Sunday, July 18, 2010

Diagnosing the "True Believers" of the Left

Jamie Glazov is editor of the online FrontPage Magazine and a Canadian historian and the son of Soviet dissident parents during the Brezhnev era who made his way to Canada in 1972. He has published Canadian Policy Toward Krushchev's Soviet Union (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2002). Now he has written a book, United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror (WorldNetDaily, 2009), in which he explores the fascinating question of what motivates people to embrace sociopathic murders such as Stalin, Mao, Castro etc. as secular messiahs or demi-gods. As Glazov puts it:
what exactly inspires a person, and an entire mass movement, to deify a monstrous tyrant as a father-god who transcends the singular and emcompasses, as Satre puts it, all the people and the land? The answer to this question helps illuminate the contemporary Left's romance with the Islamist jihadists, just as it helps crystallize the Left's alliance with the most vicious totalitarians of the twentieth century. (p. 6)
I read this book with interest because I was puzzled as to how it was possible for the left to support Hamas so diligently over the past few years and in particular with regard to the Gaza flotilla stunt. How do people who profess to stand for "peace and justice" support a 7th century death cult which has genocide as its official goal and which is supported by a revolutionary Islamic state that is close to going nuclear, namely Iran?

I am now reading Paul Berman's The Flight of the Intellectuals, which is a very well-researched work on the refusal of Western intellectuals to face up to the true nature of Islamism. Hamas comes out of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was greatly influenced by Nazi ideology, including anti-Semitism, during the second world war. Berman shows that, whereas fascist ideology was discredited pretty much everywhere in the world after the war, the Muslim Middle East constituted a significant exception. From then to now, fascist ideas have influenced the rise of militant Islamist movements from the Muslim Brotherhood to Hamas and Hizbullah. Al-Queda is just one of a number of smaller movements in this general stream. As a concrete example of what this means, the Hamas Charter quotes from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Russian secret police forgery based on a French document from the 1860s. The whole civilized world knows the Protocols, so beloved of Nazis everywhere, is a fake and a slander. But in the Muslim Middle East, this document is taken seriously as historically true. When the president of Iran denies the reality and extent of the Holocaust, we see how pervasive the fascist ideology is today in the Middle East.

So the question is why is the Left in bed with fascists and the answer is a bit surprising. Glazov argues that the true believer's journey begins with a sense of alienation from his own society and his fantasies about building a perfect society in which he will finally fit in. The type of person attracted to the Leftist fantasy world is one who has not internalized the kind of values that enable him to find meaning in life, who is spiritually empty and who has failed to develop lasting interpersonal relationships. This person then seeks material solutions to what is essentially his spiritual emptiness. Glazov elaborates:
Convinced that it is incumbent upon society, and not him, to imbue his life with purpose, the believer becomes indignant; he scapegoats his society - and ends up despising and rejecting it. (p. 6)
This person becomes a believer in the secular, progressive faith and seeks the redemption not of himself, but of society. As I wrote in an earlier post, Marxism is essentially a heresy of Christianity, and Glazov sees this as being true of modern, progressive religions in general:
Tortured by his personal alienation, which is accompanied by feelings of self-loathing, the believer craves a fairy tale world where no individuality exists, and where human estrangement is thus impossible. The believer fantasizes about how his own individuality and self will be submerged within the collective mass of the whole. (p. 7)
It is especially ironic that people in the grip of this kind of escapist fantasy actually criticize Christians for being "irrelevant" and "too heavenly minded." Of course, it all has to end in tears. Utopian fantasies lead to hell on earth. Why?
The political faith rejects the basic reality of the human condition - that human beings are flawed and driven by self-interest - and rests on the erroneous assumption that humanity is malleable and can be reshaped into a more perfect form. This premise spawned the nightmarish repressions and genocidal campaigns of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and other communist dictators in the twentieth century. Under their rule, more than one hundred million human beings were sacrificed on the altar where a new man would ostensibly be created. (pp. 7-8)
Note the essence of this argument: Leftist politics fails because it denies the truth about reality. This is a deeply Christian insight and it is a metaphysical one, not merely an ethical one. Marxism is bad not because it has led to excesses by zealots, but rather because it distorts and denies the metaphysical truth about the world.

So it is not possible to combine Marxist analysis of what is wrong with the world with a Christian solution. Why not? Because Christianity and Marxism do not view the world in compatible ways: one has to choose which vision of reality is true, but they cannot both be true. And these two visions of reality lead to radically different solutions.

Glazov stresses that the political faith is not a search for truth (p. 9), but rather a sacrifice of the intellect to a movement that promises to bring about Utopia. The true believer is ready to lose his own life for the cause because he does not believe that the individual is as important as the cause. This also hardens him to the suffering of the masses who are being reshaped by dictators in the name of the cause. Glazov writes:
Beneath the believer's veneration of the despotic enemy lies one of his most powerful yearnings: to submit his whole being to a totalist entity. (p. 11)
Support for the Stalinist regime actually peaked during the 30s when the show trials, gulags, and famines were in full force. Although he would never admit it in public, the true believer does not believe in spite of the murders and violence, he believes precisely in the murders and violence as the summit of what attracts him to this secular, political faith in the first place.

The psychology of the true believer in death cults like Hamas is alas all too familiar; we have seen it all before in the prostration before murderous regimes like that of Stalin by Western Leftists. Strictly speaking it is a form of madness, but it is a high-functioning form of madness in which the believer is ready with propaganda, highly argumentative and full of passion and feeling. But it is irrational and, in the end, destructive.

1 comment:

Gordon Hackman said...

"Leftist politics fails because it denies the truth about reality."

I've essentially believed the same thing for a slightly different reason ever since I read "The Communist Manifesto" and Koestler's "Darkness at Noon" as an undergraduate. My understanding was that Marx believed that the fundamental metaphysical reality was material and that the personal or spiritual arose from the material. This, of course, is the opposite from the Christian view of things.