I have written two large books about Leftism/Rightism (online here and here) but the number of people who have read both right through is probably no more than one -- myself. So for the casual reader, the following brief essay may have to suffice
A short essay on Leftism
By John Ray (M.A.;Ph.D.)
By "Leftist" I mean here someone more extreme than a mere VOTER for a democratic socialist party such as The Australian Labor Party or the U.S. Democratic party -- though Leftists in my sense may well be members and officers of such parties. I mean by "Leftist" someone who is committed to a high degree of control over society and coercion of people in it with the ostensible aim of "levelling" incomes and other privileges among people in the society concerned. In the 20th Century, such people normally had at least some Marxist sympathies.
What I think the facts show is that Leftists are basically angry, hate-filled people who hunger for power over others and enjoy hurting others but who hide their malign and hurtful motivations under a cloak of humanitarian intentions. Their anger at the ordinary people about them leads them to want to control, hurt and change those about them -- by violence and mass-murder if necessary. Their proclaimed humanitarian intentions and concern for "the worker" are, therefore, just deception and camouflage -- perhaps unconscious deception and camouflage in some cases.
There was a poster around the universities a few years back that is rather informative about the Left-wing viewpoint. It said: "I love humanity. It's just people that I can't stand". My own way of putting much the same point would be to say that Leftists (in my sense) say that they "care" for people but will cheerfully murder half of them -- whereas conservatives do not claim to love humanity but they do not want to murder half of them either.
I had a Communist girlfriend some years back -- a schoolteacher by trade, funnily enough. She had talents other than her politics. I noticed at the time how much anger she had in her towards all sorts of people and thought how well that fitted in with her support for Communism. She was basically a gentle nurturing person but anger leads to hatred and hatred leads to murder. It is hard for me to understand how any decent person can ever have supported anything as brutal as Communism but the fact that large numbers of intelligent people often did tends to show where anger and hatred can lead otherwise decent people.
The characteristic Left-wing slogan is: "Smash X" -- where X can be almost anything -- from the current government, to racism, to big business, to some particular law etc etc. They are very big on smashing things -- with revolution being only the most extreme example of that. If some person or group is not doing what the Leftist wants or thinks that they ought to do, the Leftist immediately wants to coerce them (with violence or otherwise) or murder them. Nice people! They want power over other people at any price. Beware anyone who stands in their way!
All the great mass-murders of the 20th Century (under the control of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao Tse Tung) were committed in the name of socialism and "the people". Compared to these crimes, lesser slaughters such as that by the Serbs in Kosovo (who were in any case led by their old Communist boss, Slobodan Milosevic) pale into insignificance. It is hard to think that anything could be worse than Serb troops throwing a 2 year old toddler down a well in front of his mother but "socialists" can do it.
My account of Leftist motivations would seem to explain a lot. It does make sense of a lot of seemingly senseless behaviour -- which is a good test of any scientific theory. For instance, only a fool or a scoundrel would advocate such counterproductive nostrums as State ownership of industry or rent control and I do not accuse those on the Left of being fools. They are too smart for their own good, if anything. They think no-one can teach them anything. Advocating State ownership of industry or rent control is nonsense if you really want to improve the long-term lot of the worker but is, of course, perfectly rational if your real main aim is to concentrate as much power and control as possible in your own hands (or in the hands of your clique).
In my view the reason why psychologists tend to be Leftist is also that psychology (like teaching) seems to offer the prospect of personal power over the minds of others -- the ultimate form of coercion. Leftists want that and are attracted to studying psychology for that reason. Fortunately their own innate dishonesty makes them very bad at it.
As I see it, most real Leftists (advocates of a high degree of State coercion and control -- who in turn are generally intellectuals of some kind) start out with some degree of intellectual orientation but little capacity for intellectual originality. They are, in other words, theologians rather than philosophers. They can debate and rehash an existing body of thought ad nauseam but are barren of new ideas. Anybody who knows the vast lengths to which they go to in debating "what Marx really meant" will see the appositeness of the "theologian" appellation. The excitement over the discovery of Marx's "Grundrisse" was also like the discovery of a new holy book. Nonetheless their intellectual orientation does alert them to the many ways in which the world around us is not ideal and makes them want to propose ways of improving things. Because they are not very good (i.e. unoriginal) intellectuals, however, they can come up with only the crudest of proposals (i.e. make people behave better).
When life eventually forces them to confront the evidence that their crude methods tend to be inhumane and counterproductive they face being shown up as the inferior intellectuals they are. They face being shown up as wrong and foolish, meaning that their self esteem is threatened. So they either abandon the Left-wing romance with coercion and change their views to more conservative ones or if they are really infatuated with coercion they stay Leftist by using any and every device available to aid that.
And the most insidious device that they can use is intellectual dishonesty. They simply refuse to believe anything adverse to them and will themselves lie to manipulate others ("for their own good"). Thus I remember Leftists of the bad old days in the '50s and 60's who greeted accounts of Stalin's purges and massacres of his own people as "inventions of the capitalist press". How do you persuade such people? You can say that we have a free press rather than a capitalist one but since mass media do tend to be big businesses this can be made to sound implausible too. The truth is that you cannot persuade such people and waste your time by trying. "There are none so blind as those who will not see". All the evidence on almost any question will seldom be available at any one time and place so all or almost all judgments of fact have to be made on a probabilistic basis. So all the intellectually dishonest person has to do is to keep demanding higher and higher probabilities before he will believe. You soon reach the point where that level is unobtainable so he looks like he has had a polemical victory of sorts. He has. Dishonesty has its rewards. It is still despicable and misleading, however. So a Leftist is also someone who uses dishonesty in support of coercion.
It may be argued that on my account of things Leftists should also tend to be policemen etc. Policemen have a lot of interpersonal power. In fact, of course, policemen, the military etc tend to be very Rightist. There are several obvious answers to this. Perhaps the most obvious is that these jobs are not very intellectual and the Leftist does start out as a (second-rate) intellectual. Another answer is that the ratio of gain to risk is high. Policemen and soldiers risk getting shot and only ever gain temporary power over a few individuals. For a power-mad Leftist that is just not a very attractive offer. It is a bad deal. When the Leftist takes up arms he tends to do so as a guerilla (so he can shoot from safety) and for very big stakes (major social change --a "revolution" -- that will make him a big-shot if it succeeds). He does not want power over just one or two individuals. He really wants power over everybody -- for himself or his clique. A really nice guy(!). Teaching or psychology, of course, offer power without much cost or threat.
There is some support for the account I have given in the academic literature. For example, a paper by Winter & Wiecking [Winter, D.G. & Wiecking, F.A. (1971) The new Puritans: Achievement and power motives of New Left intellectuals. Behavioral Science, 16, 523-530] tells a bit about Leftist power motives and the many books and articles by Rothman and Lichter [e.g. Rothman, S. & Lichter, R.S. (1982) Roots of radicalism: Jews, Christians and the New Left Oxford: Univ. Press] tell about Leftists being in love with themselves -- "narcissism" if you are being polite about it, "arrogance" if not. A paper by Himmelfarb gets it pretty right too [Himmelfarb, G. (1989) Victorian values/Jewish values. Commentary, 87(2), 23-31.]
As I said at the beginning, one must distinguish between real Leftists (a small but poisonous clique) and those who vote for them. Real Leftists (Communists, Trotskyists and their usually "intellectual" ilk) have virtually no voter support in moderately well-informed societies (i.e. in the developed world) but they do at times manage to dominate mass political organizations of democratic society (e.g. the British Labour party up until the late 90s). People who vote for such parties can often be (as S.M. Lipset points out in his 1960 book Political man) actually quite conservative. They tend to be working class people who simply vote for those who appear to offer them the best deal. In other words, Leftist lies and pretences of good intentions do sometimes gain votes from those least able to be critical. Even then, the Leftists cannot be too overt. The obvious extremism of the British Labour Party in the '70s and '80s was the main reason for the Conservatives' long term in office. Mrs Thatcher's biggest asset was the British Labour Party. People seldom liked her and her Conservative government much but liked the alternative even less. British Labour was in fact still so hopelessly in cloud-cuckoo land in the early 90s that they could not even beat the wimpish John Major in the midst of a recession!
I remember saying to supporters of the British Labour Party in the 90s, "But your lot are so hopeless that they couldn't even beat John Major". That remark was obviously far from original to me but it always went home. It tended to strike them dumb in fact. With the pain of having to bear remarks like that, no wonder they gave up most of their old policies soon after.
Under Tony Blair they in general became just another bumbling conservative party -- except for a bit of feel-good rhetoric and tokenistic reform (such as further reform of the already emasculated House of Lords and the banning of hunting to hounds). They even started to espouse "family values" -- the old catchcry of the religious Right. The penalty of their pre-Blair Leftist extremism was impotence. They gained power only by abandoning most of their old committments to Leftist causes. That the party of unilateral disarmament became the party of Iraq intervention was truly a seismic shift. Only their love of bureaucracy and big spending survived.
About a third of the people (e.g. in Allende's Chile) can sometimes be persuaded to support the Leftists. Some of those can be sincere. In the long run, however, they will learn. At what a price! Generally after many deaths: Tibet! China's Tienanmen Square and Great Leap Backward under Mao! The Hungary of Imre Nagy and Janos Kadar! The Czechoslovakia of Dubcek! The Cambodia of Pol Pot! The incredible human, economic and environmental disaster of Soviet Russia! What a lovely list of achievements for the so-smart Leftist intellectuals (really arrogant ignoramuses) to contemplate! Not that they care, of course.
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