Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Moderate Republicans; Velvet Stalinists

Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.
                                               Oscar Wilde
Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.
                                               Barry Goldwater
Who could be against moderation in one’s personal habits and conduct?  People are usually better off by not doing too much or too little of life’s basics – eating, drinking, exercising, relaxing, etc.   The “mean” was a centerpiece of Aristotle’s ethics – best is a life somewhere in a midway between excess and deficiency.  “Moderation” thus in most any conversation comes with approval and commendation. Extremes are dangerous: extremists are disagreeable and obnoxious.
The word “moderation” applied to an individual’s action or habits both describes and approves of what he does.  A “moderate” drinker is approved of because he habitually hits the proper balance of enjoying the pleasures of a toxic substance with the disciplined, limited (measured) intake of it so as to avoid intoxication and damage to his health.   Pleasure, sobriety and good health are all good things and moderation in this example is what brings these all together in a piece. There is no exact amount of consumption that can describe moderate drinking – “moderation” is inevitably and usefully imprecise and somewhat relative – because circumstances and people are endlessly variable.   
In discussions of politics, however, beware of moderation!  “Moderation” when applied to politicians collapses completely into partisan approbation disguised as analysis and description.  Political pundits and commentators, for example, routinely speak of “moderate Republicans,” a locution they employ to distinguish those so designated from other Republicans – who are what?  “Extreme,” “right-wing,” “radical,” “out-of-the-mainstream.” Moderate Republicans are, in effect, good Republicans, that is, ones that the pundits and commentators approve of.
What then is a “good Republican”?  A good Republican is a Republican who resembles or talks like a Democrat.   The supposed description contained in the phrase “moderate Republican” is really nothing more or less than disguised approval.   The pundit highly approves of Democrats and thus those who insist on distinguishing themselves from Democrats merit approval only insofar as they resemble Democrats.   When the “moderate Republicans” like John McCain or Jon Huntsman compete against other Republicans they are as “moderate Republicans” objects of high praise for the mainstream commentators, but when they eventually come to joust with Democrats, then…well… they are just Republicans and as such members of an inferior, discredited political caste who must then endure the riffs of condescension, derision and contempt from the inhabitants of the fourth estate.
This ideological and partisan use of moderation favored by our mainstream political commentators and reporters is routinely pointed primarily against Republicans and is evidenced by the fact that one rarely if ever encounters the mention of “moderate Democrats.”  If so, who are they?  Who then are the Democrat “extremists” who are distinct from them and who merit the kind of disapproval showered upon Republican “extremists”?   
There are no “moderate Democrats” as distinct from other ones because all Democrats are by nature balanced, reasoned, and above all, moderate.  Thus while there may be some variation among them relative to particular policy, no Democrat will be labeled “extreme” because to be extreme is to be other than a Democrat, outside of that virtuous orbit.  This point can be made with a question:  if President Obama is a “moderate Democrat”, who in the Party represents the extremists on the Left?   
Edward Kennedy as measured on the ideological spectrum was far on the Left region of the Party but at some point in his career he achieved apotheosis and was treated by the mainstream media a pillar of political rectitude, sound reason and moderation. There is some irony in this given Senator Kennedy’s conspicuous lack of moderation in his personal life – his alcoholism, womanizing and abandonment of a young woman companion to drown in the back seat of his car while he conferred with his political handlers.
Since the Kulturkampf of the 1960s pushed American culture to the Left and with it the entire Democrat party, its leading constituents now are composed of teacher unions, trial lawyers and Hollywood actors and directors. The culture-shaping institutions including the universities, the entertainment industry and the media are now dominated by an ideology of collectivism and thus the Democrats as the party increasingly of the Left has established its politics as “the norm” and its candidates as uniquely virtuous, empathetic and rational.  If you are not a Democrat, you are “abnormal,” which is translated by the pundits into the more specific attributes of stupid, mean and greedy.   No longer do the Democrats call themselves “liberals”; they are now “progressives” and since “progress” must be good and what any normal person would desire, non-progressives must be out of touch reactionaries who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them…”

The “moderate “Republican” subterfuge by the contemporary Left is a small part of its practice of “velvet Stalinism”.  Velvet Stalinists share the same premise as their pioneering iron-fisted precursors – power is not to be shared nor critics respected or spared.  President Obama in an unguarded moment made this premise explicit during the 2010 congressional campaign in an interview with Univision when he said: “[W]e're gonna punish our enemies, and we're gonna reward our friends ...”   Politics for Stalinists, iron-fisted and velvet, alike, is war. The object thus is to destroy the opposition because it is responsible for all the malignancies that plague society.  In those early days when Stalin was building the socialist workers paradise, the dissenters and unenthused were physically removed from political competition – shot or sent to the Gulag.
Today’s Stalinists not possessing quite the monopoly of force as the General Secretary of the CPSU, deal with their competitors by simply pronouncing them to be unfit, thus there is no obligation have to contest their criticism or ideas.  Nor should they have to since they are by definition “out of the mainstream.”  The competitors are assigned to realm of the stupid, the greedy, the mean-spirited, Fascists, Nazi’s and racists, categories that mean that the opposition should be taken seriously except as a pathological aberration.     
Moderation is wonderful, but it is meaningless in politics.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Marx versus Rousseau

J.J. Rousseau not Karl Marx is the real father and inspiration of the contemporary Left.   Rousseau’s “Man is born free, everywhere he is in chains” is the original, Gallic formulation of the current adolescent anarchist rally-cry, “Rage against the machine!”
 Marx made the mistake of thinking that his economic and sociological generalizations harnessed to a Hegelian dialectic was science, and so with these “instruments” he committed to writing an ambitious set of predictions about the future of the modern world that never materialized and never will.  Marx was a pretend-scientist and after a time most everyone quit pretending that he was a real one. 
Karl Marx and his “science” died, but the man and his work became an “ism”, Marxism, a prophetic religious movement with an infallible scripture, fanatical followers, enforced orthodoxy with splintering sects, and the promise of equality and plenty always, like the Second Coming, somewhere in the future.  Whenever and wherever its practitioners failed, as in Russia and China, the true believers refused to retreat. They were saved by the “Great Tautology” – what failed was not really ‘true Communism’ because true Communism would be successful.  Scientists, engineers, economists – few if any, know or care about Karl Marx any longer.  He remains popular with English professors who find in his largely unreadable tomes a “theoretical” argot that gives a ponderous voice to the resentment they feel for having salaries lower than business professors.  Only from a “Distinguished Professor of English Literature” (Terry Eagleton) would in 2011 come a title: Why Marx was Right.
Rousseau was a very different creature from Marx and his legacy and influence more insidious and pervasive.   Romantic, deviant, half-crazy – Rousseau’s genius consisted in the overturning of the normative premise that affirms the work of civilizing institutions.  Rousseau was about grievances. His famous oracular pronouncement that opened his famous political work, On Social Contract,Man is born free but everywhere is in chains” is emblematic of a view of the human condition that conceives of human beings as naturally good and benevolent, confronting a society that represses that natural goodness, corrupts the spontaneous benevolence of the individual, and ultimately ruins his happiness. It represents the core of Rousseau's subversive sentiments and betrays his attitude -- the instruments of civilization, ironically, are the tools of oppression. The authority behind the civilized structures of authority is fraudulent, deserving of repudiation. 
 Civilization was a problem for a Rousseau, not a solution for natural human limitations, as it was generally opined to be.  To civilize for Rousseau meant to exert repressive and coercive forces of social organization that resulted in unjust and arbitrary inequalities among people.  Primitive man was free, equal and happy: modern man was trapped in a rigged system that empties out his authentic self, a victim.
Self-righteous victimhood was the predominant motif that drifted out of the turbulent ideological wake of Rousseau’s premise-overturning.  Marx made victimhood the origin and engine of the proletarian revolution.   “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (Communist Manifesto)   History’s victims, the oppressed workers, would in the end overthrow their capitalist oppressors.  Beneath the façade of any and every existing social order there was always a system of domination and oppression made up of the exploiters and their victims. 
Rousseau’s insistence on the reality of an innate, natural human goodness and the inherent repressiveness of traditional institutions with their entrenchment of inequalities was, however, an exquisite creation of what turns out to be a proto-modern mind. Moreover, Rousseau was a thinker far ahead of his time. His ideas were destined to be an energizing ideological force with unlimited potential for the production of intellectual resentment—raw, festering, and intense—as the inequalities come into view, and for the complete dismantling of traditional institutions. The various tropes of victimhood are now firmly entrenched in our political discourse and mass culture with a language developed and refined by the Illuminati from our best universities.
For the Roussean, the gross disparities, the innumerable inequalities, the invidious comparisons that one inevitably finds separating human beings are the work of inherently corrupt social forces. Truly creative, humanizing work expresses itself in the undoing of the inequality and injustice ruthlessly established and cruelly perpetuated by the agents of social institutions. “Liberty, fraternity, equality,” the famous slogan of the French Revolutionaries, inspired by Rousseau, captures the spirit of his profound opposition to and revulsion with the old order and led to the call to overthrow the hated Ancient Regime ruled by a hierarchy of a king, aristocrats and priests, agents of temporal and spiritual tyranny.
The passion expressed by the slogan became a fundamental passion of modernity that would be translated into revolutionary programs designed to carry out the smashing of the old orders. The throne and the cross were the most obvious symbols of oppression for the French revolutionaries, corruption and immorality— the last priest was to be strangled with the entrails of the last king. Here, late in the eighteenth century, was the terrible birth of total revolution, a new, totally modern phenomenon.  Total revolution would become a large part of the twentieth century’s legacy of mass murder and systematic enslavement. One of the great ironies of Rousseau is that his reaction against the crushing of the authentic self by a false and hypocritical society unleashed a subjective and emotive orientation steeped in self-righteous resentment that has only increased the alienation associated with modern life.
Rousseau’s passionate theorizing has become a familiar underpinning of our contemporary efforts at social critique. It inverts the traditional conception of individual-to-institutional relationship. In both the traditional conception, and the modern inverted version, the theme of constraint vigorously asserts itself—the radically different interpretation of its role and effects creates this all important inversion.
Constraints have come to be viewed and resented as the embodiment of something quite nefarious—engines of social exploitation and sources of social inequality. The reason for this is that existing constraints, the laws, rules and norms in their abstract form appear to be necessary or fair or reasonable. But constraints, alas, are ultimately linked to constrainers, to individuals—real people hiding behind the abstractions—who enjoy the benefits that accrue from their socially or politically advantaged positions, while avoiding the constraints themselves—gross hypocrisy at the core, always! This is most certainly the view of Rousseau and of all his ideological progeny; it is a seductive, troubling perspective that has traveled for over two hundred years far and well into the twenty-first century. 
            De-legitimization remains the serious business of our own intellectual elites who follow Rousseau’s call to expose the illegitimacy of the old order. Their motto is  écraser l’infame. Their vocation is the systematic dismantling of traditional institutions. These institutions reveal their moral bankruptcy and their origins in the corrupted exercise of power. The Rousseans proceed by attacking the hypocrisy of the institutions, by showing that the ideals of the institutions—“life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” as stated in our own Declaration of Independence, for example––are belied by historical practices that exclude all but a select few from the enjoyment of the institution’s benefits. No critique of an institution renders a more withering and morally deflating verdict than when it exposes a base hypocrisy; and no institutions exist without hypocrites. De-legitimation builds from Rousseau’s foundational premise of “the noble savage.”
            Rousseau was the intellectual’s intellectual. As the philosopher of misery and the original theorist of socially determined victimhood, he cast the original molds for the production of the “socially conscious” moralist. These were the theorist, richly infused with the indignation that the contemplation of social misery arouses, and the revolutionary—Lenin, Mao, Castro, Pol Pot, who could fan the white-hot coals of long-smoldering moral outrage into the blazing fires of an ideological conflagration.  Liberation is the intellectual’s elixir. Alienated and detached from his own institutions, impressed with his own infallible moral insights, he remains the solidly self-righteous, resentful agent of social insurrection.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Obama, the Jacobin, or, The Coercer-in-Chief

“The revolutionary government owes to good citizens all the protection of the nation. It owes the enemies of the people only death.”
                                                  Maximilian Robespierre, 1793

We're gonna punish our enemies and we're gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.
                                                   Barack Obama, 2010

In 1793 the Jacobin rulers in Paris carried their war against the Church into the Vendée and sent federal troops to attack the refractory priests, small town dwellers and peasants. These people were the French antecedents of our own “bitter clingers to their guns and religion” of rural Pennsylvania, the targets of Candidate Obama’s demeaning, condescending sneer in 2008. The Jacobins carried out a scored earth response to the resistance of the Vendeans.  They burned farms, raised villages and killed indiscriminately.  Reynald Secher, a French historian, has called what the Jacobins did, A French Genocide, the title of his book, published in 1986, translated into English and published by Notre Dame University Press in 2003.
These Republican disciples of J.J. Rousseau were fixed upon the destruction of the old order, a “transformation,” so to speak.  This was a different regime, new in history, run by ideologues who sought to create a new kind of man and a new kind of society.  This was the birth of the concept of the modern totalitarian state as described decades ago by J. L. Talmon, in his book, The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy. The first Jacobins were French, but their ideology was a highly exportable commodity taken up later by Russian, Chinese and Cuban intellectuals who were all practitioners of what they called, “Revolution,” a euphemism for their program of complete annihilation of the ruling class they loathed, including the confiscation of their property, the eradication of their liberties and finally their physical destruction.
Americans have long been reluctant to give power to revolution-prone grievance mongers but in 2008, the voters put a Jacobin into the Whitehouse, a grievance-nurturing man whose 20 year mentor and pastor was an America-loathing fanatic.  Five days before his election Barack Obama proclaimed that “We are five days from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” He did not at that time elaborate what he was intending but nearly four years later it is pretty clear what he had in mind.  Fundamental transformation was Obama-speak for Revolution and it is what he has been about since the day he was sworn into office.  
Jacobins, whenever and wherever they come to rule over others, step into their positions of authority with overweening ambition and loaded with the arrogance of power. The Jacobins arrive with a fanatical moral certainty that lets them give full indulgence to their utopian impulses, no matter what the practical destruction that occurs. They are intent not on governing but on “transformation” to use the President’s own terminology. Institutions must be dismantled, tradition overthrown, people made (coerced) into being virtuous. Tax them, regulate them, fine them and revile them appears to be President Obama’s modus operandi.  Punish our enemies and reward our friends,” as the President himself so succinctly expressed it in 2010 to his followers – the velvet glove of Hope and Change is now the mailed fist of My Way or the Highway. Texas, Oklahoma and Arizona seem to be part of President Obama’s own Vendée, places whose inhabitants need to be brought under heel and taught who is in charge.
Mr. Obama possesses all of the requisite Jacobin traits.  First, he is a “Knower,” of rare and remarkable powers.  From the early days when he burst upon the national scene as a serious candidate for the highest office there broke forth from his enthusiasts a loud and steady chorus proclaiming his unmatched brilliance and vast intellectual powers.  Unlike his predecessors he was “smart,”  a great teacher, sort of a god, standing above us,” having “the highest IQ of any President.” Mr. Obama himself was no less assured of his unique status as a universal genius as he strolled before his adoring crowds promising to “change America and the world,” to “heal the planet” and similar modest undertakings.
His vast cognitive superiority in his own mind entitled him to exert as much power as he needed to do whatever he wanted. Thus we see in him the second core element of the Jacobin’s soul – a relentless quest for control over the lives of other people. 
Controlling the lives of people is what Jacobins are all about and explains their love for coercion.  Because they know and understand what others do not they believe themselves to be entirely justified in forcing the refractory, “bitter clingers” to be what they, the Jacobins, want to them to be, which is reflecting  mirrors, imperfect albeit, of themselves.  Jacobins not only demand obedience, they require constant adulation and admiration as well.   
Obama like all Jacobins is a lover of coercion, the most conspicuous manifestation being ObamaCare, a massive, incomprehensible 2000 page work of complexity, confusion and obfuscation.  Its fundamental purpose is to be a legal instrument of such expansive and intrusive reach as to render all Americans in matters of health (physical and mental) completely dependent upon government lawyers, bureaucrats,  and lobbyists – helpless before their Jacobin masters who, of course, have never sought anything but the well-being of their subjects. Obama Care is an unprecedented labor of coercion.  The oversight of your physical and mental well-being amounts to total control over you.  Mr. Obama is also loading up the IRS with many additional agents – a coercer-President needs many additional hands to do his work of forced extraction.
 Government coercion is a constantly expanding and dominating feature of American life. To see the work of our government at its coercive best go to any airport. Watch the countless number of ordinary, law-abiding citizens forced (coerced) to act like motely inmates of a county-jail work detail as they are made to strip off their clothes – jackets, belts, shoes, jewelry – and  thrust their wrist-clasped arms above their heads in symbolic surrender before the scanners of their naked bodies. Ordered about by the legions of federal warders, they must watch them paw through their personal belongings, pat down old women and young children, their hands intruding into very private parts of the body.   
It did not use to be like this and does not have to be like this.  Little of these humiliating and stupid rituals have anything to do with security: their secondary purpose is to harass and intimidate which underlies the primary purpose which is to make everyone clearly understand that their government can do what it wants whenever it wants to whomever it chooses.  Airport security, of course, is what those of us who are ruled have to endure.  Complain and see what happens to you. The rulers, themselves, of course, never have to experience these indignities, submit to the gropers, have their possessions handled by the rubber-gloved crews. And why should they?  Jacobins make the rules for others to follow. For beings of superior virtue and wisdom, they are not necessary.
The airport model of coercion is what the current Jacobins would like all of life in America to be like for those in their charge.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Reign of Resentment: Barack the Solipsist

 “We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

                                                            Barack Obama

Solipsism:  a theory holding that the self can know nothing but its own modifications and that the self is the only existent thing.


Some of President Obama’s detractors think that he is a Socialist.  His supporters scorn the notion. It is difficult after reviewing much of what he has done, said and written to believe that he is not.  His autobiography and the account of the authors he read and admired, his mentors, his actions as a politician, suggest that he is. The Europeans still love him, and why not?  He is one of their own, a dogmatic, secularist statist, contemptuous of men and women who make their own way in the world, even more disdainful of  the red state un-sophisticates who as he put it, “cling to their guns or religion or antipathy to people who are not like them.” This is a man whose world view expressed in his own words in Dreams from my Father is fundamentally shaped by alienation, resentment and grievances.  He came to see himself as a man with an historic mission – to fix the grievances – the classic Marxist.
Like all the great Marxist ideologues who find themselves historically appointed to order other people’s lives, Obama apparently fancies himself to be a genius, a man far above all others. Stalin was the “Great Teacher,” Mao, the “Great Helmsman,”….  Obama in 2008 became … “The One”, “the Change we seek.”  He would in his own words, “heal the planet” and “fundamentally transform the United States of America.” This is not the rhetoric of regular campaign politics, not the typical blustering of an aspirant to high office. It unabashedly expresses the fantasy of an egomaniac. The monumental energy and enthusiasm of his campaign came not from his ideas or vision or achievements.  There was no content beyond the candidate, personally – his eloquence, intelligence and personality.
The 2008 campaign of Barack Obama was thus a huge paradox – on the one hand it was all about HIM, his brilliance, his charisma, his style, but at the same time he was nothing (NO THING) that could be defined or described in a substantive, empirical way. His complete lack of executive experience, scholarly, intellectual depth and legislative accomplishment turned out to be an advantage, a useful nothingness that let him be an alluring mirage, completely protean, a wholesome, earnest, moderate, “pragmatist” who could charm the independent voters disillusioned by George W. Bush, but at the same time  let him play the role of a cerebral “activist,” radical enough to enthrall the elite Leftwing stalwarts and the Hollywood limo-set of his party who loath those Neanderthals who drive pickup trucks, go to church and live in awful places like Texas, North Dakota and rural Indiana.    
The Obama campaign was all about The Obama who managed to be everything to everybody.  Once elected, however, he could not avoid revealing that his enthralling message of Hope and Change was smoke and mirrors.  Hope and Change could be nothing other than nothing because nothing, after the fumes of his soaring oratory dissipated, was what Obama was offering in the way of a better America.
Obama has always been exclusively about Obama.  Every political office he has held was merely a prelude to the next step up; his career a non-stop exercise of self-adulation and self-promotion.  Obama, one must conclude, governs as he has lived, that is as a solipsist. The solipsist believes that the self can know nothing but its own modifications and that the self is the only existent thing.  Obama as our leader has turned out to be that complete "Self" undergoing the only modifications that matter, his own. He contemplates nothing but his own self’s facets of perfection, preternaturally blind to certain intractable features of a world outside of that Self that he will not and cannot comprehend.
Obama’s solipsism should have been recognized during his campaign, not so much a political campaign but rather the successful creation of a cult of personality.  The personality cult is the culminating phase of solipsistic rule where the number of courtiers who eagerly chime in a unison voice to affirm the ruler’s wisdom and infallibility, reaches a critical mass. And so it was. As Assistant Managing Editor of Newsweek, Evan Thomas announced on television to fellow Obama-worshiper, Chris Matthews, Obama was “a sort of god.” (“In a way, Obama's standing above the country, above -- above the world, a sort of god.") Mr. Thomas never elaborated on just what “sort of god” we all might expect Obama to be, but suffice it to say that he and his colleagues who formed the bulwark of the Fourth Estate had conceived a mighty strong “crush” on this U.S. Senator of two years tenure, most of it spent campaigning for President. The crush demolished whatever critical capacities they might have exercised. The Gods exist to be admired and worshiped, not criticized. With their fawning adulation and uncritical devotion, by the time of his inauguration Obama became the genius who was the resurrection and amalgamation of Abraham Lincoln, FDR and JFK.
Obama was the refreshing, stunning contrast first to the harridan, been-there-done-that Hillary Clinton then to George W. Bush, by the end of his Presidency deemed to be intellectually, morally flawed and deeply so. Bush now was a palooka, a political Piñada whom everyone took turns whacking. McCain, helpless and old was no match. Obama in stark contrast was a star – cool, contemporary, photogenic, an Olympian standing high above the fray, descending only to bestow calm, impart his wisdom and receive thanks.
Bush was served up as the benighted antipode to an unblemished Obama, a uniquely singular individual (The One), morally and cognitively complete, a phantasm proclaiming that “We are the Change we Seek.” Obama thus became a totality, both the question and the answer, that Self, outside of which nothing else is important or relevant. There was, however, no “We”. There was only Obama himself mirroring the “Genius of Obama” to be held in contemplation, admiration and … anticipation.
The anticipation is long over and so is much of the admiration. With his re-election campaign of character assassination and four-plus years of solipsistic rule we possess a real, empirical grasp of the “Change we seek.” Our Chief is that Change, a change that has not turned out not to be what many people who voted for him had in mind. Something very essential was lost in the translation from rhetoric to reality.  Like all of the other solipsistic princes, his modifications of Self have produced nothing that seems to have made his subjects, other than his friends and political supporters, any better off. 
The disappointment that inevitably follows in the wake of the prince’s shortcomings of Self turns the solipsism into a rather ugly spectacle of blame and resentment.  Since the Self is perfect, the appearance of the gross disparity between perfection and reality which inevitably happens cannot be the doing or fault of the prince. With the arrival of the dashed high expectations and the unfulfilled promises someone or something must be blamed. The great solipsists have always been prodigious blamers. There is nothing else, practically, for them to do, and when the time for it comes … be careful.  For the misery of his realm, Stalin blamed the “wreckers” and “Trotsky,” Mao, the “capitalist roaders” and “running dog imperialists,” and for Castro, it was “Uncle Sam.”  Obama blames George Bush, the Republicans, and the European financial crisis. There is always a scapegoat du jour. The blame brings into clear focus the objects of the solipsist-prince’s acid resentment, namely those who have failed to recognize his genius and conform to his perfect understanding. The blame enables the prince to preserve for himself his image of his unsullied Self. 
The fate of the solipsist-Self is an immersion in resentment.  It seems reasonable to predict that over the next several months one will see in President Obama a man full of blame, increasingly resentful. When he finally departs, resentment will be all that remains.