On 26 January, Dr. Marek Chodakiewicz delivered the Coffee House Lecture at Patrick Henry College (Purcellville, VA) entitled “Obama and the Radical Continuity.” In the course of the event, he analyzed the current President’s radical agenda and described the historical roots of his political philosophy.
Over the ages, radical movements of various provenance have claimed to be the first to have discovered a previously hidden “Truth.” This key to history simultaneously serves a recipe to usher in a Paradise here on Earth defined by perfect justice, hence perfect equality. For some radicals (the maximalists), this vision should fulfill itself in a violent, apocalyptic eruption. For others (the gradualists), the necessary changes should come about gradually and stealthily.
The Austrian-born scholar Erik Voegelin pointed out that all radical movements subscribe to gnosticism. Gnostics believe that they have gained the monopoly to secret knowledge accessible only to a small and select group of initiates. Accordingly, the leader knows best.
These essential characteristics have defined extremists throughout history. Until the Enlightenment period of the eighteenth century, radical movements claimed religious inspiration. These millenarian sects were scrutinized by historian Norman Cohn in his classic work – The Pursuit of the Millennium – and included the Brethren of the Free Spirit, Cathars, Anabaptists, and the Fifth Monarchy Men.
The Enlightenment and its wake also witnessed the rise of secularist gnosticism. This updated embodiment of millenarianism generally displayed two faces: the grass-roots-level “autonomistic,” and the top-down “scientific” varieties. The former focused on autonomous socialist communes and receded into obscurity. The latter generated such nefarious movements as Jacobinism, Communism (Marxism-Leninism), and Nazism (German National Socialism). Claiming unique access to the “Truth,” the “scientific” gnostics employed unscrupulously coercion and violence to further their respective utopias. After all, the ends justified the means, and “science” made their implementation not only desirable, but inevitable.
The coup of October 1917, whereby the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, was a watershed of immense significance due to its radicalization of both domestic and international politics throughout the world. Communism, Dr. Chodakiewicz explained, may be defined as a plot to seize and hold power. Of course, the ostensible goal is to usher in utopia via a totalitarian, omnipotent state. Yet, opportunists or disillusioned Marxists may still utilize communism as a means to win and/or retain power. As a result, perhaps as many as 200 million people perished.
The triumph of utopianism in the Soviet Union inspired radicalism abroad. In the United States, the Great Depression brought to power the progressive Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His presidency was characterized by an attempt to expand the size and scope of the state to a level unprecedented in American history. The New Deal was predicated upon the view of government intervention as a solution to all problems plaguing society.
A generation later, the counter-cultural revolution of the 1960s transformed America further still. The young radicals of the “New” Left – so aptly described by a former far-leftist, David Horowitz, in his Destructive Generation – now moved to scrap America’s traditional, Judeo-Christian culture. Predictably, the extremists were split. The most impatient ones, such as the Weathermen and the Black Panthers, favored terror and violence. The gradualists were divided into the disciples of Antonio Gramsci and Saul Alinsky. The former preferred to infiltrate and seize control of the cultural and educational institutions (“march through the institutions”) – the universities in particular – to take over the elite heights of society and mold the minds of the future generations. The latter favored grass-roots “community organizing” to agitate and radicalize the poor and discontented elements of society, minorities in particular. Both operated under a false flag, counseling deception to their followers. Yet, the gradualists were forced to resort to it much more often. Saul Alinsky advised his followers to camouflage their radical, socialist agenda under a veneer of mainstream moderation. They were to deny and ridicule the notion that they were Marxist extremists.
It was from this milieu that Barack Obama entered the political arena. Although Obama had been a student of Saul Alinsky’s tactics; a “community organizer” in Chicago; a reputed friend of Weather Underground terrorist, Bill Ayers; and the most liberal member of the Illinois State Senate; he dialectically reinvented himself as a centrist, “post-partisan” candidate during his bid for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2008. Yet, a careful observer of his campaign rhetoric could detect hints of gnosticism, such as the conclusion to his speech to a group of Evangelicals gathered in a South Carolina church in October 2007: “I am confident that we can create a Kingdom right here on Earth” (see here). Obama’s policies as President demonstrate that his administration has not abandoned efforts to usher in this “Kingdom.”
Disclaimer: The views expressed by Prof. Chodakiewicz do not necessarily reflect those of The Institute of World Politics.