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Historical Ignorance and Utopian Dreams

There is something almost charming about the left’s habit of using childish name-calling in the service of declaring their political opponents to be intellectually unserious. And so we should probably have expected nothing less (or nothing more) in Michael Lind’s Salon essay explaining why he has moved away from the American right. But conservatives shouldn’t be deterred by the headline, “Right-wing dreams of demented utopias,” because it isn’t at all clear that Lind knows what the word “utopia” means.

Lind, the author of a clumsy and error-riddled new book on American economic history, sets out to demonstrate that conservatives have inherited the left’s predilection for the pursuit of transformative utopian politics. But, as one might expect, Lind ends up making a powerful case against his own thesis.

The intellectual dishonesty comes early and often, beginning with this gem: “Before the cult of gun ownership became identified with the far right, there was a far left that idolized communist revolutionaries like Che and was fond of quoting the mass murderer Mao: ‘Power grows from the barrel of a gun.’”

You’ll notice that Lind makes two obvious mistakes here. First, he confines support for Second Amendment rights to the “far right,” but of course he could simply have a look at the polling data that shows this contention to be ridiculous. But more useful for conservatives is that Lind likens support for gun ownership to the support for “mass murderer Mao.” This is instructive: leftist radicals, even by Lind’s own recitation, support mass murder; conservative radicals support the right to own a firearm.

This sort of moral equivalence reasserts itself throughout the piece. Later, when explaining why modern liberals are more rational than conservatives, Lind writes:

Unlike utopian movements, campaigns against specific evils — the sale of assault weapons or the death penalty, for example — are attempts to eliminate specific, limited evils, not efforts to remake society as a whole according to this or that supernatural or secular scripture.

Note the equating of the sale of rifles with the death penalty and the categorization of “the sale” of guns—not the use of guns—as a “specific evil.” Additionally, what if those reformist bullet point campaigns that Lind loves so much are part of an attempt to overhaul or “transform” the country according to an ideology? For example, when Barack Obama said in 2007 that “We will stand up in this election to bring about the change that won’t just win an election, but will transform America,” was Lind not at all concerned that this wasn’t exactly the language of a man set out to achieve limited aims? When the following year he said his own nomination was “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal,” did Lind notice that the leader of his new party was a messianic demagogue? Too subtle, perhaps.

As for the three “utopias” Lind says conservatives have tried to establish in recent history, he doesn’t provide much detail of what those utopias were supposed to look like, so the reader may actually miss the fact that Lind is making it up as he goes along. Apparently unable to distinguish Plato from Augustine, Lind advances his belief that the religious right was a utopian project. The second utopian movement, according to Lind, was the neoconservative movement–which Lind says had nothing to do with transforming America anyway. And then there was the libertarian utopian project, which gave us the Tea Party. All three failed, says Lind.

The libertarian utopian movement, according to Lind, is led by people like Paul Ryan. You know, the guy who supported last night’s tax-hiking compromise, voted for TARP and the auto bailout, and supported the expansion of Medicare. What do you suppose will happen when Lind learns more about Paul Ryan than his name, and discovers Harry Reid’s pro-gun rights record? It’s almost as if the world is a more complex place than leftists are ready to accept. I, for one, dream of a political sphere in which leftists like Lind can progress beyond name-calling and bad history and simply partake in an honest debate. Call me a utopian.


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