Imperialism the Left"s Way


Over the last couple of years I've been steadily opposed to the American government's war in Iraq, not because there is anything good about the regime that was in power there but because the job of US troops is to defend our rights from aggressors. Pre-emptive attacks then, even against very bad guys, are wrong (although it would be OK for volunteers to join rebel Iraqis to overthrow the tyrant there).

One very uncomfortable element of my position has been to be in bed with various Leftist opponents of this war, ones whom I consider hypocritical, largely opposed to this war because it is Bush's and not Clinton's'-or Woodrow Wilson's-'affair. To see what I mean, consider a point that's very worth keeping in mind about the Left's overall political philosophy. It is preemptive, imperialist to the core.

As a regular reader of The New York Review of Books, one of the Left's most elitist publications'-which also means it has some very good stuff in it on many topics'-I run across this Leftist 'preemptivism' in nearly every issue. A good example comes from one of their star writers, Charles Rosen, whose focus tends to be the arts.

In a response to a critical letter in the January 15, 2004, issue, Rosen nicely lays out the crux of Leftist imperialism:

"I believe that the literary and musical tradition of a culture ought to be easily available in the best form as a matter of course, like street lighting or public transport. This is not such a radical notion: making it available is often given tax-exempt status as if it were a public service, but in the present economy this is no longer good enough. Record stores, above all the big chains, no longer offer the full range of classical records but have cut back; in most bookstores only the cheapest editions of works of the past are to be found on the shelves; and publishers and record companies no longer believe that keeping their products available for any stretch of time is economically justified."

Notice how from the fact that Rosen believes something should be available but isn't (in quite the abundance he prefers), it is supposed to follow that government should provide it, which means, of course, that government should go out and extort the funds from us all and make 'the literary and musical tradition of a culture' available to Rose & Co., just as government makes street lights and public transport available (never mind that it should leave that, too, to be made available via the market place). The sheer desires of these people, admittedly not always unreasonable desires'-indeed, they are shared by me and many of my friends'-routinely become public imperatives, and individual rights should be violated all over the place in order to satisfy them.

Here is a classic case of Leftist imperialism and preemptive policy. No one has to do anything untoward to these people'-no one has to assault them, rob them, kidnap them or otherwise act aggressively toward them'-yet they believe themselves to be fully authorized to obtain at the point of a gun what they desire.

I do not see that in principle this is more ethical than what Bush's imperialism is doing, only in the case of Bush & Co. many of them seem to believe that they are actually liberating enslaved people in Iraq, whereas with Rosen & Co., it's all rank self-indulgence'-they want the stuff, so it 'ought to be easily available in the best form as a matter of course.' Never mind that to make it available other people must be robbed of their income, of their chances to spend their assets as they judge fit, of the possibility to help themselves and their loved ones with what they want to make 'available in the best form as a matter of course,' only via their own effort, not on the backs of others. It is actually an open question which policy actually wreaks greater havoc on people over the long haul.

When you hear and read this kind of vicious drivel from people who posture as being morally outraged over preemptive interference in others' lives'-which is to say, from nearly everyone now on the political Left of center'-it is very hard not to vomit from disgust at the rank hypocrisy afoot. It brings home just how utterly opportunistic is so much of the anti Iraqi invasion rhetoric.

Only genuine freedom lovers'-those who love freedom not only for Saddam Hussein & Co. but also for millions of Americans and others who want to keep what is theirs to be used for what they, thank you very much, are perfectly competent to decide'-are morally justified being outraged, not these folks who are mostly an unabashedly unprincipled bunch.

To quote John Stossel, 'Give me a break!'

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Tibor R. Machan's picture
Columns on STR: 70

Tibor Machan is a professor of business ethics and Western Civilization at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and recent author of Neither Left Nor Right: Selected Columns (Hoover Institution Press, 2004).  He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.