Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Nobility of Appeasement

Wretchard at Belmont Club has a great post up today which explains the thought processes of the appeasement crowd circa the 1930's. He starts by quoting a readers comment on an article by Paul Berman, on the subject of Terrorism and Liberalism:

... Islamism (is) a totalitarian reaction against Western liberalism in a class with Nazism and communism ... Berman delineates how all three movements descended from utopian visions (in the case of Islamism, the restoration of a pure seventh-century Islam) into irrational cults of death.

In a word the Left would logically be expected to oppose Osama Bin Laden because it represents everything Berman thinks the Left has fought against since it's inception.

The question Berman tries to answer is why the precise opposite has happened. To get a handle on the problem he dissects the failure of the 1930s French Left to resolutely oppose Hitler. On pages 124-128 Berman says:

Blum and his supporters regarded Hitler and the Nazis with horror ... But mostly they remembered the First World War ... They grew thoughtful, therefore. They did not wish to reduce Germany in all its Teutonic complexity to black-and-white terms of good and evil. ... And, having analyzed the German scene in that manner, the anti-war Socialists concluded that Hitler and the Nazis, in railing against the great powers and the Treaty of Versailles, did make some legitimate arguments ... Why not look for ways to conciliate the outraged German people and, in that way, to conciliate the Nazis? ...

The anti-war Socialists of France did not think they were being cowardly or unprincipled in making those arguments. On the contrary, they ... regarded themselves as exceptionally brave and honest. They felt that courage and radicalism allowed them to peer beneath the surface of events and identify the deeper factors at work in international relations-the truest danger facing France. This danger, in their judgment, did not come from Hitler and the Nazis, not principally. The truest danger came from the warmongers and arms manufacturers of France itself ... who stood to benefit in material ways from a new war. ...

But the political arguments rested on something deeper, too -- a philosophical belief; profound, large, and attractive ... that, in the modern world, even the enemies of reason cannot be the enemies of reason. Even the unreasonable must be, in some fashion, reasonable.

The belief underlying those anti-war arguments was, in short, an unyielding faith in universal rationality. ... And, stirred by that antique idea, the anti-war Socialists gazed across the Rhine and simply refused to believe ... in a political movement whose animating principles were paranoid conspiracy theories, blood-curdling hatreds, medieval superstitions, and the lure of murder.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? As they say, those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it, and it does seem that the Left doesn't know the history of their own behavior.

Wretchard goes on to describe how, once the Germans had invaded France, many on the Left in their dedication to trying to understand the rational in the Nazi movement, began to sympathize, and even to work alongside the Vichy Government:

... among the anti-war Socialists, a number of people, having voted with Petain, took the logical next step and, on patriotic an idealistic grounds, accepted positions in his new government, at Vichy. Some of those Socialists went a little further, too, and began to see a virtue in Petain's program for a new France and a new Europe-a program for strength and virility, a Europe ruled by a single-party state instead of by the corrupt cliques of bourgeois democracy, a Europe cleansed of the impurities of Judaism and of the Jews themselves, a Europe of the anti-liberal imagination.

And, in that very remarkable fashion, a number of the anti-war Socialists of France came full circle. They had begun as defenders of liberal values and human rights, and they evolved into defenders of bigotry, tyranny, superstition, and mass murder. They were democratic leftists who, through the miraculous workings of the slippery slope and a naïve faith in the rationalism of all things, ended as fascists.

Long ago, you say? Not so long ago.