Monday, June 08, 2009

A Conservative History of the American Left

A Conservative History of the American Left
By Dan Flynn

This is the third book by Dan Flynn, author of Why the Left Hates America and Intellectual Morons. It is probably the best of the three, and certainly the most important. This is no small complement, as the other two presented rafts of valuable information, though occasionally suffered from questionable analysis.

This book is exactly what the title says. The story of the American left has never been told like this before, as leftists either imagine themselves as without predecessors, or imagine that their predecessors as earlier images of themselves.

While the Pilgrims experimented with a communist system, they quickly abandoned it when it produced disastrous results. The first real leftist to make an impression on America was Robert Owen, a Welsh industrialist who came to America looking to create heaven on Earth.

Owen declared private property, religion, and marriage to be "a trinity of the most monstrous evils". Many leftists since have agreed. Owen was briefly popular in America, speaking to Congress and inspiring clubs of followers. He bought control of an agricultural commune at New Harmony, Indiana planning to create utopia. A number of people migrated to the socialist colony.

Not surprisingly, it was a disaster. Sloth reigned, and property decayed. The commune lasted less than two years.

Unlike many leftists, Owen was willing to spend his own money on his dream. Like many leftists, Owen seemed more concerned with feeding his own sense of moral self-righteousness than actually accomplishing his stated goals. As he wrote in his diary, "The enjoyment of a reformer, I should say, is much more in contemplation, than in reality."

The years before the civil war saw a number of similar utopian communes. There were the followers of Charles Fourier, Brook Farm, and the Oneida community. Most were similarly disastrous, as utopians found that it wasn't as easy to create heaven on Earth as they had thought.

The period between the Civil War and World War I saw an eclectic succession of leftist movements. Some were revolutionists and others were reformers, but all were interested in using force rather than persuasion to achieve their ends. There were the early followers of Karl Marx. There was the early labor movement, which seemingly spent as much time fighting the efforts of intellectuals and socialists to hijack it as it spent fighting or bargaining with management.

There were the 'single-taxers', inspired by Henry George's book Progress and Poverty. There were nationalists inspired by the utopian novel Looking Backwards. There was the populist movement of farmers in the 1870s-90s. There were 'social gospel' preachers such as Walter Rauschenbusch, who preached socialism rather than saving souls.

The progressive movement became increasingly influential at the beginning of the twentieth century. Unlike previous leftist movements, they achieved more than minor results. These included electing presidents Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, and FDR. Prominent progressives included Theodore Veblen, John Dewey, Charles Beard, and Upton Sinclair.

Progressives imposed government regulations on business and land use. The Federal Reserve, a banking cartel, was created. The income tax was created, along with state government representation in the Senate. Prohibition was passed. The movement was derailed by World War I, and the election of Warren Harding in 1920.

Meanwhile, socialists like J. A. Wayland, Eugene Debs, and Daniel DeLeon promoted their cause to little effect. Following World War I, they were displaced on the far left by the communist party of John Reed.

Following the stock market crash, FDR and the new dealers came to power. They created a raft of new government programs and regulations that prolonged the depression for a decade. The new deal created business cartels that punished the little guy for underselling big corporations.

Meanwhile, communists including Mike Gold influenced the art world, and the party also made an impact in Hollywood and the news media. The communist party of Earl Browder and William Foster purged suspected deviationists are infiltrated the government. A ring of spies gave the nuclear bomb secrets to Moscow.

The 1950s saw a left critical of the middle class. Alfred Kinsey promoted deviancy as he engaged in every deviant sexual practice himself. The beatnik counterculture briefly struck New York.

In the '60s, student radicals formed Students for a Democratic Society. Lyndon Johnson's liberals tried to create a Great Society, but created the Vietnam War and welfare dependence instead. SDS became increasingly radical, and gave way to the Weathermen, while the Black Panthers came on the scene.

In the 1970s, the 'gay rights', feminist, and environmental movements became forces on the left. While the public rejected the left at the ballot box in the '80s, leftists worked to control academia, the media, and the courts. Most recently, they attacked everything from the Iraq War, to the imagined threat of global warming, to Americans who wouldn't vote for them.

What can be learned from this long history of the left? There have been plenty of unusual characters on the left, and Flynn enjoys telling their stories. A surprising number were sexual perverts. Others destroyed their lives in other ways, from drugs to suicide to shootouts with police.

There are certainly plenty of specific differences amongst the many people and movements on the left. Flynn suggests that the common factor underlying them is an infatuation with a vision of perfection. This led more moderate leftists such as unionists and Bellomy's nationalists to support 'reform'. But it led more radical leftists to despise and seek to destroy the existing institutions of society such as Christianity, marriage, capitalism, and private property.

While Flynn doesn't mention it, perhaps the best slogan for this vision is 'Another World is Possible'. The most succinct statement of this vision may be John Lennon's song Imagine. Lennon's vision is thoroughly evil, as can be understood by examining its implications.

But this still does not explain why the leftist vision is what it is. True, there are lots of variations, but there is also too much in common for it to just be chance.

Another key factor in understanding the left is Robert Owen's condition. That is, many leftists are more concerned with maintaining their own vision of their own moral self-righteousness than achieving specific goals. This is one reason why they are so hostile to efforts to examine the effects of the policies that they advocate.

But this still does not explain why leftists advocate what they do. While Flynn provides a lot of valuable data, this question remains unanswered.


E.J. Dodson said...

The reference to "Single Taxers" leaves a somewhat misleading impression. Influenced by the writings of Henry George, most were advocates of limited but very reformed government. What Henry George campaigned for is best said in his own words: "a fair field with no favors." George was the enemy of privilege, a champion of true individual liberty and of the right of the individual to one's property (i.e., what one earned with one's labor and capital goods). For his principles and his values, George found strong support among individualists such as Albert Jay Nock, Francis Neilson and Frank Chodorov as well as labor leaders. He provided what today might be referred to as "the third way" or what I call "cooperative individualism."

Ken said...

Thanks for the thorough review. I will consider reading this book myself (once my current backlog of books to read gets smaller).

Matt said...

The Pilgrims experimented with Communism? What an empty and obviously misleading statement. Political ideologies are not universal throughout time and space. One might as well argue that they were in favor of eating local produce. No Pilgrim had ever heard of the word communism or capitalism. What an "Intellectual Moron."