Image 01 Image 03

History and immunity

History and immunity

America has been so generally fortunate that we have forgotten what we should have known, and neglected to teach it to our children. It’s like a population that’s not been exposed to certain illnesses and is therefore less able to defend against them.

Too many of us—and especially our younger people—don’t know what to look for and guard against. We’re not sensitive enough to the signs, and our children are especially naive. We have not learned history not just because we don’t teach very much of it very well, but because in recent years we haven’t thought we needed to, and we haven’t lived it in the way that eastern Europeans have, for example.

That “we” isn’t all of us. But it’s quite a large chunk. Meanwhile, the left has taken over a great deal of the teaching of history in this country, and most people who might have objected were either unaware it was happening, ignorant of the importance of the effects, or somehow powerless (or felt powerless) to stop it. So now we have a population that cannot recognize demagoguery when they see it, doesn’t understand how tyranny can take over in subtle steps that aren’t always recognizable, and is largely unaware of what the Founders had to say on the matter and why they built certain structures into the system to prevent it.

It’s not just the left’s doing; the left merely takes advantage of certain truths about human nature that ensure that people will always be susceptible to its siren song. That’s why education about the past is so important.

In my own experience, one of the things that gave me pause and kept me from being a leftist back in the late 60s when I entered college and leftism was so rampant, was a course I took with the seemingly innocuous title of “Russian Intellectual History.” I signed up for it because I liked Russian novels and Russian lit. And yes, we did read a number of novels in the course, as well as other Russian writers mostly of the 19th century (Herzen and Bakunin, for example).

That course unexpectedly turned out to be what was probably the most formative one of my life. It was there I learned—without anyone ever telling me directly—that in the 60s we were reliving those long-past Russian years in a somewhat altered, Americanized form. No, my generation was not unique; that was clear. No, we were not inventing something that had never been tried, going down some wonderful path that had never been trod. We were going somewhere that in the past had led to nothing good.

I could see it for myself; all I had to do was read, and think. If we don’t learn history we are indeed condemned to repeat it. And even if we do learn it, we may be condemned to repeat it anyway.

Here’s what David Horowitz (leftist turned conservative) had to say on the matter in his book A Point in Time. He uses the example of Dostoevsky, one of the great Russian authors who was a leftist in his youth and underwent a political change experience:

Despite Dostoevsky’s efforts to warn others, despite the fact that he [became] a national figure regarded as a prophet, the nihilistic idea that had captured his youth and nearly destroyed him became an inspiration for the next generation to lay waste his country and make it a desert:

Even in 1846 Belinsky had initiated me [Dostoevsky] into the whole truth of this coming “reborn world” and into the whole sanctity of the future communist society. All these convictions of the immorality of the very foundations (Christian ones) of contemporary society and of the immorality of religion and the family; of the immorality of the right to private property; of the elimination of nationalities in the name of universal brotherhood of people and of contempt for one’s fatherland as something that only showed universal development and so forth—all these things were influences we were unable to resist and which, in fact, captured our hearts and minds in the name of something very noble.”

Nihilism in the name of something noble. And so it continues to this day, more than a hundred and fifty years later.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.


Here’s one decent thing. The US must be one of the few places in the world where “Conservative” is seen as something positive, and “Liberal” as something negative.

    Valerie in reply to mzk. | July 24, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    That’s because there’s been a major shift: many of the self-styled capital “C” Conservatives are in fact classical Liberals, as the rest of the world understands that term. The United States was founded as a Liberal country, and the Conservatives in the US are busy preserving that heritage.

    Meanwhile, what used to be the radicals and communist are now calling themselves “Progressives” to get away from their own failed history, and people who exaggerate, like Rush Limbaugh, are calling the old commies and radicals “Liberal.” It’s all very confusing to outsiders.

      Phillep Harding in reply to Valerie. | July 24, 2013 at 4:20 pm

      I think the Progressives started calling themselves “Liberals” to get away from their own failed history long before Rush started in, then they went back to calling themselves “progressives” and people were going “Hey, that sounds familiar”, then they started trying to call themselves “libertarians” and did the impossible: they brought the libertarians together in a coherent position and got shot down.

      Oh, yeah. “Moderates” fits in there somewhere.

      The difference between the communists and a common street gang, or gang of bandits, seems to be merely the number of followers.

      robbi in reply to Valerie. | July 24, 2013 at 6:23 pm

      Absolutely correct, today John Kennedy would be thought of as a Conservative.
      Citizens of the US today are lazy when it comes to researching their politicians and the policies they push. They’re content to allow news stations tell them what’s best for their lives.
      When I was in the 4th grade in 1967,we had to watch a movie on Socialism and one on Communism. Our principal, Mrs. Scullin, watched it with us. She stressed after the movie that if the United States did not change, we would become Socialist at best. The class was horrified us to think of a government peeking into the lives of its people and using the information they gathered against them. It was unthinkable that this could happen here in the USA. The next year- 67-68, we had to watch the 1968 election cycle and have discussions in class.
      I wish all schools had had someone like her to teach the students to watch out for politicians.

      iconotastic in reply to Valerie. | July 24, 2013 at 6:55 pm

      I would agree that conservatives and tea party types are very close to classical liberals. What are called progressives are a mish-mash of socialists, communists, and fascists. Basically all followers of leftist ideology and only differing on (to us) minor points.

      All of which makes as much sense as a political spectrum where socialists are on the “left” and fascists are on the “right”, which didn’t make sense to me even as a high school student. Just another example of how the left constantly employs doublespeak to mask their true nature.

        Crawford in reply to iconotastic. | July 25, 2013 at 12:50 pm

        Fascists — national socialists — were to the “right” of the international socialists. Stalin declared it to be so.

        So, whenever someone claims fascists were on the right, they’re taking Stalin as the center of their political spectrum.

      ” many of the self-styled capital “C” Conservatives are in fact classical Liberals”

      And many of them are not. In fact a great many of them are what I like to call moral socialists.

      But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. -Thomas Jefferson

      I have never been able to conceive how any rational being could propose happiness to himself from the exercise of power over others. — Thomas Jefferson


Bruno Lesky | July 24, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Thank you! So great to think about what in one’s education helped to form principle.

Not Russian, but Charles Murray in a v recent Daily Caller interview (America No Longer Exceptional) answers the Q: What three books most shaped your worldview?” His answer:

I suppose I shouldn’t say “Atlas Shrugged,” because I now reject much of what impressed me at age 17. But the fact is that its heroic vision of human existence made a huge impression that still lingers. In my late 30s, I finally understood what Aristotle was saying in the “Nichomachean Ethics,” and that had a profound effect. By the time I read Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State, and Utopia,” I was already a libertarian, but its intellectual power still dazzled me.

Read more:

NC Mountain Girl | July 24, 2013 at 4:10 pm

It’s not just that history has been given a decided leftist slant i the classroom, but the emphasis on the lives of ordinary people instead of the great events of an era seems to have bored students to tears. This si particularly true of boys, who seem ready to lap up history when it is first presented to them as the exciting exploits of great men.

[…] In that article we described a prerequisite for a reality based world view every qualified president MUST have. “Bill Clinton understood that American military and world power was based on economic power.” Ronald Reagan went as far as to use American economic power to sweep into the dustbin of history the “Evil Empire” that was the totalitarian Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. With Barack Obama and his lack of world view congruent with reality it feels as if we’re back in the U.S.S.R. […]

BannedbytheGuardian | July 24, 2013 at 6:57 pm

I am somewhat confused by the paragraph alleged to have been spoken by Dostoevsky. There are terms & notions in there that read 20th century.

On top of the usual translation misses from Russian to English it looks to be either a revisionism or that the 1917 revolution was already well on the march & just seeking an opportunity..

40 years later Tsar Alexander hung Lenin’s 19 year old student brother for reading subversive literature at university.

Bad move.

Czeslaw Milosz, a Polish poet from Lithuania who won the Nobel Prize in literature 1980, noticed the same similarities between the Russian radicals of the 19th century and the American radicals of the 1960’s. Milosz taught at U.C. Berkeley from 1960 to the 1990’s. He discusses these similarities in his book of essays, “Visions from San Fransisco Bay.”

I recommend the book for its insights. Milosz was always something of a lefty, but an anti-communist lefty. Like John Paul II, he experienced WW II in occupied Poland–he and his family managed to survive the Warsaw uprising–and lived through the communist takeover after the war. He had seen the ravages of ideologically planned regimes up close, and could never take any radical ideology seriously again.

    JPL17 in reply to Meriadoc. | July 24, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    The first time I read Turgenev’s “Fathers and Sons” about 47 years ago, I was utterly amazed at the parallels between the 1860s Russian student “Nihilists” and the 1960s American student radicals.

    But the truly troubling (and more recent) realization for me has been that the 1860s Russian student Nihilists + their progeny evolved into the Bolsheviks about 2-3 generations (or roughly 57 years) later.

    We seem to be on the same trajectory.

Henry Hawkins | July 24, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Neo… Mr. Neocon has had several very good articles here already. Good stuff. I will definitely check out the blog.

Alex Bensky | July 24, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Uh, Henry, while Neo-Neocon is worth reading, it’s Ms. Neo.

Although I called myself a leftist, probably to paraphrase the punchline to the old Jewish joke, by a leftist I was no leftist. I was immunized against the form that makes you really crazy because by the time I started college in the mid-sixties I had figured out that the Viet Cong were not an Asian version of the ACLU. And my parents, who had long since ceased being politically active by the time we came along, had been Norman Thomas socialists, so I didn’t grow up with any silly ideas about communism as being anything other than a horror.

Of books I read when much younger that helped me maintain political sanity, the long-forgotten “Anti-Politics in America” by John Bunzel and Revel’s “Without Marx or Jesus” would have to be listed.

And then years passed and now I think of John Maynard Keynes’s response when someone noted that he had shifted his position on a certain issue. “When I learn new facts I change my opinions,” he replied. “What do you do, sir?”

Russian literature is so underrated, and hardly mentioned.

Gee, I wonder why…

Very pleased to see Dostoevsky was mentioned.

“Edward Snowden’s Russian lawyer said “he has brought several books for Snowden to read, including… Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel ‘Crime and Punishment.'”


I ran across a discussion on Politico today that attracted a fair share of Liberals, leftists, and the like.

One particularly strident individual became highly incensed when someone cited the U.S. Constitution. Others chimed in to support this ignoramus.

These people consider themselves educated, and I take their disdain for the Constitution as a sign of the utter failure of our educational system. Not only does ignorance of history in general, and an understanding of the struggle for individual liberty in a civilized community abound, there is a notable deficiency in critical thinking skills.

When I pointed out to the most strident of the posters, that it is only general respect for the provisions of our constitution that allows him the freedom to criticize it, he responded with various obscenities.

    JPL17 in reply to Oldflyer. | July 25, 2013 at 6:37 am

    That’s pretty hilarious. While he’s at it, the Russian lawyer should also give Snowden a copy of Dostoyevsky’s “Notes from the Underground,” since that’s where his client’s going to spend LOTS of his time from now on.

    (Plus, it’s a great read and much shorter than “C & P”!)