Quotulatiousness

April 12, 2014

Political religion

Filed under: Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:19

In the most recent Goldberg File “news”letter, Jonah Goldberg discusses what serves some non-religious groups as an effective religion-replacement:

… I read some reviews of Jody Bottum’s new book (which I’ve now ordered). In, An Anxious Age: The Post Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America, Bottum argues that today’s liberal elites are the same liberal elites that we’ve always had. They come from the ranks of mainline Protestants that have run this country for generations (with some fellow-travelling Jews and Catholics, to be sure). But there’s a hitch. They champion a

    social gospel, without the gospel. For all of them, the sole proof of redemption is the holding of a proper sense of social ills. The only available confidence about their salvation, as something superadded to experience, is the self-esteem that comes with feeling they oppose the social evils of bigotry and power and the groupthink of the mob.

This strikes me as pretty close to exactly right. They’re still elitist moralizers but without the religious doctrine. In place of religious experience, they take their spiritual sustenance from self-satisfaction, often smug self-satisfaction.

One problem with most (but not all) political religions is that they tend to convince themselves that their one true faith is simply the Truth. Marxists believed in “scientific socialism” and all that jazz. Liberalism is still convinced that it is the sole legitimate worldview of the “reality-based community.”

There’s a second problem with political religions, though. When reality stops cooperating with the faith, someone must get the blame, and it can never be the faith itself. And this is where the hunt for heretics within and without begins.

Think about what connects so many of the controversies today: Mozilla’s defenestration of Brendan Eich, Brandeis’ disinviting of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the IRS scandal, Hobby Lobby, Sisters of Mercy, the notion climate skeptics should be put in cages, the obsession with the Koch brothers, not to mention the metronomic succession of assclownery on college campuses. They’re all about either the hunting of heretics and dissidents or the desire to force adherence to the One True Faith.

It’s worth noting that the increase in these sorts of incidents is not necessarily a sign of liberalism’s strength. They’re arguably the result of a crisis of confidence.

March 4, 2014

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

Filed under: Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 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.

February 5, 2014

Drawing the rhetorical battle lines for the war over the war

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:13

Tim Stanley on the ongoing war of words over the “celebrations” planned to mark the First World War in Britain:

The reality is that WWI had nothing to do with modern ideology, yet (ironically) we constantly seek to understand it through modern ideology. It started because the 19th-century diplomatic system broke down, undermining assumptions that various powers had no interest in fighting and would not do so when tested. Its bloodiness was due to technology: industrial warfare trumped the war of fast movement that everybody expected. And it ended because the Germans ran out of food. So it was non-ideological in spirit, but it did become the catalyst for various new ideologies. Britain convinced itself it was fighting for democracy. The Russians turned into Soviets and came to see WWI as the acme of capitalist aggression. A small band of German idiots decided defeat was down to a massive conspiracy of Jews so brilliant that it was impossible to actually explain how they pulled it off. And so the Second World War — a profoundly ideological war — was spawned by a conflict that lacked philosophical justification. No wonder memories are so confused.

We continue the mistake of seeing the past as if it was today. The neoconservatives, for example, are wrong to see “Prussian militarism” as embryonic Nazism — indeed the comparison is so slight as to be offensive. And if the plucky Brits were fighting imperialism, that raises the question of why we didn’t divest ourselves of our own possessions in Africa, Asia, Australisia etc. But the Left is equally wrong to see the First World War as a class conflict, as a case of lions led by donkeys. The aristocratic class happily signed up and were almost entirely exterminated as a result, thanks in part to the fact that they tended to be taller than the average soldier and so easier to aim at in the trenches.

Well, that perhaps, but rather more that the junior officers and company commanders actually led from the front, and were visibly distinct from the mass of their troops (making themselves more attractive targets). The allies were in the position of having to attack German positions for most of the war after the front lines solidified, which meant more opportunities for officers to be come casualties. The life expectancy of a junior officer on the Western front was said to be only six weeks.

This comment rather puzzles me, though:

Second, I’m still not entirely sure what we’re commemorating about the First World War and why. Obviously, we should always remember and honour our nation’s war dead — as we do every November. But why — as a nation — pick through every battle, every fact, every detail, every controversy and turn it into a parade? What relevance does it all have to us now? And why is it so often rated as more important than the American War of Independence, the English Civil War or the Scramble for Africa? Will it overshadow the anniversary of Waterloo next year, when, incidentally, the Brits were rather pleased to have Prussian militarism on their side? As European conflicts go, the Thirty Years War also screams out for a little more attention. The population in Germany fell by between 25 and 40 per cent; the Swedish armies destroyed one third of all German towns. That was Hell, too.

The First World War was different from what came before because it literally touched everyone: there were dead and wounded from every city, town, village, and hamlet. Everyone lost family members, friends, acquaintances, business partners, church members, and so on. Unlike the Crimean War, or the Zulu War, or the Boer War, this was the first mass conflict where the entire society had to be re-oriented to support the struggle. Privation was not just a word, as civilians faced food shortages, coal shortages, unrelenting propaganda through the newspapers, and misery all around. This was the end of Britain’s view of war as being something unpleasant at a distance, to be handled by a few good men in red coats.

October 18, 2013

Republicans and conservatives

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:18

In The Atlantic, Molly Ball looks at the split between the GOP establishment and the increasingly angry conservative base:

On his radio show recently, Glenn Beck urged his listeners to “defund the GOP.” Sarah Palin has threatened to leave the Republican Party; Rush Limbaugh calls it “irrelevant.” The Senate Conservatives Fund has targeted mainly incumbent Republican senators for defeat. Erick Erickson, one of the right’s most prominent commentators, wonders if what’s coming is “a real third party movement that will fully divide the Republican Party.”

Conservatives have declared war on the GOP.

Tired of feeling taken for granted by a party that alternately panders to them and sells them down the river, in their view, Tea Partiers and others on the right are in revolt. The Republican Party itself is increasingly the focus of their anger, particularly after Wednesday’s deal to reopen the government, which many on the right opposed. Now, many are threatening to take their business elsewhere.

“Conservatives are either going to split [from the GOP] or stay home,” Erickson, the influential editor of RedState.com and a Fox News contributor, told me. “They’ll first expend energy in primaries, but if unsuccessful, they’ll bolt.”

Erickson, a former Republican elected official in Georgia, stressed that he wasn’t advocating such a split, only foreseeing it. “I think the GOP is already splitting,” he said, with grassroots activists feeling “played” by elected officials’ unfulfilled promises to defeat Obamacare.

The calls for a split mark a new, more acrimonious chapter in the long-simmering conflict between the Tea Party and the Republican establishment. Steve Deace, an Iowa-based talk-radio host, said his audience has never been angrier. “They’re tired of electing a bunch of Republicans who care more about what the media thinks about them than what the people who elected them think,” he told me. “Why do I care whether John Boehner or Nancy Pelosi is the speaker of the House? Why do I care whether Harry Reid or ‘Ditch’ McConnell is the Senate majority leader? What changes? Nothing changes.”

Of course, most of this is froth and fuming — they won’t split the party or form a new one. Why is that? It’s because the GOP and the Democrats have got the system rigged so that only those two parties ever have a real chance at getting candidates elected to state or federal office. In some states, third parties have to petition for ballot access every election for every individual candidate. This doesn’t sound too unreasonable, except the threshold for gathering signatures is incredibly high in many cases (or time-limited, or rigged in other ways), so that without an active, fully staffed party organization only the top few positions can be realistically contested. Only GOP and Democratic candidates are included in polls, debates, and other electoral events covered by the media, so as little “oxygen” as possible is given to outsiders, independents, and third party candidates. Stories like this recent one in Reason happen just about every year in most states.

Having done their part to make the existing duopoly the only game in town, the conservative faction of the Republican party may gripe all they want, but they’re not seriously going anywhere.

October 17, 2013

The internal struggle for the Republican party

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:13

At Ace of Spades H.Q., Drew M. explains why the struggle within the GOP won’t be over quickly:

Part of the on-going GOP vs. “Tea Party” civil war is an insistence by the GOP that the tea party needs to focus more on Democrats than conservative “purity tests” [...].

This illustrates one of the big problems in the current battle, Republicans still don’t get the nature of the insurgency movement. The “tea party” isn’t about going after Democrats, that’s the job of the GOP, conservatives are increasingly focused on policing the GOP.

For too long the GOP has wooed conservatives by talking tough but acting very moderate when elected. I think you can trace it back to George H.W. Bush breaking his “no new taxes” pledge. Conservatives rallied around the elder Bush and put aside their distrust and dislike of him mostly out of respect for Ronald Reagan only to find out he was exactly who he thought they were.

Last night on the podcast we talked about how a lot of these differences were papered over during George W. Bush’s tenure. I argued to a large extent that was a result of 9/11 and the subsequent War on Terror. I said during the 2004 elections that had it not been for national security I would have wanted W. to face a primary challenge from the right and I think he might have been.

Conservative voters are feeling neglected betrayed and unappreciated by the GOP (and I think for good reason). Instead of telling conservatives to suck it up and fight Democrats, Republicans are going to have to treat conservatives as voters they have to woo. Maybe instead of telling conservatives to shut up and fight Democrats they should spend sometime telling conservatives what the GOP has done for them (and, “but the Democrats really suck” isn’t good enough). If the GOP has been so good for conservatives (and I mean small government conservatives here), it shouldn’t be hard to come up with a long list of positive achievements. Of course, there will be an alternative and likely longer list of GOP actions against small government conservative interests.

July 16, 2013

The authoritarian wing of the same-sex marriage campaign

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:28

A. Barton Hinkle wonders if gay couples can live and let live:

It was a great day when the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and threw out a California case that could have undermined gay marriage in the Golden State. On that day, gay and lesbian citizens won something profoundly important: acknowledgment of the right to live as they choose, without interference from others who think they know better.

Now the question is: Will gay and lesbian citizens acknowledge that everybody else has the same right? Some certainly will. But others are challenging the notion – and thereby undermining the case for their own hard-won victory.

David Mullins and Charlie Craig, for instance. The gay Colorado couple have filed a discrimination complaint against the owners of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who declined for religious reasons to make them a wedding cake. The Colorado attorney general’s office has taken their side. So, regrettably, has the ACLU.

And they have company: Similar complaints have been brought against bakeries in Oregon, Indianapolis, and Iowa; a Hawaiian bed-and-breakfast; a Vermont inn; a Washington florist; a Kentucky T-shirt company; and more. As gay marriage gains ground, cases such as these likely will flourish.

As they do, they will lend credence to the otherwise ludicrous assertion by social conservatives that there is a “homosexual agenda.” It will remain absurd to suggest gay people are trying to turn straight people gay. Changing other people’s sexual orientation has always been a conservative project, not a liberal one. But it will cease being absurd to suggest that requests for tolerance are actually demands for approval – and that those who claim to celebrate diversity actually insist upon ideological uniformity.

June 29, 2013

QotD: Orwell on nationalism and the world state

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

What is the use of pointing out that a World State is desirable? What matters is that not one of the five great military powers would think of submitting to such a thing. All sensible men for decades past have been substantially in agreement with what Mr. Wells says; but the sensible men have no power and, in too many cases, no disposition to sacrifice themselves. Hitler is a criminal lunatic, and Hitler has an army of millions of men, aeroplanes in thousands, tanks in tens of thousands. For his sake a great nation has been willing to overwork itself for six years and then to fight for two years more, whereas for the common-sense, essentially hedonistic world-view which Mr. Wells puts forward, hardly a human creature is willing to shed a pint of blood. Before you can even talk of world reconstruction, or even of peace, you have got to eliminate Hitler, which means bringing into being a dynamic not necessarily the same as that of the Nazis, but probably quite as unacceptable to ‘enlightened’ and hedonistic people. What has kept England on its feet during the past year? In part, no doubt, some vague idea about a better future, but chiefly the atavistic emotion of patriotism, the ingrained feeling of the English-speaking peoples that they are superior to foreigners. For the last twenty years the main object of English left-wing intellectuals has been to break this feeling down, and if they had succeeded, we might be watching the S.S. men patrolling the London streets at this moment. Similarly, why are the Russians fighting like tigers against the German invasion? In part, perhaps, for some half-remembered ideal of Utopian Socialism, but chiefly in defence of Holy Russia (the ‘sacred soil of the Fatherland’, etc. etc.), which Stalin has revived in an only slightly altered from. The energy that actually shapes the world springs from emotions — racial pride, leader-worship, religious belief, love of war — which liberal intellectuals mechanically write off as anachronisms, and which they have usually destroyed so completely in themselves as to have lost all power of action.

[. . .]

Mr. Wells, like Dickens, belongs to the non-military middle class. The thunder of guns, the jingle of spurs, the catch in the throat when the old flag goes by, leave him manifestly cold. He has an invincible hatred of the fighting, hunting, swashbuckling side of life, symbolised in all his early books by a violent propaganda against horses. The principal villain of his Outline of History is the military adventurer, Napoleon. If one looks through nearly any book that he has written in the last forty years one finds the same idea constantly recurring: the supposed antithesis between the man of science who is working towards a planned World State and the reactionary who is trying to restore a disorderly past. In novels, Utopias, essays, films, pamphlets, the antithesis crops up, always more or less the same. On the one side science, order, progress, internationalism, aeroplanes, steel, concrete, hygiene: on the other side war, nationalism, religion, monarchy, peasants, Greek professors, poets, horses. History as he sees it is a series of victories won by the scientific man over the romantic man. Now, he is probably right in assuming that a ‘reasonable,’ planned form of society, with scientists rather than witch-doctors in control, will prevail sooner or later, but that is a different matter from assuming that it is just round the corner. There survives somewhere or other an interesting controversy which took place between Wells and Churchill at the time of the Russian Revolution. Wells accuses Churchill of not really believing his own propaganda about the Bolsheviks being monsters dripping with blood, etc., but of merely fearing that they were going to introduce an era of common sense and scientific control, in which flag-wavers like Churchill himself would have no place. Churchill’s estimate of the Bolsheviks, however, was nearer the mark than Wells’s. The early Bolsheviks may have been angels or demons, according as one chooses to regard them, but at any rate they were not sensible men. They were not introducing a Wellsian Utopia but a Rule of the Saints, which like the English Rule of the Saints, was a military despotism enlivened by witchcraft trials. The same misconception reappears in an inverted form in Wells’s attitude to the Nazis. Hitler is all the war-lords and witch-doctors in history rolled into one. Therefore, argues Wells, he is an absurdity, a ghost from the past, a creature doomed to disappear almost immediately. But unfortunately the equation of science with common sense does not really hold good. The aeroplane, which was looked forward to as a civilising influence but in practice has hardly been used except for dropping bombs, is the symbol of that fact. Modern Germany is far more scientific than England, and far more barbarous. Much of what Wells has imagined and worked for is physically there in Nazi Germany. The order, the planning, the State encouragement of science, the steel, the concrete, the aeroplanes, are all there, but all in the service of ideas appropriate to the Stone Age. Science is fighting on the side of superstition. But obviously it is impossible for Wells to accept this. It would contradict the world-view on which his own works are based. The war-lords and the witch-doctors must fail, the common-sense World State, as seen by a nineteenth-century Liberal whose heart does not leap at the sound of bugles, must triumph. Treachery and defeatism apart, Hitler cannot be a danger. That he should finally win would be an impossible reversal of history, like a Jacobite restoration.

George Orwell, “Wells, Hitler and the World State”, Horizon, 1941.

June 4, 2013

Marx for the modern era

Filed under: Economics, History, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:33

A case for finding the proper modern interpretation of the works of Karl Marx:

The first view (held mostly by its detractors) is that Marxism is little more than the politics of resentment — a philosophical justification for the hatred of success by those who failed to achieve it. The politics of resentment offers three different methods for bringing its program of economic jealousy to fruition: Under socialism, the unsuccessful use the power of government to forcibly extract wealth and possessions from the successful, bit by bit until there is nothing left; under the more extreme communism, the very notion of wealth or success is eliminated entirely, and anyone who seeks individual achievement is punished or eliminated; and finally under anarchy, freelance predators would be allowed to steal or destroy any existing wealth or possessions with no interference from the state. Marx himself saw pure communism as the ultimate goal, with socialism as a necessary precursor, and perhaps just an occasional dash of anarchy to ignite the revolutionary fires.

But there is another, more intriguing and less noxious, view of Marxist thought that gets less attention these days because its anachronistic roots in the Industrial Revolution seemingly render it somewhat irrelevant to modern economics. Marx posited that factory workers should own the factory themselves and profit from its output, since they’e the ones actually doing the work — and the wealthy fat cat “capitalists” should be booted out of the director’s office since they don’t really do anything except profit from other people’s labor. Marx generalized this notion to “The workers should control the means of production,” and then extended it further to a national scale by declaring that the overall government itself should be “a dictatorship of the proletariat,” with “proletariat” defined in this context as “someone who actually works for a living.” The problem with this theory in the 21st century is that very few people actually work in factories anymore due to exponential improvements in automation and efficiency, and fewer still produce handicrafts, and the vast majority of American “workers” these days don’t actually create anything tangible. Even so, there is an attractive populist rationality to this aspect of Marxism that appeals to everyone’s sense of fairness — even to those who staunchly reject the rest of communist theory. Those who do the work should reap the benefits and control the system; hard to argue with that.

Although the “factory” is no longer the basic building block of the American economy, Marx’s notion that “The workers should control the means of production” can be rescued and made freshly relevant if it is re-interpreted in a contemporary American context.

H/T to Jon, my former virtual landlord, for the link.

May 27, 2013

Kim Il Sung’s 1974 higher education management text is “a perfect book for our times”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Humour, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:45

Alex Usher can’t stop recommending On Improving Higher Education, by Kim Il Sung, going so far as to call it “a perfect book for our times”:

Pay raises, for instance are Right Out. “As long as you make an issue out of remuneration, you cannot be a revolutionary,” says Kim, righteously noting that nobody paid Marx to write Das Kapital (the fact that Marx died before completing it might have had something to do with that, but no matter). North Korean intellectuals had the privilege of giving lectures and writing books, “and yet they insist on receiving money for this wonderful task,” Kim splutters.

Work rules, too, come under serious scrutiny. Responding to complaints that “university and college professors lecture a thousand hours a year”, which some consider to be too much, Kim is clear: “You are wrong! Fundamentally speaking, calculating lecture hours is not the attitude of a revolutionary. If you are true revolutionaries who serve the people, you would never calculate the hours; you try hard by all means to work as much as you can”.

(I make the following offer to university administrations across Canada: if any of you decide to try to outflank your faculty union to the left by telling them their views are evidence of captiveness to bourgeois ideology, I’m buying the first round.)

April 11, 2013

Akaash Maharaj: Can the Liberal Party rediscover its ideals?

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:28

In the Globe and Mail, Akaash Maharaj wonders if the LPC’s long time in office — and the resulting accretion of power-seekers rather than idealists — can be atoned for in time to regain the hearts (and votes) of Canadians:

There is no denying that the Liberal Party’s long association with domination made it a magnet for individuals drawn to power rather than to public service, a tool of Liberals of convenience rather than Liberals of conviction. The question that will confront its next leader is not whether the Liberal Party can rebuild its fabled political machine into one capable of waging an effective campaign; it is whether it can rediscover its ideals and return as a party deserving of our country’s trust.

If it is to have any hope of doing so, it will need to find the courage to resist the lure of comforting self-deceptions and the seduction of recent polls.

The party’s decline at successive elections was not due to some lapse in judgment by a rueful electorate that yearns to repent at the next opportunity. It was not a want of resources that can be remedied by a new crop of bagmen or ward heelers. It was not an absence of messianic personalities whose charisma could substitute for grassroots renewal.

The Liberal Party instead received a calculated rebuke from Canadians against the divisions and hubris they saw gnawing at it. It was dismissed by an electorate who concluded that the Liberal Party was no longer willing or able to deliver liberal policies or governance.

He then goes on to enumerate what the Liberal Party should be — and it’s a pretty fair list — but not what most people would associate with the Liberal brand, unfortunately. Since Stephen Harper has co-opted the position the Liberals used to occupy (both in the political and philosophical senses), there’s definitely room in the Canadian political spectrum for a party that believes “liberty is the highest political good, and that as a result, the first duty of government is to seek the greatest liberty for the one that is compatible with liberty for all.”

A party that truly believed and worked towards that would be a Liberal Party worth supporting. Maharaj seems to want the Liberals to become more libertarian … and I think that would be a great improvement.

February 16, 2013

The socialist origins of Mussolini’s Fascist Italy

Filed under: Europe, History, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:13

Everyone “knows” that Fascism is an ideology of the extreme right, and Communism is an ideology of the extreme left. Benito Mussolini’s fascist state was bankrolled by big business and the Catholic Church to suppress the democratic demands of the workers in the wake of the First World War. Except that isn’t actually true:

… Mussolini was every bit as much as man of the Left as contemporaries such as Eugene V. Debs. He was what would later come to be known as a “red diaper baby” (meaning the child of revolutionary socialist parents). As a young man, Mussolini himself was a Marxist, fervently anticlerical, went to Switzerland to evade compulsory military service, and was arrested and imprisoned for inciting militant strikes. Eventually, he became a leader in Italy’s Socialist Party and he was imprisoned once again in 1911 for his antiwar activities related to Italy’s invasion of Libya. Mussolini was so prominent a socialist at this point in his career that he won the praise of Lenin who considered him to be the rightful head of a future Italian socialist state.

[. . .]

When the Italian Fascist movement was founded in 1919, most of its leaders and theoreticians were, like Mussolini himself, former Marxists and other radical leftists such as proponents of the revolutionary syndicalist doctrines of Georges Sorel. The official programs issued by the Fascists, translations of which are included in Norling’s book, reflected a standard mixture of republican and socialist ideas that would have been common to any European leftist group of the era. If indeed the evidence is overwhelming that Fascism has its roots on the far Left, then from where does Fascism’s reputation as a rightist ideology originate?

[. . .]

During its twenty-three years in power, Mussolini’s regime certainly made considerable concessions to traditionally conservative interests such as the monarchy, big business, and the Catholic Church. These pragmatic accommodations borne of political necessity are among the evidences typically offered by leftists as indications of Fascism’s rightist nature. Yet there is abundant evidence that Mussolini essentially remained a socialist throughout the entirety of his political life. By 1935, thirteen years after Mussolini seized power in the March on Rome, seventy-five percent of Italian industry had either been nationalized outright or brought under intensive state control. Indeed, it was towards the end of both his life and the life of his regime that Mussolini’s economic policies were at their most leftist.

After briefly losing power for a couple of months during the summer of 1943, Mussolini returned as Italy’s head of state with German assistance and set up what came to be called the Italian Social Republic. The regime subsequently nationalized all companies employing more than a hundred workers, redistributed housing that was formerly privately owned to its worker occupants, engaged in land redistribution, and witnessed a number of prominent Marxists joining the Mussolini government, including Nicola Bombacci, the founder of the Italian Communist Party and a personal friend of Lenin. These events are described in considerable detail in Norling’s work.

It would appear that the historic bitter rivalry between Marxists and Fascists is less a conflict between the Left and the Right, and more of a conflict between erstwhile siblings on the Left. This should come as no particular surprise given the penchant of radical leftist groupings for sectarian blood feuds. Indeed, it might be plausibly argued that leftist ”anti-fascism” is rooted in jealously of a more successful relative as much as anything else.

December 20, 2012

Borking, in retrospect

Filed under: Government, History, Law, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:14

Walter Olson on the historically nasty confirmation battle that kept Robert Bork off the US Supreme Court:

Of course the confirmation critique that makes it into every Bork obituary isn’t Heflin’s or Johnston’s. It’s Ted Kennedy’s blowhard caricature, intended for northern liberal consumption, of “Robert Bork’s America” as “a land in which women would be forced into back alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, school children could not be taught about evolution,” and so on.

Never in memory had a judicial nomination been fought in such language. Why?

As a constitutional law scholar, Bork had distinguished himself even among conservatives for his scathing critique of the Warren Court, which he accused essentially of having made up constitutional law as it went along.

To organized liberal groups, on whose behalf Kennedy was acting, this was the next thing to a declaration of war. Yet they couldn’t exactly come out and defend making up constitutional law as you went along as their own vision for the high court.

Instead, they served up a steady diet of vitriol and wild oversimplification, especially in TV ads and other messages delivered outside the confirmation hearings.

The Washington Post itself opposed Bork’s confirmation, yet nonetheless editorialized against the “intellectual vulgarization and personal savagery” to which some of his opponents had descended, “profoundly distorting the record and the nature of the man.”

December 5, 2012

Humans are not as much rational as they are rationalizing creatures

Filed under: Politics, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:37

Ronald Bailey discusses a study which confirms what every con man already knew: smart people are easier to fool.

People reason chiefly to persuade others that they are right, not to find out what is true.

So claim Hugo Mercier, a postdoctoral fellow in economics and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, and Dan Sperber, a philosopher and cognitive scientist at the Central European University, in their provocative 2010 article, “Why Do Humans Reason? Arguments for an Argumentative Theory,” in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Now a new study by the Yale Cultural Cognition Project finds that people also use reason to convince themselves, in the face of evidence to the contrary, that they and those on their side are right.

[. . .]

In addition, both liberals and conservatives displayed ideological bias when assessing the validity of the cognitive reflection test. When climate change skeptics were characterized as open-minded, Republicans thought the test was nifty. When skeptics were branded as close-minded, more Democrats found the test results convincing. Thus, the study finds that the experimental “results were more consistent with a finding of symmetry than one of asymmetry with respect to ideologically motivated reasoning.” Ideology distorts both left-wing and right-wing thinking.

Do higher scores on the reflective cognition test temper political polarization? To get at this question, the study compared both liberals and conservatives who scored low on the reflective cognition test (the 62 percent of subjects who got no answers right) with liberals and conservatives scored higher (those who got an average of 1.6 answers right putting them in between the 80th and 90th percentile of the sample). In short, the researchers found that the higher either conservatives or liberals scored on the cognitive reflection test the more likely they were to judge the test as valid when its results supposedly confirmed their ideological views about climate change skeptics and vice versa. People skilled at systematic reasoning use that capacity to justify their beliefs rather seek out truth.

Kahan notes in passing that social psychological research has found that political independents and libertarians score better on the cognitive reflection than do liberals or conservatives (check your answers below). But before we libertarians and independents start patting ourselves on our collective backs for being the better systematic reasoners, could this simply mean that we are especially good at justifying our beliefs to ourselves?

I got the answers to all three test questions right, which means I’m even more likely to “fool myself” than the average person (according to this study, anyway).

August 30, 2012

It’s hip to hate on TED

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:47

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry swims against the critical tide to praise TED:

TED, the “Davos of Silicon Valley”, which has refashioned itself into a global media company selling ideas in many forms, can often seem like it’s caught in an endless cycle of pretension and self-regard; an echo chamber in which people suckle polished platitudes from each other and call it deep thought. It’s also an echo chamber that – let’s face it – many people with soapboxes not-so-secretly wish they’d been invited to.

Evgeny Morozov, internet-famous hectorer of optimists, was pushing at an open door when earlier this month he published a long article in The New Republic hectoring TED for intellectual vapidity and pretension, peppering his piece with highfalutin’ philosophical allusions. The piece duly went viral, and thus it became official: contempt of TED is now hip, even de rigueur. Like owning an iPhone, or being enthusiastic about TED three years ago.

But hang on a second. Is TED noxiously pretentious? Yes. Is TED superficial? Of course. Does TED peddle a slightly messianic ideology even as it claims to be above ideology? Sure. But none of those things should obscure the things that are truly great about TED. Because TED is great. No, hear me out.

August 11, 2012

Environmentalism versus ecology

Filed under: Environment, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:09

An interesting interview with Dr. Patrick Moore:

Cotto: One of the gravest concerns you have cited with the modern environmentalist movement is its increasingly ideological nature. Some might say that this, in fact, is a positive development. How would you beg to differ?

Dr. Moore: Ideology is negative in so far as it tends to divide people into warring camps with no possible resolution. My late Greenpeace friend Bob Hunter suggested early on that in order for environmentalism to become a mass movement, it would have to be based on ideology, or as he called it “popular mythology,” because “not everybody can be a Ph.D. ecologist.” I have never accepted organized religion and note all the evils perpetuated in the name of “God is on our side” I do believe in just wars such as the armed struggle to end apartheid. But that was not based on religion but rather on human rights.

For example it has become part of environmental ideology, as stated by Bill McKibben in the current Rolling Stone, that the fossil fuel industries are “Public Enemy Number One.” Oil is particularly vilified as evidenced by high-profile campaigns to stop pipelines, drilling, tankers, oil sands, and anything else to do with producing or transporting oil. Oil is responsible for 36% of global energy and is therefore the most important source of energy to support our civilization. If it is the aim of “environmentalists” to stop fossil fuel production and use, end fracking, end coal mining, end the use of oil, then they are promoting a policy that would have disastrous consequences for human civilization and the environment. If we stopped using fossil fuel today, or by 2020 as Al Gore proposes, at least half the human population would perish and there wouldn’t be a tree left on the planet with a year, as people struggled to find enough energy to stay alive.

[. . .]

Cotto: In the past, you have said that human activity is not the only cause for climate change. What do you believe is the greatest contributing factor?

Dr. Moore: First, we don’t know precisely how the many factors affecting climate contribute and interact in producing the earth’s climate at any given time. The cause of the onset of Ice-Ages, one of which we are presently experiencing, is a puzzle we don’t fully understand. I explain in my presentations that as a scientist who is fully qualified to understand climate change, I seem dumber than the people who say they “know” the answers because I do not profess to know the future, especially of something so complicated as the global climate.

One thing is certain, there is no “scientific proof” as the term is generally understood, that human emissions are the main cause of climate change today. Even the IPCC only claims that it is “very likely” (a judgement, in their own words, not a proof) that human emissions are responsible for “most” of the warming “since the mid-20th century” (1950). Therefore they are not claiming that humans caused the 0.4C warming between 1910-1940, but they are claiming that we are the main cause of the 0.4C warming between 1970 and 2000. Yet they provide no opinion as to what did cause the warming between 1910-1940. There is a logical inconsistency here that has never been addressed. It is also important to note that the IPCC does not speak of “catastrophe”, that is left to the fanatics and perpetual doom-sayers.

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