Cathy Areu is not a Freudian

Cathy Areu

Back to Cathy Areu – a Latina magazine editor who, as we saw on Tuesday, has become a familiar face on American cable news. Is she an expert in history or political science or anything like that? No. She’s a self-educated authority on the Zeitgeist, the Brave New World in which rules about things like sexual identity and bigotry have been rewritten overnight.

As we noted, Tucker Carlson has made frequent use of her services in recent months. On one episode of his show, for instance, Carlson covered the story of a white man who now identifies as a Filipino woman named Ja Du. What, he asked Areu, did she make of this? She found it “totally OK,” explaining that “it’s very American to be who you want to be.” Carlson asked facetiously if this meant that he, Carlson, could identify as “a successful hedge fund manager or an NBA star.” Areu answered without hesitation: “Absolutely!…It’s what’s on the inside that counts, not the outside.”

Sigmund Freud

Persevering in his deft use of reductio ad absurdum, Carlson asked if a human being could, on the same grounds, identify as a member of another species. But the eternally bright-eyed Areu didn’t back down: “I think it’s wonderful, I think it’s beautiful, I think it’s great!” When Carlson suggested that Sigmund Freud, for example, might consider it delusional for a person to think he was a duck or a goat, Areu retorted that it was now 2017, and society is more “accepting” now than it used to be in the dark old days of Freud.

Carlson wasn’t giving up. What, he asked Areu, if a friend of hers said he was Napoleon Bonaparte? That, too, she asserted with a cheery nod, was “okay.”

Areu with Tucker Carlson

Commenting on a news story about a male Harvard student who expressed regret for having talked to friends about attractive girls, Areu asserted that he did indeed have something to apologize for – namely, objectifying women. “That’s always been a crime, to objectify women,” she told Carlson. She further maintained that 30% of women who graduate from Harvard say they’ve been victims of sexual assault (a remarkable statistic that seems to have no basis in reality). Asked if women can objectify men in the same way that men objectify women – if, that is, one woman can say to another that she finds a certain guy cute – Areu replied, “Sure,” because “women aren’t harming anyone.” Areu added: “It’s very rare for men to be objectified,” a contention that, to anyone living in the real world, sounds rather curious.

Areu and unidentified companion outside the White House

On March 9 Areu was on Carlson’s show yet again. This time, the topic was a man who’d been fined in Belgium for the crime of sexist speech. Specifically, he had told a woman police officer that because of her sex she did not belong in that line of work. Asked if she approved of the idea of criminalizing such views, Areu said yes: sexist speech needs to be “nip[ped] in the bud,” and should be a felony in the U.S. Never mind the First Amendment: authorities need to “reintroduce profanity laws” and expand them to include sexist language. Offenders should be locked up: “when they come out,” she said, “they’ll be better people.” It was not clear whether or not Areu recognized that her proposal was right out of the playbook of the Chinese Communist Party’s Cultural Revolution. Asked if women should be susceptible to punishment too, she said no, because “women cannot be sexist.”

Jack Stauder: a radical’s disillusionment

A professor of cultural anthropology named Jack Stauder made headlines last fall when he made a remarkable admission: he was no longer smitten with Marxism.

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Jack Stauder

Stauder, who teaches at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, told a website called The College Fix that he’d been a radical socialist ever since his undergraduate days at Harvard. The son of a Colorado and New Mexico rancher, Stauder had gone to Harvard, where he started off as an American history and literature major, direct from Las Cruces High School. He was not a typical Harvard boy, taking off a year after his freshman year to do construction work and serve in the Marine Corps reserves. Returning to Harvard, he studied under the great historian Perry Miller and completed his undergraduate degree in 1962.

stauder-bookHe then pursued graduate studies at Cambridge University on a Marshall Scholarship. Having shifted his area of interest to cultural anthropology, he did several years of field work in Ethiopia, receiving a Ph.D. in 1968 with a dissertation about an Ethiopian tribe, the Majangir. He then returned to the U.S. to teach at his alma mater, where a course he taught, entitled “Radical Perspectives in Social Change,” engendered massive controversy. The year was 1969, and Marxist radicals had not yet taken over American college faculties. Stauder, in the words of a profile that appeared that year in the Harvard Crimson, had a very clear identity: he was “[t]he instructor with the radical course.” The course “split both the Soc Rel Department and the University community” and led to his arrest. Yet he kept his job, becoming one of the founders of what can now fairly be described as the ideological establishment that rules the humanities and social sciences in American universities.

stauder2Years after his season of scandal, however. Stauder actually began traveling to nations in which Marxism had been put into practice. The result? “I gradually became disenchanted with Marxism by visiting many of the countries that had tried to shape their societies to conform to its doctrines,” he told The College Fix. “I was disillusioned by the realities I saw in … socialist countries – the USSR, Eastern Europe, China, Cuba, etc.” He added: “I came to recognize that socialism doesn’t work, and that its ‘revolutionary’ imposition inevitably leads to cruelty, injustice and the loss of freedom….By combining actual travel with the historical study of socialism and revolution, I succeeded in disabusing myself of the utopian notions that fatally attract people to leftist ideas.”

In all, he visited scores of countries over the decades, Marxist and otherwise. And he also began to spend a great of time in his native Southwest, where a return to his roots “helped my transition away from the leftist ideology that exists in the intellectual atmosphere of university life….By spending my summers in the Southwest in the company of rural working people, farmers and ranchers, I developed perspectives on the real world very different from those that prevail in the academic world.” Stauder’s observations and conversations convinced him that human beings “feel the need to believe in something, and when intellectuals abandon traditional religion, as most have done, they tend to seek substitutes” – and, all too often, find them in virulent ideologies.

Well, he’s right there. Too bad he didn’t wake to all this decades ago. But better late than never. Congratulations on your awakening, professor, and may you spread your insights to many students in the years to come.

Debra Messing’s favorite Maoist?

This week we’ve been covering the life of Bob Avakian, longtime head of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP). An ardent promoter of the ideas of Stalin and Mao, he’s been a staple of the left ever since the 1960s.

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Bob Avakian with Cornel West at Riverside Church

And he’s still out there slugging. In November 2014, Avakian broke with his longtime secretiveness to appear onstage with his good buddy Cornel West, the former Princeton and Harvard professor and frequent guest on Real Time with Bill Maher. The event took place at Riverside Church in New York City and was billed as a discussion about “Revolution and Religion.”

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Carl Dix

In fact, there was less discussion than there was haranguing by Avakian. After being introduced by his underling Carl Dix, who told the audience that the RCP leader had “brought forward a new synthesis of Communism,” Avakian – in the windy oratorical tradition of Fidel Castro and any number of other Communist dictators – stood at a lectern and ranted for two hours straight without saying anything particularly interesting or original. (Israel, he charged, is guilty of “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide.”) Then he and Cornel West sat down together and talked for almost two more hours, with Avakian, again, taking up most of the time pontificating. The RCP paid $70,000 for a full-page ad in the New York Times promoting the event.

mao-zedong1In June 2015, a student journalist at Harvard, Gram Slattery, probed the RCP, which drew his interest because of its bookstore in Harvard Square. Despite efforts to arrange an interview with the Dear Leader, he didn’t get to meet Avakian, but did get a sit-down with another party leader who, echoing RCP doctrine, dismissed the “narrative that Mao was a mass murderer, that he was personally responsible for 50 to 100 million deaths,” and asserted that Avakian “has dedicated himself to looking at what actually happened” in Mao’s China. Avakian, stated the RCP member, is “precious for humanity.” The RCP, reported Slattery, clung fast to “its reverence for Mao” and its defense of Stalin. (In the party’s view, “the Soviet Union went downhill once Khrushchev took over.”) Slattery also pointed out that the RCP, for a long time, had regarded Peru’s Shining Path terrorists – who “executed thousands of peasants and even took to torturing deviant Marxists in the early ’90s” – as role models.

inthenameofhumanityposter17x22-600-enAvakian ain’t down yet. He and his party have made a big splash since the election of Donald Trump. It was the RCP that was behind a widely published campaign to stop a Trump presidency before the inauguration.The centerpiece was an ad headlined “We REFUSE to accept a Fascist America!” It was signed by (among others) actor Ed Asner, activist Bill Ayers, comedian Margaret Cho, playwright Eve Ensler, director John Landis, actress Debra Messing, novelist Alice Walker, and (of course) Cornel West. One wonders how  many of them knew they were part of an initiative run by unreconstructed Maoists.  

To promote the campaign, West and RCP co-founder Carl Dix appeared on The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News on January 5. You can watch the interview below. Perhaps the highlight was when Dix likened Trump to Hitler. Interesting words indeed from a representative of a party that still celebrates the glorious legacies of Stalin and Mao.

Which, by the way, brings us to the question: what is Carl Dix’s story? We’ll get to him tomorrow.

No peacenik: Tom Hayden

As we saw yesterday, Sixties radical Tom Hayden, who died on October 23 and was remembered in one obituary after another as a champion of peace, was, in fact, the very opposite of a peacenik.

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1968 Chicago riots

Here are a few more highlights. In a 1967 article in the New York Review of Books, he served up detailed prescriptions for organized urban bloodshed. That same year, contemporaneous observers blamed his incendiary rhetoric for “causing nearly a week of rioting” in Newark. During the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, he encouraged civil disruption in the form of “spreading nails on a highway” and firebombing police cars. At Berkeley in 1969, he led a “training center” where would-be revolutionaries were taught to use firearms and explosives. Also in 1969, he took part in a “war council” in Flint, Michigan, at which he and some of his comrades officially declared war against America and called for “violent, armed struggle.”

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Hayden the politician

To be sure, after the madness of the 1960s dissipated, Hayden shifted gears. In the 1980s and 90s, he got himself elected to the California legislature, taught courses at Harvard, UCLA, and elsewhere (despite having no degree beyond a B.A.), and gave speeches at innumerable universities.

gospelBut he remained a radical rabble-rouser. In 1996, quick as ever to embrace a trendy left-wing cause, he wrote his own book on environmentalism, The Lost Gospel of the Earth, even though he had no expertise whatsoever in the field and absolutely nothing original to say about it. Echoing Kirkpatrick Sale’s vapid, ultra-PC Conquest of Paradise (1990) and other recent contributions to the genre, Hayden drew an embarrassingly crude contrast between the perfectly saintly American Indians and the unwaveringly evil Europeans. “His descriptions of Indian virtue and wisdom,” wrote Vincent Carroll in a review for the Weekly Standard, “are no less monochromatic than his most gullible exhortations on behalf of the Viet Cong – if anything, they are more so.”

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Seattle riots, 1999

And so it went. In 1999, Hayden encouraged street riots to protest World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle. In 2001, he blamed the 9/11 attacks on American imperialism. In 2005, ever eager to socialize with America’s enemies, he met in London with Iraqi terrorist leaders; afterwards, his naivete as intact as it had been decades earlier, he wrote an article painting these ruthless jihadists as gentle, peace-loving patriots. When Hugo Chávez died in 2013, Hayden wrote: “As time passes, I predict the name of Hugo Chávez will be revered among millions.” In 2014, he declared in an op-ed that the Cuban Revolution had “achieved its aim: recognition of the sovereign right of its people to revolt against the Yankee Goliath and survive as a state in a sea of global solidarity.”

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Older, but not wiser

How to sum up the life of a man who combined moral depravity with sheer doltishness? Carroll made a couple of good points in his review of The Lost Gospel. Citing Hayden’s “dreadful sanctimony and self-absorption” and air of “moral superiority,” Carroll wrote: “one continuously marvels that a man of Hayden’s superficiality has played such a prominent role in left-wing political thought for more than 30 years.” But we can’t say we’re too surprised: after all, Hayden was far from the only narcissistic, barricade-charging ideologue of the 1960s who was treated as a cultural hero in the decades that followed and whose fatuity, ferocity, and malice were transformed, in his obituaries, into wisdom, peacefulness, and love.

Revisiting de Man

As we saw last week, Paul de Man was a revered literary critic – a pillar of the pretentious theoretical approach known as deconstruction – who died in 1983 only to have his reputation destroyed four years later when a young Belgian academic uncovered his pro-Nazi wartime writings.  

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Evelyn Barish

The blow that de Man’s image suffered in 1987 was bad enough. But things got even worse in 2014, when Evelyn Barish, a professor at City University of New York, published a comprehensive and deeply researched biography of de Man that provided further proof of his moral bankruptcy – not only in wartime, but throughout his life.

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Paul de Man

For one thing, he was, as it turned out, a bigamist. In occupied Brussels, he and his first wife lived in an apartment that had most likely been appropriated from Jews. He was very close to his uncle Henri de Man, a top Nazi collaborator and member of the cabinet in Hitler’s puppet Belgian government, through whom he met a number of top-flight Nazis. In addition to writing for two Nazi papers, de Man worked at a Nazi publishing house and tried to get support for an art magazine that would “promote the entire range of the most bizarre Nazi ideologies.” During the war, and in the years immediately afterwards, de Man took out loans and never repaid them, accepted advances for books he had no intention of writing, and committed embezzlement. In the process he bankrupted his father, who never spoke to him again.

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Mary McCarthy

It was when the heat started getting too hot in Belgium that de Man fled to the U.S. He entered the country on a temporary visa, which he overstayed. Three years after his big move, a Belgian court sentenced him to five years in prison for forgery and other crimes. Somehow, word of this verdict apparently didn’t make its way to the appropriate authorities in the U.S. In any event, de Man didn’t look back – and didn’t change his ways. When a new friend, author Mary McCarthy, recommended him for what would be his first teaching job in America, at Bard College, he presented the administrators with an entirely fictitious CV, including a made-up master’s thesis and a position with a prestigious Paris publishing house. He also pretended to have been in the Resistance.

Living in New York, de Man kept moving from flat to flat because he had a bad habit of never paying rent; when he pulled the same scam at Bard, where his landlord was on the faculty, Bard fired him.

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Robert Alter

From Bard he went to Harvard. To get in, he proffered a new set of fake credentials: on the bottom of a legitimate document from the University of Brussels that identified him as a dropout – but, notes critic Robert Alter, “in language by no means clear to American eyes” –  de Man forged a handwritten addendum stating that he’d “passed the actual ‘Licence’ exam before a State Board in 1942.” The folks at Harvard had no way of knowing, apparently, that there was no such thing in Belgium as the State Board.

When he finished his work at Harvard, de Man failed the written part of his comprehensive exams, but his doctoral advisor passed him anyway. Eventually the INS got his number and showed up in his life, from time to time, like Inspector Javert in Les Miserables; but de Man was luckier than Jean Valjean, managing each time to talk his way out of getting taken into custody.

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Paul de Man with Jacques Derrida

As Alter put it in his review of Barish’s book, the “full picture” of de Man’s life “is actually far worse” than even his severest critics had thought back in 1987. Describing de Man as “a person who flagrantly disregarded rules and obligations, shamelessly and repeatedly lied about himself, and had a criminal past,” Alter praised him as “an extraordinarily gifted con man, persuading the most discerning intellectuals that he had credentials he did not possess and a heroic personal history, rather than a scandalous one, while he worked his charm on generations of students.”

Once, in his youth, De Man told a relative: “Principles are what the idiots substitute for intelligence.” He seems to have lived his whole life by this precept.

More tomorrow.

De Man’s deceptions

They were called the deconstructionists, and a few decades ago they were the stars of academic literary studies in the United States. Based largely at Yale University, the critical school was founded by Jacques Derrida, whose fame and influence were almost matched by the group’s second most important member, Paul de Man.

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Paul de Man

During his lifetime, this is what was generally known about De Man’s background: born in Belgium in 1919, he moved to America in 1948, taught at Bard, studied at Harvard, then joined the faculty at Cornell. At a 1966 conference he heard a speech by Derrida, whom he befriended and whose critical approach he began to adopt in his own work. His star rose steadily during the last years of his career, which he spent as chair of Yale’s department of comparative literature.

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Ortwin de Graef

He died in 1983, fêted and respected around the world. And then the roof caved in. In 1987, a Belgian grad student and de Man devotee, Ortwin de Graef, was poking through some old archives when he ran across two hundred or so articles that de Man had written for a couple of Nazi-run newspapers, Le Soir and Het Vlaamsche Land, during the war. Now, it had never been entirely clear what de Man had done during the war. He had led people to believe that he’d belonged to the Resistance, but the details had always been sketchy. De Graef’s discoveries showed that de Man, far from standing up to the Nazis, had worked for them, written for them, and supported them. Although his topics were mostly literary, he managed to bring to them a political – which is to say a consistently pro-Nazi – approach. As lliterary critic and Harvard professor Louis Menand has put it, de Man “championed a Germanic aesthetic, denigrated French culture as effete, associated Jews with cultural degeneracy, praised pro-Nazi writers and intellectuals, and assured Le Soir’s readers that the New Order had come to Europe. The war was over. It was time to join the winners.”

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Louis Menand

The New York Times reported on de Graef’s findings in December 1987. The mainstream press, for the most part, crucified de Man. But many of his friends, colleagues, and fellow practitioners of literary theory tried to find a way to declare de Man innocent. To do so, they employed the slippery “logic” (which is anything but le mot juste here) of deconstruction itself, which revels in complexity, obscurity, and incertitude, and is eager to find ambiguity everywhere – even (or perhaps especially) in flat-out, perfectly clear statements that contain no real ambiguity whatsoever. In some cases, indeed, deconstruction essentially goes so far as to turn day into night, up into down, and wrong into right. We’ll look at a couple of those cockeyed defenses tomorrow.

Those wannabe Nazi courtiers

Yesterday, drawing on Jonathan Petropoulos’s fascinating book Artists under Hitler, we began taking a look at various German cultural figures who, during the Nazi era, chose not to flee their country and instead tried to find a modus vivendi with Hitler. In other words, useful stooges.

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Walter Gropius in 1919

Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus and one of the greatest architects of the twentieth century, was one of these.  No, he was not a Nazi. “He detested their intolerance,” Petropoulos emphasizes. On the other hand, he was very proud of his German identity and – viewing himself as a man who was “above politics” – he believed he possessed “qualities that would enable him to flourish in the Third Reich.” Without complaint, he supplied Nazi authorities with copies of his family tree to document his pure “Aryan” heritage so he could join official arts groups.

Try though he did, however, Gropius couldn’t get a professional foothold under the new regime. He entered a design competition for the Nazis’ new Reichsbank, but lost. He entered another design for a recreational facility called the Houses of German Work – complete with four high-flying swastika banners – and lost again.

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Gropius’s design for the Reichsbank

Working closely with the Reich Propaganda Ministry, he did help plan an ideology-drenched exhibition called “German People – German Work.” But all in all, his career prospects proved to be lousier in Germany than they were abroad. So in the mid 1930s, he spent a good deal of time in Britain, where he worked with an English colleague on a building for a college in Cambridgeshire and designed lamps and wastepaper baskets for a furniture company. Later in the decade, he accepted an invitation from Harvard to serve as chairman of that institution’s department of architecture.

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The PanAm (now MetLife) building

During these first years in the U.S., Gropius refused to involve himself in anti-Nazi causes. When the war began, however, he chose to stay in America, and in 1944 became a citizen. He went on to design New York’s iconic Pan Am (now MetLife) Building and many other notable structures. He became, in short, an iconic American architect, whose attempts to ingratiate himself with the Nazis were dropped down the memory hole. Like several of the other stooges whose lives Petropoulos recounts, Gropius was spared the kind of postwar ignominy experienced by (say) Albert Speer only because he couldn’t secure enough decent work in his homeland to make it worth staying there.

Paul Hindemith was as important to modern music as Gropius was to modern architecture. Even more so, perhaps: by the time the Nazis came along, he’d been serving for some time as a sort of cultural ambassador for his homeland around the Western world, especially in America. As Petropoulos puts it, Hindemith hoped the Nazis would look upon his “sterling and increasingly global reputation,” as well as upon his background as a World War I veteran, and see him as a potential ornament to the Third Reich.

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Paul Hindemith

Like Gropius, Hindemith was no Nazi. Since he had a half-Jewish wife and Jewish friends, it could be argued that he wasn’t anti-Semitic either (although he never opened his mouth to protest the official abuse of his Jewish colleagues). In any event, he did what he thought necessary to advance his career under the Nazis. He signed a personal oath of allegiance to Hitler; he publicly badmouthed fellow modernist composers who were out of favor with the regime; and he trimmed his sails musically (retreating from modernism back into German Romanticism and post-Romanticism) to please his new masters.

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Wilhelm Fürtwangler

And yet none of it worked. Why? Quite simply, Hitler disliked his music. For a time, thanks largely to the support of Wilhelm Furtwängler, the revered conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, Hindemith was able to keep staging his works. But Furtwängler’s support only kept Hindemith afloat for so long; after his inclusion in the Nazis’ 1938 “Degenerate Music Exhibition” made it clear that he wasn’t welcome in the new Germany, he and his wife finally decamped for Switzerland and then, in 1940, relocated to the U.S., where he taught at Yale for thirteen years. In a letter he wrote on the ship to New York, he said that if only he had “the prospect of a somewhat secure existence,” he’d gladly return to Hitler’s Reich. The reason for his departure, then, wasn’t at all ideological. As with Gropius, however, his timely getaway ensured that he was one German artist who, after the war, escaped the taint of collaboration.

Hugo’s fans: where are they now?

The headlines don’t mince words. “Socialism in Venezuela: No toilet paper, TV, or long distance call service.”  Venezuela nearing total ‘collapse.’”  “Venezuela’s Collapse Brings ‘Savage Suffering.’” “Venezuela has a crazy new plan to save electricity.” (The “plan” is to change the country’s time zone.)

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Nicolás Maduro

It was only a couple of years ago – but seems much, much longer – that celebrity fans of chavismo in the U.S. were still proudly proclaiming their support for the so-called Bolivarian Revolution. Consider the March 2014 letter written by a bunch of Hugo’s stateside admirers to members of the U.S. Congress, chiding them for the passage of H.R. 488, a bill expressing support for Venezuelans “as they protest peacefully for democratic change and calling to end the violence.” The letter fiercely defended the chavista government, stating that it “may have legitimate reasons for arresting and detaining” many opposition members, and accused the U.S. Congress of “politicization of human rights.” In a classic change-the-subject gambit, the letter asked why the Congress was exercised about human rights in Venezuela and not, say, in Colombia or Peru? And in conclusion, the letter warned that “Congressional resolutions steeped in hyperbolic rhetoric that portray Venezuela as a repressive government or even a dictatorship threaten to undermine the integrity of the U.S. Congress in the eyes of our Latin American neighbors.”

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Hugo with Danny Glover

Who were the signatories of this missive? The big names were actor Danny Glover, director Oliver Stone, and aging hippie Tom Hayden. But there were also several academics, some of them pretty big names in their fields – George Ciccariello-Maher, a political scientist at Drexel; Arturo Escobar, an anthropologist at Chapel Hill; Dan Kovalik of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law; Miguel Tinker Salas, a historian at Pomona; Sinclair Thomson and Greg Grandin, both historians at NYU; John Womack, Jr., a retired Harvard historian and economist; Gilbert M. Joseph, a historian at Yale; and Gerardo Renique, a historian at CUNY.

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Dan Kovalik

Where are these champions of chavismo now? Where, c’est-à-dire, are the schmoes of yesteryear? A few quick Google searches suggest that, of all these admirers of the Bolivarian Revolution, Kovalik is one of the two or three buffoons on the above list who’ve weighed in most recently on Venezuelan affairs. And what did Kovalik have to say? Scribbling in the Huffington Post in December, he lamented the opposition’s victory in the parliamentary elections: “Ultimately, it is the impoverished people of Venezuela who suffered the biggest loss in the recent elections, for the Chavista revolution has been focused on improving the once-neglected poor of Venezuela.” Kovalik was, at that point, still making great claims for the economic results of chavismo: “the Chavista government has done a laudable job in greatly reducing poverty and in reducing economic inequality.”

Then there’s Grandin. We’ll get around to him tomorrow. 

Leopoldo

Tuesday evening brought what may be promising news from Venezuela. The National Assembly, which since January 6 has been dominated by the anti-chavista opposition, passed a law ordering the release of political prisoners. President Maduro vowed to veto. We’ll see what happens. We’ll have to keep an eye on the Venezuelan media, because outlets like the New York Times and CNN can’t always be relied on to pay attention to such developments.

It’s not as if the international news media have entirely ignored what’s been going on in the Bolivarian Republic, but it does seem to us that, with few exceptions, they’ve failed to recognize just how remarkable the current situation is in that tortured country.

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Hugo Chávez

This failure, if that’s the right word, is not entirely a puzzlement, of course, given that many of the aforementioned media were, not so very long ago, eager stooges and vociferous cheerleaders for Hugo Chávez, the father of Venezuelan socialism, otherwise known as chavismo. Chávez, with his brazen and unapologetic anti-Americanism, embodied the hopes of certain Americans and Europeans for a smashingly successful socialist Latin America, led by the example of the fearless Hugo and wonderfully free of the baleful influence of the nefarious norteamericanos.

Instead, Venezuela has turned out to be an extraordinary dramatic – indeed tragic – textbook example of the sheer folly of socialism. The rapidity with which the country’s economy has collapsed, and the terrifying particulars of that collapse, provide – for those too young to remember the Soviet Union and too foolish to recognize that the Castros’ Cuba is not a charming vintage-auto museum or 24/7 salsa party but a well-nigh unlivable everyday reality for 11 million people – a vivid picture of the disaster that is Communism.

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Leopoldo López in prison

That in itself is dramatic enough. But add to that the singular case of Leopoldo López. The chavista regime’s most eloquent critic, the opposition’s most charismatic leader, he has been in prison for over two years now, for no other reason than that he is – quite obviously – by far the most potent threat to the power of Chávez’s hapless, fatuous successor, Nicolás Maduro. López is so manifestly everything that Maduro is not, so completely the Gallant to his Goofus, that it seems almost too tidy a scenario; if this were a film script, the producer would almost certainly order the writer to make the villain at least somewhat less buffoonish and corrupt and the hero somewhat less noble and courageous.

Venezuelan acting President Nicolas Maduro raises his fist during a campaign rally in San Carlos, Cojedes State, on April 4, 2013. The presidential campaign to replace Venezuela's Hugo Chavez formally kicked off Tuesday, with Maduro -- Chavez's hand-picked successor -- battling opposition leader Henrique Capriles for the forthcoming April 14 vote. AFP PHOTO / JUAN BARRETOJUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images
Nicolás Maduro

But on rare occasions, reality is simply better than fiction – and this is, quite simply, one of those times. López – a collateral descendant of Simón Bolívar, the George Washington of South America – studied economics and government at Kenyon College in Ohio and public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Elected mayor of Chacao, one of the five administrative districts of Caravas, by a slim margin in 2000, he was re-elected four years later with 81% of the vote.

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With his wife, Lilian Tintori

The glowing success of his mayoral tenure and the thoroughgoing spotlessness of his record were attested to by Transparency International, which gave him its first-prize award in 2007 and again in 2008 for running his country’s most honest and efficient city government. In 2008, he came in third in the World Mayors contest for the planet’s best mayors. He’s a remarkable, almost incredible combination: a learned student of economics and statecraft, a staunch, eloquent defender of human liberty, a highly competent and incorruptible administrator, and an inspired, practical-minded reformer of local government on every level.

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Just a reminder of those empty Venezuelan grocery shelves…

Since his unjust arrest, he has also proven to be a man of extraordinary bravery. Pretty much every major international human-rights group has declared him a political prisoner and called for his immediate and unconditional release. So have the New York Times and Washington Post. Polls show that if he were to run for president today, he would win easily. It’s clear that the main reason he remains behind bars is that Venezuela’s current leader, a grotesquely inept, ill-educated, and economically illiterate former bus driver, knows that Leopoldo is everything he isn’t and that more and more of the Venezuelan people – who are suffering increasingly from the tragic everyday consequences of chavismo – realize that Leopoldo is exactly what they need to pull their country out of its hole.

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…and ridiculously long lines to get into those grocery stores

The present state of affairs, in short, could scarcely be more striking: Venezuela has what may well be the worst government on earth right now, and López, if chosen to replace Maduro, would, upon his installation, immediately become one of the world’s most thoughtful, ethical, and skillful heads of government. Every day that he continues to languish in prison is a lost day for the Venezuelan people, who have waited long enough for rescue. Let’s hope they’re able to finally spring him from the joint – and turn the grim winter of Venezuela’s discontent into a Venezuelan spring.  

Venezuela: a new assault on freedom

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Leopoldo López

He studied sociology at Kenyon College and public policy at Harvard; after returning home to Venezuela, he was elected mayor of Chacao, one of the five political subdivisions of the city of Caracas. Twice during his eight-year tenure (2000-2008), Transparency International gave him awards for presiding over an honest and efficient municipal administration in a country otherwise rife with corruption, inefficiency, and lack of transparency. The City Mayors Foundation awarded him third place in its international World Mayors Commendation, calling him “a hands-on mayor as well as a national politician fighting for democratic openness and fairness in Venezuela.” When he completed his two terms as mayor, he had a 92% approval rating.

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The late Hugo Chávez

What stopped Leopoldo López from going on to a third term? Hugo Chávez. In 2008, citing manifestly trumped-up corruption charges, the government denied López and a number of other opposition politicians the right to run for office. Human Rights Watch, the Organization of American States, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) all took López’s side, calling his treatment undemocratic, but the chavistas held firm: they knew a serious threat to their rotten-to-the-core regime when they saw one.

López – young, handsome, passionate, eloquent, charismatic, and sharp as a tack – went on to become not just a leader but a symbol of his country’s democratic opposition. On February 18 of last year, after organizing and participating in a mass protest against the Chávez government, he was arrested on charges of “terrorism, murder, grievous bodily harm, public incitement, arson, damage to property, and conspiracy to commit crimes.” The charges were as patently illegitimate as the charge of corruption that kept him from running for elective office, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights demanded his immediate release – to no avail.

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Nicolás Maduro

He has been in prison ever since. During his incarceration, he has been showered with honors. Harvard gave him an award. So did the National Endowment for Democracy. In Spain, he won the Cádiz Cortes Ibero-American Freedom Prize. This June, Foreign Policy – which had already named him one of its “Leading Global Thinkers of 2014” – ran an article hailing him as “Venezuela’s Last Hope” and said he embodied “the change his country needs.” Polls show that in an electoral face-off for the presidency between López and the incumbent, Chávez protégé Nicolás Maduro, the vote would be 72% to 28%.

(Meanwhile The Nation, the flagship weekly of America’s far left and home base for the nation’s most egregious useful stooges, exhibited its usual contempt for freedom by deferentially interviewing a longtime chavista who was allowed to smear López in its pages as an “extreme right-winger,” “fanatical fascist,” and “ultra-super-reactionary.”)

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Katrina vanden Heuvel, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Nation

The latest outrage came two days ago, on September 10. After a closed-door trial, López was sentenced to thirteen years and nine months in prison. Erika Guevara-Ross, Americas Director at Amnesty International, made her organization’s position clear: López, she said, is being punished for leading “an opposition party….He should have never been arbitrarily arrested or tried in the first place. He is a prisoner of conscience and must be released immediately and unconditionally.” José Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director at Human Rights Watch, called the case “a complete travesty of justice.” The Washington Post noted that in recent months U.S. diplomat Thomas A. Shannon Jr. had met with Maduro and other officials “to convey U.S. concern about the outcome of the López trial,” but obviously to no avail.

Innumerable Americans and Europeans root reflexively for Venezuelan socialism, having been beguiled into thinking that it embodies “liberal” or “progressive” values. If they had any decency, this latest cruel and cynical move against the ruling party’s #1 opponent would awaken them to the truth about Maduro’s monstrous regime. But don’t count on it. As history shows, useful stooges have a remarkable gift for preserving their own self-delusion.