ON THE SEMINAL 1964 record album, Peter, Paul & Mary in Concert, Peter Yarrow, speaking interstitially, introduces for an embedded solo turn, “My friend, my compatriot, Paul Stookey.” (To thunderous applause.)
Yarrow has never made any secret of his leftward leaninings. He has appeared in support and solidarity with some of the last Century’s great monsters, including the Sandinistas of Nicaragua and their El Salvadorian counterparts. His band’s first major single was “If I Had a Hammer,” written by noted communist sympathizer, Pete Seeger.
But, at the start of the seminal decade of the 1960s, Yarrow and his ilk were truly (or, at least with convincing sincerity) embedded in the struggle on the side of right and freedom. It was only later that they became enmeshed in the lie that collectivism is or can be in any way allied with freedom. (And you have to wonder how delusional somebody has to be to miss that.)
At about the same time as that concert album was being recorded, I was coming to my first political awakenings, as embodied in the phrase, “Live and let live.” If all of the implications of that aren’t by now old friends to you, you should probably devote a few weeks’ thought to the notion.
We were, or might have been, compatriots.
The so-called progressives and liberals in the country were, at that time, engaged in the “civil rights” struggle. There were myriad forces arrayed from as many standpoints on the issue. But the principle at stake was — or should have been — that the power of the state must not be used to deny liberty to any citizens of that state. That the struggle devolved into a mad dash for spoils was entirely predictable — and was, in fact, predicted at the time — due in no small part to the fact that the movement seeking equal treatment for blacks was subverted by those famous “outside agitators” who sought to use it to their own nefarious ends — i.e., bringing about the dissolution and destruction of the West. If a noble cause, such as liberty and equality, it was reasoned, could be turned from that pure goal into a grab for ill-gotten gains as a part of a systematic exploitation of real and imagined grievances, the resulting turmoil could only redound to the benefit of nation’s enemies.
Not too very long ago, a friend with leftward sympathies was inveighing against some perceived outrage from the Right, and bemoaning the putative loss of ground since the ’60s. She ranted, “Don’t those people remember what we fought for back then?”
It didn’t occur to me in that moment, but it has many times since that “we” were perhaps fighting for different things.
I, for one, was fighting against the overweening abuse of state power, in clear violation of the Constitution, by that amorphous “them” in Washington, DC.
And part of what the so-called “civil rights” strugle did was conflate the public and private. Where I agree it is invidious for the state to engage in discrimination on any basis, it is an improper use of government power to impose sanctions on the thoughts of the private citizen, no matter how odious men of goodwill may find them. And the “public accomodation” arrangements made in the lunch-counter debate crossed that line. Whereas a city-owned bus line could not — must not be allowed to — make black citizens sit in a segregated part of a vehicle; and whereas public parks and tax-supported facilities must not be permitted to be segregated on any basis (including making special provision for the religious practices and sensibilities of narrow groups), it is despicable and (yes) invidious for the state to say to the wholly private owner of a business of any nature that “You must do business with such-and-so, and you must satisfy his every whim and demand, no matter how odious to you!” (On pain of being denied “permission” to engage in business.) On the one hand, there is a clear affront to liberty, on the other there is a denial of enumerated constitutional rights of free association — not to mention that selfsame liberty and private property rights.
The property rights baby was thrown out with the poor customer service bathwater.
I’m reminded of the incident in the ’90s in which several black members of President Clinton’s Secret Service detail were allegedly shown poor service at Denny’s. The blacks alleged racial discrimination. Most of the rest of us called BS. “There’s no discrimination there; EVERYBODY gets bad service at Denny’s.” It was equal treatment in all its glorious action. I think the lunch counter argument was more of the same, albeit on steroids. The owners of the dime stores in question were engaged in egregiously bad customer service. And, on a level playing field, a less bigoted player would come along and — pardon the metaphor — eat their lunch by offering good — even obsequious — service to previously put-upon blacks.
Of course, the problem was that there were corrupt government forces in play — making it harder for new entrants in a field, erecting barriers in front of anyone who would want to start an integrated public accomodation, directing police to look the other way in cases of violence directed by the bigoted against such enterprises — or, indeed, against those who would even propose them. And, once that corruption in the state was removed, matters changed. And with startling alacrity.
And that’s where I and the militant Left parted company. I was after individual liberty. They wanted to use the power of the state to enforce their preference as to how to distribute the spoils. And this from the crowd that is so proud of having professionalized the bureaucracy and gotten rid of the spoils system in government hiring.
Corrupt “old” men, such as the Dulles brothers and Robert McNamara, and Lyndon Johnson, and myriad others — mainly (it should be noted) Democrats (perhaps less because Democrats tend to be evil old bastards, though they do, than that they were in the majority in Congress at the time) — were sending young American men off to die in a land war in Asia. And they were micro-managing the war from Washington. And, in fact, we had no idea until much later just how corrupt the management of the war was, and how poorly-justified it was. (Sometimes I think that our only function in that war was to act as a punching bag for the aggrandizement of Ho and Giap and the rest of that lot in Hanoi.)
But then, resistance to the war became support for the enemy, and all of a sudden, some of “us” were on the wrong side of history.
I also think there are prices too high to pay to save the United States. Conscription is one of them. Conscription is slavery, and I don’t think that any people or nation has a right to save itself at the price of slavery for anyone, no matter what name it is called. We have had the draft for twenty years now; I think this is shameful. If a country can’t save itself through the volunteer service of its own free people, then I say : Let the damned thing go down the drain!
–Robert Heinlein, Guest of Honor Speech at the 29th World Science Fiction Convention, Seattle, Washington (1961)
That quote bothered me a lot in the ’60s. It still does. But now, I realize the reason it angers me is that I understand the home truth in it, and it frightens me. If my native land is headed down the drain, and I can’t see what I can do about it, what’s to become of me?
On that basis, I thought resistance to the draft was entirely apropos. This is a land of freedom, not of slavery. We should live by our ideals, and the men and women who defend our freedom should not be press-ganged into it.
Still… Look at who it was who proposed the draft, and who defended it — and who proposes and defends it today: Democrats. Who ended the draft (as, indeed, who ended slavery)? Republicans. Yet, where do the leftists place their trust and support? Who’s in the right, here?
And who’s on the right and wrong side of history?
But then, resistence to the draft (and the war) became support for the enemy, and that was that for that, then.
Now, we’re ramping up to a Presidential election campaign. And I keep seeing and hearing of the tactics of the “outside agitators,” the “community organizers” being used to shout down and silence those who oppose the racial spoils system, the corrupt power-mongering,the support for, appeasement of, and kowtowing to America’s enemies, the cutting dead of America’s friends and allies, the vote-buying against fiduciary responsibility and with stolen money, the union thuggery, and the crony capitalism. And they call themselves progressives.
I propose to you that they are far from progressives. Instead, might I suggest they are CONgressives — from a joke on the Left, if con is the opposite of pro, then Congress must be… Progress must surely be defined as being away from benighted privation and toward enlightenment, liberty, and individual rights; away from collectivism and toward the apotheosis of humanity, the unrestrained vision of the human mind. That being so, then nothing the soi-disant Progressives propose or struggle in support of in any way represents Progress. And, if history has a right side and a wrong side, then the right side must be that which favors the march of progress toward the liberation of the human individual, and the wrong side is… the Left.
Also posted at Eternity Road.