand, the real “have nots” are they who cannot have aught except by depriving others of it. They can feel free only by diminishing the freedom of others, self-confident by spreading fear and dependence among others, and rich by making others poor.

Doesn’t exactly sound like a left-wing philosopher to me.  But what raised such a ruckus was my opinion that most (not all) True Believers in modern times have ended up on the radical left.  (Please note that modifier “radical.”)  Here’s why I believe that’s true:

I’ll start with most destructive True Believer movements of modern times:  Nazism, Fascism and Communism, which together killed more than 130 million people in the 20th century.  One or two commenters raised Nazism and Fascism as examples of right-wing movements.  Historical revisionists have a done a bang-up job of associating Hitler and Mussolini with some kind of right-wing ideology, but it simply isn’t true.  They both had legions of fans in the U.S. before World War II nearly all of them members of the “progressive” movement.  FDR and Mussolini exchanged letters of mutual admiration for their economic policies.  Before becoming Il Duce, Mussolini was a socialist agitator and a journalist for a socialist magazine. 

As for Nazism … right wing?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  Hitler’s aha! moment came when he attended a meeting of the German Workers’ Party and listened to a lecture titled How and by What Means Is Capitalism to Be Eliminated?  He grew to despise bourgeois capitalism and declared that “Basically, Nazism and Marxism are the same.”  He only disliked the actual Marxists because too many of them had Jewish names, and because Nazis and communists were competing for supporters among the same groups.

Even culturally, the Nazis were hardly what anyone would consider right-wing today.  Many Nazis were artsy-fartsy types who considered themselves mystics.  Hitler hated Christianity and railed against religion’s restrictions on sex.  He saw nothing wrong with out-of-wedlock birth and encouraged it.  He was a vegetarian, a nature enthusiast, and spoke at length about the wonders of organic foods.  Heinrich Himmler even supported animal rights kind of like the nut-jobs at PETA.  Take away the racism and the anti-Semitism, and a young Nazi could get together with a Sixties radical and have a real meeting of the minds.

The Nazi party platform proclaimed in 1920 contained, as you’d expect, a lot of demands to rid Germany of non-Germans, Jews, and other undesirables.  But it also contained several other gems, such as:

  • We demand that the state be charged first with providing the opportunity for a livelihood and a way of life for the citizens.
  • We demand abolition of unearned income (rents).
  • We demand the total confiscation of all war profits.
  • We demand the nationalization of all previous associated industries (trusts).
  • We demand a division of profits of heavy industries.
  • We demand an expansion on a large scale of old-age welfare.
  • The state is to be responsible for a fundamental reconstruction of our whole education program, to enable every capable and industrious German to obtain higher education.
  • The state is to care for the elevating of national health by protecting the mother and child, by outlawing child labor, by the encouragement of physical fitness, by means of the legal establishment of a gymnastic and sport obligation, by the utmost support of all organizations concerned with the physical instruction of the young.

Crazy right-wing stuff, huh?  Those idiots carrying the Bush = Hitler signs a few years back sure knew their history.

I suppose you could call the Nazis and Fascists “right wing” because they were militaristic and nationalistic, but by that definition, the Soviet Union, Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega would all be right-wingers.  Funny how they didn’t have any fans among the American right wing … but they had plenty in Hollywood.

Now, let’s return to Hoffer’s description.  We’ll start with dissatisfied with themselves or the world in general.  I noticed years ago that my libertarian and conservative friends seem happier in general than my liberal friends.  (Yes, I have friends of both varieties.)  Before you protest with tales of all the happy liberals and miserable conservatives you know personally, keep in mind that polls have shown the same thing many times:  self-identified conservatives are happier on average than self-identified liberals.  When I look at what my liberal and conservative friends believe, it isn’t hard to figure out why:

Economic Opportunity
Liberals:  Big corporations are screwing us, markets don’t work, the good jobs are all being outsourced to India, the little guy doesn’t stand a chance anymore, and the rich (be sure to sneer when you use that term) are the 'winners of life’s lottery.'
Conservatives:  Work hard, study hard, take risks, be disciplined, and you can become a success because this is a land of opportunity.

Global Warming
Liberals:  We’re approaching runaway global warming.  The ice caps are going to melt and New York will end up underwater.  Millions will be displaced.  Deserts around the world, hurricanes and tornadoes and floods, oh my.
Conservatives:  The earth warms and cools in cycles and always has.  Stop worrying about it.

Health Care
Liberals:  We have one of the worst systems in the world.  Castro provides better health care than we do.   Insurance and drug companies are screwing us.
Conservatives:  We have the most advanced system in the world, and most people can afford a policy.  Get the government out of the health care business, repeal laws barring competition in insurance across state lines, and the cost will come down too.

Now, I’m not asking which world-view is correct.  But pretty please, try to be objective about this question:  which world view is more likely to produce or attract satisfied people?  Which world view is more likely to attract or produce dissatisfied people?  And which world-view is more likely to attract “we must save the world even if it means taking away some freedoms” types?

As for valuing the collective more than the individual … do I even have to debate that one?  Do conservatives write books with titles like It Takes A Village?  Other than the occasional anti-war sentiment, the American left’s primary pitch to the voters for the past 70 years can be summed up in two sentences:  “Vote for us!  We’ll give you a bunch of goodies and make someone else pay the bill!”

Earlier, I said the far left is more prone to a True Believer mindset than the far right because of the differences in intellectual heritage.  In his book Explaining Postmodernism, philosophy professor Stephen Hicks recounts that heritage. 

What was once called “liberalism” but is now called libertarianism or small-government conservatism (not the same as religious conservatism) traces its roots to the Enlightenment thinkers, most of whom were British:  Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, Rene Descartes (not British), John Locke and Adam Smith.  Their works emphasized rationalism, objectivism, the scientific method, and individual freedom most importantly, freedom from government coercion.  (Thomas Jefferson was deeply influenced by Locke.)  As Hicks explains:

Individualism and science are thus consequences of an epistemology of reason.  Individualism applied to politics yields liberal democracy … individualism applied to economics yields free markets and capitalism.

Post-modernism, which inspired much of the modern left’s thinking, began as reaction against the Enlightenment thinkers ironically, in part to save religious faith from the onslaught on science and rationality.  Immanuel Kant was a major influence, as were a lot of other Germans (surprise):  Friedrich Nietzsche, Georg W.F. Hegel, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (not German), Martin Heidegger, and of course Karl Marx.  They specifically rejected reason and logic in favor of subjectivism.

Simply put, an objectivist thinks this way:  If it’s true, I believe it.  A subjectivist, however, thinks like this:  If I believe it, it’s true.  According to Heidegger, for example, reason tells us nothing important, and logical inconsistencies are not a sign of intellectual failure.

Now, once again, try to be objective (there’s that word again) while answering this question:  who is more resistant to pesky things like logic and reason, an objectivist or a subjectivist?  Who has an easier time ignoring logical inconsistencies in a belief system? 

As Hicks points out, only a subjectivist could believe that:

  • All cultures are valid and equally deserving of respect, but Western culture is really bad.
  • Values are subjective, but racism and sexism are really, really bad.
  • Technology is destructive and bad, but it’s not fair that some people can afford more of it than others.

The post-modernists were also collectivists.  Here are few relevant quotes:

  • The state ought to have a universal compulsory force to move and arrange each part in the manner best suited to the whole.  — Rousseau
  • All the worth which the human being possesses, all spiritual reality, he possesses only through the state … this final end has supreme right against the individual, whose supreme duty is to be member of the state. — Hegel
  • A single person, I need hardly say, is something subordinate, and as such he must dedicate himself to the ethical whole. — Hegel

Hegel, by the way, was a big influence on Karl Marx.  I’m pretty sure we can agree Marx was a collectivist extraordinaire, and it’s not even debatable that Marx has far more fans on the political left than on the right.  One of my left-wing college professors even had a poster of Marx on the wall of his office. 

Someone commenting on last week’s post pointed out that “left” and “right” aren’t always accurate labels and suggested I refer to them as collectivist-authoritarian and individualist-libertarian.  Fine, I’m cool with that.  “Left” and “right” don’t always fit.  I once saw William F. Buckley argue against anti-drug laws, which isn’t exactly a right-wing position. 

But at the same time, I don’t know how anyone can deny that leftists tilt towards a collectivist-authoritarian belief system.  In the past year or so, I’ve been treated to these statements while debating liberal friends:

  • You only have the rights the government grants you.
  • How can you call high taxes legalized theft?!  It’s not just your money!  We let you make the money!  (I’m assuming he meant no one tried to arrest me for selling my software to people who wanted to buy it.)

By contrast, take a look at this quote from a rather famous individualist-libertarian named Thomas Jefferson:

A wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.

In the modern era, does that sound like something you’d hear coming from the left or the right?  Is it what the fanatical Obama supporters believe?  Is there any evidence whatsoever Obama believes it himself?

Post-modern leftists also have a different intellectual heritage when it comes to language itself.  Since reason doesn’t tell us anything real, the post-modernists taught that language isn’t a tool for seeking the truth; it’s a weapon to wielded for the purpose of acquiring power.  Don’t like what some objectivist-individualist wrote, but having a hard time disputing it?  No problem.  Declare logic a “white male construct” and apply the principles of Deconstruction … otherwise known as “If you can’t debate your opponent’s ideas, label him a sexist or a racist.”  I see that one in action every time a conservative justice is nominated to the Supreme Court.

If you don’t think Deconstruction as a form of analysis was intended to be political, here’s a quote from Jacques Derrida, the father of Deconstruction:

Deconstruction never had any interest or meaning, at least in my eyes, other than as a radicalization, that is to say, within a tradition of a certain Marxism.

Saul Alinksy, whose Rules for Radicals was the subject of Hillary Clinton’s senior thesis, exhorted his readers to pick a target, attack relentlessly, and make it personal … and it’s okay because the ends justify the means:

Whenever we think about social change, the question of means and ends arises. The man of action views the issue of means and ends in pragmatic and strategic terms. He has no other problem; he thinks only of his actual resources and the possibilities of various choices of action. He asks of ends only whether they are achievable and worth the cost; of means, only whether they will work.

Gee, that sounds kind of like it would be okay to label your opponents as racists and sexists if it helps you win a political fight.  I can see why some on the left found Alinsky so inspirational.  As professor Hicks writes early on in his book:

A related puzzle is explaining why postmodernists particularly among those postmodernists most involved with the practical applications of postmodernist ideas, or putting postmodernist ideas into actual practice in their classrooms and in faculty meetings are the most likely to be hostile to dissent and debate, the most likely to engage in ad hominem argument and name-calling, the most likely to enact politically-correct authoritarian measures, and the most likely to use anger and rage as argumentative tactics. 

Whether it is Stanley Fish calling all opponents of affirmative action bigots and lumping them in with the Ku Klux Klan, or whether it is Andrea Dworkin’s male-bashing in the form of calling all heterosexual males rapists, the rhetoric is very often harsh and bitter.  So the puzzling question is: Why is it that among the far Left which has traditionally promoted itself as the only true champion of civility, tolerance, and fair play that we find those habits least practiced and even denounced?

As for who has a greater desire to actually stifle ideas (as opposed to merely labeling them as racist or sexist to avoid debating them), I’m sure that debate could go on forever.  Some of you cited news stories about conservative groups shouting down or even spitting on liberal politicians.  Okay, it happens, and it’s disgusting when it does.

But I don’t see many left-wing speakers being shouted down on campuses or having pies thrown at them.  I haven’t heard of any cases of liberal college newspapers being shut down or having their entire press runs stolen by hostile students.  I haven’t heard of any liberal college students being brought up on “hate speech” charges for expressing their opinions.  I also don’t read many news stories about violent right-wing protesters, but you can pretty much count on violent left-wing protesters showing up any time there’s an economic summit. 

Maybe that’s my own selection bias.  But as far as who is more likely to be dissatisfied with the world and demand we change it, more likely to reject logic and reason, more likely to believe the collective is more important than individual rights, more likely to fear free competition, more likely to support regulation by an educated elite, more likely to believe they can gain only by taking from others, more likely to want public cures for private ails, and more likely to support using government coercion to impose its preferred way of life on others in other words, to act like Hoffer’s True Believers sorry, the radical left wins hands down.

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