Friday, September 14, 2012

LIBERAL FASCISM 2


 

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

JG notes that “the Nazis rose to power exploiting anti-capitalist rhetoric they indisputably believed” and – whatever one may think of Hitler himself – “it is impossible to deny the sincerity of the Nazi rank and file”. (p.59) One only has to think of the (youthful) SA Brownshirts who, in the early years (1925-1934) had joined indeed to effect a revolution on behalf of the little people. In their conception of ‘national socialism’ – following the grammar of their own Party’s title – ‘socialism’ was the key, with a ‘national’ twist.

That ‘national’ twist – JG will write elsewhere** - stemmed from the fact that Mussolini and Hitler both realized that Marx had made a profound error in imagining that the ‘workers of the world’ would be more tightly emotionally connected to each other than to their native countries. In that sense World War 1 had been a glaring refutation of Marx: the workers and the masses had flocked to their own national colors, enthusiastically at first and then later with a grim determination or resignation. Their common-identity as the oppressed masses – presumed by Marx in his classification schematic – had proven ephemeral.

When Hitler realized he had to slap-down the increasingly restive SA Brownshirts in June of 1934 it was in great part because they now expected him, as legitimate Chancellor of Germany, to institute the socialist revolution’s agenda forthwith.

(Yes, Hitler had other reasons for de-clawing the SA: the Army was very unhappy that the Party’s ‘private army’ greatly outnumbered the official armed forces; the SA leader, Hitler’s old Party-comrade Ernst Rohm, was also becoming increasingly frustrated with Hitler’s delay in instituting the socialist agenda for which the SA yearned; and Hitler had a second agenda: to wage war to restore and secure Germany’s place in Europe and in the world – for which a fully functioning national industrial and military structure was essential and he wasn’t going to make the mistake the Soviets made in 1918 of so eviscerating the established industrial and military capacity of Russia that it was incapable of keeping up its role in the war and remained for over a decade wrapped up in its own internal convulsions.)

Hefty doses of socialism, Hitler realized, tended to greatly weaken any nation that imposed them on itself. I think he somehow – however inchoately – grasped that the glowing end-product of a successful socialist revolution blinded governments and people to the hugely dangerous period when the nation would be ‘transforming’ itself. No matter how bright the (conceptual) end-point, historically socialism would create lethal and probably fatal damage to the nation in the period of ‘transition’ – assuming that such an end-point could ever be fully or even substantially reached in the first place.

But – JG notes – the Nazi programme included many themes “of later New Lefts in other places and times: the primacy of race, the rejection of rationalism, an emphasis on the organic and the holistic … and, most of all, the need to ‘transcend’ notions of class”. (p.59)

Without descending into a conceptually primitive reduction of American New Left programmes to Nazisim pure and simple, one still has to face the fact of the existence of those themes in modern American politics.

“Race” – somehow – is still a major theme here (not only similar to the Nazi programme, but even after half-a-century of intense government action on the subject of ‘race’ it remains a difficult and torturous matter).

And, of course, the dynamic has only been astronomically intensified by Identity Politics’ expansion with the addition of Ethnicity (let alone citizenship status in the first place) and – first and foremost – Gender.

Even if you were to propose that the ‘Identity’ of America is now to have no Identity – in the sense of a single unifying and commonly-accepted national sense of commonality among the Citizenry – yet the dynamic remains essentially the same.

The rejection of ‘rationalism’ – which I would prefer to phrase as the rejection of Reason – and its concomitant embrace of Emotion as the primary means of processing information and conducting critical inquiry is well-established here. In my series of Posts on influential radical-feminist legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon’s 1989 summa Toward A Feminist Theory of the State it is made clear and overtly asserted that in the radical-feminist schema, ‘reason’ is male and intuition or emotion is female and – but of course – that the country needs to get rid of the primacy of reason (and rationality) if it is going to get rid of ‘patriarchy’. (Nor has her advice been ignored by the Beltway and the assorted highly-organized Identity-advocacies to which it is now indentured.)

And in my Post on sociological philosopher Theodore Lowi I noted his acute observation that Liberalism – especially in its recent variant or mutation here – precisely is averse to rationality and the rules and principles that flow from it because such rules and principles create obstructive boundaries that hamper the plasticity and fluidity, the vagueness and fuzziness, which ‘liberal’ politicians desperately require in order to have maximum flexibility in meeting whatever demands and agendas are pushed their way by their client (yet now controlling) advocacies’ interests.

And it is built into revolutionary theory 101 that since the old order’s ‘rationality’ and the entire structure of societal and cultural order and Shape built upon it are presumptively corrupt and tainted, then nothing of the ‘old’ order is to be considered useful and binding upon the cadres and vanguards of the revolution(s) in their gimlet-eyed march through the institutions and their quest for (their version of) the ideal polity and people. (So much for the Framing Vision and the Constitution and the rule of law as well as of reason.)

The “emphasis on the organic and the holistic” refers to mushy but powerful currents flowing toward some quasi-mystical sense of an underlying unity and order to existence that nobody (except the vanguards) can yet see, but will – they assure their hapless masses – prove to be the magic Key to a comprehensively meaningful and ‘naturally’ ordered world in which everybody can do what they want yet it will all work out happily because people (except the designated ‘oppressors’) are ‘naturally’ good and that goodness only requires the sweeping-away of the ‘old’ in order to reassert itself in all its pristine glory. It will all come together like a marvelous brunch omlette … once the necessary eggs are broken. Yah.

And – but of course – any formally religious Source for that order and underlying unity is to be dismissed as mere ‘opium’, collusively imposed on the masses by organized religions that are merely the spiritual arm of the oppression that distracts or crushes the hopes and dreams and rights of the masses. Embrace the revolution as your religion and do it with your whole heart and mind and soul (if, indeed, humans have a soul – revolutionary dogma is unsettled or ‘richly diverse’ on that point).

And the divisions of ‘class’ are to be done away with. Although after half a century of America’s many-revolutions-at-once We appear to have been stratified economically into classes with a glaring inequity that was not seen even in the first Gilded Age. And We appear to have been stratified and fractalized by divisions based on Gender and Ethnicity and victimization in half a thousand forms.

And in consequence, Shape, Grounds, Boundaries, Essence, Nature (especially human nature), and Reason itself have all been kicked to the curb under the claim of ‘liberating from oppression’. In some ways it’s an adolescent’s dampdream. But is it any way to conduct and sustain a society and a nation and a culture and a civilization?

Hitler was a revolutionary and saw himself as such. But of course if Hitler was a ‘revolutionary’ then that tars all ‘revolutionaries’ with not only the dynamic of the Holocaust (mass murder of the nationally-designated Other) but also with the glaring examples of revolution’s irrationality, brutality, and failure as a medium for achieving lasting social good without creating even more social evil in the process. So Hitler’s deeply-rooted revolutionary aspects were conveniently ignored, and he was cast historically as some ‘Establishment’ whack-job gone postal and gone viral. Neat.

Reflecting on the fact that Woodrow Wilson – as determined and committed a Progressive as Teddy Roosevelt – imprisoned more people (and Americans) than Mussolini in the entire decade of the 1920s***, JG observes that Wilson had a philosophical or at least ideological system to provide benefit-of-rationality and justification for his action: Progressivism.

Although they reserved the term for their enemies, “the progressives were the real social Darwinists as we think of the term today”. (p.81)

“They believed in eugenics. They were imperialists. They were convinced that the state could, through planning and pressure, create a pure race, a society of new men. They were openly and proudly hostile to individualism. Religion was a political tool, while politics was the true religion. [They] viewed the traditional system of constitutional checks and balances as an outdated impediment to progress because such horse-and-buggy institutions were a barrier to their own ambitions. Dogmatic attachment to constitutions, democratic practices, and antiquated laws was the enemy of progress for fascists and progressives alike. Indeed fascists and progressives shared the same intellectual heroes and quoted the same philosophers.” (p.81)

The belief in eugenics nowadays has mutated from first-wave Progressivism: whereas the first-wave – reflecting a scientific-industrial urge to classify and yet also some sense that somehow some human beings seemed to be better capable of going about the living of life than others – looked to the biology of eugenics and the classification (more than any nascent manipulation) of humans according to their biological capabilities, current emphasis is on the grossly general (and cartoonish) division of Gender: females are better and males are not.

The government’s confidence in its ability to plan – however misplaced – is even more engorged than it was in the days of the first-wave, actualizing what were for Wilson’s era only inchoate hopes and expectations.

The corrosion of the status of any traditional religious realities (let alone Reality) is well-established and on-going, despite whatever lip-service is still publicly and formally paid by the government.

And government continually works to make itself for all practical purposes the repository and source for whatever meaning and hopes and succor citizens can seek against the trials and tribulations of life.

But it is with glaring clarity (and alarm) that We should realize how far advanced is the government’s abandonment of the machinery and the first-principles of the Framing Vision and its Constitution. Again, you could look at MacKinnon’s 1989 summa to see this formally and overtly demanded as national and governmental policy, justified by this and that (borrowed from Marx and Lenin and Antonio Gramsci and a host of their contemporary fellow travelers) ‘philosophical’ justification that indeed the “horse and buggy” democracy of 1787 ‘just doesn’t get it’. Nowadays it is the ‘radical democracy’ of the Eurocommunists of the 1960s and 1970s, which declares in-your-face that it has no need for “deliberative democratic politics”.

The first-principles of the Framing Vision are claimed to be ‘obstructions’ indeed, and those obstructions need to be removed if ‘progress’ is to be made.

Tellingly, JG notes that “Today, liberals remember the progressives as do-gooders who cleaned up the food supply and agitated for a more generous social welfare state and better working conditions … but so did the Nazis and the Italian Fascists. And they did so for the same reasons and in loyalty to roughly the same principles.” (p.81)

And the key thrust of his insight here is that We need to understand just what is driving the American government and American governance and politics nowadays, because those driving elements are the same ones that created such ill-consequences (intended or unintended) when deployed in the past. While nobody can predict the future, We at least have to realize that the ‘progressive’ package We have purchased (or rather that the Beltway has purchased with Our tax monies and has imposed on Us) has some verrrry dark spots in its past-performance record. Indeed, it was – I would say – these dark spots, allowed to fester and propagate immune from the cleansing light of public scrutiny, that enabled Dick Cheney to so overtly and not ashamedly opine that this country must take a walk “on the dark side”: the Beltway had by that time a decade or so ago been doing it for quite a while. Darkness corrupts and spreads and migrates and mutates and intensifies, if it is allowed to avoid the light.

American Progressivism has always played with dangerous dynamics. And there’s something of risk and danger in all things that governments undertake to do. But that the American public has never really been allowed to comprehend the full scope of that dangerousness has removed one of the most profound – and perhaps last-ditch – defenses the Framing Vision and the Constitution have to avoid being utterly undermined.

“If the age of parliamentary democracy was coming to an end – as progressives and fascists alike proclaimed – and the day of the organic redeemer state was dawning, then the Constitution must evolve or be thrown into the dustbin of history.” (p.88)  Woodrow Wilson railed against “artificial” obstructions and “antiquated” 18th-century systems of checks and balances that had to be “smashed”. He openly made fun of “Fourth of July sentiments” about the Framers as any guides to American governance. He sought an “evolving” Constitution that – JG rightly realizes – is not much different from the ‘living Constitution’ approaches of today’s legal eagles. (But Wilson also didn’t see the use of asking The People to ‘evolve’ the Constitution; the government, informed by its benevolent and omniscient elites, could best handle that job on its own.) (all quotes, p. 88)

As Darwin’s species had to evolve or die off, so too must American governance. (As if cultures and civilizations followed the same rules as biological evolution, and as if the government could take the place of Nature or whatever force and principle drove biological evolution.)

Further, a “great man” was needed to lead and run the whole thing. (And if there was one thing that both Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson (as JG puts it: “two very different men with very similar ideas”) thought they were, it was that each thought he was a Great Man.) This Great Man would serve “both as the natural expression of the people’s will and as a guide and master checking their darker impulses”. (p.89)

And – Wilson’s imagery here – “the leader needed to be like a brain, which both regulates the body and relies upon it for protection”. So the Great Man would be the Leader who would be like the nation’s brain; and he would be protected by the masses who would be the cannon-fodder. How much further from the first-principles of the Framing Vision can you get, really? The entire American Great Experiment of 1787 was based upon the faith in the ability of The People to govern themselves and their government.

How much closer to Wilson’s alarming (and profoundly anti-American) vision are We today – where increasing numbers of Americans (or ‘resident persons’) are simply client-demographics, dependent on the government for sustenance and self-image, and expected to do nothing more for themselves or the common-weal than show up to vote for their patron-Party on election days?

“The masses”, as JG quotes Wilson from an 1890 essay (long before he became a presidential candidate), are to be used by the “true leader” as “tools”. And he must “speak to stir their passions, not their intellects”. (p.89) How much closer are We to that today, in Our politics and in Our political competence as The People? How much closer do We want to allow Ourselves to get?

Worse, as JG puts it, Wilson did not see himself as a cynic, but instead “Wilson believed he was an idealist”. (p.89) Which means that on top of the dangerousness of the political concepts he espoused, he also believed he was doing the totally right thing for a good purpose and in a good cause (and thus that helped justify his self-conception that he was indeed a Great Man).

Thus there were several aspects to the gritty gem of Progressivism: there was an academic and social reforming face, exemplified in such as John Dewey and Jane Addams; there was a nationalistic and militaristic face that emphasized patriotism and militarism. Thus – eerily – one side emphasized ‘nationalism’ and one side emphasized ‘socialism’ (which, you may already have guessed, Hitler shrewdly combined 20 or so years later in ‘national socialism’). But in either case, JG realizes, all Progressives did believe in a national “greatness” (p.90) And – but of course – with Greatness goes Great Responsibility … and the Authority to Actualize and Enforce it.

Thus, you may at this point intone with the announcer at Santa Anita back in the day: Aaaand they’re offfff!

JG traces the beginnings of American Progressivism to the post-Civil War era, when American intellectuals and academics were drawn to Europe for fresh sophistication not available at home.

There they encountered Nietzsche’s thought: fiery and impatient and grand, violently rejecting mediocrity (no matter how sane) for the dynamic power of the human will (no matter how deranged). Normality was not the path Nietzsche would take – it led only to a weak mind and heart, dependent on the companionship and approval of other human mediocrities for its consolation; the non-Normal (not to say the abnormal) would be his métier, would be the stamping and breeding grounds for his Over-man (Ubermensch, also translated as Super-man or Above-man): the type of human being who would face the challenges of life on his own, rejecting the soft seductions of bourgeois personal and social life and order. You think of Melville’s Ahab. The early Progressives would have been drawn to Ahab after they came back from their European tours.

William James was particularly taken with the mid-century Italian pragmatists, vigorously trying to think-through the new Italy which Cavour had united in 1860 for the first time since the days of Rome. The Italian pragmatists caught the attention of the young Mussolini, who then also read the American pragmatist William James, and often spoke of the intellectual debt he owed to the American. (p.94)

But it was – JG notes – Germany that was the focal point of the newly-minted American intellectual elites, now organized and self-classified (like so much else after the massive Union organizing efforts and achievements of the Civil War) into a class unto themselves.

And in Germany, where the professorial elites were well-established and the revolutionary bug had long stimulated much thinking and imagining, those elites looked upon the peasant and urban masses as being in dire need of “experts who could mold society like clay”. (p.95) After all, if generals could organize larger and hugely equipped armies, and admirals fleets, and industrialist the massively productive corporate matrix of factories, then couldn’t the knowledge-elites do the same for society and culture generally? And even the lumps of people themselves?

People, thus, needed to be updated for the bright new future and the approaching new century. And not their souls – if they had such a thing – but their minds and their hearts and their habits. And the knowledgeable elites were just the ones to advise the state on how to do it. And keep on doing it.

Bismarck’s Prussia was of especial interest, with its new-fangled government-provided welfare-net programs devised by Bismarck himself. “Top-down socialism” was his idea: if the masses of citizens want protection from the capitalist system so that there is some sort of safety-net for them and their families when things go wrong, and if they might start yet another revolution to get it, then it’s more efficient and useful for the government to give it to them and keep the country humming along smoothly. What do the socialist reformers and revolutionaries demand? Then the government will of its own accord quickly provide it. (Which, of course, pulled the rug out of the aforesaid socialist reformers and revolutionaries.)

Health insurance, the eight-hour workday, social insurance and a host of other benefits were introduced on Bismarck’s uncontestable authority. As early as 1862. And once the Iron Chancellor made up his mind, then Prussia and then a politically united Germany would go where he led. He was obviously a Great Man, and the American Progressives were in awe of him. Might they not have such a wonderful human machine of their own, back in the United States? Might they not work for one and offer their services and their (slightly-more constestable) wisdoms?

Heady stuff, this.

Whether a constitutional republic could platform the career and ministrations of a powerful and forceful Great Man whose achievements were won as Chancellor of a state-full of Prussians, and then as Iron Chancellor of a newly-minted empire of newly-united German states … whether the American political system and the Framing Vision and the profoundly original American political guiding ‘genius’ could serve as a platform for a European (and Prussian) Great Man form of Executive – and the concomitant subservience of the Congress (as the Reichstag was subservient to Bismarck) - is a Question that Progressive thought didn’t even bother to deeply consider.

It makes you wonder: was this what the Beltway was trying forty-plus years ago? Was it trying to run the Bismarckian ‘top-down’ play here? But that would presume that the country was faced with a genuine threat of armed revolution (as Bismarck was always fearful, after 1848; especially in the loose agglomeration of German statelets and states) that created, as it were, an ‘emergency’ or ‘crisis’ of first-order proportions: a potentially successful armed revolution against the government.

Was that the case in the United States forty-odd years ago? And while there were certainly American troops deployed domestically for riots, was there ever really a sense that the country was facing another Civil War over civil rights for blacks?

And it surely wasn’t the case with any of the follow-on Identity groups such as radical-feminism and the gays.

If anything, the ‘crisis’ of forty-plus years ago was demographic and electoral; the ‘emergency’ was simply one of the Beltway seeking to create new client voting-groups.

And yet in the service of that objective, and while ominous first-order challenges relating to the sustainability of the American economy were waiting to be addressed, the Beltway introduced – and hardly for the most urgent and serious of reasons – a version of ‘top-down’ Bismarckian governance that could at that point in history take advantage of the coercive and control capabilities of the most powerful government on the planet.

And – in the event and hardly unsurprisingly – the consequences of introducing so profoundly  incompatible a mode of governance into the American system, cloaked deceptively in the garb of ‘good old’ American Progressivism and ‘liberation’ and increasingly fortified through the Beltway acceptance of contemporary as well as historical European socialist (and communist) thinking, are now too clear to be denied: the engorgement of the Executive until – like a rogue sun – it bends the trajectories of all other political Branches and bodies around it; the distraction of the national energies into unconsidered political and cultural changes that from the get-go were antithetical to the American political system; and the necessary weakening of The People through the distraction and corruption of whatever political discourse was allowed to take place.

Until at this point it remains a first-order Question: what can be recovered and restored?

 

NOTES

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

**In his 2012 book The Tyranny of Cliches. Sentinel: New York, 2012. ISBN: 978-1-59523-086-7.

***And of course today the U.S. imprisons more people than any other country on the planet, and more than Stalin stuffed into the Gulag.

 

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