Saturday, June 13, 2009

Don't take our toys

Tom Foley thinks its funny, I guess, that anyone would question the characterization of National Socialism as a right wing ideology. On this Saturday morning when I should have been revising a law review article, I posted a comment on his blog suggesting a few obvious ways in which National Socialism was wholly inconsistent with what we call "the right" in the United States in 2009.


There followed a flurry of comments (I thought no one read blogs on Saturday) as if I had blasphemed. As I suppose, I had. The ability to cry Nazi must be very important to some people.

Much of the comments were to "refute" a claim that I did not make, i.e., that Nazism can be referred to as part of what we call "the left" in the United States in 2009. It can't be. My point would be that National Socialism has no place on the American political continuum. There are huge disconnects between it and our politics, almost all of which is rooted in the assumptions of classical liberalism.

To characterize the Nazis as left or right as we use those terms today and in this country is anachronistic. It requires you to pick out something (say its collectivism or its selective invocation of tradition) that sounds conservative and liberal and riding it until it drops. Taken as a whole, National Socialism is completely inconsistent with contemporary conservatism in more ways than I care to count.



For example, in the United States, conservatism is inextricably tied to free markets and limited government. That's not the Nazis. It is inextricably tied to traditional values, often rooted in religion. That's not the Nazis either. It is distrustful of the notion that politics and the state can remake the world. But that was precisely the Nazi project.

One commenter is apparently of the belief that Umberto's Eco's sprawling essay on Ur-Facism resolves the question. I don't think so. It is a collection of 14 contradictory criteria - anyone of which, he says, can lead to fascism. They doesn't help us distinguish Nazi from Soviet totalitarianism other than to note that the two did not manifest themselves in precisely the same way. Nor do they don't point to what I would associate with the right in the United States in 2009.

There was a similar heated reaction to my suggestion that, no, "the right" is not fomenting violence because two nuts shot an abortionist and a guard at the Holocaust Museum any more than the "left" is fomenting violence because a nut shot a military recruiter. Once again I blasphemed. As usual (and somewhat ironically), many of the comments - prompted by a desire to retain that hate card - are full of vitriol as if snide attempts at ridicule and misplaced triumphalist smack add to argument.


22 comments:

gnarlytrombone said...

It is a collection of 14 contradictory criteria - anyone of which, he says, can lead to fascism.


As I explain over yonder, and Eco does masterfully in his essay, the criteria are contradictory because fascists are perfectly capable of holding contradictory beliefs.

This is part of what makes fascism hard to pin down. It's not a quasi-logical political system like other "isms." It's a knee-jerk cultural tendency - with emphasis on cult - that developed in reaction to modernism.

Rick Esenberg said...

I agree that it is difficult to pin down which is one of the reasons that I don't think it can be readily characterized as a movement of the right or the left.

Your point illustrates that. You claim that it arose in response to modernism, yet, in many ways, it embraced modernism. To say that it is somehow reactionary and, therefore, is a movement of the right (itself a problematic move) is to treat certain of these contradictory beliefs as authentic and essential while treating the others as ephemeral.

Dad29 said...

And, Gnarly, ALL cultures are based on 'cult.'

The one we have here (more or less) is based on the Judaeo-Christian cult--or Catholicism in that cult's earliest manifestation after the birth of Christ.

Sandra said...

As usual (and somewhat ironically), many of the comments - prompted by a desire to retain that hate card - are full of vitriol as if snide attempts at ridicule and misplaced triumphalist smack add to argument.

Speaking of irony (by which you really mean hypocrisy): Isn't your headline a snide attempt at ridicule, full of vitriol and misplaced triumphalist smack?

Rick Esenberg said...

Nope, I mean irony because there is no perception of the inconsistency. As for the title, a bit but I think its fairly mild and, in this case, justified.

Sandra said...

We needn't quibble about the meaning of "irony," a word destroyed by dear Alanis long ago.

But this ...

As for the title, a bit but I think its [sic] fairly mild and, in this case, justified.

No doubt you share the thought with the snide, vitriolic, and triumphalist the world over. Seems to me like you either traffic in it, and silently put up with your snide brethren, or you don't. None of this wishy washy middle ground.

illusory tenant said...

"The ability to cry Nazi must be very important to some people."

Apparently so:

"I do not make Hitler analogies lightly; nor would I compare Barack Obama with Adolf Hitler, the greatest mass murderer of all time. BUT the dramatic changes that took place in Germany in the 1930s and America today ARE analogous; in fact it’s happening even quicker here."

illusory tenant said...

By the way, what I thought was amusing was Glenn Beck saying "It doesn't make any sense whatsoever!" to consider Nazis "right-wing."

And I certainly don't have any vested interest in whatever "toys" you suggest I cherish.

Rather, it's the followers of Jonah Goldberg and his ilk that have an interest in tarring as "fascists" some people who believe that government is actually capable of accomplishing some good (which would include the Framers of the Constitution, according to its Preamble, at least).

Anonymous said...

IT -

The framers of our constitution also believed there should not be much government.

illusory tenant said...

Not much federal government anyway. Things have changed since then, what with the advent of liberal fascism, Canadians emigrating here, and so forth.

John Lofton, Recovering Republican said...

Forget, please, "conservatism." It has been, operationally, de facto, Godless and therefore irrelevant. Secular conservatism will not defeat secular liberalism because to God both are two atheistic peas-in-a-pod and thus predestined to failure. As Stonewall Jackson's Chief of Staff R.L. Dabney said of such a humanistic belief more than 100 years ago:

"[Secular conservatism] is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today .one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity and will be succeeded by some third revolution; to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt bath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it be salted? Its impotency is not hard, indeed, to explain. It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It intends to risk nothing serious for the sake of the truth."

Our country is collapsing because we have turned our back on God (Psalm 9:17) and refused to kiss His Son (Psalm 2).

John Lofton, Editor, TheAmericanView.com
Recovering Republican
JLof@aol.com

PS – And “Mr. Worldly Wiseman” Rush Limbaugh never made a bigger ass of himself than at CPAC where he told that blasphemous “joke” about himself and God.

illusory tenant said...

Lofton v. Zappa (CNN Crossfire, 1986)

Rick Esenberg said...

it's the followers of Jonah Goldberg and his ilk that have an interest in tarring as "fascists" some people who believe that government is actually capable of accomplishing some good (which would include the Framers of the Constitution, according to its Preamble, at least).

Actually, that's not what he argues at all, although I think he's more convincing in arguing for the intellectual kinship of fascism and communism than in connecting either to contemporary politics.

As for my reference to "toys," I really was astonished at how quickly I attracted comments from people who just could not abide the suggestion that fascism is not much related to what we understand as conservatism in the US today or its intellectual antecedents.

Rick Esenberg said...

Sandra

But life is about making distinctions and drawing lines.

As Justice Scalia has said, I too am a sinner. But I also think I am justified in claiming that I try to respond to what people actually say and to characterize their arguments in good faith even if I don't always manage to do so.

On the other hand, when I see people twist and turn so that they can hold on to the notion that their political opponents purvey hate, I lose my religion. And, yes, it is ironic that in trying so hard to claim moral superiority, folks like Krugman and some of the commenters here wind up doing they same thing that they are so sure the other side is up to. In attempting to assert the moral high ground they lose it. I think you will find that fits most, if not all, dictionary defintions of irony, notwithstanding Alanis Morrisette's sort of annoying song.

Clutch said...

I really was astonished at how quickly I attracted comments from people who just could not abide the suggestion that fascism is not much related to what we understand as conservatism

Are you so sure they're not -- at least some of them -- merely people unimpressed by weak reasoning, irrespective of their attitude towards the conclusion?

I certainly have no great problem with the statement that fascism is not uniquely related to what we understand as American conservatism. I do think that there are worrisome elements of fascism, instantiated to a worrisome degree, that are increasingly woven into American political and cultural attitudes. And, yes, it seems to me that conservatives do more than their share of pushing these elements into circulation. But neither conservatism nor liberalism in the USA, nor American politics more generally, is stereotypically fascist in themselves, as I would use the term.

I believe we agree on the last sentence, at least. And yet a poor partisan argument, delivered as if a lecture from the high moral ground, is a poor partisan argument apt to insult readers and coarsen the debate, to use a phrase I once encountered. I have no qualms about saying so -- especially when I can demonstrate this with clear argument, rather than simply throwing around phrases like "troll" or "waste of time" in the absence of cogent reasoning.

Rick Esenberg said...

Are you so sure they're not -- at least some of them -- merely people unimpressed by weak reasoning, irrespective of their attitude towards the conclusion?

They could be and perhaps at some point one of them will explain the continuity between Nazis and the American right or how it is that there are similarities between conservatism and Nazism that are somehow different and more significant than the similarities between Nazism and progressivism. I know that you think you did but I am unpersuaded. During our exchanges this weekend (I really have to get back to work), you've mostly responded to arguments that I did not make (liberalism is fascist; Glen Beck is a reasonable guy).

But I am glad you agree that conservatism is not stereotypically fascist. But are there fascist elements in American politics? Are they disproportionately "pushed" by conservatives? Can you demonstrate that by "clear argument?" Or do these suggestions merely turn up the political heat?

illusory tenant said...

"Actually, that's not what [Goldberg] argues at all ..."

"Goldberg argues that fascism has always been a phenomenon of the left. ... [R]eaders may be stopped cold by the parallels Goldberg draws between Nazi Germany and the New Deal." — Publisher's Weekly

Huh.

"I really was astonished at how quickly I attracted comments from people ..."

None of whom were me, so I share your astonishment to the extent that this latest post began with my name (with no link to whatever it was I did say).

Rick Esenberg said...

Well, if Publisher's Weekly says so, it must be. Actually, Tom, I've read the book and your characterization of it is wrong (in fact, is not even supported by the blurb that you quote). Goldberg does draw parallels between the New Deal and fascism. There are parallels to be drawn and, as he points out, many contemporary commentators and policymakers saw the connection. I'm not going to endorse the whole project because, as I said, it gets weak when he tries to connect up modern politics (including, you may be surprised to know, George W. Bush). But it's a stretch to say that he is trying to label anyone who thinks government can accomplish something as a fascist, notwithstanding his publisher's too cute book cover (although, in its defense, he's sold a ton of books.)

What Goldberg believes is that fascism comes from the left. I think he makes a credible argument that it did but not such a great argument that it could today. His response to that, incidentally, is that he is defining facsism in a way that is limited to what he regards as its essentials and does not necessarily include the way in which it manifested itself in Germany. But I'm still not persuaded.

illusory tenant said...

"What Goldberg believes is that fascism comes from the left."

Isn't that exactly what the Publisher's Weekly blurb said?

In any event, I'll take your own review under advisement, as I admit I have no intention of actually reading the thing. I've already read more than enough of his silly NRO columns.

The last Regnery-style book I indulged was Mark Levin's Men In Black, which was such an indescribably awful and embarrassing experience I still wake in terror at the occasional nightmare that somebody, under authority of the USAPATRIOT Act, might investigate my borrowing record at the Milwaukee Public Library and find it listed there.

Clutch said...

But are there fascist elements in American politics? Are they disproportionately "pushed" by conservatives? Can you demonstrate that by "clear argument?" Or do these suggestions merely turn up the political heat?

I might be able to demonstrate it, but I really don't know. It would be hard, at the very least. Which is why I carefully expressed the point in terms of what I think, how this seems to me, and how I use these terms. So qualified, it's doubtful that this "turns up the political heat" in any significant way; I'm simply stating my view, in order to point out that your psychoanalysis of your interlocutors certainly doesn't apply to me. I'm neither presenting my position as bare fact, nor arguing that you ought to accept it on the evidential strength of anything I've written here.

Clutch said...

"Are you so sure they're not -- at least some of them -- merely people unimpressed by weak reasoning, irrespective of their attitude towards the conclusion?"

They could be and perhaps at some point one of them will explain the continuity between Nazis and the American right or how it is that there are similarities between conservatism and Nazism that are somehow different and more significant than the similarities between Nazism and progressivism. I know that you think you did but I am unpersuaded.

Again the mindreading fails, since I don't think I did this. At most I pointed out that your argument to the contrary was dubious indeed, relying on multiple endpoints reasoning, and overlooking that some of the measures of Nazism that you selected as non-conservative really do characterize American conservatism in clear ways, and to non-trivial degrees.

This is mere argument analysis, and falls well short of holding that American conservatism is more reflective of fascism than American liberalism. Naturally it is nothing like the vacuous claim that there is a "continuity between Nazis and the American right". There is a continuity between silly putty and supernovas, after all.

nickschweitzer said...

The argument is made very decisively that the Nazi's are the inevitable result of collectivism. For a good argument regarding this idea, I suggest reading F.A. Hayek's work, "The Road to Serfdom".

Though it is important to note that it was written during WWII, and for a British audience. Often times people misread what he said because "left" and "right" and "liberal" and "conservative" have different meanings there than here.