National Security & Defense

What Fidel Castro Taught Me About the Radical Left

I didn’t realize how many Americans actually hate their own country until I talked about Fidel Castro at Harvard Law School. I had no idea how many Americans despise democracy and have no problem with tyranny – so long as they’re in charge – until I talked about Castro in Manhattan. And I had no clue how many Americans believed that sins committed in the name of socialism weren’t sins at all until I talked about Castro in Ithaca, New York.

Indeed, these early conversations about Castro – and his mass murdering friend, Che Guevara – helped teach my younger self that there was indeed a difference between “liberals” and the radical Left. Liberals are people a lot like me. We broadly share many of the same goals, including a shared interest in greater American prosperity and power. We love this country. During the Cold War, we shared opposition to the Soviet Union. Our policy disagreements are important, but we still share a common bond.

There was no political bond with the radicals I met in law school. They liked Castro because he was a communist. They loved him for his opposition to American power. They were completely indifferent to the suffering he inflicted on dissidents. These people, after all, were likely American spies and dupes, to be treated with all the contempt they deserved.

Radicals exist in every political movement. What troubled me about the people I talked to in Cambridge and New York wasn’t their existence but rather their power. Ivy League professors can dominate their disciplines. Young Harvard radicals often move on to jobs at the pinnacles of American culture and politics. It’s hard to call someone fringe – or to dismiss their views as inconsequential – when they occupy the most coveted positions in the American academy. Indeed, their views were often more welcome than those of orthodox Christians. People like me were narrow-minded and bigoted. My socialist classmates, by contrast, were exactly the “critical thinkers” many of my professors liked to engage.

For years Castro served as a form of ideological Rorschach Test. Loving or even liking him immediately placed a person in a very particular political community, one that likely as not believed the entire left-wing indictment of American history and culture. Showing respect for Castro indicated the degree to which the radicals could hijack even reasonable people. Our own president’s ambiguous statement after Castro’s death shows the reach of the Castro apologetic.

The radical mindset will of course live on long after the Castro brothers are a distant memory. Anti-American leftists will find new heroes, and they’ll keep teaching young people to loathe their own country. And, sadly, they’ll continue to find their ways into the halls of power. After all, in the tolerant quarters of the radical Left, it’s long been easier to get tenure liking Castro than loving Jesus. The impact on the academy and our culture of that world view is both obvious and pernicious.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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