Why do leftists oppose nationalism? It’s a question at the heart of the problem we’re attempting to grapple with in this series, which in turn grew out of an earlier case for a liberty-oriented nationalism, National Liberty.
A quick recap: last time, I noted that I had made a mistake by attempting to defend a vision of nationalism, rather than first placing the burden of proof on the multiculturalists, specifically those multiculturalists who defend a “post-national” or (in my formulation) “anti-hegemonist” vision of multiculturalism.
We also noted the connection between leftist multiculturalism and the claim of the Left to be the Party of Compassion. In other words, there is a vision on the Left (NAXALT disclaimers notwithstanding) of Omni-Compassionate Welfarist Multiculturalism, a vision in which the famous “liberal compassion” (much of which is bound up with support for a social-democratic welfare state) is wedded to a vision of multiculturalism.
Going forward, let us abridge the unwieldy Omni-Compassionate Welfarist Multiculturalism to Omni-Compassionism, denoting the leftist doctrinal position on compassion which forms the central basis of so much of their political and social thought.
This is the central problem at the heart of this series: how to make sense of this chimerical monster, this fantastical minotaur at the heart of the Labyrinth of left-wing emotion, rhetoric, and theorizing.
In the last article and elsewhere, I have previously noted that leftists only oppose nationalism when done by White people. They’re actually quite supportive of identitarian concerns for every other group, though they generally stop short of full nationalism—and this makes sense, given that they need White, particularly White male, tax dollars to fund their welfare state.
This is the connection between the two streams we’re actually trying to cross in this series: the Left, the Empathy Worm Party, relies on a doctrine of “compassion” to sell people on their ruinous ideas.
But what’s so great about liberal compassion?
Writing for the New York Post, Kyle Smith argues that “liberal compassion is an inane basis for political action:”
“Compassion creates a co-dependency between the empathizers and the empathizees: Liberalism is an ‘alliance of experts and victims,’ in the words of Harvard’s Harvey Mansfield.
“If the empathizees ever disappeared (by, say, having their miseries extinguished) then the empathizers would lose their purpose, the soothing soul balm of caring.
“That’s why, no matter how much money gets poured into poverty alleviation ($22 trillion, not including Social Security or Medicare, in the last 50 years), ‘You will never hear the words “Phew! We cured poverty’
“Indeed, official poverty measures simply leave out anti-poverty benefits. That’s like saying you’re carless if you were forced to accept a Chevy paid for by other taxpayers.
“So the poverty rate never really changes — it’s been around 14% or so for the last half-century — even as living standards for today’s poor surpass those of yesterday’s middle class.”
For some time, I found the idea of the Left as the Party of Compassion irritating and irksome, chiefly because so many leftists seem to be so self-righteous about it. Last time I linked this article from Justin Rosario, on The Daily Banter, titled: “Why Do Liberals Unfriend People Over Politics? Because Conservatives Are Soulless Monsters.” Here’s the blurb:
“You may not be a neo-Nazi, belong to the KKK, or join white power marches but if you still vote Republican, you've consciously chosen to stand with the absolute worst people in America. Why the f*** would any liberal want to associate with you?”
Honestly, if you’re not laughing at this over a glass of wine or other beverage of choice (as a neo-reactionary, I find wine suitably aristocratic), you’re missing out.
The entire leftist project is one of redistributionism in the name of “compassion.” I don’t dispute that many leftists are genuinely compassionate people who do want to do good works. Even if we set aside the case that conservatives and people of faith are actually more generous than liberals and non-believers (granted, not all of these categories are mutually exclusive), though, I simply don’t find “compassion” to be a substitute for reason.
The real rebuttal to leftist compassion is not to argue that the conservative Christians so many leftists claim to despise may actually have them beat (see links above) in the charitable giving department, a position that is not uncontested. A far more powerful line of critique is to observe that leftists often seem unconcerned with how their elaborate ideas of governmental redistributionism and societal re-engineering will play out in practice.
As author William Voegeli writes for Imprimis of Hillsdale College, in an article titled “The Case Against Liberal Compassion”:
“In fact, however, liberals do not seem all that concerned about whether the machine they’ve built, and want to keep expanding, is running well. For inflation-adjusted, per capita federal welfare state spending to increase by 254 percent from 1977 to 2013, without a correspondingly dramatic reduction in poverty [emph. added], and for liberals to react to this phenomenon by taking the position that our welfare state’s only real defect is that it is insufficiently generous, rather than insufficiently effective, suggests a basic problem. To take a recent, vivid example, the Obama Administration had three-and-a-half years from the signing of the Affordable Care Act to the launch of the healthcare.gov website. It’s hard to reconcile the latter debacle with the image of liberals lying awake at night tormented by the thought the government should be doing more to reduce suffering. A sympathetic columnist, E.J. Dionne, wrote of the website’s crash-and-burn debut, ‘There’s a lesson here that liberals apparently need to learn over and over: Good intentions without proper administration can undermine even the most noble of goals.’ That such an elementary lesson is one liberals need to learn over and over suggests a fundamental defect in liberalism, however—something worse than careless or inept implementation of liberal policies [emph. added].
“That defect, I came to think, can be explained as follows: The problem with liberalism may be that no one knows how to get the government to do the benevolent things liberals want it to do[emph. added]. Or it may be, at least in some cases, that it just isn’t possible for the government to bring about what liberals want it to accomplish.”
Let me be blunt: the problem with Omni-Compassionism is that it is not smart or rational. It is, in practice, often very stupid and very irrational.
It's not that I don’t think we need compassionate people in this society (leftists, consider this your olive branch for this article), but when compassion is touted as the reason for overlooking financial responsibility, there’s a problem. When it is touted as the reason for overlooking unintended, harmful consequences, the problem is rather more severe.
And the fact of the matter is that so many of the policies progressive leftists champion produce unintended consequences, and are often dismal failures.
Minimum wage laws, for example, kill jobs, leaving workers unemployed unemployed or with their hours cut, and encourage companies to replace replace them with robots. Rent control, to give another example, consistently leads to housing shortages and abandoned buildings .
I’ve addressed that sacred cow of leftist policy, “universal healthcare,” before:
“You know things are bad when even the BBC admits, despite some hedging, that the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is looking at (even) longer waiting times, and is racking up deficits despite a budget of over £130 billion. Even the New York Times is admitting things are getting substantially worse. Meanwhile, the U.S. beats the UK on five-year survival rates for cancers of the breast, prostate, lung, bowel, stomach, liver, and ovaries, not to mention leukemia and ischemic stroke.
“Canada? In 2016, median wait times for medically necessary treatments and procedures hit 20 weeks.
“Meanwhile, in Sweden, private health insurance is on the rise. It’s quicker—the Swedish public system has terribly long waiting times.”
Making government the monopoly provider of healthcare destroys the entire price-signal function: the market can no longer allow producers and consumers to negotiate prices, so a team of planners must do it more or less arbitrarily.more or less arbitrarily.
If you still think “universal healthcare” sounds like a good deal, staggering taxes and all, consider the system that it replaced:
“During the 19th and early 20th centuries, health care was offered in various ways, including through voluntary mutual-aid associations in Britain, Australia, and the United States. Roderick Long wrote about these fraternal societies, where members could subscribe to various services, including life insurance, disability insurance, and lodge practice…
“The average cost of lodge practice for each member was between one and two dollars (a day’s wage) annually, whereas non-members paid the same price for each visit to the doctor [emph. added]. Doctors competed for lodge contracts, which kept costs low. The Canadian experience with lodge practice was similar, and, as in America and Britain, this infuriated the medical establishment.”
It’s all very well and good to say: “I want to help people.” It’s another thing entirely to say: “I’m conscripting you and the rest of society to my vision of how to best help people.” If your actions then say: “I’m completely indifferent to the consequences of the policies I prescribed in the name of compassion,” we have a real problem.
This is the problem we addressed last time: Omni-Compassionism is based on reality-denial. It is a skilled evasion of reality that allows people to feel good about themselves, at the cost of inflicting very real—indeed, as we are learning here, sometimes catastrophic—damage on other people and their societies.
Which is better, the capitalist café or restaurant in Seattle that is willing to employ you for $10.00 an hour and not a penny more, or the leftist government that requires them to pay you $15.00 an hour (50% more, if you’re keeping track), costing you the job as a result? How smart and rational is Omni-Compassionism in this situation?
Which is better, affordable direct primary care run on a no-insurance capitalistic model, or a massively expensive model of government-provided healthcare? Again, understand that Option B is the Omni-Compassionate answer.
Which is better, a markets and enterprise system of producers and consumers that responds to incentives, or a set of idealistic and well-intentioned government policies that consistently produces dreadful and sometimes calamitous consequences? The ‘Omni-Compassionists’ of the Left have certainly made their feelings clear.
Relieving people of the responsibility to be adults and actually take care of themselves, as the Left’s holy welfare state does, produces dreadful personal and social consequences for those people, for the communities they live in, and for the society that hosts their social parasitism.
As Don Feder, writing for the Heritage Foundation, wrote all the way back in 1997:
“In the name of compassion, we've created a welfare state undreamed of in the annals of bureaucratic history. For pity's sake, we've spent over $5 trillion fighting poverty over the past 32 years. All of that compassion has bought us multi-generational welfare families, 80 percent illegitimacy in some inner cities, boys raised in homes without fathers, and rampant crime and addiction.”
Writing in response to the rioting and looting that erupted in many mostly-Black inner-city communities in response to the entirely justified shooting of Michael Brown, Thomas Sowell dismissed the notion that a “legacy of slavery” has anything to do with the social problems that plague these communities:
“We are told that such riots are a result of black poverty and white racism. But in fact — for those who still have some respect for facts — black poverty was far worse, and white racism was far worse, prior to 1960. But violent crime within black ghettos was far less.
“You cannot take any people, of any color, and exempt them from the requirements of civilization — including work, behavioral standards, personal responsibility, and all the other basic things that the clever intelligentsia disdain — without ruinous consequences to them and to society at large.
“Non-judgmental subsidies of counterproductive lifestyles are treating people as if they were livestock, to be fed and tended by others in a welfare state — and yet expecting them to develop as human beings have developed when facing the challenges of life themselves.”
Thomas Sowell also takes up these points elsewhere.
In A Conflict of Visions, Sowell explains the basic conflict here in terms of two contrasting viewstwo contrasting views of human nature, the constrained or tragic view and the unconstrained or utopian vision.
The constrained vision of human nature sees human beings as inherently flawed, limited, and selfish. In order to get humankind to cooperate together in societies, it is necessary to have institutions and practices that govern people, establishing norms or rules for cooperation and crucially, incentives for cooperation and, where appropriate, penalties for unacceptably pathological and antisocial behavior.
The unconstrained vision (same source), on the other hand, sees human nature as more malleable and especially improvable. From this perspective, it is possible to improve human beings, to make them less selfish, to create policies that can transcend tradeoffs.
The conflict, then, is not between compassion and heartlessness, it is between unthinking compassion on the one hand, and reason and moral responsibility on the other. I put it in those terms because the constrained vision does more than apply reason, it also uses reason in service to a moral vision of personal responsibility.
While there is a valid place for charity, and different individuals and organizations can decide what that place is and where it begins and ends, it is not “compassionate” to excuse people from the responsibility of taking care of themselves: it is pathological, and the indolence and idleness it incentivizes begets more pathology.
Ask yourself this, is it compassionate or loving to buy alcohol for the alcoholic, heroin for the heroin addict, or donuts for the morbidly obese? Or is it perhaps pathological, a way of enabling harmful and self-destructive behavior?
If you think this analogy to addiction is unfair, consider the practical consequences of relieving adult human beings from the responsibility of being adults: they become removed from the pool of people who are expected to support themselves, and as such become a kind of social and political livestock or even pets. The behavioral and social consequences of this are ruinous.
For retired prison doctor and psychiatrist (and brilliant social critic) Theodore Dalrymple, the pernicious effects of the expansive British welfare state are apparent in the share of the population that has become unfit for any kind of productive activity:
“[…] Britain has enormous cultural problems, perhaps only to be expected in a country in which more than fifty per cent of children are born out of wedlock and twenty per cent do not eat a meal with another member of their household more than once every two weeks. A dangerously high and perhaps unsustainable proportion of the population is unfitted for productive life in a modern economy, having attained an abysmally low educational level despite (or because of?) considerable state expenditure. This section of the population is not merely indifferent to refinement of any kind – intellectual, aesthetic or of manners – but actively hostile to it. Similarly, it is not merely not anxious to learn, it is anxious not to learn.”
Commenting on Dalrymple in The American Conservative, Tom Dreher sees many parallels with the United States:
“A white friend of mine taught in a predominantly black school in a rural Louisiana parish. After several years, she despaired of it, and transferred to a more mixed-race, middle-class school. She told me that nothing she did could break the shackles of poverty culture on the minds of the kids there. These children were not born stupid, but they were deformed by a local culture that disdained education and hard work. Most of the girls — these were ninth graders — aspired to nothing more than having a baby by a boy. Most of the boys aspired to nothing at all.
“It’s not just a race thing. I have a white working class friend from that same parish. She’s pretty much the only functional member of her sprawling family. The stories she tells about the laziness, the substance abuse, and the jaw-dropping instability of her clan beggar belief.”
Omni-Compassionism produces votes for politicians, good feelings for the well-intentioned but naïve left-wing voters who vote for more welfare state, and handouts for freeloaders. All of these things incur costs in the form of lost productivity and lost human potential. The welfare state extracts resources from the productive and uses them to subsidize laziness and indolence in a significant share of the population. As we have seen, the personal and social consequences of these policies are ruinous, and they also seem to be dysgenic.
The boundaries of Omni-Compassionism are as revealing as the nature of the beast itself. Leftists are of course highly selective: they’re happy to ‘compassionately’ vote for other people’s money to be spent on the welfare state, but as we’ve seen, they’re often not so compassionate to their political foes.
An excellent example of this comes from a recent episode of The Public Space, in which co-hosts Jean-Francois “JF” Gariépy and Lauren Rose interviewed journalist Faith Goldy on the subject of the recent attack she suffered at the hands of Antifa.
Canada has been suffering a massive influx of migrants since Justin Trudeau’s ill-conceived invitation, many of them coming from or through the U.S. Once in Canada, they are eligible for welfare benefits, including access to Canada’s universal healthcare system.
Goldy, of course, is a nationalist, while the Antifa thugs were demonstrating in favor of open borders—one even told Goldy they did not recognize such a thing as a “Canadian people.” She describes being literally spat upon and physically assaulted by people who no doubt saw themselves as embodying “compassion” for the migrants who have been beating a path to Canada’s doorstep in order to take advantage of the lavish welfare state of that country.
This is the ultimate dramatization of the conflict between the constrained, tragic vision of human nature and the unconstrained, utopian vision, one which reveals the utter hypocrisy of the latter. In the end, those who seek to build an Omni-Compassionate Utopia are not only indifferent to the consequences of their ideology, but also eager to attack anyone who dares to resist them.
The dirty secret of the left is that Omni-Compassionism, all the Universalism of the progressive ideology, turns to anger, moral outrage, and character assassination the moment someone dares to dissent. From the de-platforming of speakers to the demonization of anyone wearing a MAGA hat to calls to deport White people, the Religion of Compassion is outright hateful to those it deems to be heretics, apostates, and unbelievers.
This, then, is liberal compassion unmasked: selectively indulgent compassion, in blind ignorance of the pathological consequences, and demonization of anyone who dares to point them out.
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