I have spent a good part of my life trying to understand people I disagree with, whether on the right or the left, whether members of my own religion or of other religions or of no religion.
In particular, I have wanted to understand people who hold leftist positions. Many people who hold them are personally decent, some very much so -- yet they hold positions that I believe increase cruelty (e.g., advocating withdrawal from Iraq); increase criminality (e.g., more lenient attitudes toward punishing criminals); hasten the decline of Western society (e.g., pushing multiculturalism); and undermine liberty (e.g., expanding government, passing more and more laws, taking away ever larger percentages of citizens' money).
They also panic easily (e.g., heterosexual AIDS in America, carbon dioxide emissions leading to global catastrophe); and the further left one goes, the more morally confused they are (e.g., the inability to label the Soviet Union an "evil empire"; the exaggeration of America's flaws -- it is sexist, imperialist, racist, homophobic -- and the undervaluing of its virtues).
Why is this? Why do so many good people hold bad positions?
There are many reasons. I believe that naivete about human nature and about evil heads the list. But high up there as an explanation of liberal and leftist thinking is the desire to be loved.
All normal people want to be loved -- and that is a very good thing when the love is sought from good people with whom we have close relationships.
But many people want to be loved by far more than friends and relatives. For example, most celebrities ache for the love of the public, and while that is a psychological problem for them -- since the love of the public is not personally fulfilling and one then craves it more and more -- the yearning of celebrities for an adoring public has no negative impact on society.
The yearning to be loved becomes a major problem, however, in most other instances. It becomes a problem, for example, when in raising children parents are guided by a desire to be loved by them. Parents cannot properly raise a child if they are unwilling to be disliked, even occasionally hated, by their child.
Sometimes what we have to do to raise a good child means not being loved at that moment (or even for extended periods over the course of years). That is one of the major reasons it is so difficult to raise children.
The liberal view of child-rearing over the last generation or two has placed love well above discipline, let alone punishment. The expressed reason is never that the punished child will not love the parent, but it is probably a factor in some liberal parents' mode of child-rearing.
But there are two areas where liberals do express a yearning to be loved, and these have macro, indeed, global, ramifications.
The most dangerous one is the liberal desire for their country to be loved.
One of the most often repeated liberal laments about American foreign policy under President George W. Bush is that America is more hated around the world than ever. As if a country being loved is evidence of its moral virtue.
The very idea is irrational. Name a country that is loved. Does a single country come to mind? Of course not. Canadian students traveling abroad often make sure -- via a big maple leaf on their backpack, for example -- to communicate that they are Canadian, not American. But that is because of America-hatred, not because foreigners love Canada. The idea is amusing. Are there pockets of Canada-love in India about which we have heretofore not heard? Are there 50 people in Uruguay who love Sweden, to mention the liberals' most admired country?
People don't love countries except during exceptional and brief moments in history -- such as when Germans loved America for the Berlin airlift or the French loved us right after we liberated their country from the Nazis.
The aim of the United States of America should not be to be loved. As nice as that would be, the one superpower on earth is never going to be loved -- though I would bet a large sum of money that if China or Russia or any other country became the reigning superpower, people the world over would yearn for the good old days when America was the superpower.
America would presumably be more loved if it abandoned Israel or if it abandoned Iraq. Each case would be morally wrong, but, hey, we'd be loved. Liberals believed we would have been more loved if we had destroyed our nuclear arsenal during the Cold War. Or if we had not pressured West Germany into accepting Pershing missiles.
Of course, in all these cases, if America had sought love, evil would have prevailed. But at least we'd be loved. What else really matters?
Dennis Prager is a SRN radio show host, contributing columnist for Townhall.com and author of his newest book, “The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code.”