The Paths to Democracy: Left vs. Right

In the years following World War II, there was a general consensus in America that the two greatest national priorities were to prevent a third world war -- especially one fought with atomic weapons -- and to protect democracy and freedom against totalitarian governments like those of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.  However, the left and the right differed greatly in their analysis of the problem and in their preferred solutions.

The left, by and large, believed (and still believes) that people are naturally good and will work together peacefully to make a better life for themselves and their families if given a fair chance to do so.  It saw crime and social unrest as the result of poverty and the exclusion of certain groups from equal opportunities, and it worked tirelessly through the 50's and 60's to end discrimination and and to obtain guarantees of a certain minimal level of food, housing, and medical care for all. 

When it came to foreign policy, the left applied the same principles, pointing to the punitive reparations demanded of Germany after World War I as the main reason for the rise of Hitler, and to the rebuilding of Germany and Japan after World War II as a more far-sighted alternative.  During the 50's and 60's, the left believed deeply in supporting new democracies like India, in aiding the very poorest peoples and nations to overcome their economic backwardness, and in striving for the ultimate goal of a world of fully independent nations in equal partnership.

The left was more divided in its attitudes towards communism, but on the whole it did not see communist ideology as a serious threat.  It regarded the tension between the United States and the Soviet Union as a traditional great power conflict, best handled through normal diplomatic methods, and felt that as long as the possibility of overt military aggression on the part of the Soviets and their allies was contained, the free world had nothing to fear.  Democracy was bound to win out over tyranny in the long run, if only because it had so much more to offer.

In contrast to these easy-going and self-confident attitudes on the part of the left, the right offered (and continues to offer) a very different analysis and very different solutions.  Its focus has always been on the idea that there are enemies out there who wish nothing more than to destroy democracy and enslave us all.  The motivations of these dark forces are never made completely clear.  They are like the villain of a Victorian melodrama, who kidnaps the heroine not to hold her for ransom, or even to rape her, but to kill her off in some over-elaborate manner out of pure malevolent hatred of everything that is good and pure and holy.

The sort of people who believe in an implacable enemy that can never be reasoned with or won over are also likely to put their faith in a particular set of responses to that enemy:  An unwavering dedication to absolute military superiority.  The promotion of a warrior culture, based on hard work and self-denial and suspicious of all forms of pleasure that might weaken the will to fight and die.  The rooting out of subversive elements at home, including those who deliberately ally with the enemy, those who are merely prone to craven compromise, and those who threaten to weaken the national resolve by endorsing self-indulgence or the pampering of the unfit.

That, in a nutshell, has been the agenda of the right for the last fifty years, encompassing everything from missile defense and gun ownership, to attacks on abortion and homosexuality, to the branding of liberals as traitors.  The right is determined to turn the United States into a single-minded warrior state, and heaven help anyone who stands in their way. 

Over those fifty years, various other issues have come and gone as part of the national debate, but finally everything has come down to this one stark alternative.  We stand at a moment of decision, and the burning issue before us is whether we will seek to create a peaceful future of equality and tolerance, or whether we will go deeper and deeper into a world of endless war against increasingly invisible enemies, a world in which the poor, the elderly, and even disabled veterans are sacrificed in the name of military readiness and battlefield values. 

Following their paranoid worldview, the leaders of the right have made many bad decisions, have allied themselves with unsavory company, and have acted in ways that are blatantly immoral by any standards other than those of all-out war.  They have endorsed torture and assassination and have edged dangerously close to genocide.  They are harming our country and harming our planet and have made themselves unfit to be part of any civilized discourse.  It is time to call them on their falsehoods, to reject their delusions, and to inform them that their behavior will no longer be tolerated in a free society.

Cory Panshin
January 2005

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