Friday, September 29, 2017

Anyone Who Believes Those Ideologies Deserve To Have A Chance To Win Again Are Either Depraved Or Stupid

Several times I've recommended that people read James Weinstein's book The Long Detour:  The History and Future of the American Left, not because I agree with everything Weinstein said nor because I think his typically atheist-left point of view led him to have a full or even entirely effective series of solutions to the problem but because what he does say he backs up quite well.   I think he and I would differ in that looking at the last century of Marxists with political power I have concluded that it is, in practice, an equivalent evil to Nazism and other similar forms of what has traditionally been called "right wing" anti-democratic ideology.  The day I finally realized that someone murdered by Marxists were as murdered as someone murdered by Nazism was one of the most troubling in my life because I had bought the "they're our sons of bitches" leftist line, though I had never really believed that Soviet "socialism" or, in fact, that in just about any other place was any socialism I wanted anything to do with and I never thought communism was anything anyone should think was a worthy goal.

And I think that the practical character of Marxism is a direct result of its inherent materialism.  In fact,  Marxism being among the most idealistic of ideological formulations of materialism, its uniform moral depravity in practice constitutes one of the strongest reasons that I have come to believe that such depravity is an inevitable result of the belief in materialism and the consequent degradation of life and, inevitably, human life and the moral obligation to treat people well.  Materialism, whether Darwinist or Marxist, treats the human population as a herd or masses to be managed, scientifically for optimum results.  And when that happens, as, in fact, it does under American Republican-fascist-capitalism  even under the guise of a quasi-religious guise, the results will benefit those doing the managing at the expense and lives of those managed.  All three of those ideologies share that same character.

I think it is one of the most astounding things about our current intellectual milieu that people figure that ideologies, political theories, political positions can be divorced not only from their effects but that those effects are separable from the ideas in theory and as they are carried out.  It's as if everyone figures all of that is some kind of political scientific story telling.  Maybe people in alleged academia and journalism are too much in the habit of reading and watching make believe instead of reality.

In fact, reading Weinsteins's book and looking up much of the documentation on the events and issues he discussed led me to believe that the materialist-atheist-scientistic "left" and their declarations, antics and positions, their current domination of what the media and academia consider the left were exactly what had discredited the American left, traditional American liberalism and driven it into the political wilderness.  The first realization in that area came with the fact that the highpoint of American liberalism in 1964 and 1965 was an achievement by the Christian left and the Christian middle, the Jewish left and middle, not the academic, atheist, materialist left against which those who made that progress through elections and through conventional democratic political action had to struggle.  The commie-baiting of traditional American liberals, even of such figures as The Reverend Martin Luther King jr. the perceived association and, in too many cases, actual association of liberals with Communists and other Marxists did as much to discredit and limit the effectiveness of American liberals as anything else.  

The choice made by such pseudo-liberal groups as decided it was our business to make sure everyone was being nice to Communists and Marxists and Nazis and fascists and white supremacists (American Nazis) and to make sure no one was being mean to them or depriving them of the chance to promote their poisoning of American democracy was never one that the real American left, traditional American liberalism should have ever been duped into going along with.  THERE WAS NEVER AND IS NOT NOW ANY REASON TO BELIEVE THAT THE TOTAL SUPPRESSION OF ADVOCACY OF AMERICAN NAZISM, OLD STYLE NAZISM, COMMUNISM OR MARXISM WOULD HAVE BEEN ANYTHING BUT GOOD.   Good for American democracy, good for the traditional American liberalism of equality, moral responsibility and freedom which is entirely at odds with everything about those anti-democratic, materialist, ideologies.   If those had been complete non-entities in American political discourse, if they had absolutely no followers in the United States, if a total ban on them had been possible and successful I can't conceive of anyone on the nominal left being stupid enough to believe things would not have been entirely better.  I can't think of anyone on any rational left who could possibly believe that if they or any other anti-egalitarian, anti-democratic ideology had never had any power or currency in the world that our history would not have almost certainly been better. 

During one of Ken Burns earlier PBS broadcast documentaries, the one on Prohibition, I caused outrage on a lefty blog by saying that the worst thing about prohibition was that it didn't work.   To the outrage I asked how the United States would be worse off if no one here drank alcohol, where no one had alcohol related car crashes, other accidents, alcohol related violence, alcohol related disease and disability or even days of work missed.   Of course, such a thing is not possible, it's too easy to make and transport alcohol and people do like drinking.  But the fact that you cannot effectively prohibit the production or ownership of alcohol is no reason to allow the present libertarian promotion of irresponsible and destructive use of alcohol or the absurdly easy access to it.   But alcohol can be used moderately and any of its destructive effects limited to the person who consumes it, provided they are kept from drunk driving or alcoholic violence.  The same isn't true of those ideologies, they are social phenomena, their effects are inherently social and political, their dangers are far more general and far more proven at a cost of tens, hundreds of millions of lives and the oppression of far more than a billion people.

I think that after the experience of the 20th century when it has been proven that words can kill, that ideas can kill, it is not only insane but idiotic to pretend that all ideologies, even those which advocated and still advocate the murders of entire races, ethnicities, religions, etc. are safely allowed their chance to succeed.


In complaints that I'd slandered the sacred memory of Oliver Wendell Holmes jr. someone claimed that my association of his Darwinism with his being prepared for a bloody, violent struggle, here, in the United States on the basis of ideas, the winner of which is certainly not guaranteed to be egalitarian democracy was a lie.  Well, it isn't, we have not only the testimony of Holmes' own judicial writing for that, we have the confirmation of that in his illustrious protege, secretary, confidant and friend,  Judge Francis Biddle, the chief judge at the Nuremberg trials.   I have pointed those out before.   In his dissent in the Gitlow case he said he was prepared to have dictatorship win out over democracy.

Every idea is an incitement. It offers itself for belief and if believed it is acted on unless some other belief outweighs it or some failure of energy stifles the movement at its birth. The only difference between the expression of an opinion and an incitement in the narrower sense is the speaker's enthusiasm for the result. Eloquence may set fire to reason. But whatever may be thought of the redundant discourse before us it had no chance of starting a present conflagration. If in the long run the beliefs expressed in proletarian dictatorship are destined to be accepted by the dominant forces of the community, the only meaning of free speech is that they should be given their chance and have their way.

Of course, being a convinced Darwinist, which, despite what you've been taught inevitably includes his being a"Social Darwinist," he didn't believe that "proletarian dictatorship,"  Marxism, was going to be the ultimate winner in such a struggle, though he very well would have been prepared to see the kind of eugenic violence that was endemic to the Darwinism of his time win out with many entire races dead.  What is remarkable in that passage is that Holmes, the man of law, the fixture of academia was prepared to see such speech win out over reason.   He obviously believed that such inherently violent, anti-democratic ideologies had some moral right to possibly winning, even by winning out over reason, even if, as in Donald Trump's speech, it sets fire to reason and burns up everything from that to basic morality and decency. 

That his free speech Darwinism ruled his legal thinking and that of those influenced by it is proven by the passage by Francis Biddle, in the series of lectures he gave in 1960,  which I've given before.

All society rested on the death of men or on the prevention of the lives of a good many. So that when the Chief Justice assigned him the task of writing an opinion upholding the constitutionality of a Virginia law for sterilizing imbeciles he felt that he was getting near the first principle of real reform— although of course he didn't mean that the surgeon's knife was the ultimate symbol. 

... He was amused at some of the rhetorical changes in his opinion suggested by his associates, and purposely used "short and rather brutal words for an antithesis," that made them mad. In most cases the difficulty was rather with the writing than with the thinking. To put the case well and from time to time to hint at a vista was the job. . . . 

This approach is characteristic of Holmes, and constantly reflected in his opinions— to keep the law fluid and the doors of the mind open. For pedestrian lawyers it was often unsatisfactory— they wanted everything defined and settled and turned into everlasting precedents. 

Darwin's influence was strong on Holmes, and his theory of the survival of those who were fit to survive must have been constantly and passionately discussed in Dr. Holmes's house when Wendell was a growing lad and young man. On the Origin of Species had appeared when he was eighteen, and The Descent of Man in 1871, when he was thirty. Darwin led to Herbert Spencer, whom Holmes thought dull, with the ideals of a lower middle-class British Philistine, but who, with Darwin, he believed had done more than any other English writer to affect our whole way of thinking about the universe. All his life Holmes held to the survival of the strong, and did not disguise his view that the Sherman Act was a humbug, based on economic ignorance and incompetence, and that the Interstate Commerce Commission was not a fit body to be entrusted with rate making. However, as he said to Pollock, he was so skeptical about our knowledge of the goodness or badness of laws that he had no practical criticism except what the crowd wants. Personally he would bet that the crowd if it knew more wouldn't want what it does.

Holmes' judicial thinking was a direct result of his belief in Darwinian natural selection, no less for his anti-regulatory thinking than for his decision allowing the state to forcibly sterilize people against their will - something which the Nazis knew of and applied when they made eugenics the law of the Nazi state seven years after Holmes decision in that case.   It was the basis of his tragically influential and grotesquely irresponsible holding that even ideas that might and could be expected to violently overthrow egalitarian democratic government, imposing a violent and bloody dictatorship in its place, part of the Darwinian struggle for existence that he clearly not only anticipated as scientifically guaranteed but which he also, in his hatred of anything he considered "sentimental" (confirmed by those who knew him) including, apparently, survival of those he disdained as weak.

That is what you buy into when you take Holmesian "free speech absolutist" declarations as some kind of virtue.  It inevitably includes the very real idea that Nazism, various Marxisms that have already murdered tens of millions, oppressed more than a billion, will get another chance to turn "never again" into an empty and disposable slogan.

Anyone who thinks, with the history of Nazism, with the history of  white supremacy in the United States that those ideas "deserve" some kind of chance of succeeding is depraved if they have really thought about it. Holmes was depraved, we know that by his own words and those of his closest associates.   If others haven't really considered that their advocacy contains the very real, real life possibility of that history repeating itself, they are merely stupid.   It turns their pious "never again" into, a monumentally irresponsible "well maybe again".  


  1. I'll admit I stopped at your mention of "Marxist" because it recalled a passing thought from earlier this morning, so to the extent what I have to say is not in direct response to all you had to say, I apologize and promise to come back later.

    But I was thinking about the op-ed about Texas in the NYT I commented on earlier at my blog, and how once again a dramatic change in circumstances was supposed to release the masses from their chains and cause them to rise up and shake off their oppressors (in this case the Texas GOP which, yes, is pretty oppressive) and unite because they have nothing to lose but their chains.

    Not that the author of the op-ed would agree with the famous sentiment of Marx and Engels, but because that's the base line the left in America (from The Nation and Democracy Now! to the NYT op-ed page) thinks is going to be their savior: a crisis so severe people will HAVE to see the Right is wrong and the Left is right! I though for a moment "Where do they get that ridiculous notion, that in a crisis people will see only one alternative, and that the one the Left says is the correct one?", and I realized: Marx, of course.

    Who based his analysis on what he thought was the inevitability of history (well, Yeats thought history inevitable, too; as did Hitler and Mussolini, and lots of other serious thinkers of all stripes, in the early 20th C. Which way that inevitability bent was the question), which would affirm his thesis not because his reasoning was so powerful but because history could follow no other course.

    So how did that work out? Puts Niebuhr's "irony of American History" in a different context, too, come to think of it.

    Conservatives today rally 'round ridiculous conspiracy theories, when it's not just old-fashioned racism and xenophobia (another gift from Mother England!), and liberals rally 'round not God in History, but the Zeitgeist of history. Which is ironic and pathetic, at the same time. Because surely we can save ourselves by finding something that will save us for us! Winning hearts and minds by waiting for something to do it for us!

    Yeah! That'll fit on a bumper sticker, right?

  2. "Personally he would bet that the crowd if it knew more wouldn't want what it does."

    Because then, of course, the crowd would think like me; a consummation devoutly to be wished, we all think. Until we are forced to remember the other admonition: "Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it."

    1. I think snobbery is almost always at play in figures like Holmes. I think the charge of snobbery has been the all too often accurate accusation made against the would-be left. I think a lot of what is asserted as a lefty lifestyle has entirely more to do with in-crowd identity than it does any kind of principle. I can't imagine someone becoming a successfully recognized figure of the left if they wore unfashionable clothes made of unfashionable synthetics.

      The more I read of Holmes the more I think his influence on American legal thought leads to pathological results.

    2. Contrast that with Dorothy Day's admonition to those who would join her to work with the poor: "I keep reminding the young people who come to work with us that they are not naturalized citizens...They are not really poor. We are always foreigners to the poor. So we have to make up for it by 'renouncing all compensations...' "

      That kind of humility is all but impossible for "the left," but all too essential.