The Assault on Civilization
“Liberalism,” wrote James Burnham in his 1964 classic Suicide of the West, “is the ideology of Western suicide.” Western civilization and the police that guard that civilization are under assault by the forces of radicalism. The civil unrest created by neo-Marxist, far-Left radicals in American cities (and in some European cities, as well) applauded by liberal intellectuals and activists, and countenanced by liberal governors, mayors and district attorneys, is causing much immediate harm. Businesses are being looted, trashed, and burned, innocent people and police officers have been wantonly threatened, assaulted and killed, and incompetent and ideologically-disarmed political and societal leaders are doing nothing to stop it.
It has all happened before. Far-Left radicals in the 1960s and 1970s — the Black Panthers, Weather Underground and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in America, the IRA in the United Kingdom, the Red Brigades in Italy, the Red Army Faction in West Germany, the ETA Basque terrorists in Spain, Action Directe in France — incited riots, attacked police forces, damaged property, and killed police and innocent citizens. Student radicals took over universities, and some university administrators and faculty sided with the radicals. Those groups all had grievances — racial, political, economic — against the existing orders in each country.
Then, the radicals were more open about their methods and goals. In May 1967, the SDS National Secretary described his group as “post-communist revolutionaries” who are “working to build a guerilla force in an urban environment” and are “actively organizing sedition.” Columbia University’s SDS leader in June 1968 touted the group’s “ability to manipulate people through violence and mass media.” The Black Panther Manual on Urban Warfare explained that the group’s “sole purpose is to turn the System upside down . . .”
The Weather Underground’s Communique No. 8 in March 1971 described the group’s tactics as “armed underground attacks, propaganda, demonstrations in the cities and campuses, actions by local collectives . . . [and] political warfare.” In Europe, the neo-Maoist terrorist groups used violence, propaganda, and intimidation in an effort to undermine the public’s confidence in the existing order.
New Left radicalism has roots in French Revolution
Eugene Methvin in his long-forgotten book The Rise of Radicalism: The Social Psychology of Messianic Extremism (1973), traced the roots of New Left radicalism in America to the utopian dreamers of the French Revolution through Marx, Lenin, and Mao. In the book’s first chapter, Methvin quotes the character Mourlan in Martin du Gard’s novel Les Thibaults: “Everything has got to be smashed to start with. Our whole damned civilization has got to go, before we can bring any decency into the world.” Methvin elsewhere quotes Karl Popper from The Open Society and Its Enemies: “ . . . our greatest troubles spring from something that is as admirable as it is dangerous — from our impatience to better the lot of our fellows.”
Methvin noted that in the late 1960s, America suffered more than 100 riots, insurrections, and civil disorders. Thousands of buildings were burned. More than 130 people were killed and more than 3,000 injured. Following Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder in 1968, Black Panthers killed more than 10 policemen in ambushes and encounters during the next two years. A lawyer for the Black Panthers falsely asserted that police had murdered 28 Panthers, and this assertion was printed as fact in major newspapers and news magazines. Meanwhile, according to the Washington Post, liberal U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark refused to prosecute black militants and anti-war leaders for inciting riots.
Methvin described the 1960s' radicals as “those who believe they can get to the root of things and change them only through . . . violence applied in one form or another . . . and afterword through the terror and coercion of a ‘revolutionary dictatorship . . .’” The radicals’ idealism, Methvin noted, turned into raging hate because all people did not conform to their ideals. In a recent interview, one of the leaders of today’s radicals mimicked his 1960s’ predecessors: “If this country doesn’t give us what we want then we will burn down this system and replace it.”
Current radicals turning legitimate protests into assaults
Today’s radicals have covertly hijacked, infiltrated, and utilized legitimate protests to wage an all-out assault on the police — the forces of order in society — and Western civilization. Attorney General William Barr recently explained that the radicals have “hijacked protest to engage in lawlessness.” He decried the “violent rioting, arson, looting of businesses and public property.” He condemned the “assaults on law enforcement officers and innocent people.”
“Such senseless acts of anarchy,” he explained, “are not exercises of First Amendment rights. They are crimes designed to terrify fellow citizens and intimidate communities.”
The totalitarian nature of the assault on Western civilization, and the ineffectual liberal response, are on display for all to see. Radicals demand that statues and murals of historical figures they deem intolerable be taken down or erased. Protestors hold signs with the words “white silence is white violence,” meaning that if you do not speak out as they want you to, you are committing an act of “violence” and presumably should be prosecuted and punished. Protestors demand the censorship of thought that they disagree with on social media, and the social media barons comply. An editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer was forced to resign for printing a headline that said public and private property should be protected against looters. An editor at the New York Times was forced to resign when he agreed to publish an op-ed piece by a conservative U.S. Senator that advocated using the military to quell the riots in our cities.
Liberal district attorneys announce that they will not prosecute “low level” crimes committed by protestors. Liberal bail laws set violent looters free soon after their arrests. In Seattle, Washington, left-wing revolutionaries took over a police precinct and surrounding city blocks and issued “demands” to abolish the police and empty the prisons. Seattle’s liberal mayor called the radicals “patriots,” while Washington’s liberal governor appeared oblivious to it all. Most ominously, radicals are waging war against law enforcement, and liberals in power pledge to disarm, defund, or disband the police.
We're living a totalitarian nightmare
In London, in a symbolic act, protestors defaced the statue of Winston Churchill — the Western leader who did more than anyone to save Western civilization when it was under assault by Nazis and Communists (remember, in May 1940, Hitler and Stalin were allies). Almost daily, we are witnessing similar symbolic acts here in the United States — radicals deface and topple statues of Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. New York’s mayor has announced that a city museum will take down a statue of Theodore Roosevelt. A mob in San Francisco toppled a statue of Ulysses S. Grant. A mob in Washington tried to topple the statue of Andrew Jackson.
The great religions of Western civilization have also been targeted. In Washington, D.C., radicals damaged and vandalized the historic St John’s Episcopal Church near the White House. Catholic churches have been damaged, vandalized or defaced in California, Texas, Minnesota, New York, Kentucky, and Colorado. Synagogues in Los Angeles and Virginia have been attacked. The radicals are even targeting images of Jesus Christ. It was inevitable that Christianity and Judaism, which are at the very heart of Western civilization, would become targets. If your goal is to overturn Western civilization, Judeo-Christian symbols and traditions must go. The response to all of this by liberal religious hierarchies, with few exceptions, has been silence mixed with public confessions of past sins.
Like their predecessors during the French Revolution, today’s radicals seek to erase the imperfect vestiges of the old order — including traditional religions — and replace them with their vision of the good society — when, in Marx’s words, each will give according to his abilities and each will receive according to his needs. Like their predecessors in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, today’s radicals demand strict conformity to their “acceptable” opinion and insist on public confessions of past sins. Totalitarian reeducation is beginning and liberalism is ill equipped to confront it.
History is being erased. George Orwell foresaw this totalitarian nightmare:
[E]very record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.
'All sorts of crimes jumbled together with all sorts of follies'
We are witnessing in America today what Edmund Burke in his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) called “all sorts of crimes jumbled together with all sorts of follies.” The societal breakdown in revolutionary France produced in Burke’s mind “the most opposite passions” of “contempt and indignation,” “laughter and tears,” “scorn and horror.” America today, to paraphrase Burke, is in danger of abandoning her interest that she might prostitute her virtue. Far too many of our political and spiritual leaders have forgotten that the most important virtue is courage because it makes all of the other virtues possible.
In his 1972 Nobel Prize essay, Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn commented on the riots and disturbances then still raging across America and Europe. “Dostoevsky’s devils,” he warned, “are crawling across the whole world in front of our very eyes, infesting countries where they could not have been dreamed of,” and are “announcing their determination to shake and destroy civilization.” If we let the forces of anarchy reign, if law and order is not restored to our cities, if historic memories and manifestations of the past are erased, Western civilization as we know it will not survive.
We close where we began. In Suicide of the West, James Burnham examined how “liberal guilt” over the imperfections of our society disarmed liberals in the face of the extreme demands of radicals. Liberalism, Burnham wrote, believes that “ignorance and bad social conditions that cause the world’s evils and block progress are the legacy of the past.” Liberals are thus philosophically and ideologically aligned with the radical project. For liberals, there are no enemies on the Left.
Today’s war against the police is part of the radical project, just as it was in the 1960s and early 1970s. Burnham noted that amidst riots and chaos caused by anarchists and radicals, the “inner logic” of liberalism identifies “cops . . . to be the villainous aggressors.” In Suicide of the West, Burnham issued a stark warning to those in positions of power and authority that applies equally today:
[C]ivilized society requires a certain rule and order to hold back from the edge of anarchic savagery where it is always precariously poised. Human beings must have at least a minimum security in life and property, must be able to move through the streets and between the cities, must accept certain common rules in their mutual intercourse, or civilization does not exist. If this necessary order is subverted, the civilization is destroyed, whether the subversion takes place from the best or worst of motives, whether or not it is in some supposedly moral sense justified, whether it is carried out by saints or devils. At some point the guardians of a civilization must be prepared to draw the line.
Defund and disband the police in cities big and small, erase the past, tear down the moral restraints of traditional religious teaching, and you will convert our society into a Hobbesian world of all against all. The riots, lootings, destruction, and killings have given us a taste of this. Those who want more of the same will have more blood and the wreck of civilization on their hands.