Quotulatiousness

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 31, 2015

Nationalism and the European Union

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Nigel Davies found a bit of time to write this week, including this section on the EU’s founding myth:

The European Union […] is founded on the ridiculous, and incorrect, 1950’s assumption that all Europe’s problems can be traced back to Nationalism.

This was a knee jerk reaction to World War II, where the problem was supposed to be Fascism, which was supposed to be a Nationalist version of Socialism (literally the National Socialist Workers Party in the Nazi case).

It conveniently ignores the fact that the Communists were just as territorially aggressive and expansionist – in the name of ‘internationalism’ – as the fascists were – in the name of nationalism. In fact Stalin’s deal with Hitler to divide up Eastern Europe under the Molotov-Ribbentropp pact was what actually started the Second World War. (A factor swept under the carpet when, at the end of the war, Finland – one of the victims of Communist aggression in 1940 – was prosecuted for the ‘War Crime’ of resisting Soviet occupation, by the Soviet Empire that had been expelled from the League of Nations for its unprovoked invasion of peaceful and democratic Finland 5 years earlier…)

So when the delusional Social Democrat types in the decades after the war were looking for something to blame that could be phrased in such a way as to hide their share of the guilt: they picked the term ‘nationalism’ and launched the ‘ever closer union’ concept for Europe as ‘the one ideal way to end all future troubles’. Possibly the most idealistic stupidity since… well, since the same type of people launched Communism as ‘the one ideal way to end all future troubles’ thirty or forty years earlier.

In fact, so carefully do such people hide the truth from themselves, that it would probably come as a surprise to them to learn that European conflict did not start with the modern nation state!

You will no doubt be amazed to learn that there was not ideal peaceful harmony in Europe before the rise of modern Nationalism. Frankly, Europeans have never needed much excuse to slaughter each other. Some the reasons over the centuries since the Ancient World have included: forced and voluntary migration; droughts, floods and famines (most of the above as results of variants of what we now call ‘climate change’ issues); religious and political movements; social changes and class civil-warfare; trade issues; international exploration and colonization and de-colonization; dynastic conflicts and treaty obligations; slavery and attempts to end slavery; blatant territory grabs at other people’s expense; conquests, reconquistas and ‘liberations’; and plain simple ‘prestige’ conflicts (such as the War of Jenkin’s Ear).

The decision – by people who want to hide their share of any guilt – to throw all the blame onto something carefully chosen to exclude them from any blame (and to carefully fit a requirement for a solution that would require their own preferred world order to save everyone), is an unfortunately common one in history.

December 10, 2015

“I rank the odds of a Trump presidency somewhere below the odds of my winning the lottery”

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Megan McArdle has toyed with the idea of classifying Donald Trump as a fascist, but is unwilling to go there for good and proper reasons:

Should we hunker down for America’s version of Mussolini/Hitler-style fascism, a la It Can’t Happen Here? Not quite. Douthat wrote a second column, pointing out the ways in which Trump is different from typical fascist leaders. Classical fascism is obsessed with tradition and secret knowledge, which feels backward in our modernist, diverse country.

The more important distinction, to my mind, is that Trump doesn’t have an organization so much as a mood.

Actual fascists, let us remember, were born out of a brutal world war that resulted in territorial losses, and left a lot of demobilized soldiers running around with dim economic prospects. Whatever your opinions on the war on terror, it is not the same scale as World War I, and it has certainly not left the U.S. in the kind of parlous condition in which Hitler and Mussolini were able to grow smaller radical groups into national mass movements. Trump himself doesn’t have that kind of dedication to his cause; just try to imagine him leading a coup, landing in jail, angrily penning The Art of the Struggle.

Implausible. Trump has far too much to lose, and too little to gain, to embrace truly revolutionary fervor.

Nor is he operating in a weak state with a short and spotty democratic history. The U.S. government has ticked along for going on 250 years, through multiple crises and an armed insurrection. Americans are pretty emotionally attached to its institutions, for all the complaints about them, and precisely because we are ethnically diverse, we tend to rest our national identity heavily upon our political institutions: not the expansionist “Drang nach Osten,” but the Constitution … the huddled masses yearning to breathe free … life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have failed many times to live up to our ideals, but we have never stopped professing them.

All this matters. The main problem with fascists, after all, is not that they have creepy cartelist economic notions and uncharitable immigration policies; the problem with fascists is that they had a tendency to go on killing sprees against neighbors, internal minorities and their political enemies. I don’t like Trump’s economic pseudo-policies, or anti-immigrant sentiment. But they are so far from Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy as to be differences in kind as well as degree. And America has neither the weak institutions nor the revolutionary organizations necessary for a Trump Reich to fester.

August 31, 2015

QotD: Artistic memories of other futures

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

Two exhibitions in New York this season revisit memories of futures past: Nam June Paik’s “Becoming Robot” (which will be at the Asia Society until January 4) looks to a cybernetics-obsessed midcentury avant-garde, while the Guggenheim’s “Reconstructing the Universe” show of Italian futurist works (which has just closed) documented a movement that, while aesthetically quite distinct from Paik’s, is organized around the same essential vision: man’s aspiring to the condition of machine.

[…]

There are occasionally clever pieces: A seated Buddha contemplates a television-and-camera set-up that contemplates him back, the Buddha and his image on the screen suggesting an infinite feedback loop. A reclining Buddha stretches atop two television screens showing a video of a nude woman reclining in the same position. (Paik very often cuts to the root of the avant-garde sensibility: “How do we get some naked chicks in this?”) His robots are still interesting to look at, some of them primitive mechanical assemblages, some of them televisions and other electronic devices piled together anthropomorphically, though the contemporary commercially made robot toys on display for context are at least as interesting, their nameless creators liberated from such pressures as attend those who understand themselves as artists. Though it should be noted that the makers of the Micronaut robot toys I loved as a child were not entirely immune from the puerile sexual obsessions of the so-called avant-garde: This, for example, was on the market long before anybody ever exclaimed: “Drill, baby, drill!”

The Italian futurists, whose love for machines and violence and the machinery of violence and whose hatred of women would do so much to shape the aesthetics of fascism, foresaw a less sexy future than Paik’s, if one that was no less mechanical: Biplanes soar over the Roman Colosseum, cities are fitted together like clockworks, machinery everywhere is ascendant. By the time Mussolini makes his inevitable appearance, he, too, has been reduced to a piece of artillery, his face simply another item in the Italian arsenal, a big, fleshy cannonball.

One of the purposes of art, high or low, is to make visible the philosophical; the fascist understanding of society as one big factory or one big machine was expressed in futurist art.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Futures Trading: We are no longer thinking about the future because we believe we are there”, National Review, 2014-10-01.

August 17, 2015

QotD: Totalitarian movements as a substitute for religion

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

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.

February 13, 2015

QotD: The Nazi leadership, Aleister Crowley and the occult

Filed under: Books, History, Media, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

During the past four centuries, we have seen the world in semi-Epicurean terms as a great and internally consistent machine. To understand it, we observe, we question, we form hypotheses, we test, we measure, we record, we think again. The results have long since been plain. In every generation, we have added vast provinces to the empire of science. We do not yet perfectly understand the world. But the understanding we have has given us a growing dominion over the world; and there is no reason to think the growth of our understanding and dominion will not continue indefinitely.

We reject supernatural explanations partly because we have no need of them. The world is a machine. Nothing that happens appears to be an intervention into the chains of natural cause and effect. We know that things once ascribed to the direct influence of God, or the workings of less powerful invisible beings have natural causes. Where a natural cause cannot be found, we assume, on the grounds of our experience so far, that one will eventually be found. In part, however, we reject the supernatural because there is no good evidence that it exists.

[…] It seems that Hitler was a convinced believer in the occult. He took many of his decisions on astrological advice. It did him no visible good. He misjudged the British response to his invasion of Poland. He was unable to conquer Britain or to make peace. His invasion of Russia, while still fighting Britain, turned his eastern frontier from a net contributor of resources to a catastrophic drain on them. He then mishandled his relations with America. So far as he was guided by the astrologers, I hope, before he shot himself, that he thought of asking for a refund. It was the same with Himmler. Despite his trust in witchcraft, he only escaped trial and execution by crunching on a cyanide capsule made by the German pharmaceutical industry.

Turning to practitioners of the occult, I see no evidence of special success. They do not live longer than the rest of us. However they begin, they do not stay better looking. Any success they have with money, or in bed, is better explained by the gullibility of their followers than by their own magical powers.

So it was with Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) — the “Great Beast 666,” or “the wickedest man alive.” He quickly ran through the fortune his parents had left him. He spent his last years in poverty. Long before he died, he had begun to resemble the mug shot of a child murderer. Whether his claims were simply a fraud on others, or a fraud on himself as well, I see no essential difference between him and the beggar woman who cursed me in the street. He had advantages over her of birth and education. But he was still a parasite on the credulity of others.

Sean Gabb, “[Review of] Crowley: Thoughts and Perspectives, Volume Two“, Libertarian Enterprise, 2014-05-18.

September 5, 2014

Casting blame over Rotherham

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Law — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 15:49

At Samizdata, Perry de Havilland unflinchingly points the finger of blame:

The English ‘fascist‘ movement is a bit like a bowel movement, smelly but easily disposed of. In truth they are so trivial in terms of their support or intellectual influence that I cannot escape the notion they get as much publicity as they do primarily to keep them as a boogieman to be pointed at by their equally irrelevant confrères on the loony left.

The Rotherham scandal is not about comically half witted and pleasingly unphotogenic fascists (sorry Ed Temple). It is not about Islam or Pakistanis (sorry BNP, EDL et al.). It is not even about immigration (sorry UKIP). It is entirely about how the political culture pushed unfailingly by the BBC and Guardian (and the increasingly indistinguishable Telegraph and other formerly ‘Tory’ papers) for decades has so completely enervated British institutions along with all the mainstream political parties, that such thugs could not be dealt with. We do not need more laws, we have more than enough to deal with what happened. What we need is the preposterous culture of political correctness and its obsession with race to be flushed down the toilet.

So my caring sharing multicultural leftie chums… Rotherham? That is entirely down to you. Yes, YOU

July 17, 2014

Mussolini would recognize (and approve of) “economic patriotism”

Filed under: Economics, Government, History, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:58

Kevin Williamson isn’t a fan of the recent upsurge in usage of the term “economic patriotism”, both for practical and historical reasons:

“Economic patriotism” and its kissing cousin, economic nationalism, are ideas with a fairly stinky history, having been a mainstay of fascist rhetoric during the heyday of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s favorite “admirable Italian gentleman.” My colleague Jonah Goldberg has labored mightily in the task of illustrating the similarities between old-school fascist thinking and modern progressive thinking on matters political and social, but it is on economic questions that contemporary Democrats and vintage fascists are remarkably alike. In fact, their approaches are for all intents and purposes identical: As most economic historians agree, neither the Italian fascists nor the German national-socialists nor any similar movement of great significance had anything that could be described as a coherent economic philosophy. The Italian fascists put forward a number of different and incompatible economic theories during their reign, and the Third Reich, under the influence of Adolf Hitler’s heroic conception of history, mostly subordinated economic questions as such to purportedly grander concerns involving destiny and other abstractions.

Which is to say, what the economic nationalism of Benito Mussolini most has in common with the prattling and blockheaded talk of “economic patriotism” coming out of the mealy mouths of 21st-century Democrats is the habit of subordinating everything to immediate political concerns. In this context, “patriotism” doesn’t mean doing what’s best for your country — it means doing what is best for the Obama administration and its congressional allies. This is where my fellow conservatives who write off Barack Obama as a Marxist really get it wrong: He has no meaningful economic philosophy whatsoever. Marxism might be a moral step backward for Barack Obama, but it would be an intellectual step up in the sense that it at least represents a coherent worldview. (“At least it’s an ethos.”) In years of listening to Barack Obama’s speeches, I’ve never detected any evidence that he understands, or even has any interest in, economic questions as such. He is simply a keen political calculator. The conflation of the national interest — “patriotism” — with the interest of the party or the supreme leader is too familiar a demagogic technique to require much explication.

That’s the Washington way: Create stupid financial incentives, complain when people respond to them — and then declare that conformity with your political agenda is identical to patriotism. The production values may be Hollywood slick, but this is just another third-rate sequel: Banana Republic: The Tax Code Strikes Back.

Except the tax code is not striking back. Democrats complain about it, but they rarely if ever try to do anything about the industry handouts and sweetheart deals enshrined therein — given that they wrote so many of them, why would they?

April 10, 2014

Policing the language, German style

Filed under: Europe, Law — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:24

Matthias Heitmann on the odd things that happen to avoid any hint of Nazi contamination in allowable letter combinations on license plates and to mandate equal gender presence in job titles and place names:

In Germany today, you see, there is a palpable desire to cleanse society of views officially deemed unacceptable or politically incorrect. This is most obvious when it comes to words or views associated with fascism or the far right. It’s likely that even the most liberal of Germans would oppose the right of members of the right-wing National Democratic Party to voice their strange views in public. Indeed, having embarrassingly failed to ban the party in 2003, the federal government is currently trying to outlaw the party once again. Anyone attempting to defend free speech or freedom of association in this context will find themselves accused of being a fascist sympathiser, an apologist or, even worse, disrespecting victims of the Holocaust and their descendants.

The popular fear of being accused of being a Nazi sympathiser has resulted in some strange regulations. Since the 1980s, for instance, the letter combinations ‘NS’, ‘KZ’, ‘SS’, ‘SA’ or ‘HJ’, which all potentially allude to fascist symbols or institutions, have been banned from use on car licence plates. In the past few months, there has been a heated debate about whether letter or number combinations like ‘HH’ or ‘88’ (which both allude to ‘Heil Hitler’), ‘18’ (meaning ‘Adolf Hitler’), 204 (meaning Hitler’s birthday) or even ‘GV’ (which is short for sexual intercourse) should be banned from licence plates, too. This poses something of a problem for Hamburg car owners, whose licence plates all start with ‘HH’.

[…]

It’s not only on the traditional minefield of racism and fascism that free speech has suffered in Germany. Free speech has also been knocked about by feminists, too, with their determination to impose new language and behaviour regulations. Last summer, for instance, the University of Leipzig announced plans to address its staff using only the feminine forms of words. ‘Professorin’ is due to replace older formulations like ‘Professorinnen und Professoren’ or ‘Professor/innen’. Schröder, meanwhile, admitted during a recent interview that not even the Bible is immune from linguistic tinkering. When talking to girls, for instance, the masculine ‘der Gott’ could simply become the neutral ‘das Gott’.

Interestingly, when feminist language control clashes with anti-fascist dogma, feminism seems to prevail. In the German capital, Berlin, a local parliament, heavily dominated by green and left-wing politicians, voted against naming a square in front of the Jewish Museum after the Enlightenment philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. This decision was made on the grounds that as Mendelssohn was a man, he would break the rule established in 2005 to only name streets and squares after women. This was deemed necessary in order to achieve sexual equality on the city map. As a compromise, the local parliament used Mendelssohn wife’s name alongside his own, creating ‘Moses-und-Fromet-Mendelssohn-Platz’. Although Fromet wasn’t a historic figure, she at least was a woman.

March 4, 2014

Not a science fiction story – “National Bolshevism” versus “Atlantis”

Filed under: Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:59

According to Robert Zubrin, a key advisor to Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders has some really weird notions:

Putin is sometimes described as a revanchist, seeking to recreate the Soviet Union. That is a useful shorthand, but it is not really accurate. Putin and many of his gang may have once been Communists, but they are not that today. Rather, they have embraced a new totalitarian political ideology known as “Eurasianism.”

The roots of Eurasianism go back to czarist émigrés interacting with fascist thinkers in between-the-wars France and Germany. But in recent years, its primary exponent has been the very prominent and prolific political theorist Aleksandr Dugin.

[…]

Nazism, it will be recalled, was an abbreviation for National Socialism. National Bolshevism, therefore, put itself forth as an ideology that relates to National Socialism in much the same way as Bolshevism relates to Socialism. This open self-identification with Nazism is also shown clearly in the NBP flag, which looks exactly like a Nazi flag, with a red background surrounding a white circle, except that the black swastika at the center is replaced by a black hammer and sickle.

[…]

The core idea of Dugin’s Eurasianism is that “liberalism” (by which is meant the entire Western consensus) represents an assault on the traditional hierarchical organization of the world. Repeating the ideas of Nazi theorists Karl Haushofer, Rudolf Hess, Carl Schmitt, and Arthur Moeller van der Bruck, Dugin says that this liberal threat is not new, but is the ideology of the maritime cosmopolitan power “Atlantis,” which has conspired to subvert more conservative land-based societies since ancient times. Accordingly, he has written books in which he has reconstructed the entire history of the world as a continuous battle between these two factions, from Rome v. Carthage to Russia v. the Anglo Saxon “Atlantic Order,” today. If Russia is to win this fight against the subversive oceanic bearers of such “racist” (because foreign-imposed) ideas as human rights, however, it must unite around itself all the continental powers, including Germany, Central and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet republics, Turkey, Iran, and Korea, into a grand Eurasian Union strong enough to defeat the West.

In order to be so united, this Eurasian Union will need a defining ideology, and for this purpose Dugin has developed a new “Fourth Political Theory” combining all the strongest points of Communism, Nazism, Ecologism, and Traditionalism, thereby allowing it to appeal to the adherents of all of these diverse anti-liberal creeds. He would adopt Communism’s opposition to free enterprise. However, he would drop the Marxist commitment to technological progress, a liberal-derived ideal, in favor of Ecologism’s demagogic appeal to stop the advance of industry and modernity. From Traditionalism, he derives a justification for stopping free thought. All the rest is straight out of Nazism, ranging from legal theories justifying unlimited state power and the elimination of individual rights, to the need for populations “rooted” in the soil, to weird gnostic ideas about the secret origin of the Aryan race in the North Pole.

January 29, 2014

Pitching the New Deal through film – Gabriel Over the White House

Filed under: History, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:01

I’d never heard of Gabriel Over the White House, so Jonah Goldberg‘s summary was quite interesting:

The legendary media tycoon William Randolph Hearst believed America needed a strongman and that Franklin D. Roosevelt would fit the bill. He ordered his newspapers to support FDR and the New Deal. At his direction, Hearst’s political allies rallied around Roosevelt at the Democratic convention, which some believe sealed the deal for Roosevelt’s nomination.

But all that wasn’t enough. Hearst also believed the voters had to be made to see what could be gained from a president with a free hand. So he financed the film Gabriel Over the White House, starring Walter Huston. The film depicts an FDR look-alike president who, after a coma-inducing car accident, is transformed from a passive Warren Harding type into a hands-on dictator. The reborn commander-in-chief suspends the Constitution, violently wipes out corruption, and revives the economy through a national socialist agenda. When Congress tries to impeach him, he dissolves Congress.

The Library of Congress summarizes the film nicely. “The good news: He reduces unemployment, lifts the country out of the Depression, battles gangsters and Congress, and brings about world peace. The bad news: He’s Mussolini.”

Hearst wanted to make sure the script got it right, so he sent it to what today might be called a script doctor, namely Roosevelt. FDR loved it, but he did have some changes, which Hearst eagerly accepted. A month into his first term, FDR sent Hearst a thank-you note. “I want to send you this line to tell you how pleased I am with the changes you made in Gabriel Over the White House,” Roosevelt wrote. “I think it is an intensely interesting picture and should do much to help.”

You can probably get the overall tone of the movie from this clip:

Even the editors at Wikipedia — hardly a hotbed of proto-fascists — describe it as “an example of totalitarian propaganda”:

Controversial since the time of its release, Gabriel Over the White House is widely acknowledged to be an example of totalitarian propaganda. Tweed, the author of the original novel, was a “liberal champion of government activism” and trusted adviser to David Lloyd George, the Liberal Prime Minister who brought Bismarck’s welfare state to the United Kingdom. The decision to buy the story was made by producer Walter Wanger, variously described as “a liberal Democrat” or a “liberal Hollywood mogul.” After two weeks of script preparation, Wanger secured the financial backing of media magnate William Randolph Hearst, one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s staunchest supporters, who had helped him get the Democratic presidential nomination and who enlisted his entire media empire to campaign for him. Hearst intended the film to be a tribute to FDR and an attack on previous Republican administrations.

Although an internal MGM synopsis had labeled the script “wildly reactionary and radical to the nth degree,” studio boss Louis B. Mayer “learned only when he attended the Glendale, California preview that Hammond gradually turns America into a dictatorship,” writes film historian Leonard J. Leff. “Mayer was furious, telling his lieutenant, ‘Put that picture back in its can, take it back to the studio, and lock it up!'”

Released only a few weeks after Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration, the film was labeled by The New Republic “a half-hearted plea for Fascism.” Its purpose, agreed The Nation, was “to convert innocent American movie audiences to a policy of fascist dictatorship in this country.” Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter concurred in 2007 that the movie was meant to “prepare the public for a dictatorship,” as well as to be an instructional guide for FDR, who read the script during the campaign. He liked it so much that he took time during the hectic first weeks of his presidency to suggest several script rewrites that were incorporated into the film. “An aroma of fascism clung to the heavily edited release print,” according to Leff. Roosevelt saw an advance screening, writing, “I want to send you this line to tell you how pleased I am with the changes you made in Gabriel Over the White House. I think it is an intensely interesting picture and should do much to help.” Roosevelt saw the movie several times and enjoyed it. After a private screening, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote that “if a million unemployed marched on Washington … I’d do what the President does in the picture!”

January 12, 2014

Obscure old German book from 1925 becomes surprise e-book hit

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

Dust jacket of 1926–1927 edition

Dust jacket of 1926–1927 edition

Sales of printed copies of Mein Kampf have been declining for years, but the e-book version is disturbingly popular:

Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf has quietly become an e-book bestseller, climbing high on the charts of political books on Apple’s iTunes and Amazon’s Kindle, even as print sales of the 1925 anti-Semitic screed continue to languish.

Mein Kampf hasn’t made the New York Times‘ nonfiction chart since its U.S. release in 1939, the same year Germany invaded Poland, and its print sales have fallen steadily ever since,” Chris Faraone wrote for the website Vocativ. “But with a flood of new e-book editions, Hitler’s notorious memoir just clocked a banner digital year.”

Two different digital versions of Mein Kampf currently rank third and fourth on the Politics & Current Events on iBooks, outpacing books by modern-day conservative pundits and celebrities such as Sarah Palin, Charles Krauthammer and Glenn Beck. The books sell for 99 cents and $2.99 respectively.

On Amazon, the Kindle version of Mein Kampf ranks No. 1 in the category of Propaganda and Political Philosophy.

Odd how the LA Times‘ instinct is to compare the sales of Mein Kampf with books by American conservatives, rather than works by, say, Marx, Mao, or Mussolini. You know, comparable theorists of totalitarian power (oh, wait…that is how the Times views Palin, Krauthammer, and Beck).

In a post from 2010, Reason TV looks at the power of Nazi Propaganda:

From radio and film to newspapers and publishing, the Nazi regime controlled every aspect of German culture from 1933-1945. Through Josef Goebbels’ Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, the German state tightly controlled political messaging, promoting deification of the leader—the Führerprinzip—and the demonization of the ubiquitous and duplicitious “racial enemy.” A new exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., examines “how the Nazi Party used modern techniques as well as new technologies and carefully crafted messages to sway millions with its vision for a new Germany.” Reason.tv’s Michael C. Moynihan visited with museum historian and curator Steve Luckert to discuss the role and effectiveness of propaganda in the rise of fascism and what lessons can be drawn from the Nazi experiment in mass manipulation.

December 7, 2013

QotD: Minimum wage and Social Darwinism

Filed under: History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:53

Consider the debate over the minimum wage. The controversy centered on what to do about what Sidney Webb called the “unemployable class.” It was Webb’s belief, shared by many of the progressive economists affiliated with the American Economic Association, that establishing a minimum wage above the value of the unemployables’ worth would lock them out of the market, accelerating their elimination as a class. This is essentially the modern conservative argument against the minimum wage, and even today, when conservatives make it, they are accused of — you guessed it — social Darwinism. But for the progressives at the dawn of the fascist moment, this was an argument for it. “Of all ways of dealing with these unfortunate parasites,” Webb observed, “the most ruinous to the community is to allow them unrestrainedly to compete as wage earners.”

Ross put it succinctly: “The Coolie cannot outdo the American, but he can underlive him.” Since the inferior races were content to live closer to a filthy state of nature than the Nordic man, the savages did not require a civilized wage. Hence if you raised minimum wages to a civilized level, employers wouldn’t hire such miscreants in preference to “fitter” specimens, making them less likely to reproduce and, if necessary, easier targets for forced sterilization. Royal Meeker, a Princeton economist and adviser to Woodrow Wilson, explained: “Better that the state should support the inefficient wholly and prevent the multiplication of the breed than subsidize incompetence and unthrift, enabling them to bring forth more of their kind.” Arguments like these turn modern liberal rationales for welfare state wage supports completely on their head.

Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change, 2008.

November 30, 2013

Shock, horror – the National Socialists were socialists!

Filed under: Europe, History, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:43

Daniel Hannan on the remarkable — but somehow unknown to many — fact that the NSDAP (the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, aka Nazi party) were actually socialists:

‘I am a Socialist,’ Hitler told Otto Strasser in 1930, ‘and a very different kind of Socialist from your rich friend, Count Reventlow’.

No one at the time would have regarded it as a controversial statement. The Nazis could hardly have been more open in their socialism, describing themselves with the same terminology as our own SWP: National Socialist German Workers’ Party.

Almost everyone in those days accepted that fascism had emerged from the revolutionary Left. Its militants marched on May Day under red flags. Its leaders stood for collectivism, state control of industry, high tariffs, workers’ councils. Around Europe, fascists were convinced that, as Hitler told an enthusiastic Mussolini in 1934, ‘capitalism has run its course’.

One of the most stunning achievements of the modern Left is to have created a cultural climate where simply to recite these facts is jarring. History is reinterpreted, and it is taken as axiomatic that fascism must have been Right-wing, the logic seemingly being that Left-wing means compassionate and Right-wing means nasty and fascists were nasty. You expect this level of analysis from Twitter mobs; you shouldn’t expect it from mainstream commentators.

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