Thursday, September 27, 2012



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

JG considers the Sorelian “vital lie of the left” to be the following excuse: “if only the right reactionaries hadn’t [fill in the blank] we would today be living in a better, more just and more open-minded country”. (p.199)

Certainly since the 1960s this sly presumption has been insinuated into public discourse by ‘liberals’ from all the organized advocacies for all of the now-embraced Identities: that if only it weren’t for the ‘backlashing’ then the liberal agenda could demonstrate its marvelousness and carry the country to fresh sunlit uplands.**

Decades ago this was the mantra used to stampede public opinion over the doubts, concerns, questions and objections that were raised by a still-robust public and political discourse: our agenda is being impeded by nothing more than backlashers and marginalizing oppressors who don’t want to give up their power … and if that’s the type of people who are resisting these great new agendas then clearly the agendas and their proponents must be Good and the objectors Evil.

Today it is used as an excuse for the non-performance and the failures and the ill-consequences of all the Beltway impositions of all the preceding decades. Once upon a time there was a Camelot of possibility in this country and if only the agendas had been fully and properly implemented then so much would have been better … but there’s still time to hope this time around!

JG characterizes the current ‘liberal’ position further: “Western civilization was saved when the barbarians were defeated in the early 1970s … we should not only be grateful for our slender victory but vigilant in securing it for posterity”. (p.199)

I would only modestly disagree. Because it was not very long into the 1970s before the totalitarian and Gramscian and more recent Eurocommunist sources of so much ‘liberal’ philosophizing (to justify the ‘reforms’) revealed themselves: ‘Western civilization’ was rotten to the core – being dominant and hegemonic and oppressive and marginalizing – and had to be done away with; its patriarchy and (the current buzzword) ‘whiteness’ has to be eradicated and replaced with “diversity” in every possible way. The post-1972 ‘liberals’ were never ever out to ‘save’ Western Civilization (hey, hey, ho, ho – it had to go!).

But I would agree that that ‘liberal’ (as nowadays defined) impetus did succeed far too well – thanks to the Beltway’s supportive and impositional embrace. Not only the shape and structures of the American culture and ethos, but also the political first-principles of a functioning constitutional democracy, were twisted out of shape, and even the very competence and seriousness of the public discourse by which the Citizenry deliberates on matters of grave import to the national common-weal … all corrupted and corroded by all the well-established totalitarian methods for manipulating public opinion in order to marginalize it, thus clearing the path for the New Order and the New Shape.

It becomes clear, then, that all of this puts into a stunning new light Harding’s exhortation following Wilson’s era that he wanted the country to experience “a return to normalcy”. Not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, yet Harding was no fool; the era of Wilson’s ‘war socialism’ – with its ‘mobilizing’ and controlling the public, its surveillance and censorship and jingoistic exhortations to “100 percent Americanism” (as Wilson defined it), and its Progressive version of Bismarck’s ‘top-down revolution’ – had addled and deeply deranged the country, its ethos and its polity, for too long. Now, with the Great War over, Harding was looking to return the Great Vessel to an even-keel and steadier course.

Harding has effectively (and not completely inaccurately) been spun by Progressive/liberal thought as a doltish and small-souled seat-warmer of less than sterling morals and ethical judgment. But I would say that in his visceral awareness that somehow Wilson’s schemes and visions and machinations had created fundamental derangements that promised great ill for the country he was spot-on. In the welter of historical actualities during his Administration, that – I would say – was the ‘alpha-stream’, the core stream of insight that, in the intelligence field, has to be identified and isolated from the booming, buzzing scrum of events and interpretations that surround all historical phenomena.

But ‘normalcy’ was and is – of course – precisely what Progressive and other forms of totalitarian thought and praxis cannot allow. These approaches require ‘crisis’ and an ‘emergency’ in order to mobilize and also distract public opinion, stampeding it beyond any normal rational and prudent concerns it might have about proposed new agendas (that are about to be imposed). There is a disturbing but profound accuracy to that moment in one of the more recent Star Wars installments, where the vast assemblage of galactic representatives cheer the Sith Lord’s assumption of plenary power: says Princess (or Queen – apologies) Amidala: So this is how democracy ends … with applause. Just so.

And whether that is the loud and raucous applause of the ‘crowd’ and the ‘masses’, or the tastefully muted pat-patting ‘golf-clap’ applause of the grand ballroom … what difference, really, is that?

For the menu remains the same: the creation of crises; nationalistic and ‘patriotic’ appeals to unity; the celebration of martial virtues; suspicion of all who do not conform and go-along; the blurring of the vital lines between public and private and between the  personal and the ‘political’; the utilization of mass media (formerly known as ‘the free press’) in order to glamorize the state and its agendas; invocation of a total-unity ethos that served to unify only in the negative sense of utter conformity and the squelching of any dissent or doubt; the cult of personality of the Leader (whether 'strong' or 'sensitive', paternal or maternal);  and all of the Political Correctness administered by a “camarilla of the Keepers of the Arcana” (the elite liberal priesthood of the Correct mysteries).(p.211)

This works out to “the birth of the liberal god-state”, the state-as-religious-source. (p.215) There are ‘sacred’ personalities (FDR, JFK, LBJ, G.W. Bush as ‘the Leader’ and (with repellent inaccuracy) ‘our commander-in-chief’ – Wilson is left out partly through the passage of time and partly through the eclipse of even the appearance of adulthood initiated by JFK’s presidency and the Kennedy Mystique); there is the “cult of the state” which works out to “a religion of state worship whose sacrificial Christ was JFK and whose Pauline architect was LBJ”. (p.215)

JG recalls Edward Bellamy’s 1888 book Looking Backward (an imaginary look at America in the year 2000): workers belong to “a unified industrial army”; the economy is run by all-powerful central planners; the citizens are drafted for their occupations of mind or muscle because all of them are bound to work for the state and the nation; the Umbrella State (rather than hundreds of thousands of citizens each putting up a personal umbrella when history’s weather turns stormy, the state will put up one huge Umbrella); and – generally – “the kingdom of heaven on earth”. (p.215)

At precisely the same time back there in the 1880s, young and up-coming Woodrow Wilson is writing dismissively of “horse-and-buggy” democracy and its Constitutional machinery, that are utterly insufficient to the challenges and glorious possibilities of modernity and the rapidly-approaching 20th century.

It was this vision of Bellamy’s – says JG rightly – that “captured Progressives” with its militarized, nationalized, organized, socialist utopia. (p.215)

There was – he notes – even a ‘logical’ conclusion that the individual States themselves were rapidly becoming obsolete because in their diverse and obstreperous individuality and adherence to the ‘old’ ideas of 1787 they would only serve to obstruct the achievement of Year One. (p.215) You can’t help thinking of the post-1972 era in this country, that third-wave of Progressive/totalitarianism, where the Feds – under the aegis of an insistence that for the ‘marginalized’ (defined as such with increasing and intensifying capaciousness) the whole country was really nothing more than the States of the Jim Crow South; and the Beltway would have to man-up and step-in and take-over.

Nor did Bellamy confine himself to political and social thought. He also wrote Jesus the Socialist, which sought to corral the still-robust Christian elements of Progressivism with religious, theological, and spiritual (however defined) arguments. And there was devised a ‘salute’ – with the arm extended straight-out and up; in the late 19th century perhaps a heark-back to the Rome of the Caesars, but within a few decades adopted (from Us!??) by Mussolini and the German guy with the funny moustache.

All the marquis presumptions of Bismarck’s approach were present, JG notes: a centralized and united government (its unity imposed from above) “without the messiness of excessive democracy” that impedes the visions of Great Men of Action; an elite and executive disdain for “limited government” or classical Liberal Constitutionalism since they only created boundaries and fences that would impede executive ‘progress’ (precisely as the cattle barons of the American West opposed fences and small-holds because they interfered with the progress of trail-bossing the great herds); and even a Kulturkampf, a ‘culture war’ precisely intended to undermine popular support for what the elites now saw as ‘obstructions’ to their ‘progress’.

And Bismarck was specifically aiming this Kulturkampf at the Catholic Church, that bastion of ‘tradition’ that constituted the most politically potent center of opposition to his plans. Which has an eerie familiarity to it nowadays.***

But what was the problem? Science, after all, was not open to “democratic debate” and wasn’t Progressive governance “scientific”? (p.221) But, of course, the trickery was in how Scientific Method is actually conducted. While there are the occasional individual brilliant scientists who crystallize a particular Big Thought, the vast corpus of scientific development is conducted by a rigorous and vigorous and broad-based Conversation among many scientific researchers, each publishing discoveries and theories so that all other interested researchers can critique them or verify (or falsify) them through independent analysis and experiment.

So while the scientific ‘laws’ – so-called – are possessed of a certain indisputable validity that is not amenable to ‘democratic’ debate (or PR spin), yet the very process of Scientific Method that establishes that validity is profoundly democratic and independent indeed.

And those scientific ‘laws’ apply to the material universe; not to the vastly more complex and un-controllable productions and phenomena of human history and human activity, so profoundly enmeshed with human desires and passions and the exercise of the human will.

Thus – JG observes acutely – modern American Progressive/liberalism cannot be judged merely by its good intentions or – in the words of contemporary academic social thinker Alan Wolfe – merely by its “concern with the impact of social environments on individuals”. (p.246) [italics mine]  

‘Concern’ is all well and good. But it is the beginning, not the conclusion, of what should be a stringent and acute and free-wheeling independent analysis of proposed policies and laws that would seek to address that ‘concern’. ‘Concern’ and ‘good intentions’ are utterly insufficient as justifications that would claim to trump or obviate the vital and abiding need for serious and mature and broad analysis and deliberation and public debate.

This is one of the vital “roots” that “American Progressivism shares with European fascism” (including its communist variant). (p.246) Progressivism precisely and intentionally sidesteps such broad and ‘democratic’ public analysis. After all, why have such a democratic involvement if most of the Citizenry ‘just don’t get it’ in the first place? Best to leave it all to those who do ‘get it’ and know what will work out to be best for everybody. Do ranchers take a poll among the cows and steers of the herd before implementing some great new ideas in animal husbandry?

You can see clearly in all of this – I think – precisely why contemporary ‘liberalism’ really isn’t interested in broad and deep and independent historical analysis, or really any sort of analysis at all (except if it’s Correct ‘advocacy analysis’ that somehow jiggers the results to come out as precisely justifying what the elite cadres have decided to do).

Historical analysis would reveal some of the darker dynamics that lie at the heart of the history of Progressive/liberal thought and praxis, exposing assumptions about ‘democracy’ and the entire foundational basis of the American Experiment in popular self-governance.

Such analysis of current events would merely create ‘obstructions’ to the rapid imposition of new-Order agendas and policies and enabling legislation.

Whereas what’s really sought by Progressive/liberal governance is a Gleichschaltung, that ominous German concept of ‘conforming’ or 'bringing into alignment' every aspect of national life to the overriding (and government-controlled) Vision that will have to become the guiding standard for the country and the people (das Volk).

You will conform or – on its own authority as sole source of national morality – the government will Correctly label you as Evil or an abettor of Evil.

And then you really will ‘get it’. Or else.

Just how long any constitutional democracy – and specifically Our constitutional democracy – can survive such a philosophy of governance is the primary Question facing Us today.


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

**A just-published cultural history of San Francisco from 1967 to 1982 – the 15 years that spanned the Summer of Love to AIDS – by David Talbot demonstrates precisely this point of JG’s. Talbot dreams that such radicalism as there was on the Left was merely sparked and actually caused by “reactionary” opposition from the Right and/or by CIA infiltrators of what would putatively have been non-radical organizations. As if the organizations – either through the embrace of actual revolutionary violence or through the valorization of ‘creative cultural destruction’ and ‘creative transgression’ – weren’t already well-along on a violent and destructive path.

And – neatly – that while sexual activity was “readily available”, yet “predatory behavior was not allowed”. Of course. Which limns precisely the type of Boomery sexual utopia that had lured so many of them in the first place, while neatly avoiding any connection with the inevitable predatory behavior that accompanies such sexual licentiousness (it’s not just ‘repression’ that generates predation). In Talbot’s telling, they had a utopia – but then mean old nasty reactionaries came in and wrecked their sand castle on the beach by the Bay.


***And again I return to the thought that when the Vatican opposed the development of European ‘Modernism’ in the late-19th century it was concerned not simply for the Flattening of the human existential experience into the Mono-plane of a purely this-worldly vision. Rather, it was acutely aware of the fact that you couldn’t reach ‘socialism’ without running the real risk of armed revolution and bloodily disordering or dis-Ordering Western societies as well as Western Culture.

And further, that while it had to be educated by the American hierarchy that ‘democracy’ as it was conceived and developed by the Framers in 1787 was profoundly not the ‘democracy’ of the French Revolution with all its blood and Terror, yet perhaps the Vatican realized – as the American hierarchy in its ‘American’ enthusiasm did not – that with the waxing ascendancy of American Progressivism the dynamics and visions of the French Revolution (through its descendants, the totalitarian brood of communists, fascists, and the more radical socialists) had indeed managed to migrate to the New World.

And that the ‘top-down socialism’ of Bismarck had already resulted in a government-sponsored Kulturkampf against the Church in the German states, and would probably produce the same results in the New World. (Which did happen, although not until Progressivism’s third-wave after 1972.)

And thus perhaps the Vatican also saw that even if the American Framers’ approach to ‘democracy’ was far more prudent and well-grounded than the lethal French excitements of 1789, yet – if perhaps the Vatican read Wilson’s early books more closely than did his own countrymen – it had become clear that America’s commitment to its own unique political heritage was itself being eroded, mutating into precisely the statist and Mono-planar path of the Old World governments.





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