Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Jacobin impulse

What makes the decent Left decent is not that it is Left, but what it shares with decent folk who are not of the Left. Failure to grasp that leaves one claiming that any person of the Left is morally and intellectually superior to any person of the "Right": so Pol Pot is morally and intellectually superior to, say, Winston Churchill--which is repellent nonsense.

The problem with folk such as Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin, Kim il Sung and their ilk is not that they are not of the Left--for any such claim is nonsense on stilts--but that they are too intensively Left. That is, they partake of things which make the Left, Left but do so in unrestrained ways. They are, for example, not less committed to the ideal of material equality than other members of the Left, but more so. (No matter how profoundly self-defeating any commitment to as complete as possible material equality through state action is.) They are not less committed to the notion that the Left is where one finds moral purity and social-political understanding, but more so. They are not less committed to doing what it takes to achieve the goals of the Left, but more so.

Men of the Left.
Of course, admitting that the problem with such folk is that they are too intensively Left can be very uncongenial, for it says that not only is being of the Left not an automatic ticked to moral and intellectual superiority but that there are potentially deeply problematic things within what makes being Left, Left. That much of the appeal of being Left is a sense of moral and intellectual virtue is fairly obvious--the tendency to personal abuse in response to critiques of the Left, the insistence that one cannot critique the Left unless one makes it clear "the Right" is worse, etc are pretty good markers that a sense of superior identity is being affronted in critiques of the Left. (And the greater the fear that there is something to the critique, the more resort to exorcising emotion in response.) 

It does not help that Left-and-Right is a problematic dichotomy. There is, in a (very broad) sense, the Left, because an overt commitment to equality (albeit variously conceived and to varying degrees of intensity) is a unifying value of the Left. There is no such unifying value on "the" Right, which includes folk who emphasise very different values, conceptions of people and politics. No amount of narrowing intensification of the politics of, say, Milton Friedman will get you to the politics of Adolf Hitler.

Where the Left goes seriously wrong is when it gives into the Jacobin impulse. The terms "Left" and "Right" arose in the French Revolution, that transforming accident of history, which also gave us the original Jacobins and set in motion the Jacobin impulse.

Make something worse -- add Robespierre
The Jacobin impulse is to take the moral purpose and social understanding of one's project to be so complete and all-encompassing, that no divergence from it is to be permitted and no restraint in action needs to be entertained. It is total politics--both in the ambit of its social reach and the means it is willing to employ. Adding the Jacobin impulse to any political project makes it (much) worse.  

Thus, adding the Jacobin impulse to nationalism gives us Fascism. Adding the Jacobin impulse to Aryan racism gives us Nazism. And adding the Jacobin impulse to socialism gives us Leninism and its cognates. (As Lenin himself explained.)

Robespierre -- showed folk the make-it-much-worse way.
The Jacobin impulse arose out of the very origins of the Left and is the most tempting to folk of the Left. Merely adding in the Jacobin impulse does not, however, make one of the Left--attempts to claim that Fascism and Nazism are "really" Left-wing movements are too tedious for words. Both movements may have appropriated their approach to the ambit and actions of politics from the Left, but their projects were not projects of the Left. There were (and are) left-nationalism and left-racism, but both nationalism and racism had long since escaped into very non-Left forms by the time Mussolini and Hitler were adapting Lenin's political methods to their particular political projects. 

Thus the realities of the Great War convinced Mussolini that the collectivism of nation was more powerful than the collectivism of class. But that moved him from the hard Left to the "third way" of Fascism, turning Mussolini-the-socialist into Mussolini-the-creator-of-Fascism.

The editor of Avanti, man of the Left. (Later, not so much.)
Nevertheless, the notion that one's moral and political understanding is so correct, one's goals so virtuous, and what has been created by the past so flawed, that any means can be employed to pursue them; that there is no nook or cranny of social life that should not be subject to the liberating project's transforming touch; that is a temptation that speaks most naturally and most profoundly to people on the Left. Which is why the Jacobin impulse arose out of the origins of the Left.

But the Jacobin impulse makes any project it is added to worse, because no one has anything seriously approaching that complete a level of moral purity and social understanding. Nor is any project, or its practitioners, immune to the corruptions of power--so to seek total power is to end up totally corrupt. While to commit to unrestrained means is to commit to unrestrained evil, as the core of morality is restraint in one's actions towards others.

Hence the Jacobin impulse is to be fought in all its forms. Even the petulant and petty Jacobinism of the US campus dis-invitation tendency. What is specifically wrong with such dis-invitations I will leave to Prof. Stephen Carter of Yale University to say much more humorously and effectively than I can. 

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

1 comment:

  1. [Hello, Lorenzo. Have you seen this? It was uncovered on the exciting net. Tom]

    Harvey Milk Stamped "Out" Forever !

    The Obama Cabal is behind universal GAYety with a "forever" postage stamp glorifying Harvey Milk, a Jewish homosexual predator "attracted to boys aged 15-19," according to WikiAnswers! (Also see Wikipedia.)
    Global gaydom was even predicted by Jesus (see "days of Lot" in Luke 17 and compare with Genesis 19).
    And the Hebrew prophet Zechariah (14th chapter) says that during the same end-time gay "days" ALL nations will come against Israel and fulfill the "days of Noah" at the same time (see Luke 17 again) - a short time of anti-Jewish genocide found in Zechariah 13:8 when two-thirds of all Jews will die.
    In other words, when "gay days" have become universal, all hell will break loose!
    The same "days" will cause worldwide human government to collapse in just a few short years! For the first time ever there won't be enough time for anyone to attend college, have a family, enjoy retirement, etc. It will also be the last time anyone like ObabaBlackSheep will be able to keep pulling the wool over our eyes!
    One final thought. The more we see gays "coming out," the sooner Jesus will be "coming down"!
    For more, Google or Yahoo "God to Same-Sexers: Hurry Up," "Jesus Never Mentioned Homosexuality. When gays have birthdays...," "FOR GAYS ONLY: Jesus Predicted...," "USA - from Puritans to Impure-itans!" and "The Background Obama Can't Cover Up."
    (PS: HOMOgenized Milk has been honored by Gov. Schwarzenaggravator as well as Pres. ObabaBlackSheep.)