I’ve been reading a collection of essays in the book The Survival of Culture by Hilton Kramer and Roger Kimball. In a piece entitled “Burke and Political Liberty,” by Martin Greenberg, the author is discussing the French Revolution and its excesses, and how it was that so many political figures of the time made excuses for the path the Jacobins took.
For example, the relatively moderate Roland defended them by saying that their “vengeance mingled a sort of justice,” and praised them for showing restraint in not murdering everyone they could.
It turns out that Roland’s own wife ended up being the victim of the revolutionaries’ “sort of justice,” at which point he killed himself. But that was later.
Greenberg’s summary of the position of apologists for the Reign of Terror is well worth reading, and is relevant today when thinking of the many Leftists in the West who have become apologists for a different form of terror—the Islamist totalitarian variety:
How did intelligent, cultivated people, then and later, come to excuse these abominations which ordinary simplicity sees for what they are? One answer, of course partial, seems to be the deep shift, anticipated by Rousseau, of moral feeling away from concern for liberty to concern for social justice.
For “social justice” please substitute any of the following: social equality, racial equality (or “justice”), ethnic equality (or “justice”), cultural equality (or “justice”), and economic equality (or “justice”) and you have the motivation behind much of Leftist thought and action. The fact that such equality is a fake “justice,” the fact that it cannot actually be attained by human society, and the fact that all efforts towards achieving it end up profoundly compromising liberty are ignored by its champions, who have as much difficulty now giving up their Utopian dream as they did then.