Tuesday, December 21, 2010


The Pope has made his annual address to the Cardinals. This is his chance to sketch for the leadership his sense of what he’d like to see emphasized in the coming year.

I want to say a bit about it here because of what he has said, and also because of what the American mainstream media are leaving out.

As exemplified here the American MSM have merely selected the material of immediate interest to their own agendas and left everything else. Thus the Pope is concerned about the abuse-crisis (which – take your pick – started in 1985, 1991, or 2002, or all three).

More on abuse below. I’d like to go through the entire piece (only a few pages long; the English translation is here).

Because, frankly, this thing’s a doozy.

He starts off, with a disarming predictability, quoting some Latin: Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni - “Stir up your power, Lord, and come”.

But for anybody who has spent too much time with either Lefty ‘outrage’ or neocon bluster-posture, and thinks that such stuff passes for either maturity, wits, intelligence or diplomatic competence, the Pope’s follow-on comments are worth the first two (or four) years of whatever is left to a once-fabled Ivy League education.

In a marvelously gentle and innocuous-sounding by-the-by, he offers a bit of obscure Latin Church history: this prayer, he papally confides, dates back to the era “when the Roman Empire was in decline”. [italics mine]

Instantly, “in the twinkling of an eye” as St. Paul would put it, you are transported onto a plane of existence and skill-level far beyond anything Americans are used to anymore. “In the twinkling of an eye”. Or, as an iconic old American TV show would suddenly splash across the screen: “BIF! POW! WHACK!”

Because suddenly his hearers are transported back to that very real and sobering era in Western history when the Great Hegemon had overextended itself, given itself over to the most debauched and deranged governmental antics, and … the Church was there, and remembers.

As the Pope puts it: “The disintegration of the key principles of law and of the fundamental moral attitudes underpinning them burst open the dams which until that time had protected peaceful coexistence among peoples. The sun was setting over an entire world. Frequent natural disasters further increased this sense of insecurity. There was no power in sight that could put a stop to this decline. All the more insistent, then, was the invocation of the power of God: the plea that he might come and protect his people from all these threats.”

The Church, he reminds you gently, remembers. And through its institutional memory (80-plus, actually, isn’t very old in Vatican timeframes) he remembers.

You can ask yourself to what extent the Pope is describing a historical event of 2000 years ago, and to what extent he is describing … ummm … something current. The description seems applicable to both the past and the present.

It’s of more concern to think about how many people around the world, who do not rely on the American media to form their opinions, are seeing this phenomenon.

And I don’t mean ‘perceiving’ it – as if it were all merely a matter of how you hold you head, or whether the glass is half-empty or half-full, or merely the result of a bit of undigested beef – but actually seeing what’s really going on ‘out there’, beyond one’s own attitude, expectations, hopes, fantasies, dampdreams, and general ‘perceptions’. Seeing – as the old philosophers say – the objective reality and not simply the subjective perception of the reality. Or seeing merely the subjective perception because you somehow have concluded that there is no objective reality; that since so many blind men report so many different things about the Elephant that it must be that the Elephant doesn’t actually exist.

American decline – and the multifarious, multivalent derangement that has fueled it – is an Elephant. And before long – as the Civil War soldiers used to like to tell newbies – the Elephant will have to be faced. In the Civil War case it was the Elephant of close-up combat; in Our case it is the Elephant of a national decline across a broad spectrum, fed by deeply poisoned wells of thought and action.

The Pope, it may occur to the perceptive reader, is playing varsity ball here. And an awful lot of folks, especially around here, may have brought a knife to a gunfight.

Even more ominous is his accurate perception that the Empire had reached a tipping point where “there was no power in sight that could put a stop to this decline”. Which throws some very maturely cold water on the fatuous American presumption that it will all work out because America is all about Progress that will never end (the New Left) or that America is God’s Deputy so God always covers for it – like some old-timey Southern pappy, swimming in oil money, who always covers for his obstreperous kid (the New Right).

The Boomers and cadres could live with a Pappy like that; Ben Cartwright – not so much.

If American ‘Abundance’ (as I discussed in my recent Post on David Potter) is now coming to an end, perhaps its free-ride, get-out-of-jail-free existence that can give the finger to Consequences is also coming to an end. Such that We might soon have to pray like Edward G. Robinson’s hood with his back against the wall: Mother of God, is this the end of Rico?

It’s anybody’s guess what the New-Lefties will do, since they have declared God a hypothesis for which they no longer have a need – and an oppressive hypothesis at that, or what the Fundamentalist nation-idolaters will do now that their Golden Idol is running out of gold and has troubles of its own.

We live in interesting times. And the Pope knows it far better than We do.

But then, sinful and incomplete and imperfect and lumbering as the Church can be, she still lives day in and day out in the existential adventure of the Vulcan Board: where Great Things are at stake, where Things Unseen and clouds of Presences Unperceived are forever “ascending and descending”, in stern or gentle ministration to humans who are still struggling to bring genuine Truth and Love – those ultimate Realities – into this human life and history. Neither JFK’s “long twilight struggle” nor the glorious march of the assorted cadres can hold a candle to that Great Adventure, that Great Mission, that the Church lives with every day.

Stir up your power, Lord, and come! The Pope hears in this prayer the anxious desperate cry of the disciples who watched the boat filling with storm-waters as Christ slept in the stern. Their faith was “sleeping”, not Christ. But now, of course, faith is not “sleeping” – it has been banished, or invested in Elvis-like entreaties for lotsa nice stuff.

The world – especially the West, under the so often whackulent and frakkulent influence of an increasingly deranged imperial hegemon (behaving with increasing intensity like some Caesar who is losing his grip on sanity as well as competence, and in any case without the guidance of any interior Integrity) – is in profound trouble, and on a level of existential challenge that the current American radar can’t even detect.

In a stroke the Pope speaks both to the hegemon and beyond it to the peoples of the planet.

And then he segues seamlessly into Hildegaard of Bingen, a 12th century woman (Abbess in an era when that Office held huge authority, and raised to Sainthood by the Church) who acutely held the Catholic clergy to high standards indeed.

The Pope quotes her: “And Christ’s wounds remain open because of the sins of priests. They tear my robe, since they are violators of the Law, the Gospel and their own priesthood; they darken my cloak by neglecting, in every way, the precepts which they are meant to uphold; my shoes too are blackened, since priests do not keep to the straight paths of justice, which are hard and rugged, or set good examples to those beneath them. Nevertheless, in some of them I find the splendour of truth.”

She brooked as little mediocrity in priests as she did in the members of her own Abbey. And she had no qualms about giving the Pope of the day a piece of her mind.

Benedict, having recounted some of her vision and her recommendations, says to the Cardinals that “We must accept this humiliation as an exhortation to truth and a call to renewal. Only the truth saves.” [Italics mine] I haven’t heard any recent President say this to the Cabinet or to Congress, although it would certainly be a step in the right direction, especially if it were in writing and ‘on the record’. But the Pope doesn’t have to worry about demographics. And the Game he is playing is on multilevel-board, several vital levels Beyond the checkerboard time-passing that fills the American media’s days.

If there are failures and humiliations, then they must be grasped and turned into the occasion for substantive improvement. Rather like military officers would do: if you make a mistake, learn from it and make things work better the next time.

And in the best tradition of mature competence, he tells the Cardinals that in order to fix what has to be fixed, it will be necessary to examine “the context” of those 1970s when much of whatever went wrong seemed to reach a particular efflorescence. Child pornography, sexual tourism, the treating of bodies and souls as if they were commodities, drugs, and an overall truckling to the “tyranny of mammon which perverts mankind”.

He paraphrases the attitude of that era as “no pleasure is ever enough, and the excess of deceiving intoxication becomes a violence that tears whole regions apart”.

But then he closes his wings and dives to grasp the real core of the problem: “and all of this in the name of a fatal misunderstanding of freedom which actually undermines man’s freedom and ultimately destroys it”.

By this he refers back not only to the subject that was treated at length in his predecessors 1993 “Veritatis Splendor”*, but also to a profound and vital reality that has bethump’t the species since the beginning. Freedom, in a nutshell, cannot stand alone as a Good; if you use it to do evil or if you don’t know the difference between good and evil, or don’t believe there is a difference, then the ‘freedom’ you have is going to be limited indeed. An unskilled pilot who thinks he has the absolute freedom to fly his plane in reverse is going to find out the hard way just how ‘freedom’ without any grounding in objective knowledge and without a subjective commitment to the discipline of abiding by such truth can lead to catastrophe.

In the1970s, to recall the context of that era, strong cultural currents pushed the assertions that all sex was ‘good’ and anyway was nobody else’s business, and there were even those newly-liberated ‘voices’ who insisted that sex with children (or other species) was ‘good’.

Even in Catholic theology – and you didn’t have to travel far within the American Catholic fold to hear this sort of stuff – there were those who insisted that there is no such thing as something that is ‘good’ or ‘evil’ in itself, by its very nature. Indeed, many ‘valorized’ ideas insisted that there was no such thing as a human nature in the first place. And that if you were going to have to be ‘judgmental’ then you’d have to look at intentions and consequences – because you can’t just go around calling stuff ‘evil’ or ‘good’.

Benedict notes that John Paul II robustly dismissed this sort of thinking: there is ‘objective’ Good and Evil; humans can know that reality; and that knowledge simultaneously gives them a Shape for their freedom and lays upon them a moral responsibility to use their freedom to support the Good and choose against Evil.

It was all very judgemental, but then a pilot who doesn’t know how the plane actually works and who doesn’t use that knowledge to judge his contemplated actions isn’t going to be in business for long. Nor are his passengers going to be long for this world.

It is no surprise, I think, that the same New Left that ‘valorized’ such dampdreams as total-autonomy and being-nonjudgmental and sex-as-fulfillment has turned on the Church that has always stood like a firewall in the way of ‘liberation’ as the New Left defines it, working from checkerboard-maps of existence that cannot begin to comprehend the complexity of the Vulcan Chess Board upon which humans must work out their lives.

The Pope doesn’t note, but might have noted, abortion and pansexuality and torture and – given the concern for child welfare – the wide and long-lasting prescription of powerful psychoactive drugs to children who – as if it had only recently developed – had trouble developing attention and focus (a task which in less enlightened times was undertaken by parents). Perhaps he doesn’t want to risk tripping the cartoon-wire, as it were.

He then moves on to a bit of in-house discussion about some meetings with various of the Orthodox episcopacy and the Catholic Church’s relationship with the Orthodox Church. And he wants the Cardinals to grasp Orthodoxy’s recent efforts to reduce “Christianophobia”, that hostility to what the Christian message stands for, that spreads around the world in the postmodern age even more than in the modern age. The Pope implies that the harm that from a rejection of what the Christian message offers to humanity will harm all peoples, though aimed only at Christians.

His thoughts here are prompted by his recent visit to the Synod of the Churches of the Middle East. It was held, appropriately enough, on Cyprus, that densely-textured and troubled island where great religions have shared the same geographic space for centuries. Old hurts must be let-go, because “The wrongs and the deep wounds of the past were all too evident, but so too was the desire for the peace and communion that had existed before. Everyone knows that violence does not bring progress – indeed, it gave rise to the present situation. Only in a spirit of compromise and mutual understanding can unity be re-established. To prepare the people for this attitude of peace is an essential task of pastoral ministry”.

Again, his insight that “violence does not bring progress” stands four-square in the center of his thoughts, drawing upon his own experience, no doubt, of Germany’s unhappy experiences with ‘violent progress’ during the Third Reich in his youth.

The immediate issue is religiously-based violence, increasing in a Middle East (and a Europe that has taken in so many immigrants from that area) where the great religions have shaped the various cultures and where ‘differences’ can stoke deep emotions indeed. Human beings must be adept in the mature competences of reason and patience necessary to strike the complex dynamic balance of a ‘tolerance’ that enables civil comity and peace while not abandoning the vital Ground upon which cultures and lives are built and in which they and their peoples are vitally rooted.

If matters of ultimate meaning, especially when they have to share the same geographic turf, create the potential for disagreement and strife, yet it cannot be realistic or sane to simply wish-away the deep human need for the Beyond or, in the postmodern style, the Beyond itself.

I think there is food for American consideration here as well, although it lies below the surface of the thought (which is not a place most Americans look unless given some help). The ‘revolutionary’ sensibility – in the European, not the Framers’ sense of it – which was imported into this country bigtime through the Frankfurt School in its second phase (see my immediately previous Post), is almost by its very nature dependent upon ‘violence’ in some form or other.

While the democratic and deliberative Vision of the Framers, and the ethos they sought to support as the American key of public political discourse, was precisely intended to enable the Citizens to deliberate in an atmosphere of mutual reason, with an aim to arriving at a workable consensus as to how to order life for the common-weal, yet the revolutionary sensibility is antithetical to that ethos by its very nature. Because the very dynamic of the revolutionary cadre is that there is a great evil, which only the cadres and the ‘revolution’ can see, and which the rest of the populace is too dim or too invested in the ‘status quo’ to admit, which therefore not only justifies but requires revolutionary violence. ‘Democracy’ in this scheme doesn’t work, can’t work, and must be sidestepped or neutralized in order for the cadres to establish ‘revolutionary progress’.

Over here, the many ‘revolutions’ since the Sixties, guided by the thinking of the government-heavy Frankfurt School, have worked not so much through physical violence but through the less-bloody but equally pernicious violence of manipulation and distortions of truth; so much so that after 40 Biblical years not only can the Citizenry barely distinguish between truth and untruth, fantasy and reality, vision and illusion, but the government itself no longer sees the need to make such distinctions. Fear based on fears will do very nicely as a civic fuel, thank yew very much.

Which has reduced American politics to a hodge-podge of fearful and fearsome cartoons, caricatures of serious civic and public concerns and of mature public deliberation.

Which brings him to his third and final point, in another masterful segue.

“Alexis de Tocqueville, in his day, observed that democracy in America had become possible and had worked because there existed a fundamental moral consensus which, transcending individual denominations, united everyone. Only if there is such a consensus on the essentials can constitutions and law function. This fundamental consensus derived from the Christian heritage is at risk wherever its place, the place of moral reasoning, is taken by the purely instrumental rationality of which I spoke earlier. In reality, this makes reason blind to what is essential. To resist this eclipse of reason and to preserve its capacity for seeing the essential, for seeing God and man, for seeing what is good and what is true, is the common interest that must unite all people of good will. The very future of the world is at stake.”

He touches on the often-unmentioned Ground which religion, and especially Christianity, provided through Western culture to the Enlightenment project. While the Enlightenment thinkers sought to free society and culture and politics from the influence of the Church as it had existed in the Dark Ages and the Medieval era, and in so doing figured that folks could find some non-transcendent, purely this-worldly basis of authority and belief on which to conduct a civilization and its civic and public affairs, YET they were working in the still-strong afterglow (sort of like the still usable ‘daylight’ of early dusk) of the powerful and comprehensive Transcendence imparted to the West by the Medieval spiritual vision.

While most of the Framers were from different Protestant traditions, they found common ground – wittingly or unwittingly – in the shared results of common moral formation and a common spiritual imagination. Their common assumptions as to what constituted ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, what made for ‘character’ and ‘virtue’, were anchored below the surface of their ideas in the common ground of Greek and Roman experience, as then enriched by centuries of Christian thought and contemplation.

They could have the ‘light’ without the ‘sun’, as it were, in that still-bright and warm dusk of the Enlightenment. Classical Liberalism (not the same as the shallow, revolution-addled ‘liberalism’ of current American politics) sought to build on the presumption that ‘modern’ humans could ground active benevolence and reason in purely this-worldly soil, with no need for the hard drilling in any serious transcendental bedrock.

For all its good intentions, that Classical Liberalism was built on sand – to use the Biblical image. And it was doomed to insufficiency as a life-Ground the same way that the plan of reading a book outside after sunset is doomed: no matter how much ‘light’ you seem to have when you start out just at sundown, you are going to be running out of sufficient light in a finite amount of time.

In that sense, nicely, it is the transcendent Beyond which provides the Ground that does not queasily shift, the Light that does not regularly fail.

Soused with their Abundance, so dense and layered that it seemed inexhaustible, such that even idiots and fools could get rich quick, Americans have not often contemplated the demands imposed by a this-worldly dimension too shallow and shifting to securely anchor and Ground their deepest and most genuine Selves. The descendants of the Puritans, desperately seeking to square that circle, came to assume that if you got rich then it proved that you were ‘good’ because otherwise God would not have favoured you with wealth ... but that was a ramshackle approach fraught with problems.

The Pope, noticing – I think – the increasingly wild thrashings of a great imperium in decline, and recalling how the Church has seen this sort of thing before, seeks to call the West and the world to a deeper and denser awareness of what is actually necessary to sustain humanity and its civilization.

This may seem, to the happy-faced and to the manipulative, like wayyy too much ‘darkness’ and ‘downness’, wayyy too much ‘unrealistic moralizing’. But it is the Pope’s point that humans are moral by nature and essence, and to ignore that fact is to condemn any ‘progress’ to nothing more than a queasy, cheap simulacrum of genuine fulfilment of humanity’s possibilities and its role in this world.

It will be interesting to see what happens in all this.


*John Paul II’s Encyclical is an extended (about 70 pages) treatment of the difference between genuine freedom and false and illusory freedom, and how humans – especially in the modern (and postmodern) world – fail to distinguish between the two types of freedom, thereby causing huge suffering and precluding genuine fulfilment in their own lives and the lives of others. The text is available as a link here, along with a good synopsis.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010


Written in 2005, Paul Gottfried’s book*, “The Strange Death of Marxism” calls to Us as We come increasingly to realize, perhaps like Custer as he gave the order to the bugler for that final Dismount call on the crest of that little hillock above the Little Big Horn, that things were turning out far differently from what he had confidently expected.

I’m going to discuss this book, and also a short but meaty review, written by a modern European that you may want to look at first, here.

Marxism – a mid-19th century European economic theory that examined (acutely and decently) the struggles of Labor and the working classes and the workers in a capitalist system that was simultaneously urbanizing and industrializing – actually did not die. It was taken by Lenin, a ‘real man’ of action who improved upon poor Marx’s airy thoughts and speculations, and imposed on Soviet Russia after the Reds overthrew the worker’s government of Kerensky in that awful Red October of 1917.

But after World War 2 Marxism-Leninism started to lose its luster. Perhaps it was the effect of the Americans and their anti-communist concerns, or their awareness that any critique of the capitalist-industrialist system whatsoever would simply slow down the marvelous American Century that seemed to be brilliantly and immovably established after 1945. No doubt Khrushchev’s 1956 not-so-Secret Speech outlining the extent of Stalin’s murderous policies against the Russian people also played a role. As did the experiences of the then-called Developing Nations as they deployed their newly-liberated post-colonial freedoms by dabbling with the Marxist vision and the Leninist model and seemed always to wind up with some sort of repressive state apparatus (and huge debt).

By the mid-1960s, it seemed as if the Marxist vision and the Leninist model of government and economics were pretty much worn thin as an attractive, workable possibility for any nation or government – although the USSR and its satellites were clearly going to be locked in the grip of Communism for quite a while.

BUT THEN, BUT THEN, BUT THEN … Marxism didn’t die. It was simply taken over. From an economic theory that required massive government intervention and control, it became a theory of government-sponsored overthrowing of (not the economy but) the moral and cultural foundations of Western society.

Gottfried traces this stunning metamorphosis.

The Frankfurt School plays a great role. A group of German Marxist thinkers escaped Hitler in the 1930s and came to the US. They compared notes and pooled their experiences and came up with a vision that called not for the economic reform of capitalism (they were in America, after all, where capitalism was kinda paying their salaries) but rather for a wider role of government in the task of ‘social engineering’ (don’t dismiss the concept just because the phrase has been used wayyy too much).

They volunteered their services in the insufficiently-noticed American efforts in the immediate postwar period to thoroughly purify and refine German culture and society so that it would never again serve as the (oh so potent) seed-ground for totalitarian wars of conquest and destruction. The Americans had a chance in both Germany and Japan in 1945 to try a hand at government-imposed destruction and reconstruction of the entire national culture and society. This was the Frankfurt School’s first phase.

In postwar Japan, Douglas MacArthur got a chance to conduct his reconstruction more or less insulated by distance and a certain lack of interest on Washington’s part. But Germany was the heart of Europe (and literally constituted the frontier between American Democracy’s West and Soviet Communism’s East).

In a curious sloshing back-and-forth phenomenon, Gottfried saw the Marxy Frankfurt School, established now in the West, drawing upon its experiences of both Marx and Hitler to influence the massive cultural terraforming project that the Americans would impose on a defeated Germany and its culture and society.

The American grand-plan was, as the author of this review of Gottfried puts it, “to reeducate the Germans by developing programs designed to eradicate the cultural identity of the German people”, the assumption being that Hitler had had 12 years to form entire cohorts of German youth and that there had to be something ‘in’ German culture that predisposed it toward the type of authoritarian war-mongering that had resulted in two World Wars in 25 years.

The Americans, through their thorough military and governmental Occupation administration, would transform that part of Germany that the Western Allies controlled (the Soviets were pursuing much the same objectives according to their own Big and Deep Picture illuminations in their Occupation of the eastern half of the former Germany).

Since Germans were warlike and revered their assorted militaristic heroes, then their culture would have to be gutted in order to eradicate their inner aggressiveness and violence (and right about here you may already start to connect some dots in terms of American society and culture 20 years later).

The Frankfurters had seen how Hitler deployed government force to Nazify the German people through the thorough-going coordination (Gleichschaltung) of government, law, education, and even religion, amplified and abetted by a propaganda-fueled media and, of course, the pervasive Terror of secret police and the cooptation of every useful strand of culture and tradition.

The thing that had to be done, the Frankfurters figured, was for the American government to deploy this whole panoplium, but this time in a GOOD cause.

Desperate both to punish the Germans and to build up West Germany as a ‘democracy’ against the Sovietized example of East Germany, the Americans set to massive and deep cultural terraforming with a will.

Nicely, since American money started pouring in just as soon as they stopped the more obvious incidents of goose-stepping, the West Germans were soused with lotsa cash, which made swallowing the Philosophic and Cultural Pill a whole lot easier.

And the whole thing actually worked, from the American point of view. Although how well things would have gone if the ominous presence of the Evil Empire just across the Wall, armed and efficiently dangerous, hadn’t concentrated the West German mind and rendered the nervous Americans somewhat indulgent of incomplete purification … well, one of the what-ifs of history.

But the Frankfurters, such as Herbert Marcuse** and Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, had set up their own Institute here, and through the 1950s they had morphed into a Post-Marxist phase where they were no longer in the business of critiquing Capitalism BUT INSTEAD now turned their energies to a thorough-going and profound critique of WESTERN CULTURE AND CIVILIZATION.

This was the Frankfurt School’s second phase.

And so when the Dems became desperate after 1965 to raise up new electoral demographic groups (which I call Identities, from which Identity Politics), the American Old Left that had sought better wages and working conditions for Labor against Management and Capital was kicked to the curb (along with all those white, male, smoke-stack productive-culture workers and their sweat, tears, sperm and violence) and in its place the American New Left arose, with the eager support of the Dems and then the entire Beltway.

And the programme of each of the Identities was precisely to Deconstruct that old culture, according to whichever ‘oppressive aspect’ (gender, age, ethnicity, race, etcetera) it had singled out.

And the former terraformers of the Frankfurt School – trained old European scholars all – provided a just-add-outrage ready-mix of respectable and serious-sounding intellectual and academic justification for the combined Identities’ cultural assault, Deconstruction, and general terraforming-by-government-imposition.

And what a ready-mix it was.

The Frankfurters were nothing if not widely-read systems-thinkers who sought a comprehensive understanding of the many deep dynamics that worked to Shape a culture (all the better to comprehensively Deconstruct and terraform it, my dear).

Reading Max Weber they formulated a critique of rationalism and Reason as it developed in the West, and an appreciation of the role of ‘elites’ and bureaucracies, and a reliance on the ‘scientific’ study of societies (it being assumed that there were ‘laws’ that governed human culture just as there were laws that governed forces like gravity and thermodynamics and aerodynamics and … yes, economics).

Reading Sigmund Freud they formulated a mistrust of the ‘reality principle’, a trusting awareness of the ‘unconscious’ that actually governed humans who yet dwelled in the delusion that reasoned action governed their lives individually and communally, and an abiding conviction that ‘culture’ and ‘society’ and ‘tradition’ did nothing but ‘repress’ and ‘oppress’ genuine human be-ing.

From their reading in philosophical Positivism they came to distrust the role of rationality in human affairs, to suspect the heavy influence of forces beyond Reason that shaped history, and to embrace their old Marxist friend Hegel’s dialectical and oppositional dynamic as THE operative force in history (and politics). (It was this last that found a convivial ally in the Good-Evil Manicheanism of American Exceptionalism and Fundamentalism, as well as in the bi-polarizing schematics of white-black, male-female, young-old that became the cartoonish conceptual basis of Identity Politicking.)

From their reading in Aesthetic Modernism they developed a fey and dismissive attitude toward the established authority or value of any Tradition or Culture, and a dismissive attitude toward any ‘popular’ culture embraced by the masses of society, and a dismissive attitude toward the need for or possibility of any Shape to individual or communal life, and instead they embraced a confidence in the value of ‘elites’ as the arbiters of Culture.

From what they recalled of Marx, they asserted a ‘bourgeois’ oppressiveness to Western culture, the oppression and alienation of one class by a more powerful class, and the value of a classless society. (And thus the Boomers, not overly given to study, especially of the past, were so quick to claim that American culture was “bourgeois” (perhaps spelled ‘boorjwa’) and ‘oppressive’ (what kid doesn’t think adults repress him/her?) and thus the feminists figured that if you if you can be oppressed as a class you can be oppressed as a gender and that if you can go for a classless society, why not a genderless one too?).

And from the cultural theory that had been fermenting in Europe throughout the 19th century*** but had taken a rather anti-Western an ‘liberating’ turn during the postwar de-colonization era, they developed a sensitivity to the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ elites, and – as stated – a profound antipathy to Western culture in itself and also as it had been imposed on other cultures.

A witches’ brew indeed. Drinkable, perhaps, in small amounts, but as lethal as grain-alcohol if consumed by the pitcher-full or, say, pitcher after pitcher in a decades-long ‘night’ of bout-drinking. Say the past 40 Biblical years.

And in 1965, as I mentioned, Herbert Marcuse made the lethal mistake of putting his own personal experience of Nazism not into a historical article but rather into a general theoretical article. There are, he insisted, some ideas that are sooooo bad and soooo dangerous that no democratic and tolerant society can or should even tolerate their being discussed.

He may well have been thinking of the Nazi crapulence about the Jewish menace and all the master-race baloney. And in that sense, he certainly could make a case that since the Germans of the 1930s did not (or increasingly could not publicly) reject such ideas that the Nazis were spewing, they thus permitted the debasement of their culture.

But, untutored in the Framers’ take on human affairs, he could not grasp that there is no governmental authority that could ever be trusted with controlling the ‘toleration’ of some ideas and the repression of others; no government authority that could or should be given the power to say what could be discussed by the Citizens and what could not; no government authority that could be trusted – as the Nazis (and the Commies) were doing – to say what was Politically Correct and what was not.

THAT is a task that in the Framers’ Vision had to be left up to the Citizens and to The People, deliberating and thinking and acting through their cultural and social activities. But Marcuse was a government-heavy guy, as so many Europeans were (and still are), which actually dove-tailed perfectly with the newly-erected American New Left Identities’ need to steamroll the quick and uncritical acceptance of their assorted agitations and visions. Hence the American ‘Left’ became, profoundly and lethally, as government-heavy as any European movement.

After all, the American New Left of the 1960s was never a home-grown sorta democratic thing; never like in a Norman Rockwell painting of a town meeting deliberation. Rather, it was deeply influenced by European and Marxist thought and practice, either through Saul Alinsky’s Have-vs-Have-Not manipulations that placed no trust in the integrity nor reliability of a democratic deliberative politics, or through the second-phase Frankfurt School’s rejection of Western culture itself and its all-too-ready willingness to use the government to Deconstructively terraform entire cultures and citizenries, including Western culture and American culture and society.

And you wonder why American politics and government seem to have somehow gotten so … well … not-American? As the author of the review says, the plan from the get-go was “to use the government as a radicalizing cultural force”. Which, I would say, is to put it a little too politely. Marcuse, in his article linked-to below in Note 2, actually admits that if you follow his advice you wind up with a government that is going to be attacking its own people and culture, but he dismisses any downside since it’s all in a Good cause. (Such lethal imbecility is a characteristic now shared by unripe Americans un-tempered by the complexities of consequences and by Marxy former-revolutionaries and cadres; the similarity is by now so well-entrenched that you can’t tell where one characteristic ends and the other begins.)

But the American New Left was, perversely, not interested in developing a productive culture (by whatever impositional means necessary) but rather very much wanted to de-construct a productive culture (too ‘patriarchal’, too sweaty, too rational). A task which, with the Beltway’s invaluable help, has been rather largely accomplished.

The reviewer also notes that in 1922 Ludwig von Mises, in his book on Socialism, asserted that a genuine Socialism “demands promiscuity in sexual life because it consciously neglects the contractual idea”; the idea – that is to say – of two parties committing to each other in some formal way (marriage being the most bourgeois form of such entrapment, I would suppose): “Free love is the socialist’s radical solution for sexual problems [meaning: how to have sex and yet stay ‘free’] … The Family disappears and society is confronted with separate individuals only. Choice in love becomes completely free. Men and women unite and separate just as their desires urge”. [italics mine]

Now, you read that bit from 1922, and you think of the so-called cutting-edge, progressive radical-feminist agenda of the New Left here since the 1960s, and you may suddenly ask yourself if We haven’t been sold a whole mess of ideas that were well-past their sell-by date even in 1972 (or, if you like, since ‘Playboy’ introduced the idea in its approach to matters sexual in the 1950s, though without the benefit of whole-hearted government support).

And of course, since ‘sex’ was slyly injected as a second category (the original single category was ‘race’) of anti-discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only at the last minute, on the floor of the House, and thus voted-in anonymously and with no debate whatsoever, then you can’t really say We were ‘sold’ anything since it was arranged that radical-feminism would not work its way into national politics but simply be plopped down into the middle of it regardless of what anybody might think, object, or seek to deliberate about.

Thus the Dems and the Beltway set the country on one of the most profoundly consequential domestic courses in Our history with even less deliberation (which is to say No Deliberation) than even Bush-Cheney permitted in the run-up to the Iraq War or the Beltway permitted in regard to managing the economy in all of its Bubbles. Put on some sackcloth and ashes if you have them handy and give THAT some thought during this straitened holiday season.

And of course, nowadays, the bit about “men and women” uniting and separating “just as their desires urge” must now be amended to include kids, since We are now blessed with a ‘hook-up’ culture that has raised Nature’s most dangerously seductive (and ephemeral) aphrodisiac into a Way of Life available to anybody regardless of maturity (or lack of it). Might as well get the kids started early so that you can raise up new generations to replace the ‘old and patriarchal’ culture. Such progress.

The reviewer then goes on to say that “Gottfried does not address this, but it is interesting to read how Richard Posner in his 1992 book “Sex and Reason” observed that the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1970s became ‘aligned with those of the student radicals of the 1960s for whom sexual liberty and political liberty were, as they had been to their guru, Herbert Marcuse, two sides of the same coin, while economic liberty they considered a mask for exploitation.’ Although Posner is a libertarian, who agrees with the outcome of the Supreme Court decisions on moral issues, he disagrees with the Court’s Marcusean arguments”.

Well, economic liberty is gone, if for no other reason than We no longer have any money or – really – any ‘economy’. So, perhaps now, Bush 2’s advice to just “go shopping” might have to be amended to “just go hook-up”. And you wonder why the world no longer considers Us to be a serious (pick one or several) nation, people, economy, politics, culture, or civilization. Such progress. Such a future We face.

Gottfried notes, as does the reviewer, “that the traditional European Marxist parties, when they had most of the votes of their traditional electorate, never attempted to change the traditional, almost Victorian social and moral behaviour of their blue-collar voters”.

But that was in the days of economic Marxism, which sought only to reduce the oppression of industrial capitalism’s exploitation of the workers by Management.

Nowadays, Marxism has been re-directed away from bread-and-butter economics and aimed at the entire corpus of Western civilization and culture by the New Left. Substitute ‘the oppressed’ for ‘the workers’, and further distinguish among the assorted types of oppressed, with special attention to the gender-aspect of it (substituting ‘women’ for ‘workers’ in all the old tracts) and you get what We were given by sly elites 40 Biblical years ago.

Now everybody has sex (and sexual ‘freedom’) and nobody has any cash (or actual economic freedom).

Who dares to claim surprise at such an outcome?

Deliciously, it is pointed out that in the very beginning the Soviets actually did go this route, “legalizing free marriage and divorce, contraception, and abortion on demand.”

This was one of the ‘historical proofs’ offered in 1969 by radical-feminist and failed-family-person Kate Millet in her book “Sexual Politics”, one of the early bibles of the New Left genderisti: “Under the collective system, the family began, as it were, to disintegrate along the very lines upon which it had been built. Patriarchy began, as it were, to reverse its own processes, while society returned to the democratic work community which socialist authorities describe as matriarchy.”

To kick the tires of Millett’s ‘cutting-edge’ work would require a Post or three itself.

It’s enough to notice here that Millett in 1969 equated liberation with the collective system – the Soviet collectives! – and then with “matriarchy” and called it all Good. And crowed that the Soviets were actually working toward a “democratic work community” (as opposed to American industrial-capitalist smoke-stack, testosterone-drenched ‘patriarchy’).

In her book she quickly then regretted that the power of patriarchy snuffed out that marvelous light, without – as is her way – considering that there were other reasons beside ‘patriarchal resistance’ that such a marvelous-fine idea was quickly abandoned to the dustbin of history.

But, as the reviewer points out, “because these reforms were far too radical and unrealistic, the Soviets abolished a number of them after a few months, reinstituting marriage for instance. Today, it looks as if the economic agenda of Communism has become too radical and unrealistic, prompting the Left to accept the market economy. The radical social agenda of the Russian Communists in the 1918-1920 period which Millett praised – free marriage and divorce, contraception, abortion on demand – has, however, become fact. The disintegration of the so-called oppressive patriarchal society has become the realistic agenda that the Left is today pursuing to its extremes”.

So, not to put too fine a point on it, under the influence of old European Marxist thinkers, America’s New Left - spearheaded by a radical-feminism that pointed to a whole library full of (hastily amended) Marxist-Leninist ‘thought’ as justification for its ‘change’ – introduced as ‘progressive’ a mess of profoundly anti-Western and even anti-civilizational nostrums that even the Soviets had quickly abandoned in horror when they realized how unworkable the whole thing would be.

And We wonder now why America no longer seems to ‘work’ in any sense of that term at all?

Yes, I know that the Correct comeback to this is that patriarchy is sooooo entrenched that not even the Commies could overcome it but that thanks to the Beltway’s self-interested support ‘America’ will do what the Commies failed to do.

But I would say a) if you want to bring old Soviet ideas to America and brand them as ‘cutting-edge, progressive liberation’; and b) if you want to impose them upon the ignorant lumpish masses (formerly The People) by Beltway fiat since the ignorant lumpish masses (formerly The People) ‘just don’t get it’ and have to be led – kicking and screaming, if need be – to their own liberation; and c) if you want to essentially Deconstruct what are not constructs of Industrial Capitalism but are rather the core structures of human society (even Millett admits it) that have been in place since the beginning of recorded human history; and d) if you want to all your ideas to be accepted without any deliberation or serious and extended public discourse … if you want all that, then you should at least be made to admit that you have injected into the national bloodstream a toxin so lethal that no advanced human culture or civilization in the history of the planet has ever sustained it.

But that’s not going to happen now.

But then, it may not have to: the hardly unpredictable Consequences of this whole jaw-dropping exercise in government-willed national self-destruction have progressed to a point, like in that Berlin bunker in the spring of 1945, where no amount of positive or Correct thinking and hoping is really going to make them go away. Nor klatsches of Old Fighters singing the old Party songs while swilling plastic glasses of cheap Chardonnay.

To quote the last blood-scribbled words of the long-dead Dwarfish scribe whose skeleton lay next to Balin’s tomb clasping his chronicle book in the heart of Moria: “They are coming”. To which one might today add: They are here.

Generations of American youth over the past decades have been raised without a well-grounded cultural Vision that can comprehensively Trellis their human energies and help them Shape their lives.

As Gottfried points out, the objective has been to “create a new electorate”. But a ‘new electorate’ that is grounded neither in the best of the Western cultural tradition nor in the American Constitutional ethos is not going to be able to conduct either its own affairs nor oversee the affairs of the nation (and the actions of the government and its ‘elites’).

The Frankfurt School’s vision was to use the government – in that statist, European way – as a manipulator and controller of the national culture and of the lives of the people. The American New Left, seeking a transformation on a level far more profound than even Marx or Lenin dared, sought to use the government (the ever-pandering Beltway) as a “radicalizing cultural force”. And with results and consequences that are becoming inescapably clear.

Gottfried and the reviewer note that both Communism and Socialism became “political religions”. Both movements were deeply involved in bringing about this-worldly changes: Communism to create a paradise on this earth and Socialism to somehow bring about an improvement in the condition of the little people, the workers, in the industrial capitalist system.

In 19th-century Europe that meant opposition to the Catholic Church – which stood for stability and caution and sought to preserve its own position as a significant cultural presence in this world.

But it stood for much more: the Church pointed beyond itself to God, and – though hierarchical in organization – insisted upon the dignity of human beings that was grounded not in the State or this-world but in the creation of humanity and of each individual human by God.

That other-worldly element, that element of a God who was beyond this world, was an obstruction to a Socialism that senses in the Church only an obstruction to its eager and urgent efforts to improve the lot of the workers, and a Communism that defined itself as the replacement agent of ‘paradise’ and located all of that paradise in this world.

Socialism was not primarily atheist, but it was consciously leery of the Church’s social authority, standing as it so often did for the old ways, fearing that too much change too fast would only endanger the comprehensive, multi-dimensionally defined welfare of a complex humanity. But in envisioning humanity for all practical purposes only in its this-worldly dimension, Socialism relied heavily on government – Socialist government – as the only force capable of exerting pro-human force against the dehumanizing energies latent within industrial urban capitalism and its urbanized, mass societies.

In envisioning humans only from a this-worldly perspective, Socialism – despite its good intentions – wound up weakening the other-worldly (and higher-worldly) dignity of the human, dismissing morality and any sense of the sacred as merely obstructions to meeting the ‘real’ needs of humans in the wrack of the modern world. By insisting at the same time on removing such obstructions in order to increase the scope of human liberty, it effectively sought to cram on more sail than the human keel could ballast. And thus it had to emphasize the State as the rudder that must guide the energies raised by all that sail.

Communism sought to entirely eliminate the Church as a middle-man between this world and any other, reflecting its rejection of any other higher dimension of human existence and its insistence that Communism itself was the sole vessel of human hope. It was a secular theocracy, a comprehensive government and belief-system, ruling over a Flattened, this-worldly human sphere.

To the extent that the Church resisted the Flattening of the human and of human history into the one, single dimension of this-world both Communism and Socialism, government and State-heavy, saw an obstructive rival.

And so Church and morality and tradition and caution and an acceptance of the strictures which human dignity might place on the actions of government and State were all to be put under the ban. The Church would be consigned, with the rest of the old and inadequate order of Europe, to the dustbin of history.

This is the source of Europe’s anticlerical and greatly atheist ethos now: there is no Larger or Higher dimension that can limit the State and the government.

The reviewer opines that Europe’s much longer and more profound struggle with the social and political authority of the Church, and its much more thorough public rejection of religion and the Beyond, resulted in Europe having become far more deeply pocked by Socialist or Communist statism than America.

In America, the reviewer notes, its still-kicking “conservative reserves” of “traditional Christian values” has prevented so thorough a statist debauchment as has been embraced among the European nations.

There’s something to what he says. But he neglects the Constitutional ethos of the Framers, although it too was predicated upon an awareness of a Higher Dimension, as well as of dimensions of American social and cultural life that the Constitutionally-limited government (sooooo alien to both Communist and Socialist intrusive engineering and manipulation) had no business manipulating or trying to control.

And the Framers were themselves certain of the existence of a Higher dimension and of the dignity of the human being stemming from that Higher place, beyond any ultimate statist authority. Indeed, their Constitutional dynamic would not work if the Citizens and The People were not, independent of the government, well-Shaped by Larger visions and values. The ‘limited’ government of the Constitutional ethos was limited on soooo many levels, and for reasons of sober prudence.

Which is why the Constitutional ethos, as well as the Church and ‘religion’ and ‘tradition’ and ‘morality’, became the conscious targets of the New Left as the Beltway pols energetically sold off America’s “Higher” holdings in their self-interested urge to pander for fresh votes. The National Nanny State, the government vessel required by the New Left, has become as regulatory as any Socialist or Communist vision, and will brook no obstructions to its writ or freedom to intrude, to impose, to engineer, to shape (or to deform).****

As the reviewer notes, the collapse of Christianity in Europe as a result of the New Left as well as the still-lingering depredations of Communism, and the influence of an American culture now itself deeply compromised by the New Left of the Frankfurt School as it has sloshed back over the Atlantic, carried by the (now-declining) strength of American hegemony, has created a “religious vacuum”.

So long as the American ethos can retain its hefty traditional grasp on Higher values (woven into the warp and woof of the Constitutional ethos, as I have said), then the reviewer thinks that America will pull through and avoid the profound existential wound from which Europe is now suffering.

If there is any upside to the current, hugely sobering American financial situation, I think that it lies in the fact that it has been the age-old American wealth and abundance which has helped fuel the illusion that the New Left’s whackulent agendas has no down-sides: from Reagan and on up through all the administrations, the appearances of increasing ‘wealth’ have served both to distract Americans from any skeptical consideration of what the Beltway was doing to the American ethos, and to fuel the illusion that one could embrace all the whackery of the New Left and STILL be ‘rich’ and ‘wealthy’ and Number One on a world-historical scale.

But with the drug of such illusionary wealth now quickly running out, its effects are wearing off.

Sobering up, Americans might be able to regain a bit of serious skepticism, and if they can muster the political as well as social and cultural will, they might yet regain their competence as The People and restore what has been Deconstructed in the statist, manipulative frenzies fomented by the New Left in the past Biblical 40 years.

This is not a prayer for a return to some ‘golden age’, nor for a regression to darkling imperfections now somewhat mitigated.

But rather for a rebirth of the genuine source of American liberty, which is a Shape that is Grounded in a Higher dimension and energized by a more profound and mature self-respect.

I find the reviewer’s European point of view interesting. Americans – who can be surprised? – haven’t really been informed by their mainstream media about the depth and breadth of Western Europe’s cultural hollowing-out; it is a culture that has largely lost any foundation in a Large and certainly more accurate conception of humans, as individuals and as societies.

And so – I think – We may not appreciate just how much, in comparison, the American New Left agendas have been stymied or slowed down here, thanks to the Constitutional ethos and the stubborn popular American insistence on retaining a religiously-informed Vision of humans and human life.

But it still seems to me that even if America is actually less hollowed-out than European culture, there is still more than enough damage to create an urgent need for Us to try to recover what has been ‘reformed away’ and kicked to the curb in the past 40 Biblical years.

What passes for ‘liberalism’ here is actually New Left-ism, which is clearly a hodge-podge of warmed-over Marxism-Leninism deployed here for the purposes of Deconstructing the foundations and the Shape of American and Western culture.

And such success as this whole gambit has enjoyed, with the Beltway’s unending support, has loosened the matrix not only of American and Western culture (as intended) but also of individuals’ lives. If American society and culture are now hollowed-out vacuums, they are very dynamic vacuums, charged with the frenzied and dizzy energies of a people that cannot master their own lives.

And therefore cannot come together as The People to govern the government. And THAT second vacuum has resulted in a government that pretty much has broken loose from the carefully constructed bonds of the Constitutional ethos and is now running amok domestically and internationally.

It is the decline of the civic competence of The People (however imperfect) that has enabled the various whackeries that have led to the decline of the nation – a decline whose presence can no longer be spun or wished or hoped away.

This is the rendezvous with destiny that confronts the current generations of Americans.


*Gottfried, Paul. “The Strange Death of Marxism: The European Left in the New Millennium”. Columbia, MO: U/Missouri Press, 2005. ISBN 0826215971 (hard cover) and ISBN 9780826215970 (paperback). It’s only 150 or so pages, but worth the read.

**See my Post on Marcuse’s thoroughly alarming 1965 article on ‘Repressive Tolerance’ here.

***Interestingly, the Italians had been applying a great deal of thought to economics, culture, productivity, the role of elites and the role of government since the Unification in 1860. By the late 19th century they had grasped the fact that Italy was still a peasant-agrarian economy and culture that was suddenly faced with remaining a ‘colony’ of the more advanced and industrialized European nations unless she could somehow industrialize quickly and massively, which would include changing her ancient peasant-agrarian culture and values as well. By the time the not-stupid and actually well-read Mussolini came along, there was a great deal of serious thought available to him and in the beginning he embraced it; the Nazis, by contrast, had almost no thought and did little thinking on this level. And the Japanese, of course, since the Meiji Restoration of the mid-19th century, had also put themselves to the task of rapid and massive transformation into an industrial culture.

****Which is not to ignore the Charybdis of the National Security State, that other rock formation threatening to rip open the American Constitutional vessel from the Right. Although the tendency of late-20th century American Protestant Fundamentalism to idolize the State as God’s Deputy has made it as dangerous a ‘religion’ as the ‘religion’ of the New Left; where the New Left seeks to dilute the existence of ‘religion’so as to create ‘space’ for its own programmes, jingo Fundamentalism seeks to deform Christianity into nothing more than an idolatrous chaplaincy of the National Security State.

Either of these rocks, the Scylla of the New Left or the Charybdis of the Jingo Right, will sink the American Constitutional vessel. The vortex created by each of them, increasing in strength as the vessel itself is weakened and slowed, will combine to rip it apart. As has begun.

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Monday, December 06, 2010


I think it’s apropos to say something about this 1954 book, given Our own present situation.*

Two points are particularly relevant, and recall that they are being made in 1954.

First, he points out that an abundance of natural resources does not in and of itself constitute national wealth. Rather, it is the national ability to work the “conversion of natural resources” into actual wealth through productivity that will actually create and constitute a nation’s wealth. (See pp.86-7 for this entire aspect of the discussion.)

And in this regard it is “not a matter of luck” that a nation manages to effect such a conversion of its resources. He quotes a then-recent 1949 study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research that listed “climate and natural resources” as only the first prerequisite for a nation’s achieving ‘wealth’ and a high standard of living.

But beyond that – for which a certain amount of ‘luck’ is indeed relevant – “natural resources are relative to a people’s capacity to use them”. Which leads to the second vital factor: “quality of population”, which comprises “the importance of education, of moral qualities, and of ‘diffused ingenuity and enterprise’.

You need, they were saying half a century and more ago, a people that is grounded in and Shaped by a ‘character’ that includes disciplines of self-mastery and self-discipline, such that they can apply themselves over the long haul to the task of converting resources into marketable wealth.

In that sense then, such ‘character’ is itself an indispensable element of ‘national wealth’: without such ‘character’ the resources remain undeveloped (because the people remains, in a very real sense, undeveloped or under-developed).

At the time such an analysis was no doubt relevant to examining the economic potential of what was then called the Third, or Developing, World. America in those days was peopled by a society Shaped by its culture toward a certain capacity for sustained self-application.

But since the later 1960s the government’s embrace of the New Left’s agenda, heavily tinged with victimism and simple entitlement, has done much to erode this capacity: the New Left opposed American culture because it was ‘masculine’ and ‘smokestack’ and ‘patriarchal’ and ‘oppressive’, and the New Left itself was heavily tinged with both a Boomery, youthy aversion for the drudgery of ‘work’ and that queasy radical-feminist antipathy to anything that gave ‘men’ some sort of ‘advantage’.

Hence the Deconstruction of the culture that supported a competence for ‘productivity’.

Potter mentions several other essential requirements: “incentives”, especially “individualistic incentives”. Meaning that the workers have to have a sense that real sustained effort will be rewarded with some sufficient degree of material gain and reward. Of course, ‘individual’ was taken in the context of a parent working to provide for a family, not quite the ‘total autonomy’ of each individual person (which would inevitably lead to undermining the Family, which is the first and indispensable ‘school’ in which the young are raised into this type of ‘character’, a task for which government is remarkably unsuited, if for no other reason than that by the time government can play a hands-on role the individual child is already deeply shaped by the Family experience in those utterly vital early years of life).

All of this, clearly, was incompatible with certain unavoidable requirements of radical-feminism as it has mutated here. In the Correct vision the Family, as you may recall, is the site of much ‘oppression’ (being compared to Dachau and Auschwitz) for ‘women’ and as the greatest crime scene (sexual and emotional) in the country, in which women and children are continually assaulted, stunted, and oppressed.

A fourth prerequisite is “capital”, and by the oddest coincidence that element, now, is drying up along with the efficacy of the dollar itself.

A fifth is “institutional conditions and systems”. And for the past 40 Biblical years the Beltway has done its level best to ‘change’ those conditions and systems to make them less oppressive (just as the Boomery youth felt that work was oppressive and conformist and that – although they didn’t get this deep into the matter, as usual – maturity itself was just an opiate designed to render the population more docile and un-creative and conformist).

Worse, as I have often said, the Beltway’s evolved political strategy for the past 40 Biblical years has been to pander to the New Left ‘revolutions’ in order to garner some sort of cobbled-together electoral viability, while also accepting PAC monies precisely to allow Big Money, that has been watching the precipitous decline in the population’s core productive competence, to undermine the gains of Labor effected by the Old Left while simultaneously transferring production overseas (downsizing and outsourcing production activities overseas where folks are more eager to work and will do it for less money and no benefits).

And THAT gambit has now reached the point where there is not only much less of the peoples’ competence to produce but also much less – perhaps beyond the point of replacement – productive infrastructure (factories and facilities).

The population was for a time lulled with the phantasmagoric construct of the Knowledge-and-Service economy: America would retain its economic primacy and health merely by ‘producing’ knowledge, the knowledge-elites being freed from ‘smokestack’ (and male-friendly) drudgery by a ‘service sector’ of leaf-blowers, cell-phone sellers, nannies, and barristas pouring the most complex and exotic beverages.

And this dynamic has progressed (or regressed) to the point where even as the government brays about ‘jobs’ such employment is hell-and-gone from a ‘job’ as an American of 1954 would understand the term: a reliable and decently-paid employment that enabled one to provide a decent life for oneself and one’s family. Instead, jobs that in 1954 would have been the purview of teens looking for pocket money are now being touted as life-sustaining ‘jobs’ for adults (which most of them surely are not).

This is a catastrophic consequence of the past 40 Biblical years, no matter how well-intended (dubious to begin with, certainly debatable) all of this ‘change’ has been.

Even as the work-force was theoretically doubled at a stroke by the radical-feminist efforts to redefine ‘individual’ most radically as the totally free-standing individual un-hampered by Family and commitment, and even as Multiculturalism seemed to justify the importation of huge numbers of immigrants from those under-developed and less-productive cultures who would be more amenable to lower-paying jobs (buttressed by government entitlements) and whose ‘diversity’ would go a long way toward erasing the ‘white patriarchal smokestack’ culture of yore.

And even as youth were assured that if they got a college-degree they could all work for Microsoft and earn fabulous sums without ever getting their hands dirty or even breaking a physical sweat … even as all that was erected by the Beltway into a national policy and Plan, actual genuine productivity and the competence to effect and sustain it was allowed to corrode and rot away just like the amazing infrastructure of vital pipes and dams and roads and bridges was being allowed to fall into decay.

Although in the matter of such vital physical infrastructure, the assumption was also prevalent – witlessly – that once built (by hard physical labor) such structures would remain pristine and in peak condition without any need for further (now derided) hard physical labor. This was akin to imagining that the Golden Eggs would continue to flow regardless of the health of the Goose. Only ideological cadres and kids could consider such a fantasy real.

But Potter’s second point is even more stunning: in 1954 he is suggesting that it is America’s Abundance (defined as not only the natural resources but the cultural competence to convert it into productive wealth) that has shaped the country and even Democracy, rather than the other way around.

Faced two centuries ago with a national endowment of resources and an ‘independence’ that seemed to be infinite, Americans could indulge the thought (Potter writes in 1954) that “social barriers” (p.101) didn’t exist at all and did not need to, and that America would thus offer an infinite scope for individual achievement (later ‘fulfillment’).

But Potter notes, and I fully agree, that no such perfect and infinite society has ever existed or could ever exist among humans. There is an element of both incompleteness and – more importantly – imperfection to humans, and thus to everything they undertake. Boundary is far more a reality among humans than any perfection or infinity, just as (my image here, not Potter’s) a ship or aircraft, while marvelously capable, is limited in its scope by the very nature of its shape (you can’t drive a ship or plane on land).

But this sense of limitation – even of constructive and shaping limitation and boundary – has never counted for much in American popular ideology (although it figured greatly in the Framers’ construction of the Constitutional machinery and ethos). The very brief historical blips of the ‘mountain men’ and the ‘cowboy’, as if they provided a usable template upon which to pattern a mature and sustainable life, remained ‘popular’, while the ‘farmer’ and the ‘townsfolk’ always appeared dull and boring (especially to Boomer kids watching lots of movies and TV).

“In America some of the ripest recruits for Marxism have been the idealists who loved the doctrine of equality too well and who would not compromise with the realities of a society which merely offered a relatively closer approach to equality than other stratified societies”, says Potter – again in 1954 long before the New Left and the culture-gender wars that it began in the late 1960s. (p.101)

What Potter is saying here is that a) there is no easy and simple and total path to everybody having a good and decent life, and b) that America is neither the present nor future site of any ‘total perfection’ of human aspiration, since – although he himself doesn’t go into the philosophy of it – such totality and perfection is by the very nature of the species not possible in the realm of the human.

But such sober insight was not audible to the ears of an American culture that had never much detained itself with ‘deep’ questions, so busy and perhaps excited it had been with the possibilities surrounding it in the material realm.

And that was in 1954. By 1968 and subsequently, such insight was precisely NOT what those hyper-excited cadres of a regurgitated Marxist enthusiasm wanted to hear or wanted anybody else to think. Nor did such insight serve the purposes of a government that was rapidly coming to depend upon a politics of excitement, ‘hope’, ‘dreaming’, and a frothy insistence that the Impossible must and could be made Possible – because, after all, this was ‘America’, seat and site of human perfection and fulfillment.

I would say that this Impossible-Possible presumption was the core Impossible Thing that Americans came to believe, among the many Impossible Things that people were urged to believe before breakfast in the Looking-Glass world that the country became, with dizzying intensity, after 1968 or so.

The vision of the un-boundaried and ‘classless’ (and perhaps now ‘genderless’) society that was the frakkulent and opiate pipedream of Marxism was simply altered and intensified by the Marxy ‘revolutions’ of the New Left age, and – who can be surprised? – has now led America to much the same place it led the Russians and Soviets: a shockingly rigid class-stratified society that, by the by, cannot support itself with effective productivity. There is a hugely wealth class and an increasingly non-wealthy class, and even an alleged ‘knowledge’ class waited-on by the helots of a ‘service’ class. And then there is the whole ‘gender’ type of ‘class’ with men as the new Kulaks. Funny how the night moves.

But it gets worse.

In his fifth chapter entitled “Democracy and Abundance” Potter proposes that Democracy did not create Abundance but rather that Abundance nurtured Democracy. (pp.111-127)

Given the remarkable natural wealth of the American territory, he says, it was possible to imagine that the most efficient way of converting all of that natural potential wealth into actual wealth was Democracy: in the absence of “scarcity” a careful politically-grounded system of allocating what resources there were was not necessary as it had developed in Europe (and all of the world's preceding historical civilizations).

Instead, Americans had a very reasonable shot at being able to provide well for themselves and their families simply by being allowed to run their own affairs and enterprises.

Indeed, with Americans thus able to experience a certain responsibility of ownership through their management of their own productivity, then they might very well achieve a level of competence for responsible self-government never before seen in the world or in human history (not ‘total’, mind you, but far more advanced than anything previously seen).

Hence Americans would be able to make do with a limited government that needed primarily only to protect the Abundance and provide general-referee services to ensure that fair-play was maintained as best as could be managed (humans not being perfect creatures and their creations and constructions being therefore imperfect and incomplete as well).

This was significantly (but not ‘totally’) different from the European societies of the day, where governments – still heavily soused with monarchical systems and possessed of a very palpably finite supply of natural abundance – were far more intrusive and regulatory in the most profound sense of the term.

Hence American Abundance made possible American Democracy. (And perhaps the exception that proves the rule here is that in the very beginning – in the earliest colonial settlements of the 17th century – the scarcity of such Abundance among those small and bedraggled settlements resulted in a far more rigid management of such resources and products as were available).

“A democratic system depends upon an economic surplus”, he says. (p.114) It is this hope for achieving a larger slice of the pie that keeps the people constructively occupied. As opposed, he notes, to the efforts of European social systems “to keep their peoples contented” as the Marxists did with the promise of a future utopia, the Romans did with bread and circuses, the Spanish did with lotteries and such hope-pandering and desire-exploiting tricks (once the ‘free’ wealth of the New World had been exhausted). I would add the Egyptians who simply locked the population into imagining that their own fulfillment consisted in nothing more than assuring the this-worldly and next-worldly comfort of the Pharaoh, in whom they all would symbolically ‘succeed’.

“In all societies of economic insufficiency, which is the only kind that existed up to about two centuries ago, certain social conditions have been fixed and inevitable”. (p.114) “The vast majority of the people were inescapably destined to heavy toil and bare subsistence, and the economic surplus in excess of such bare subsistence was not sufficient to give leisure and abundance to more than a tiny minority.”

Hence none of those societies could afford or risk exciting “a great steeplechase” after abundance and leisure on the part of the population, since there were far far too few prospects for any but a handful to actually achieve abundance and leisure (or, I would add, even basic subsistence at the most primitive levels).

“A democracy, by contrast, setting equality as its goal, must promise opportunity, for the goal of equality becomes a mockery unless there is some means of attaining it.” (p.115) But again, this ‘equality’ is more of a realizable goal in a society capable of achieving a larger level of Abundance, but it is not a ‘perfect’ or ‘total’ equality. It can’t be – given the nature of humans and their affairs and the fact that not even Abundance is ‘total’ or ‘complete’ (or, as We may now be noticing, permanent).

But then, he goes on, a democracy is constantly at risk of exciting more “expectations” than its level of Abundance can fulfill – and so there is always the need for a careful management of resources (or a manipulation of people’s desires and expectations) in order to prevent the build-up of explosive frustration and discontent as Abundance proves unequal to the demands and expectations placed upon it.

But this risk can be managed “if the country following [this approach] has the necessary physical resources and human resourcefulness to raise the standard of living”. (p.116) Americans nowadays, I would say, are lacking those necessary physical resources and have been increasingly addicted-to dependence rather than raised to a competence in resourcefulness. Nor has their culture and society helped, since the New Left’s entire program has been to Deconstruct all that ‘patriarchal’ stuff.

Indeed the most common type of ‘resourcefulness’ now is in ‘telling your story’ and making demands and ‘thinking positively and hoping’ – none of which actually produce any increase in national wealth or Abundance.

Then he gets down to cases. “If this is true, it means that the principles of democracy are not universal truths ignored during centuries of intellectual darkness and brought to light at last in the age of the American Revolution, but rather that democracy is the foremost by far of the many advantages which our economic affluence has bought for us.” (p.116-7).

Interestingly, he immediately notes a corollary: “that, when we propose world-wide adoption of democracy, our problem is not simply to inspire a belief [or ‘hope’] in it, but to encourage conditions conducive to it”. (p.117)

BUT of course, one of those vital and indispensable preconditions would be Abundance. To introduce ‘democracy’ into a society not blessed with either Abundance or the potential for converting it into actual wealth is – from an economic point of view – doomed to failure. This, I think, is sobering material for current US efforts to foment democracy ‘everywhere’, especially when nowadays ‘democracy’ in its American variant includes profound assaults on traditions and folkways that – whatever elite cadres think of them – are core Shaping elements that Trellis the target-societies and cultures and the lives of those distant peoples. Indeed, the effects of those New Left cadres’ assaults even on American culture are now revealing themselves to be hugely fraught.

Looking around in 1954, Potter contrasts American and European “equalitarianism”. (p.117) Given the limited resources available, European governments can only conceive of a broader national wealth through redistribution, a zero-sum game whereby wealth must be taken from some and given to others.

Whereas in America, things are different because “The American mind, by contrast, often assumes implicitly that the volume of wealth is dynamic [i.e. it will always keep expanding], that much potential wealth remains to be converted, and that … capital and labor can take more wealth out of the environment by working together than they can take out of one another by class warfare”. (p.118)

Hence, he says in 1954, America does not need to “treat one class as the victim or even, in an ultimate sense, the antagonist of another”. (p.118) Give some thought to this in light of the past 40 Biblical years of Marxy Identity Politics and the culture-war and gender-war antagonisms (I wonder if Potter could have even imagined that implacable antagonism, even deeper than the economic, that abides in gender-based antagonism).

All America has to do, he notes, is to “increase productivity”, whereas the British Labour Party (in Potter’s day) had to tax the wealthy in order to create more available wealth; there was little possibility of the Brits being able to simply tap into a national Abundance and potential for increased productivity.

That European ‘redistribution’ rather than ‘increased productivity and production’ was precisely what was force-fed into the American discourse (and far too quickly and easily erected into national policy) with the Marxy excitements of the late 1960s.

For the past 40 Biblical years here it has been axiomatic that a) there are profound if not also ineradicable antagonisms among the American population, not only in terms of economic class but even more so along the fracture-lines of race, ethnicity, and gender and b) that it has always been the maxim of the various cadres of the Identities that a certain REDUCTION in productivity is perfectly acceptable as the price of meeting their various demands as to Deconstructing and Reconstructing American culture, tradition, and society. **

“Few Americans”, Potter says, “feel entirely at ease with the slogan ‘Soak the rich’ but the phrase ‘Deal me in’ springs spontaneously and joyously to American lips”. (p.119) That was 1954. That enthusiasm was fueled by the sense of possibility and the sense of confidence that one could and would make a go of it, because American society and culture was set up to support such an effort. But by the mid-1970s the decent jobs were starting to disappear.

In his proposals and schemes for raising American standards of living in the 1930s, Huey Long, Potter observes, “was not primarily relying on the arithmetical naivete of the American people; he was relying upon their belief in the inexhaustible plenty of North America and in their own unrestrained right to enjoy that plenty without brain-trust or dogma”. (p.120)

Long was playing a bit of the demagogue: he played and pandered to people’s sense of entitlement and of easy wealth, without limning any of the sterner realities about sustaining a character attuned to producing marketable stuff and then putting in the sustained labor to actually make the stuff. And such demagoguery was exponentially intensified in the late Sixties and subsequently, although touted and spun as ‘change’ and ‘liberation’.

There was no need for Americans to distract themselves with dogmatic intellectual arguments about class struggle because America was ‘growing’ and there was plenty of Abundance to be productively harnessed.

But, he asks, “is our hostility to the class-struggle [let alone gender-struggle] concept also linked with our reluctance to entertain the thought that American wealth has ceased to grow, that we can no longer raise the standard of living at one point without lowering it somewhere else?” (p.121) What happens now in 2010?

Americans didn’t need to develop a dogmatic or intellectual approach to Abundance because unlike in Europe, American production and Abundance problems were not “fixed” such that they would be permanent and require serious intellectual consideration to solve. (p.122) Compare this with the eternally and most surely ‘fixed’ antagonisms of gender and, to a lesser extent, race and ethnicity.

On top of the fact that it is quite possible now that the Abundance as well as the productivity are now played out or have been thrown out.

As you can see in the European example, Potter proposes, Freedom and Abundance “do not necessarily converge”. Americans have “made them converge”, taking advantage of North America’s unique endowment of Abundant natural resources and position, but that is not and never was a necessary convergence at all. It just happened that way in the playing out of America’s uniquely-endowed natural position. (p.127)

“Consequently”, he says in 1954, “when America, out of her abundance, preaches the gospel of democracy to countries which see [or have] no means of attaining abundance, the message does not carry the meaning which it is meant to convey”. (p.127) Indeed, he continues (in 1954), “no other part of American activity has been so consistently and so completely a failure as our attempt to export democracy”. (p.127) Because we cannot export our natural Abundance or perhaps even our (then) natural national competence in productivity. No wonder, then, that other peoples, though enticed by visions of American plenty, take ‘democracy’ and even American seriousness with a grain or ten of salt.

(And, I would say, even more so nowadays when ‘exporting democracy’ has become more of a government ploy to establish American culture (in all its mutated fractiousness) and military presence around the world, wherever further natural resources might be obtained to shore up Our own dwindling Abundance and productivity.)

In his sixth chapter Potter reflects on the relationship between ‘Abundance and the Mission of America”. During the early period of World War 2 FDR sought to avoid the hugely fraught mistake of Wilson, who justified American involvement in World War 1 by sounding highly abstract and impossible-to-achieve and highly idealistic moral and historical goals. Instead, FDR sought to strike more ‘realistic’ notes and emphasized America’s practical and immediate stake in the outcome of the war.

“But he too felt the need for the moral dynamism gained by asserting universal rights for man, hence the Atlantic Charter and the Four Freedoms, which seemed so much more human and therefore more universal in their appeal than Wilson’s Fourteen Points.” (p.132)

Of those freedoms the first two – freedom of speech and expression and freedom of worship – were political rights that it was within the purview of a decent earthly government to provide; but the second pair – freedom from want and freedom from fear – are impossible promises to make, and no human government can assure them reliably and thoroughly and fully.***The best a government might do is assure that it would try to strive toward fulfilling those last two, which in any case are not matters of ‘freedom’ but of ‘security’. (Perhaps, at the risk of sounding a bit Maoist, FDR could have done better to entitle his vision ‘The Two Freedoms and the Two Securities’).

But it was war, not everybody was excited about the prospect, and FDR had to excite as vividly as he could the support of the American public and of peoples around the world whose help would be needed to win the war against the totalitarian Axis.

And then, reflecting (in 1954) on why it has been that American-style democracy has never been successfully sold to the peoples of the world as a Great and Good Thing, Potter suggests that it is because America has never actually understood what it’s actual “revolutionary message” really was.

That message, Potter proposes, is NOT a message of “democracy revolutionizing the world” BUT RATHER a message of “abundance revolutionizing the world”. (p.134)

But then, of course, you can’t export natural Abundance. And the canny peasants of the world – most of the planet’s population, I would venture – realize that and have realized it all along. And still do. (Yes, you can drop industrial-sized pallets of shrink-wrapped C-notes or benjamins for distribution to local warlords, but that’s not really exporting natural Abundance.)

What America has done for the world is provide a living example of how humans may rise out of the toil of genuine life-threatening poverty and perhaps even enjoy the task of conducting a human life, but it was probably no mistake when George Washington sagely advised that America be a ‘model’ for the world, but not a world-wide ‘agent’ of ‘democracy’.

America’s gift to humanity was not purely an ideological one, but also a fundamentally material one – Abundance. And the vision of how marvelously such Abundance could be harnessed when people felt they had a decent chance to participate in the fruits of what their labor achieved.

But even in the America of the 1950s Potter saw that Americans were starting to turn from the harnessing of Abundance to the consumption of it (although the full-blown ‘consumer-economy’ was still a ways down the road in his era). (p.174)

In an economy of Scarcity, human beings must marshal all their energies, must Shape themselves and their children, to postpone gratification of desire and maintain the life-sustaining and indispensable discipline of a character focused upon survival and achievement (at however minimal a level) and of work. Curiously, though it has been a political goal in recent decades to ‘liberate’ people from the work, it has also been the goal to Deconstruct any sense of self-mastery and self-discipline, in favor – it is claimed – of ‘liberation’.

While eliminating the backbreaking and spirit-sapping drudgery of primal toil for the minimum return of sustaining life from day to day has been a long-standing goal in the West, especially under the American example, yet the self-discipline and self-mastery and the formation of what used to be called ‘character’ or perhaps ‘maturity’ were still required when Abundance fueled Democracy and one could now apply oneself productively for the realistic prospect of far greater returns in standard of living.

But with increasing productivity came the opportunity to ‘consume’ – in a simply material sense, that’s how you filled-out your increased standard of living – and your ‘desire’ became not a distraction but rather a prime fuel of the economic engine.

And whereas it would take a great deal of maturity and character to judiciously consume without sinking into some sort of Flattened fever-swamp of Desire and immediate Gratification through indiscriminate Consumption, the pressures built to simply yield to the Material, the Desire, the Immediate Gratification, and the abandonment of any self-definition or self-concept or life-goal except the purely Flat and Shallow one of ‘having the right consumables’.

Add to that a purposeful and government-supported Deconstruction of any sense of self-mastery and self-control in favor of consuming and – in the era of Identity Politics – demanding, and you can see where the country was headed for a rendezvous with a terrible but hardly unpredictable destiny.

Indeed, Potter notes in 1954 that Abundance-plus-consumerism was threatening the Family, “the one institution that touches all members of society most intimately, and it is perhaps the only institution that touches children directly”. (p.203)

Sneering titters might be expected nowadays from assorted cadres and interests who have seen far too much success in re-casting the Family as the greatest crime-scene and site-of-oppression in the country.

But Potter saw that if human beings were to be formed and Shaped, and in a profoundly human mode, then it had to be by the Family and not by the ham-handed and never-trustworthy tutelage of a government that would no doubt tend to render them liable to a dependency on government that would in turn develop in them a functional predisposition to authoritarianism. He may well have recalled Mussolini’s insistence on raising boy-babies in special government facilities in order to prepare them for the demands of military service.

This however would obstruct the most profound requirements of radical-feminism as it mutated in the American setting and has for these past decades.

Ultimately, the question Potter’s work poses for Us now is shocking as well as profound. If he is correct – and I think he is – in formulating that “The politics of our democracy was a politics of abundance rather than a politics of individualism, a politics of increasing our wealth quickly rather than dividing it precisely, a politics which smiled both on those who valued abundance as a means to safeguard freedom and those who values freedom as an aid in securing abundance” (p.126) … if he is correct in that, then the question becomes: WHAT HAPPENS TO DEMOCRACY WHEN THE ABUNDANCE STOPS?

A politics of Scarcity is a European experience that this nation has never had to face. An intrusive and regulatory government arrogating to itself the power to say what happens when and who gets what is hell-and-gone from the Constitutional vision and ethos in several substantial ways.

Since under the influence of the Marxy, European-derived Identity Politics this country started down the road of an intrusive regulatory government in the National Nanny State that has been crafted over the past 40 years’ worth of ‘demands’, when the country at least enjoyed the appearances of Wealth and Abundance, what happens now as even the appearances of Wealth and Abundance fade?

The National Nanny or Regulatory State sought by the Left and the National Security State sought by the Right are merely two sides of the same coin: the ancient and un-American coin of a Leviathan government.



*Potter, David M. “PEOPLE OF PLENTY: ECONOMIC ABUNDANCE AND THE AMERICAN CHARACTER”. Chicago: U/Chicago Press, 1954. ISBN of the copy I am using is for the paperback: 0-226-67633-1.

**And as I have said before, this same maxim was deployed in the radical-feminist efforts to put females into the military: a certain “reduction in combat efficiency” was necessary and acceptable. After all, the cadres mused in the early 1990s, the Soviets had gone away, computers would be doing most of the remote-control combat, there wouldn’t be much combat without the Soviets anyway so the military was just another Federal employment opportunity, and there may well be magical computer-driven ‘battle-suits’ that would give any wearer (regardless of gender or physical competence) super-human combat powers. Ovvvvvv coursssssssssssse.

***Ominously, it is especially this last pair of ‘freedoms’ that has come to ground recent American efforts by radical-feminist-leaning ‘thinkers’ such as Martha Nussbaum to assert that they are “rights” and that the Beltway must therefore both disregard the strictures and limits of the Constitution (‘old’ and ‘patriarchal’ anyway) and also the course of deliberative and democratic politics and simply guarantee such ‘rights’ by imposition.


This article was suggested to me this morning as relevant to the topic. As soon as I've read the book to which it refers, I'll be making a Post.