Leftists: For the ‘People’?

845990-sydney-uni-protestOne of the things that attracted me to the political left, as a young man, was a belief that leftists were for “the people.” Fortunately, I was also very interested in the history of ideas — and years of research in that field repeatedly brought out the inescapable fact that many leading thinkers on the left had only contempt for “the people.”

That has been true from the 18th century to the present moment. Even more surprising, I discovered over the years that leading thinkers on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum had more respect for ordinary people than people on the left who spoke in their name.

Leftists like Rousseau, Condorcet or William Godwin in the 18th century, Karl Marx in the 19th century or Fabian socialists like George Bernard Shaw in England and American Progressives in the 20th century saw the people in a role much like that of sheep, and saw themselves as their shepherds.

Another disturbing pattern turned up that is also with us to the present moment. From the 18th century to today, many leading thinkers on the left have regarded those who disagree with them as being not merely factually wrong but morally repugnant. And again, this pattern is far less often found among those on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum.

The visceral hostility toward Sarah Palin by present day liberals, and the gutter level to which some descend in expressing it, is just one sign of a mindset on the left that goes back more than two centuries.

T.R. Malthus was the target of such hostility in the 18th and early 19th centuries. When replying to his critics, Malthus said, “I cannot doubt the talents of such men as Godwin and Condorcet. I am unwilling to doubt their candor.”

But William Godwin’s vision of Malthus was very different. He called Malthus “malignant,” questioned “the humanity of the man,” and said “I profess myself at a loss to conceive of what earth the man was made.”

This asymmetry in responses to people with different opinions has been too persistent, for too many years, to be just a matter of individual personality differences.

Although Charles Murray has been a major critic of the welfare state and of the assumptions behind it, he recalled that before writing his landmark book, “Losing Ground,” he had been “working for years with people who ran social programs at street level, and knew the overwhelming majority of them to be good people trying hard to help.”

Can you think of anyone on the left who has described Charles Murray as “a good person trying hard to help”? He has been repeatedly denounced as virtually the devil incarnate — far more often than anyone has tried seriously to refute his facts.

Such treatment is not reserved solely for Murray.

Liberal writer Andrew Hacker spoke more sweepingly when he said, “conservatives don’t really care whether black Americans are happy or unhappy.”

Even in the midst of an election campaign against the British Labour Party, when Winston Churchill said that there would be dire consequences if his opponents won, he said that this was because “they do not see where their theories are leading them.”

But, in an earlier campaign, Churchill’s opponent said that he looked upon Churchill “as such a personal force for evil that I would take up the fight against him with a whole heart.”

Examples of this asymmetry between those on opposite sides of the ideological divide could be multiplied almost without limit. It is not solely a matter of individual personality differences.

The vision of the left is not just a vision of the world. For many, it is also a vision of themselves — a very flattering vision of people trying to save the planet, rescue the exploited, create “social justice” and otherwise be on the side of the angels. This is an exalting vision that few are ready to give up, or to risk on a roll of the dice, which is what submitting it to the test of factual evidence amounts to. Maybe that is why there are so many fact-free arguments on the left, whether on gun control, minimum wages, or innumerable other issues — and why they react so viscerally to those who challenge their vision.

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  • Steve Plaut

    Leftist ideology: Power to the handful of people who claim that they represent the people and know exactly what the people want and need because this unelected handful has read Lenin and Marx, and if any of the people challenge their right to represent the people, then those challengers will be shot.

    • fush

      The saddest part is that most of them haven’t actually even read Lenin or Marx.

  • Omar

    Good article, but there is an important note regarding geographical names. England is not a country. England is one of four internal divisions (along with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) of the country called the United Kingdom (or Britain). Calling the UK “England” is offensive to the people living in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the UK’s three other internal divisions. England hasn’t been a country since 1707, when it merged with Scotland (as part of the Acts of Union) to form Britain.

    • Richard Fontaine

      Boy you are so smart. Thanks for the wonderful details that add nothing.

    • http://europa-antiqua-arca.blogspot.com/ para_bellum

      The article didn’t call the UK “England.” It merely said “Shaw in England” much as one might say “Obama in Chicago,” without implying that Chicago and the US are the same thing.

      And by way, the UK and Britain are not coextensive. Britain is the island comprised of Scotland, England and Wales. Northern Ireland is not part of Britain. That’s why the UK was formerly known as “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.”

    • laura r

      offend is over used. everyone knew what was implied. you sound you work for the school system. not all readers are cry babies & need to be catered too.

  • cxt

    As always, Prof. Sowell highlights important points for consideration.
    I wish more people on the Left would read what he has to say………maybe, just maybe they might learn something about where their ideology is going to lead.
    Thank you for taking to time to write it and post.

    • Chiron_Venizelos

      I have pondered why it is that such erudite people e.g. Dr. Sowell are so often marginalized from the mainstream while the opinion/statements (lies?) of so many lessers are on the tips of every liberal’s tongue. Clearly, everything the liberals are doing is unsustainable and ultimately destructive, but so many low information just don’t seem to get it.

  • cxt

    You know what else is “offensive?”
    It is offensive when people nit-pick and parse and side-line something over a distinction that has NOTHING to do with the article or discussion in question.
    Whether or not the term is “England” is 100%, according to Hoyle, “correct” is utterly irrelevant to the overall context of the article, points and pertinent observations.
    Going back and re-writing “United Kingdom” in place of “England” would accomplish or change nothing of substance or consequence.
    I would also suggest that your characterization of the term “England” as being “offensive” to Scots, Welsh and the Irish is misplaced. Certainly not ALL of them would be offended by its use—the more so since many of them—over many years have also used the term.
    BTW–since you seem so intent upon being 100% accurate and using the correct term—you might have noticed that the reference to England was made IN CONTEXT to George Bernard Shaw–whom regardless of origin was in point of fact in England–literally–when he made his point.. The Fabian Society is HQ’d in the “internal social division” commonly known as and used yourself as “England.” ;)

  • BS77

    Is there a word worse than “Progressive” . IT implies betterment, a more prosperous and wonderful tomorrow…..but people like North Korea’s Kim Jung Ill, Mao, Pol Pot, Stalin and Castro all used propaganda to cast themselves as “progressive” caretakers of the “people”. Just read Animal Farm by Orwell to get a sense of what the Utopian Left is all about.

  • kevinstroup

    The question is not if “power to the people”. It is which people is the power going to? Who chooses who gets the power? On what basis is worthiness to hold power based?

  • Lanna

    In all past history, Communism and Socialism have advanced more poverty, less freedom, lack of prosperity, and increased the detriment on the human conditions, there is nothing positive about either one.

    • SFLBIB

      And there are still those who think they can make it work.

      • Chris Behme

        Our idiot president springs to mind.

        • SFLBIB

          What is shocking is that a lot of support for communism and socialism comes from higher education, those who are supposed to be pursuing truth.

          • Chris Behme

            I’m a closet conservative teaching in a private college.
            The progressive rot runs deep.
            Free thought is not welcomed, at all.

          • SFLBIB

            Then I think you can relate to “Confessions of a Republican Academic” by Prof. Laura Freburg. Here is an excerpt:

            “…At a [Cal Poly University] faculty meeting, one of my colleagues, who travels widely as part of a UNICEF team, shared her slides of a trip to Cuba. Her conclusion was that she was ‘disappointed’ that things weren’t going better, because, of course, Cuba had such a ‘superior political system.’ Heads nodded wisely all around the table.”
            See the whole article on page 10 of http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/Articles/1998%20may-june.pdf

          • Chris Behme

            Thanks for the link.
            Academia is littered with these leftist mental midgets.
            It’s discouraging, but there seems to be one bright spot.
            Students are realizing that the grey ponytail crowd doesn’t have much to offer except stale Marxism and class warfare. I have talked to many students who roll their eyes at the simple minded lunacy of it all.
            The sixties hippies had to escape the “squares”
            They ARE the “squares” now.

          • SFLBIB

            That “simple minded lunacy” can be dangerous. Consider the killer who shot up some VA Tech students a few years ago:

            — was [Seung-Hui] Cho taught to hate? Whatever he learned in his classes — did it enable him to rage at his host country, to hate the students he envied so murderously? Was he subtly encouraged to aggrandize himself by destroying others? Was his pathology enabled by the PC university? Or to ask the question differently — was Cho ever taught to respect others, to admire the good things about his host country, and to discipline himself to build a positive life?

            And that answer is readily available on the websites of Cho’s English Department at Virginia Tech. This is a wonder world of PC weirdness. English studies at VT are a post-modern Disney World in which nihilism, moral and sexual boundary breaking, and fantasies of Marxist revolutionary violence are celebrated. They show up in a lot of faculty writing. Not by all the faculty, but probably by more than half.

            Was Cho taught to hate?
            by James Lewis
            April 20, 2007

            Ironically, Nikki Giovanni was the main speaker at the school’s memorial service.

  • De Doc

    Reminds me of a quotation:

    “In every generation, there are those who want to rule well – but they mean to rule. They promise to be good masters – but they mean to be masters.” – Daniel Webster

    • Notalibfool

      Our generation has the man who promised Hope and Change – but brought us neither.

  • tickletik

    Professor Sowells article is a perfect explanation of the ancient Jewish proverb: “He who flatters a wicked man will become his victim.”

    Each of these good men referred to above spoke kindly and well about what can charitably be described as narcissistic sociopaths. And for their troubles they were treated as vile and inhuman.

    Professor Sowell, thank you.

  • Marlin B. Newburn

    If anyone would like to see what happens when the “power to the people” potentates to include “people who care” run a government, just visit Detroit.

    But don’t forget to take a firearm while riding through it in an armored vehicle. It’s a third world dump of a shooting gallery with any visitor a target.

  • Chris Behme

    There are only two kinds of people in the world.
    Those who believe IN God.
    And those who believe they ARE god.
    Liberals tend to fall into the latter category.

    • fush

      With apologies to the Christians on this forum. Liberals go on about “caring” about as much as preachers go on about “love”. If only everbody loved each other and more caring…. um, okay. It SOUNDS good? Do you have any practical useful advice to go along with this theory? Like how not to piss off my neighbour, and what to do when I feel the over whelming urge to kill my brother? (it happens to the best of us, it does)

  • http://geoffreybritain.wordpress.com/ Geoffrey_Britain

    “Examples of this asymmetry between those on opposite sides of the ideological divide could be multiplied almost without limit. It is not solely a matter of individual personality differences.

    The vision of the left is not just a vision of the world. For many, it is also a vision of themselves — a very flattering vision of people trying to save the planet, rescue the exploited, create “social justice” and otherwise be on the side of the angels. “ Thomas Sowell

    It is not even primarily a matter of personality differences. It is the result of those on the left having rejected belief in God. Not specifically Jehovah or Allah or any other conception of divinity but of the very possibility of a transcendent divinity. The repercussions of that rejection are profound.

    Dostoevsky is famous for the apocryphal statement, “If there is no God, then anything is possible”. In rejecting the very possibility of a transcendent divinity, a creator of all things, the left is reduced to a choice; acceptance of life’s essential unfairness without hope or since nothing awaits, working to create a better world (utopia) as proof that their lives had meaning and worth.

    The left doesn’t in their fantasy seek to be on the side of the angels but to be declared angels by a grateful public. It’s very much in keeping with Lucifer’s declaration in Milton’s “Paradise Lost” that, “it is better to reign in hell than serve in heaven”.

    in general, those on the right haven’t abandoned belief in a ‘higher power’ however conceived, that allows us hope and the assurance that in the end it will all work out. The promise of every religion.

    Thus, those on the left react so viscerally to those on the right. We challenge the very basis of their world-view by the very beliefs we hold.

  • Linda Cohen

    Great article. It shows that there is hope. Like Dr. Sowell I started on the left and became a Social Worker. Many people are just following perhaps like me their parents party of preference. With maturity I saw things differently. It took the Clinton’s to wake me up. Maybe Obamarama will wake others up. I never could understand why so many people reacted so intensely and negatively to Sarah Palin, whom I preferred over any Democratic Candidate. It is nice to know I am not alone in suffering mean spirited verbal abuse from Progressives.

  • Ampersand

    Wow! Great article.

  • Tish Morgna

    The saddest part is, they live emotionally instead of rationally. They live backwards and hence good is evil and evil is good to them. They move “forward” in their backward ways straight toward the unspeakably evil paganism that the judeo/Christian culture conquered. We already see ancient rome in so many of it’s worst qualities here in America, even the abandonment of unwanted children to death. Those who will not learn history are doomed to repeat it. That is why they are removing western world history from schools, they don’t want people learning from our ancestors’ worst mistakes.

  • deepred

    To paraphrase Paul Simon’s song EL CONDOR PASA (if I could) of what the radical left really thinks of us. I’d rather put them against a wall and shoot them all. If I could. If I could. I surely would.