TWO VIEWS ON THE AMERICAN LEFT The Dark Side of the Left: Illiberal Egalitarianism in America/ New Book on Hannah Arendt

Michael Pugliese debsian at
Fri Aug 11 09:05:44 PDT 2000

Two reviews, one from a neo-con, the other from a historian who wrote a still useful piece in Socialist Review in the late 70's on the CPUSA and the "Women Question" (Why not the "Men Question"!)

Michael Pugliese P.S. Got these from EBSCO, lotsa public and university libraries have it. Many complete texts of articles are available online. Saves me from paying Paul Piccone something like 40 bucks to sub to Telos to read what one wag called, "Frankfurt School Neopaleoconservatives."

P.P.S. What is the lowdown on why the editor, of the sociology journal this comes from, Society, Irving Louis Horowitz, became a neo-con? In the early 60's he had some pieces in Science & Society, and edited C.W. Mills collected essays. Recently, he might be moving beyond (or before!)neo-connery- saw a piece by him in Modern Age, a Old Right/Paleo-Con Academic rag founded by Russell Kirk.

"Totalitarian Origins and Outcomes of Political Orthodoxy" by prominent Rutgers University sociologist Irving Louis Horowitz, who examines the nature and impact of twentieth-century totalitarianism.

P.P.P.S. And what of this new book on Hannah Arendt? (And this? Within Four Walls: The Correspondence between Hannah Arendt and Heinrich Blucher 1936-1968 Harcourt Brace, coming out in November. Her husband, Heinrich had been in the KPD in the twenties, I believe.)


A Study of the Suppression of Truth

The unique contribution of this study consists in the discovery and presentation of concrete textual evidence of a major shift in Arendt's political thinking between 1951 and 1958, textual material that has been ignored by all Arendt scholars, because it presents Arendt endorsing a radically inegalitarian and anti-democratic doctrine called "the rule of masters," which Arendt discovered in "ancient political theory." On the basis of this evidence, the book explains why Arendt's The Human Condition rehabilitates the pattern of antiliberal and antidemocratic thinking that formed one of the major ideological premises of fascist political thinking. It demonstrates comprehensively that Arendtian antiliberalism shares a great deal in common with the right-wing German tradition of "antisemitic antiliberalism" that arose in the immediate aftermath of 1789 and 1806, where modern liberalism was ridiculed and rejected as Jewish "slave morals" The study contends that the key to deciphering Arendt's Holocaust scholarship lies in the recognition that scholars are wrong to portray Arendt's thinking as highly original, and that the most conspicuous feature of Arendt's thinking is its systematic lack of originality. This leads to the central claim that we can understand the Nazi hatred of the Jews and the ensuing mass murder by reading Arendt's accounts of these matters in order to figure out how and why she got these matters wrong, even though we find evidence of the truth in her own writings, which Arendt suppresses dishonestly in order to reconcile her interpretation of Nazism with her own defense of a right-wing Nietzschean-Heideggerian pattern of antiliberalism, of the precise kind endorsed as the central premise of Nazi ideology.

"This is a well-written and important study which provides a new interpretation of Hannah Arendt." - Rabbi Daniel Cohn-Sherbok

Table of Contents:

Introduction: Lethal Equations and Flagrant contradictions in the Holocaust Scholarship of Hannah Arendt

1. Animal Laborans Equals Jew: A Lethal Equation: The Human Condition and the Fascist War Against "the Jewish-Liberal-Democratic-Marxist-Humanitarian Mentality"

2. "What Terrible things the Jews Must Have Done to the Germans": Arendt, the De-Germanization of Nazism, and the De-Nazification of Heidegger

3. Marxism, Zionism, and Jewishness: Disclosing Hannah Arendt

Notes; Bibliography; Index

[Symposium Series No. 62]

0-7734-7760-8 $89.95/£49.95 284pp. 2000

About the author: Jules Steinberg is a Professor of Political Science at Denison University. He received his PhD from The University of Wisconsin, Madison, and is the author of two previous books, Locke, Rousseau and the Idea of Consent and The Obsession of Thomas Hobbes.

6.6 What are Frankfurt School Neopaleoconservatives?

A group (so named for the first time in this FAQ) that has come by

way of Frankfurt School cultural criticism to a position

reminiscent of paleoconservatism emphasizing federalism, rejection

of the therapeutic managerial state, and (most recently) liturgy.

Their main publication is _Telos_, which now includes paleocon Paul

Gottfried on its editorial board and publishes Chronicles editor

Thomas Fleming as well as writers such as Alain de Benoist

associated with the European New Right.

Result 6 of 137 Title: Two Views on the American Left. Subject(s): DARK Side of the Left, The (Book) Source: Society, Jul/Aug, Vol. 36 Issue 5, p94, 3p Author(s): Hazlett, Andrew; Schaeffer, Robert K. Abstract: Reviews the book `The Dark Side of the Left: Illiberal Egalitarianism in America,' by Richard J. Ellis. TWO VIEWS ON THE AMERICAN LEFT

The Dark Side of the Left: Illiberal Egalitarianism in America By Richard J. Ellis. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1999. 426 pages, $34.95 (cloth) (out in paperback now too)

Reviewed by Andrew Hazlett

>From the turbulent Sixties to today's campus thought monitors, there is
ample evidence in living memory that the Right has no monopoly on political violence and dogmatism. The Left's excesses, however, are usually characterized as departures from an otherwise benevolent creed, while militia bombings are somehow less surprising. But what if there is a dark heart within American egalitarianism?

That's the question posed in Richard J. Ellis' The Dark Side of the Left. A professor at Willamette University and a long-time student of American political ideologies, Mr. Ellis has identified and dissected several egalitarian movements that have exhibited what he terms "illiberal" tendencies: unreasoning dogmatism, disdain for individual autonomy, demonization of opponents, apocalyptic millenialism, and violent rhetoric.

Mr. Ellis finds a common thread that runs through nineteenth-century utopian collectivists, 1960s campus rebels, today's radical feminists, and environmentalist misanthropes. Intrinsic to all these forms of egalitarianism is the rejection of the classical liberal understanding of equality before the law. Instead, radical egalitarians seek de facto equality of wealth, of status, of gender, among species, etc. These goals come into conflict with the existing rule of law in the United States (especially property rights) and the preferences of the vast majority of ordinary people. Mainstream American culture is essentially individualistic and focused on attaining private happiness and prosperity.

In contrast, radical egalitarians' objectives are social. In most cases, they choose not to withdraw into utopian communities and leave others alone. They feel compelled to change every aspect of the world they regard as so deeply corrupt. As their inevitable frustration with the task grows, these movements often eschew the gradual process of persuasion. They come to disdain people outside their movement as helpless victims of "false consciousness" whose choices have been conditioned by the "system." Their alienation is increased by a belief in an imminent apocalypse--whether religious, environmental, political, or social. The battle becomes so urgent and the odds so desperate that other moral concerns are cast aside--people must be "forced to be free."

Because egalitarians' actions are ultimately in the name of others, the last inhibitions against coercion and violence fall away. In a way that no person simply pursuing his own happiness could, the radical egalitarians feel justified in the advocacy and use of coercive tactics on a wide scale. Mr. Ellis reports, "those who claimed to act in the name of mankind, or the earth, or the children, or the future, or equality, could be more self-righteous and fanatical than those who freely admitted to acting out of self-interest."

The results can be chilling. As Mr. Ellis writes, "to make altruism ... the motive responsible for running the system may be an idle dream, but more troubling is that it invites unchecked state coercion." Edward Bellamy's 1888 book, Looking Backward, called for an omnipotent state to eradicate individualism and mold humanity into a harmonious collective. The New Left invoked Frantz Fanon and Herbert Marcuse in the advocacy of riots and the defense of communist dictatorships. Because the "personal is political," radical feminists like Catherine MacKinnon would criminalize the most private consensual activities. Environmental egalitarians like Earth First! welcome plagues and famine and offer tacit support of sabotage and terrorism.

Mr. Ellis does not blithely link egalitarianism and illiberalism in these many instances without detailed evidence. Based on meticulous primary research, his conclusions are carefully qualified and the book is exhaustively footnoted (there are half as many pages of notes as text). He is also anxious to avoid being called a conservative, and he deserves to be taken seriously in that regard.

What Mr. Ellis upholds instead is what he calls a "liberalism of fear" that shies away from moral absolutism and "radical certainty." He agrees with E.E. Schattschneider that "democracy is a political system for those people who are not too sure they are right." This viewpoint is a weakness throughout the book because it undermines the moral confidence we need to combat the very evils he describes. Several of the book's case studies dramatize what happens when reasonable, well-intentioned people are fearful and vacillating: those who are not so benevolent but are sure of themselves quickly seize the reins. On a broader scale, history is full of weak liberal governments that gave way to highly motivated totalitarians. If anyone is going to be confident about their political vision, let's hope it is the defenders of individual rights and capitalism.

This book is most valuable as a reminder that real sins of the illiberals are the denigration of individuals as such and, as a shortcut to power, the casting aside of rational persuasion. What we need is more certainty and greater moral confidence in the service of the nation's founding ideas and institutions. They protect us from authoritarians of any stripe who would impose their will by force. --Andrew Hazlett

Liberals have fallen on hard times. After decades of sitting comfortably at the center of a wide political consensus, with their hand on the levers of state power, they have been exiled to the political margins and their ideas have been ridiculed by conservatives of the ascendant Right. Given this turn of events, it may be appropriate to ask of liberals, as Bob Dylan once did: "How does it feel? To be without a home? With no direction home? Like a complete unknown? Like a rolling stone?"

This predicament is not unfamiliar to many Americans, though it is no doubt a new experience for many liberals. The problem for liberals, as it is for all political minorities, is this: what kind of ideas and practices might give them a "direction home," a path to public consensus and political power?

One answer might be for liberals to seek common ground with those on the Left. But Richard Ellis will have none of that. According to Ellis, the Left is intolerant, doctrinaire, authoritarian, Manichaean, condescending, and enthusiastic about violence. Because the Left has this "dark side," it is an unsuitable ally for liberals. So for Ellis, liberals should best find their way home, alone.

It is not clear, however, that liberals can create a movement capable of challenging the Right and returning to power on their own. This does not particularly trouble Ellis, who is intent on scrutinizing the Left, exposing its dark side, and demonstrating its weakness as a potential ally.

To do this, Ellis surveys the radical egalitarian tradition in America, examining abolitionists, communal utopians, the New Left, the women's movement, and environmentalists during the last 150 years. These diverse groups were all committed to egalitarian principles. But according to Ellis, they all made a common set of intellectual and practical errors that compromised their principles and vitiated their effectiveness.

It is evident from his account that people in these movements made theoretical errors and political mistakes, which they did not recognize or appreciate. And Ellis provides a useful service in bringing this to our attention. But his narrative suffers from many of the errors he criticizes, and others besides.

Ellis devotes most of his attention to a study of the New Left, the women's movement, and the environmental movement. This is appropriate, given their relevance to contemporary politics. But why then devote a chapter to antebellum abolitionists, and two more to a study of the novelists Edward Bellamy, Ignatius Donnelly, and Mike Gold? Their inclusion suggests that Ellis is unable to distinguish between intellectual traditions in different historical periods or between significant social movements and historical footnotes.

When Ellis finally turns to contemporary subjects, he concentrates on a few individuals or groups: Tom Hayden and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS); Catharine MacKinnon and women's studies programs; Dave Foreman and Earth First! His intellectual history of these figures and groups is not without interest. But he casually equates these individuals with the New Left movement at large, arguing that these figures represent a wider intellectual consensus and that their errors are inscribed on the movement as a whole. This is an extremely dubious assertion. Hayden, for example, has been the subject of intense scrutiny by scholars of the New Left, and for good reason. He is a prolific writer, an articulate speaker, and, no doubt, influential in some circles. But what was the relation between his ideas and the movement at large? Were they swallowed wholesale? These are questions that Ellis does not entertain. One could argue that Hayden, in fact, had only a minimal impact on a diverse, multifaceted movement that extended far beyond the organizational confines of SDS and included people from hippies to students to Black Panthers to Maoists. The fact is that few of Hayden's contemporaries read anything he wrote or heard anything he said. The movement took more intellectual direction from Bob Dylan than it ever did from Hayden, just ask the Weathermen, who believed they knew which way the wind blew.

The trouble for Ellis is that if he acknowledged Dylan's role in the New Left's intellectual life, he couldn't easily use Hayden as its intellectual representative. It is okay to study what social scientists call an "unrepresentative sample," because there is much to be learned from it. And there is something to be gained from Ellis's study of Hayden. But it is unfair to use criticism of an individual's ideas to characterize a movement, particularly when that movement has wide-ranging ideas and takes diverse organizational forms.

This problem recurs when Ellis examines the women's and environmental movements, both having ideas and politics that range across a wide political spectrum. Frankly, I tire of critiques that use Earth First! to make their case. It's too easy given the fact that Earth First! is a name without any organization or members. It's like using a study of a chat room to generalize about the Internet. His discussion of women's studies programs is equally disingenuous. He characterizes them collectively as intolerant despite the fact that the 600-plus programs are extremely diverse. And why lambaste women's studies? The average university economics department is less tolerant of dissenting views than even the most strident feminist programs.

Ellis also lays intellectual traps for his subjects. Either they "idealize the oppressed," a serious error, or they "disdain the masses," an equally serious fault. Under these circumstances, of course, the Left can do no right, only different wrongs.

More useful is Ellis's critique of the Left's organizational practices. He argues persuasively that consensus decision making and efforts to dismantle or unstructure movement organizations can make participation less democratic rather than more. But while this has frequently occurred, it does not mean that consensus decision making and participatory democracy are inherently flawed, a case he tries to make. The Quakers, for example, have long practiced an effective politics in the peace movement using this approach. And so did Charter 77 and Civic Forum in Czechoslovakia under communist rule. One should note, of course, that the "anti-politics" adopted by liberal Czech dissidents was extremely effective under authoritarian rule but unsuited to party politics in the post-communist state. A more comprehensive analysis of these practices is necessary before they are discarded as always and inevitably flawed.

Although Ellis's negative assessment of Left movements is unwarranted, his general aversion to intolerance and self-righteousness, in its many forms, where it does occur, is sound. He might be surprised to learn that most people on the Left share his sentiments. But what kind of ideas and practices does he affirm? Ellis says he is particularly attracted to Judith Shklar's "liberalism of fear," a liberalism ... that affirms the rule of law, constitutionalism, toleration, and personal freedom, but jettisons naive and untenable assumptions about ineluctable progress and natural human goodness, preferring "a strongly developed historical memory" to abstract or formalistic efforts to deduce universally shared liberal principles. It is a liberalism that fears the state, believing that although "the sources of social oppression are indeed numerous, none has the deadly effect of those who, as the agents of the modern state, have acquired resources of physical might and persuasion at their disposal" (p. xi).

There is much to recommend about such a perspective. Certainly many on the Left, in the women's, peace, and environmental movements, would share these views. And one can imagine that these principles might serve as the basis for an engaging conversation between liberals and leftists. Ellis raises this prospect in the introduction, but then squanders the opportunity for conversation because he assumes that the Left does not sufficiently fear the state. But based on my experience in the peace and environmental movements, I would say he greatly underestimates the Left's skepticism, aversion, even "fear" of the state. Indeed, it may be that he fears it too little. Throughout the text he denounces leftists when they engage in "illegal acts," and he insists that reform take place legally, only within the confines of representative democratic systems. But committing illegal acts--strikes, sit-ins, and marches--have frequently contributed to constructive change, so long as the actors did so peacefully and took responsibility for their actions. And given the fact that representative democracy is sometimes used by the majority to marginalize, exclude, and silence political minorities, there are real grounds for fearing the state, even a liberal one. This being the case, greater attention might be paid to reform of the political system itself.

Liberals and leftists have more in common than Ellis suggests. For different reasons, however, they distrust each other and that distrust has driven a wedge between them. Ellis might have spent less time hammering away at differences and more time building on common ideas and shared practices. That, I think, is the only way home. --Robert K. Schaeffer


Reviewed by Andrew Hazlett and Robert K. Schaeffer

Andrew Hazlett is director of the book program at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. He is at work on a book about the politics of race and violence on a college campus

Robert K. Schaeffer is associate professor of sociology at San Jose State University. He worked for many years as an editor at Greenpeace, Nuclear Times, and Friends of the Earth. He is the author of Warpaths: The Politics of Partition; Power to the People: Democratization Around the World; and Understanding Globalization: The Social Consequences of Political, Economic, and Environmental Change.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------- ---- Copyright of Society is the property of Transaction Publishers and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use. Source: Society, Jul/Aug, Vol. 36 Issue 5, p94, 3p. Item Number: 1974056

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list