June 11, 2006 1 Comment
Today’s Non-Sequitur is upsetting on several levels.
Seeing Danae in a concentration camp had the effect on me I’m sure Wiley sought. And I’m the last person to claim that there’s anything inherently wrong with references to Hitler or the Holocaust (see “In Defense of Referencing Hitler”) but when you make such comparisons, you’d better be clear on the parallel, and you’d better be right.
Having learned where and why the old man involuntarily received his numerical tattoo, Danae wonders why he hasn’t had it removed…
I don’t know whether Wiley meant to be targeting neocon war hawks, the Religious Right, the Bush administration, or extremists in general, but the words he chose explicitly target all political extremists, which would include me.
As Karl Hess wrote for Barry Goldwater,
…extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
Every attack on political extremism is an attack on principle. The consistent application of principle is by definition extremist (so long as we’re actually defining terms and using them consistently, rather than appealing always and only to emotional reflexes). It should be clear to anyone who can keep his knee from jerking for 30 seconds, that the problem isn’t extremism per se, but rather which ideology is being applied in the extreme. Extreme pacifists will tend to behave quite differently from extreme nationalists. Extreme libertarians (i.e., liberal anarchists) will not lock people up just because of their background, whereas extreme egalitarians already have.
The standard attack on extremism is not an appeal to reason, but its opposite: the conflation of ideologies and the decrying of principle.
So according to Wiley, extremism in the defense of liberty can lead to another Holocaust. Try to figure that one out!
The problem isn’t only with confusion on the words principle and extremism; there’s also the standard problem that comes from the leftist map of politics. The Left and Right dichotomy may have started with 18th and 19th-century French republicans, but it has been applied throughout the world (especially the West) by 20th-century socialists.
First the Left is defined as progress, as it was for the French (and for classical liberals in general, back when progressives were the people who opposed the Ancien Regime). But now “progress” is linked to the State as egalitarian regulator, social safety net, etc. Thus “Progressives” are always calling for bigger and ever more pervasive government.
The Right, in contrast, is anyone opposed to the Left, anyone opposed to their vision of progress. We are the reactionaries, again by definition. For the socialists who controlled and continue to control the political language of Establishment intellectuals, all opponents of socialism are rightwing — to varying degrees. So the classical liberals were rightwing, but then so were the fascists.
You might object, isn’t fascism just nationalist socialism? Didn’t the national socialists oppose liberal capitalism just as much as they opposed illiberal Communism? Sure, but to the left-socialists, any non-egalitarian socialists weren’t real socialists. Since the fascists claimed to be defending the bourgeoisie and were, in fact, the dominant opposition to the Communists in many parts of the world, they were really the Right. Maybe these rightwingers said they opposed free-market capitalism, but any good socialist could see right through that: fascism was clearly the epitome of capitalism! (I’m not making this up.)
It didn’t matter that classical liberalism and fascism are completely at odds, ideologically — that one is based on individualism and laissez-faire, while the other is based on national collectivism and economic corpratism — the Left just asserted that one led inexorably to the other, and we’ve been lumped together as rightwing extremists ever since.
I have no emotional attachment to the word extremist. I’m not trying to hold onto it the way I’m trying to hold on to the word liberal. I just don’t like it when people throw more mud into already muddy waters.
Postscript to anyone who says that this is “just semantics”: if you care about justice, if you care about meaning, then a just semantics is exactly what you care about.
PPS: If the leftwing scare-tactic smear term is “extremist” then the rightwing scare-tactic smear term is “radical”. They’re not equivalent terms, since radicalism is about perceiving both the problem and the solution as being at the “root” or foundation of the status quo, whereas extremism can designate any position, pro- or anti-radical, taken to the extreme. I am a radical extremist in the Rothbardian tradition, which is neither violent nor revolutionary. (Unfortunately, Murray Rothbard himself was responsible for some confusion on this point back in the 1960s.) Not all extremism is violent, just as not all radicalism is red.