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If the American Left is dead, then what will replace it?

By Daniel G. Jennings
web posted September 23, 2002

Many things changed on 9/11/01, especially here in the United States, but the greatest effect the bombings had on American society seems to have gone unnoticed: the death of the American Left. The great political, cultural, economic, and social movement that has shaped American and world society since the 1960s died in the rubble of the World Trade Center and nobody seemed to notice or care.

The surest way to kill off an ideology and its subsidiary political or cultural movements is to expose the beliefs upon which it is based as false or flawed. That's exactly what the 9/11 atrocities did to the American Left, having exposed its values as silly, shallow, stupid and false.

The American Left that came out of the social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s had one central myth that was quickly and easily destroyed by Osama bin Laden's followers. The myth was that there was no such thing as evil in the world and no evil people. People who did something wrong were simply misguided and could be persuaded to do good through discussion or dialogue.

The existence of such a blatant evil as terrorist fanatics bent on using death and destruction to force their beliefs on others simply doesn't fit in with the American Left's worldview. While such fanatics confined their activities to foreign countries or to lesser regions of the American heartland such as Oklahoma City, the left could ignore their existence. Now, that the fanatics have struck at New York and Washington, the left has to take notice of them and deal with them.

The idea that there are people you can't negotiate with, people whose minds can't be changed by music or protesting or dialogue or poetry, people who sneer at the idea of peace and love and hate the whole idea of freedom, just didn't jive with the American Left. The left was secure in the delusion that villains only existed in comic books, and that the last evil man, was Adolph Hitler who had died in 1945. When conservatives and others complained about the atrocities of the Communists or right-wing death squads in Latin America or issued warnings about Arab terrorists, the leftists dismissed them as warmongers and bigots.

If bin Laden can't be dealt with through negotiation then he must be dealt with through force -- military force -- meaning that violence and war itself are sometimes legitimate solutions to problems here in the real world.

What this means is the whole ideology behind the peace movement of the 1960s, and much of our popular culture -- the idea that war and those who practice it are always evil -- is utterly false, silly and dangerous. In other words, the peace and love promoted by the Hippies, which had become one of the holy truths upon which our popular culture was based before 9/11/01, was nonsense.

Much of the left's appeal to American society and the world has been it's "work" for peace. Now the left's peace has been exposed as a dangerous delusion or even a shallow lie. The left's idea of peace has led to violence and terrorism while the use of military force has restored peace and security. In other words, the left of the counterculture has failed completely. It's delivered none of what it has promised and the application of its values has led to the opposite of what it was working for.

The whole ideological house of cards upon which the American Left's basic beliefs are based has collapsed. The left's promises of toleration and understanding of other cultures has led to a war between certain segments of the Islamic World and the West.

The left's anti-Americanism and its vicious attacks on basic American institutions such as the military have proven to be hollow lies. The left now realizes that the military is necessary to protect the nation and keep the peace. America is a good country dedicated to freedom and justice and a wonderful place to live.

Nothing proves this more than the spectacle of the cynical journalists and ex-hippies who once burned the flag and denounced the military as baby killers now rallying around the flag and enthusiastically backing the war effort. The sheer hypocrisy of the left-wing elite and its leaders is on display for all to see.

Sontag: A voice from another era
Sontag: A voice from another era

We can see this in the way that the generally leftist media has treated the peace movement and those few left-wing intellectuals whose thought processes are still trapped in the 1960s. They've ignored them. The media has given virtually no air time or newspaper space to people like Susan Sontag, Oliver Stone, Arthur Miller and others whom it once hailed as prophets. Peace protests that would have once attracted dozens of TV cameras pass unnoticed.

Nothing shows the demise of the left and the counterculture more than the material they read at the ceremonies for the one year anniversary of 9/11/01 attack: Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and readings from Theodore Roosevelt. In other words, our leaders feel that the recent products of American intellect are not applicable to the situation America is facing today. If that doesn't show the intellectual failure of the American left then nothing else will.

In other words, the American Left is dead. It's ideology has been disproved and its leaders exposed as fools, hypocrites and worse. This doesn't mean that the left will disappear or go away, instead it'll keep on moving like a zombie, a walking corpse roaming the countryside mindlessly.

Then we must ask the most important question raised by the terrible events of 9/11/01: What will replace the American Left? This answer I do not know, but we'd better have an answer or something really terrible and destructive will fill the political, social, cultural and ideological vacuum created by the death of the American Left.

Daniel G. Jennings is a freelance writer and journalist who lives and works in Denver, CO. He has worked as a reporter and editor for daily and weekly newspapers in five states.

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