Americans have never really understood ideological warfare. Our gut-level assumption is that everybody in the world really wants the same comfortable material success we have. We use “extremist” as a negative epithet. Even the few fanatics and revolutionary idealists we have, whatever their political flavor, expect everybody else to behave like a bourgeois.
We don’t expect ideas to matter — or, when they do, we expect them to matter only because people have been flipped into a vulnerable mode by repression or poverty. Thus all our divagation about the “root causes” of Islamic terrorism, as if the terrorists’ very clear and very ideological account of their own theory and motivations is somehow not to be believed.
By contrast, ideological and memetic warfare has been a favored tactic for all of America’s three great adversaries of the last hundred years — Nazis, Communists, and Islamists. All three put substantial effort into cultivating American proxies to influence U.S. domestic policy and foreign policy in favorable directions. Yes, the Nazis did this, through organizations like the “German-American Bund” that was outlawed when World War II went hot. Today, the Islamists are having some success at manipulating our politics through fairly transparent front organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
But it was the Soviet Union, in its day, that was the master of this game. They made dezinformatsiya (disinformation) a central weapon of their war against “the main adversary”, the U.S. They conducted memetic subversion against the U.S. on many levels at a scale that is only now becoming clear as historians burrow through their archives and ex-KGB officers sell their memoirs.
The Soviets had an entire “active measures” department devoted to churning out anti-American dezinformatsiya. A classic example is the rumor that AIDS was the result of research aimed at building a ‘race bomb’ that would selectively kill black people.
On a different level, in the 1930s members of CPUSA (the Communist Party of the USA) got instructions from Moscow to promote non-representational art so that the US’s public spaces would become arid and ugly.
Americans hearing that last one tend to laugh. But the Soviets, following the lead of Marxist theoreticians like Antonio Gramsci, took very seriously the idea that by blighting the U.S.’s intellectual and esthetic life, they could sap Americans’ will to resist Communist ideology and an eventual Communist takeover. The explicit goal was to erode the confidence of America’s ruling class and create an ideological vacuum to be filled by Marxism-Leninism.
Accordingly, the Soviet espionage apparat actually ran two different kinds of network: one of spies, and one of agents of influence. The agents of influence had the minor function of recruiting spies (as, for example, when Kim Philby was brought in by one of his tutors at Cambridge), but their major function was to spread dezinformatsiya, to launch memetic weapons that would damage and weaken the West.
Eric S. Raymond, “Gramscian damage”, Armed and Dangerous, 2006-02-11.
April 22, 2016
March 21, 2016
During the war, the Allied nations had been told that it was being fought to make the world safe for democracy; but when it was won they found that the opposite was true. Instead of being safe, democracy was left so rickety that one dictator after the other emerged from out of the chaos, to establish autocracies of various kinds in Poland, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Austria and Germany. These dictators held one thing in common — abhorrence of Bolshevism; therefore they stood in opposition, not only to the old democratic order, but also to the new Marxist order, which had taken root in Russia and which during the final lap of the war and throughout its aftermath threatened every non-Communist country.
Of the dictators, the one who attained the highest historical significance was Adolf Hitler (1889-1945): one of the most extraordinary men in history. He was born at Braunau-am-Inn on 20th April 1889. In the war he had risen to the rank of corporal, and after it he became the seventh member of an obscure political group in Munich, which called itself the “German Workers’ Party”. In 1923, when the French were in occupation of the Ruhr, and were fostering a Communist separatist movement in the Rhineland and a Catholic separatist movement in Bavaria, he sprang to fame. On 9th November, he and Ludendorff attempted a coup d’état in Munich, and although it failed, his trial was a political triumph, because it made him one of the most talked of men in Germany. During his imprisonment in the fortress of Landsberg am Lech, he wrote the first volume of his Mein Kampf.
Hitler was the living personification of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. As the one he raised Germany from out of the slough of degradation into which the Treaty of Versailles and the inflation which followed the French occupation of the Ruhr had engulfed her, and restored her national dignity and economy. As the other, he brutalized vast numbers of her people and made her name stink in the nostrils of the world.
He was a consummate psychologist and probably the world’s greatest demagogue, a man who could plumb to its deepest depths the irrational in human nature, and distil from the emotions of the masses potent political intoxicants. Above all, he had absolute faith in himself and a super-rational belief in his invincibility, which endowed him with an irresistible personal magnetism. As a statesman, his ability to sense and grasp the psychological moment for action was his outstanding gift. Once he said to Hermann Rauschning:
“No matter what you attempt, if an idea is not yet mature, you will not be able to realise it. I know that as an artist, and I know it as a statesman. Then there is only one thing to do: have patience, wait, try again, wait again. In the subconscious, the work goes on. It matures, sometimes it dies. Unless I have the inner, incorruptible conviction: this is the solution, I do nothing. Not even if the whole party tries to drive me to action. I will not act; I will wait, no matter what happens. But if the voice speaks, then I know the time has come to act.”
When that moment arrives, “When a decision has to be taken”, Goering once said to Sir Nevile Henderson, “none of us count more than the stones on which we were standing. It is the Fuehrer alone who decides.”
Rauschning, no flatterer of Hitler, writes:
“I have often had the opportunity of examining my own experience, and I must admit that in Hitler’s company I have again and again come under a spell which I was only later able to shake off, a sort of hypnosis. He is, indeed, a remarkable man. It leads nowhere to depreciate him and speak mockingly of him. He is simply a sort of great medicine-man. He is literally that, in the full sense of the term. We have gone back so far toward the savage state that the medicine-man has become king amongst us.
This rings true. Hitler was the product of the savagery of his age; he fitted it like a glove the hand. In this lay that inescapable power which made him the enchanter of the German people.
J.F.C. Fuller, The Conduct of War, 1789-1961, 1961.
February 27, 2016
I figured that Marx had just fallen into a similar trap. He’d probably made a few vague plans, like “Oh, decisions will be made by a committee of workers,” and “Property will be held in common and consensus democracy will choose who gets what,” and felt like the rest was just details. That’s the sort of error I could at least sympathize with, despite its horrendous consequences.
But in fact Marx was philosophically opposed, as a matter of principle, to any planning about the structure of communist governments or economies. He would come out and say “It is irresponsible to talk about how communist governments and economies will work.” He believed it was a scientific law, analogous to the laws of physics, that once capitalism was removed, a perfect communist government would form of its own accord. There might be some very light planning, a couple of discussions, but these would just be epiphenomena of the governing historical laws working themselves out. Just as, a dam having been removed, a river will eventually reach the sea somehow, so capitalism having been removed society will eventually reach a perfect state of freedom and cooperation.
Singer blames Hegel. Hegel viewed all human history as the World-Spirit trying to recognize and incarnate itself. As it overcomes its various confusions and false dichotomies, it advances into forms that more completely incarnate the World-Spirit and then moves onto the next problem. Finally, it ends with the World-Spirit completely incarnated – possibly in the form of early 19th century Prussia – and everything is great forever.
Marx famously exports Hegel’s mysticism into a materialistic version where the World-Spirit operates upon class relations rather than the interconnectedness of all things, and where you don’t come out and call it the World-Spirit – but he basically keeps the system intact. So once the World-Spirit resolves the dichotomy between Capitalist and Proletariat, then it can more completely incarnate itself and move on to the next problem. Except that this is the final problem (the proof of this is trivial and is left as exercise for the reader) so the World-Spirit becomes fully incarnate and everything is great forever. And you want to plan for how that should happen? Are you saying you know better than the World-Spirit, Comrade?
I am starting to think I was previously a little too charitable toward Marx. My objections were of the sort “You didn’t really consider the idea of welfare capitalism with a social safety net” or “communist society is very difficult to implement in principle,” whereas they should have looked more like “You are basically just telling us to destroy all of the institutions that sustain human civilization and trust that what is baaaasically a giant planet-sized ghost will make sure everything works out.”
Scott Alexander, “Book Review: Singer on Marx”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-13.
January 25, 2016
January 12, 2016
On 16 June 1941, as Hitler readied his forces for Operation Barbarossa, Josef Goebbels looked forward to the new order that the Nazis would impose on a conquered Russia. There would be no come-back, he wrote, for capitalists nor priests nor Tsars. Rather, in the place of debased, Jewish Bolshevism, the Wehrmacht would deliver “der echte Sozialismus”: real socialism.
Goebbels never doubted that he was a socialist. He understood Nazism to be a better and more plausible form of socialism than that propagated by Lenin. Instead of spreading itself across different nations, it would operate within the unit of the Volk.
So total is the cultural victory of the modern Left that the merely to recount this fact is jarring. But few at the time would have found it especially contentious. As George Watson put it in The Lost Literature of Socialism:
It is now clear beyond all reasonable doubt that Hitler and his associates believed they were socialists, and that others, including democratic socialists, thought so too.
The clue is in the name. Subsequent generations of Leftists have tried to explain away the awkward nomenclature of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party as either a cynical PR stunt or an embarrassing coincidence. In fact, the name meant what it said.
Hitler told Hermann Rauschning, a Prussian who briefly worked for the Nazis before rejecting them and fleeing the country, that he had admired much of the thinking of the revolutionaries he had known as a young man; but he felt that they had been talkers, not doers. “I have put into practice what these peddlers and pen pushers have timidly begun,” he boasted, adding that “the whole of National Socialism” was “based on Marx”.
Marx’s error, Hitler believed, had been to foster class war instead of national unity – to set workers against industrialists instead of conscripting both groups into a corporatist order. His aim, he told his economic adviser, Otto Wagener, was to “convert the German Volk to socialism without simply killing off the old individualists” – by which he meant the bankers and factory owners who could, he thought, serve socialism better by generating revenue for the state. “What Marxism, Leninism and Stalinism failed to accomplish,” he told Wagener, “we shall be in a position to achieve.”
Daniel Hannan, “Leftists become incandescent when reminded of the socialist roots of Nazism”, Telegraph, 2014-02-25.
December 22, 2015
Okay, it’s perhaps a bit more than just a thumbnail sketch, but it’s still a good introduction:
A basic definition of “economics” is given by Thomas Sowell (PBUH, may he live a thousand years), which I paraphrase here: “Economics is a system of allocating scarce resources which have alternate uses.” The key word I want to focus on here is scarce. It is not abundance but scarcity that lies at the heart of economics. Scarcity of resources is what makes economics a fundamental property of nature. Scarcity is an inherent, inseparable, eternal property of reality. It is not a problem that can be solved — it is bound up in the laws of physics that govern the cosmos.
The necessities of life — water, food, clothing, shelter — are drawn from scarce resources which have alternate uses and thus require a method of allocation. We generally think of systems like “capitalism” or “communism” when we think of economic systems, and there are others (feudalism, for example). But let’s boil down the allocation method to two basic kinds: market-based, where scarce resources are allocated according to supply-and-demand dynamics; and command-based, where a central authority divvies up resources according to some set of (usually arbitrary) rules.
Nearly every variant of market-based and command-based economies has been tried over the centuries, and the market-driven economy has emerged as the best solution we have found so far. It turns out that market-based economies work far better than command-based economies for one simple reason: because of what F. A. Hayek called “the knowledge problem”. Hayek’s insight was that allocating scarce resources is a very complex business in anything other than a trivially small economy, and there’s no way that a centrally-managed economy can hope to understand all the decisions and variables that go into making the production of goods and services possible. There is no way for a centralized body to determine how to allocate scarce resources efficiently across the hugely-complex landscape of a functioning economy. Mis-allocation of resources is almost always the near-term result, with the middle-to-long-term result being economic collapse.
Market-based economies use competition and pricing to guide the allocation of scarce resources. Supply and demand fluctuate, and the marketplace uses pricing of goods and services as a signaling device for both buyers and sellers. If supply is high but demand is low, prices drop and the resources that go into the low-demand item are diverted to a good or service where demand (thus price) is higher. If demand is high but supply is low, prices will rise and prompt competitors to enter the market at a lower price or (if the resource is inherently limited, as with beach-front property) drive more intense competition among buyers.
All of this is Economics 101, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a red diaper baby Communist or an Ayn-Randian hyper-capitalist, you have no choice but to work under these constraints. You live in a reality constrained by scarce resources that have alternate uses; there is no magical elixir or scientific discovery that will exempt you from it.
The anthropologist Richard Sosis examined the history of two hundred communes founded in the United States in the nineteenth century. Which kind of commune survived longest? Sosis found that the difference was stark: just 6% of the secular communes were still functioning twenty years after their founding, compared to 39% of religious communes. He found one master variable: the number of costly sacrifices that each commune demanded from its members. It was things like giving up alcohol and tobacco, fasting for days at a time, conforming to a communal dress code or hairstyle, or cutting ties with outsiders. For religious communes, the effect was perfectly linear: the more sacrifice a commune demanded, the longer it lasted. But Sosis was surprised to discover that demands for sacrifice did not help secular communes. Most of them failed within eight years, and there was no correlation between sacrifice and longevity.
Jonathan Haidt, quoted by Scott Alexander in “List Of The Passages I Highlighted In My Copy Of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind“, Slate Star Codex, 2014-06-12.
December 8, 2015
Patrick Crozier says we shouldn’t automatically believe the “common wisdom” about the career of Senator Joe McCarthy:
The vast majority of books and articles written on the subject claim that [Senator McCarthy] made it all up. M. Stanton Evans begs to differ. In Blacklisted by History: the Untold Story of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his Fight Against America’s Enemies he argues that in the vast majority of cases those accused by McCarthy of being communists were exactly that. Some were out and out spies. Some were agents of influence. Some were happy to help in the running of communist front groups. But the argument still stands: they were aiding a power that was hostile to the United States.
Evans comes to this judgement mainly by leafing through the files that have become available. These include the FBI files and what have become known as the Venona transcripts: Soviet messages de-crypted by the US military in the 1940s.
It is important to realise that these weren’t just spy games. Communist activity had a real impact. In the early 1940s, for instance, John Stewart Service, the State Department’s man in China produced a string of reports. In them he praised Mao’s Communists to the hilt claiming that they were democrats and successfully fighting the Japanese while condemning Chiang Kai Shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) for being incompetent, corrupt and uninterested in prosecuting the war. This was a travesty of the truth. Reports like this led to the KMT being starved of money and weapons which may well have tipped the balance in the Civil War leading, in turn, to the misery that was subsequently inflicted on the people of mainland China.
So, if he was right why has he been condemned and why does he continue to be condemned by history? Some of it appears to have been McCarthy’s own fault. He puffed up his war record. He over-stated his case. He bullied witnesses. He made the odd mistake. He criticised revered war heroes. Some if it was snobbery. McCarthy was from the wrong side of the tracks. There was no Ivy League education for him. He left school early but through hard work still managed to become a lawyer. He was also a Catholic. But most of it was because he was up against the combined forces of the communists and the establishment.
The Tydings Committee – a special sub-committee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – was established to get to the bottom of his initial 1950 claim that there were 57 communist agents working in the State Department. It did no such thing. In fact it didn’t even try.
According to Evans it was a cover up from start to finish. There was almost no attempt to get at the facts. Often a denial from the accused was sufficient. At one point they even asked the leader of the US Communist Party if certain people were members. He had to be prompted to say “no”. Most of the hostile questioning was not aimed at the accused – who were often evasive – but McCarthy himself. An inordinate amount of time was given over to attempting to prove that McCarthy had initially claimed a figure of 205 rather than 57 – as if it mattered. There was a definite suggestion that State Department personnel files had been tampered with. It was no great surprise when the official report concluded that McCarthy had made it all up.
November 5, 2015
The Berlin Wall was a symbol of the depravity and viciousness of the Marxist idea. Karl Marx was a pure hate monger masquerading as a social philosopher. His ideas may, in the end, be summarized thus: wealth can be gained only by stealing from others, and thus successful people are evil, and thus it is okay to threaten or kill rich people (or even people who are just a bit better off than you are), to steal their belongings, and to threaten anyone who might in the future have more stuff than you do. If you somehow get more things than other people, it is okay for other people to take your stuff, and if you resist, it is okay to beat you up or kill you.
Even more succinctly, Marxism is the idea that envy is laudable, and should be turned into social policy with the use of pervasive violence.
I am putting this more bluntly and baldly than the average Marxist would. They prefer concealing their central idea beneath a heavy blanket of words. They dress up their “philosophy” in avant garde costumes, adding layers of verbiage, complicated and counterfactual claims about language and logic, bizarre ideas about the nature of history, etc., all in the service of keeping people from seeing what they’re actually suggesting. What lies underneath is nothing much more than hate of people who have more stuff than you do, justified by little or nothing more than wanting to take what they have for yourself.
When you base your beliefs on this sort of foundation, the violence that proceeds is not an accident or the result of an improper understanding or implementation of an otherwise fine program. The violence is the direct and intentional result of the underlying program. The violence is the entire purpose of the underlying program.
In spite of the claims of apologists, the Marxism that fell twenty five years ago was the true Marxism. You cannot force people to work whether they get any benefit of it or not if they can flee from you, so you have to build walls. The Berlin Wall was not an aberration, it was the the only way to keep the quite literal slaves from fleeing their bondage. You cannot take stuff from people who have it without goons with guns, since they will not want to hand their material possessions over, so you bring in goons with guns to scour your population. In a free market, you get ahead by making things people want like bread or telephones, but in a Marxist society, the only way to get ahead is through gaining political power, and so people who are exceptionally talented at deploying violence and thuggery and are ambitious rise to the top of your society. Stalin or someone like him was not an accident, he was an inevitability.
Perry Metzger, “A memorable anniversary, and those who would forget it”, Samizdata, 2014-11-09.
September 26, 2015
There’s this underlying tone, whenever you see people talking about the “Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy to destroy Germany” and the “stab in the back” theory of why Germany lost World War I, that the latter was come up with out of whole cloth by the German aristocracy and military while the former was Hitler’s own insane twist on the theory.
Unfortunately, neither one of those statements is entirely true. First, while Germany would have ended up losing World War I even without its internal issues, the fact of the matter is that the morale issues and general disaffection that led the German high command to sue for peace in 1918 were exacerbated by socialist agitation. The most obvious result of this was the Kiel mutiny, when the sailors of the German navy refused to go out and have a last “glorious” battle with the British and proceeded to set up a socialist-led soldiers and workers council, and eventually forced the German government to overthrow the Kaiser. In other words, the “stab in the back” happened — it’s just that it was more of a result of Germany’s loss of the war than the cause of it.
As to the “Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy” — well, the awkward thing is that a disproportionate amount of Jews were involved in leftism in this period. Many of the leaders of the Spartacus League, which was heavily involved in the 1919 Spartacist uprising that attempted to take over Berlin, were Jewish, as were many within the Bolshevik uprising in Russia itself. The reason for this, of course, was that a disproportionate number of Jews were intellectuals, and intellectuals are often attracted to leftism. Now, the emphasis on Judaism was part and parcel of a longstanding pattern of German and European anti-Semitism, while the destruction of Germany/the German people was a case of a toxic combination of “They believe, as I do, that their policies are bad for Germany” and projection.
However, it should be noted that both of these theories, like all the really powerful lies, had a little kernel of truth in them, and a lot of belief behind them. There had been a socialist uprising in Germany that served as the straw that broke the camel’s back, and there were a number of Jews involved in the German left.
Sarah Hoyt, “Social Injustice – 60 Guilders”, According to Hoyt, 2015-07-31.
September 9, 2015
August 17, 2015
If twentieth-century history teaches us anything, it’s that political religions spell trouble. Soviet Communism, Italian Fascism, and Nazism aren’t just called “political religions” by scholars today. In all three cases, observers at the time recognized and worried about the movements’ religious natures. Those natures were no accident; Mussolini, for instance, called his ideology “not only a faith, but a religion that is conquering the laboring masses of the Italian people.”
One reason that observers saw the great totalitarianisms as religious was that each had its idol: Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Germany, and Lenin in Russia, followed by Stalin. Take Grigory Zinoviev’s description of Lenin: “He is really the chosen one of millions. He is the leader by the Grace of God. He is the authentic figure of a leader such as is born once in 500 years.” Stalin’s cult of personality was far more developed and sometimes explicitly idolatrous, as in the poem that addressed the despot as “O Thou mighty one, chief of the peoples, Who callest man to life, Who awakest the earth to fruitfulness.” And in Italy, writes the historian Michael Burleigh, “intellectual sycophants and propagandists characterised [Mussolini] as a prodigy of genius in terms that would not have embarrassed Stalin: messiah, saviour, man of destiny, latterday Caesar, Napoleon, and so forth.”
To point out these words’ uncomfortable similarity to the journalists’ praises of Obama is not to equate the throngs who bowed down to totalitarian dictators with even the most worshipful Obamaphiles. But the manner of worship is related, as perhaps it must be in any human society that chooses to adore a human being. The widespread renaming of villages, schools, and factories after Stalin, for example, finds its modern-day democratic parallel in a rash of schools that have already rechristened themselves after Obama, to say nothing of the hundreds of young sentimentalists who informally adopted the candidate’s middle name during the presidential race. Even the Obama campaign’s ubiquitous logo — the letter O framing a rising sun — would not have surprised the scholar Eric Voegelin. In The Political Religions (1938), Voegelin traced rulers who employed the image of the sun — a symbol of “the radiation of power along a hierarchy of rulers and offices that ranges from God at the top down to the subject at the bottom” — from the pharaoh Akhenaton to Louis XIV and eventually to Hitler.
Benjamin A. Plotinsky, “The Varieties of Liberal Enthusiasm: The Left’s political zealotry increasingly resembles religious experience”, City Journal, 2010-02-20.
August 10, 2015
Published on 25 Feb 2015
What happens when the prices of all goods are controlled? Under communism, or a command economy, this is exactly what occurs. As a result, all of the effects of price controls become amplified: there are even more shortages or surpluses of goods, lower product quality, longer lines and more search costs, more losses in gains from trade, and more misallocation of resources. As we have seen, universal price controls destroy market coordination and create a system of planned chaos in which it becomes more difficult for consumers to get the goods and services they want and need.
August 9, 2015
David Warren on the late Robert Conquest:
[Robert Conquest’s] grand works of historical investigation — The Great Terror (1968), documenting the incredible extent of Stalin’s purges; and, The Harvest of Sorrow (1986), surveying the catastrophic effects of his collectivization — were books of remarkable ambition; of bold conception and real consequence. Other writers had (often at the cost of their careers) reported upon Soviet failings. But they had done so in ways modest enough to be ignored, or dismissed by the fashionable Left as “biased.” The broad, massive, systematic nature of Conquest’s researches was something new. It cracked even the faith of many diehard Communists. The history he told fit together; it was all meticulously sourced; it was overwhelming. There was, as it rose on the horizon, too much to deny.
Yet others could still simply block it out. For people believe what they want to believe, and may resolutely look away from what they do not want to see, or even chute the cocksure laugh, in the face of the mounting tsunami of evidence that finally washes them away.
Conquest was also a light or minor poet, and verse translator, of skill, talent, and integrity. He moved, privately, more in literary than in political circles. His closest friends were such as Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin; another was Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
He was no ideologue, and judging by the way he burned through wives, not a moralist either. Outwardly, in the tiny glimpse I had of him, he was not passionate or irascible. Inwardly, he was surely “driven.” But I would count him as a detached artist, working in a rather unusual modern genre: the author of elaborately proven epics of debunkment.
It was not Conquest, incidentally, but Amis who proposed that the revision of The Great Terror, published after the Berlin Wall fell, should be re-entitled, I Told You So, You Fucking Fools. But Conquest was content with, A Reassessment. He presented his facts emotionlessly. This magnified his impact, as historian. When he had a provocation to offer, that he was entirely unable to resist, he would put it safely into verse form, so that it wouldn’t be noticed.