(EXCLUSIVE TO CHALCEDON)
It wasn’t only the Iraqi people who were liberated by their country’s first-ever free elections in January.
“It took the Iraqi election to make me realize I’d become an ex-leftist,” said author Keith Thompson in an exclusive interview with Chalcedon.
Thompson’s first-person article, “Leaving the Left,” created a sensation when it was released May 22 — republished instantly on dozens of Internet sites, read aloud by Rush Limbaugh to his millions of radio listeners, lauded by conservatives — and denounced by the Left. (For the complete article, see www.thompsonatlarge.com.)
The piece describes the process by which Thompson, a “liberal” since his boyhood in the 1960s, at long last came to renounce the leftist worldview.
What made him do it?
A factor he didn’t mention in the article played a key role.
“As the father of a six-year-old son,” Thompson said, “I now have a personal responsibility to take a stand. I don’t want to teach him anything that’s wrong.”
A Long Road to Estrangement
The American Left’s reaction to the election in Iraq — a fervent hope for its failure, thinly disguised as prediction — was “the tipping point,” Thompson said, citing the Left’s “cheering against self-determination for a long-suffering Third World country because they hate George W. Bush more than they love freedom.”
“Their walk is so completely at odds with their talk,” he said. “They claim to be for free speech, but they create all these campus speech codes that stifle freedom. Didn’t many of these people in the 1960s stand up for self-rule for oppressed people and against fascism in any guise?”
Thompson’s “estrangement” from the Left took many years, he said, a long road with many milestones along the way.
“September 11 was a major factor. For me, things became a lot clearer that day. But I was already wavering in the 1970s and 80s when I found the affirmative action movement very problematic.
“With affirmative action, the struggle for equality and civil rights came to an end, and a guilt campaign began. The movement went from equality of opportunity to equality of outcome. And those people and corporations who were made to feel guilty about racism were buying credibility with the civil rights establishment by offering affirmative action.”
Another major milestone, he said, was the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989. It was then he noticed that his friends on the Left had been willing all along to support a tyrannical regime that killed tens of millions of its own people.
In his article, Thompson discussed changes in the culture of the American Left. But was the Left really changing, or was it he who had changed and his perception of reality?
“I hadn’t thought of it that way. It’s probably true: I changed,” he said. “But I still think there was a time when it was possible to call yourself a liberal without having to be a leftist.”
A Place for Religion
Today, at least, being a “leftist” means embracing “materialism, extreme secularism, and a kind of scientism — not science, but scientism — that arbitrarily excludes the inner life,” Thompson said. In short, the Left opposes itself to religion.
“There’s no doubt that Judeo-Christian religion was crucial to what I like to call ‘the software development’ of this country,” he said. “Later on in American history, the abolition movement is an outstanding example of the role of religion. Abolition would not have been possible without Christians acting on the spirit of their faith. And today’s resurgence of faith from many quarters has played a big role in the demise of the Left.”
Now a resident of northern California, Thompson grew up in a small town in Ohio, where he was raised in the Episcopal Church.
“I have to say I never shared the hostility to Christianity that’s so characteristic of the Left today,” he said. “As a boy, I loved the church. My family was active in it, and I was an acolyte. I was always deeply moved by the symbology of the church, by that experience of the holy. I never lost that.”
Thompson saw a religious aspect to many of today’s current events: the decline of secular liberalism in America; the fall of the Soviet Union; the “Orange Revolution” that’s bringing democracy to Ukraine; the impending fall of the left-wing Schroeder government in Germany; increasing skepticism for the extreme secularism of the European Union; and the unexpected awakening of democracy in the Middle East.
“I do believe there are moments in history,” he said, “when the divine does break in, and God’s Spirit works in the world. I hope we get this right, and take these openings that we are being given.”
Rooted in materialist Marxism, Thompson said, the Left is blind to the operation of the Spirit.
“Not all conservatives are religious,” he said. “There are secular conservatives who care mostly about economic freedom. But it’s fair to say that for many conservatives, religion and moral values go together. The conservative movement at this time is largely a recognition of this. It’s a sharp break from the 1960s and the radical celebration of the individual.
“The Secular Left has made a big mistake. They don’t see that the ‘wall’ between church and state exists as much to connect the two as to separate them. It’s one thing to differentiate between the two spheres. It’s another to foster a dissociation of those realms. To insist that ‘theocracy’ looms whenever citizens bring their religious and spiritual faith to bear on pressing social and cultural issues is dangerously simplistic.”
‘Welcome to Adulthood’
Before bursting onto the scene with “Leaving the Left,” Thompson had a busy career. He has two books in print: Angels and Aliens: UFOs and the Mythic Imagination and To Be a Man: In Search of the Deep Masculine, numerous magazine and newspaper articles, and stints as a television and talk radio host and a Democratic party operative.
“Leaving the Left” will probably make him even busier.
“A friend told me, ‘If you’d written “Leaving the Right,” you’d have had two Larry King shows by now, and Oprah would have come to your house.’ That may be,” Thompson said, laughing. “But the response to “Leaving the Left” has already been overwhelming.
“Very few adults move from the Right to the Left. I think it has something to do with the inevitable recognition that human nature is not infinitely malleable and that societal evolution is far more like a spiral than a straight line to some ideal state. If that’s a ‘conservative’ tenet, then, yes, I would say maturation generally leads to conservatism.
“I must say I’ve received a warm welcome. So many people have had the same experience. I’ve gotten so many beautiful, touching, powerful responses. And several people saying, ‘Welcome to adulthood!’ But those who say that are very warm; they’re not being sarcastic.”
For now, Thompson prefers to call himself a “classical liberal,” standing for individual responsibility, an end to institutionalized victimhood, and looking to economic and political freedom, rather than to statist micromanagement, for the solutions to society’s problems.
“I haven’t become a neocon; I don’t consider myself right-wing,” he said, labels now thrown at him by his former associates on the Left, along with many other descriptive terms not reproducible here.
“But this is not something that’s over,” he said. “I’m still changing.
“Abortion, for instance. I think Roe v. Wade badly needs to be overturned. This matter never should have been ‘settled’ in the judicial arena. They should send it back to the states where it belongs.
“I have multiple sympathies on this issue. The conservative in me believes there are profound moral issues at stake that justify taking precautions on the side of life. As for public policy, the libertarian in me believes there are freedom issues in effectively criminalizing this matter for all women. The constitutionalist says Roe v. Wade was a stunningly flawed judicial decision. And as a federalist, I say return this to the states and let it be decided in the political domain, as it should have from the beginning.”
How far will he go?
“Who knows?” Thompson said. “In many people’s minds, there’s a Left-Right continuum: you can’t move away from one pole without moving toward the other. But I see myself as having stepped outside that Left-Right line. We’ll see where it takes me from there.”
- Lee Duigon
Lee is the author of the Bell Mountain Series of novels and a contributing editor for our Faith for All of Life magazine. Lee provides commentary on cultural trends and relevant issues to Christians, along with providing cogent book and media reviews.
Lee has his own blog at www.leeduigon.com.