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Left’s history of right-bashing

Published: Wed, January 22, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

One of the things that attracted me to the political left, as a young man, was a belief that leftists were for “the people.” Fortunately, I was also very interested in the history of ideas — and years of research in that field repeatedly brought out the inescapable fact that many leading thinkers on the left had only contempt for “the people.”

That has been true from the 18th century to the present moment. Even more surprising, I discovered over the years that leading thinkers on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum had more respect for ordinary people than people on the left who spoke in their name.

Leftists like Rousseau, Condorcet or William Godwin in the 18th century, Karl Marx in the 19th century or Fabian socialists like George Bernard Shaw in England and American Progressives in the 20th century saw the people in a role much like that of sheep, and saw themselves as their shepherds.


Another disturbing pattern turned up that is also with us to the present moment. From the 18th century to today, many leading thinkers on the left have regarded those who disagree with them as being not merely factually wrong but morally repugnant. And again, this pattern is far less often found among those on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum.

The visceral hostility toward Sarah Palin by present-day liberals, and the gutter level to which some descend in expressing it, is just one sign of a mindset on the left that goes back more than two centuries.

T.R. Malthus was the target of such hostility in the 18th and early 19th centuries. When replying to his critics, Malthus said, “I cannot doubt the talents of such men as Godwin and Condorcet. I am unwilling to doubt their candor.”

But William Godwin’s vision of Malthus was very different. He called Malthus “malignant,” questioned “the humanity of the man,” and said “I profess myself at a loss to conceive of what earth the man was made.”

This asymmetry in responses to people with different opinions has been too persistent, for too many years, to be just a matter of individual personality differences.

Although Charles Murray has been a major critic of the welfare state and of the assumptions behind it, he recalled that before writing his landmark book, “Losing Ground,” he had been “working for years with people who ran social programs at street level, and knew the overwhelming majority of them to be good people trying hard to help.”

Can you think of anyone on the left who has described Charles Murray as “a good person trying hard to help”? He has been repeatedly denounced as virtually the devil incarnate — far more often than anyone has tried seriously to refute his facts.

Such treatment is not reserved solely for Murray. Liberal writer Andrew Hacker spoke more sweepingly when he said, “conservatives don’t really care whether black Americans are happy or unhappy.”


Even amid an election campaign against the British Labour Party, when Winston Churchill said that there would be dire consequences if his opponents won, he said that this was because ”they do not see where their theories are leading them.”

But, in an earlier campaign, Churchill’s opponent said that he looked upon Churchill “as such a personal force for evil that I would take up the fight against him with a whole heart.”

Examples of this asymmetry between those on opposite sides of the ideological divide could be multiplied almost without limit. It is not solely a matter of individual personality differences.

The vision of the left is not just a vision of the world. For many, it is also a vision of themselves — a very flattering vision of people trying to save the planet, rescue the exploited, create “social justice” and otherwise be on the side of the angels. This is an exalting vision that few are ready to give up, or to risk on a roll of the dice, which is what submitting it to the test of factual evidence amounts to. Maybe that is why there are so many fact-free arguments on the left, whether on gun control, minimum wages, or innumerable other issues — and why they react so viscerally to those who challenge their vision.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.


1GoPens(397 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

And you don't?

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2GoPens(397 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

Problem is, this guy doesn't have an original thought, only the talking points of the day he gets emailed to him from Faux News every morning.

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3GoPens(397 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

Problem is, this guy doesn't have an original thought, only the talking points of the day he gets emailed to him from Faux News every morning.

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4lajoci(670 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

Thomas Sowell fails to understand that every progressive advancement made on behalf of the common people in the last 300 years originated in the political, economic, and sociological philosophies of what he calls "the left."

I challenge anyone who calls himself (or herself) a "conservative" to name 1 single policy idea generated by right-wing thinkers, think-tanks, political philosophers, politicians, whatever, in the last 300 years -- just 1 -- that has benefitted the common man.


That's all. There must be one. Somewhere.

There is an entire laundry list on the "Left."

Ain't one single one on the right. (Unless they co-opt something the "left" thought up and try to claim it as there's, you know, the way the Russians used to appropriate every scientific/techno advance as their own.)

You righties out there get on that, and when you come up empty, maybe you'll be on your way to understanding why nobody gives the "right" credit for doing any good in the world.

Because they don't do anything except fight to preserve the status quo, no matter how regressive, no matter how evil, and to roll back progressive gains wherever they can.

That's their lot in life -- to resist progress, and to be dragged, kicking and screaming into improvements.

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5lajoci(670 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

So your answer to systemic poverty is "get a job?"

Is that your remedy for children living in poverty?

Seniors in poverty? The disabled? Those living under bridges?

Just get a job? Is that it? Go find a job?

Just what are these "massive give-aways" you're writing about? I cannot refer to AFDC payments, which were replaced by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. So what is it?

Do you consider social security a "massive give-away?"

How about public education? That a "massive give-away" too? Medicare?

Just who are these people who make more on the dole than they would by working? Where are they? Do you know any, personally?

That someone works two minimum wage jobs and still qualifies for food stamps and Medicaid doesn't seem unfair to you?

Do you believe that CEO's of companies that LOSE money should be given 7-figure bonuses on top of salaries hundreds of times those of ordinary workers?

Do you believe that heads of companies that LOSE money should be given golden-parachute severance/retirement packages?

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6lajoci(670 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

Since you are finally in the mood to answer questions, I challenge you, who calls himself (or herself) a "conservative," to name 1 single policy idea generated by right-wing thinkers, think-tanks, political philosophers, politicians, whatever, in the last 300 years -- just 1 -- that has benefitted the common man.

There must have been one! Surely!

So-called "liberals" can point to dozens of progressive advancements over the last 300 years that have shaken up the status quo and resulted in a better quality of life for ordinary folks.

The existence of the United States of America is, in itself, a "liberal" idea, roundly criticized by the "conservatives" of the day -- the Tories and Loyalists who argued for the maintenance of the status quo.

America is a "liberal' idea, a "progressive" idea.

The cold hard fact is that if "conservatives" had their way, there would be no America.

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7borylie(946 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

I ask of you liberal/democrats, at what point do you feel threatened by our government? If the government someday controlled our lives, where do feel you'd be in the pecking order? No smoke and mirrors, no red herrings, just answer the questions.

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8dontbeafool(2058 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

@lajoci. Good points and a good challenge that has so far gone without any answers. Ask eivo how many of those people cheating the gov that he knows, has he turned in to save the taxpayers money! ZERO. He refuses to do so. And he only attacks in retaliation? That is a joke!

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9dontbeafool(2058 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

The Repubs did something for the people in 1965. Great job.

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10borylie(946 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

Abe,Let me rephrase my question since you took a simple question and turned it into a rant. In our personal day to day lives where government has control of how we live, how much of your life do you want government to control? If you believe like many liberals/democrats that big government is good, then where do feel you would be in a structured society? One of the elite? One of the government's underclass, supported by your government? Where does it end where as you liberal/democrats cede more power to government in our daily lives so they control you?

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11lajoci(670 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

"The existence of the United States of America is a Liberal idea. Again tell me you are kidding me."

Nope. No kidding at all. American revolutionaries were liberals; Tories and Loyalists were conservatives who wanted to maintain the status quo. Is that so hard for you to grasp?

" Back in the day, they wrote a 2nd Amendment to protect our right to own a gun"

Within the context of a well-regulated militia -- words that so-called "conservatives" choose to ignore, or, worse, argue that they don't really mean what they say.

"they didn't permit killing of innocent babies"

How the heck can you make a statement like that? What the heck do you know about the frequency of abortion historically?

"and there was no such thing as welfare" And there isn't now, either. Hasn't been since 1996, almost 20 years.

"If you call that Liberal, then I want some Liberal"

Learn what words mean, please; otherwise, discussion is useless, and intelligent discussion is impossible.

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1276Ytown(1341 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

Eivo: The following liberal playbook will help you understand certain posters.


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13lajoci(670 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

Back to the Thomas Sowell article at hand -- the "right" deserves to be bashed; the "right" does nothing except resist progress and defend the status quo.

Right wingers have been doing that for 300 years, more if you count the compulsive single-mindedness of their patron saint, Cato the Elder, who was known to repeat, sometimes to the point of absurdity, "Carthago delenda est" (or words to that effect) at the end of every speech, regardless of the subject. Cato the Elder is, of course, for whom the Cato Institute, one of the half-dozen or so most active right-wing think tanks, is named.

The "conservative" habit of hammering away at issues they (and they alone) think are significant or important, such as Benghazi, or fast-and-furious, or "Who cares?", is reminiscent of the tactics of Cato.

I'm still waiting for one idea so-called "conservatives " have come up with in the last 300 years that has some social benefit.

American revolution? Liberals. Public education? Liberals. Public health? Liberals. Worker safety? Liberals. Food and drug wholesomeness and safety? Liberals. Clean air? Liberals. Clean water? Liberals. Child labor laws? Liberals. Social Security? Liberals. Medicare? Liberals. National park system? Liberals. Civil rights? Liberals. Voter rights? Liberals. Fair wages, decent working conditions, reasonable hours? Liberals. Truth in lending? Liberals. Consumer products safety? Liberals.

And the list goes on.

But columnists like Thomas Sowell are not interested in truth; they are only interested in mindlessly parroting the same old tired right-wing talking -points we've been listening to since the days of Barry Goldwater.

Read Barry's "Conscience of a Conservative" sometime, a blue-print for the subsequent 45 years of right-wing agit-prop.

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14lajoci(670 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

There is someone on this blog who thinks that Medicare Part D, set up to subsidize prescription drugs and prescription drug insurance for Medicare recipients in 2003 by the Bush administration, is a fine example of a socially beneficial idea thought up by "conservatives."

Does this person know that, by the design of the program, the federal government is not permitted to negotiate prices of drugs with the drug companies, as federal agencies do in other programs, so that costs are more by as much as 1/2 compared to prices paid by, say, the Veterans Administration?

Probably not.

Does the writer know that if Medicare had been allowed to negotiate prices, they could have saved over $50 billion/year?

Probably not.

Of course, Former Congressman Billy Tauzin, R-La., who steered the bill through the House, retired soon after and took a $2 million a year job as president of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the main industry lobbying group. Quid pro quo? Looks pretty fishy.

Medicare boss Thomas Scully, who threatened to fire Medicare Chief Actuary Richard Foster if he reported how much the bill would actually cost, was negotiating for a new job as a pharmaceutical lobbyist as the bill was working through Congress. Quid pro quo? Ya think?

A total of 14 congressional aides quit their jobs to work for the drug and medical lobbies immediately after the bill's passage. Quid pro quo? Duh?

Medicare Part D benefitted the big pharmaceutical companies more than anyone else.

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15cambridge(4055 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

eivo.....i see you broke the handouts down into lists. The ones you're for and the ones you're against. Let me guess, the ones you're for are the ones you get. The ones you don't get, well those go to freeloaders right?

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16HappyBob(360 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

Several months ago you were against Medicare ("government has absolutely no business being involved in healthcare")

You must have also been against Medicare part D.

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17cambridge(4055 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

eivo....I'm sure by now you've received much more in social security benefits than you've ever contributed. By your logic that makes you taker sitting on your butt waiting for your monthly handout. Get a job!

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18cambridge(4055 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

What are you going to do when you do collect social security and reach the amount you contributed, are you going to tell them to stop sending checks or are you going to have your hand out?

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19dontbeafool(2058 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago


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20kurtw(1758 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

My god, I came upon this thread way too late! The whole "Liberal" vs. "Conservative" debate is nonsense because the definition of the words have changed over the years. A "Liberal"- in the 18th and 19th Centuries- held views that today would be called "conservative"- Individualism, Free Markets, Capitalism, etc. Conservatives, at that time, were people who wanted to keep King George 111 in power.

Modern Liberals are people who take their cue from Karl Marx and the Socialist Movement- Modern Conservatives look to the Founders- the Constitution and the Bill of Rights- what used to be called "Liberal" at that time. Get it?

So it comes down to a comparison of two sets of ideas- Marxism or the Founding Documents of this country- Get it? Of the two, which has the better track record. Pretty obvious to me (whatever happened to the Soviet Union and why is South Korea so much more prosperous than North Korea?). Get it?

P.S. In my book, Sowell is the Man!

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21kurtw(1758 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

Actually, we shouldn't use the word "Liberal" at all- in Europe they would be called "Socialists" and that's exactly what they are.

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22dontbeafool(2058 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

This just in.... Eivo and Kurt are the only two who gets it. One who doesn't work, and the other who drinks way too much. This whole article is rediculous! Conservatives always bash people who don't follow their right wing agenda. They say the Pope is a Marxist, too liberal. That says it all. So go ahead and change your definition. I'll change mine. Right wingers are now fascists!

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23Truth4Life(33 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

Liberals are intolerant while right wingers are angels?

Anyone here old enough to remember MyCarthyism? Remember when the Dixie Chicks said something about Bush and how the rabid right wing threatened to kill them and their families? Or how about when members of the Congressional Black Caucus where silenced by Republicans in Congress?

By contrast, did anyone stop the Tea Baggers and their vicious attacks on President Obama? Did Congressional Democrats ever keep white Republicans from shooting their mouths? Drunken Country-Western singer Hank Williams, Jr called President Obama a Nazi and a Muslim president. Yet his music has not been censored and he still goes around making vicious attacks in his concerts.

So who are the ones that are the real intolerant extremists in this society? Obviously it is the wrong wing ... oops, the right wing.

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24Truth4Life(33 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago


"they didn't permit killing of innocent babies"

How the heck can you make a statement like that? What the heck do you know about the frequency of abortion historically?

The correct answer is that under the Anglo-Saxon common law abortion WAS legal. See Blackstone's Commentaries and his illustration of "quickening". The Roe v Wade decision was based on this and was therefore a correct legal decision.

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25kurtw(1758 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

I wasn't "attacking" Liberals by calling them Socialists. That's exactly what they are in terms of the policies they propose- it's called truth in advertising and labeling- What you call yourself should reflect what you believe in and in that sense conservatives are more truthful- they believe in preserving and protecting that part of the past which is most useful and valuable.

For "dontbeafool"- I spent a little time rereading most of the over 600 comments I made on this web site and, guess what, they're pretty well written for the most part- not bad for an "inebriate"!

P.S. The drinking bit is a put on- if I wanted to be nasty I could call you Liberals a bunch of stoned Pot heads- Tit for Tat- but I won't do that...

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