“During an episode of her reality show, the once (and future?) candidate cooked up a mess of hot s’mores and a side of even hotter politics, declaring: ‘This is in honor of Michelle Obama, who said the other day we should not have dessert.’
Palin was being over-generous in her paraphrase. What Mrs. Obama in fact said was considerably more worrisome: ‘We can’t just leave it up the parents’…. If her vision leaves any room for limitation on government interference in family affairs, it is impossible to detect it. Palin… later expanded on her views: ‘Instead of a government thinking that they need to take over and make decisions for us, according to some politician’s — or politician’s wife’s — priorities, just leave us alone, get off our back, and allow us, as individuals, to exercise our own God-given rights to make our own decisions.'”
National Review and Palin appear to have not realized that if your kids are in school, then they will be fed by the school. You can maybe send a lunch in with them, but some children–not that I suppose NR really cares about this–come from families who are too poor to do so. (Besides which, if the lunch is paid for by taxes, most people will probably wish to take advantage of it.) Therefore, unless you are actually opposed to the concept of school lunches, you must ask: do you want the school to feed them healthy food or unhealthy food?
If they were Libertarians, they might make the argument that we ought to abolish school lunches–and, for that matter, government schools–altogether. But they won’t make this argument here, because to do so makes them look, frankly, like unfeeling jerks to many people. So, they take the easy way out: griping about the system without actually putting forward an alternative system which might address the alleged problems.
(I should mention: although I am not a Libertarian, I was one in the past. And, perhaps out of a sentimental sympathy for some of their beliefs, I feel a need to make it clear that the Republicans of today are not really Libertarians; they just act like it sometimes to get what they want. This is not to say the Libertarians are right–which I obviously don’t believe–but rather in the interest of clarity in discourse.)
But I digress.
Now, if a parent wants to have this degree of control over their children, then they should not send the children to school. But, since many parents cannot (or in some cases, will not) actually educate, feed and care for their own children all day every day, they do send them off to school. And that carries with it certain costs and benefits. But essentially, what the National Review crowd wants is all the benefits of parental control with none of the costs.
But then, as they ought to know, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
I’ve had a lot of reservations about posting this for a long time now; but I’ve decided to put it out and see what happens. It’s possible it could offend people, but understand that it is not my intention to do so.
I talk about Republicans and Tea Partiers being nationalists a lot on this blog. But nationalism is an old instinct, and clearly has been around for a while in politics. What follows is my understanding of how it fits into the history of the United States. So, this is not meant to be some sort of definitive explanation; really, it’s more just me trying to articulate my basic assumptions about how politics work.
Understand that when I say Nationalism, I do not mean racism. People sometimes use “Nationalism” in the sense of “ethno-nationalism”, an inherently racist idea. That is not how I mean it. I mean an aggressive–imperialistic, if you will–attitude about the nation and its culture.
I feel like I barely need to say that obviously this worldview of mine has been shaped by many people I have read over the years, but the two figures who have probably most influenced the view I’m about to set down are Jonah Goldberg and Paul Krugman. This probably seems odd, since they’re on opposite political sides. However, without realizing it, Goldberg made several very interesting points in his book; points which are not at all flattering to his cause.
Feel free to make any objections you wish; I’m mostly putting this out for my own education:
Once upon a time, it was the Democrats who were the Nationalists. In the 1930s, it was Franklin Roosevelt who led the way with his nationalistic programs, which only intensified in World War II. The Democrats then were a party of both Nationalists and Cosmopolitan intellectuals, because both groups were interested in ideas of shared sacrifice and wealth redistribution. This party was virtually unstoppable from the ’30s to the ’50s.
The Republicans, from the ’30s through the ’50s, were nothing but a party of extremely wealthy people who wished to keep as much money as possible. The Republican philosophy of that era was encapsulated almost perfectly by Ayn Rand’s “Objectivism“. However, the Republican’s views were surprisingly of little consequence, except when it came to fighting communists. (Which was fine by the nationalistic majority of Democrats.)
It was not until President Johnson that the Nationalist (and, it must be admitted, racist) sections of the Democratic party broke away. The reasons for this are many, but the important thing is the consequence: Richard M. Nixon, while himself no Nationalist, could exploit it to win the election. And the Republican party has ever since been the seemingly-contradictory combination of Nationalism and Libertarianism that it is today.
As I said, this idea may offend people. In which case, I’m sorry. Or it may seem blatantly obvious, in which case I’ll sound like an idiot. Either way, I thought I should at least explain what assumptions I’m operating under when I analyze politics and see what you all make of it.
The Republicans/Tea Partiers are really beginning to show their true beliefs on this WikiLeaks thing. You know, you’d think they would be worried about “too much government power”; but no, they’re calling for imprisonment (or more severe punishment) for Julian Assange.
In contrast to this, Ron Paul said: “In a free society we’re supposed to know the truth. In a society where truth becomes treason, then we’re in big trouble. And now, people who are revealing the truth are getting into trouble for it.” (It’s good to have an actual libertarian around so people know what one is like, as opposed to the Tea Party crowd.)
Don’t get me wrong; I think these leaks pose a damned serious National security threat, and we ought to put a stop to it. But I also think that “WikiLeaks-must-be-destroyed, violently-if-need-be” is an odd stance to take for people who keep saying that “the government that governs best governs least”.
While reading about the “American Exceptionalism: Does Obama believe in it?” debate, I came across this interview with Jonah Goldberg, author of Liberal Fascism.
First of all, Goldberg asserts that we as a country are patriotic, not nationalistic. I disagree. I believe every country has its patriots and nationalists. I have been for a long time using Orwell’s definition of the difference:
“Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation…”
However, it would be unfair not to also take into account Goldberg’s definition from Liberal Fascism:
“Patriots revere ideas, institutions, and traditions of a particular country and its government. The watchwords for nationalists are ‘blood’, ‘soil’, ‘race’, ‘Volk‘, and so forth.”
This definition, I think, makes it too easy to categorize Nationalists as simple racists. This fails to address phenomena such as “Civic Nationalism” (sometimes called “Liberal Nationalism”) which is not a racist ideology. (To be fair to Goldberg, in the relevant passage he is mainly discussing Hitler, who was a racist as well as a Nationalist.)
But since the original question was “Is American Exceptionalism Fascist?”, then it is neccesary to figure out what “Fascism” really is. Goldberg calls it a “religion of the State”–meaning people worship the government, not any God. This is a weak definition, in my opinion, because even in Fascist Italy, the Church was not replaced; it merely allied with the Fascist government.
Broadly speaking, Fascism is a kind of Socialism for Nationalists. (It is no coincidence that people equate the “National Socialists” of Germany with Fascism.) Again, to quote from Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism:
“Socialism was predicated on the Marxist view that ‘workers’ as a class were more bound by common interests than any other criteria. Implicit in the slogan ‘Workers of the world, unite!’ was the idea that class was more important than race, nationality, religion, language, culture, or any other ‘opiate’ of the masses… What was then called socialism was really just a kind of socialism: International Socialism. Mussolini was interested in creating a new socialism, a socialism in one state, a national socialism…”
The Nation, therefore, was the unit which the Socialistic policies were to benefit. Indeed, socialism is really just a kind of sacrificing of the individual to the whole (“the greater good”) and therefore is implicit in nationalism, militarism or indeed almost any kind of team effort.
Indeed, Mussolini was not alone in tying Socialist ideas to National tradition. In 1919, the German philosopher Oswald Spengler, sometimes called a “proto-Nazi”, wrote in Prussiandom and Socialism:
“We now face the task of liberating German socialism from Marx. I say German socialism, for there is no other. This, too, is one of the truths that no longer lie hidden. Perhaps no one has mentioned it before, but we Germans are socialists. The others cannot possibly be socialists…The spirit of Old Prussia and the socialist attitude, at present driven by brotherly hatred to combat each other, are in fact one and the same.”
Now, Goldberg believes that this idea of “American exceptionalism” makes us immune to fascism because what makes America exceptional is people’s general resistance to governmental authority. Therefore, Goldberg reasons, we could never be a “religion of the state” because Americans, unlike most people, are hostile to the state.
One problem with American exceptionalism seems, superficially, to be merely a matter of etiquette. It is one thing for a foreigner to say America is exceptional; quite another for an American to say it. At a high-level, it is the difference between someone telling you “You’re very intelligent” and you yourself saying you’re very intelligent. (Incidentally, it was Alexis de Tocqueville, a Frenchman, who was the first to articulate the idea that America was exceptional.)
But the issue is deeper than simple manners. The real issue is that, if we suppose that America is an exceptional nation–or, perhaps more accurately, that the American people are an exceptional people–there is still the matter of how it came about. Is it earned or inherent? More specifically: are Americans supposed to be exceptional by virtue of the principles of our Constitution? Or is it a more mystical thing?
If we Americans are supposed to be exceptional purely because we are Americans, then there is a kind of mystical theory at work here–we are dealing in terms of the “People” and the “Soil” once again. (I must choose my words carefully here, else I shall have to order myself to quit comparing everyone to the Nazis.)
Goldberg is probably correct that Americans are more instinctively hostile to government than most. Yet, this is not always the case. After all, didn’t most people readily believe the government’s worst-case claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
Recall also, the fact that it was Europeans–the French and the Germans–who were most mocked for resisting the administration’s claims. It was un-American to oppose the war; it was French. (Remember “Freedom Fries”?)
I suspect, moreover, that the same people who believed that the Iraq invasion was justified on the grounds of WMD possession are currently the ones who are most distrustful of the government. And I suspect this is because they are Republicans, and therefore are inclined to believe a Republican administration and distrust a Democratic one. Call it a Leap of Faith, if you like.
Goldberg is not wrong when he says that American exceptionalism is not fascism. It is true that if we adhere to “American exceptionalism” purely as a sort of ultra-individualist/libertarian creed to always question authority, then that would be a good defense against an authoritarian regime or a too-powerful government.
The problem is, we can’t all be anti-government all the time. When Republicans are in power, Republicans generally are willing to go along with the expansion of government power, especially when it comes to National Defense. When Democrats are in, they are willing to go along with it to expand the welfare state.
As I’ve said before, I’ve come to realize that when either Party is out of power, it uses the Libertarians to its advantage; then casts them aside when it retakes power. The Libertarians have seemingly failed to notice this thus far. And I think that Goldberg, who is more of a Libertarian than a straight-up Social Conservative/Nationalist, is willfully blind to this.
Ultimately, whether or not belief in American Exceptionalism is Nationalist (which is a more accurate word than “fascism”) depends on the reason one believes America to be exceptional. If one means only that America is unique among nations, that is not Nationalistic. (Of course, all nations are “unique” in some way. That’s why they’re nations.) Likewise, if one means something about the behavior of American people, anti-government or otherwise, than this also need not be nationalistic.
It is when we get to the mystical or super/preternatural reasons for American exceptionalism; what we might call “Inherent American Exceptionalism”, that it takes on the resemblance to a nationalist movement.
“The Tea Party… is mostly composed of passionate, well-meaning people who think they are fighting elite power, unaware that they have been organised by the very interests they believe they are confronting.”
To which Alex Knepper responds:
“Ideologues don’t see opposing ideas as possessing any real legitimacy. Instead of honest disagreement, they see men behind the curtain deceiving helpless fools. Anyone who disagrees with them is manipulated, conned. Dissent from the beliefs of an ideologue, and he doesn’t treat you as an opponent worthy of sparring with. Instead, he condescends; he treats you like a helpless sap who’s been suckered into furthering the villainous motives of malicious sociopaths. The ideologue is the hero, motivated by kindness, while his enemies are bad guys who obstruct virtue and goodness.”
This is much the same phenomenon I examined in this post, and after reading these articles, I think it’s worth examining a bit more in depth. First, Monbiot’s claim that the Tea Party people are simply being tricked is not quite right; they may not be aware precisely of who the Koch brothers are, but I am sure that they wouldn’t care if they did. Monbiot is indeed oversimplifying the situation to fit his ideology.
To this extent, Knepper’s rebuttal is correct, but where it falls short is in deciding to simply treat this discrepancy between the philosophy of the party’s backers and its members like it is completely unimportant. The Koch brothers really do spend money on these things–which is hardly surprising when you think about it. After all, someone has to pay to fund all these efforts.
Knepper appears to prefer to simply conclude that, for some reason, the small-government ideals resonate with people nowadays; Tea Party has diverse viewpoints, etc. etc. etc., end of story. I would prefer to think of it in a rather different way.
There are three major groups here: the Nationalist Conservatives, the Materialistic Libertarians and the Cosmopolitan (the philosophy, not the magazine) Liberals. The Tea Party rank-and-file is mostly Conservative, but it is funded mostly by Libertarians. I don’t think this is a case of the one manipulating the other; rather, it is simply a strategic alliance. The Libertarians say to the Conservatives: we will help you get the Liberals out of office if you’ll help us with our small government initiatives. It’s a compromise.
That’s how I see it, anyway. As always, if you disagree with my analysis, I encourage you to speak up.
(Hat Tip to Andrew Sullivan)
I can’t believe I missed this when it came out last week: yet more evidence has emerged that whatever they may be, the Tea Partiers are not really Libertarians.
Now, you may think this is a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s important to realize that the common narrative that they are a Libertarian, free-market group is not really accurate.
Andrew Sullivan discusses some more evidence.
P.S: The title of this post is a reference to this. Yeah, I’m a geek.
Conservatives and Libertarians are fond of saying that Liberals put too much faith in the power of “Big Government.” Some of them have even gone so far as to say that Liberals have a religious devotion to the Government, treating it, the claim goes, as a sort of omnipotent deity. (This rather libertarian-minded charge, incidentally, dovetails nicely with the Religious branch of the Conservatives’ deeply-held belief that Liberals are godless, hedonistic decadents.)
As I’ve mentioned before, I myself was once a libertarian, and I will confess that perhaps there is some truth to the claim that liberals believe overmuch in the power of government, though surely the idea that they see Government as God is rather hyperbolic. But that’s an issue for a different post.
For now, I wish to examine rather the conservatives’ view of government. For, if liberals overestimate the government’s power to good, I think the conservatives overestimate its power to do ill, or at least have a misguided view of what a government behaving badly might look like.
Conservatives spend entirely too much time nowadays harping on the theme of alleged tyranny by the U.S. government. It’s a dramatic thing to say, of course, and is surely likely to arouse people’s interest in small-government philosophy. And furthermore, it is certainly a good idea to be constantly vigilant for signs of tyranny. Did not all the tyrannical dictators of history arise because not enough people were wise enough to be on the lookout for the first hints of their plans?
It is my opinion that tyranny, dictatorship, Stalin-esque police states, etc., are the more terrible but (fortunately) far less common type of government failure. The problems the average, law-abiding U.S. citizen is likely to run across when dealing with the government stem not from dictatorial brutality, but instead from the dull inefficiency of a massive bureaucracy.
Now, I do understand why, say, the Tea Party crowd feels a need to talk more about tyranny and less about bureaucracy. Tyrannies are fun to rebel against, bureaucracies are boring. More importantly, the monstrous atrocities committed by tyrants litter the pages of World History, whereas the comparatively banal problems of bureaucracies are the stuff of dull Economics textbooks.
So, perhaps it is inevitable that Tea Party propaganda (to use the word in its neutral, Bernaysian sense) will always rely on the rather dramatic idea of the current Government engaging in Tyrannical and Authoritarian behavior. For propaganda, like humor, relies on exaggeration to make its point.
Nevertheless, I feel it is dangerous–indeed, potentially ruinous to the libertarian streak in the Tea Party–to continually argue against governmental brutality that, while no doubt a thing to be avoided and guarded against, is far less often a problem for the average citizen than is the near omnipresence of inefficient and incapable governmental red-tape.
Bureaucracy is a far less interesting thing to oppose; and is far harder to solve, but I believe that it is the true problem with “Big Government”.
All comments are welcome, and disagreement is encouraged.
As I have said, smart people often fall into the trap of believing this. But it is not true: for many terrible things were done in the name of communism; but communism was an explicitly internationalist movement. Fascism is an explicitly nationalist movement.
It is worth pointing out that during the Nazi’s rise to power, they fought against the communists. Fascism and communism are both cruel, but they are very different in terms of their core philosophy and assumptions.
This is why I have such sympathy for the libertarians; their philosophy serves as a safeguard against the evils of both nationalist fascism and internationalist communism.