I read Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism when it first came out in 2008, but now that it is part of the Tea Party canon, I thought I’d try to go through it again. Besides which, I’ve posted numerous times on here about many of the issues Goldberg discusses in it, so it may be useful to go over it again.

There are two major errors I can recall just by skimming through it, both of which undermine some of its rather interesting observations:

  1. Goldberg puts too much stock in labels. So, those who called themselves “Progressive” in the early 1900s are of the same “family tree” (to use Goldberg’s metaphor) with those who do so today. The most fundamental instance of this problem is Goldberg’s oft-repeated use of the standard “Right vs. Left” dichotomy across both time and cultures; as in the chapter “Adolf Hitler: Man of the Left”. This is a mistake for reasons which I explain here, and I think it undermines the entire thesis to an extent.
  2. The issue of Nationalism and how it relates to Fascist movements is one which Goldberg does not spend enough time examining. This is a very dangerous thing to do, considering that what we classically think of as “Fascism” (Mussolini, Hitler) is very nationalistic, which, if Liberals are supposed to be Fascists, does not mesh well with the common Conservative idea that Liberals are anti-American. (When asked about this in an interview, Goldberg responded: “I just would want to emphasize that that ultra-nationalism comes with an economic program of socialism. There’s no such thing as a society undergoing a bout of ultra-nationalism that remains a liberal free-market economy. The two things go together…Today’s liberalism, there’s a strong dose of cosmopolitanism to it, which is very much like the H.G. Wells “Liberal Fascism” I was talking about … These trans-national elites, the Davos crowd who really want to get beyond issues of sovereignty…I think that is much more of the threat coming from establishment liberalism today, but I do think there is a lot of nationalism there too.”)  

Still, these issues aside, it makes for an interesting read. Perhaps I’ll post more in-depth points later.

“…[A] certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These are such as are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader.”–Max Weber on Charisma.

“The cult of personality surrounding George W. Bush was abominable. It might have been even worse than the one engendered by Barack Obama. The United States has suffered three consecutive administrations of Presidents with severe narcissistic disorders: God knows we don’t need another.”–Christopher Knight, proprietor of The Knight Shift, recounting the recent history of U.S. elections.

A cult of personality must have at its center a person of extremely high charisma. Indeed, it is one of the defining aspects of charisma itself that it engenders this cult-like behavior in those surrounding the charismatic person.

As I have tried to establish on this blog, charisma is also key to winning elections in the United States in modern times, just as Paul Graham observed in his excellent essay. This being the case, however, it is all too likely that cults of personality will continue to form around Presidential candidates. Indeed, in this day and age, it’s almost a prerequisite.

I think Matt Taibbi was on to something in his bleak, cynical profanity-ridden tirade “Mad Dog Palin” when he wrote:

“…huge chunks of American voters no longer even demand that their candidates actually have policy positions; they simply consume them as media entertainment, rooting for or against them according to the reflexive prejudices of their demographic, as they would for reality-show contestants or sitcom characters.”

It is fitting that Taibbi used the analogy of television shows. Back before radio, and especially television, charisma’s impact on elections was considerably less than it is today. But nowadays, a less capable individual with charisma will get noticed and adored, while a more capable, non-charismatic individual will be passed over. History seems to have decided that the great turning point was the Presidential debate in 1960 between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon. Kennedy’s charisma, they say, won over the television audience, and provided him with the edge he needed to win a close election.

Of course, charisma was a factor long before modern technologies enhanced the distribution of it. But, in times past, it was used to greatest effect mostly by prominent military leaders. Caesar and Napoleon achieved power through instilling fierce loyalty in the men under their command, and using their military force to gain power.

But now, mass communication makes it much easier to “transmit” the charisma, and so, in the developed world at least, military coups have been replaced with charismatic leaders who sell themselves as appealing individuals to the populace at large. Hence, the television analogies.In some ways, then, it is not humans who have changed but rather our technology that has facilitated the charismatic domination by these individuals. And, in its way, it is better that it should be so; after all, is not the endless conflict of these cults at least now being fought with votes instead of swords, guns and bombs?

All the same, it seems that Democracy is now reliant upon endless personality cults to sustain itself. I do not know if the current and past two Presidents really did have “severe narcissistic disorders”, as Knight believes, but to a large extent that is irrelevant. They must behave as leaders of a cult to maintain their power. In the end, they must use the worshipful tendencies of their ardent supporters, whether they want to or not, in order to achieve their goals.

This is, I feel, a dangerous situation. The blind loyalty felt by the devotees to their political messiahs is something which fundamentally alters the nature of the political conflict. And it is this, I believe, which drives the oft-bemoaned lack of “civility” and “moderation” in today’s discourse. Cults are not rational, but emotional.

What makes this all the more troubling is not that it is a corruption of the democratic system, but rather that it seems to be the logical conclusion of it. The average voter, after all, cannot really be expected to keep up with the nuances of the issues. To do so requires too much time. Therefore, rooting for the most appealing personality, as Taibbi says, is the only way most people can hope to participate in the political system at all.

So I think we must resign ourselves to the fact that charisma–and the resultant cults of personality–are going to be the driving energy of our political system for the foreseeable future. The best we can hope for, at this point, is probably that our elected leaders will not abuse their charisma. Given the corrupting influence of power however, that seems unlikely.

For the past year, I’ve been telling all my friends and family that General Petraeus is the man to be in charge of Afghanistan. I was baffled by the fact that he wasn’t from the minute Obama took Office. He had some serious successes in Iraq, I reasoned, so it seems only logical to put the guy in charge of our other major theater of war.

So, what didn’t I do? I didn’t say anything about that on this blog! If just one time I’d written on here: “Gee, I wish Petraeus were in charge”, I could now say that I was brilliant; ahead of the curve. But I didn’t. So now I can’t style myself as “Mysterious Military Genius from the Shadows.”

Interesting post by Sady at Tiger Beatdown. It’s worth reading the whole thing (unless you don’t like strong language), but here’s the main thing:

“Every time I yell at some pathetic anonymous commenter and people cheer, every time I get all righteously outraged without talking about what I’ve done that is the same or worse as what the person I’m outraged about has done, every time I play the toreador and gore a bull for your entertainment, I shudder a little. Because I’m helping it happen: Aiding in the creation of a discussion where we reward outrage and scorn and hatred and Othering of the ideologically impure, the bad feminists and unfeminists and anti-feminists…” 

Hmmm. This reminds me of something…. But she goes on:

“I’m letting you glorify me; I’m giving you a false impression of how things actually work, letting you believe that the world consists of Good People and Bad People. I’m telling you that I am Good, and that you are Good to the extent you agree with me, and that people — other people, people on the outside of this discussion, not us, certainly — are Bad if they disagree with us. I mean: This is basically how every terrible thing in the history of humanity has started, the decision that there’s an Us and a Them and the former is good and the latter is bad.”

She’s right, I suppose. But what she describes is not merely the cause of “every terrible thing in the history of humanity”. It is the history of humanity.

“Full and vigorous debate on matters of national policy is a vital element in the constitutional system of our free democracy. It is fundamental, however, that military commanders must be governed by the policies and directives issued to them in the manner provided by our laws and Constitution. In time of crisis, this consideration is particularly compelling.”–President Harry Truman, 11 April 1951.

“President Truman must be impeached and convicted. His hasty and vindictive removal of Gen. MacArthur is the culmination of series of acts which have shown that he is unfit, morally and mentally, for his high office. . . . The American nation has never been in greater danger. It is led by a fool who is surrounded by knaves. . . “–Senator Robert Taft.

William Saletan writes:

“There was no America, as a nation, until Britain foolishly behaved as Palin now wants America to behave. Her advice is a prescription for superpower suicide. If she understood the Boston Tea Party as more than a slogan, she’d know that.”

It seems to me like the British Empire declined for very long time–never completely ceasing to be an Empire until after World War II. So, if Saletan is right and Palin’s advice is indeed analogous to the British policy at the time of the Boston Tea Party, we’ve still got about 200 years left.

On the one hand, it’s tempting to give in to this idea that history repeats itself. On the other hand, it strikes me as a rather simplistic analysis. I’m no historian, but I do think that Britain’s superpower status should probably have an asterisk by it, because they almost never successfully beat any similarly-equipped enemy apart from (sometimes) the French. The United States has defeated most of Europe twice.

As an aside, Pat Buchanan–who I wrote a post about last week–has been saying for years that we’re behaving like the British Empire did to trigger its decline.  Yet, he seems to be something of a fan of Palin.

(Hat Tip to Andrew Sullivan for the Saletan article.)

Andrew Sullivan writes:

“Palin is not appealing to the Republican super-ego (in so far as one has survived the last ten years); she is directly, umbilically connected to the Republican id (and some other male organs). Her appeal is visceral not rational….

 Who else puts all this together for the GOP? No one. Huckabee is crippled by a record of spending and leniency. Romney is crippled by being Mitt Romney and Mormonism. Pawlenty: seriously? Santorum? Ditto. Brown? We are beginning to see the depth of his predicament. DeMint? Rubio? C’mon.

Yes, many tea-partiers do not think Palin is “qualified” to be president. But primaries are won by enthusiasm and star power. Palin has both.” 

In other words, she is charismatic. No other known Republican candidate right now is. Sullivan is right to think she has a legitimate shot.

That’s not to say she will be the nominee, of course. She might not be seeking it. She could command nearly as much influence over the political system with less work by continuing to do what she’s been doing. Indeed; in the past, this has been the way of charismatic women. They do not hold the political offices that men do; they instead serve as symbolic figureheads for a movement. That’s hard to do if you’re going to be President.

It doesn’t help her cause that if she did run for President, she’d be going up against an opponent who is stunningly charismatic in his own right. I have to admit that, given the power of charisma that I have cataloged on this blog, it would be interesting to see a Palin vs. Obama election in 2012.

So Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell declared April. According to the article, the move “angered Civil Rights’ leaders”. But my question is: what about the average, everyday, patriotic American? Surely they were angered as well.

Some background: The Confederate States of America was a government established in 1861 by states that had declared they were seceding from the Union. The Union being the United States of America. Long story short, the USA fought the CSA, and the USA won, forcing the CSA to be dissolved.

Now, what seems fairly obvious from this discussion is that the CSA was, at best, an enemy nation of the USA throughout its brief existence, and at worst was nothing more than a gang of traitors. You might think that this would make them an unpopular bunch, but you would be wrong: lots of people are very eager to celebrate them, apparently because their ancestors fought for them.

Okay, that’s nice. But perhaps it should be American Civil War history month; not Confederate history. A lot of people–supposedly patriotic US citizens–seem to forget just who won the war. Hint: it was the country that still exists.

Now, I do not know if there is a “Loyalist History month” in Massachusetts for those who supported remaining loyal to King George III. Is there a history month of any of the other enemy nations we have fought in the past? Think of all the governments we’ve fought: Britain’s (twice), Germany’s (twice), North Korea’s, North Vietnam’s, and the Communist Soviet Union’s, to name a few. When are the months for those governments? (Remember: the German Monarchy and the Third Reich each have to get their own month, as they are two separate governments. We’re going to have to add some months pretty soon.)

Yeah, yeah I know. You say: “But the Confederacy was on land that is now U.S. territory; so it’s part of our history.” Yes, it is. So, while it is truly part of Virginia’s history, Virginia must realize it is a part of the U.S.A, and that this other country is long gone. “We” are not the CSA. We are the USA, and “we” should have “Preservation of the Union month”.

There is a monument, sometimes called the Saratoga Obelisk, which commemorates the Battle of Saratoga in the American Revolution. On it are four niches, three of which hold statues of officers from the American side. The fourth niche is empty. It is for Benedict Arnold, who played a major role in winning the battle for the Americans, but who later infamously betrayed George Washington and joined the British.

The reason I mention this is to illustrate how serious treason is, and how severely it should be looked on by history. That the Confederate States of America are treated so lightly is, I think, an extremely curious phenomenon given the indisputable fact that what they did, ultimately, was take up arms against the United States of America.