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U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and other boosters of the latest redistributive fads might want to consider a parable from the ancient political philosopher Xenophon before getting carried away in their self-righteous assumptions.
There are two boys, one big and one small. The big one has a small coat, the small one has a large coat. The big one strips the large coat from the small boy and in its place gives the small boy the smaller coat. Both boys now have a coat that fits. But is this justice?
Certainly, both boys have better fitting coats. But that isn’t the same as justice. Justice is concerned with who has the right to the larger coat. The one who takes it by force? Or the one who worked for it, saved for it, and bought it for himself? The answer is obvious, or at least it used to be. Not so for the freshman Democrat from the Bronx.
She wants what you’ve got. According to Ocasio-Cortez, the act of taking is justice. Consider her recent interview on “60 Minutes” with Anderson Cooper.
To criticism that the Washington Post slapped her with four Pinocchios for misstating facts about Pentagon spending, Ocasio-Cortez shot back that people concerned with facts are “missing the forest for the tree,” and that rather than being “factually correct” it is far more important to be “morally right.” There is profound irony in someone like Ocasio-Cortez—for whom all things, including facts, are relative—appealing to an objective concept of “morally right.”
More to the point, Ocasio-Cortez is not concerned with the facts or with things that are “morally right,” but only with the act of the perpetual pursuit of “justice,” in this case, defined as a very specific and ideological notion of economic “justice.”
In the same interview, she claimed that her socialism would “resemble what we see in the U.K., in Norway, in Finland, in Sweden.” Is she endorsing Social Security privatization, repealing minimum wage laws, abolishing the inheritance tax, and slashing corporate taxes? Of course not. It doesn’t matter what those countries are actually doing, it’s what she thinks they are doing that matters.
When pressed by CNN’s Jake Tapper to explain just how she would come up with the roughly $40 trillion to fund her pet policies, including “Medicare for All,” tuition-free public college, and the cancellation of student loan debt, Ocasio-Cortez could not give an answer. After a frustrated line of questioning, Tapper gave up and concluded he “won’t get an answer” for the missing trillions. She didn’t seem bothered at all.
Ocasio-Cortez is ideologue. She can’t “lose” and she is not humbled when she cannot answer a simple policy question or is abjectly wrong about a subject, because she thinks ideologically. Her answers, outlook, and attitude are predetermined absolutely, because they are all derivations of an ideology that is utterly shock-proof. There is no experiment, fact-check, or body of evidence potent enough to disarm her, plainly because a person who thinks ideologically will not be allow themselves to be refuted.
Twentieth-century political theorist James Burnham, writing in Suicide of the West, defined the ideological thought process as a systematic, self-contained set of ideas dealing with the nature of reality and an individual’s relation to it. The primary function of ideology, Burnham contended, is to adjust attitudes and perception, not to state truths. Ideologues such as Ocasio-Cortez cannot be dissuaded by logical analysis or empirical evidence.
It is the ideology, not fact, that defines what will be accepted as truth, reason, or “morally right.” The ideologue will merely reinterpret, deny, or deflect facts so they become consistent with their outlook, or pose no threat to it. Ideologues press forward in optimism that they are on the right side of History, Progress, and Justice.
Many on the right are dismissive of Ocasio-Cortez and her apparent obstinacy in the face of facts, opting to lampoon her odd behavior rather than take what she is doing seriously. But as her following continues to grow, partly as a result of the perceived bullying by the Right, this is unwise.
The optimist ideologue, if armed with enough power and the political instruments to pursue her ideals, might be tempted to get rid of the people and things impeding her march toward “justice.”
The Reign of Terror, after all, was brought about by ideologues in pursuit of liberty, equality, and fraternity—three words that adorned the entrance of every prison in the aftermath of the French Revolution. “Terror,” said Robespierre, “is nothing but justice.”
Ocasio-Cortez is unlikely to be the next Robespierre. But with current political volatility in mind, we’d be wiser to challenge ideologues rather than dismiss them out of hand. We cannot refute the ideologue and expect it to make an impression, but we can and should tirelessly refute the ideology she espouses so that others may not fall into its snares.