Quotulatiousness

February 14, 2017

An Islamic Reformation? No, that’s not quite the way to go…

Filed under: Europe, History, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Colby Cosh points out that the historical Christian equivalents to modern day ISIS fanatics are not the Puritans, but the so-weird-it-must-be-fiction Anabaptist Kingdom of Münster in 1534-5:

One thing about this sculpture group [the International Monument to the Reformation] is: the foursome is terrifying. The depiction would not be so accurate and meaningful if it weren’t. Knox, in particular, has the face of a killer. The four men wear clerical robes and have long beards. They wield holy books as if they were weapons, which, in their hands, they were. The Reformed Protestant faith is a faith of the book; it sought to displace traditions, hierarchies, customs, culture, and authorities, and to replace them with the Word of God.

In its extreme manifestations, the Protestant Reformation was an annihilating tidal force of literal iconoclasm—the destruction of religious images and relics. There is still a visible scar across the face of northern Europe resulting from the preaching of Calvin, Zwingli, and Knox: in a belt from Scotland to Switzerland, you can find damaged antiquities, desecrated church reliefs, physically insulted Madonnas.

The attacks on religious art are easy to date: they spread outward from Zurich in much the same manner as the epidemic European political revolutions of 1848. Holland is where the iconoclastic rioting was most intense, and it arguably still influences the Dutch aesthetic character. They have a taste for minimalism and abstraction you can detect in Mondrian or M.C. Escher or the mathematician-artist Piet Hein. (Kenneth Clark made this connection in passing in his television series Civilisation, linking Mondrian to Pieter Saenredam’s 17th-century paintings of spare, whitewashed Calvinist church interiors.)

The Protestant Reformation had many personalities. One of them, ejected from the mainstream of European history in Darwinian fashion, was “crazy as all hell.” (Read about the Kingdom of Münster and tell me that, even correcting the record implicitly for propaganda and prejudice, this wasn’t just 16th-century ISIL.) When commentators talk of an “Islamic Reformation” they are looking back at reformers of tolerant, generous spirit, scholars like Erasmus and Melanchthon who infused the word “humanist” with the positive connotations it still has.

The Kingdom of Münster was founded by fanatic Anabaptists after throwing out the existing Lutheran local council and driving away the Bishop and his troops in 1534:

So in 1534, with most non-Anabaptist men leaving and large number of Anabaptists immigrating into the city to be part of the upcoming “big show”, the city council (to this point solidly Lutheran) was taken over legally by the Anabaptists, and the ruling Bishop of the city was driven out of the town. But the Bishop and his soldiers (they had such things then) did not go far. Unhappy with the treatment they received, they laid siege to the city and blocked any supplies from entering and leaving the city.

With everything falling into place, the people of the city began to refer to themselves as “Israelites” and the city as “New Jerusalem”. Jan Matthys now introduced the idea of a community of goods and all property of all citizens who left (sorry ladies, there’s a new sheriff in town) was confiscated and all food was made public. People could keep what they had, but they were required to leave their houses unlocked at all times. The use of money was eliminated, and all resourced were now pooled for the common good. No longer was there any idea of private property, everything was owned by the public.

One day, convinced and prophesying that God would protect him, Matthys rode out to meet some of the Bishops troops who were laying siege to the city. Charging right into a group of opposing soldiers, Jan Matthys proved a poor prophet and was made quick work of by the soldiers. The soldiers placed his head on a pole for the entire town to see, and did other really, really bad things to his body.

And the story may have ended there (sound familiar), but on of the people Matthys had baptized earlier was a charismatic young man named Jan van Leyden. The story goes that after Matthys’ death, van Leyden is said to have run through the streets naked, foaming at the mouth, and speaking incoherently before collapsing and remaining unresponsive for 3 days. Van Leyden claimed that God revealed many things to him during these three days, and things in Strasberg were going to change. Oh were they ever.

After a few victories over the bishop’s armies, van Leyden had himself anointed “King of Righteousness” and the “King of Zion” – the absolute prophet and ruler of the city whose word was equivalent to God’s. Any resistance to his rule was ruthlessly suppressed.

Van Leyden then instituted polygamy in the city. He used the Old Testament to justify it (like all great nut jobs), but it was well known that van Leyden had a desire for Matthys’ young widow. But aside from lust (van Leyden had 16 wives!!!), polygamy did serve a practical purpose in the city. It helped deal with a ratio of women to men in the city being about 3 to 1, and also was seen as a way to increase the population of the city to 144,000 (required for the beginning of the end).

At this point, a few people became a little unhappy with the “direction” the city is moving. Van Leyden, a master of persuasion, had all resisters are executed (men) or imprisoned (women). One of these “unhappy” people was one of van Leyden’s 16 wives. In a “women belong it the kitchen” moment, van Leyden publicly beheaded her himself and trampled on her body.

February 1, 2017

QotD: Che Guevara and his modern fans

Filed under: Americas, History, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Denial is also a common factor among people on the left who want to believe in the failed experiment known as Communism. This is nothing new, since Walter Duranty of the New York Times was famous for denying the atrocities of Stalin and is still honored by the media elite to this day. Though some of the worst deniers are those who want to believe the romantic story of Cuba being liberated by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro from the evil grasp of the Batista regime. The Cuban revolution is by far one of the greatest stories ever sold.

People are always shocked to learn that the Cuban revolution succeeded with little resistance since Castro had bribed the top brass in Batista’s military to stand down. It also didn’t help that the Batista regime was so unpopular among the people that there weren’t too many who were willing to risk their lives to defend it. It’s also funny that Che Guevara is thought of as the George Washington of guerrilla warfare, but in reality Barney Fife was a better comparison. Actually I think that may be an insult to Barney Fife because at least he wasn’t dumb enough to shoot himself in the chin, like our “guerilla master” did. His failed revolutions in Bolivia and the Congo are a direct testament to his skills as a master in guerilla warfare.

The one thing that Che was good at was killing hundreds, if not thousands of unarmed people, including women and children. The man was such a humanitarian that he had a wall in his office knocked down so that he could have a nice view of the killing fields, when the “enemies of the state” were being purged. Hipsters who like to wear his T-Shirts as always shocked to hear that he wasn’t a selfless rebel who wanted to help the working class, except to take them to the killing fields of course.

To all the hippies, artists, musicians, and actors who like to venerate the man, you are the type of person that Che despised the most. If you had long hair, wore blue jeans and listened to Rock ‘n’ Roll or had any flare for the arts, you would likely find yourself thrown into a labor camp.

Sean Gangol, “Denial”, Libertarian Enterprise, 2015-07-19.

January 29, 2017

The pundits only seem to know two Orwell books…

Filed under: Books, Britain, History, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

As Colby Cosh rightly says, you can find cheap “we’re now living in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four” pieces everywhere. On the evidence, you’d have to say that the majority of editorial writers working today know of Orwell for only two of his (admittedly brilliant) novels. I’m not an Orwell scholar (I’m actually no kind of scholar at all), but I’ve read much more of Orwell’s work — spoiler: he really was a socialist — and we sell the man’s message very far short if it can only be used as a quick literary check-off that the current president of the United States is bad:

I’ll start by admitting that I have a hipster’s childish, proprietary feeling toward the works of George Orwell. It’s a common disorder. Being an admirer of the man’s work I ought, reasonably, to be delighted by anything that makes it more popular. But, dammit, all anybody ever buys are the hits.

Donald Trump’s election to the U.S. presidency has set off such a mighty public hunger for Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four that the novel shot to the top of Amazon’s fiction charts. That, in turn, has created a land rush in Orwell-Trump thinkpieces. The Guardian even did a full workup of “Orwell experts” who all assure us that the parallels between the 1949 book and the current situation are strong and undeniable, with claims like “Trump takes doublethink to a new extreme” and “Trump is not O’Brien. He is more like a cut-price version of Big Brother himself.”

You can find “Are we living in Orwell’s 1984 (yet)?” articles printed in any year of the last 40 or so. But 2017 has already seen dozens, maybe hundreds. And the great majority of them seem to answer: “Yes, definitely. Here we are. Enjoy your Victory Gin.”

This is not a healthy or sensible reaction to the election of a bold, chauvinistic liar. That, after all, may be a good description most of the heads of government that have ever existed — the leaders under which most modern humans have lived. You’re allowed be afraid of or discouraged by Trump without losing your mind altogether. He displays a great deal of the style and technique of a classic caudillo, a Juan Peron or a Ferdinand Marcos; no sane liberal can be happy to see these things brought to the American scene. Trump has terrible power and may abuse it. He may be awful for the world, may even initiate wars.

In interests of full disclosure, this article triggered me enough to buy another couple of volumes of The Complete Works of George Orwell, these being from the post-WW2 era. I don’t yet have the full set, but I’m working on it (the full Orwell bibliography can be found here). I found A Patriot After All: 1940-1941 and Keeping Our Little Corner Clean: 1942-1943 to be absolutely fascinating, not only as informal war chronology, but also as a view into Orwell’s reasons for simultaneously fighting against totalitarianism in both Fascist and Communist forms.

January 17, 2017

QotD: The role of free markets

Filed under: Economics, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Bernie Sanders, the Brooklyn socialist who represents Vermont in the Senate, generated a great deal of mirth on Tuesday when he wondered aloud how it is that a society with 23 kinds of deodorant and 18 kinds of sneakers has hungry children. Setting aside the fact that we must have hundreds of kinds of deodorant and thousands of choices of sneakers, Senator Sanders here communicates a double falsehood: The first falsehood is that the proliferation of choices in consumer goods is correlated with poverty, among children or anybody else, which is flatly at odds with practically all modern human experience. The reality is precisely the opposite: Poverty is worst where consumers have the fewest choices, e.g., in North Korea, the old Soviet Union, the socialist paradise that is modern Venezuela, etc. The second falsehood is that choice in consumer goods represents the loss of resources that might have gone to some other end — that if we had only one kind of sneaker, then there would be more food available for hungry children.

Lest you suspect that I am distorting the senator’s words, here they are:

    You can’t just continue growth for the sake of growth in a world in which we are struggling with climate change and all kinds of environmental problems. All right? You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country. I don’t think the media appreciates the kind of stress that ordinary Americans are working on.

This is a very old and thoroughly discredited idea, one that dates back to Karl Marx and to the anti-capitalists who preceded him. It is a facet of the belief that free markets are irrational, and that if reason could be imposed on markets — which is to say, if reason could be imposed on free human beings — then enlightened planners could ensure that resources are directed toward their best use. This line of thinking historically has led to concentration camps, gulags, firing squads, purges, and the like, for a few reasons: The first is that free markets are not irrational; they are a reflection of what people actually value at a particular time relative to the other things that they might also value. Real people simply want things that are different from what the planners want them to want, a predicament that can be solved only through violence and the threat of violence. That is the first reason that this sort of planning leads to gulags. The second is that there are no enlightened planners; men such as Senator Sanders imagine themselves to be candidates for enlightened leadership, but put a whip in his hand and the gentleman from Vermont will turn out to be another thug in the long line of thugs who have cleaved to his faith. The third reason that this sort of planning always works out poorly is that nobody knows what the best use of resources actually is; all that the would-be masters know is that they do not approve of the current deployment of resources.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Bernie Sanders’s Dark Age Economics”, National Review, 2015-05-27.

December 3, 2016

Capitalists and communists

Filed under: Bureaucracy, History, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

David Warren notes an odd similarity:

The last generation of Communists in power, in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, suffered from a debilitating foible. They did not themselves believe in the ideology they were preaching. Their efforts were thus directed to getting around the realities their forebears had not anticipated. They thus became their own enemies, working against their own unworkable socialist principles, and in the course of their tireless if frazzled ministrations, the Berlin Wall came down.

Capitalism suffers from the same problem today. The principles of Adam Smith are not seriously believed by any of its nominal advocates. They are not even known. Nor could they be, for like Marx, Smith is not even read. I have derived pleasure, on many occasions, from pointing out to some ideological enthusiast for Capitalism, that its supposed author was refulgently opposed to joint-stock companies. Which is to say, to the form of business ownership that controls — oh, I don’t know — ninety-five percent of the so-called “private sector” economy today?

I observed that, apart from any consideration of morality (and he was, after all, only an amateur economist, but a professional Perfesser of Moral Philosophy), Smith believed that joint-stock companies were inefficient, because essentially bureaucratic. This is inevitable when ownership is separated from management. “Growth,” or Bigness, subtly replaces profit (both mercenary and non-mercenary) as the principal aspiration.

As a general rule of thumb, when you want to get something done, use the smallest possible organization to achieve your desired goal. I always found it a warning sign of future decline when small companies I worked for started to take on the trappings of bigger companies … when the bureaucratic rot began to set in. In some cases, just the transition to having an “HR Department” (rather than managers hiring directly) was enough to trigger bureaucracy growth and efficiency losses.

November 11, 2016

QotD: The amazing long-term success of Soviet subversion in the West

Filed under: History, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The Soviets consciously followed the Gramscian prescription; they pursued a war of position, subverting the “leading elements” of society through their agents of influence. (See, for example, Stephen Koch’s Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Munzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals; summary by Koch here) This worked exactly as expected; their memes seeped into Western popular culture and are repeated endlessly in (for example) the products of Hollywood.

Indeed, the index of Soviet success is that most of us no longer think of these memes as Communist propaganda. It takes a significant amount of digging and rethinking and remembering, even for a lifelong anti-Communist like myself, to realize that there was a time (within the lifetime of my parents) when all of these ideas would have seemed alien, absurd, and repulsive to most people — at best, the beliefs of a nutty left-wing fringe, and at worst instruments of deliberate subversion intended to destroy the American way of life.

Koch shows us that the worst-case scenario was, as it turns out now, the correct one; these ideas, like the “race bomb” rumor, really were instruments deliberately designed to destroy the American way of life. Another index of their success is that most members of the bicoastal elite can no longer speak of “the American way of life” without deprecation, irony, or an automatic and half-conscious genuflection towards the altar of political correctness. In this and other ways, the corrosive effects of Stalin’s meme war have come to utterly pervade our culture.

The most paranoid and xenophobic conservatives of the Cold War were, painful though this is to admit, the closest to the truth in estimating the magnitude and subtlety of Soviet subversion. Liberal anticommunists (like myself in the 1970s) thought we were being judicious and fair-minded when we dismissed half of the Right’s complaint as crude blather. We were wrong; the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss really were guilty, the Hollywood Ten really were Stalinist tools, and all of Joseph McCarthy’s rants about “Communists in the State Department” were essentially true. The Venona transcripts and other new material leave no room for reasonable doubt on this score.

While the espionage apparatus of the Soviet Union didn’t outlast it, their memetic weapons did. These memes are now coming near to crippling our culture’s response to Islamic terrorism.

Eric S. Raymond, “Gramscian damage”, Armed and Dangerous, 2006-02-11.

September 26, 2016

QotD: Jewish intellectuals and communism

Filed under: History, Politics, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

As Eugene Volokh’s sources note, a disproportionately large number of the original Bolsheviks were Jewish. Karl Marx was ethnically Jewish, though his parents had converted to Christianity. It is impossible to study the history of Marxism, Socialism, and Communism without noticing how many Jewish names crop up among the leading intellectuals. It is equally impossible not to notice how many of the Old Left families in the U.S. were (and still are) Jewish — and, more specifically, Ashkenazim of German or Eastern European extraction. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg didn’t come out of nowhere.

It’s not even very hard to understand why this is. There is a pattern, going back to Spinoza in the 1600s, of Jewish intellectuals seeking out the leading edge of certain kinds of reform movements. Broadly speaking, if you look at any social movement of the last 300 years that was secular, rationalist, and communitarian, somewhere in it you would find nonobservant Jews providing a lot of the intellectual firepower and organizational skills. Often a disproportionate share, relative to other population groups.

Communism was one example; there are many others. One of my favorites is the Ethical Culture movement. Today, we have the Free Software movement, not coincidentally founded by Jewish atheist Richard Stallman. There is an undeniable similarity among all these movements, an elusive deep structure having to do not so much with shared beliefs as a shared style of believing that one might call messianic social rationalism.

Anybody who thinks I’m arguing for a conspiracy theory should check their meds. No, there is something much simpler and subtler at work here. Inherited religious myths, even when they no longer have normative force, influence the language and conceptual frameworks that intellectuals use to approach other issues. The mythologist Joseph Campbell once noted that thinkers with a Catholic background like mine gravitate towards universalizing mysticisms and Protestants towards individualist redemptionism; he could have added that thinkers with a Jewish heritage tend to love messianic social doctrines. (One can cite exceptions to all three, of course, but the correlation will still be there after you’ve done so.)

Thus, assimilated Jews have a particular propensity for constructing secular messianisms — or for elaborating and intellectualizing secular messianisms invented by gentiles. But you can’t say this sort of thing in academia; you get called a racist if you do. And you especially aren’t allowed to notice the other reason movements like Communism sometime look not unlike Jewish conspiracies — which is that the IQ bell curve for Jews has a mean about a standard deviation north of the IQ bell curve for Caucasian gentiles.

In cold and sober truth, in any kind of organization where intelligence matters — even the Communist movement —, you are going to find a disproportionate number of Jews with their hands on the levers. It doesn’t take any conspiracy to arrange this, and it’s not the Jews’ fault the goyim around them are such narrs (Yiddish for “imbeciles”). It just happens.

Eric S. Raymond, “Communism and the Jews”, Armed and Dangerous, 2003-11-14.

August 7, 2016

QotD: “… there were no good guys in the Spanish Civil War”

Filed under: Europe, History, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Pio Moa’s thesis is that the Spanish Civil War was not a usurping revolt against a functioning government, but a belated attempt to restore order to a country that had already collapsed into violent chaos five years before the Fascists landed in 1936.

I’ve studied the history of the Spanish Civil War enough to know that Moa’s contrarian interpretation is not obviously crazy. I had an unusual angle; I’m an anarchist, and wanted to grasp the ideas and role of the Spanish anarchist communes. My conclusions were not pleasant. In short, there were no good guys in the Spanish Civil War.

First, the non-anarchist Left in Spain really was pretty completely Stalin’s creature. The volunteers of the International Brigade were (in Lenin’s timeless phrase) useful idiots, an exact analogue of the foreign Arabs who fought on in Baghdad after Iraqi resistance collapsed (and were despised for it by the Iraqis). They deserve neither our pity nor our respect. Insofar as Moa’s thesis is that most scholarship about the war is severely distorted by a desire to make heroes out of these idiots, he is correct.

Second, the Spanish anarchists were by and large an exceedingly nasty bunch, all resentment and nihilism with no idea how to rebuild after destroying. Wiping them out (via his Communist proxies) may have been one of Stalin’s few good deeds.

Third, the Fascists were a pretty nasty bunch too. But, on the whole, probably not as nasty as their opponents. Perceptions of them tend to be distorted by the casual equation of Fascist with Nazi — but this is not appropriate. Spanish Fascism was unlike Communism or Italian and German Fascism in that it was genuinely a conservative movement, rather than a attempt to reinvent society in the image of a revolutionary doctrine about the perfected State.

Historians and political scientists use the terms “fascist” and “fascism” quite precisely, for a group of political movements that were active between about 1890 and about 1975. The original and prototypical example was Italian fascism, the best-known and most virulent strain was Naziism, and the longest-lasting was the Spanish nationalist fascism of Francisco Franco. The militarist nationalism of Japan is often also described as “fascist” .

The shared label reflects the fact that these four ideologies influenced each other; Naziism began as a German imitation of Italian fascism, only to remake Italian (and to some extent Spanish) fascism in its own image during WWII. The militarist Japanese fascists took their cues from European fascists as well as an indigenous tradition of absolutism with very similar structural and psychological features

The shared label also reflects substantially similar theories of political economics, power, governance, and national purpose. Also similar histories and symbolisms. Here are some of the commonalities especially relevant to the all too common abuse of the term.

Fascist political economics is a corrupt form of Leninist socialism. In fascist theory (as in Communism) the State owns all; in practice, fascists are willing to co-opt and use big capitalists rather than immediately killing them.

Fascism mythologizes the professional military, but never trusts it. (And rightly so; consider the Von Stauffenberg plot…) One of the signatures of the fascist state is the formation of elite units (the SA and SS in Germany, the Guardia Civil in Spain, the Republican Guard and Fedayeen in Iraq) loyal to the fascist party and outside the military chain of command.

Fascism is not (as the example of Franco’s Spain shows) necessarily aggressive or expansionist per se. In all but one case, fascist wars were triggered not by ideologically-motivated aggression but by revanchist nationalism (that is, the nation’s claims on areas lost to the victors of previous wars, or inhabited by members of the nationality agitating for annexation). No, the one exception was not Nazi Germany; it was Japan (the rape of Manchuria). The Nazi wars of aggression and Hussein’s grab at Kuwait were both revanchist in origin.

Fascism is generally born by revolution out of the collapse of monarchism. Fascism’s theory of power is organized around the ‘Fuehrerprinzip‘, the absolute leader regarded as the incarnation of the national will.

But…and this is a big but…there were important difference between revolutionary Fascism (the Italo/German/Baathist variety) and the more reactionary sort native to Spain and Japan.

Eric S. Raymond, “Fascism is not dead”, Armed and Dangerous, 2003-04-22.

July 6, 2016

QotD: The treason of the modern intellectuals

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The longest-term stakes in the war against terror are not just human lives, but whether Western civilization will surrender to fundamentalist Islam and shari’a law. More generally, the overt confrontation between Western civilization and Islamist barbarism that began on September 11th of 2001 has also made overt a fault line in Western civilization itself — a fault line that divides the intellectual defenders of our civilization from intellectuals whose desire is to surrender it to political or religious absolutism.

This fault line was clearly limned in Julien Benda’s 1927 essay Le trahison des clercs: English “The treason of the intellectuals”. I couldn’t find a copy of Benda’s essay on the Web. but there is an excellent commentary on it that repays reading. Ignore the reflexive endorsement of religious faith at the end; the source was a conservative Catholic magazine in which such gestures are obligatory. Benda’s message, untainted by Catholic or Christian partisanship, is even more resonant today than it was in 1927.

The first of the totalitarian genocides (the Soviet-engineered Ukrainian famine of 1922-1923, which killed around two million people) had already taken place. Hitler’s “Final Solution” was about fifteen years in the future. Neither atrocity became general knowledge until later, but Benda in 1927 would not have been surprised; he foresaw the horrors that would result when intellectuals abetted the rise of the vast tyrannizing ideologies of the 20th century,

Changes in the transport, communications, and weapons technologies of the 20th century made the death camps and the gulags possible. But it was currents in human thought that made them fact — ideas that both motivated and rationalized the thuggery of the Hitlers and Stalins of the world.

Eric S. Raymond, “Today’s treason of the intellectuals”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-11-28.

April 22, 2016

QotD: Ideological warfare

Filed under: History, Politics, Quotations, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

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.

March 21, 2016

QotD: The aftermath of the Great War and the rise of Hitler

Filed under: Europe, History, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

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.

January 25, 2016

QotD: The authoritarian urge, left and right

Filed under: History, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The idea that Nazism is a more extreme form of conservatism has insinuated its way into popular culture. You hear it, not only when spotty students yell “fascist” at Tories, but when pundits talk of revolutionary anti-capitalist parties, such as the BNP and Golden Dawn, as “far Right”.

What is it based on, this connection? Little beyond a jejune sense that Left-wing means compassionate and Right-wing means nasty and fascists are nasty. When written down like that, the notion sounds idiotic, but think of the groups around the world that the BBC, for example, calls “Right-wing”: the Taliban, who want communal ownership of goods; the Iranian revolutionaries, who abolished the monarchy, seized industries and destroyed the middle class; Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who pined for Stalinism. The “Nazis-were-far-Right” shtick is a symptom of the wider notion that “Right-wing” is a synonym for “baddie”.

One of my constituents once complained to the Beeb about a report on the repression of Mexico’s indigenous peoples, in which the government was labelled Right-wing. The governing party, he pointed out, was a member of the Socialist International and, again, the give-away was in its name: Institutional Revolutionary Party. The BBC’s response was priceless. Yes, it accepted that the party was socialist, “but what our correspondent was trying to get across was that it is authoritarian”.

In fact, authoritarianism was the common feature of socialists of both National and Leninist varieties, who rushed to stick each other in prison camps or before firing squads. Each faction loathed the other as heretical, but both scorned free-market individualists as beyond redemption. Their battle was all the fiercer, as Hayek pointed out in 1944, because it was a battle between brothers.

Authoritarianism – or, to give it a less loaded name, the belief that state compulsion is justified in pursuit of a higher goal, such as scientific progress or greater equality – was traditionally a characteristic of the social democrats as much as of the revolutionaries.

Daniel Hannan, “Leftists become incandescent when reminded of the socialist roots of Nazism”, Telegraph, 2014-02-25.

January 12, 2016

QotD: They called themselves the “National Socialist German Workers’ Party”

Filed under: Europe, History, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

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

Monty’s thumbnail sketch of the economics of scarcity

Filed under: Economics, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

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.

QotD: Communes

Filed under: History, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

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.

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