Mon, Nov 28, 2011 | Rubin Reports | By Barry Rubin
Radical Chic Catastrophes: When Romanticism Trumps Reason
Remember the war against Franco,
That’s the kind where each of us belongs
He may have won all the battles
But we had all the good songs!
— Tom Lehrer
The radical is always the more glamorous. People wear Che Guevara tee-shirts. They don’t wear Samuel Gompers, A. Phillip Randolph, Edouard Bernstein, Karl Kautsky, or Jean Jaures tee-shirts, yet those largely forgotten social democratic and labor heroes achieved far more benefit for reform and workers without murdering a lot of people.
Rosa Luxembourg, the nastiest rich spoiled brat in Zamosc, is fondly remembered though her career was a disaster and helped create the conditions that eventually brought about Nazism. Who knows about Frances Perkins, who did far more to help workers and was the first woman ever to be in the cabinet of an American president?
Thus, two things are certain. The extremist has better public relations and the extremist fails. Either he’s defeated, perhaps killed (dying the secular equivalent of the martyr’s death) or gains power, becomes horribly repressive, and messes up society big-time. In modern times, Yasir Arafat has been the king (perhaps I should say sultan) of lost causes, a fact which made him lionized in Europe.
Ah, the romance of the lost cause. Once the province of Irish Republicans, Polish nationalists, and sons or daughters of the Confederacy, the lost cause has an intense emotional appeal. There’s something stirring about defeat. And if you lose, you can’t be one of those evil rulers who actually have to show what your policies can do. At Civil War reenactments there are always more people wanting to be Confederates than Union soldiers. But if the Confederacy had won the Civil War, the ensuing additional decades of slavery would have put a damper on contemporary enthusiasm.
The same applies to the slave labor camps of Joe Stalin, or at least it should. But if the radicals do gain power, Hollywood actors can always go to visit Venezuelan dictators and glory in the man of action with the big mouth and the iron fist as he stamps on his demonized but actually helpless enemies.
A Czech friend of mine who was a leading dissident (and paid the price for his genuine heroism) recalls how Western radicals came to his country during the Communist period. Some sucked up to the ruthless dictators as if they were people’s heroes; others lectured democratic reformers who were facing terrible repression about how Communism would really work if it were only managed somewhat differently.
All of these reflections come as a result of the open revival of the far left in the West, and especially in America. In recent years, the far left has prospered by pretending to be liberal. All of the dreams in the 1930s about infiltrating liberal organizations and taking over the Democratic Party have now come true.
But that doesn’t seem to be enough as the Occupy movement seeks to bring back the good old days of Stalinism. To hold such a position means that no one ever taught you at university anything about democratic political philosophy or the gaping holes in Marxism, not to mention the record of what Communism did when it was in power.
Marx famously wrote that history repeats itself the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce. So what does that make the third time?
Yes, what makes this all so intensely bizarre is this comes after the failure not only of Communism but even of European social democracy. To argue today that the destruction of capitalism is a good thing requires a much higher level of isolation from reality than it did in the past.
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that democratic socialist parties have done many good things in the past in Europe but have now outlived their usefulness in large part because they have gone too far. The pendulum has swung so far over in terms of debt, taxation, regulation, insane Political Correctness, and suicidal multiculturalism that the clock has fallen over with a crash.
Maybe that’s why for any people the clock seems to have stopped in the 1890s (rapacious capitalism; helpless downtrodden workers), the 1930s (starving downtrodden workers who just want a piece of the pie), or the 1960s (imperialist wars against nice Communists).
The other source for my thinking such thoughts is the fact that I’m currently completing a book with the prominent German historian, Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, entitled, Nazis, Radical Arabs, and the Making of the Modern Middle East. After perusing hundreds of pages of newly released documents and never-before-translated German-language materials, we’ve discovered the true story of the alliance between the Nazis and Middle Eastern radicals (both militant Arab nationalists and Islamists).
To put it in one sentence, what made the Middle East different from every other place in the world is that there the Nazi collaborators won. They weren’t just clients or students of the German national socialists but rather on an equal footing, with parallel ideas of their own. These included hatred of the West, desire to commit genocide against the Jews, belief that a repressive regime was best able to achieve progress, a willingness to fight for total victory rather than compromise, and similar characteristics.
What makes this evaluation incredibly timely is that the “Arab Spring” is not changing this tradition but merely continuing it. The radicals defeated the moderates in the 1930s and early 1940s but were set back by their foolish alliance with the Axis. They then came back in the late 1940s and the 1950s to wipe out the moderates completely, seizing power in most of the Arab world and intellectual hegemony in all of it. The nationalist radicals also suppressed their old Islamist partners
Here we go again. It’s the Islamists’ turn this time to follow the same pattern as they dispose of their former, nationalist partners while simultaneously wiping the floor with the moderates.
Why do people keep choosing a path that leads to disaster? For many reasons, one of them being that it can be portrayed as glamorous, heroic, and devoted to justice. Why should we expect more of the Middle East when even Western societies which have full access to historic reality and political philosophy are ready to jump off the cliff?