How I Cured Myself of Leftism
The first thought that comes to mind is that I knew this would happen once people started tinkering with the definition of marriage. Soon enough, people would be wedding Kool-aid.
Seriously, I used to think this was a purely psychological question, but it can't be that simple. Like you--like almost everyone--I also began as a leftist. I guess I'll have to start with analyzing my own awakening, and then determine if it has any general applicability to others.
At this point in time, I am more inclined to think of leftism as an intellectual pathology rather than a psychological one (although there is clearly considerable overlap). What I mean is that it is impossible to maintain a priori that a conservative person is healthier or more emotionally mature than a liberal. There are plenty of liberals who believe crazy things but are wonderful people, and plenty of conservatives who have the right ideas but are rotten people. However, this may be begging the question, for it is still puzzling why people hold beliefs that are demonstrably untrue or at the very least unwise.
One of the problems is with our elites. We are wrong to think that the difficulty lies in the uneducated and unsophisticated masses--as if inadequate education, in and of itself, is the problem. As a matter of fact, no one is more prone to illusions than the intellectual. It has been said that philosophy is simply personal error on a grandiose scale. Complicating matters is the fact that intellectuals are hardly immune to a deep emotional investment in their ideas, no less than the religious individual. The word "belief" is etymologically linked to the word "beloved," and it is easy to see how certain ideas, no matter how dysfunctional--for example, some of the undeniably appealing ideas underpinning contemporary liberalism--are beloved by those who believe them. Thus, many liberal ideas are believed not because they are true, but because they are beautiful. Then, the intellectual simply marshals their intelligence in service of legitimizing the beliefs that they already hold. It has long been understood by psychoanalysts that for most people, reason is the slave of the passions.
Underneath the intellectual's attachment to the dysfunctional idea is a more insidious fear that their entire intellectual cathedral, carefully constructed over a lifetime, will collapse in ruins. Religious people are not as prone to this same fear, because they accept it that their religion is ultimately based on a leap of faith. One can see how this is playing out, for example, in the intellgent design debate that has philosophical materialists frothing at the mouth. Intellectuals live under the illusion that their system is based solely on facts and logic, which is easily disproved, even with regard to mathematical knowledge (for example, Godel's theorems prove that there is no formal system that does not contain assumptions unwarranted and unproveable by the system). For most intellectuals, understanding actually precedes knowledge. In other words, they have a certain feeling about the world, and then only pay attention to knowledge that confirms that feeling-based view.
That liberalism is a new pseudo-religion seems quite obvious to me. While it is true that the conservative intellectual movement includes religious groups, it has been my experience that conservatism actually maintains a far clearer separation of religious and political impulses than liberalism, simply because it acknowledges a sharp difference between the two. Since leftism denies the existence of spirit, it ends up conflating politics and gnostic spirituality into a single ideology that is neither politics nor religion, but a monstrous hybrid of the two.
As Jonah Goldberg has observed, "Like many spiritual movements, liberalism emphasizes deeds and ideals over ideas. As a result, when liberals gather there’s a revivalist spirit in the air, with plenty of talk about fighting the forces of evil and testifying about good deeds done." The philosopher Eric Voegelin coined the phrase “immanentizing the eschaton” to describe the messianic liberal impulse to remake mankind and to create heaven on earth. Goldberg cites several examples, such as "the spiritual nature of the environmental movement; the quasi-messianic treatment of Martin Luther King Jr.; Bill Clinton’s invocation of 'covenants' with the American people; Hillary Clinton’s 'politics of meaning,' which claimed to redefine what it meant to be a human being in the postmodern world — all of these are examples of what Voegelin would describe as the neo-Gnostic effort to make the hereafter simply here." Similarly, "It should be no surprise that Hillary Clinton justified her Senate candidacy on the claim that she was more 'concerned' about the issues than her opponent. And of course her husband won the presidency by arguing he was better at 'feeling' pain."
At the same time, for the person who is not under the hypnotic psycho-spiritual spell of contemporary liberalism, it is strikingly devoid of actual religious wisdom or real ideas. As such, it is driven by vague, spiritually infused ideals and feelings, such as "sticking up for the little guy," or "war is not the answer." On the other hand, conservatism is not so much based on ideas, but on simply observing what works, and then generalizing from there. It is actually refreshingly free of dogma, and full of dynamic tension. For example, at the heart of conservatism is an ongoing, unresolvable dialectic between freedom and virtue. In other words, there is a bedrock belief in the idea that free markets are the best way to allocate scarce resources and to create wealth and prosperity for all, but a frank acknowledgment that, without a virtuous populace, the system may produce a self-centered, materialistic citizenry living in a sort of degenerate, "pitiable comfort." Thus, there is an ongoing, unresolvable tension between the libertarian and traditional wings of the movement.
There is no such dynamic tension in liberalism. Rather, it is a top-down dogma that is not dictated by what works, but by how liberals would like reality to be. This is why liberalism must be enforced with the mechanism of political correctness, in order to preempt or punish those who deviate from liberal dogma, and see what they are not supposed to see.
Consider this recent piece of work by that older piece of work, Howard Dean. He recently posted this summary of liberal beliefs and achievements on the DNC website. See if you can detect any substantive thought whatsoever. At the same time, note the crypto-religious, messianic tone:
--"Our leaders in the House and Senate... continue to pressure the administration for the truth about manipulating prewar intelligence, sending a strong message that Democrats will fight for what is right."
--"The DNC, the Democratic House and Senate leadership and Democratic mayors and governors are sitting at the same table to create policies and strategies for restoring honest government and fiscal responsibility to America."
--"We need to continue to work together on judicial nominations, environmental legislation, trade and jobs to send effectively the message that we are again ready to lead the American people with purpose and in a fundamentally new direction."
--"The key to winning is running a national campaign based on our different vision and the themes that Democrats around the country have put forward."
--"We will offer real ethics reform and election reform so that the Government Accountability Office can report in three years that we can have confidence in our voting machines."
--"We will offer a program for American jobs that stay in America... "
--"We will offer Americans real security. We all agree that 2006 must be a transition year in Iraq."
--"We will offer the American people a government that is honest in preparing for any deployment of American troops and honor their sacrifice when they come home."
--"Americans believe that using issues to divide us as a country to win elections is bad for America. We will restore America’s sense of community."
--"Most important, we will talk about Democratic values, which are America’s values."
--"Americans believe it is immoral that not everyone has some kind of health insurance. We agree."
--"The vast majority of Americans believe it is immoral to lets kids go hungry. We agree. The other party cuts school lunches (they just can’t seem to leave that one alone.)"
As an aside, have you noticed that leftists always believe they are "speaking truth to power" when they are actually "speaking lies to the powerless"? It occurs to me that Dean works so closely with the a-holes at moveon.org, that after his chairmanship is over he'll be able to switch his specialty to proctology. With that last wisecrack about conservatives having a value system that places a priority on making sure that children go hungry, what can you say but: Physician F**k Thyself. Immediately.
Where was I, anyway? Oh yes. I was about to describe my journey from the darkness of contemporary liberalism to modern conservatism. Next post, I guess.