We are a society that loves apostasy (the act of leaving one’s faith or party). When Denzel Washington stopped playing do-gooders and took up the mantle of corrupt cop Alonzo Harris in “Training Day,” he won an Oscar.
When Georgia Democrat Zell Miller, a one-time client of Paul Begala and James Carville, spoke at the Republican National Convention in support of President Bush, conservatives cheered. And when former Republican strategist Kevin Phillips wrote a book blasting the Bush administration, Democrats couldn’t be happier. Yet beneath all this cheerleading there is – or at least should be – healthy skepticism that selling out isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
A commonly held misconception is that an apostate, by way of an enlightening or life-altering experience, moves from a “bad” ideology to a “good” one. A more accurate assessment is that apostates move from bad ideologies to ideologies that, while radically different, might be every bit as bad as the ones they abandoned.
Let us not forget that Benito Mussolini was a former Communist who developed his model for Fascism out of a rejection of Marxism.
There is also considerable evidence that apostasy exists solely for the sake of self-gratification. A man who reaps the benefits of youthful indiscretion (namely, marathon feats of sexual activity and alcoholic imbuement) and then denounces hedonism after “finding God” is able to have the best of both worlds. He gets to have his fun and still appear holy by preventing others from having theirs.
Apostasy often entails an evasion of personal responsibility. Rather than merely saying “I was wrong,” an apostate is likely to say his entire former movement was wrong and, as such, he was corrupted by it.
This allows the apostate to dodge accountability on his part while simultaneously painting a large group of people with a broad and often inaccurate brush.
Lastly, apostasy overlooks the fact that it takes a deft combination of naivet? and poor judgment to embrace a “wrong” movement in the first place. Given that many apostates are former members of extremist factions, we should be wary of their present and future affiliations.
Alas, the shortcomings of apostasy are far more than theoretical. St. Augustine is a prime example, having moved from a position of indulgence to one of extreme intolerance.
So great was his desire to purge himself of his lustful adolescence that he wound up denouncing all sexual pleasure, advocating chastity over even intramarital sex and laying the groundwork for clerical celibacy in the Catholic Church.
Upon converting to Christianity, he felt the need to repudiate his previous non-Christian beliefs and did so by attacking Judaism (a number of his writings are deeply anti-Semitic).
The effects of Augustine’s overreaching are felt to this day, as the celibacy doctrine is a contributing factor to the abuse of young boys by Catholic priests and some Jews and Christians still regard one another with marked suspicion.
Apostasy also manifests itself in neoconservativism. Irving Kristol, the movement’s founding figure and a proud former Trotskyite, defines a neoconservative as “a liberal who got mugged by reality.”
Indeed, many neoconservative operatives, from Richard Perle to Jeanne Kirkpatrick, are former leftists.
In Kristol’s case, using his experiences in the Fourth International to attack Democrats is a facetious proposition, akin to using criticisms of David Duke or Joseph McCarthy to brand all Republicans.
Furthermore, going from extreme naivet? in foreign policy matters to extreme aggression isn’t waking up – it’s merely going to sleep on the other side of the bed.
The paleoconservative author Justin Raimondo believes that neocons aren’t apostates at all. He speculates that they are sticking to the same Trotskyite game plan, substituting the establishment of global, pro-Western puppet “democracies” for global socialist uprisings.
Whether he is correct or not is a point of contention, but there is no mistaking the clear – to say nothing of ironic – link between neoconservatives and the radical left.
The case of the two Davids illustrates that old habits held by apostates sometimes die hard.
As one of the founding figures of the New Left, David Horowitz edited Ramparts, an early ’60s antiwar magazine that made ridiculous claims and advocated conspiracy theories (most of which can be boiled down to paranoia regarding the CIA).
After renouncing his Marxist leanings and embracing conservativism, Horowitz took up writing for NewsMax, a rightwing Web site that makes ridiculous claims and advocates conspiracy theories (most of which can be boiled down to paranoia regarding Bill Clinton).
In the early 1990s, David Brock became famous for penning hatchet jobs on prominent liberals, including Anita Hill and Hillary Clinton. Though he later recanted and joined the leftist media, he never abandoned his sleazy tactics.
The only difference is his targets are now prominent conservatives, including Horowitz among others.
The central flaw of apostasy is its tendency to throw the baby out along with the bathwater.
More times than not, an apostate rejects his former creed wholesale, without bothering to separate the good from the bad.
Those who make more gradual, well-reasoned transformations and/or avoid making “wrong” affiliations in the first place are less likely to become duped by ideological snake oil salesmen.
When I made the switch from progressivism to libertarianism, I kept the useful parts (respect for personal freedoms), while jettisoning the weaknesses (reliance on ineffective bureaucracy to solve problems).
Then again, if more people made these kinds of sound, rational decisions, Michael Savage and Arianna Huffington would be unemployed, Tom DeLay and George W. Bush would be bar hopping in Texas and a generation of angry ex-hippies would still be medicating itself with false hope and peyote.
What a world that would be.