All Commentary
Tuesday, May 1, 1984

A Reviewers Notebook: The Coercive Utopians

The Communist Party in America no longer amounts to anything, and the Socialist Party’s hopes for making a splash in presidential years have not survived the death of Norman Thomas. Nevertheless, socialism marches on in a thousand different guises, requiring a whole new science of semantics to understand what goes on behind the acronyms and the alphabet soup profusion of organizations that Rael Jean Isaac and Professor Erich Isaac have investigated in their magnificently courageous book, The Coercive Utopians: Social Deception by America’s Power Players (Chicago: Regnery-Gateway, 325 pp., $18.95).

The coercive Utopians are all those people who want to compel every last individualist in the country to renounce pluralism in favor of conforming to what Rousseau called the General Will. Unable to herd independent souls into parties that make honest displays of collectivist labels, the Utopians make effective use of euphemisms such as “economic democracy” and “national planning.” The Isaacs quote a particular coercive Utopian, Derek Shearer, who told a conference organized by Ralph Nader that, where the “S” word, socialism, could not be marketed, “the word ‘economic democracy’ sells.” It could be taken “door to door like Fuller brushes, and the doors will not be slammed in your face. So I commend it to you, for those who are willing to compromise on the use of the ‘S’ word.”

The truly big weapon of the coercive Utopians is their ability to throw up a whole network of “spin-offs” from a few fundamental organizations such as the Institute for Policy Studies or the World Peace Council. Using a bewildering display of in-nocent-sounding names, the coercive Utopians have dominated the peace movement, manipulated the various causes of the Environmentalists, sent “Nader’s raiders” hither and yon to define the “public interest” in an anti-business way, and penetrated the consumer movement to mark it for their very own. There is no “conspiracy” about this—it has happened as a natural “Left” adaptation of the science of “social engineering,” a science that has had a respectable lineage going back to the early days of Public Relations as practiced by Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee.

Misdirected Missions

Many of the coercive Utopians mean well, but they don’t know how to control the occasional conniving zealot who is willing to work full time in forwarding the “revolution.” The Isaacs begin by telling the full story of how the Methodist Church was led to fund radical groups in South America and Africa. A young man, David Jessup, who had worked for the Peace Corps in Peru and was “scarcely a conservative,” was asked to make a study of where the Methodist money went. Thinking to work for refugee aid within the church, Jessup became aware that something was amiss when, in 1977, his children came home from Sunday School with “rice bags” to be filled with money to be used for buying wheat for “Vietnam.”

Tracing the movement of $442,000 in direct grants, Jessup discovered that much of the money was going to terrorist and totalitarian groups. The Methodist Board of Global Ministries tried to impugn Jessup’s report as “right wing extremism.” But Jessup stuck to his guns. Money had gone to five organizations that produced pro-Cuban propaganda. Other money had gone to the Indo- china Resource Center that was distinguished by its defense of the murderous Pol Pot regime. Terrorists in southern Africa had received Methodist money, and the Palestine Liberation Organization had benefited by the church funding of support groups in the United States.

Jessup’s criticism led to some changes—the General Conference of the church agreed to require all boards and agencies of the church to make a full disclosure of all cash and in-kind contributions to outside organizations. But Methodist money still went to the National Council of Churches, which the Isaacs describe as being “even more detached than the Methodist bureaucracy from the views of lay church members.” The NCC in the Isaacs’ estimation “looks upon the United States as an oppressor, both at home and abroad.” It has urged the United States to recognize the PLO, and it has sent messages of greeting to victorious Marxist groups in southern Africa.

Collectivist Fronts

The Isaacs respect true pacifism, but they find most “peace” organizations to be equivocal on the subject. The symbol at the top of U.S. Peace Council literature “is a dove shaped into a clenched fist.” The “Mobilization for Survival . . . intertwines Communist and peace organizations in its membership.” Gil Green, a member of the Communist Party’s central committee, served for a time as head of the Mobilization for Survival’s labor task force. The peace groups, so the Isaacs tell us, “are concerned almost exclusively with U.S. disarmament.” The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom’s international president excused the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan by finding it “understandable” that the Russians had an “interest in having close relations with a neighboring country with which it shares a 2,000 mile border.”

The Isaacs’ story of the Leftist penetration and manipulation of the environmentalist movement is a classic reminder that the best can be the worst enemy of the good. There are thresholds of tolerance that shouldn’t be crossed, but a 100 per cent clean environment is impossible in a world in which nature itself does a fair amount of polluting. There are ironies everywhere in the perfectionist’s quest for absolutely clean air. Congress established auto emis sions devices at great cost only to discover that the catalytic converter “may in fact be a major contributor to the growing problem of ‘acid rain.’” Home buyers have been forced to pay through the nose for lumber simply because the wilderness buffs prevent the harvesting of timber that is about to decay. The delay in the Alaska pipeline hurt our foreign policy response to the OPEC oil price monopoly. And the current slowdown in granting offshore oil leases may be the harbinger of more troubles with the Arabs in the Nineteen Nineties.

The Isaacs observe that the media now serves as a shield of the Utopians. Well, reporters are recruited from Irving Kristol’s “new class,” and objectivity is notoriously something that does not go with the anti-capitalist mentality. To understand the intellectuals’ undermining of capitalism the Isaacs invoke Joseph Schumpeter as a “better prophet than Marx.” To Schumpeter’s mind, the freedom to criticize that came with the development of the printing press “first served the capitalist order well because the intellectual attacked the remnants of the feudal order.” But eventually the “new class” of intellectual “turned his criticism upon capitalism itself.”

Marxism, said Schumpeter, wove together “those extrarational cravings which receding religion has left running about like masterless dogs,” and the intellectuals bereft of a transcendent heaven, felt compelled to find Utopia on this earth. But Utopia without transcendence is an illusion.

  • John Chamberlain (1903-1995) was an American journalist, business and economic historian, and author of number of works including The Roots of Capitalism (1959). Chamberlain also served as a founding editor of The Freeman magazine.