the national interest

Today’s Reminder That Liberalism Isn’t Communism

Pope Benedict XVI meets with former Cuban President Fidel Castro (R) at the Vatican embassy on March 29, 2012 in Havana, Cuba. The Pope is finishing up his first trip to Cuba, fourteen years after Pope John Paul II visited the communist country.
Let me explain communism to you. Photo: L’Osservatore Romano Vatican-Pool/Getty Images

Psychology professor Jeremy Frimer used to believe, along with the vast bulk of his professional colleagues, that conservatives have more authoritarian psychological impulses than liberals. Indeed, reports Frimer, he held an especially cartoonish and overly simplistic version of this widely demonstrated finding. (“If only conservatives would think for themselves — like liberals do — the war would be over and we could get on with life, governance, and progress,” he used to believe.)

All that changed for him two years ago, he reports, via an enthralled Megan McArdle. What was this event that sparked a new revelation? Frimer explains, “Then, in 2012, I went on a cycling trip around Cuba.”

Frimer met with some Brazilians who were there on tour of shrines to Che Guevara. Of course, Che Guavera was a murderous communist guerrilla. People who travel to a communist country to visit shrines to murderous communist guerrillas generally have extremely left-wing views. Frimer reports his utter shock that the Brazilians were offended at any criticism of the cult of Che. “Had I stumbled upon the same unquestioning deference to the authorities,” he writes, “only with the political Left the ones bowing obediently?”

Frimer is shocked to discover authoritarianism in a communist country, of all places.

Since Frimer is a doctor, not a political philosopher, I should explain the mistake that led to his unpleasant surprise. The reason the political spectrum is called a “spectrum” is that it extends off in both directions, like some kind of, I dunno, spectrum. On this spectrum, Che Guevara is much farther away from Barack Obama than Obama is from George W. Bush. Communism is an authoritarian system, which is to say, it is highly illiberal, which is another way of saying it is not liberal. Ergo, drawing conclusions about liberals by studying communists is not a very sound practice.