Why progressives believe that only they know the truth -- and that their truth will absolve them of any crime.
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Norman Berdichevsky, a contributing editor for New English Review and the author of more than 200 articles and book reviews that have appeared in a variety of American, British, Danish, Israeli and Spanish periodicals. He is the author of the new book, The Left is Seldom Right.
FP: Norman Berdichevsky, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Berdichevsky: Thank you so much. It is both an honor and a pleasure to reach FrontPage readers.
FP: Tell us what inspired you to write this book.
Berdichevsky: I wrote this book and chose its title to primarily reach those, who like myself, grew up in an ultra liberal environment, assuming that the "left is always right". As I grew older, I discovered that many of my assumptions that I received as "conventional wisdom" in the area of politics from my family, neighbors, and friends in the Bronx proved to be faulty, misleading or wrong. This discovery was further illuminated by my experiences in doing research at graduate school and many years residence abroad in Israel, Denmark, Spain and the U.K.
FP: What are the central themes of your book?
Berdichevsky: Although no older than the French Revolution, the political terms "Right" and "Left" have largely become stale clichés and often reveal little about the intentions, motivations, conflicting policy choices and the platforms of political parties that change with circumstances. Nevertheless, many people continue to use them as synonyms for the "good guys" and the "bad guys". We all know that "politics make strange bedfellows - this is apparent in every election for those who look more closely than instant soundbites. Take Dennis Kucinic on the Left and Ron Paul on the Right and you cannot distinguish between their views on American foreign policy although they may offer different explanations and propose different solutions.
Due to the tremendous influence of the past three generations of most of our intellectuals, academics, writers, artists and Hollywood film producers, the term "Left" has come to be identified in the public mind with the unconventional, radical, daring, adventurous, generous, tolerant, and "liberal" (in the old sense of respect for individual liberties) while "Right" rather than conservative has been the favorite target of every critic of American society who has attacked it as narrow minded, provincial, intolerant, conformist, retrograde, timid, bigoted, racist and "anti-Semitic" (explaining why so many American Jews have an inherited gut reaction against the Republican Party as if this were still 1931).
I argue that:
1. This current worldview inherited from so many of our intellectuals and reinforced by many pundits and political commentators in the media reinforces an erroneous analysis of political events and personalities. Jonah Goldberg first made this seminal point in his best seller Liberal Fascism, the title of which shocked so many readers with his massive and accurate research and documentation demonstrating that the two administrations of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the two 20th century icons of the Democrat Party, witnessed the most outrageous violations of the rights of American citizens (wholesale deportation of unwanted "reds", critics of American entry into world War I and other "radicals" in 1917-1920 and the internment of Japanese-Americans on the U.S. mainland by executive order, 1942).
2. It is primarily the political Left that has a vested interest in the continued use of this Left-Right terminology owing to their assumptions that all other cultures are somehow more authentic, holistic, integral and devoted to a sense of solidarity and community. They portray the United States as the epitome of alienation, greed, hypocrisy and crass materialism and therefore somehow deserving of constant condemnation.
3. Anti-Semitism was not inherently part of many nationalist or "rightwing" movements and that it is generated today overwhelmingly from the Far Left under the encouragement of the wealth and power of a militant Islam.
Several chapters in the book take a close look at the regimes of General Franco in Spain, Field Marshall Mannerheim in Finland, "reactionary" Bulgarian leader King Boris III, Greek national leader Iannos Metaxas, Austrian Fascist leader, Chancellor Englebert Dollfuss and his successor Kurt von Schussnig, and the 'Far Right" Dansk Samling (Danish Unity) Party were all ultra-conservative and took steps to protect their Jewish citizens, afford them refuge or actively oppose the Nazis.
FP: Share with us your own intellectual journey since your youth and how it led you to seeing the falsehood of the Left.
Berdichevsky: The book reflects my own thinking on diverse political issues as it evolved from my years of graduate study (1969-74) at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. My five years there brought me into close contact with the serene landscape of a beautiful nature transformed by several generations of pioneers from Central and Northern Europe, many of them of Scandinavian, German and Polish ancestry with family names of ten or more letters like mine who played such a formative role in the development of the American Midwest and American character.
It was here that I came to realize not only the beauty of America but the basic goodness and generosity of its people in the heartland (a fly-over zone for so many "liberals") - not the superficial and trite caricature of leftwing propaganda displayed so often by unthinking critics on both coasts who were as mindless then of the inhumanity of the Vietcong as they are today towards Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah or the Taliban.
My views were further shaped by the career I chose and research done in the field of cultural geography where I developed my fondness for foreign languages, an important tool in research and so often neglected by so many Americans whose knowledge of the world is totally limited by what they are able to read in English.
Lastly, the time I spent in Israel as a graduate student doing my Ph.D. research and subsequent visits put into relief the crass and ignorant drift of much of the Left from its position in 1948 when Israel was its darling to the situation today where the country has become a pariah state and the most inhuman, brutal and reactionary forces in dozens of Muslim majority states (all of which fail to provide essential services or liberties to their own citizens) are regarded by many on the Left as a natural ally in their crusade to "reform" American society.
FP: What do you think is toxic about the Left?
Berdichevsky: It has evolved to the point that it can perform the most absurd mental gymnastics necessary to accommodate support for tyrannical leaders, religious fanatics such as the ayatollahs in Iran, Hezbollah (The Party of God) thugs on the order of Hugo Chavez, organizations and movements throughout the "third world" who, without a blush, claim to represent the demand for rights and justice for women, children, ethnic and racial minorities, gays, and the institution of "social justice" yet are in reality light years behind the United States in all of these areas.
FP: Why are leftists so arrogant and always think they are right about everything? And why are they almost always wrong?
Berdichevsky: Their arrogance is manifest in practically every demonstration from the ones I experienced in the anti Vietnam war movement, today's anti-Wall Street crowd to those mobs of "public service workers" who occupied the Wisconsin state capitol building and the Democrat Party state legislators who fled from Wisconsin to prevent the legislature from enacting a bill they didn't like. It made me recall my days in Madison and the university that still claims to be the very model of liberal values - they are the cheeseheads who have turned the United States into a banana republic. They operate from the gut feeling cultivated over the past half century that their cause is so important and so authentic that it is perfectly admissible to ignore the laws (that they insist on to limit the fundamental liberties of others including the rights of Tea Party supporters to demonstrate. No matter how secular they may be, they often are motivated by a quasi-religious belief that they have a mission, like Jesus, to create a perfect world. For many Jews on the Left for whom Judaism is the equivalent of social justice, they do not differ from the ultra-Orthodox who are convinced they are serving God by the role they play as a chosen people who will bring "Light to the gentiles."
They are almost always wrong because they are convinced that only they can sense the truth and that their truth will absolve them of any crime.
FP: Why is the Left consumed with so much Jew-hatred today?
Berdichevsky: The continued existence of any identifiable Jewish identity is a reminder of the conservative impulse to operate from a moral law that places limitations on us and venerates elements of stability. For the Orthodox it was the 613 moral precepts and ritual acts; for much of today's organized Jewish community it may be only the Ten Commandments but these too are irksome reminders such as "Thou Shalt Not Covet" (Tenth and most Difficult Commandment?). This comes across as a slap in the face of those who continue to yearn for a 'social justice" that will be achieved by taking from others.
Israel too inevitably comes into the equation. Beyond the ocean of ink spent on elucidating the dispute in the Middle East and the Palestinian Arab cause is the undeniable fact (uncomfortable for many on the Left who want equality before justice), of the incredible success of the Jewish state in creating a vibrant and prosperous society amidst the poverty and miserable failed record of Islam and the Arab world.
FP: Why is your book especially relevant to current events?
Berdichevsky: The book offers numerous examples of trends that are relevant today and operate under the guise of equality and social justice. These have pushed the Left further into a corner concerned primarily with the Balkanization of American society, a trend that turns its back on past concerns for individual rights and liberties. Under the mantra of diversity, our laws and operating procedures in government, private organizations and universities ignore constitutional guarantees and have created a patchwork of 'commitments' to reward groups. Our national mottoes of E Pluribus Unum and In God We Trust are both wholly out of date.
The political Left for the past 50 years has devoted itself to cultivating a sense of victimhood among those groups whose votes the hope to permanently retain by holding out the carrots of rewards in jobs. Whenever a gay (Tammy Bruce, former head of the national Organization of Women), a Hispanic (Republican Senator Marco Rubio from Florida), prominent Black Americans like philosopher and economist Thomas Sowell or Presidential candidate Herman Cain, "minority" Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana or conservative women like former V.P. candidate Sarah Palin and South Carolina governor Nikki Haley raise their voice in defense of traditional values, much of the media react in dismay that somehow they are not 'authentic'.
We have come full circle from a time when the government's response to the call for recognition of group rights in 1934 led President Roosevelt to honor a Catholic for the first time with a national holiday and proclaimed 'Columbus Day' as a national holiday to the present when the holiday has lost all of its previous respect and recognition because other groups, notable American Indians and many Blacks regard Columbus as the instigator of 'racial genocide'.
Most of all, I believe my book makes a contribution to better understanding how those on the fringes of both the Left and the Right both glorify and deify abstractions such as "The Nation", the King, the working class, the Church and worst of all "The People" promising 'All Power to the People', albeit usually in the form of a demagogue who promises to wipe away all the
humiliations of the past as well as the privileges of the "ruling class" (or simply "The Rich").
FP: Norman Berdichevsky, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
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