“Our understanding is conducted solely by means of the word: anyone who falsifies it betrays public society. It is the only tool by which we communicate our wishes and our thoughts; it is our soul’s interpreter: if we lack that, we can no longer hold together; we can no longer know each other. When words deceive us, it breaks all intercourse and loosens the bonds of our polity.” – Montaigne
A word on context. I have noticed among comments posted by various segments of “the Right” or “liberal Left” alike that all too often their anger is expressed in imprecise comparisons with forms of government that were specific to the interwar period. These political types cannot be transferred to current-day American politics willy-nilly. It is a crime against the truth.
Nazism was specific to Germany and its ambiguous, humiliating defeat after the Great War. Hitler appealed to a broad constituency, arguing that the German Volk or “people’s community” was supreme. To attain that long-lost glory supposedly limned by Tacitus in his Germania, Jews would have to be removed and Slavs enslaved in the Nazi drive for Lebensraum. The result was a “modernizing” racial state, with some continuities with the welfare statism of Bismarck and with the social democratic Weimar Republic. The Nazi turn toward the archaic and the medieval was a blow against the Enlightenment as practiced by Western Europeans and America. The uses of “science” for military purposes or for “racial hygiene” should not be marshaled as proof that Nazism was the non plus ultra of modernity. Nazism was reactionary and anti-modern. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Teutoburg_Forest.) Nazism was distinct from either Mussolini’s Fascism or Franco’s Clerical-fascism, though all three authoritarian governments were directed against the labor movement or any other form of lower-class radicalism. (I have not mentioned anarcho-syndicalism, a target both of Franco and the Soviet Union during the Spanish Civil War.)
Communism was not supposed to happen in a backward country (Russia), but the Bolshevik coup, taking advantage of the military situation on the Eastern Front in 1917 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Brest-Litovsk, especially “Background”), amazed the world as 1/6 of the land mass of planet Earth would now advertise itself as a “workers’ state.” Its early phase celebrated modernity and was believed by its adherents to be the fulfillment of the Enlightenment and the liberation of the individual. As a result American writers and intellectuals were excited by the Soviet vanguard, and many were won over to some form of radicalism, especially after the Great Depression hit the U.S., in spite of the socialist realist protocols administered to Soviet artists and fellow travelers in the 1930s. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialist_Realism, also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhdanov_Doctrine.) Socialist realism and Nazi art both idealized the People.
Notwithstanding the twists and turns of the Comintern line, the Soviet Union prided itself on its freedom from racialism and all forms of nationalism/imperialism, lauding in its place “proletarian internationalism.” There were supporters of both Lenin and Woodrow Wilson in the post-WW1 period.
Social Democracy was an aristocratic response to the rise of the industrial bourgeoisie and the Frankenstein monster Adam Smith & Co. had spawned. Its chief proponents in Europe were Disraeli, Christian Socialists, Bismarck, and Pope Leo XIII (author of Rerum Novarum). Together, they offered a competing notion of Enlightenment to the rabble-rousers of the anti-clerical French Enlightenment. Historians identify their ideology and its chief lights “the moderate men,” believers in the creed of “progressivism.” In America, the early progressives might be Mugwumps, then radical advocates of a “cooperative Commonwealth.” As shown elsewhere on this website, social psychologists allied with the Roosevelt administration did not hesitate to deploy German or Nazi methods in managing the “masses” they held responsible for supporting Hitler. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/04/18/links-to-nazi-sykewar-american-style/.)
The progressives offered their own version of racism, while professing to be anti-racists. Multiculturalism was a defense by crypto-nativist Americans to the looming threat of “proletarian internationalism” and could be seen as early as 1916, in articles by Randolph Bourne and Horace Kallen. Ethnicity now trumped “class” as the preferred method for sorting out people and appealing to their political interests. The hyphenated-American made his entrance to the stage of U.S. history and is currently consigned to separatist ethnic studies programs, tilted to social democracy, now called “the Left.”
The Republican Party lopped off its radical branch during Reconstruction, thence to be the party of industry and finance. Because Popular Front Communists insisted that the Republican Party was composed of Nazis, in contrast to their ultra-democratic selves (the “true” anti-fascists, e.g. the Abraham Lincoln Battalion), Democrats and CP fellow travelers alike have fastened that hateful term (Nazis) on Republicans (and Trotskyists, the anti-Stalinist Left). Even so, Progressivism was bipartisan in nature, with many Republicans (e.g. the Theodore Roosevelt administration) supporting a “new nationalism” with a safety net, support for unions, and a “living Constitution.” But more pertinent to today’s Republicans is the move of “socially responsible capitalists” switching to Keynesian economics in 1942, as they formed the Committee For Economic Development and bolstered the ranks of progressivism (see https://clarespark.com/2010/06/19/committee-for-economic-development-and-its-sociologists/). The Democratic Party thus became the party of a certain kind of rich person, who ostentatiously show their love for “the Common Man,”while simultaneously shopping with Saudi Royals and perusing luxury magazines such as Du Jour (illustrated above). The frugal housewife went out, while the revolt against “Puritanism” flourished in both mass culture and high culture.
A Big Mess. Because of the intellectual backwardness of American journalism we have a confusing political vocabulary, accompanied by ignorant slugfests. Books like Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism gained a large following on the populist Right with its indictment of “the nanny state” seen as fascist or proto-fascist. Meanwhile, the field of American Studies, following the anti-American Soviet or even Nazi line to a “T” has taught millions of students that the U.S. is genocidal, imperialist, patriarchal, racist, and ecocidal. Above all, Communists and Nazis could agree that America is in the dirty paws of “finance capital” and hedge-fund managers, the generic JEW. (See praise of the new movie Arbitrage in the upscale magazine illustrated above.)
While in graduate school, I noted that graduate students in the U.S. field were fixated on American colonialism and “inequality.” We were a hopelessly class-ridden society given to narcissism and slaughter. The grad students in the U.S. field did not generally study European history, let alone the lead up to the world wars or the interwar period, while antisemitism was not a legitimate field of study. It was not until David Wyman and Deborah Lipstadt gave a talk at UCLA in 1986 that I became aware that the Holocaust was known to the West before 1945 and the liberation of the death camps. (It is one of my contentions in this blog that the shameful neglect of the many forms in which antisemitism appears may explain the big mess in political taxonomy that we now face–a mess that announces itself in the furious comments that appear in any and all websites and newspapers across the political spectrum.)
What has happened to our political culture? Can we no longer inform the public that there is an entirely different strategy for wealth creation in the Democratic and Republican parties as currently constituted; that Keynesian economics are different from supply-side economics, and should be calmly described without cursing out the opposition?
For a related essay by Ron Radosh in dialogue with David Dreier, see http://hnn.us/articles/how-left-wing-look-americas-heroes-reveals-its-own-ignorance?utm_source=HNN+Newsletter&utm_campaign=39c2ec2f9b-Roundup_Top_10_8_31_128_30_2012&utm_medium=email.