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progressivismWhen the forces of American progressivism emerged in the 1880s and 1890s, those who would one day be labeled as conservatives, classical liberals, and libertarians found themselves quite ill-prepared for the intellectual and political onslaught. Perhaps the best analyst at the time progressivism emerged, somewhat surprisingly, was E.L. Godkin, the venerable founder of The Nation.

It was the rights of man that engaged the attention of the political thinkers of the eighteenth century. The world had suffered so much misery due to the results of dynastic ambitions and jealousies,  and the masses of mankind were everywhere so burdened by the exactions of the superior classes, so as to bring about a universal revulsion against the principle of authority. Government, it was plainly seen, had become the vehicle of oppression, and the methods by which it could be subordinated to the needs of individual development, and could be made to foster liberty rather than to suppress it, were the favorite study of the most enlightened philosophers. In opposition to the theory of divine right, whether of kings or demagogues, the doctrine of natural rights was established. Humanity was exalted above human institutions, man was held superior to the State, and universal brotherhood supplanted the ideals of national power and glory.*

E.L. Godkin

E.L. Godkin

By the end of the nineteenth century, however, Godkin lamented that most Americans found the Declaration of Independence an embarrassment, and the restraints of the Constitution antiquated. “We hear no more of natural rights, but of inferior races,” he feared. The great Anglo-Welsh historian, Christopher Dawson, had made a similar point, but it was expressed in far more poetically-jarring terms: “When the century began, Jefferson was president of the United States, and George III was still King of England. When it ended Lenin already was planning the Russian Revolution.”

When one thinks of the nineteenth century in terms of its intellectual history, several deep and profound and, in many ways, courageous persons emerge as particularly insightful and dedicated, if not necessarily correct, morally or ethically. In particular, men such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Herbert Spencer, Sigmund Freud, and Friedrich Nietzsche arose, dramatically shaping the thought of the forthcoming century. Whatever their particular and individual genius, each served only to narrow and divide thought, undoing centuries of liberal education.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche

Standing in the middle of Marxism, for example, and looking out upon the world reveals many injustices, but it does so at the cost of full integrity as understood by the traditional western humanities. In orthodox Marxism, man, at root, becomes only economic, and all things swirl around him, denying not only his unique complexity but also his free will, however limited or delimited. For Darwin, man becomes merely biological, and, for Freud, merely psychological. Of the great thinkers of the nineteenth century, Nietzsche posed the most interesting challenge to the western tradition, but he did so in a fashion still anchored to the West, even while deconstructing it. After all, he believed man material as well as spiritual and intellectual. In many ways, Nietzsche is the perfect anti-Christian, as he inverted the Judeo-Christian paradigm, replacing will for grace.

Each of these men and their ideas ultimately eroded the traditions of Natural Law, natural rights, the rule of law, and almost every real support of the best and most humane ideals of western civilization. Add the rise of terrorism, beginning in the 1880s in Russia and spreading throughout Europe and the Middle East to the present day, the unexpected and nearly incalculable devastation of the First World War, and the rise of massive ideological fascist and communist states, the delicate and humane traditions of the West collapsed and so did its greatest defenders. Since the assassination of Czar Alexander II, the ideologues have roamed the world relentlessly. Indeed, since the rise of American progressivism in the 1880s, conservatives and libertarians have been fighting, for the most part, a rear-guard action. Consequently, it is difficult to write about movements of conservatives and libertarians, as most such “movements” have been merely the disconnected dogmas (in the best sense) of various strong and wise personalities and, often, their immediate followers: Irving Babbitt, Paul Elmer More, Albert Jay Nock, Dorothy Thompson, Willa Cather, T.S. Eliot, Russell Kirk, Eric Voegelin, Leo Strauss, Ray Bradbury, Friedrich Hayek, and a number of others.

Each, however, nobly attempted to remake whole what had been splintered.

Still, it is possible to connect a number of these thinkers, very broadly, to various so-called “movements”: in particular, as just noted, libertarianism and conservatism. Within each movement, there are a number of schools of thought and a great diversity of views. While we might readily label Nock and Hayek as libertarians, a vast gulf of thought stands between them. The same is true of Paul Elmer More and Leo Strauss, though each might readily be considered a conservative.

Such anti-ideological convictions have attracted many who despise the conformity that most leftists, progressives, and ideologues have embraced over the past century-and-a-half and have tried to impose on the rising generations. While this non-conformity is a great strength for those who are not on the Left, it is also a severe hindrance to organizing a cohesive and positive movement to combat the advances of the Left. Hence, it is worth restating that most conservatives and libertarians are, essentially, reactionary and reactive-ist.

It is certainly worth considering what the two movements, broadly defined, have in common.

First, each fears the massive enlargement of the modern nation-state, seeing in it the rise of Leviathan.

Second, each supports—to varying degrees—the free will of the individual person.

Third, each desires real community to be organic, necessary, and voluntary.

Fourth, traditionally, each has supported liberal education and the Great Books/Great Ideas of the West.

Fifth, each has seen warfare (with the crucial exception of the neo-conservatives) as the vehicle by which the state advances toward Leviathan.

landing_at_war_03Of the things that connect the two movements, the final two points are the most contentious. Most libertarians in the modern world have neglected the importance of the liberal arts, while a strong number of conservatives have come to embrace war as a necessity in the chaos of the world.

Serious differences exist between the two schools of thought as well.

Libertarians, in general, tend to distrust all cultural, social, religious, and political authorities, seeing in these hindrances on the growth and liberation of the autonomous individual. Though Nock and Hayek did not have to deal with our current social upheavals, their followers tend to support gay marriage, homosexual rights, and sexual diversity, at almost every level.

Conservatives, in general, tend to distrust all governmental and educational authorities, while embracing the natural and organic authorities of culture, traditional family, and religion. As an institution—perhaps the central institution of western civilization—marriage especially needs to be protected in its traditional role.

Libertarians generally do not fear the rise of corporate power (though, certainly fighting against cronyism), while conservatives more often than not dislike the power of an IBM or GM as much as they dislike the growth of Washington, D.C.

In essence, libertarians focus on the solitary, single individual, while conservatives uphold the traditions of the person, rooted in a variety of communities, times, and places.

Libertarians often possess a rationalist streak, believing in moral and intellectual progress, while conservatives find man a very mixed creature, capable of great good but generally embracing evil, self-interest, and greed. If the libertarian believes in logic, the conservative believes in romance.

Again, this is all too broad. On foreign policy, for example, most traditionalist conservatives will side with almost all libertarians, believing the U.S. incapable of governing the world and rejecting war as the great solution to all problems. Most non-traditionalist conservatives support a very powerful military without it necessarily being employed abroad extensively. While a minority of very vocal conservatives—the neo-conservatives—support using the military to spread democratic imperialism abroad, remaking the world in the image of America.

As the world continues to move away from strict ideologies and toward fusions of fundamentalism and ideologies, conservatives and libertarians will need to continue to react, but, to survive, they must also formulate positive plans, but only if avoiding becoming as narrow and particular as those on the Left.

* See Godkin, “The Eclipse of Liberalism,” The Nation (August 9, 1900).

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36 replies to this post
  1. Or, could we say that a libertarian is a Progressive opposed to the State? In which case a libertarian and a conservative would be 85% opposed to one another?

  2. A couple of items here. First, Marx did not reduce man to the economic. Rather, that was his complaint about Capitalism. It isn’t that there isn’t reductionism in Marxism, there is. It just isn’t economic.

    Also, any time you have and ideal to live by, such as provided by an ideology or natural law, you invite elite-centered rule by a vanguard. The vanguard is necessary because only they can serve as the proper interpreters of the ideal. We have many historical examples of such vanguards from all kinds of political perspectives from Bolshevism to Fascism to theocracies. And the more you have elite-centered rule, the more you consolidate and centralize power and the less liberty you give to groups, from communities to whole societies, in determining how people will live with each other. We should note that the more you consolidate power, the more those with power work to keep the status quo. We should also note that the less you consolidate power, the more you have some form of democracy.

    It isn’t that we should not have ideals, it is that we should recognize the balance needed between ideals, individual freedom, and society’s self rule. One of the problems with what is written above is that society’s self-rule is given inadequate attention and that should not surprise us since these three items are in constant conflict. Another problem is that a universal definition of what should be counted as natural law is assumed. We should note though that too many ideals and/or an overemphasis on individual freedom produces elite-centered rule.

    Now whether you want to call it progressive or Left or whatever, an inadequate emphasis on society’s self-rule can easily cause the marginalization of those individuals who either do not conform enough to the ideals or who do not excel as individuals. It also gives rise to the practice of oppression by the vanguard and their dependents. It is at this point that this article’s approach to the Left or progressive needs to hear a quote from Martin Luther King Jr:

    The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

    Now if we were to replace the word ‘Western’ with a fill-in-the-blank, we should realize that all of us are at risk of not being ‘just’ especially when we single out a particular group for scorn. If we can better guard ourselves from not being just by realizing the inadequacies provided by the ideologies and groups we align ourselves with and by refusing to label and regard other ideologies and groups as lepers.

  3. @Mr. Day,

    While Dr. King is most surely right, I feel that your assertion is a tad disingenuous. It’s not that the West has not learned nothing from others, but rather we have fallen back on the timeless truths and lessons from our own history. I myself believe am of those that believe that western liberal democracy cannot truly exist outside of a Western-oriented culture/tradition because it is what has developed from our history, our mistakes, our triumphs. As such, other cultures develop in the same way and are particular to them. In the same way that aspects of liberal democracy are incompatible with, say, some Middle Eastern or African or Asian cultures, so too are aspects of their cultures incompatible with ours. Hence, each will reasonably fall back on what they know. (Better the devil you know…)

    I’d also like to address your issue with the “vanguard” and the potential marginalization of “non-conformists”: there is a glaring difference between non-conforming to social norms/cultural taboos and the politicized, ideologically-mandated conformity enacted by leftists. Social ostracization, while always a problem and not one to which true conservatives, I think, embrace (particularly since Dr. Kirk emphasizes a love of the varieties of humanity and the persons contained within), nevertheless is a feature of all cultures, not merely Western ones. Further, it is more oriented toward one’s public behavior, one’s actions in the public square, with the private being left alone until it intrudes/influences into one’s public behavior. The left’s forced conformity is not action, but rather belief/thought based. One sees that in history, with many victims of totalitarian, leftist governments being those who opposed them in mind and thought, not merely those who opposed them in action.

    Also, if Marx didn’t reduce men to economic terms, then what did he do? If anything else, he reduced men to a measure of power. Perhaps this was not his intention, but the fact remains that he did-or his followers did, more’s the pity. To Marx, from what I’ve seen, class and corresponding political power, thus economic power, are what mattered, not the individual or his rights (and corresponding duties). I can applaud his motivation (speaking out against gross injustice in his time) while being alarmed at his proposed solution and horrified at what his thought produced, unintended or otherwise.

    As both Burke and Kirk noted, permanence can only be sustained through prudent reform that renews the timeless truths for new generations. Hence, the importance of the Humanists like Erasmus, Grotius, St. Thomas More, and others. The vanguard and elite are never truly static, and this the interpretations differ from generation to generation. When they don’t, they die, as do species who cannot adapt. But instead of letting time takes its course, progressivism wants to wipe out the “dinosaurs” by hitting them with an asteroid, oblivious to the destruction material and immaterial they leave behind.

    Allow me a question: when the new “progressive” majority has achieved their victory, will they then respect the rights and continued freedom of the new minority? History says no.

    • B. Will,
      Vietnam shows the very nature of democracy and Western-oriented tradition. Our involvement in Vietnam started during WW II with assurances given to the French that we would assist them in recolonizing the nation. Note that Vietnam was originally divided as a way of delegating to nations the responsibility of removing the Japanese. Now, if we wanted democracy, then why did we reject the Geneva Accords which called on South Vietnam to democratically decide on reunification? Was that because we believed that democracy can only occur in the West? Or did that reveal something about Western democracy. Did that reveal that democracy is a privilege granted to some but not all?

      In addition, this claim that only the West can enjoy democracy is rather self-exhalting. It is just another claim of being special. And we can consult authors such as Benjamin Barber to find that claiming to be special is normal. And the traditions we hold to, the more likely we will claim to be special. This exceptional self-image is a significant part in conservative thinking.

      BTW, we need to identify who we regard as being conservative and the Left, for neither group is a monolith. And that is one of the problems with the use of the progressive label in the article. I can find many conservatives who believe in conformity. If you want to call the old Soviet Union the left, realize that there was much dissent within the ranks when Lenin took power. And some attributed his purges to his bourgeois dictatorship. For the Lenin and the Bolsheviks opposed the soviets–the soviets were workers’ councils that made decisions for a larger group. While the Bolsheviks followed the Jacobin model, the soviets represented a bottom-up, democratic model. In short, the left cannot be fairly characterized using the USSR, Red China, or Cuba.

      And yes, Marx did not reduce man to the economic. His view of utopia proves this. Rather, he saw capitalism reduce man to the economic and reduced all sin, if you will, to class conflict. Finally, his emphasis on materialism is where we see another reductionism. We should note what King said. According to him, Capitalism also promotes its own harmful approach to materialism. BTW, not all socialists believe in a utopia.

      Finally, I will repeat what I wrote, the more we rely on the ideal, whether that ideal comes from an ideology or natural law, the more elite-centered rule is required. That is the case because you must have the right elites who will properly interpret the ideal to the masses. And neither the Left nor the Right have a monopoly on this rule. We saw it in Lenin. We saw it in the Nazis as they appealed to a renewed reliance on traditional values. We see it when Christianity seeks a privileged position in determining societies rules and laws. And we saw it when neoliberal Capitalism began to establish itself in different countries. Opposing elite-centered rule is democracy with its distribution of power and promotion of equality. But here, we need a full democracy, not a partial one.

      This is where Marx’s emphasis on the proletariate dictatorship–which actually worked as a partial democracy– was in error. By attributing all evil to the bourgeois, Marx wanted the same class rule game he was living in only he wanted the first and last place teams to trade places. So do you see where there is a great deal of continuity between what Lenin did and what is being advocated here?

      • Good points, though I feel an undercurrent of relativism is present in your answers. Perhaps not and I’m just looking for something that isn’t there.

        I would point you toward a lecture on the ISI podcast about Solzhenitsyn and totalitarian ideology. I believe you might find it very interesting-I know I did.

        • B. Will,
          If we are going to allow for democracy, we will always be working with a mix of absolute moral values and relative ones. What we have to decipher is which ones of our absolute moral values should be part of society’s laws.

          • Correct me if I’m wrong, but judging from your comments, you seem to assume that democracy is the best form of government. I beg to differ, for much of human history we’ve been ruled by autocrats, dictators, kings, etc., but despite that, humanity continued. Some of the greatest rulers in history were autocrats, aristocrats, oligarchs, monarchs, etc.
            No system of governing is better than the other. If democracy works in a particular area, then it works. If not, then they try another way of governing the people.
            In the end, the only thing that matters is good leadership. If a dictator treats his people benevolently and uses his power to better his nation, then who am I to complain?
            Lastly, regarding your comment about capitalism and Marx, all I want to say is that while capitalism has its faults, it at least works. It would be better if we just simply work on fixing the flaws of capitalism than outright replacing it with Marxist or socialist ideas.

    • ” I can applaud his [Marx] motivation”

      I don’t. One of the biggest mistakes too many conservatives make is to assume our enemies have good intentions. Thus the conservative always feels morally inferior to the left winger, and thus in political arguments he almost always loses.

  4. “needs to hear a quote from Martin Luther King Jr:”

    It is unfortunate that ML King abandoned the values of his youth in his last years as he embraced the plans of the evil Communist warlords of North Vietnam and their plans to invade and conquer the peaceful nation of South Vietnam.

    • Eric,
      From 1949, King knew that the report on Communism was mixed. He had three criticisms of it. They were its atheism, relative morality, and the totalitarianism practiced in the Soviet Union. But he also knew that the enemy we were fighting in Vietnam was not monolithic.

      We weren’t fighting against warlords in Vietnam. We were resisting the reunification of the nation and we rejected the democratic solution to the problem. We not only caused great damage and killed many people, we had no right to be there starting from when we tried to help the french recolonize and afterwards when we eventually invaded the country. We won every battle but lost the people and our brutality was one of the reasons for that.

      And your last two notes illustrates part of our problem. We assume that we are good and our opponents are evil. It feels good to say that, but it isn’t true. Both sides committed atrocities so both sides were guilty. But North Vietnam had a greater right to work for reunification than we had being there. And, again, since we rejected the peaceful means of resolving the conflict, we put into motion a war that would kill millions.

      • You forget that the North was fighting to reunite the country under Marxist communism, the enemy of all that is good and beautiful and true, in league with Soviets and China and threatening, in the end, even beyond the borders of Vietnam.

        I really don’t see how American brutality can be compared to that of the murderous North Vietnamese.

        One can question whether it was the best decision to intervene – I am not sure it was – but it is hard to see the US as anywhere near as bad the North Vietnamese.

        • Wessexman,
          First, Marxist Communism is not a monolith. You might also want to note Peter’s notes on Ho Chi Minh. Finally, this labeling of Minh’s communism as the epitome of evil accomplishes nothing but the externalization of evil. Evil is what the other guy does, not us. The history of Vietnam doesn’t support that kind of reasoning.

          Finally, check out how the US bombed civilians in both North and South Vietnam. Of course, externalizing evil will always find a way to rationalize what one does.

          • Whilst you are correct that it is important not to ignore the evil in our own hearts, none of that changes the fact that Marxist communism was a flagrantly evil ideology.

            Certainly, there are divisions within Marxism, but all I have come across, including the likes of Luxembourg and Trotsky, embraced materialism and a totalising ideology opposed to the permanent things and ordinary human decency. It is a worse ideology even than fascism and equivalent to Nazism.

            The only exceptions I can think of are highly eclectic thinkers like William Morris, who managed to dilute Marxism with enough human decency and common sense to somewhat neuter it.

            Being an Englishman the U.S. is external to me, but, anyway, you are painting a false moral equivalence. Certainly, the U.S. was not perfect and committed immoral acts. The same goes for WWII and the non-Soviet allies. The atomic bombs and much of the bombing of Germany were immoral and evil acts. But none of this makes one side morally equivalent to the other. The North Vietnamese embraced an evil ideology and a barbarous mentality that thought nothing of wholesale slaughter. This is not true of the Americans.

          • Wessexman,
            Your assessment of Marxism is challenged by others. For example, by both Martin Luther King Jr and a former Archbishop of Cantebury, William Temple. Certainly, the atheism and relative morality must be rejected. But both noticed that Marxism also held to some Christian truths which the West was ignoring. So Marxism’s assumptions and solutions fell short, but its observation of and protest against social injustice was correct and stood in contrast to the West’s worship of materialism.

            So Marxism is a mixed bag, like all other ideologies. And it can be adapted by Christians to produce a more theologically correct system of thought.

            BTW, I would direct your attention to Marxist writers like Karl Kautsky, Ezequiel Adamovsky, Howard Zinn, Anton Pannekoek, and so on. It isn’t that they will be 100% kosher, but they present a better view of why Marxism is better viewed as a mixed bag rather than as pure evil. BTW, I would classify Trotsky to be more in line with Lenin than Luxemburg because of where he ended up. We should also note that the Bolsheviks became the standard bearers of Marxism. But this occurred despite their break with Marxism as demonstrated in their opposition to the soviets. Luxemburg’s analysis of Lenin best illustrates this.

  5. Mr. Day, (and Mr. Eric )

    Our involvement in Vietnam started in 1918 when the American delegation at Versailles laughed away a kitchen worker who loved America and came to ask President Wilson for independence for Vietnam on the basis of the 14 points stipulating the right of nations to self-rule . This kitchen worker found no sympathy amongst the Americans and French whose ideals he had admired firsthand when living in New England and Paris . He ultimately joined the only group which offered a prospect for helping him liberate his nation from colonial rule – the Communists .

    Following his education in Moscow , this kitchen worker would help rescue American pilots shot down by the Japanese in indo-China. The OSS rebuffed his offers to help the American war effort even though he had organized a formidable army. Eventually some smart OSS officer gave him some recognition .

    After he helped America win the war in the Pacific , this kitchen worker spoke to thousands of his countrymen proclaiming the People’s Republic of Vietnam using verbatim quotes from the American Declaration of Independence.

    Abandoned again by America , his army defeated the French at Dien Ben Phuh.

    After all that , the United States proclaimed him a mortal enemy and sent 75,000 Americans to die fighting an admirer of Washington and Jefferson.

    Following the kitchen workers death, his people not only defeated the United States , but were then invaded by China and defended their liberty again.

    This kitchen worker was known as Ho Chi Minh.

    His country is now free , at peace and home to factories which produce for the entire world .

    My friends have been to Vietnam , one even took a motorcycle trip across the whole country . No signs of evil CCommunist warlords .

    For example , Hasbro Transformers toys are made in Vietnam . Doi Moi was not the work of evil warlords , aand without Nixon’s opening up China , Xeng may not have been able to commence his reforms . Evil – both in the East and West – was the product of the Cold War .

    Americans who died in Vietnam were courageous , the Kennedy /Johnson administrations that sent them were stupid , and Richard Nixon (our best XX cent. President) the only one who understood the right course and the right method for getting us there.

  6. “After all that , the United States proclaimed him a mortal enemy and sent 75,000 Americans to die fighting an admirer of Washington and Jefferson.”

    He admired Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and Satan. He slaughtered millions just to conquer the peaceful nation of South Vietnam. He should have been hanged as a war criminal .

  7. Mr. Eric,
    I have never heard of Ho Chi Minh admiring Hitler, but you are right that he admired Lenin. He admired Lenin’s theories on the subject of revolution. I do not know if he admired Stalin as much as he allied with Stalin.

    You seem, however, to totally ignore what got him to the point of joining the Communists. His father worked for the colonial administration and Ho himself tried to get into school in Paris to work for the colonial administration. He was rejected, just as his father had earlier been fired, because they wanted to improve the lot of the Vietnamese.

    Ho wanted to work within the French system, but only after being rejected by every Western group did he join the Communists.

    Finally, there is no such thing as the “nation of South Vietnam”. The Vietnamese nation preceeded South Vietnam. South Vietnam was a state established as an outpost of Western interests which were remnants of colonial rule given new life by the Cold War.

    The Vietnamese nation was split into two states and Ho Chi Minh wanted to unite them into one state for the whole nation.

    He quoted from the American declaration of Independence, not Mein Kampf.

    Next to General Washington, he was the only popular colonial leader to defeat an Empire.

    Millions of people died fighting for Vietnamese liberty, and had America not fought in Vietnam, the Vietnamese would have had their own state after defeating the French.

    Nixon was wise to get America out of that war, and prudent in how he went about it. Many Americans did not understand the complex political burdens associated with extracting America from Vietnam and hated Nixon for escalating the war when in fact his surge was meant to pressure the North into negotiations which would allow the US to save face for two years after leaving the South, by which time, as Kissinger said, Vietnam would be a backwater that no one in America remembered.

    All the more reason not to repeat the mistake of Vietnam.

    • Peter,
      There are those socialists, and I am one of them who see greater continuity between Lenin and Stalin than Lenin and Marx. Elite-centered rule and internal purges was not from Marx’s playbook. Revolution was, but not the other two items. And worker control was important to Marx, but not to Lenin or Stalin.

      I have no doubt that Ho Chi Minh was a communist of sorts. This seems to have been confirmed by American Leftists who visited Vietnam during the war. But that still leaves room for a variety of people. And, as you correctly pointed out before, Minh was strong ally during WW II–something I knew but didn’t mention. Along with that information, I appreciate your sharing about Ho Chi Minh and Vietnam. Thank you.

      • Actually, Marx, as head of the First International, acted in a decidedly authoritarian manner. His ideology was purely materialist, energetically determinist, and rejected tradition and the permanent things. You can see the evil seeds of Marxism simply by comparing Marxism and Marxist history and figure with socialists like Proudhon or Prince Kropotkin. These latter have their faults, certainly, but they lacked that innately oppressive and dehumanising intellectual and moral quality. Except perhaps for his business cycle theory, and its later additions from those like Hobson, I can’t see any good in Marxism.


        Personally, I agree that it was probably a bad idea for the U.S. to intervene in Vietnam and South East Asia. That said, I don’t think this excuses the binding of the North Vietnamese to an evil ideology and certainly not their murderous acts. Let us not forget that one reason the South Vietnamese did not wish to be ruled by the Communists was the latter’s murderous acts, such as under their land reform program, as well as a natural antipathy of a traditional people to the banality and evil of Marxist communism.

        One could argue that there is a South Vietnam in the sense of the old Cham polities, whose people have been long oppressed by the incoming Vietic peoples, but I suppose that is a very different argument.

        • Wessexman,
          What he rejected included the exploitation of the working class and the unjust distribution of goods. Yes, his utopian views and materialism were wrong. But the same can be said of both the capitalism of his day and today’s version. What Marx was opposing was what you attributed to him. In addition, you should note that authoritarianism the mentality and the way of the world back then.

          Marx’s analysis showing how labor was made into a commodity thus making the worker disposable by Capitalism is both correct and an essential. So if you wish to say that he dehumanized people, the same could be said of those he was challenging. I would contend that the Capitalists he opposed were worse at dehumanizing others than he was.

          His externalization of evil simply caused him to play the same game as the Capitalists. The difference between then is that he switched the first and last place teams on the Capitalists. But as I said before, Marxism can be adapted.

        • “Personally, I agree that it was probably a bad idea for the U.S. to intervene in Vietnam and South East Asia. ”

          America had to protect the peaceful nation of South Vietnam against the evil, oppressive warlords of the Communist North. To fail in this would to make our NATO allies think we would abandon them, too.

          • Eric,
            You are not looking Vietnam from a historical perspective–and here I am speaking both of Vietnam as a nation and Ho Chi Minh. In addition, tyrants ran South Vietnam and we backed them.

            The problem is this black-white world view. We are good, Communism is bad. First, we aren’t good. Second, Communism isn’t a monolith and it try to address injustices practiced by the West.

  8. Curtis Day,

    I am very much a Schumacherite and distributist, so you do not have to sell me on the idea modern capitalism is flawed and unjust and that in its historic developments it was very unjust. But Cobbett, Bonald, Ruskin, Proudhon, Kropotkin, Tucker, Chesterbelloc, and many others pointed this out far better than Marx ever did. Marx tried to make his critique more systematic and, in his words, scientific, but he ended up making it simplistic, based on a simplistic and flawed materialism and division of society into classes, and just dubious. We did not need Marx to tell us about the decline of peasantry and craftsman and the growth of the proletariat, and his attempt to form a scientific theory of surplus value failed. Besides, the problems of capitalism are not in surplus value itself. Surplus value is not necessarily illegitimate. It is legitimate, in some circumstances, for owners and bosses and lenders to gain a share of the output of workers for the use of capital and land. The problems really are laws and arrangements that artificially benefit those who own land and capital at the expense of those who sell their labour, so the latter at a disadvantage, and especially laws and arrangements that mean a good proportion of the population only have their labour to spare. Marx, for all his pretentions to being scientific, didn’t really investigate these issues well.

    Where Marxism tends towards evil is its materialism and its determinism. It reduces man to his material aspects, and society to its economic aspects, and then the individual to being swept along by inevitable historical forces. This is a distinctly impoverished, ideological bent that will tend to lead to dehumanisation and banality. It naturally leads to repression and collectivism. This is perhaps why those socialist thinkers who are more or bound to the Marxist viewpoint tend to see so much more intellectually impoverished and spiritually wanting than even anarchists like Proudhon or Kropotkin who have kept away from Marxism and similar ideological slums (unfortunately, for at least a century many anarchists have imbibed much Marxism and, in recent decades, other banal and destructive ideologies, like that of the Frankfurt School).

    With the exceptions of his business cycle theory and some historical writings on primitive accumulation and the beginnings of capitalism, I see very little worth in much of Marx’s writings. I think socialists do themselves a disservice to elevate him over other early figures. Unfortunately, the last few decades of deconstructivism and other forms of radical identity politics have raised fresh barriers between us, but we traditionalist enemies of capitalism and the leftwing ones could far more easily fruitfully unite with the left taking on unnecessary Marxist baggage.

    • wessexman,
      But you missed the point. The crux of Marxism and its criticisms of Capitalism isn’t about distribution of goods, it is about the distribution of power. Here Marx is correct. His solution, however, is the same as Capitalism only with Capitalism’s last place team replacing the bourgeoisie.

      And when one looks at Marx’s vision of utopia, you find that he is not as materialistic as sone say he is. On the other hand, Martin Luther King Jr, while criticizing Marxism, notes that Capitalism itself has its own materialism that is as ‘pernicious’ as Marx’s materialism was.

      In any case, Marx’s materialism does not prevent him from seeing the evils of capitalism and being able to provide some suggestions. In other words, Marx is not all good or evil, he is simply a mix. That is why I can easily reject Marx’s materialism while recognizing the valid points he makes.

      Finally, collectivism isn’t evil. Every society practices it to one degree or another. What was evil was the totalitarian nature of regimes in the U.S.S.R., Red China, and Cuba. That totalitarianism was not socialism. And what is really at stake here between capitalism and Marxism is the combination of the distribution of power the balance between individual ownership rights vs collectivism. The balance with the latter must always be flexible simply because the interdependencies of the economic and social systems should determine the balance between individual ownership vs collectivism. As for the distribution of power, one needs to see that our choice is between a democratic distribution of power vs elite-centered control. And what some conservatives miss is that elite-center control can emanate from the private sector as well as the public one.

      And despite my disagreements with Marx, we disagree regarding the value of his writings. I find that there is both much to learn from him as well as much to reject.

  9. It is interesting that Mr. Day supports invasion, conquest, and slaughter when done by Communist warlords against peaceful people such as existed in South Vietnam.

    • To be fair, I think your position is a little simplistic. South Vietnam wasn’t necessarily a separate nation (excluding consideration of the Cham polities), but one that came about through civil strife. It was better than the North, but its government was at times quite oppressive, especially under Diem.

      I don’t see how Nato would think that the U.S. would abandon them if the latter didn’t support the South Vietnamese. It had completely different relations to each group. Britain didn’t even get involved in the Vietnam war, which rather implies it was not overly concerned

      Personally, as someone who thinks intervention should be undertaken only when strictly in the national interest, I don’t think the fall of South Vietnam added up to that. The best on could say is there was a need to slow the spread of communism in the region, but it is questionable whether this was enough reason for intervention.

      If Mr. Day is wrong to white wash the North Vietnamese, it is also wrong to try and paint the situation as one where the U.S. obviously made the right decision.

      • Wessexman,
        I haven’t whitewashed the North Vietnamese. I just said that Communism was not a monolith. In addition, we can’t separate the N. Vietnamese participation in the Vietnam War from our actions. When you bomb civilian areas, you will provoke reactions. And we bombed civilian areas in both North and South Vietnam. My fear is that some here have whitewashed America and its participation in that war.Remember that we originally worked to help the French recolonize the nation despite the fact that we knew that they did not have the best interests of the Vietnamese people when trying to recolonize.

      • “If Mr. Day is wrong to white wash the North Vietnamese, it is also wrong to try and paint the situation as one where the U.S. obviously made the right decision.”

        We were right to defend a peaceful ally against evil, aggressive Communist war pigs. Had we not, our other allies, including NATO, would have wondered if we would defend them, too.

  10. I personally believe your statement on natural rights is incorrect. Governments are a product of a peoples culture and religion NOT a peoples “rights”. I believe de Maistre’s doctrine on divine influence on political constitutions is the truest of all political theories ( see his Considerations On France).

  11. Curtis Day,

    With the exceptions of his business cycle theory and some historical points about primitive accumulation, what did Marx write that adds to our understanding of the distribution of power in capitalism that other critics of capitalism didn’t write on just as well and that wasn’t false and even pernicious?

    Marx did write vaguely about his view of communism in a way that made that communism seem to have some appeals. But the centre of his system is his attempts at a scientific analysis that were shot through with materialism, determinism, ideology, and prompts to collectivism.

    It will depend on the definition, but if collectivism is defined as a system in which the collective as a whole has overbearing power over the lives of individuals, then it certainly is evil. Marx’s theories were a strong prod to such collectivism, what with their determinism and their subordination of the individual to the supposedly iron laws of history, not to mention Marxism general revolutionary, ideological viewpoint. That Marxism led to such repression is not entirely disconnected to Marx’s theories. Certainly, individualism is also a problem, if that individual is atomistic and neglects man’s social nature. The proper and balanced perspective is one that never looses sight of the individual but recognises his innate social and cultural nature and the role society and culture must play in his lives, as well as the pivotal role of natural and voluntary intermediate associations between society and the state as a whole and the individual, such family, local community, occupational associations, and so on.

    We have discussed elites before, but the problem with doctrinaire democrats is they ignore the fact that there is always elite rule. Make a polity as directly democratic as you like, with as much popular participation as possible, and you will still have elites, those with influence beyond their own vote and say. What is needed is not to neglect elites, who will still exert their influence, but perhaps more perniciously for not being selected and guided, but to broaden the elites, decentralise them, give them that guidance and checks and balances, and, of course, make sure the right elites come to the surface. Certainly, I would not wish a centralised elite to wield much power.

    On Vietnam, the central point is that though the U.S. and the North Vietnamese both acted badly at times, they are not equivalent. The North Vietnamese were far more savage and murderous. That the U.S. did wrong in Vietnam, though it might explain some of the impetus, does not excuse the North Vietnamese government for its embrace of an evil ideology or savage acts, any more than the misdeeds of the West in the Near East, though they are one reason for its rise, excuses the evil ideology and deeds of Islamic terrorism.

  12. Gentlemen ,

    Surely you realize North Vietnamese brutality to have been a function of the attrition strategy applied by the United States ? The only way for them to win was to accept mass casualties in the long run and inflict an atmosphere of savagery. The ARVN were no less brutal , or do you not recall the infamous head shot seen round the world (to give one example).

    Had the Empires not been so stubborn about staying, the Vietnamese would not have been so savage in making them leave.

    Morally, they were in the right. It was their country , not ours .

    • Much of the brutality was aimed at their own people, and some began before American involvement, such as the land reform program. Certainly, the Americans and French did wrong, but this does not excuse the North Vietnamese. You always have a choice. If the occasional excess in response to provocation can be ignored, the sort of sustained brutality of the North Vietnamese cannot. And there is no real equivalent here to the U.S.

  13. Mr. Rieth, if I may, the “infamous” head shot you reference was the execution of a VC or NVA terrorist, out of uniform and consequently available for instantaneous execution. Something somewhat similar occurred with German infiltrators in WW ll. It is worth pointing out that it was the North Vietnamese who crossed the 17th parallel into the territory of South Vietnam, not the other way around, when of course they weren’t violating the borders of Laos using that trail. proudly named after Ho Chi Minh, who btw was a communist as early as the 1940’s, and without the negative influence of the United States. As a means of “managing” recalcitrant South Vietnamese village leaders it was found by the Communists, yes, there were Communists, to be a viable convincer to place said leaders on pointed stakes, in front of their families. I daresay that they didn’t need an inspiration from America to effect such dire and repellant atrocities.
    But them statist power does have its rough edges and inspiration is found within the true believer.

  14. Sir,

    The very same argument you make justifying the murder of that Viet Cong was made by Nazi Germany justifying the murder of Polish “terrorists” during the Warsaw Uprising – since all of them had no uniforms and were acting outside of the law.

    To make matters worse (for you), the Geneva Convention outlaws the execution of prisoners of war, and Nazi Germany was the only belligerant in World War II to execute prisoners of war on the battlefield legally, because the Soviet Union had not signed the Geneva convention, thus placing its’ soldiers outside of the protections granted them to prisoners of war.

    So you see sir – following the strictly positivist, legal line of argumentation, can take us to places we – as a Christian people – ought not wish to go.

    As for Ho Chi Minh in the 1940s – he was indeed a Communist, and as a Communist in the 1940s he was helping resuce American pilots (who were allied to the Communists in the Soviet Union) shot down by the Empire of Japan.

    Ho Chi Minh hoped that the end of World War II would bring an end to colonial empires dominating over his fatherland. It did not. It did not because the two principle victors – the United States and the Soviet Union – became rivals.

    If you recall sir, the United States required French participation in the anti-Soviet bloc, and to get it America was willing to sacrifice Vietnam.

    The Viet Minh, which Ho Chi Minh led, was an army of liberation against illicit French colonial rule, and even after their victory at Dien Ben Phuh, Ho Chi Minh hoped for American recognition of Vietnam. Instead, the Vietnamese nation was divided into two arbitrary countries – one North, one South.

    Without taking account of this background – stretching all the way back to 1918 – it is futile to deliberate over Vietnam on the basis of accounts of Viet Cong acts of cruelty and inhumanity.

    The fact is that the United States should not have gone to war in Vietnam, and that there was no threat to American national security or American interests.

    Richard Nixon proved as much when he got us out of Vietnam and opened up China, which was also – strategically a far more important achievement that helped win the Cold War peacefully than anything Johnson or Kennedy did in Vietnam.

    The Vietnam war was a tragedy. Americans fought against a people suffering terribly under foreigners – whether French, Chinese or Japanese and laid waste to an old culture which had never in its’ entire history done any harm to America, and whose greatest XXth century leader admired the United States Declaration of Independence.

    No greater testimony to the folly of Democratic Empire exists beyond Vietnam…

    though we are working hard nowadays to surpass our previous errors.

  15. I should have returned earlier. Any comparison of America to Nazi Germany, any comparison, is grotesque.
    You contrive to ignore my point in my first sentence, the “out of uniform” comment, which if you were not motivated by defensiveness would have collapsed your evasive attempt at argument. Again, if a combatant is out of uniform and carrying out operations he is NOT covered by any Geneva Conventions and is liable to summery execution, unpleasant but there you have it. Nowhere in the Geneva convention is the issue of non-uniformed combatants covered, therefore matters were not made worse for me.
    The rest of it I won’t bother with though I do note with some interest your suggestion that we, you, should pass over the barbarities, “pointed stakes”, of Uncle Ho and his minions, both Viet Cong and NVA regulars, out of uniform of course.

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