Friday, September 13, 2013

Does Nazism = Marxism = Liberalism?

Is it allowed in Obama's America to object to the idea that a departed Marxist was a "Marxist Humanist Mensch"?

That's what John Podhoretz did when "leftist social critic Marshall Berman" was recently so eulogized.  He reacted, perhaps a little too quickly.  His tweet read: "Imagine a tribute to a Nazi humanist mensch.”

After a while he decided that he ought to apologize.

Actually, the idea that a thinker of poisonous ideas could be a mensch is not that outrageous.  People can espouse vicious ideas in their writing and still be kind to children and animals.  The point is that in Obama's America you are not allowed to call a dead Nazi social critic a mensch.  But you are allowed to do it for dead Marxists.

And if Nazism is an abomination, leading to the death of millions, what about liberalism, or "Liberal Fascism", as Jonah Goldberg so delicately puts it.  It led to the suffering of millions in the Great Depression and now it is creating great discomfort for millions in the Great Recession.

The point is that all these political doctrines -- Nazism, Marxism, and liberalism -- call for the supremacy of the political ruling class.  In all of them, politics and political power trumps everything.

Any sensible person would regard such ideas with suspicion.  Of course a ruling class, or would-be ruling class, would believe in the claptrap of political supremacy.

But not modern conservatism.  And that has to mean something.

Let us stipulate that Nazism, Marxism, and liberalism have a valid point.

Nazism grew out of the era of German Liberation during the Napoleonic Wars when German intellectuals like Fichte desperately tried to create an idea of German nationhood to push back against the endless imperial invasions of the French.  And the "volkisch" ideas of German Romanticism had a point too in honoring the solidarity and the community of traditional folkways.  A lot of the thinkers working on this were real "mensch" and good for them.  It all only became a murdering totalitarianism after the German defeat in World War I and the Germans, living in what they knew was the most advanced country in the world, started flailing around for an Answer to their problems.

Marxism grew out of the explosive industrial revolution that seemed to be turning workers into mechanical slaves.  It was plausible to worry that the newly powerful capitalists were something to fear and something to be fought.  Of course, Marxism was dead wrong.  But nobody knew that back in the 1840s.

Liberalism grew out of the same soil, the idea that someone had to supervise the huge new corporations that dominated railways and steel and oil.  Otherwise they would run amok.  It all seemed so plausible back in the 1890s.

Meanwhile, capitalism was crunching along, midway through raising daily income from $3 per capita to the present $120 per capita, based on the Invisible Hand doctrine that the market was self ordering.  Absent state power, the new capitalism would behave like an unconscious organism, according to Herbert Spencer.  People were like cells, obliviously doing their thing in the middle of a vast social organism, but still helping the whole thing thrive.  You believe stuff like that, fashionable people howled?  Give me a break!

Here's how I look at it.  Think of Nazism, Marxism, and liberalism as "plausible lies."

It makes sense that in a cruel world of knives in the back (German: DolchstoƟ), you need a powerful nation built upon a people that share language and race.  Only it doesn't.  It turns out that humans are perfectly capable of cooperating across language and race barriers, so long as the language and the race baiters shut up.  Nazism is a lie.

It makes sense that individual workers would be helpless before the thundering power of Machine Industry.  Only it turns out that Machine Industry works much better when people are treated like humans and encouraged to be "self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility (German: verantwortungsfreudig)."  Marxism is a lie.

It makes sense that the economy would be a complete shambles unless "large-minded" administrators and experts were given the authority to organize things rationally.  Only it turns out that millions of producer and consumer decisions easily outperform the expert and the administrator.  That's because the millions are trying and failing and learning things in their millions, whereas the government expert and the government administrator can only try a few things, and cannot admit when they are wrong.  Liberalism is a lie.

That leaves us with the implausible truth that voluntary social cooperation is the way "forward" -- a voluntary social cooperation freed from a sovereign political hegemony that endlessly orders everyone around.

To figure out how that works you can do a lot worse than listen to Edmund Burke, the "first conservative."
  1. No Lois Lerners.  Government administrators must not use their power to despoil ordinary citizens, e.g., "dangerous" Tea Partiers.  Burke started this revolutionary notion with his Impeachment of Warren Hastings.
  2. No religious persecution.  Let people worship their own gods.  Burke lost his seat in Parliament for supporting Catholic emancipation.
  3. No rule from afar.  It's stupid to think you can rule America from Westminster, said Burke.
  4. No rule of the experts and mechanics.  The human condition is not a mechanical toy.  Keep the "sophisters, economists, and calculators" off the levers of power.  Burke predicted that the French Revolution would end in the gallows.  OK, he was wrong; it ended in the guillotine.
So there you have it: three Plausible Lies and one Implausible Truth.  But why be amazed?  Truth, they say is stranger than fiction.  Because fiction always has to be plausible.

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