Seeds of Intellectual Destruction

The American Thinker has a post  today by J. R. Dunn that should be read as a complement to Shelby Steele’s article in today’s WSJ.  I have duplicated Steele’s article in its entirely in the preceding post. In this post, I will, begging your readership’s pardon, post again the entire article:

It’s always amazed me
how quickly the American left managed to twist the 9/11 attacks into a
club with which to beat their own country. I recall watching the smoke
from the towers late in the day, exhausted from stress and emotions I
could scarcely identify, and thinking,  "They’ll never be able to
defile this." It was the end of the postwar flirtation with apostasy, I
thought, the end of political frivolity, the birth of a new kind of
patriotism, one annealed by fire, one that would become part of
framework of the country, one that would last.
Well
– they proved me wrong. True, for a few days they kept quiet,
scattering like roaches when caught in the public spotlight mouthing
the old slogans. Michael Moore was forced to back up quickly after his
first remarks, and there was that aide to Willie Brown ("What did you
do, America?") never heard of before or since, and of course, Noam
Chomsky, pleading that we "enter the minds" of Mohammed Atta and
company, but apart from that, most of them kept their counsel. For a
while, it really seemed that things had changed.
But
after what in retrospect appears to be a pitifully short period, they
were back, and in force, and they have never retreated since. Contrary
to consensus belief, it didn’t begin with Iraq. It began with
Afghanistan, starting only a month after the attacks, and built up from
there. Moore, the Dixie Chicks, Cindy Sheehan, Cynthia McKinney,
Durbin, Murtha… The list could go on for page after page, all of them
speaking in identical terms, all repeating the same code words –
Halliburton, blood for oil, Abu Ghraib – all tearing into their country
in a fashion unseen even in the Vietnam era.
And
where the trendsetters have led, the public has followed. If the polls
can be trusted (a bit of a leap, it’s true) something like over half
the American people believe that the War on Terror, far from being a
response to an unprovoked and atrocious attack, is a war of aggression
fought on behalf on industrial capitalism in the form of George W’s oil
buddies.
This
is not a natural response. Countries fighting legitimate defensive wars
don’t suffer this kind of erosion of public support in the midst of
hostilities. Particularly as involves a war that began with an atrocity
committed against fellow countrymen, an atrocity that could be (and
eventually will be) repeated at any time. Such a reaction should not
have occurred.
The
reason it happened this time was the result of fifty years of
conditioning that any and all American activities overseas, whether
diplomatic, commercial, or military, are fundamentally
illegitimate. American wars, no matter what their cause or nature, are
viewed through the same prism, one created on the left for the purpose
of undermining the country’s commitment to the Cold War, but useful in
any context. Call it the "Imperial" or "Hegemonist" doctrine. Simply
put, it holds that no American war (and little in the way of any
interaction on the international level) is ever justified. All such
ventures are wars of imperialist aggression, commonly carried out
against helpless innocents in defiance of the wishes of the American
people (at least the true American people – that is, left-wing
Democrats), on behalf of secretive, sinister interest groups.
Unlike
most left-wing doctrines, this one is not a European import but fully
home-grown. It was incubated in the universities, developing over
several decades in response to U.S. efforts against the Soviet Union.
Like any such doctrine it was the product of many hands over a
considerable period. But for our purposes, two of the major figures, C. Wright Mills
and William Appleman Williams, will serve as examples.
Williams
was a revisionist historian based for many years at the University of
Wisconsin,  Madison, one of the nation’s premier radical campuses. His
field was American diplomatic history. In works such as The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (1958) and Roots of the Modern American Empire
(1969) Williams depicted the U.S. as an imperial state basing its
policies on relentless economic expansion and distracting the masses
with a series of overseas military adventures. The Cold War, according
to this view, was instigated by the U.S. to protect its markets, with
the Soviets as much victims as perpetrators. It comes as no surprise to
discover that Williams is Gore Vidal’s favorite historian. (Ironically,
Williams was eventually driven from Madison by the activities of the
very New Leftists he’d done so much to influence.)
C. Wright Mills was a sociologist specializing in the study of elites. His major thesis was presented in a book titled The Power Elite
(1956), in which he contended that the U.S. was run by a political,
military, and corporate ruling class that shared the same concepts and
goals and had converted the U.S. to a "permanent war economy". The mass
of citizens, as described in an earlier work, White Collar
(1951), were effectively mindless androids bullied and channeled by the
bureaucracy. Mills later turned to the international arena in the book Listen, Yankee: The Revolution in Cuba (1960), one of the earliest works written in support of Castro.
Though
by no means bestsellers, Williams’ and Mills’ books were widely read in
the academic world, by both faculty and students (I recall as a young
child seeing paperback editions floating around during the 60s). They
were influential far beyond the number of copies printed – the kind of
books that are talked about much more widely than they are read. They
were further popularized by various acolytes such as Lloyd Gardner,
Walter LaFeber, and Howard Zinn in the academic world, and Tom Hayden
(who wrote the most recent biography of Mills) and George McGovern in
the political sphere.
Their first vector of influence was the New Left. The Port Huron Statement of 1962, usually regarded as the movement’s foundation document, is steeped in the ideas of Williams and Mills. From there the Students for a Democratic Society, which
had branches and offshoots across the country, spread them throughout
the higher educational system. In the hothouse atmosphere of the 60s,
and with the impetus of the Vietnam War, the hegemonist doctrine became
the standard model for evaluating U.S. policies. The New Left grew into
The Movement, encompassing tens of thousands of students, academics,
and hangers-on and dedicated to shutting down the war using whatever
means came to hand. Hegemonism, holding that the United States was
effectively a force of evil with nothing humane to be expected of it,
comprised a basic tenet of the counterculture.
The
potency of the doctrine rose not from any innate theoretical brilliance
or predictive power, but from the fact that it embodied a number of
impulses (usually involving petty resentments) as old as human nature
itself. The notion that some vague "they" – usually identified with
politicians and industrialists — were running things for their own
benefit. That "they" had it in for the little man. That wars were good
for business. That such cynicism meant one was in the know, and
couldn’t be fooled. It was a doctrine that appealed to fundamental
human failings – hatred, envy, smugness, and paranoia.
A
doctrine based on such elements has a very strong foundation, and
hegemonism did not fail the New Left. Incompetent execution along with
a complete inability to articulate its aims left the Johnson
Administration with no public support for the war effort. The New Left
swept in to fill the vacuum.
By
the late 60s, hegemonist doctrine was stripped of any academic or
intellectual pretensions whatsoever, becoming little more than a set of
slogans. But as Cardinal Newman

once said, "Men will die for a slogan who will not stir for a
conclusion." And while very few died, The Movement succeeded in
infecting the middle class with its own mix of paranoia and defeatism,
shutting down American participation in Southeast Asia just as the
South Vietnamese were beginning to find their feet. Vietnam, Laos, and
Cambodia were thrown to the wolves, the Movement collected a pair of
presidential scalps in the persons of Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard
Nixon, and then moved on toward broader horizons.
Hegemonism
became institutionalized in the Democratic Party when the New
Left effectively took over during the McGovern campaign of 1972.
Politicians espousing the doctrine, among them Hayden, Ron Dellums,
Frank Church, and culminating at last with Jimmy Carter, became the new
face of the party. At the same time, the doctrine infiltrated a number
of other institutions, including the news media, the entertainment
industry, the unions, and much of the governmental bureaucracy. By the
mid-70s it was the currency, having replaced the earlier consensus view
of the United States as a unique nation standing aloof from the sleazy
operations of older states while willing to lend a hand to emergent or
established democracies. The thesis of the United States as predator,
as an international outlaw state whose every action was suspect, had
become the operating worldview of the educated American public.
But
the doctrine failed in its primary aim, that of wrecking American
efforts in the Cold War. By the time the 80s began, hegemonism was
beginning to look a little ragged around the edges – it’s hard to lend
conviction to a theory that the U.S. is the source of all international
evil when the world insists on rolling noisily down the road to Hell
despite American hands being tied. The ascension of Ronald Reagan put a
temporary quietus to the concept. Reagan’s traditional view of the
United States, his simple faith and confidence in its destiny,
galvinized support from the vast and often ignored masses of middle
America. His success in rolling back and at last cracking the facade of
the Marxist tyrannies undercut the entire basis of the domestic
left-wing program.
There
seemed to be no point – and no future – for the hegemonic doctrine in
the afterglow of 1989 and the prosperous, relatively quiet 1990s. It
appeared to be as obsolete as brinksmanship, detente, Mutual Assured
Destruction, and other concepts derived from the Cold War, for all
that, a pair of true believers were running the White House for most of
the decade.
But
no ideological construct dies before its time. Hegemonism was kept
alive by people like Noam Chomsky in his endless series of books and
pamphlets, Howard Zinn, whose "People’s History of the United States"
is the standard classroom history, and Oliver Stone’s paranoid
cinematic fantasies. It remained a central concept of the entertainment
world and the media, was encysted within the Democratic Party, and
acted as the motivating force of the anarcho-syndicalist anti-globalism
movement.
When
the towers came down and the U.S. went on war footing, it emerged
intact and complete in every detail, as if it had never lain dormant.
It has set the terms of the argument since late 2001 – unspoken,
unacknowledged, and undebated. The conspiracy theories surrounding
9/11, with their faceless mass murderers manipulating a cooperative
military and intelligence sector, are purely hegemonist. So is the
entire effort to undermine the Iraq War, with the endless echoes of
Blood for Oil, accusations against Halliburton, and attacks on
"neocons" by people who have no idea what neoconservatism is or could
name a single one of its tenets.
The
Iraq War was a godsend for the American left, something they’d have had
to invent if it hadn’t happened on its own. It allowed the entire War
on Terror to be chopped and fit into the already existing intellectual
template, enabled all the old slogans to be revived, all the dusty
concepts to be trotted out anew. It has turned the overall war, one of
the most justified conflicts in this country’s history, a belated
defensive response against an ugly and murderous enemy, into the
traditional shadow play of murderous military officers, bloody-handed
CIA operatives, and cackling businessmen, all overseen by a
bulging-browed Karl Rove, operating from some Goldfingeresque
headquarters buried far beneath the Crawford ranch. The result is a
nation slowly edging toward the same paralysis that afflicted it during
the 1970s.
The
U.S. remains the world’s hyperpower. We have no blatant military
weaknesses, our economy is sound, our political system more solid than
any in the world. (As was proven last month, where a contentious
wartime election overturned the status quo without a shot being fired
or a jackboot being stamped. So much for the Bushitler thesis.) We are
the foremost element in any contemporary nation-state’s international
calculations, friendly or hostile. We (and not the UN, God forbid) are
the nation everyone turns to when things go wrong.
Our
fatal flaw involves our national will, our apparent inability to take
on any necessary task, however lengthy, dirty or unpromising, and
finish it satisfactorily. Our enemies have noted this and target it as
a matter of course. Our friends – to perhaps stretch a term – have
learned to manipulate it to their advantage.

As we have seen,
this is no natural turn of events. There is nothing inevitable
or unavoidable about it. It is entirely synthetic, the byproduct of an
effort by our intellectual elite to serve an ideology now long dead.
Our belief in ourselves as a nation, in our role and mission on the
international stage, has been undermined for fifty years and more.
There is not a level of society, from day laborer to corporate CEO, who
has not been touched by this dogma. Not a single institution (with the
professional military perhaps excepted) has been unaffected.

There
are politicians now serving in Congress, intelligence agents
investigating overseas threats, diplomats working in embassies,
bureaucrats handling the day-to-day business of the government, who
fully believe that the country they serve is a criminal enterprise. And
this is not even to mention the millions of students, professionals,
housewives, officials, clergymen, and citizens of all types who labor
under the idea that their country is an international tumor worthy only
of defeat and punishment, because they have never heard it argued
otherwise. The United States, the most powerful nation in the memory of
man, is proving unable to correct a situation that led to the greatest
crime ever committed against its citizens because of the doubts and
anxieties engendered by this empty dogma.
And
it is empty. The hegemonist thesis was worked out for one purpose. Not
for reform — no serious reform has ever been associated with it. Not
for political guidance — it leads nowhere. Not for enlightenment – it
was designed to blind and confuse. It was intended solely to toss a
wrench into American efforts against the Soviet Union. A short glance
across the international landscape will reveal that no such entity now
exists. The USSR is dead and gone and no one possessing a soul regrets
that fact. Instead we are confronted by something else – something
unforeseen and unimagined by the intellectuals who engendered the
doctrine of the U.S. as monster state.
Hegemonist
doctrine has no place in it for phenomena like Al-Quaeda and the
Jihadists. There is no way to fit them into the theory, because to
acknowledge that a tangible, undeniable threat exists is to negate
every other element of the thesis. So they are ignored. No solution is
offered, no suggestions are made. They are simply pushed aside as
irrelevant. The doctrine that underlies all opposition to American
policies in the War on Terror has absolutely nothing to say about the
forces that triggered the war, forces that have already attacked two
American cities and have promised to return.
It
follows that hegemonist doctrine has no meaning in the 21st century –
but on it goes, like a rogue missile that has missed its target and now
traces an unguided trajectory, tearing a swath across the national
psyche, derailing our sense of purpose by the very fact that it exists.


And that’s yet another reason why it’s going to be a long, long war.

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