Saturday, May 28, 2011

A True Liberal Rejects Romantic Utopianism

Here is one more final quote from Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here. After the fascist revolution in which Buzz Windrip comes to absolute power, the hero Doremus Jessup is engaging some introspective musing about revolution.
"In this acid mood Doremus doubted the efficacy of all revolutions; dared even a little to doubt our two American revolutions - against England in 1776, and the Civil War.

For a New England editor to contemplate even the smallest criticism of these wars was what it would have been for a Southern Baptist fundamentalist preacher to question Immortality, the Inspiration of the Bible, and the ethical value of shouting Halelujah. Yet had it, Doremus queried nervously, been necessary to have four years of inconceivably murderous Civil War, followed by twenty years of commercial oppression of the South, in order to preserve the Union, free the slaves, and establish the equality of Industry with Agriculture? Had it been just to the Negroes themselves to throw them so suddenly, with so little preparation, into full citizenship, that the Southern states, in what they considered self-defense, disqualified them at the polls and lynched them and lashed them? Could they not, as Lincoln at first desired and planned, have been freed without the vote, then gradually and competently educated, under federal guardianship, so that by 1890 they might, without too much enmity, have been able to enter fully into all the activities of the land? . . .

No questioning of the eventual wisdom of the 'radicals' who had first advocated these American revolutions, Doremus warned himself, should be allowed to give any comfort to that eternal enemy: the conservative manipulators of privilege who damn as 'dangerous agitators' any man who menaces their fortunes; who jump in their chairs at the sting of a gnat like Debs, and blandly swallow a camel like Windrip.

Between the rabble rousers - chiefly to be detected by desire for their own personal power and noteriety - and the un-self-seeking fighters against tyranny, between William Walker or Danton, and John Howard or William Lloyd Garrison, Doremus saw, there was the difference between a noisy gang of thieves and an honest man noisily defending himself against thieves. He had been brought up to revere the Abolitionists: Lovejoy, Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Harriet Beecher Stowe - although his father had considered John Brown insane and a menace, and had thrown sly mud at the marble statues of Henry Ward Beecher, the apostle in the fancy vest. And Doremus could not do otherwise than revere the Abolitionists now, though he wondered a little if Stephen Douglas and Thaddeus Stephens and Lincoln, more cautious and less romantic men, might not have done the job better.

Is it just possible, he sighed, that the most vigorous and boldest idealists have been the worst enemies of human progress instead of its greatest creators? Possible that plain men with the humble trait of minding their own business will rank higher in the heavenly hierarchy than all the plumed souls have shoved their way in among the masses and insisted on starving them?" (pp. 113-118, bolding is mine)
Lewis understood that there is nothing that stands so staunchly in the way of progress as "Progressivism." A true liberal is one who rejects romantic Utopianism. Who could doubt that he was a true liberal and not a leftist disguised as a liberal? Would he even be able to find a home in today's Democratic Party? And who could doubt that in a choice between Barack Obama and Paul Ryan, he would vote Ryan?

Alas, they don't make liberals like that anymore. Nowadays they are labelled "neocons."


Peter Leavitt said...

Prof. Carter, have you read Stanley Kurt'z's 26 May NRO article, Pro-Palestinian-in-Chief Obama’s hard-Left tilt is real ?

Craig Carter said...

Yes I have and also Kurtz's book, Radical-in-Chief, which is good research on Obama prior to his entry into politics, especially his run for the US Senate.

Kurtz discusses Saul Alinsky, he strategy of the post-60s radical left and the incrementalism they practice as they infiltrate institutions and take a gradual approach to shifting the country to the left.

Kurtz has the goods on Obama.