Left-wing Totalitarianism in America
New York's Democrat governor Andrew Cuomo recently told listeners of WCNY radio that "extreme conservatives" who are "pro-life, pro-assault weapons, anti-gay" have "no place" in New York State because "that's not who New Yorkers are."
Cuomo later tried to cushion the impact of his words by claiming they were aimed solely at "extreme conservatives" among state politicians, and not at New York's mass public.
Even if true -- and WCNY's transcript of Cuomo's blast makes that claim dubious -- one wonders what New Yorkers with the "wrong" policy opinions are supposed to do when they have no politicians to support.
If Cuomo were the only Left-wing pol to express totalitarian sentiments, one could take some solace. Unhappily, he is not. Do the names Barack Obama, Bill De Blasio, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Chuck-you Schumer, and Harry Reid ring a bell? Remember when NPR fired Juan Williams for being politically incorrect?
Put aside how the Left (and many moderates, libertarians, and conservatives) would respond if some Republican governor said "pro-choicers, gun-grabbers, and homosexuality advocates" were not welcome in X, Y, or Z state.
Don't think about what New York State, or New York City with its new über-Leftist mayor, will be like if large numbers of "extreme conservatives" -- many of whom are Roman Catholics, Orthodox Jews, and/or "one-percenters" -- leave for locales with more hospitable political climates. (Sean Hannity, for example, has announced he's leaving New York. Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have already left.)
Focus instead on the totalitarianism evident in Cuomo's rant. When I was a university undergraduate, one of my professors -- who was a Leftist -- used to say, "[s]ratch a liberal and you'll find a fascist." Cuomo's outburst confirms Professor X's observation.
Cuomo's totalitarianism is not aberrant. It dovetails with totalitarian proclivities that are "baked into" Left-wing movements. Leftists tout their espousal of diversity -- as Cuomo did in his "State-of-the-State speech" on January 8th. Leftists' actions -- and occasionally their words -- belie their pro-diversity stance. Intolerance for diverse opinions is at the Left's core.
The phrase "the dictatorship of the proletariat," popularized by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, is a key concept of Left-wing ideology. Lenin's notion of "the revolutionary vanguard," in which a small elite of professional revolutionaries paved the way for the proletariat, reinforced totalitarianism's importance to Leftists in Europe and elsewhere. Josef Stalin in the U.S.S.R., Mao Zedong in mainland China, Fidel Castro in Cuba, Pol Pot in Cambodia, and Kim Jong-un of North Korea -- just to list five despots from the 20th or 21st centuries -- based their brutal regimes on the concept of "the revolutionary vanguard."
As Fred Siegel notes, in The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class (2014), "modern liberalism was [also] a vanguard movement born of a new class of politically self-conscious intellectuals." Moreover, "[l]iberalism has been the most successful of the turn-of-the-twentieth-century vanguard movements."
Milovan Djilas -- once a member of Yugoslavia's politburo, but later jailed as a dissident -- published The New Class: An Analysis of the Communist System in 1957. Djilas explained that although Left-wing revolutionaries proclaimed their goal was the creation of an egalitarian, classless society, they empowered a "new class" of bureaucrats whose rule was even more totalitarian than the regimes they over-threw. (The composition of Djilas' "new class" is not all that different from Siegel's, a.k.a. "the clerisy.")
In his subsequent book, Conversations with Stalin (1962), Djilas argued that Left-wing movements invariably result in totalitarianism. According to Djilas, Stalinism was not a deviation from, but a fulfillment of, the Marxist-Leninist system created in the U.S.S.R. after the October 1917 revolution.
American Leftists did not need to import totalitarian ideas from abroad. As Richard Ellis shows in The Dark Side of the Left (1998), egalitarian movements in the U.S. have consistently manifested "illiberal," i.e., "'intolerant; bigoted; [and] narrow-minded'" etc. tendencies.
Ellis provides episodic, rather than comprehensive, coverage of "egalitarian" movements in American history, beginning with abolitionist groups and ending with radical feminism and fanatical environmentalism. He gives short shrift, for example, to the Communist Party of the U.S.A. In addition, although "the Weatherman" faction of SDS gets several mentions, Ellis does not devote extended coverage to them. (By contrast, three chapters cover the New Left and SDS.)
Ellis asserts that Left-wing movements have exhibited considerable diversity in terms of ideology and strategy. At the same time, however, he observes that "for all their different policy concerns and widely divergent historical contexts, these disparate movements and individuals often display striking similarities in political style and sensibility." Sociological and psychological dynamics in egalitarian movements and individuals -- primarily stigmatizing "the establishment" while idealizing "the oppressed," and espousing extravagantly unrealistic hopes for the future -- drive them to totalitarian dogmatism, which constitutes the Left's "dark side."
Ellis' book should be supplemented by the late John Patrick Diggins' The Rise and Fall of the American Left (1992), and Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (2008).
Diggins' book is at once narrower in scope than Ellis' -- Diggins deals with Left-wing movements only in the 20th century -- and more comprehensive -- he details a wider range of phenomena. Yet there a similar themes in Ellis' and Diggins' studies: the meme that, despite a steady stream of failures, Left-wing movements recur again and again.
Goldberg's thesis is "modern liberalism is the off-spring of twentieth-century progressivism, which ... shares intellectual roots with European fascism."
What are fascism's essential features? "Fascism is... totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified.... It takes responsibility for all aspects of life... and seeks to impose unity of thought and action, whether by force or through regulation and social pressure.... Any rival... is... the enemy" (Goldberg's italics).
Although not without flaws, Goldberg's analysis merits consideration. Totalitarian movements, whether they call themselves Communist, Fascist, Progressive, Liberal, etc., tend to be Left-wing phenomena, plumping for the omnipotent state.
As the late Eric Hoffer noted, Communists and Nazis were both "true believers." So were/are most Progressives and liberals.
There are two other qualities of modern liberalism that should be considered. The first -- Leftists' disdain for America and the middle class -- makes the second -- Leftists' constant quest for earthly utopia -- more consequential.
Although he mistakenly discounts the notion that the origins of modern liberalism stem from Progressivism, Siegel rightly draws attention to modern liberals' "[a]lienat[ion] from middle-class American life." Modern liberals adapted the European Left's hostility toward bourgeois values and the business ethic, and have also expressed antipathy for majoritarian democracy. It is no coincidence that, on more than one occasion, liberals have turned to unelected judges to overrule the acts of popular majorities.
Another key feature of modern liberalism is its quest for utopia. Ellis, Diggins, and Siegel realize that radical egalitarians express an unshakable belief in mankind's perfection, and tie this belief to an equally unshakable -- albeit unrealizable -- quest for utopia.
It is probably the Left's tireless quest for utopia that spurs its denizens to totalitarianism. Andrew Cuomo's rant, therefore, is not sui generis. Since they disdain America and the middle class, liberals think they're justified to use "the iron fist." Expect more liberal totalitarianism in the future.