Thursday, July 29, 2004

Whitewashing a Chomskyite

A case study in the liberal inability to stand up to intellectual totalitarianism is on display at The American Prospect, in the form of a review of a new documentary about Chomskyite historian Howard Zinn, entitled You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train (and indeed you can't, which is precisely why this blog exists). I've written about Zinn before, and I will echo only a few of my sentiments here. In terms of the article itself, as in most Chomskyite apologetics, the lie is contained as much in what is not said as what is said. There is no mention, for instance, of Zinn's support for Leftist totalitarianism throughout the Cold War; no mention of his unequivocal celebration of North Vietnam's brutal takeover of South Vietnam and the ensuing mass murder and oppression; and, most glaringly, no mention of the nature of Zinn's own vision of what the United States ought to become. As outlined in the closing chapter of A People's History of the United States, Zinn's is a totalitarian vision in which private property is abolished, the young are conscripted into slave-labor gangs, representative democracy is abrogated, and, it seems reasonable to assume, political dissent is to be tolerated with the same alacrity as in, say, Zinn's beloved Cuba. In other words, there is no attempt whatsoever to deal honestly with the implications of Zinn's anti-democratic ideology. The piece also regurgitates the trope that the book has "sold more than a million copies", without noting that a good portion of those sales are coerced, in classic authoritarian style, by schools and college professors who force their students to buy it as part of their curriculum. It does, at least, acknowledge the hermetic intolerance at the heart of Zinn's ideology, but nowhere finds the courage to grapple with it realistically
[T]here are no voices of dissent. Nothing from the elites Zinn was battling in the academy and the government, nor the everyday people who may have resisted the movements in which he participated.

Like that of Michael Moore, Zinn’s often sharp critique leaves one grasping a fistful of questions -- and offers no real pragmatic alternative to our current involvement in Iraq or the dilemma of terrorism. Zinn and the film would benefit by sharpening their views -- on Iraq, on the scope of Zinn’s work -- in dialogue with those who disagree with them.
The writer seems unable to grasp the fact that no ideology of totalism, no Manichean creed such as Zinn's can tolerate the possibility that other visions may harbor their own legitimacy; to do so would render it impossible to sustain the level of fanaticism required to buttress what is, essentially, a conspiracist's worldview. And even more than this, such a concession would require Zinn to admit that on a host of issues; on Vietnam, on Cuba, indeed, on the defining intellectual struggle of the 20th century itself; this "tireless skeptic of power" has been, unequivocally and without reservation or apology, on the side of the executioners. The fact that this patron of tyranny is being celebrated with only minor reservations in one of the foremost journals of mainstream American liberalism is, while perhaps not entirely surprising, nonetheless a disturbing sign of the times.