Let Us Count the Gulags

gulag_3-9-15-1 A watch tower stands in a museum commemorating victims of Soviet-era political repressions located in a former prison camp, some 110 kms (69 miles) northeast of the west Siberian city of Perm, Russia, Friday, March 6, 2015.  (AP Photo/Alexander Agafonov)

There are many threats to the continuity of the modern world, of which Islam in its manifold guises -- international terrorism, the razia of unfettered immigration, Iranian nuclear ambitions -- is the most prominent. But the Islamic agenda would not be what it is without the “progressivist” mentality and attendant policy making that are handing the barbarians the keys to the city. Islam and progressivism, to cite Jamie Glazov, are United in Hate. Indeed, as Executive Director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism Stephen Schwartz remarks in First Things, the deep complicity between Islam and the left goes a long way back, to the writings of the chief Communist impresarios, Marx and Lenin, as well as to lesser lights like Bolshevik intellectual Karl Radek. America’s far-left, pro-Muslim president has merely continued the dismal tradition.

Thus, we need to consider the broader canvas to which the camel in the room directs our attention. The obsession with multiculturalism that is destroying our civilizational patrimony is a sign of the feverish intoxication with the humanly improbable that characterizes leftist thinking: that we are all born equal (true with respect to rights, but not with respect to talent, intelligence or personal qualities); that sociopolitical changes can eradicate the flaws and blemishes of our nature (demonstrably wrong); that competition is a social evil that must be eliminated for the general advantage (pure fairyland); that education should be politically motivated to promote what is absurdly termed “social justice” (the death knell of critical thought); that tolerance for the “Other,” however defined, trumps due process in the courts (the erosion of equity); that ancient guilts require present expiation (rank unfairness); and, the great canard of our time, that all cultures are on an existential par, none being “better,” more ethical or more advanced than any other (manifestly false).

Hence the dogma of cultural and moral equivalence to which the liberal/left adheres, as practiced most conspicuously by the jerk in the White House and by the majority of our political, community and institutional leadership. No culture, religion or civilization, apparently, is superior to any other, an axiom derived, as I observed in a 2011 PJM article, "The Origins of Postmodernitis," from the early anthropologist Franz Boas. Boas laid it down in his seminal The Mind of Primitive Man that all cultures should be regarded with sympathy, that we should hold the conviction that all "races" --  today we would say "ethnicities" --  have “contributed to cultural progress in one way or another” and that they are equally capable of “advancing the interests of mankind.” Unfortunately, as I conclude there, what started out as a methodological discipline in the field of anthropology has mutated into an intellectual sickness that regards our own culture as nothing more than a provisional adaptation. We are all, it appears, moral and cultural isomorphs.

The utopian malady runs deep in the leftist psychodrama. Consider the irony of the Charlie Hebdo attack. As Clash Daily contributor William Spencer-Hale points out, “The employees, artists, writers and editors of Charlie Hebdo were all true to life followers of the Church of Leftism. They…eagerly embraced all the tenets of liberalism. They, like so many of their fellow countrymen, voted to implement those policies that are the hallmark of the modern leftist. Among them being gun control and unfettered immigration.” The fantasy world continues to impinge upon the real one, regardless of deadly consequences.

There is a lesson to be learned from contemplating the lasting damage that such torpid maunderings and emotional convulsions can inflict.  Of course, one should try to be circumspect and impartial in one’s judgments. I recall in this connection James Madison’s summation in Federalist #55: “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence.” In other words, both facets of human nature need to be taken into account in forming our view of life, arriving at a mature conception of morality and determining the substance of our political commitments. A strong element of human sympathy leavens Madison’s skepticism. But he had already recognized in Federalist #37 just where choice and temptation tend to lead, making him -- like the Founders in general -- a reliable authority on the follies and perils of uninstructed human nature and their political implications. The “brighter aspects” of our nature, he wrote, “serve only as exceptions to…darken the gloom of the adverse prospects to which they are contrasted.” Madison is referring chiefly to narcissism, self-righteousness and bickering self-interest leading to political faction.

Such vices are inherent in the utopian prepossession, issuing inevitably in the assumption of infallibility and the application of ruthless force. Utopianism envisages a world in which the concepts of merit, achievement, genuine novelty and civic responsibility have been retired in favor of the misguided and banausic program of affirmative action, mandated mediocrity and cultural self-abasement. And, according to its promoters, it is a world that must be imposed, whether through violence or legislation. As such it cannot be separated from what Madison in #37 calls the “infirmities of human character,” or what we might call the tyranny of results. As Milan Kundera memorably puts it in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting: “Once the dream of paradise starts to turn into reality…people begin to crop up who stand in its way. And so the rulers of paradise must build a little gulag on the side of Eden. In the course of time this gulag grows ever bigger…while the adjoining paradise gets even smaller and poorer.”