Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Paul Norton argues that some social commentators who have changed from the left to the right of politics occupy a precarious ideological: "One of the curious features of public intellectual life in the English-speaking world is that many leading voices of the Right began their political and intellectual engagement on the Left. David Horowitz in the US and Paul Johnson in the UK are perhaps the two best known, but Australia seems particularly generously endowed with this type. Names like Padraic P. McGuinness, Keith Windschuttle, Piers Akerman, Ross Terrill, Bob Catley, Bettina Arndt, Michael Thompson, Christopher Pearson, Michael Duffy and Max Teichmann come readily to mind."

"The modern ex-leftist gang lacks even the saving grace of novelty. Early in the Cold War a group of communist literati, who had reacted to the horrors of Stalinism by becoming anti-communists, released a collection of confessional essays titled The God That Failed. This book was incisively reviewed by maverick Marxist Isaac Deutscher in his essay "The Ex-Communists' Conscience". Deutscher's analysis will surprise nobody who has read this far:

"As a rule the intellectual ex-communist ceases to oppose capitalism. Often he (sic) rallies to its defence, and he brings to this job the lack of scruple, the narrow-mindedness, the disregard for truth, and the intense hatred with which stalinism has imbued him. He remains a sectarian. He is an inverted stalinist. He continues to see the world in white and black, but now the colours are differently distributed. . . he denounces even the mildest brand of the 'welfare state' as 'legislative bolshevism'. . . Having once been caught by the 'greatest illusion', he is now obsessed by the greatest disillusionment of our time. (Deutscher, 1957 in Mills, 1963:346)

"And, as Deutscher showed, the ex-communists of the 1950s were themselves repeating the history of those liberal European intellectuals of the late 18th and early 19th century who had initially welcomed the French Revolution, but were driven by Jacobin excesses to become embittered, tragicomic opponents not just of the Revolution, but of liberalism in general, and of the entire project of democratic modernity. Thus the liberal pro-Jacobin English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge became a reactionary member of the House of Commons who opposed each and every democratic reform, and in his most memorable moment denounced as "the strongest instance of legislative jacobinism" a bill for – wait for it - the prevention of cruelty to animals!

"That's something to bear in mind the next time Paddy McGuinness compares the Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission to the KGB - or, indeed, when one of his Quadrant contributors denounces sympathy for stolen Aboriginal children as a case of succumbing to "the Jacobin temptation"."

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