Sunday, February 27, 2005

Column on "Bogeyman" blabber

Was Communism a Bogeyman?

Tibor R. Machan

Forgive me for my memory but I remember clearly that communism wasn?t a
bogeyman, not in the sense that of an imaginary evil demon parents invoke
to scare kids into doing the right thing. Yet that is what some folks want
us to think about communism and the Soviet Union, the massive state that
promoted it. By viewing communism as a bogeyman, they can then divert
attention from its bona fide evil and focus their gaze on the far less
vicious excesses of some anti-communists, like Joe McCarthy and his pals.
This is just what critics of the late Sidney Hook tried to do and what
some defenders of the recently deceased playwright Arthur Miller?s
selective scolding of anti-communism peddle.

Look, there is no doubt that one can fight an evil in ways that are
themselves wrong. If someone insults me, I can respond in several ways and
some of these will be wrong. Even if someone attacks me physically, I can
respond badly, by, say, attacking his child or friends in turn. So, yes,
some of the ways people tried to repel communism were not admirable.

But they weren?t addressing some bogeyman either and to say so reveals a
moral blindness. It is akin to calling slavery a bogeyman with which
people tried to cope, against which they deployed various strategies, some
better than others. Or racism or other forms of injustice. But to justify
the worst ways of dealing with injustice it is quite wrong to dismiss the
injustice itself as some kind of bogeyman.

Now there is a related approach one can take to belittling the concerns
some of us have with evil. This is the post-modernist tactic of claiming
that there are multiple perspectives for viewing the world, some of which
will construe certain things as evil, but others will see them
differently. You know, ?Your freedom fighters are someone else?s
terrorists.? This is the idea of ?multiple narratives??varied ways of
telling a story about something. So, there is the ante-bellum narrative
about slavery, the white supremacists narrative, or the who cares about
black-and-white morality (pragmatic) narrative. By peddling the idea that
any narrative is as good as any other, one can then pretend that one?s own
dismissing of slavery as evil is just an equally valid narrative.

The very same technique can be deployed for discrediting those who saw
communism as a vile system of politics, or those who saw the Nazis as
racist totalitarians. Post-modernism has provided us with these
approaches to dealing with our adversaries. We do not need to argue with
anyone about the rights and wrongs?the blacks versus the whites, as some
people put the matter?of communism, slavery, Nazism, racism, and the like.
No, we can just say, well it all depends upon your point of view.

Of course, this backfires rather immediately. What about the black versus
white of dealing in black and whites? Is it all black?that is to say, is
it wrong?to invoke firm standards about what is right politically or
morally or is it all a matter of shades of gray? And how do we tell what
the proper shade is that we should focus upon, if there are no blacks and

Truth is those who denounce black vs. white thinking?those who consider
all political or ethical value judgments a matter of creating bogeymen by
which to scare children?are themselves quite wedded to certain blacks and
whites, only they don?t wish to discuss these, to defend their own
standards but merely hurl ad hominems at others to try to discredit their
version of black vs. white.

This ploy will perhaps work in the effort to secure oneself a reputation
of erudition, of being above the fray, of not fitting into a
category?liberal, conservative, libertarian, communist, fascist, and so
forth. But only for a bit.

After just a little more thought it becomes clear that such folks have
their own categories they fit quite well, namely, the category of people
who lack forthrightness and wish to win by rhetorical savvy rather than by
means of sound reasoning?obscurantists.

Communism is bad and those who saw it as such were right, even if not all
ways of dealing with it were sound, proper. Let?s admit that some ways of
organizing society are bad, very bad, and this is not something to be
obscured with post-modernist mumbo jumbo.

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