Treason, by Ann Coulter, is a book of great value and great danger. For Objectivists, who are immune to its horrendous philosophical claims, its integration of the political events of the last 50 years will be of great value. But the excellence of those very points makes all the more dangerous the anti-man, mystical, religious underpinnings of the book.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way, first. On page 8-9, she quotes approvingly from ex-communist spy Whittaker Chambers, weaving her own thought around his:
“Communism, he said, is ‘the vision of man without God.’ It was man’s second oldest faith: ‘Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil “Ye shall be as gods.”‘ These were the ‘irreconcilable opposites–God or Man, Soul or Mind, Freedom of Communism.’ Liberals chose Man. Conservatives chose God.”
This is an explicit statement that communism is the pro-man, pro- mind position. On the other hand, if you believe in mindless obedience to Allah, freedom is for you. And this in a book devoted, in part, to telling America to wake up to the fact that our enemy is anti-civilization Muslims. Okay, she didn’t call Him “Allah,” but that’s the only difference.
Whittaker Chambers, whom the book quotes many times as if he were the sage of the ages, was the author of the vilest review of Atlas Shrugged ever written. And it was published in National Review.
The best thing one can say about her anti-man, anti-mind statements is that they are mercifully brief. But they do open and close the book. Other than the sandwiching of the book between the opening and closing layers of gross superstition, there are just a few passing references to liberals being “pro-choice” and to not affording Christians the deference they pay to the sensibilities of Muslims.
But for those of us who are immune to such ideas, and who can stomach the passages in which she pushes them, there is much satisfaction, and much to learn in this litany of the left’s continuous treason to America since World War II. She can put things together–and does, in spades. She also writes well, though more than a hair too sarcastically and bitterly. (I can excuse her that, except when the writing becomes unclear because of the sarcasm: in several places it’s easy to become lost as to whether she is quoting, parodying, or giving her own view; but re-reading the paragraph a little more slowly usually solves that.)
This lady has guts. She writes: “America is in an epic global battle with ruthless savages who seek our destruction, and liberals are feeling sorry about the terrorists.” (p. 15)
A great deal of the book is devoted to defending Joe McCarthy. Not just saying “McCarthyism” is a phony wail of the left (which of course it is), and not just saying McCarthy has been misrepresented, but saying that McCarthy did a great service for America. That’s debatable, and Ayn Rand was at least lukewarm about McCarthy (she said publicly that he wasn’t anti-communist enough: he went after the middle-level commies but not the top Reds). But I liked her conclusion:
“The primary victim of outrageous persecution during the McCarthy era was McCarthy. Liberals hid their traitorous conduct by making McCarthy the issue. They did to McCarthy everything they falsely accuse him of doing to them.” (p. 104)
And she has the facts (footnoted) to back that up.
Here’s a typical good line of hers: “The left’s idea of persecution is an absence of total unanimity in support of Harvard-educated traitors.” (p. 90) This is not just name-calling against Harvard smarties:
“Even McCarthy’s most celebrated ‘victim,’ Owen Lattimore, was not named publicly by McCarthy. It was liberal journalist and anti- McCarthy zealot Drew Pearson who leaked Lattimore’s name to the public–the better to revile McCarthy for ruining people’s reputations. Lattimore became one of the most well-compensated victims of ‘McCarthyism.’ Upon being found a ‘conscious, articulate instrument of the Soviet conspiracy’ by a unanimous Senate Committee, Lattimore was assured a spot lecturing at Harvard.” (p. 65)
Referring to little-known Venona Project, which decrypted secret Soviet cables, she writes:
“… after a half century of liberal mythmaking, it would be Judgment Day for liberals on July 11, 1995. On that day, the U.S. government released a cache of Soviet cables that had been decoded during the Cold War in a top-secret undertaking known as the Venona Project. The cables proved the overwhelming truth of McCarthy’s charges. It was a mind-boggling discovery. Professors would be forced to retract their theses about the extent of Soviet espionage. Alger Hiss, Julius Rosenberg, even American journalist I.F. Stone were exposed as agents of Moscow. And yet, most people reading this book are hearing about the Venona Project for the very first time. The release of decrypted Soviet cables was barely mentioned by the New York Times. It might have detracted from stories of proud and unbowed victims of ‘McCarthyism.’ They were not so innocent after all, it turns out.
“Soviet spies in the government were not a figment of right-wing imaginations. McCarthy was not tilting at windmills. He was tilting at an authentic Communist conspiracy that had been laughed off by the Democratic Party. The Democrats had unpardonably connived with one of the greatest evils of the twentieth century.”
I did the most marginal marking of my copy in the section of the book about McCarthy, so most of my quoting of passages here is from that. But the book covers the period right up to this March, including the liberals’ attempts to stop the invasion of Iraq. And I found the debunking of Truman’s anti-communism, covered early in the book, informative and interesting.
Okay, let me give one quote from later in the book (p. 204) to give you the flavor:
“Liberal sophistry required pretending they supported America’s winning the war on terrorism–and before that, winning the Cold War. They just have a different plan of action. Fascinatingly, liberal proposals for achieving the goals–about which ‘of course, we all agree’–are invariably the opposite of what any normal person might think would work. Instead of punishing bad behavior and rewarding good behavior, liberals often feel it is the better part of valor to reward bad behavior and punish good behavior. Of course, we all agree that Fidel Castro is a bad man. That’s why we need to lift travel restrictions and trade with Cuba! Of course, everyone would like to see Saddam Hussein removed from power. That’s why we must not do anything to remove him from power! Only in the case of smoking do liberals enthusiastically embrace the otherwise mystifying concept of punishing bad behavior.”
Treason is not just a recitation of horrors from the left. It also draws the big picture–at least on a political level. Unfortunately, the target of her attack is mainly the Democratic party. She recognizes that university faculties are bastions of anti-Americanism, but she often dismisses the academics as “blowhards.” She underrates the academics’ role in creating and promoting the ideas that produce the concrete treason–but she does not strike an anti-intellectual note. She seems to regard Bill Clinton and Tom Daschle as more effective leftists than, say, Noam Chomsky. And, of course, the real plague-initiators like Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Dewey are never mentioned. Even Marx gets only two index entries (passing reference to his name with zero discussion of his ideas).
But she does make points like this:
“…why shouldn’t American foreign policy be based on the national interest? When did self-defense become a less respectable cause for war than liberation of oppressed peoples?” … If they were enthusiastic about deposing Milosevic, liberals should have been burning with desire to take out Saddam Hussein. But they were not: Deposing Saddam was in the self-interest of the United States. Only a war that serves no conceivable national interest gets the New York Time’s endorsement. Liberals warm to the idea of American mothers weeping for their sons, but only if their deaths will not make America any safer. The point–which is always the same point–is that we must not protect ourselves.” (pp. 211-212)
As a typical conservative, she credits Ronald Reagan with winning the Cold War. The truth is that in his Soviet policy Reagan was a little better, or a little less worse, than preceding presidents. The real cause of Russia’s fall was the death of the Marxist ideology, which, to use the Marxist language, contained the seeds of its own destruction. Marxism was based on the claim that socialism would bring material prosperity and would not only outdistance capitalism in terms of wealth, but would see capitalism plunge into an economic abyss leading to a revolution. After 70 years of saying “not yet, but in a few years” this essential tenet of Marxism could no longer be seriously entertained. At that point, the choice was to try to maintain power by sheer terror–as the Chinese did at Tiananmen Square–or to compromise, which the ragged, weary Soviet bureaucracy did.
I agree with her contention that Reagan’s appeal to morality, in his “Evil Empire” speech, was a very powerful factor. But an ideologically self-confident regime, as Russia was in earlier decades, could have laughed that off. But my point is that she does see the importance of moral vision. Unfortunately, she ties that explicitly to faith in God.
In general, her analysis of McCarthy, Reagan and others on the “right,” is too positive, even a little over-the-top. There are other specific errors, and a few errors in reasoning. But she is far closer to the truth than the liberal myths she is exposing. And her theme is correct: in foreign affairs, the left is actively anti-American.
In reading Treason, Objectivists will have no trouble evaluating and rejecting out of hand its awful, religious passages, but I worry about it strengthening the religionists’ hold on the right. Perhaps I could put my conclusion in this way: You should definitely read this book, but before you give it to a non-Objectivist, explain to him in no uncertain terms what’s wrong with its pro-faith, anti-man philosophical ideas.