Friday, June 5, 2015

On Witch Hunts and Reigns of Terror

The trouble with the Left is that, time and time again, their politics creates a witch hunt. As in the current hunt for rapists on campus.

Sometimes, time and time again, their politics creates a reign of terror. As in the war against privilege that is beginning to put liberal professors in the tumbrils. Hang on a minute, you social justice warriors! The whole point of cultural Marxism is to hang the white male bourgeoisie out to dry. You're not supposed to start in on good faithful New York Times readers and NPR listeners.

Oh all right. It's not really a reign of terror because nobody has been executed. Not yet.

I was reading about witch-hunts recently, and a couple of features stood out.

First of all, witch hunts tend to occur in borderlands where the writ of central government is weak. E.g., Salem in 1692. Witch hunts tend to reflect the enthusiasm of local yokels anxious to do their bit for truth, justice, and the American Way. The first witch discovered is usually some marginal woman living out of town, e.g., Salem in 1692. The witch hunt usually ends when it starts to devour the rich and powerful. That's when the rich and powerful -- think Graham Chapman's "The Colonel" -- step in to stop the silliness. The other thing you might not know is that the fabled Spanish Inquisition was an attempt to stop the freelance pursuit of heretics, and bring it under sensible central control, complete with due process.

The point is that now, as then, the folks running around spouting off about white male privilege and microaggressions and "safe spaces" are ignorant fools that know not what they do. They are just repeating stuff that their teachers taught them in school. But that's what happens when stupid teachers teach stupid students stupid ideas.

Second, reigns of terror are a natural part of revolutions. On this one I do have chapter and verse. It's Crane Brinton's The Anatomy of Revolution. Brinton writes that revolutions tend to have four phases.

  • Fall of the Old Regime The old regime is discredited, and probably running out of money. But there is hope, for that is what the revolutionaries are selling.
  • Rule of the Moderates and Dual Power Typically the old regime is succeeded by a regime of moderates, but the moderates soon find themselves in conflict with extremists who act illegally and independently of the moderate regime.
  • Reign of Terror The extremists win for a bunch of reasons, including that they are more ruthless and better organized. Then they embark on a campaign of terror and virtue, ruthlessly purging the world of injustice and sin and vice.
  • Thermidor Humans cannot live forever in a fervor of holy rage; eventually the tension breaks and they fall back into a more normal life. But the solution typically involves a dictator, nationalism, and foreign conquest.
You can see that the way to stop this is for the government to stick to its job and to keep its finances in order.

But it's fair to suggest that the failed war and the financial crisis of 2008 set up a kind of mini-revolution with Barack Obama offering Hope and Change. And the lefty extremists seemed to get a green light to push their agenda to the max. So we've had a kind of mini reign of terror with the president showing the way with his extra-legal executive orders. Then there was that nice lady in the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights sending out her "Dear Colleague" letter in 2011 that told universities that if they didn't pursue extra-legal policies to stamp out campus rape, why then their funding might be affected. When every last administrator is a feminist liberal you can see that it would be remarkable if the universities pushed back.

At some point all this enthusiasm in the pursuit of witches and the reign of terror and virtue collapses from exhaustion and the improper capture of regime supporters. And so it ends.

Whether the collapse (or "reaction") ends in a Republican president and Congress with a mandate to do serious reform of the administrative welfare and regulatory state is another question.

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