Thursday, July 9, 2015

Movements

     The tendency to oppose rather than support – i.e., to react against something you dislike, rather than moving toward something you like – is commonplace in politics. It’s a lot easier to be against than for, because the former is less limiting, and thus less risky. Many persons select the candidates they’ll vote for on that basis: they choose the “least of the evils.” In a way, the tendency is implicit in a system where only a limited group of parties can propose candidates with a plausible chance of victory. It’s one of the strongest arguments for a “None Of The Above Is Acceptable” option that would leave the office unoccupied and its powers unexercised.

     With that as our preface, please ponder the cleavage described this article:

     Simply put, authoritarians merely want obedience, while totalitarians, whose rule is rooted in an ideology, want obedience and conversion. Authoritarians are a dime a dozen; totalitarians are rare. The authoritarians are the guys in charge who want to stay in charge, and don’t much care about you, or what you’re doing, so long as you stay out of their way. They are the jefe and his thugs in a brutal regime that want you to shut up, go to work, and look the other way when your loudmouthed neighbor gets his lights punched out by goons in black jackets. Live or die. It’s all the same to the regime.

     Totalitarians are a different breed. These are the people who have a plan, who think they see the future more clearly than you or who are convinced they grasp reality in a way that you do not. They don’t serve themselves—or, they don’t serve themselves exclusively—they serve History, or The People, or The Idea, or some other ideological totem that justifies their actions.

     They want obedience, of course. But even more, they want their rule, and their belief system, to be accepted and self-sustaining. And the only way to achieve that is to create a new society of people who share those beliefs, even if it means bludgeoning every last citizen into enlightenment. That’s what makes totalitarians different and more dangerous: they are “totalistic” in the sense that they demand a complete reorientation of the individual to the State and its ideological ends. Every person who harbors a secret objection, or even so much as a doubt, is a danger to the future of the whole project, and so the regime compels its subjects not only to obey but to believe.

     Rather frequently in the recent past, the U.S. has judiciously supported various authoritarian regimes on the grounds that at least they were opposed to the totalitarian regimes and movements adjudged to be the “more serious enemy.” This is Realpolitik in a nutshell: do the best you can for the present, and let the future take care of itself. It’s not always wrong, given the menaces of the moment, but considering how much injustice, privation, and suffering an authoritarian regime is capable of creating, it must always be tentative and subject to revision or revocation.

     But wait: there’s more! Nothing prevents an authoritarian regime from transforming into a totalitarian one. Indeed, that’s the usual progression of events: the eventual totalitarian successor appeals to the popular revulsion against the authoritarian one’s misdeeds for support, while it conceals its intention of preserving the regime’s coercive mechanisms for its own use. Review the history of the Twentieth Century if you doubt me.

     In political dynamics, the hand often moves more quickly than the eye. While those who cheer the transition celebrate the downfall of the hated regime, what was bad is replaced by something worse. It should be the watchword for all those dissatisfied with their political system that “Revolutions, as long and bitter experience reveals, are apt to take their color from the regime they overthrow.” (Richard Tawney)

     This is the case even with the sort of “peaceful revolution” conducted entirely at the ballot box.


     In recent weeks I’ve been troubled by the rising popularity of a movement that calls itself The Iron Legion:

     The Iron Legion is a military order. The Way of Iron is the arduous path. It is the militant path. It is not a path for the weak or fearful. It is the path of men who set out as outlaws and rebels and who return from their journey as heroes....

     The modern idea of freedom is a myth. Today’s freedom amounts to no more than the freedom to work and consume for the benefit of the oligarchs. I speak to men like us and they tell me what they want, what they feel is missing from the modern world, and it isn’t this nebulous concept of freedom. They want a brotherhood. They want order, discipline and tradition. They want old-world masculinity. They want to explore. They want to build something. They want a mission. They want to be part of something which has a great purpose, and they want the simple things like a home and a family, all of which are gradually being taken from them as this broken society dissolves. [Emphasis added by FWP.]

     The rhetoric is almost identical to the neo-Prussian “blut und boden” rhetoric of the early Nazis. The outright dismissal of freedom, with no interest in what freedom means or why so many millions throughout history have valued it, is particularly ominous.

     Beware those who would suck you into “a great purpose.” Your automatic and immediate question should be: “Whose purpose, Bubba? Yours, mine, or Fearless Leader’s?”


     There are many reasons to oppose the status quo. There are no free societies remaining on Earth. The last holdout was Hong Kong, and the Chinese Communists have put an end to that. Authoritarian regimes control all of the landmass of the Earth except for the portion controlled by totalitarian regimes...and in each and every polity of the West, totalitarians are waging an intermittently successful campaign for the levers of power. Mankind is as endangered as it has ever been.

     It puts me in mind of this passage from C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength:

     "You're still thinking about that?" said the Ulsterman.
     "I am thinking of almost nothing else," said the Director. "It may be the greater danger of the two. But what is certain is that the greatest danger of all is the junction of the enemies' forces. When the new power from Belbury joins up with the old power under Bragdon Wood, Logres-indeed Man-will be almost surrounded. For us everything turns on preventing that junction. That is the point at which we must be ready both to kill and die."

     For it is also the case that, as none other than Adolf Hitler has told us, “The great strength of the totalitarian state is that it forces those who fear it to imitate it.”


     Movements are always fraught with danger. When the movement is explicitly purposeful, the danger is at its maximum. This has given rise to a veritable industry of “deprogrammers” who specialize in rescuing converts to various cults.

     Yet even a dangerous and explicitly totalitarian movement can exert a powerful pull upon the soul. What else could explain the tens of thousands of vocal and active adherents to fascism and Communism in their heydays? Those movements were born in nations with authoritarian regimes. They capitalized on two things: the need of many persons to belong to something larger than themselves, and the tendency to oppose that which is visible and objectionable without thinking too deeply about the nature of the movement that opposes it. And for many years they wholly owned the lives of those subject to them.

     Our time features many dangers...and many opportunities. Select your direction with care. For myself, I remain committed to freedom, and to Christ.

     Food for thought.


     UPDATE: Commenter KG, the worthy proprietor of long-time favorite Crusader Rabbit, objects as follows:

     With respect, being "committed to freedom" is meaningless if that commitment extends only to casting a vote via the ballot box. The enemy now owns the box and freedom will have to be bought at a much higher price than the ritual, minimal effort of voting.
     Oh, and The Iron Legion does not dismiss the idea of freedom outright but rather the modern idea of freedom "which is no more than the freedom to work and consume for the oligarchs".
     Not at all the same thing as the outright dismissal of freedom.

     The thinking man's fear of ushering in something worse is reasonable -very useful to those who would prefer that this frog be brought slowly to the boil.

     To which I reply:

  • I’d be wary of someone who interprets freedom that way, inasmuch as most of us on the Right have a far different interpretation. Come to think of it, where does the proprietor of the site have anything good to say about political freedom – including freedom from coercion into some “great purpose” chosen by others? The martial, fascistic quality of his rhetoric seems to leave no room for it.
  • If there’s something wrong with either working to satisfy one’s wants or consuming that which one enjoys, I have yet to discover it. Granted that these are parts of life, and not its whole.
  • “The thinking man’s fear of ushering in something worse” has been validated far too many times to dismiss it fliply as merely an endorsement of the status quo. In any case, fear is an inducement to caution, not a reflexive, paralytic preference for the status quo. Nor is the willingness to embrace a movement against the status quo without pause for reflection praiseworthy, in light of the history of the century behind us.
  • “Beware” – alternately, “Be wary” – has two meanings:
    1. Be aware;
    2. Be skeptical – i.e., disinclined to accept important propositions entirely on faith when evidence can and should be proffered for them.

     Choose according to your tastes.

4 comments:

  1. With respect, being "committed to freedom" is meaningless if that commitment extends only to casting a vote via the ballot box. The enemy now owns the box and freedom will have to be bought at a much higher price than the ritual, minimal effort of voting.
    Oh, and The Iron Legion does not dismiss the idea of freedom outright but rather the modern idea of freedom "which is no more than the freedom to work and consume for the oligarchs".
    Not at all the same thing as the outright dismissal of freedom.
    The thinking man's fear of ushering in something worse is reasonable -very useful to those who would prefer that this frog be brought slowly to the boil.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "..Nor is the willingness to embrace a movement against the status quo without pause for reflection praiseworthy.."
    No argument with that, which is why I've spent the past few years observing the slide into tyranny very carefully and examining the options we have when opposing it.
    The opposition seen to date has had little effect, and rather than slowing it down, the pace of change for the worse is accelerating.
    Having reached the conclusion that the ballot box now enables tyranny, I'm comfortable with looking at the alternatives and giving one or two of them a platform where I can.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Beware, KG. That is: Be wary, and be skeptical. To do otherwise would constitute an intellectual and moral default. And with that, I've said my piece...and so have you.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Please excuse the tardiness in my reply. Chemotherapy takes some of the wind out of my sails.

    As this guy Simon Wolfe defends his Iron Legion he offers a place for men that … want a mission. They want to be part of something which has a great purpose…

    He has in mind The Greatest Generation going out there and Saving Private Ryan. All blue skies and don’t sit under the apple tree. That mobilization was a confluence of events and circumstances and timing that gathered such men in our country and offered them a mission: to keep the world safe for democracy. Unfortunately that confluence cannot be replicated in this country at this time. Too many splinter groups and special interest factions and too much disdain for values like patriotism.

    What I see is the possibility of a Third Reich, or maybe that would be Fourth, one that’s going to last a thousand years or so. That condition would stand a better chance of success after doing a little house-cleaning here at home. Hitler’s movement got rid of any dissenters and strongly urged the indecisive to join the movement or get on the cattle cars. Stalin did likewise, with trains to Siberia. We don’t have a vast wilderness so quick deaths and shallow graves would have to suffice. We do have plenty of Caterpillar D-10s.

    Having eliminated any detractors and sharpened their chops the Reich, er, sorry, Iron Legion could venture forth and set the rest of the world in order.

    Alles in Ordnung?

    ReplyDelete

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