Leftist Propaganda: the New Lie
by Jason Pappas © December 31, 2004
The left’s intellectual disintegration.
There used to be a time when the left proudly carried the banner of reason and science; and disdainfully viewed religion as a superstition or at best an antiquated myth. In the name of science they advanced an agenda on several fronts. In economics, central planning was described as a rational systematic alternative to the chaotic free-for-all of the market. In human relations, what was previously viewed as a moral failing was now a condition amenable to social engineering. Social science, we were assured there was such a thing, would provide the guidance and justification for the socialistic regulations required for a better world. To maintain this stance, left-wing intellectuals felt compelled to provide substantiation, evidence, and rational arguments. That time has long since past.
The façade of science is gone – reality stubbornly refused to go along. Socialism was a glaring failure that brought poverty, misery, and wholesale death. Yet, despite this, the dream remains. The left seems strangely indifferent to evidence that undermines their worldview. Communism was responsible for over 100 million deaths and the enslavement of over 1 billion more. But on the left, this hasn’t hurt the popularity of communism’s remaining standard-bearer: Fidel Castro.
Rational debate no longer exists among the vanguard of today’s left. Exposing a flawed argument engenders few signs of discomfort. Contradictions curiously fail to perturb in the slightest the left’s steadfast adherence to fixed doctrine. For example, America and Britain are singularly condemned for the sins of slavery as if it were unique to our history or a particularly egregious example. However, it was Anglo-American tradition of individual liberty which is exceptional in history, not the remnants of slavery which existed everywhere and through out history. Islam, which invented the race-based slave trade centuries before America’s discovery, condemned people to slavery from Africa, India, and Europe, exceeding the British slave trade by orders of magnitude. And it was the West that led the abolitionist movement worldwide. But the left shrugs. All of this is deemed irrelevant since in absolute terms the West’s history remains blemished.
Not only is evidence summarily dismissed, but what spews forth often has little relation to the subject matter. By being barraged by “rhetorical spam” the listener is overwhelmed with dubious claims in the hope that something will stick. No shame accompanies wrong, arbitrary, or ridiculous statements. This technique was ubiquitous in response to recent military actions in Iraq. For example, every major intelligence agency, including France, Germany and Russia, incorrectly believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Yet, leftists continually repeated the mantra that Bush is a liar. On top of that, they yammer about Rumsfeld meeting with Saddam, Iraqis getting bio-agents from “us”, and nefarious neocon Zionist conspiracies. It becomes impossible to have an intelligent discussion under these circumstances.
Not surprisingly, civil and reasonable discussions are now the exceptions. The far left is reduced to chanting: racist imperialist war-mongering America. No they won’t say they hate America – they realize you can’t say that yet. But are we to believe that imperialist, racist, and war-mongering describe a country one could love? Of course not, but apparently most imagine a confession is required before you can point to the obvious conclusion.
The above brief overview gives a sample of the left’s new manner of arguing. You can observe this new approach in the 2004 Democratic Presidential campaign. It was unmistakable outside official channels. Internet websites and propaganda filmmakers churned out shameless lies, distortions, insinuations, and hatred with glee. The perfect example, the climax to the campaign, was Michael Moore’s agitprop: “Fahrenheit 911.”
“Fahrenheit 911” was crude blatant propaganda and it was obvious to all. This was the very reason the critics loved it. Irfan Khawaja 1 documents the duplicity of the leftist critics in his review of the reviewers. He notes, “The going trend is to enumerate the film's flaws (thereby demonstrating one's nominal commitment to intellectual integrity) while pronouncing it a work of staggering filmic genius and civic commitment (thereby demonstrating that intellectual integrity makes no difference to anything).” One critic notes there are “unproven conspiracy theories” but the movie is a “public service.” A second notes the “hatchet job” but still it’s a “masterful job” with the right “attitude.” A third notes the “sloppy insinuations” and “demagoguery” but respects Moore as the “master demagogue.” Apparently, the shameless deception and devious tricks no longer embarrasses the left – not if it’s in the service of the cause.
Khawaja innocently believes that the deception in “Fahrenheit” will comes back to haunt Moore, who will have to explain and rationalize his shoddy and treasonous hatchet job for the rest of his life. However, Moore isn’t the least concerned and neither are his supporters. They just love the pure devious propaganda nature of the film. They were invigorated by the prospect that it could galvanize the opposition to Bush’s re-election. Those on the right who meticulously exposed Moore’s lies found the left actually reveled in the falsehoods and contradictions. “So what!” was the typical leftist response, “if it helps to weaken the President and demoralize the nation that’s good, we can stop this war.”
How could this brazen indifference to facts and reason sweep through a whole political constituency? Why was there so little embarrassment or shame? And why does truth, integrity and honor seem so silly to today’s left?
Deception has had its proponents in the past. In the “Republic,” Plato made an exception for a “noble lie” in the service of the collective good. Machiavelli left out the “noble” part. However, these moments are footnotes in history. Truth was power, it was believed, or for those less sanguine, duty. Today, however, there is a complete and unabashed acceptance of lies, deception, and irrationality, and without any fear to one’s reputation. Columnists, politicians, academics – all regurgitate the party line without embarrassment or fear to their careers. Just the opposite, Moore has demonstrated you can make millions and stay in the spotlight by popularizing the New Lie. It’s the latest in leftist fashion, and it’s hot off the academic runway.
To the average American it still seems incredible that intellectuals and writers could be doing what we think they are doing: embracing lies on principle. How can they justify this? This is a story that unfolds behind the walls of academia, slowly simmering for some time, and finally reaching a boil in a self-consciously anti-rational creed that’s sweeping our colleges and universities: Postmodernism. This snake-oil unleashes the inhibitions that limit deception and underwrites the policy of the lie. Stephen R. C. Hicks2 has written a scathing expose called “Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault.” To appreciate the story we have to step back a few centuries and see how this descent has unfolded.
It was during the 18th century Enlightenment that reason reaches the pinnacle of respect in modern times. Flush with confidence that reason could make sense of reality and mediate human contentions, men of the Enlightenment embrace reason as the key to knowledge and human well being. There is a profound sense of optimism and confidence that the power of reason can conquer ignorance, superstition, bigotry, strife and suffering. The founding of America is suffused with the spirit of the Enlightenment. England’s benign neglect allows the colonialists to order their affairs guided by the philosophical spirit of the times and when that tolerance wanes we confidently create a new nation.
On the European Continent, the Enlightenment spirit, exemplified by Diderot, Voltaire, and Montesquieu, would soon be eclipsed by the most influential of all: Jean-Jacques Rousseau. By attacking key planks of the liberal paradigm, he effectively launches the Counter-Enlightenment. Rousseau disparages civilization as a corrupting influence, charges that rational progress undermines morality, and damns private property as socially destructive. Reason and progress, in his view, brings inequities, oppression, insensitivity, superficiality, and degeneration. Science, he declares, is “vain curiosity” harmful to society. Rousseau’s collectivism – submission to the general will, by force if necessary – is an inspiration to the Jacobin fraction of the French Revolution. 3
The Enlightenment’s nominal defenders often did more damage than its detractors. In one way or another both Rationalists and Empiricists took the primary object of awareness as mental in nature. This made reality inferential and empirical knowledge problematic. Since the purpose of knowledge is to grasp objective reality, the philosophers’ flawed formulations of reason’s ability to achieve certainty in this matter lead to the skepticism. Kant, however, saw this analysis as an opportunity. The mind, according to Kant is what gives the properties and regularities we previously associated with the object-in-itself. Thus, it is consciousness itself that contributes the important properties of our experience. As Hicks writes, “Kant’s significance in the history of philosophy is that he absorbed the lessons of the rationalists and empiricists and, agreeing with the central assumptions of both sides, transformed radically the terms of the relationship between reason and reality.” 4
The assault on reason accelerates through out the 19th century. Hegel explicitly embraces contradictions and identifies consciousness with object. Kierkegaard learns “to relinquish his understanding and his thinking, and to keep his soul fixed upon the absurd.” 5 In the 20th century, Heidegger finds that “[t]he entire Western tradition of philosophy – whether Platonic, Aristotelian, Lockean, or Cartesian – based as it is on the law of non-contradiction and the subject/object distinction, is the enemy to be overcome.” 6 Postmodernists will even surpass Heidegger and abandon metaphysics and truth all together.
The Anglo-American analytical tradition never seriously challenges the Kantian turn. Instead we see the reduction of reason to the merely formal, conventional, tautological, or nominal. The emaciation of rationalism to an internal tool of mental housekeeping underscores the divorce of reason from reality and removes it as a tool of scientific truth. Ayer announces that “the principles of logic and mathematics are true universally simply because we never allow them to be anything else.” 7 “By the 1950s, these conclusions were commonplace. Language and logic were seen as conventional, internal systems – and not as objective, reality-based tools of consciousness.” 8 “Consequently, by the 1960s, the pro-objectivity, pro-science spirit had collapsed in the Anglo-American tradition.” 9 Rorty concludes “’[t]he nature of truth’ is an unprofitable topic.” 10
The combined effect of the direct assault on reason by continental irrationalists and the trivialization of reason by nominal proponents of the analytical tradition set the stage for the overt and belligerent anti-realist, subjectivist, and nihilistic postmodern movement. But why have these academic foundational issues become so important to the modern left? It is here that Hicks provides a powerful and compelling narrative.
Socialism failed. It wasn’t a close runner-up to capitalism, it was a massive and catastrophic failure in proportion to the degree it was practiced everywhere it was tried. The failure was understood, explained, and documented. Those who wished to continue the dream were unable to continue the pretense of a “scientific socialism” rooted in reality but instead had to dispense with reason, push aside science, and evade reality. 11 Indeed, reality is the enemy and reason is the enemy’s tool. Only relativism and subjectivism can support the dream. But what supports relativism and subjectivism? The history of philosophy! “Postmodernism is a result of using skeptical epistemology to justify the personal leap of faith necessary to continue believing in socialism.” 12
The slightest familiarity with the far left shows a ruthless adherence to dogma and an abhorrence of traditional Western values. This is hardly the signs of a doubtful skeptic. Prof. Hicks argues, successfully in my opinion, that the skepticism is selectively invoked only to undermine the remaining elements of the liberal Enlightenment order. America, the symbol of that liberal order and most powerful country on earth, must be opposed by any means necessary. That means denigrating “truth” (generally put in quotes by postmodern detractors), championing any powerless group as noble victims, and consciously embracing whatever lie one can get away with. “[S]ociety is a battle of competing wills, that words are merely tools in the power struggle for dominance.” 13 Thus, postmodernism “justifies using language not as a vehicle for seeking truth but as a rhetorical weapon in the continuing battle against capitalism.” 14
With Prof. Hicks’ analysis, the events of the past two years become intelligible. We are actually witnessing the most vicious embrace of anti-American propaganda during wartime; with the sole purpose of demoralizing and defeating our war effort. This is not the loyal opposition; the concern is not prudence and effectiveness. This is fundamental attack on the soul and character of America. To the left, America is the enemy – a “rogue nation”. The sin of America is capitalism and it is that intrinsic evil that compels America to commit atrocities around the world. And the left’s denial of this duplicity is just part of the New Lie. All dissent is honorable and should be respected according to this trope, even as it viciously attacks American values.
The New Lie is not identical to the Big Lie practiced by the Nazis. It goes beyond that. The Nazi practice consisted of the continual repetition of a falsehood while pretending it is obviously true. The New Lie boldly puts forth a falsehood but without hiding that fact. Thus, there is no longer any embarrassment in contradictions; say whatever you think you can get away with and if that doesn’t work try something else. Show indifference to inconvenient evidence. However, if it is obvious that you’re caught in a lie, deny that truth is possible. The litmus test is “if it hurts the powerful, it’s right; if it hurts America, it is just.”
Remember that the classical liberal mindset holds reason and reality to be important. This leads to the virtues of rational argumentation and the reliance of supporting evidence. Postmodernists discard the concept of truth and thus need to prove nothing. They need only insert arbitrary and unwarranted doubt. They seek to establish nothing but only to annihilate. The use of rhetorical spam and arbitrary statements are merely dialectical trash thrown in the path of all rational persons of good-will in the hopes you may stumble or that you may become worn down jumping these hurdles. With a continue barrage of baseless accusations, piles of irrelevant details, and empty moral posturing, the hope is to undermine morale and induce cynicism. The goal is to destroy, destroy, destroy.
Where does this leave us? First of all, the arbitrary doesn’t need to be addressed. Unless a statement or the assumptions of a question are based on reality and motivated by substantial considerations, they do not deserve cognitive status. They are no different than the sounds of a parrot, and should be summarily dismissed. The very stance of the left – i.e. that truth is a fiction – makes any further dialog a farce. Now one might ask: have we not been silly to dignify the empty and deceitful posturing of the left? Perhaps. But even with a parrot, there may be someone else in the room that says: “hey, what about that?” To which you may reply, it is only a parrot – ignore it.
It is important to expose the hate-America left and the academic post-modernists for the frauds and scoundrels they are. However, there are respectable men and women on the left who sincerely believe in a society based on civil and economic liberties but with modifications to provide for a series of welfare measures. There are also those across the political spectrum who have questions about the prudence of various aspects of our foreign policy. It’s important for these people to grasp the vast difference between themselves and the postmodern nihilists even in the middle of a campaign centering on a single political issue where there happens to be similarities in terms of concrete objectives. It is far more important to reaffirm the fundamental principles that make our country great than win a particular battle on a single issue – or get elected.
It is in the area of foreign policy where we see an artificial division created by the far left. The Democratic Party has become consumed with the nihilistic notion that we are a shameful country that brings pain and oppression to the world. No, some don’t realize how this poison is spreading through their party and often, by osmosis, inadvertently absorbed by people of good will. The moderate left must distance itself from the caustic nihilism of the far left regardless of any accidental agreement on specific issues. The hatred of the left-wing collectivists puts them on the side of the West’s enemies. The threat to our society by Islamic barbarianism is a threat to all of us. And we all realize how vastly different their values are from ours.
Going forward the moderate left is best advised to repudiate the far left just as the Democratic Party, in the last 1940s, condemned the communist influence in their ranks. Otherwise, the guilt by association is warranted. Ultimately, there is no excuse to be silent and sanction the treachery of the far left. Mr. Moore sitting with Jimmy Carter, in the guest of honor box in the Democratic convention, was noticed by everyone. The Democrats will have to quarantine and purge this cancer from their ranks if they are to become a partner and power in the war for civilization.
1. Irfan Khawaja, “Critical Reception: The Meaning of ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’,” ISIS Aug. 2004
2. Stephen R. C. Hicks, “Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault,” Scholargy Publishing, 2004
3. See Hicks, Chapter 4 or any respectable book on the history of philosophy such as Frederick Copleston, “A History of Philosophy,” Volume VI, Image Books, Doubleday, 1960
4. Hicks, ibid p. 32
5. Hicks, ibid p. 54
6. Hicks, ibid p. 66
7. Hicks, ibid p. 77
8. Hicks, ibid p. 77
9. Hicks, ibid p. 78
10. Hicks, ibid p. 78-79
11. Hicks, ibid p. 85
12. Hicks, ibid p. 181
13. Hicks, ibid p. 181-182
14. Hicks, ibid p. 91