Benghazi Reveals the Heart of Progressivism

(Originally published in May 2013)

In the first months after the Benghazi attack, the most urgent question, and one only rarely asked, was “What were Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton doing during the seven and a half hours between the initial emergency communications from Benghazi and the final American deaths?” A negative answer was provided in February by Leon Panetta: they were not engaging with their subordinates; they were not contacting anyone to discuss options; they were giving no orders for action; they remained entirely uninvolved. 

We are left to speculate about the positive answer to that question. Were they sleeping? Curled up by the fire with a good manifesto? Playing poker with Huma and the gang? Practicing jokes for a fundraising speech? Your guess is as good as mine. 

And none of these guesses really matter in the end, compared to the looming horror that attends any of the possibilities, namely this: the president and secretary of state of the most powerful nation on Earth are impervious to shame. They can do—they have done—what you hope you could never do, what you pray your children will never be able to do, what psychologists fill academic journals attempting to explain. They were informed that their countrymen—their appointees—were being attacked, were issuing repeated cries for help, and, if nothing were done to intercede, were likely to be killed. Knowing this, and knowing, further, that they had at their disposal the most powerful military in the world, no risk of personal harm, and many subordinates prepared to leap into action at their word, they blithely walked away from the desperate men pleading for their help, and carried on with whatever they happened to be doing that night. They let other men suffer unto death without lifting a finger to help, or even indicating a moment’s regret for their inaction after the fact. 

They demonstrated a cold lack of interest in the suffering of others—not the abstract, theoretical suffering of collective interest groups, such as “the poor” or “gays” or “women,” but the real physical pain and mortal terror-style suffering of individual human beings in mortal crisis. 

Walking home one evening, you hear men across the street shouting for help, as they are in the process of being overwhelmed by a gang of thugs. You walk away, unconcerned with their cries or the sounds of bats smacking down on their flesh. You do not call the police or volunteer any assistance. You go to bed and sleep well. The next day, and each subsequent day, you carry on with your life of fun, friends, and self-indulgence, never giving a second thought to the men who died because you did not care to help. If a neighborhood reporter asks you about the crime, you put on your gravest voice and say, “Gosh, that’s so sad; I hope they find the creeps who did it.” 

That is what Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton did on September 11 and 12, 2012, and what they have continued to do in the months since. God save a nation in the hands of men and women with souls of this nature. For a man without shame or the capacity for the most primal forms of fellow-feeling is a man who has no internal, self-imposed limits on what he might do to achieve his ends. If the suffering of others is absolutely nothing to him; if literal cries for help do not stir in him painful feelings that can only be alleviated by prompt action or, failing that, by interminable days of shame and self-loathing, then there is nothing—apart from pragmatic calculations—to prevent him from doing anything that seems to serve his ends. For it is the awareness of the rightful existence and potential suffering of other men that serves as our internal limit. 

And, for that matter, how does a man impervious to the plight, the fear, the anguish, and the simple will to live of other human beings choose his own ends? What prevents him from choosing ends which entail or require the suffering and sacrifice of other people, if he is incapable of recognizing—at the moral and emotional level—the dignity, the value, the slender thread of breath linking an individual human being to the divine for its achingly short span of life? Such a brute is limited only by external restraint, specifically by the law. Once he himself becomes the maker of laws, either actually or in his own mind, he is utterly without limits. For now his inability to appreciate the individual existence of others is divorced from the fear of punishment or personal pain that might have stopped him from acting out the lusts and whims of his monstrous inner life. 

Progressivism, socialism, Marxism—call it what you will—is an authoritarian strategy masked as a political theory. At its core is the premise that the state has full authority, in the name of “the people,” to do any number of things which would have been almost universally recognized, throughout human history, as shameful acts. In the name of “equality” and “justice,” progressives claim the authority to take one man’s rightfully earned possessions by force, and simply give them to other men; to remove children forcibly from their parents, and raise them according to precepts that may be antithetical to everything the parents believe; to retard the intellectual and moral development of every citizen through an aggressive, coercive program of indoctrination through government schools, aimed at producing a submissive underclass of competent but unambitious adults; to determine, by edict, who may or may not be permitted to pursue life-preserving medical treatment, and under what conditions that treatment may be provided; and so on through the litany of moral violations recast as “services,” and even “rights,” by collectivist despots and their bureaucratic minions. 

There must have been a moment near the end for each of the men who lost their lives in Benghazi, and perhaps particularly for Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty who died many hours after the violence began, when they realized their situation was all but hopeless, that no help was coming, that their urgent calls and messages were meeting with silence in Washington. If there is a Hell, and it has the poetic perfection of Dante’s, it is reasonable to suppose that this feeling—”I am alone, vulnerable, and abandoned”—will be the eternal fate of two people who knew these men’s predicament and had the power of the world at their fingertips, but who did not care to try to help. The deaths of four Americans—their fear, courage, and pain—will not have been in vain if the most essential lesson of Benghazi is well-learned, and long-remembered. For Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton revealed themselves as today’s “democratic” progressives rarely do. They revealed, to be exact, that they are, at heart, what all leading progressive authoritarians have been: conscienceless; without basic human empathy; dismissive of, and unfeeling about, life itself (except their own); constitutionally incapable of considering as significant or meaningful any harm their actions or inaction may cause to other “mere individuals”—in short, monsters. 

Homer, composing his epic tales for a society dominated by war and its frequent and sudden losses, coined a term for the essential life force of an individual man, a term designed at once to dignify the individual dying warrior, and to fill all hearers with wonder and a moral shiver at the fleetingness of it all: psuchē—literally, “breath.” There is the root, linguistically and philosophically, of our word psyche, i.e., soul. Human life is breath, and thus death a mere exhalation. A biological fact transformed through poetry into the essential glory and tragedy of our existence. With what horrifying ease may a man be dispatched from this world—from the company of his comrades, the home of his family, the embrace of his beloved, and the society of his fellow citizens. In the end, a man’s life is just an invisible wisp of air, barely felt and quickly lost. We cling to and cherish life because, deep down, we know this of ourselves. We begin our journey to full humanity, however, when we recognize and respect this truth in others. To fail in this initial stage of our moral journey is to become something other than human, something lower, something degraded and ugly. 

Creatures of such failed moral development are currently, unthinkably, the most powerful men and women on the planet. We are sometimes given to wondering, in the face of one or another of the progressives’ assaults on individual freedom, natural rights, and human dignity, how they cannot see what inhuman conditions they are imposing on their fellow men. The problem is worse than that. As Benghazi teaches, these monsters, unlike their hypnotized followers, do see what they are doing, but they are simply incapable of giving a damn. 

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