Doctrinaire Liberalism: The Ideology of Let's Pretend

An amazing book recently came to my attention. Where Liberals Go To Die: The End of Let's Pretend is its name, and its author is Houston-based attorney James T. Evans. Evans could be Texas’ answer to David Horowitz if enough > people manage to run across his work. Evans' publisher, though, is a small, local entity called Commonwealth Publishing, which isn't exactly Simon & Schuster, or even Transaction. It up to those of us who encounter books like this to spread the word. No one is going to do it for us.

Like Horowitz, author or coauthor of great books such as Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts on the 1960s, Radical Son, and Deconstructing the Left, Evans was involved in 1960s radicalism. His activities ranged from campus organizing, participating in the Berkeley "Free Speech" movement and student strikes, to involvement in the disruptions at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. Also like Horowitz, he finally woke up. The problem is, many liberals never do wake up. Evans sees them as sometimes well-intentioned, but always guided by misplaced priorities. Evans starts at the right starting point: survival. For survival, not designing the perfect society, is the first goal for any of us, and the first priority for a society.

Survival isn't a given; it is based on rules. At the most basic level, these rules are just the laws of nature. If you jump off a tall building, you'll most likely be killed. Gravity operates pretty consistently, and doesn't discriminate on the basis of race, gender, class, physical appearance or sexual preference. Animals know this instinctively, and avoid heights. Human beings must use the brains God gave each one of us. So while animals also act instinctively on their need to feed themselves, human survival isn't so automatic; it depends on a range of fairly specific deliberate attitudes and planned courses of action.

But there's another wrinkle: to make society work, we need rules of morality and civil conduct; we have to be able to trust one another, at least to some degree, and be able to get along with one another. If these rules are not also obeyed, individuals don't prosper, businesses don't succeed, and societies start to decline. Free economies just happen to be more conducive to obedience to the various rules necessary for survival and for making societies work than command economies, so long as these rules are somehow transmitted intact from one generation to the next.

Americans, in their early history, began to build a distinctive culture, rooted in individual economic liberty, a work ethic, moral responsibility rooted in religious faith, Constitutionally limited government and the rule of law. There was a healthy distrust of concentrations of political power. The Framers’ original vision was not always applied consistently, but when it was applied, it worked. We built the most prosperous nation in human history. It all goes back to survival, and having one's priorities in order.

This, then, is Evans' first message: survival is the basic driving force of human nature, not an intellectual quest to build Utopia. The Soviets spent 72 years ignoring human nature in favor of the Utopian premise that when the right people were in charge the state would "wither away." In practice, the Utopian urge always elbows aside moral controls and quickly turns into a lust for power. Also elbowed aside are usually millions of innocent people who don't fit the plan. This explains holocausts and genocides. In our society, unlike that of the Soviets, power usually does not operate by overt acts of brute force (incidents like Waco and the Elian Gonzalez kidnapping notwithstanding). Rather, it achieves most of its goals by propaganda and systematic efforts to control people's thoughts. It is, Evans tells us, more a form of fascism than communism. Communists shoot their undesirables and are done with it. Our home grown brand of fascism, best exemplified in political correctness, works by euphemism and Orwellian subterfuge: intolerance becomes "tolerance," ideological conformity becomes "diversity" or "inclusiveness," and perversion becomes an "alternative lifestyle choice." Under still older comfort-zone phrases like "social justice" and "civil rights," doctrinaire liberalism is the ideology most responsible for abandoning the rules that must be in place if a society is to survive in the long run. (Doctrinaire liberalism is the preferred term, distinguished from the classical liberalism that tried to enhance, not restrict, individual freedoms.)

In one topic after another, Evans applies basic analysis and common horse sense to the claims of doctrinaire liberalism. He isn't an ivory-tower academic, and doesn't write like one. He doesn't use footnotes on every page. Sometimes, for an ex-academic such as myself (who sometimes does write like one) this is a mild annoyance: there is a lot here worth following up, and references are always a good place to begin. But anyone so inclined can find the references that support nearly every one of Evans' arguments. Occasionally, though, he makes a recommendation that bothers me. For example, late in the book is a suggestion that we implement programs of national service immediately as a means of teaching young people discipline. What bothers me is a single question: who is going to administer such programs? The Federal Government is the most likely candidate. And then we're back where we started: why should we trust the Federal Government to administer conservative ideas any more than we can trust it to administer liberal ones? The problem here isn't any particular ideology but the corrosive effects of power, which knows no ideology. What we need are ideas that will improve our lives and culture without the heavy hand of a government bureaucracy. Fortunately, such ideas are readily available, for those who will take the trouble to learn them.

Minor grumbling aside, I certainly understand why Evans reached that conclusion. As we look around us, the economy may be good – although even that is dubious if we take a long-term view of things – but the culture is disintegrating. The politics of collective grievance and entitlement have destroyed education at all levels; they are undermining our military defensive capabilities; they have infiltrated businesses and become gold mines for legions of lawyers, diversity-consultants and hypersensitivity engineers. Rudeness and crassness are epidemic, from the in-your-face attitude of hip-hoppers to elite "artists" who set out to be as revolting as possible. A form of personal self-destruction and thinly-veiled cultural violence is in the air. The former takes such forms as rampant body-piercing and tattooing, popular among today's teens and twentysomethings. For a case of the latter, just look at so-called professional wrestling which has degenerated to anarchic gladiatorial contests where out-of-control musclemen brutalize each other before cheering mobs, just as in ancient Rome before it fell. Societal self-destruction takes on larger and more dangerous forms when a Bill Clinton arranges for the stealth "transfer" of nuclear secrets to a hostile foreign power in order to help finance his re-election, the whistle is blown, and no one in the dominant culture or mass media cares.

This is what several decades of liberalism hath wrought. Speaking of Rome, as Evans points out, that empire fell from within. Healthy cultures don't tend to fall to invading forces. They just lose sight of what made them healthy. This is an easy mistake for a culture to make. One of the truly important and insightful features of Where Liberals Go To Die is its realization that entire generations can lose sight of what actually sustains their world if they grow up privileged and overprotected. This is what happened to many Baby Boomers, the parents of the tattooed and body-pierced generation.

Those who came of age during the Great Depression knew what it was to struggle for survival. They knew hunger, and so realized that food doesn't just grow in the cupboards. What that generation learned about survival helped them fight and win World War II, and then go on to build the prosperity of the 1950s. The Baby Boomers were born and grew up in this prosperity without really acquiring a real-life understanding of where it came from, and what kinds of personal and cultural virtues made it possible. Not helping was the philosophy of permissiveness that appeared courtesy of Dr. Benjamin Spock. So a significant fraction of a generation grew up assuming that the problems of survival and production were solved, and all that remained was ensuring just distribution – always of wealth produced by others, and always using the heavy-handed machinery of the Federal Government. That is to say, they became liberals. Many Boomers saw their parents as clueless. They saw the rules and practices that built the country as "oppressive," and regarded traditions (e.g., traditional Christianity) as just one option among many. They believed they could experiment with lifestyles to their hearts' content without having to worry about the consequences. They came to see feeling good as their only life goal.

And then, when things started to fall apart, they wondered what the dickens happened. That is, when they saw their own children growing up uncontrollable, or their teenaged daughters pregnant, or on drugs, they received a hard dose of reality. On a larger scale, now that radicalized black groups' and militant feminists' demands have become uncontrollable (joined increasingly by militant homosexuals), at least some of the liberals who created, e.g., affirmative action programs, should by now have received their dose of reality. Liberalism dies in a person when he looks in the mirror and realizes that the person he sees there really is responsible for the mess he's made. At least some have realized they were living in a fantasy world of pretending. That is what happened to David Horowitz, a second-generation leftist radical turned conservative, and it happened to James T. Evans.

For let's face it: doctrinaire liberalism really is an ideology of let's pretend. And it hasn't changed in the six or so years since Evans published this book. If anything, after over seven years of the Clinton Regime, it has gotten worse. Let's pretend, for example, that gun control will really make our streets safer. Let's pretend that affirmative action programs really help blacks by lowering standards, and that they do not discriminate in reverse against white men. Let's pretend that an institution that hasn't existed for 135 years – slavery – harms blacks today and that demands for reparations should be taken seriously. Let's pretend that men and women are interchangeable in combat situations. Let's pretend that all women should be radical feminists and that all blacks should support the NAACP's vendetta against Confederate symbols.

Let's pretend, that is, that public policy and education should be based on feelings, instead of history, fact and logic. Let's pretend, therefore, that the Underground Railroad is more significant in U.S. history than the Declaration of Independence and the signing and ratifying of the Constitution. While we're at it, let's pretend that even in areas such as math and science, education should make students feel good about themselves rather than communicate knowledge and specific skills.

Let's pretend, moreover, that government schools are better at raising civilized children than their parents. Let's pretend that when the children become teenagers, giving them condoms will protect them from pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Let's pretend that AIDS will be cured by more Federal funds. Let's pretend that a stable marriage between one man and one woman is just one of many options. Let's pretend that a principled rejection of homosexual conduct is a phobia, and therefore a psychological disorder. Let's pretend that women have a Constitutional right to kill their unborn babies if they become inconvenient.

Let's pretend that the motivation behind a crime is more important than the act itself, and punish "hate crimes" severely. Let's pretend that a John Rocker is more deserving of media crucifixion than athletes with drug habits or assault convictions and even rape accusations. Let's pretend that Christianity is an oppressive religion, that truth is a "white male social construct," and that all morality is subjective and personal. Let's pretend, finally, that substantial arguments steeped in a limited-government perspective can be dismissed with by calling the arguers names, e.g., right-wing extremist, hard rightist, wacko, etc. Let's pretend, let's pretend, let's pretend; this is the story of 20th century doctrinaire liberalism.

One cannot maintain society on an ideology of let's pretend. We won't keep this Republic once the ethos of survival, work, and responsibility has been fully replaced by one of Utopianism, collective grievance, coerced egalitarianism and a feel-good mindset. That's the long and the short of it: doctrinaire liberalism, believed by nearly all prominent Democrats and all-too-many Republicans, is an ideology for ostriches, their heads buried firmly in the proverbial sand. The only solution is to get rid of it, and the sooner the better. James T. Evans book Where Liberals Go To Die: The End of Let's Pretend is a step in this direction. I recommend it to anyone concerned about our present morass, and what, if anything, we can do to escape it.

Copies of James T. Evans' Where Liberals Go To Die: The End of Let's Pretend can be obtained by writing to Commonwealth Publishing, P.O. Box 130946, Houston, TX 77219 or by calling 1-800-991-7191. Evans is also the author of EduCrisis: What To Do When Public Schools Fail.

June 26, 2000

Steven Yates has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and is the author of Civil Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (San Francisco: ICS Press, 1994) and numerous articles and reviews. He lives and freelance writes in Columbia, South Carolina.