Genocidal Regimes and Leftist Apologists

If something had a track record of 100 million dead and explicitly called for the subjugation of people, most would call it evil.  Yet some people still call themselves communists and socialists.  Why?  It is not as if these facts about the recorrd of communism are obscure, certainly not to professors and intellects. Knowing of the gulags and famines and still advocating for what made it possible, is a singularly wicked form of evil.  Clearly there is something causing these advocate to supersede common sense and decency.  A recent debate on capitalism and socialism provided a glimpse of that. 

Yaron Book has a Ph.D. in finance, is chairman of the board of the Ayn Rand Institute, and hosts the Yaron Brook show.  His opponent, Richard D. Wolff is a Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and has taught at Yale, and elsewhere. 

Arguing for socialism, Wolff made a statement that left me speechless.  In terms of scale, Mao Zedong is the single worst mass murderer in history.  His victims tally at least 45 million, or about the populations of California and Minnesota.  Collectivized farms starved whole villages, while Mao’s thugs brutally enforced his rule.  Historian Frank Dikötter writes:

It is not merely the extent of the catastrophe that dwarfs earlier estimates, but also the manner in which many people died: between two and three million victims were tortured to death or summarily killed, often for the slightest infraction.  When a boy stole a handful of grain in a Hunan village, local boss Xiong Dechang forced his father to bury him alive. The father died of grief a few days later. The case of Wang Ziyou was reported to the central leadership: one of his ears was chopped off, his legs were tied with iron wire, a ten kilogram stone was dropped on his back and then he was branded with a sizzling tool – punishment for digging up a potato. --Mao's Great Famine

What kind of indictment did Wolff levy against such barbarism? “To accuse the government (Mao)… as if they had some special lease on starvation is an extraordinary reading of history,” he said at the Yaron Brook debate This would be like someone saying, “Hitler killed a lot of people, but so have others,” an extraordinary whitewashing of history and ethics, indeed. 

Mao joins the company of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and others, that have stained history’s pages with unspeakable crimes.  Like clockwork, western apologists have stood by to defend each of these states.  Noam Chomsky is well known for whitewashing the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.  Bernie Sanders said the American dream was more realized in Venezuela.  In the 1930s, an American ambassador to England, Joseph Kenney, was a Nazi sympathizer.  One German diplomat claimed Kenney told him, “(it) was not so much the fact that (the Germans) wanted to get rid of the Jews that was so harmful to (the Germans), but rather the loud clamor with which (the Germans) accompanied the purpose,” according to a bio of Joseph Kennedy

How do they get away with it?

Analyzing these regimes gives a better understanding of their nature.  But it also gives us an insight on what animates their sympathizers.  Because it is often the latter that puts the wind in the former’s sail, it is a piece of the conversation that should not be trivialized. 

The common denominator between all these regimes is that their moral framework subordinates the individual to the group. The Nazis said, “(men) have to realize that the state is more important than the individual” (Leonard Peikoff, “The Ominous Parallels,” page 18).  Contrast this with the enlightenment, which upheld the sanctity of the individual.  To enlightenment thinkers, the state’s role is to protect rights, and nothing more.  Individual rights are “inalienable” or as Locke put it, “…free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man” (Peikoff, 111).

If the group is primary over the individual, it justifies sacrificing him to the whim of the state.  In Russia, when Stalin’s latest five-year plans failed, his solution was night raids, torture rooms and gulags.  “You have to break eggs to make an omelet,” is how one particularly twisted Stalin sympathizer, and New York Times reporter, put it, the infamous Walter Duranty. Hitler said, “It is thus necessary that the individual should finally come to realize that his own ego is of no importance in comparison with the existence of his nation.” (Peikoff, 13).  And from his propaganda minister, “socialism is sacrificing the individual to the whole,” (Peikoff, 19).  It is essential to grasp that these ugly periods of history is couched in the rationalization that your life belongs to the state. 

It is a hard pill to swallow that many in today’s culture accepts this view.  It's not fully implemented.  But many take it as self-evident that a group takes precedent over the individual.  How many lives were upended in the name of a no-risk COVID strategy “for the good of the whole”?   Virtually every political speech today is overflowing with platitudes exalting the “greater good.”  What makes up the greater good? It's nameless.  For those the most immersed in this worldview, it is this attraction to what they view as good that warps their thinking, sometimes so much that they become apologists for brutal regimes.  Coupled with being far removed from the facts on the ground provides a degree of psychological license to indulge in their intellectual gymnastics. 

There is also a deeper reason for the apologist phenomenon, which comes to light when we look at another modus operandi of oppressive states. 

It is not a coincidence that these states have rejected enlightenment modes of thinking.  Logic, facts, and reason, fall by the wayside.  Their replacements -- superstition, mysticism, and emotions reign supreme.  Arthur Herman documents this fascinatingly in his book “The Cave And The Light.”  “We are at the end of the age of Reason,” Hitler declared (Peikoff, page 46).  Also, he said, “ We must distrust the intelligence…trust your instincts, or whatever you like to call them.” (Peikoff, page 46). Western-educated Pol Pot had all the people under his regime with glasses killed because he believed it was evidence that they had some kind of education that wasn't communist. Hitler puts it succinctly, “there is no such thing as truth,” (Peikoff, page 59). 

This is one important reason why such regimes are so violent.  If there are no truths, facts, or logic, how does one persuade?  Force.  Emotions can connect to reality, but the post-modern view is to take emotions as primaries. Try to explain to someone why your gut feeling is right after disposing of the tools of cognition.  It quickly falls into the intellectual equivalent of toddlers fighting on the playground -- except markedly more pathetic because adults have the capacity for reason, and infinitely more dangerous because they can also control armies.  As Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf “(these are) times when not the mind but the fist decides,” (Peikoff, page 67).

Think of the looting hordes that appear after almost every police shooting.  Mobs salivating with some instinct resembling vengeance roam the streets before any facts are known.  This is a direct consequence of elevating emotions above reason.  “I know the police are guilty because I feel it” is one step away from “I know the Aryan race is superior because it is in our blood.” 

This epistemological self-abasement is the deeper psychological reason why intelligentsia can sympathize with brutal regimes.  If one’s mind is impotent, logically it cannot claim one society better than another.  Pol Pot, after all, was only acting on “his truth.”  Who are we to know? There are no rights or wrongs.  Only a neutering grey of “don’t judge.” Notice how some people bristle when someone claims certainty.  They confuse it with arrogance or claims of omniscience.  They feel more at home with people that share an ethos of feelings.  In this world, it is easy to be pulled into mealy-mouthed and dangerous views that center on superficial characteristics.  As one Russian student told me, “(Hitler) made mistakes, but he was the leader of a country.”

The “left” is not a homogenous group, and we should be careful not to paint everyone that falls under that umbrella with the same brush.  Even in academia, most back off their fanfare when regimes’ oppression becomes too much for even them to ignore.  The adoration usually comes at the beginning of the life of a state, when the platitudes and parades still dazzle.  This does not, however, delude the urgency of confronting their appeasement.  Because it is partially Western intellectuals’ sanction that gives terrible regimes their traction, stopping them before despotism (or worse) should be a priority.

Skepticism and serfdom are not new and edgy.  These things harken back to the Dark Ages, which was called that for a reason.  True revolutionaries unabashedly respect truth, reason and freedom.  The antidote to a new Dark Age is already available to us.  The works of thinkers that share a reverence for reason and individual rights --  Aristotle, the Founding Fathers, Ayn Rand, and others, are waiting to be dusted off and ushered into battle by better intellectuals.  This will be the great challenge for this generation, and we should encourage their efforts with enthusiasm.   

Image: Julius Jääskeläinen, colorizer, via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

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