Thursday, December 19, 2002

by Kenneth J. Schmidt

Just who are these people we call liberals? In 1964, the late James Burnham called liberalism "the ideology of Western suicide." It was an apt description. Many years have passed since 1964, however, and it makes sense to reassess the meaning of liberalism.

Over time, political ideas have a tendency to change. A conservative in 1964 would probably not be welcome among Beltway conservatives today. In 1964, Senator Barry Goldwater voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In theĆ¢€˜80s, President Reagan signed a bill into law declaring Martin Luther King Day a federal holiday. Could it be that both these men were conservatives? I believe liberalism has changed its meaning many times, as has its brother, conservatism.

I always wince a little when some well-meaning patriot calls Bill Clinton (or his wife) a "socialist." If the Clintons were true socialists they would certainly not be wallowing in the corporate money pig trough, as they have for so many years. Anyone who understands the ideology of Marxist socialism knows that Karl Marx didn't think much of blacks or even unskilled workers. To our president the darker races aren't merely fellow citizens, but gods. Marx's revolutionary class was the proletariat of skilled blue-collar working men, not the Boyz in da Hood.

Would Norman Thomas, who for over 30 years ran as America's Socialist Party presidential candidate, have anything to do with the American liberals or European socialists who mindlessly bomb Belgrade and Baghdad on a regular basis? Thomas thought so much of peace that he risked the criticism of his fellow leftists by joining in common cause with the right as a member of the America First Committee to keep the U.S. out of World War II. Eugene Debs, who led American Socialists in 1914, went to jail on a trumped-up charge of encouraging young men to desert the military as part of his opposition to contributing young Americans to the meatgrinder of the Western Front during World War I (the so-called "Great War").

Of course, I am not defending socialism or socialists or liberals. But liberalism has changed significantly over the past 60 or 70 years. In fact, it has changed so much that it has become an elusive concept. Thinking on the left has become decidedly anti-ideological since the end of the Second World War. I think the reason why this is so has to do with the decline in higher education since 1945.

The late conservative political philosopher Russell Kirk pointed to the G.I. Bill and general overcrowding of universities after the end of World War II as a prime reason for the failure of our society to produce men who can think in a systematic way. Rather than choose a political ideology based on a fully integrated system cognizant of the trials and traumas of history, the typical modern college graduate makes his choice based on what he thinks the stereotypical "intelligent" person believes.

This results in a kind of slapdash non-ideology composed of the biases and bigotries of America's upper classes and bohemians. From the New England aristocracy he inherits the obsessional sentimentality toward the Negro which is characteristic of that class. From the urban bohemians he borrows a respect for the practitioners of the "love that dare not speak its name" and becomes a defender of so-called "gay rights."

In the 1930s liberals in the mold of FDR decided that America's corporate classes needed to have their karma lowered; today, Bill Clinton and his competitors in the Republican Party both worship at the sacred altars of international capitalism and ignore the working man. The hippie of 1968 is more likely to be a high-level business executive than the operator of a macrobiotic health food collective.

Liberalism is a changeable philosophy that mutates and morphs as it moves through history. Of late it has taken on a decidedly religious cast. Not that liberals have decided to worship a supreme deity; they are too "enlightened" for that. However, the whole tone of liberalism has become more religious in nature. The strictures of "political correctness" are now followed with the same kind of fervor found in faith communities.

Liberalism today has a definite neo-Puritan air that makes the Massachusetts Puritans of the 1700s seem mild by comparison. The deification of Martin Luther King is a pitiful attempt by liberals to worship a secular god. All this is not too surprising, as the religious impulse in man is a strong one. Even though most liberals are agnostics or atheists, the deeply felt need for morality and ritual are deep in man's genes and not likely to fade anytime soon.

At this point in time liberalism has very little objective meaning. It is easier to define liberalism by what it is not. It is a political and philosophical movement to cut man's ties to blood, religion, ethnicity and culture. It is, in short, the ideology of opposition to religion and nationalism. The wholly inadequate political concept called conservatism was supposed to defeat liberalism, but after 50 years of futile conservative hopes being smashed, only a muscular nationalism can stand up to the liberal monolith.

No comments: