For West and progressives like him, the democracy that matters is not the one we live in but the so-called economic “democracy” that Marx and Lenin and their disciples promised and then discredited by piling up continents of corpses in the futile effort to realize their utopian schemes. Of America’s actual democracy, West has this to say: “The American democratic experience is unique in human history not because we are God’s chosen people to lead the world or because we are always a force for good in the world, but because of our refusal to acknowledge the deeply racist and imperial roots of our democratic project.”
For West, the great conflict of our times has been provoked by America’s imperial aggressions. “Let us not be deceived,” he writes: “the great dramatic battle of the 21st Century is the dismantling of empire.” And, of course, the empire that needs to be dismantled is ours.
According to West, the greatest threats of our era are “three dominating, anti-democratic dogmas.” The first is “free market fundamentalism — just as dangerous as the religious fundamentalisms of our day.” In other words, just as threatening as the bigoted and bloodthirsty creeds of our terrorist enemies, whose jihadseeks to subdue the world’s infidels and to wipe America and its ally Israel from the face of the earth.
The second dogma, according to West, is “aggressive militarism,” exemplified by America’s war on the Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq. “Fashioned out of the cowboy mythology of the American frontier fantasy, the dogma of aggressive militarism is a lone-ranger strategy that employs ‘spare-no-enemies’ tactics.” In other words we are actually worse than the religious fanatics who have attacked us, because in West’s fantasy world it is we who are the aggressors and without moral restraint.
The third “dogma” that threatens us is “escalating authoritarianism,” by which West means the measures we have adopted to defend ourselves from terrorist attacks at home. “The Patriot Act is but the peak of an iceberg that has widened the scope of . . . repression.” Our security measures, designed to protect us from enemies willing to murder tens of thousands of innocents, constitute what West calls “the gangsterization of America.” In other words, in the great fight for global justice, we are the criminals, and the task of progressive prophets like West is to disarm America, in order to make the world safe for others.
As in everything else West writes, there is nothing original in this indictment. It is the crudest boilerplate of the progressive faith. It continues the despicable tradition of American radicalism since World War II, which has consistently found America’s enemies worthy of sympathy and support while dedicating itself to crippling America in the face of their attacks. West’s indictments in Democracy Matters are no different from those issued by his predecessors in the Communist Left during America’s war with the Soviet empire. Yet this is the book that the Boston Globe refers to as written “in the vein of Socrates.”
Because West is a sentimentalist, his amalgam of religion and politics reveals in stark form the malign method of the progressive attack. Recall his defense of Louis Farrakhan. “I wouldn’t call the brother a racist . . . but a xenophobic spokesperson when it comes to dealing with Jewish humanity — but who in his own way loves black folk deeply, and that love is what we see first.” Support for hate in the name of love. The same moral calculus inspires progressives to embrace Islamic Nazis in the Middle East who, in this twisted logic, may use methods that are deplorable and may hate Jews beyond reason but “love” Palestinians (even as they incite them to blow themselves up and kill innocents in the process).
In the progressive lexicon, those who are designated “oppressed” — blacks, Palestinians, and “people of color” generally — cannot be racists, cannot be murderers, cannot threaten us. We are the blue-eyed devils and we deserve the hate we get. The love progressives have for themselves and their chosen ones is what they always see first. Islamic fascists may have attacked innocent Americans on 9/11, but they were really only responding to America’s imperial misdeeds.
It is these evils that progressives see first, last, and only. Cornel West can be seen on the one hand as a progressive version of the Stepin Fetchit stereotype — absurd in his stumbling efforts to impersonate an intellectual and to wear the mantle of a prophet of social change. But Cornel West is also the archetype of an American radicalism that has set out to destroy the American experiment, and whose favorite son now occupies the White House as its commander-in-chief.
Viewed as a historic force that has conducted a 50-year assault on America’s institutional values and standards and that has driven America’s cultural decline, the progressive Left is a movement that masks malice towards its own country as a love for the world’s powerless and oppressed. In quest of a mythic “social justice,” progressives are the willful adversaries of America’s actually existing civilization, which, by any real-world standard, is both tolerant and free. The career of Cornel West shows with alarming clarity that the progressive presence is now pervasive in our institutional midst and its destructive enterprise is well advanced.