The always-fascinating Richard Fernandez muses on whether we are witnessing the dying of the Left:
Some months ago it became evident that blunders were piling on so fast, and they were of such enormity that they fed each other, like a patient facing multiple organ failure. The Left was self-medicating itself so catastrophically, and smashing up so many things so quickly that there simply wasn’t enough outrage in the world to even keep track of it. Like a vast wave toppling over, the very weight of its accumulated blunders has reduced everyone — including its cadres and the conservatives, almost to the role of spectators. I wondered in comments last August whether it was actually safe to asssume that the Left was “too big to fail” or whether its sheer size simply multiplied the destruction it brought to bear upon itself — and on others…
It is events in the United States that have really provoked the crisis. European socialism was fantasy viable only while the US successfully performed the role of global system administrator. With Barack Obama crashing subsystem after subsystem, the socialist appendages are powering down. Without free energy from the capitalist system they despise, socialism is indeed doomed. What no one anticipated was how quickly the end might come. It would be really interesting if the key problem in the next few years turned out to be not about how to defeat the left, but how to survive the maelstrom left by its sinking.
I’m not at all sure what will happen—which makes me no different from most people. We cannot foresee the future. But in the present, there are rumblings of discontent. The question is how deep they go.
I am a student of this sort of ideological change—it’s one of the main things I write about. And one thing I’ve learned is to have a healthy respect for how difficult it is for most people to abandon an entire philosophy, a way of looking at the world that is deeply entrenched and widely shared. For true believers, whatever failures the Obama administration has experienced can be chalked up to racist teabaggers, the rot of the capitalist system itself, his own personal failings, or sabotage by Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and their like playing up to the gullible bitter clingers of America.
But I do think that Fernandez is onto something here, especially in his comments about the European socialist dream only being viable because it was backed by the US and its very different system. It’s something like the situation with pacifists—they can only exist if protected by a larger society willing to use force to protect itself and the pacifists too.
If the Left is failing, it may be a case of “be careful what you wish for” combined with “give them enough rope and they will hang themselves.” Every theory of government is only an abstraction until put into practice. Communism may have seemed like a good deal until its full flowering into tyranny was demonstrated; witness the many American Communists who thought they had an answer to the woes of capitalism demonstrated by the Depression, but dropped out of the Party after Stalin’s crimes were revealed.
Leftism may be demonstrating its own limitations by finally coming to power and needing to perform in the real world. Leftism had been on the outside looking in ever since the Reagan years. Clinton, the one Democratic president during that time, pulled back from a full liberal agenda because he realized there was no stomach for it in the America of the 90s. But during the Bush years, the distortions of the press as well as Bush’s own flaws combined to work liberals up to a fever pitch of protest and criticism, and the backlash from his administration created an environment in which for the first time since the Carter years liberals and the Left gained powerful control of the executive and both branches of the legislature.
This result has been that, ever since January, we’ve gotten to see what Leftists really want, because they concluded they had a mandate (and/or the power) to get it. So far, Americans haven’t been too happy with the sight. If this trend continues, and especially if much of the liberal agenda gets passed and has negative repercussions for the economy and our security, more Americans will grow a lot more unhappy.
Will this end up discrediting the Leftist agenda and approach as a whole? I think it would at least cause a temporary backlash. But people are fickle, and generations and memory are short. I’m afraid that all it might take for things to reverse, and for the Left to flourish again, would be a few terms of conservative power with its inevitable excesses and mistakes, as well as the fact that no government can solve the problems inherent in living.
Leftist thought is inherently seductive. It promises a utopia, or close to it, and its siren song sounds good to those who don’t study economics and history (and even to some who do). I fear that the lessons of history must be relearned over and over.