Radicalism as a Fashionable Pose

American cities in 1919 experienced exactly what’s happening there in 2019: the ideological middle had seemingly disappeared, with the extreme left monopolizing public debate and pressuring many others into self-enforced silence.

If you happen to believe in law and order, or marriage, or love of country, or religion, or even in the rights of capital as well as labor, be sure to keep in dark. And if you don’t happen to believe in free love or the domination of the unpatriotic over the earth, and above all if you don’t believe in socialism, keep that dark, too. For it’s very unfashionable to be the least bit conservative nowadays, and very, very fashionable to be radical! If they found you out, certain college professors, settlement workers, and New Republicans generally who are engineering this fad or crusade — as you choose to call it — would at once point at you with a finger of scorn as an “imperialist” or a reactionary, and they would certainly make fun of you.

Yes, you read that right: Republicans were often the ones advocating socialism. It was a different time.

This week’s decision by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg not to run for the Democratic presidential nomination, even though he was supposedly going to be the party’s “moderate” candidate, may seem like the final nail in the coffin for centrism in the party. But it’s not just among politicians but also non-politicians for whom something akin to purity tests have been increasingly applied in recent years, from the 2010s trend of campus speakers disinvitations to the ouster of Kevin Hart as this year’s Oscars host.

This next excerpt reads as though it could have been aimed at self-described “democratic socialists” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, the latter of whom officially declared for the presidency last week. (And who looks like he was alive in 1919 to read this.)

Then I should say to our college students, clubwomen, uplifters, and idealists of both sexes before they begin to study socialism with a too “open mind”:

“Why not carefully study your own form of government first? Be sure that you believe in the overthrow of our own patient old Constitution first. Suppose you do believe that great riches and great poverty are crimes, that the laboring man must have justice, and that there are some flaws in our own democracy. Even so, there are many opposed to socialism who believe as much. Why not give the present huge experiment along Socialist lines in this country time to digest and the prophets time to prove themselves either false or true before joining the Bolshevist Brotherhood?

“Why not wait, for instance, until the Russian Bolsheviki can prove that they can run a Government beneficently without both capital and labor — and not ‘pick on’ capital in the meantime?”

Radicalism as a Fashionable Pose: How Easy It Is for Parlor Socialists and Even Paid Propagandists to Find Gullible Listeners (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 9, 1919

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Written by Jesse

March 7th, 2019 at 1:31 pm

Posted in Life

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