National Review listed James Burnham's "Suicide of the West" as one of the top 10 books that nudged America toward political conservatism in recent decades. (See rankings in their 50th anniversary edition.)
Burnham was a young Trotskyite who turned against Communism and in his later years wrote for National Review. He wrote this book in 1964.
Burnham's thesis was that liberalism is the ideology of Western suicide.
For a young person unschooled in political thought, such as I was, this thesis was difficult to believe. Both JFK and LBJ were aggressive in their Cold War liberalism, which in those days included a strong pro-American component. Even the true believers on the Left assured us that they were pro-American, despite appearances to the contrary. Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs and I.F. Stone were all leftist idealists, they never actually betrayed their country. Or so we were endlessly and emphatically told in the mass media and in our classrooms.
Well, it turned out that Burnham and his fellow conservatives were correct, and we had been lied to on virtually all fronts. We now know that Hiss, the Rosenbergs, Stone and many others on the American Left spied for the Soviet Union for years.
The leftists were not only for collectivism, they were against America and most of what it stood for. Their virulent assaults against the free market, against a strong military and against traditional American values were all of a piece. They regarded liberal journalists and liberal officials in all three branches of government as "useful idiots" and as loose allies in the steady drip of daily propaganda and assaults against America.
By now we are much further along in this process. Some of the most prominent liberal journalists and liberal Democratic leaders in government are no longer acting as merely useful idiots. Some of them are at last revealing themselves to be more malevolent than that.
This is most clearly seen in their move to prosecute those in the Bush admininistration who authorized the enhanced interrogation techniques (which they falsely call "torture") against a few of our top terrorist enemies.
We should recall at this point that the laws of war and the Geneva Convention clearly distinguish between (1) conventional soldiers and (2) nonuniformed terrorists who hide among civilians and attack from schools, mosques and civilian residences. Conventional soldiers, when captured, must be treated humanely. Nonuniformed terrorists, when captured, may be summarily shot.
Unfortunately, instead of shooting these vicious predators on the spot, our government unwisely treated most of them better than we have ever treated prisoners of war. They get better food in prison than our schoolchildren get in school cafeterias. There have been strict limits even on the interrogation techniques.
In three highly supervised cases waterboarding was employed to get vital information that saved many innocent lives. (Many of our own soldiers and sailors undergo waterboarding as part of their training, hence it is absurd to deem it "torture".)
But now many voices are telling us that this was unacceptable, that America's leaders must be punished, rather than thanked and honored, for this great so-called evil. They quote the Constitution much as Satan quotes Scripture, and they pretend to defend both America and the Constitution. However, this new thrust is clearly intended to demoralize those who are defending the country and to reduce or destroy America's future effectiveness in fighting our enemies.
Here at last the Left is taking a position that is so clearly anti-American that there is very little room at the margin for "useful idiots". Some Democrats on my "lunatic" list claim that foreign terrorists captured on the battlefield should be treated as if they were American citizens with Constitutional protections, but even for them that level of imbecility is not credible. Political maneuvering aside, their position can be seriously maintained for long only by the actual enemies of the United States.
For benefit of the lawyers and other confused citizens, let us apply the Left's argument in mirror image so that everyone can see just how bonkers it really is.
The FDR administration put more than one hundred thousand Japanese American citizens in concentration camps during World War II. This was clearly a much more heinous crime against humanity than waterboarding three Al-Qaeda terrorists. We should therefore prosecute all those Democrats still alive who had anything to do with perpetrating that great injustice. Correct?
The LBJ administration entered the Viet Nam conflict on the false and exaggerated claim of being attacked near the Gulf of Tonkin. This resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of American soldiers and sailors and of millions of Asians. We should therefore prosecute all those Democrats who had anything to do with perpetrating and acting on that falsehood. Correct?
The Reagan administration's retributive attack across Libya's "line of death" in 1986 happened to kill Gaddafi's innocent young daughter. We should therefore prosecute all the Republicans who had anything to do with that attack. Correct?
The Obama administration's attacks on Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorists using Predator drones and other means also produce collateral damage, killing innocent children and others, without benefit of legal hearing or trial by jury. Also the suspects are not even given their Miranda warnings. We should therefore (as Ted Olson has recommended in a recent thought experiment) prosecute everyone in the Obama administration who has anything to do with these attacks whenever they occur. Correct?
No, of course these assertions are clearly not correct. The concept is intended to be used only against the "evil" Bush administration, which in fact was trying with the best of intentions to protect America in a legally acceptable manner.
However, war is not police work, never has been, and never can be. The concept of prosecuting actions like this, if taken seriously, would degrade or destroy our ability to defend ourselves. But that is the whole idea. Our domestic enemies will now have another powerful new tool to weaken us, if we have become so confused and lacking in will as to allow it.
In summary, James Burnham was both correct and extremely prescient. Liberalism is indeed the ideology of Western suicide. We will see this in spades during the next four years.