The National Socialists as Conservative Revolutionaries

by John Holbo on May 9, 2015

This will be the final installment in my ‘were the Nazis right-wing and, if so, why were they socialists?’ series (part 1, part 2).

This final post will consist mostly of a long passage from a chapter titled, ‘The Conservative Dilemma’, from Conservative Revolution In The Wiemar Republic, by Roger Woods. But I’ll frame it with a few general thoughts.

Before we get to the passage, the thing you should know is that ‘Conservative Revolution’ is not a tendentious title – some sinister liberal attempt to slap ‘conservative’ onto a bunch of Nazis (who were radicals, not conservatives!) Or if it is semantically tendentious, it isn’t the author’s fault, just because it seems like an flagrant oxymoron. German nationalists, from 1918 on, used the phrase ‘die Konservative Revolution‘. It was the proper, often self-applied name of a literary/intellectual movement.

In 1937 Thomas Mann wrote:

Conservative Revolution. What have stupidity, rebelliousness and malevolence, what has well-read brutality made of this term which was once spoken by intellectuals and artists! (quoted in Woods, p. 113)

Mann, who was earlier associated with the Conservative Revolution, is obviously trying to distance himself from the Nazis. He was part of a general pattern. Spengler was distinctly cool on the Nazis in his 1934 book, The Hour of Decision (but not because he actually said they had done anything wrong. He just wanted to emphasize that the jury was still out on this whole project.) You can check out the long Wikipedia list of German artists and intellectuals at one time associated with the Conservative Revolution (although, of course, if you really poke around in the list, you will find that many of these men – they are almost all men – didn’t really like ‘conservative revolutionary’. But this is par for the course when it comes to names for artistic/intellectual movements. No artist or self-styled independent thinker wants to be part of a herd, let alone an oxymoronic herd.)

The reason why the apparently oxymoronic ‘conservative revolution’ gained real currency was because Weimar was so upside-down. As I said in my first post, a great book title for this subject would be Weimar Culture: The Insider as Outsider – an obvious play on Peter Gay’s title Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider. The conservative establishment suffered huge losses after November, 1918. There was a revolution and suddenly aristocrats, the churches, academics, the military, businessmen – everyone who might call themselves ‘conservative’ – felt they had ‘lost’ their country to the social democrats and socialists who, in some cases, walked right out of prison into parliamentary politics. Not to mention everyone started listening to jazz and the young ladies were wearing shocking clothing and they sold all sorts of fancy new coffees – and on and on. It was the end of Western Civilization. Of course, the establishment remained substantially established, despite its truly massive, relative losses.

So you get in a position where there is a kind of two-dimensional struggle: left-right/inside-outside. The Social Democrats were now ‘inside’, the new core of the so-called Weimar coalition that held power through the 20’s. The traditional, Wilhelmine conservative forces were still insiders, by any reasonable calculation. They had tremendous social and institutional leverage everywhere – not to mention most of the money – but they couldn’t compete electorally for a time. Some really strange stuff happened. Some of the most vicious in-fighting was on the left, especially between the social democrats and the communists, starting right in 1918.

From the balcony of the Reichstag building, the SPD leader Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed a German Republic. A couple of hundred meters away, from the balcony of the royal palace, the famed radical socialist and antiwar activist Karl Liebknecht proclaimed a socialist republic. Ebert [a social democrat who didn’t like the suddenness of it all] was furious. He discounted Liebknecht, recently released from the kaiser’s jails, as a wild radical who might just as well have languished longer in prison. But Scheidemann was his close colleague, and no recognized body, no government, not even a political party, had authorized the proclamation of a republic. There had not even been a discussion. (Eric D. Weitz, Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy, p. 19)

The Social Democrats where forever fighting with the communists, after that. So, on the one hand, the SD’s were solidifying a grand coalition with more centrist parties, proclaiming women’s rights, a free press, freedom of religion, an expanded welfare state; on the other hand, they were forced to use the proto-Nazi Freikorps to put down the Spartacist League, leading to the murders of Leibknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Forced because they literally had no police/military alternative. Right-wing paramilitaries were the only available muscle. The SD’s had to work with the powers-that-still-were. Obviously the correct conclusion to draw is not that the SD’s were really right-wingers themselves – or that the Freikorps had left-wing sympathies. Each group tried to use the other. The SD’s wanted to save the Weimar Republic, by any means necessary. The Freikorps wanted to murder communists and gain the sort of legitimacy that might allow them, eventually, to overthrow the Republic – to whose existence they were not reconciled.

On the inside-outside right, things were just as weird. Strange bedfellows. Right-wingers all agreed that the Weimar Republic had to go, but they didn’t agree about much else. They didn’t think they could restore what came before and didn’t know what should come next. But they knew it had to be the opposite of the left. Hence ‘conservative revolution’.

The November Upheaval confronted it [Nationalism] with new, vital issues. Changed in its essence, forms and goals, it emerged from the collapse of the Wilhelmine State, no longer bound by the throne and inhibited by it, and consequently freer in itself, more aggressive, more dangerous than ever before. It had gone through such a transformation that it can no longer be compared with what people called nationalist before 1918, before 1914. – Friedrich Georg Jünger [quoted by Woods, p. 1]

‘Socialism’, in an as-yet undiscovered but most definitely nationalistic sense, became one of several placeholder terms for the necessarily new thing one hoped to be able to feel conservative about, eventually. It needed to be both new and also, somehow, a hearkening back to very old – primordial – sources of German-ness.

Now, let’s get to the promised, long passage from Woods. What happens to the left-right/inside-outside four-square pattern when you throw socialism in the mix – and make it up for grabs? What would have happened, for example, if Nazis and communists actually debated the possibility of forming an alliance, around ‘socialism’? A kind of double-outside alliance against the insiders on both left (the SD’s) and right (old guard of Wilhelmine establishment)?

If one branch of the Conservative Revolution was intent on redefining socialism but regularly lapsed into a tradition of right-wing thinking, another branch seemed intent on dragging the right closer to traditional socialism. The main groups involved in this enterprise were Ernst Niekisch’s Widerstand circle and Karl Paetel’s Group of Social Revolutionary Nationalists, which in turn had links with the group within the Nazi Party around the Strasser brothers.

These groups generally favoured an alliance between the Soviet Union and German against the capitalist West. Whereas the ‘German socialists’ we have looked at so far were unable to state by what method they would achieve the all-embracing social and economic community which they saw as the ultimate goal, Karl Paetel calls upon young nationalists to take a stand with the proletariat. He asks nationalists to say exactly what they will do when the proletarian revolution breaks out, for this will be the day of reckoning for the revolutionary nationalist movement. The ‘National Bolshevik’ Ernst Niekisch also comes down in favour of a clear decision when he looks back on the period and writes that the question arose around 1929 of which front to join – the bolshevist or the fascist. This kind of thinking emerged in particular after the May 1929 elections to the Reichstag in which the anti-Weimar parties of the right saw their share of the vote decline and that of the SPD and KPD increase. Whereas this result prompted some radical nationalist groups to end any experiments with parliamentary involvement, others concluded that if the right was to gain working-class support, ‘more militancy on social and labour issues’ was needed. Movement from the left was also apparent when the KPD embraced elements of nationalist thinking in an attempt to improve its election performance. Individual communists argued that cooperation with the National Socialists was clearly out of the question, but a united front of all genuine revolutionaries was both possible and necessary. ‘Genuine revolutionaries’ were those who affirmed the revolutionary class struggle and the socialization of the means of production. The Bund der Kummunisten stated that the possibility of collaboration had existed since 1918, and that concepts of right and left were part of the declining world of democratic parliamentarianism.

Yet even with their ready commitment to class struggle, these groups were unable to break free from traditional nationalist thinking, as was confirmed in a debate initiated by Die socialistische Nation in January 1931. Were there, the editors asked, any opportunities for collaboration between the emerging anti-capitalist, revolutionary forces on the far right and the groups of the revolutionary proletariat?

Kurt Hiller, for the ‘revolutionary pacifists’, replied that he rejected any joint revolutionary activity because the ideologies of the socialists and the nationalists were too far apart. Hiller contrasts in particular the humanitarianism of the socialists revolution with the racial hatred and striving for racial supremacy among the nationalists. The socialists sought to establish a classless society in which war has no place, whereas the nationalists regarded war as an eternal, natural phenomenon. Even if one takes the narrowly economic view of the two ideologies, says Hiller, the national revolutionaries and the Marxist-Leninists are a long way apart. The two groups are only united in what they do not want. If the anti-capitalist, revolutionary forces on the far right were to abandon their love of war, their anti-Semitism and their cultural conservatism, the time would be right for the left to join them. But then, adds Hiller, they would no longer be the forces of the far right.

Graf Reventlow (NSDAP) deepens the divide when he argues that the revolutionary proletariat adheres to the Marxist doctrine of putting an end to the private ownership of the means of production, and he cannot find this just. Indeed, no political collaboration is possible with revolutionary proletarian groups which take up this position. The class struggle is a crime against the idea of the Volk, and true socialism is to be found in the national community (Volksgenossenschaft). German socialism, he concludes, has no time for Marxism or Jews.

The ‘national revolutionary’, Karl Paetel, now gives his reaction to these and other answers on behalf of hte journal. He sees the only possible basis for cooperation as the socialisation of the means of production and commitment to the class struggle. If this position is adhered to and nationalists come out in favour of a social revolution, all ‘pseudo-socialists’ will fall by the wayside. Paetel agrees that the basis for cooperation is the KPD’s Declaration on the National and Social Liberation of the German Nation, and he urges the nationalists to align themselves with the KPD. No socialist can join with Goebbels or Hilferding. In the NSDAP, argues Paetel, Reventlow is about the last socialists. That Paetel can see Reventlow in this way shows how flexible the concept of socialism has become, even in the minds of those Conservative Revolutionaries who were eager to cooperate with the communists. There is a clear tendency for the stance of those Conservative Revolutionaries to blend with that of figures such as Oswald Spengler, Moeller van den Bruck, Ernst Jünger and Franz Schauwecker, who were intent on redefining socialism in opposition to its established meaning. (70-1)

Weird, huh?

Now, just a few final thoughts. Why do I keep quoting such long passages? First, because I really do feel the need to prove that I’m not just making it all up, which I know many conservative readers will tend to assume (because Jonah Goldberg has taught them that Hitler was ‘a man of the left’.) Second, per my first post, it’s crucial that the ultimate, insurmountable reason why the Nazis have to be regarded as right-wing is that there is no damn way to write Weimar history any other way. You can’t capture the positional quality of the partisan jostling and ideological entrepreneurialism of it all without the language of right-left. Which is terribly ironic, since lots of people want to know whether the Nazis were right-wing, but few of them care about all that Weimar partisan inside-baseball.

Graf Revent-who?

Fascism is ideologically untouchable today. A term of abuse, rather than partisan classification. A self-evident drop of pure, political evil. That is what it means to call someone fascist: evil. The Nazis were right-wing fascists, so that means conservatives are tainted with evil, with the Holocaust (in the same way that liberals are associated with the gulag, since liberals are on the left, and Stalin was on the left.) But, ironically, the real reason the Nazis have to be right-wing is that, originally, fascism was ideologically entrepreneurial, the opposite of any pure drop of anything. Everyone is calculating the advantages and disadvantages of alliances with respect to a perceived left-right line, so you have to keep that line in sight, even though everyone is crossing it, potentially. But then, of course, the crowning irony is that the Holy Grail of such entrepreneurial efforts will be to transcend left-right entirely. That’s where ‘third Reich’ comes from – the desire to leave left-right behind.

The Third Reich which we feel destined to serve lies beyond whatever concepts we have today of right and left, because it lies beyond parliamentarianism and beyond the Versailles State which has been bestowed upon us. We are not looking for anything from this Republic, neither a majority nor a synthesis … We are neither imperial nor republican citizens, we are revolutionaries. (quoted by Woods (p. 60) from an editorial statement from a ‘revolutionary conservative’ journal, Die Standarte)

‘National Socialism’ is supposed to be the ‘third way’ – this Third Reich – beyond left and right. But, of course, this doesn’t undermine the plain fact that the Nazis were right-wing. It’s a third way made on the right, which dreams of a national unity which would be, somehow ‘conservative’ – i.e. the left would be gone. Socialists would be gone and the very left-wing sense of ‘socialism’ would be erased. That’s an ultimately right-wing dream, not a dream of something beyond right-left (and it certainly isn’t a left-wing dream.)

{ 458 comments }

1

PlutoniumKun 05.09.15 at 8:16 am

Just to pull the issue away from the Nazis, I think its perfectly possible for movements such as this to hold seemingly contradictory notions. Take the example of the Khymer Rouge. There were ostensibly maoist ‘reds’ in terms of original origin and idealism. But in practice, their movement had a nastily ethnic nationalism which was unquestionably racist. There were two ways to get the wrong side of the KR:

1. Be ‘bourgeois’, by having had a white collar job or even just wearing glasses.
2. Be pale skinned, indicating Chinese or Vietnamese ethnicity (these two being perceived very much as the ‘other’ in comparison to the dark skinned ethnic Khymers). In many ways, the small Chinese/Vietnamese ethnic groups have many parallels in Cambodia (and other Asian countries) with Jewish minorities.

There was certainly an ideological shift, from initially very much on the maoist side, to later becoming overtly fascistic, even to the extent of stupidly picking a fight with the Vietnamese. I suppose you could call the KR 75% left and 25% right.

2

William Timberman 05.09.15 at 3:53 pm

There’s a hilarious scene in Caterina va in città in which the self-elected populist firebrand of a classroom full of 13 year-old bourgeois kids parodies their stodgy left-wing teacher, and their parlor-communist parents. He claims that it’s their social climbing, and their creaky Marxist clichés which represent the new reaction, and that it’s the skinhead generation who are the true radicals. The kid was too young to have heard the thugs of his grandfather’s generation singing Giovinezza, so I suppose you might look at his outburst as a comic take on the return of the repressed.

Anyway, there’s a lot of this sort of ideological inversion going on at the moment — makes you wonder if it isn’t far more common than cognitive categories established-after-the-fact usually take into account. And as it does seem to keep coming around again and again, I’m tempted to look at it as the very stuff of living in interesting times.

3

Luke 05.09.15 at 6:30 pm

Interesting, though I think your account of the conflict within the left is a bit off. The battles go back at least as far as the Great War. Many of the communists (e.g. Liebknecht and Luxemburg) were ex-SPD members who’d been expelled during the war, when the party destroyed it’s own left-wing, anti-war faction root and branch while cooperating with the Wilhelmine security apparatus to contain strikes and shut down opposition presses.

I think this casts the relationship between the SPD, Freikorps et al. and the establishment in a slightly different light. The SPD — or its right-wing rump — was *already* ‘inside’ the Wilhelmine state before 1918, in the sense that it was effectively an extension of the state. If ‘socialism’ became up for grabs, this might be related the the SPDs own increasingly vague ideological commitments.

Also, I’d say that the ‘third way’ is a classic right-wing trope. Plato reproaches democracy in very much the terms Nazis and fascists reproach socialism — rule by the poor is just as bad as rule by the rich; why can’t we all just get along under a philosopher king who knows what’s best?

4

cassander 05.10.15 at 12:44 am

Some historical perspective is in order. Nationalism today generally considered a right wing impulse. From the perspective of 1930 though, to say nothing of 1910, this was much less clear. After all, nationalism spent the 19th century as a force on the left. In general, nationalists pushed for national unification of germany and Italy and the abolition of feudal prerogatives in favor of national systems in all countries. In general, they were opposed by aristocrats interested in preserving their traditional rights. Nationalists were often republican, but many found convenient allies in monarchs that wished to establish national systems of law, trade, education, etc. that were under their control not that of the provincial nobles.

Nationalism only starts to become a right wing movement in the interwar period, as what remains of the aristocratic classes abandon monarchism for it in the face of their failure and the success international socialist and communist movements. Essentially, if we accept a basic left right axis that looks like Communist -> Socialist -> Nationalist -> Monarchist/Aristocratic, the european overton window in 1910 looked something like this: Communist -> Socia|list -> Nationalist -> Monarchist/Aristocratic|, where by 1930, it looked more like this Commu|nist -> Socialist -> Nationalist -> Mon|archist/Aristocratic, and in 1950 like this: |Communist -> Socialist -> Nation|alist -> Monarchist/Aristocratic.

This is why we have such trouble defining fascism. If you advocated national socialism in 1910, you looked like a left wing revolutionary. By 1950, you were on the right. But in 1930, when all of this was still unfolding, the picture was a lot less clear.

5

eddie 05.10.15 at 1:02 am

It’s my understanding that the term third Reich refers to an empire (that will last a thousand years), with the First Reich being roman empire and the Second being that of Frederick Barbarossa.

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John Holbo 05.10.15 at 1:35 am

“It’s my understanding that the term third Reich refers to an empire (that will last a thousand years), with the First Reich being roman empire and the Second being that of Frederick Barbarossa.”

That, too.

7

John Holbo 05.10.15 at 1:39 am

“Also, I’d say that the ‘third way’ is a classic right-wing trope.”

It’s also a classic left-wing trope. I’m sure there won’t be any left-right parliamentary politics in Marx’s communist utopia. Communism transcends all that. But I think it’s safe to say it, itself, is still left-wing.

Good point about how the Social Democrat/Communist struggles didn’t just start after the war.

8

John Holbo 05.10.15 at 1:44 am

I agree with Cassander that it’s a bit hard to say when nationalism went from being a generally left-wing force to a generally right-wing force. And that it has to do with moving from the period in which nationalism is about unifying formerly feudal territories into the period in which it is about resisting any sort of internationalism. But I’m not sure this is the central puzzle here. Just one of many. And, for the record, I wasn’t defining fascism.

I think by 1930, if not by 1910, nationalism was a definite marker of right-wing politics.

9

john c. halasz 05.10.15 at 1:57 am

5 & 6:

Whaa? The first Reich was the Holy Roman Empire, the second the Bismarckian/Wilhelminian concoction and thus the 3rd one was Hitler’s raving psychotic Nazi fantasy. The Roman Empire set the template, but it was Latinate, rather than Teutonic.

10

John Holbo 05.10.15 at 2:07 am

Oh sorry john c halasz is right. Commenting before drinking coffee is dangerous. I was just hastily admitting that Third Reich wasn’t literally some word play on ‘third way’ politics. Hitler wasn’t dogging Tony Blair or Bill Clinton or any of t hat.

11

John Holbo 05.10.15 at 2:11 am

Encyclopedia Brit.: “Third Reich, official Nazi designation for the regime in Germany from January 1933 to May 1945, as the presumed successor of the medieval and early modern Holy Roman Empire of 800 to 1806 (the First Reich) and the German Empire from 1871 to 1918 (the Second Reich).”

But I still like Barbarossa, too, because I love “Little, Big”, so if it wouldn’t have been double-counting to distinguish him from the Holy Roman Empire, that would be fine, too.

12

Luke 05.10.15 at 2:52 am

“It’s also a classic left-wing trope. I’m sure there won’t be any left-right parliamentary politics in Marx’s communist utopia. Communism transcends all that. But I think it’s safe to say it, itself, is still left-wing.”

True, but only after class distinctions have been erased. Marx’s communist world is one in which class conflict is resolved decisively in favour of the working class. The Nazis offered a Volksgemeinschaft in which class conflict was to be resolved by compromise and obedience — and did so in alliance with the establishment. Similar story with Mussolini, I believe.

13

john c. halasz 05.10.15 at 3:32 am

“But I still like Barbarossa, too, because I love “Little, Big”, so if it wouldn’t have been double-counting to distinguish him from the Holy Roman Empire, that would be fine, too.”

Whaa? I have no idea what this might mean. It was his predecessor, Heinrich 4 who was excommunicated and crawled on his knees to Canossa. Friedrich 1, “Red Beard”, was more successful in Medieval terms. And thus the Medieval legend developed that he would arise again, behind some mountains, to restore the German nation. Which fantasy of resurrection of the nation Nazi ideology played upon. But “Operation Barbarossa” refers to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, during which as many as 1/3 of the 5.7/5.8 murder Jews were dispatched by the Nazis and their collaborators, before the Wannsee conference, which was likely a bureaucratic response to the failure of the Soviet invasion. I fail to see what is to be liked in that beard.

14

John Holbo 05.10.15 at 3:33 am

“True, but only after class distinctions have been erased.”

Yes, but what we would say in the Nazi case is: after class conflicts have been erased through collective national etc. etc.. The point is: evidence that you want to transcend left-right distinctions, ultimately, isn’t evidence that you can’t be pegged, right now, as right or left.

15

John Holbo 05.10.15 at 3:38 am

“Whaa? I have no idea what this might mean.”

I just mean that Barbarossa was Holy Roman Emperor, so counting the Holy Roman Empire as one ‘Reich’ and the thing run by one particular Holy Roman Emperor as as second ‘Reich’ would be double-counting. As you pointed out.

I’m not sure how “Operation Barbarossa” comes into it. But if John Crowley ever writes a novel about how fairies start a major land war in Russia, on the theory that it’s (I dunno) smaller on the inside than it is on the outside? … well, I guess that might be interesting.

16

john c. halasz 05.10.15 at 5:30 am

@15:

Umm… it comes in because it was an actual piece of Nazi ideology, ( a grotesque hodge-podge as it was), involving the mythic-archaic resurrection of the German nation and thus the adoption of the name for the Soviet invasion. Since yesterday was VE day and the Russian celebration was disgracefully boycotted by the neo-cons, (since it was the Red Army wot done it, with 80% of German causalities occurring on the Eastern Front) , I don’t think this exercise in the erasure of historical memory is particularly useful. Obviously, political-ideological categories and cognitions, let alone actual states-of-affairs, are historically variable.But that doesn’t excuse such erasures of historical memory, or at least, accurate scholarship. Nor most-modern “playfulness” and the evacuation of meaning from words.

I think I’ve said this here before: why are you, John Holbo, engaging in actual straw-man arguments? By which I don’t mean that you are making such arguments, but rather that you are engaging and arguing with actual straw-men, “hollow men, head pieces filled with straw”, such as J. Goldberg, as if they would have any credibility or historical knowledge or intellectual acumen. Because this series just belabors the obvious about the thoroughly reactionary character of fascism/Nazism, (though such terms shouldn’t be identified with every version of right or left authoritarianism), which is well-worn in any serious scholarly understanding of the matter. What do you think has changed since, that we would revise such judgments? And what do you think can be gained from arguing with such obviously faulty opponents? Is it because you want to vindicate your (neo?)liberal “reflective equilibrium” and immunize yourself against the possible or actual horrors of this world?

17

John Holbo 05.10.15 at 5:55 am

“I don’t think this exercise in the erasure of historical memory is particularly useful.”

Sorry, are you bothered by the fact that I brought in fairies? Just for the record: to my knowledge, no fairies were actually employed by either side, on the Eastern Front. We here at CT apologize for any sincere confusion caused.

“Because this series just belabors the obvious about the thoroughly reactionary character of fascism/Nazism, (though such terms shouldn’t be identified with every version of right or left authoritarianism), which is well-worn in any serious scholarly understanding of the matter.”

On the off-chance that there are a few intellectually honest souls out there on the internet, I just thought I would mention some things that are well-known to scholars – while packing in some things only known to specialists. Not everyone knows this stuff, after all. If you google ‘were the nazis right-wing’ and cognate searches you get a lot of Goldberg-y garbage. You may regard it as charmingly old-fashioned to try to elevate the discourse, but … well, you never know, man.

“Is it because you want to vindicate your (neo?)liberal “reflective equilibrium” and immunize yourself against the possible or actual horrors of this world?”

Aw, you are cute when you try to be sly, john!

18

Magpie 05.10.15 at 8:46 am

By 1918 the Oberste Heeresleitung (OHL) — the General Staff of the Imperial German Army — was all but in the hands of General Ludendorff.

Realising that Germany had lost the war (there were mutinies in the Imperial Navy base in Wilhelmshaven, and among frontline troops, plus mass surrender of German army units) Ludendorff did not want to be the one to sue for peace with the Allies. Incapable of convincing the Kaiser, the solution Ludendorff found was to promote a civilian government to replace the Kaiser and to sue for peace.

That’s where Friedrich Ebert and the SPD (plus other parties) enters the stage. Unlike the pacifists Luxemburg and Liebnecht, Ebert and the SPD had remained in Parliament, as reward for their support for the war. They were a good possibility.

When the Army approached them, Ebert accepted their offer.

Ludendorff (and the Kaiser himself) left the country and contributed greatly to create the Stab-in-the-Back Legend which would come back to haunt not only Jews and Communists, but also Social Democrats (and even some conservative politicians who joined the peace negotiations). So, what Liebnecht and Scheidemann did was just to proclaim what was a fait accompli: the monarchy was dead.

I suppose Ebert saw himself as the German Kerensky. But, given Kerensky’s precedent, Ebert was afraid things would get out of hand (after the February Revolution, Kerensky had to confront the October Revolution). So Ebert sent Gustav Noske to pre-emptively suppress not only the communists (who just a few years back had been his friends or at least fellow party members), but also the more radical social democrats. And that Noske did, with gusto too, with the help of the Freikorps.

Was Ebert trying to save the Weimar Republic, or just HIS Weimar Republic?

Perhaps Ebert thought he was gaining some degree of credibility, some leverage, with his new masters. If that was the case, he was in for a disappointment: those people tend to have little in the way of gratitude.

Today the German SPD named a foundation in memory of their hero, the Social Democrat traitor and murderer.

19

stevenjohnson 05.10.15 at 1:47 pm

Perhaps it’s not so difficult to distinguish right wing nationalism from any leftish version? Nationalism becomes right wing when it crosses its own frontier to conquer other nations. Domestically, right wing nationalism doesn’t include all the people in the nation, selecting some as alien in some sense.

The phrase “conservative revolutionary” is not even an oxymoron. The only possible way to interpret it as such is to redefine “conservative” as meaning solely cautious, prudent. The implication that “conservative” is some sort of weird tradionalist committed to perfect stasis for its own sake is absurd. No traditionalists have ever been like that, if only because they never really agree on what the tradition is. Traditionalists always find ways to rationalize advantageous changes. (The only exception I can think of are religious traditionalists, but in those cases the traditional formulas are magic spells that lose their efficacy if performed improperly.)

Again, it is not possible to define any politics in terms of moral virtues or ideals. The closest you can get is a vague notion of goals. In the case of “conservative revolutionary,” the goal is to return to an idealized past by using extra-legal, extra-constitutional means to by pass (or if needed, overthrow) the existing powers that are taking the nation away from what it was. I think in practice the vague goals are not very helpful. Cui bono? is much more helpful.

20

Mitchell Freedman 05.10.15 at 3:11 pm

It is also interesting to read Victor Serge’s dispatches when he was in Germany in the early 1920s. He makes clear the fight between the Socialists inside the German government and the Communists of which he was then a member (after having been much more associated before the 1917 Russian Revolution with the Anarchists). Serge’s dispatches reveal the manner in which the Socialists were part of a bourgeois business oriented coalition. Yes, there is a propaganda purpose behind his dispatches for the Red newspaper for which he was writing, but it is classic Serge in many ways and as usual enlightening.

21

eddie 05.10.15 at 6:45 pm

So rome was the zeroth reich, then?

22

Apocryphon 05.10.15 at 7:32 pm

How do other German far-right groups at the time compare? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_National_People%27s_Party

23

cassander 05.10.15 at 8:17 pm

@stevenjohnson

>Nationalism becomes right wing when it crosses its own frontier to conquer other nations. Domestically, right wing nationalism doesn’t include all the people in the nation, selecting some as alien in some sense

So left wing nationalism is peaceful and inclusive but right wing national is evil and aggressive? Is that really your level of analysis? Because it is demonstrably the case that left wing nationalists crossed borders to unify their countries, and nationalism, by definition, defines some group as “the nation” and others as “not the nation”.

There is no separate right or left wing nationalism. Nationalism, or any other movement, is only left or right wing in the context of its environment. In a feudal world, where people of individual nations are part of a defined hierarchy, nationalism is leveling (all people of the nation are the same), and therefore generally left wing. And in a world where communists are promising a world revolution that will abolish nations, it’s on the side of preserving existing hierarchies, and so on the right. But the basic ideology is the same regardless.

24

David 05.10.15 at 8:51 pm

I’d be surprised if there is any significant party in history that hasn’t had a political platform that was ultimately incoherent, and promised different things to different people. In the febrile free-for-all of the Weimar years, this would have been especially true: the many political parties of the era changed names, ideologies, alliances and everything else, all the time. (Even the SPD and the KPD were not always consistent).
I think that, if you take the 1932 elections as a guide, it would be true to say that a majority of Germans opposed the continuation of the Weimar Republic: the battle was really over what kind of system would replace it, and how violent that process would be. It was, after all, a regime which had arrived with bewildering speed, and which implied a total change in society and politics. Its origins coincided with a disastrous defeat and it effectively ended with a disastrous economic collapse. The 50% of the 1932 electorate that voted for the Nazis or the KPD supported parties calling for revolutionary action to overthrow the regime. Several of the traditional right-wing parties would have at least happily connived at a military coup. In that sense, most German political parties at the time can be said to have been “revolutionary”.
A “conservative revolutionary” party is, indeed, not necessarily an oxymoron. Right-wingers of all persuasions felt it was necessary to support and strengthen (“conserve”) things like the family, the Army and the Church, which they saw as the foundations of the country, and to be under threat. Most of them believed that some kind of violent political change (“revolution”) would be necessary to stop and reverse the process of disintegration they saw taking place.
The Nazis were prepared to work with the Army, at least in the short term, and they largely left the Church as an institution alone. They strongly supported the family because of the need to breed lots of soldiers. Conserving German strength, unity and racial purity required revolutionary means. It also required the end of divisive party politics (and Weimar politics were pretty divisive), and a new political system with a visionary leader who could overcome differences of left and right in creating an organic national community. Or something like that, anyway. Obviously the “third way” is a tired modern political trope, but I think the Nazis actually meant it – they saw the creation of a national community as transcending all divisions and making them irrelevant. But you can get lost forever in these distinctions, which is why, perhaps, it’s simplest to say that, at the time, the Nazis were universally considered a right-wing political party, and just leave it at that.

25

William Berry 05.10.15 at 9:03 pm

Well, isn’t there a “conservative revolution” underway in the U.S.* at this very moment (and one that has been more-or-less ongoing since 1980, or thereabouts)?

I really hope that it will ultimately fail, but it hasn’t yet. And, like a fire-eating monster, it seems to draw strength from every attack against it.

Maybe if we ignore it it will just go away?

*Well, maybe throughout the Western[ized] World?

26

Sebastian H 05.10.15 at 10:20 pm

Ack, this whole thing has a humpty-dumpty feel to it, because for some completely unknown reason we are trying to absolutely smash every possible political impulse into a single right-left dimension which barely had coherence in hundreds-of-years-ago France, definitely doesn’t mean the same thing in nation-to-nation comparisons, and doesn’t have nearly as many clear markers over time as people seem to think. The discussion is further confused by the fact that people clearly allow huge amounts of slippage in the terms without giving any hint about which terms are meant at which times and for which reasons.

So we get things like: “

I agree with Cassander that it’s a bit hard to say when nationalism went from being a generally left-wing force to a generally right-wing force. And that it has to do with moving from the period in which nationalism is about unifying formerly feudal territories into the period in which it is about resisting any sort of internationalism. But I’m not sure this is the central puzzle here. Just one of many. And, for the record, I wasn’t defining fascism.

I think by 1930, if not by 1910, nationalism was a definite marker of right-wing politics.”

I’m not really picking on it because it is wrong (though it clearly is wrong, USSR in the 1940s and 1950s and 1960s, Vietnam, North Korea at the time of the Korean War, China–to echo what you say at the end of the main post, just because you preached international revolution abroad doesn’t mean you didn’t employ enormous doses of nationalism to scare people/motivate people at home) I want to point out that it strongly suggests that the right/left distinction just isn’t that useful. If you want to get at what animated the Nazis, NATIONALISM would be a great place to look. In fact it might be 5-10x more useful to look at than the allegedly super-important right-left distinction. Nationalism is what allowed the Nazis to effectively deploy huge amounts of their ‘othering’ propaganda. Nationalism is what let them talk about the humiliations of the Weimar government.

I know we like things simple, but honestly there are more than two things in the world of politics. (And yes I’ve seen the study which allegedly puts all of the US political spectrum on a right-left axis. But it does so by defining things Republicans vote for as right wing and things Democrats vote for as left wing. There are all sorts of things for which that method of sorting has no obvious right-left reason behind it. Abortion, climate change, environmentalism, and religion being the most obvious that leap to mind).

27

Joseph McCarthy 05.10.15 at 10:53 pm

Hiller contrasts in particular the humanitarianism of the socialists revolution with the racial hatred and striving for racial supremacy among the nationalists. The socialists sought to establish a classless society in which war has no place, whereas the nationalists regarded war as an eternal, natural phenomenon.

What a piece of nonsense. Remember the socialist “permament revolution”, which is just a newspeak for eternal war against dissent and internal enemy. Then substitute “race” with “class” and the hatred-supremacy part can equally fit the socialist description.

Furthermore, author argues that national socialists must be right-wing because they allied with conservatives and the history “can’t be written otherwise”. As I stated in my post here http://bit.ly/1cn4UkJ taking alliances into account is just another form of “association by statement” fallacy, which was author’s topic on the linked blog. “International” socialists also took many over-the-line alliances, and all (communist) parties allied with others if they found it convenient for power seizure: for example the alliance of Chinese communists and nationalists and Yugoslav Liberation Front. Internally, socialists also tried to frame their ideology to appeal to middle social classes, not just proletariat.

The actual actions of the national socialists are where their left-wing traits are uncovered and that is selling utopia to masses as means to gain power and totalitarianism (politicization of society) together with state control. There we came to a discussion about origins of culture after which comments section was kindly closed. I post my reply to post http://bit.ly/1PAssPX here:

“The examples of culture: childrearing, education, leisure, family and social relations, art etc. are by itself not politicized unless you say that every human action is a political action”

Well, yes. There are reasons conservatives tend to be very concerned that all these things be done the right way, by their lights.

I thought that I encountered a professor of sociology who tries to explain his stances using logic and facts and not some crypto-leftist echo-chamber member which responds with paroles after two posts of non-conforming arguments. That’s not that much fascinating though, because as I said before, the whole eternity-long blog is based on exposing a fallacy and then commiting the same one simultaneously. So obviously, for the Left, every activity of homo sapiens is politics and thus “politicization” of culture, which I brought up does not exist. I am now all ears to hear the political categorization of matriarchal prehistoric societies and more importantly, the unfolding of mysterious political power which forced these cultures to abandom their ways and establish patriarchy. Just as an example of coherence of your theory.

“Secondly, you ignored my argument about utopian advertising as a means to mobilize masses and seizure of power.”

Well, conservatism is also very Utopian in its way. It has its high ideals. It has its lost Golden Ages and its good old days. I realize it is a stock talking point that conservatives know not to try to blueprint Utopia, but I don’t really it’s true. Conservatives are just as likely to live with their heads in some cloud as anyone else.

Still the same generalization: if the something is A, then everything else is also some form of A. This is essentially a straw-man. Having ideals, nostalgia and “heads in clouds” is not advertising utopia such as inciting belief in masses that they are superior just because they are something (Aryan, proletariat) regardless of their actual merit and that just by following the ideology an unrealistic paradise will appear: world domination of Aryans, (world domination of) equality.

“Last, although Hitler was not so rigorous in marxist economics as communists, his state control of the economy”

State control of the economy – total mobilization of the whole state, really reaches a new level with W.W. I. Most of the governments that got in early with that project actually had rather ‘conservative’ governments – Britain, France, Germany, pre-Revolutionary Russia. I don’t think it would make sense to argue that, therefore, totalitarianism is an especially conservative value. Do you? Why then, should your argument be good either?

It was a mobilization of industry for war effort, not “total mobilization of whole state”. I doubt you will find examples of WW1-time states organizing people’s free time (Kraft durch Freude), reproduction (Lebensborn) and organizing mass rallies, which goes along with politicization of culture as stated above.

28

John Holbo 05.10.15 at 11:20 pm

“Ack, this whole thing has a humpty-dumpty feel to it”

Welcome to the study of history, Sebastian.

“I know we like things simple, but honestly there are more than two things in the world of politics.”

I think, in your urge to impose an artificially simple frame on my series of posts, you’ve missed the point – which is not so simple, like it or lump it. No one is saying there are just two things and we always just need to figure out which one our one is, at any given moment.

“In fact it might be 5-10x more useful to look at than the allegedly super-important right-left distinction.”

Again, you’ve missed the point. No one is saying the right-left distinction is the secret key to all insight (well, I’m not saying it, anyway.) But it is a real thing and it’s worth understanding. Obviously one of my points is that things didn’t fall out in a neat and clean right-left way. But everyone was highly conscious of right-left. That’s one of the reasons you need to be conscious of right-left, in studying such things. We need to know that the Nazis were basically highly right-wing not because that tells us everything, but because it tells us something. And thinking they were basically highly left-wing would tell us a bunch of nonsense.

I quite agree with the point about how all the left-wing communist revolutions all turned out to be nationalist revolutions.

29

John Holbo 05.10.15 at 11:37 pm

Joseph, as my old science teacher used to say – ‘do not speak of love, DO it!’ If you are right and I am wrong, you should be able to write a fine, revisionist history of the Weimar period, based on your insights into how all the things I say are upside down and backwards. So do it, already. Proof is in the pudding.

30

William Berry 05.10.15 at 11:40 pm

I strongly recommend everyone not engaging with someone who is dumb/ malicious enough to call himself Joseph McCarthy.

Unless, of course, that is his real name, in which case I only disagree with him, and apologize for the name thing.

31

Sebastian H 05.11.15 at 12:36 am

“But everyone was highly conscious of right-left. That’s one of the reasons you need to be conscious of right-left, in studying such things. We need to know that the Nazis were basically highly right-wing not because that tells us everything, but because it tells us something. And thinking they were basically highly left-wing would tell us a bunch of nonsense.”

I think the thing that irks me is that saying they were right wing for the time doesn’t say anything about right-wing and left-wing NOW, which is how everyone seems to want to use it.

32

js. 05.11.15 at 12:46 am

Wait, there’s someone on here using ‘Joseph McCarthy’ as a nym non-ironically!? Good times!

33

John Holbo 05.11.15 at 1:00 am

“I think the thing that irks me is that saying they were right wing for the time doesn’t say anything about right-wing and left-wing NOW, which is how everyone seems to want to use it.”

Well, it doesn’t say EVERYTHING, but it says something. There are (mostly cautionary) lessons for today’s conservatives from back then. Conservatives tend to think they have a philosophy that insulates them against the law of unintended consequences. And that preserves them from radicalism. These things aren’t really true, so it’s good to keep that in mind.

Look, the irony – which you are seeing – is this. The real reason we need right-left is because things were complicated, and without right-left we don’t have a prayer of getting any handle on that. The real reason most people want right-left is so they can pretend that everything is simple. Like I said, welcome to the study of history.

34

F. Foundling 05.11.15 at 1:25 am

The left-right axis has been mostly about the extent to which one wants change towards greater equality, away from traditional inequality. That’s what it was about in 1789, when right meant absolutism and inherited hierarchy and left meant liberal constitutionalism. When there appeared people who demanded things like the abolishment of monarchy and universal suffrage, it was natural that they were said to be farther on the left than the earlier constitutionalists. When there appeared people who wanted to abolish not only political but also economic inequality, they were naturally identified as being even farther to the left. State control of the means of production was “leftist” inasmuch as it was supposed to achieve greater equality and thus to be a continuation of liberal political egalitarianism.

The Nazis did not want to abolish traditional inequality and hierarchy. Their ideology was based on the claim of inherent inequality between what they called races of humans, partly corresponding to traditional ethnicities. Their goal was to (re-)impose the natural hierarchy between these races, where in some cases the lowest position in the hierarchy was just death and extinction. Their ideal means for this (and their ideal condition in general) was a society structured like an army, with iron discipline, a clear hierarchy of subordination and worship of the leader. It was the *opposite* of what “the left” had stood for since 1789. In many ways, their ideal was an imaginary pre-modern state, with an absolute monarch, a state religion and a clear hierarchy, everything kept coherent by (a somewhat fabricated) tradition; except this time the whole thing was supposed to be somehow more modern, more efficient and even a bit scientific. When you add the fact that there was a clear continuity with various similar ideological currents (nationalist militarism + traditionalist authoritarianism) that had been influential in the actual Wilhelmine monarchy, it’s not surprising that the Nazis were generally identified as right-wing. It’s a separate issue why various leftist movements, most notoriously Communist ones, have occasionally gone back, in various respects, to hierarchies very similar to the ones the left was originally defined ”against”.

35

cassander 05.11.15 at 1:32 am

@John

> Conservatives tend to think they have a philosophy that insulates them against the law of unintended consequences. And that preserves them from radicalism. These things aren’t really true, so it’s good to keep that in mind.

“Insulates” is not the same as “makes immune to”. It’s hard to imagine that philosophical devotion to the idea that radicalism is inherently bad (or at least dangerous) doesn’t have some effect at limiting tendencies towards radicalism. Hell, even if you assume that conservatism is a purely venal defense of the establishment by those who benefit from it (a position not infrequently attributed to conservatives around here) then you would expect them to be more restrained than their opposition, from habit if nothing else. And the empirical evidence bears this out, as we have discussed before, the red terrors are both more frequent and more violent than white.

@William Berry

>Well, isn’t there a “conservative revolution” underway in the U.S.* at this very moment (and one that has been more-or-less ongoing since 1980,

Well, since 1980, the top 20% of tax payer’s share of income has risen from 45 to 50% while their share of all federal taxation has risen from 55 to 70%. Social Security, medicare, medicaid, food stamps, and unemployment insurance have all been expanded, sometimes multiple times, and new entitlements have been created. Regulation has increased, whether measured by pages in the federal register, the estimated cost of regulatory compliance, or inflation adjusted spending on regulators. Gay marriage has gone from unthinkable to the conventional wisdom. In fact, other than on criminal justice and gun control I can’t think of anything where conservatives have moved the ball in their direction other than the rhetorical. Maybe you get half a point for welfare reform, but it seems churlish to count a reduction one social benefit as a revolution when every other benefit is growing. I’d hardly call then a revolution, more like a slow death occasioned by a spasm every now and then.

36

john c. halasz 05.11.15 at 1:45 am

37

John Holbo 05.11.15 at 1:46 am

It turns out the Nazis were totally pro-drugs, so I recant all the above. They were obviously either libertarians or a bunch of hippies, or both, after all:

http://www.spiegel.de/international/the-nazi-death-machine-hitler-s-drugged-soldiers-a-354606.html

Conservatives would never have done that.

38

cassander 05.11.15 at 2:06 am

@John Holbo

>Conservatives would never have done that.

Soldiers have been given booze before battle for centuries, and both the US and Brits handed out “pep pills” like candy, particularly in the Air Forces, who had to fly very long combat missions.

39

F. Foundling 05.11.15 at 2:08 am

As for the question how relevant the Nazi’s affiliation is for the present-day – well, I personally think it might be good to know that people who fervently and unquestioningly support their troops, are so patriotic as to believe in the exceptionalism of their nation and like to advocate the abandonment of basic principles of the rule of law as conceits of the bleeding hearts just MAY occasionally be up to no good and HAVE sometimes been known to make soap out of people. Just a useful piece of information.

As for the offended free-market right-wing – so sorry. Rich people used to like Hitler and now they like you, and you’re constantly reminded of it by that annoying axis. And you, the greatest lovers of freedom from pesky unions, somehow end up on the same end of the spectrum where the adherents of feudalism used to be in 1789! Of course it’s all a terrible coincidence. But no, we won’t burn the history books.

40

Pat 05.11.15 at 2:16 am

Fantastic series of posts, and John Holbo is to be thanked for some quite painstaking explanation. Since we’re now on the subject, I’ll chime in to recommend Alfred Döblin’s multi-volume November 1918: A German Revolution as a supplementary literary treatment. (My English edition comes in two volumes, A People Betrayed and Karl and Rosa, but I believe the original German came in four parts.) I’m particularly reminded of it by Magpie’s analogy of Ebert to Kerensky, as Döblin’s thesis seems to have wandered between “the German revolution failed because Germany had no Lenin” and “the Revolution never came to Germany because Germany is full of Germans.”

The character of Ebert is fictionalized but seemingly pretty accurate, and the constraints and dilemmas that faced the Weimar governments were convincingly portrayed. (The chapters with Noske and the deaths of Liebknecht and Luxemburg are chilling.)

41

cassander 05.11.15 at 2:22 am

@F. Foundling 05.11.15 at 2:08 am

>As for the question how relevant the Nazi’s affiliation is for the present-day – well, I personally think it might be good to know that people who fervently and unquestioningly support their troops, are so patriotic as to believe in the exceptionalism of their nation and like to advocate the abandonment of basic principles of the rule of law as conceits of the bleeding hearts just MAY occasionally be up to no good and HAVE sometimes been known to make soap out of people. Just a useful piece of information

You mean like these guys?. Yeah, I’m pretty sure they were dangerous SOBs. But hey, if you know of some political movement that doesn’t lionize warriors for the cause, I’m all ears.

>Of course it’s all a terrible coincidence. But no, we won’t burn the history books.

And you’re on the end of the spectrum that spent decades supporting Stalin. And then Mao. And then Castro. And then Ho. And until 18 months ago, Hugo Chavez. I believe your traditional excuse has been “bad luck.”

42

John Holbo 05.11.15 at 2:44 am

“Soldiers have been given booze before battle for centuries, and both the US and Brits handed out “pep pills” like candy, particularly in the Air Forces, who had to fly very long combat missions.”

Just to clarify. I was making a joke.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joke

43

Sebastian H 05.11.15 at 2:54 am

“The left-right axis has been mostly about the extent to which one wants change towards greater equality, away from traditional inequality. “

I’m not sure you meant to point it out, but it might be clearer to say “The left-right axis has been mostly about the extent to which one changes toward greater non-traditional inequality from traditional inequality.” At least in practice. And I know from the treatment of libertarians that “in practice” trumps in theory. Right?

44

LFC 05.11.15 at 3:06 am

F. Foundling @34

The left-right axis has been mostly about the extent to which one wants change towards greater equality, away from traditional inequality. That’s what it was about in 1789, when right meant absolutism and inherited hierarchy and left meant liberal constitutionalism. When there appeared people who demanded things like the abolishment of monarchy and universal suffrage, it was natural that they were said to be farther on the left than the earlier constitutionalists. When there appeared people who wanted to abolish not only political but also economic inequality, they were naturally identified as being even farther to the left. State control of the means of production was “leftist” inasmuch as it was supposed to achieve greater equality and thus to be a continuation of liberal political egalitarianism.

The substantive point here is defensible, but (at the risk of being pedantic) the terms “left” and “right” to designate positions on a political or ideological spectrum did not even exist, as far as I’m aware, before the French Revolution. The terms, as I mentioned on a previous thread in a comment that (as best I can recall) was largely ignored, are a result of where different factions chose to sit in the revolutionary assemblies. (I’m sure the details are readily available from Wiki or elsewhere.) I’m actually not sure that that original left/right distinction maps neatly onto F. Foundling’s ‘equality’ axis. As the original context faded, over time the terms took on more general, if always somewhat contested, meanings.

45

LFC 05.11.15 at 3:09 am

cassander
since 1980, the top 20% of tax payer’s share of income has risen from 45 to 50%

What about the top 1 percent’s share, and the top .01 percent’s share?

46

cassander 05.11.15 at 3:20 am

>What about the top 1 percent’s share, and the top .01 percent’s share?

The top 1 and .1 percent are part of the top 20 percent. This means that if the top 20 are paying more, and everyone else less, then, at at worst, any gains the top 1 or .1 are making are coming entirely at the expense of the 19 or 19.9. But in any case, even that does not appear to be happening. the top 1% has seen incomes rise from 9 to 14%, taxes from 14 to 24%, or an income increase of 55% and a tax increase of 71%

47

LFC 05.11.15 at 3:33 am

j c halasz @13
the Wannsee conference, which was likely a bureaucratic response to the failure of the Soviet invasion

The Wannsee conference occurred in January 1942, and its roots go back earlier than that. The encirclement at Stalingrad happened in November 1942. In other words, the invasion of the Soviet Union hadn’t yet failed when the Wannsee conference was held.

48

LFC 05.11.15 at 3:43 am

cassander
But in any case, even that does not appear to be happening. the top 1% has seen incomes rise from 9 to 14%, taxes from 14 to 24%, or an income increase of 55% and a tax increase of 71%

It’s not the *percentage* in tax increase and *percentage* of income increase that matters, it’s the net result of the inflation-adjusted actual numbers (not percentages) for the overall distribution of income. (Not to mention wealth, which is distinct from income.) Anyway, the rise in inequality in income and wealth distribution since 1980 is well documented/established, so I shdnt have taken the bait.

49

LFC 05.11.15 at 3:47 am

50

TM 05.11.15 at 4:17 am

35: Since 1980, “Social Security, medicare, medicaid, food stamps, and unemployment insurance have all been expanded, sometimes multiple times, and new entitlements have been created.”

This is almost as far from the truth as the claim that the Nazis looked out for workers and opposed the capitalists.

51

cassander 05.11.15 at 4:18 am

>It’s not the *percentage* in tax increase and *percentage* of income increase that matters, it’s the net result of the inflation-adjusted actual numbers (not percentages) for the overall distribution of income.

Percentages are more useful. You don’t have to worry about adjusting for inflation and can clearly see who is doing better or worse compared to whom at a glance.

>Anyway, the rise in inequality in income and wealth distribution since 1980 is well documented/established, so I shouldn’t have taken the bait.

I didn’t claim otherwise. In fact, I said it happened But that change has come about in spite of increasing taxes on the rich, not because they were lowered. But nice to know that your reaction to evidence is sly insinuation and changing the subject.

52

Peter T 05.11.15 at 4:19 am

The left/right distinction tells us something, but it’s mostly evident in where the Nazis’ allies came from – the army, the industrialists, the petty bourgeoisie: all firmly “rightist” (much the same for Mussolini and Franco). It’s much less evident in the Nazi program, for this harkened back to an older, magical, style of thought, one where quasi-religious pollution, crusades, organic conceptions of society and similar held sway.

Tangential note: I’m reading Lacey Baldwin Smith on treason in Tudor politics. In a world-view that made little room for chance (everything was either God’s divine order or a result of the devil’s corrupting wiles), when things went wrong, it had to be the result of someone’s doing. When the obvious culprits were too few or weak to produce the wrongs visible, then there had to be hidden culprits. A reasoning that bred a politics of paranoia. There are some parallels with the Weimar/Nazi eras (and with Stalin’s Russia, and maybe the Tea Party?): the times were out of joint, reason was at a loss, the witch-finder re-emerged.

53

TM 05.11.15 at 4:54 am

I tend to think that these posts are misguided at best insofar as they give undeserved credit to the dishonest fabrications of the likes of Jonah Goldberg. There’s just no way anybody could honestly and in good faith deny that the Nazis were right-wing. Goldberg and his ilk are consciously lying for very transparent propaganda purposes. They are right-wing extremists engaging in despicable right-wing propaganda by blaming the atrocities of historical Nazism on the Left. That context seems to have gotten lost in hair-splitting debates about whether the left-right distinction captures all aspects of politics (of course it doesn’t and nobody claimed it did), and so on. Godberg’s position isn’t to reject a somewhat crude categorization in favor of a more nuanced one. His position is to turn the historical truth upside down, a propaganda strategy that is actually very common among the American extreme right (e. g. https://arkansasmediawatch.wordpress.com/2011/07/25/republican-hitler-quote/ for a representative example exhibiting both the brazenness and the total disconnect from reality so typical for American right-wing discourse in the age of Fox News). One would hope that anybody identifying as a good faith conservative would have none of that mendacity.

54

William Berry 05.11.15 at 5:35 am

@cassander:

“The top 1 and .1 percent are part of the top 20 percent. This means that if the top 20 are paying more, and everyone else less, then, at at worst, any gains the top 1 or .1 are making are coming entirely at the expense of the 19 or 19.9. But in any case, even that does not appear to be happening. the top 1% has seen incomes rise from 9 to 14%, taxes from 14 to 24%, or an income increase of 55% and a tax increase of 71%”

So, that means a net loss of income for that 1%/ .1%, right?

They are so fucking broke. Boo-hoo.

I love the way you right-wing nut-bags play with numbers to make it appear the 1% are such fucking victims. Inequality is so obviously not a thing.

You are such an idiot.

55

William Berry 05.11.15 at 5:45 am

And an utter tool.

56

William Berry 05.11.15 at 5:56 am

But pretty smart, unfortunately.

57

cassander 05.11.15 at 6:28 am

@WIlliam Berry

>I love the way you right-wing nut-bags play with numbers to make it appear the 1% are such fucking victims. Inequality is so obviously not a thing.

There’s nothing mathematically impossible about the idea that both taxes on the rich both rose, or both fell, or went in different ways. The two might be related, or they might not. I have presented a rather simple set of facts, from an unimpeachable source. Rather than engage with those facts you invented arguments I never made and then ridiculed me for them. Now, I want to be charitable, I would like to live in a world where, at a place like CT, I can expect rational argument. But when I get a response like that, what am I to think except that you are so invested in the myth you’ve absorbed of evil right wingers slashing taxes on the rich that you’re actually incapable of rational argument on these subjects? that for you there are not mere opinions, but tenets of faith?

58

William Berry 05.11.15 at 7:07 am

@cassander:

What? What does that have to do with the issue at hand; that there is extreme inequality in the world, and that there are vomit-encrusted homeless people who have more humanity in their little fingers than any POS billionaire (or you, or me) have in their entire beings.

I like the way you avoid what is really at issue:

Are the rich getting richer, or not? Are the poor getting poorer, or not?

Is there something else at issue I’m not aware of? Enlighten me.

What do tax rates have to do with the matter?

Nothing.

Given the issue of gross inequality, nothing you have to say, in defense of libertarian capitalism, is dispositive of anything.

Here’s the thing: If one child is born into poverty and another into wealth (“The Prince and the Pauper”, e.g.), is that, for you, “just the way it is”? If so, why?

I had a rich friend who stood to inherit his father’s 6,000 acre farm here in SE MO. He was pissed about the “death tax”. I wanted to know why I didn’t have the right to inherit his dad’s “property”, or why some share-cropper’s kid didn’t have the right to inherit the property. Why did he have a “right” to it? He didn’t have an answer to that, other than that he was “the son”.

All you fanatical capitalist dip-shits: why are you always the son?

59

cassander 05.11.15 at 8:14 am

>What? What does that have to do with the issue at hand; that there is extreme inequality in the world,

That is not the issue I was talking about. I was talking about american government policy. But if you insist on changing the subject…..

>Are the rich getting richer, or not?

yes

>Are the poor getting poorer, or not?

No

> is that, for you, “just the way it is”? If so, why?

What does this question even mean? I try to deal with the world as it is, not how I fantasize it were. Life is not fair. never has been, never will be. Some of us are always going to be taller/richer/happier/smarter/whatever than others. My goal is not to make the world perfect, my goal is to make it better. Capitalism is great at that.

>Why did he have a “right” to it?

He didn’t. His father did, though, and if the father decided to give it to him, well, that’s what “having a right to it” means.

Capitalism has been continually improving the lives of the poor for going on 3 centuries now, something no other system has managed to come close to. This is in spite of the continual pearl clutching that comes from people like you who’ve never developed an understanding of the world more nuanced than a 6 year old angry that someone has a nicer toy than him. How many times do you have to get it wrong in exactly the same way (I’m looking at you venezuela) before the reality seeps through your thick skull?

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William Berry 05.11.15 at 10:30 am

“people like you who’ve never developed an understanding of the world more nuanced than a 6 year old angry that someone has a nicer toy than him.

There is a substantial difference between having a toy and having the quantity of food that allows one to live. That’s what you and your ilk never seem to grasp.

[btw, I just finished listening to the Beatles’ “Oh, Darling”, which is like the greatest song ever, so there!*

Don’t even pretend to have a come-back.

Like Val, on another thread, I have just finished a couple glasses of cabernet, so give it up already.

You are so done!]

*To the CT gang: I just finished putting a piece 0f white melamine (pr0bably made in China; sorry, I can’t help it!) on the back of a white book-shelf type thing that houses an old-fashioned stereo system in my living-room (so you can’t see the wires!). It looks awesome and sounds great (old Yamaha DD 5.1 re-purposed to stereo, with some high-end Klipsch speakers) .

I know Belle is married, but she can come over and listen to music with me any time!

Tonight, besides The Beatles: Emmylou and The Louvin Brothers.

Yes, Satan is Real!

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Collin Street 05.11.15 at 10:35 am

> That’s what you and your ilk never seem to grasp.

Empathy impairment.

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David 05.11.15 at 12:05 pm

At the risk of returning to the subject, I think it’s instructive to think about Raymond Williams’ concept of the “historical escalator” in his book “The Country and the City.” Things look different depending on what step you are on. The “Left” in France in 1790-1794 has effectively nothing in common with the “Left” today, but there was nonetheless a clear distinction between their ideas and those of the “Right”. This distinction does actually make sense in terms of the logic of the Left/Right distinction today, even if the content has changed. In other words, the distinction is a relative and not an absolute one. Likewise, the Left in Germany in 1933 were not greatly concerned with issues such as gay marriage, whilst the Right were not neoliberal deregulators. But the relative distinction between them was nonetheless clear.
A small vignette: until the 1970s, the official position of the French Communist Party was to be against abortion: this owed much to the very strong opinions of Jeanette Vermeersch, the partner of the legendary Maurice Thorez, as well as to the innate conservatism (ha!) of the PCF’s working-class base. I doubt if such a position would be acceptable today in even a right-wing party, in most western countries.

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TM 05.11.15 at 1:06 pm

8: “I agree with Cassander that it’s a bit hard to say when nationalism went from being a generally left-wing force to a generally right-wing force.”

Nationalism was never “generally a left-wing force” and in Germany, nationalism was always a right wing force at least after the failed 1848 revolution and certainly after the Bismarckian Reichsgruendung under monarchist/traditionalist banners. Even in the Vormaerz, the dominant strain of nationalism, influenced by the likes of Fichte and Herder, was anti-modern and anti-French Revolution

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name withheld by flying saucer 05.11.15 at 1:08 pm

Cassander #35: “Well, since 1980, the top 20% of tax payer’s share of income has risen from 45 to 50% while their share of all federal taxation has risen from 55 to 70%.”

Misleading. In the US, total taxes are almost flat. a discussion of inequality which uses only federal taxation is misleading. We should use total taxes, federal state and local combined, as well as adding back in after-tax transfers to everybody, to look at the total burden.

As everyone should know by now, the total tax burden in the US has been flat, or nearly flat, for quite some time (with the exception of the bottom quintile). This is because state taxes, local taxes, and federal payroll taxes are more regressive than the federal income taxes, and because the upper quintiles get more transfers than lower.

Let’s take them by quintile. These latest figures are from a more “left” tax advocacy group, but “right” tax advocacy groups have come to the same conclusions.

Percentages of total after-tax income:
Top1/5-61%, 4th1/5-18%, middle1/5-11%, 2nd-1/5-8%, bottom1/5-3%.

Percentage of income taken by total taxes, federal+state+local:
Top1/5-32%, 4th1/5-30%, middle1/5-27%, 2nd1/5-23%, bottom1/5-19%.

This is highly unequal (and it bears more a bit more heavily on the 4th quintile, people who usually call themselves “middle class”). It would be highly unequal even if we used your figure of 50% for the top qunitle, which is after ONLY federal tax and transfer.

It gets worse when we break out parts of the top quintile. Compare, say, the top 1% with the 2nd quintile:

Top 1%: Average income $1.7 million, share of total after-tax&transfer income 22%, share of total taxes 23%, taxes as percentage of income 32.6%.

2nd quintile: Average income $30,500, share of total after-tax&transfer income 7%, share of total taxes 5%, taxes as percentage of income 23%.

So, for each group, the share of total after-tax&transfer income = share of total taxes (or almost equals), while the top 1% pays about 1/3 of $1.7 million in taxes, and the 2nd quintile pays about 1/4 of $30,500 in taxes.

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bianca steele 05.11.15 at 1:34 pm

Saying the Nazis are left-wing is like saying those people in Texas are left-wing because, after all, they share the fears of progressives about government militarism against civilians (ignoring who the targets are, who the government is that’s feared and the preferred balance between federal and local, and a lot of other things, including the preponderance of evidence).

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Joseph McCarthy 05.11.15 at 1:40 pm

Joseph, as my old science teacher used to say – ‘do not speak of love, DO it!’ If you are right and I am wrong, you should be able to write a fine, revisionist history of the Weimar period, based on your insights into how all the things I say are upside down and backwards. So do it, already. Proof is in the pudding.

I never said I want to write any history, so don’t build a straw-man. Hitler received some supported by industrialists, verbally opposed marxism and communism and wooed masses with national sentiments, that is all correct. What I am trying to present is that political statements (nazis wanted that, commies wanted that) are just a theoretical category which does not necessarily have anything to do with reality. And political alliance is just that: a form of statement.

So Hitler and Stalin were allies, does that make Stalin right-wing? Many communist parties around the world played on or hid behind the mask of national sentiment, does that make them right-wing? Communist ideologues often spoke of the decadent western culture, does that make it traditionalist and right-wing? This author http://bit.ly/1K1p7uL compiled the data about western investment in bolshevik Russia – does this make Soviet Union a right-wing regime?

The reason why national and international socialism fit in the same basked is in their practice and not the vague theoretical statements of their proponents, but the practice which was initiated with French Revolution: appeal to masses with superiority feelings just because they are addressed by the ideology (proletariat, Aryan race), baiting them with utopic messages (equality, world domination), inciting hate to the advertised obstacles of achieving utopia and totalitarian state control with politicization of everyday life.

Even George Orwell was not right: national socialism did not appeal (only) to establishment who had something to lose, but to the masses who saw no future in present Weimar Germany; that’s why they subordinated their lives so easily and willingly to the savior in the form of ideology. That’s how also part of german aristocratic establishment felt, most notably Prusian military generals who saw in Hitler an incompetent nuthead and a man of the herd.

That’s why the comments such as:

The Nazis did not want to abolish traditional inequality and hierarchy. Their ideology was based on the claim of inherent inequality between what they called races of humans, partly corresponding to traditional ethnicities. Their goal was to (re-)impose the natural hierarchy between these races, where in some cases the lowest position in the hierarchy was just death and extinction. Their ideal means for this (and their ideal condition in general) was a society structured like an army, with iron discipline, a clear hierarchy of subordination and worship of the leader. It was the *opposite* of what “the left” had stood for since 1789. In many ways, their ideal was an imaginary pre-modern state, with an absolute monarch, a state religion and a clear hierarchy, everything kept coherent by (a somewhat fabricated) tradition; except this time the whole thing was supposed to be somehow more modern, more efficient and even a bit scientific.

can easily be constructed analogically for commies:
they did not treat burgeoise as equal human beings which deserved to stay alive. They tried to establish a hierarchy, where the bottom position was just gulag and execution. Their ideal means for this (and their ideal condition of permanent revolution in general) was a society structured like an revolutionary army, with iron discipline, a clear hierarchy of subordination and worship of the leader. It was NOT the *opposite* of what “the left” had stood for since 1789, just the definition of humans was broader than that of the nazis, which concerned their ideology around single race. In many ways, their ideal was an imaginary pre-modern state, with an absolute monarch, a state religion and a clear hierarchy, everything kept coherent by (a somewhat fabricated) tradition; except this time the whole thing was supposed to be somehow more modern, more efficient and even a bit scientific.

Furthermore, expansionistic wars are also well tied to the birthplace of the Left – the Napoleonic wars of spreading Revolution around the globe with “right-wing” appeal to French national sentiment.

Another quote-play:

As for the question how relevant the Commie’s affiliation is for the present-day – well, I personally think it might be good to know that people who fervently and unquestioningly support the government role in society, are so patriotic as to believe in the exceptionalism of their class and like to advocate the abandonment of basic principles such as private property and the rule of law as conceits of the bleeding hearts just MAY occasionally be up to no good and HAVE sometimes been known to mass execute their fellows. Just a useful piece of information.

So yes, the distinctions between national and international socialism is in practice unrecognizable, which many survivors behind the iron curtain actually experienced, as the survival of national socialist concentration camps was awarded by communist show trials and imprisonment when returning to their home countries.

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John Holbo 05.11.15 at 2:10 pm

“I never said I want to write any history, so don’t build a straw-man.”

I wasn’t suggesting you wanted to write any history. I was pointing out that you needed to, to make your position plausible. It is entirely up to you whether you choose to do so at some point in the future.

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stevenjohnson 05.11.15 at 2:32 pm

cassander@23 When I write of crossing borders and exclusion within the borders, I am the one talking about the “context of the environment.” Your supposed rebuttal is inane. Insofar as you say anything sensible, you agree with me. Which makes me reconsider whether I’m wrong. Hmmm…

No, a leftwing nationalist regime does not simply switch policies and begin targeting some domestic group or mobilizing the nation for aggressive war against other nations. There is always some sort of political shift, maybe a drastic one, possibly even a violent one. Parties, personnel, institutions, propaganda undergo a change.

Sebastian H@26 At one point you cite North Korea in the Korean War as an example of nationalism on the part of a supposedly internationalist socialism. I think you’re mistaken in taking this sort of nationalism as somehow the same animal as the Nazi nationalism that justified invading other countries. I think we have to start distinguishing nationalism. And if we do that in any useful sense, we’re back to left/right distinctions.

Joseph McCarthy@27 ” I doubt you will find examples of WW1-time states organizing people’s free time (Kraft durch Freude), reproduction (Lebensborn) and organizing mass rallies, which goes along with politicization of culture as stated above.” Bond sales were mass rallies. Kids were organized to collect scrap metals etc. Most of all of course, laws against contraceptive most certainly organizes reproduction. I know it’s not baseball, but that’s still three strikes.

Sebastian H@43 “I’m not sure you meant to point it out, but it might be clearer to say ‘The left-right axis has been mostly about the extent to which one changes toward greater non-traditional inequality from traditional inequality.’ At least in practice. And I know from the treatment of libertarians that ‘in practice’ trumps in theory. Right?”

Since the acceptance of nouveaux riches and career open to talents are manifestations of non-traditional hierarchies are what you’re talking about, no, I don’t think this is a sound generalization at all. I think it is quite obfuscatory, the kind of thing that celebrates the Whigs of 1689 as the high point of the Left. I suppose that leaves stuff like the Putney debates off the map as inconceivable. But that may be the point.

As for the rich paying a larger part of the tax revenue, this factoid almost certainly ignores sales taxes, and state and local taxes generally. In general of course tax revenue will have to come from the people with the money. So yes, in an increasingly unequal society more and more taxes will have to come from the rich. You can’t get blood from a stone.

The tags “left” and “right” are accidents of the seating arrangements. But whether you want to replace them with reactionary and progressive, or enlightened and counterenlightenment, or egalitarian and hierarchical, or socialist and capitalist, or even internationalist and nationalist, doesn’t matter so much. The rough divide still obtains in modern times. And no, a “nationalism” that repudiates the sovereign right of conquest is not nationalism in any clarifying sense of the word.

F Foundling’s posts are very good I think.

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bianca steele 05.11.15 at 2:46 pm

@68

The acceptance of nouveaux riches? If anyone is seriously proposing the non-acceptance of nouveaux riches as a criterion for being on the right, certainly that would mess up any rational analysis of political programs. (How would you decide where the line goes? In America, anyone whose money postdates William Penn’s? Do the Carnegies and Rockefellers get a pass, or must they defer to truer hierarchies?) This is where David’s points become useful, though possibly the application of French history is less than helpful unless you have a certain kind of theory of history.

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bianca steele 05.11.15 at 2:48 pm

I see you weren’t arguing it was, but really the idea of “traditional hierarchies” runs into the same difficulties as the idea of the decency of wealth.

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bianca steele 05.11.15 at 2:53 pm

decency -> recency

I mean, . . . but it really doesn’t make sense in context. Sorry for the triple post.

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stevenjohnson 05.11.15 at 2:56 pm

^^^I agree that exclusion of the nouveaux riches to the seats of power (and the exclusion of the impoverished nobles) and ministries closed to talents and only reserved to names, is an irrational approach to defining the Right versus the Left. That’s what I was objecting to in Sebastian H’s formulation, which I thought fatally ambiguous on this point.

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bianca steele 05.11.15 at 3:09 pm

@72

Yes, from past comments, I’d guess Sebastian includes wealth and so on among traditionalism, as things are now, and accepts that kind of rightwingism. I could be wrong. Others perhaps might wish to take into account how wealth was acquired, or the psychological effects of upward mobility, though that’s off topic.

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Yama 05.11.15 at 3:36 pm

I just wanted to say I appreciate the whole barbarossa discussion, as my muddy level of knowledge up to this point had me thinking it was russian for redbeard (smacks forehead)!

Oh, and William Berry with the wine and Beatles.

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name withheld by flying saucer 05.11.15 at 4:39 pm

Joseph McCarthy #66: “…national and international socialism fit in the same basket…in their practice and not the vague theoretical statements of their proponents, but the practice which was initiated with French Revolution: appeal to masses with superiority feelings just because they are addressed by the ideology (proletariat, Aryan race)…”

No, whatever its other failures, international socialism did not primarily make superiority statements about race — nor about the proletariat, for that matter, who were to have their chains broken, but not because they were superior: because they were being exploited.

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name withheld by flying saucer 05.11.15 at 4:52 pm

I think the two best books to answer this are micro and macro, The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town, by William Sheridan Allen (revised 1984), and a statistical analysis, The Nazi Voter: The Social Foundations of Fascism in Germany, 1919-1933 by Thomas Childers (1983).

These both show without question that the Nazis came in as a center-right party against the workers and the left, playing up economic animosity toward both big business (including Jewish finance) and big government, while leaving the small bourgeois businessmen alone. I believe you can read the conclusion of Childers book on the Amazon page, and it is quite clear.

The small businessmen were left alone, that is, other than needing to pay lip-service to the promise of a transcendent cultural unification, which Goebbels called “socialist”.

Thus it seems to me that the Nazis, certainly Goebbels, used the word “socialist” to mean the same thing as what the Italians were calling “fascism”. If somebody has pointed this out above, sorry to repeat.

Of course, “right” and “left” are directional signposts, going back to the 18th-century transformation into a new, non-aristocratic social order, composed of individuals who are propertied and those who are not. (We are still firmly ensconced in this new era.)

Before that, for millennia, there were haves and have-nots certainly, but what was different was that you were NOT an individual: the social order was static, derived from God descending through aristocracy and so on, and your virtue was partly in keeping your own place in it, whether king or peasant.

This new total-market economy, which started cooking by the 19th century, started to have its own problems immediately of course, quite before government intervention.

I think that it was Karl Polanyi who first pointed out that fascism was in some sense a certain (i.e. perhaps historically evanescent) kind of right-wing response to the failure of the democratic total-market system. The lefty social democrats had become part of Weimar and thus, for the petty bourgeois, were already a part of the economic problem. (Think the British election.)

The fascists cannot obtain a purchase on the electorate unless there is extreme economic discontent; extreme enough, that is, to discomfit the right-wing lower bourgeoisie. The fascists rode in on the Depression and/or inflation, and indeed there are fascist parties burbling again in Europe.

The left, on the other hand, is ALWAYS discontent with the market system, because there are have-nots even when the market is working at its best, and when everybody is trying hard — as we see now. For the left, the problem is base-structural. (As it may well be.)

It’s pretty clear that Goebbels was happy to rail against big capitalism and bankers, perhaps because in pepping-up the small shopkeepers, he might also gather up some of the workers who were thus discontent. The only thing he was really in favor of, was the Cause — and for him, that was Hitler.

This gets us into the “great man” component of the whole mess, which sometimes accompanies the rightwing’s response to turmoil, which originated in some of the first counter-enlightenment thinkers, and which may be one of the many varieties of Romanticism.

The left just doesn’t have this, in the same way. Communism had plenty of dictators of course, including a few who wanted to be worshipped, but they all espoused the program of establishing a new society according to certain intellectual principles.

This was all but lacking with the Nazis and the other fascists, who instead were promoting a return to conservative, age-old principles of the Volk and so on, which the leader was recalling them to engage, in order to attain their rightful status as the chosen ones, and for which a special strongman is needed as model and judge thereof.

We see a partial reworking of this phenomenon in Reaganism. Reagan certainly did not claim himself to be a “great man”; I do not mean that. But he preached a variation on a rhetorical form called the “American jeremiad”, which goes: 1. America’s special destiny as the promised land, it’s covenant with God; 2. America’s failure to live up to that obligation, its retrogression; and 3. If America repents and reforms, the promise can still be fulfilled.

Secondly and significantly, Reagan is now virtually deified by US conservatives.

There is simply nothing like this is on the left. It is peculiar to the right. The left really doesn’t have a figure from any nation which it worships in the same way. Far from it, the left is usually involved in cutting each other down.

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cassander 05.11.15 at 8:14 pm

@name withheld by flying saucer

> We should use total taxes, federal state and local combined,

You’re absolutely right. Today most studies of state taxes put them on an average of 10%, sometimes slightly regressive, with some small variances depending on who runs the numbers. I am simply assuming that on the whole, they have not gotten more or less progressive over the last 30 years. This assumption might not be correct, but I am not aware of anyone who has done the sort of work with state and local taxes broken down by income group that the CBO and others have done with federal, so I don’t really have a choice. Doing that would be a pretty immense project, frankly it’s hard enough to find good numbers about state and local revenues today, to say nothing of 30 year ago.

>as well as adding back in after-tax transfers to everybody, to look at the total burden.

Not an unreasonable position, but your numbers seem a bit off. 3% of post tax income is far too low for the bottom 1/5 (the CBO claims 6), and a tax rate 19% is far too high (the left leaning ITEP report claims about 10%, and most figures for federal taxes put it at 1-2%), probably because your calculation of tax rate is based on that too low figure for income. And you have the reverse problem with top quintile. That is why I prefer to look at tax share and income share rather than tax rate, because, at least in theory, the two numbers are arrived at independently.

@stevenjohnson

>So yes, in an increasingly unequal society more and more taxes will have to come from the rich. You can’t get blood from a stone.

the point I have demonstrated, repeatedly, is that the amount taxed from the rich has risen FASTER than their share of income has increased.

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Joseph McCarthy 05.12.15 at 6:56 am

I wasn’t suggesting you wanted to write any history. I was pointing out that you needed to, to make your position plausible. It is entirely up to you whether you choose to do so at some point in the future.

That not at all necessary. My position is the exposal of similarities between both socialisms and French Revolution and not historical details of alliances, statements, political campaign appeals – because as I said, all this is thoroughly convoluted in politics due to the pursuit of its main interest: a seizure of power; not philosophical coherence. Relying on alliances is the same type of argument as those being criticized in these 3-part series: “Hitler said he learned a lot from Marx, so he must be Marxist”. Similarly, the driver which wishes to compare the experience of electric and internal combustion car does not need the knowledge of their historical developments.

Joseph McCarthy@27 ” I doubt you will find examples of WW1-time states organizing people’s free time (Kraft durch Freude), reproduction (Lebensborn) and organizing mass rallies, which goes along with politicization of culture as stated above.” Bond sales were mass rallies. Kids were organized to collect scrap metals etc. Most of all of course, laws against contraceptive most certainly organizes reproduction. I know it’s not baseball, but that’s still three strikes.

I will leave the first two “strikes” as they are because it’s just (mildly put) funny to compare mass rallies with bond sales etc… but I would like to remark that banning (or maybe you ment just absence of state financing?) contraception is definitely NOT *organizing* of *reproduction*. The first is the contradiction in the meaning: organizing has a meaning of action, of urging people to do something. Banning has a negative meaning, of absence or prevention of action. Secondly, contraception by itself is a way to avoid reproduction, not to organize one. Comparing state encouraging people to have sex with strangers and fully organizing the mother- and childcare with contraception ban is like comparing gas chambers with state ban of cremation.

And no, a “nationalism” that repudiates the sovereign right of conquest is not nationalism in any clarifying sense of the word.

That is not true.

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stevenjohnson 05.12.15 at 2:42 pm

Ignorance about the pressures to show patriotism by purchases of bonds and the more violent repressions visited upon war opponents in WWI US is no excuse. The systematic efforts to prevent the lower orders from congregating in undesired places doing undesired things of course lay behind blue laws, prohibition, police supervision of a multitude of activities, anti-loitering laws. Not comprehending this is as fine an example of ignoring the beam in your own eye while damning your neighbor for the mote in his, to use language you might understand.

But the claims that laws against contraception do not organize prosecutions and persecutions is more than common Pharisaism, it is malevolent falsehood.

Lastly the notion that nationalism has nothing to do with claims to sovereignty, the monopoly on violence, up to and including the “right” to wage war is stupidity of the first rank.

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William Berry 05.12.15 at 5:45 pm

Forget it, steven, it’s Joe McCarthy.*

Consciously or unconsciously, the ‘nym choice itself represents the embrace of nescience.

*For crying out loud.

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William Berry 05.12.15 at 5:47 pm

Well, there is somebody around here referring to him/ herself as A H, so maybe JMcC isn’t all that bad.

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Ogden Wernstrom 05.12.15 at 5:50 pm

@35 cassander 05.11.15 at 1:32 am:

Well, since 1980, the top 20% of tax payer’s share of income has risen from 45 to 50% while their share of all federal taxation has risen from 55 to 70%.

That seems in line with the increase in progressivity of incomes over those years. Those cherry-picked figures from an anti-tax organization keep showing up here on CT, but the deficiencies of that report never seem to be addressed. This is more-precisely worded than previous cassander efforts:

In “Entitlements and expropriation”, cassander 04.25.15 at 1:23 am:

… it’s basic math. in 1979, the richest 20% had 45% of the income and paid 55% of taxes. today, they have 50% of income and pay 70% of taxes. And that is all federal taxes, not just income taxes, the top 20% pay 92% of income taxes, compared to 65% back when the top rate was 70%.

In “Ferguson, disorder, and change”, cassander 08.20.14 at 9:58 pm:

the upper 20% of tax payers have about 50% of income. they pay about 70% of taxes. and that is not income taxes, that is all federal taxes. That number, by the way, is up dramatically in recent decades. in 1979, that same group made about 45% of all income, but only paid 55% of taxes, despite a 70% top rate.

One imprecision in the wording has not yet been eliminated. It’s still not all federal taxes. However, it is a pretty good attempt.

If the deception bears repeating, I suppose the reply can be formed with cut/paste, paraphrase, rewrite and add to the mostly-ignored replies that have already been made. Back in August, I dug into the CBO report, notes, attachments, appendices and supplementary documents.

For taxes, IRS information is used for federal payroll taxes and federal income taxes. Though the report covers households, 75% of Corporate Income Taxes are included in the tax figures, and are apportioned based on self-reported information gathered by US BLS and Census – IIRC, almost all of that Corporate Income Tax is apportioned to the top quintile…and added to the taxes “paid” by those households. Most other Federal taxes are estimated into quintiles based on the Census survey. I did not find with certainty whether gift and estate taxes are included, but most gift and estate taxes are paid by the quintile that can afford to give an individual a gift exceeding $14,000 (in 2014), or leave an estate exceeding US$5.34 millions (in 2014). Note also that taxes are negative numbers for the bottom quintile, as the conservative revolution has turned more social benefits into refundable tax credits over the past 40-ish years.

On income, the CBO report uses IRS data, and this misses some tax-advantaged earnings (which are usually available only to those in the top quintile). Census data is used to capture data that IRS might miss – in particular, transfer payments, most of which are recorded for the lower-income quintiles. That data:

…lacks detailed information on high-income households, it does not report capital gains, it underreports other income from capital, and it lacks information on the deductions and adjustments necessary to compute taxes.

…so this Census-survey data fills in a lot of income the IRS misses for the lower quintile(s), but does not compensate for what the IRS info misses for the upper quintile(s). Though their taxes were apportioned, Corporate Incomes are not included in the income figures. “Income” includes the estimated value of all transfer payments, cash or not, and 24% of the bottom-quintile’s income is the value of medical insurance (Medicare, Medicaid, employer-provided plans, state plans, etc.) From the similar employer- or government-provided medical plans, the top quintile’s income is increased by 0.09%. When that report starts to cover 2012, Obamacare subsidies will show up as income.

Corporate taxes are in the numerator, but corporate income is excluded from the denominator. Estate taxes may be in the numerator, but inheritance is excluded from the denominator.

An observation I have made from the very figures emperor cassander points to is that the top 1% have gone from 7.4% to 13% of all income included in that report (1979 to 2011). cassander’s response to that observation was:

and this is relevent [sic] to tax progressivity how?

Another common retort:

…the figures are straight from the CBO

…which is required to do as directed by Members of Congress – thus, the CBO has produced reports that were required to use the assumptions and methods provided by whomever orders the report.

I try to deal with the world as it is, not how I fantasize it were.

How about when someone cooks up some stats that coincide with that fantasy?

Like a politician, cassander addresses the question that cassander wants to address, and ignores the remaining questions.

cassanders gotta cassand, I guess.

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Joseph McCarthy 05.12.15 at 8:24 pm

Ignorance about the pressures to show patriotism by purchases of bonds and the more violent repressions visited upon war opponents in WWI US is no excuse. The systematic efforts to prevent the lower orders from congregating in undesired places doing undesired things of course lay behind blue laws, prohibition, police supervision of a multitude of activities, anti-loitering laws. Not comprehending this is as fine an example of ignoring the beam in your own eye while damning your neighbor for the mote in his, to use language you might understand.

But the claims that laws against contraception do not organize prosecutions and persecutions is more than common Pharisaism, it is malevolent falsehood.

You certainly do not fail to list all possible, even a tiny remotely quasi-comparable stuff to defend your favourite ideology from the totalitarian consequences it inevitably produces. Blue laws? Prohibition? Loitering? Feels like any law or ban is totalitarian to you – and comparable to (inter)national-socialism. Liberty bonds – though heavily propagandized, were not forced purchases. Banning contraceptives is still not organizing state sex with strangers or forced collectivist housing with shared bedrooms and bathrooms.

So yes, if any law and persecution is totalitarian for you, then you’re right. World was never without totalitarianism.

Lastly the notion that nationalism has nothing to do with claims to sovereignty, the monopoly on violence, up to and including the “right” to wage war is stupidity of the first rank.

Of course, because you must demonise it. Tell that to nations who strived for their autonomy from federations and monarchies. Try harder, or were you getting emotional because of my nickname choice?

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Luke 05.13.15 at 12:06 am

Was just reading Tomas’ ‘On Post-Fascism’ and came across this gem, a quote from Fraenkel’s ‘The Dual State’. Seems germane for the end of the thread.

“The Autonomy of the Normative State (“homogeneous society”) was maintained in Nazi Germany in a limited area, mostly where the protection of private property was concerned (property of so-called Aryans, of course); the Prerogative State held sway in more narrowly political matters, the privileges of the Party, the military and the paramilitary, culture, ideology, and propaganda. The “dual state” was a consequence of the Schmittian decision of the new sovereign as to what was law, and what was not. But there was no rule by decree in the sphere reserved to capitalism proper, the economy. It is not true, therefore, that the whole system of Nazi or fascist governance was wholly arbitrary. The macabre meeting of the Normative and the Prerogative is illustrated by the fact that the German Imperial Railways billed the SS for the horrible transports to Auschwitz at special holiday discount rates, customary for package tours. But they billed them!”

Also, I realise there’s no point engaging with the likes of Senator McCarthy, but this: “Banning contraceptives is still not organizing state sex with strangers or forced collectivist housing with shared bedrooms and bathrooms” is some high-octane, rare-as-hen’s-teeth crankery, logical oddity aside, and ought to be preserved for posterity. I’d thought the old Bureau of Free Love hysteria was long extinct, to be found only in ancient newspaper clippings, but here it is.

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bob mcmanus 05.13.15 at 12:35 am

Is the thread over? I was going to paste this on a thread elsewhere more directly concerned with economics, but the last comment inspired me. From Domenico Losurdo, Liberalism:A Counter-History a quote from Toqueville:

“…to diffuse among the working classes…some of the most elementary and certain notions of political economy, which would make them understand, for example, what is constant and necessary in the economic laws that govern the wage rate. Because such laws, being in some sense of divine law, in that they derive from the nature of man and the very structure of society, are situated beyond the reach of revolutions”

Bentham: “with respect to poverty, it is not the work of the laws”

(Toqueville and Bentham are usually considered some kind of liberals)

I might posit this as the core of conservatism, that there are both public and private spheres, and that private, civil, or social life while not necessarily hierarchical or fixed, is not an artifact, not a collective decision or subject for politics. It is natural, Divine, or simply fateful and so it should remain. The distribution of wealth and property being of course at the top of those natural endowments.

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John Holbo 05.13.15 at 2:20 am

“My position is the exposal of similarities between both socialisms and French Revolution”

Well, expose away, I guess. (Which gets us back to ‘do not speak of love, do it!’) Is it all just down to your notion that all totalitarianisms must be on the left. The National Socialists were totalitarians, therefore they are leftists? That’s pretty much it for you?

As to:

“not historical details of alliances, statements, political campaign appeals – because as I said, all this is thoroughly convoluted in politics due to the pursuit of its main interest: a seizure of power; not philosophical coherence.”

Well, it seems like you are not really interested in debating left-right, then. Because left-right is, for better or worse, thoroughly tangled up in this stuff.

Look, you can change the subject if you like. But changing the subject without announcing you are doing so is bait-and-switch.

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Collin Street 05.13.15 at 2:35 am

> But changing the subject without announcing you are doing so is bait-and-switch.

Only if it’s done deliberately. If it’s done in ignorance then it’s just stupid people being stupid.

[we can tell if it’s being done deliberately or through lack of capacity to do better if we see what’s done in an environment where we can assume good faith, like right-wing-internal debates: if the internal behaviour matches the external behaviour, they’re both a reflection of honest beliefs about how the world works.]

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name withheld by flying saucer 05.13.15 at 2:56 am

Cassander #77: “…the amount taxed from the rich has risen FASTER than their share of income has increased.”

How can this be true? Here are figures from the conservative Tax Foundation for the top and bottom quintiles for combined federal-state-local effective tax rates, for both 2004 and 2015:

Bottom quintile 2004 –> 2015
Combined tax rate: 13% –> 12.8%

Top quintile 2004 –> 2015
Combined tax rate: 34.5% –> 35.5%

If rates have barely changed, yet top quintile incomes have increased enormously, how can it be true that “the amount taxed from the rich has risen FASTER than their share of income has increased”?

2004 (see page 24):
http://taxfoundation.org/sites/default/files/docs/wp1.pdf

2015 (see page 5):
http://taxfoundation.org/sites/taxfoundation.org/files/docs/FF447%20-%20ITEP%20Rebuttal%202015_2.pdf

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David 05.13.15 at 9:27 am

As often, there seems to be a confusion between the antithesis right/left and the antithesis right/liberal, as though “left” and “liberal” were the same, or at least similar. But they aren’t: they are opposed, and liberalism has always been an essentially right-wing phenomenon, as its first critics in the 18th century, immediately realised. This is because it is essentially concerned with promoting the autonomy of the individual, both financially (especially as regards property and contract law) and politically. But of course the more property you own, and the more time you can set aside for politics, the more liberalism appeals. The more power you have to exert your personal social choices (even at the expense of others) the more liberalism seems a good idea. If you are a propertyless factory worker living in squalid mass housing and working sixty hours a week, the advantages of liberalism are likely to remain theoretical. Your only chance of improving your situation is through collective action, and indeed that’s what left-wing parties were based on, from the beginning.
If you look at Liberal parties in Europe up until WW2, then they were founded and led largely by middle-class professionals – notably lawyers, but also doctors, accountants, small tradesmen etc. who had the time and energy to devote to politics. This set them apart from the traditional Right (based around Army, Aristocracy and Church) and also the Left, whose leading figures were often intellectuals, journalists, teachers, and people who had come up through the Trades Unions.
So the kind of ideas quoted @85 above are entirely normal with Liberals, who were often the fiercest defenders of free-market orthodoxy. Indeed, the Weimar Republic was more than anything else a state run by middle-class liberals with some socialist varnish. (Don’t forget that Liberals were often socially progressive, if only for reasons of economic efficiency). So the response to the 1929 crisis was what you might expect: cuts in spending, attempts to force down wages, attacks on working conditions, and the whole liberal songbook. Polanyi’s analysis cited @76 seems right on the mark. Liberal management of the economy had failed, and the only alternatives were the radical Left (i.e. the KPD) and the radical Right (the Nazis). To an electorate that worshipped private property, the first was obviously unthinkable. But not only would the Nazis protect them from revolution, the Nazis were anti-big business, anti-union and anti-communist, at home and abroad. OK, they had some unattractive features, but if there were only two realistic options, the Nazis were the better bet.
That’s why, when it really comes to the crunch, liberals almost always make common cause with the Right, not the Left.

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Joseph McCarthy 05.13.15 at 9:28 am

I might posit this as the core of conservatism, that there are both public and private spheres, and that private, civil, or social life while not necessarily hierarchical or fixed, is not an artifact, not a collective decision or subject for politics. It is natural, Divine, or simply fateful and so it should remain. The distribution of wealth and property being of course at the top of those natural endowments.

I like that statement. It relates to our previous debate with Mr. Holbo about the culture and politics. I would not say that private sphere is divine or fateful, but certainly it is no place for interference of politics. And it is not shaped by politics per se; human cultures were not shaped only by “collective decision”, but also from human nature and environmental factors, which is beautifully explained in Steven Pinkler’s book “Blank Slate”, who is otherwise a convinced liberal. Just to mention his convictions, because I have a slight feeling (did I mention that it is very slight) that some people here are more concerned with nicknames, groupings and parole calling than in actual content. So the Left somehow believes that every human activity falls into the category of politics and is therefore malleable; we just need a will to power to change ourselves and someday, all evils of the world will pass.

Also, I realise there’s no point engaging with the likes of Senator McCarthy, but this: “Banning contraceptives is still not organizing state sex with strangers or forced collectivist housing with shared bedrooms and bathrooms” is some high-octane, rare-as-hen’s-teeth crankery, logical oddity aside, and ought to be preserved for posterity. I’d thought the old Bureau of Free Love hysteria was long extinct, to be found only in ancient newspaper clippings, but here it is.

I don’t understand your problem. Is that the mentioning of the infamous social experiments of the first socialist state which tried to redesign basic human relationships? Or should I understand it in a way that mentioning Lebensborn is no problem to you, but if someone mentions “Bureau of Free Love”, then that’s hysteria?

Well, expose away, I guess. (Which gets us back to ‘do not speak of love, do it!’) Is it all just down to your notion that all totalitarianisms must be on the left. The National Socialists were totalitarians, therefore they are leftists? That’s pretty much it for you?

National socialism clearly was the thing of the crowds, just like the French Revolution. It was not a military coup or monarchial absolutism. After all, Hitler was democratically elected, in which he succeeded by using the methods of the Left (French Revolution): the method of crowds and masses, raging against an enemy, who is depicted as the reason for their misery, and towards the honey-bait of the served utopia. So clearly to me, national socialism is a type of leftist totalitarianism. Not to repeat the social experiments and other similarities which I listed in previous posts.

Well, it seems like you are not really interested in debating left-right, then. Because left-right is, for better or worse, thoroughly tangled up in this stuff.

You picked the criterium of alliances, where there is no clear line of loyalty or philosophical coherence, just as signing a contract does not mean that the parties will abide by it. I picked the methods and functioning of the regimes in reality.

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John Holbo 05.13.15 at 11:08 am

“I would not say that private sphere is divine or fateful, but certainly it is no place for interference of politics.”

Ah, I fear you are out of luck then. And voting conservative won’t make it any better.

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John Holbo 05.13.15 at 11:25 am

“So clearly to me, national socialism is a type of leftist totalitarianism.”

Clearly so. But what is your argument? (I have given you mine. Fair is fair.) Your argument seems to be that Hitler was elected. That is 1) a half-truth at best. Really he seized power extra-judicially after being elected Chancellor. (They didn’t have elections for Führer.) 2) unclearly related to the conclusion that he was a leftist. 3) somewhat at cross-angles with the proposition that he was a totalitarian (which no one denies, but they don’t say it because he was elected.)

“the thing of the crowds”

Democracy = totalitarianism?

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bianca steele 05.13.15 at 12:32 pm

@David

If “individualism” is your criterion, then I’d think you do have to see the Nazis as left-wing, and (unless he’s totally confused about his values and theirs), Jonah Goldberg is on their side (which might suggest there’s a narcissism of small differences thing going on). The problem is that one, the traditionalist right is not individualistic, two, much of the left actually is individualistic, and three, liberalism is entirely compatible with anti-individualism.

Liberalism is only on the right if the ancient regime has been definitively defeated, or maybe in the face of an ongoing revolution that liberals are opposing on grounds of “order,” as opposed to principle. It’s entirely reasonable, in the correct circumstances, to see it as on the left when most of the right is taken up by traditionalists or authoritarians. When the traditional right has decided to defend property regardless of who the owner is, yes, it’s in the interest of property owners, “naturally” liberal, to ally with the right. But as a matter of principle, left liberalism is entirely possible.

(One is tired of reiterating that “liberal” doesn’t mean the same thing everywhere. In the U.S. there has never been a party called “Liberal,” and there has never been a Left party successfully involved in official politics. The use the word has elsewhere doesn’t fit. There has perhaps been a small faction of rich, conservative biens-pensants who tried to adopt that meaning of the word, but for obvious reasons it isn’t a meaning that ever was in common use.)

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Joseph McCarthy 05.13.15 at 1:26 pm

“I would not say that private sphere is divine or fateful, but certainly it is no place for interference of politics.”

Ah, I fear you are out of luck then. And voting conservative won’t make it any better.

Better try to prove the consistency of “everything in human culture is politics” theory as I asked you a few posts before…

“So clearly to me, national socialism is a type of leftist totalitarianism.”

Clearly so. But what is your argument? (I have given you mine. Fair is fair.) Your argument seems to be that Hitler was elected. That is 1) a half-truth at best. Really he seized power extra-judicially after being elected Chancellor. (They didn’t have elections for Führer.) 2) unclearly related to the conclusion that he was a leftist. 3) somewhat at cross-angles with the proposition that he was a totalitarian (which no one denies, but they don’t say it because he was elected.)

“the thing of the crowds”

Democracy = totalitarianism?

Hitler’s leftism is in the way he is similar to French (and any other) Revolutionaries: they both sold utopic entitlements to the crowds (equality, supremacy, …) that belong to them just because they are part of ideology. This combined with popular enemy (aristocracy / Jews) he used to seize and hold power. Furthermore, he did not necessarily need top-down violence to enforce his power: people themselves did that as they were brainwashed enough to harass and ostracize ideological enemies themselves (not only Jews, but also non-compliant Germans), similar to internal strifes during Great Terror.

Bringing up elections is not saying that democracy is per se totalitarian, but another hint that main part of his power did not come from aristocracy, but from mass support.

What I also find remarkable is that both movements started expansionistic wars in the name of ideology: Napoleonic Wars, World War 2 and Stalin’s quest for world socialism also comes to mind…

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John Holbo 05.13.15 at 2:50 pm

“Better try to prove the consistency of “everything in human culture is politics” theory as I asked you a few posts before…”

You claim you’ve read Steven Pinker. Then you should know that humans are social animals. How, then, are you proposing to (cleanly!) separate individual life from society? How are you going to (cleanly!) separate society from politics? No one ever has and I say no one ever will. So you are just tripping over anthropological trivialities. I’m not going to give you an argument that humans are social animals. I shouldn’t have to.

“Hitler’s leftism is in the way he is similar to French (and any other) Revolutionaries: they both sold utopic entitlements to the crowds (equality, supremacy, …) that belong to them just because they are part of ideology. This combined with popular enemy (aristocracy / Jews) he used to seize and hold power.”

Sorry, how is this an argument that he is leftist?

Also, your stuff is full of weird factual errors.

“Bringing up elections is not saying that democracy is per se totalitarian, but another hint that main part of his power did not come from aristocracy, but from mass support.”

If by ‘mass support’ you mean that they were a party, then yes. But I fail to see the relevance. At their peak, the Nazis won like 33% of the vote. Do you think all parties that win a plurality of the vote in a popular election are totalitarian since they are relying on ‘mass support’? If by ‘mass support’ you mean that their support came mostly from the lower classes – the masses – then, no, it didn’t. They were strongest with the middle class and had strong support also from professionals and the upper class and, yes, aristocrats. I’ll just quote Bendersky again:

“Nazi economic programs appealed more to the lower middle class than to the workers. In Weimar, the small businessman faced growing competition from big department stores and large corporations. Similarly, low incomes of clerks and white-collar employees denied them the social and economic status they felt they deserved. Economic circumstances made it exceptionally difficult for small farmers to survive; often they blamed their losses on the government or the banks to which they were indebted. Each of these groups felt either threatened or deprived economically by big capital. Their resentment was enhanced by the fear that economic failure would cast them among the lower classes they despised. More and more of them came to believe that national socialism would protect them from the danger from above and below. Despite the socialist components of their ideology, the Nazis were less successful in acquiring working-class support, in part because their version of socialism did not offer the sweeping economic and social revolution advocated by the Marxists. National socialism would eliminate neither private property nor class distinctions.”

Bendersky, Joseph W. (2013-07-11). A Concise History of Nazi Germany (Kindle Locations 765-773). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

I know you don’t want to write history, but I would still recommend that you study it.

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Ogden Wernstrom 05.13.15 at 2:58 pm

In Senate hearings, US Senators get to demand answers to their questions – without being obligated to answer questions themselves. Old habits die hard, it appears.

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stevenjohnson 05.13.15 at 3:10 pm

Luke@84 The citation is very apt. Thanks.

David@89 This is largely correct, although I think it overstates how anti-big business fascist movements are. I believe it is fairer to say that they tend to scapegoat big business and genuinely oppose big business politically active as liberal. Also, business can be quite “liberal.” Sex sells and this is quite different from traditionalist conservatism. By the way, Bianca Steele’s criticism on the anti-individualism of the Nazis I think forgets that liberals aren’t so very individualistic when it comes to war either.

John Holbo agrees with McCarthy that there is such a thing as totalitarianism. I don’t think this is true. Really the whole concept was tendentious nonsense from the start as near as I can tell. Maybe this is why it’s so hard to discuss fascism in liberal terms? Slave patrols in the antebellum South or Black Hundreds in Tsarist Russia as roots of fascism mean fascism and liberal democracy and absolutism are part of a continuum. Far better to promote de Gobineau as the fons et origo, right? Even worse, without some mystical totalitarianism to separate fascism from its more respectable cousins, one might discern elements of fascism or even more horribly the thing itself in current respectable regimes!

Last and least, Joseph McCarthy@83 makes so bold as to claim that there’s no totalitarian organizing of sex with strangers in the decent lands. I have no idea how even a McCarthy can ignore military brothels, even the unofficial ones. This is a country where slaves were bred for internal export to other states! This person also directs me to “Tell that to nations who strived for their autonomy from federations and monarchies.” What I am supposed to tell is that nationalism is about the sovereign right of a nation to wage war. Except of course that is exactly what I said. And I had said that left nationalism was identifiable when it did not transgress its own boundaries, which means such cases are in my view left nationalist. I’m not quite sure what McCarthy is objecting to. I do say that a person who concedes that for instance the UN can justly and legally forbid military aggression by one state against another state has conceded an element of sovereignty to an international institution. By any reasonable lights this person is not a nationalist in the traditional sense and calling them one sows confusion.

Also, as pointed out, Hitler was not elected. Also, part of his consolidation of power was the illegal murder of Ernst Roehm to satisfy the very traditional Army, never alleged even by the likes of McCarthy to be “totalitarian.” (Really, taking the idea of totalitarianism seriously should be considered a red flag signifying confusion or duplicity.)

As for the Napoleonic wars being somehow an extension of the revolution, need I point out that the Jacobins finished off the Enrages, the Hebertistes, Danton and Desmoulin et al; then the Thermidorians finished off the Robespierristes; then, the Directory finished off the Thermidorians (not as lethally, since they were amenable to money in ways Robespierre was, so unforgivably, not; then Sieyes, Duclos and Napoleon finished off the Directory; then of course Napoleon finished off the Consulate. How anyone manages to interpret this as revolutionary war with a straight face is a convincing testimonial to the power of propaganda. (It’s like how a supposedly totalitarian regime under a known anti-Semite in a country with a history of anti-Semitic pogroms somehow not only can’t manage to kill off all its Jews but most of the Jews who survive the Nazis did so because of these totalitarians. ) Even at the beginning, the genuine revolutionary wars were begun at the initiative of the Girondins/Brissotins. You know, the ones who wanted to kill Marat—excuse me, one did!—and save the King. Well, they were distinctly to the left of the Feuillants, so I guess that makes them totalitarians!

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bianca steele 05.13.15 at 4:13 pm

I think it overstates how anti-big business fascist movements are.

I.G. Farben? Volkswagen? Pirelli? These were all big industrial corporations. “Big business” doesn’t only mean banking and commerce (did fascists hate department stores and their owners, on principle?). Anyway, fascists in practice, rather than abolishing big business, concentrated on ensuring they would be managed by “the right sort of people.”

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bianca steele 05.13.15 at 4:17 pm

Also, I was not criticizing Nazis for not being individualists. That would be a strange thing to do.

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bianca steele 05.13.15 at 4:28 pm

Nazi economic programs appealed more to the lower middle class than to the workers.

This is frequently explained in moral terms, rather than than economic ones. The lower middle class wished for a moral kind of life in which they could live “respectably,” and saw the Nazis as imposing this kind of order. They were barred from aspiring to the kind of bourgeois respectability that would require real money, and therefore defined respectability in terms they could attain, mostly sexual morality and public conformity.

The economic argument is a useful addition to that, but whatever the propaganda, the Nazis were not ever going to disenfranchise the wealthy, who had pleaded them in power precisely to prevent that happening. They therefore needed scapegoats to blame for circumstances they had no intention of changing.

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David 05.13.15 at 5:36 pm

@Bianca Steele. I agree that you can’t sensibly apply current American understandings of terms like “liberal” or “left” to other contexts. In my understanding of them, at least, they are pretty much unique. That’s why I would prefer to limit the discussion to the 1930s if I could. On individualism, the traditional right was indeed not individualist (which was why it distrusted liberalism), but then the Nazis were not traditional. If anything, they were from the Darwinian Right – a mishmash of ideas that promoted bitter competition between individuals as a way of selecting the “best” and so strengthening the “race” for the even more bitter racial struggles of annihilation that were to come. Everything was subordinate to this, which is why the question of, say, what the Nazis thought about big business doesn’t matter that much – they would do and say whatever was needed to gain power, and then whatever was needed to turn the country into an efficient war machine for the annihilatory campaign in the East that was to come. Of course supporters of the Nazis may have thought quite differently.
Which is why (e.g. John Holbo at 95) it’s important to insist that Hitler was never “elected” to anything. The Chancellor was not an elected post, and Hitler was “levered into power” in Kershaw’s phrase, by the traditional Right, hoping to use his status as the leader of the largest party in the Reichstag to form a stable government. What they didn’t realize was that Hitler’s power base was not the Reichstag but the SA, with which he terrorized his way to power. The German people never “elected” Hitler, and the most the Nazis ever managed in a free election was about a third of the vote. Had the traditional right hung on, another election might have seen a serious decline in the Nazi vote. Popular support for the Nazis came much later, as a result of the end of the success of Hitler’s economic policies, and (until after 1941) foreign policies as well.
Oh, and if anyone can relate this to the French Revolution they deserve a prize of some sort for ingenuity.

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stevenjohnson 05.13.15 at 5:52 pm

bianca steele@99@100 Sorry for misreading.

David@101 In US context, there is no left which is taboo. Democrats are therefore called left, whereas all major political factions range from moderate conservative to cryptofascist. But calling part of this truncated spectrum “left” fosters an illusion of choice.

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bianca steele 05.13.15 at 6:15 pm

Steven Johnson,

Thanks, I see I misread “overstates” as “overlooks,” and my teeth still hurt from the dentist so I won’t trust myself to say anything else.

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F. Foundling 05.13.15 at 11:50 pm

@LFC 05.11.15 at 3:06 am

>The substantive point here is defensible, but (at the risk of being pedantic) the terms “left” and “right” to designate positions on a political or ideological spectrum did not even exist, as far as I’m aware, before the French Revolution. The terms, as I mentioned on a previous thread in a comment that (as best I can recall) was largely ignored, are a result of where different factions chose to sit in the revolutionary assemblies. (I’m sure the details are readily available from Wiki or elsewhere.)

Of course, that’s what I was alluding to all along. In 1789, the reactionaries (aristocrats, absolutist royalists) were literally seated on the right. The revolutionaries were seated on the left. The other developments I mentioned generally translated into seat choice as well.

>I’m actually not sure that that original left/right distinction maps neatly onto F. Foundling’s ‘equality’ axis.

I’ve no idea how it could be seen as *not* mapping. The cause of the Third Estate in 1789 was egalitarian. The abolition of feudal privilege was egalitarian. The replacement of absolutism with constitutionalism and then with republicanism was egalitarian. The Montagnards were considered to be more egalitarian than the Girondins. In general, there *is* an actual continuity here, and that’s the point I’m trying to make. I *would* have supported these causes, if I were transported to 1789. And I’m pretty sure that many or most of the present-day right-wingers, if given just a little time to acclimatise, would appreciate the ancien régime Right, too, although most of them will deny it now.

@Cassander 05.11.15 at 2:22 am

>>As for the question how relevant the Nazi’s affiliation is for the present-day – well, I personally think it might be good to know that people who fervently and unquestioningly support their troops, are so patriotic as to believe in the exceptionalism of their nation and like to advocate the abandonment of basic principles of the rule of law as conceits of the bleeding hearts just MAY occasionally be up to no good and HAVE sometimes been known to make soap out of people. Just a useful piece of information

>You mean like these guys?

That’s a parade, not a political platform. But yes, I maintain that if someone’s political platform can be expressed, in a nutshell, as a grand military parade, deep trouble probably lies ahead.

>But hey, if you know of some political movement that doesn’t lionize warriors for the cause, I’m all ears.

“Warriors for the cause” is not the same thing as “your own nation’s military *regardless of the cause*”, which is what the line “Do YOU support the troops?” is about. “Fervently and unquestioningly” was a rather important qualification.

>>Of course it’s all a terrible coincidence. But no, we won’t burn the history books.

>And you’re on the end of the spectrum that spent decades supporting Stalin. And then Mao. And then Castro. And then Ho. And until 18 months ago, Hugo Chavez. I believe your traditional excuse has been “bad luck.”

Sure. But we aren’t the ones trying to rewrite history and say that these people were (generally, 100%, self-evidently) on the opposite side of the spectrum. On the other hand, it can be argued that most of them have, at one point or another, betrayed or compromised their leftism to various extents. I see no reason to be particularly ashamed about Chavez, though (that said, I may have missed some terrible mischief he engaged in 18 months ago, while lying in his grave). Or about opposing the actions of Western governments against Castro and Ho, for that matter.

@Sebastian H 05.11.15 at 2:54 am

>>“The left-right axis has been mostly about the extent to which one wants change towards greater equality, away from traditional inequality. “

>I’m not sure you meant to point it out, but it might be clearer to say “The left-right axis has been mostly about the extent to which one changes toward greater non-traditional inequality from traditional inequality.” At least in practice. And I know from the treatment of libertarians that “in practice” trumps in theory. Right?

Actually, I was more interested precisely in the theory and ideology here: what people officially advocate and promise. As for libertarians and other free-market worshippers, in my experience their position is usually not so much that their policies necessarily *won’t* lead to inequality or preserve it in practice; it’s just that they avoid emphasising that issue, because they claim to have other priorities to think about (certain “freedoms”, “sacred rights”, growth, etc.). Still, some will acknowledge their taste for it directly, whereas you have to dig a bit more deeply with others. Nazis and ancien regime reactionaries also like to stress other aspects of their policies (e.g. efficiency, stability, order, tradition, naturalness, holiness), while not explicitly denying the resulting inequality. In general, the conflict tends to be between a Left explicitly fighting for equality and a Right finding a myriad ever-changing reasons to oppose the Left.

As for the practice, I think left-wing policies have indeed generally decreased inequality compared to the previous condition. For example, I’m pretty satisfied with the abolition of absolute monarchy and hereditary feudal privileges, and I’d totally do it all over again if given the chance. :) I think the introduction of universal suffrage was quite an improvement, too. The welfare state was pretty nice as well. Even in Communist countries such as my own, where the leftist project clearly went catastrophically wrong in more than one way, economic equality did increase, while political equality usually either decreased to a lesser extent or didn’t change perceptibly compared to the previous situation.

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F. Foundling 05.14.15 at 12:59 am

As for nationalism – I haven’t managed to follow the discussion, but with the risk of repeating what has already been said – if it means seeking to ensure the equality of members of your ethnicity (“nation”) with others, it can be a left-wing cause. If it’s about seeking to ensure the domination of (members of) your ethnicity over others (imperalialism, as in the Nazi’s plans for Eastern Europe), it is obviously right-wing. If it involves producing anti-egalitarian results in the name of some identity-related value, it is right-wing. So no, not everything that people call “nationalism” is the same thing. Speaking of which, the way the Czech National Socialist Party was unanimously declared to be racist and almost an ancestor of Nazism in an earlier post in this series was quite pathetic.

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John Holbo 05.14.15 at 1:51 am

“The substantive point here is defensible, but (at the risk of being pedantic) the terms “left” and “right” to designate positions on a political or ideological spectrum did not even exist, as far as I’m aware, before the French Revolution. The terms, as I mentioned on a previous thread in a comment that (as best I can recall) was largely ignored, are a result of where different factions chose to sit in the revolutionary assemblies.”

I’m ok with this but would edit ‘but’ to ‘and’. There is, so far as I can see, no tension between the substantive points being made and the proposition that left-right is a post-French Revolution formation, more or less.

Maybe the point is this: left-right is rather crude. It’s positional, in ways that make it ideologically impure, to say the least. Left-right gets tribal. It gets us-vs.-them, which is the opposite of ideological coherence. That doesn’t mean left-right is meaningless, as a guide to political culture in the post-French Revolution era. The compass is not reliable but you have to use it for certain things. For example, everyone else is using it, so if you don’t use it, too, you won’t be able to get how things look to other people. (That’s rather circular. But it’s still true.)

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F. Foundling 05.14.15 at 2:27 am

@Joseph McCarthy 05.11.15 at 1:40 pm

>they did not treat burgeoise as equal human beings which deserved to stay alive. They tried to establish a hierarchy, where the bottom position was just gulag and execution. Their ideal means for this (and their ideal condition of permanent revolution in general) was a society structured like an revolutionary army, with iron discipline, a clear hierarchy of subordination and worship of the leader. It was NOT the *opposite* of what “the left” had stood for since 1789, just the definition of humans was broader than that of the nazis, which concerned their ideology around single race. In many ways, their ideal was an imaginary pre-modern state, with an absolute monarch, a state religion and a clear hierarchy, everything kept coherent by (a somewhat fabricated) tradition; except this time the whole thing was supposed to be somehow more modern, more efficient and even a bit scientific.

Every occurrence of the word “ideal” in your text is wrong. These were things that happened in practice, but they were *not* the ideal and in many ways they were the opposite of the ideal. Some of the phenomena, such as the revolutionary army thing, were supposed to be temporary; others, like the personality cult, were never supposed to develop at all. That’s why many original members and sympathisers were disappointed with the revolutions. For the Nazis, on the other hand, these were features, not bugs.

BTW, “permanent revolution” doesn’t mean what you think it means: look it up on Wikipedia or something. Also, the ex-bourgeoisie were not supposed to be permanently kept at the bottom of some hierarchy or to be killed as subhumans, as in the case of the Jews in the Nazi regime; they would be equal members of the socialist society, as long as they didn’t engage in counter-revolution. Even in practice, despite a lot of terror in the early years and some discrimination, no wholesale slaughter of all ex-bourgeoisie comparable to the Holocaust occurred.

>Furthermore, expansionistic wars are also well tied to the birthplace of the Left – the Napoleonic wars of spreading Revolution around the globe with “right-wing” appeal to French national sentiment.

The issue of the “revolutionary” nature of Napoleon’s regime aside (see stevenjohnson’s comment on the subject), I agree that spreading freedom and democracy is a left-wing type of justification for non-defensive war. It’s usually hypocritical, but if it were sincere, it would be better than most other, more traditional justifications for non-defensive war.

>As for the question how relevant the Commie’s affiliation is for the present-day – well, I personally think it might be good to know that people who fervently and unquestioningly support the government role in society, are so patriotic as to believe in the exceptionalism of their class and like to advocate the abandonment of basic principles such as private property and the rule of law as conceits of the bleeding hearts just MAY occasionally be up to no good and HAVE sometimes been known to mass execute their fellows. Just a useful piece of information.

Sorry, I don’t recognise any influential present-day group identified as “Left” in your description. That said, I agree that historical socialist revolutions shouldn’t have abandoned the rule of law or encouraged class hatred. Feel free to remind me of this next time you spot me advocating that all rich people should be shot.

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F. Foundling 05.14.15 at 2:35 am

@John Holbo 05.14.15 at 1:51 am
> left-right is a post-French Revolution formation, more or less.

The terms – sure. As for the actual opposition between populist and elitist politics, it was present in Ancient Greece and Rome, in Renaissance Italy, to various degrees in Civil War-era England, etc.. I dare say it has always existed and will always exist, for as long as there are humans. On the other hand, I guess that the association of the right with tradition and of the left with progress and rationality, which determine their present-day profiles to a great extent, began in the late 18th century.

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F. Foundling 05.14.15 at 2:48 am

@Sebastian H 05.10.15 at 10:20 pm

>But it does so by defining things Republicans vote for as right wing and things Democrats vote for as left wing. There are all sorts of things for which that method of sorting has no obvious right-left reason behind it. Abortion, climate change, environmentalism, and religion being the most obvious that leap to mind).

Abortion: equality of women and men (ability to avoid being burdened with a child where men don’t risk that) > left-wing. Also, perhaps, different understandings of what it takes to be counted as a human – sentience vs genetic belonging to the tribe – although I haven’t seen someone describe it consciously like that.

Religion: authoritarianism of past ages preserved in religious traditions + Big Boss on the sky > right-wing.

Climate change and environmentalism: well, if you buy the plutocracy’s propaganda, they might as well sneak some of their special interest lies into the same media. > right-wing

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Harold 05.14.15 at 5:24 am

@23 So left wing nationalism is peaceful and inclusive but right wing national is evil and aggressive? Is that really your level of analysis? Because it is demonstrably the case that left wing nationalists crossed borders to unify their countries, and nationalism, by definition, defines some group as “the nation” and others as “not the nation”.

For an example of left-wing nationalism see entry on N.S.F. Gruntvig p. 73-74, here:

https://books.google.com/books?id=Ghah5S3usnsC&pg=PA73&lpg=PA73&dq=N.+F.+S.+Grundtvig+Nationalism&source=bl&ots=hyggxx1Zdw&sig=8CJaNQ1A8b10HAsuTflk47dIxLc&hl=en&sa=X&ei=LC9UVYCrBIX5yQTKmYGABQ&ved=0CE8Q6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=N.%20F.%20S.%20Grundtvig%20Nationalism&f=false

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David 05.14.15 at 9:38 am

I’m not sure the distinction between left and right wing nationalism is that relevant to this discussion, but for what it’s worth, yes, there are non-aggressive concepts of nationalism, often based around pride in national heritage, history, culture etc. The change really came (again) with the French Revolution, which for the first time denominated people as “citizens” and not as “subjects”. At least in theory, a “nation” was something you chose to be a member of, and could leave if you didn’t like it. The classic statement of this, of course, is Ernest Renan in his lecture “Qu’est-ce qu’une nation” where he mocks the then fashionable idea of nations based on “race” and “blood”, and substitutes the idea of a community where all wish to live together. Such a theory amounts to saying that anyone can be French if they want to, and lies behind the historical policy of “assimilation”. It’s also essentially peaceful as a doctrine, as observers of Bastille day will have noticed. Even the military parades are all about the link between the Army and the nation, and the defence of the territory.
The Revolution was different – there are distant pre-echoes of current doctrines of humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect in the military actions that followed 1789 – but don’t forget that the King and the aristocracy, as well as a number of the Liberal politicians, were actively conniving with foreign powers to invade the country and restore the monarchy.

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Joseph McCarthy 05.14.15 at 2:04 pm

You claim you’ve read Steven Pinker. Then you should know that humans are social animals. How, then, are you proposing to (cleanly!) separate individual life from society? How are you going to (cleanly!) separate society from politics? No one ever has and I say no one ever will. So you are just tripping over anthropological trivialities. I’m not going to give you an argument that humans are social animals. I shouldn’t have to.

You still try to build a straw man and changed your statement here: http://bit.ly/1bS1Qg4 and that of a poster here: http://bit.ly/1H5bIf8 which says that any human activity (or if you prefer, any human social activity) is political. Do you then step back and state that human activities are to some degree political? Still, how do you explain the change from matriarchate to patriarchate in terms of politics?

If by ‘mass support’ you mean that they were a party, then yes. ….

You (and many other posters) concentrate on elections, but ignore the methods of self-advertising which is clearly a mirror of French Revolution, so let’s repeat it:

Hitler’s leftism is in the way he is similar to French (and any other) Revolutionaries: they both sold utopic entitlements to the crowds (equality, supremacy, …) that belong to them just because they are part of ideology. This combined with popular enemy (aristocracy / Jews) he used to seize and hold power. Furthermore, he did not necessarily need top-down violence to enforce his power: people themselves did that as they were brainwashed enough to harass and ostracize ideological enemies themselves (not only Jews, but also non-compliant Germans), similar to internal strifes during Great Terror.

I have no idea how even a McCarthy can ignore military brothels, even the unofficial ones.

Is fucking in a brothel an officer’s duty whose non-obedience is punishable?

As for the Napoleonic wars being somehow an extension of the revolution, need I point out that /.. he killed that one and was killed by this one… etc ../

Still, conflict was motivated by ideology. Ones to safeguard revolution and the others to fight it for the fear of breaking out at their doorstep. Next, the international-socialist expansionistic wars also didn’t have single leader, but myriads of them from Lenin to 1990.

In general, the conflict tends to be between a Left explicitly fighting for equality

I’m just interested: could you describe how your ideal society of equality would look like in practice?

@F. Foundling 05.14.15 at 2:27 am

This was the mirroring of one of the previous posts.

Also, the ex-bourgeoisie were not supposed to be permanently kept at the bottom of some hierarchy or to be killed as subhumans, as in the case of the Jews in the Nazi regime; they would be equal members of the socialist society, as long as they didn’t engage in counter-revolution.

“Didn’t engage in Counter-revolution” – now I am calmed.

Even in practice, despite a lot of terror in the early years and some discrimination, no wholesale slaughter of all ex-bourgeoisie comparable to the Holocaust occurred.

Utterly false.

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John Holbo 05.14.15 at 4:06 pm

“You still try to build a straw man and changed your statement here: http://bit.ly/1bS1Qg4 and that of a poster here: http://bit.ly/1H5bIf8 which says that any human activity (or if you prefer, any human social activity) is political.”

Are you seriously now objecting that I didn’t say that human beings are partly social/political animals? (Rather than just plain social animals.) When Steven Pinker says man is a social animal, do you object on the ground that he failed to add the ‘partly’?

I am now – and have consistently been – saying that individual life and family life is political, all the way back to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, in the following sense. The way people live is always bound up with the forms of society they live in. All human life is political in that sense. Do you deny it?

You, on the other hand, seem determined to take an absurdly purist line.

“I would not say that private sphere is divine or fateful, but certainly it is no place for interference of politics.”

That’s like saying ‘keep your government out of my medicare/social security’. The construction of private spheres is a political act. Such things are creations of modern society and politics. And a good thing, too! But a very political consequential thing. Giving people spheres of personal autonomy is not non-interference in politics. It is a form of politics.

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John Holbo 05.14.15 at 4:21 pm

Also, you still have no argument that Hitler was a leftist. Merely re-quoting yourself failing to offer an argument does not transmute the quoted non-argument into an argument.

“ignore the methods of self-advertising”?

What does that mean?

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stevenjohnson 05.14.15 at 4:58 pm

“‘I have no idea how even a McCarthy can ignore military brothels, even the unofficial ones.’

Is fucking in a brothel an officer’s duty whose non-obedience is punishable?”

Refusing to organize a military brothel is indeed grounds for punishment.

“‘As for the Napoleonic wars being somehow an extension of the revolution, need I point out that /.. he killed that one and was killed by this one… etc ../’

Still, conflict was motivated by ideology. Ones to safeguard revolution and the others to fight it for the fear of breaking out at their doorstep. Next, the international-socialist expansionistic wars also didn’t have single leader, but myriads of them from Lenin to 1990.”

When Napoleon crowned himself emperor, he made the prima facie case the motivating ideology was monarchism, not revolution. There were no expansionistic international-socialist wars. I suppose you would count support for the Loyalist government of Spain, but your guy Franco won. Unlike you, I do not consider the defeat of Nazi Germany as expansionism. I suppose your kind would somehow think the Non-aggression Pact in 1939 is somehow more outrageous than the Munich Pact in 1938. But I don’t. I know that there are legions who will never forgive Stalin for beating Hitler, but that’s not my criticism of him and I will never agree with yours.

In general, the conflict tends to be between a Left explicitly fighting for equality

I’m just interested: could you describe how your ideal society of equality would look like in practice?

“‘Even in practice, despite a lot of terror in the early years and some discrimination, no wholesale slaughter of all ex-bourgeoisie comparable to the Holocaust occurred.’

Utterly false.”

This is not addressed to me, but to F. Foundling. But it is so outrageous that I must object. This is a lie. And I believe that by falsely equating the victims of purges and famines as well as revolutionary conflit, with the victims of a premeditated genocide like the Holocaust (some like you even claim more victims!) is nothing more than apologetics for fascism. I am disappointed that Holbo let this slide.

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Joseph McCarthy 05.15.15 at 6:27 am

Are you seriously now objecting that I didn’t say that human beings are partly social/political animals? (Rather than just plain social animals.) When Steven Pinker says man is a social animal, do you object on the ground that he failed to add the ‘partly’?

I am now – and have consistently been – saying that individual life and family life is political, all the way back to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, in the following sense. The way people live is always bound up with the forms of society they live in. All human life is political in that sense. Do you deny it?

…and I say that societies are not completely political constructs of an power-holding authority, but are shaped also by natural environment and human biology. I still miss an application of your claim: political categorization of matriarchy and the explanation of its development into patriarchy.

Also, you still have no argument that Hitler was a leftist. Merely re-quoting yourself failing to offer an argument does not transmute the quoted non-argument into an argument.

Your failure and refusal to address it is telling by itself. Look to (revolutionary) practice instead of theoretical claims about causes and that is where we part.

There were no expansionistic international-socialist wars.

Soviet Union then must have been a humanitarian superpower that just ended WW2 and sow roses after that. What a joke.

This is a lie.

No it is not. Communist revolutions purged or expelled every industrialist and pre-revolutionary politicians in most countries. Perfect ethnic cleansing.

And I believe that by falsely equating the victims of purges and famines as well as revolutionary conflit, with the victims of a premeditated genocide like the Holocaust (some like you even claim more victims!) is nothing more than apologetics for fascism.

What on earth is “equating the victims”? Mentioning the communist genocide does not in any way say anything about Holocaust. And yes, there were more victims of communist regimes, if not for anything else then because it took over more countries and lasted more years than Hitler’s national socialism.

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John Holbo 05.15.15 at 7:59 am

“and I say that societies are not completely political constructs of an power-holding authority, but are shaped also by natural environment and human biology.”

Ah, now you are shifting the goalposts, sir. The question is not whether there cases in which human life is purely constituted by politics. We can all agree not. The question is whether you were right to say before that human environments can be constructed that are perfectly politics/society free. I say not. That is a utopian dream. Do you now concede this point?

“I still miss an application of your claim: political categorization of matriarchy and the explanation of its development into patriarchy.”

I have been ignoring this because I have no idea what you are talking about. From the fact that human life is never perfectly politics free, I’m supposed to think something about matriarchy? What am I supposed to think? And why?

“Your failure and refusal to address it is telling by itself. Look to (revolutionary) practice instead of theoretical claims about causes and that is where we part.”

What is it? Just tell me. You can think that it’s telling that I can’t tell what it is, from what you’ve said, I don’t care. But either way: tell me what the argument is. Don’t just say: look. That’s too vague. Tell me what I’m supposed to be seeing that would support your view.

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John Holbo 05.15.15 at 8:08 am

Let me sharpen up that last challenge a bit. You suggest that I am making ‘theoretical claims about causes’ whereas you have been looking to practice. It looks to me like the opposite is the case. I have been studying real history whereas you are inventing an alt-history of the Nazis as lefties to suit your (rather utopian) ideological priors. Correct me if I am wrong. And by correction I mean: make an argument. Or provide some evidence for your claims.

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Joseph McCarthy 05.15.15 at 3:58 pm

Ah, now you are shifting the goalposts, sir. The question is not whether there cases in which human life is purely constituted by politics. We can all agree not. The question is whether you were right to say before that human environments can be constructed that are perfectly politics/society free. I say not. That is a utopian dream. Do you now concede this point?

I distinguish politics and society. I talked about politics in a sense of a authority figure in posession of power, who influences things top-down (although sometimes masked as coming from “people”, but leave that aside).

Of course I disagree about perfections and absolute categories, they fall. Saying that there is a private realm, where there is no place for politics, does not deny that there IS some realm where the influence of politics exists and also does not deny the possibility that the boundary of private realm can be politically decided.

Which is different to the statement that culture is always political. “Always” is an absolute term, right?

I have been ignoring this because I have no idea what you are talking about. From the fact that human life is never perfectly politics free, I’m supposed to think something about matriarchy? What am I supposed to think? And why?

Look at these posts again: http://bit.ly/1bS1Qg4 & http://bit.ly/1H5bIf8 . I am interested in the political categorization of matirarchy (conservative / progressive culture) and the explanation of its transformation to patriarchy in terms of political devices according to the statement that “culture has always been political”.

“Your failure and refusal to address it is telling by itself. Look to (revolutionary) practice instead of theoretical claims about causes and that is where we part.”

What is it? Just tell me. You can think that it’s telling that I can’t tell what it is, from what you’ve said, I don’t care. But either way: tell me what the argument is. Don’t just say: look. That’s too vague. Tell me what I’m supposed to be seeing that would support your view.

Let me sharpen up that last challenge a bit. You suggest that I am making ‘theoretical claims about causes’ whereas you have been looking to practice. It looks to me like the opposite is the case. I have been studying real history whereas you are inventing an alt-history of the Nazis as lefties to suit your (rather utopian) ideological priors. Correct me if I am wrong. And by correction I mean: make an argument. Or provide some evidence for your claims.

You define Left with advocacy of egalitarianism. I define Left with the methods of French Revolution.

The first definition is theoretical; it does not say anything about actual actions of the (self-)identified Left. It leaves open the possibility of anyone being a leftist just because of his stated causes. Hitler should only polish his wording a little bit and he would be accepted as a respectable leftist also by people on this site.

In practice however, Left gave birth to mobilization of masses as an useful-idiot agent in power seizure. Revolutionaries sold (and sell) the crowd an appealing cause which, regardless of its content, gives them an opportunity to act out against perceived enemy and an illusion of personal merit just because they are a part of ideology. Nazism relied precisely on that trait and that is why it is a form of leftism.

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F. Foundling 05.15.15 at 10:10 pm

So let’s sum up the brilliant theories that Joseph McCarthy has set forth in this comment section: you can recognise leftists, such as the Nazis, by the fact that they sell the masses “an appealing cause”, that they are “selling utopia” and are “inciting belief in masses that they are superior”, and that they are “raging against an enemy, who is depicted as the reason for their misery”. You are seriously trying to suggest that right-wingers don’t do any of that. I suppose the proper thing to do politics, and the way US conservatives win elections, is 1. being non-appealing to the majority of the population; 2. promising dystopia; 3. praising their enemy for having caused happiness and well-being. Never flattering their electorate, never telling them that they are salt of the earth, true working people, “real America”; never blaming the liberals for having ruined everything. That’s pathetic. *Everybody* does that; everybody tries to mobilise the masses (for the original revolution, see the Chouannerie), even more obviously so in democratic politics. The difference between Left and Right is not whether you do it, but how you do it: what the ideology is, who the enemies are, what the promised end-result and the promised means are.

“Utopia”, of course, is so subjective that it has no place in any definition: it means “very good condition that is impossible to achieve” and what is impossible is subjective. I for one think that a capitalism that delivers justice and well-being to people without the need for a welfare state and regulation is one of the most wild-eyed utopias imaginable, excplicable only by how well paid its proponents are. The “good old times” of traditional “conservatism”, actually reaction, are a utopia that never was, where people were happy and lived in harmony, while oppressed in a myriad ways. Even conventionally, far-left movements such as Communism have been associated with alleged utopias, but moderate left ones have not. I don’t see how ordinary social-democratic parties, not to mention the bulk of the relative “left” in the USA, could possibly be said to be more utopian than their right-wing adversaries. If anything, how utopian you seem is a function of how radical you are, how close to the edge of the spectrum you are, not in what direction you are radical.

> You define Left with advocacy of egalitarianism. I define Left with the methods of French Revolution. The first definition is theoretical; it does not say anything about actual actions of the (self-)identified Left. It leaves open the possibility of anyone being a leftist just because of his stated causes.

“Left-wing” and “right-wing” describe, above all, political platforms – official ideologies, platforms and rhetorical strategies for winning support. Discussing practice is much more complicated – if it differs from their promises, then you may say that they are left/right-wing in theory but not in practice, or just that they have failed. But if you do want to talk about action, well – just replace “advocate egalitarianism” with “(deliberately) achieve egalitarianism”! For the practices *you* are trying to equate “Left” with, on the other hand, there are separate terms such as “dictatorship”, “totalitarianism” and “terror”, of all of which there have been plenty of right-wing instances *in practice*. So no, you don’t just get to redefine “left-wing” as “dictatorial”, “totalitarian”, “terrorist”, or as “telling sweet lies” for that matter, as you have been trying to do in all of your posts.

As for the French Revolution, it was not *one* thing with a single set of methods and views and did not consist of terror from start to finish. But it did abolish absolute monarchy, aristocratic privilege, serfdom, slavery, and the secular power of the Church, and that’s a good reason for lovers of traditional/natural hierarchy such as yourself to hate it.

>>Even in practice, despite a lot of terror in the early years and some discrimination, no wholesale slaughter of all ex-bourgeoisie comparable to the Holocaust occurred.

>Utterly false.

This might be news to you, but *huge* numbers of people of so-called “bourgeois” origin lived through the Communist revolutions in Russia and Eastern Europe. They were known as such to the authorities, they were not in hiding, some of them were among the most prominent intellectuals of their time, and remained non-Communists, indeed more or less covertly hostile: Bulgakov, Akhmatova (yes, her relatives were persecuted, but she was never killed), Pasternak. Can you imagine saying the same thing about a Jew in Nazi Germany? I live in a post-Communist country, I know plenty of people of (upper-class) bourgeois origin myself; not to mention the so-called “petty bourgeoisie”, to which most people belonged, including most intellectuals. There were inexcusable persecutions of the former elite, yes; many were killed, which is terrible, yes (as many others had been killed by the previous right-wing regimes). There was no systematic policy of killing all of them, and being killed was *not* the rule. I can’t believe I even have to argue about this.

>No it is not. Communist revolutions purged or expelled every industrialist and pre-revolutionary politicians in most countries. Perfect ethnic cleansing. …communist genocide…

You’re changing definitions and shifting goalposts. In genocide, you systematically kill everyone, men, women and children, just for belonging to a group, not for anything they do. Expelling is not the same thing as “wholesale slaughter”. Industrialists (factory owners) and politicians, who are a very small minority in the population, are not the same thing as “the bourgeoisie”, which is a much broader term. And your claim is not accurate even for them. In some of the countries, many stayed and adapted (obviously, they were at a high risk of persecution and condemnation on trumped-up charges during the terror years). In others, they did leave for various reasons, including avoidance of expropriation and risk of persecution, but I don’t think they were officially expelled. Nope, still not Holocaust.

>I’m just interested: could you describe how your ideal society of equality would look like in practice?

Left-wing politics is about *movement* in a direction towards more equality, not necessarily a defined final *condition*. But in general – yes, you’ve guessed right, Joseph McCarthy: I’m for democracy and for absence of heritable privilege not only in politics, but also in the economy. It’s because I actually like freedom, you see.

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F. Foundling 05.15.15 at 10:45 pm

@stevenjohnson 05.14.15 at 4:58 pm
>And I believe that by falsely equating the victims of purges and famines as well as revolutionary conflit, with the victims of a premeditated genocide like the Holocaust (some like you even claim more victims!) is nothing more than apologetics for fascism. I am disappointed that Holbo let this slide.

I happen to have more or less the same attitude towards McCarthy’s position, but I don’t think the forcible suppression of opinions is a good thing – either in public or in private discussion, including “private spaces” that nonertheless function as public fora/agoras in practice. Asking for more micromanagement of discussions is not a good idea, IMO.

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F. Foundling 05.15.15 at 10:50 pm

@my post at 05.14.15 at 2:48 am

>Climate change and environmentalism: well, if you buy the plutocracy’s propaganda, they might as well sneak some of their special interest lies into the same media. > right-wing

Oops. Obviously, the “right-wing” label was supposed to apply to denialism / anti-environmentalism. Just realised it could be misconstrued as the reverse.

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John Holbo 05.16.15 at 12:05 am

“I talked about politics in a sense of a authority figure in posession of power, who influences things top-down (although sometimes masked as coming from “people”, but leave that aside).”

This is hand-down the worst definition of ‘politics’ I have ever seen. You are trying to define ‘authoritarian dictatorship’, which isn’t even approximately a synonym for ‘politics’. ‘Politics’ has to mean something more generic like: methods of governance/organization of societies. This is why politics is not separable from society. There is no such thing as a society that isn’t organized some way, rather than another. When you get that, you get politics, in some way, shape or form.

“I define Left with the methods of French Revolution.”

This is a terrible, obviously unworkable definition. It’s vague, and it’s not even vague in the right way. It fails to capture the position quality of the term, which was its original sense; it fails to capture the ideological quality of the term, which was its secondary sense.

“Of course I disagree about perfections and absolute categories, they fall. Saying that there is a private realm, where there is no place for politics, does not deny that there IS some realm where the influence of politics exists and also does not deny the possibility that the boundary of private realm can be politically decided.”

This is utopian. You are trying to wriggle out of this, saying you aren’t a utopian because you can see that there is a world where your utopian schemes haven’t worked out yet – namely, the actual world. But this is never going to work. Marx knew that the revolution hadn’t already happened, but he was still a utopian. You are dreaming of a kind of thing that has never existed, and that all of human history suggests can’t exist.

Your extreme utopianism isn’t even conceptually coherent. First, you are obviously now shifting into ‘politics’ in the ordinary sense, not your (silly) stipulative sense. You use ‘politics’ to mean individual authoritarianism, yet say a ‘political’ decision could bring about your ideal order. But a dictator will never create liberal spheres of autonomy. Hence, by your own theory, there is no ‘political’ way to do this.

But mostly, once we are using ‘politics’ in a sensible way, there is no way to conceive of liberal autonomy as the generation of private spheres where there is ‘no place for politics’. We make such things because we think it will make for healthy politics, not no-politics. The creation of a such stuff is obviously highly political consequential. It isn’t politically neutral, or inert, as you suggest. There is no way to make it be that the existence of a political order is a non-political fact.

“Which is different to the statement that culture is always political. “Always” is an absolute term, right?”

You are confusing ‘always’ and ‘only’. You are inferring that if something is always X, it must be only X. That is a fallacy. Compare: water always contains hydrogen. It doesn’t follow that water is pure hydrogen. Do you see the difference?

“I am interested in the political categorization of matirarchy (conservative / progressive culture) and the explanation of its transformation to patriarchy in terms of political devices according to the statement that “culture has always been political”.”

I have no opinion about this, starting with having no opinion (but a strong skeptical suspicion) concerning whether the phenomenon to be explained is real. I don’t think we know that ancient matriarchies turned into patriarchies. And I don’t understand how, even if we thought we knew that, ‘culture has always been political’ would explain the shift. This statement doesn’t refer to a ‘device’ for regime change. Also, I don’t accept your definition of ‘matriarchy’. Matriarchy has nothing to do with being ‘progressive’. That’s a modern notion. Matriarchy refers to any political order in which females have power.

I will say this: you have provided a reason for thinking that the Nazis have to be left-wing. Namely, you just arbitrarily defined all authoritarianism (all politics, I think) as ‘left-wing’. It’s true, you can use words how you like, but the interest of such exercises is minimal, especially when the motive seem – as in your case – the drawing of a curtain over real politics, to protect your utopian schemes from exposure, as such.

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Joseph McCarthy 05.16.15 at 9:20 am

Never flattering their electorate, never telling them that they are salt of the earth, true working people, “real America”; never blaming the liberals for having ruined everything. /../ *Everybody* does that;

Still, flattering is not selling them utopian cause. Which utopian cause is being sold by the Right?

For the practices *you* are trying to equate “Left” with, on the other hand, there are separate terms such as “dictatorship”, “totalitarianism” and “terror”, of all of which there have been plenty of right-wing instances *in practice*.

&

This is a terrible, obviously unworkable definition.

Right-wing dictatorship is top-down. It is not a thing enforced by a self-righteous raging mob as the Leftisms of French Revolution and (inter)national socialisms up to its contemporaries do.

But it did abolish absolute monarchy, aristocratic privilege, serfdom, slavery,

…and ended in another absolute monarchy of Napoleon, and absolute monarchy and serfdom of Stalinism, and established the privilege of ideologic professional revolutionaries.

Expelling is not the same thing as “wholesale slaughter”.

Hitler also did not kill every Jew. Some escaped beforehand, just like the refugees from communism. And the others also happened to survive his regime, so no difference from communism here.

We make such things because we think it will make for healthy politics, not no-politics.

Not only do you take every human mean as a political mean, but you make politics an end in itself. That is telling. That’s saying no social action is influenced from the outside of political reality – an the reason that you can’t explain history on simple example of matriarchy, because this stance is utopian.

I have no opinion about this, starting with having no opinion (but a strong skeptical suspicion) concerning whether the phenomenon to be explained is real. I don’t think we know that ancient matriarchies turned into patriarchies.

Obviously, it is not present today. So it must have sometimes evolved into some other form of organization. Explain this phenomenon using any of your preferable definition of politics. But you cannot do this and try to wriggle out. How come, if culture is always political, this should be an easy task!

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John Holbo 05.16.15 at 10:01 am

“Obviously, it is not present today. So it must have sometimes evolved into some other form of organization.”

I can’t resist. It is a fallacy to assume that something that does not exist today must have existed in the past. Compare: Elves are not present today. Therefore we must have at some point evolved from elves. It really isn’t a logical thought. From the fact that no matriarchies exist today, it doesn’t follow that existing social/government forms evolved out of ancient matriarchy.

“Explain this phenomenon using any of your preferable definition of politics. But you cannot do this and try to wriggle out. How come, if culture is always political, this should be an easy task!”

Why should a definition of politics, in itself, be an explanation – let alone an easy explanation – of every particular political event/change?

“Not only do you take every human mean as a political mean, but you make politics an end in itself.”

Political liberalism – say, the constitution of a sphere of autonomy for each individual – is not a non-political arrangement. It is a political arrangement. We do a political thing for a political end. Does this mean there can’t be any end beyond politics? Obviously there can be and there is. The point of healthy politics is human happiness and flourishing. And we’re done!

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Joseph McCarthy 05.16.15 at 12:33 pm

I can’t resist. It is a fallacy to assume that something that does not exist today must have existed in the past.

Humans existed in a past and so did human societies, cultures, organizations (whatever you call the collective behaviour). So if some form of culture existed in a past that is not present today, it must have changed itself by whatever process. Or be completely annihilated.

Why should a definition of politics, in itself, be an explanation – let alone an easy explanation – of every particular political event/change?

The desire for explanation comes from a statement that human societies are always shaped by politics.

Political liberalism – say, the constitution of a sphere of autonomy for each individual – is not a non-political arrangement. It is a political arrangement.

What is then a violation of or indifference to such “agreements”? A political act?

Second point, it’s a bit of hen and egg problem. It is constituted? What existed then before its constituting? Full political society with no sphere of autonomy?

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John Holbo 05.16.15 at 1:19 pm

“The desire for explanation comes from a statement that human societies are always shaped by politics.”

Well, I too desire explanations, but I think I am a bit more selective than you when it comes to quality. The big problem with trying to explain specific political events by simply tossing a general definition of ‘political’ at them is that historical explanation doesn’t work that way.

“Second point, it’s a bit of hen and egg problem. It is constituted? What existed then before its constituting? Full political society with no sphere of autonomy?”

No, it’s really not anything like a chicken and egg problem. The answer to the question of what came before various forms of modern politics is: various forms of pre-modern politics.

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stevenjohnson 05.16.15 at 1:34 pm

If I may summarize?
1. Hitler et al. are commonly acknowledged to be totalitarians who called themselves socialist and had some policies in common with the other kind of socialists.
2. The French Revolution was totalitarian.
3. The French Revolution is commonly acknowledged to have been left wing, the term left itself deriving from the revolution.

The conclusion that Hitler et al. were leftists does follow from the premises.

Also:

A. Genocide is a conclusive demonstration of totalitarianism.
B. Communist regimes carried out more genocide even than the Nazis.
C. Communist regimes are commonly acknowledged to be left.

The conclusion that left is a more appropriate descriptor for Hitler et al. also follows from the premises, justifying the previous conclusion by a different chain of reasoning.

Holbo and McCarthy agree on premises 3&C, as does everyone, these being common knowledge. Holbo and McCarthy also agree on premises 1&A. If Holbo disagrees on premises 2&B, he has not troubled to say so. Holbo does disagree that the conclusions follow from the premises, for reasons that are unclear, to say the least.

Perhaps it is the notion that there is a difference between left and right totalitarianism? Given the undefinability of totalitarianism (as exemplified by the mysterious chatter about politics and private lives,) it is hard to say how this is a compelling distinction.

Perhaps Holbo is content with his observation you can’t write the history ignoring left/right distinctions in details of this kind?B ut, given the mysterious powers of totalitarianism, it is still hard to say whether mere history matters to the final conclusion. Totalitarianism will express its mystic essence, a bit like a satanic opponent to Hegel’s Absolute Ideal. And of course, formally, McCarthy is correct in observing he’s not writing history.

Thus, it matters not a bit to McCarthy that he hasn’t confronted (much less refuted!) a single argument Holbo has made. Holbo hasn’t engaged any of McCarthy’s logic or premises either. I suppose this explains why Holbo has to keep engaging with McCarthy at such length.

By my lights, the flagrant ideological dishonesty of premises 2&B conclusively refute McCarthy. I’ve already commented on premise B, but, for the record, I firmly believe premise 2 is black propaganda as well.

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F. Foundling 05.16.15 at 2:33 pm

@Joseph McCarthy 05.16.15 at 9:20 am

>Which utopian cause is being sold by the Right?

I’ve already answered that. Here you are again: The Perfect Free Market utopia, the Good Old Times utopia, the Unctonrollable Yet Benevolent Boss/King/Church utopia… you name it. I might add the Joseph McCarthies’ Making Sensible Arguments utopia. As you may or may not have noticed at this point, people do not always agree on what is possible and what isn’t.

>Right-wing dictatorship is top-down. It is not a thing enforced by a self-righteous raging mob as the Leftisms of French Revolution and (inter)national socialisms up to its contemporaries do.

That’s rubbish. First, you are idealising real-life leftist dictatorships by believing they weren’t top-down and were just the results of chaotic raging mobs. At their worst and subsequently most chastised moments, they were about as authoritarian and indifferent towards the will of the majority as right-wing regimes. You are basically buying Stalin’s claims of being a democrat in order to attack democracy. You are also idealising right-wing regimes, since they have used brainwashed reactionary mobs (e.g. the Black Hundreds) when they have been able to.

>> But it did abolish absolute monarchy, aristocratic privilege, serfdom, slavery,

>…and ended in another absolute monarchy of Napoleon, and absolute monarchy and serfdom of Stalinism, and established the privilege of ideologic professional revolutionaries.

So I don’t see the problem, it got back to the original good condition, didn’t it? Seriously, blaming the people who wanted to restrict the power of Louis XVI and to establish the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789 for everything that happened in the next 30 years is absurd. Let’s go on then – if the likes of Abbé Sieyès and Mirabeau ended in Napoleon, then Napoleon naturally ended in Louis Philippe, whose failure inevitably resulted in Napoleon III, whose deposing predictably ended in the Third Republic, which was a prime example of a functioning democracy for 50 years! Sure, the Third Republic inevitably resulted in defeat in WW2, but this in turn naturally led to the present state of France, which, after all, is much better than the absolutist regime of 1788… Right? Oops, I’d forgotten who I was talking to. The current socialist totalitarian dictatorship in France is much *worse* than in 1788, of course.

>Hitler also did not kill every Jew. Some escaped beforehand, just like the refugees from communism. And the others also happened to survive his regime, so no difference from communism here.

No Jew that the Nazi state could get its hands on was left alive. If anyone happened to survive, they were in hiding (or were Nazi leaders themselves, or were in some other exceptional situation that proves the rule). I think I’m lending credence to this madness by even discussing it, so I’ll just stop.

OK, at this point, I give up. Let it be known that the sheer force and brilliance of Joseph McCarthy’s arguments has overwhelmed me and convinced me of the correctness of his position. I hereby acknowledge that he is right in every respect and, having realised the folly of my leftist ways, I now proceed to permanently leave this discussion in order to go and hang myself. Hugs and kisses!

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William Burns 05.16.15 at 3:09 pm

Steven Johnson,

If you really think those conclusions follow from those premises, you don’t know much about logic.

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Joseph McCarthy 05.16.15 at 4:27 pm

Thus, it matters not a bit to McCarthy that he hasn’t confronted (much less refuted!) a single argument Holbo has made. Holbo hasn’t engaged any of McCarthy’s logic or premises either. I suppose this explains why Holbo has to keep engaging with McCarthy at such length.

I have stated that Holbo’s arguing has the same flaw as those who he criticizes: relying on statements.

By my lights, the flagrant ideological dishonesty of premises 2&B conclusively refute McCarthy. I’ve already commented on premise B, but, for the record, I firmly believe premise 2 is black propaganda as well.

I didn’t base my argument on body count, not even on totalitarianism alone, but on usage of crowds as a tool in power seizure.

I’ve already answered that. Here you are again: The Perfect Free Market utopia, the Good Old Times utopia, the Unctonrollable Yet Benevolent Boss/King/Church utopia… you name it. I might add the Joseph McCarthies’ Making Sensible Arguments utopia. As you may or may not have noticed at this point, people do not always agree on what is possible and what isn’t.

You just stretched the arguments to absurd to present them as utopical. Secondly, mentioned paroles are related to techniques or third persons. Utoipa of egalitarianism and supremacy is pointed directly toward individual.

That’s rubbish. First, you are idealising real-life leftist dictatorships by believing they weren’t top-down and were just the results of chaotic raging mobs. At their worst and subsequently most chastised moments, they were about as authoritarian and indifferent towards the will of the majority as right-wing regimes. You are basically buying Stalin’s claims of being a democrat in order to attack democracy. You are also idealising right-wing regimes, since they have used brainwashed reactionary mobs (e.g. the Black Hundreds) when they have been able to.

Of course was mob steered by people interested in power. Ideas did not come from crowds, but ideas mobilized them.

Right-wing mobs are – as you implied with “when they have been able to” – rarely found, more directly financed and are mobilized after the appearance of left-wing mobs.

No Jew that the Nazi state could get its hands on was left alive. If anyone happened to survive, they were in hiding (or were Nazi leaders themselves, or were in some other exceptional situation that proves the rule). I think I’m lending credence to this madness by even discussing it, so I’ll just stop.

I agree, survivors of nazi and commie regimes are the exceptionals who prove the rule.

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F. Foundling 05.16.15 at 5:50 pm

(as I said, I’m not engaging with McCarthy)
@stevenjohnson 05.16.15 at 1:34 pm
While I agree with you in rejecting most of those premisses, it is not *logically* necessary to do so in order to avoid the identification of Nazism as left-wing. It is not *illogical* to say that there can be totalitarianism and genocide at both ends of the right/left spectrum, and that there are consequently both right-wing and left-wing totalitarianism and genocide. This is the mainstream, “reasonable” centrist view, I think, and I assume the one held by Holbo.

Personally, as I’ve already made clear, I think that a regime deviates from being left-wing by the very fact of tending towards either genocide or most of the features commonly identified as “totalitarian” (whereas the “McCarthy” here is promoting, more or less, the diametrically opposite view). I’ve argued that the continuity in the significance of the notion of “left” from 1789 to the present-day supports my view.

I have also argued – which is a separate claim lending support to the first one, but is *not* crucial for it – that, consequently, regimes with left-wing origins have in fact mostly been somewhat less extreme, consistent and noxious with respect to these features than corresponding right-wing regimes. That’s *very* faint praise, of course. In retrospect, it would have been unthinkable fifty to eighty years ago, and it’s a symptom of the tragic catastrophe of socialism in the 20th century, that in 2015 we would be defending originally leftist regimes by saying “well, at least they’re not Hitler”. Still, the fact remains that they are not, and, in view of the McCarthies’ activity and the way the issue is used in contemporary politics, it needs to be pointed out occasionally.

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F. Foundling 05.16.15 at 6:02 pm

By the way, while the term “left” arose in 1789, the tradition did not begin then either. The contemporaries were very well aware of the continuity with the American revolutionaries, the (more radical wing of the) English Whigs, and, through them, to some extent, even with the various anti-royalist factions in the English Civil War, for all its religious overtones. And Cromwell’s actions in Ireland prove that we lefties have always been genocidal! A properly annointed King or CEO would have never acted like this.

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stevenjohnson 05.16.15 at 10:12 pm

William Burns @130 The argument that a member of a class has the properties of a class is never illogical. Thus, since the French Revolution is totalitarian, leftism is a property of totalitarianism.(First syllogism) The Nazis were totalitarians, therefore they had the property of leftism. (Second syllogism) I think the concept of totalitarianism is an equivocation, and therefore this argument is a deceit. But not “illogical.”

It is those of you who accept the notion of totalitarianism as legitimate who have the burden of proving hidden assumptions that render the conclusion illogical. In this discussion, McCarthy’s other argument forecloses this by the proposition that totalitarianism can be identified by commission of genocide. Neither you nor Holbo have contested this. None of you have even contested the factuality of McCarthy’s other premises that leftist regimes committed genocide, much less that leftist regimes are even more genocidal, which is to say, more totalitarian. (Possibly with the partial exception of F. Foundling.)

The whole notion of totalitarianism is intended to render the distinction between left and right irrelevant, even if it implies that the Good People are an Aristotelian Golden Mean, aka the Center. If anything it is the sudden discovery that no, there is a relevant difference is somewhat illogical. At any rate, in this kind of Platonic realm, Occam’s razor applies: Why posit any more forms than totalitarianism? I think Holbo has had a great deal of trouble explaining this while preserving the essential metaphysical truth that there really is an existent “totalitarianism.”

F. Foundling @133 And elements of the modern revolutionary tradition also trace back even further to the Dutch Revolution, and the Wars of Religion, so intimately bound up with the emergence of bourgeois nations, even as premodern notions of dynastic conquest and rebellion and banditry influenced thinking. It is not entirely accepted that bourgeois revolution is “left,” particularly in any context after the French Revolution, when bourgeois equality and democracy started to reach its limits, with socialism beginning to emerge as a separate class phenomenon. And there are many who accept that social revolutions are totalitarian. McCarthy is just one.

However, as a US citizen I must remind myself that bourgeois democracy is perfectly compatible with genocide and protofascist racial oppression. And in the year of the anniversary of the Armenian genocide, product of the emerging Turkish democracy, it is particularly important not to overlook the sometimes intimate relationship between democracy and “genocide.” The usual form after all was mass death upon the removal or enslavement of an alien racial or ethnic group. From the days when the Spartan Peers declared annual war on the helots to be free to slaughter those whom they wished, or the Athenian democrats expropriated the Euboean lands, forming a nation has often required purifying the land of the other.

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William Burns 05.16.15 at 11:09 pm

No, no, no, NO! It would make just as much sense to say “the French Revolution was totalitarian, therefore Frenchness is a property of totalitarianism”. Since the Nazis weren’t French, they were therefore not totalitarian. The fact that the French Revolution was totalitarian (which it actually wasn’t, but I’ll grant your premise here for the sake of the argument) does not mean that all the other properties of the French Revolution–“leftism,” Frenchness, starting in 1789, including regicide–become properties of totalitarianism. Please, read an elementary logic textbook.

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Collin Street 05.16.15 at 11:44 pm

> Thus, since the French Revolution is totalitarian, leftism is a property of totalitarianism.

To clarify: it is your belief that the following:

The french revolution was totalitarian
The french revolution was leftist
Therefore, totalitarianism is leftist

is valid in form and premise?

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John Holbo 05.17.15 at 12:36 am

Well, I think I’ve more or less said my piece but I’ll respond briefly to some of these points.

stevenjohnson’s arguments are flagrantly illogical, as Collin and William point out.

As to some of the other loose thread: genocide does not imply totalitarianism. (Somehow that got into the mix. It makes no sense.) Non-totalitarian political order can engage in it.

“leftist regimes committed genocide”

stevenjohnson thinks this is propaganda. To the contrary, it’s obviously true. The Soviet Union engaged in genocide, as did communist China, as did the Khmer Rouge.

Foundling: “I think that a regime deviates from being left-wing by the very fact of tending towards either genocide or most of the features commonly identified as “totalitarian” (whereas the “McCarthy” here is promoting, more or less, the diametrically opposite view).”

Foundling is right about the dynamics of the discussion. Both he and McCarthy are making ‘no true scotsman’ arguments, on behalf of their respective wings. I don’t buy either. That’s probably it for me, for this thread.

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John Holbo 05.17.15 at 12:47 am

One last comment. It’s possible that to get most of the left-wing regimes off the hook on a technicality, if you focus narrowly on the ‘gene’ in genocide. That is, if you insist that the killings be racially/ethnically motivated. (I think that when the UN Convention on Genocide was being drafted, the Soviets tried to get ‘political killings’ off the list.) As I don’t personally approve of political mass murder in any form, I am disinclined to attempt any such apologetics.

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Harold 05.17.15 at 12:58 am

John Holbo @ 138 “I think that when the UN Convention on Genocide was being drafted, the Soviets tried to get ‘political killings’ off the list.”

Wikipedia says otherwise:

The first draft of the Convention included political killings, but these provisions were removed in a political and diplomatic compromise following objections from some countries, including the USSR, a permanent security council member.[10][11] The USSR argued that the Convention’s definition should follow the etymology of the term,[11] and may have feared greater international scrutiny of its own Great Purge.[10] Other nations feared that including political groups in the definition would invite international intervention in domestic politics.[11] However leading genocide scholar William Schabas states: “Rigorous examination of the travaux fails to confirm a popular impression in the literature that the opposition to inclusion of political genocide was some Soviet machination. The Soviet views were also shared by a number of other States for whom it is difficult to establish any geographic or social common denominator: Lebanon, Sweden, Brazil, Peru, Venezuela, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, Iran, Egypt, Belgium, and Uruguay. The exclusion of political groups was in fact originally promoted by a non-governmental organization, the World Jewish Congress, and it corresponded to Raphael Lemkin’s vision of the nature of the crime of genocide.” [12]

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John Holbo 05.17.15 at 1:09 am

Ah, correction noted. If you want to restrict ‘genocide’ to racist/ethnically-motivated mass killing, that’s fine with me, really. It is an important category on it own. But what the Soviets did was just as deliberate and bad: political mass murder.

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Harold 05.17.15 at 2:59 am

If you want to restrict …

It is not me, the word was coined to differentiate it from other forms of murder. It’s like saying, matricide is bad, but patricide is just as bad. Yes, political murder is bad, but religious massacres are also bad. You won’t get an argument from me on that. Nevertheless, in real life when we say, “Yes, but.. ” there are some consequences:

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-Ed-Contributors/Double-genocide-rewrites-history-346173

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John Holbo 05.17.15 at 4:10 am

There are trade-offs. We really could use with words for other sorts of mass murder. Lacking them, ‘genocide’ has ended up spreading a bit.

I will add one further thought about what is bothering stevenjohnson and Foundling: namely, moral equivalence between communism and fascism, based on 20th century body counts. If you do it by body count, it’s horrific enough on both left and right that anyone should be ashamed of trying to excuse either right or left on the grounds that its side was less bad. But here is an important sense in which the sides are not morally equivalent: it is perfectly possible to construct a normatively ideal left-wing communism/socialism that is morally attractive at least in the utopian abstract. Freedom, equality, respect for human life and human dignity, optimizing opportunities for human flourishing all around. These are good things … if you can get them. The idea that we are going to maximize human goods, fairly and equally, has a lot to be said for it. It’s harder to construct a good-looking fascism/national socialism, even in the ‘ideal’ abstract. It’s inherently hierarchical, ethnocentric, ‘blood and soul’. It’s harder to say ‘if only the good Spenglerians had won …’ About the best you can say is: a bit of reactionary nostalgia for medieval hierarchy and ‘my station and its duties’ isn’t soooo bad. I say that, compared to equality, freedom and human dignity, feudal nostalgia sort of sucks. Of course, in practice both roads led to huge mountains of corpses, so it’s all sort of blood under the bridge …

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Harold 05.17.15 at 6:59 am

Well, what can you say about a political philosophy that has as a slogan “Long Live Death!”?

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John Holbo 05.17.15 at 7:55 am

Well, I think it’s always important to remember that ‘life is struggle and danger’ has something to be said for it. But it’s not clear that it has much to be said for it, as a public policy target. Zarathustra may be wise, but he wouldn’t make a good HUD secretary, for example.

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Joseph McCarthy 05.17.15 at 10:30 am

By the way, while the term “left” arose in 1789, the tradition did not begin then either. The contemporaries were very well aware of the continuity with the American revolutionaries, the (more radical wing of the) English Whigs, and, through them, to some extent, even with the various anti-royalist factions in the English Civil War, for all its religious overtones. And Cromwell’s actions in Ireland prove that we lefties have always been genocidal! A properly annointed King or CEO would have never acted like this.

&

William Burns @130 The argument that a member of a class has the properties of a class is never illogical. Thus, since the French Revolution is totalitarian, leftism is a property of totalitarianism.(First syllogism) The Nazis were totalitarians, therefore they had the property of leftism. (Second syllogism) I think the concept of totalitarianism is an equivocation, and therefore this argument is a deceit. But not “illogical.”

I repeat once again: this is straw man. I based the arguing of Hitlers Leftism on the concept of crowds, not totalitarianism. Once again with falling importance of traits:

1. Crowds as tool for power seizure
2. Advertising of utopia
3. Politicization of culture

and only then the obvious (but non-specific) commonalities: totalitarianism, mass killings, expansionistic wars etc.

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John Holbo 05.17.15 at 11:04 am

“I based the arguing of Hitlers Leftism on the concept of crowds, not totalitarianism.”

And if I wanted, I could use ‘justice’ to mean a ham sandwich.

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John Holbo 05.17.15 at 11:14 am

“The argument that a member of a class has the properties of a class is never illogical. Thus, since the French Revolution is totalitarian, leftism is a property of totalitarianism.”

You are making the same mistake Collin (helpfully!) diagnosed upthread. Your argument has this form:

The french revolution was totalitarian
The french revolution was leftist
Therefore, totalitarianism is leftist

A is B
A is C
Therefore everything B must also be C.

This is not a valid form of inference.

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stevenjohnson 05.17.15 at 4:08 pm

“1. Crowds as tool for power seizure
2. Advertising of utopia
3. Politicization of culture” is merely McCarthy’s specifications for totalitarian.

William Burns, Collin Street and John Holbo didn’t even trouble to read my presentation of the logic in McCarthy’s argument. Looking at Holbo’s revision? Well, let’s say A is 12 and the first premise is that it equals B, 3X4. The second premise is that A equals C, 2X6. The conclusion that 3X4=2X6 most certainly is valid. I suppose Burns might object that “totalitarianism” is not that kind of premise, that “leftism” is not an essential part of “totalitarianism.” This of course assumes the desired conclusion. But, logic abstracts from the content of premises and propositions to focus on the form of the argument. Kinds of premises address the question of whether the reasoning is sound, not logically valid. The concept of totalitarianism is not sound, and anyone who uses it is playing the fool. There is no “logical” reason to declare “leftism” is not as essential an attribute of “totalitarianism” for the simple reason no one knows what “totalitarianism” is.

Nobody is quibbling about me confusing valid and unsound reasoning.

Enough, this nonsense about alleged illogic is due to the desperate wish to cling to the ideological construct of totalitarianism. Holbo and McCarthy are comrades in arms on this, and that’s all to be said on that point.

As to “Soviet Union” and “communist China” committing political mass murder, this is a falsification of the crudest kind of fact: The purges in the Soviet Union and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution would equally have to be labeled political mass suicide, which puts them in a wholly different category than other political mass murders, much less genocides. As for the Khmer Rouge? Skip over whether their claim to be Marxist or socialist is much better than the Nazis. Blaming the Khmer Rouge in this fashion serves an apologetic function, covering up the role of the US war against Cambodia.

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Dan 05.17.15 at 5:09 pm

It’s harder to construct a good-looking fascism/national socialism, even in the ‘ideal’ abstract.

On the contrary, it’s not that hard at all. Here’s Mussolini:

Fascism sees in the world not only those superficial, material aspects in which man appears as an individual, standing by himself, self-centered, subject to natural law, which instinctively urges him toward a life of selfish momentary pleasure; it sees not only the individual but the nation and the country; individuals and generations bound together by a moral law, with common traditions and a mission which suppressing the instinct for life closed in a brief circle of pleasure, builds up a higher life, founded on duty, a life free from the limitations of time and space, in which the individual, by self-sacrifice, the renunciation of self-interest, by death itself, can achieve that purely spiritual existence in which his value as a man consists.

If you perhaps temper down the “self-sacrifice” aspect, that passage sounds like it could have come straight from the pen of anyone on the communitarian side of the liberal/communitarian debate in the 80s. Sure, you might not find the communitarian ideal a very appealing one — presumably anyone who prefers to emphasize, as you say, “freedom, equality, respect for human life and human dignity” is going to find the liberal side of that debate more congenial — but it’s pretty hard to deny that a lot of people find it extremely attractive, and that it taps into a real source of dissatisfaction with the other side.

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Harold 05.17.15 at 6:16 pm

“Life is real, life is earnest”

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173910

is not quite the same as “Long live death” — cult of violence/ male bonding in the joy of slaughter

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Joseph McCarthy 05.17.15 at 11:32 pm

And if I wanted, I could use ‘justice’ to mean a ham sandwich.

You obviously did, as you declared everything to be politics and used circular reasoning to uphold it:

The answer to the question of what came before various forms of modern politics is: various forms of pre-modern politics.

But you did not deny the premises, the only one being Nr. 129.

Mass utopian politics first began with 1789. Nazism is one fork of that.

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William Burns 05.18.15 at 12:40 am

Johnson, please google the term “Dunning-Kruger” effect. Then think about how it applies to your proclaimed expertise in logic.

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mdc 05.18.15 at 1:04 am

“The conclusion that 3X4=2X6 most certainly is valid. “

No. It’s true, but not validly inferred from the premises.

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stevenjohnson 05.18.15 at 3:07 pm

mdc, the real issue is the pious refusal to even wonder whether “totalitarianism” is a sound premise in any sort of logical thinking on these issues. Or, to put it another way, how both Holbo and McCarthy can agree there is something called “totalitarianism,” but Holbo can insist that the essence of totalitarianism does not include leftism, contra McCarthy, without troubling to define totalitarianism or even rejecting this kind of metaphysical approach in the first place.

I know why I think McCarthy is out of his mind, starting with a superstitious and anti-materialist world view, and continuing with a rigid commitment to falsehood to support his religion. But it is not at all clear why Holbo cannot even address his argument, which he doesn’t. To me it seems that fundamentally Holbo shares too many of the McCarthy’s ideological commitments. As is, all of his arguments assume that leftism is an accident or particular (or whatever the technical term is.)

As in, Socrates is not an attribute of humanity, but an example, as in this imaginary syllogism: Socrates is mortal. All men are mortal. Therefore all men are Socrates. This really is a false inference. The properties of a member of a class are not necessarily the properties of the class.

Except McCarthy’s argument is the reverse, that both leftism and totalitarianism are properties of the same class, essential to being a member of the class. His implication is that the different names “leftism” or “totalitarianism” is the accident or particular or example. As in this imaginary syllogism: Socrates was acknowledged to pursue wisdom. Socrates was acknowledged to be the first philosopher. Therefore, philosophers pursue wisdom. (Note that it says nothing about how successful they are.)

It is not immediately obvious that the conclusion is an invalid inference. But this is the kind of logic McCarthy is using, and nothing said by Holbo addresses this.

But evidently the nature of McCarthy’s errors is not a concern for most in this comments. That being the case, just from curiosity, could you try to explain how the conclusion that 3X4=2X6 isn’t validly inferred. I would have thought examination of a number line would show that the conclusion is indeed contained in the premises? (Which seems to be a good indicator of logical validity to me.)

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Mdc 05.18.15 at 3:46 pm

” Socrates was acknowledged to pursue wisdom. Socrates was acknowledged to be the first philosopher. Therefore, philosophers pursue wisdom. “

Still not valid.

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geo 05.18.15 at 4:41 pm

@128: Communist regimes are commonly acknowledged to be left

(WARNING — possible thread derailer): To me (and a long tradition of Populists, anarchosyndicalists, libertarian/democratic socialists, council communists, anti-Bolshevik Marxists, and others), “left” connotes 1) egalitarianism (not absolute but substantial) and 2) popular s0vereignty. On this definition, Communism was anything but “left.” What’s your definition?

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Plume 05.18.15 at 5:28 pm

Geo @156,

I’ve generally seen the left/right axis in that way as well. The further left you go, the more “egalitarian.”

Popular sovereignty, however, gets right back to a bit of potential confusion that really isn’t that confusing. IMO, both the left and the right share that concept. But the right’s idea is based on economic hierarchy, mostly. They push for “popular sovereignty” of business ownership, which is going to be in opposition to popular sovereignty of workers and consumers, etc. It will also be in opposition to that of a community more often than not. Those of us on the left, OTOH, to one degree or another, generally want the community to be able to trump the personal desires of individual wealth-hoarding . . . . though present day “liberals” seem to have embraced the business side of things to a far greater degree than when I was young. “Liberal” when it comes to “the markets,” which almost always winds up being “conservative” in relation to workers, consumers, etc. One might just make that “neoliberal” and be done with it . . . . and that’s actually right of center, not left.

I think from left to right also brings in meta aspect of sorts: The degree to which one sees the environment, “the system” as impacting individuals. Oversimplified, the left tends to put a lot more store in systems, environments, socialization, nurture, with the right tending . . . from the center-right out . . . to dismiss their impact. Nature/nurture. The left tends to see more balance there. The right tends to put nature at the top of the heap. This helps them reconcile inequality as somehow “natural” and makes it far easier for them to oppose altering systems, environments, etc. etc. as useless in the face of overwhelming “natural” forces. The left believes that changed systems can create changed results on the individual level . . . . and I think the right misunderstands this aspect — to a cartoonish degree — as an attempt to force the unnatural upon the natural. In reality, human beings have always been (ironically) “naturally” adaptive and strongly influenced by their environment . . . . so it is “natural” to attempt to reshape it for optimal results, etc. etc.

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John Holbo 05.18.15 at 11:14 pm

“Except McCarthy’s argument is the reverse, that both leftism and totalitarianism are properties of the same class, essential to being a member of the class. His implication is that the different names “leftism” or “totalitarianism” is the accident or particular or example. As in this imaginary syllogism: Socrates was acknowledged to pursue wisdom. Socrates was acknowledged to be the first philosopher. Therefore, philosophers pursue wisdom.”

Mdc is right, steven. This is not a valid argument.

A is B
A is C
Therefore B is C.

But you are right about this much: this is all McCarthy has got.

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John Holbo 05.18.15 at 11:40 pm

On a more profitable – perhaps final – note: geo and plume try out some variations. There are problems with both of their attempts. Geo: “On this definition, Communism was anything but “left.”” And then (plume): “Oversimplified, the left tends to put a lot more store in systems, environments, socialization, nurture, with the right tending . . . from the center-right out . . . to dismiss their impact.” But this is going to have the effect of putting Burke on the left.

One of the main problems with thinking about this concept is that some revisionism is in order, because the left-right axis clearly has conceptual problems and instabilities. But it’s counter-productive to be too radically revisionistic because you want to capture what people actually think about left-right. Crudely, you are trying to get a handle on a certain sort of ideological tribalism (it is, at the very least, that.) But that means you have to take the tribes as they come, not as ideological coherence might have preferred them to be. Per the case in point, the Nazis: they, and everyone else in Weimar, knew they were on the ‘right’. Because they were the enemies of the ‘left’ – the Social Democrats and, especially, the communists. If you redefine left-right so that the Nazis are on the left, or the communists are on the right, you have to admit at least that you are using the concept in a totally different way than, say, political actors in Weimar did. You will still need the old left-right continuum at the very least to explain how things looked to these actors, left-right wise. And you will not be able to use your new left-right axis to explain partisan alignments in Weimar. Or at least, if you do, it will have to be a kind of false-consciousness thesis, which makes things more complicated: you think you belong to party X but truly you’ve been a card-carrying member of party Y the whole time, in effect.

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geo 05.19.15 at 12:36 am

you have to admit at least that you are using the concept in a totally different way than, say, political actors in Weimar did

Yes, possibly. I wasn’t really commenting on the thread (hence the warning about a potential derailment). I was commenting on the sentence I quoted — and, of course, on the enormous body of received opinion to which it refers.

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John Holbo 05.19.15 at 1:02 am

“the warning about a potential derailment”

Well, stevenjohnson and McCarthy are clinging like grim death to an F for the work they have done in elementary logic, so I don’t suppose the thread can get more derailed!

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Joseph McCarthy 05.19.15 at 2:17 pm

Hahaha, that long pile of philosophising and straw-man building is indeed funny.

Nr. 129 was the only one who countered the premises on which I built my argument being:

A (The Birth of Left in French Revolution) is B (crowd politics & the stuff I listed in #145).

C (Nazism) is B.

Therefore C is B. Both have the same properties, although these are not ALL properties.

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Lee A. Arnold 05.19.15 at 2:22 pm

The Reagan Revolution was also a populist appeal to the masses, as noted at the end of comment #76, above. Was Reagan left wing?

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Collin Street 05.19.15 at 2:25 pm

Well, stevenjohnson and McCarthy are clinging like grim death to an F for the work they have done in elementary logic

Actual biological cognitive problems. Real things, affecting real people.

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geo 05.19.15 at 5:11 pm

Lee@163: Was Reagan left wing?

Not by my definition (@156), since he immediately set about promoting inequality and undermining popular sovereignty.

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Plume 05.19.15 at 5:46 pm

John @159,

That got me thinking about, well, “tradition.” Which is an invented environment of sorts, as well. So, yes. What I wrote was too truncated. Because the right has long been a proponent of shaping environments along “traditional” lines to breed or provoke a certain kind of individual reaction . . . . and the right, contrary to its current right-libertarian complaints, has always been all about law and order, Big Church, Big State . . . shaping minds, especially the young, etc. etc. . . . so they must also believe in the importance of socialization.

I suppose what I was trying to get at was more in the way of their assertions regarding boot-strapping and (Galtian) self-sufficiency, along with all of that “we built that” stuff. In general, the right doesn’t want to acknowledge the interconnectedness of society, the web of influences, supports and their effects. They want to claim individual success as individually generated. This, of course, contradicts the general desire on the right to shape minds in a conservative fashion/direction through those webs of influence.

We can, perhaps, see the contrasting rationales (and confusions) for this in the form of Existentialist Philosophy, which had its precursors and proponents on the left and the right, from Camus to Dostoevsky, Sartre to Heidegger, etc. A highly individualist philosophy, with primal calls for one to forge their own life-project out of their own sensibilities and give their own meaning to this . . . without recourse to hand-me-down schools of thought, institutions, CW, etc. etc.

Corey Robin has recently dealt with Heidegger here . . . and countless books have been written about Nietzsche’s influence on the Nazis . . . . starting with Walter Kaufmann’s revelations about his sister’s distortions. But it might be interesting to study this also as a problem of left/right politics . . . the contrasts and contradictions on display.

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Lee A. Arnold 05.19.15 at 5:48 pm

That question was directed to Joseph McCarthy, whose logic leads to that conclusion.

168

geo 05.19.15 at 6:33 pm

Lee: yes, I know. I was just trying to get someone (you, John, anyone) to actually offer a definition of “left.”

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Lee A. Arnold 05.19.15 at 6:46 pm

How about, ‘Wanting complete egalitarianism”?

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Plume 05.19.15 at 6:57 pm

Geo,

I know you’re a “man of the left,” as am I, and that you’ve written extensively about a host of left intellectuals. In a sense, I think you offer up (indirect) definitions via the cumulative effect of your choices, but have shied away from putting forth your own definition. The studies do that for you in a sense. I’d be very interesting in your own, beyond the short one you suggested earlier, and hope that John and others weigh in as well.

I’m still stuck on the general idea that the left to right spectrum is at least mostly about the degree of desired equality, egalitarianism and democracy in any particular society . . . . or, to put it in its photo-negative aspect . . . the degree of acceptance of inequality, social injustice and lack of democracy in any particular society. IMO, American politics are incredibly narrow and severely limited in that, here, “liberal” is all too often seen as the furthest edge of the left . . . . and “liberals,” in my view, willingly accept far, far too much inequality, social injustice and the absence of democracy. For starters, they support an economic system which guarantees the absence of democracy in a place in which we spend a huge portion of our lives, the workplace, and social injustice and a host of inequalities follow from that. In short, I don’t find American liberals as being very much on “the left” at all. Perhaps just slightly left of center and seemingly closer to the center and moving rightward on a daily basis.

I also see American liberalism as a safety valve for the capitalist system. They provide just enough in the way of hope and crumbs to prevent full-scale revolt, but far from enough to actually alleviate real and existing problems. The number one job of “the left” (as I see it) is to do far more than that. It is to actually lift up the so-called “lower orders” and flatten hierarchies to the degree possible. In real terms. In the here and now. It is to flatten pyramids. The right’s goal is to extend them upward. It seems to me that liberals act as protectors of the system that creates the pyramids . . . . mostly by doing just enough to block full implementation of the right’s desires, which would scale up the steepness of those hierarchies to such a severe degree. This prevents collapse and revolution. Just.

As in, if the right actually got their way, it would spell the absolute defeat of the right’s own objectives — because, revolution — at least until fascism or another right-wing totalitarian form replaced the fallen pyramids with new ones.

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stevenjohnson 05.19.15 at 7:26 pm

Mdc@153 Trying to be as charitable as I can, at this point ‘won’t even try to explain’ really has to be interpreted as ‘can’t.’ I can’t even tell whether you’re aware there are different kinds of syllogisms or even chains of syllogisms (a point I’ve gotten careless about remembering, since others seem determined to ignore it.) Or even if you’ve forgotten how to read carefully and are instead imagining propositions with quantifiers like all, some, etc. I’m quite open to being shown my elementary error, if you or anyone else ever care to offer an explanation.

geo@168 Definitions of left and right have been offered, for one by F. Foundling, with which I personally largely agree. I suppose the left/right spectrum could be better defined by examining the revolutions of 1848, adding an historical component, instead of seeking a timeless one. But what is needed is a definition of totalitarianism. I say there is none feasible, and that positing some ludicrous bifurcation into left and right totalitarianism is…well, the physicists like to say, not even wrong. That’s McCarthy’s turf, and everyone else has ceded it to him.

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mattski 05.19.15 at 8:03 pm

Traditional social structures v new & experimental structures
Individual rights v group rights
Laissez-faire economics v social insurance
Rule by the few v rule by the many

I think these metrics show that left-right is a multidimensional space that is broadly rational. That is, it is possible to make plausible arguments on either side.

But what seems to characterize Fascism is a fundamentally infantile, solipsistic dream of unity & glory. The acute psychological insecurity of it’s major proponents seems to demonstrate this.

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protoplasm 05.19.15 at 8:08 pm

Plume @ 170:

In short, I don’t find American liberals as being very much on “the left” at all. Perhaps just slightly left of center and seemingly closer to the center and moving rightward on a daily basis.

Yes, this is found by you and every other clear-eyed leftist (in which I hope to count myself; “clear-eyed” can be tough to manage through all the tears, sometimes). The left-in-the-proactive-sense in America is nearly a joke, not because it straddles the line between joke and power, but because it’s barely anything at all, almost nothing. A nearly forgotten, half-heard whisper of a joke, which for all that nevertheless has the right side of the argument. But, having the right side of the argument and $1.25 will get you a soda in this country.

Even so, a brake preventing techno-Gilead is the most important part of this vehicle, as it is. (Wresting control of the wheel is unimaginable; tricking the driver through secrets and lies into driving left-ward is the best we manage on a good day.) Maybe it’s merely the post-apocalypse films I’ve been watching today in preparation for the new Mad Max that are warping my perspective, but I wonder how strong the cultural memory of the real possibility of something like Gilead is nowadays?

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geo 05.19.15 at 8:18 pm

Lee: why “complete”? Why not just “more”?

Plume: I agree with your tentative definition in the second paragraph: egalitarianism and democracy. Not what Walzer in Spheres of Justice calls “simple equality,” ie, numerical equality to the last decimal point, but rough, substantive equality . Everyone should have the necessary minimum for a flourishing life: 2000 calories/day, clean water, sanitation, shelter, health care, education, interesting and meaningful work, leisure, quiet (ie, freedom from attention-theft, one of the pillars of contemporary capitalism), and a voice in economic and p0litical decisions that affect them. Anyone who’s dead serious about everyone having this necessary minimum, and has some realistic notions about the institutional and structural obstacles that prevent it, qualifies for preliminary classification as a leftist, I’d say. That would exclude liberals and Leninists alike.

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geo 05.19.15 at 8:24 pm

stevenjohnson: Yes, definitions sometimes try to delineate what a term has meant historically, and sometimes try to move beyond (without, of course, ignoring) historical usage and propose a useful specification for using a term from now on. I guess what I’m doing above is the latter.

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Rich Puchalsky 05.19.15 at 8:25 pm

geo: “I agree with your tentative definition in the second paragraph: egalitarianism and democracy.”

If I had to list two things, prescriptively, to define the left, it would be egalitarianism and anti-authoritarianism. Democracy can be and often is fairly authoritarian. This is prescriptive rather than descriptive because the left has often historically been rather authoritarian.

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Lee A. Arnold 05.19.15 at 8:44 pm

Geo #174 – Sorry, “complete” as in all sorts of egalitarianism: social, economic, political. One might be in favor of political equality (voting rights for all) but also in favor of allowing the unequal results of capitalism, and that would put one (these days) on the right.

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Plume 05.19.15 at 8:44 pm

geo @174,

That sounds right, especially the distinction between numerical equality and leftist goals.

Perhaps the best way to make that distinction is to talk about access rather than results. For me, personally, I have no wish to live in a land where all results are forced to even up, equal out, etc. etc. Rather, I want every person in society to have full and complete (as well as equal) access to all the tools, all the fruits of society, all the cultural and social horizons possible . . . . as well as real equality under the law. In short, equal chances to fulfill one’s personal potential. In real terms. Not in the abstract. Money — its presence or absence, its quantity — should never, ever be the entrance ticket or the deciding factor for that access, because as long as we have a system with money as the ticket, we can never, ever, not in a million years, get there. We can never come close to “equal opportunity.” As long as the presence, absence or quantity of one’s money is the way we decide who gets in the door, the doors available and what doors are built in the first place, we will always have severe hierarchies, social injustice, massive inequality, etc. etc.

IMO, the real “left” just isn’t willing to accept even the liberal notion of “redistribution” via taxes and social safety nets. A real leftist wants a society that doesn’t require that in the first place, one where there isn’t any need for a welfare state, because the economic system is fully democratic and functions up front as an economic system should function . . . . effective allocation of goods, services, resources, income, access, etc etc. for 100% of society, with no one written off.

Liberalism — at least in America — assumes that a rather large portion of society is doomed to being written off in order to sustain our capitalist system where a few people can make mountains of money and accrue mountains of power beyond everyone else. That’s the trade off. And while they also seek some mitigation of this, via the welfare state and redistributive taxation, it’s not really “leftist.” It’s more like “compassionate conservatism,” in my view. Again, the real left would set the economy up to render redistribution unnecessary from Day One. We’d get the distribution correct and wouldn’t need the bandaid approach after the fact.

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Plume 05.19.15 at 8:51 pm

Rich @176,

Democracy can be and often is fairly authoritarian.

I think this is the case because we’ve never had any nation state with actual democracy in place. Democracy that does not include the economy, commerce, trade, the workplace, the economic system itself, is not really democracy. It’s always going to be a weak and subservient adjunct to economic power at best, and usually nothing more than window dressing to fool the masses.

Before one can call democracy “authoritarian,” we need to see it actually exist, in full. It’s only been partial, at best, almost always in the thrall of real power, which is economic in the modern world . . . . and that economic power has managed to exclude democracy with amazing effectiveness.

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Collin Street 05.19.15 at 9:11 pm

But what seems to characterize Fascism is a fundamentally infantile, solipsistic dream of unity & glory.

Right, so what sort of cognitive problems would you need before you might adopt fascist positions?

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geo 05.19.15 at 9:29 pm

First try at the following comment wound up in moderation. Thought maybe I could sneakily slip it in by re-posting it:

Rich @176: You raise a very large question: is there is any legitimate source of authority apart from majority (or super-majority) decision? Or to put it another way: do rights exist, “objectively”? Or to put it yet another way: metaphysical realism or pragmatism? My short answers are: no, no, and pragmatism.

But perhaps a fuller discussion would be a tangent to a tangent?

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Plume 05.19.15 at 9:57 pm

Geo @181,

One way around that is to establish a constitution, based on human rights, which the majority would create and vote on. I think that when humans are thinking in broad terms, which they’d have to when designing said constitution, they tend to be far more inclusive than on particular case by case issues. So with the constitution in place, those individual cases and their adjudication via the democratic process, would have a different angle to them, as well as foundation.

So a constitution plus full on democracy.

And back for a moment to the access versus results distinction. To me, a great example is education. I think a just society would eliminate all barriers, from cradle to grave, for access to lifelong education, training, etc. etc. The price of admission should be citizenship, only. That said, results would depend entirely on work done once the individual decided to take advantage of that open door. We wouldn’t be giving everyone a doctorate in physics, for instance. One would have to decide to pursue that course (or another), complete the course work, pass, etc. etc. Others would choose difference courses, different paths, and those choices would create different results. But one’s socio-economic status would have no bearing on admission, and in a just society, class divisions would be as non-existent as humanly possible in the first place. All work would be valued. No one’s work would be valued thousands of times more than the next guy’s, etc. etc . . . and we’d arm every citizen with all the tools needed to pursue individual potential and excellence. No one would be left behind. No one.

To me, that’s one large part of the leftist imaginary.

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protoplasm 05.19.15 at 10:31 pm

A possibly interesting puzzle to consider: what would be the legitimate political structure for a polis consisting (almost) entirely of people suffering from what Collin describes as the actual, biological cognitive problems that lead one to adopt fascist positions?

Somewhat tangentially, to what extent do assumptions of neurotypicality underlie extant political philosophy? If spectra are allowed: which, and is there an assumed allowable range on each spectrum? “Man is a political animal”, sure, but does the extent to which each of us has a politics already in mind constrain who, for us, is human (or, person)?

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geo 05.19.15 at 11:26 pm

Plume: So a constitution plus full on democracy

Yes, a constitution amendable by a supermajority. (Without, of course, all the procedural problems and financial inequality that make amending the US Constitution such an anti-democratic incubus.)

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js. 05.20.15 at 12:04 am

Oh, fun! It’s like Logic class! McCarthy and Johnson need to distribute their middles!

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mattski 05.20.15 at 12:21 am

Collin,

I don’t see the problems of humanity in your hyper-clinical terms. We all suffer from the human condition. I don’t think the emphasis on pathology is much help. … As a practical matter where does pigeon-holing people with uncongenial politics as mentally handicapped actually lead anyway?

The left has real trouble accepting that some unequal outcomes are benign, even virtuous, on the basis of the behaviors which produced them. Just as democratic processes can produce oppressive results, so too can ethical behavior result in unequal outcomes. ISTM this implies there isn’t any ‘ideal’ political structure. There is greater transparency and lesser transparency, and most of the rest is the work we need to do on ourselves.

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john c. halasz 05.20.15 at 12:45 am

I have yet to try mattski’s mystical meditation exercizes. Maybe if I did, I would find he makes some informed sense.

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Plume 05.20.15 at 1:20 am

Mattski @186,

The left has real trouble accepting that some unequal outcomes are benign, even virtuous, on the basis of the behaviors which produced them. Just as democratic processes can produce oppressive results, so too can ethical behavior result in unequal outcomes.

I think the left has real trouble accepting that some unequal outcomes are benign, even virtuous, because we leftists know that people have radically different levels of privilege, advantage, disadvantage and obstacles in their way to begin with. If we all could arrive at the starting line with at least basic equality of means, schooling, training, health care, environment — tools in general, etc. etc. . . . then “behavior” becomes a far more admissible factor. But in our society, there is such a ginormous chasm between the top and the bottom, the top and the middle, the middle and the bottom, and even the super rich and the merely rich, you can’t possibly elevate unequal results based on “behavior” to the virtuous. When someone is born a few inches from home plate and hits a homerun, it’s simply not the same as someone born thousands of miles away from the stadium, with cement blocks on their legs, where the journey itself takes so much out of the person he can’t muster the strength to take a swing.

And:

ISTM this implies there isn’t any ‘ideal’ political structure. There is greater transparency and lesser transparency, and most of the rest is the work we need to do on ourselves.

It’s funny. The people who claim leftists are pushing for utopia typically are the folks who don’t think there is anything better than our existing system, that it should never be changed, that there are no alternatives. Those of us who want to try something else aren’t the ones hung up on “ideal” political structures. We just look around us, note that existing structures and the capitalist system itself produce massive inequality, throw billions of human beings under the bus, and are leading us over the ecological cliff. We just find it all too logical to want to change a system that has been an epic failure — which it has been, for a long, long time, with its endless wars, genocides, environmental ruin and the richest 1% soon to hold 99% of all wealth.

It’s time for radical alternatives.

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Plume 05.20.15 at 1:22 am

Sorry for the bad formatting.

This part should be in quotes:

The left has real trouble accepting that some unequal outcomes are benign, even virtuous, on the basis of the behaviors which produced them. Just as democratic processes can produce oppressive results, so too can ethical behavior result in unequal outcomes.

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SamChevre 05.20.15 at 1:39 am

Per the case in point, the Nazis: they, and everyone else in Weimar, knew they were on the ‘right’. Because they were the enemies of the ‘left’ – the Social Democrats and, especially, the communists.

This might be the case (I don’t know enough to say)-but that seems like a strange definition of “right” and “left”. The Social Democrats and the communists were active enemies, and the Nazis were enemies of “big business” (finance and the multinationals).

On the whole topic of egalitarianism–it seems strange to me to characterize a system of thought that has spent 60 years working to move decision-making from hundreds of thousands of small-town mayors and local pizza parlor owners to a handful of unelected rulers who went to the very best schools as being “egalitarian.”

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Plume 05.20.15 at 1:52 am

Sam,

But the Nazis weren’t the enemies of big business. German industry thrived under them. Corporate profits were kept by private ownership, and the Nazi war machine made many a big business owner filthy rich. They also imported labor for them from every conquered nation in Europe — labor that could truly be called slave labor.

It is perhaps on the subject of labor that it’s easiest to see the Nazi’s right-wing ideology, as they destroyed labor power, murdered, tortured or exiled labor leaders, made unions illegal, made union activism illegal. Nazi Germany was in diametric opposition to any kind of “worker state.”

As for its enmity to the German Left. That is easily seen in their destruction. The Nazis went after the German left even before it went after the Jews, and with equal vehemence. Hitler, of course, saw Marx as a Jew and Marxism as a Jewish conspiracy. Which is basically where the antipathy to some banks and some “finance” kicks in. The anti-Semitic idea that the Jews controlled it all. There wasn’t any enmity, however, if the owners of finance or MNCs were considered “real Germans.”

Not getting your last paragraph at all.

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mattski 05.20.15 at 2:14 am

JCH,

Maybe if I did, I would find he makes some informed sense.

Sounds like it could be worth a try. Unless you think you’re perfect as is.

Plume,

The people who claim leftists are pushing for utopia typically are the folks who don’t think there is anything better than our existing system, that it should never be changed, that there are no alternatives.

As ever, you attribute positions to me that I do not express.

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John Holbo 05.20.15 at 2:15 am

“I’m quite open to being shown my elementary error, if you or anyone else ever care to offer an explanation.”

OK, stevenjohnson wants an explanation. Let’s consider some of the practical defects of accepting

A is B
A is C
Therefore, all B’s are C’s.

First, we should note that it will also have to follow that all C’s are B’s (because surely the order in which you put the premises won’t make a difference.)

Now take the following two sample premises.

A is allergic to peanuts
A is born on a Tuesday.

From which it would follow, apparently, that

All peanut allergic people are born on Tuesday.
All people born on Tuesday are allergic to peanuts.

Or how about

Hilary Clinton is a woman
Hilary Clinton is a Democrat

From which it must follow that

All women are Democrats

And

All Democrats are women.

Propositions subject to doubt.

In general, it will be trivially easy to prove what I will call McCarthy’s theorem (for lack of a better name)

All objects that share any properties share all properties. (I leave the proof as an exercise for the interested reader.)

McCarthy’s conclusion that the Nazis are leftists is best regarded as a corollary of this theorem. The Nazis and the French Revolution share some properties, ergo they share all properties, ergo they share the property of being leftist.

All if this seems to me very shaky, as history. To say the least.

Slightly more charitably, it may just be a case of severe confirmation bias. You offer the following example:

“Socrates was acknowledged to pursue wisdom. Socrates was acknowledged to be the first philosopher. Therefore, philosophers pursue wisdom.”

This is obviously a very bad argument. The truth of the first two statements gives no reason whatsoever to accept the conclusion. It’s as bad as “George was the first President. George was right-handed. Therefore Presidents are right-handed.’ But if you accepted the conclusion, as a hypothesis, you might (wrongly) think the first two statements were good inductive evidence that the hypothesis is correct. In fact they would be bad inductive evidence (you would be indulging confirmation bias.)

Does this help? This really is elementary logic.

194

bianca steele 05.20.15 at 2:32 am

It all depends on what the meaning of “is” is. Everybody who is anybody defines “is” to mean “it is a morally relevant fact that.”

(Just trying to make my contribution to CT’s new identity as a humor site.)

195

js. 05.20.15 at 2:34 am

It’s kind of hilarious because it’s very often a thing you’ll put up on the very first day of an Intro Phil class as a prime example of what not to do!

196

bianca steele 05.20.15 at 2:36 am

js. @ 195

Q.E.D. (That’s only the exoteric teaching.)

197

John Holbo 05.20.15 at 2:40 am

An army may march on its stomach, as Napoleon said. But philosophy cannot march purely on its undistributed middles, as it were, so let me leave stevenjohnson and McCarthy behind, to puzzle over their strangely Parmenidean approaches to history.

Let me try to say something useful and positive about left-right. I have always – well, for a long time – liked A.O. Hirshman’s framework, from “The Rhetoric of Reaction”. His opening frame is whiggishly over-simple, as he himself sees and says. But I think there’s a lot to it, as simple schemes go. It makes a certain amount of philosophical sense, and its a handy guide to a lot of real conflicts.

He starts by citing a lecture by T.H. Marshall on ‘the development of citizenship in the West’.

“Marshall had distinguished between the civil, political, and social dimensions of citizenship and then had proceeded to explain, very much in the spirit of the Whig interpretation of history, how the more enlightened human societies had successfully tackled one of these dimensions after the other. According to Marshall’s scheme, which conveniently allocated about a century to each of the three tasks, the eighteenth century witnessed the major battles for the institution of civil citizens – from freedom of speech, thought and religion, to the right to even-handed justice and other aspects of individual freedom, or roughly, the ‘Rights of Men’ of the natural law doctrine and of the American and French Revolutions. In the course of the nineteenth century, it was the political aspect of citizenship, that is, the right of citizens to participate in the exercise of political power, that made major strides as the right to vote was extended to ever-larger groups. Finally, the rise of the Welfare State in the twentieth century extended the concept of citizenship to the social and economic sphere, by recognizing that minimal conditions of eduction, health, economic well-being, and security are basic to the life of a civilized being as well as to meaningful exercise of the civil and political attributes of citizenship.” (1-2)

Don’t both pointing out that this is over-simple. I noticed. And so did Hirschman. But it’s a good starting point, I think (although very debatable, I grant.)

Basically, the left is the side fighting FOR these developments and the right is the side fighting AGAINST them. One thing that makes things complicated, however, is that as history moves along, one way the right fights against what is currently being demanded is by insisting that this new thing is a threat to the last thing. So the right ends up fighting FOR the thing it was fighting against, previously, and alleging that the left is fighting AGAINST the thing it was fighting for, previously. Example: the trouble with the welfare state, allegedly, is that it is a threat to the political and civil forms of freedom and equality that were established earlier. Hirschman’s discussion of this is quite good. And really, the proof is in the historical pudding: does sorting this way allow you to make steady sense of the arguments and maneuverings on both sides, and keep track of how there are, basically, two sides?

I don’t think there’s a better, equally simple framework for getting left-right sorted than this one. I do, of course, admit it has its serious limits.

198

mattski 05.20.15 at 2:58 am

@ 172 I forgot a good one. I should have written:

Traditional social structures v new & experimental structures
Individual rights v group rights
Laissez-faire economics v social insurance
Rule by the few v rule by the many
Aggression (the urge to push away) v libido (the urge to merge together)

199

LFC 05.20.15 at 3:08 am

I had stopped following this thread and have just been skimming it backwards (i.e., scrolling up from the bottom) and I see that F. Foundling @104 and J. Holbo @106 have addressed an earlier comment (or comments) of mine. Given the late hour here and the fact that my mind is a bit addled from having scrolled the thread backwards, I won’t make any substantive comment, except to say I (more or less) agree with their replies. (There are some remaining nuanced differences, maybe, but then there usually are.)

200

Plume 05.20.15 at 4:05 am

Mattski @192,

Was speaking in general terms. Not about you, specifically.

To be honest, I really don’t know what you favor or advocate for, though I have a generalized feeling that you believe capitalism, checked by liberal democracy, is ideal. If I remember correctly, the Scandinavian nations would be the pinnacle for ya. I’d agree, as far as existing examples. The best in relative terms in the here and now. But they still fall waaaay short IMNSHO, and we can do waaay better. We absolutely need to do waaay better, which is where non-capitalist alternatives kick in.

201

UserGoogol 05.20.15 at 4:42 am

I don’t really see the big difference between social democracy and American liberalism. American liberalism has never been able to achieve social democracy, but that’s because the United States political system is incredibly resistant to change and they were never really pull together a big enough coalition strong enough to overcome that and fully implement their agenda. I mean maybe social democracy isn’t left enough for you either, but still.

202

geo 05.20.15 at 4:46 am

JH@197: Thanks for the Hirschman quote; very useful. So his stages boil down to: first, civil rights (freedom of speech and religion) for everyone; then political power for everyone; finally, social and economic welfare for everyone. Furthering this progression = left-wing; fighting it = right-wing.

Sounds right. I’d just note that this corresponds to what most of us mean by “egalitarianism.”

203

Collin Street 05.20.15 at 5:32 am

As a practical matter where does pigeon-holing people with uncongenial politics as mentally handicapped actually lead anyway?

No, I’m saying that people with uncongenial politics — certain sorts of uncongenial politics — can be identified as having cognitive problems through methods that are apparently unrelated to their politics.

For example, in the instant case there’s the well-demonstrated utter incapacity to do basic logic, or even to understand the problems when they’re clearly pointed out. This has nothing to do with the political position the logic is used in support of: behaviour of this sort isn’t unknown in any sort of politics, but it’s IME pretty much universal through the hard right.

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mattski 05.20.15 at 11:17 am

in the instant case there’s the well-demonstrated utter incapacity to do basic logic

So stevenjohnson is hard right? And if there was no connection between the ‘cognitive problems’ and the politics then why would it be associated mainly with one end of the spectrum? I wrote above that fascism seems to have its roots in severe psychological disturbance. But that is an extreme case.

I don’t think it’s a great idea to imply that liberals and leftists are mentally healthy while conservatives and rightists are not. Even if a small part of me is sympathetic to the argument, it is STILL better not voice every thought in one’s head.

205

bob mcmanus 05.20.15 at 11:40 am

So his stages boil down to: first, civil rights (freedom of speech and religion) for everyone; then political power for everyone; finally, social and economic welfare for everyone.

A Marxian or Regulationist sees this historic change, nor coincidentally,

property rights =>
business/bourgeois influence and control over the state =>
business/bourgeois use of influence to offload externalities and social costs onto workers; Fordism

The parts Hirschman/geo/Plume like about this “progress” was mostly the sweeteners used to sell it.

206

Joseph McCarthy 05.20.15 at 12:06 pm

The Reagan Revolution was also a populist appeal to the masses, as noted at the end of comment #76, above. Was Reagan left wing?

It was not a revolution. What were his populist, let alone utopian stances? I already answered that in http://bit.ly/1HuixfC

Oh, fun! It’s like Logic class! McCarthy and Johnson need to distribute their middles!

Distributed middles discusses absolute identities. I did a comparison of traits and stated that some specific Leftist ones are common.

The Nazis and the French Revolution share some properties, ergo they share all properties, ergo they share the property of being leftist.

Mr. Holbo can’t live without misrepresenting opponent’s arguments. I never wrote they share all properties. I listed the remarkable Leftist commonalities between the two and noted that for the one disinterested in philosophical theory (forget phony statements about alliances and philosophy), there is no difference between national and international socialism. Just the target of the crowd is different.

207

Collin Street 05.20.15 at 12:10 pm

Even if a small part of me is sympathetic to the argument, it is STILL better not voice every thought in one’s head.

Here, video. I don’t like doing this, but it’s less than a minute; it’ll get a good idea of where I’m coming from, better than my words.

http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/video/2015/mar/17/christopher-pyne-university-fees-sky-news-interview-fixed-it-fixer-video

This is an interview with a man named Christopher Pyne. He is the australian education minister, and this sort of behaviour is not atypical for him.

As a society we need to talk about possible causes. I think that what we have here, what this footage shows, is a person with a fairly significant impairment.

208

Lee A. Arnold 05.20.15 at 12:36 pm

A true Marxian would also attempt to conceptualize the NEXT step, in which everybody realizes that shifting costs onto labor –(and we now must include, onto the petty bourgeoisie and small businesspeeps, who are also in the same boat)– will NOT get far, because everybody finally realizes what is happening, and that it cannot finally work.

Which is just about where we are now — or back to it, after a century of diversionary pursuits such as world wars and massive technological change.

So what happens, as people realize this? Well, look around you:

The plutocracy is badly equipped to defend themselves: They’ve got money but no brains. And without complete control of information media, they are beginning to lose control of the conversation.

There will not be a sudden splash of high-paying jobs: Technology + globalization is bringing the utopia that the 19th Century foresaw and longed for. Though now, most people bizarrely think it’s all a horror, because, having accepted an historical psychology for an eternal one, we think the peeps won’t make exertions, or find reasons to live…

There will be no populist leader’s uprising, no conservative revolution. Again, intellectual inability of individual leaders to even comprehend the outer contours of what’s going on, much less to admit to it. Plus, recent logical failures of popularizations such as Thatcher-Reaganism. Plus now, most people’s suspicions of law-givers and line-drawers.

Oh, someone might try to control all the computers — but to what end, really? You could set off a big bomb, I suppose, or try to siphon off enough cash to go live in an undersea Atlantis like some James Bond villain, but even that won’t change things much.

Egalitarianism is not only on the way: it’s what arrives after people begin to see that the economics justifications for hierarchy were an historical passage that is over when scarcity is overcome. Keynes, Schumpeter, Bookchin all saw this.

209

David 05.20.15 at 12:54 pm

Checking back after a couple of days away from this thread, I’m irresistibly reminded of the story of the economist who is supposed to have said “I accept that this distinction works in practice, but I don’t see how it can be made to work in theory”. In other words, how many historical examples can we quote where, *at the time* political leaders were unsure whether they themselves were on the Left or the Right, or where significant parts of the electorate were equally confused? Not many I suspect: the Nazis and the Italian Fascists considered themselves to be on the Right, and were universally (as far as I know) considered to be on the Right at the time. It’s we who are confusing ourselves.
Part of the solution to the logical problems posed above is that neither “Left” nor “Right” are homogeneous entities, nor are they exclusive terms: other terms can be used to differentiate political parties. Take “populist” and “elitist” for example, which have both left and right-wing manifestations. The traditional German Right was Right/Elitist, whereas the Nazis were Right/Populist. Populist thinking at the time was very much anti-big business and anti-finance, but Left and Right disagreed about what should be done. Similarly, the Bolsheviks were Left/Elitist (as a vanguard party) as, in a rather different fashion, were the German Socialists.

210

Lee A. Arnold 05.20.15 at 1:05 pm

Joseph McCarthy #206: “What were [Reagan’s] populist, let alone utopian stances?”

Answer: We see it in Reagan’s “secular apocalyptic”, his own adaptation of an older rhetorical form called the “American jeremiad”. Reagan’s rhetorical students have long-studied his explicit adaptation of the American jeremiad. It goes like this:

“1. The Promise, which stresses America’s special destiny as the promised land–literally, its covenant with God;

2. The Declension, which cites America’s failure to live up to its obligations as the chosen people, its neglect of its mission, its failure to progress sufficiently–its natural sin of retrogression from The Promise; and

3. The Prophecy, which predicts that if Americans will repent and reform, The Promise can still be fulfilled.”

–from: Ronald Reagan, The Great Communicator, by Kurt Ritter and David Henry (New York: Greenwood Press, 1992 – Great American Orators series, Number 13).

The likeness to the rhetoric of the Italian fascists and Nazis ought to be evident. That is not to make Reagan a fascist; I do not believe that. (Was Reagan misguided? In several ways.) But the call to solidarity in tradition (whether national or racial) is a distinctly rightwing call, and the Nazis were on the right for this reason, too.

211

Lee A. Arnold 05.20.15 at 1:24 pm

#208: “…the NEXT step, in which everybody realizes that shifting costs onto labor –(and we now must include, onto the petty bourgeoisie and small businesspeeps, who are also in the same boat)…)

I should have added that this is another concept on which the left keeps falling down, i.e. the idea that the resuscitation of “labor” is the key issue for organizing and rhetoric. But labor and small entrepreneurs are now in the same boat. Some people speak about the “lower and middle classes” instead. But this just mangles the issue.

I think the really important distinction has shifted to something like, “All the small business and jobs which do not admit of steady productivity increases nor customer growth, and therefore do not allow real income gains.” It’s a mouthful, so maybe there’s something more succinct.

And it is still a temporary categorization and it will finally be surpassed by “everyone doing anything that computer algorithms cannot do.” But that category is about two decades away.

212

geo 05.20.15 at 1:47 pm

mcmanus@205: the sweeteners used to sell it

Is this sufficiently dialectical? Perhaps the bad is not quite so contingently associated with the good? And what is a Regulationist? (Sorry if I’ve missed previous explanations.)

Lee@208: The plutocracy is badly equipped to defend themselves: They’ve got money but no brains.

With money, you can buy brains.

213

Lee A. Arnold 05.20.15 at 1:51 pm

Geo, please name a brain that’s been bought, so we may examine its contents.

214

bob mcmanus 05.20.15 at 2:06 pm

A true Marxian would also attempt to conceptualize the NEXT step

Absolutely, and am working on it. We are actually, well combined and uneven, in the next step after Fordism, consumerism demand management mass production social democratic society. So over. Looking for the step after this one, not in the sense of imagining or creating, but observing the synthesis already emerging.

212: Is this sufficiently dialectical?

My simple formulation? No. Neither is yours.

Perhaps the bad is not quite so contingently associated with the good?

Dialectic says it is.

Regulation School

Somewhat old and surpassed by now, maybe, and a little neoliberal, but the concept of Fordism was very useful.

215

John Holbo 05.20.15 at 2:10 pm

“I never wrote they share all properties.”

When stevenjohnson offered an argument on your behalf, you didn’t exactly object to his formulation. If you want to retract it, now that you see what it implies – well, fine. But now you need an argument.

216

Lee A. Arnold 05.20.15 at 2:20 pm

Geo, let me go the other way, so we aren’t required to cast aspersions upon named entities.

I was using “brain” as a metonymy, to signify the organ when, and only when, it has: 1. the ability to understand science and commitment to uphold it + 2. the ability to fix upon an object of meditation long enough to enter into consciousness-without-an-object.

I rather doubt that any brain having only #1 (which makes it only a halfwit) has successfully been purchased by a plutocrat. I am rather certain that a full brain (having #2 too) could not be.

217

Lee A. Arnold 05.20.15 at 2:34 pm

Bob, could the next step just invert it, becoming primarily a social-democratic society with a vestigial, receding component of demand-management consumerism? I.e., the government becomes understood as a necessary corporation which performs some tasks which the market cannot, instead of the government being seen, as now, as an intrusive patch-over of problems.

While, at the same time (i.e. leading into the next step after that one) technological advance causes necessities to be delivered easily and automatically, thus slowly making both market and government obsolete.

That leaves us to figure out how to deal with the things that are truly scarce, such as lovely real estate at the beach. So that stuff slowly goes into park-reserve status, and gets lotteryized or listed, like Grand Canyon canoeing trips.

218

Plume 05.20.15 at 2:39 pm

Bob @205,

property rights =>
business/bourgeois influence and control over the state =>
business/bourgeois use of influence to offload externalities and social costs onto workers; Fordism

The parts Hirschman/geo/Plume like about this “progress” was mostly the sweeteners used to sell it.

The last sentence is confusing, at least to me. As you describe it, I see nothing at all to “like” about that “progress.” Not the thing itself or the sales pitch.

My own view is that “progress” in the world has been obscenely, agonizingly slow, matched with umpteen setbacks along the way . . . . and I don’t see the shift away from aristocratic ownership of the means of exploitation to another tiny band of exploiters as real progress. It’s basically just a management change, when we need to end exploitation, period.

That, for instance, is pretty much what happened with our own “revolution.” It was a shift from British to home grown masters, with a lot of wonderful rhetoric about democracy and equal rights thrown in to get the populace to kill for that home grown ruling class. One ruling class fighting another, using the usual cannon fodder, the people. If we had actually followed the teachings of a Thomas Paine, it might have been actual “progress.” But that’s not what happened. Slavery, genocide of native peoples, endless worker exploitation, misogyny and exclusion of women and minorities, etc. etc. continued/prevailed instead.

Again, the only way to have real “progress” is to get rid of the capitalist system and institute full democracy in its place, including the economy. That gets rid of the vast majority of the power to block progress too. The major locus for that currently is business interests, combined and alone.

219

bob mcmanus 05.20.15 at 2:41 pm

Neoliberalism/neo-imperialism replaced Fordism and social democracy around 1980:Thatcher, Reagan, Mitterand, Gorbachev, Indira Gandhi. Fall of Shah. End of age of terrorism. Rise of Theory in American Colleges. Alternative family sitcoms.

Is neoliberalism, as JQ says, over? Don’t know. Will it be replaced by something really good or really bad? By me. I think a good rule of thumb is that mode/regime changes should be unrecognizable/incomprehensible to those whose consciousness was formed in the previous stage. We will not go backwards. We will accelerate.

So I am looking at the transgender movements, Appadurai’s diasporic nations, Braidotti’s nomadness, twitterstorms, imaginary finance, electronic remote and mediatized warfare, everything fast volatile provisional optional.

220

mattski 05.20.15 at 3:40 pm

With money, you can buy brains.

And yet so often they don’t. So there must be a reason for that.

221

geo 05.20.15 at 3:43 pm

Lee@213: I should have said “hire” rather than “buy.” The plutocracy engineers the manufacture of consent not by bribing intellectuals, journalists, and politicians to pretend to believe things they don’t believe, but rather by locating intellectuals, journalists, and politicians who believe what the plutocrats believe (or anyway what they want the public to believe) and promoting them. (Likewise, of course, by attacking or marginalizing those who believe the wrong things.) They do this by buying mass media, sitting on university governing boards, setting up research institutes, think tanks, and other career-enhancing resources, funding publications, and of course, lobbying, funding, and employing legislators. This whole system of capitalist intellectual hegemony is superbly analyzed (with special emphasis on journalism) in Chomsky and Herman’s Manufacturing Consent. See also Lawrence Lessig, Republic, Lost, Robert Dahl, Robert McChesney, and many others on the left.

McManus: am working on it

Yay!

222

mattski 05.20.15 at 3:49 pm

[Agree with geo that Manufacturing Consent was a brilliant analysis at the time. It didn’t foresee the internet though.]

223

Stephen 05.20.15 at 3:55 pm

geo@202: “first, civil rights (freedom of speech and religion) for everyone; then political power for everyone; finally, social and economic welfare for everyone. Furthering this progression = left-wing; fighting it = right-wing”.

So apply that to Russia post-Kerensky.
Civil rights for everyone, not if Lenin/Stalin had anything to do with it.
Political power for everyone, also down the drain.
Social and economic welfare for everyone, improvements at some times and in some places for some, sometimes for many people. Otherwise, no. Holodmor, anyone?

But I don’t like the conclusion that L&S were really right-wing.

224

Plume 05.20.15 at 4:02 pm

Another way that consent is manufactured — which is implied in 221 — is just through an extreme narrowing of allowable discussion. In American mainstream media, political narratives are pretty much, with rare exceptions, limited to the latest Democratic versus Republican dust up . . . . which essentially means a battle between two corporate sponsored entities, working on behalf of corporate/business power, and both right of center — in effect, if not always via rhetoric.

Even the supposedly “liberal” MSNBC does this by pretty much making leftist participation out of bounds. The one time, for example, that Chris Hayes’ old show, UP, had an actual anticapitalist on his show (Richard D. Wolff), the panelists basically scoffed at everything he said . . . . and the good liberal (The Nation, etc) Hayes came close to this. They were all rather patronizing regarding his words, as if he weren’t a highly respected economics prof and scholar, and their senior by more than a generation.

Basically, anticapitalist alternatives are verboten in the MSM. So it’s not at all surprising that they have such a hard time gaining a foothold even among the well-educated, when the ideas themselves have been marginalized to a degree unseen in any other (over)developed nation. This is the plan, of course. Make the furthest possible “left-wing” discussion barely center-left and truncate the vast majority of civic dialogue to center-right and far-right ideologies. This serves the existing power structure brilliantly, and deludes the populace into thinking we have actual “free speech” and a free and open dialogue, politically, socially, etc.

In short, it’s sham/scam.

225

engels 05.20.15 at 4:12 pm

Another way that consent is manufactured — which is implied in 221 — is just through an extreme narrowing of allowable discussion

I hear ya

226

Plume 05.20.15 at 4:14 pm

Mattski @222,

But what has the Internet really changed along those lines? For me, personally, it’s been a goddess-send, as I’ve discovered a host of great leftist writers/websites, etc. etc. like Jacobin, Platypus, the Monthly Review, Climate and Capitalism, Gar Alperovitz, David Harvey, Richard D. Wolff, to name a few. Which has sent me off into new directions I never really imagined before. Most folks, however (I suspect), use it to confirm their own preexisting ideologies, and end up in the same old (very narrow) tribal battles, hurray for our side, etc. etc. This is at least what I gather from posting on most Internet boards with a political focus, and reading mainstream news pubs.

If anything, the Internet has made it easier to manufacture consent, as it is also the greatest medium in history for the dissemination of the official line, and the official counter to that official line . . . . all within preselected boundaries. It has also made it far easier for snake oil salesmen, the Glenn Becks, the Alex Jones, the Rush Limbaughs, to rally their troops and extend their reach.

In short, despite never-before-seen diversity in media, the Internet hasn’t really led to a broadening of horizons for most people. That’s my guess, at least. It’s just reconfirmed tribal affiliations for the vast majority.

227

MPAVictoria 05.20.15 at 4:17 pm

“the Internet hasn’t really led to a broadening of horizons for most people.”

I don’t know Plume. The internet has pushed me much further left then I used to be.

228

engels 05.20.15 at 4:19 pm

If anything, the Internet has made it easier to manufacture consent, as it is also the greatest medium in history for the dissemination of the official line, and the official counter to that official line

Very much agree, and this might also be relevant:

….This survey’s findings produced several major insights: People were less willing to discuss the Snowden-NSA story in social media than they were in person… Facebook and Twitter users were also less likely to share their opinions in many face-to-face settings….

229

Plume 05.20.15 at 4:20 pm

MPA,

I have a strong feeling you are not “most people.”

That’s a compliment, btw.

230

MPAVictoria 05.20.15 at 4:28 pm

“I have a strong feeling you are not “most people.”

That’s a compliment, btw.”

Ha! Well I will take it. Thank you :-)

231

Sebastian H 05.20.15 at 4:29 pm

John’s definition at 197 is really the first time we’ve been offered anything semi-workable as a time-spanning definition. Unfortunately it doesn’t fit the facts very well.

The problem is that Hirshman’s framework doesn’t deal well with the defining problems of 20th century differentiation communism and anti-communism. Communism saw itself as on the left and was seen by nearly everyone in the 20th century as on the left.

However, in practice it was very much counter to any of the nice things that Hirshman and Marshall think that ‘the left’ promotes. It did NOT promote freedom of speech. It did NOT promote freedom of thought. It VERY MUCH did NOT promote freedom of religion. It did not promote even handed justice and other aspects of individual freedom. It attacked all of these things in a very concerted fashion. And while it gave lip service to education, health and economic well being, it did so while attacking ever widening ‘enemies of the state’ and removing their access to such things.

Now, perhaps that isn’t what communism in theory should get us. But it is an accurate history of what communism in fact did. Lenin and Trotsky were already civil liberties disaster areas in the 1910s and Stalin was showing his true red/left side in the 1920s. Both well before Hitler came to power. Despite the lies of Walter Duranty and other LEFTists by 1932, it was already becoming very obvious that communism wasn’t civil liberties enhancing.

John suggests: “Basically, the left is the side fighting FOR these developments and the right is the side fighting AGAINST them. One thing that makes things complicated, however, is that as history moves along, one way the right fights against what is currently being demanded is by insisting that this new thing is a threat to the last thing. So the right ends up fighting FOR the thing it was fighting against, previously, and alleging that the left is fighting AGAINST the thing it was fighting for, previously.”

So either communism wasn’t of the left despite nearly everyone at the time (both pro-communist and anti-communist) or the definition isn’t very useful.

Further, in the anti-communist case, it seems very likely that allegations that the left is fighting AGAINST the thing it was fighting for, were true in the case of communism. This is only confusing-sounding because the left-right distinction pretends there is continuity between the people who were fighting for civil liberties in the early 1800s and the the left in the 1900s. But that isn’t obvious at all.

The only way around this that I can see is to maintain a very tight theory/practice cleavage which only applies theory to the left and only counts practice on the right.

An additional problem is that anti-communists didn’t care about how pretty communism should be in theory, they were reacting to how ugly it was in practice (with Lenin and Stalin in the pre-WWII years, and with Mao and Pol Pot later). This is complicated further by the fact that anti-communists attacked certain civil liberties in their zeal to attack communism (though they didn’t do so nearly as viciously as communists did). This leads to the conclusion that essentially no one important was on the left a large portion of useful political description in the period ~1910-1950, or that if there was anyone important on the left in that period, it was the anti-communists.

Those are pretty silly conclusions for those who want to ram historical analysis into a left/right lens. Now we can get around it by suggesting that lots of times the left-right analysis isn’t as important as other ideas–say communist/anti-communist. But if we are already biting the bullet on that admission, why do we need to keep pretending left/right is so useful anyway? It either isn’t very good at describing which side you should pick on a left/right struggle, or it isn’t very good at describing a huge number of the actual political struggles. In either case it isn’t nearly as useful as the time spent on it.

232

Plume 05.20.15 at 4:31 pm

engels @228,

Of course, another factor involved in limiting the discussion, especially the one in question (NSA spying). If a person believes corporate/government spying is rampant, they are (probably) less likely to make their own personal views known in the first place. Fear of retaliation, etc.

People have been fired for their posts on Facebook, for instance. So it’s not just fear of government retaliation. And we all take chances conversing this way, with this hanging over our heads. Subconsciously or consciously, I think most of us know we have no control over where our posts end up, who sees them, what is done in reaction to them, etc. etc. I read recently, for instance that Radio Shack, now bankrupt, will be selling off some 450 million customer records.

In short, while the Internet has given us unprecedented reach and connectivity, with this comes an automatic loss of privacy. On the web, our ability to see things means we can be seen, too. No hidden two-way mirror for us.

233

geo 05.20.15 at 4:38 pm

Stephen @225: But I don’t like the conclusion that L&S were really right-wing

The problem is with “really.” Words do not have a “real” meaning. They mean what a language community agrees they mean; and that agreement is always open to re-negotiation. Everything you say about Lenin and Stalin is true. Whether or not they were leftists depends on what we agree that “left” means. Because foolish or dishonest people (a few of them even pop up on CT!) are always saying “You say you’re a leftist; so did Lenin and Stalin; they were totalitarians; so you must be a totalitarian; nyah-nyah,” those of us who are either too dumb or too lazy to think up a catchy new name for ourselves, or for sentimental reasons would like to hold on to “leftist,” ask ourselves whether what we believe (very much not what Lenin and Stalin believed) isn’t part of an intellectually and historically coherent tradition, and if it is, whether we’re not entitled to call it “the left.”

Does it matter? Well, not fundamentally. Words are only words. The main thing is to create solidarity. As Rorty said (or meant to say): “Take care of solidarity, and truth will take care of itself.”

234

Plume 05.20.15 at 4:39 pm

Sebastion H @231

There is far less confusion if you can differentiate between Political Communism, which had zero to do with leftist theory, and actual leftist theory. As per earlier discussions. Another way to reduce that confusion is by noting that the vast majority of leftists opposed what Political Communism entailed. See Orwell, Camus and every Left-Libertarian or Left-Anarchist on record.

And still yet another way to diminish the confusion is to note that both sides of the aisle have their perversions, their distortions of historical political/social/economic beliefs and missions. Both sides have their totalitarians, their opportunists, their con-artists. Strip them from the discussion for a moment — because both left and right have their share — and it’s a lot easier to get to the actual differences.

235

engels 05.20.15 at 4:41 pm

We now know that the internet is surveillance device with a few benefits for the subjects it is tracking, and I’m sure that has a chilling effect. But apart from this I’ve just always been struck by how conformist blog comments sections tend to be, and particularly by the dynamic which often takes hold of regulars arguing with a troll who puts forward a dissenting view in a self-defeating way. It seems to the effect of these discussions must be to reinforce everyone’s priors. A very large number of Crooked Timber threads are like this imho.

236

Sebastian H 05.20.15 at 4:43 pm

Plume, as I said, I’m willing to accept for the sake of argument that actual existing communism had little to with ‘leftism’ if you want to define it that way. But then you need to realize that ‘leftism’ didn’t have much to do with actual world politics for most of the 20th century–which strongly suggests that the left/right lens isn’t nearly as important as is normally claimed.

237

bianca steele 05.20.15 at 4:43 pm

https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Anatomy_of_Antiliberalism.html?id=wSqLS_iJDLQC&hl=en seems relevant to Sebastian’s post. If liberalism had finally defeated options further to the right (to one degree or another–and this doesn’t describe Russia very well, though it might describe the Russian intelligentsia around 1900), then every 20th-century political movement is anti-liberal (to some extent). So they have something in common, but to call that either “right” or “left” is to assume that liberalism is at one extreme on the spectrum, which really isn’t the case even if liberalism had–mostly, in most places, with notable exceptions–become the status quo.

Why do we even care whether fascism or Nazism were on the left? If you want to be as right as right can be, then the Nazis are on the left so you can reject them. If you want to discredit ideas about a totalizing state, the Nazis are on the left so you can argue against Communism and reject Nazism without having to argue against it. If you’re a socialist but not an internationalist, and kind of racist, maybe, and kind of inclined to think of yourself as anti-modern, or something, you can say to yourself that the National Socialists got a bum rap and would have been a good thing if it weren’t for that bastard quarter-Jew failed painter Austrian.

238

Plume 05.20.15 at 4:46 pm

Also, the anticapitalist left was against what Lenin and Stalin did. Always. And they make up the majority of leftists. Lenin installed state capitalism, on purpose, to force Russia into the 20th century, and he used many of the same methods of primitive accumulation first employed in Britain in the 18th century — some might stretch that back to the 17th. Basically, he just substituted the state as capitalist boss, because he believed this was the only way to pull a hopelessly (economically) backward nation into the future.

That’s not socialism at all (much less communism), which also requires full democracy, which he and later Soviet leaders outlawed. Communism is the next step and means the state itself has withered away. You can’t, by definition, have a “communist state.” It’s a classic oxymoron.

239

stevenjohnson 05.20.15 at 4:46 pm

John Holbo@193 Thank you for the explanation. It shows that I didn’t reduce McCarthy’s argument to a correct categorical syllogism. Since you won’t consider a polysyllogism, that pretty much finishes the elementary logic.

“All objects that share any properties share all properties…McCarthy’s conclusion that the Nazis are leftists is best regarded as a corollary of this theorem. The Nazis and the French Revolution share some properties, ergo they share all properties, ergo they share the property of being leftist.” Well, my formal logical skills don’t allow me to express the thrust of his argument in a single syllogism. Nonetheless, McCarthy has always been contending that the Nazis and the French Revolution don’t share some properties (and that they therefore shall all properties.) He’s been contending all along that they share the defining property of totalitarianism. And that the French Revolution is the defining instantiation of totalitarianism and leftism. That they are not two genuinely separate things at all, but essentially the same.

And, McCarthy has even offered a pragmatic definition of totalitarianism that does indeed fit both. You accept that there is such a thing as totalitarianism, but assume that there must be left and right totalitarianism, even though you have no working definition of totalitarianism that allows there can even be such a differentiation.

I think the whole notion of “totalitarianism” is BS of the rankest kind, but you don’t, so it’s not obvious why you won’t confront McCarthy’s argument. Further, I think McCarthy’s proffered account of totalitarianism/leftism only only seems to work as a unique identifier of totalitarianism/leftism by basically falsifying or ignoring counterexamples. McCarthy for example strengthens the equation of leftism and totalitarianism by citing an imaginary genocide of the bourgeoisie in Communist countries. I’m still shocked that you have no problem with this kind of thing.

“‘Socrates was acknowledged to pursue wisdom. Socrates was acknowledged to be the first philosopher. Therefore, philosophers pursue wisdom.’

This is obviously a very bad argument. The truth of the first two statements gives no reason whatsoever to accept the conclusion… But if you accepted the conclusion, as a hypothesis, you might (wrongly) think the first two statements were good inductive evidence that the hypothesis is correct. In fact they would be bad inductive evidence (you would be indulging confirmation bias.)”

You just claimed what the founder of philosophy did is no more relevant to identifying what philosophers do than the shape of his nose? You don’t have a problem believing in an undefined totalitarianism or even McCarthy’s mountain of bourgois corpses but you can’t believe this? Well, evidently my training in formal logic is inadequate to pin down your errors. But as much as I detest McCarthy’s malevolent disdain for fact (unless convenient,) you haven’t made an argument against his position.

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Plume 05.20.15 at 4:48 pm

Sebastian H @236,

We agree there. Actual leftist thought and its historical (and historically diverse) tradition has had almost no impact on the world as it actually exists today . . . . and IMO this is a great and crippling tragedy.

241

mattski 05.20.15 at 4:50 pm

Plume,

In short, despite never-before-seen diversity in media, the Internet hasn’t really led to a broadening of horizons for most people. That’s my guess, at least. It’s just reconfirmed tribal affiliations for the vast majority.

There is an anti-democratic lesson in there, istm. The more capable, effective members of society use the internet in a way that average people tend not to. But…

Good ideas can propagate faster now, thanks to the internet. So can bad ideas, that’s true. A little faith in human nature suggests that good ideas, in the long run, have a better chance than bad ideas. But we do need to be patient, and while we’re practicing patience we can also do good work in our communities and on ourselves.

Food for thought/practice.

242

Plume 05.20.15 at 4:52 pm

Well, I need to refine that.

The Civil Rights, Workers’ Rights, Women’s Rights and various Human Rights movements of the 20th century come from decidedly leftist roots. To the extent they ended up forcing change, this is thanks to the leftist tradition and leftist activists. The environmental movement also stems from that same tradition.

243

Plume 05.20.15 at 5:00 pm

steven @239,

Some nitpicking:

“Founder of philosophy”? What about the pre-Socratics? Thales predates Socrates by a coupla centuries, and was considered by Aristotle to be the first Greek philosopher. It’s also doubtful that the Greeks were the first to practice it. Chinese, Sumerian, Indian civilizations go back much deeper in time, etc. to name just three.

244

engels 05.20.15 at 5:21 pm

Actual leftist thought and its historical (and historically diverse) tradition has had almost no impact on the world as it actually exists today . . . . and IMO this is a great and crippling tragedy.

Leftism qua ‘beautiful soul’

Φ 658. Looking at this submergence and disappearance from within, the inherent and essential substance is, for consciousness,, knowledge in the sense of its knowledge. Being consciousness, it is split up into the opposition between itself and the object, which is, for it, the essentially real. But this very object is what is perfectly transparent, is its self; and its consciousness is merely knowledge of itself. All life and all spiritual truth have returned into this self, and have lost their difference from the ego. The moments of consciousness are therefore these extreme abstractions, of which none holds its ground, but each loses itself in the other and produces it. We have here the process of the “unhappy soul”,(6) in restless change with self; in the present case, however, this is a conscious experience going on inside itself, fully conscious of being the notion of reason, while the “unhappy soul” above spoken of was only reason implicitly. The absolute certainty of self thus finds itself, qua consciousness, converted directly into a dying sound, a mere objectification of its subjectivity or self-existence. But this world so created is the utterance of its own voice, which in like manner it has directly heard, and only the echo of which returns to it. This return does not therefore mean that the self is there in its true reality (an und für sich): for the real is, for it, not an inherent being, is no per se, but its very self. Just as little has consciousness itself existence, for the objective aspect does not succeed in becoming something negative of the actual self, in the same way as this self does not reach complete actuality. It lacks force to externalize itself, the power to make itself a thing, and endure existence. It lives in dread of staining the radiance of its inner being by action and existence. And to preserve the purity of its heart, it flees from contact with actuality, and steadfastly perseveres in a state of self-willed impotence to renounce a self which is pared away to the last point of abstraction, and to give itself substantial existence, or, in other words, to transform its thought into being, and commit itself to absolute distinction [that between thought and being]. The hollow object, which it produces, now fills it, therefore, with the feeling of emptiness. Its activity consists in yearning, which merely loses itself in becoming an unsubstantial shadowy object, and, rising above this loss and falling back on itself, finds itself merely as lost. In this transparent purity of its moments it becomes a sorrow-laden “beautiful soul”, as it is called; its light dims and dies within it, and it vanishes as a shapeless vapour dissolving into thin air.(7)

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geo 05.20.15 at 5:30 pm

Sebastian@236:
I’m willing to accept for the sake of argument that actual existing communism had little to with ‘leftism’ if you want to define it that way

We do.

But then you need to realize that ‘leftism’ didn’t have much to do with actual world politics for most of the 20th century

Agreed.

which strongly suggests that the left/right lens isn’t nearly as important as is normally claimed

Right, too — see @233.

Very nice to have you on the team at last.

246

Lee A. Arnold 05.20.15 at 7:39 pm

Geo #221: “This whole system of capitalist intellectual hegemony…”

…is in the process of going out of business, because it is having trouble continuing to “manufacture consent”, because it only has control of one-way mass media, and that is becoming ever less important.

It is changing right now. This is my point in #208. They can hire all the knuckleheads they want; it is starting to never be enough, if their arguments don’t make sense. Because, if the arguments don’t make sense, then you need to control the media to prevent access by counter-arguments. Which is what has been happening for just about the last 100 years. But no longer.

I read Herman and Chomsky the year it was first published. Ten years before that, I read their 2-volume Political Economy of Human Rights. I learned about East Timor. Then I watched carefully. There was barely a peep about East Timor in the US news media for the next 20 years. (I think Bill Clinton offered a half-hearted apology for the wrongs, during his administration.) Now you can read about it (although not Kissinger’s disgraceful dismissal of culpability) in the Wikipedia article. Things are changing.

How could I have found an amazing person like you, if not for the fact that things are obviously changing? I’d have been lucky to read about you in a note in the New York Review of Books, if I had gotten to the newsstand that week.

The people they hire are shills and knuckleheads. To repeat, that only works, IF they have control of the main media. But the change is that the main media are so main anymore.

What appears to be happening is that there is a more general conversation, and some newer mainstream columnists are paying quiet attention to it and reflecting it, because they are not wedded to the old cocktail-party ways of gathering information, and they prefer to be intellectually honest.

247

geo 05.20.15 at 7:59 pm

Lee@246: From your lips to God’s ear, my son. Things look a good deal bleaker to me, though not quite hopeless. Then again, projecting one’s own decline onto the world at large is an all-too-familiar failure of imagination.

But tell me, roughly when do you think that little fantasy I spun out @174

Everyone should have the necessary minimum for a flourishing life: 2000 calories/day, clean water, sanitation, shelter, health care, education, interesting and meaningful work, leisure, quiet (ie, freedom from attention-theft, one of the pillars of contemporary capitalism), and a voice in economic and p0litical decisions that affect them.

might come true?

248

Lee A. Arnold 05.20.15 at 8:36 pm

I give it 20 years, and I never thought I’d write that. I always figured it was about 100 years away.

But I want to make a distinction here. I think the reason that it has not occurred, so far, is not ONLY because the plutocracy was able to manufacture consent.

It is also because the logic of popular economics had been based on 1. a genuine scarcity of resources and the means to accomplish tasks, along with 2. the system’s ability to incorporate much of the middle class into the proceeds. The great majority of people bought into that logic: “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” (TANSTAAFL), but if you work hard, you can get ahead.

All of those things are changing too, and faster than I had imagined. Technology has proceeded to the point where 1. there is no real scarcity of resources and means, yet at the same time, 2. the middle class is losing ground, is slowly being shut out, for over 30 years now! That is an quite a combination, an astonishing turn of events really, and there is no moral justification for it, nor will any justification be acceptable to most people.

As it stands now, people just think we had a housing boom, then a bust. And we may see a brief surge of economic growth in these years as we come out of the Second Great Depression, (although growth should already be a lot better than it is) which could provide a distraction.

But I doubt it. Two recent studies have shown that about 45% of white-collar jobs — white collar! –will be lost to automation in the next 15 to 20 years. When people lost farming jobs, they moved to the city. When people lose white collar jobs, where do they go?

249

Plume 05.20.15 at 8:45 pm

Lee @248,

We’ve actually never had a scarcity of resources problem per se. What we’ve had is a small fraction of the world hoovering up the vast majority of those resources, leaving the dregs for everyone else. Right now, the richest 20% consume 85% of our resources. Math and logic tell us that we could easily make sure everyone had all the basics Geo talks about and then some if we altered that grotesquely immoral distribution.

Moving beyond consumption to the accumulation of wealth paints an even starker picture . . . . and that wealth buys and sustains the maldistribution of goods, services, resources, power, etc. By next year, the richest 1% in America will hold 99% of all wealth, with that concentration/consolidation escalating and accelerating, not slowing down or reversing itself. It is for that reason, primarily, that I don’t agree with your optimism on the subject. There is just no real evidence for a reversal of fortune of the kind you’re suggesting . . . Well, at least not that I can see.

I hope I’m wrong and you’re right, of course.

250

geo 05.20.15 at 8:52 pm

I give it 20 years

Well, maybe I’ll stick around for it, then.

251

engels 05.20.15 at 9:29 pm

“I give it 20 years”

Wanna put money on that?

252

Lee A. Arnold 05.20.15 at 9:40 pm

I would rather assemble evidence. The only time I’ve ever gambled was 38 years ago. I lost a quarter in a slot at a diner in Reno.

253

bob mcmanus 05.20.15 at 9:54 pm

Golly are we predictin’? Can U get odds on alien invasion?

Lee Arnold is wrong, because he is still stuck in the 20th century. They won’t be manufacturing consent from the masses, because they won’t need the masses. After the masses get control of subsections of the mediasphere, it won’t matter much, cause they won’t or can’t gather enough resources in close proximity to make a difference. And Saddam of the Shah can just wire transfer and helicopter out.

Already. They. Don’t. Care. Already. Here.

It will probably look like the William Gibson novels or bladerunner. More “freedom” than you think, cause they will let you have your solar cells, batteries, and rooftop gardens. But many luxuries will be prohibitively expensive unless stolen, and power not local impossible. The superrich in the highrises and gated communities and protected islands, indifferent to the 99%, grabbing what’s useful or amusing; the rest off us governing ourselves and each other without any help and no real point in mass organizing. Save those who are servants. Change the gubbmint? What gubmint?

That’s what is interesting, bunch of people packed together, and pretty soon nobody will care at all what the other one is into.

254

engels 05.20.15 at 9:55 pm

Sportsman’s bet then?

Btw perhaps someone who hasn’t been banned from the left-leaning-banker-on-why-social-cleansing-of-London-isn’t-as-bad-as-people-are saying-thread, could they please bring this to our host’s attention (from today’s FT)?

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/18c7d112-fe39-11e4-8efb-00144feabdc0.html

Third of Londoners unable to afford basics
A third of people living in London do not have sufficient income to pay for a decent standard of living because housing, transport and childcare costs are so much higher than in the rest of the UK, according to researchers. …

That rises to 43 per cent of Londoners in families with children, the report by Loughborough University found.

255

Jeff R. 05.20.15 at 10:05 pm

I think you underestimate how much of the rich, superrich, and hyperrich’s wealth and lifestyle depends, directly or indirectly on the continued existence of mass markets of people with disposable income. There are limits to aggregation that are going to kick in long before the up-against-the-wall stage…

256

Lee A. Arnold 05.20.15 at 10:15 pm

Exactly, Jeff R… Well Engels if people don’t have sufficient income to pay for a decent standard of living, then McManus is wrong, because the plutocracy stills follows the logic of money, and needs the masses to repay their debt obligations. If that doesn’t happen, or happens by debt bubbles followed by crashes in rapid succession, then people tend to notice and it has political ramifications because all are still taxpayers, nominally at least. And at the same time, the plutocracy is losing its own grip on resources into ever tighter spheres of ownership as technology progresses towards the computerized One Ring to Rule Them All, while the older wealth is mostly dissipated as ever, through heirs and family misfortunes. So Plume’s pessimisms are misplaced too.

257

Lee A. Arnold 05.20.15 at 10:20 pm

Plume #249: “We’ve actually never had a scarcity of resources problem per se… grotesquely immoral distribution… concentration/consolidation escalating and accelerating… just no real evidence for a reversal of fortune… don’t agree with your optimism…”

Taking these phrases one at a time:

1. What was “scarce” through millennia was human time to transform those resources into products and to transport them to consumers — which is why I included scarcity of means — and, in the modern era, this obvious fact served to popularly justify the market system of expansion of private property, entrepreneurship, labor and wages. (Justify it, that is, to most people.) That justification is disappearing.

2. The immoral distribution will solve itself, if more renewable resources are brought into production to provide the necessaries for everybody at a middle-class standard of living. Advances in energy and materials science are making this possible.

3. We need to update the analysis of the future political-economic discussion of the accumulation of wealth, due to the recent data of Piketty and others + the dawning realization among many of our top economists, after the financial crash, that all is not so well. The accumulation of top wealth only works POLITICALLY in a democracy by funding a debt system that keeps the bottom 99% able to borrow and repay while accumulating a middle-class standard of living. That is not exactly happening, to put it mildly, and everybody is grumbling, and 35 years of promises, bubbles and crashes is becoming a popularly-perceived pattern of economic disease, and tiresomely long in the tooth. The acceleration of wealth concentration (but especially the incomes stagnation) has made the disaster more evident, not less evident. And this is clearly calling for political responses, though so far none are coherent or comprehensive.

4. And, getting back to Holbo’s top post, or at least in the vicinity of it, I doubt that there will be strictly rightwing or leftwing responses of any viability or durability. That’s kind of old-school. Meanwhile fascism, as a response to the depredations of the total market economy (Karl Polanyi’s thesis) may have been an historically evanescent phase, and may now be deader’n a doornail, at least so far as the developed countries go. The market system got bought off with small measures of social democracy, to the endless warnings of libertarians and conservatives. But that doesn’t mean that this is some new stability. Instead, if we look at the history of the modern period, say from the turn of the 18th century when we began to engage all these new issues, until now, it seems as one extended period of ferment, and so I don’t understand how you would support the assertion that there is “no real evidence” for — well, anything at all. There’s at least a little bit of evidence for everything in the discussion.

5. Similarly, I’m not sure what optimism has to do with it, nor who cares. But we ought to note that psychological preferences are “exogenous” (as the economists say) to begin with, and most people in the developed world have tended to be optimistic about the future, and optimism can release neurochemicals that cause more neuronal contacts, and therefore more awareness, which leads to greater health and love, and promotes more expansive application of ratiocination.

258

John Holbo 05.20.15 at 11:08 pm

“He’s been contending all along that they share the defining property of totalitarianism. And that the French Revolution is the defining instantiation of totalitarianism and leftism. That they are not two genuinely separate things at all, but essentially the same.”

I understand what he’s been contending. I’ve merely pointed out that he has no argument for what he’s contending.

259

Mdc 05.20.15 at 11:25 pm

Maybe he thinks that whatever is not self-contradictory is true?

260

SamChevre 05.21.15 at 12:39 am

One thing that’s clear after all this discussion is that there’s not only not a consensus definition of “left”, there’s not even a terribly-coherent one that’s widely accepted.

In my opinion, the following movements/characters are “on the left” in typical discussions:
the Jacobins
Karl Marx
the US “Peoples Party” within the populist movement
Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky
Mao
the various Democratic Socialist parties of 20th-century Europe

Hirschmann’s definition doesn’t seem to work well. Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s definition–focused on the relatively important role of the “interests of all/interests of society” vs particular interests, and on an emphasis on uniformity in private life–seems more descriptive; that’s the definition that I prefer (and is fairly consistent with Corey Robin’s definition, if you remember that the government is a hierarchy too.)

261

John Holbo 05.21.15 at 12:46 am

“Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s definition–focused on the relatively important role of the “interests of all/interests of society” vs particular interests, and on an emphasis on uniformity in private life–seems more descriptive;”

I’m not familiar. Please feel free to say a bit more.

262

SamChevre 05.21.15 at 1:17 am

Happy to: I’ve recommended Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn before as a key writer in thinking about “leftism”; he has the great advantage that his terms are carefully defined, so even if you don’t agree with his conclusions, it’s actually possible to figure out where his reasoning diverges. (He’s from the same political tradition and demographic as Hayek and Mises.)

His book Leftism is available in full for free. (It’s the first serious book on politics I ever read; I found it in a dumpster in Altamont TN when I was 14 or 15.)

A quote that gives some feel for the book:

The right stands for liberty, a free, unprejudiced form of thinking,
a readiness to preserve traditional values (provided they are true values),
a balanced view of the nature of man, seeing in him neither beast nor
angel, insisting also on the uniqueness of human beings who cannot
be transformed into or treated as mere numbers or ciphers; but the left
is the advocate of the opposite principles. It is the enemy of diversity
and the fanatical promoter of identity. Uniformity is stressed in all leftist
utopias, a paradise in which everybody should be the “same,” where
envy is dead, where the “enemy” either no longer exists, lives outside
the gates, or is utterly humiliated. Leftism loathes differences, deviation,
stratifications. Any hierarchy it accepts is only “functional.” The
term “one” is the keynote: There should be only one language, one
race, one class, one ideology, one religion, one type of school, one
law for everybody, one flag, one coat of arms and one centralized world
state.

263

John Holbo 05.21.15 at 1:38 am

I have to say: that view does not have much to recommend it, Sam. Just the first phrase is already a catastrophe: “The right stands for liberty, a free, unprejudiced form of thinking.”

How are you planning to square this with history?

264

geo 05.21.15 at 2:10 am

Don’t be so dismissive, John. It may be a historical travesty, but at least it’s clear and coherent, as Sam promised.

265

John Holbo 05.21.15 at 2:23 am

Well, I want this for starters: a clear, cogent account of how Edmund Burke – the libertarian free thinker – attacked Thomas Paine’s unthinking reliance on authority and prejudice.

266

Sebastian H 05.21.15 at 2:25 am

“How are you planning to square this with history?”

Well isn’t it about as good as “the left” in which communism doesn’t count?

[To be clear I’m suggesting that right/left isn’t very useful over long periods of time, not that his hyper-slanted definition was particularly useful.]

267

John Holbo 05.21.15 at 2:34 am

“Well isn’t it about as good as “the left” in which communism doesn’t count?”

We need to be a bit more precise.

I don’t think anyone says that the ideals of communism don’t count as leftist. (But if they do, they’re idiots.) Some people will try to argue that the practical failings of communism don’t count. They have half a point. It’s not (always) fair to accuse people of wanting the bad things their philosophies lead to – that is, it’s not fair to infer that, since communism led to gulags, all communists are philosophy-bound to idealize gulags as ideal forms of political order. There is such a thing as unintended consequences. But, on the other hand, it’s not fair for communists to take no responsibility for failures on the ‘no true scotsman’ grounds that true communism hasn’t been tried. Fair enough?

268

John Holbo 05.21.15 at 2:37 am

Having now skimmed the book Sam recommends, I think it fits with Hirschman’s framework pretty well. It’s an example of reactionary thinking that, in effect, appropriates an earlier stage of left-wing thinking, setting itself up as the true champion of what earlier right-wing philosophies opposed. ‘We have always been at war with Eastasia’ type of stuff.

269

Plume 05.21.15 at 2:52 am

Sam @262,

That quote reads as the worst and silliest of cartoons, and would be laughable if not for the fact that I’ve bumped into all too many righties who actually believe such nonsense. Not only in its absurdist, blind, school-girl crush depiction of the right, but in its derivative of derivative, third-hand, paranoid, nonsensical depictions of the left.

You can’t be serious when you say this is a serious book on politics.

270

Harold 05.21.15 at 2:58 am

Well, it is true that utopian schemes, both right and left, as a rule envision a world in which there will be little or no disagreement.

271

LFC 05.21.15 at 3:00 am

That quote from v.Kuehnelt-Leddihn @262 is… pretty bad. Leftists want one this, one that, and “one centralized world state.” Right.

272

Plume 05.21.15 at 3:01 am

Something that may be helpful here. Take this test. Of course, it’s not the last word on anything, and doesn’t try to be. But it’s interesting in that it goes by four quadrants, instead of a simple left to right spectrum. Your test places you in one of those quadrants, based upon your answers, etc.

http://www.politicalcompass.org/

https://www.politicalcompass.org/test

Last time I took it — and they change the questions every now and then — my scores were Economic Left/Right: -9.12 Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -8.77. Comparing scores with every single right-winger who has ever taken the test that I know of, including right-libertarians, I score much, much better in the anti-authoritarian realm. To me, this is no surprise at all.

273

Plume 05.21.15 at 3:20 am

From his Wiki page:

Erik Maria Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (born July 31, 1909 in Tobelbad (now Haselsdorf-Tobelbad), Austria-Hungary; died May 26, 1999, in Lans, Austria) was an Austrian Catholic nobleman and socio-political theorist. Describing himself as an “extreme conservative arch-liberal” or “liberal of the extreme right”, Kuehnelt-Leddihn often argued that majority rule in democracies is a threat to individual liberties, and declared himself a monarchist and an enemy of all forms of totalitarianism.[1] Described as “A Walking Book of Knowledge”, Kuehnelt-Leddihn had an encyclopedic knowledge of the humanities and was a polyglot, able to speak eight languages and read seventeen others.[2] His early books The Menace of the Herd and Liberty or Equality were influential within the American conservative movement. His best-known writings appeared in National Review, where he was a columnist for 35 years.

. . .

He argued that Nazism, fascism, radical-liberalism, and communism were essentially democratic movements, based upon inciting the masses to revolution and intent upon destroying the old forms of society. Furthermore, Kuehnelt-Leddihn claimed that all democracy is basically totalitarian and that all democracies eventually degenerate into dictatorships.

He sounds like a nutcase, to be blunt. He’s a monarchist, but he’s against totalitarianism? Monarchism is perhaps the earliest form of totalitarianism. And he thinks Nazism and Fascism were “democratic” movements? That’s just flat out asinine. To be overly generous for a moment, he was a seriously confused man, without the ability to see reality. Obviously. It’s also no surprise to read the list of places that published him, like the truly demented and racist Rothbard/Rockwell Report.

Sheeesh.

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geo 05.21.15 at 3:34 am

@267: Fair enough?

No, decidedly not; Communism is a travesty of communism. But we’ve been over this so many times that I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s sick unto death of the question.

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geo 05.21.15 at 3:45 am

PS to 274: “is” should be “was,” since by my own definition, “Communism” was the Leninist travesty of Marxism, now fortunately defunct.

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LFC 05.21.15 at 3:48 am

@273: Generally agree on v.K-Leddihn, but not with “Monarchism is perhaps the earliest form of totalitarianism.” Contra s.johnson upthread, totalitarianism has a reasonably coherent (or at least accepted) definition, and ‘monarchism’ isn’t part of it. Seventeenth-century ‘absolute’ monarchy a la Louis XIV was not totalitarian, or even proto-totalitarian. As Wallerstein has remarked:

If we compare the real power (ability to get decisions actually carried out) of Louis XIV … with say the prime minister of Sweden in the year 2000, we will see that the latter had more real power in Sweden in 2000 than Louis [XIV] in France in 1715. (World-Systems Analysis, p.43)

For roughly the same reasons, I don’t find persuasive descriptions of the Fr. Rev., even in the phase of the Terror, as totalitarian. Totalitarianism seems to me a 20th-c phenomenon, in which leaders w ambitions toward total control over society have the actual ability to implement at least part of their plans.

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Plume 05.21.15 at 3:49 am

Geo @274,

This is concise and to the point.

Communism is a travesty of communism.

And I realize the rest is of your comment is a call for no further rehash of previous battles on the subject.

But perhaps just a quick recap, he said with a mischievous grin . . . .

Actual communist philosophy, if followed, would lead to a truly cooperative and all voluntary society, based upon mutualist, communalist structures and non-structures . . . and would be the next step after real socialism had taken root. It would follow real socialism, which means true democracy across the board, with the people — not political parties, not juntas, not dictators — owning the means of production. All of us, together, with equal shares. Communism would be the next evolutionary step from that, once true democracy is second nature and there is no need for a state apparatus to guide things. The next step being the absence of the state and no more classes of any kind, including a governing class.

Again, there can be no such thing as a communist state, if it’s actually communist. The Soviet Union, etc. etc. were decidedly not “communist.” They were even remotely socialist.

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Plume 05.21.15 at 3:49 am

They weren’t even remotely socialist, rather.

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Sebastian H 05.21.15 at 3:50 am

” It’s not (always) fair to accuse people of wanting the bad things their philosophies lead to – that is, it’s not fair to infer that, since communism led to gulags, all communists are philosophy-bound to idealize gulags as ideal forms of political order. There is such a thing as unintended consequences. But, on the other hand, it’s not fair for communists to take no responsibility for failures on the ‘no true scotsman’ grounds that true communism hasn’t been tried. Fair enough?”

As a free floating statement it is fair enough. But in the context of a discussion about the importance of right/left as a time-spanning world-wide political lens it isn’t fair enough. An enormous part of the political world from about 1920-1990 was about Communism/anti-Communism. The anti-Communists weren’t particularly worried about the allegedly great things about little ‘c’ communism. They were very worried about fighting the the factually horrific and genocidal things that seemed to attach themselves to Communism.

So I only see 4 major options in the context of a discussion about the time-spanning world-wide right/left lens for analyzing politics.

1. Big ‘C’ communism is left, anti-Communism is right, therefore the right/left lens works fine. You’ll have modern leftists screaming about that definition but at least it makes sense internally.

2. Big ‘C’ communism is rightist, anti-Communism is leftist, therefore the right/left lens works fine. That was sound like a Jonah Goldberg humpty-dumptyism.

3. Big ‘C’ communism isn’t leftist, anti-Communism was rightist, therefore the right/left lens is sort of helpful but not really.

4. Big ‘C’ communism isn’t leftist, anti-Communism was largely rightest with some lefties, therefore the right/left lens isn’t that helpful.

Are there other options? If not which of those 4 do you subscribe to?

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LFC 05.21.15 at 3:53 am

@geo
I believe you and Holbo have indeed been over this before. He isn’t changing his mind. You aren’t changing yours. (Fwiw, on this particular Communism/communism issue, I have some sympathy w your view.) But, for ex., it would be like trying to persuade you that Rorty isn’t the cat’s meow. Ain’t happenin’.

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Plume 05.21.15 at 3:56 am

LFC @276,

But wouldn’t that be more a function of technology than governmental forms? A 17th century monarch with 20th century technologies at his disposal would be more “totalitarian” in effect. He would, unlike the Hitlers and the Maos and the Stalins also be seen as “god’s” representative on earth, and have a totally different kind of perceived legitimacy/power in the eyes of the populace. A modern dictator has nothing but the threat of military and police power, etc. etc. And even there, they spent an awful lot of time, energy and money trying to convince the populace that their policies, decisions, goals, etc. etc. were in their best interest. If their power truly was totalitarian, why would they need to do that? It’s likely that the term is misused in any case.

Monarchs had the power of life and death over their subjects — and that’s the ultimate power. IMO, it’s really a matter of the technological tools at one’s disposal that differentiates kings, queens and modern day dictators.

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LFC 05.21.15 at 3:58 am

Plume,
Sincere, serious question: Has it ever perhaps occurred to you that your consistently rather vague encomiums to socialism (“all the people” owning means of production, an economy producing just outcomes with no need for redistribution, an end to evil corporate power, etc.) with no real discussion of how to get there, are not really helping the cause? This is basically declamatory sermonizing. If it makes you feel good, more power to you, I suppose. You’re entitled to write whatever you want. But I don’t find it esp. useful. Others may have different views, of course.

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LFC 05.21.15 at 4:00 am

Plume:
But wouldn’t that be more a function of technology than governmental forms?

Maybe, but technology is very important, not a minor detail. It’s often hard to separate from governmental form.

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Plume 05.21.15 at 4:06 am

Sebastian H,

You left out:

5. Big C communism is left-wing totalitarianism. The right has its own versions. Those who oppose(d) Big C communism came from, and still come from, both sides of the political spectrum, because both sides have strong beliefs in opposition to any form of totalitarian states. But since Big C communism was a black mark for the left, leftists were and still are more likely to oppose it on more than just those grounds. Added to the mix is the need for the left to make clear to all and sundry that this is not what we stand for, because it’s not. It’s the opposite of what we stand for. Our tradition shouts this opposition from the rooftops, and has for two centuries, and is almost exclusively one of opposition to “the state” and the idea of ruling class domination through history.

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Plume 05.21.15 at 4:10 am

LFC @282,

I’ve written about how to get there, here and elsewhere. I didn’t realize it was necessary to repeat that whenever the subject comes up. I also thought it wise to shorten posts to the degree possible. Do you think readers here would rather see dissertations instead? I’m guessing no.

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John Holbo 05.21.15 at 4:37 am

No time to reply adequately for the rest of the day but some response seems only polite: I think the right answer is that Big ‘C’ Communism [i.e. actually existing, Soviet-style communism, let’s say) is leftist, in a genealogical sense but not clearly on the right or left in a substantive sense. That is, if you abstract from the origin story, just look at the form of what they actually had and ask, ‘who should like/hate this more, by rights, lefties or righties?’ there isn’t a clear answer. It makes a difference when you are doing the looking, for one thing. Trotsky always maintained that Stalin was basically a right-winger who staged a coup. That’s seriously stretching a point – ahem, to say the least – but it’s true that Stalin didn’t DO much that seems discernably motivated by left-wing values. It was easy for lefties to dream that Stalinism was just suffering some growing pains. They would work out the rough bugs in the system and realize a worker’s paradise in a generation or so. Shifting to the other side of the aisle, there’s a lot to admire about Stalin, if you are an extreme right-winger of a certain (Spenglerian) bent. He’s a strong man, imposing order. I am reminded of Orwell on James Burnham on “Lenin’s Heir” (another National Review writer, along with Kuehnelt-Leddihn – although I can’t claim to have known the latter fact two hours ago.)

http://orwell.ru/library/reviews/burnham/english/e_burnh.html

OK, I’ll just quote the good bits:

‘The article [by Burnham] is entitled ‘Lenin’s Heir’, and it sets out to show that Stalin is the true and legitimate guardian of the Russian Revolution, which he has not in any sense ‘betrayed’ but has merely carried forward on lines that were implicit in it from the start. In itself, this is an easier opinion to swallow than the usual Trotskyist claim that Stalin is a mere crook who has perverted the Revolution to his own ends, and that things would somehow have been different if Lenin had lived or Trotsky had remained in power. Actually there is no strong reason for thinking that the main lines of development would have been very different. Well before 1923 the seeds of a totalitarian society were quite plainly there. Lenin, indeed, is one of those politicians who win an undeserved reputation by dying prematurely. Had he lived, it is probable that he would either have been thrown out, like Trotsky, or would have kept himself in power by methods as barbarous, or nearly as barbarous, as those of Stalin. The title of Burnham’s essay, therefore, sets forth a reasonable thesis, and one would expect him to support it by an appeal to the facts.

However, the essay barely touches upon its ostensible subject matter. It is obvious that anyone genuinely concerned to show that there has been continuity of policy as between Lenin and Stalin would start by outlining Lenin’s policy and then explain in what way Stalin’s has resembled it. Burnham does not do this. Except for one or two cursory sentences he says nothing about Lenin’s policy, and Lenin’s name only occurs five times in an essay of twelve pages: in the first seven pages, apart from the title, it does not occur at all. The real aim of the essay is to present Stalin as a towering, super-human figure, indeed a species of demigod, and Bolshevism as an irresistible force which is flowing over the earth and cannot be halted until it reaches the outermost borders of Eurasia. In so far as he makes any attempt to prove his case, Burnham does so by repeating over and over again that Stalin is ‘a great man’ — which is probably true, but is almost completely irrelevant. Moreover, though he does advance some solid arguments for believing in Stalin’s genius, it is clear that in his mind the idea of ‘greatness’ is inextricably mixed up with the idea of cruelty and dishonesty. There are curious passages in which it seems to be suggested that Stalin is to be admired because of the limitless suffering that he has caused:

“Stalin proves himself a ‘great man’, in the grand style. The accounts of the banquets, staged in Moscow for the visiting dignitaries, set the symbolic tone. With their enormous menus of sturgeon, and roasts, and fowl, and sweets; their streams of liquor; the scores of toasts with which they end; the silent, unmoving secret police behind each guest; all against the winter background of the starving multitudes of besieged Leningrad; the dying millions at the front; the jammed concentration camps; the city crowds kept by their minute rations just at the edge of life; there is little trace of dull mediocrity or the hand of Babbitt. We recognise, rather, the tradition of the most spectacular of the Tsars, of the Great Kings of the Medes and Persians, of the Khanate of the Golden Horde, of the banquet we assign to the gods of the Heroic Ages in tribute to the insight that insolence, and indifference, and brutality on such a scale remove beings from the human level… Stalin’s political techniques shows a freedom from conventional restrictions that is incompatible with mediocrity: the mediocre man is custombound. Often it is the scale of their operations that sets them apart. It is usual, for example, for men active in practical life to engineer an occasional frame-up. But to carry out a frame-up against tens of thousands of persons, important percentages of whole strata of society, including most of one’s own comrades, is so far out of the ordinary that the long-run mass conclusion is either that the frame-up must be true — at least ‘have some truth in it’ — or that power so immense must be submitted to is a ‘historical necessity’, as intellectuals put it… There is nothing unexpected in letting a few individuals starve for reasons of state; but to starve by deliberate decision, several millions, is a type of action attributed ordinarily only to gods.”

In these and other similar passages there may be a tinge of irony, but it is difficult not to feel that there is also a sort of fascinated admiration. Towards the end of the essay Burnham compares Stalin with those semi-mythical heroes, like Moses or Asoka, who embody in themselves a whole epoch, and can justly be credited with feats that they did not actually perform. In writing of Soviet foreign policy and its supposed objectives, he touches an even more mystical note:

“Starting from the magnetic core of the Eurasian heartland, the Soviet power, like the reality of the One of Neo-Platonism overflowing in the descending series of the emanative progression, flows outward, west into Europe, south into the Near East, east into China, already lapping the shores of the Atlantic, the Yellow and China Seas, the Mediterranean, and the Persian Gulf. As the undifferentiated One, in its progression, descends through the stages of Mind, Soul, and Matter, and then through its fatal Return back to itself; so does the Soviet power, emanating from the integrally totalitarian centre, proceed outwards by Absorption (the Baltics, Bessarabia, Bukovina, East Poland), Domination (Finland, the Balkans, Mongolia, North China and, tomorrow, Germany), Orienting Influence (Italy, France, Turkey, Iran, Central and south China…), until it is dissipated in MH ON, the outer material sphere, beyond the Eurasian boundaries, of momentary Appeasement and Infiltration (England, the United States).”

I do not think it is fanciful to suggest that the unnecessary capital letters with which this passage is loaded are intended to have a hypnotic effect on the reader. Burnham is trying to build up a picture of terrifying, irresistible power, and to turn a normal political manoeuvre like infiltration into Infiltration adds to the general portentousness. The essay should be read in full. Although it is not the kind of tribute that the average russophile would consider acceptable, and although Burnham himself would probably claim that he is being strictly objective, he is in effect performing an act of homage, and even of self-abasement.’

I don’t want to say that this is a ‘normal’ view for a conservative. I don’t think it makes sense to argue that the Soviet Union was ‘really’ right-wing, just because Burnham wrote about foreign policy for NR – and Reagan gave him a Presidential Medal of Freedom (fun fact!) But it is true that there was a certain Spenglerian ‘conservative revolutionism’ about Burnham, and it was rather natural for it to call forth from him a grudging admiration for Stalin’s regime. Anyway, my point is that, just as leftist idiots could admire Stalin, right-wing idiots could, too.

All this will only confirm you in your opinion that left-right is rather useless, Sebastian. I would say, to the contrary, that it still has its relative uses. This comment is running on and I really need to do something else. I’ll just conclude by saying: once people are making mountains of skulls it doesn’t matter so much whether they are left-wing piles of skulls or right-wing piles of skulls. Left and right are both capable of going completely insane, as history shows. Atrocity itself isn’t really right or left. But you still want to use that genealogical sense of left-right, to draw cautionary lessons. What not-so-obviously-insane thinking, on right or left, has led to the sort of total insanity we want to avoid, at all costs?

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js. 05.21.15 at 4:59 am

Someone should do an open question argument for “the right”.

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Peter T 05.21.15 at 5:08 am

I realise most of the comments come from the US. In that framework, the evils of communism loom very large, to the point where The Killing Fields is pretty much taken for granted as typical of communism. The rest of the world has a more nuanced view.

The “left” circa 1890 took as its minimum program universal male suffrage, a welfare state, an end to privilege and a severe diminution of employer power. The right in the UK, France and the US were prepared to concede on suffrage (except for blacks in the US), on some elements of a welfare state and most privilege. So the fight centred on employer power, and the use of the state to back (or reduce) that power. Liberals could mostly go along with the left, so long as the means were limited. And, given the stakes and the alternatives, the means could be limited.

In Germany and Russia, the right was much less accepting of even the minimum program – some welfare was about the most they would concede. So the fight was on all fronts, and the means much less restricted. When these states shattered in 1917/18, it came down to violence. In war, numbers count, but so does commitment. In Germany, the right was more committed, in Russia the Bolsheviks. So you had the freikorps, Weimar, and then the resurgence of the right in Germany. A right committed to privilege, autocracy and employer power.

The Bolsheviks were not just committed to communism, they were also committed to building a strong Soviet Union – one able to resist the depredations of the external world. This meant a great deal of repression (as it usually does), but this end had broad support (even among many of the victims). And the system delivered. By 1940 the average Soviet person was much better educated, more skilled, had more opportunities than the average Russian of 1914. The Party had a lot of power, and used it. But the Party was largely made up of new people, and was open to talent. When the Germans tried to take this and more away, they fought like feral cats. With much more and better weapons, more adequately maintained and supplied, than in 1914. Despite the repression, they were committed to the system. And the Communist Party retains significant support in Russia. The statues of Lenin still stand. Ditto China – Chinese feel Communism put the country back on its feet after a century of chaos, and provided ordinary people a life with much more security and opportunity.

The arguments about which ends of the spectrum lead to more violence or repression miss the mark. Left and right are about who state power is used for, and how the elite is to be constituted. When these things are fought over, liberals judge the means used. Mostly that’s a useful call – the times rarely call for blood. But sometimes there is no way through without bloodshed, and liberals end up standing in the middle of the battle shouting out “hey, someone might get hurt!” and blaming the nearest sword-wielder (briefly).

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LFC 05.21.15 at 5:27 am

I glanced at the Orwell link to get the context of the Burnham piece: it appeared in Partisan Review in the winter of 1944-45 (I guess that means Dec. ’44 – Jan ’45, roughly). Looking quickly at the part excerpted by Holbo, hard not to conclude that Burnham (about whom I don’t know much except that he started on the left and ended up way on the right) came close to going off the deep end (“Soviet power, like the reality of the One of Neo-Platonism overflowing in the descending series of the emanative progression, flows outward…”).

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John Holbo 05.21.15 at 5:38 am

Yeah, that one piece is not really very representative of Burnham’s often substantially less mad output. But I think it’s fair to quote madness in the context of a discussion of what we should think about the extremes of right and left. Mad times call forth mad thoughts.

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geo 05.21.15 at 6:18 am

LFC@280: it would be like trying to persuade you that Rorty isn’t the cat’s meow. Ain’t happenin’

Heaven forfend! [shudders; hastily crosses himself]

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Harold 05.21.15 at 7:32 am

Thank you, John Holbo, for quoting that wonderful bit of madness from Burnham. It makes this:

http://harpers.org/archive/2013/11/future-as-parable/

seem more plausible.

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engels 05.21.15 at 9:56 am

Peter T’s #288 is reasonable, informed and well-argued, so I predict it will be universally ignored. Now back to ‘the left is evil’ v. ‘the left is a beautiful idea which has never existed’ – may the best team win!

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SamChevre 05.21.15 at 11:13 am

Peter T @ 288

I just think this deserves to be highlighted:

Left and right are about who state power is used for, and how the elite is to be constituted. When these things are fought over, liberals judge the means used.

I think where left-leaning and right-leaning liberals disagree is on which constitution of the elites will lead to less objectionable means.

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David 05.21.15 at 11:49 am

Just to agree with Peter T’s remark @288 about liberals judging by the means used. I think there’s a concealed pseudo-syllogism lurking in much of this discussion which runs approximately:
– the Left does nice things
– Stalin did some things that were not nice
– therefore Communism (at least in the Soviet Union) was right-wing.
This is obviously silly, but it not only mixes up means and ends, it ignores context. How many really major transfers of social and economic power in history have been entirely voluntary and peaceful? If, as Peter T suggests, Left vs Right is about who is to benefit from state power, and if the Right, in general holds state power and is not inclined to give it up peacefully, then the Left can only take that power by coercion or open violence, as indeed was generally the case.
The alternative is the recurrent liberal fantasy that the Russian Revolution could have been avoided by a national dialogue involving all stakeholders to develop a new and inclusive political system, that the Romanovs would cheerfully have retired to Switzerland and that the industrialization of the country and the modernization of agriculture could have been carried out without any opposition if only the PR and consultation process had been better. The Left, in other words, is being blamed for the Right’s failure to compromise..

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Peter T 05.21.15 at 12:46 pm

Sam @ 294

Fair enough. But all liberals under-estimate the general propensity to resort to violence, and over-estimate the human capacity to control mass violence once unleashed. So there’s a lot of finger-pointing along the lines of “they started it”. The American Revolution, for instance, involved a great deal of violence (proportionately more Americans fled/were forced out of the US after the war than Vietnamese out of Vietnam after 75), even though it had impeccable liberal aims. Victory required acquiescence in slavery – so one can add a century of continuing mass cruelty to the tally. What would it have looked like if, in addition to fighting for independence from Britain, a large faction of the colonists had also fought to end slavery and for greater Indian rights? A lot more bloody, is what, over a lot longer period.

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SamChevre 05.21.15 at 1:06 pm

Peter T

. What would it have looked like if, in addition to fighting for independence from Britain, a large faction of the colonists had also fought to end slavery and for greater Indian rights?

I think the war for independence wouldn’t even have started, given that the British solicitude for Indian rights (and French-Canadian rights) and growing opposition to slavery were substantial contributing causes of the war.

One thing Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s analysis says–and which I agree with–is that the American War for Independence was fundamentally right-wing.

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jake the antisoshul soshulist 05.21.15 at 1:36 pm

I would not characterize the American Revolution as being right wing, but is one of the few revolutions in history that was basically for the benefit of the bourgeoisie.

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Plume 05.21.15 at 1:53 pm

Who benefits from state power and what goes into making up the elite. That’s a good way to differentiate left and right as well. Thing is, both left and right have their anarchists . . . though, ironically, left-anarchism basically calls for the end of the state, period, while the right’s form calls for the reduction to mere support system and protection for private property/transactions/commerce, etc.

In current day discussions with right-wingers, one mostly hears their impression of “the left” as being in favor of full-blown statism and totalitarian control, while their own side supposedly favors the smallest possible amount of government. In reality, it is the left’s anarchist contingent which calls for smaller than small. It wants no government at all. And it is the tradition on the right, going back to the first divisions in the French Parliament, that we have a strong and powerful central government, Big Church, “law and order,” etc. etc. The tradition on the left, OTOH, for at least two centuries, has primarily been to oppose this top down order.

In short, as you move further and further left, it’s no longer a matter of how the elite should be constituted, but that there should be no elite whatsoever. The right never takes this step. Small c communists and left-anarchists/left-libertarians share this goal. It was more than tragic that Big C communists pushed things in the opposite direction, both when it came to the formation of elites and the use and abuse of state power. Left-anarchists and left-libertarians were every bit as vehement in their opposition to the Big C communists as anyone on the political right.

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LFC 05.21.15 at 2:14 pm

Peter T @288
The Bolsheviks were not just committed to [C]ommunism, they were also committed to building a strong Soviet Union – one able to resist the depredations of the external world. This meant a great deal of repression (as it usually does)

A question, though, is whether it had to mean the killing of tens of millions of people (I don’t know offhand the exact number of Stalin’s victims but it’s in that vicinity). I agree that the population of the USSR, for the most part, preferred their system to being enslaved and/or exterminated by the Nazis, hence part of the reason the Russians fought so hard and incurred huge casualties in what is still called there The Great Patriotic War.

Same point/question, btw, to David @295. Some violence was going to occur, but was mass terror required?

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Joseph McCarthy 05.21.15 at 2:20 pm

But the call to solidarity in tradition (whether national or racial) is a distinctly rightwing call, and the Nazis were on the right for this reason, too.

Reds also advocated solidarty, in terms of both class and nation. What was that? Rightleftwing call?

“He’s been contending all along that they share the defining property of totalitarianism. And that the French Revolution is the defining instantiation of totalitarianism and leftism. That they are not two genuinely separate things at all, but essentially the same.”

I understand what he’s been contending. I’ve merely pointed out that he has no argument for what he’s contending.

No you don’t. Your lack of counter-arguments pushes you in constant straw-man building, because you are not able to criticize the original statement (as some other commentators did).

The French Revolution did instantiate the three properties that I listed. That does not say that totalitarianism is also conceivable in some other way, which I also stated explicitely. Those three properties are clearly evident in national socialism, that means it has also properties of Leftism.

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Plume 05.21.15 at 2:25 pm

LFC @300,

What the Soviets did was despicable and can’t be excused. That said, how many of their deaths were due to a reaction to Western attempts to crush the nascent revolution from 1917 on? How much was due to the civil wars which the West provoked? How much was do to the immediate and permanent embargo and the coordinated isolation of Russia? Is the Soviet Union the same if the West had actually rallied to the defense of the ouster of the Czars? Is it the same if the West had actually attempted to work with the Soviets instead of immediately seeking to crush them?

Again, no excuses, but the atrocities had more than just Russian fathers. The West was/is complicit, too, both via its actions and inaction.

The numbers of Stalin’s victims are still contested, but likely amount to millions upon millions. One of the best articles on the subject I’ve found is from the New York Review of Books:

Hitler vs. Stalin: Who was worse?

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engels 05.21.15 at 2:34 pm

I can’t speak for David or Peter but I would certainly agree that the Gulag, etc were horrific and futile. But there’s a lot of space between that judgment and the kind of blanket denunciations of the USSR from the revolution onwards which some commenters have been engaging in, and the proclamations that it had nothing to do with the left which invariably follow. Imo apart from being very bad history this is bad for the left in two ways, it prevents us from taking inspiration from the positive achievements of state socialism and it prevents us from learning properly from its disastrous failures.

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Plume 05.21.15 at 2:39 pm

@301,

There is a huge different between a call for solidarity based upon oppression, exploitation, marginalization, etc, and a call for solidarity among oppressors. It’s not rocket science.

In America, this is often pointedly on display when right-wingers complain that if blacks can call for racial solidarity, why can’t whites? Along these same lines, one of the salient dividing lines between left and right is the general perception of victimhood/degrees of oppression. The left is, with exceptions, pretty much in sync with reality there, and sees oppression and oppressors as they actually exist in society and throughout history. The right, OTOH, with exceptions, pretty much turns this on its head. Billionaires are the victims and the oppressed. White Christian males are the victims and the oppressed. The dominant establishment is the victim and oppressed, suffering from an onslaught from the “lower orders” at every turn.

The Nazis were obviously right-wing and show that with their use of the above — among a host of other telltale signs. Turn history and present-day reality on its head. They were brilliant at this, as is the current right. Rally oppressors together by deluding them into thinking they’re all victims. Make the powerful, the dominant, the owners of society feel like they are powerless in the face of those who are truly powerless, etc.

It is also the case that the Nazis’ hate list is nearly identical to that of every right-wing organization/movement in the last several generations, with, perhaps, one exception today: the Jews. But even there, the European right, Neo-Nazi and Neo-Fascist groups are stridently anti-Semitic. In America, there is a temporary alliance, based primarily on “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” via Israel and Islamic nations . . . . and the backstory of Christian Apocalypse.

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LFC 05.21.15 at 2:41 pm

Some commenters, such as engels @293, don’t like the direction the thread has taken. But J. Holbo chose to wrote a series of posts centered on the question ‘were the Nazis right-wing or left-wing [or which is the more accurate characterization]?’

Given that that question was posed as the central motivating one for these posts, it’s silly to suppose, as engels apparently does, that the ensuing discussion could have ignored or avoided questions involving mass atrocities and their links (or lack thereof) to particular ideologies.

Engels likes to present himself as a hard-headed, realistic Marxist, disdainful of head-in-the-clouds people who don’t understand that in order to make an omelet you have to break eggs and who don’t understand that debates about ‘the left is evil’ vs. ‘the left is a beautiful thing which has never existed’ are fruitless. But what engels doesn’t seem to realize is that that debate was virtually guaranteed to occur given the nature of the OPs.

I agree with geo and Plume and some others that Communism Soviet-style and esp Stalinism was a perversion of ‘communism’. I also agree w Holbo that Soviet-style Communism has a ‘leftist’ ‘genealogy’ (for whatever difference that makes). These points seem to me fairly obvious. They used to intersect w very contentious questions in U.S. (and other countries’) politics, particularly c. 60 years ago, during the McCarthy era (when some on the right tried to tar everyone on the left w the brush of Stalinism). These questions are no longer politically ‘hot’ in the way they once were, but it’s understandable that people on the left shd still want to distinguish betw Soviet Communism and their own views.

One might have supposed that the defeat of Nazism and fascism, and then the collapse some decades later of Soviet Communism, would have taken the air out of some of these questions. However a certain amount of ‘air’, I suppose, remains in the ‘balloon’ of these issues b.c, inter alia: (1) authoritarian polities still exist, (2) Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ (i.e. definitive triumph of liberal capitalism or whatever) has not occurred, and (3) some nutty U.S. right-wingers, or so I gather w/o having read Jonah Goldberg, decided that, having failed to tar all leftists with Stalin, they were going tar all leftists with Hitler (a project that might have seemed so insane as to preclude it’s even getting off the ground, but apparently it did).

Holbo likes to write online about these questions of right and left in a philosophical/historical vein (when he’s not writing about art or comics or cartoons or whatever), and there’s nothing esp. wrong with that. I can think of worse things to write about.

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LFC 05.21.15 at 2:44 pm

Engels @303 and other recent comments appeared while I was writing 305, so I haven’t addressed them.

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Plume 05.21.15 at 2:44 pm

The Gulag? What modern government hasn’t had them? And where did Russia get the idea from? The West. From our concentration camps, primarily, which were an American refinement of a Spanish “invention.” The refinement mostly occurring in our near-genocidal war in the Philippines.

See The First Moderns for a discussion of the above.

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David 05.21.15 at 2:50 pm

As I think I said earlier (or possibly in another thread, I’m getting confused) the number of “victims” of Soviet state repression from the end of the Civil War to the death of Stalin was probably of the order of a million, based on official files, either directly executed or dying in prison. The majority of these victims date from the 1937-8 purges. During the Cold War there was an entire cottage industry devoted to producing higher and higher figures for “victims”, some going so far as to blame the 25 million Soviet dead of the Second World War on Stalin, as well as the deaths of the earlier Civil War (a highly debated figure). But most of the “victims” of Stalinism, on examination, turn out to be calculated from overall population figures. In times of war ( 1917-21 and 1941-5) deaths tend to go up, for obvious reasons, but births tend to come down, because men are separated from their families, don’t get married etc. The unprecedented slaughter of the war years (up to 50% of some age-groups died and many of the rest were wounded) meant that fewer children were born long after the war was over. To this, of course, must be added deaths resulting indirectly from forced collectivization and industrialization, which, depending how you calculate them, are probably in the millions in the interwar years.
How much of this was avoidable? Clearly Stalin (though highly intelligent) was also paranoid, and determined to kill anyone he thought might be a threat. In the world of post-1917 Russia, there were bitter struggles for power (and people who would have killed Stalin if they could) but we can assume that if another leader had triumphed, the purges would have been much less extensive. For the rest, it’s hard to know. Violent resistance to agrarian reform, and violence to enforce those reforms, are common in many countries, and agrarian reform was essential for modernization. Likewise, famines were not unknown in Russia, or indeed elsewhere. Stalin’s deliberate use of terror as a motivating force for modernization was not inevitable: other methods may, or may not have worked as well.
But that implies there was another figure who could have replaced Stalin, and produced a nicer, kinder Soviet Union, or even a non-Soviet state. (Kotkin has a rather wistful chapter on this in his new biography of Stalin). It’s not clear that this was so, and in any event, a different leader might not have been able to drag Russia towards the modernization that saved the country in 1941-2, nor for that matter proved to be the outstanding war leader that Stalin was. That’s the trouble with counter-factuals.

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David 05.21.15 at 2:58 pm

Footnote to Plume @ 307, the GULAG was the Soviet forced labour camp system (analogous, I believe, to prison farms in the US at the same time, though much larger) Political prisoners were certainly sent there but the majority of inmates were common criminals. Conditions were incredibly harsh, but it is hard to calculate how many prisoners actually died. The official figures show about one million out of a total population of about 14 million over a twenty-year period but, even if this figure is true, it’s not clear how many “political prisoners” died (you could be sent there for minor political offenses) or how many of these people were “victims of Stalin”.

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Plume 05.21.15 at 2:59 pm

LFC @305,

Good post. When I was growing up, I simply can’t remember any attempt to make the Nazis “left-wing.” Even conservatives didn’t try to do that. It was just accepted that the left’s cross to bear was Stalin, Mao, etc. etc. and the right’s was Hitler, Franco, Mussolini, et al. I just don’t remember there being any debate about this, much less “serious” debate.

It’s only really been in the last couple of decades that the right has decided to turn history on its head along these lines. Or, perhaps, to refine that a bit . . . . it’s only been in the last couple of decades that earlier attempts have moved from the far, far fringe into some relationship with the mainstream. Prior to this, I doubt you’d find one in a thousand scholars, history professors, poli-sci folks trying to peddle Nazism as left-wing. Even now, I’d be very surprised if a visit to any credible university worldwide would yield more than two out of a hundred.

There is just too much contemporary evidence going against them, too many letters, newspaper accounts, memoirs, political minutes from right and left parties themselves. And we know that the vast majority of resistance movements (at the time) throughout Europe were dominated by leftists — mostly communists and socialists. One would think if the Nazis were “left-wing,” this wouldn’t have happened. One would also think that if the Nazis were left-wing, the European right wouldn’t have been so onboard with them (Nazis and Fascists), which they were.

And today? Self-identified neo-Nazi and neo-Fascist groups ID as right-wing. White supremacist groups and movements, especially in America, ID as right-wing. They don’t call themselves “leftists.” They violently rail against the left, endlessly.

To me, that we’re even debating this is a sad indication of the overall effectiveness of right-wing propaganda and mainstreaming of right-wing extremism.

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Lee A. Arnold 05.21.15 at 3:12 pm

Joseph McCarthy #301: “Reds also advocated solidarty, in terms of both class and nation. What was that? Rightleftwing call?”

Well, no. The Red ideology wanted an END to class and nation, and did not want to go back to “tradition”, a word you ignored. Because tradition means hierarchy. This leveling is very different than the Nazi ideology, which put the German race and culture ahead of all others, and wanted to enslave them.

Now, between Hitler and Stalin operationally, as opposed to ideologically, who cares? I don’t know. And as the extended conversation above reflects, Hitler and Stalin were equally monstrous, and beneath all their justifications they just wanted personal power, and were willing to shift with the winds.

However, supposing that the Nazis were “left” misses the positional difference between left and right which was operational in German politics at that time, and which is operational wherever left and right argue, and which I shall try to flesh out in my next comment.

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Lee A. Arnold 05.21.15 at 3:18 pm

Peter T. @288, I think your points are well-taken with one caveat. I think it goes one step deeper. It seems to me that underneath, left vs. right is not primarily about the use of power. It is an argument about the instrumentality of meritocracy, justifying a material hierarchy.

The right always upholds a meritocracy of some sort, whether it is divinity/monarchism/aristocracy (de Maistre, Spengler, Kuehnelt-Leddin), market deserts (Hayek), or even the greater merit of some race or nation.

The stated motive is NOT the hierarchy as pure power-play, it is the fact that the hierarchy reflects some sort of merit.

What is common to them all is not the type of the meritocracy, it is the psychological necessity of the gradation of merit. Necessity, for reasons which are always expressly forwarded: avoidance of decadence and disorder, mental health, excellence in the arts and culture, the most efficient use of resources and the fastest likelihood of innovation to raise all boats, etc. etc. Meritocracy calls upon people to aspire, to pay tribute to virtues, and to occupy their relative place in the scheme of things.

The left always rejects this necessity of gradation for social psychology, and rejects the need for a material meritocracy, especially when it is rewarded by large advantages in property, profits, etc. They are levelers (as Kuehnelt-Leddin and the rest of the Counter-Enlightenment continuously complained): the left believes that all people are the same; so, at bare minimum, they deserve not only equal opportunity but deserve some basic guarantee of final outcome. And worse, they will vote themselves into it, which is why the Counter-Enlightenment tends to loathe democracy.

To elaborate this opposing psychology a little, the left believes that all people start out basically the same, and it is the outer material differences which cause much of their inner differences — a view which was held in different degrees by Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations, book I, chap. 2, paragraph 4) and by Karl Marx in the theory of alienation, extended by later Marxists and psychoanalysts such as Lacan into the realms of self-image creation and so on.

Neoliberalism (the economic doctrine) split the left-right difference for a while, by instituting a democratic meritocracy of market-capitalist wealth creation that happened to forward technological innovation, and a rising standard of living for almost everybody, with a welfare safety-net for the rest, after economic development starts. Thus, equality + meritocratic liberty.

Three things immediately fall out of this, for me: 1. Both sides have justified the use of strong men and dictators, to get to their own ends. 2. How you feel about all of this, depends on your own psychological profile, because that’s what it’s about, to begin with. But–

3. Psychological profiles are changing. Inexorable technological advance is accelerating toward the end of any need or justification for material hierarchy. This has been foreseen for two centuries, on the left and on the right (e.g. on the right, Schumpeter, an honest observer and analyst) and now it is coming to pass. What’s been sustaining the system is not the power of plutocrats (the typical villains in these comments threads on Crooked Timber), it’s the fact that most everybody else had been buying into the system, as the necessary meritocratic scheme of things. And that psychology is no longer being sustained.

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stevenjohnson 05.21.15 at 3:21 pm

Re Plume’s nitpicks: True, in a sense. But equally true that pre-Socratics are to philosophy as Lillienthal and Langley were to the Wright Brothers. As for the non-Western philosophers, no one pays any attention to them other than specialists.

I believe any confrontation of McCarthy demands an alternative account of “totalitarianism.” There hasn’t been the slightest effort to do so. It is one thing to expect people to accept an argument and admit error. But demanding retraction or condemnation without an argument is absurd. Even more tellingly, the acceptance of his right to make blatantly false assertions is symptomatic (in my judgment) of the desire to make equally false assertions when convenient, that is, against the desired targets, which most share with McCarthy.

Class society is unequal even when there is widespread political and civil equality for citizens. Capitalism is a class society. Historical vicissitudes in the meaning of “left” and “right,” I still think could be most usefully approached by drawing the lessons of the revolutions of 1848.

I think the real problems in the thread commentary stem from an uncritical acceptance of the notion of “totalitarianism” an error shared with McCarthy. And I think the clearest expression of this is the implication that “mountains of corpses” are somehow the product of crazed ideology. Quibbling with McCarthy over whether the craziness was fundamentally produced by the “left” without even making arguments, arbitrarily accepting some falsifications but tsk-tsking over other? Bah, humbug!

The thing is of course that the mountains of corpses are usually produced by business as usual. But for McCarthy and Holbo and others, when it’s not easy to slander some political enemies as crazed ideologues, they aren’t mountains of corpses at all, just molehills.

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engels 05.21.15 at 3:22 pm

Some commenters, such as engels @293, don’t like the direction the thread has taken. But J. Holbo chose to wrote a series of posts centered on the question ‘were the Nazis right-wing or left-wing [or which is the more accurate characterization]?’

Given that that question was posed as the central motivating one for these posts, it’s silly to suppose, as engels apparently does, that the ensuing discussion could have ignored or avoided questions involving mass atrocities and their links (or lack thereof) to particular ideologies.

Engels likes to present himself as a hard-headed, realistic Marxist, disdainful of head-in-the-clouds people who don’t understand that in order to make an omelet you have to break eggs and who don’t understand that debates about ‘the left is evil’ vs. ‘the left is a beautiful thing which has never existed’ are fruitless. But what engels doesn’t seem to realize is that that debate was virtually guaranteed to occur given the nature of the OPs.

I think that some of my comments above were overly snarky and unhelpful – sorry – but I honestly have no idea why you think I think any of this. I have no opinion on whether the thread could have gone any other way. I haven’t said anything about conseuentialist justifications for revolutionary violence (omelettes, eggs, etc).

I disagree with Holbo’s ongoing project of Taking Goldberg Seriously, I disagree with the Geo / Plume line on the crimes of state socialism (briefly: ‘nothing to do with us, guv!) and I disagree with the many (typically American libertarian leftists) who find nothing to praise in the history of the USSR.

The ‘left is a beautiful thing which has never existed’ was mainly aimed at Plume’s comments, particularly the one which said he thought that left had had no effect on the world and this was a tragedy, which seems very odd as an interpretation of history and self-defeating as politics (from your earlier comment thought you agreed with this).

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engels 05.21.15 at 3:22 pm

The first three paragraphs above should have been italicised.

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Plume 05.21.15 at 3:44 pm

Engels,

Plume’s comments, particularly the one which said he thought that left had had no effect on the world and this was a tragedy

I followed that comment with a clarification (242). Pretty much immediately I realized I had spoken too soon, and that, yes, the left had positively impacted the world in many ways. I suppose I was thinking in terms of state power, which the left rarely holds throughout history in relative terms . . . . and that when the left does take power, it seems to leave its principles and values far, far behind . . . . far enough behind, in fact, to make those supposedly left-wing governments appear as direct enemies of left-wing tradition/thought/philosophy, etc. etc. I don’t see the same dynamic with the right when it holds power . . . . and, historically, it’s been dominant through the centuries.

In short, the left works outside of state power, for the most part. It works on that state power from the outside. The right holds it, almost invariably. And in the capitalist era, it remains no matter which party takes power. It is always there . . . one might call it the deep state . . . and worldwide, at the moment, neoliberalism, which is right-wing, seems to run the show even when supposed “socialists” win the top prize. Hollande in France, for example . . . and even Syriza in Greece, which may be the furthest left ruling party in Europe in thirty years . . . seems at the mercy of the dominant hierarchies and ideologies, which, again, are decidedly right wing.

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bob mcmanus 05.21.15 at 3:50 pm

Sometimes I hate quoting a last paragraph, because it feels a cheap summation of a book-length argument, but here is Lordon again, Willing Slaves of Capital

Almost negatively, as its real condition of possibility seems so far away from us, it is again Spinoza who gives us perhaps the definition of true communism: passionate exploitation comes to an end when people know how to guide their common desires – and form enterprises, but communist ones – towards goals that are no longer subject to unilateral capture; namely, when they understand that the truly good is what one must wish for others to possess at the same time as oneself. This is for example the case with reason, that all must want the greatest possible number to possess, since ‘insofar as men live according to the guidance of reason, they are most useful to man’. But this redirection of desire and this understanding of things are precisely the goal of Spinoza’s Ethics, and he does not hide that ‘the way [is] very hard.’

“No longer subject to unilateral capture”

Oh, leaving aside tendentious examples like a spouse and their desire for exclusionary child-rearing, we can maybe use Lordon’s contrast of the playwright and the costumer and electrician she needs to get the play performed. Some desires, some people’s desires, based on natural or acquired inequalities of talent, skill, charisma, or experience tend to organize and capture the desires of others more effectively and thus create hierarchies. We are unlikely to force everyone to become either playwrights or electricians.

There was a comment in Plume’s link 302 that Hitler or Stalin didn’t kill anybody. As whatever somekind of dissenting or disapproving Nietzschean for me sometimes (maybe often) all the categories of ideologies and modes or tools of organization fall aside…and it becomes about Alexander and Napoleon talking people (a chain, a pyramid of desire) into killing and dying (or passively getting out of the way, or not enforcing a counter-dream) for his own personal dream and desire.

And this remains, for me, constant throughout history and somewhat accelerating although definitely fractionating in our current age of intense social interaction and constant communication.

Plato’s dream, Jesus’ dream, Caesar’s desire, MLK’s goal, GRRM’s imaginary, how about those basketball playoffs, did Don Draper write the commercial, one rape too many, read my post today.

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mattski 05.21.15 at 3:55 pm

Lee Arnold,

the left believes that all people start out basically the same, and it is the outer material differences which cause much of their inner differences

But this is clearly not supported by evidence and one of the pitfalls of leftward thinking, imo. People have innate differences which we don’t really understand the origins of aside from general statements like ‘genetics.’ Nevertheless, the statement, ‘all men/women are created equal’ does have a meaning which is the insistence that all people are equally entitled to respect and dignity. That is an equality of rights rather than capacity.

I believe I’m in agreement with you that there is an inexorable trend towards greater and greater material leveling due in large part to technological progress. I think you are saying that our psychology needs to catch up to our technical abilities which I also believe is true. IOW, I don’t think our psychology today will support a non-market economy, but someday it probably will.

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engels 05.21.15 at 4:00 pm

Plume, I agree about the difficulty of a left-wing party in government using the bourgeois state to advance a left-wing agenda but I don’t think that necessarily makes those governments the ‘direct enemies’ of the left.

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bob mcmanus 05.21.15 at 4:06 pm

Oh and in case you don’t get, saying that Tim Snyder’s East European killing ground is more important than one rape too many on Game of Thrones is precisely an example of attempting to capture the other’s desire in a hierarchy of your personal making. Or those you serve.

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Plume 05.21.15 at 4:07 pm

Bob,

I love Spinoza, and despise capitalism. Lordon’s booksounds awesome. Do you recommend it highly, tepidly or recommend against purchase?

One of the things that constantly baffles me, at least when it comes to people who say they want a better society. Why would anyone want to include in a new alternative the root of our miseries in the present? Why would anyone insist that we must continue the capitalist mode of production/ownership/exploitation, whereby a private person gets to take for themselves the fruits of the labor of others? It seems to me that the very basic starting point for a just, fair, effective new society must end that relationship, forever, with no looking back. But not by shifting ownership of the labor of others to a new ruling elite, a new management team. That must be outlawed too. And the obvious way to do this is to make it the law, put it in the new constitution, that we are all co-owners of the means of production, and that no one is entitled to the usurpation, appropriation, extraction, collection and accumulation of another’s labor. No proxies. No political parties as our supposed “representatives.” We are co-owners without buffers or distance. We hold the fruits together, equally, and reap the rewards of this together, equally. That strikes me as the sensible foundation for evolution into a truly just society. That should be the starting point.

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Plume 05.21.15 at 4:19 pm

Mattski @318,

But, as Yeats said, h0w do you tell the dancer from the dance? How do you determine those “innate” differences when there are such ghastly differences in external variables? How do you ever get to quantify those “capabilities” when people in modern societies have such vastly different opportunities to develop what they carry with them, internally? Until we can level those externalities enough, there is no real way to ever get to what is “innate,” at least not enough to base effective policy upon.

Again, you have folks who are born a few inches away from home plate, and others who are born thousands of miles away from the stadium, with cement blocks on their legs. One’s “innate” ability to hit home runs is never clear under those circumstances.

As mentioned upthread, I, personally, do not ever want to see a society that forces “equal results.” But I long for the day when society gives every citizen the tools, the education, the environment, the training to develop their own innate “capabilities to the fullest extent possible. To boil it all down, a just society gives equal access to all, regardless of one’s birth lottery. It helps prepare the road for everyone to get to the stadium and take their swing, as it levels out all pre-existing advantages and disadvantages. From that point, the hard work and inner capabilities get their time in the sun. But it’s delusion to think, in our present dynamic, that the folks who do the best on the field of play are necessarily “innately” superior. It’s a delusion and dangerously naive, because those external variables are vastly unequal.

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Plume 05.21.15 at 4:24 pm

And by “level,” I don’t mean force downward/upward to some mediocre place, where excellence has been vanquished. I mean . . . make sure everyone starts out with excellent tools, environments, education, health care, healthy food, clean water, etc. etc. All citizens, from Day One.

This is possible, right now, via a sane and responsible, fair and egalitarian distribution of goods, resources, access, fruits of society, etc.

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Lee A. Arnold 05.21.15 at 4:54 pm

Mattski #318: “But this is clearly not supported by evidence… I don’t think our psychology today will support a non-market economy…”

What is the evidence? Yes there are a few unfortunates, and at the top end there is the occasional rare Mozart, and a few more than that who are great at maths, or can bend it like Beckham, but pretty much everybody else is within range of each other:

“The difference of natural talents in different men is, in reality, much less than we are aware of; and the very different genius which appears to distinguish men of different professions, when grown up to maturity, is not upon many occasions so much the cause, as the effect of the division of labour. The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature, as from habit, custom, and education. When they came into the world, and for the first six or eight years of their existence, they were perhaps, very much alike, and neither their parents nor playfellows could perceive any remarkable difference…”

Smith, Wealth of Nations, I.2.4.

By the way, this is another thing that technological change is going to alter. Deficits in intellectual and physical ability are likely to be as treatable as differences in plumbing systems; we will just go in enable the neurons much as we fix the pipes. It doesn’t make scientific sense that this area is somehow beyond improvement, for much longer.

Thus, it is another enormous wrench that will be thrown into the theory that meritocracy is a necessity.

I agree that “our psychology today will [not] support a non-market economy”. What I was trying to point out is the reverse statement: that our market economy today is not supporting the psychology of “just deserts” that allows it to exist. And this is the most important requirement for continuance of the system, by far — not the power of the plutocrats.

Nobody but nobody believes that the bankers deserve what they get (except maybe some of the bankers) and everybody is coming to see that you can work your ass off and get no where.

This has not been news to the discerning types through the last few hundred years, but as it becomes a mass change in the social psychology of the developed capitalist countries, it will become very BIG news indeed. It will be far more important than the power of plutocrats, or the metaphysical venality of capitalism, or the idea that differences will always cause power hierarchies, or a misunderstanding of the law of entropy, or some mystical notion of the cyclical necessity of the return of evil — i.e. the things which seem to animate the pessimism on the left.

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F. Founding 05.21.15 at 5:22 pm

Reacting to a number of posts by H Sebastian and others (Geo and Plume agreeing), arguing that real Communism may not have been “truly leftist”, but since real-world politics was about real Communism, that means true leftism has no significance:

That’s wrong. In the real world, most of those sympathising or siding, temporarily or permanently, with real Communism were, in fact, motivated by the ideals of true leftism (that’s what the sincere ones were thinking and the hypocrites were claiming). Similarly, the ones most actively opposing real Communism were motivated by their opposition to *true* leftism (with the same caveat). This is easily established when you see what other causes the same people sympathised with and promoted (political, racial, gender, ethnic, religious equality). They did fit in the egalitarianism vs traditional inequality axis. Pace anarchists, council communists etc., many people in the Russian civil war and later did choose the Bolshevik side because it seemed to be the side that: A. was promising a left-wing policy, and B: actually had a chance of succeeding.

So Sebastian’s suggestions that “anti-communists didn’t care about how pretty communism should be in theory, they were reacting to how ugly it was in practice” are ridiculous – apparently we’re supposed to believe that the various Pinochets and Suhartos that fought Communism all over the world during the 20th century (dictatorial, militaristic, theocratic, nationalistic, plutocratic, and yes, also mass-murdering) were motivated by their principal aversion to potential or real Communist mass murders. There are very few countries in the world where a major or, in most cases, predominant part of the anti-Communist forces were *not* more or less people of the ancien-regime style, traditional-hierarchy Right. Check their rhetoric – it’s precisely the (alleged) equality they are reacting to; the equality and the stated goal of destroying (the) hierarchy.

The related claim, argued by Geo and Plume, that real Communism had nothing to do with leftist causes, is also wrong. Yes, some things, specifically related to political repression and democracy, went “wrong” from the very start – and yet, due to its roots and to the groups it targetted for support, real Communism did continue to advance many truly leftist goals and values throughout its history (see Peter T’s post). Some egalitarian outcomes are still in the process of being destroyed by the post-Communist regimes. Of course, as time went by, few of these goals and values have been left unbetrayed by at least *some* self-described Communist regime in history at *some* point, which only goes to show that “real-world Communism” is not so much a model in itself as a mixed bag with a tendency back towards old-regime-style right.

Examples from “social issues” particularly dear to the hearts of American liberals: homosexuality was decriminalised by the October Revolution and recriminalised by Stalin in the 1930s; abortion was decriminalised by the October Revolution and recriminalised by Stalin in the 1930s; minority languages such as Ukranian were promoted by the October Revolution and then (unofficially) restricted by Stalin; the attitude towards Jews went from having a Jewish leader to the (unofficial) anti-Semitic tendencies of the “Doctors’ Plot” and the campaign against “rootless Cosmopolitanism” in the later Stalin years. Similar trajectories (with varying initial and final points) have been followed elsewhere: as late as the 1960s, Swedish women would travel to Poland to get abortions (contrast the situation with post-communist Poland). The Stalinist reaction was itself reversed to varying extent in many cases.

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F. Founding 05.21.15 at 5:26 pm

@ John Holbo 05.17.15 at 12:47 am and 05.17.15 at 4:10 am

You have suggested that genocide does not just mean sytematically exterminating an ethnic group, but just any mass killing of anyone. I’m sorry, but that’s a ridiculously broad use of the term and it make it hard to find non-genocidal conflicts and regimes. A crucially important point about actual genocide is that you kill innocent people *by definition*. This is not true of political repression. You can conscionably, under certain circumstances, support the death penalty for those who plot a coup. You can’t conscionably support the death penalty for everyone who belongs to a certain ethnic group.

@John Holbo 05.17.15 at 12:36 am

Predictably, you are suggesting that I am engaging in a “no true Scotsman” fallacy on leftism – but the whole point of that fallacy is that, to achieve one’s desired conclusion, one creates a definition of “Scotsman” that really has *nothing* to do with the original and generally accepted meaning of the term. That’s not what I have done with respect to the left – I have justified my definitions by actual facts, and have not replaced another generally accepted and meaningful definition of the term. I do refuse to treat “left” as a proper noun like “Scotsman”, having no inherent meaning besides designating a specific group of individuals (or “tribe”) that happen to call themselves that.

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F. Founding 05.21.15 at 5:29 pm

@LFC 05.21.15 at 3:48 am
>Generally agree on v.K-Leddihn, but not with “Monarchism is perhaps the earliest form of totalitarianism.” … Totalitarianism seems to me a 20th-c phenomenon, in which leaders w ambitions toward total control over society have the actual ability to implement at least part of their plans.

Practice is important, but so is theory, especially when discussing ideologies. I think that one should measure political tendencies and ideologies by what they are trying to accomplish, and claiming to be accomplishing, while correcting for the actual technical circumstances that restricted what they managed in practice. We can’t say that the totalitarian ideologies were fundamentally different from those of the historical absolute monarchies just because allegedly, the resulting regimes actually succeeded in what the monarchies were only trying to achieve. Furthermore, this criterion is impractical, because success is a matter of grade and is always variable: even the 20th century totalitarians were not all equally successful in their actual (as opposed to desired and proclaimed) control over society, nor were the absolute monarchies of the past.

328

Plume 05.21.15 at 5:30 pm

Lee,

Thanks for that quote. Very wise.

On the future: There is of course a great danger when it comes to genetic tinkering, which I think is inevitable. Both that it will happen and the radical new injustice it will promote. Given that capitalism, especially America’s turbo-charged form, puts a price tag on virtually everything, with virtually nothing left out of the monetization realm . . . . the folks with the money will be greatly advantaged when it comes to applying new genetic technologies. They will be able to afford to fix existing issues in themselves, and design their progeny for what once was thought of as pure fantasy. That old Star Trek episode with Khan is more than doable, eventually . . . . as in, we will soon have humans capable of massive improvements in physical strength, longevity, speed, agility, endurance, etc. etc. . . . . while at the same time radically increasing mental capabilities. Supermen and superwomen, etc.. Boiled down, it is very likely we will one day see people with IQs of 250, able to run the 100 meters in 8 seconds, while standing 6’7″ and weighing 275. Gattaca meets Ricardo Montalban. And more. And beyond that. Not to mention how robotics will impact this, with the rich, again, being able to take advantage of new technologies that will make the bionic man look like a piker in comparison.

As long as we have that “market based” economy, as long as we have capitalism in place, new technologies will only accelerate differences, because the rich will be able to afford what others can’t . . . and this will work exponentially on the chasms between classes. I honestly don’t see anyway around this with the present economic relations in place.

329

UserGoogol 05.21.15 at 5:31 pm

Plume @ 321: The idea there’s anything wrong with “taking for themselves the fruits of the labor of others” is an intensely right-wing idea! The right constantly talks about how people deserve to keep what they earn, they just have a different conceptualization of what “the fruits of their labor” entails. But the left gets very confused when it engages in Ayn Rand-style rants about the moochers crushing the productive people. Obviously Marx predates Ayn Rand, but Locke predates Marx. If what you really want is “to each according to their needs,” then you shouldn’t get all that concerned who earned what, but just about making sure things end up in a reasonable just distribution in the end. And in an ideal social democracy where everyone has their needs met and labor relations are democratic and fair, is it that big a deal if someone decides to hire some employees and start a business on top of that?

330

F. Founding 05.21.15 at 5:55 pm

@ John Holbo 05.20.15 at 2:40 am, Hirshman and Marshall:
Nice citation, and the idea is not particularly different from what I and others on the thread have been saying, although the key word seems to be “citizenship” instead of equality (equal rights of citizenship, whatever). But I suppose that if one were to force Hirshman and Marshall to tackle the “Stalin” problem, they would be accused of “No true Scotsman” just as I’ve been.

331

Plume 05.21.15 at 6:04 pm

UserGoogol @326,

No. It’s not a right-wing idea at all. The right’s conception is that taxation represents that theft. Those of us on the anticapitalist left see theft in a boss’s appropriation of surplus value produced by his or her workers. He or she takes their production and benefits from something he or she did not do. They get rich on the backs on their employees, etc. They take the fruits of other people’s labor as their own. Theft.

If what you really want is “to each according to their needs,” then you shouldn’t get all that concerned who earned what, but just about making sure things end up in a reasonable just distribution in the end. And in an ideal social democracy where everyone has their needs met and labor relations are democratic and fair, is it that big a deal if someone decides to hire some employees and start a business on top of that?

Yes, it’s a big deal. First of all, I don’t see “social democracy” as ideal. I think it falls waaay short of what we need, and it doesn’t fix the problem of grand canyon differences in compensation, which means re-redistribution/welfare statism is necessary after the fact. To me, the logical thing to do is to make sure compensation is fair upfront, that everyone is guaranteed work, that all work is valued, and that the differences in compensation are negligible, and based on factors like continuing education and training, time on the job, passing through skills testing, improvements, etc. etc.

IOW, I think the ideal is that we have zero need for a welfare state in the first place, and no need for a state to fulfill needs in the social democratic sense. We would do that ourselves, because we’d all be taught how to self-provide as we also work for our communities in federation with other communities, regions, nations. We would be compensated more than enough, and prices would be coordinated with our pay enough, so that we wouldn’t lack for anything. No one would be left behind. No one would be “poor.” And in order to make that the case, no one can be rich, either, because for someone to become rich, that requires the production of poverty, exploitation, theft.

Bottom line: There is no need, and no societal benefit, in having private ownership over others, which is what wage labor is all about. It’s a rather sophisticated revision of slavery, with all kinds of remarkably effective propaganda thrown in to fool people into thinking it’s all perfectly reasonable to have your production stripped away from you. But it’s not.

You only “earn” what you produce yourself. Not what others produce for you. I see no reason on earth to continue with slavery-lite. It’s immoral and it guarantees the continued escalation of inequality and is driving us over the ecological cliff as well.

332

mattski 05.21.15 at 6:11 pm

Plume, you aren’t really arguing with me because I haven’t asserted anything like,

the folks who do the best on the field of play are necessarily “innately” superior.

Lee, I am in broad agreement with you. I’m trying to point to the aspects of hierarchy that are actually beneficial. As you say, some humans have extraordinary skills and they stand out for that reason. It doesn’t really matter exactly what percentage it is- we agree, it’s a fairly small minority. But those are the people we correctly look to for guidance. It is far more efficient that way! How lavishly–or not–such people are rewarded is of minor importance. In fact, that is dependent as you suggest, on the prevailing psychology of the day. What matters is that we go for guidance to the people who stand out. That’s natural and rational and benefits everyone.

333

Plume 05.21.15 at 6:15 pm

btw,

There are only some 7 million business owners with employees in America. Give or take. As a percentage of households, it’s basically 5%. As in, if we ruled out the ownership of other human beings from the equation, roughly 95% of the country would see no change in their status. Only 5% would. Clinging to this barbarous system would only be a “sacrifice” for that 5%, but even then, they’d receive far more in other rewards.

A just society, as I and many others on the anticapitalist left see it, would mean that 100% of the country co-owns the means of production. In effect, some 95% would be getting a promotion of sorts — from employee to co-owner — as well as a ginormous increase in living standards, buying power, access to all the fruits of society, etc. etc. Only a tiny percentage would see a slight drop from owner to co-owner, and they would no longer be able to lord their power over others. I can’t see how a sane majority would turn down a shot at exponential improvements for 95% of the population, just so that 5% gets to play autocrat in their private fiefdoms.

Because that’s our basic trade off and grand bargain. We, the vast majority, give up our chance at full and complete access to everything that we produce for society, in exchange for allowing a tiny portion of humanity to rule over us, get rich off our work, fire us at will, ship our jobs overseas, produce crap, pollute us to death, etc. etc. It’s actually quite insane that we accept any of this. All too many are willing slaves to the plutocracy, complicit in our own subjugation.

It’s. Just. Nutz.

334

Stephen 05.21.15 at 6:16 pm

Lee A Arnold@312 “The left always rejects this necessity of gradation for social psychology, and rejects the need for a material meritocracy:”

Compare this to JH’s quote from James Burnham: ““Stalin proves himself a ‘great man’, in the grand style. The accounts of the banquets, staged in Moscow for the visiting dignitaries, set the symbolic tone. With their enormous menus of sturgeon, and roasts, and fowl, and sweets; their streams of liquor; the scores of toasts with which they end; the silent, unmoving secret police behind each guest; all against the winter background of the starving multitudes of besieged Leningrad; the dying millions at the front; the jammed concentration camps; the city crowds kept by their minute rations just at the edge of life”.

Two possible conclusions: Burnham was completely inaccurate OR Stalin was not a left-winger.

Or you could join with me and several others in concluding that the left/right distinction is not particularly useful or meaningful.

335

Plume 05.21.15 at 6:20 pm

Mattski @328,

I never said you said that. I mostly asked questions, and riffed off of your statement for a paragraph or so.

Beyond that, can you elaborate a bit on just how you think “the left” fails to understand innate capabilities?

336

Stephen 05.21.15 at 6:24 pm

Lee A Arnold@312: “The right always upholds a meritocracy of some sort’.

Compare Peter T@288: “the Party [in Stalin’s Russia] was largely made up of new people, and was open to talent”.

No contradiction here, comrades?

337

Stephen 05.21.15 at 6:36 pm

Peter T @288: “By 1940 the average Soviet person was much better educated, more skilled, had more opportunities than the average Russian of 1914 … When the Germans tried to take this and more away, they fought like feral cats. With much more and better weapons, more adequately maintained and supplied, than in 1914”.

All this is true. But is it not also true that in a non-Soviet Russia, with equal access to Western improvements in technology. the average Russian by 1940 would have seen great improvements?

And also, in 1941 the Soviet Russians surrendered by the hundred thousand. In 1914-15 the Czarist Russians did relatively well.

And of course Russian armament technology was far more advanced in 1940 than in 1914. As was so in all Western countries.

If you want to argue that a non-Soviet regime could not have strengthened heavy industry by exploiting and oppressing the workers and peasants to the extent that the Stalinist regime did, you may well be right. But note that by 1914 Czarist Russia’s industrialisation was already going forward by leaps and bounds, having overtaken Austria-Hungary and France to become the fourth biggest steel and iron producer in the world.

338

UserGoogol 05.21.15 at 7:05 pm

Plume: I don’t want to self-provide! I want to be taken care of! If all you think needs to be done is to make sure workers get to keep what they earn, then that leaves people who don’t work (or don’t want to work) in the dust. The idea that a welfare state which gives everyone what they need is less left-wing than workers controlling the means of production so that workers can earn what they need seems totally backwards.

339

F. Foundling 05.21.15 at 7:12 pm

@mattski 05.21.15 at 6:11 pm
>some humans have extraordinary skills and they stand out for that reason. It doesn’t really matter exactly what percentage it is- we agree, it’s a fairly small minority. But those are the people we correctly look to for guidance. It is far more efficient that way! How lavishly–or not–such people are rewarded is of minor importance. In fact, that is dependent as you suggest, on the prevailing psychology of the day. What matters is that we go for guidance to the people who stand out. That’s natural and rational and benefits everyone.

Unless these “outstanding” people happen not to be morally outstanding as well. In other words, unless they happen to be using their position as sources of guidance to further their own interests and at the expense of those guided. Human nature being what it is, I’m afraid they will generally try to do precisely that, which is why things like democracy and a high level of political egalitarianism are needed.

340

F. Foundling 05.21.15 at 7:15 pm

Reacting to a number of posts by H Sebastian and others (Geo and Plume agreeing), arguing that real Communism may not have been “truly leftist”, but since real-world politics was about real Communism, that means true leftism has no significance:

That’s wrong. In the real world, most of those sympathising or siding, temporarily or permanently, with real Communism were, in fact, motivated by the ideals of true leftism (that’s what the sincere ones were thinking and the hypocrites were claiming). Similarly, the ones most actively opposing real Communism were motivated by their opposition to *true* leftism (with the same caveat). This is easily established when you see what other causes the same people sympathised with and promoted (political, racial, gender, ethnic, religious equality). They did fit in the egalitarianism vs traditional inequality axis. Pace anarchists, council communists etc., many people in the Russian civil war and later did choose the Bolshevik side because it seemed to be the side that: A. was promising a left-wing policy, and B: actually had a chance of succeeding.

So Sebastian’s suggestions that “anti-communists didn’t care about how pretty communism should be in theory, they were reacting to how ugly it was in practice” are ridiculous – apparently we’re supposed to believe that the various Pinochets and Suhartos that fought Communism all over the world during the 20th century (dictatorial, militaristic, theocratic, nationalistic, plutocratic, and yes, also mass-murdering) were motivated by their principal aversion to potential or real Communist mass murders. There are very few countries in the world where a major or, in most cases, predominant part of the anti-Communist forces were *not* more or less people of the ancien-regime style, traditional-hierarchy Right. Check their rhetoric – it’s precisely the (alleged) equality they are reacting to; the equality and the stated goal of destroying (the) hierarchy.

The related claim, argued by Geo and Plume, that real Communism had nothing to do with leftist causes, is also wrong. Yes, some things, specifically related to political repression and democracy, went “wrong” from the very start – and yet, due to its roots and to the groups it targetted for support, real Communism did continue to advance many truly leftist goals and values throughout its history (see Peter T’s post). Some egalitarian outcomes are still in the process of being destroyed by the post-Communist regimes. Of course, as time went by, few of these goals and values have been left unbetrayed by at least *some* self-described Communist regime in history at *some* point, which only goes to show that “real-world Communism” is not so much a model in itself as a mixed bag with a tendency back towards old-regime-style right.

Examples from “social issues” particularly dear to the hearts of American liberals: homosexuality was decriminalised by the October Revolution and recriminalised by Stalin in the 1930s; abortion was decriminalised by the October Revolution and recriminalised by Stalin in the 1930s; minority languages such as Ukranian were promoted by the October Revolution and then (unofficially) restricted by Stalin; the attitude towards Jews went from having a Jewish leader to the (unofficial) anti-Semitic tendencies of the “Doctors’ Plot” and the campaign against “rootless Cosmopolitanism” in the later Stalin years. Similar trajectories (with varying initial and final points) have been followed elsewhere: as late as the 1960s, Swedish women would travel to Poland to get abortions (contrast the situation with post-communist Poland). The Stalinist reaction was itself reversed to varying extent in many cases.

341

Stephen 05.21.15 at 7:15 pm

Geo@253: entirely agreed.

But might I suggest a modified view of things that might be acceptable to most CT participants:

The Left is sometimes wrong.
The Right is always wrong.

It would of course be outrageous to suggest that either the Left/Right unidimensional axis is wildly misleading, or still worse that the Right might, sometimes, be right.

But that still leaves the awkward question: what to do if the Right is wrong, but the Left is far more seriously wrong?

342

F. Foundling 05.21.15 at 7:16 pm

(repost after misspelling my signature)

@ John Holbo 05.17.15 at 12:47 am and 05.17.15 at 4:10 am

You have suggested that genocide does not just mean sytematically exterminating an ethnic group, but just any mass killing of anyone. I’m sorry, but that’s a ridiculously broad use of the term and it make it hard to find non-genocidal conflicts and regimes. A crucially important point about actual genocide is that you kill innocent people *by definition*. This is not true of political repression. You can conscionably, under certain circumstances, support the death penalty for those who plot a coup. You can’t conscionably support the death penalty for everyone who belongs to a certain ethnic group.

@John Holbo 05.17.15 at 12:36 am

Predictably, you are suggesting that I am engaging in a “no true Scotsman” fallacy on leftism – but the whole point of that fallacy is that, to achieve one’s desired conclusion, one creates a definition of “Scotsman” that really has *nothing* to do with the original and generally accepted meaning of the term. That’s not what I have done with respect to the left – I have justified my definitions by actual facts, and have not replaced another generally accepted and meaningful definition of the term. I do refuse to treat “left” as a proper noun like “Scotsman”, having no inherent meaning besides designating a specific group of individuals (or “tribe”) that happen to call themslves that.

343

F. Foundling 05.21.15 at 7:17 pm

(repost after misspelling my signature)

@LFC 05.21.15 at 3:48 am
>Generally agree on v.K-Leddihn, but not with “Monarchism is perhaps the earliest form of totalitarianism.” … Totalitarianism seems to me a 20th-c phenomenon, in which leaders w ambitions toward total control over society have the actual ability to implement at least part of their plans.

Practice is important, but so is theory, especially when discussing ideologies. I think that one should measure political tendencies and ideologies by what they are trying to accomplish, and claiming to be accomplishing, while correcting for the actual technical circumstances that restricted what they managed in practice. We can’t say that the totalitarian ideologies were fundamentally different from those of the historical absolute monarchies just because allegedly, the resulting regimes actually succeeded in what the monarchies were only trying to achieve. Furthermore, this criterion is impractical, because success is a matter of grade and is always variable: even the 20th century totalitarians were not all equally successful in their actual (as opposed to desired and proclaimed) control over society, nor were the absolute monarchies of the past.

344

F. Foundling 05.21.15 at 7:19 pm

(repost after…, etc.)

@ John Holbo 05.20.15 at 2:40 am, Hirshman and Marshall:
Nice citation, and the idea is not particularly different from what I and others on the thread have been saying, although the key word chosen here seems to be “citizenship” instead of equality (equal rights of citizenship, whatever). But I suppose that if one were to force Hirshman and Marshall to tackle the “Stalin” problem, they would end up being accused of “No true Scotsman” just as I’ve been.

345

geo 05.21.15 at 7:28 pm

Stephen@337: Geo@253: entirely agreed.

Thanks very much, Stephen. 253, however, is by Bob McManus. Understandable, though — we’re often mistaken for each other.

346

engels 05.21.15 at 7:31 pm

I think I’ll just retweet 336 (F Foundling) alongside Peter t (288) and disappear (and hope I’ve myself clearer to LFC). It seems this debate has happened here about half dozen times in the last few months and each time it’s made for frustrating reading, but apologies for the excess of snark.

347

engels 05.21.15 at 7:35 pm

“The thing is of course that the mountains of corpses are usually produced by business as usual. But for McCarthy and Holbo and others, when it’s not easy to slander some political enemies as crazed ideologues, they aren’t mountains of corpses at all, just molehills.”

This also bears repeating (I posted some links the last time round…)

348

geo 05.21.15 at 7:39 pm

F. Foundling@336: the ideals of true leftism … truly leftist goals and values

Would you — or anyone, anyone at all — care to propose a definition of “the ideals of true leftism” or of “truly leftist goals and values,” so that we might intelligently discuss whether Communists, Nazis, or Eskimos are leftists, and in what sense? I gave it a try @174 and 175, with (so far) very little effect on the conversation. Fair enough, but we need to agree on some definition, or we may as well each be commenting in a different language.

349

engels 05.21.15 at 7:49 pm

Geo, FF said that – essentially – certain birds walked like ducks, looked like ducks and quacked like ducks, and inferred that they were ducks (or at least most of them were and the ones that weren’t were trying hard to come across as ducks). Now you’re asking him for a definition of a duck. Well, fine. But his argument seems perfectly persuasive without it.

350

Stephen 05.21.15 at 7:50 pm

Geo: I meant 245. Butterfingers.

351

F. Foundling 05.21.15 at 7:50 pm

@geo 05.21.15 at 7:39 pm
>Would you — or anyone, anyone at all — care to propose a definition of “the ideals of true leftism” or of “truly leftist goals and values,” so that we might intelligently discuss whether Communists, Nazis, or Eskimos are leftists, and in what sense? I gave it a try @174 and 175, with (so far) very little effect on the conversation. Fair enough, but we need to agree on some definition, or we may as well each be commenting in a different language.

Oh, I assure you I already have proposed something, several hundred posts above. You can do a search for my name if you’re intrested, but I also broadly agree with you at 174 and 175 (and Plume and several others have said similar things, Holbo has quoted Marshall and Hirshman, etc., etc.).

352

Stephen 05.21.15 at 7:52 pm

F.Foundling@338: “A crucially important point about actual genocide is that you kill innocent people”.

So you think that most, or all, of Lenin’s and Stalin’s victims were guilty?

353

Rich Puchalsky 05.21.15 at 7:59 pm

This thread is very much like the previous 1000-comment one, so I’ll just repeat: yes,, Stalin was “on the left” by any measure, yes, leftism can be authoritarian. Leftists built their theories without sufficient consideration for how they would hold up under authoritarian pressure, a process which people here seem bent on repeating. Until the left attachment to shibboleths like labor and democracy is finally rethought, all that people are doing is saying how we have to break the old cages and build new cages out of them.

354

SamChevre 05.21.15 at 8:01 pm

I’d strongly prefer a definition of “left” that included something about actual humans, who might not all want the same or compatible things, and which could be observed in some actual existing or recent society. Plume/Foundling seem to have a “great plan, wrong species” problem with their definition.

355

F. Foundling 05.21.15 at 8:01 pm

@Stephen 05.21.15 at 7:52 pm:
Omitting the emphasised last part of the sentence as well as the context that shows its actual meaning is a neat trick. A bit cheap, though. Sorry, not interested.

356

Ronan(rf) 05.21.15 at 8:04 pm

As far as I can tell and IMO, the problem with talking about ‘left and right’ is the lack of analytical clarity it provides. Of course left and right (or ideological/ideational) divisions matter, but how much do they matter ? And do they matter as a consequence of some other factor, or are they a cause in their own right ?
I can’t really speak to the Weimar situation, but thinking broadly from some other cases what might matter more ? Material interests ? Power ? Class ? Regional identity ?Micro level social/political dynamics? Race ? Gender ? The opportunity opened, dysfunction created, by societal breakdown ? So on and so forth….
Also afaik, what we do know about people (how they think and reason, what attachments they value etc) is that they dont think in coherent ideological terms, and they (generally) dont attach themselves to ideas, but social relationships developed in certain contexts. So, for the majority(mostly all, I would say), what does left-right matter ? Primarily, I would guess as a tribal attachment.
If that’s true then why not go a step down from the macro level and see how people conceptualise and become attached to these divisons, what they actually think theyre fighting/voting over. Why in some cases it will be fascism vs socialism, others nationalism vs imperialism, others religion vs secularity, and so on. (but more realistically various sub groups within these broad coalitions fighting over different a variety of causes, many of them not articulated)
The main contemporary comparison (I think) is religion, specifically Islam. A lot of people like to claim (which I think is a little barmy) that Islam *doesnt* matter in the various conflicts in Muslim countries. Of course it does, but only in certain ways; as an ingroup attachment or means of legitimation. As the main ideology that exists in the context these political struggles are developing in.
But as a main cause it doesnt really work because as an idea it’s so fluid and open to contention, and inspires in people and contexts so many different reponses (from charity to violence) So if we can agree that Islam works primarily as a background factor in political struggles in the Middle East, why do we imagine ideological factors matter so much in between the wars Europe ?

These are just my general thoughts though, not having read all the thread *closely* (and only vaguely remembering some of the OPs)

357

Stephen 05.21.15 at 8:04 pm

F.Foundling@336: “the ones most actively opposing real Communism were motivated by their opposition to *true* leftism (with the same caveat). This is easily established when you see what other causes the same people sympathised with and promoted (political, racial, gender, ethnic, religious equality)”.

This is totally incoherent: unless by equality you meant to say inequality. As it is, you are saying true leftism is opposed to political equality; true for Leninist-Stalinist leftism, but for the others?

Assuming you did mean inequality: how can you justify that with regard to, say, Orwell or Attlee?

358

engels 05.21.15 at 8:07 pm

“I’d strongly prefer a definition of “left” that included something about actual humans, who might not all want the same or compatible things”

The bourgeoisie wants to maintain its property; the proletariat wants – incompatibly- to satisfy its needs. Where shall I mail your Party membership card, Sam?

359

geo 05.21.15 at 8:09 pm

Engels @345: If there were as much disagreement about whether something was a duck as there is about whether someone was a leftist, then yes, I would most certainly ask for a definition of a duck.

FF@347: I … broadly agree with you at 174 and 175

And yet you think that Communists were leftists? So you think that Communism was dedicated to (using my definition) the pursuit of “egalitarianism and democracy” and committed to providing all citizens with “a voice in economic and p0litical decisions that affect them”? Of course you don’t: you know as well as I do that Leninism was an explicitly anti-democratic ideology, arrogating all state power to a vanguard party, and that even economically, the USSR and China were among the most rigid class societies in history. Your agreement with my definition must have been awfully broad.

Would you mind restating your definition?

360

F. Foundling 05.21.15 at 8:17 pm

@Rich Puchalsky 05.21.15 at 7:59 pm
>yes,, Stalin was “on the left” by any measure

Stalin as of which particular year? He even flirted with the Russian Orthodox Church at one point. I suspect the only reason the man didn’t try neoliberalism was that he didn’t live long enough.

361

Stephen 05.21.15 at 8:18 pm

F.Foundling@351: OK, you are saying that it’s only genocide by definition if all the victims are innocent. So, if most of them were innocent but a few were guilty that’s all right with you? Consider the Armenians: a few of them did genuinely support Russia as against Turkey, but …

And when you say it is “hard to find non-genocidal conflicts and regimes” I would suggest that most of history, especially European history, is entirely against you.

362

Lee A. Arnold 05.21.15 at 8:44 pm

Stephen #330: “Or you could join with me and several others in concluding that the left/right distinction is not particularly useful or meaningful.”

That would depend upon whether you can separate the issues. Do you mean that:

1. The left/right distinction is not particularly useful or meaningful when applied to Stalin? (or, for that matter, Hitler?) — I think almost everybody here agrees with that. JH wrote it in the comment with the Burnham quote.

2. The left/right distinction is not particularly useful or meaningful when applied to the party movements that those two rode in on? — But that would be historically untrue. Soviet communism and Nazism were birthed from the Marxist left and the German right, respectively.

3. The left/right distinction is not particularly useful or meaningful, in general? — But most people appear to think that left and right have discernible attributes that remain constant throughout their different historical and national instances. So, what are they, exactly? When they are not being dishonest? That’s what I was trying to zero in on, and dictators have nothing to do with it.

That said, the logic of your own argument is not impeccable… I wrote, “The right always upholds a meritocracy of some sort” (which you quoted at your #332). But that does NOT logically imply that every meritocracy is approved by the right. As we all know, they dislike government bureaucracies as much as anyone.

I also wrote, “The left always rejects this necessity of gradation for social psychology, and rejects the need for a material meritocracy” (which you quoted at your #33o). But that is NOT logically contradicted by the fact that a dictator threw lavish parties while people starved. I already agreed that neither the left or right, (as honest political positions) necessitate the rise of dictators. We should not blame the left for Stalin, nor blame the right for Hitler. (I think that’s what sticks in Joseph McCarthy’s craw.) Dictators go off on their own, they take advantage by any handle they can grab, in pursuit of personal power (#311).

One further point. It is true that the “great man” theory does seem to come originally from the right. It seems to be a follow-on to the Counter-Enlightenment’s wish to return to monarchism and to avoid democracy, because, well, if it looks like you can’t do that, then the next best thing is to complain that we’re going to need a “great man” to keep everybody in line. It also feels like part of the fallout of the 18th-century psychological changes too, a dark bit of Romanticism really, somewhat in the same neck of the psychological woods that produced Nietzsche’s call for the superman, and Mary Shelley’s response with Frankenstein.

HOWEVER it is quite obvious that various communisms have inculcated virtual worship of the leader as avatar, from Mao to present-day North Korea. And the right would certainly have none of that.

So let’s suppose that “great-manning it” is not a clue to right or left. There have been enough horrors to go around.

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Stephen 05.21.15 at 9:16 pm

Lee Arnold: to clarify things, I agree that arguing whether Stalin or Hitler were left or right wing is not useful. This is because I think that trying to arrange people or politics on a one-dimensional left-right axis is far too limited, and not useful in general. So, I think that discussing the “discernible attributes that remain constant throughout their different historical and national instances” is not useful either. Especially since the discernible attributes put forward earlier seemed to indicate that Lenin and Stalin were right-wing.

You may have misunderstood my logic. I was not arguing that “every meritocracy is approved by the right”; only that there are meritocracies that are also approved by those who would regard themselves as on the Left.

Your point about Stalin’s lavish parties is entirely correct if you accept that Stalin was not, in fact, on the Left. But that would have come as a surprise to many left-wingers at the time.

As for the “great man” theory coming from the Right: do you regard Robespierre as being a right-winger? I don’t, but of course I don’t accept that dichotomy.

That history, and the present, are adequately supplied with horrors is of course only too true.

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F. Foundling 05.21.15 at 9:16 pm

@geo 05.21.15 at 8:09 pm
>So you think that Communism was dedicated to (using my definition) the pursuit of “egalitarianism and democracy” and committed to providing all citizens with “a voice in economic and p0litical decisions that affect them”? Of course you don’t; you know as well as I do that Leninism was an explicitly anti-democratic ideology, arrogating all state power to a vanguard party, and that even economically, the USSR and China were among the most rigid class societies in history. Your agreement with my definition must have been awfully broad.

This conversation would get too long. Very briefly: First, the restrictions on democracy were supposed to be temporary, due to the ongoing class struggle etc. Second, state power was officially supposed to be subject to elections and other means (e.g. Rabkrin). In many countries, there were even several parties – *in theory*. Varying degrees of workers’ control over the workplace was also introduced – probably mostly on paper. The Party itself was also supposed to be a democratic organisation controlled by its own members, not an autocracy or oligarchy as it actually became. “Leninism” was an uncear concept; Lenin’s own views were highly variable and approached council communism in The State and Revolution (1917). In the early stages of the Russian revolution, there were even significant “anarcho-syndicalist” tendencies within the Party. In general, it was never uncontroversial among Communists precisely what a proper Communist regime was going to be like.

As for real-life Communist societies being particularly unequal economically, you’re wrong – in spite of the catastrophes that occurred in many places, millions of lower-class people did see great improvements in their living standards, with free healthcare and education becoming available for the first time. Neither Russia nor China can seriously be claimed to have been more economically equal before their respective revolutions. And the fall of Communism led to increased economic inequality wherever it happened.

In general, when people have supported Communism, they haven’t done so because they have been dreaming of a one-party dictatorship, they have done so because they have wanted to do away with the economic inequality and plutocracy of capitalism and Communism has seemed the only known and viable alternative. Yes, it might seem stupid to you. Yes, they were closing their eyes for things they didn’t want to see. Yes, many were terribly disappointed afterwards. But it was, in fact, the only hope for a humane and just society that millions of people all over the world had, and many of them even sacrificed their lives for it. It’s a fact. Ignoring it is … among other things, not productive.

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F. Foundling 05.21.15 at 9:21 pm

@Stephen 05.21.15 at 8:18 pm

>And when you say it is “hard to find non-genocidal conflicts and regimes” I would suggest that most of history, especially European history, is entirely against you.

Context trick again. Nope, still not interested.

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Plume 05.21.15 at 9:42 pm

Something forgotten in the mix of whether or not like discussions like these are “useful.” If you have suffered through dialogue with hard-core conservatives, movement conservatives, right-libertarians (as I have) who rigidly adhere to a certain belief system that says Hitler was a leftist . . . . this actually does impact current politics, current political engagement, current political narratives and current boundaries of the possible, at least in the background. It informs all too much of the debate when it comes to any push for new “progressive” legislation or programs. Because it will all supposedly lead to Hitler, Fascism and Nazism yet again, according to these righties . . . . and some of them are senators and congress critters.

Outside the theoretical, and deep into the weeds of the practical, it actually does matter. In several ways. I think, in fact, one of the underlying supports for a far more aggressive movement conservatism and the ascension of the right in general (since roughly 1980) — at least in America — was the casting off of the cloud of Nazism and Hitler, by going with Opposite Day memes and pinning it all on the left. This, combined with the ongoing attacks on the left via what happened in Russia, China and North Korea is a serious PR coup for the right. They can basically hang any and all “totalitarian” or “dictatorial” regimes on the neck of the left, and absolve themselves and their own ideology of their own atrocities. This also makes it easier for them to proclaim their supposed status as freedom fighters.

IMO, the left kicks itself in the face when it so easily accepts this and says none of it matters. Yes, it actually does. In the real world, it makes a huge difference if people think of the left as the home of Hitler, Mussolini, Mao, Stalin and pretty much every political psychopath, evah. Consciously or unconsciously, this hurts left-wing efforts to effect change now, and I find this to be more than obvious. Shout from the rooftops obvious.

In short, we should be fighting this historical distortion/revisionism and Opposite Day pleading, not only because it’s absolutely false, wrong, wildly inaccurate and completely absurd . . . . but because not fighting it aids and abets right-wing dominance and expansion. We help them tremendously when we just let them have their way with lumping all political villains on our side of the aisle.

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F. Foundling 05.21.15 at 9:50 pm

As for suggestions above that “actual humans” (SamChevre 05.21.15 at 8:01 pm) and “people” (Ronan(rf) 05.21.15 at 8:04 pm) don’t care about ideology and only value tribal attachments or very specific issues – 1. Full disclosure: actual human here; 2. Tribal attachments and specific issues, even if they may be the primary factor for quite a few people, still have to be united around something, and if it’s not an actual tribe, some kind of broad ideological preference that gives them coherence may do the trick.

@they (generally) dont attach themselves to ideas, but social relationships developed in certain contexts

Ideas reflect social strategies, lifestyles and conscious or subconscious attitudes towards life. These differ between humans.

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LFC 05.21.15 at 10:05 pm

F. Foundling @327

Aims are in part determined by what is possible at the time. Louis XIV didn’t want total control over French society partly because he didn’t see it as a possibility, for the very good reason that it wasn’t a possibility. That’s why I find it hard to completely separate technique or technical feasibility from aims. This is apparently a minority view, at least on this thread.

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F. Foundling 05.21.15 at 10:09 pm

@Stephen 05.21.15 at 9:16 pm
>Your point about Stalin’s lavish parties is entirely correct if you accept that Stalin was not, in fact, on the Left. But that would have come as a surprise to many left-wingers at the time.
So would the lavish parties, though.

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LFC 05.21.15 at 10:14 pm

@engels
Thank you for the response to my comment upthread. You did make your position clearer. (On the matters where we continue to differ (and there prob. are some) we can agree to disagree.)

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Ogden Wernstrom 05.21.15 at 10:18 pm

Wow. Belle really goes to great lengths to prop up this illusion.

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engels 05.21.15 at 10:19 pm

In othernews, and while liberal academics in America are debating whether the Nazis were actually left-wing and whether Communism was as bad as Nazism, this is happening in Ukraine:

http://www.haaretz.com/news/world/1.657381

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F. Foundling 05.21.15 at 10:21 pm

@LFC 05.21.15 at 10:05 pm

>Aims are in part determined by what is possible at the time. Louis XIV didn’t want total control over French society partly because he didn’t see it as a possibility, for the very good reason that it wasn’t a possibility.

Didn’t he, though? Can’t we say that he wanted to maximise his control within the limits of what was objectively possible at the time? In general, I think it’s obvious that the most natural “translation” of the principle of absolute monarchy into the 20th century is totalitarianism. “Absolute” and “total” really amount to the same thing here.

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engels 05.21.15 at 10:21 pm

Lfc, sure.

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Plume 05.21.15 at 10:31 pm

LFC,

But “total control” isn’t possible now, either. There is always a way to circumvent dictatorships, at least up to the point before you’re thrown into prison or shot, and judging from the numbers of people not in prison, even in dictatorships, a very sizable portion of society wasn’t in that category. In short — and this is by no means meant to minimize the atrocities, horrors and the overall oppression in those societies — “totalitarianism” is badly misused, if it’s limited to just 20th century and later. Monarchs, sultans, caesars, warlords and various and sundry earlier despots had as much control and life and death power over their subjects, if not more, if we factor in the (relative) availability of effective tools to make their monstrous dreams come true.

“God-kings,” for instance, would have a far greater degree of unquestioned authority over their subjects than pretty much any modern day despot whom the people knew gained their power solely via military or police might. They have nothing but guns to back them. A god-king had the heavens, the priesthood and his array of swords, spears and arrows.

I think the only thing standing in the way of a far greater control by monarchs, etc. etc. than any modern day dictator is purely technological. As mentioned upthread, give an ancient monarch both his heavenly writ and modern military might, surveillance tech, networks, militarized police, etc. etc. . . . and the ancient monarch will outdo the modern despot in any measure of “total control.”

Winding back to the original reason for that tangent . . . this is why I find it ridiculous for someone to be a monarchist and claim to be anti-totalitarian, especially when that same person is also opposed to democracy. If democracy actually exists, in reality, not just on paper or via proxies, there can be no totalitarianism.

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LFC 05.21.15 at 10:35 pm

Ronan 356
I wd note a difference between thinking in ‘coherent’ ideological terms and thinking in ideological terms. Coherence is not a requirement for ideology to matter.

But as a main cause it [Islam] doesnt really work because as an idea it’s so fluid and open to contention, and inspires in people and contexts so many different reponses (from charity to violence) So if we can agree that Islam works primarily as a background factor in political struggles in the Middle East, why do we imagine ideological factors matter so much in between-the-wars Europe?

Not always easy to separate identity, ‘tribe’, ideology, as FF suggests above. Also, aren’t we seeing a sort of ideological struggle *within* Islam? Its very ‘fluidity’ means that ISIS can claim (however tenuously) to speak in its name and so can advocates of something entirely different. ‘Radical’ Islamism, however thin or tenuous its warrant may (or may not) be in the basic Islamic texts, is an ideological movement. An ideology to me suggests, among other things, a worldview, a rough or elaborated system that purports to explain various phenomena or (at the extremes) everything. ‘Radical’ Islamism is certainly an ideology in that sense. You seem (?) to think ideology must connote intellectualism, scholarly debate, whatever. Not necessarily at all. There were street battles in Weimar between Nazis and Communists. What was more useful in those encounters, ability to be a street fighter or skill in dialectics?

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Plume 05.21.15 at 10:40 pm

Streetfighting men doing dialectics:

Thesis = if I throw this brick; antithesis = if I dodge this brick; synthesis = why are we fighting, again?

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LFC 05.21.15 at 10:46 pm

Re totalitarianism/monarchism: disagreements noted. I’ll think about it.

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geo 05.21.15 at 10:57 pm

FF@364: Thank you for the recap of early Bolshevik history. You might have mentioned too that each of the three Soviet constitutions were model documents. But let me remind you of what you claim all that proves. You’re arguing that on my definition of leftism, which you accept — viz, a commitment to egalitarianism and democracy, with all those in the society affected by a decision having some ability to influence it — the democratic and egalitarian pretensions of the early Soviet Union, which were almost entirely propagandistic and found virtually no reflection in the ruling party’s policy, and whatever individual Communists may have thought, there was very little public discussion of “what a proper Communist regime was going to be like” — there were no meaningful elections or workers’ control or internal party democracy — qualify them as leftists. Which is equivalent to saying that anyone who claims to be an egalitarian and a democrat is therefore a leftist, even if she is in fact a dictator. Well, fine, maybe just talking the talk is enough, and it’s not necessary to walk the walk. As I’ve said above, it’s only a word.

About economic inequality: yes, living standards improved; yes, things got worse in some respects for many or most people when Communism disappeared; and no, that doesn’t mean they weren’t rigidly stratified societies. Access to good, bad, or indifferent housing, education, and health care in the pseudo socialist societies was extremely sensitive to one’s political/ideological standing.

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Ronan(rf) 05.21.15 at 11:03 pm

F Foundling – “Ideas reflect social strategies, lifestyles and conscious or subconscious attitudes towards life. These differ between humans.”

LFC – ” You seem (?) to think ideology must connote intellectualism, scholarly debate, whatever. Not necessarily at all. There were street battles in Weimar between Nazis and Communists. “

I don’t think it has to connote intellectualism (or be coherent ) , in fact Id say the opposite. That ideologies are always fluid and vague and can be adopted and adapted by people in all sorts of different ways. Im just wondering how far that gets us ? If they are so vague and contingent then what do they really explain ?
Ideas (or perhaps ideology) can work for co-ordination, or to build solidarity in certain contexts. They can inspire individuals. But do they really drive these moments of mass disruption, or are they consequences of it ? I’d assume the later.

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geo 05.21.15 at 11:03 pm

Sorry, cutting and pasting, I bollixed the order of clauses in the preceding comment. If anyone cares, here is how it was supposed to read:

FF@364: Thank you for the recap of early Bolshevik history. You might have mentioned too that each of the three Soviet constitutions were model documents. But let me remind you of what you claim all that proves. You’re arguing that on my definition of leftism, which you accept — viz, a commitment to egalitarianism and democracy, with all those in the society affected by a decision having some ability to influence it — the democratic and egalitarian pretensions of the early Soviet Union, which were almost entirely propagandistic and found virtually no reflection in the ruling party’s policy — there were no meaningful elections or workers’ control or internal party democracy, and whatever individual Communists may have thought, there was very little public discussion of “what a proper Communist regime was going to be like” — qualify them as leftists. Which is equivalent to saying that anyone who claims to be an egalitarian and a democrat is therefore a leftist, even if she is in fact a dictator. Well, fine, maybe just talking the talk is enough, and it’s not necessary to walk the walk. As I’ve said above, it’s only a word.

About economic inequality: yes, living standards improved; yes, things got worse in some respects for many or most people when Communism disappeared; and no, that doesn’t mean they weren’t rigidly stratified societies. Access to good, bad, or indifferent housing, education, and health care in the pseudo socialist societies was extremely sensitive to one’s political/ideological standing.

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Lee A. Arnold 05.21.15 at 11:20 pm

Stephen #359: “I think that trying to arrange people or politics on a one-dimensional left-right axis is far too limited… is not useful either…”

Well I agree about “people”, but not “politics”. And there are better axes for either; Douglas’ Grid-Group theory for example. But I think that we clearly have to distinguish people as individuals (and especially the leaders) from politics as party movements, because in every era in the modern period (so far as I know) political parties as groups have had no trouble stating which end of left-right they leant toward. And this is true however much their leaders may have distorted the principles.

So how does that happen? What is the proper characterization of the phenomenon of left and right? And why is it useful?

As to the characterization, I still can’t think of any meritocratic hierarchy that was or is approved as a necessary principle by the left. The important word is “necessary”. Stalin’s bureaucracy is not a counterexample. Again, I wrote that my argument is that “the left always rejects the NECESSITY of gradation for social psychology and the NEED for meritocracy”.

This is far different from the right, which is never without a meritocracy as a necessary principle. It appears to be the foundation of their social psychology. On the other hand, the left’s main principle of social psychology goes something like, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” (Which drives the right crazy.)

(I imagine that many of the Soviet leftists who were in favor of the revolution disapproved of Stalin and his bureaucracy and his lavish parties, upon the left’s principle — except perhaps as a temporary bridge to get to their perfect future — but under Stalin, you observed what happened to Trotsky, and kept your mouth shut. Whether the Western left-wingers of the time thought that Stalin was left or right is beside the point.)

And how is this useful, now? Well for one thing, the current response to the post-financial crash depression has damaged lives by promoting austerity, which is based finally on the meritocratic market principle. And what we hear further is denial of the growing reality that the market is less and less able to reward merit, going forward into the future. So it might help to rehearse the underlying framework of the previous left/right disputes in order to understand where this can go, and to be on the lookout for psychological signals both good and bad.

On the “great man” point, I can’t find the statement wherein Robespierre claimed himself to be a civilization-changing great man, nor any general statement by the revolutionists claiming that he was one; certainly he had supporters (for a while). But in any case, the great man idea was kept alive through the 19th century by monarchists, Nietzscheans, and hero-worshippers, certainly not every conservative, but I am not aware of it showing up in leftist or socialist thought. So perhaps you can provide a few more examples to help me understand this.

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bianca steele 05.21.15 at 11:47 pm

It’s interesting, maybe, to think of the royal court as kind of a totalitarian society in miniature, or on the other hand of totalitarianism as an attempt to exert the kind of control over society that the monarch exerts over the court. In either case, arguably, trivial things often get too much attention, a few important things get a lot of attention but in the wrong way, and everything else goes to hell. (To think of the Nazi or Communist Party as a court centered on a charismatic figure works decently, actually.)

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SamChevre 05.22.15 at 12:25 am

373/383

totalitarianism as an attempt to exert the kind of control over society that the monarch exerts over the court.

This seems right to me.

I really think that absolute monarchy is not much like totalitarianism, because it’s intended span of control is so much smaller. For example, it isn’t that technology changed dramatically between 1785 and 1795–but it’s Henri Gregoire, not any figure from the monarchy, who proposes “annihilating” the local languages of France.

And I’m in no way arguing that people don’t have ideologies–I’m arguing that imaginations of a society that doesn’t have the issue that every house with multiple adults has, of “how quiet should it be at 11 PM”, and so can without any conflict pursue agreed-upon ends–might work for ants, but has never been observed among humans.

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js. 05.22.15 at 12:50 am

I disagree with the Geo / Plume line on the crimes of state socialism (briefly: ‘nothing to do with us, guv!) and I disagree with the many (typically American libertarian leftists) who find nothing to praise in the history of the USSR.

Seconded. (And the next para too.)

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F. Foundling 05.22.15 at 1:00 am

@geo 05.21.15 at 11:03 pm
>You’re arguing that on my definition of leftism, which you accept — viz, a commitment to egalitarianism and democracy, with all those in the society affected by a decision having some ability to influence it — the democratic and egalitarian pretensions of the early Soviet Union … qualify them as leftists. Which is equivalent to saying that anyone who claims to be an egalitarian and a democrat is therefore a leftist, even if she is in fact a dictator.

We are talking about ideology here. “Pretensions” (democratic and egalitarian or otherwise) are very much relevant when discussing ideology. An extreme degree of divorce between ideology and practice was a defining feature of Communism, but the ideology was still crucial in recruiting and maintaining supporters. The various deviations in the practice, as I said, were supposed to be a temporary characteristic before true socialism or communism was achieved. You can say it was all a lie if you will – but if so, it was a left-wing lie. It was a lie you could only be tempted to buy if you had left-wing aspirations, not the reverse. And people were. Please, please believe me that they were. Or just read some history and biographies. If you just wanted a dictatorship, you went elsewhere. And yes, by left-wing aspirations I mean things along the line of those you sketched in 174 (which, besides “having a say in … decisions”, included “egalitarianism … Everyone should have the necessary minimum for a flourishing life: 2000 calories/day, clean water, sanitation, shelter, health care, education, interesting and meaningful work, leisure” etc.).

@there were were no meaningful elections or workers’ control or internal party democracy, and whatever individual Communists may have thought, there was very little public discussion of “what a proper Communist regime was going to be like” —

Before the Stalinist turn, internal party democracy was not obviously dysfunctional, and discussions about what a proper socialist or Communist regime should be like and what “the Communist thing to do” was were taking place. Lenin in particular was changing his ideas of socialism all the time, from Paris Commune-style direct democracy, through militarised German Empire-style state control, through “Soviet Power + electrification”, to “a system of civilised cooperatives”. There was the famed () of 1919-1920, for instance, where a major faction of the party turned out to have held basically “anarcho-syndicalist” views all along, to Lenin’s “dismay”. “Workers’ control” was supposed to be real, though nobody seemed to be sure how.

@About economic inequality: yes, living standards improved; yes, things got worse in some respects for many or most people when Communism disappeared; and no, that doesn’t mean they weren’t rigidly stratified societies. Access to good, bad, or indifferent housing, education, and health care in the pseudo socialist societies was extremely sensitive to one’s political/ideological standing.

Yes, the party elite was privileged, but since the difference between this elite and the rest of the population were still smaller than under capitalism – precisely because the living standards of the mass of the population were raised to a degree that wasn’t offset by an increase in the luxuries of the elite. As for “ideological standing” – yes, active political dissent meant trouble, which could entail worse housing – such as a prison, for that matter! However, this means mixing the issue of political freedom with economic equality. For the mass of the population who stayed out of such “trouble”, there were benefits that they hadn’t had under the pre-Communist regimes and that they have been losing under the post-Communist regimes (regardless of whether they stay out of trouble or not). And the actual progressive achievements that Communism, for all its moral and practical failures, had produced, have been and are being destroyed with Western right-wing guidance, while Western leftists with “perfectly pure souls” have preferred to ignore the issue, assuming that anything associated with evil Stalinism deserves destruction.

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js. 05.22.15 at 1:04 am

One might have supposed that the defeat of Nazism and fascism, and then the collapse some decades later of Soviet Communism, would have taken the air out of some of these questions. However a certain amount of ‘air’, I suppose, remains in the ‘balloon’ of these issues

I would also think that the average age of the participants in these comment threads is relevant. Because I’m guessing that for most people on the left who are say 6-7 years younger than me—i.e. not yet in their 30s—there’s not a lot of air there. I’m not sure this is an entirely positive development, but I suspect it might be true.

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Plume 05.22.15 at 1:08 am

Sam,

Again, there is absolutely zero evidence to support the assertion that monarchies in general intended a smaller sphere of control or influence than modern day dictatorships. None. Not in the writings of relevant, contemporary theorists. Not in the words of the despots themselves. And not in their practices — again, if one accounts for the radical change in the means of control.

None. Nada. Zilch.

Now, of course, one could theoretically be a “benign monarch,” but the historical incidences of that are close to zero as well . . . . and it is quite possible for the same thing to occur among the class modern “totalitarians.” It is conceivable, for instance, that a despot’s own idea of control is to basically protect his own backside, live in absolute luxury, safety and enjoy hedonistic pursuits, while letting his sheeple do whatever they please, as long as they don’t try to topple him.

Both things, however — the benign monarch and the benign modern day totalitarian — are basically unicorns. What we’re left with is the same animal with vastly different means at their disposal to enact whatever level of control desired. It’s sophistry to try to make of the monarch and the modern despot two different species.

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F. Foundling 05.22.15 at 1:11 am

Trying to do a proper html link this time: the famed Trade Union Discussion.

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Plume 05.22.15 at 1:23 am

js,

That’s an interesting guess.

I’m in my late 50s, and moved further to the left as I grew older and wiser. :>)

Grew up in a “liberal” household, but migrated leftward from there, sometimes provoked by various regimes from Reagan on, from life, and from an expanding reading list. Obama, back in 2009, basically shut the door for me on the two-party system for good. I gave up pretty much as soon as he assembled his neoliberal economic team, etc. etc. Have been a “green” leftist roughly since Clinton’s time.

These “balloons” still have air for me in the sense that I really can’t stand mischaracterization of political beliefs, especially when they’re upside down . . . and as mentioned upthread, I think the distortions give aid and comfort to the enemy. At least my enemy: the political right, movement conservatism, propertarianism, etc. etc.

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LFC 05.22.15 at 1:38 am

@js.

I would also think that the average age of the participants in these comment threads is relevant. Because I’m guessing that for most people on the left who are say 6-7 years younger than me—i.e. not yet in their 30s—there’s not a lot of air there. I’m not sure this is an entirely positive development, but I suspect it might be true.

Might well be. I’m not sure how age plays out here exactly. That cd be a longer discussion some other time, I suppose.

I’ll make you a deal, though: let’s switch our respective ages. Like, tomorrow. ;)

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LFC 05.22.15 at 2:04 am

Ronan:

Ideas (or perhaps ideology) can work for co-ordination, or to build solidarity in certain contexts. They can inspire individuals. But do they really drive these moments of mass disruption, or are they consequences of it ? I’d assume the latter.

I think ideas can have, in certain cases, independent causal power, and at any rate can and do interact (reciprocally) with other forces.

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js. 05.22.15 at 2:10 am

I could well be wrong. What I was mostly working off was this: even five-ish years ago, when I would try to get (20-ish year old) students interested in Marx, it seemed hopelessly passé to them—because they associated it with communism, and that was certainly passé.

(LFC: I’m still enjoying my thirties unfortunately!)

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Plume 05.22.15 at 2:29 am

This is probably a dead horse at this time, but wanted to add something more to the monarchism thingy.

Monarchies tended to have strong networks between nations. Alliances often buttressed via marriage between royal houses, etc. etc. Modern day dictators tend to be on their own. There really isn’t any sort of generational or spacial bond, tradition, recourse to the heavens, etc. etc. for them. Their control begins and ends with their own lives, typically, and is nothing without guns, etc. Even though in 20/20 hindsight the entire edifice of the aristocracy looks absurd, it still held for centuries at a time, at least between various revolutions and counter-revolutions. I would say the totality of aristocratic controls, psychologically, religiously, habitually, and on and on, was greater than any inevitably short-lived modern “totalitarian” regime. It wasn’t just within the walls of that particular nation that a king or a sultan or a pasha held sway. This ancient absurdity was networked. Big time. The capitalist powers that be must have learned their lesson from the ancient regimes . . . globalization is power, etc.

Perhaps the modern, single despot flares up like a volcano, runs hotter, brighter in his or her insanity/infamy for a time. But in the long-run, the ancient monarchies, pharaohs, sultanships, caesarian and other imperial forms were in the aggregate more powerful and totalizing, directly and indirectly. They became a way of life, a part of the woodwork, the sun, the moon, the stars. That’s not something modern despots ever managed.

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geo 05.22.15 at 3:38 am

js@385: “Nothing to do with us, guv”

Not only did the crimes of state socialism have nothing to do with democratic socialists, social democrats, council communists, anarchosyndicalists, and other weirdos of the Geo/Plume Tendency, but the latter have invariably been targets of severe repression by the state soc’s. But of course that’s irrelevant because both groups called themselves leftists and were all called leftists by lots of other people, many of whom couldn’t tell Rosa Luxemburg from Leonid Brezhnev. As I keep saying, I don’t care what you call them, as long as what you call them doesn’t lead people who are new to the subject to assume that the monsters and their victims were just peas in a pod, really, and there’s no need to make discriminations or pay attention to the weirdos. Which is, of course, what most Americans have done since the Red Scare of the 1920s.

FF@386: Thanks for your patience and good manners, here and elsewhere. I do wish you wouldn’t keep assuming, though, that I don’t know the relevant history as well as you. (“Just read some history and biographies.”) For example, you inform us that “an extreme degree of divorce between ideology and practice was a defining feature of Communism, but the ideology was still crucial in recruiting and maintaining supporters.” Well, yes, that’s why we’re having this interminable argument. The Communists called themselves socialists, i.e., democrats and egalitarians, and consistently did things that no democrat would do — seizing executive power, dissolving elected bodies, dispensing with elections, suppressing free speech — as well as consistently persecuting and slandering people who pointed that out. That’s why we’re debating the question: “Well, then, were they really socialists?” And yes, they claimed to be socialists in order to recruit support from foreign egalitarians and democrats (and perhaps also to convince themselves that their crimes were somehow legitimate). Does that make them socialists? Perhaps, but I wish you wouldn’t simply assume the answer is yes.

We both know that the meaning of “left” or “socialist” or any other word isn’t written in the heavens somewhere for all eternity. Definitions are conventions. I’ve simply been trying to find some definition that will prevent the perennial near-universal confusion in the great world outside Crooked Timber, by virtue of which the cooperative commonwealth advocated by Mill, Marx, Morris, Russell, Tawney, Michael Harrington, Noam Chomsky, and other Geo-Plumists — or even the mildest welfare state — is assumed to be merely a variant of totalitarian enslavement, because everyone knows that’s where “socialism” leads. There really is a lot of such confusion out there — please, please believe me.

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mattski 05.22.15 at 4:41 am

FF

Unless these “outstanding” people happen not to be morally outstanding as well. In other words, unless they happen to be using their position as sources of guidance to further their own interests and at the expense of those guided. Human nature being what it is, I’m afraid they will generally try to do precisely that, which is why things like democracy and a high level of political egalitarianism are needed.

Democracy is no guarantee of a “free & equal” society! As Rich P suggested, we’ve been over this quite a bit. I mean, I’m all for democracy. But if you think that democracy has some particular ideal form and all we need to do is finally achieve this form….

Democracy a) has no precise definition and b) can be as brutal and ugly as most other forms of government.

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Joseph McCarthy 05.22.15 at 10:42 am

@304

There is a huge different between a call for solidarity based upon oppression, exploitation, marginalization, etc, and a call for solidarity among oppressors. It’s not rocket science.

You are changing the goalposts. You brought up the right-wing appeal to nationality, I said that leftists also mask their agenda behind nationality, when it fits them. You did not deny that.

The Nazis were obviously right-wing and show that with their use of the above — among a host of other telltale signs. Turn history and present-day reality on its head. They were brilliant at this, as is the current right. Rally oppressors together by deluding them into thinking they’re all victims. Make the powerful, the dominant, the owners of society feel like they are powerless in the face of those who are truly powerless, etc.

It is also the case that the Nazis’ hate list is nearly identical to that of every right-wing organization/movement in the last several generations, with, perhaps, one exception today: the Jews. But even there, the European right, Neo-Nazi and Neo-Fascist groups are stridently anti-Semitic. In America, there is a temporary alliance, based primarily on “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” via Israel and Islamic nations . . . . and the backstory of Christian Apocalypse.

A bunch of nonsense. If oppressor is really oppressor, it does not need rallies and political struggle to help his cause, because he already has the power – without it, oppression is not possible.

Then again, selling the leftist illusion that there are only external factors to (personal) failure and the consequet scapegoating with such a stretched-meaning of word “oppression” was just as utilized by the national socialists as it is and was with the Left. And by the way, Left was also anti-semitic.

@305

I agree with geo and Plume and some others that Communism Soviet-style and esp Stalinism was a perversion of ‘communism’.

Then find a real world example of non-perverted communism. What a capacity for farytales and newspeak when it comes to touchy “pseoudpractice” of communism.

@310

There is just too much contemporary evidence going against them, too many letters, newspaper accounts, memoirs, political minutes from right and left parties themselves. And we know that the vast majority of resistance movements (at the time) throughout Europe were dominated by leftists — mostly communists and socialists. One would think if the Nazis were “left-wing,” this wouldn’t have happened.

Seems there is enough evidence of similarities between the two socialist practices that all the theoretic-philosophic spam is defeated by a simple comparison of the implementation in reality.

One of them being also the easiness of conversion between international and national socialist faith. How could that be, if the two are so extremely opposite and incompatible?

@311

Well, no. The Red ideology wanted an END to class and nation, and did not want to go back to “tradition”, a word you ignored. Because tradition means hierarchy. This leveling is very different than the Nazi ideology, which put the German race and culture ahead of all others, and wanted to enslave them.

It does not matter what they wanted. Realistic outcomes are what matters: they did not end the nation; some nations took great advantage of commie regimes to prosper and further their agenda. They also did not end “tradition” in the sense of hierarchy. Stop your wishfull thinking.

Furthermore, even in the field of wishfull thinking of “what someone wanted”, Commies are a mirror of Nazis: just substitute the “German race and culture” with “proletarian class and culture” and the description fits perfectly.

@312

The right always upholds a meritocracy of some sort, whether it is divinity/monarchism/aristocracy (de Maistre, Spengler, Kuehnelt-Leddin), market deserts (Hayek), or even the greater merit of some race or nation.

What kind of meritocracy or excellence were the Nazis holding the Germans up to?

398

Plume 05.22.15 at 1:01 pm

Geo,

Well said, especially here:

Not only did the crimes of state socialism have nothing to do with democratic socialists, social democrats, council communists, anarchosyndicalists, and other weirdos of the Geo/Plume Tendency, but the latter have invariably been targets of severe repression by the state soc’s. But of course that’s irrelevant because both groups called themselves leftists and were all called leftists by lots of other people, many of whom couldn’t tell Rosa Luxemburg from Leonid Brezhnev. As I keep saying, I don’t care what you call them, as long as what you call them doesn’t lead people who are new to the subject to assume that the monsters and their victims were just peas in a pod, really, and there’s no need to make discriminations or pay attention to the weirdos. Which is, of course, what most Americans have done since the Red Scare of the 1920s.

Exactly. And this is how we get, in America, conversations (and the occasional president) calling Medicare “Stalinist,” or saying the Occupy movement wants the Gulag reborn, or a Noam Chomsky being compared with Stalin . . . . and now, thanks to right-wing revisionism, we have Hitler and Stalin supposedly on the same side of the aisle.

Of course, it’s to be expected from the right. They spend the bulk of their time in Opposite Day. But what is truly bizarre is when supposed liberals join in the reindeer games.

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David 05.22.15 at 1:03 pm

The Nazis were convinced meritocrats, and believed in unrestrained competition for power and position. Hitler deliberately promoted competition and division between his subordinates to see who would come out on top, and ruthlessness and hard work could take you a long way, especially in the Party and the SS. Treading on others was quite acceptable – it just showed how strong you were. The “best” thus rose to the top. This was a meritocracy based on blood and strength, and the same logic was applied to war. Hitler’s last testament berated the German people for having failed him by not being tough and determined enough. They therefore deserved annihilation.

400

Plume 05.22.15 at 1:05 pm

Tailgunner @397,

I think you have your wires crossed. Looks like you’ve confused several different posters while thinking you’re arguing with just one. Take a deep breath, step back, and try again.

401

Plume 05.22.15 at 1:28 pm

On a slightly tangential note, this Salon piece about a “Morning Joe” shoe is sadly funny.

The Huns were Nazis? Who knew?

Which reminds me (Dylan, by way of Hendrix) that There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief.

402

engels 05.22.15 at 1:52 pm

“But of course that’s irrelevant because both groups called themselves leftists and were all called leftists by lots of other people… As I keep saying, I don’t care what you call them, as long as what you call them doesn’t lead people who are new to the subject to assume that the monsters and their victims were just peas in a pod”

1. No one (except poss. right-wing trolls) said it was ‘irrelevant’. 2. No-one said it’s because they ‘called themselves leftists,’ but because they *were* leftists. 3. Surely your interpretation does exactly this with eg. Stalin v. Trotsky?

403

Ronan(rf) 05.22.15 at 1:53 pm

LFC @392 I dont think I necessarily completly disagree with you, Im partly just spitballing (Have you ever read Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith by James H. Billington, btw ? I havent, wondering what you think of it if you have)

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engels 05.22.15 at 2:18 pm

Sartre: ‘the great merit of Soviet Marxism is that it actually exists’. I don’t think you have to be a Stalinist or a Republican to feel that a form of ‘Marxism’ which fails to acknowledge the force of this insight is a bit hard to take seriously.

405

Harold 05.22.15 at 4:09 pm

@403 I would not read it because of the devastating review by Peter Singer in the NYRB Nov. 6, 1980.
Excerpt:

:So far as the argument about revolution as religion is concerned, an independent criterion of what constitutes the revolutionary tradition is crucial. Without it, the whole thesis threatens to become circular, as only those who seek perfection on earth through the forcible overthrow of traditional authority are accepted as genuine revolutionaries, and then this common feature of all revolutionaries is used to point the parallel between the revolutionary and the religious faiths. Those who make revolution with more limited and realistic aims—like the constitutionalists of 1830 and 1848, or even of March, 1917—are simply read out of the revolutionary tradition so that they do not detract from its religious nature.

If Billington does not make his thesis circular in this way, it is because his defense of it is so loose that the question of who is a genuine revolutionary scarcely arises. Several chapters consist largely of descriptive and narrative history which, apart from the frequent religious metaphors I have already mentioned, seem unrelated to the book’s theme.

Perhaps because of a belated realization that the text he had written did not fit the theme he had proclaimed at its outset, Billington’s introduction has a final paragraph which begins: “But the story of revolutionaries in the nineteenth century is worth telling for its own sake…” and goes on to say that “this heroic and innovative record of revolutionaries without power is an awesome chapter in the history of human aspiration.”

The story of revolutionaries in the nineteenth century no doubt is worth telling for its own sake, and perhaps Billington’s book can profitably be read for his portraits of revolutionary thinkers and their milieus. It is curious, though, that those whose record is here described as “heroic,” “innovative,” and “awesome” would have thought the account given of that record in the next five hundred pages to be misleading and consistently unsympathetic. And they would have been right.

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Harold 05.22.15 at 4:23 pm

I understand Billington erroneously attributes the origin of the concept of “brotherhood” to the illuminati and masons, when in fact the term was popularized in the late 17th and early 18th c.s by Bishop Fénélon, the Roman Catholic bishop who was easily the best-selling and most influential author of the era and a favorite of Rousseau, Jefferson, and Kant.

If I were interested in the relationship of religion and revolution I would read instead Norman Cohn’s classic The Pursuit of the Millenium (1957) and also brush up on Pelagianism and the cargo cults of WW2.

However, anyone who is interested in Billington can find him on Archive.org.

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Ronan(rf) 05.22.15 at 4:26 pm

“However, anyone who is interested in Billington can find him on Archive.org.”

Ah, thank you Harold (and for the review) The thing preventing me from getting the book was the price, Ill check that out.
Ive been meaning to read Cohn’s book as well, though havent got ’round to it yet.

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F. Foundling 05.22.15 at 4:31 pm

@mattski 05.22.15 at 4:41 am

>>Unless these “outstanding” people happen not to be morally outstanding as well. In other words, unless they happen to be using their position as sources of guidance to further their own interests and at the expense of those guided. Human nature being what it is, I’m afraid they will generally try to do precisely that, which is why things like democracy and a high level of political egalitarianism are needed.

>Democracy is no guarantee of a “free & equal” society! As Rich P suggested, we’ve been over this quite a bit. I mean, I’m all for democracy. But if you think that democracy has some particular ideal form and all we need to do is finally achieve this form….

>Democracy a) has no precise definition and b) can be as brutal and ugly as most other forms of government.

I’ve said nothing about a guarantee, but democracy is indispensable for keeping the (alleged/self-described) elite / “outstanding people whom we ought to look for guidance” in check. Personally I’m in favour of democracy, because I can’t see any other egalitarian way for a group of people to make whatever decisions it needs to make collectively. And some decisions do need to be made collectively, no matter how much of the free-market right is trying to minimise or ignore that aspect of human existence. When the decision is collective, someone will have something imposed on them. The point of democracy is that everyone should have an *equal* say in what that something is, as opposed to some self-appointed superiors having more of a say than the rest.

Yes, I know many intellectuals are terrified that “the rabble” will vote for stupid and nasty stuff. Well, then you’ll have to *convince* them not to – instead of forcing them (or else you can always emigrate). It is the right of an individual to make mistakes until he learns, and the same applies to a group of people. The alternative to this is benign dictatorship, partial or complete, and I don’t believe in that particular utopia; unaccountable power over others will be abused. On the other hand, the manipulation of liberal and democratic institutions by the plutocracy does need to be eliminated, and one should solve that particular problem before generalising from stupidities they see. People aren’t *that* stupid if not actively stupefied and stupidified.

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Ronan(rf) 05.22.15 at 4:33 pm

Harold, do you have a link by any chance ? ( I cant find it)

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LFC 05.22.15 at 4:38 pm

@Ronan
Have you ever read Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith by James H. Billington, btw ? I havent, wondering what you think of it if you have

Aware of the book, might have flipped through it on some occasion, but no, I have not read it. Bracketing the criticism of Singer (which may be valid) quoted above by Harold, the Billington book presumably does connect (if not in a rigorous causal way) ideas and revolution.

But to be fair to your original point, there definitely are serious works of modern social science that take a ‘structural’ view of revolution, seeing ideas and ideology not as causal but as basically epiphenomenal (I think that’s a fair characterization). I’m thinking primarily of T. Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions. Her teacher B. Moore’s earlier Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy is somewhat different, but not on that particular point. Some of Skocpol’s critics, e.g. W. Sewell, took her to task for, among other things, slighting culture and ideology; they had an exchange that’s reprinted in an essay collection of hers.

I’m sure there are comparably serious books on revolution that give ideas more of their due, so to speak, but offhand I’m not sure which titles to recommend there. J. Israel’s recent book on the French Revolution does, as I understand it (haven’t read it), stress ‘radical Enlightenment’ ideology, but it was the subject of what I thought was a pretty persuasive critique by David Bell in NYRB some months ago. (Obviously Israel did not think the critique of his bk was compelling, and the two of them had a subsequent exchange of letters.)

I really didn’t *want* to contribute to pulling this thread further off-topic, but hey… at over 400 comments, I doubt many people are still reading.

411

F. Foundling 05.22.15 at 4:44 pm

@geo 05.22.15 at 3:38 am

> I do wish you wouldn’t keep assuming, though, that I don’t know the relevant history as well as you.

Well, while we agree that Communism was terribly flawed, much of the rest of what you said, both general claims and specific ones, did seem incompatible with knowledge of the facts that I have pointed out. Assuming good faith and common sense, the most natural assumption *was* that you didn’t know them.

>>the ideology was still crucial in recruiting and maintaining supporters.”

> Well, yes, that’s why we’re having this interminable argument. … And yes, they claimed to be socialists in order to recruit support from foreign egalitarians and democrats (and perhaps also to convince themselves that their crimes were somehow legitimate).

The point is that each one of these egalitarians and democrats, local and foreign, once having started to support the Communists, could be described as “a Communist”. That includes the original members of these movements, who also started out as egalitarians and democrats. That’s why it’s wrong to say that there was no egalitarian and democratic element in Communism, particularly in the ideology as opposed to the practice, or to deny that its origins were connected with egalitarianism and (social-)democracy (leftism). You can’t just generalise that they were, as a rule, “devils in disguise”, and then dismiss a few as exceptional “useful idiots”; there was no sharp boundary between the two groups.

>the Communists … consistently did things that no democrat would do — seizing executive power, dissolving elected bodies, dispensing with elections, suppressing free speech …

I think most democrats would agree that each one of these things could in principle be justified as an exception in extraordinary circumstances. For socialists, the fact that both democratic elections and the domain of free speech are so easily manipulated, controlled and perverted by the plutocracy, made it particularly easy to justify such things. Eventually, of course, the “extraordinary” became the rule.

>>“Nothing to do with us, guv”

>Not only did the crimes of state socialism have nothing to do with democratic socialists, social democrats, council communists, anarchosyndicalists, and other weirdos of the Geo/Plume Tendency, but the latter have invariably been targets of severe repression by the state soc’s.

That’s a bit like the Trotsky argument – I must have been a good and innocent guy since they killed me. The above-mentioned groups that you apparently want to claim continuity with (in Russia, I assume, that would be the Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries, Anarchists; in Germany – the Social-Democrats) were no angels either, and had severely compromised their leftism in various ways on various occasions. I will use your assurance of your knowledge above as a pretext and skip the piling-up of facts. I’m not trying a tu quoque here, but this should go to show that if you want to avoid admitting continuity with anyone compromised, then you will end up having no continuity with anyone at all (and will be faced with H Sebastian’s reasonable conclusion that, in that case, your ideas have had no significance either).

>I’ve simply been trying to find some definition that will prevent the perennial near-universal confusion in the great world outside Crooked Timber, by virtue of which the cooperative commonwealth advocated by Mill, Marx, Morris, Russell, Tawney, Michael Harrington, Noam Chomsky, and other Geo-Plumists — or even the mildest welfare state — is assumed to be merely a variant of totalitarian enslavement, because everyone knows that’s where “socialism” leads. There really is a lot of such confusion out there — please, please believe me.

I understand very well what you are trying to do, and I mostly agree with you on the way in which Communism went wrong. I just don’t like that you are trying to excise it, along with many actual people involved, from the history of Leftism. By simply dismissing the whole movement as a bunch of cartoon villians, you are not only basically spitting on the graves of many people who, IMO, do not deserve it more than humans on average do, but you are also encouraging an unproductive, impractical attitude of isolation from the real world, some kind of Manichaean exclusionism. The impression is that you consign leftism/socialism to heaven, since it turns out that true leftism/socialism has been too good for the overwhelming majority of actual humans, so that it has achieved nothing and can be expected to achieve nothing in the real world. This self-confessed helplessness, and the failure to recognise actual living *elements* of leftism intertwined with the general impurity of this sinful world, actually decreases the chances of leftism achieving something, but on the other hand it does help you prove your own perfect innocence and purity by demonstrating that you have no connection whatsoever with any of those shocking *monsters* out there.

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LFC 05.22.15 at 4:45 pm

Well, come to think of it, Walzer’s Revolution of the Saints is basically about Puritanism as a revolutionary ideology. So you could throw that onto the list.

413

LFC 05.22.15 at 4:45 pm

Above @412 directed to Ronan.

414

Lee A. Arnold 05.22.15 at 4:59 pm

Joseph McCarthy #397: “It does not matter what they wanted. Realistic outcomes are what matters… What sort of meritocracy or excellence were the Nazi’s holding the Germans’ up to?”

There are two points here:

1. The “realistic outcome” of Nazism was a top-down dictatorship, which you told us at #124 is right-wing: “Right-wing dictatorship is top-down. It is not a thing enforced by a self-righteous raging mob as the Leftisms of French Revolution and (inter)national socialisms up to its contemporaries do.” And of course, once Hitler was in power, he didn’t need the attentions, or the powers of enforcement, of a self-righteous raging mob.

2. The excellence the Nazis were holding the Germans up to, was German culture and race. They acted to dominate the others, to kill them or enslave them. By contrast, Soviet communists did not act in the real world to uphold ANY tradition or traditional meritocracy, at all. It is neither in their statements, nor their acts. They were against tradition. They acted to level everybody, to get them out of being capitalists, and to get them into the same system where everybody was “equals”. Anybody who didn’t join, was killed.

The Soviets promoted similar revolutions in other countries, to join this international cause, and in the postwar period they even brought them into their own international congresses for various meetings on how to divide the gov’t cheese. Didn’t matter what race or color, as long as not capitalist. In fact leftists have usually been pretty explicitly internationalists, from the get-go.

Far different than enslaving or killing anybody because they are not, what they CANNOT be.

Thus, at least Soviet communism offered a choice in the matter!

Now I agree, this is a distinction without a difference. Because they were both dictatorships, killing people.

But it is you who are hoping to prove that all totalitarianism is somehow left-wing, your reason here apparently being, that the French Revolution was leftist. But it isn’t a logical or a real-world consequence that therefore all left-wing ideology must lead to dictatorship.

415

F. Foundling 05.22.15 at 5:12 pm

Just to be done with the issue of Communism, which really has ended up being mostly off-topic:

Was Communism in the sense of Marxism-Leninism, the Soviet model subsequently exported to China, Cuba and elsewhere, leftist? In terms of (proclaimed) goals – yes. In terms of the means – no, because the means were not specified. As a product, it was broken, it was a fraud, because it did promise the people control over the economy (and in that sense it was a leftist promise), but it didn’t provide an explicit mechanism to ensure that they did have that control. It was just assumed that such control, whatever its exact forms, would inevitably result from the fact of the means of production being nationalised, and the right party being in power. This stupidity, incredible in retrospect, has something to do with the Marxian incarnation of the Left’s long-standing idea that it is inevitably on the right side of history and progress – an idea that gave it more adherents, but also led it to fail catastrophically in many cases. Enough with this, a thumbs-up to Engels (372) for the Ukraine link, which had something to do with the real world and the interesting relationship between the theory and practice of Western liberalism, and I’m gone.

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Harold 05.22.15 at 5:13 pm

417

Harold 05.22.15 at 5:20 pm

There is a wonderful translation of Fénelon’s Telemachus by Tobias Smollett that was re-published by Cambridge University Press in 1994, edited by Patrick Riley. I would like to read more of Fénelon, myself, particularly his book on the education of girls. He provided the template not only for the Enlightenment but also the Romantic era, for good and for ill. His religious works are still being read by religious people.

418

Stephen 05.22.15 at 5:20 pm

PLume@394: “Modern day dictators tend to be on their own. There really isn’t any sort of generational or spacial bond, tradition, recourse to the heavens, etc. etc. for them”.

Not sure about recourse to the heavens, but in other respects North Korea might seem to be an exception. And what will become of theChinese Communist princelings’ offspring?

419

Stephen 05.22.15 at 5:27 pm

Too late to say anything more to the departed F. Foundling, but might I mention two other attempts to define the supposed Left-Right distinction that seem to me to have some merit?

Left-wingers believe that society can be made perfect (this has the merit of placing Plume firmly on the left). Right-wingers believe that society cannot be made perfect, and too vigorous attempts to make it so will make it worse.

Right-wingers want to maintain the established hierarchy of elites in their society. Left-wingers want to demolish it, and replace it with another hierarchy in which they will be among the elite.

420

William Berry 05.22.15 at 5:50 pm

LFC @410:

Hey, I’m still reading. With great interest.

Solid with geo and Plume, fwiw.

Tailgunner Joe is a deadening bore. He takes an endless recitation of far right-wing cliches expressed as unsupported assertions to be a form of argument.

[Aside, to F. Foundling: Are you aware that geo is George Scialabba, a longtime Marxist scholar and published author (What Are Intellectuals Good For, q.v.) who, I am sure, knows at least as much about the relevant historiography here as you do. And, given that he is right in the argument, it is likely that he knows substantially more of the subject.*

*With apologies to geo for any embarrassment I might have caused him!

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Christ, Uhren, und Schmuck 05.22.15 at 6:05 pm

@F. Foundling “…it was a fraud, because it did promise the people control over the economy (and in that sense it was a leftist promise), but it didn’t provide an explicit mechanism to ensure that they did have that control”

It did provide an explicit mechanism: the vanguard party. Whether this mechanism is inherently non-viable – who knows. I believe the jury is still out on that.

422

Harold 05.22.15 at 6:08 pm

What has happened to the rule of law in all this? As I understand it, under Fascism the leader is above the law, as are those who follow and even anticipate the spirit of the leader’s wishes. In a left democracy the law is above the ruler.

423

Plume 05.22.15 at 6:14 pm

Stephen @419,

Left-wingers believe that society can be made perfect (this has the merit of placing Plume firmly on the left). Right-wingers believe that society cannot be made perfect, and too vigorous attempts to make it so will make it worse.

Right-wingers want to maintain the established hierarchy of elites in their society. Left-wingers want to demolish it, and replace it with another hierarchy in which they will be among the elite.

Yes, I am a proud leftist. Definitely. But I think you fall for a bit of a cartoon when you say we want to, or think we can, make society “perfect.” Speaking for myself, from my observation of the world, and my reading list of prominent and not so prominent leftists . . . “perfection” is just not on the idea/goals board. We know it’s not in the cards. But we do believe strongly that we can do much, much, better than existing structures, distributional arrangements, power dynamics, etc. etc. As in, radically so. We do believe that we can massively improve the way things are for the vast majority of humans on this earth. Like, 95% of them, give or take. “Perfection” is impossible. But unless people think we’re living in a perfect society now — which would make them the starry-eyed dreamers, not us — then one must believe we can do better. Much better.

And your last sentence? Again, at least speaking for myself and the leftists I’ve read and conversed with . . . no. We don’t want to crash the hierarchy to replace it with another. Absolutely no to that. We want to do away with hierarchy, period. At least to the extent humanly possible. We want to do away with exploitation, period, plus an end to all forms of apartheid, starting with the economic. And we want to make sure new management isn’t the same as the old management team, so that there is no reason for the Who to sing Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

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William Berry 05.22.15 at 6:22 pm

The rightists’ primary operational principle: We know we are bastards, so we assume that everyone else is as well.

425

Plume 05.22.15 at 6:29 pm

On that last matter, “management.” By this, we mean self-management. Personal autonomy. Communally, cooperatively extended and elevated. Parecon is a great example. Riffs on that. Forks, etc. Lots of options there. But in general, if we end the idea of an elite management team in the first place, or any kind of ruling class, and seriously put full democracy in place for the first time in history . . . . we can have the unprecedented. The reason why we keep going from one rotten ruling class to another is because we refuse to disperse power to everyone, literally, and to do this without proxies. We’ve always stopped waaaay short of this via those proxies, those “representatives,” which end up representing themselves and their backers, not the rest of us.

Reverse engineer that and what’s the logical response to this endless mistake? Doctor, it hurts when I lift my arm up like this!!! Don’t do it then. We’re going to finally have to admit to ourselves as a species that we can’t keep outsourcing our autonomy to others — to corporate/business interests or political parties. We’re going to have to actually do this ourselves, together. All of us. Take responsibility for it directly, personally, together. As long as we let the 1% take (and keep) our power from us, they will, in short. It’s not rocket science.

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SamChevre 05.22.15 at 6:40 pm

Plume @ 425

Personal autonomy.
we refuse to disperse power to everyone
We’re going to have to actually do this ourselves, together. All of us.

Right there, though, you get to what I see as the core reason that leftism/socialism tends to become a bloody tyranny.

The first thing that you need, for personal autonomy, is to be able to say “no, I don’t want to X with you.” The left is devoted to “everyone does this together,” so it has no real space for “no, I don’t want to do this.” (The ongoing campaign to require goodthink about sexuality is only the latest manifestation of this pervasive pattern.)

427

Sebastian H 05.22.15 at 6:46 pm

“The rightists’ primary operational principle: We know we are bastards, so we assume that everyone else is as well.”

So is the leftist’s primary operational principle: We know that there are just a few bad apples who have made a bad system. So if we get rid of the bad apples our new system will be fine?

I meant that as a parody, but maybe it is closer to the real deal than I thought. The practical problem being that they keep discovering more and more people that you have to get rid of before the exciting new system can work.

428

William Berry 05.22.15 at 7:03 pm

So is the leftist’s primary operational principle: We know that there are just a few bad apples who have made a bad system. So if we get rid of the bad apples our new system will be fine?

No.

There are a lot of bad apples. But really, speaking for myself, at least, I don’t wish them any fate worse than being out-voted.

429

Plume 05.22.15 at 7:10 pm

Sam @426,

More cartoons from you.

You are completely free to say no, you don’t want to join in with the community, etc. You’d rather do your own thing, etc. etc. That’s more than cool. I love my free time and space, too, and every leftist I know does as well. Plus, a truly leftist society would give you far more of that free time to do your own thing than is possible in a capitalist world. You just wouldn’t be free to continue to exploit others, as is the capitalists’ wont. You’re not free to be a predator or an oppressor in this new leftist society.

If you want to sit things out, stay home, more power to you. Again, we all need that time for ourselves. But don’t complain when the rest of the community decides to do X, Y or Z, when you never show up for anything. Don’t complain that you didn’t get your way, or that your voice wasn’t heard in the town meeting cuz you couldn’t be bothered to show up.

Contrary to your cartoon, it’s not at all about groupthink or “goodthink,” whatever that means. And now that you mention it, gay rights is an excellent flash point for the difference between right and left. You think the left is trying to force you to like gay people against your will, which points to what I mentioned upthread about the right’s tendency to turn things upside down and remain completely out of sync with reality . . . . along with perceiving themselves as victims, always. Cry me a river.

In reality, the left is just saying you don’t get to oppress gay people, discriminate against them, fire them for being gay, deny them their civil rights. You don’t get to impose your own bigotry — under the guise of “religious freedom” or whatever poppycock you might come up with. No one is saying you have to like gay people or hang out with them if you think they’re icky. We leftists are just saying you can’t treat them like shit anymore. Oh, the oppression!!

430

Plume 05.22.15 at 7:23 pm

Sebatian H,

Nawww. It has absolutely nothing to do with “getting rid of a few bad apples.” It has everything to do with full democracy, solidarity and critical mass so there isn’t any issue of a few bad apples running things into the ground. When we’re all in it together, working on our own behalf together, logic tells us we’re going to do what is right for all of us, together. For the vast majority. Logic tells us that as long as we have the capitalist system with its tiny percentage of rulers, they’re going to do what is best for them, which is just about always rotten for the rest of us.

Again, it’s not rocket science. Take the class of the widest possible interest group. Whose interests are they likely to work toward? Contrast that with tiny groups working to increase the wealth and power of those tiny groups, etc. etc.

Another difference between left and right: Contrary to the right’s idea that the left, only, seeks a “collectivist” society, the right does as well — at least if they support capitalism. Capitalism can’t function without collectivism. It collectivizes labor and consumers, etc. It’s just a different, warped sort of collectivism. It’s a collectivism that functions to make a tiny few rich, the few ruling over the many. That’s right-collectivism. Left-collectivism, OTOH, does the obviously logical thing: The collective works on behalf of the collective, not for a tiny handful of bosses or just one.

Who benefits is key. In complex, modern societies, we can’t escape from collectivist economics. So, then it comes down to who reaps the rewards from the given. With capitalism, a tiny, tiny fraction of society does. With the leftist alternative, EVERYONE does. Even, ironically, the super-rich. They just won’t be able to live like kings and queens as they once did under the economic apartheid system that is capitalism.

431

Rich Puchalsky 05.22.15 at 8:35 pm

F. Foundling @ 408: “I’ve said nothing about a guarantee, but democracy is indispensable for keeping the (alleged/self-described) elite / “outstanding people whom we ought to look for guidance” in check. Personally I’m in favour of democracy, because I can’t see any other egalitarian way for a group of people to make whatever decisions it needs to make collectively. And some decisions do need to be made collectively, no matter how much of the free-market right is trying to minimise or ignore that aspect of human existence. “

I skipped over all of the historical B.S. about how the left naturally went along with the Bolsheviks (Makhno found out all about that) but the above is just wrong. Anarchists exist, and the reluctance of most leftists to think about the state in any critical way can’t be blamed on “the free-market right.”

We have lots of democracy. When e.g. the U.S. decided to attack Iraq, that was democracy. You can’t blame it on the plutocracy and their propaganda (although both of those certainly exist) or on the Executive Branch (although they certainly were war criminals). The people had the tools to stop that war if they really cared to, but they didn’t: a majority more or less approved. Saying that the people were fooled en masse is just saying that you think that people are more stupid than you are: saying that you like democracy because it will make decisions that you approve of is just saying that you assume that a majority of people have the same values and beliefs as you do.

Well, they don’t. Propaganda be damned: if people in general agreed with the left, the left would have been voted in. Left solutions are going to have to be structural and are going to have to tend in the direction of dismantling the structures of power that let people not much care about whether violence is done in their name as long as that violence has their democratic approval.

432

Plume 05.22.15 at 10:34 pm

Rich @431,

Not following you on much of that. When I read your posts, I still can’t figure out where you stand on the issues. It appears you ID as an anarchist, but I’ve never met an anarchist who wanted to cling to capitalist modes of production before, and if I remember correctly, that’s you. And now it sounds like you don’t want democracy, either, which is far more in the right-libertarian camp, not the anarchist, etc.

And this?

Propaganda be damned: if people in general agreed with the left, the left would have been voted in.

In reality, Americans are typically exposed to little more than an A to B conversation on politics. We get to hear roughly center-right to hard right, and that’s basically it. The furthest left the MSM will go is slightly left of center, and even that seems to happen less and less, and with more and more angst, apology and so on. In reality, Americans simply aren’t exposed to leftist ideas, with pretty much all of leftist history hidden from school kids until they reach college — if they’re lucky. It’s not just incredibly successful propaganda. It’s very close to radio silence.

Kids in America, and adults, have to go waaaaay out of their way to find out about leftists, and all too often the way they do find out about them is from ax-grinding right-wing sources. Check out a search in Itunes, for examples, for Marx. You get the mises.org’s version.

Until our political narrative actually includes real leftists, it’s absurd to say Americans have rejected them. It’s like saying Americans reject an exotic kind of icecream they’ve never even seen in stores.

433

Rich Puchalsky 05.22.15 at 11:41 pm

You don’t remember correctly, but I see no point in trying to get you to understand.

“Until our political narrative actually includes real leftists, it’s absurd to say Americans have rejected them.”

You’re an American, I think. You apparently consider yourself to be a real leftist. I guess that you overcame this insuperable barrier that you think exists for everyone else.

434

Plume 05.23.15 at 12:01 am

Rich @433,

As I said, we have to go waaaay out of our way to discover leftist thinkers, history, philosophy, etc. etc. I never said it was an insuperable barrier. But there is security (for the establishment) in obscurity (for their enemies’ views). Borrowed that little ditty from IT, of course.

If you actually do believe that it’s readily available to all and sundry, that the mainstream talks about it, that leftists aren’t horrifically marginalized, that we teach it in our schools, etc. etc. you really, truly have no clue about American society.

435

js. 05.23.15 at 1:11 am

Look, if one were to write the history of any major political tradition, it would have some dark chapters. Take liberalism: it’s got a lot going for it! And a history of liberalism would contain many bright, shining moments—indeed, most of it may be such. (And I’d think that someone like geo would more or less agree with this, given e.g. his love of Mill.) But any history of liberalism that didn’t deal with colonialism, e.g., and its unjust and murderous legacy, that—at least in the US context—didn’t deal with slavery, that didn’t deal with how the lofty ideals of liberalism were used by liberals themselves in the service of oppression—such a history would be dishonest at best. A defender of liberalism who insisted that Mill was a great liberal when writing On Liberty but all of a sudden not at all a liberal when enthusiastically supporting colonialist adventures would be either confused or mendacious.

The point, to reiterate, is that every long and rich political tradition has dark, bloody chapters in its history. The left, and the Marxist left in particular, is one such long and rich political tradition. Absolving this political tradition of the dark chapters in its history seems to me just as confused as the attempt to rinse liberalism clean of the crimes of colonialism (e.g.). And if you are sympathetic to the tradition—as I very much am—it’s also harmful because it distorts history and prevents us from seeing how, if a Marxist left ever came to power again somewhere—impossible as it seems—how it could avoid some of the past mistakes and do better. But engels and F. Foundling have covered this ground pretty well.

436

Rich Puchalsky 05.23.15 at 2:00 am

js: “it’s also harmful because it distorts history and prevents us from seeing how, if a Marxist left ever came to power again somewhere—impossible as it seems—how it could avoid some of the past mistakes and do better.”

I think that you’re writing a version of what you criticize. China is Marxist: a Marxist left is in power in what is probably the second most powerful nation-state in the world. You don’t get to declare the vast number of Chinese Marxists to be not Marxists because your idea of what a Marxist is differs from theirs. Or, if you do, I don’t see why geo doesn’t get to as well.

As for the dark, bloody chapters of every tradition’s history, people don’t get to have it both ways. I fully agree that liberalism has had and currently has its dark, bloody chapters. But I still see things like this, from Peter T’s #288:

“But sometimes there is no way through without bloodshed, and liberals end up standing in the middle of the battle shouting out “hey, someone might get hurt!” and blaming the nearest sword-wielder (briefly).”

Liberalism can’t simultaneously be responsible for mass deaths and also be the province of ineffectual peaceniks. Or if you prefer what’s generally considered to be positive uses of violence, FDR’s New Deal was left-liberal if anything was, and liberals didn’t shrink from world war against fascism. People are having it both ways throughout the latter part of this thread.

437

LFC 05.23.15 at 2:35 am

Don’t have time for an extremely long comment now (just as well), but I think js.’s remarks @435, coupled with geo’s earlier comments, point up an area of disagreement that hasn’t really been explored and that may not be resolvable.

I don’t want to put words in geo’s mouth, but I think he clearly sees two separate traditions: a democratic socialist tradition on one hand, and a Leninist (I’ll call it) tradition on the other, and he is arguing that they are indeed separate and that people in “the world outside CT” often confuse the two, to the dem-soc tradition’s detriment obviously. The two traditions have very different commitments, and Leninism on this view is not simply a ‘black mark’ the way colonialism is for liberalism, but a completely antithetical thing.

js., by contrast, sees one (presumably varied) tradition (“the left, and the Marxist left in particular”) and presumably everyone from Michael Harrington to Lenin is jostling together somewhere in this one tradition. Harrington was a fan of — his contested version of — Marx, and Lenin was a fan of his version of Marx. So they’re both part of the same Marxist tradition, right?

I think it’s possible to argue this both ways. As someone who read Harrington’s ‘Socialism’ as a teenager (multiple decades ago), I’ve always tended to think that there are two separate traditions. (Marx himself in polemical moments was not shy about labeling various people who said they were socialists as completely misguided and worse.) But from another perspective one could probably see it all as one, highly varied tradition with a decisive internal split on the question of democracy. This is not an arcane debate w/o real implications, because it does affect how one sees the place of formerly ‘actually existing socialism’, ‘state socialism’, or ‘bureaucratic collectivism’ (as some of its leftist opponents called it). I’m not trying to resolve the disagreement in this comment, just trying to clarify it.

438

Peter T 05.23.15 at 5:12 am

Rich @436

I had in mind people like Kerensky, Lord Grey, Mehdi Bazargan. To be clear, admirable figures, but unable to bring themselves to act as the times required. No doubt many similar others perished.

439

js. 05.23.15 at 6:25 am

LFC,

When I talk about “the left”, I generally mean the anti-capitalist left. This would include political parties where the anti-capitalism is very much a “in the final analysis” kind of thing (like this) I do realize that there are positions on, say, the left of the spectrum that aren’t anti-capitalist but also don’t fit into the liberalism mold, which is where I want to put them—and certain forms of social democracy might qualify—but I really don’t have a good umbrella designation for these positions.

And partly for Rich’s sake, I’ll point out that I do (of course!) consider anarchism to be part of the left.

440

js. 05.23.15 at 6:38 am

China is Marxist: a Marxist left is in power in what is probably the second most powerful nation-state in the world.

Also though, this is ridiculous. Mao’s China is a dark, horrible stain on the history of the Marxist left. But give me one fucking reason why the post-Deng China is Marxist left anymore than the Nazis were socialist because they called themselves the National Socialist etc etc.

441

geo 05.23.15 at 7:02 am

WB@420: Thank you, William. I’m not really a scholar, though. F. Foundling probably does know more about the history of Communism than I do. I just didn’t like him to assume as much.

LFC@437: Yes, that’s a useful formulation. Clearly Lenin and Harrington shared a certain critical perspective on capitalism. If that’s what one means by “leftist,” then they were both leftists. On the other hand, they had entirely different strategic visions, one of which involved a gradual, largely nonviolent conquest of state power by an increasingly enlightened, mobilized, and unified working class (broadly defined to include the whole non-boss population), while the other involved the seizure of state power, violently if necessary, by an elite acting (or claiming to act) in the name of the working class. In this respect, they were so different that it is misleading to apply the same political label to both. I think that, historically speaking, the first exponents of socialism (Mill, Marx, Morris, the First International, the Second International, the Fabians) held, almost without exception, to the first strategic vision, so that it was misleading (often deliberately misleading) for the vanguardists to call themselves “socialists.” But one might say, in virtue of this analytic vs. programmatic distinction, that they had half a right to the term.

What is beyond doubt is the vast and tragic confusion this terminological ambiguity has caused. The Communist Party and the FBI agreed that all “leftists” must be Marxist-Leninists, and therefore would naturally support and emulate the Soviet Union, which most Americans were quite understandably having none of. But this meant that all those who shared the Marxist-Leninists’ critique of and moral indignation about capitalism, but not their strategic commitment to a vanguard party and their disdain for majority rule, could hardly ever get a hearing. In fact, the first and perhaps most fateful result of this confusion was Wilson’s and Palmer’s suppression of the Socialist Party in the early years of the Russian Revolution.

As I said above, this confusion among the American people (often enough deliberately induced by the ruling class) strikes me as tragic in its consequences. So I thought we at Crooked Timber might form the glorious vanguard of a terminological United Front. Didn’t work out in this thread, but there are who knows how many more to come!

442

Rich Puchalsky 05.23.15 at 11:44 am

js: “But give me one fucking reason why the post-Deng China is Marxist left anymore than the Nazis were socialist because they called themselves the National Socialist etc etc.”

This seems to me to be exactly like geo’s argument about the Bolsheviks. Post-Deng China is officially Marxist: I could dig through any number of official governmental documents on the Web to show evidence for this. It’s not like the mere use of “Socialism” in a name: it has a whole lot to do with the goals and practices of the ruling party. For convenience you could start with the wiki page here.

So I don’t see why a real-existing-leftism person wouldn’t say, as people have done for the USSR, “look at the rising standards of living and the partial advances made” along with the obvious things you don’t like. I think that post-Deng China is quite a representative Marxist state, with great similarities to almost every other Marxist state that has actually existed, and a kind of natural outgrowth of Marxist ideas.

443

engels 05.23.15 at 12:45 pm

I skipped over all of the historical B.S… When e.g. the U.S. decided to attack Iraq, that was democracy… if people in general agreed with the left, the left would have been voted in… I see no point in trying to get you to understand… So I don’t see why a real-existing-leftism person wouldn’t say…

“Never wrestle a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

444

bob mcmanus 05.23.15 at 1:43 pm

…while the other involved the seizure of state power, violently if necessary, by an elite acting (or claiming to act) in the name of the working class.

Lenin didn’t just come up with the idea from thin air, the label “communist” of course comes from the Paris Commune as a model.

And during the period 1870-1930+, the “Paris Commune” represented many things, not just a vanguard seizing state power, for that they had “Blanquist,” but also the events and circumstances surrounding the Commune: the Franco-Prussian war (and the causes, social conditions, global situation, specific actions surrounding the F-P war; the brutal reaction in the aftermath of the Commune) the other wars and imperialist adventures and the acceleration of bourgeois madness that eventually, but far from finally, exploded in the Guns of August. Imperialism and liberalism’s wars were absolutely critical to Lenin’s analysis.

Too many here speak as if the alternatives are either vanguardist Marxist-Leninism or the inevitable peaceful transition to dem-sosh utopia. To the Marxist-Leninist history since 1870 says that the inescapable alternatives are vanguardist revolution or barbarism, war, (neo-) imperialism and eventual apocalypse by fire.

Whence comes the optimism of the reformist or evolutionist Marxists? Or is it just irresponsibility and the comfort of being at least tolerated by liberal elites?

445

LFC 05.23.15 at 1:44 pm

geo @441: I like (among other things) your reference to the ‘analytic vs. programmatic distinction’. I that’s a good rubric, a good way of making sense of the relevant commonalities and differences in the tradition — or traditions.

js. @439: I think we’re not *exactly* on the same page re the way we sort things, but within shouting distance. (Which is better than nothing.)

446

bob mcmanus 05.23.15 at 1:56 pm

I may be more Trotskyist than M-L, or maybe something different, but I absolutely decided that it isn’t on me to justify violent revolution.

After the election of 2000 and the Iraq war, I decided that it was up to the liberals and reformist Marxists and nice anarchists to show me they could get and keep the jackals and troglodytes under control. I was “disappointed by someone new,” to use hilarious understatement.

447

geo 05.23.15 at 3:01 pm

Rich @442: post-Deng China is quite a representative Marxist state … and a kind of natural outgrowth of Marxist ideas

And the evidence for this is “any number of official governmental documents on the Web.” Likewise, the US is entirely exceptional, history’s only example of a state with a purely idealist foreign policy, aiming only to spread freedom, democracy, and material welfare to all the world’s people. The evidence is any number of official governmental documents on the Web.

bob @444: the “Paris Commune” represented many things, not just a vanguard seizing state power

“A vanguard seizing state power” is exactly what the Paris Commune wasn’t. It was a genuinely popular, participatory, self-governing movement seizing control of its own immediate environment. No resemblance to Bolshevism except the rhetoric — which of course fooled a great many people in Lenin’s time and since.

Too many here speak as if the alternatives are either vanguardist Marxist-Leninism or the inevitable peaceful transition to dem-sosh utopia.

Speaking for myself, those aren’t the alternatives. The formation of a socialist majority has to be a gradual, nonviolent process. That socialist majority will then have to take power. It will naturally try to do so first peacefully, by democratic means. This will arouse violent opposition by the ruling class, which may have to be answered violently. (Or maybe not: see the work of Gene Sharp.) Marx thought that violent ruling-class opposition to a democratic socialist takeover would have to be suppressed by force, which is what I think Marx meant by the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” He certainly didn’t mean what the Leninists meant, i.e., dictatorship over the proletariat, in the name of the proletariat, for the proletariat’s own (future) good.

448

Plume 05.23.15 at 3:01 pm

Lots of good comments still in this thread . . . . Geo’s 441, LFC’s quite balanced 437, JS’s riff on that at 439. Though I would take issue with the idea that “anarchism” is necessarily left-wing. I think both sides of the aisle have their version. Rothbard is a likely examplar of the right’s. I have strong left-anarchist leanings, etc, in the Chomskyian sense.

I also agree that “leftists” are, generally speaking — with exceptions — anticapitalist, and to the earlier point about the supposed American rejection of this . . . again, our media simply do not give voice to anticapitalists. The overwhelming message throughout the land is that capitalism is amazing and the only possible way, and that it’s completely absurd to even suggest alternatives . . . . so absurd that no one even needs to say it’s absurd. So, no. Americans haven’t rejected it. The vast majority haven’t heard of alternatives . . . and a majority of those who have hear only the demonization of those alternatives — which Geo also points to.

(Chomsky also points to this in his manufactured consent studies, though he doesn’t focus entirely on the economic issues, dealing also with war crimes, surveillance, etc. etc. )

And why is this the case? Because leftists have been swept up, even by otherwise well-meaning liberals, and accorded the blame for what happened in Soviet Russia, China, NK, etc. etc. Even though we stand in greater opposition than pretty much anyone else on the political spectrum to the complete absence there of democracy, egalitarian structures, the presence of an all too powerful ruling class, etc. etc. . . . we (and our precursors) are condemned along with them.

That’s basically why it matters. Because the confusion of opposed forces within the left makes it all too easy for the entire left to be shut out of the political debate. This, strangely enough, hasn’t happened to conservatives, who sit on the same side of the aisle as the Nazis and Fascists, in both their original versions and “neo.” They haven’t been made to pay for the sins of their cousins . . . . even though key conservative Germans actually put Hitler into power and the German Left was his only opposition . . . until he wiped them out, etc. etc.

449

Plume 05.23.15 at 3:07 pm

geo @447,

“A vanguard seizing state power” is exactly what the Paris Commune wasn’t. It was a genuinely popular, participatory, self-governing movement seizing control of its own immediate environment. No resemblance to Bolshevism except the rhetoric — which of course fooled a great many people in Lenin’s time and since.

Well said. Have just started reading Communal Luxury: the political imaginary of the Paris Commune, by Kristin Ross. She seems to be on the same page with you. If you haven’t read it, it might be something you’d enjoy. Only quibble going in is that it’s too short (142 pages), though that might be an advantage in the Internet age.

450

Rich Puchalsky 05.23.15 at 3:21 pm

geo: “Likewise, the US is entirely exceptional, history’s only example of a state with a purely idealist foreign policy, aiming only to spread freedom, democracy, and material welfare to all the world’s people.”

That’s how the US sees itself, yes. It doesn’t mean that these things are true. In particular, large-scale Marxist projects have often seen themselves an embodying all sorts of ideals: in practice they lead to state capitalism.

As for who is a Marxist, I think that the very numerous Marxists in China outvote the few remnants left in the west.

451

Plume 05.23.15 at 3:33 pm

Rich @450,

In particular, large-scale Marxist projects have often seen themselves an embodying all sorts of ideals: in practice they lead to state capitalism.

Some Marxists, maybe. Some. By no means all. From previous discussions, it would appear that you were, perhaps, traumatized by your encounter with a few Marxists in various town meetings/activist gatherings, and this has led you to demonize all of them.

But the bolded part is really key, and I agree with that. The Soviet Union imposed state capitalism on Russians. China did the same. Castro, the NK dictatorships did the same, etc. etc. Which is why it’s absurd to blame anticapitalists for state capitalist societies. By definition, we’re opposed to these, even moreso than people who actually like capitalism. Again, by definition.

452

bob mcmanus 05.23.15 at 3:40 pm

Well, Paris had a population of two million, and I wasn’t aware that over a million were active participants in the Commune. And Blanqui was elected in three districts.

But again, absolutely missing the point.

Lenin: “20,000 killed in the streets…Lessons: bourgeoisie will stop at nothing.”

I am going to read the Ross, but we are too many generations from close cataclysm for me to trust contemporary analysts.

453

js. 05.23.15 at 3:53 pm

RP:

I hereby retract @440.

454

Luke 05.23.15 at 4:18 pm

Short of paranoid kremlinology, I think we have to accept that China is a regular capitalist state. Whatever long game the Chinese party may or may not be playing, I doubt it will withstand the bourgeoisie it has unleashed/become.

455

Rich Puchalsky 05.23.15 at 8:14 pm

I fail to see any difference between the arguments about the USSR and about posting China. In terms of tough-minded mcmanus style Marxism, they are authoritarians, but they are successful authoritarians. It was quite possible that China would be suffering from mass starvation by now. That hasn’t happened, in large part because of ruling party policies. If the world finds a solution for the global warming crisis, it won’t be because of anything the U.S. does. It will be because of old-fashioned socialist planning done by China, which was what was needed for the world to make the investment to mass produce solar panels and bring the cost down below fossil. If people are willing to say that the USSR did some good things along with the bad things, I completely fail to see why contemporary China doesn’t get similar credit.

I also don’t see the point in describing China as “a regular capitalist state”. People blame the power of propaganda for why leftism can’t seem to take off in the U.S. But China’s official Marxism doesn’t count? Is their propaganda ineffective internally while ours is super-effective?

456

Rich Puchalsky 05.23.15 at 8:15 pm

Oops — “posting China” above was supposed to be “post-Deng China”, but spellchecker intervened.

457

Joseph McCarthy 05.24.15 at 7:20 pm

@David 399

The Nazis were convinced meritocrats, and believed in unrestrained competition for power and position. Hitler deliberately promoted competition and division between his subordinates to see who would come out on top, and ruthlessness and hard work could take you a long way, especially in the Party and the SS. Treading on others was quite acceptable – it just showed how strong you were. The “best” thus rose to the top. This was a meritocracy based on blood and strength, and the same logic was applied to war. Hitler’s last testament berated the German people for having failed him by not being tough and determined enough. They therefore deserved annihilation.

That was “meritocracy” for Hitler’s closest cooperatives – actually no different than “meritocracy” of Stalin or any contemporary or past power structure. I thought you would list some meritocratic values promoted to German folk. Commies for example, honoured physical labour and promoted special “workers” who achieved exceptional quantity of production (were more equal than others :) – dug exceptional quantity of coal and similar heroes of socialist labour. So commies were also meritocratic in this sense.

@Plume 400

I think you have your wires crossed. Looks like you’ve confused several different posters while thinking you’re arguing with just one. Take a deep breath, step back, and try again.

If my breath is the biggest concern you find in my posts, then I’m calmed.

@Lee A. Arnold 414

Joseph McCarthy #397: “It does not matter what they wanted. Realistic outcomes are what matters… What sort of meritocracy or excellence were the Nazi’s holding the Germans’ up to?”

There are two points here:

1. The “realistic outcome” of Nazism was a top-down dictatorship, which you told us at #124 is right-wing: “Right-wing dictatorship is top-down. It is not a thing enforced by a self-righteous raging mob as the Leftisms of French Revolution and (inter)national socialisms up to its contemporaries do.” And of course, once Hitler was in power, he didn’t need the attentions, or the powers of enforcement, of a self-righteous raging mob.

You messed the time sequence. Hitler first mobilized masses and then seized power. So no, it was not coup or any type of top-down dictatorship. Enough active raging mobs supported him.

2. The excellence the Nazis were holding the Germans up to, was German culture and race. They acted to dominate the others, to kill them or enslave them. By contrast, Soviet communists did not act in the real world to uphold ANY tradition or traditional meritocracy, at all. It is neither in their statements, nor their acts. They were against tradition. They acted to level everybody, to get them out of being capitalists, and to get them into the same system where everybody was “equals”. Anybody who didn’t join, was killed.

The Soviets promoted similar revolutions in other countries, to join this international cause, and in the postwar period they even brought them into their own international congresses for various meetings on how to divide the gov’t cheese. Didn’t matter what race or color, as long as not capitalist. In fact leftists have usually been pretty explicitly internationalists, from the get-go.

Far different than enslaving or killing anybody because they are not, what they CANNOT be.

Thus, at least Soviet communism offered a choice in the matter!

Incredible wishfull thinking and arrogance. What kind of a “choice” is it to choose between either joining something or being killed? Secondly, if you were born in non-proletarian family (you cannot chose your parents) or just being above average, you were class enemy elligible for at least suspicion and at most execution. They did not spare any family member, regardless of age.

But it is you who are hoping to prove that all totalitarianism is somehow left-wing, your reason here apparently being, that the French Revolution was leftist. But it isn’t a logical or a real-world consequence that therefore all left-wing ideology must lead to dictatorship.

I am not trying to prove that all totalitarianisms are leftist. I am exposing the leftist (French Revolution) traits of national socialism – mass politics and raging crowds demanding utopian “justice” as useful idiot agent for power seizure.

Why utopian justice? Because equality and supremacy of collective do not exist in reality. Agitating any of those things externalizes the reasons for failure, stripes the individual of the responsibility for showing merit and entitles him to anything imaginable in the name of the cause.

Furthermore, supremacy being outright agressive and very short-lived strategy because of its tendence to quickly find enemies, is equality much more efficient slogan. Inequality is absolutely eliminated only in mathematics. That means that even though measures are taken to reduce it, there will always be a possibility to complain or frame that something is not equal and thus perpetually find a socially popular reason for egalitarian crusades to quasi reach a goal that can always conveniently be pushed farther away. A perfect con trick with utopian goal.

@Plume 430

Another difference between left and right: Contrary to the right’s idea that the left, only, seeks a “collectivist” society, the right does as well — at least if they support capitalism. Capitalism can’t function without collectivism. It collectivizes labor and consumers, etc. It’s just a different, warped sort of collectivism.

Collectivism in the sense of right opposition to leftism is a term for forced state created entities. Using your term, you can of course describe anything that includes more than two persons a collectivism.

Who benefits is key. In complex, modern societies, we can’t escape from collectivist economics. So, then it comes down to who reaps the rewards from the given. With capitalism, a tiny, tiny fraction of society does. With the leftist alternative, EVERYONE does.

That is a perfect solution fallacy.

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Lee A. Arnold 05.24.15 at 9:43 pm

JOSEPH McCARTHY #457: “You messed the time sequence. Hitler first mobilized masses and then seized power. So no, it was not coup or any type of top-down dictatorship. Enough active raging mobs supported him.”

This is incorrect in two very different ways.

1. First, there were NO “active raging mobs”. It was organized, the opposite of “mob”. The whole thing was well-engineered from the beginning by a small group following Hitler’s command. His active support was small and tightly organized by his top group from the beginning, and the big rallies were tightly ordered, well-orchestrated by this same top group. The Hitler youth were organized. The Nuremberg rallies were annually scheduled Party propaganda events. There were NO spontaneous mob outbursts of support that amounted to any political significance, either tactically or strategically. It was nothing like the assembly politics of the French Revolution, which had no single leader pushing it, and had plenty of disorganized street mobs.

2. Second, you moved your own goalpost. Your own criterion was, “realistic outcomes are what matters.” (#397). The outcome in Germany was a top-down dictatorship, with nobody calling the shots but Hitler, and with organized show rallies no different than under any right-wing dictator.

JOSEPH McCARTHY #457: “Incredible wishful thinking and arrogance. What kind of a “choice” is it to choose between either joining something or being killed?”

This is unfair. As I wrote in the very next sentence, which you omitted, “Now I agree, this is a distinction without a difference. Because they were both dictatorships, killing people.” In other words, of course it’s not much of a choice! You are creating a straw man of my comment if you omit this sentence. It seems intellectually dishonest.

JOSEPH McCARTHY #457: “Secondly, if you were born in non-proletarian family (you cannot chose your parents) or just being above average, you were class enemy eligible for at least suspicion and at most execution. They did not spare any family member, regardless of age.”

“Eligible for at least suspicion” is far different than certainly being killed for being a Jew, or being enslaved for being a Slav. In contrast to the Nazis, many in the earliest communist party were in fact sons of the bourgeoisie (non-proletarians) and it gathered many more non-proles as it went along. Both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels came from wealthy capitalist families.

JOSEPH McCARTHY #457: “I am not trying to prove that all totalitarianisms are leftist. I am exposing the leftist (French Revolution) traits of national socialism – mass politics and raging crowds demanding utopian “justice” as useful idiot agent for power seizure. Why utopian justice? Because equality and supremacy of collective do not exist in reality.”

Again, you’re moving your own goalpost, since at #397 you wrote, “It does not matter what they wanted. Realistic outcomes are what matters.” Well, by any definition of words, “propaganda” coming from the Nazi Party is “what they wanted”, not the “realistic outcome”. The realistic outcome was not mass-politics. The realistic outcome was engineered rallies under a top-down dictatorship, with nobody calling the shots but Hitler.

JOSEPH McCARTHY #457: “Furthermore, supremacy being outright aggressive and very short-lived strategy because of its tendency to quickly find enemies, is equality much more efficient slogan.”

It doesn’t matter here what is more efficient. The Nazis wanted supremacy and didn’t want equality, they wanted supremacy of the German race and culture over others.

But, I’m not even sure why you are continuously putting up this fallacious argument about what the Nazis wanted, since you write in #397 that to distinguish between left and right, “IT DOES NOT MATTER WHAT THEY WANTED. Realistic outcomes are what matters.” And the realistic outcome was nobody calling the shots but Hitler, which is a top-down dictatorship, which is a rightwing dictatorship as you defined in #124.

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