Convocation 9/18/2017: Dinesh D’Souza

I am going to start this post with a disclaimer: This post and its contents are solely my opinion. I do not represent nor speak for Liberty University, its leadership, or its student body as a whole. I am not affiliated with university leadership in any way. This post is not intended to be taken as a piece of journalism or scholarship, but as a piece of opinion and/or comedy.

Just a heads up, this post is long. Like, really long. You may not want to read this whole thing in one sitting.

I really don’t want to write this post. I really, really don’t. I will probably spend more time writing this post than today’s speaker did fact-checking his book. However, I sat through convo (a true test of psychological and spiritual endurance), so I might as well share my thoughts.

Today’s speaker was Dinesh D’Souza, who according to his website is an author, speaker, and filmmaker. He came to Liberty to talk about his new book The Big Lie, in which he claims (please don’t make me type this) the democratic party is secretly fascist. D’Souza goes a step further arguing that not only are the democrats fascists, but that the original fascists and Nazis were leftists. He claims that the commonly accepted idea that fascism and Nazism are right-wing ideologies stems from a concerted effort since the 1940’s by liberals and the democrat party to trick the American people. He concluded by saying that “the only way to defuse the big lie, is with big truth”.

In the words of the poet Alexander Pope, “A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring…”. D’Souza portrays himself as an expert on many topics including history, politics, race, and science, however he is not an expert in any of these fields. As far as I can find, his only educational background is a Bachelor of the Arts in English from Dartmouth University (Probably why he is so good at writing fiction).¹ Not only is he not an expert, but many of his facts either do not stand up to scrutiny or require that you interpret them in a specific way in order for them to prove his point. I will look at two areas: His errors in politics and his errors in history.

Political Errors

One of D’Souza’s biggest claims is that the traditional view of the political spectrum, in which fascism and Nazism on the right, is wrong (Seen above). He claims that the acceptance of the standard model is due to the “Big Lie” by democrats, and that Fascism and Nazism should both be on the left end of the spectrum. However, there are several problems with this view. For one, this understanding of the political spectrum is common throughout the world, not just America. If America only believes this because of the big lie, why has the rest of the world come to the same conclusion? Another issue with this belief is that it ignores the metric on which the spectrum is based, traditionalism versus progressiveness. The farther left on the spectrum, the less traditional and more progressive they become. On the contrary, those further to the right tend to be more traditional and less progressive. Fascism and by extension Nazism are considered right because they are extremely reactionary movements, they wish to undo political changes and restore society to a previous (and therefore more traditional) state. Other characteristics that align fascism with the right-side of the political spectrum is hyper-nationalism (a focus on the true people of country and ethnicity), anti-socialism, and militarism.² This is not to say that everyone on the right side of the political spectrum is a fascist, there is a huge distance between conventional conservatism and fascist beliefs.

Another problem with D’Souza’s argument is that it ignores the party platform switch of the mid to late 1900’s. One of D’Souza’s claims is that the modern Democratic party is the same party that is responsible for the secession, slavery, and Jim Crow laws. While this is true in the sense that the party that did those things was the democratic party, there is almost nothing in common between the platform of the democrats then and the modern democratic platform. This is due to the aforementioned party platform switch. Prior to the switch, the democratic party was a mostly right-wing party with a platform that stood for small-government, limited regulation, and segregation. In contrast, the republicans of the time were on the left politically with a platform that included big-government, anti-segregation, and environmentalism.

The political platform switch was not a single event, but rather a slow transition that started in the 1890’s. The democrats began their transition towards the left under the leadership of William Jennings Bryan, who ran for president on a progressive monetary policy and big-government platform.³ He never became president (he lost 3 times), however he remained influential within the party and helped push it to the left economically. The democrats next major shift to the left occurred as a result of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. The New Deal Coalition, a faction of the democratic party consisting primarily of northern democrats that advocated for the New Deal, pushed the party further to the left both economically and socially.³ The parties transition towards their current form continued in the 1940’s and 50’s as republicans moved right to gain the support of poor and middle-class whites in the south, while the democrats moved left socially to gain the support of the now-enfranchised blacks (They had the legal right to vote since 1870, however barriers had been put in place to prevent them from actually voting). Although there is no official date in which this platform switch concluded, the best end event is the presidential election of 1968.4 During this election , the Republican Nixon campaign launched what has become known as the “Southern Strategy”, their plan to gain southern white votes. Nixon ran on a state’s rights and anti-integration platform, a traditional democrat platform, which ultimately won him not just the election but the support of the south.5 The Democrats moved the opposite direction under Kennedy and later Johnson, running on a civil-rights platform. The Republican party had now become the party of the right, and the Democrats were now the party of the left.

History

D’Souza made several historical claims during his speech, however I will be focusing on only two of his claims: That Benito Mussolini, the first fascist, was on the left and his claims about eugenics. I am focusing on these two claims because they are what I call “gotcha statements”, as in ‘you think fascism is a right-wing belief? Well Mussolini was a leftist. gotcha!’.

Lets look at his first claim, that Mussolini was a leftist. One of D’Souza’s biggest arguments for this is the claim the Lenin, a Russian communist, sent him a telegram congratulating him on his victory. As far as I can tell, this telegram does not exist. After over a day searching for this telegram or for evidence of it, I have been unable to find anything. Every website or book that mentions this telegram uses Dinesh D’Souza’s book as the source for the claim. As far as I can tell, the original source for the existence of this telegram is D’Souza himself, so unless he discovered a telegram that nobody before him had found, the telegram does not exist. As to his bigger claim that Mussolini was on the left, there is at least some truth to that statement. In 1902, Mussolini joined a group of Italian Socialists in Switzerland.6 He was eventually deported back to Italy due to his calls for civil unrest, where he wrote and edited for several socialist newspapers.6 At the outbreak of WW1 in 1914, Mussolini’s views began to split from those of the socialists. His views became entrenched in the doctrine of nationalism, which stood opposed to the socialist concept of class consciousness. Mussolini was expelled from the socialist party, so he began to form his own group, the Fascist Revolutionary Party.6 During the chaos in Italy that followed WW1, Mussolini’s brown shirts and the socialists fought in the streets and in the government. At one point, the Brownshirts ransacked the offices of Avanti, the leading socialist newspaper in Italy.6 While Mussolini may have started out a socialist, by the time of WW2 he was one of the socialists, and the lefts, most bitter enemies.

Now let’s look at D’Souza’s claims about eugenics. His primary claim is because Margaret Sanger was a eugenicist and a democrat and because the Nazi’s based their “final solution” on American eugenics systems, that the Nazis were ideologically similar to the democrats. Both of D’Souza’s supporting statements are true, however his conclusion is flawed. D’Souza describes eugenics as if it was a policy decision, when it was much larger than that. Eugenics was the science of the day, a result of a poor understanding of the extents of genetics. Those who accepted eugenics, and a large portion of the population did, believed that conditions such as mental illness, criminality, intelligence, morality, and physical ability were all the results of genetics. Eugenics was not merely a democrat thing, as D’Souza implied, but was encouraged by both parties. Connecticut, a republican state at the time, passed a law prohibiting those who were “epileptic, imbecile, or feebleminded” from marrying.7 This was the first eugenics law in the United States. Eugenics was declared constitutional by the supreme court case Buck v. Bell in 1927.8 Of the 9 justices who agreed with the ruling, 7 were appointed by republicans. This is not to say that democrats were innocent either, most of the states with the highest number of sterilizations were in the democrat south (this was before the aforementioned switch). After WW2 and the discovery of the atrocities committed by Hitler, eugenics became much less popular. This, combined with the discovery that genetics is a lot more complicated than previously believed, led to eugenics being labeled a pseudoscience.

Conclusion

In my opinion, Dinesh D’Souza is nothing more than a conspiracy theorist with a strong confirmation bias. Everything he writes and says is an attempt to convince more people of his conspiratorial worldview: Everything on the right-side of politics is perfect and the left end of the political spectrum is nothing but a font of pure-evil constantly trying to put one evil scheme or another into action. To support his view, he twists facts, leaves out context, draws illogical connections, and ignores centuries of accepted thought in favor of his own beliefs. That last one is easy to do when everything that seems to contradict your beliefs is actually part of a “big lie” and not evidence that you may be wrong. In case this post has not made it obvious, I did not like Mondays convo.

I apologize for the long post, Wednesdays should be much shorter.

Lightning Round:

  • Hooray, the first political convocation of the semester! If you thought that the end of the 2016 election would mean the end of political convocations, sorry. It is never going away.
  • D’Souza claims that the democrats started the “big lie” in the 1940’s following WW2, but the democrats were still on the right politically at that time. Why would they frame themselves as the bad guy?
  • LU praise was amazing. Whenever they walk out onto the stage, you know you are going to have a good time.
  • This post is solely about D’Souza’s speech. I have not and will not read his book. I have better things to do with my money and time.\
  • This post is over 2000 words long. That is around 7 pages in word. That is longer than most of the papers I have ever written for college.

If you like what I do, consider following me on twitter at @skepticalpyrrho to get notified whenever I post. If you don’t have a twitter, you can follow me on the website and receive an email when I post. I would love to hear what you guys thought about this post, so leave a comment below or send a message through the contact page.

This post is solely the opinion of the author and should not be taken as a statement of fact or accusation.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Liberty University leadership or administration in any way. The opinions expressed here are solely my own and should be not be taken as the opinion of the University, its staff, or the student body.
Sources:

1.http://www.independent.org/aboutus/person_detail.asp?id=746

2.Introducing Fascism: A Graphic Guide, Icon Books, 2013, ISBN: 978-184831-612-6, page 88-89

3.http://history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/BAIC/Historical-Essays/Keeping-the-Faith/Party-Realignment–New-Deal/

4.https://medium.com/everyvote/how-the-republicans-and-democrats-switched-on-civil-rights-in-5-racist-steps-92c1b41480b

5.Kruse Kevin. White Flight: Atlanta and the making of modern conservatism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.

6.http://www.historyinanhour.com/2012/07/29/benito-mussolini-socialist/

7.“Public Health”. JAMA: the Journal of the American Medical Association. American Medical Association: 1138. 6 June 1896. doi:10.1001/jama.1896.02430750040011.

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