As I think I’ve mentioned before on here, I don’t have cable TV.  I just get the major networks, PBS, a few local channels and a bunch of Christian channels.  The last are mostly devoted to people on elaborate stages giving speeches and asking for money.  However, the other day on one of these channels, I saw a different sort of program.

I don’t know the name of the show or the channel, otherwise I’d tell you.  All I know is that it was some older fellow standing in the middle of the desert on the outskirts of Jerusalem, reading from a bunch of papers he was holding and trying to keep from blowing away.  The production values were, to say the least, horrifying.  If any of you readers can guess what show this may be, feel free to tell me.

What the guy had to say, however, was somewhat… interesting.  He was talking about how many intellectuals, especially in the atomic age, desired a “one world government”.  He dated this impulse  back all the way to Nebuchadnezzar II, and said that they [the intellectuals] did not believe you could have many strong countries, you could only have one government.  (I’m paraphrasing.)  I got the impression he was getting towards the point that these intellectuals were wrong, and one world government was a very bad idea, and that the Bible had predicted all of this.  He was taking his time about it though, and I had work in the morning, so I didn’t get to hear how it all ended up.

(The politics on these religious shows are always interesting.  One day, while channel surfing I saw a show claiming that people were now placing their faith in government instead of God.  What we need, according to the Bible, so they said, was less government.  Smaller government.  In fact, watching some of these shows, you get the impression that they feel the Republican Party platform is the word of the Almighty.)

“One World Government” is a phrase conspiracy theorists throw around a lot to mean all sorts of wild things.  But I think it is true that many people would like to see more international cooperation and conflict resolution by some means other than wars between nations.  I think this train of thought really started because of World War I, which showed a lot of the problems that can arise with multiple competing nations.

In Europe, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, you had lots of strong, independent nations–strong empires, even–such as Britain, France, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, Germany and so on.   The peace among these nations, such as it was, was kept by treaties the countries made with each other.  Unfortunately, this system of treaties proved to be unstable in the face of rebellious nationalist agitators and military build-ups between competing nations, and thus, through a complicated series of events, the treaties dictated that a massive war broke out.

In the aftermath, people looked around and said, quite logically, “how can we make sure that this doesn’t happen again?”  That very intellectual President, Woodrow Wilson, even proposed the League of Nations, though ironically the U.S. did not join it.  Of course, the League failed to prevent ultra-nationalist sentiment in Germany from igniting another, even more terrible war.

The League was replaced with the United Nations after World War II.  And ever since, nationalist sentiment has opposed the U.N., fearing that it will destroy all of the country’s traditions and create a one world government.  As some readers know, I am fascinated by conspiracy theories, even though I do not believe in any of them.  And, as I said, there are a lot of conspiracy theories about the “one world government”, and I think the root reason for all of them is the nationalist elements’ fear of being governed by cosmopolitan intellectuals.

Having said all that, I think really all most people actually want is some international way of resolving conflicts without having to go to war. People, both nowadays and especially in the immediate aftermath of the World Wars, just don’t want to see a repeat of that.  Seems hard to blame them, really.

Longtime readers know that I reject the typical left-right political spectrum in favor of a trichotomy of political philosophies called “cosmopolitanism”, “nationalism”, and “materialism”.

At present in the United States, we have a choice between a cosmopolitan, Obama, and a materialist, Romney.  The curious part is that Romney must try to persuade the nationalists that he is one of them, despite considerable evidence to the contrary.  He has not done a very good job of it so far, although he is bound to get some of the nationalist vote simply for not being a cosmopolitan.

You may ask: “why isn’t there a nationalist candidate?”  Well, there was. Rick Santorum was his name, but he failed to get the Republican nomination.  So now, in another renewal of the delicate alliance that is the Republican party, Romney has to try to get the people who didn’t want him and wanted Santorum to vote for him.

Romney has been fairly socially liberal himself in the past, and he now has to try to assure nationalists that this won’t happen again, whether by blaming circumstance, claiming his hand was forced, or saying he’s changed his mind and/or heart on social issues like gay marriage, abortion, contraception and gun control.  Some politicians might be able to get away with this sort of thing.  Not Romney, though, because he is not charismatic and hence people do not innately trust him.

Candidates like Reagan, and to a lesser extent, George W. Bush had the ability to use their charm to cover for the contradictions in nationalist and materialist philosophies,  and thus hold the voting coalition together through their personal popularity.  Paul Graham wrote in his influential essay on charisma in Presidential elections:

The charisma theory may also explain why Democrats tend to lose presidential elections. The core of the Democrats’ ideology seems to be a belief in government. Perhaps this tends to attract people who are earnest, but dull…

A different flavor of the same idea: The post-1970s Republicans need to have the more charismatic candidate to win, because otherwise the differences in the Republican coalition become apparent and the party fractures.  (The Graham essay is what first interested me in this topic, and I consider it required reading for those curious about this subject.)

This is why likeability is everything for Romney, and history suggests that it is something which cannot be learned; so if he does not have it now, he never will.  For that reason, there is very little reason to think Romney will win in November.

What’s this?  The government is fighting over spending again?  Oh, I bet those skinflint Republicans want to cut the jobs and those money-wasting Democrats want to keep spending and keeping government jobs.  Nothing new here.

Eh, what’s that you say?  The Republicans in Congress want more money for government jobs, and the Democratic White House is opposed?  Why, what manner of devilry may this be?  Has the world turned upside down?

Ah, of course!  It’s a military matter, and so the financial philosophies of the two parties are completely the opposite of what they normally are!

M1 Abrams Tank. Image via Wikipedia

Amused at This Ruthless World (thanks for liking my last post, BTW) wrote a really good post awhile back in response to an essay written by one “John J. Wall”. I’d never read Wall’s piece before, but I have heard the idea advanced within it many times in the past. It is this: that the “liberals” and “conservatives” are so deeply divided on all issues that it would be better for both if each group formed separate countries. Amused’s post inspired me to write something of my own on the matter.

Of course, if you’re a reader of this blog, you know that there are actually three groups: materialists, nationalists and cosmopolitans. But still, let that not dissuade us from this engaging in this thought-experiment. It is still only a simple matter of dividing the country into three instead of two.

The nationalists may have the southeast–the old Confederacy minus Virginia. The materialists may have the West; that is, the area extending from California to east Texas. A vast area to be sure, but one which they will no doubt set about harvesting every inch of for resources. And the cosmopolitans shall retain the Northeast and parts of the Midwest. Everything east of Kansas and north of Tennessee would remain in cosmopolitan hands. Cosmopolitans would also get Hawaii, and Nationalists would hold Alaska.

(Oddly enough, this division into regions mimics a similar scheme by economic historian Douglass North. But he was writing only about the United States internal trade flows in the early 1800s. And then, evidently, something happened around 1861 to fundamentally alter the structure of the country.)

As part of the deal, suppose everyone starts with the same governmental structure and Constitution as we have today.  so, now we just go ahead and simulate to see where it will all go.

I imagine the taxation issue would quickly cease to be of interest to the nationalists, once they are no longer trying to destroy a cosmopolitan government. Presumably, they would focus their immediate efforts on bulking up their immigration laws. They would also probably raise tariffs in order to keep their manufacturing sector strong. It might even be a mini-boom along the lines of the 1950s auto-industry. Naturally, in the Nationalist State, minorities and foreigners would be viewed with suspicion until their Nationalist-credentials had been soundly proven. I imagine congressman Allen West would make a successful career in this place, as would Sarah Palin. The political structure would change to be based more heavily on charismatic authority. No doubt the social structure would closely resemble that of 1950s America for the most part, with women being encouraged to be housewives and men being seen as heads of house. Gay marriage, the issue under so much discussion at present, would be utterly unthinkable, as would Civil Unions etc. Gays would also likely be barred from military service, but it is likely that this country would reinstate the draft, so there would be no problem with lack of personnel.  Fashion and art would both become considerably more conservative, quite possibly up to the point of introducing government censors.

In the materialist West, meanwhile, it is likely that the world would come to resemble the United States as a whole in the 1870-90s. Almost all environmental regulations would be removed, and worker safety laws would be scaled back. Unions would cease to exist. Tariffs would also be very low or nil, so as to encourage foreign investment. Immigration laws, likewise, would be quite lax so as to gain a cheap labor force. Military force would assume the character of a highly-paid internal security outfit, and be largely defensive in nature. (One imagines the Erik Princes of the world would have to think long and hard over whether his fortune lay to the South or the West.) Social issues would be non-existent; societal mores being relaxed to please the fancies of the wealthiest. Indeed, the city of Los Angeles as it exists today, would probably go on functioning as if nothing had happened under the new arrangement. Art and fashion would all go as the popular will dictated; thus movies, for example, would be solely of the “summer blockbuster” variety all year round.

Of the cosmopolitan North, there is less to say; perhaps because the area is well on its way to being that already. It is probable that taxes would be raised, of course; as it would no longer be so politically abhorrent to do so. A massive influx of public money go to support higher education, which would likely lead to the Academy being the primary institution in the country. Other than that, however, things would change less, principally because the cosmopolitan sees diversity as a strength, and would need to undergo less modification to suit its philosophical beliefs. The military would be fairly small, and probably what there was of it would be based heavily on technological superiority, not man-power.

It would be interesting to see how long this state of affairs persisted. It would not be long, surely, before each country recognized that there was much to be gained from the others. The materialist sector, in particular, might look an inviting target for conquest; though of course it is questionable whether it would be profitable to do so. Also, the nationalist and cosmopolitan states by their nature invite comparison to ancient Athens and Sparta.

Ultimately, the optimal move for each country would be strategic alliances with its neighbors, as each would have something to provide to the others. However, there is also the dark possibility that two would form an alliance against the third, and thereby destroy it either militarily or economically.

And there I conclude this experiment, but you are welcome to add thoughts of your own.

For myself, I see this as rather a gloomy idea. I believe each type has something to contribute to the country. But then, I would, wouldn’t I? I’m a cosmopolitan.

Let’s check up on Greek politics again, shall we? Things have played out about like I’d expect from the last time I wrote about them.

So, it seems that the failure of the austerity policies in Greece has led to the people who implemented it suffering huge losses at the polls. Well, that’s only to be expected. A nationalist party, known as the “Golden Dawn”, has made significant gains. Their leader, Nikolaos Mihaloliakos, appears to have modeled himself after Mussolini to an alarming degree.

Why are they so popular? Well, they are anti-austerity. They also are anti-immigrant. Perhaps the most troubling thing I’ve read about them comes from this article in the Miami Herald:

Golden Dawn toughs maintain a security watch in parts of central Athens and, upon request, provide escorts to people going to shop or retrieve their pension checks. If immigrants are squatting in an apartment owned by a Greek, Golden Dawn volunteers will clear them out and fix up the dwelling.

After a Greek man was killed in May 2011, reputedly by Afghan immigrants, Golden Dawn militants stopped traffic every afternoon for weeks, and hauled immigrants off public transport and beat them up, according to Marina Vichou, formerly a journalist with the BBC Greek service, who lives near scene and witnessed some of the incidents. ‘The police did nothing but protect Golden Dawn,’ she said.

As if that by itself weren’t disturbing enough, there is the historical parallel it evokes. Quoting from Wikipedia:

The First World War (1914–18) inflated Italy’s economy with great debts, unemployment (aggravated by thousands of demobilised soldiers), social discontent featuring strikes, organised crime,and anarchist, Socialist, and Communist insurrections. When the elected Italian Liberal Party Government could not control Italy, the Revolutionary Fascist Party (Partito Fascista Rivoluzionario, PFR) Leader Benito Mussolini took matters in hand, combating those societal ills with the Blackshirts, paramilitary squads of First World War veterans and ex-socialists; Prime Ministers such as Giovanni Giolitti allowed the Fascists taking the law in hand.

Some people wonder how the Fascists got to be so popular, when they were all obviously a bunch of bullies. That’s the answer: the government was so weak that people liked having a bunch of bullies to turn to who could provide a primitive kind of order. However, I don’t want to be hasty and assume that the worst things being said about the Golden Dawn are true; I’m just saying it is extremely troubling if true.

Historical similarities aside, though, this is where alliances between cosmopolitan (or “multicultural”) factions and the business interests tend to collapse: when the free market, microeconomic thinking of the businessmen wrecks the macroeconomy, allowing the nationalistic faction to take power.

One passage that jumped out at me in the Rick Perlstein article I linked to the other day was this:

I collected volumes from a decade gone mad: texts by Black Panthers decrying “AmeriKKKa“; by New Leftists proclaiming that “the future of our struggle is the future of crime in the streets“; and by right-wingers like preacher David Noebel, who exposed the “Communist subversion of music” by which Russian spymasters deployed Pavlov’s techniques to rot the minds of America’s youth via their bought-and-paid-for agents, the Beatles. People who thought like Black Panthers and New Leftists, of course, proved a historical flash in the pan. People like Noebel, however, have proved a constant in American history. [Emphasis mine.]

Of course, Conservatives would insist that New Leftists and Black Panthers remain an imminent threat, but let us pass over such objections.

I suspect that the reason that “right-wingers” like Noebel prove more enduring is that Nationalist movements are rooted in “blood and soil” philosophy, and thus much less subject to change with the political fads. Cosmopolitanism, on the other hand, is much more intellectual and consequently much more susceptible to calculated changes in strategy, tactics and even overall philosophic disposition.

The new austerity measures the E.U. is imposing on Greece have caused quite a backlash. As this article in the Financial Times notes, a lot of the Greek anger is directed at Germany. Of course, because the Greeks are in Greece, all they can do is riot against their own government, not the German one. As is usually my opinion of rioting, this seems idiotic. I don’t see what good destroying Greek property will do to convince the Germans that these austerity measures are a bad idea.

Roman Gerodimos at CNN sums up the larger political picture in Greece:

The role of the state and of the public sector is usually at the heart of political debates between left and right. Yet, for the first time in recent memory, the political battle lines in Greece are not drawn between left and right, but between the modernizers and the populists existing in most political parties across the spectrum.

I don’t know the details of Greek politics, but that first sentence is wildly inaccurate for most of the world as far as I know. Indeed–and this is usually more true in Europe than in the U.S.–things usually make much more sense if you read “nationalist” for “right-wing”. And nationalists, as we know, are concerned only with the role of the state as it relates to the people and the culture of a nation. Maybe Greece is different, but in my experience, most debates over “the role of the state” are not really over the role of the state. They are proxy debates between cosmopolitanism and nationalism.

There’s more than that at play here though, because the nationalists in Greece are mad at Germany for imposing austerity measures, and the German nationalists are mad at the Greeks for squandering their money. And in the meantime, the cosmopolitan E.U. officials from both countries seem to have come to a truly terrible solution, so the lack of faith in them is understandable. But not only are the nationalist groups in both countries mad at the E.U., they are also mad at the nationalists in the other country. This is often the way with nationalists.

(And, of course, the terrible economic situation is largely the result of mismanagement by materialist business interests.)

As I look at it, in the above sentence from the CNN article, the modernizers are “cosmopolitans” and the populists are “nationalists”. Thus, the true nature of the conflict has not really changed, it has only become more obvious.

Sometimes I feel that I am not as mature as I should be. For example, when I was reading this article by David Brooks entitled “Where Are the Liberals?”, I couldn’t help thinking of a modification to the song Hugh Laurie sings in this sketch, replacing his words with “Where are the Libs?”

Yes, I know I have issues. Anyway, though, I think I know the answer to Brooks’s question “why aren’t there more liberals in America?” It is because what we call “Conservatism” today is a (sometimes tenuous) alliance between two different philosophies, Nationalism and Materialism, whereas “Liberalism” basically reduces down to one philosophy: Cosmopolitanism.  

This post is going to be a little different from what I normally do. Usually, when writing about history especially, I try to research things very carefully before I post them. This time, however, I can’t really do that because what I want to talk about is so complex a subject it would take me a whole career’s worth of work to be sure of everything.

Instead, I’m just going to use the facts I already know, and give my opinion on this subject as an amateur student of history. If you find errors, please point them out to me in the comments. I realize I’m risking making an idiot out of myself, but in my (again, amateurish) reading, I’ve come to have one or two ideas. Obviously, if I find any information in the future which contradicts what I say here, I shall correct it ASAP.

Now then, let’s talk about the Soviet Union. Conservatives I know frequently point to it as what happens when “leftism” runs amok. Are they right?

First of all, as some readers may know, I try to ignore the right-left spectrum and examine politics using the framework of Nationalism, Cosmopolitanism, and Materialism.  But where does the Soviet Union fit in to this model?

Let me begin by saying that Karl Marx’s theory was anti-nationalistic and, in the sense I mean it, anti-materialistic. While it is true Marx called his philosophy a “materialist conception of history”, what I mean by “anti-materialist” is that he opposed the concentration of material wealth through greedy, capitalistic means. He sought rather to redistribute material wealth to improve people’s lives. As he and Engels wrote in The German Ideology:

“[A]s soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a shepherd, or a critical critic and must remain so if he does not wish to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, to fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening,criticize after dinner, just as I have in mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.” 

And as they wrote in The Communist Manifesto:

“The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got…

National differences, and antagonisms between peoples, are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world-market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto. The supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster. United action, of the leading civilized countries at least, is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat.”

This mixture of anti-greed and anti-nationalism immediately put his philosophy at a strategic disadvantage, for it was forced to combat both of these forces at once. However, it was fundamentally a cosmopolitan, universalist endeavor, to improve life for people the world over. This was the motivating idea even after Marxism had taken over Russia and formed the Soviet Union. The anthem “The Internationale” signified this, as did the slogan “Workers of the World, unite!”

But then something very interesting happened. In the 1920s, Mussolini was getting lots of attention for his system of “fascism”. As Jonah Goldberg (among others) pointed out in one of those rare correct observations that make him such a frustrating writer, Mussolini had dreamed up fascism when he noticed that appealing to nationalism made it more popular than adhering to the usual internationalist tendencies.

I don’t think this escaped Stalin for one minute. He noticed what Mussolini was doing and began to imitate him. Fascism swept Europe in the ’30s, and the Soviet Union was not spared, though it tried to seem as if it had been.

It was Stalin, then, who fundamentally destroyed any meaning Communism may have had; by changing it into more of a Russian-nationalist movement. By shifting the nature of the State to what was essentially an ultra-collectivist form of what we might today call “fascism”, Stalin rendered it a mere exercise in the pursuit of Power, without real philosophical significance. It was not quite an ultranationalist movement, given Marx’s foundation, but nor was it an international movement. After Stalin took power, it was similar to many of the other governments in Europe at the time, but unlike Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, its leader was not even “honest” about its true nature.

(It was for these Nationalist reasons, also, that Leon Trotsky was exiled from the party. Trotsky remained a committed Internationalist kind of Marxist, and hence had no place in Stalin’s Government.)

This led to all sorts of confusion, especially in the way of liberal intellectuals feeling a need to defend (or deny) certain actions taken by the Soviet Union despite the fact that it really wasn’t on their side.

Nationalists will claim I am only saying this to excuse the cosmopolitans from responsibility, to claim that they do not deserve blame for the atrocities committed by the Soviet Union. They will claim that I am using a tautological reasoning system whereby all people who do bad things are automatically, by the fact itself, nationalists.

Well, I have deliberately tried not to do this. There were genuinely internationalist communists who committed atrocities. And the Communist system seems to lead almost inevitably to authoritarian systems of government, whatever Marx may have intended. And those sorts of systems usually lead to atrocities, no matter who is in charge.

Those who wish to point to the Soviet union as a failure of the “left-wing” may still do so, for it was a cosmopolitan idea that gave it philosophical power. However, in the event, it was a failure largely because of its susceptibility to being taken over by nationalistic forces.

What if there hadn’t been any nationalist shift? What if Trotsky had gotten rid of Stalin? Would it have been a Heaven on Earth, as some people desperately wanted it to be? Very unlikely. It is clear that the allocation of resources under the Communist system was very flawed. This would have been a problem, sooner or later, no matter who was running the show. Might there have been fewer casualties resulting from the Soviet Union’s actions? Possibly so.

 “[Thanksgiving’s] essential, secular meaning is a celebration of successful production. It is a producers’ holiday. The lavish meal is a symbol of the fact that abundant consumption is the result and reward of production.”–Ayn Rand, quoted. by Debi Ghate in Capitalism Magazine.

“Thanksgiving is as close as we get to a nationalist holiday in America (a country where nationalism as a concept doesn’t really fit). Thanksgiving’s roots are pre-founding, which means its not a political holiday in any conventional sense. We are giving thanks for the soil, the land, for the gifts of providence which were bequeathed to us long before we figured out our political system.”–Jonah Goldberg of National Review, quoted. in Wikisource.

“They [the Plymouth settlers] may have contemplated a system of complete religious and civil democracy, or they may not. They may have found their communist practices agreeable to their notion of a sound and just social order, or they may not. The point is that while apparently they might be free enough to found a church order as democratic as they chose, they were by no means free to found a civil democracy, or anything remotely resembling one, because they were in bondage to the will of an English trading-company.”–Albert Jay Nock. Our Enemy, the State. [Italics mine.]

The first thing to note about all these quotes is that they are from people who would all be classified today as “conservative”.

Because our two major political factions cannot be relied upon to agree even about the weather, it is perhaps unsurprising that they cannot reach a consensus about what went on nearly 400 years ago. This temporal distance does not stop them from assuming it vindicated their platform, however.

There is a running argument about the nature of the economy which existed at the time of the first Thanksgiving. The Conservatives hail it as a triumph of the free market, whereas Liberals tend to view it as a product of  “communal” sharing. From my cursory reading, it seems to have been a result of socializing the private gains, which is a form of “welfare capitalism”, or “market socialism”–whichever you prefer to call it.

One thing I don’t understand about this debate is that no one addresses the issue of currency. In fact, I don’t know if they had currency, it was probably a barter system, which introduces the question of whether people were sharing or just bartering at Thanksgiving. If anyone reading this knows, please enlighten me.

In any event, the argument about the economics of Thanksgiving is small potatoes compared with the social and philosophical debates. The Nationalists use Thanksgiving to celebrate the soil itself, as Goldberg says, and sing the praises of the European founders of the Nation. For instance, two years ago, A.W.R Hawkins wrote in Human Events:

“When Thanksgiving became an official, national holiday in 1941 it retained its focus on God, the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, and the rich fruits of Western Civilization…

[A]ny attempt to reduce [Thanksgiving] to a secular celebration is a bogus attempt to deny the God-centered focus of this particular holiday. It is also a ploy to downplay the bounty of freedoms and rights that flow to us by birth and are protected by the traditions and cultural norms of Western Civilization.” 

The Cosmopolitan intellectuals, on the other hand, will reflect and mourn upon the fate which was to befall the Natives at the hands of the settlers. The late Howard Zinn wrote a good deal about this, much to the fury of Republicans.

For my part, I’ve never been big on dictating what the “meaning” of the holiday ought to be. There are some holidays that do have a specific meaning, but to me, Thanksgiving is a day that doesn’t really have or need any political meaning. But if people choose to invest it with same, I suppose there’s nothing to be done about it.