Monday, March 8, 2010

The Tea Partiers and the New Left: A Tale of Two Loves

I've said it before but it bears repeating often: accusing the Right of wrongs that the Left itself is guilty of is standard procedure in the culture wars. It is an old Communist tactic: much of what the Communists accused the Nazis of doing were things the Communists would dearly loved to have done if only they had gotten power. The Left, in its relativistic and cynical manner, tends to think that everyone else thinks like they do and, given half a chance, would do what they do (or wish they could do). The Left is trapped in its perpetual analysis of all social relations in terms of pure power to such an extent that it is prevented from understanding how conservatives think and what conservatives actually value.

An outstanding example of this is the tame house conservative of the New York Times, David Brooks. He is a useful idiot for the Left because he is reassuring to them. If leftists can persuade themselves that all thinking conservatives think like David Brooks, then they can write off all conservatives who stand on principle as "fascists," "haters" and "bigots." An article in the NYT on the weekend, "The Wall-Mart Hippies," demonstrates clearly just how Brooks earns his salary.

He compares the Tea Party movement that has arisen over the past year to the New Left of the 1960s. Already leftists reading this column feel better: they are reassured that they don't have to feel morally inferior to the Tea Party Patriots, who seem to have common sense, American history and the founding fathers on their side. Brooks show that these so-called patriots are no better than us. Here is a sample of his rather lame comparison:
"But the similarities are more striking than the differences. To start with, the Tea Partiers have adopted the tactics of the New Left. They go in for street theater, mass rallies, marches and extreme statements that are designed to shock polite society out of its stupor. This mimicry is no accident. Dick Armey, one of the spokesmen for the Tea Party movement, recently praised the methods of Saul Alinsky, the leading tactician of the New Left.

These days the same people who are buying Alinsky’s book “Rules for Radicals” on are, according to the company’s software, also buying books like “Liberal Fascism,” “Rules for Conservative Radicals,” “Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left,” and “The Shadow Party: How George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Sixties Radicals Seized Control of the Democratic Party.” Those last two books were written by David Horowitz, who was a leading New Left polemicist in the 1960s and is now a leading polemicist on the right.

But the core commonality is this: Members of both movements believe in what you might call mass innocence. Both movements are built on the assumption that the people are pure and virtuous and that evil is introduced into society by corrupt elites and rotten authority structures. “Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains,” is how Rousseau put it.

Because of this assumption, members of both movements go in big for conspiracy theories. The ’60s left developed elaborate theories of how world history was being manipulated by shadowy corporatist/imperialist networks — theories that live on in the works of Noam Chomsky. In its short life, the Tea Party movement has developed a dizzying array of conspiracy theories involving the Fed, the F.B.I., the big banks and corporations and black helicopters.

Because of this assumption, members of the Tea Party right, like the members of the New Left, spend a lot of time worrying about being co-opted. They worry that the corrupt forces of the establishment are perpetually trying to infiltrate the purity of their ranks.

Because of this assumption, members of both movements have a problem with authority. Both have a mostly negative agenda: destroy the corrupt structures; defeat the establishment. Like the New Left, the Tea Party movement has no clear set of plans for what to do beyond the golden moment of personal liberation, when the federal leviathan is brought low."

On the basis of this deep research (on and "in-depth" analysis he concludes that both the New Left and the Tea Party movement are both anti-conservative because both reject original sin. He says that both are essentially negative and not positive movements, which does two things at once: the first is that it disassociates contemporary leftists from the radical New Left of the 1960s, which is ridiculous, and the second is even more ridiculous: it disassociates the Tea Partiers from the broader conservative movement in America.

Jonah Goldberg, in the The National Review Online's blog "The Corner" takes this faulty comparison apart piece by piece. In a post entitled "Brooks and the Tea Parties" he says:

"Again, it's interesting. But when he says the "similarities are more striking than the differences," I think he gets it backwards. The differences are more striking than the similarities.

For starters, I think he's just wrong about Alinksy. The main reason Alinsky is hot right now with many conservatives is that, thanks to Beck and Horowitz, many are convinced that Obama is an Alinskyite and so many believe that you can't understand Obama without understanding Alinsky.

Second, his Amazon citation is at best selective. I went and checked the "customers also bought" feature for Rules for Radicals and found that customers also bought (in addition to the books David listed): The Constitution of the United States, American Progressivism: A Reader (R. J. Pestritto's excellent and purely academic book), A Conflict of Visions by Tom Sowell, The Real Thomas Jefferson, The Road to Serfdom, and Common Sense, The Rights of Man and Other Essential Writings of Thomas Paine.

- snip -

One of the reasons all of this is relevant is that the basic arguments and outlook of the Tea Parties are simply and profoundly different from the outlook of the New Left. The Tea Partiers are not in any meaningful sense Rousseauians. They certainly don't reject original sin in any serious way. And I suspect if you asked many of them they would say that the American people deserve their share of blame for the financial mess we're in. They do believe, I would bet, that America is a basically decent nation that has drifted into a kind of soft-despotism or Nanny-statism. But that vision isn't Rousseauian, it's De Tocquevillian.

Moreover, I wonder: Did the original New Left really believe in the mass innocence of the American people? I though the New Left spelled America with three Ks (Amerikkka) and insisted that this was a corrupt country that needed to be transformed from the inside out. The Tea Partiers, fundamentally, love America. The hardcore New Lefters, simply, did not." (my bolding)

Goldberg is on to a fundamental difference in that last sentence. There is an old saying that "whom you would change, you must first love." Tea Partiers love America, its traditions and its history. The New Left hated America. Not many differences run deeper than this one. Goldberg concludes as follows:

"Some Tea Partiers may get all sorts of things wrong. No doubt conspiracy theories find fertile soil at Tea Party rallies. But unlike the New Left, they do not believe in starting over with a plan hatched from a new cultural avant-garde. They believe in getting back to basics. They take the founding, the Declaration, and the Constitution seriously. That's why they're reading books about these things, about first principles and about American history. They believe, perhaps too conspiratorially at times, that the Left has taken the country down the wrong path (and I basically agree with them, by the way). The New Left had no interest in restoring the founders' vision. They wanted to overturn it completely. They had the Rousseaian vision of starting over, of beginning from scratch with their own utopian schemes.

That vision, albeit tempered by responsibility and technocratic conservatism, is one shared by many in the Obama administration and by many of its fans outside the administration (indeed, Brooks's colleague Thomas Friedman believes that we need to start the calendar at Year One with the new Energy Climate Era or some such). It was Obama who wanted a "new declaration of independence." The Tea Partiers like the old one just as it is, thank you very much. And that spells all the difference in the world."

Forget Alinsky. Forget Rousseau. St. Augustine would tell you that what you love determines everything else. The Rousseauians like the New Left and the ideologues in the Obama administration love the utopian fantasy of the giant machine, the all knowing and all powerful State that solves every problem, oversees every aspect of life and provides for all needs. They worship this figment of their imaginations passionately. Conservatives like the American Founders, the Tea Partiers and the majority of the American people, on the other hand, believe in a government limited to certain essential functions with as much scope for personal liberty, the family and civil society as possible. Rousseauians love equality most, while conservatives love ordered liberty most. For David Brooks to reduce them to morally equivalent and equally impractical movements is a liberal fantasy embedded in a slander served with a liberal dose of false moral equivalence to make leftists feel better. It's nice to know that he is good at his job.


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