The Joy of Schadenfreude

Ah, the joy of schadenfreude! There’s really nothing quite like it. Wikipedia tells us there is no equivalent word in English, and defines this German expression as meaning "pleasure taken from someone else’s misfortune" or “shameful joy." In short, it means gloating, albeit of a very special kind, and these days there is plenty of opportunity to indulge in it to our heart’s content – and I intend to take full advantage of the opportunity.

Let’s start with the neocons’ reactions to the gigantic antiwar march held in Washington this past weekend: if you like your humor dark – and I do – you’ll get a horse laugh out of poor old David Horowitz, whose bile threatens to eat away at his insides until all that’s left is a hollow husk: "100,000 Zarqawi supporters mass in D.C.," he screeches. Now there’s a headline that surely deserves some sort of special recognition: Smear of the Year, or perhaps a prominent entry in Hysterical Outbursts of Note. And what vivid imagery it conjures! Seen through a Horowitzian prism, those 200,000-plus Americans from every walk of life who came to Washington to protest an unjust and intolerable war were really turbaned terrorists: instead of chanting "Peace, now!" what they were really saying was "Zar-qa-wi! Zar-qa-wi!"

People like Horowitz, who made an abrupt right turn after signing on with the New Left in the 1960s – and, in his case, filled a special niche as one of the leading groupies of the Black Panther Party – are suffering from a severe form of ideological whiplash. So abrupt and traumatic was their turnaround, that, in many cases, they took leave of their senses: their brain rattled around in their skull so violently that the result was… madness. The particular variety of mental derangement suffered by Horowitz manifests as a kind of political coprolalia. Although there may have been a time when he knew how to frame a real argument and make his case, his expostulations have degenerated, over the years, until they consist primarily of epithets. "Communist" and "Jew-hater" are two of his more mild descriptions of the marchers. By the beginning of the second paragraph, he is already comparing them to Hitler.

This progressive derangement is not limited to Horowitz, but extends to his followers and employees (or do I repeat myself?). A recent item on Horowitz’s appropriately named “Moonbat Central" blog denounces Lew Rockwell – a man who would repeal the 20th century, and might not even stop there – for being "leftist-like." The hallucinatory effects of drinking the Horowitzian Kool-Aid are readily apparent: if you don’t support the war, the neocons, and the Bush regime, you’re a "leftist." These people are so indoctrinated, so unwilling to consider anything outside their own narrow and cartoonishly simple paradigm, that they’re no longer capable of perceiving even the vaguest outlines of reality. In this, they resemble nothing so much as old-time Stalinists, of the sort that Horowitz in his New Left Period at least pretended to abhor.

This is fitting, as the American stance abroad increasingly takes on both the substance and style of Soviet policy toward Eastern Europe at the height of the Cold War era. Cato Institute analyst Justin Logan trenchantly describes our foreign policy as a "harebrained, warmed-over version of the Brezhnev Doctrine" – the "Bushnev Doctrine" – and the Sovietization of the conservative movement is one bizarre consequence of this development.

Speaking of cartoons, another symptom of the ex-leftist-turned-neocon syndrome is the tendency to become a caricature of oneself, and surely Christopher Hitchens fits the bill in this regard. His reaction to the weekend’s massive antiwar mobilization is that it represented a Popular Front of "fascism, Stalinism, and jihadism." No one can be sincere in opposing this war, according to Hitchens: we were all manipulated by an evil cabal consisting of the Workers World Party, which supposedly controls the International ANSWER coalition that co-sponsored the Washington march. No one has told Hitchens that Workers World has split into two rather tiny factions, and has left ANSWER: the two splinter groups, together no more than a few hundred, are hardly in a position to manipulate anyone.

The main work of the march was accomplished by United for Peace and Justice, which Hitchens describes, somewhat grandiloquently, as

"A very extended alliance between the Old and the New Left, some of it honorable and some of it redolent of the World Youth Congresses that used to bring credulous priests and fellow-traveling hacks together to discuss ‘peace’ in East Berlin or Bucharest."

The hallucinatory effects of the neocon Kool-Aid are particularly strong in this little essay, where, it seems, time has run back. Suddenly we are living in the heyday of Hitchens’ sort of archaic leftism: the Cold War era, where brave "anti-Stalinist" commies of the Hitchenesque variety denounce the depredations of the Soviet "degenerated workers states" and urge "the masses" to rise up and smite the Thermadorians – all from the comfort of their studies, of course.

Hitchens’ historical analogy, aside from being the product of his longing to return to the far-off days of his youth – when, at least, he had some principles, albeit wrong ones – is also quite inaccurate. Bin Laden and his followers, far from resembling the Soviet Union at the apex of its power, are nowhere in control of a single state. They never really even controlled Afghanistan, probably because no one ever has, although we may hand them control of Iraq – or a remnant of it – if we persist in our wrongheaded and counterproductive policy of waging war on the Muslim world. Hitchens squirms and screams and yells imprecations at this paradox, yet never succeeds in refuting or even confronting it:

"Some of the leading figures in this ‘movement,’ such as George Galloway and Michael Moore, are obnoxious enough to come right out and say that they support the Ba’athist-jihadist alliance. Others prefer to declare their sympathy in more surreptitious fashion. The easy way to tell what’s going on is this: Just listen until they start to criticize such gangsters even a little, and then wait a few seconds before the speaker says that, bad as these people are, they were invented or created by the United States. That bad, huh? (You might think that such an accusation – these thugs were cloned by the American empire for God’s sake – would lead to instant condemnation. But if you thought that, gentle reader, you would be wrong.)"

The easy way to tell if someone has gone mad is to reflect on how often, and how vehemently, they reject known facts of reality. Hitchens denies that the U.S. was ever allied with bin Laden and his followers. That little war in Afghanistan against the Soviets – where bin Laden, the construction magnate, built huge underground tunnels in the sides of mountains to hide the U.S.-funded mujahedin – has been entirely blanked out of his memory. Not to mention the occasion when bin Laden’s legions, in alliance with Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, waged a war of "liberation" – a war hailed by Hitchens – on behalf of Kosovo’s Muslim jihadists, who are now feeding on the carcass of dismembered Yugoslavia. Oceania is at war with Eastasia. Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia – and don’t you forget it!

We not only invented bin Laden, we have enabled his rise, as Michael Scheuer puts it, to the point where the United States government has become his "indispensable ally." To the hallucinating ex-leftist, however, on his way to reconciling with "bourgeois" society – and eager to suck up to some new Historical Imperative – there is no law of causality. Cause and effect, supply and demand, and the idea of objective reality – all of this is repealed by the ideologue, who lives in a world of dogmatic assertions.

This dogmatism is particularly redolent of our neoconservatives, such as Hitchens, who have only lately discovered the narcotic effects of U.S. military action on behalf of traditionally liberal or even leftist political goals. That’s why they insist the news coming out of Iraq – a daily horror show of sectarian violence and a growing insurgency – cannot be true, and that the media is presenting a deliberately distorted picture of our glorious "victory." Just like the Soviet generals and their masters in the Kremlin, who insisted the Communist future was assured and that they were marching forward into the daylit utopia of a socialist paradise, right up until the day the Berlin Wall fell. They said it even as the whole structure of the Marxist monolith began to disintegrate quite rapidly. Statists of all stripes always revert to a crude determinism when backed up against a wall, and so it is with Hitchens, who lapses into Soviet journalese mode when he describes what the U.S. is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan:

"In Afghanistan and Iraq, agonizingly difficult efforts are in train to build roads, repair hospitals, hand out ballot papers, frame constitutions, encourage newspapers and satellite dishes, and generally evolve some healthy water in which civil-society fish may swim."

The Soviets, too, boasted of their road-building, hospital-building, and other efforts at modernization in Afghanistan – even as they carpet-bombed entire cities, rounded up all possible opponents, and killed many thousands. They, too, hailed the education and general uplifting of women as a social objective worth going to war over – even as the Red Army slaughtered sons and fathers in the name of "progress." That the Americans have taken up this old Communist propaganda ploy as one of their own talking points suits old lefties like Hitchens and his friend Horowitz just fine. It’s an old wine marketed in a new bottle, and the effects are just as intoxicating – particularly for power-lusting intellectuals out to save the world from itself, by force of arms if need be.

Yes, the Soviet style of these largely unreconstructed totalitarians leeches through, even after all these years. The enemy is not just mistaken, or misguided, or just plain wrong: oh no, that’s not good enough for their purposes. The enemy must be the epitome of evil, the lowest of the low, the Devil incarnate. The Soviet press was fond of insect analogies: cockroaches was a favorite epithet, and Hitchens the hack is not above borrowing from the old Stalinist arsenal:

"[I]n each case, from within the swamp and across the borders, the most poisonous snakes and roaches are being recruited and paid to wreck the process and plunge people back into the ooze. How nice to have a ‘peace’ movement that is either openly on the side of the vermin, or neutral as between them and the cleanup crew, and how delightful to have a press that refers to this partisanship, or this neutrality, as ‘progressive.’"

The Nazis likened Jews to "poisonous snakes" and infused such imagery into books intended for children. Hitchens is eclectic: he borrows from his antecedents on the right as well as the left. The enemies of the all-powerful American state are "vermin," in his view, and our armies are a "cleanup crew." We must sweep the world with the mighty broom of the U.S. military, like that old Soviet poster of the Red Army brushing aside the "fascist insects." In this way, the commies of yesteryear – comrades Horowitz and Hitchens – fulfill their youthful dreams of World Revolution.

There is, when you think about it, a scary sort of madness about this sort of language, this ability to analogize individual human lives and destinies with vermin – with dirt – and the actions of self-appointed sanitation engineers. It goes beyond mere arrogance and approaches a kind of mental illness – a sociopathic syndrome – that makes its victims a danger to decent people everywhere.

I have to admit, however, to taking an inordinate amount of pleasure out of this public display of unwholesome and unholy hysteria. Poor Hitchens is unnerved by the absolute failure of his new allegiance: having abandoned the Marxist determinism of his youth, he cast his lot in with the seeming inevitability of American power – just in time to see it dashed on the rocks of its own hubris.

So, too, must Horowitz be driven into a similar psycho-political dead end, snarling at the sight of his enemies triumphant: he, too, switched sides just as the tables were turning. The only problem being that they were turning in an entirely different direction than the one he imagined.

In a piece arguing that the Iraqis should vote to reject their newly minted constitution, Fred Kaplan offhandedly writes:

"I say this with nothing but dismay. The Bush administration wants to withdraw most U.S. ground troops from Iraq by the end of next year, as do I. The official rationale will be: We’ve done our job; Iraq has a new government and a new constitution; we’ll keep a cadre of troops behind for training and essential security, but otherwise the defense of Iraq is up to the Iraqis. But if there is no new constitution, no new government, a major pullout will be harder to justify."

Yes, it won’t be long now before Horowitz and Hitchens are snarling at the Bush administration. The revolution has been betrayed, once again! As they contemplate the polls, and the vast unpopularity of this war, they will soon be condemning the American people themselves – as cowards, betrayers, decadent and too "soft" to fit the mold of the heroic neo-Soviet soldier fighting for "progress" and "modernity." From this realization will be born yet another permutation of right-wing thought: the paleo-neoconservatives.

Oh, this is fun – too much fun to indulge in much longer (now that would be true decadence!). The joy of schadenfreude is so sweet, so intense, that it can only be borne for a very short period of time – that is, for as long as it takes me to write a single column…


I‘ll be on Charles Goyette’s radio show – part of the Air America network – coming out of Phoenix, Ariz., tomorrow, 11:30-Noon Eastern; 8:30 a.m.-9 a.m. Pacific, on the Internet live at The show should be archived at by this weekend.

I have an article on the burgeoning of the antiwar movement in the upcoming issue of The American Conservative. It may or may not be online. What? You mean you haven’t subscribed yet? Oh well, maybe you can find it at one of your better local newsstands.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].