Wisdom from Weaver: Is Leftism a Personality Disorder?

One of the great things about being a conservative is that there is usually an old text that explains the present moment better than it did the time in which is was first written. One of my favorite short axioms is Michael Oakeshott: “The conjunction of dreaming and ruling generates tyranny.”

Lately I’ve been reading through some old essays of Richard Weaver, author of the classic Ideas Have Consequences. (I did a series on that book several years ago, which you can find here, here, and here.) A 1960 essay of his, “Conservatism and Libertarianism: The Common Ground” (not available online unfortunately), contains this gem about leftists that sounds very familiar just now:

As a general rule, I am opposed to psychoanalyzing the opposition, knowing that this is a game both sides can play. But here we have a case so palpable that one is tempted to make an exception. So many of these radicals seem to be persons of disordered personality. There is something suspicious about this impassioned altruism. They often seem to be struggling to cover up some deep inner lack by trying to reform the habits or institutions of people thousands of miles away. Something like this becomes thus an obsession, almost to the point—or maybe to the point of irrationality. Not that I regard all desire to reform the world as a sign of being crazy. Even more than that I would go along with Plato and say that some forms of craziness may be divinely inspired. But here we come to an essential distinction, and a parting of the ways. There is a difference between trying to reform your fellow beings by the normal processes of logical demonstration, appeal, and moral suasion—there is a difference between that and passing over to the use of force or constraint. The former is something all of us engage in every day. The latter is what makes the modern radical dangerous and perhaps in a sense demented. His first thought is how to get control of the state to make all men equal or all men rich, or failing that to make all men equally unhappy. The use of political instrumentality to coerce people to conform with his dream, in the face of their belief in a real order, is our reason, I think, for objecting to the radical. 

Responses