My Personal Journey from Socialism to Conservatism
“Socialism … [is driven by what Freud identified a one of the most basic human instincts, namely] the urge to self-destruction, the human death instinct.” – Soviet dissident Igor Shafarevich, From Under the Rubble (p. 64). I grew up in a non-partisan household, my father a lifelong Democrat, my mother a lifelong Republican. Both supported John… Read More »My Personal Journey from Socialism to Conservatism
“Socialism … [is driven by what Freud identified a one of the most basic human instincts, namely] the urge to self-destruction, the human death instinct.” – Soviet dissident Igor Shafarevich, From Under the Rubble (p. 64).
I grew up in a non-partisan household, my father a lifelong Democrat, my mother a lifelong Republican. Both supported John Kennedy for president in 1960. Thus, when I began university studies in the fall of 1967 I was fairly centrist. However, given the pronounced “left-liberal” university environment I soon drifted left. Although I never became a Marxist because I accepted Karl Popper’s thesis that Marxism is unfalsifiable pseudo-science, and always saw communism as extremist, I did become attracted to socialism and the “counterculture”.
I eventually embraced the view that the “New Left”, which purported to reject the horrors of Soviet communism, defended a genuinely humanitarian non-violent form of socialism. For several years I regarded Herbert Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man as wisdom incarnate, only later recognizing Marcuse’s contempt for genuine democracy and justification for the use “force” to achieve his goals.
It is safe to say that for about 2 years I believed a lot of childish silly things, but, in fact, my doubts about socialism and the counterculture began fairly quickly. It just took a while to make the decisive break. Since I always put my studies first, I soon saw that many on the Left were uninterested in learning. It did not seem to have occurred to most of them that it might be useful to learn something before they started a revolution. Since they already knew everything, there was no point in studying hard. And since the University curriculum had been devised mostly by old white men it was part of the problem. Thus, most leftists saw the university, not as a place to learn, but as a good place to find gullible children to convert to the Left.
Although many were just narcissistic pleasure-seekers, there were, to be sure, serious radicals who plotted revolution but their violent rhetoric and contempt for anyone who see things differently was obvious. I was struck by the fact that each leftist faction literally despised the other factions. The Maoists despises the Stalinists who despised the Trotskyites who despised the New Left and so on. They all despised the “liberals” as weak and uncommitted.
Most leftists were completely uncritical of their own position. Anyone who disagreed with them was seen as stupid or evil. You are either with them or against them. When the more extreme ones were not talking about “peace and love” they were talking about killing people who disagreed with them (not an exaggeration). They had no sense of the irony of their position. Violence by their side was justified because “the cops,” the wealthy and traditional Americans “are pigs”. After the Sharon Tate murders, I literally heard people sneer that the victims were pigs, but I was never able to see how the little baby in Sharon Tate’s stomach was a pig. This is the blindness commitment to an ideology brings. One literally loses the ability to see.
It is true that most students fell into the more moderate center-left category. However, most of them did not push back against the extremists and many felt they were “cool”. The famous picture of communist revolutionary Che Guevara in his beret, who I later discovered was a racist homophobe mass murderer, was everywhere. Che’s first murder took place when he concluded that his friend, Eutímio Guerra, was communicating to the Batista government. Che put a pistol to his friend’s head. blew his brains out and then had a cigarette. But the beret looks cool and that’s all that really matters when one is an eternal adolescent. Naturally Obama the Great allowed himself to be photographed in front of a picture of Guevara when he visited Cuba.
In 1970 I went to a protest at Carnegie Mellon University over the Kent State shootings and found a large unruly mob storming the ROTC building. I heard glass breaking and saw something on fire thrown into the building. I remember thinking, “There are innocent people in there”, perhaps a little girl visiting her father. Suddenly there were police sirens, tear gas in the air and helicopters buzzing low overhead. The mob scattered. Some of the participants talked excitedly as if the violence was some great accomplishment. In fact, the people in the building had nothing to do with the Kent State killings and the violence accomplished nothing. It slowly dawns on one that the Left does not regard anyone as innocent who does not kowtow to them.
Despite the hatred for the police, I used to talk to large imposing conservative campus policeman in the student union. Despite my leftist views he treated me with complete respect, which surprised me and did make a difference. It’s a shame the Left is not that inclusive. One night an enormous mob from Pittsburgh’s tough Hill District descended on the campus and surrounded a terrified male and female couple. That officer, waving his baton from left to right, strode into the mob, parting it like the Red Sea, to open a path to the frightened couple in the middle and pulled them out to safety. This “pig,” like many other police officers, put his own life at risk to save a pair of strangers while everybody else stood around like paralyzed mice.
Despite growing misgivings, I still theoretically adhered to “New Left” ideas when I began graduate study in philosophy at Cornell in September of 1971. Fortunately, Descartes, Leibniz, Kant’s Critiques, and mathematical logic was sufficient to keep me out of mischief for the year. But the following spring campus leftists took over a building in the engineering quad when Nixon mined Haiphong Harbor. I went over to the quad and found a young man on a podium shouting that they had renamed the building “Giap-Cabral Hall”, whereupon the crowd erupted into hysterical cheering. I asked the cheering fellow beside me who Giap and Cabral are and he said he didn’t know. I asked him why he was cheering then and he gave a dismissive gesture and resumed cheering. Don’t ask questions serf! This is not about truth!
It became clear that most of these people did not actually know anything or want to know anything. For most of them the “revolution” had nothing to do with actually solving problems. It was all a social event, an excellent occasion to virtue-signal how much one cares (about the cause du jour). To actually solve problems requires hard work and study. Unfortunately, shouting, threats, hysterical exaggerations, contempt, property damage, physical assaults and narcissistic self-glorification are much easier so that is the road taken by most on the Left.
I also began to see that leftist “solutions” don’t work and usually make things worse (e.g., the welfare state destroyed the black family.) This does not, however, trouble the Left because they then use the worsened social conditions to justify more leftist policies, which then fail and produce more misery, which is then used to justify even more radical leftist policies and so on.
I had had enough. At the end of my first year of graduate school I began calling myself a conservative and the continuing silliness made me more conservative as they years went by.
For the record, after the Vietnam War ended, the Left’s beloved hero General Giáp admitted that in order to achieve his goals, “we indiscriminately attacked all families owning land. Many thousands were executed. We … resorted to widespread violence and terror … and torture.” Lovely! Similarly, after their beloved Cabral evicted the Portuguese from Bissau-Guinea rice produce fell by half costing at least 10,000 lives (compare socialist Mugabe’s ghoulish record of starvation and murder in Zimbabwe!). Cabral’s half-brother unleashed the secret police on the opposition and five hundred bodies were found in mass graves in 1981. A tenth of the remaining population fled for Senegal. But it’s all so exciting when one is virtue-signaling on a privileged Ivy League quad.
This is all a rather large price to pay just because people refuse to grow up.