Monday, 8 August 2011

Ivory Tower Syndrome

The typical leftist response to such things as the current wave of rioting and looting goes something like this:
Whilst I condemn the willful destruction and the thievery, we must address the underlying social causes which have led to these troubles...
... followed by a discourse on inequality and disenfranchisement, seasoned with references to banker bonuses, Tory cuts and of course police brutality. What runs through it is an identification between the community and the looters, as if running off with an armful of gear from JD Sports is somehow a collective cri de coeur for the rest of the people, including presumably those made homeless and jobless by the violence. What the typical leftist cannot really do is feel any outrage in their heart for the plain criminality of rioting and looting. Hence their desire to quickly turn to examining underlying social causes.

This got me thinking of something Ludwig von Mises wrote about the Weimar Republic, specifically the attempted communist putsch and the ineffectual attempts by the more moderate (and far more numerous) socialists to resist it. What he identified is this: that the leftist can never condemn those who are more leftist than he is. Instead he will only sit on his hands, for fear of being labelled (horror of horrors) 'reactionary'.

It may be the case that a similar syndrome afflicts the rightwing. I shall leave that to leftists to point out (feel free to do so). I will also say that, with regard to the current troubles, ordinary people, if I may use that term, many of whom put themselves on the left, do not suffer from this problem, it being an affliction of the 'intellectual' types. It's a lot harder to pontificate about society when you're close enough to smell the acrid stench of burned-out buildings. I would not accuse David Lammy, for instance, of this failing.

Anyway, the following quote comes from 'Omnipotent Government' chapter IX: The Weimar Republic and its collapse, which can be read in its entirety here. (The emphasis is mine).
It is very important to understand the ideas which in those fateful days shaped the attitudes of the majority socialists. For these ideas sprang out of the very essence of Marxian thought. They reappear whenever and wherever in the world people imbued with Marxian doctrines have to face similar situations. We encounter in them one of the main reasons why Marxism—leaving its economic failure out of the question—even in the field of political action was and is the most conspicuous failure of history.

The German Marxians—remember, not the communists, but those sincerely rejecting dictatorship—argued this way: It is in­dispensable to smash the communists in order to pave the way for democratic socialism. (In those days of December, 1918, and January, 19l9, the German noncommunist Marxians were still wrapped in the illusion that the majority of the people backed their socialist program.) It is necessary to defeat the communist revolt by armed resistance. But that is not our business. Nobody can expect us, Marxians and proletarians as we are, to rise in arms against our class and party comrades. A dirty job has to be done but it is not our task to do it. Our tenets are contrary to such a policy. We must cling to the principle of class and party solidarity. Besides, it would hurt our popularity and imperil our success at the impending election. We are, indeed, in a very unfortunate position. For the communists do not feel themselves bound by the same idea. They can fight us, because they have the enormous advantage of denouncing us as social traitors and reactionaries. We cannot pay them back in their own coin. They are revolu­tionaries in fighting us, but we would appear as reactionaries in fighting them. In the realm of Marxian thought the more radical are always right in despising and attacking the more prudent party members. Nobody would believe us if we were to call them traitors and renegades. As Marxians, in this situation we cannot help adopting an attitude of nonresistance.


Libertarian Political Analyst said...

So as long as their agenda is thriving and the leftwingers are not being challenged, the will not lend a hand but will also never antagonize a cause?

Trooper Thompson said...

I don't quite understand your paraphrase.

Guy Jean said...

"Gee, Officer Krupke, we're very upset;
We never had the love that ev'ry child oughta get.
We ain't no delinquents,
We're misunderstood.
Deep down inside us there is good!

There is good!

There is good, there is good,
There is untapped good!
Like inside, the worst of us is good!"

Plus ca change. How old is "West Side Story"? Those lyrics hold up pretty well, eh?

Guy Jean said...

Instead he will only sit on his hands, for fear of being labelled (horror of horrors) 'reactionary'.

Being labelled "reactionary" is the end of the world. For a Marxist. Once you've been identified by your group moniker, that's it. The merits of your ideas aren't worth a damn. They won't even be listened to, because "everyone" knows what you will say: you're a reactionary. They already know what will come out of your mouth.