Authoritarian Liberalism
on the March
Scott McConnell
New York Press


In the 1960’s, grown-ups utilized a stock line against communism. It might be a nice idea in theory, budding young leftists were told, but in practice it doesn’t work. I doubt this argument ever dissuaded anyone from seizing a campus building or joining a leftist group. Particularly for the young, what is practical counts for little. And not only for the young. Despite communism’s myriad failures, thousands of Western students intellectuals held tightly onto the revolutionary socialist dream, until the Soviet Union actually collapsed.

Communism is dead, for now. But the embrace of unrealizable political dreams by the Western intellectuals is with us still. The new dreams are as noble and high minded sounding as the vision of a more equal and classless society. Multiethnic democracy, a society purged of racism—these are catchwords for today’s New Class. And just as sensitive, bookish men were once willing to serve the tyrannies of Bela Kun and Stalin, Castro and Mao, so today the best and the brightest are ready for strong measures to remake humanity, for the best of reasons of course.

Take the Kosovo war, the singular achievement of Clinton/Blair “Third Way” foreign policy. Pounded by bombs for months, Belgrade agreed to withdraw its troops from its southern province. Now, after three months of NATO/United Nations occupation, it is plain that ethnic cleansing in Kosovo has not been stopped, but accelerated.

The victims come from a different group—today they are not Albanian but Serbs, Orthodox Christians, a suspect tribe in the liberal West. Since Clinton’s “victory” nearly ninety percent of Kosovo’s Serbs have forced to flee their homes. That is to say, a greater proportion of Serbs have been ethnically cleansed under NATO’s eyes during conditions of ostensible peace than Albanians were forced out by Milosevic’s men during war.

The practical conclusion would seem not that the Serbs are good and Albanians evil, or vice versa. It is that these are peoples who are not—for a long time to come—fated to live harmoniously together. So logically the Serbs have proposed—as alternative to having all their people driven out of Kosovo, that defensible cantons be created for those remaining. In other words, partition. Or as the New York Times labels it, “segregation.” For reasons that could only be ideological, the Clintonites have opposed this—partition would acknowledge the failure of “multiethnic democracy” touted by Clinton as the key American war aim. Better, think the Clintonites, an unending flow of Serbian refugees than an admission that Washington has no way to compel the Balkan peoples to live together peacefully.

The ambitions of authoritarian liberalism stretch beyond the Balkans, and will eventually come home to roost. An early sighting was provided by Harvard psychologist Alvin Pouissant in a New York Times op ed piece. He urged that “extreme” racists be classified as mentally ill, and “treated.” Obviously there are laws on the books enough to deal with the violent criminals, racist or not—so it is probably not them who Pouissant has in mind for treatment.

But what about folks who, for instance, don’t believe in busing for school integration, or the use of coercive methods to make neighborhoods ethnically balanced, or racial quotas in universities or the workplace? Though such views are probably held by a majority of Americans, those who promote them actively are regularly derided as racists and bigots by the liberal intelligentsia. Or what about Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve, or that book’s admirers. What to do with them?

The psychologist Thomas Szasz once observed that in a society which believes that moral values don’t justify coercion but that health values do, those who want to coerce others will expand the category of health values to carry out their aims. He might have had schemes like Pouissant’s in mind. There is of course a precedent for them. From Lenin’s time onward, political opponents of the Soviet regime were sometimes relegated to mental hospitals. In the Brezhnev era, the practice of putting dissidents in special psychiatric wards was expanded, regularized. Some Soviet psychiatrists argued that dissent was a manifestation of schizophrenia, to be treated with punitive and brutal techniques.

Could Pouissant’s concept of compulsory psychiatric treatment of racists gain ground here? It seems far-fetched, in a nation with such deep rooted traditions of liberty. But twenty years ago, no one could have fathomed that an American president would bomb Yugoslavia for months in order to promote “multiethnic democracy” while America’s liberal political elite cheered him on. Belief systems which hold that it is not only possible but necessary to remake society top to bottom allow people to commit great crimes, all in good conscience.

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