I’m currently reading Anne Applebaum’s excellent Iron Curtain, a follow-on to her masterful Gulag. In this book, she details how the oppressive tyrannies of Eastern Europe were created by the Soviet Union and how they were run for forty years. I’ll likely post a full review when I’m finished.
I did want to single out one point, however.
One of the recurring themes in the early days of communism was the communists’ confusion as to why the couldn’t win the hearts and minds of the people. In the early days of the Cold War, they actually held elections, figuring that with control of the secret police, the media and social groups, they would win easily. They were crushed and those became the last free elections in Eastern Europe for two generations. This pattern would repeat itself later in the late 80’s when communist regimes had open elections and were stunned when they lost again. They kept returning to the theme of why the “masses” were voting against “their interests”.
That should sound familiar. There’s a whole book about it called “What’s the matter with Kansas”. We continually hear liberals lamenting that Americans vote against “their interests” by refusing to embrace wealth redistribution and other socialist schemes. Like their Communist forbears, it simply never occurs to them that most people don’t want to succeed in life by taking things away from someone else; that people regard “redistributed” wealth as stolen wealth.
But there’s another thing the modern Left shares with the Communists. When people opposed Communism, the Communists believed this was because of the evil influence of shadowy bourgeois interests or even because of mental illness. Entire societies were reshaped so that citizens only heard “correct” view from the day they were born and were continually re-educated into proper thinking.
But what does the modern Left do but say that people vote Republican because they are “full of hate” or “don’t care about people who aren’t like them” or “are influenced by special interests”? No one can oppose abortion because of a concern for the unborn; they have to hate women and want to control them. No one can oppose gay marriage because they are leery of changing a fundamental pillar of society; they have to be filled with hate. No one can oppose the welfare state because they think it’s a long walk off a short plank; they have to be incapable of caring for people. No on can think global warming is overblown because they don’t trust the science; they have to be under the influence of Big Oil (this post was stimulated by the creation of a website designed to smear climate “dirty denier$” by linking them to fossil fuel interests).
That’s not to say that there are aren’t Right-Wingers who think their opponents are mentally defective or that there aren’t Leftists who understand that there are genuine differences in philosophy. But the need to see the opposition as defective or under baleful influence is much stronger on the Left and particularly among the hard Lefties who think Obama is a centrist wuss. It informs things like campaign finance reform and political correctness. It manifests in the enthusiasm for public school systems and public pre-K, in particular, so that children can be influenced to “correct” views at earlier and earlier ages.
But reading Applebaum’s account of the machinations of the Communists reveals that this attitude is not new or terribly original or particularly insightful. The belief that government can transform human beings — make them work harder, be less racist or get along better — is an offshoot of behaviorism: the belief that human beings are empty vessels waiting to be shaped by outside influences. And if they don’t take the desired shape, it is either because the vessel was defective or there are other forces at work.
The idea of self-determination simply never occurs to them.