The recent killings of abortion doctor George Tiller and a guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington have sent leftists in the U.S. into a frenzy of manufactured outrage and alarmism — with the left-dominated mainstream media seizing on the shootings as evidence of growing “right-wing” extremism and attributing this “escalation” in part to Obama’s victory.
Not for the first time, the left is of course projecting.
Because while the terms “left-wing” and “right-wing” are notoriously vague, relative, and misused, a glance at last century and this one shows that virtually every act of political violence — from the murder and enslavement of millions to street thuggery and petty vandalism — has been committed in the name of what are broadly left-wing ideas. By contrast, violence in pursuit of right-wing aims has been virtually non-existent, to the extent that it has had to be invented by the left.
As Rand Simberg explained here a couple of weeks ago, there was nothing “right-wing” about James von Brunn, the Holocaust Museum shooter — insofar as he had a coherent political ideology at all, he had more in common with leftists.
And while Scott Roeder, the man accused of murdering Tiller, may have had ties to anti-government extremists, he was also mentally ill. And the ideology that led him to kill — opposition to abortion — is no more a “right-wing” position than von Brunn’s anti-Semitism. Conservatives are more likely than liberals to oppose abortion, but just because someone is repelled by the killing of unborn babies, it doesn’t follow that they’re also in favor of limited government and a strong national defense.
But whoever controls the medium controls the message, and the left’s dominance of academia, the media, and the arts has enabled it to frame the debate and shape the language, including the very definitions of left and right.
Leftists have succeeded in hijacking the term “liberal” in order to make themselves appear virtuous, tolerant, and reasonable, while simultaneously turning the term “right-wing” into shorthand for all that is evil, intolerant, and unfair. Both labels have stuck, along with the categorization of racism and extreme religious convictions as “right-wing” when both are in reality extremes of human nature. (Ironically, many former “liberals” now prefer to call themselves “progressives” after the right turned the tables by using “liberal” as a term of abuse).
The most effective and insidious example of this revisionist obfuscation has been the left’s characterization of “fascism” as a right-wing phenomenon, when Mussolini’s Fascists in Italy and Hitler’s Nazis (who weren’t strictly fascists in the Italian sense) were corporatists, and in many respects socialists, with nationalistic and racist baggage. The full name of the Nazi party was the National Socialist German Workers Party.
Both movements were widely admired by statists and “progressives” across Europe and in the U.S., but fell into disrepute when Germany invaded Russia and Stalin, whose brand of international socialism was even more popular with leftists than the nationalist variety, condemned the “fascists” as enemies of the revolution. (For a detailed analysis of the subject see Jonah Goldberg’s indispensable Liberal Fascism.)
Racism is these days universally accepted as a “far-right” phenomenon. There are of course racists on both the left and the right, if we use those terms to broadly describe attitudes to economic and social policy. But so effective has been the left’s propaganda campaign against its opponents that in Britain, for example, the racist British National Party is routinely described as being “far-right,” when many of its policies — including nationalized health care, support for unions, and opposition to free trade — are hallmarks of old-school socialism.
There’s racism aplenty in mainstream political parties too. In the U.S., the Democratic Party, home of the modern left-liberal, was the party of slavery and Jim Crow. The most racially charged political campaign in recent U.S. history was the Democratic primary contest between Obama and Hillary Clinton. The racism of the left is far more insidious than a simple mistrust or fear of foreigners; it seeks to divide people into groups which can then be exploited and played against each other for political gain.
The left has had to conjure right-wing extremism out of thin air — see, for example, the attempts to divine sinister motives in the tea party movement — precisely because there are so few real instances of “far-right” violence, in the sense of violence aimed at advancing right-wing economic and social agendas. (It could be argued that some Central and South American dictators were right-wing, although they tended to be authoritarian and corporatist rather than conservative). Conservatism by its very nature is antithetical to extremism. To use another example from the UK, the only mass protest in recent memory which could conceivably be labeled “right-wing” was a march in 2002 against the Labour government’s proposals, motivated by class hatred, to ban the hunting of foxes with hounds. Some 400,000 took part, and aside from a few scuffles with police the event passed off peacefully.
It’s a very different story on the left. Those prepared to use violence in the furtherance of core left-wing aims such as the destruction of capitalism, the abolition of property rights, and the usurpation of democratically elected governments by “enlightened” revolutionaries number in the millions, if not the tens of millions.
They range from Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot to present-day dictators like Chavez and the Castros, terrorist groups such as Bill Ayers’ Weather Underground and the Baader-Meinhof gang, and environmental extremists and anti-capitalist rioters (who, unlike those pro-hunt supporters, bring chaos to London’s streets every May Day and whenever else the opportunity arises).
The reasons why violence is so prevalent on the left go to the heart of the differences between left and right. If you take race, religion, and other “human” factors out of the equation, the distinction is really between authoritarianism and collectivism on the left and freedom and individualism on the right. There’s no doubt which is the more attractive option for most people, all things being equal, which is why the left has to blur the distinctions and muddle the language.
This distinction is summed up in two quotes from great figures in British political history. The first, by Winston Churchill, goes something like this: “Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has no heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains.” (There are several versions of the quote, and variations have been attributed to other political figures.)
The second, by Margaret Thatcher: “The facts of life are conservative.”
As Churchill knew, liberalism comes from the heart, while conservatism comes from the head. Secular conservatives tend to subscribe to the “life’s a bitch and then you die” school of philosophy, while the notion of “getting your reward in heaven” is the religious conservative’s take on the same worldview. Left-liberals, on the other hand, believe they can bring about utopia by ridding the world of evils and injustices ranging from torture to the internal combustion engine. So noble are those ends that pretty much any means can be justified.
But as Lady Thatcher observed, conservatism is the natural order of things, and left-wing ideas therefore have had to be invented out of thin air. They go against the grain, and to enforce statist and collectivist policies inevitably requires a degree of coercion. And because left/liberalism is largely an emotional condition, those who subscribe to it are prone to extremes of emotion, which is so often manifested in violence. Even moderate leftists are susceptible to manipulation by extremists. (I have a lefty acquaintance who becomes angry and condescending within seconds of us starting a debate on any subject. The funny part? He used to work with conflict-resolution charities.)
Of course activists and commentators on both left and right know all this. As usual, it’s those who only take a passing interest in politics — independents, centrists, call them what you will — whom the left and the media are trying to alarm and convert to their cause, with their hysteria about right-wing crazies running amock across the U.S. Those who wish to take away individual liberties are playing a high-stakes game, and a key part of their strategy is to demonize at every turn those who would oppose them. Only in Obama’s America is principled and reasonable opposition routinely labeled as “hate.”
Conservatives must make the case at every available opportunity that the distinction isn’t between left and right but between, to borrow the title of Mark Levin’s recent book, liberty and tyranny. This is easier said than done — it’s hard to change the status quo when you’re out of power and it’s hard for conservatives to regain power without changing the status quo — but, thanks to the innate tendency of liberals to overreach when they obtain power, opportunities are already presenting themselves in the shape of the debates over health care reform and cap and trade.
The right doesn’t need to use violence to make its point; the truth is a far more potent weapon.