Is the right more militaristic than the left?

Let me present a thought experiment.  Suppose the twentieth century had gone a different way.  Europe is now ruled by a rejuvinated Habsburg Empire.  These Austrians are America’s main compeditor for world power.  The Habsburgs are aggressively Catholic; they have declared that they will use any means at their disposal, not excluding military force, to rid the world of American-sponsored evils like abortion.  Suppose half of academia was Catholic and fairly obvious in their support of the Empire.  Suppose crypo-Catholic movies were constantly coming out of Hollywood.  Who do you think would be more inclined towards a confrontational posture towards the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the right or the left?  Who would be more inclined towards negotiation or even appeasement?

Sometime during the last century, the stereotype of right-wing aggressiveness became quite widespread.  On the one hand, conservatives and reactionaries were supposed to be prone to violence, always eager to see war as the solution to every foreign difficulty, and filled with a murderous hatred for other countries.  On the other hand, liberals, leftists, and socialists were thought to be pacifists at heart and naive in their inability to see the need for prudent self-defense.  Now, it is not true that conservative beliefs logically lead to militarism; nor is it the case that liberalism logically entails pacifism.  However, stereotypes don’t come from nowhere, and this one was certainly based on a legitimate observation, regardless of how it was misinterpreted.  To understand it properly, we should remember who the main foreign threat was from 1945-1990 for America and the other nations that once constituted Christendom.  It was, of course, the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies.  These countries were seen as threats partly because of their military power, but primarily because they were the bearers of a revolutionary ideology that denied our legitimacy.

Communist beliefs were no secret to anybody.  All the authoritative structures of the West–the patriarchal family, the Church, the nation-state, private property–were regarded as forms of oppression.  They had no right to exist; in fact, it was every communist’s duty to hasten their demise.  With the communists, there could be no peace, but only temporary truces, because for them we had no legitimacy.  To them, we were like terrorists who have taken an airplane full of hostages.  One might negotiate with the terrorists, it’s true, but only because one is forced to.  However, one never imagines that the terrorists have any legitimate claim to their hostages, and one sees no obligation to negotiate in good faith when trickery is an option.  To the communists, our governments, our employers, our bishops, and our fathers were just a gang of hostage-takers who had managed to abduct entire nations.

It may be true, as the paleoconservatives point out, that foreign wars are a threat to American traditions and a spur to big government, so the right should try to be against them.  In the face of a revolutionary threat of this sort, though, these worries are academic.  Communism was a threat to everything conservatives were committed to defending.   And the threat was real.  Half of the world had already fallen to these new Jacobins, and they had won the allegiance of our intellectual and entertainment classes.  On the other hand, to a liberal, the communists were basically right in their criticism of us.  The respectable liberal only objected to the brutal means the communists used–they were trying to go “too fast”.  On the destination, there was little dissent.  Therefore, both sides were partly wrong and partly right, so the hostility between them was tragic and unnecessary.  Hence, it made sense that in the Cold War, it would be conservatives who would lean “hawkish.”

Why, though, were people so quick to generalize and speak about propensities of the “right” and “left” in general.  As a viewer of 1960’s science fiction, I think I can answer that too.  Firstly, all the television and movie makers were rooting for the communists.  Second, their audiences most certainly were not.  Screenwriters knew that nobody would pay to see a movie about heroic reds defeating reactionaries and capitalist pigs to set up the dictatorship of the proletariat.  Still, they wanted to advance the Cause somehow.  So they struck up the idea of advancing “peace”:  movie after movie and TV show after TV show would advance the idea that everyone could get along fine if we could just get rid of a few people (inevitably American military men) called “hawks” who want to provoke a nuclear war for no reason.  By sapping the will of the West to resist while doing nothing against communist morale (after all, these movies weren’t made for them), these peace movies effectively advanced the communist side.  As a side effect, they gave us our contemporary stereotypes about rightist hawks and leftist doves.

3 Responses

  1. Unfortunately such left-leaning ideological distortion still seems to be with us! The good news is that their media monopoly is *gone*.

  2. Hello Mr. Long,

    Thanks for stopping by. I’d like to take comfort in what you’re saying. It’s true that the news media can no longer spin stories with complete impunity. On the other hand, leftist hegemony in the academic and entertainment worlds (where opinions are really shaped) seems to me more complete than ever. Still, I guess those of us “on the wrong side of history” should welcome any good news that comes our way.

  3. Hello: this is several years later, but you seem to have been prescient. The “left” nowadays (not a monolithic term) in American politics seems to lean heavily towards war with various foreign powers, at least as heavily as the “right”. I wonder if at least some of this is due to the alleged “conservatism” of the new Russia. Sorry about all the scare-quotes, but political alliances are shifting so rapidly in America as to make all these terms somewhat doubtful (their usage varies depending on the speaker) .

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