Okay, a very interesting post and life-history. (I’m very happy that you and your co-thinkers hang out here, because otherwise we’d be a small echo-chamber … there are indeed differences among us on the Right, but having to defend our general political posture is good for us in several ways.)
To answer your question: First, it’s not “the life-cycle of a leftist” I’m talking about. I wish it were a “cycle”, which implies a return, but its a one-way drift. Or so I fear.
A drift from what,by whom? First of all, I’m not talking about the Left as a whole, which spans an enormous range of political positions, from hardline Stalinists over to mild reformists --you might even include liberal Republicans in it. I’m talking about that political tendency which has dominated American intellectual life since the 1930s, which I’ll call “liberalism”.
I’ll direct you to someone you may not know about, you being an Aussie, Lionel Trilling, and in particular his book, The Liberal Imagination, written in 1950. A famous (to some of us) quote from it:
“In the United States at this time Liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition. For it is the plain fact that nowadays there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation. This does not mean, of course, that there is no impulse to conservatism or to reaction. Such impulses are certainly very strong, perhaps even stronger than most of us know. But the conservative impulse and the reactionary impulse do not, with some isolated and some ecclesiastical exceptions, express themselves in ideas but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas .”
Ouch! But it was true at the time.
That last italicized phrase is well-known among those who follow the history of political ideas in America, and was true then. Some five years later, a respectable conservative set of ideas, or ‘intellectual tradition’, began to emerge, expressed by people writing for the magazine founded at that time, National Review. [More about Trilling here:[ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lionel_Trilling ] It’s of interest to note that about half of the founding editorial board of National Review were ex-Marxists of one flavor or another.
Anyway, one of the things that absolutely distinguished American liberals was their committment to free speech. I am not really deeply familiar with what conservatives, or their predecessors, said about McCarthyism at the time, but I doubt very much that many of them strenuously opposed it. Their argument then would have been that the ‘witch hunt’ was directed against actual witches – namely, the CPUSA and its periphery of sympathyzers – and they would have been right. But the witch-hunt encompassed many others as well, and in any case, it was possible to combat the Soviet agents of the CPUSA without taking away the democratic rights of its membership.
Or without using violence – as was done at Peekskill [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peekskill_riots – warning: while the Wiki piece has the facts, it is written by a CP sympathyzer and distorts them to make it look as if opposition to the CP was based on racist/antiSemitic grounds, rather than on the fact that it was (rightly) perceived as a Fifth Column of Joseph Stalin. ], or the sort of disgusting tactic that was used in your own country against the editor of the Australian Communist newspaper, The Guardian, who was falsely, deliberately, accused of child molestation by a rightwing Catholic group. (I know about this, because I am friends with his daughter.)
Please note that I am speaking of liberals here, not of Democratic Party politicians who may call themselves such. These people – Democratic politicians – have been the authors of some of the worst illiberal anti-civil liberties actions and laws that the US has ever seen. Details supplied on request.
Now it is my argument that this committment by liberals to free speech for everyone, to civil liberties, is rapidly dying. Things that would have been considered totally unbelievable a few decades ago, are now routine: scholars being fired from their jobs – or attempts to do so – for their political views, conservative speakers on campus being physically attacked. I assume you are familiar with these events – if not I’ll provide some examples. These are not isolated cases, but represent a general trend.
In other words, liberals are no longer liberal. They are rapidly moving away from a position which was once a central core value of liberalism.
I’ll save for another time a defense of conservatism in general, except to note that the Iraq invasion, while of course reflexively supported by American conservatives, who, like conservatives everywhere, are significantly more nationalist than liberals and the Left (with the exception being in Third World countries, where nationalism has been taken up by the far Left), was also supported by people on the Left.
The argument of these people, was the same as the ‘intellectual’ argument for invading Iraq which was put forward in th US mainly by neo-conservatives, who had come over to conservatism from the liberal camp in the 1970s when they perceived official American liberalism being too ‘soft’ on Communism.
Their argument was the ‘drain-the-swamp’ argument, with which you are no doubt familiar. It’s a leftwing argument, actually, as it’s a “base determines superstructure” approach. (In the 1950s and 60s, a common liberal critique of American foreign policy was, “It’s not enough to fight Communism, we must change the conditions that make people embrace Communism.” )
Whereas most rightwingers wanted to respond to radical Islamism purely by ‘kinetic’ means, some people argued that since Muslim societies were stagnant, corrupt, backward – that of course young Muslims would turn to some radical alternative that proposed to transform their societies for the better.
After WWII this was Communism, or some simalcrum of it, like the Ba’athism. But that proved to be a busted flush. So the next generation turned to radical Islam, which in Iran and Afghanistan had shown itself capable of deep going transformations of society (albeit in an illiberal direction), and of standing up to and seeing off the two major super-powers.
The answer to this malign turn would be to provide a better alternative: to ‘drain the swamp’ by imposing a liberal democracy in Iraq, whose oil reserves, if not stolen by the elite, would fund a benevolent transformation of that country. (After all, we had done something similar in Germany and Japan, and had led South Korea from authoritarianism to liberal democracy. So it could be done. Or so we thought.)
Well, it was a theory. It was embraced by some unusual people, not just rightwingers.The well-known columnist Christopher Hitchens believed in it, and polemicized very effectively for it.
In your own country, a group of Maoists (or Maoists in origin) started a website called the “Last Superpower” which supported the invasion – they saw it as bringing modern capitalism and bourgeois democracy to Iraq, a necessary prerequisite to socialist revolution. (You would recognize their leader’s name, as he is the one who is referred to in the eponymous method of ‘Langer voting’.)
I should also note that many American conservatives now understand that the invasion of Iraq was a deadly mistake. Given the skewed class nature of American politics, with the middle- and upper classes tending towards liberalism and the bottom layers tending toward conservatism, it’s a fact that it tends to be the children of conservatives who actually have to carry out American foreign policy via military means, and who come home in coffins.
Some of the conservative base are beginning to generalize this to an understanding of the folly of our trying to dominate the world. Trump hinted at this understanding, or appeared to, which was one of the bases of his appeal. In office, he was not consistent in this understanding. Why is another discussion.
It was ironic to see the Left screaming about Russian influence and pretending to be patriotic (while at the same time honoring Ethyl Rosenberg, an American who was a Soviet atomic spy).
Finally, a question: you have provided some strong hints that you were involved in the struggle to free East Timor from Indonesian domination. If so, te salud. If you were there during the struggle for independence – ‘making coffee’, about which I will inquire no further – then you put your life on the line, literally.
My fellow ‘Republican Operatives’ should know we’ve got a courageous man here, who deserves our respect, despite his wrong-headedness politically – read about East Timor here: [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Timor ] The vile Indonesian military killed tens of thousands of people there, trying to turn this nation into a province of Indonesia.
In East Timor at that time, being a white man from a major country didn’t protect you from the murderers of the Indonesian military either: see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balibo_Five
Let’s hope if the time comes in our own country when we have to risk our lives for freedom, we can do as well.