“Suicide of the West”

In response to my post this morning about Muggeridge’s “The Great Liberal Death Wish,” Power Line reader David Gray writes in to remind me of a companion book to that theme, James Burnham’s classic book from the early 1960s, Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism.  After a busy day of back-to-back-to-back meetings, I rushed this evening to dust off my copy.

Although Suicide of the West might seem on the surface like a period piece of the Cold War, many passages read as fresh in the Age of Obama as they did in the Age of Arthur Schlesinger and JFK.  Like Muggeridge, Burnham was an ex-Communist, who thought that “liberalism is the ideology of American suicide.”  There are so many great passages that apply to the current scene; perhaps I’ll make a new series out of these as I did last fall with that other 1961 book, The Constitution of Liberty.  Here’s one that, with due regard for updating the names mentioned at the end, clearly fits the leading lights of liberals today:

Liberals, unless they are professional politicians seeking votes in the hinterland, are not subject to strong feelings of national patriotism and are likely to feel uneasy at patriotic ceremonies. These, like the organizations in whose conduct they are still manifest, are dismissed by liberals rather scornfully as ‘flag-waving’ and ‘100 percent Americanism.’ The national anthem is not customarily sung or the flag shown, unless prescribed by law, at meetings of liberal associations. When a liberal journalist uses the phrase ‘patriotic organization,’ the adjective is equivalent in meaning to ‘stupid, reactionary and rather ludicrous.’ The rise of liberalism to predominance in the controlling sectors of American opinion is in almost exact correlation with the decline in the ceremonial celebration of the Fourth of July, traditionally regarded as the nation’s major holiday. To the liberal mind, the patriotic oratory is not only banal but subversive of rational ideals; and judged by liberalism’s humanitarian morality, the enthusiasm and pleasures that simple souls might have got from the fireworks could not compensate the occasional damage to the eye or finger of an unwary youngster. The purer liberals of the Norman Cousins strain, in the tradition of Eleanor Roosevelt, are more likely to celebrate UN day than the Fourth of July.

Need I mention that Ronaldus Magnus saw fit to award Burnham the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983, in the same batch as the posthumous award to Whittaker Chambers.  That was a bitter day for the Left.

And not to worry: I’m not done with excerpts from Muggeridge yet either.  But I have to travel to Denver Thursday and Friday, so I may be a bit slow keeping up.

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