Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ideological Change of Shoes

Ideologies Discarded Like a Trail of Worn Shoes

At the risk of simplistic categorization, I'll point out that David Horowitz is an example of a number of liberal intellectuals -- a lesser number of whom were among the radical anti establishment intellectuals in the Sixties -- who later exchanged their ideology for something of a different design, like changing designer shoes. For most this change occurred sometime after the end of the Vietnam War, and into the Reagan years, as Horowitz did when he came out as a Reagan conservative during the Eighties. Like most of them, and a number of younger intellectuals who have since grouped together with these old Sixties lefty ideologues, today he is best described as a Neoconservative, according to SourceWatch.

In the 1990s, Horowitz hosted several Second Thinkers conferences where ex-leftists who recanted or underwent epiphanies could network with fellow travelers. Several of these second thinkers are now neo-cons. Christopher Hitchens was a regular participant at these conferences, and today co-organizes events with Horowitz, e.g., tour of the UK where he features as a speaker.


In his book Radical Son Horowitz describes his turn from Marxist radical to Reagan Republican, but in lieu of reading and reviewing that, the following, from Wikipedia, gives a brief overview of Horowitz's trail of ideological shoes:

David Joel Horowitz (born January 10, 1939) is an American conservative writer and activist. The son of two life-long members of the Communist Party and once a prominent supporter of Marxism as well as a member of the New Left in the 1960s, Horowitz later rejected Leftism and is now a prominent advocate for right-wing causes. He is a founder of the David Horowitz Freedom Center (formerly the Center for the Study of Popular Culture), and has served as president of that organization for many years. He is the editor of the conservative website FrontPage Magazine, and his writings can also be read on prominent news sites and publications, including the conservative magazine NewsMax.[1] He founded the activist group Students for Academic Freedom and is affiliated with Campus Watch. He occasionally appears on Fox News Channel as an analyst.


That he has identified that ignominious "urge" he left behind as leftist politics is interesting. I don't see it so much on any right left spectrum as a different ideological design for something which the wearer needs, no matter the design, and I'd like to discuss why for a moment.

I would say, for instance, that what he is talking about is something of the same coin with different sides. One side could be identified with something that was very conservative in the Fifties -- McCarthyism, for instance. I think that sort of idea-based behavior that occurred from McCarthyism has its roots in a kind of authoritarian group think that is the opposite pole of a highly evolved participatory democracy. But what that means itself would need to be described and considered with some care in order to identify what I mean by "highly evolved." The tendency might be to go through the historical evolution of ideas and attach it to movements in the Sixties that called themselves anti authoritarian and anti establishment, but in their own right were ideological and group think movements of their own, and as such subject to creating the very conditions they rebelled against.

That consideration about what it means to me would involve looking into human nature itself, and the structure of authoritarianism. I fully acknonowledge that exploration is not something I would see as possible here in this blog. So I admit to the problem of being clear and precise up front.

Nevertheless...

I've already introduced in previous blogs the notion that the Neoconservatives are "militaristic idealists." So I'd like to stick with that theme, particularly the emphasis on "idealists" -- with idealists as something that has its own unique structure and that an adjective of some sort can often be attached to it, "militarist," "leftist," whatever.

So, coming from that, I would identify McCarthyism as a code word for an ideological response to another ideology. So we have this "binariness" that comes up. An ideology can be codified with a name, and it can then be opposed to another codified ideology. So then we can identify them as right and left ideologies, but I'd rather just stick with the notion of ideology itself, rather than deflect it with direction pointing.

I would like to suggest something I cannot in any way back up with objective facts, but rather I must extrapolate from behavior. Thus it's purely in the theoretical abstract reasoning realm. It comes from my (and others) observation of behavior, thus very subject to doubt and criticism.

It appears to me that someone with an ideological bent to their way of organizing their mental world can be proselytized and converted to different ideologies, but what they tend to need to do is feel a belief in their ideology. Eric Hoffer wrote about this phenomenon years ago in a book he titled True Believers. I read it first in 1968 while in the military and trying to figure out what this institution was I was unable to leave at my own discretion. Meanwhile we were supposedly fighting something that to me was organized in the same way, only called by a different name. Both fit what I would call totalitarian organizations. And it seemed very odd to me that we had to be a totalitarian organization to defeat one. That was the kernel of an idea that has never really left my thinking, although it has evolved into many different forms since then.

So it seems to me that changing ideologies is merely a matter of paradigm shifting in the world view. It's therefore more or less (maybe more), a rational process, though once the "belief" aspect takes hold it's not so rational.

Now what I mean by "ideological bent" is a little harder to get at, because what ever it is, is inside the individual mind and that's a black box we can't really get into -- not others' but only the one we are in. Hence we end up with all these different fields like sociology, psychology, and so forth. They are all trying to figure out what's in the puzzling black box. Some perhaps trying to go further than that, i.e., how to program the box and make humans behave in certain ways.

This may be a little too glib in presentation, but basically, I tend to see McCarthyism as an ideological response to Communism, which was a code for an ideologically based authoritarian society that was by then called The Soviet Union. I would say McCarthyites probably didn't see themselves as true believers in an ideology. It's the other guy who's always the true believer. Communism, as envisioned by those who became part of what was called McCarthyism, was envisioned by them as a "leftist" ideology threatening American institutions. The "good/evil" binary paradigm hangs like a specter in the background.

In looking at McCarthyism as a phenomenon, I see that it relied heavily on issues of "loyalty" to the United States, and "security matters" -- which of course implies a need for secrecy and protection of some kind. Both those issues, loyalty and security, imply something basic to the True Believer mind that Eric Hoffer wrote about. If a citizen is not allowed to know oneself what is behind the security wall, then one simply must believe it's important, take it on faith, and one must trust the authorities who are forced to hide it from everyone for the good of all. Subsequently one's loyalty to whatever this secret information is about then becomes an issue of patriotism to one's country, not an issue based on rational judgement. And one's country is, after all, an idea, though one can associate it with flags, mountains, eagles, statues holding torches, and so on.

So I'm raising a question at this point. Is it characteristic that an ideology will result in that sense of protection and group adherence to that ideology? Can we ever have a United States of America without a coordinated ideology that all will adhere to, for instance? These are issues that the founders raised at some level and attempted to safe guard individual choice by allowing for differences in various types of ideologies, including religious based ones. How do political actors with a "militaristic idealist" set of ideas fit with our own sense of government?

1 comment:

Kate said...

Good essay, Ren.

I especially liked the insight about how the other side is always the true believer.