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The Dark Side of the Left: Illiberal Egalitarianism in America (Modern War Studies) Hardcover – March, 1998

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern War Studies
  • Hardcover: 426 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Pr of Kansas; First Edition edition (March 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0700608753
  • ISBN-13: 978-0700608751
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.8 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #265,202 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In his second paragraph, Ellis quickly points out that he is a lifelong Democrat, a "card-carrying member" of the ACLU, an environmentalist, a supporter of women's rights and a federalist. If it seems rather defensive, that is, in some way, the point of his book. Here, Ellis (American Political Cultures) offers a provocative critique of left-wing movements from 19th-century utopians to abolitionists to the old left of the inter-war era, to the New Left of the Vietnam era and, finally, to contemporary radical feminists like Catharine MacKinnon and certain environmental activists. Through an examination of speeches, books and articles, Ellis tries to document how varied ideologues abandoned their egalitarian principles in favor of rigid political correctness, sometimes slipping into violence and elitism. At root, Ellis sees a tendency to romanticize "the People"?"those powerful, natural persons whose heroism needs no drug of fame or applause to enable them to continue: those humble, mighty parts of the mass," to quote American Communist Michael Gold?while, to quote Gold again, denigrating "the simple souls who save their money, plod to offices, and plan college careers for their children." This is a largely academic study that attempts to lump in Walt Whitman and Tom Hayden with various extremists. The problem is Ellis's arguments often tend to be as reductionist and simplistic as the radical rhetoric he criticizes.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Richard J. Ellis is a liberal who acknowledges a certain amount of discomfort writing a book that is critical of the left. He nonetheless does a good--often devastating--job of it." -- Washington Times

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Eugene A Jewett on June 25, 1998
Format: Hardcover
The remarkable capacity of mankind to hear what he wants to hear while disregarding the rest is as evident in the close mindedness of the Left as it is in the the religious zealotry of the Right. Ellis does a fine job of bringing this compartmentalized brain syndrome condition into focus as he covers all the bases while uncovering the corruption of the various Liberal bastions. Even the use of the word Liberal is corrupted in terms of its original definition. We need more intellectually honest social critics like Ellis to call the hand of the Tom Hayden's of the world. Anything to increase the speed of the pendulum as it continues its swing back toward the political middle. It can't happen soon enough.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Oliver Kamm on August 22, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a terrific work of cultural history, literary criticism and political philosophy. Ellis declares early in his book his own liberal-left political sympathies, before proceeding to identify the inherent illiberalism of much that has passed for left-wing thought in American history. His range is wide, and his knowledge of American culture impressive. But what is most devastating about his descriptions and analysis of the romantic illusions he catalogues is his awareness of the ostensible justice of the claims underlying them.
The abolitionist movement against slavery was a great moral cause, yet it included a wing devoted to violent and messianic extremism. The early activists in Students for a Democratic Society at least were aware of the need to formulate their demands in the language of liberal rights, before veering into advocacy of Maoist terrorism. Ellis traces these developments not to any simplistic teleology of the collapse of radical ideals into totalitarianism, but to the implict illiberalism of believing that all good things are necessarily compatible with each other, and that mere preferences (environmental protection, for example) should be treated as moral axioms. The sharpest analysis of this phenomenon in the book is Ellis's devastating exegesis of Edward Bellamy's now-forgotten but once vastly-influential utopian novel Looking Backward. Because the scheme of social organisation depicted in the novel has no awareness of how to reconcile conflicting claims to scarce resources or incommensurable values, the vision that it propounds is one of unabashed totalitarianism. Illiberalism and even totalitarianism are integral parts of the American left now; Ellis demonstrates how and why that intellectual tradition developed.
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49 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I first saw the title of this volume, I'd anticipated that the author might be a right-wing activist. And while I appreciate varying opinions, i.e., different from those of the lefty ideologues with whom I work who delude themselves into thinking that anyone outside of their clique has the least concern for their opinion, I've about had it with the Horowitzes and the like who've merely changed the names of their enemies but haven't grown beyond their santimony and Manicheanism. Ellis introduces himself by stating that he's always voted for Democrats, etc. In other words, he's not someone just slamming at "liberals" but examining persons with whom he might have something in common. As a leftist myself (with growing reservations about that status), I've found the left to dread self-criticism. So I welcomed that kind of examination.
The book is set up historically, from the 19th century egalitarians, like Walt Whitman, then onto the 60s, that era of (alleged) social experimentation, then onto the present left. I'd started the book about five times and got caught in the introduction which was already good. Then, on a few days off, I decided to read the whole thing, and I'm glad.
I agree with an earlier reviewer that the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) are the "stars" of the book. They felt they were such pioneers, changing the world by leaps and bounds. Yet they'd (1) romanticized the victim (Southern blacks, Vietnamese, Third World in general) and (2) demonized anyone who didn't think the same way they did. It was, in that era, the radical leftists, not the Limbaughs, who decried "liberals," who were ostensibly not changing the world fast enough. Only we dyed-in-the-wool radicals had the gumption to do that. And what happened?
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey D. Salzer on June 7, 2001
Format: Paperback
In a well written work of medium (300 pages or so) length, Dr. Ellis does an excellent job of analyzing the manner in which certain leftist movements have traveled the road from liberalism to illiberalism. In particular, Dr. Ellis illustrates the dangers posed by the radical left to moderate American style democracy. Although his work was intended primarily as a critique of the radical left, some of the general conclusions that Dr. Ellis draws would apply with equal force to all radical political movements whether of the left or of the right. As such, his work is something of a cautionary tale in that it demonstrates that we should beware of those who would circumvent (or undermine) the democratic process to obtain some desired end.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Aristotle's Beast on October 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book is unbeatable. It covers numerous different attempts to found radical egalitarian communities, charting some very telling failures and stupidities that they ran into. It sports a devastating final chapter on the evil intent in the demand for more equality than it is reasonable to assume we could ever bring into being. The demand for ever more equality is a self-promotion, it is a vain strut, a moral pose that makes one important, ups your status. The radical moralizer is a wanna-be priest.
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