Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Containment Policy and the Radical Left

Kissinger in his chapter entitled, “The Success and the Pain of Containment” discusses several assessments of it. Churchill didn’t like it and thought we should issue an ultimatum while we still had the atomic upper hand. Walter Lipmann (a “realist”) thought it wouldn’t work because the world’s nations were too muddled and untrustworthy. John Foster Dulles (a Conservative) thought the containment policy too passive. Henry Wallace (a radical Leftist) thought the containment policy too aggressive.

On page 468 of Diplomacy, Kissinger writes, “A product of America’s populist tradition, Wallace had an abiding Yankee distrust of Great Britain. Like most American liberals since Jefferson, he insisted that ‘the same moral principles which governed in private life also should govern in international affairs.’ In Wallace’s view, America had lost its moral compass and was practicing a foreign policy of ‘Machiavellian principles of deceit, force and distrust,’ . . . Since prejudice, hatred, and fear were the root causes of international conflict, the United States had no moral right to intervene abroad until it had banished these scourges from its own society.

“The new radicalism reaffirmed the historic vision of America as a beacon of liberty, but, in the process, turned it against itself. Postulating the moral equivalence of American and Soviet actions became a characteristic of the radical critique throughout the Cold war. The very idea of America’s having international responsibilities was, in Wallace’s eyes, an example of the arrogance of power. The British, he argued, were duping the gullible Americans into doing their bidding: ‘British policy clearly is to provoke distrust between the United States and Russia and thus prepare the groundwork for World war III.’

“To Wallace, Truman’s presentation of the conflict as between democracy and dictatorship was pure fiction. In 1945, a time when Soviet postwar repression was becoming increasingly obvious and the brutality of collectivization was widely recognized, Wallace declared that ‘the Russians today have more of the political freedoms than they ever had.’ He also discovered ‘increasingly the signs of religious toleration’ in the U.S.S.R. and claimed that there was a ‘basic lack of conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union.’”

p. 469: “In a curious reversal of roles, the self-proclaimed defender of morality in foreign policy [Wallace] accepted a Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe on practical grounds, while the Administration he was attacking for cynical power politics rejected the Soviet sphere on moral grounds.”

“Wallace’s challenge collapsed after the communist coup in Czechoslovakia, the Berlin blockade, and the invasion of South Korea. . . .”


Though Wallace’s challenge may have collapsed back in the late 40s and early 50s, his arguments have been perpetuated virtually unchanged by Leftists who haven’t improved upon them. Each new radical left generation invents Wallace’s ideas anew. Reading certain of Wallace’s comments is like reading Chomsky, and yet their ideas are logically flawed, or perhaps it would be better to say logically awkward and inadequate.

Kissinger is very gentle with Wallace by saying he came out of the Populist tradition. I see him as having been influenced by Marxist-Leninist ideology. There is something terribly inconsistent, to a Conservative American, about someone who criticized America morally in 1950, but praised the Soviet Union morally. In order to make logical sense of Wallace’s position one needs to get past or overlook what Stalin was actually doing and look ahead to what he hoped to eventually achieve.

How long could the radical left hang on to a belief in the altruistic goals of Stalinist Russia? The history of the radical left in France is extremely interesting. I have been reading through a series entitled “New French Thought,” published by Princeton. The French embraced Communism after World War II. To be “Right Wing” in France back then meant that you were a Vichy or a Fascist. So most people, or at least most intellectuals, were Left Wing and had a great fondness for Communist Russia. They embraced the altruistic ideal of Communism even if they didn’t embrace all the practical steps that were taken in a Communist nation. But as time went on, the French radicals fell away from Communism for the same sorts of reasons Wallace was discredited in America. The severity, brutality and violence in Stalinist Russia seemed unconscionable to more and more Leftists and many of them, while not willing to call themselves Conservatives, began looking for alternatives.

I mentioned an inadequacy in the reasoning of the Radical Left. Assuming that they embraced the altruistic ideal of Marxist-Leninism, they would be consistent in contrasting the “ideal” of Liberal Democracy with the “ideal” of Communism, but they didn’t. They gave Stalinist Russia a pass on its ongoing brutality and violence because of that altruistic ideal. Whereas they were not willing to give Liberal Democracy a pass on the inequities and injustices found in Western societies. If we compare the inequities in the societies of the West and the USSR during any point in the Cold War the brutality and violence is far worse in the USSR; so the Radical Left could not argue, validly, a precise “moral equivalence.” But they could argue something like this: Yes, things may be temporarily worse in the USSR than they are in the US, but the USSR is progressing toward an altruistic goal; whereas the US is not progressing toward anything. It has already achieved its ultimate condition. There is nothing beyond what it presently is; therefore, one must support and approve of the “progress” in the Soviet Union rather than the current conditions.

If we take the trouble to convert the Radical Left’s positions into coherent arguments then it is possible to deal with their issues. Consider the matter of Communists’ “altruistic goals.” In the writings of Lenin, Capitalism is implacably opposed to the proletariat such that the only recourse the latter has is revolution. But that didn’t turn out to be true. In Western societies we have evidence to the contrary. All the mysterious steps toward their altruistic ideal (that the Radical Left could not define) have been taken (at least all that have been identified) through the processes available in Liberal Democracies. The proletariat in Liberal Democracies have voted themselves all the practical benefits Marx and Lenin argued could only be acquired through revolution. And if there are some further practical benefits that would enable it to more closely approach an altruistic ideal, it can vote itself that benefit as well.

So, I ask the present day Radical Left, what are the altruistic goals you think can only be achieved through Revolution?

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