I think that much of what we see today in terms of bitter left wing rhetoric we can lay on the changes that have occurred within the American Left since the 1960’s. There was a time when no one advocated a harder line against the Marxist hard left than American liberals, but since the passing of that generation from the scene we are now left, pardon the pun, with people whose politics were formed in the New Left politics of the sixties, a politics that drank deep from the poisoned well of Marxism-Leninism. The same people active in radical politics then are today the people who occupy the commanding heights in the media, the universities, and many of the professions.
To take my own profession, for example: in the last election librarians voted for Kerry over Bush at a ratio of nearly 200 to 1. Our professional organization, the American Library Association, is not only rife with liberals; hard-line leftists and outright Stalinists dominate the organization’s governing council. There is scarcely a left-wing cause anywhere in America that the ALA will not vigorously defend, even if that cause has little or nothing to do with the improving the condition of American libraries and librarians, which is theoretically why the ALA exists in the first place. Having gotten control of the organization, the leftists began imposing their own radical version of the ALA’s traditional agenda, which leads to the usual hypocrisies. One need only compare the ALA’s shrill reaction to the Patriot Act, which they would have us all believe to be the moral equivalent of the 1934 Enabling Act that gave Germany over to Hitler and the Nazis, with their utterly craven position on the Cuban government’s attempts to crush the independent library movement. Apparently for the ALA, to paraphrase Orwell, some suppressions of basic human rights are more equal than others.
From the leftist point of view, now that they have their best and brightest in positions of power in this society they should be leading the country into a bright new future. The problem they have is that since their heyday forty years ago, the population of this country has grown increasingly conservative and want no part of their redistributionist fantasies, the Cold War ended, showing the world that Marxism does not work, and that trying to implement it anywhere usually causes human suffering on an enormous scale. The essential psychological problem for the left is that they believe that they are the Elect, the Chosen to whom the masses owe power and deference because they want to uplift the masses whether or not those masses want uplifting in the first place, and then those same masses have the nerve to reject their betters' beneficence by electing Bushitler and his merry men. Frankly, I think the screeches we keep hearing from these folks are the shrieks of people suffering psychic hernias, the wails of people born to command being told by their intellectual inferiors, no, thanks, pal, I don’t want any.
No, I don’t think this situation just growed like Topsy; I am saying that like minds attract each other. This is not always the case, of course; Ben and Jerry, George Soros, Armand Hammer, and I’m sure I could think of others if I put my mind to it, clearly show that capitalists can be just as left loopy as your average liberal in the arts, media, etc., but in general, like minds attract, form networks, and eventually change the agenda of the group to which they belong from what such an agenda had been in the past to the agenda the left wants to put in place now.
One can see this in microcosm in the Catholic Church’s College of Cardinals. One should avoid speaking in absolutes, especially when talking about the future, of course, but my guess is that the cardinals will never elect a theological liberal to the Papacy. This is because only men whose theological soundness, men today’s media would call conservatives, will ever reach a position where they could elect a Pope. The Curia in Rome and the various bishops’ organizations keep track of who is sound and who is not, and who ought to be a candidate for the episcopacy and who should not, until at the end of the process only those men whose theology conforms to that of the traditional Church are in a position to become Pope. Now, one can point out that Leo XIII and John XXIII are hardly anyone’s ideas of archconservatives, especially when you compare them to their immediate predecessors, Pius IX and Pius XII, respectively, but however liberal they may have been in their social outlook, both men were staunch defenders of traditional Catholic teaching, a fact that is often forgotten when theological liberals invoke the “spirit” of Vatican II, as opposed to what that council actually said. I think what frustrates many Catholic liberals who would like the Church to rubber stamp their theology of do as you damn well please, everything’s okay by us is that they know that the system of seduction and subversion that worked in so many other venues like the arts, the media, and the professions will not work in the long run when it comes to the Church; in order to change the theology, in itself a difficult proposition, they have to be in a position to get control of the system, and part of what that system does is to keep anyone from who might want to undermine the Church’s traditional teachings from doing so; the papacy is less a creative workshop spinning new theologies for every occasion than it is a guardian entrusted with protecting those things that Catholics have always believed.
So I would say collusion is a more likely explanation that conspiracy, and that you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours goes a long way towards explaining how so many institutions that once had their heads screwed on properly have gone off the rails and into the deep end, if you will pardon the outrageously mixed metaphors.
As for the civility Fran mourns, I don’t think we can count on seeing its return anytime soon, if ever, especially from those people who have swung hard to the political left. Civil political discourse in a democratic society assumes that two people or groups of people can look at the same set of facts and arrive at different, sometimes diametrically different, opinions about what those facts mean, and that this multiplicity of opinions is good for the overall health of the body politic. Today’s leftist, however, as aforementioned, derives his ideology from Marx and Lenin, and for both of these men, intoxicated with the idea that they were keepers of the one and only Truth, political debate with those that disagreed with them was ideological combat, to be fought and won with any available weapon.
The root of this Manichean view is the basic religiosity of the modern leftist. Although they would be loath to accept such a description of themselves, the modern leftist is an essentially religious figure. Marxism-Leninism is, for all its pretence to scientific truth, a Christian heresy in which the proletariat serves as both God and Man, the class struggle the struggle with sin, and the revolutionary the proletariat’s prophet. Clearly, in such a belief system, the wholesale slaughter of those embodiments of evil, the bourgeoisie and the capitalists, ceases to be a tawdry suppression of people with a legitimate political point of view, but is, instead, the necessary, even laudable, destruction of a persistent obstacle in the path of the inevitable triumph of the proletariat and the ushering in of the socialist utopia. In this sense, the revolutionary can portray his elimination of thousands of innocent people as a sort of purgatorial rite, a secular Judgment Day, if you will, in which the revolutionary separates the proletarian wheat from the bourgeois chaff, and the chaff thrown into the fire and destroyed.
Compelled to combat by a crusading (or if you prefer, jihadist) faith, the modern leftist violently attacks any belief system that might impede his path to power, ignores any fact his faith cannot explain away, and viciously slanders any person who does not agree with his belief system. There is no point in trying to engage in civil discourse with such a person since the modern leftist does not recognize your right to have an opinion that differs from his. Civil discourse can only exist where people understand that they have to agree to disagree with others; the modern leftist makes no such concession.
One can argue that these same things are true of the right as well and the person making this argument would be right; there are right wing wackos out there waiting for the UN and the black helicopters to start invading the United States from Canada and deprive the citizenry of their right to keep and bear arms. The person making this argument, however, has to ignore an important point: the modern conservative movement covers a broad range of opinion, from social conservatives to libertarians to neoconservatives, and that sooner or later America’s crack corps of comedians will start lampooning the nuttier right-wingers mercilessly, thereby exposing their inanity to the public. The modern leftist, on the other hand, seems to work on the old Russian revolutionary adage, no enemies on the left, so when the left wing wackos start spewing their vile garbage there are few places, other than talk radio, the Fox Network, and the blogosphere, which will point their silliness out to the public; even those people on the left who think their more extreme brethren a bit loony will sometimes keep quiet for fear of someone denouncing them as traitors to the cause.
Does this mean every liberal is part and parcel of this sort of thinking? No, of course not; just from my own experience Randy at Beautiful Horizons and I don’t agree on a whole range of issues and we more or less agree to disagree, and I don’t think he is the embodiment of left-wing evil and I trust he doesn’t think I’m an extreme right wing loony tune. But it seems, at least to me, that there are fewer and fewer liberal groups willing to extend that courtesy to people who disagree with them, which I think will cause the same sort of counterreaction on the right, until we wind up with a country divided into two mutually unintelligible groups speaking past each other at very high volume. This sort of attitudinal arteriosclerosis cannot be good for the long-term political health of the nation, but at the moment I see no good way of getting around it.