Tuesday, September 11, 2012

LIBERAL FASCISM 1


 

I want to put some further relevant supporting material under my thoughts in the immediately prior Stiglitz Post.

I will do this with a mini-series on Jonah Goldberg’s 2007 book Liberal Fascism.* (In these Posts, Jonah Goldberg will be shortened to ‘JG’.)

Let’s clear up one point immediately: JG here is not making some easy, rabble-rousing rhetorical connection between ‘Hitler’ and the American government. He is not suggesting that the Democrats or the Republicans or the Beltway denizens of today are ‘Nazis’ or any such thing. This is not a replay of 1960’s hyper-excited Boomer imagery, deployed – as was the accepted practice of the times – against ‘the Establishment’. The Boomers were a youthy (my only public thank-you here, to George W. Bush) bunch, and took full advantage of all the disadvantages of that age in the human life cycle.

That’s not what JG is doing here.

Rather, he is running an x-ray scan to see beneath the surfaces of current – and historical, going back to the American Progressives of the early 1900s – American political philosophy and praxis in order to see if the same dynamics that fueled Progressivism were also the dynamics that fueled Fascism as it is properly defined (a totalitarian or totalizing approach to government towards its citizenry).

Let’s not forget that the same era that saw Progressivism take root here was the era that saw Europe wrestling with how to some control the rapidly modernized, industrialized, and corporatized polities of Western Europe and Russia. It was an era of intense political-philosophical speculation and imagining – so characteristic of Western and European civilization – driven by a robust and heady sense of the ‘new’ and a burning desire to somehow keep human beings from being trampled by the newly-engorged corporate and capitalist behemoths that seemed to be connected to shocking amounts of urban and rural poverty throughout Western Europe and Russia.

It was the European Left that sought to alleviate this shocking state of affairs; if ‘business’ and ‘commerce’ had somehow morphed into ‘corporatism’ then shouldn’t ‘government’ and ‘governance’ somehow counter-morph into some legitimate coercive power that could alleviate or even eradicate the effects of corporatism’s monstrous engorgement? Shouldn’t government speak-for and work-for ‘the little people’ and those whose lives seemed rather vividly to be merely sources of lubricant to make the great Machine grind on?

It will be JG’s point to insist that Marx and Mussolini and Hitler were all seeking to achieve this, from the Left. (Yes, the easy equation has long been that since Hitler opposed the Communists of the Left then Nazism had to be a movement of the Right; but JG (very thoroughly) makes the case that the Communist and Fascist and Nazi movements were equally rival offspring of the European Left.)

And further, that while it had roots in some deep currents in American politics, Progressivism here was working toward those same goals, and – willy or nilly – by seeking to establish and harness some of the same dynamics and ‘solutions’.

Which, as I have often said and as JG reveals (I believe he makes and supports his case clearly and substantively), would and did put American Progressivism on a collision course with the Framing Vision and its utterly indispensable first-principles and with the entire unique philosophical Grounding of what the Framers themselves realized was the Great American Experiment in human self-governance.

Perhaps since it was all spun for popular consumption as simply a pragmatic adaptation responding to the huge challenges of the new and the modern, and since it was all designed to somehow liberate; and since Progressivism spun itself as a form of ‘liberalism’; and since  it all turned out (until the latter part of the century, after 1970 and increasingly so since then) so ‘abundantly’ for Americans … perhaps in light of all that the actual dynamics and principles inherent-in and constitutive-of the American Progressive thrust remained unconsidered for so long.

But that was then and now is Now.

So to this first installment about Goldberg and his vital work.

He notes (p.9) that until 1941 Italian Fascism was seen “as a progressive social movement”.  Many were the elite intellectual admirers in Europe and the U.S. who watched Mussolini throughout the 1920s and 1930s as he became the Great Leader and the strong Man of Action who both whipped the mushy Italian polity into shape and stood up for the little-people and for (to use Gramsci’s term) the ‘marginalized’.

Of course, once the war got started for the U.S. after Pearl Harbor, then that admiration had to be finessed-away. (The equally long-standing general and elite admiration for the Soviet variant of Strong-Government-On-Behalf-of-the-Masses lasted somewhat longer – until the later 1940s, and in many cases was resurrected in the later 1960s here.)

To achieve that finessing, emphasis was shifted away from Fascist social programs and objectives and onto the militaristic and imperialist and nationalist elements of the Fascist program. (Although when he gets to the early – first-wave, if you wish – American Progressives of the early 1900s, JG will amply demonstrate through acute and numerous quotations just how exuberantly imperialist and militarist and nationalist American Progressivism also was, from its inception.)

And, of course, once the Holocaust (a Nazi rather than Italian Fascist production) was revealed, then politically it was utterly essential for a thoroughly Progressive American politics and its intellectual elites to distance themselves from the whole shebang: Hitler and Mussolini both. (Again oddly, when the revelations of the monstrous Soviet Gulag came out – partially through Khrushchev’s revelations in 1956 and much more vigorously and vividly through Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s books – not widely available here until the early 1970s – there was not so much of an outcry; and Solzhenitsyn was not warmly received when he spoke at Harvard in June of 1978 – perhaps because he was not only indicting the Left’s favored alternative to ‘capitalism’ but also because he was sternly and forthrightly urging a return to spirituality upon American elites who by then were thoroughly committed to secularizing government and culture . Solzhenitsyn could be soooo judgmental.)

Thus Nazism (self-proclaimed from the get-go as not only a national but also a social “revolution”) and Italian Fascism were quickly and neatly pigeon-holed as ‘right-wing’ (JG doesn’t get into the ‘social’ elements of Japanese militarism, which were much more muted despite the eager and frenzied support of the young and lower-class officers of the Army).

But both Fascism and Nazism had from the beginning shared  between themselves – and with some of the basic themes of American Progressivism – strong tendencies toward elitist governance, statist government, and centralized government that would reach ‘totally’ into all aspects of the nation’s life and re-fashion the very citizens themselves into some ‘new’ form. (Allow me here to suggest today’s New Feminist Man as a direct conceptual descendant of New Soviet Man and New Fascist Man and New German Man.)

JG reaches back – quite appropriately – to the French Revolution, that beacon to all 19th and early-20th century European leftist thought: that enterprise also demanded a thorough secularization and laicization of government. You can say that this was merely a necessary requirement in order to liberate society and culture from a Church which – in its abiding desire for ‘order’ as opposed to civil war – had allied itself with (or at least reconciled itself to) the dominant governmental regime of the day.

But I will say that this secularization was also inherently necessary since the Revolutionary state was seeking to replace the Church as the primary object of the citizens’ beliefs and hopes. The Revolution was setting itself up as the this-worldly and very ‘demonstrable’ ‘god’ to replace that ‘abstract’ and other-worldly entity served by organized religion. The Church and all organized religion and any other-worldly religious impulses were, in other words, viewed by the Revolution as its rival – and thus had to be erased and swept away forthwith if any lasting ‘progress’ was to be effected.

Thus JG will say that “American liberalism is a totalitarian political religion”. (p.14) But nowadays it’s a “nice” one – “nannying, but not bullying”. (p.14) Although I think that the more it becomes entrenched (and it has, even since the end of the G.W. Bush administration) there is the inevitable and ineluctable increase in the bullying – both foreign and domestic.

Because after all, everything is political now (it started its most recent surge, you may recall, with the now-familiar mantra that ‘the personal is political’). What you eat, smoke, read, or in any other way ‘prefer’ – it’s all political now (and therefore open to the ‘compelling interest’ of the state). Oy.

As a newbie ‘religion’, “Liberals place their faith in priestly [I would say ‘priest-like’] experts who know better, who plan, exhort, badger, and scold. They try to use science to discredit traditional notions of [any rival] religion and faith, but they speak the language of pluralism and spirituality to defend ‘non-traditional’ beliefs.” (p.14) As any newbie must, if it’s going to shove open space for itself.

And like the classical fascists, the current American mutation speaks of “a Third Way between right and left, where all good things go together and all hard choices are ‘false choices’”. (p.14)

And here JG raises a solid point: all good things have to somehow mysteriously and mystically ‘go together’ (through some secular liberal version of the old Invisible Hand or God’s Providence or whatever magical mystery dynamic) because the Beltway – Progressive since the early 1900s in both the Democratic and Republican variants – was committed to pandering to every Identity-group’s demands without any serious thought as to either a) how each of those demands would work out and individually impact the common-weal or b) how they would or would-not fit together into a coherent whole among themselves as national-policy.

Ditto that the Beltway couldn’t then allow wide public deliberation about the possible or probable or inevitable consequences or trade-offs of all these demands, because once the Citizenry thought it had a role in making serious choices as to the nature and operating dynamics of their culture and polity, then quite possibly a number of those Identity-groups’ demands would be rejected. How can you have a ‘revolution’ – or a lot of them all at once – if you let ‘the masses’ (who by definition ‘just don’t get it’) have a say in what is or isn’t going to happen? And what is or isn’t going to be imposed upon them?

And so thus, any framing of a new imposition as being a ‘hard choice’ to make has to be nipped in the bud. All of this – the Beltway needed Us to believe – was going to work out and come up roses with no major costs or consequences. You just have to believe (as religious-types had been saying for millennia).

You were to take it as an article of faith and dogma that “with the right amount of tinkering we can realize the utopian dream of ‘creating a better world’”. (p.15) And, as We shall see, creating better ‘people’ in the process as well. I would only add that in order to market and sell these new impositions in such a way as to lull the herd they had to be spun as having no downsides or trade-offs, much as used-car salespersons will assure you about the car whose tires they very much would not like you to speculatively kick.

And to demand to look under the hood would be the very height of mulish un-believing and back-lashing. And who needs a lesson in what happens to ‘un-believers’? And back-lashers?

JG raises here – and will get into much greater detail with meaty quotations from major players later in the book – the point that first-wave Progressivism was very much a religious and thus in its context a Christian undertaking. While “today’s liberal fascism eschews talk of Christianity for the most part” (p.15) yet it wasn’t always that way. The spirit of the domestic and foreign benevolent but robustly masculine “religious crusader” was interwoven into the warp and woof of Progressivism from Day One. (Nor was such a ‘crusading’ mentality limited to males; you can look up a long list of that era’s female crusaders, and don’t forget Carry Nation – the hatchet-wielding saloon-smasher from the frontier towns of Kansas).

To first-wave Progressivism, religion and politics very much worked hand in hand. But – I would say – that was all before they met Marx and Gramsci and Mussolini and got a different religion entirely. (And then, a while later, along came Mao and Ho and Che … and the band jazzed up and played on.)

In a tantalizing aside, JG notes that the “postmodern left” does “speak a language that Nazis would understand”: such keys words as ‘deconstruction’ and ‘logocentrism’ first saw the light “in anti-science tracts written by Nazi and protofascist writers like Ernst Krieck and Ludwig Klages”; with the first-ever reference to Dekonstrucktion being made in a psychiatry journal edited by a cousin of Hermann Goering. (p.16) The more things change … ach!

Even more acutely (and ominously) current talk around here of destroying “whiteness” “is more than superficially reminiscent of the National Socialist effort to ‘de-Judaize’ German society”. (p.16) [italics mine]

All in all, JG says, “the fact remains that “Progressives did many things that we would today call objectively fascist, and fascists did many things that we would today call objectively Progressive”. (Are you pouring a stiff drink yet? I’m smoking my favorite comfort-pipe just to keep my hands steady. And fasten your seat-belt because the intellectual history just gets more revealing as it goes on here.)

And pre-emptively, but perfectly logically and it’s a point worth making, JG notes that it is inaccurate to “assume that fascism was simply the ideology of Jewish genocide”, (p.16) for which, he suggests, the more apt label would be ‘Hitlerism’. Fascism, properly speaking, was a socio-cultural and socio-political programme with its own presumptions and agenda and objectives and methods, all designed to make life better for the little-people against the awesome and awful weight of a corporate metastasis that was somehow crushing the lives of hundreds of millions. Fascism, I would put it, sought to combat ‘oppression’, ‘hegemony’, ‘dominance’ and ‘marginalization’. That it wound up somewhere else altogether is a point worthy of much contemporary deliberation and reflection.**

The crimes of Hitlerism and Nazism “erased” (p.17) awareness of the similarities between the fascist and later socio-political and socio-cultural approaches to harnessing government power and coercive authority in the service of liberating or de-marginalizing and improving the lot of ‘the little-people’. And of improving – through that same government coercion – the little-people themselves, root and branch.

Thus Progressivism’s similarities to the programmes, objectives, agendas and methods of fascism need to receive far more examination than has heretofore been the case around here. Good for JG.

He notes the Nazi anti-smoking and public health drives (and Hitler himself was both a non-smoker and a vegetarian, although with an artery-wrecking addiction to cream-cakes). Where does this quote come from? “Nutrition is not a private matter!” … It comes from a Hitler Youth manual. (p.19)

The Reich’s concern was that Christianity – with its emphasis on humans being intended to conquer nature (the ‘Judeo’ part of course was ignored) – and capitalism – with its alienation of humans from their natural state – worked conspiratorially “to undermine German health”. (p.19) If you tossed in ‘patriarchy’ and perhaps ‘whiteness’ …

But what is always admirable about JG is that he never settles for the oh-so-modern (or postmodern) quickie rhetorical trump. Being concerned for “health” doesn’t make you a fascist. Rather, “what is fascist is the notion that in an organic national community, the individual has no right not to be healthy and that therefore the state has the obligation [and therefore the right] to force us to be healthy for our own good”. (p.19) [italics mine] Which rather neatly limns one of the major operational axes of what I have always called the National Nanny State.

Acutely, JG immediately goes on to note that this “sort of moral bullying intrusion [by the state] … were it couched in terms of traditional morality, liberals would immediately denounce as fascist”. (p.19) Both marvelous in capturing the complexity of conceptual historical development and also utterly true.

We are seeing here substantively good intentions and concerns that have yet been infected with “the Marxist hope that we could create a perfect world by rearranging the means of production” (p.21) or by any other ‘clear and simple’ recipe of re-arrangement (of the culture, the society, and/or the people themselves).

“The history of totalitarianism is the history of the quest to transcend the human condition and create a society where our deepest meaning and destiny are realized simply by virtue of the fact that we live in it”. (p.19) Yes. Although I would add here that any such effort to a) reduce human fulfillment to the Mono-plane of this-worldly existence and b) place the entire burden and efficacy for perfecting the this-worldly dimension on the power of the (elite-enlightened) human will is bound to come up short on its best days, and to fail rather substantially on the other days, and to mutate into a monstrous Leviathan (or Leviatha) on any day.

Fascism – similar to Communism and Progressivism – is expansionist because it sees no natural boundary to its ambitions”. (p.19) Meaning that it acknowledges no Grounds or Boundaries (German: Grunde und Grenze) that come from Beyond itself and to which and by which it can be judged and held accountable – another reason why one must stop being ‘judgmental’). Hence, to draw a current example, this country – having already imposed upon its own masses the putatively enlightened perturbations of its elites – now seeks to go forth and bring the Good News to any other country on the planet where – in the government’s opinion – the masses (especially of favored and ‘valorized’ Identity-groups) are being in any way ‘oppressed’.

JG quotes H.G. Wells who told a meeting of the Young Liberals at Oxford in 1932 that “Progressives must become ‘liberal fascists’ and ‘enlightened Nazis’”; the term “liberal fascism” is his. (p.19) It was a pleasant and uplifting idea, if you think about it just a little. Beyond that however …

Progressivism – let there be no mistake about it – envisioned itself as bringing about a New World Order; thus Progressive Woodrow Wilson spun America’s efforts in World War 1 and his otherwise pacifist Secretary of State – William Jennings Bryan – was self-seduced by his own excited dampdream of “a Christian world order, complete with a global prohibition of alcohol”. (p.19)

You see where this sort of thing can easily lead.

Today – and who can be surprised? – what passes for ‘liberalism’ (and is actually Progressivism and not Liberalism in the classical sense) refuses to think about its own history. In fact, if you haven’t noticed, nobody of that persuasion really cares to talk much about ‘history’ at all – except as a recitation of grievances that justify whatever it is they want to do right now. With a history like this, who wants people poking around?*** Or perhaps to simply dip into the past for a tactically useful (if not altogether illuminating) proof-text or encouraging reference; thus Joe Biden’s recent incantation at the Democratic Convention that “we are on our way”, echoing the assertion of FDR that the country was getting better all the time, as it were: every day and in every way.****

Nor does JG let non-liberals off the hook, since – as We shall see – Progressivism has now rooted itself in both Parties. He quotes George W. Bush about leaving no child behind and “how, when somebody hurts, government has got to move”. (p.23) This had previously been a responsibility ascribed to the Deity – Who presumably had the omniscience and omnipotence and total benevolence to become so minutely involved in each individual life’s trials and tribulations. But by now the U.S. government has eliminated what it considers to be the middle-man and will faithfully execute the Omniscience, Omnipotence, and Benevolence on its own – thank you very much – especially since its prior old-school responsibility to the protection, preservation and defense of the Constitution and the faithful execution of the laws are now … well, soooo old-school.

And the band playeth on.

“Fascism”, says JG, “is a religion of the state. It assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people. It is totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve the common good.  It takes responsibility for all aspects of life, including our health and well-being, and seeks to impose uniformity of thought and action, whether by force or through regulation and social pressure. Everything, including the economy and religion, must be aligned with its objectives. Any rival identity is ‘part of the problem’ and therefore defined as the enemy.” (p.23) [italics JG’s]

Unpacking that succinct recitation just a bit, I would say that for all practical purposes We can see all of those dynamic purposes functioning now among Us. The State is not overtly worshipped, but the rival – religion – is continuously undermined.*****

And that the “organic unity” dynamic is operational even in this Age of Identity Politics: everybody is included who is ‘oppressed’ in any way by the one excluded group: the white, patriarchal, straight, older (you can add: sexually violent or ‘industrial-age’ or ‘unionized’ or whatever as suits you) Male. Under the heel of that oppressor, you can include all the ‘marginalized’ and ‘victimized’ of any sort whatsoever.

The infantilization of the Citizenry – alarmingly willingly – is evidenced by the wistfully eager reliance of so many on ‘the President’ (whoever it may be) as Our ‘leader’ and Our ‘commander-in-chief’ and Our national Empathizer-in-Chief and needs no great description. It will only get worse as the increasingly damaged economy throws more infantilized persons into the maw of those “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that have always bethumped the species.

There is actually no single “will of the people”, no Volksgeist. Indeed, it has precisely been the aim of Identity Politics and Political Correctness to ensure that no serious public deliberation take place, lest ‘divisive’ fractures in the façade appear too clearly. But that simply results in the government and its enfoeffed elites getting to say just what that “will of the people” is – which is a potentially fatal development.

The government is for all practical purposes ‘totalitarian’ since there is no element of national life, culture, or society that is conceptually immune to government imposition in one form or another, by law or regulation or policy. And of course, to assuage ‘pain’ or redress grievances of oppression or victimization, the government will accept no un-Correct limitations on its writ.

Employment and advancement of those who dissent in thought or action are increasingly becoming doubtful (on top of the problems with the economy and jobs and hiring in general). The social pressure to conform is now joined by the economic pressure to conform.

And “religion” will conform or it will be undermined by whatever means necessary. (See Note ***** below.)

Not a comforting x-ray at all. But if We are to regain (I won’t say retain) the genuine life and polity envisioned by the Framers then We have to face the x-ray and do some serious and urgent thinking.

As Ike said: So much remains to be done.

I will continue this mini-series, and at a faster clip than I have previously been Posting.

NOTES

*Goldberg, Jonah. Liberal Fascism. Doubleday: New York, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-385-51184-1 (hard cover). It’s also out in paperback.

**JG notes that Jewish folk survived the Holocaust in their largest numbers under regimes controlled by Mussolini and Franco. Franco – for whom I hold no brief – actually used his dictatorial powers to abrogate the 1492 Spanish Edict of Expulsion of Jewish folk from that country. Jewish folk fared far less well under the aegis of the putatively ‘liberal’ French and Dutch. [If you haven’t noticed, I dislike the term ‘the Jews’ and won’t be using it in any of my Posts; to me the phrase contains too much a whiff of disrespect, despite its short-hand conversational advantages.]

***There is an odd – even weird – echo of this in the current rape-law insistence that a complainant’s ‘history’ should be out-of-bounds for judging any present complaint.

****I added this last phrase from Emile Coue, 19th and early 20th-century French psychologist: “Every day and in every way I am getting better and better”. He proposed that patients deploy this auto-suggestion to encourage themselves and keep up their spirits. It seems to me nowadays around here to be a primary suggestion of the political Parties, moving the voters to close their lying eyes and simply ‘believe’ or ‘hope’ – because if enough folks do so, then of course everything actually will get better. To which I can only respond with French politesse: Mais oui – “but of course”, as the patient is gently ushered out to the sun porch by understanding staffers.

*****This is especially true of those religions that have not truckled to the State by ‘baptizing’ its agendas and providing ‘benefit of clergy’ to the government’s programmes. Thus where some elements of fundamentalism (seen more publicly in Reagan’s day than presently) simply solved their problem by identifying the National Security State with God’s Will, and others of a more ‘liberal’ bent largely adopted the agenda of the National Nanny State as God’s Will, the Catholic Church – as the largest dissenter – stubbornly retained its witness to a Multi-planar reality or Reality, Grounded in a Beyond and indeed in a God Who has created all human beings in His Image, and to Whom all earthly governments must hold themselves ultimately and actually accountable.

 

 

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