The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The Politics of Fear

Posted on | August 27, 2011 | 57 Comments

“In the hands of a skillful indoctrinator, the average student not only thinks what the indoctrinator wants him to think . . . but is altogether positive that he has arrived at his position by independent intellectual exertion. This man is outraged by the suggestion that he is the flesh-and-blood tribute to the success of his indoctrinators.”
William F. Buckley Jr., Up From Liberalism (1959)

In February, the National Interest published an article by Ian Kershaw called “The Ghosts of Fascists Past“:

A prominent British government minister, Baroness Warsi, herself a Muslim, claimed just recently that Islamophobia has “passed the dinner-table test” in Britain and is seen by many as normal and uncontroversial. She warned of growing intolerance, prejudice and bigotry toward the Muslim faith and its adherents. . . .
If we add to the mix the anti-immigrant feeling that is widespread in many parts of the Continent, then racism, it has to be admitted, is far from eradicated. How dangerous is it, given these countries’ baleful histories of racism and fascism in the not-too-distant past? Not surprisingly, some have asked whether Europe is moving toward political extremes. Do the signs point that way? Is Europe indeed on the road to new racial intolerance that could give succor to the extremist Right and even offer it new, promising prospects? . . .

Perhaps some would point toward last month’s Oslo massacre as evidence of such a trend, but I think that’s misleading. Anders Breivik was a lone wolf, a one-off like Timothy McVeigh. Recall that the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was at the time heralded as a symbol of an alleged menace — right-wing militias — that never really developed into anything. And likewise we have no evidence that Breivik’s murder spree was the leading edge of a mass movement.

This is not to minimize the extent or significance of Breivik’s (or McVeigh’s) association with the Right, but rather to illustrate that even the most extreme elements of the Right seldom resort to terrorist violence, and such violence never serves to advance the cause on behalf of which its perpetrators purport to act. In democratic societies, political violence tends to be self-defeating, discrediting those who employ it. Yet there is an industry devoted to conjuring fear of right-wing extremism. The Southern Poverty Law Center (with a tax-free bank account of $175 million) routinely floods the mailboxes of elderly rich liberals with scary solicitations conveying the impression that, unless they send a generous check to fund the SPLC’s efforts, the brownshirts will be goose-stepping down Main Street next week.

My point is that this fear is misplaced and irrational, and yet the Department of Homeland Security’s infamous “right-wing extremism” report of 2009 shows how such foolishness is taken seriously in high places. If the DHS report was directed at the Tea Party movement (as most believe), what are they afraid of? People holding rallies to protest against deficit spending? Mass opposition to a government takeover of the health-care system? A Republican electoral landslide?

Unjustified fear of “right-wing extremism” is fomented simply as a way of demonizing Republicans who, the liberals would have us believe, are on the one hand beholden to dangerous crackpots while, on the other hand, are also tacitly encouraging violent extremists. So if some nut commits a heinous crime and is then alleged to have been a Rush Limbaugh listener — vote Democrat!

Because if you don’t vote Democrat, the Republicans will take charge and then the brownshirts will be goose-stepping down Main Street next week.

It sounds silly when put in such simple terms, of course, but what exactly do the fearmongers want their audiences to fear?

If the danger is psychos with explosives, OK — let the FBI investigate and arrest them. But the fearmongers would have us believe that there is a Continuum of Hate, an uninterrupted chain of causality by which the Hutaree Militia is ultimately connected to the Republican National Committee. And it just ain’t so.

Beyond such transparent guilt-by-association smears, however, we see that the fearmongers benefit from the nebulousness of the threats with which they excite the phobias of their audience. They rely on the “ghosts of fascists past” that haunt the liberal imagination, so that a rally of people waving Gadsden flags and grumbling about taxes can easily be made to conjure up nightmares of Nuremberg in 1934.

It does little good, in protesting against such distortions, to point out the blindingly obvious fact: The dreams of the Tea Partiers — fiscal responsibility, limited government, the rule of law — are the antithesis of Nazi dreams of an all-powerful totalitarian super-state. Nor does it do much good to point out what Jonah Goldberg has explained at length, that modern liberalism owes a tremendous debt of fascism.

The Bolshevik Menace and ‘McCarthyism’

The problem is that many Americans have been emotionally conditioned — indoctrinated, in the manner Buckley described — to dread Republicans as agents of a fascist resurgence. You can trace this theme back at least to the late 1940s, when former State Department official Alger Hiss was exposed as a Communist spy. To conservatives, this revelation confirmed their suspicion that liberals were sympathetic to, if not actively in league with, Bolshevism. But liberals, believing Hiss innocent, reached a quite opposite conclusion: This was a witch-hunt pursued with the secret aim of bringing about an American fascism. From this divergence of belief stemmed the latter-day liberal view of America in the 1950s as gripped by dangerous “McCarthyism,” a misperception that Ann Coulter has mocked as the “Dark Night of Fascism” motif. (See Stan Evans’s masterful Blacklisted by History as a corrective to the smears of Joe McCarthy.)

Liberals refused to confront the reality of Soviet-sponsored subversion and therefore attributed malign motives to anti-Communists, most especially such Republicans as McCarthy and Richard Nixon. The true extent of Soviet efforts to influence U.S. policy was not known for decades; only with the post-Cold War release of the Venona Papers and other documents was conclusive evidence obtained, and few historians have re-examined the record in light of such revelations. (See In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage by John Earl Haynes for a discussion of academia’s failure in that regard.) Thus the mythic terror of “McCarthyism” took root and grew in the liberal imagination, fostered with the aid of cultural Marxists like Theodor Adorno, such of Adorno’s liberal disciples as Richard Hofstadter, and the young leftists who took up the “Long March Through the Institutions” in the 1960s to become a dominant force in contemporary academia.

This history largely explains how, in the past half-century, the alleged witch-hunt hysteria of 1950s anti-Communism has been supplanted by a mirror-reverse of “McCarthyism”: It is now right-wingers who are to be exposed and denounced as dangers to the common good, subjected to all manner of defamation. (See, for example, how leftist Carl Salonen has mounted a smear campaign against Professor Donald Douglas.) And the ubiquitous liberal perception of right-wing menace is why a publication like the National Interest commissions Ian Kershaw, a historian of Nazi Germany, to examine the possibility of a neo-fascist resurgence.

Fearmongers therefore exploit not merely a false conception of present-day dangers — whereby law-abiding citizens who vote Republican are ludicrously portrayed as threats to public safety — but also exploit politicized misconceptions of the historic past. Liberal propagandists furthermore routinely conflate the past and present in ways calculated to demonize the Right so that, for example, anyone who advocates enforcement of U.S. immigration law can expect to be hit with a plethora of tendentiously pejorative historic comparisons: The Klan, the Know-Nothings, Japanese internment, etc.

Whatever the issue, and whatever the specifics of the accusation, the underlying message is always the same: Beware the Danger of the Right!

Marcuse at the Multiplex

What academia teaches, Hollywood preaches, and the emotional power of the fearmongers’ messages find emotional resonance with those raised in the cinematic congregation and in the living-room pews that surround the TV altar. Moralistic themes of heroic resistance to right-wing oppression pervade the output of the entertainment industry. Occasionally the message is specific and explicit (e.g., Good Night and Good Luck) but more often it is contextual and nearly subliminal. Consider, for example, the 1999 Oscar-winner American Beauty, which depicts the middle-class family as a cauldron of harmful repression and suburbia as a place where homophobic conflict incites a Marine colonel to murder. It’s a wonder that the estates of Adorno and Herbert Marcuse didn’t sue the studio for copyright infringement.

Or consider another example: Tom Clancy’s 1991 novel The Sum of All Fears was a Cold War thriller in which German communists conspired with Palestinian radicals to commit thermonuclear terrorism. As imaginatively dramatic as the plot was, Clancy’s story was rooted in a couple of basic realities: First, the Red Army Faction (Baader-Meinhof Gang), a German Marxist terror group; and second, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a left-wing PLO faction that drew inspiration from Che Guevara.

One could plausibly imagine a basis of collaboration between Baader-Meinhof and the PFLP, and if the collapse of the Soviet Union and the passage of more than a decade required some updating of Clancy’s plot for a 2002 movie, nothing could justify what the producers actually did in the cinematic adaptation: Creating from whole cloth a new villain, “an evil billionaire neo-Nazi mastermind intent on leading the Fourth Reich to world conquest,” to borrow Steve Sailer’s description. That this bizarre distortion of Clancy’s plot was reportedly made under pressure from Muslim activists (specifically CAIR) was widely noted, but why on earth make the fictive villain a neo-Nazi and not, for example, some sort of rogue communist from North Korea or China or even from the erstwhile Soviet empire?

The most obvious answer to that question is that Hollywood liberals instinctively expect to find villains on the Right, not the Left. Just as the killer in American Beauty must be a homophobic Marine — and not creepy teen-obsessed Lester Burnham — then quite obviously the villain of a terrorism thriller must be a Nazi, not a Communist.

So deeply embedded is this worldview in the liberal mind, and so widespread is the influence of liberalism, that many of its manifestations go unnoticed. It is usually only when this Dark Night of Fascism theme spills over into the daily political headlines that anyone bothers to examine it, as for example when Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse invoked Richard Hofstadter during the health-care debate (see “Political Psychosis,” The American Spectator, Dec. 21, 2009). Likewise we notice when Bill Keller, whose newspaper has never shown much interest in probing President Obama’s associations with Reverend Wright or Bill Ayers, demands that Republican presidential candidates be interrogated about their religious faith.

It is those on the Right whose secret beliefs must be exposed, you see, because the Right is automatically presumed to be dangerous.

The 20th Brumaire of Modern Liberalism

What is shocking, however, is to see how this liberal worldview has suffused its way even into the minds of Republicans. Pete Da Tech Guy was surprised when one of his friends “declared he was afraid of Rick Perry because of his fundamentalist belief in the Bible (specifically on evolution). He argued that if he doesn’t believe in Evolution what OTHER science does he not believe in?” To which Pete responded: “Unemployment is 9.1%, the economy is in the tank and you’re worried about a candidate’s position on how old the planet is?”

You really must read the whole thing — it’s one of Pete’s best-ever posts — but you see how this incident exemplifies the success of liberal fear-mongering: Millions of Americans, including Pete’s Republican friend, have become convinced that a skeptical stance toward Darwinism is a bellwether indicator of . . . well, what exactly?

 Though tempted to leave that question dangling, to demand that liberals explain why belief in evolution should be a sine qua non of participation in American political life, I will endeavor to provide an answer.

Ever since the French Revolution, the Left has presented itself as the political expression of Scientific Progress. One may trace a straight line from La Fête de la Raison of the 20th Brumaire to the “scientific socialism” of Marx, through the pragmatist philosophy of the Progressives, right on down to the present-day global warming “consensus” and those who insist that skepticism toward Darwinism must be strenuously prohibited in public schools.

If science and progress are good things — who can believe otherwise? — and liberals cast themselves as proponents of these good things, does it not logically follow that those who oppose liberalism might do so because of some hidden animosity toward science and progress? And how better to expose the secret motives of conservatives than to demonstrate that the GOP presidential candidates are Bible-thumping fundamentalist holy rollers who harbor heretical disbelief toward the Gospel of Darwin?

Having already passed the 2,000-word mark, I will spare the reader my explanation of why liberals are so fanatically devoted to the promulgation of evolutionary theory. As interesting as that discussion would be in terms of understanding the liberal worldview, I will content myself to repeat Chesterton’s droll aphorism: “My attitude toward progress has passed from antagonism to boredom. I have long ceased to argue with people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday.”

What is at issue in our contemporary political debate, as Pete told his friend, is not the age of dinosaur bones or the truth of Genesis, but rather whether liberal policies are effective and beneficial. And if you oppose liberal policies, then what you ask of a Republican presidential candidate is simple: Do you oppose liberalism and can you beat Obama?

The fact that Bill Keller wants to ask other questions — with the transparent intent of embarrassing and discrediting Republicans — tells us only one thing: Bill Keller is a liberal.

But you didn’t need a 2,000-word essay to tell you that, did you? And now, for your enjoyment, the New York Times Correction of the Day:

Correction: August 27, 2011
Because of an editing error, an essay on Page 11 this weekend, about the religious beliefs of Republican presidential candidates, misstates the proportion of Americans who believe that extraterrestrials live among us. It is about a third, not a majority. The essay also erroneously includes Rick Santorum among politicians affiliated with evangelical Christianity. Mr. Santorum is Catholic.

Liberals: Their facts may be wrong, but you can’t dispute their beliefs.

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers!


57 Responses to “The Politics of Fear”

  1. Tennwriter
    August 28th, 2011 @ 10:14 pm

    Mr. McGeehee,
    Perhaps you could clarify something for me as you seem to understand him more than I do.

    Is Mr. Bokonon saying I am a bad person, or not?  I’m not sure.

  2. Anonymous
    August 29th, 2011 @ 12:19 am

    I don’t think Bokonon knows, either.  The post is typical look-at-me-I’m-so-erudite nonsensical blather. 

  3. Wodehouselee
    August 29th, 2011 @ 12:31 am

    This is a brilliant essay. I thank my friend who told me about it. I also appreciate the intelligent comments.

    Something anyone can usefully add to any list of exhibits in the case against the “Long March Through the Institutions”, is a book that should be better known: “Love Letter to America” by Tomas Schuman.  This is written by a 1970’s KGB defector,

    Yuri Bezmenov. (Schuman was his pen name at the time). It describes how the KGB’s main task was not in fact espionage, but supporting the “useful idiots” of the West. I also am arguing on other forums, that Ander’s Breivik’s real historical parallel figure is in fact Herschel Grynszpan, 1938. One violent Jew who murdered a German diplomat, which the Nazis then used as a “reason” to step up their persecution of all Jews. The modern PC leftwing government in Norway rounding up conservative bloggers for questioning and possible criminalisation; media all over the world hounding conservative writers who were quoted by Breivik online; the likelihood that “hate speech” laws will be stiffened, notwithstanding the Christian preachers etc already jailed for “giving offence” (and without stooping to violence in their cause).  WHO are the Nazis and WHO are the Jews, today? As Homer Simpson would say, “D’OH”.

  4. Eric
    August 29th, 2011 @ 4:32 pm

    Hershel Grynszpan wasn’t a psychopath. He shot vonRath as revenge for his family’s murder and exile.
    “Als Jude ist kein Verbrechen. Ich bin kein Hund. Ich habe ein Recht zu leben und dem jüdischen Volk das Recht haben, auf dieser Erde existiert. Überall dort, wo ich gewesen bin, Ich mag ein Tier gejagt worden.”

  5. Anonymous
    August 29th, 2011 @ 6:22 pm

    It is neither deceitful nor propaganda; on the other hand linking the myth of a young Earth to the word theory is deceitful propaganda, or else shows profound ignorance of the meaning of the word “theory”.

    The evidence of multi-billion-year-old Earth cannot be disentangled from the evidence for evolution. After all, Darwin himself was a geologist, not a zoologist, so it is hardly a surprise that the main evidence for his theory is in the fossil record, which both requires dating and assists in dating of rocks.

    Old-Earth opposition to evolution is actually even more confused, and shows even greater ignorance than young-Earth. It is bad science, bad theology, and unsound philosophy, involving as it does an arbitary choosing of beliefs, and inconsistent reading of the bible as having parts that must be read as literal and other parts that cannot be read as literal. At least the young-Earth creationists have a (only somewhat inconsistent) source for their beliefs, bizarre that they are.

    Do you really think I am a leftist, having called Obama a sociopath, twice, with indication that I mean this quite literally and not as a simple insult? Having intimated that I hope you guys do elect Governor Perry or someone like him (I am quite a Palin fan as it happens) to the White House? OK, so I didn’t like GWB, but in hindsight I’m glad he beat his Democrat opponents as they were both lunatics.

  6. McGehee
    August 29th, 2011 @ 8:47 pm

    I don’t think he’s sure either.

  7. wodehouselee
    August 29th, 2011 @ 10:30 pm

    Yep, “liberals” (far removed from “classical liberalism”, sadly) always have to change the subject to creationism and evolution. Their economics is absurd and a total failure.
    Of course, evolution is absurd and a total failure too, as a theory. The perpetuation of it in the public sphere is an outstanding example of the connection between “liberalism” and Joseph Goebbells. 
    What Holy Book of any religion, other than the Judeo Christian Bible,  can arguably be “harmonised” with scientific discoveries, AT ALL? The cultural fascists of liberalism want us to confuse ancient people’s “interpretations” of  the Bible, with the thing itself – which is quite resilient to more modern interpretations.
    The fact that it is the Judeo-christian bible that is the focus of such frantic attacks, proves it is really the only Holy Book worth bothering with. Modern man can dismiss the others as nonsense. The Bible, no.