Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn on Leftism

Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (1909-1999) has influenced me more than I can say. And not just me; he appeared in the first issue of "National Review" and was for many years a staple of the magazine, back when it was readable and ran greats like Russell Kirk. His magnum opus, Leftism Revisited, is ranked by "Intellectual Conservative" as number 12 out of the top 25 philosophical and ideological conservative books. It's one of those books everyone should own, whether he agrees with it or not.

Kuehnelt-Leddihn spent his life studying the history of leftism and tracing its destructive influence throughout the world. Although he admired the United States, he clearly saw what leftism had done to it. Were he alive today, I believe he would define the neo-conservatives not as conservatives, but as leftists. I believe he would also have defined George Bush's and Barak Obama's crusades as a blind, crude leftist attempt to remake the world. So, then, Bush, contrary to his "conservative" credentials, was more of a leftist than a rightist - which means those who think there is any great difference between the two are mistaken.

From a lifetime of thought, Kuehnelt-Leddihn distilled leftism into a list. Here is part of it.

Messianism assigned to one group: a nation, a race, a class.
Centralization: elimination of local administrations, traditions, characteristics, etc.
Totalitarianism: pervasive of all spheres of life by one doctrine.
Brute force and terror, not authority, an endogenous force.
Ideological one-party state.
Militarism: conscription, people's armies.
Territorial expansionist tendencies as a form of self-realization.
Exclusiveness: no other deities tolerated.

Sounds like the perfect leftism is the Borg - who live in a womb-to-tomb cube flying through space.

Kuehnelt-Leddihn pointed out that while most people knew the communists were leftists, few understood that so were the Nazis. Hitler understood there was little difference between the International Socialists of Russia and the National Socialists of Germany, which is why he gave orders that former Communists were to immediately admitted to the Nazi Party. He understood there was but a hair's breadth difference between the character of the two.

As Wikipedia said of Kuehnelt-Leddihn: "Contrary to the prevailing view that the Nazi Party was a radical right-wing movement with only superficial and minimal leftist elements, Kuehnelt-Leddihn asserted that Nazism (National Socialism) was a strongly leftist, democratic movement ultimately rooted in the French Revolution that unleashed forces of egalitarianism, conformity, materialism and centralization. He argued that Nazism, fascism, radical-liberalism, and communism were essentially democratic movements, based upon inciting the masses to revolution and intent upon destroying the old forms of society. Furthermore, he claimed that all democracy is basically totalitarian and that all democracies eventually degenerate into dictatorships."

Everything on the list is troublesome, but I perhaps "messianism" is the most troublesome characteristic on that list. Every empire has used as a justification for its abuses the belief it is "saving the world." People as far apart as Aesop and Jesus both commented that "all tyrants call themselves benefactors." "Saving the world" is always an excuse for trying to conquer it.

Doubtless messianism is related to our inborn narcissism, i.e., seeing ourselves (or our tribe) as grandiose and others as less than human. That splitting is the basis of all propaganda. In the western world the closest story I can find about a malignant narcissist is that of Satan, whose sin was pride, or hubris, and who wished to replace God no matter how much destruction he caused. In our temporal world that story clearly describes such people as Castro, Mao Tse-Tung, Pol Pot, Stalin and Hitler.

Unfortunately, that story is the defining characteristic of all States, all of which consider themselves messianic, and therefore are Satanic. This includes the United States, contrary to the nationalists who believe the country has done no wrong. To the degree any country is messianic it is leftist, and will wreak havoc wherever it meddles.

Woodrow Wilson, whom Kuehnelt-Leddihn clearly thought was an utter incompetent, got the US involved in WWI to "save democracy." From his bumblings we got WWII, the Communist takeovers of eastern Europe, and in general the catastrophes of the 20th Century. The sayings, "no good deed goes unpunished" and "the road is Hell is paved with good intentions" make sense only in the context of people not minding their own business.

Messianism is related to "territorial expansionist tendencies as a form of self-realization." If a leader and enough citizens of the country believe he and the country are a messiah to the world, then expansionist tendencies necessarily follow. An current example of this kind of thinking from a few year's ago is Thomas P. M.. Barnett, author of The Pentagon's New Map.

Barnett divides the world into the Core and the Gap. We're the Core (civilized and good); all the "failed states" of the world are the Gap (uncivilized and bad). We're supposed to use war to conquer the Gap and remake them in our image. This is messianic thinking at its worst, and is close to being purely leftist. The author clearly believes he is a visionary, but his ideas are in reality a few thousand years old, and trenchant criticism of them can be found in the Bible. And since his views are leftist, I can predict that if they are put into effect, they will fail miserably - as we have in Afghanistan and Iraq (which I predicted).

Two others who remind me of Barnett are David Frum and Richard Perle, authors of An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror. They are even worse than Barnett, who appears positively sophisticated compared to them. Their views are simplistic: the United States is good; those who they believe pose a threat (even if they don't) have to be destroyed.

To this end they believe the U.S. should overthrow Iran, blockade North Korea, ignore Europe, twist Syria's and China's arms, and in general engage in an Orwellian perpetual war for perpetual peace. Their chances of succeeding are as about as good as Barnett's. Like Barnett, they have no intention of making their way to the front lines; that's for others.

"Exclusiveness: no other deities tolerated" is an inherent part of the first two characteristics I've mentioned. If a country is messianic and expansionist, it's going to consider itself purely good, and therefore will tolerate no dissent. Sometimes there is an attempt to replace God with country and State, such as the Nazis and Communists tried, but these attempts rapidly fell apart amid catastrophic destruction such as the world had never experienced.

What lasts longer is the melding of God and country. It might just as dangerous as replacing God with country, and certainly is just as false. I'd have to conclude people like Jerry Falwell, who wrote an article about how "God is Pro-war," is, if people take him seriously, a danger to the country. How can a man call himself a Christian when he such a rabid believer in massive war? Hasn't he ever heard of the saying, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God"? The converse of that saying would be, "Cursed are the war-makers, for they shall be called children of the Devil."

I conclude the easiest way to recognize a false Messiah or someone whose religion is warped, is that they do not see the shades of grey inherent in people's beliefs, but instead seeing everything as black or white, good or bad. Of course, they consider themselves good; those who disagree with them are bad and have to be sacrificed to save the good. The name for this is "human sacrifice."

All of those seven traits I've listed have one thing in common: the individual is nothing; only the group counts. I would define fascism, or Nazism, or Communism, or nationalism, or leftism, thus: "the attempt to coerce people into joining an unwanted group."

Kuehnelt-Leddihn made the comment, "'We' is from the Devil; 'I' is from God." While voluntary groups are a necessary part of life, involuntary groups are as demonic as Kuehnelt-Leddihn described them.

If I was to expand on a definition of leftism, I'd say: "the attempt to coerce people into joining a messianic group, with a messianic leader, with anyone defined as an outsider considered a potentially fatal threat." That definition is the message of Orwell's 1984.

That definition means no one man should have great political power. While it is true that some can handle it, there remains the problem of who comes after him. Clearly, the office of President has much too much power. It is far too easy for a Wilson, or a Bush, or an Obama, to consider himself a Messiah destined to change the world, at the cost of great slaughter and destruction. Then of course we have the problem of the nationalists who idolize such men, to the point of referring to them as "my President."

Are these not exactly the same kind of men who would have said "mein Fuhrer"?

Ultimately the problem can be defined in three words: groups, coercion, and hubris - everyone is supposed to think exactly the same (which is what PC is about). When all three come together, the problems generated are always catastrophic. The opposite is the individual in a voluntary group, persuasion, and a realistic appraisal of oneself, generally known as humility.


Spychiatrist said...

Good writing Bob.

Succinct, articulate and well thought out. This deserves wider recognition.

Baloo said...

I've reprinted this gem at Ex-Army, and I'l try to write a follow-up for it myself in a few days. Here it is:
Hitler: Leftist or Rightist? — First, the Leftist Theory

Bob Wallace said...

You will come to see things my way. ;-)

RobertW said...

Totally agree- the Neo-Cons (really Neo-Con-men) descended from the hard left who blindsided the public by adding the word "conservative" to their name. Unless you think that invading a country that posed no threat to us is a "conservative" value.

And I often take issue with my leftist family and friends (most of them) who call Bush conservative. The only thing he did in his entire administration that was marginally conservative were the "Bush tax cuts". He also brought us huge crony bailouts and the dreadful TSA and DHS. Not to mention the huge new Medicare entitlements. I don't know if Bush is personally a Neo-Con or just their amiable stooge.

In my view, Bush drove us to the edge of the cliff. Obama just stepped on the gas.

Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis. Congratulations !
As someone who experienced the worst criminal ideology, communismus, somewhere in east Europe, I must say that this book is brilliant.