I’ve noticed lately that radical progressives get particularly pissed when you call them out as nihilist. I discussed this recently in a lengthy essay, “Anti-Intellectualism and the Marxist Idea.” At issue there were some of the objections of BJ Keefe from September, and he reissued them just last week, and I responded again, “Navigating Past Nihilism.” While BJ claimed I had “twisted the meaning of nihilism, he never did actually offer his own definition. The issue has popped up again, as Amanda Marcotte has gotten peeved at my descriptions of leftists as nihilist, and she’s spouted off her frustration on Twitter and in at least two posts at Pandagon. She has, for example, attempted to smear me as “moron” who “pretends” to know what nihilism means. It’s fair to say that nihilism is deployed with a range of meaning, although it’s not fair for leftists to attack me for ignorance while simultaneously refusing to provide a counter exegesis. As noted, my traditional usage focuses on leftist abandonment of historical norms of morality, along with the concomitant campaign of destruction on Judea-Christian ethics.
In recent posts I’ve focuses more narrowly on Friedrich Nietzsche‘s thesis of the social obliteration of God. And unbeknownst to poor Amanda, I’ve provided a dictionary definition at “Navigating Past Nihilism,” and the link there goes to Professor Sean Kelly’s recent piece at New York Times. So basically, leftist lamebrains cited here and elsewhere can just STFU.
In any case, I’m reminded of David Horowitz’s The Politics of Bad Faith: The Radical Assault on America’s Future. He writes, at pages 28-29, on a June 1990 forum held by the Organization of American Historians. The prominent author Christopher Lasch announced that the West had “won the Cold War,” upon which he was immediately denounced — with “outrage and scorn” — by the radical historians in attendance. Horowitz indicates how the episode reveals the left’s epistemic closure on the failures of revolutionary socialism:
The refusal to confront the past meant that leftists could resume their attacks on the West without examining the movements and regimes they had supported, and thus without proposing any practical alternative to the societies they continued to reject. The intellectual foundations of this destructive attitude had already been created, in the preceding decades, in a development that Allen Bloom described as the “Nietzcheanization of the Left” — the transformation of the progressive faith into a nihilistic creed.
Nihilistic humors have always been present in the radical character. The revolutionary will, by its very nature, involves a passion for destruction alongside its hope of redemption. While the hope is vaguely imagined, however, the agenda of destruction is elaborate and concrete. It was Marx who originally defended this vagueness, claiming that any “blueprint” of the socialist future would be merely “utopian” and therefore should be avoided. The attitutude of the post-Marxist left is no different. Since the fall of Communism, radical intellectuals have continued their destructive attacks on capitalism, as though the catastrophes they had recently promoted posed no insurmountable problem to such an agenda. “I continue to believe,” wrote a radical academic after the Soviet collapse, “that what you call ‘the socialist fantasy’ can usefully inform a critque of post-modern capitalism without encouraging its fantasists and dreamers to suppose that a brave new order is imminent or even feasible.”
But how could a responsible intellect ignore the destructive implications of such an attitude? The socialist critique is, after all, total. It is aimed at the roots of the existing order. To maintain agnosticism about the futures that might replace the reality you intend to destroy may be intellectually convenient, but it is also morally corrupt ….
To raise the socialist ideal as a critical standard imposes a burden of responsiblity on its advocates that critical theorists refuse to shoulder. If one sets out to destroy a lifeboat because it fails to meet the standards of a luxury yacht, the act of criticism may be perfectly “just,” but the passengers will drown all the same. Similarly, if socialist principles can only be realized in a socialist gulag, even the presumed inequalities of the capitalist market are worth the price. If socialist poverty and socialist police states are the practical alternative to capitalist inequality, what justice can there be in destroying capitalist freedoms and the benefits they provide? Without a practical alternative to offer, radical idealism is radical nihilism — a war of destuction with no objective other than war itself.
And from page 57:
Totalitarianism is the possession of reality by a political Idea — the Idea of socialist kingdom of heaven on earth; the redemption of humanity by political force. To radical believers this Idea is so beautiful it is like God Himself. It provides the meaning of a radical life. This is the solution that makes everything possible; the noble end that justifies the regrettable means. Belief in the kingdom of socialist heaven is faith that can transform vice into virtue, lies into truth, evil into good. In this revolutionary religion, the Way, the Truth, and the Life of salvation lie not with God above, but with men below — ruthless, brutal, venal men — on whom faith confers the power of gods. There is no mystery in the transformation of the socialist paradise into Communist hell: liberation theology is a satanic creed.
Amanda Marcotte has offered no definition nor defense of nihilism. She has however attacked those of faith as insane, citing atheist phenomenon Richard Dawkins as her source of authority: The God Delusion. It’s easy to understand why, for by rejecting the eternal gooness of God, she can justify the destructive radical progressivism that drives her ideological program. That program is nihilist. It is, following Nietzsche, the utter abandonment of the social commitment to morality and right. She, like her fellow radicals, rejects morality in favor of hedonism and license, and hence rejects any larger meaning within a body of faith that is God.
Cross-posted from American Power.