An interesting article in Manhattan Contrarian today reminds me of the importance of envy as a way to understand the root of leftist politics. Envy is one of the seven deadly sins. Unlike the other six (wrath, sloth, gluttony, pride, lust and greed), envy cannot exist without comparison to others. Envy is always about how one feels about another, be it a person or some abstraction, like a nation or a political system. We shall return to envy shortly. In the meantime, contemplate these facts.
The author of Manhattan Contrarian, Francis Menton, was touring Cambodia and describes the Cambodian genocide.
“When the killings started in 1975, there were fewer than 8 million Khmer in Cambodia (and not too many more outside). Four years later, the population of the country was well under 5 million. Historian Ben Kiernan has estimated the number murdered at 1.7 million. Others place the number at between 2 and 2.5 million. Most died in actual one-on-one executions, although there was also plenty of mass starvation. Literally everyone lost multiple friends and/or family members.
“Recognizing that causation is a very complex subject and that a series of events can have many causes, it is still true that in every version of the Cambodian genocide that I have found the causation story comes back to the same thing: ideology. In this case the ideology was communism, that pernicious European quasi-religious idea that somehow got taken up in the twentieth century by various Asians as the preferred route to utopia. New dictator Pol Pot got it into his head to impose a “pure” form of Maoist communism, which involved getting rid of all vestiges of capitalism and forcing everybody into a collectivized agrarian economy. Before the killings even got going, the entire populations of the cities and most villages were marched out forcibly into the countryside and resettled. From The Culture Trip:
[After Pol Pot assumed power in April 1975] residents were immediately rounded up and sent to the countryside as part of the communist regime’s plans to create an agrarian society. Personal possessions were confiscated, money abolished, family ties severed and the almighty Angkar [political police] set the brutal laws, which saw the population sent to work the land under appalling conditions.
“How did they decide whom to kill? The basic concept was, anybody who did not subscribe perfectly and in every respect to the ideological script, or who was suspected even a little of less than perfect loyalty to the regime. As the genocide got going, the criteria came to include anyone who had achieved any success in life, however minimal: every owner of significant property, every professional, every entrepreneur, every academic, every teacher. From Wikipedia:
The Khmer Rouge regime arrested and eventually executed almost everyone suspected of connections with the former government or with foreign governments, as well as professionals and intellectuals.
“According to information I got from one of our local guides, at the end of the “killing fields” period, there remained in Cambodia only about 40 medical doctors, 52 university-level teachers, 200 high school-level teachers, and 2000 elementary school-level teachers. These people had survived by lying low and not admitting who they were. The country had been substantially set back to the stone age.”
There is a theory that explains this behaviour, and another that justifies it. The justification for class extermination comes from Karl Marx. The explanation for the motives that drive the extermination of the intelligent and the accomplished comes from a man called Helmut Schoeck.
The power of envy is not sufficiently appreciated, either for its pervasive negative effects, or that it takes political forms. The great book on the subject was written by a Austrian-German professor who taught in the United States, Helmut Shoeck, (3 July 1922 – 2 February 1993) and it is called simply, Envy.
Schoeck sees envy as a pervasive force throughout human affairs, stifling and even deadly in its effects if unconstrained, and in constant need of containment. He argues that envy is one of the chief forces causing underdevelopment in many parts of the world. Further, that until the social power of envy was abated, economic development as we have come to experience was blocked at every turn. Avoiding the “evil eye”, he says, is one of the expressions that the power of envy takes in many parts of the world. Entire societies, from Andean peasants to Arabs, are held back by the need to avoid the envy of one’s neighbours by visibly succeeding, which means, in essence, by accumulating, more property than one’s neighbours.
His interpretation of Protestantism connects to the struggle against envy and the takeoff of modern economic development in some parts of the world since the Reformation. Schoeck writes that the idea of God in Calvinism was crucial to the liberation of those personal and social forces and self-authorizations that underlie capitalist development. This idea was of a God who envies us nothing. If God does not envy, why should we?
Marxism, in this view, is but the resurrection of the power of envy into a supposedly scientific theory. “It is only in Marxism, the abstract and glorified concept of the proletariat, the disinherited and exploited, that a position of implacable envy is fully legitimized.”
Schoeck was the first man, to my knowledge, to understand explicitly the force of envy as a destructive and pervasive social pressure, which needs all the power of religion to repress and to contain. I have managed to describe Shoeck’s thinking in bare outline here; I recommend the book. It is one of the most important I have ever read.
I end with a quote from Schoeck on the real nature of envy:
“But Chaucer also sees envy as the worst of sins because nearly all the rest oppose only one virtue, whereas envy turns against all the virtues and against everything that is good. It denies, as we would now say, every value in the scale or table of values. Because the envious man takes exception to his neighbour’s every virtue and advantage, the sin of envy is distinct from all others. Every other kind of sin is in itself pleasurable, to some degree productive of satisfaction, but envy only produces envy and sorrow. Chaucer holds envy to be a sin against nature because it consists in the first place of distress over other people’s goodness and prosperity, and prosperity is naturally a matter of joy. In the second place envy consists of joy in the ills and suffering that befall others. This envy is like the devil, who always rejoices in human suffering.”
Doctrines that unleash the power of envy end in massacre, as Cambodia’s attempted social purification attests, along with the massacre of Ukrainian farmers and Europe’s Jews under the Nazis, to name only the modern examples. I wonder how much of the abhorrence on the Covington kids by the outraged political left is essentially envy of their bright normalness, their happiness, their whiteness, which they disguise from themselves by calling it white privilege.