Saturday, May 1, 2010

Eric 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's Bush 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.

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: pervasion 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.

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. A current example of this kind of thinking 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.

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. They're 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 who's 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.

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, thusly: "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 60 years ago would have said "mein Fuhrer"?

Ultimately the problem can be defined in three words: groups, coercion, and hubris. When all three come together, the problems generated are almost always catastrophic. The opposite is the individual in a voluntary group, persuasion, and a realistic appraisal of oneself, generally known as humility.

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