Say “hullo” to Oswald Spengler,
The philosopher of doom.
Step out of your offices
And listen to his prophecies
And you’ll be overcome with gloom.
Say “hullo” to Oswald Spengler,
Sit with him and drink some wine.
Listen to him quoting Goethe
As you look out on the Erde,
And watch the West decline.
Say “hullo” to Oswald Spengler,
World’s first Prussian Socialist;
He called for interactions
Between these sep’rate factions,
And alas, he got just what he wished!
Say “good-bye” to Oswald Spengler;
He’s a rather Gloomy Gus.
I don’t like him, nor need you,
And I think it’s also true
He would not think much of us.
In the first three parts of this series, I have established what I see as the logic of the American political system as it stands today. Now, we need to examine the flaws and the potential dangers in this system.
It is first of all the case that nationalists—as opposed to patriots, the distinction between which you can see analyzed here or here—have been on the losing end of things since the 1960s. Cosmopolitan liberals have been gaining since then, and this the nationalists will not abide.
But still, the clear winner over this time period has been the materialist business interests, for whom the nationalists vote based on their promises to cut the size of government, and with whom the cosmopolitans are obliged to compromise in the interest of seeing their gains on social issues protected.
The Thomas Frank question is: why do the nationalists continually vote for the anti-government big money people when they never do actually do anything to help the nationalists in their quest to abolish gay marriage, feminism, and secularism and restore militarism, flag-waving culture, traditional families and Christian dominance?
One hypothesis is that the nationalists are, by and large, ignorant hicks. They certainly do hate the education system, bastion of liberalism that it allegedly is. Thus, they can be duped every four years by some businessman who spouts slogans about “family values” and “sanctity of marriage” and who once elected cuts the capital gains tax and curtails welfare benefits.
When you add in that most nationalists are rural, and that many of them are Southern, where the schools have never been as good as the North or West, it looks compelling to say that they are just easily-tricked bumpkins. Some liberals pity them, some liberals mock them; but they are seen widely as buffoons.
There is some evidence against this hypothesis, however. That is why I read the works of Oswald Spengler or the political writings of H.P. Lovecraft. They were both nationalists and, abhorrent though their views may be to me, there can be no doubt they were very intelligent men.
Moreover, you can see intelligent, educated nationalists even in the present day: a loose association sometimes called “the alt-right”. I had a brief exchange with one of their number, OneSTDV, that some readers may recall.
Many of them are quite intelligent and well accustomed to philosophical debate and reasoning. And they hold political views which I think many people supposed were now extinct in this country. For example, they are fairly open about their admiration for fascism. They are more reactionary than most liberals can even imagine.
There are a few mainstream figures as well—Pat Buchanan is one—who may be classed as reasonably well-educated nationalists. So, it is possible for such people to exist. Their philosophy is surprisingly intricate, and they can prove quite formidable in debate.
Given that, why keep voting for the materialist business interests, which care nothing for nationalism except insofar as it dictates the currency whose flow dictates their actions? Well, in some cases, the nationalists don’t. But in general, the reason is simply that both sides have common cause in that they hate the government. (With the exception of the military, in the case of the nationalists.)
They have different reasons: the nationalists hate it because it is populated by liberals. (Most Republicans in government are far too liberal for their taste.) Materialist corporate-types hate it because it has the power to take their money. This fact means that business interests have a much easier time compromising with government than nationalists do. Business wants to keep the government from getting its money; nationalists hate the actual people in the government .
Nonetheless, the nationalists’ plan is therefore rational: allow the Randian-minded businessmen to screw with the government long enough and it will eventually become weak. Once it is weak, they will be in fine position to send in a candidate who really does mean to take us back to the 1950s. But clearly that day has not yet come.
Liberals are semi- cognizant of this threat, but it is very difficult to make the connections and realize that the nationalists may not be merely an angry group of people, but actually followers of a philosophy; one that is internally consistent and entirely antithetical to liberal values.
When I had my exchange with OneSTDV, many of his readers commented on my blog. Interestingly, the topic that they focused on was this part:
[OneSTDV’s] belief that blacks are inherently inferior to whites intellectually. He calls this idea “Human BioDiversity” or “HBD”. I call it “racism” myself, and I believe it to be false.
Most of their comments centered on this point, and there was a lot of back-and-forth about the validity of it. One thing that caused some confusion—and this is my fault—was disagreement over whether “HBD” was the same thing as “racism”. To my mind, they amount to the same thing: the belief that different races are in inherently different in non-trivial, especially mental, ways. Now, some HBDers seemed to object to my effectively calling them racists, but I didn’t mean to imply that they are all klansmen; merely that they see race as an important factor in determining how well a person’s mind functions.
That’s an aside, but I wanted to get that bit of terminology clarified before proceeding. What was especially interesting to me about the response to my OneSTDV post was a comment by “Ken S”:
“I am a fairly liberal HBD’er and I also frequently find OneSTDV’s blogging distasteful. But don’t let that turn you off from finding out more about this viewpoint, there is much evidence in support of some of the non-political tenets of HBD…
While I like might like what you have expressed in the context of the arts, this is not the proper context that HBD lies in. HBD itself is a scientific idea and the politics expressed at blogs like OneSTDV are responses to scientific data that question whether or not current social policies are doing more harm than good. Even if he is wrong about the politics it would not make him wrong about the scientific findings that he uses to support his position.”
I also discovered the writings of a blogger named “John” at the sadly now-removed blog Stream of John, who also holds fairly liberal political views while still agreeing with the validity of “HBD”. (I assume that he discovered my blog through reading OneSTDV)
Together, these two go to demonstrate a very interesting point: agreeing with the HBD hypothesis does not automatically determine one’s political beliefs. After all, if these two can be liberals while still agreeing with the HBD view of things, it shows that there is no political philosophy that automatically follows from it.
Which is interesting, for it implies that OneSTDV and I would still have cause to quarrel even if one of us were somehow able to persuade the other on issues of race. More broadly speaking, it shows that the divide between cosmopolitans and nationalists runs much deeper than even racial issues.
At bottom, these are whole philosophies of life that clash; they cannot be reduced to beliefs about race, or gender, or economics or any of the other issues. The philosophical battle encompasses all of these. If this hypothesis is correct, it in turn implies that there will never be consensus, and thus there is constant tension the political system.
It hadn’t occurred to me before, but thinking more about Niall Ferguson’s article on “American Civilization”, I realized something. He writes:
“In my view, civilizations don’t rise, fall, and then gently decline, as inevitably and predictably as the four seasons or the seven ages of man.”
Here I think he might be making a reference to Oswald Spengler’s model of civilizations, which explicitly references the seasons. Ferguson’s computing analogy is, whether intentionally or not, is very much the opposite of Spengler’s organic, natural model. (Spengler was one of the prominent early predictors of the fall of Western civilization, or as Ferguson says, “declinist”.)
The other thing that occurred to me is that Ferguson seems, from the title onward, a little confused about whether he’s writing about “American” Civilization (the U.S.) or about “Western” Civilization in general. Indeed, I think this might be why the article seems so strange; he’s mixing up broad concepts with (relatively) narrow ones–i.e. the present recession.
I don’t mean to say his article is bad–it’s quite thought provoking, actually–but I think it’s a bit muddled.
(Note: This post builds a bit more upon this post by P M Prescott. [Which links back to me, as it happens.])
Last week something of debate appeared in the pages of USA Today. A religion professor named Stephen Prothero argued that the “Objectivist” philosophy of Ayn Rand is incompatible with belief in the Christian religion. He is, in my view, correct; because Rand herself repeatedly stressed that this was the case, and moreover that one had to either accept her philosophy entirely or not at all. One could not believe some of John Galt’s teachings and some of Jesus Christ’s teachings, in other words.
But some people disagreed with this view, and wrote in to USA today to say so. You can read their dissensions here. Their general point is that you can in fact believe in both these things.
Quite apart from Rand’s own statements regarding this, I really do not see it. As a friend of mine pointed out to me: consider the Parable of the Prodigal Son, or the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. Both of these appear to be endorsing the idea of equal rewards for unequal work–sharing rewards based upon needs. Add to this the well-known statements made by Christ on the subject of the poor and Christianity and Objectivism look quite irreconcilable, in my opinion.
Prothero goes on to make the following remarkable statement: “In fact, [Objectivism] is farther from Christianity than the Marxism that Rand so abhorred.” Indeed. Rand herself called Christianity “the best kindergarten of communism possible.” (This reminds me of the conservative philosopher Oswald Spengler’s claim that “Christian theology is the grandmother of Bolshevism.”)
Now, I am not one to make such bold assertions as those above. But I really, really do not understand how one can glean support for free market capitalism out of Christian teachings.
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.
“Co-founder [of the Tea Party Patriots] Mark Meckler tried to pre-empt expectations among the faithful that Washington would shrink and the federal deficit would close overnight, instead alluding to a “forty-year plan” that the group was busy working out with its members. The plan, according to Meckler, was a highway with four lanes, only one of which was explicitly political. The other three were educational, judicial and cultural.
‘All civilizations and empires have fallen because their cultures became decadent,‘ Meckler said. ‘We need to lift up conservative culture, family values and wholesome things by supporting conservative musicians, writers, artists and producers.’” [Emphasis mine]
If this vaguely Spenglerian quote really was said by Meckler–and I have my doubts because I haven’t seen it reported in many places–it certainly does make it sound like the Tea Partiers are not just Libertarian Free-Marketeers.
“National Greatness Conservatism“, thy time has come, it seems.
Kathleen Parker has an interesting column discussing politicians’ appeals to “small-town values”, in which she criticizes them–Sarah Palin, in particular–for making it seem as if small towns are superior to cities. She writes: “In the politician’s world, small towns are where “real Americans” live, as opposed to all those other people — the vast majority of Americans — who live in urban areas.”
She then details the feeling of community she experienced living on Olive Street in Washington D.C. She sums up thus: “small-town values have nothing to do with small towns.”
Predictably, the website “Conservatives4Palin” has ridiculed Parker, saying that Palin’s new book has done nothing to criticize those who live in urban areas. The critique of Parker laid out by “Conservatives4Palin” attempts to dodge the real issue; they claim that Parker was merely criticizing Palin’s upcoming book, when in fact she was criticizing Palin’s very worldview. Because Parker was writing not of Palin’s book, but rather of her infamous quote from the 2008 campaign:
If you can’t see the video: Palin said, in part: “We believe that the best of America is in the small towns that we get to visit, and in the wonderful little pockets of what I call ‘the Real America’.”
Does this not imply that small towns are superior? “The best of America” seems to me to leave little up to interpretation. Of course, this sparked a firestorm of outrage from the Left at the time; and Palin “clarified” (retracted) her remarks.
I am reminded, whenever anyone alludes to this incident or to Palin’s “elitist” bashing in general, of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, wherein he draws the distinctions between Culture and Civilization. As the Wikipedia article says:
“He [Spengler] contrasts the “true-type” rural born, with the nomadic, traditionless, irreligious, matter-of-fact, clever, unfruitful, and contemptuous-of-the-countryman city dweller. In the cities he sees only the “mob”, not a people, hostile to the traditions that represent Culture (in Spengler’s view these traditions are: nobility, church, privileges, dynasties, convention in art, and limits on scientific knowledge). City dwellers possess cold intelligence that confounds peasant wisdom, a new-fashioned naturalism in attitudes towards sex which are a return to primitive instincts, and a dying inner religiousness.”
This is no surprise; for Spengler was a Nationalist, albeit a very pessimistic and fatalistic one. The Nationalist always seems to find the people of the countryside preferable to those of the city; and hence it is to be expected that Palin feels the same. She, and the Tea Party, are nationalists through and through, as I have said before.
Parker, on the other hand, is not. Her outlook is rather one of cosmopolitanism, (which is Greek, literally, for “Universal City”) the opposite of Nationalism. And thus Palin’s words hold no meaning for her. Nationalists and Cosmopolitans cannot understand one another even when they speak the same language.
I must seem like a regular “Buchanan Brigade” member, as this is my third post about him in eight days. Nevertheless, his new article about the Tea Party is very interesting, and serves as an effective complement to John Nolte’s attempt to explain the Tea Party that I discussed the other day.
I think Buchanan has sort of articulated what Nolte left unsaid in his article that made it seem a tad vague to me. Like much of Buchanan’s work, it’s all very Spenglerian. Perhaps the Tea Party movement is animated by issues other than just obvious economic ones. After all, rarely do people get so stirred up over economic issues. (They don’t call it “the dismal science” for nothing.)
Then again, like I’ve said repeatedly, it could be Ricardian Equivalence at work.
He says: “In the technical sense, in the economic definition, he is not a socialist,”
I’m not sure what definition Paul is using here; but I think Socialism is so broad it’s hard to say for sure that Obama isn’t one. Obama may secretly wish to have the State take ownership of all the factors of production but he hasn’t done it yet, though, so we can’t call him a Socialist on that basis. That said, I’m pretty sure Obama does believe that the income which accrues to private firms and individuals must sometimes be redistributed in the interest of the “greater good” or, more technically, to “maximize social welfare.”
Obama is probably a market socialist of some sort. This is not a terribly unusual position for a U.S. politician; in fact, Paul is probably one of the few politicians who doesn’t fall into this category. Of course, none of them would ever dare describe themselves as such–generally, when they’re advancing Socialist/redistributionist ideas, politicians tend to use the language of the Bible. (Hence Obama’s frequent use of the phrase: “I am my brother’s keeper.”)
One huge mistake people make is to act like Obama is the first guy in U.S. history to ever advocate redistributing wealth for what he thinks is “the greater good”. He’s not close to it. Theodore Roosevelt was a progressive corporate regulator type. FDR implemented Social Security. Lyndon Johnson had his Socialist “Great Society”, a term which ought to give any individualist a fright.
Republicans cheerfully point this stuff out to show how the Democratic Party is all secretly a bunch of Socialists. But here’s a little something they might want to think on: What’s more radical than market Socialism? Non-market Socialism! That’s where the market isn’t even involved in determining prices. Who imposed price
controls in the United States? Republican President Richard M. Nixon.
Back to Ron Paul for a minute: He says: “[Obama’s] a corporatist,” and “[He takes] care of corporations and corporations take over and run the country.”
When Republicans redistribute the wealth for the “Greater Good”, it generally involves giving it to either corporations or particular kinds of Churches, rather than other entities–individuals, non-profits, etc. They are particularly fond of paying money to corporations that make weapons, or, in one infamous instance, secret mercenary corporations.
Some may debate whether this practice is technically Socialism or technically Fascism. In my view, Fascism is nothing more than a particularly militaristic brand of Socialism, so it makes little difference. The point is that both sides are redistributing wealth in order to serve society as a whole.
I’ve quoted him before, and I’ll quote him here:
“If we allow that Socialism (in the ethical, not the economic, sense) is that world-feeling which seeks to carry out its own views on behalf of all, then we are all without exception, willingly or no, wittingly or no, Socialists…. All world-improvers are Socialists.”–Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West.
To which I would add only that if you already have a Socialist “ethic”, and you become a powerful politician who can influence aspects of the economy, it is virtually impossible not to become an “economic” Socialist as well.
What bothers me about the quote from Paul is that he’s poking around the edges of a very deep insight into the truth of how the American political parties really act, whatever they may claim they believe. But he has somehow gotten things completely backwards.