The Dark Mind of Robert David Steele

There is an area of social science research that speaks powerfully to the reactionary mind and why it is so hard to pin down. In a reactionary society such as ours during this reactionary age of modernity, it can be hard to tell who is and who is not a reactionary. I suspect that all of us have a bit of reactionary in us, as potential that can become manifest when we let down our guard. One of the tricky parts is reactionaries rarely identity as reactionaries nor would think of themselves that way. That is part of the nature of the reactionary mind, to appear as something else, even to the person possessed by it. To map out the terrain, it’s helpful to look to the Dark Triad — the potent mix of authoritarianism, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. The third facet, less often discussed, is my focus here (Silvio Manno, The dangerous falsehoods fabricated by Machiavellian leaders afflict the world today).

Machiavellianism relates to suspicious paranoia that can express as belief in conspiracy theories. We tend to think of this tendency in negative terms, but let’s keep in mind that, “On the positive side, belief in conspiracy theories has been associated with openness to experience… and support for democratic principles” (Sutton & Douglas, see below). As it has been said, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you. Maintaining an attitude of mistrust toward the threat of authoritarianism is a reasonable and moral response to authoritarianism. Yet on the other hand, mistrust pushed to the extreme makes one vulnerable to the lures of the reactionary mind, fear turned in on itself and projected out onto others. A deficit of trustworthy sources of info, as happens under oppressive conditions, creates a vacuum that must be filled and people do their best to make sense of the patterns they perceive. This is not a healthy situation. When culture of trust is lacking, people perceive others as untrustworthy and they act accordingly. “Machiavellianism predicted participants’ agreement with conspiracy theories,” wrote Sutton and Douglas. “Also, participants’ personal willingness to conspire predicted the extent to which they endorsed the conspiracy theories. This mediated the relationship between Machiavellianism and endorsement of conspiracy theories.” This is how the dark triad comes to dominance, in the world and in the mind. It warps our sense of reality and creates warped individuals.

Just think of Trump and you have the idiot savant’s version of this phenomenon (heavy emphasis on the idiot part), although I’d advise careful awareness as it can express in a much more sophisticated manner (e.g., Karl Rove and his cynical manipulation of the “reality-based community”). Even so, let’s stick with this obvious example for the very reason that apparently it isn’t obvious to many. There are those who think of themselves as good people, shocking as it may seem, who genuinely believe and have faith in Trump (I’ve already analyzed the authoritarianism of Clinton Democrats and so I will ignore that for the time being). I know such people. Some of them are simply not all that thoughtful and so are easily manipulated by lies, melodrama, partisanship, and whatever other bullshit. I have a hard time being too harshly critical, as many of them really don’t understand anything about what is going on in the world. They are useful idiots to the social dominators aspiring to their authoritarian dreams, but they honestly don’t have a clue what they’re being used for. This makes them potentially dangerous, even if they are less of a direct threat. There is another class of Trump supporter, though, that is far more dangerous and concerning, not to mention bewildering.

Consider Robert David Steele, a military officer and supposedly a former (?) CIA spy who has since re-styled himself as a political reformer, open source advocate, and freedom fighter. Going by my initial take, he comes across as a right-wing nationalist and populist with a Cold War vibe about him, the weird mix of religious patriotism and pseudo-libertarianism, capitalist realism and regressive flirtations with progressive language… or something like that, although when he is criticizing corrupt power and advocating open source he can almost sound like a leftist at times. He was the 2012 Reform Party’s presidential nominee and he is more well known, across the political spectrum, for advocating electoral reform. Some of what he says sounds perfectly reasonable and respectable, but he also makes some truly bizarre statements. He has claimed that the world is ruled by Zionists, especially Hollywood, that Hillary Clinton wants to legalize bestiality and pedophilia, and that NASA is sending abducted children to be sex slaves on a Martian colony (Kyle Mantyla, Robert David Steele: Hillary Clinton Was ‘Going To Legalize Bestiality And Pedophilia’; Ben Collins, NASA Denies That It’s Running a Child Slave Colony on Mars; Wikispooks, Robert Steele: Mars child colony claims). In his Zionist fear-mongering, he has associated with the likes of Jeff Rense, David Icke, and David Duke — as dementedly and dangerously far right as you can get without falling off the edge of flat earth.

I’m familiar with right-wing paranoiacs and I’m not without sympathy. There is a soft place in my heart for conspiracy theories and my curiosity has led me into dark corners of humanity, but I must admit that Steele is an extreme example among extremes. More than a few people think that, if not outright incompetent, he is controlled opposition and a paid fake, a disinfo agent, a fraud, hustling a buck, or that something is not right about him, maybe even that Once CIA always CIA, while it’s also been said he sounds like Alex Jones — the latter is understandable since he has been interviewed by Jones (Richard Wooley, Donald Trump, Alex Jones and the illusion of knowledge). The same accusations are made against Alex Jones as well and they do ring true. Some wealthy interests are promoting Jones and probably Steele too, for whatever reason that might be — the alt-right is filled with shills, paid trolls, and a variety of mercenaries (Competing Media ManipulationsGrassroots or Astroturf?, Skepticism and Conspiracy, Hillsdale’s Imprimis: Neocon PropagandaVictor Davis Hanson: Right-Wing PropagandistBerkeley Scholar Doesn’t Admit He Is A Corporate Shill). I’m not sure it matters whether or not Steele, Jones, and similar types are true believers. Either way, they’re influential figures to keep your eyes on.

Steele has also done talks and interviews with The Guardian’s Nafeez Ahmed, RT’s Max Keiser, Coast to Coast AM’s Lisa Garr, and many others, including multiple appearances on BBC Radio. His writings can be found in a wide variety of publications, such as: Forbes, Huffington Post, Veterans Today, CounterPunch, openDemocracy, etc. Articles about him and his election reform campaign have appeared in the mainstream media as well. Bernie Sanders and Thom Hartmann wrote prefaces to one of his books, and Howard Bloom wrote a foreword to another one. The guy gets around and draws some significant figures into his orbit. He also has appeared alongside the leftist citizen-journalist Caitlin Johnstone. She has sought cross-ideological alliance with the ‘anti-establishment’ right which unfortunately, I’d argue, is inseparable from the alt-right despite her claims to the contrary. She received a lot of flack and now regrets allowing herself to get associated with him: “I made a very unwise appearance alongside the very shady Robert David Steele” (A Year Ago I Wrote About Cross-Ideological Collaboration. Here’s How It’s Been Going). She got played by Steele, as did former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, although the latter was already well on her way to discrediting herself with conspiracy theories and antisemitism (see her page on Rational Wiki and on Discover the Networks). McKinney is obviously drawn to Steele because of his own inclinations toward conspiracy theories and antisemitism; but what is Johnstone’s excuse? Her husband, Tim Foley, says “she adores” McKinney and that is precisely how she got mixed up with Steele in the first place (10 Facts About Caitlin Johnstone, From The Guy Who Knows Her Better Than Anyone). Such unwise decisions seem inevitable once entering the murky waters and miasmic fog where swamp creatures dwell.

Johnstone’s husband blames himself for letting that situation happen, as he encouraged her to go on the show: “Before we knew it there she was, with Steele talking about how “the alt-right and the alt-left” need to come together, a position Caitlin never held, but in too much of a mental fog to protest” (10 Facts About Caitlin Johnstone, From The Guy Who Knows Her Better Than Anyone). That doesn’t seem accurate. After the show, she had a positive appraisal of Steele: “Here’s Cynthia McKinney, PhD and Robert David Steele coming to my defense over the right-left collaboration against the deep state I keep talking about.” (Facebook, July 21, 2017). Those words express no desire to protest nor a delayed realization that there was a potential problem. “If you recall, this is around the same time,” writes Scott Creighton, “that swindler Robert David Steele was pushing for the same “unite” cause but at least he was honest when he said he was doing it in order to bring the alt-left into the Trump camp in order to ensure his victory in 2020. That fraud fell apart and eventually Caitlin realized what a cretin [Mike] Cernovich was and she too gave up on this effort” (How Caitlin Johnstone is Just Plain Wrong about “Conspiracy Theories”).

This is how right-wing reactionaries seek legitimacy, by co-opting the rhetoric of the political left (e.g., Glenn Beck writing a book about Thomas Paine) and, by disguising their true intentions, drawing in those who otherwise would be resistant and unpersuaded (e.g., Steve Bannon as the architect behind Donald Trump using New Deal Progressive rhetoric as campaign promises). This is a lesson I learned in dealing with the alt-right. I used to debate with race realists such as human biodiversity advocates, until I realized all that I was accomplishing was giving them legitimacy in treating their views as worthy of public debate. It was irrelevant that they presented themselves as rational and weren’t explicitly racist, even in their denying racist allegations with shows of sincerity, as their rhetoric was making racism more acceptable by spinning it in new ways. That is their talent, spreading bullshit. Reactionaries are brilliant in manipulating the left in this manner. This is what worries me about Steele, in how he is able to speak to the concerns of the political left and then use the support he gains to promote Trump’s truly sick agenda or rather to promote the agenda of the lords and masters of the swamp hidden behind Trump’s buffoonery.

There is good reason Johnstone came around to calling Steele ‘shady’. His response to free speech of others is to threaten their free speech. The economist Michael Hudson, among others, has written about Steele’s use of frivolous lawsuits to shut down opponents (Robert David Steele’s ‘Feral’ Lawsuit Movement). In writing about this anti-democratic behavior (Robert David Steele: The Pinocchio Effect), he drew the ire of Steele himself who, in a comment from just a couple of days ago, wrote: “Thank you for this. I have copied it to my attorney with the suggestion that we add you to the roster of those to be called to testify about the conspiracy to defame me. The facts are the facts. I have two witnesses, both employed by NATO, who will testify to the truth of my claim. You are now part of my lawsuit against Jason Goodman, Patricia Negron, and Susan Lutzke. Congratulations.” Instead of countering with a fair-minded response and fact-based counterargument, he immediately went on the attack to silence someone who dared oppose him, which ironically substantiates the mindset portrayed in the article itself. It’s even more amusing in the context that, a little less than a decade ago, Steele specifically told people they should “listen to” Michael Hudson (No Labels “Non-Party” Equals “Four More Years” for Wall Street, Goldman Sachs, Grand Theft USA). This demonstrates lizard-brain levels of moral depravity, and the hypocrisy of it is beyond depressing. He is the guy presenting himself as a defender of an open society. Obviously, he isn’t to be trusted.

Yet I can’t help but feeling sorry for the guy. In the way that Trump appears to be exhibiting early onset dementia, I wouldn’t be surprised if Steele is suffering from paranoid schizophrenia or some other mental illness. Then again, maybe that is a given in a society that is insane. People become Machiavellian because that is how a Machiavellian society shapes them, and most definitely Steele is so shaped at this point, after having spent his entire career in right-wing authoritarian institutions of power, the military and CIA. That is what first occurred to me when my progressive friend asked me to look into him. The kind of anti-Zionist language goes far beyond criticisms of Israel as an authoritarian state, in the way the United States is also authoritarian. In his Machiavellian-minded support of President Trump, Steele wants to believe that Trump’s outward show of support for Machiavellian ‘Zionists’ is a deceptive ploy of Machiavellian genius: “The announced move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem – what one erudite British citizen labels a “diplomatic bon-bon” [7] – may have been part of a deeper strategy to finish Benjamin Netanyahu off while uniting the Arab tribes” (Is Zionism Over?). Ah, the tangled webs the paranoid mind weaves. His obsession with conspiracy theories about Zionists and pedophilia rings is typical of a certain kind of right-wing mindset, but I’m not sure that he was always this way.

My friend was inspired by his book, The Open Source Revolution, written back in 2012. That book does not deal in conspiracy theory, as far as I can tell, nor does it once mention Zionism, pedophilia, etc. Here is a taste of it: “The goal is to reject money and concentrated illicitly aggregated and largely phantom wealth in favor of community wealth defined by community knowledge, community sharing of information, and community definition of truth derived in transparency and authenticity, the latter being the ultimate arbiter of shared wealth. When we relate and share knowledge authentically, this places us in a state of grace, a state of “win-win” harmony with all others, and establishes trust among all” (from excerpt). Sounds nice, inspiring even. He mentions how he had originally believed in Barack Obama before realizing he was more of the same. That is what led to his writing an earlier book, Election 2008: Lipstick on the Pig. By the time 2012 rolled around, his identity as a patriotic, paternalistic, and progressive Democrat was clearly changing. In the book from that year, he wrote that,

“Understanding and accepting this sorry state of affairs has been part of my own personal and professional rejection of American exceptionalism and the rule by an elite. This shift in perspective recognizes the need for a new planet-wide consciousness based on an open information sharing and direct democracy. For many years I thought that our elected representatives had been corrupted by corporations and, more recently, by banks (or, I should say, the people who use these structures as veils for their own unethical accumulation of profit). I was in error. As we now know from numerous cases, the most blatant being that of former Congressman Randy Cunningham, it is more often elected representatives who have been shaking down banks and corporations in order to fund their own ambitions to remain in power and to profit at the expense of the people.”

Though not speaking in the overt language of the conspiratorial-minded, his words were beginning to express more of that worldview. Rather than it being a systemic problem of capitalism and corporatism, it is the fault of devious individuals who manipulate the system. The elite, rather than being an enlightened technocracy, are something darker — in this black-and-white dogmatism, those in positions of power are either good or evil with no gray area, no shade or tint, much less nuances of color. Before it was the banks that were the problem, but with his shift of focus it’s a small step to embracing the alleged child-molesting Zionists as the real source of power behind the banks. He used to talk about peaceful reform, but, in recent years, he has taken on more of the dark vision of Christian fundamentalism with hints of gnostic-like demonic archons and End Times longing. Nonetheless, I was curious and felt a desire to give Steele a fair hearing. So, I used a web search function to look for results prior to Trump’s presidential campaign, prior to Obama’s administration, and prior to the 9/11 terrorist attack. He didn’t sound all that crazy in the past and, the further I looked back, the more normal he spoke.

Even in 2012 when he started ranting about Zionists, it was relatively mild in tone while also giving voice to anti-authoritarianism and anti-colonialism, almost left-wing in ideology (The after effects of the Arab Spring, good or bad for Israel?). It’s true that Steele was on Alex Jones show as early as 2006, but keep in mind that Jones was far less crazy back then and far more coherent in his own criticisms of corrupt and abusive power (Kourosh Ziabari, Google following CIA’s path in confronting Iran). It can be easy to forget that, when you go back far enough, Jones had a significant following on the political left. It was a different world before both Trump lunacy syndrome and Obama derangement syndrome. It’s been a slow but steady decline for people like this. Decades ago, all that Steele was known for was his open source advocacy in arguing that secrecy was a bad way of doing anything, especially government. There was nothing controversial about this, other than being controversial to secretive authoritarians.

He went from that to his present belief that there are NASA martian colonies filled with child sex slaves. In both cases, he comes across as wholly earnest, for whatever that is worth. Still, earnest or not, there might be forces greater than him that are using and manipulating him for purposes he does not fathom. Seeing Machiavellianism in others opens one up to manipulation by Machiavellian social dominators. If there actually were demonic/Satanic forces as he believes, then one might suggest he is possessed by them. He has turned to the dark side or rather his mind has become lost in dark places, but it’s an all too common, if extreme, example of spiritual sickness and soul loss. His fear-mongering about pedophiles ruling the world is not only mental illness for there are real-world consequences, such as Alex Jones spreading conspiracy theories about pedophilia (Pizzagate) until one of his listeners took him seriously enough to go out and shoot up a restaurant.

I have no desire to discredit the lifework of Robert David Steele. His earlier message of freedom for all remains valid, but as a spokesperson he is damaged goods and his writings are tainted. I gave an accounting of this to my aforementioned friend who inquired about him. My friend became convinced that he should no longer recommend him to others. It’s sad to see someone’s mental breakdown play out on the public stage. And even sadder is that the message itself loses credibility in the process and so public debate about democracy becomes muddied. That furthers the agenda of anti-democratic forces. If nothing else, we can learn from such cases, learn about the importance of intellectual self-defense and psychological self-care. It’s too easy for any of us, in reacting to reactionaries, to become reactionaries ourselves. We should be aware of how hatred and fear can consume the mind. We can only be ruled by the darkness outside of us when it has first come to rule inside of us. Maintaining a positive vision is most important as a candle to light our way, to see the passage ahead and to see the precipice we walk along. It’s a long way down to tumble, if we lose our footing.

* * *

Power, Politics, and Paranoia
ed. by Jan-Willem van Prooijen, Paul A. M. van Lange
“Examining the monological nature of conspiracy theories”
by Robbie M. Sutton and Karen M. Douglas

People generally want to explain socially significant events such as the deaths of celebrities and major international disasters (e.g., Leman and Cinnirella, 2007 ; Weiner, 1985 ), but lack direct access to definitive proof of the truth or otherwise of a conspiracy theory. Even the educated middle classes of functioning democracies need to rely on second, third, and n th hand reportage and interpretation in media channels, since they lack direct access to the facts (Sutton, 2010 ). Writing from a political science perspective, Sunstein and Vermeule ( 2009 ) speculate that communities who lack even this information tend to be more susceptible to conspiracy theorizing. These communities include disadvantaged and marginalized groups, and citizens of highly authoritarian states. Such communities experience “a sharply limited number of (relevant) informational sources,” which leads them to experience “crippled epistemologies” in which they are forced to rely on unreliable sources (p. 204). As psychologists, we would suggest that lack of knowledge, however severe, forces members of the public to rely not only on indirect and unreliable sources but also on cognitive heuristics that allow workable, even if unreliable, inferences in the face of incomplete information. One such heuristic is projection: using beliefs about the self as a basis to evaluate claims about other people.

Specifically, we contend that the social-cognitive tool of projection can help people in these uncertain situations (Ames, 2004 ; Krueger, 2000 ; McCloskey, 1958 ). When people are unsure about what someone may or may not have done, they can use their own thoughts, feelings, motivations, or action tendencies as a source of information. That is, they can judge others by judging what they themselves think they would do. For example, people may be more likely to adopt the hypothesis that Princess Diana was assassinated if they believe that they, personally, would be willing to take part in this act if they were in the same situation. So, a person’s perception that “I would do it” informs their perception that “others did it.” Beliefs in conspiracy theories – even about completely unrelated events – may therefore be held together by people’s judgments of their own moral tendencies.

We tested the role of projection in two studies (Douglas and Sutton, 2011 ). In the first study, we asked participants to complete the scale for Machiavellianism – an individual differences variable associated with personal morality (Christie and Geis, 1970 ). Measuring Machiavellianism allowed us to test the prediction that the relationship between personal moral qualities and beliefs in conspiracy theories would be mediated by projection of those moral qualities onto others. We asked participants to rate their agreement with a range of conspiracy theories and measured their tendency to project by asking them, for each individual conspiracy theory, how willing they would have been to participate in the conspiracy themselves (e.g., “If you had been in the position of the US government, would you have ordered the attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11?”). As hypothesized, Machiavellianism predicted participants’ agreement with conspiracy theories. Also, participants’ personal willingness to conspire predicted the extent to which they endorsed the conspiracy theories. This mediated the relationship between Machiavellianism and endorsement of conspiracy theories.

In a second study, we experimentally manipulated participants’ feelings of personal morality. We reasoned that by recalling a time when they behaved in a moral and decent manner, people would perceive themselves as less likely to participate in conspiracies. As predicted, participants asked to remember a time when they helped someone in need were subsequently less willing to conspire than control participants. They also endorsed a range of conspiracy theories less strongly. This decline in conspiracy belief was mediated by a decrease in willingness to conspire. These two studies, taken together, suggest that conspiracy theories may be held together by projection. Beliefs may not support each other, but instead may be held together by believers’ perception of their own moral tendencies (Douglas and Sutton, 2011 ).

Victor Davis Hanson: Right-Wing Propagandist

We are surrounded by propaganda, but rarely notice it. This is one the most propagandized populations in history and yet we talk of ourselves as a free society. Some have argued that it is specifically in a democratic society (or what goes for one) that propaganda is all the more necessary for the elite to maintain social control. This is even more true for a banana republic where appearances of democracy have to be carefully maintained. Also, propaganda operates differently in inverted totalitarianism where locus of control is not within the state proper. There is no need for an official propaganda department of the state. That is because the same plutocrats and oligarchs manipulating the political party apparatus, bribing the politicians, and pulling the strings of the deep state also own most of the media and fund the think tanks.

Hacks like Victor Davis Hanson are the pseudo-intellectuals that give the whole propaganda scheme an appearance of respectability and credibility. They are the handmaidens of authoritarianism, the calm faces of evil, and the mundane voices of insanity; the gatekeepers of perceived reality, the orchestrators of spectacle, and the shapers of public opinion. They are the spokesmen of the puppetmasters behind the scenes. They maintain the master narrative and keep the megamachine lubed up and running smoothly. Their role is central. The ruling elite couldn’t rule without these mercenaries.

That is to say Hanson and his ilk are paid well. Yet in the corporate media, someone like Hanson is merely referred to as a historian and often described as a respectable expert. His writing gets published and he gets invited to speak as if he were an independent thinker and scholar — ignore the fact that he parrots the party line and plutocratic rhetoric in scripted fashion. Even the supposed ‘liberal’ media (NYT, WaPo, etc), regularly quote Hanson and review each new book he gets published. It is a show being put on, as if there were many voices in a genuine public debate, and so supposedly demonstrating a well-functioning democracy. But in reality, most of the voices heard are on the payroll of the same powerful interests with deep pockets. Both sides of the ‘debate’ are controlled opposition.

To find the actual opposition, listen for those who are typically silenced or muted in the ‘mainstream’ media, those drowned out by the talking points and excluded by the predetermined framing, those who struggle in between soundbites to articulate what is not to be spoken in challenging the entire system of social control. Listen to what is not said and who is not speaking or else who is never really heard, always dismissed and quoted out of context, misreported and spun back into the official narrative. Look outside the screen of allowable opinion. That is to say don’t be distracted by the chattering class of pundits-for-hire.

On the payroll of big money, typically dark money laundered through multiple organizations, there are thousands upon thousands of journalists, columnists, op-ed piece writers, authors, talk radio hosts, bloggers, social media personalities, academics, researchers, college campus speakers, talking heads, experts, etc. They don’t wear jackets that show all of their sponsors. They appear like normal people and within the system that is how they are presented, how they are sold to the public. Even when the curtain is momentarily pulled back, most Americans are too cynical to care, if they bother to pay attention. We need to remind ourselves why it matters, that politics as comforting entertainment and distraction is not good enough, is not acceptable. We should not allow ourselves to be so easily deceived. As Marianne Williamson said, “Let’s not be naive.”

* * *

Victor David Hanson doublespeaks his way down the Conservative rabbit hole
from The Long Goodbye

Victor Davis Hanson punditry credentials rest squarely on supposed expertise as an historian. Since he has decided to put aside any attempt at scholarly objectivity, instead throwing his hat in the ring of shallow propaganda otherwise known as right-wing talking points he has pretty much shattered his credibility as a scholar. In ordinary circumstances, the forces of meritocracy at work, Hanson would be serving up some hot and crispy fries with that happy meal, paying the price for his Pravda-like spin of history for the sake of the Conservative movement. Instead he lives in ConservaWorld where merit means little if anything. As long as he continues to rewrite history to his liking, ignore context and pull absurd analogies out of an unmentionable part of his anatomy, organizations like the National Review will make sure that he is overfed and overpaid,

Sophistry in the Service of Evil
A review of ‘The Case for Trump’ by Victor Davis Hanson

by Gabriel Schoenfeld

This is not to say that Hanson’s book lacks value. As a part of a larger phenomenon, it is instructive in its way. Anyone with an iota of historical awareness is familiar with the fact that intellectuals in Europe and the United States lauded Joseph Stalin even as he sent millions to the Gulag and their death. By the same token, Adolf Hitler, one of the 20th century’s other mega-mass murderers, also found his share of admirers in the academy, among them such brilliant minds as Carl Schmitt and Martin Heidegger. An entire branch of Western scholarship was devoted to the adulation of the genocidal Mao Tse-tung. Whatever Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, it is a grotesque absurdity to compare him to history’s most terrible tyrants. My point is something else: If such monsters could find admirers among the highly educated, it is unsurprising that our infantile, ignorant leader has found an assortment of professors to sing his praises. Julian Benda wrote The Treason of the Intellectuals in 1927. With legitimate historians like Hanson abasing themselves to write what can only be called propaganda, Benda’s title, if not his entire argument, is perennially pertinent.

The Case Against ‘The Case For Trump’
by Rich Barlow

But I was eager to see if the book could square two intellectual and moral circles. First, how does the agenda of a man who policy-wise can barely zip his fly provide for the common defense and general welfare? And even if you believe in Trump’s policies, didn’t he long ago reach his Nixon moment, when morally decent believers must withdraw support in the face of the man’s undeniable character cancers?

Hanson’s 372-page brief flunks those challenges by disregarding Atlee’s Axiom.

Mr. Atlee taught us in high school English that any essay hoping to persuade must tackle head-on the other side’s strongest arguments. As in, granted, Trump’s a thug, but [insert superseding point]. Even absolving Hanson for writing before Michael Cohen’s testimony last week, which offered little we didn’t already know, and before Robert Mueller’s forthcoming report, he belly-flops first by ignoring Atlee’s Axiom vis-à-vis Trump’s policymaking.

Donald Trump, Tragic Hero
by John B. Judis

Except for detailing Trump’s success in boosting the economy, Hanson does not argue these points against obvious objections. Pulling out of Paris? Hanson at one point describes global warming as an “apparition,” but he cites no scientific evidence for this or any justification for abandoning international agreements to limit carbon emissions. Improved relations with allies? What about our European allies? Or Canada? As for the Iran deal, he claims that “most experts had known that the Obama-led Iran deal was unworkable and thus unsustainable,” but by my count the most prominent thought otherwise. I am not saying that Trump did nothing that was impressive — he has definitely gone beyond his predecessors in contesting China’s trade practices — but that many of the things Hanson cites as “undeniably impressive” need justification, at least if Hanson intended his book to be read by people who don’t already agree with its bald assertions.

Thinking for Trump
Other presidents had a brain trust. But the intellectuals backing this White House are a bust.

by Carlos Lozada

Hanson, a senior fellow with Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, assails the “deep state,” even while acknowledging that Trump’s use of the term is so vague as to be meaningless. He praises the “inspired” and “impressive” Cabinet members Trump has assembled, largely forgetting their high-profile scandals, conflicts of interest, obeisance and resignations. “The Case for Trump” is notable for such omissions. Hanson does not grapple with Trump’s effort to delegitimize the Obama presidency through the birtherism lie, his call to ban Muslims from entering the United States or his difficulty condemning white nationalism. In Hanson’s telling, the true force behind America’s racial fissures is Trump’s predecessor. “Much of the current division in the country was deliberately whipped up by Obama,” he contends.

Contrary to those who suggest that Trump sought the presidency for personal gain, Hanson explains that Trump is sacrificing himself for the larger good, like tragic heroes of ancient literature. A scholar of classics and military history, Hanson gazes upon Trump and sees Homer’s Achilles and Sophocles’s Ajax. He also glimpses Thucydides, the Roman emperor Augustus, Alexander the Great, Martin Luther, George Patton and even Dirty Harry. Trump contains multitudes.

Victor Davis Hanson’s defence of President Donald Trump is entirely unconvincing
by Steve Donoghue

Hanson’s programme on every page is to downplay and trivialise as many of Trump’s countless aberrant behaviours as possible, characterising them as the kind of trivia only effete snobs could possibly find objectionable.

At virtually every turn, ­Hanson uses euphemisms and little-kid vocabulary: gross ­violations of personal and ­social norms become “ethical dilemmas”; six decades of lying, cheating, fornicating, stealing, defrauding, blackmailing and bullying become “personal foibles”; endless, ­almost uncountable lies, become “fibs”. […]

Hanson invokes “gentrification and the gospel of good taste” as the foremost engines of Trump criticism and claims they blind such criticism to Trump’s alleged accomplishments: “success in reworking Nafta, in prodding Nato members to keep their budgetary commitments, and in recalibrating long overdue asymmetrical relationships with Turkey, Iran and the Palestinians,” and so on.

It’s a key sign of Hanson’s rhetorical fancy-dancing that Trump himself would hardly understand these descriptions. His “reworking” of Nafta was a carefully presented repackaging of minor details in a working arrangement; his “prodding” of Nato members (over nonexistent slacking on “budgetary commitments”) took the form of embarrassing public gaffes and name-calling; and the “recalibrating” of relationships with nations such as Palestine was also regarded as the haphazard discarding of decades of careful diplomacy without much thought being put into it. […]

Hanson’s The Case for Trump is built entirely on a combination of willful blindness, canny stage-dressing and a weird kind of aggrieved cultural defensiveness.

Not Tragic, Just Sad
‘The Case for Trump’

by Charles McNamara

By portraying hamartia as some kind of practically expedient lack of integrity, moreover, Hanson presents his own master class in Trumpist paradiastolē, a “redescription” of vices as virtues and a rhetorical distillation of our “post-truth” era of neck-snapping political spin. Through this tactic—one that deeply troubled early modern thinkers like Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes—playboy notoriety can be recast as renown, crass incivility as forthrightness, felony tax fraud as financial savvy. This repackaging of Trump’s moral failings as his most laudable qualities permeates The Case for Trump. Through Hanson’s redescription, Trump’s “anti-civilizational” hamartia is rendered as romanticized gunslinger vigilantism. At another point, Hanson says Trump might “be compared by his enemies to the thuggish Roman populist Catiline,” but without even denying the charge he immediately reframes this proto-Trump epitome of sedition as an exemplar of “rhetorical power and directness.” More broadly, Hanson explains the “chaos” of White House staff turnover as a matter of finding “personalities [who] jibed with Trump’s own mercurial moods.” For Hanson, Trump’s dishonest, foul-mouthed Mammonism is a heroic feature, not a bug.

The Agony of the Erudite Trumpite
by Erik D’Amato

In the end, it is Hanson’s clear aversion to reckoning with Trump’s most prosaic character flaw that is most telling. Since history was first written historians have been rationalizing or lionizing the bad behavior or character of powerful men. And even as American conservatives lament an increasingly coarse and nihilistic culture, one can see them excusing Trump’s licentiousness and impiety as a price of partisan advantage, or comparing, like Hanson, Trump’s elemental “toxicity” to chemotherapy, “which after all is used to combat something far worse than itself.” I can also appreciate that Trump’s intuitive “lizard smarts” is undervalued by the professional classes, or that the shock of political upheaval can be constructively tempered with a bit of Al Czervik–style presidential buffoonery. Even Trump’s shambolic, vote-them-off-the-island approach to administration and personnel might have some logic: revolutions are always messy.

But how does a historian excuse wanton ahistoricism? What would Victor Davis Hanson the professor say of a student who loudly claimed that the Germans had bombed Pearl Harbor?

He would, of course, be horrified. Indeed, in some of his other recent writings Hanson has made it clear that the decline in history as an academic discipline in the United States — according to the National Center for Education Statistics it is now the fastest shrinking undergraduate major — is a tragedy. “Today’s students, like their professors, not only do not possess, but feel no need to possess, familiarity with Thucydides, or Dante’s Inferno, or some idea of the Napoleonic Wars, or the work of T. S. Eliot,” he wrote in National Review six days after Trump’s stunning claim about Afghanistan.

The Case for Trump is ultimately unconvincing because, try as he might, Hanson knows that making a case for Donald Trump is inescapably an act of self-negation, the history professor’s version of a pediatric dentist writing a book called The Case for Cocoa Puffs.

Bard of the Booboisie

Let us stipulate straightaway: Victor Davis Hanson is the worst historian since Parson Weems. To picture anything remotely as bad as his pseudo-historical novels and propaganda tracts, one would have to imagine an account of the fiscal policies of the Bush administration authored by Paris Hilton.

Mr. Hanson, Cal State Fresno’s contribution to human letters, is the favorite historian of the administration, the Naval War College, and other groves of disinterested research. His academic niche is to drag the Peloponnesian War into every contemporary foreign policy controversy and thereby justify whatever course of action our magistrates have taken. One suspects that if the neo-cons at the American Enterprise Institute were suddenly seized by the notion to invade Patagonia, Mr. Hanson would be quoting Pericles in support.

Once we strip away all the classical Greek fustian, it becomes clear that the name of his game is to take every erroneous conventional wisdom, cliche, faulty generalization, and common-man imbecility, and elevate them to a catechism. In this process, he showcases a technique beloved of pseudo-conservatives stuck at the Sean Hannity level of debate: he swallows whatever quasi-historical balderdash serves the interest of those in power, announces it with an air of surprised discovery, and then congratulates himself on his boldness in telling truth to power.

This is a surprising and rather hypocritical pose by someone who reportedly sups at the table of Vice President Cheney. For Mr. Hanson is one of a long and undistinguished line of personalities stretching back into the abysm of time: the tribal bard, the court historian, the academic recipient of the Lenin Prize. Compared to him, politically connected scribes such as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., resemble Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Victor Davis Hanson goes berserk
by Eirik Raude

Along with his towering contempt for anyone not rabidly reactionary, pertaining to, marked by, or favoring reaction, esp. extreme conservatism or rightism in politics; opposing political or social change. Hanson trots out the entire panoply of conservative catch-phrases, which although wildly inaccurate and for the most part hyperbolic jingoism, are fanatically accepted dogma for the angry right-wing bah-humbug mob who embrace only one single nuanced phrase aside from up and down, right and left, black and white: “Money talks, bullshit walks,” i.e. anything that makes money is inherently good, everything else is just chatter. Anyone who deviates from that one elemental truth is either naive of a Marxist.

Victor Davis Hanson, The Nurse Ratched of Conservatism, Meet Karl Rove
from The Long Goodbye

Everyone knows the first rule in the Conservative rule book: Deny all reality and create your own. Hanson always works this rule into every column he writes. That is not exaggeration. Every column he writes has it’s own fantasy based motif, declarative statements and world view. In the “Pampered” column he also goes by another rule in the playbook. When Conservatives have money it is because America is the land of opportunity and these industrious individuals have clawed their way to the top through hard work. On the other hand, according to Nurse Ratched Hanson, when Democrats have money it is because they are elitists whose money has magically appeared out of the liberal ether. The subset of this Conservative rule is that all working class Democrats – like actual nurses, police and fire fighters, carpenters, middle-managers, store clerks and scientists are terrorist loving Maoists.

Please, give us the real history of Ronald Reagan
by Bruce Henderson

Hanson’s entire opinion piece is an example of the very ‘propaganda’ he accuses the “progressive media” of using. It serves as nothing but a whitewash not only of Reagan’s true record, but of both Bushes as well. And of course he strategically forgets Nixon, who not even the conservative media can rehabilitate.

Victor David Hanson has a neocon meltdown
from The Long Goodbye

While Hanson is the grand master of deep intellectual thought for the far right who keeps trying to juggle half truths, flawed analysis, grade school analogies, mangled interpretations of some history all for what? To stay on course, the course that has been proven to be the wrong course by all except the delusional like Hanson who’s loyalties extend to Bush and America be damned. Blinded by partisan politics Hanson refuses to acknowledge the most basic facts. Hanson has sold any academic credibility down the river. In short he is being incredibly dishonest when he claims that the Bush administration has a positive direction and a clear plan that is not being implemented because a few people are saying things that might hurt poor little George’s feelings. I’m not sure what is more absurd, Hanson for saying it, or the National Review for publishing this drivel.

Republican Propagandist: Is Victor Davis Hanson a Hack or Merely an Incompetent Pundit
from The Long Goodbye

The National Review continues its attempt to qualify for some kind of world record in mindless pabulum. Victor Davis Hanson is billed as an “intellectual” and “historian” by the Right. He writes in a post titled A Curious Insularity

In the world of Barack Obama, inflating tires and “tuning up” modern car engines precludes off-shore drilling. Four-dollar-a-gallon gas prices can be ameliorated by having the average consumer trade in his 8-mpg clunker.

While punditry sometimes involves painting in broad strokes those two sentences are the kind of Stalinist propaganda that has comes to dominate right-wing punditry. Whether it is good policy or not may be debatable, but President Obama has called for more offshore drilling and increasing the number of nuclear power plants. Studies have shown that increasing oil drilling will not decrese gas prices more than a cuople pennies and that would be a few years down the road. That may seem couner intuitive, but such is the nature of the world petroleum market. Hanson could not be bothered with the facts. It would ruin his hack job.

Victor Davis Hanson’s Magical Mystery Tour
by Chris Rossini

Victor Davis Hanson, the neocons’ favorite historian, goes off on a wild ridethat would surely make for good copy in government schoolbooks:

The United States has ridden — and tamed — the wild global tiger since the end of World War II. The frantic ride has been dangerous, to us, but a boon to humanity.

In other words, peace and trade were not chosen after World War II, but instead the U.S. decided to jump on a fictional “global tiger”. With a Federal Reserve ready to print up as much money as necessary, and a homeland unscathed from the ravages of the war, there was no way the power hungry in the U.S. could resist trying to conquer the world.

Hanson says that the U.S. “tamed” the tiger and that it’s been a blessing for humanity. I’m not sure of the exact figure, but the U.S. empire has killed millions of people throughout the many years. So, evidently Hanson means “a boon to humanity” minus those millions of individuals. Let’s not forget Madeleine Albright’s statement that 500,000 dead Iraqi children were “worth it”.

What You’re Not Supposed to Know about War
by Thomas J. DiLorenzo

Thus, you have the celebrated neoconservative writer Victor Davis Hanson writing in the December 2, 2009, issue of Imprimis that antiwar activism and other “factors” that make people “reluctant” to resort to war are “lethal combinations” that supposedly threaten the existence of society. Hanson was merely repeating the conservative party line first enunciated by the self-proclaimed founder of the modern conservative (really neoconservative) movement, William F. Buckley Jr. Murray Rothbard quoted Buckley as saying in the January 25, 1952 issue of Commonweal magazine that the Cold War required that

we have got to accept Big Government for the duration — for neither an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged … except through the instrumentality of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores. … [We must support] large armies and air forces, atomic energy, central intelligence, war production boards and the attendant centralization of power in Washington.

“We” must advocate the destruction of the free society in the name of defending the free society, said “Mr. Conservative,” a former CIA employee.

In reality, antiwar “factors” are a threat only to the military/industrial/congressional complex, which profits from war; they are not a threat to society as a whole. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

The Plutocrats’ Toxic Narrative: Lies, Half Truths and Bigotry in Service to Big Money
by Mark Dempsey

My neighbor Jeff sent me a “sobering” editorial entitled Goodbye California from Hoover Institute  fellow and military historian, Victor Davis Hanson. Hoover is a conservative think tank, funded by plutocrats like the Scaifes and Waltons among others.

Hanson repeatedly assures us he’s not editorializing…and then proceeds to slant his presentation so dramatically that it amounts to distortion in the service of his point of view.

What’s his point of view? Why the smart, handsome, productive rich are victims of poor people who are parasites, and California is going to hell in a handcart, propelled by it’s regulations, liberal bias, Mexicans (Eeek!) and profligate welfare spending. They’re victims! Honest! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

But I know some actual poor people, even some poor Mexicans. I didn’t just bicycle past them, as Hanson says he did in his account.

To the Editors: Victor Davis Hanson doesn’t understand income taxes
by Brian Schmidt

Hanson’s Op-Ed read “Beneath veneers of high-end living, there are lives of quiet 1-percent desperation. With new federal and California tax hikes, aggregate income-tax rates on dot.commers can easily exceed 50 percent of their gross income.” And it went south from there.

I expect a couple would have to make over $4 million annually to have a chance at 50% aggregate income tax rates, but that’s making the ludicrous assumption that $4m includes no capital gains and ignores deductions. If you define income the way people usually do, as salary plus commission plus all investment income, I think few people below $10m annually pay over 50% in aggregate income tax. And while Romney’s 14% rate was probably an outlier, the vast majority of people making over $10m have lots of investment income and pay very little. This doesn’t include payroll taxes but those become a rounding error when your annual income exceeds $4m, and other taxes are also unimportant unless you’ve chosen a bonfire of vanities lifestyle.

Buffett said he paid a lower tax rate than his secretary, and he seems more accurate about the wealthiest than Hanson.

Is the right-wing media bubble impenetrable?
Nearly a month after their blow-out defeat, Republicans still refuse to confront their demographic challenges

by Joshua Holland

Victor Davis Hanson’s analysis of the election was representative and equally informative. He wrote that Mitt Romney was an amazing candidate – “a glittering Sir Galahad who, given his impressive horse, armor, and lance, along with his decency and piety, assumed that he could win a joust in a fair charge against the other team’s knight.” Hanson claimed that 47 percent of the population are in fact dependent on government and mocked the idea that the Republican Party might try to reach out to non-white voters. “The only way Republicans can appeal to Latinos,” he wrote, is to “close the border, stop illegal immigration, and allow the melting pot and upward mobility to fracture ‘Hispanics’ along class lines.”

For Hanson and most of his readers, neither the message nor the messenger were problematic; only the pernicious bias of the traditional media prevented voters from embracing the plans Mitt Romney was going to detail right after his victory. Hanson then, without irony, warned his fellow Republicans of the dangers of falling into the comforting “cocoon” provided by the conservative media.

For God’s Sake, Somebody Please Give Victor Davis Hanson His Meds

Next up, we have a real tour de force from Victor Davis Hanson. It’s all about the sense of freedom one feels when one is doing back-breaking and sometimes dangerous work while not making as much money as Victor Davis Hanson. I give him credit for keeping it slightly less rambling and nonsensical than usual, while still managing to sneak in some vintage VDH-flavored surrealism. Go ahead, click. You will not be disappointed.

Historian Victor Davis Hanson wrote an opinion piece lately that described recent events as ‘The first coup in US history in which government bureaucrats sought to overturn an election and to remove a sitting president’. Is he right?
by Bruce Carriker

Despite his credentials, Hanson, like so many conservatives in the age of trump, has slipped off the deep end. His racism became obvious during the Obama administration and he now seems to have lost all touch with reality.

How National Review Helped Build the Alt-Right
The magazine laid the foundations for the movement it now opposes.

by Osita Nwanevu

If Gottfried is right, the purges seem to have been incomplete. Victor Davis Hanson, a current writer for National Review and a frequent critic of multiculturalism, for instance, published a National Review piece about race and crime a year after Derbyshire’s firing that loudly echoed his offending column without similar repercussions, right down to the paternal recommendation to avoid black people.


Boredom in the Mind: Liberals and Reactionaries

“Hobsbawm was obsessed with boredom; his experience of it appears at least twenty-seven times in Evans’s biography. Were it not for Marx, Hobsbawm tells us, in a book of essays, he never would “have developed any special interest in history.” The subject was too dull. The British writer Adam Phillips describes boredom as “that state of suspended anticipation in which things are started and nothing begins.” More than a wish for excitement, boredom contains a longing for narrative, for engagement that warrants attention to the world.

“A different biographer might have found in Hobsbawm’s boredom an opening onto an entire plane of the Communist experience. Marxism sought to render political desire as objective form, to make human intention a causal force in the world. Not since Machiavelli had political people thought so hard about the alignment of action and opportunity, about the disjuncture between public performance and private wish. Hobsbawm’s life and work are a case study in such questions.”

That is another great insight from Corey Robin, as written in his New Yorker piece, Eric Hobsbawm, the Communist Who Explained History. Boredom does seem key. It is one of the things that stood out to me in Robin’s writings about the reactionary mind. Reactionaries dislike, even fear, boredom more than almost anything else. The rhetoric of reactionaries is often to create the passionate excitement of melodrama, such as how Burke describes the treatment of the French queen.

The political left too often forgets the power of storytelling, especially simplistic and unoriginal storytelling, as seen with Trump. Instead, too many on the left fear the populist riling up of the masses. I remember Ralph Nader warning about this in a speech he gave in his 2000 presidential campaign. There is a leftist mistrust of passion and maybe there is good reason for this mistrust, considering it forms the heartbeat of the reactionary mind. Still, without passion, there is no power of persuasion and so all attempts are doomed from the start. The left will have to learn to fight on this turf or simply embrace full resignation and so fall into cynicism.

The thing is that those on the political left seem to have a higher tolerance for boredom, maybe related to their higher tolerance for cognitive dissonance shown in social science research. It requires greater uncertainty and stress to shut down the liberal-minded person (liberal in the psychological sense). I noticed this in myself. I’m not prone to the reactionary maybe because I don’t get bored easily and so don’t need something coming from outside to motivate me.

But it might go beyond mere tolerance in demonstrating an active preference for boredom. There is something about the liberal mind that is prone to complexity, nuance, and ambiguity that can only be grown amidst boredom — that is to say the open-mindedness of curiosity, doubt, and questioning are only possible when one acknowledges ignorance. It’s much more exciting to proclaim truth, instead, and proclaim it with an entertaining story. This is problematic in seeking political victories, if one is afraid of the melodrama of hard fights. Right-wingers might burn themselves out on endless existential crises, whereas left-wingers typically never build up enough fire to lightly toast a marshmallow.

The political left doesn’t require or thrive with a dualistic vision of opposition and battle, in the way does the political right. This is a central strength and weakness for the left. On the side of weakness, this is why it is so hard for the left to offer a genuinely threatening challenge to the right. Most often what happens is the reactionaries simply co-opt the left and the left too easily falls in line. See how many liberals will repeat reactionary rhetoric. Or notice how many on the political left turned full reactionary during times of conflict (e.g., world war era).

Boredom being the comfort zone of liberals is all the more reason they should resist settling down within its confines. There is no where to hide from the quite real drama that is going on in the world. The liberal elite can’t forever maintain their delusion of being a disinterested aristocracy. As Eric Hobsbawm understood and Karl Marx before him, only a leftist vision can offer a narrative that can compete against the reactionary mind

* * *

“Capitalism is boring. Devoting your life to it, as conservatives do, is horrifying if only because it’s so repetitious. It’s like sex.”
~William F. Buckley Jr., in an interview with Corey Robin

Violent Fantasy of Reactionary Intellectuals

The last thing in the world a reactionary wants is to be bored, as happened with the ending of the ideological battles of the Cold War. They need a worthy enemy or else to invent one. Otherwise, there is nothing to react to and so nothing to get excited about, followed by a total loss of meaning and purpose, resulting in dreaded apathy and ennui. This leads reactionaries to become provocative, in the hope of provoking an opponent into a fight. Another strategy is simply to portray the whole world as a battleground, such that everything is interpreted as a potential attack, working oneself or one’s followers into a froth.

The Fantasy of Creative Destruction

To the reactionary mind, sacrifice of self can be as acceptable as sacrifice of others. It’s the fight, the struggle itself that gives meaning — no matter the costs and consequences, no matter how it ends. The greatest sin is boredom, the inevitable result of victory. As Irving Kristol said to Corey Robin, the defeat of the Soviet Union “deprived us of an enemy.” It was the end of history for, without an enervating battle of moral imagination, it was the end of the world.

Reactionary Mind Is Not Normal

“To live a modern life anywhere in the world today, subject to perpetual social and technological transformations, is to experience the psychological equivalent of permanent revolution. Anxiety in the face of this process is now a universal experience, which is why reactionary ideas attract adherents around the world who share little except their sense of historical betrayal.

“Every major social transformation leaves behind a fresh Eden that can serve as the object of somebody’s nostalgia. And the reactionaries of our time have discovered that nostalgia can be a powerful political motivator, perhaps even more powerful than hope. Hopes can be disappointed. Nostalgia is irrefutable.”
~ Mark Lilla, Our Reactionary Age

What if we are all more reactionary than we’d like to admit? Related to that, what if we are all more splintered and dissociated as well?

We have this sense of knowing who we are, as though we are singular stable identities. And we defend those identities with ideology or rather with ideological rhetoric, a wall of language with metaphors as the sentries. It is easy to rationalize and narratize, to make coherent the divided self that plagues the modern mind. It makes me wonder that maybe none of us is as we seem. We look at people with serious personality issues and we might call them dissociated or something similar. But what if we are all disconnected on some basic level. If that is our default state, then it isn’t really dissociation for there is no other supposedly normal state to be dissociated from, no unified whole that only later becomes fractured.

I’ve observed those who can say something to another person, walk into the next room, and say the complete opposite to someone else. It’s an amazing thing to see for how naturally it comes. There is no sign of intentional deception or self-awareness. Of course, this is not so easy to observe in oneself. If one were doing the exact same thing, how would one know? Yet we are constantly splitting ourselves off in this manner, just to get by in this complex society. Who we are with family is different than when with friends. And who we are at church is different than when at work. Egoic consciousness (from a Buddhist, Humean, and Jaynesian view) is always a limited construct, not as grand and encompassing as it presents itself.

We are all raised in a society full of lies, half-truths, and just-so stories. When we are young and innocent, we might occasionally challenge authority figures in their dishonesty and deceptions, their self-serving explanations and commands. But the response of authority challenged is almost always negative, if not punishment then gaslighting. This creates each new generation of schizoid adults. Not every kid gets this kind of mind game to the same degree, but I suspect this is what happens to all of us in various ways. It’s the way our society is built.

The trickster quality of the reactionary demonstrates this. And it makes us feel better to accuse those others of being reactionaries. But maybe the reactionary frames everything, existing at the periphery of our vision at the dark, blurred edges of liberal idealism. We live in a society of instability and uncertainty, of stress, anxiety, and fear — the fertile black loam of the reactionary mind. That would explain why it seems so much easier for liberals and left-wingers to become reactionaries than the other way around.

In my gut-level hatred of this reactionary madness, I feel most judgmental of those who turn reactionary, especially those who should know better such as a well-read left-winger mindlessly repeating racist beliefs or a well-educated liberal obliviously being converted while following their curiosity into the “Dark Enlightenment”. It’s sad and frustrating. I can sympathize for the lost souls on the right who were simply born into a world of reaction. They don’t know better. But when those most aware of the dangers of the reactionary mind are lured into its temptations, it further chips away at what little hope I have remaining for humanity. It makes me worry for my own mind as well, as I sense how overpowering reaction can be when one is immersed in it.

Our intellectual defenses are weak. That is what makes the reactionary mind flourish under these unnatural conditions of capitalist modernity. It must be what it was like in the late Bronze Age when the first authoritarian leaders arose in the growing empires. There wasn’t yet the rhetorical capacity among the population to protect against it, as would later develop in the Axial Age. Millennia later, in this ever increasingly reactionary age, authoritarianism grows worse as its rhetorical skill manages to stay one step ahead. We are inoculated only to the reactionary mind as it expressed in the past, ever expecting it to repeat the same way with the Nazi brownshirts goosestepping in the streets.

Corrupt power is what it is. Filled not only with authoritarians but social dominators, psychopaths, narcissists, and Machiavellians. Those people, for all the problems they cause, are a miniscule proportion of the population. They could not rule, could not cause damage if there weren’t those who could be manipulated, riled up, and led to commit horrors upon others… and then the intellectuals and media hacks who come along to rationalize and normalize it all. This is why I fear the reactionary mind, the sway it holds even over those not explicitly reactionary. This is why we desperately need to come to greater self-understanding. Even simpleminded fools like Donald Trump are able to seize power and play us like fools, only because the reactionary mind has seized the entire political establishment and body politic with the grip of a heart attack. The kindly pseudo-liberal reactionaries of the Democratic Party are no better — if anything, far more dangerous for their masked face.

Still, maybe there is a hint of hope. When looking at some other societies, one doesn’t see this kind of full reactionary dominance. I’m particularly thinking of more isolated tribes maintaining their traditional cultures and lifestyles. The example I often turn to is that of the Piraha. Daniel Everett noted how they lacked any evidence of stress, anxiety, depression, and fear of death. And along with this, there was no expression of authoritarianism and social dominance. I’ve pointed out elsewhere that traditional communitarian societies, if they were to survive, could not tolerate psychopathy as we do in such careless fashion. We modern Westerners are far too tolerant of this threat, as if we believe we are above it all. That is a dangerously naive attitude.

Related to this, in understanding human nature, the diversity of identity indicates there is much more we don’t understand. Many hunter-gatherers don’t have rigid ego boundaries, don’t have permanent unitary selves, don’t have a sense of individualistic isolation from others and from the world around them. They aren’t divided, splintered, fractured, or dissociated. An open and loose embrace of a complex psyche is their natural way of being and maybe it is the default position for all humanity. Our carefully constructed egoic structures are rather flimsy, not a great foundation upon which to build a civilization. No wonder we are in a constant state of fear and anxiety, ever worried about the whole thing collapsing down around us. We are without the calm confidence found among many indigenous people who know their place in the world, know they belong without needing the authoritarian control of a clenched fist nor the rhetorical sleight-of-hand of a demagogue to keep everyone in line.

The reactionary mind may be the norm for our society. But it is not normal.

* * *

Let me leave some brief commentary on Mark Lilla and Corey Robin, the two main scholars on the reactionary mind. They are correct to place nostalgia as the taproot of this phenomenon. Lilla is also right to link it back to early thinkers like Plato who reacted, as I see it, to both Athenian democracy and the ancient poetic tradition. But he is wrong to separate the reactionary and the conservative, a mistake Robin avoids.

But I’d argue that Lilla and Robin are further missing out on how the reactionary is linked to the liberal, two sides of the same paradigm. All of these co-arise. The reactionary isn’t only a counter-revolutionary that is only found after the revolution for the leaders who co-opt revolutions typically are reactionaries, from the likes of George Washington to Maximilien Robespierre.

Some conservatives seek to distinguish themselves by identifying as ‘classical liberals’, in the hope of separating their identity from both progressives and reactionaries, but they fail in this endeavor. For one, many of the classical liberals were revolutionaries, as some were reactionaries, since liberalism as a paradigm has been a mix right from the beginning, even in terms of looking to its precursors in the Axial Age.

To demonstrate this confusion of ideological rhetoric, Mark Lilla himself in reacting to the failings of the liberalism he hopes to defend ends up turning to reactionary nostalgia. So, when even a scholar seeking to defuse the reactionary bomb falls prey to it, you know that it is potent stuff not to be handled lightly, even for those who think they know what they’re doing.

* * *

In conclusion, here is my alternative view as an independent. There is something I’ve never seen anyone acknowledge. This is my own insight.

Some see it all beginning with the French Revolution and Edmund Burke’s response. But it’s a bit complex, since Burke himself was a progressive reformer for his era and belonged to the ‘liberal’ party. His reactionary stance came late in life and yet this never led him to abandon his former left-leaning positions. He was a liberal and a conservative and a reactionary, but he was no revolutionary though he initially supported the American Revolution, only because he hoped for progressive reform. The standard story is that reaction was the counter-revolution following revolution. That doesn’t quite make sense of the facts, though. To clarify this, look to the French Revolution. The Jacobins, I’d argue, were reactionaries and counterrevolutionaries.

They were reacting to the old authoritarian regime of French monarchy but not to eliminate rigid hierarchy for they used the same tactics of oppressive violence to defend their preferred hierarchy, precisely as Corey Robin describes the reactionary agenda. It was a power grab and unsurprisingly it led to an even greater anti-democratic authoritarianism. And they were counterrevolutionaries fighting against what the American Revolution had unleashed. The radical and revolutionary social democrat Thomas Paine, we must remember, sat on the right side of the French National Assembly opposite of the Jacobins. The French Revolution didn’t begin with the Jacobins for they only managed to co-opt it long after it had started. They were counter-revolutionaries within the revolution.

I’ve come to a more complex view. I tend toward the theory of Robin. But I don’t entirely agree with him either. My present assessment is that conservatism is the reactionary and the reactionary is simply the other side of liberalism. It’s all of one cloth. They co-arose together (and continue to do so), going back to the precursors in the Axial Age. This puts the liberal in a less comfortably righteous position. There is no liberalism without the anxiety and hence nostalgia that leads to reaction, and conservatism has nowhere else to stand except right in the middle of the chaos.

This comes to a breaking point now that ‘liberalism’ has become the all-encompassing paradigm that rules as unquestionable ideological realism. Reactionary conservatism can offer no alternative but destruction. And liberalism can offer no response but defense of the status quo. So, liberalism becomes increasingly reactionary as well, until there is nothing left other than reaction in all directions, reactionaries reacting to reactionaries.

That is the final apocalypse of the ideological worldview we take for granted. But apocalypse, in its original meaning, referred to a revealing. Just as revolution once meant a cyclical turning that brings us back. Reaction, as such, is the return of the repressed. This is far from nostalgia, even as we have no choice than to carry the past forward as society is transformed. The reactionary age we find ourselves in is more radical than the revolutions that began it. And what, in our projections, is reflected back to us flatters neither the right nor the left.

It’s an ideological stalemate for it never was about competing political visions. All rhetoric has become empty or rather, to some extent, maybe it always was. It never meant what we thought it did. We find ourselves without any bearings or anchor. So we thrash about on a dark sea with a storm brewing. No sight beyond the next wave looming over us, casting its cold shadow, and ready to come crashing down.

* * *

The Reactionary Mind in a Reactionary Age

Reactionary Revolutionaries, Faceless Men, and God in the Gutter

The Ex-Cons
by Corey Robin

Lilla v. Robin
by Henry

Wrong Reaction
by Alex Gourevitch

Why reactionary nostalgia is stronger than liberal hope
by Carlos Lozada

The Shipwrecked Book: Mark Lilla’ Nostalgic Prison
by Robert L. Kehoe III

The Revolutionary Nostalgia That Gave Rise to Trump – and ISIS
by Shlomo Avineri

Is a Conservative Crack-Up on the Horizon?
by Samuel Goldman

Violent Fantasy of Reactionary Intellectuals

“Capitalism is boring. Devoting your life to it, as conservatives do, is horrifying if only because it’s so repetitious. It’s like sex.”
~William F. Buckley Jr., in an interview with Corey Robin

The last thing in the world a reactionary wants is to be bored, as happened with the ending of the ideological battles of the Cold War. They need a worthy enemy or else to invent one. Otherwise, there is nothing to react to and so nothing to get excited about, followed by a total loss of meaning and purpose, resulting in dreaded apathy and ennui. This leads reactionaries to become provocative, in the hope of provoking an opponent into a fight. Another strategy is simply to portray the whole world as a battleground, such that everything is interpreted as a potential attack, working oneself or one’s followers into a froth.

There are demagogues like Bill O’Reilly and Donald Trump. The former has made numerous stated or implied threats of violence over the years, and others including his ex-wife have accused him of actual violence. As for the latter, his invoking violence is well known, going so far as to brag he could shoot someone in the street and get away with it. Of course, both also speak of violence in broader terms of culture war and dog whistles, racism and xenophobia, paranoia and conspiracy. But whatever form it takes, it tends to be rather blatant and blunt in going for maximum effect.

There is another kind of reactionary as well. They often present themselves as respectable intellectuals and often liberals will treat them as such. Once dead and gone, through rose-colored nostalgia, they are remembered as representing some high point of worthy conservatism. A great example of this is William F. Buckley Jr. who had a combative attitude, occasionally erupting into threats. Yet, upon his passing, liberals praised him as the leader of a golden age of conservatism. That isn’t how liberals saw him at the time, of course. He was no soft-spoken, fair-minded public intellectual. There was a reactionary edge back then that essentially is no different than today.

More recently, there is Jordan B. Peterson who has taken on the defense of masculinity and has done so with an increasingly confrontational attitude, aggressively so at times. Some might argue that he has followed a predictable path of reactionary decline. Or rather that his reactionary mind is showing its true nature. One suspects there is often a threat behind the rhetoric of reactionary ideology, even if not always explicit, but give it enough time and it can become explicit. Is that true of Peterson?

He began as an academic talking about a Jungian archetypal masculinity (i.e., patriarchy as mythology and mysticism) enforcing order on feminine chaos (one wonders if he read Carl Jung’s Answer to Job where the patriarchal Yahweh is portrayed as a chaotic force of  unconscious nature) — by implication, this is a Manichaean fight against the effeminizing forces on the political left that are psychologically and socially neutering boys. But for all the semi-religiosity of his language, his ideas were always presented in rather boring academic terms and with a meandering pedantic style. Now some perceive the academic veneer to be wearing thin, as he has slipped further into the archetypal role of paternalistic father figure, in becoming yet another right-wing pundit and self-help guru.

The difference for the reactionary intellectual, as Corey Robin explained, is that they approach the Burkean moral imagination of the horrific and sublime (with its sociopolitical framing of purity) by way of abstraction while usually keeping a safe distance from the concrete. They are inspired, excited, and enthralled by the fear-ridden imaginary with its fantasized violence — that is until it gets too close, too real. In an actual fight, Buckley or Peterson would likely get the shit beat out of them. The pose of intellectual brawlers and alpha males is just that, a pose not to be taken too literally, and yet there is always an underlying hint of authoritarian authority. They do see themselves in an existential crisis, a near cosmic fight that must be won or else that all of Western civilization will be lost, and they don’t think of this as mere hyperbole.

This is why, when cornered, they will lash out with the language of violence, sometimes with stated threats of hitting their opponents. Peterson did this recently in using a tweet to threaten someone with mild-mannered violence, a rather unmanly ‘slap’ (maybe his opponent was deemed unworthy of the full manly force of fisticuffs). Of course, this ‘threat’ is silly taken at face value. We Americans aren’t exactly worried about the importation of the Canadian “slap culture”. The point of concern is that he would even say such a thing, considering how common this aggressive machismo is on the reactionary right. This kind of verbal threat could be dismissed, if it didn’t ever lead to action but sadly there is a long history of it doing just that. Take for example Bill O’Reilly repeatedly having called Dr. George Tiller a “baby killer” until one of O’Reilly’s viewers took the implicit threat and made it explicit by assassinating Dr. Tiller. Or consider the Pizzagate fake news pushed by right-wing media that also led to a real world shooting. Violence is a desired result, not an unintended consequence, the enacting and enforcement of the moral imagination.

It’s not that there is any reason to worry about one of Peterson’s fanboys going out on a slapping rampage. What is worrisome is the pattern of talk that becomes increasingly extreme over time, not just by any single person but across an entire society, specifically here in the United States, that is already so obsessed with violence and authoritarianism. This might be taken less seriously were we not in the middle of this era of rule by Donald Trump, a man who came to power through violent rhetoric, a man now as president who has shown fascist tendencies toward authoritarian display, from a declared desire for a military march with tanks to sending the military to the border.

I don’t see Jordan Peterson as a fascist, much less a Nazi. And I would be wary of too broadly painting the canvas of fascist mysticism, such as how Carl Jung is often dismissed out of hand. But I do take seriously the dark moral imagination that forms a swift and powerful undercurrent. And as such I do have valid fear about how Peterson’s words, no matter his intentions, could so easily be misused and so quickly lead to harmful ends.

Though I don’t agree with all criticisms of Peterson, I do wonder if some are on target in pointing to a fascist tendency in Western modernity (a reactionary defense of hierarchical authority given persuasive force through neo-romantic mythologizing, often as folk religiosity and volk nationalism). There is a powerful current of thought that gets tapped, even by those who don’t realize what they are tapping into — to put it in a Jungian frame, there are unconscious archetypal forces that can possess us. I’m not sure it matters whether or not someone means well. If anything, my greatest concern is often about those who hide behind personas built on claims of good intentions.

Peterson is invoking moral imagination. It is a powerful tool. And potentially it is a dangerous weapon. I’m not entirely convinced he realizes the fire he is playing with. There is a short distance from nostalgic fantasies to reactionary radicalization. And that distance can be covered in no time at all when a resonance develops between public mood and political power. It has happened before and could happen again. Peterson should heed his own warnings about totalitarian thought and authoritarian politics.

Criticisms of left-wingers, feminists, etc hasn’t tended to end well in the Western world — interestingly, considering Jordan Peterson’s fear-mongering, the ruling elites of both the Nazis and the Soviets attacked, imprisoned, and killed left-wingers: feminists, social liberals, social democrats, Marxists, anarchosyndicalists, labor organizers, radical intellectuals, experimental artists, etc. This puts Peteson as a self-proclaimed anti-authoritarian in strange company when he too attacks these same left-wingers. I’d rather we, including Peterson and his followers, learned from history than having to repeat it again and again.

I’ll let Canadians worry about Canada. But as an American, I’ll worry about the United States. Let us not forget what kind of country this is. The U.S. isn’t only a country founded on genocide and slavery. You remember that little thing about Nazi eugenics. Guess where they got eugenics from? Right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A..

Let me explain how close this hits to home. There were many Americans who originated eugenicist thought and practice, helping to set an example that inspired Nazis. One of those Americans was an Iowan school teacher, Harry H. Laughlin, who lived near my home — Adolf Hitler personally praised this Iowan eugenicist: “The Reichstag of Nazi Germany passed the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring in 1933, closely based on Laughlin’s model. Between 35,000 and 80,000 persons were sterilized in the first full year alone. (It is now known that over 350,000 persons were sterilized). Laughlin was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Heidelberg in 1936 for his work behalf of the “science of racial cleansing.” (Five other Americans received honorary degrees the same year).” Eugenics never became as powerful in American society, but the impulse behind it fed into Social Darwinism, the Second Klan, Jim Crow, sundown towns, ethnic internment camps, violently enforced assimilation, etc.

Around the same time in Western history, mass urbanization was underway. As women gained more freedom in cities, feminism and other women’s movements gained new force and influence. So, with the destruction of rural communities and loss of the agrarian lifestyle, a moral panic arose about boys being turned effeminate and weak, not just by womanly culture but also by a supposed soft city living along with the temptations of alcohol and such. This fear-mongering about a lost generation of boys was a major impulse behind fascism and it took hold in the United States. There were large fascist marches in the U.S. at the time. But we are fortunate, I guess, that anti-German and anti-Italian xenophobic bigotry took much of the force out of American fascism. Instead, all we got was a patriarchal movement that created Boy Scouts and a National Park system. We might not be so lucky next time.

Someone like Peterson may be less problematic for Canada, as Canadians don’t have the same cultural history of reactionary extremism. What is problematic for Americans is that Peterson doesn’t seem to understand what kind of influence he might have south of the Canadian border. His words and ideas might speak to American reactionaries in an entirely different way than he intends. And that could have real world consequences. He isn’t helping matters by suggesting the way to deal with ideological opponents is through physical force, not that interpreting his words as idle threats is any better. Furthermore, his projecting his violent fantasies of a postmodern Marxist death cult (the equivalent of cultural Marxism or cultural Bolshevism) and feminist totalitarianism onto his opponents is just as, if not more, troubling.

Rather than defusing conflict, Jordan Peterson is fueling the fire. He is itching for a fight, playing out some script of antagonism that he is fantasizing about. What brought him to fame was a political issue involving gender pronouns that turned out have been fake news he helped gin up by way of misinterpreting a proposed law. But having been proven so severely wrong didn’t chasten him for he is getting more aggressive as time goes on. His rhetoric plays directly into reactionary paranoia and alt-right fear. We are far from the end of history for we are smack dab in the middle of it. The stage set long ago, the third act of a tragic play might begin soon. If so, it will be the denouement of yet one more cycle of conflict, first imagined and then acted upon. I fear it won’t be boring.

* * *

“Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in your goddam face, and you’ll stay plastered…”
~William F. Buckley Jr. to Gore Vidal

“Maybe not tonight, because as you would, I’d smash you in the goddamn face.”
~William F. Buckley Jr. to Noam Chomsky

“Here’s the problem, I know how to stand up to a man who’s unfairly trespassed against me and the reason I know that is because the parameters for my resistance are quite well-defined, which is: we talk, we argue, we push, and then it becomes physical. If we move beyond the boundaries of civil discourse, we know what the next step is. That’s forbidden in discourse with women and so I don’t think that men can control crazy women. I really don’t believe it.”
~Jordan B. Peterson to Camille Paglia

“And you call me a fascist? You sanctimonious prick. If you were in my room at the moment, I’d slap you happily.”
~Jordan B. Peterson to Pankaj Mishra

Jordan Peterson joins the club of macho writers who have thrown a fit over a bad review.
by Jeet Heer

Since Peterson loves to categorize the world into Jungian archetypes (the devouring mother, the dragon-slaying hero), it’s worth noting that this tweet fits an age-old pattern: the hyper-masculine writer who is unhinged by critical words.

In 1933, Max Eastman wrote a scathing review in The New Republic of Ernest Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon, accusing the bullfight-loving author of “wearing false hair on his chest.” Four years later, the two met in the New York offices of their shared publisher, Scribner. “What do you mean accusing me of impotence?” Hemingway asked, before trying to beat up Eastman. The two men had to be separated by editorial staff. The same year, Hemingway assaulted the poet Wallace Stevens, twenty years his senior, for saying that Hemingway was “not a man.”

In 1971, Gore Vidal wrote a scathing essay on Norman Mailer for TheNew York Review of Books. “The Patriarchalists have been conditioned to think of women as, at best, breeders of sons, at worst, objects to be poked, humiliated and killed,” Vidal wrote. “There has been from Henry Miller to Norman Mailer to Charles Manson a logical progression.” Enraged, Mailer slammed his head into Vidal’s face in the dressing room of The Dick Cavett Show. Five years later, Mailer was still looking for revenge. At a dinner party, he threw a drink at Vidal before tackling him to the ground. “Once again, words fail Norman Mailer,” Vidal quipped, while still on the floor.

In 2000, the critic Dale Peck went after Stanley Crouch in The New Republic, writing that Crouch’s novel Don’t the Moon Look Lonesome“is a terrible novel, badly conceived, badly executed, and put forward in bad faith; reviewing it is like shooting fish in a barrel.” In 2004, still stinging from the review, Crouch confronted Peck at Tartine, a Manhattan restaurant, and slapped him.

* * *

Jordan Peterson & Fascist Mysticism
by Pankaj Mishra

Reactionary white men will surely be thrilled by Peterson’s loathing for “social justice warriors” and his claim that divorce laws should not have been liberalized in the 1960s. Those embattled against political correctness on university campuses will heartily endorse Peterson’s claim that “there are whole disciplines in universities forthrightly hostile towards men.” Islamophobes will take heart from his speculation that “feminists avoid criticizing Islam because they unconsciously long for masculine dominance.” Libertarians will cheer Peterson’s glorification of the individual striver, and his stern message to the left-behinds (“Maybe it’s not the world that’s at fault. Maybe it’s you. You’ve failed to make the mark.”). The demagogues of our age don’t read much; but, as they ruthlessly crack down on refugees and immigrants, they can derive much philosophical backup from Peterson’s sub-chapter headings: “Compassion as a vice” and “Toughen up, you weasel.”

In all respects, Peterson’s ancient wisdom is unmistakably modern. The “tradition” he promotes stretches no further back than the late nineteenth century, when there first emerged a sinister correlation between intellectual exhortations to toughen up and strongmen politics. This was a period during which intellectual quacks flourished by hawking creeds of redemption and purification while political and economic crises deepened and faith in democracy and capitalism faltered. Many artists and thinkers—ranging from the German philosopher Ludwig Klages, member of the hugely influential Munich Cosmic Circle, to the Russian painter Nicholas Roerich and Indian activist Aurobindo Ghosh—assembled Peterson-style collages of part-occultist, part-psychological, and part-biological notions. These neo-romantics were responding, in the same way as Peterson, to an urgent need, springing from a traumatic experience of social and economic modernity, to believe—in whatever reassures and comforts. […]

Nowhere in his published writings does Peterson reckon with the moral fiascos of his gurus and their political ramifications; he seems unbothered by the fact that thinking of human relations in such terms as dominance and hierarchy connects too easily with such nascent viciousness such as misogyny, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. He might argue that his maps of meaning aim at helping lost individuals rather than racists, ultra-nationalists, or imperialists. But he can’t plausibly claim, given his oft-expressed hostility to the “murderous equity doctrine” of feminists, and other progressive ideas, that he is above the fray of our ideological and culture wars. […]

Peterson rails today against “softness,” arguing that men have been “pushed too hard to feminize.” In his bestselling book Degeneration (1892), the Zionist critic Max Nordau amplified, more than a century before Peterson, the fear that the empires and nations of the West are populated by the weak-willed, the effeminate, and the degenerate. The French philosopher Georges Sorel identified myth as the necessary antidote to decadence and spur to rejuvenation. An intellectual inspiration to fascists across Europe, Sorel was particularly nostalgic about the patriarchal systems of ancient Israel and Greece.

Like Peterson, many of these hyper-masculinist thinkers saw compassion as a vice and urged insecure men to harden their hearts against the weak (women and minorities) on the grounds that the latter were biologically and culturally inferior. Hailing myth and dreams as the repository of fundamental human truths, they became popular because they addressed a widely felt spiritual hunger: of men looking desperately for maps of meaning in a world they found opaque and uncontrollable.

It was against this (eerily familiar) background—a “revolt against the modern world,” as the title of Evola’s 1934 book put it—that demagogues emerged so quickly in twentieth-century Europe and managed to exalt national and racial myths as the true source of individual and collective health. The drastic individual makeover demanded by the visionaries turned out to require a mass, coerced retreat from failed liberal modernity into an idealized traditional realm of myth and ritual.

In the end, deskbound pedants and fantasists helped bring about, in Thomas Mann’s words in 1936, an extensive “moral devastation” with their “worship of the unconscious”—that “knows no values, no good or evil, no morality.” Nothing less than the foundations for knowledge and ethics, politics and science, collapsed, ultimately triggering the cataclysms of the twentieth century: two world wars, totalitarian regimes, and the Holocaust. It is no exaggeration to say that we are in the midst of a similar intellectual and moral breakdown, one that seems to presage a great calamity. Peterson calls it, correctly, “psychological and social dissolution.” But he is a disturbing symptom of the malaise to which he promises a cure.


The Resolution of Jordan Peterson
by Brent Cooper

This of course obscures the broader context of longer interviews, and distorts Peterson’s message at the expense of his critics, so nobody wins. Peterson is not cryptofascist, but a great portion of his audience is. (What does one do when they finally discover a dark truth behind their popularity?)

“So is Jordan Peterson preparing his base for the coming race war? I do not think so. My read of him is that he is actually terrified of what he started. Nobody is more surprised than he is by his fame… he’s on sabbatical after basically declaring war on his own institution. You can’t go home after that. He needs his Patreon now… He has cast his lot with his mob.” — The CANADALAND Guide to Jordan B. Peterson

[…] An aside: In my article on systemic-conspiracy, I argued that the concept provides a useful explanation of how totalitarianism occurs, and how to avoid it. What I am theorizing complements Peterson’s message, but his denial of systemic (sociological) approaches prevents any of those ideas even getting on his radar.

“This is relevant and convergent with Jordan Peterson’s oft-repeated warning that we all have the potential for totalitarian fascism in us; to participate in systems of violence. Systemic-conspiracy is sociologically latent, which is arguably the major lesson of the 20th century.” — Systemic Conspiracy and Social Pathology

Peterson is so hellbent on avoiding totalitarianism, that he ironically has a totalizing worldview about “the left” to the point of scapegoating them just like Jews were. Cultural-marxism is the new cultural bolshevism and its stupidly obvious, and glaringly wrong, but conservatives love it because it’s their last resort: blame the people trying to fix the problem conservatives started. Peterson’s stock is artificially inflated because of support for these beliefs. Come for the supreme mythological wisdom, stay for the crypto-fascism. Or is it the other way around? Peterson is ironic — he’s not post-ironic, because he’s not metamodern. He doesn’t get it, and if his fans and critics don’t get it either, then this will remain a stalemate.

These sentiments are perhaps better articulated by Noah Berlatsky than myself (below). Again, no one is attacking Peterson here, but rather just logically pointing out the hypocrisy. Peterson gets highjacked by the right, so this information should help him reform rather than retaliate. The term “useful idiot” doesn’t really fit, since Peterson is incredibly smart, but he is nonetheless being used for that very intelligence to spread bullshit.

“But how does Peterson suggest an alternate path to fascism when his philosophy is suffused with barely hidden fascist talking points and conspiracy theories?… And, moreover, why is a supposed anti-totalitarian literally calling for educators who disagree with him to be subject to McCarthyite purges and tried for treason?”

“People who put Leninist posters on their walls to remind themselves to hate communists all day, every day, are leaving a door open to other kinds of hate too. Peterson does not want to be a member of the alt-right. But he shares their hatred of the left, and, as a result, he makes their arguments for them.”

— How Anti-Leftism Has Made Jordan Peterson a Mark for Fascist Propaganda, Berlatsky

Is Jordan Peterson the stupid man’s smart person?
by Tabatha Southey

“Postmodern neo-Marxism” is Peterson’s nemesis, and the best way to explain what postmodern neo-Marxism is, is to explain what it is not—that is, it is entirely distinct from the concept of “cultural Marxism.”

“Cultural Marxism” is a conspiracy theory holding that an international cabal of Marxist academics, realizing that traditional Marxism is unlikely to triumph any time soon, is out to destroy Western civilization by undermining its cultural values. “Postmodern neo-Marxism,” on the other hand, is a conspiracy theory holding that an international cabal of Marxist academics, realizing that traditional Marxism is unlikely to triumph any time soon, is out to destroy Western civilization by undermining its cultural values with “cultural” taken out of the name so it doesn’t sound quite so similar to the literal Nazi conspiracy theory of “cultural Bolshevism.”

To be clear, Jordan Peterson is not a neo-Nazi, but there’s a reason he’s as popular as he is on the alt-right. You’ll never hear him use the phrase “We must secure a future for our white children”; what you will hear him say is that, while there does appear to be a causal relationship between empowering women and economic growth, we have to consider whether this is good for society, “‘’cause the birth rate is plummeting.” He doesn’t call for a “white ethnostate,” but he does retweet Daily Caller articles with opening lines like: “Yet again an American city is being torn apart by black rioters.” He has dedicated two-and-a-half-hour-long YouTube videos to “identity politics and the Marxist lie of white privilege.” […]

What he’s telling you is that certain people—most of them women and minorities—are trying to destroy not only our freedom to spite nonbinary university students for kicks, but all of Western civilization and the idea of objective truth itself. He’s telling you that when someone tells you racism is still a problem and that something should be done about it, they are, at best, a dupe and, at worst, part of a Marxist conspiracy to destroy your way of life.

Peterson says he only thinks of it as a “non-violent war.” But when you insist the stakes are that high, the opposition that pernicious, who’s to say where the chips will fall?

Some of My Beef With Jordan Peterson
by son1dow

In terms of postmodernism, it has been well covered that he has no idea what is going on, he is yet another bullshit about postmodernism dealer online. Just read wokeupabug’s comments in that thread M1zzu recently linked, as well as so many others – it explains how his main source is not at all one you should trust. The forum there is askphilosophy, the user linked has a PhD in philosophy. I wish I could link famous philosophers for this kind of stuff, but they don’t like giving these youtube intellectuals and renegade scholars recognition too much. The more I hear of Peterson, the more I wonder if he read anything of postmodernist philosophy, since the only views he seems to espouse perfectly match bullshit dealers like Hicks, and he NEVER EVER seems to properly engage Derrida, Lyotard etc. For all I know, he could be reading neofeudalist conspiracy nuts like Dugin as well. For all of his love of debate and challenge, I would be interested to see him discuss postmodernism with someone who has read the actual books, yet I cannot find that. The worst thing about these people is that there is no way anyone with even the most cursory understanding of postmodernism would mistake Hicks or Peterson as knowledgeable about it; yet it spreads like wildfire. Some of the most dumb misunderstanding of it is perfectly incapsulated in this comic – note the explanation below the comic. The comic itself satirizes the fact that postmodernism is literally the opposite of feminism or marxism, it is as sceptical of metanarratives like them as it is of scientism or judaism. So blaming it for marxism is the dumbest thing you can do. I’ve personally had this conversation with Peterson’s disciples like 50 times; none of them know the first thing about postmodernism and are stumped by these basic questions. This is concerning a school of thought that many of them are sure is trying to bring the downfall of western civilization, mind you – and few if any of them know the most basic things about it.

Cultural marxism is more of the same, it’s a repeat of an old nazi conspiracy theory called cultural bolshevism that has to do with a real term… Only the term is about an obscure school of thought that is not even related to any of the claims people make about cultural marxism. It’s just another nonsense term to throw around and talk about as much as you want, with no basis. Once again you have to wonder how many of these youtube intellectuals boil down to reading conspriacy theorists to get this stuff. However by now it is a real industry of people repeating the same shit and explaining it as the cause of feminism or transgenderism or whatever they like, with their viewers gobbling it up without any regard for going to the sources which couldn’t possibly show anything like it. Makes you wonder how they can doublethink their way into doing that while still considerig themselves intellectuals. Very few people repeating this nonsense even know what critical theory is, yet they’re sure as it is bringing the downfall of western civilization. Talk about drinking the kool-aid.

* * *

Why Conservatives Love War
by Corey Robin

While the contrast between the true conservative and the pseudo-conservative has been drawn in different ways—the first reads Burke, the second doesn’t read; the first defends ancient liberties, the second derides them; the first seeks to limit government, the second to strengthen it—the distinction often comes down to the question of violence. Where the pseudo-conservative is captivated by war, Sullivan claims that the true conservative “wants peace and is content only with peace.” The true conservative’s endorsements of war, such as they are, are the weariest of concessions to reality. He knows that we live and love in the midst of great evil. That evil must be resisted, sometimes by violent means. All things being equal, he would like to see a world without violence. But all things are not equal, and he is not in the business of seeing the world as he’d like it to be.

The historical record suggests otherwise. Far from being saddened, burdened, or vexed by violence, conservatives have been enlivened by it. Not necessarily in a personal sense, though it’s true that many a conservative has expressed an unanticipated enthusiasm for violence. “I enjoy wars,” said Harold Macmillan, wounded three times in World War I. “Any adventure’s better than sitting in an office.” The conservative’s commitment to violence is more than psychological, however: It’s philosophical. Violence, the conservative maintains, is one of the experiences in life that makes us most feel alive, and violence, particularly warfare, is an activity that makes life, well, lively. Such arguments can be made nimbly, as in the case of Santayana, who wrote, “Only the dead have seen the end of war,” or laboriously, as in the case of Heinrich von Treitschke:

To the historian who lives in the world of will it is immediately clear that the demand for a perpetual peace is thoroughly reactionary; he sees that with war all movement, all growth, must be struck out of history. It has always been the tired, unintelligent, and enervated periods that have played with the dream of perpetual peace.

Pithy or prolix, the case boils down to this: War is life, peace is death. […]

Far from challenging the conservative tradition’s infatuation with violence, however, this indifference to the realities of war is merely the flip side of the Burkean coin. Even as he wrote of the sublime effects of pain and danger, Burke was careful to insist that should those pains and dangers “press too nearly” or “too close”—should they become real threats, “conversant about the present destruction of the person”—their sublimity would disappear. Burke’s point was not that nobody, in the end, really wants to die, or that nobody enjoys excruciating pain. It was that sublimity depends upon obscurity: Get too close to anything, see and feel its full extent, and it loses its mystery and aura. A “great clearness” of the sort that comes from direct experience is “an enemy to all enthusiasms whatsoever.” Get to know anything, including violence, too well, and it loses the thrill you got when it was just an idea.

Since 9/11, many have complained, and rightly so, about the failure of conservatives—or their sons and daughters—to fight the war on terror themselves. For many, that failure is symptomatic of the inequality of contemporary America, and it is. But there is an additional element to the story. So long as the war on terror remains an idea—a hot topic on the blogs, a provocative op-ed, an episode of 24—it is sublime. As soon as it becomes a reality, it can be as tedious as a discussion of the tax code or as cheerless as a trip to the DMV.

Redefining the Right Wing
Corey Robin interviewed by Daniel Larison

Last, the question of sublimity and violence. I think this is one of the most interesting elements of the right because it shows just how extraordinarily rich and sophisticated its vision of human nature is. I don’t think the right has by any means a monopoly on the discourse of violence; the left has its own long tradition of reflection on violence. But where the left’s discourse is primarily influenced by Machiavelli — that is, an awareness of what Sheldon Wolin calls “the economy of violence,” or the necessity of instrumentalizing violence, of making a very little go a long, long way — the right’s attitude is reflected in Burke’s moral psychology, particularly his theory of the sublime.

You had asked previously how representative the account in the book is. You suggested that my strongest cases are Teddy Roosevelt and Georges Sorel, neither of whom is an unproblematic representative of the right. But I mention a great many other cases throughout history of voices that virtually every anthology of the right would include: not just Burke but also Maistre, Tocqueville, Churchill, and of course many of the neocons. Now I know, Daniel, that you’ve spent the better part of your career fighting the good fight against neocon imperialism and that part of your argument against the neocons is that they are not conservative. But their position has deep roots on the right. My sense that it’s too easy to dismiss the neocons as innovators from afar.

I think what’s distinctive about the discourse of violence on the right is that whereas the audience for violence on the left is the victim of violence — the leftist (whether a revolutionary, guerrilla fighter, terrorist, what have you) seeks to impress upon enemies the power of what threatens them if they do not accede to the left’s demands — I think that the primary audience for violence on the right is the perpetrator and/or his/her allies. In other words, the right sees violence as primarily a source of rejuvenation among a ruling class that has gone soft. That’s what is so interesting to me, in part because it completely inverts the standard stereotype we have of the conservative being more hard-headed and realistic than the progressive. If anything — and I really assign no normative weight to this; it’s more interesting to me as an intellectual problem — it is the left, as I’ve suggested, that has been more influenced by realist modes of thinking when it comes to violence. Lenin read Clausewitz, Gramsci read Machiavelli, and so on. And that’s not because the left is more humanitarian or anything like that; it’s mostly because of necessity. Revolutionaries, by definition, don’t have a monopoly on the means of violence; they operate at a major deficit, so economy is essentially forced upon them. The right by contrast suffers from a surfeit of power, so it looks to violence to address a quite different set of concerns.

Politics and Vision
by Sheldon S. Wolin
(as quoted by Don MacDonald)

In evaluating Machiavelli’s economy of violence it is easy to criticize it as being the product of a technician’s admiration for efficient means. A century like ours, which has witnessed the unparalleled efficiency displayed by totalitarian regimes in the use of terror and coercion, experiences difficulty in being tolerant on the subject. Yet to see Machiavelli as the philosopher of Himmlerism would be quite misleading; and the basic reason is not alone that Machiavelli regarded the science of violence as the means for reducing the amount of suffering in the political condition, but that he was clearly aware of the dangers of entrusting its use to the morally obtuse. What he hoped to further by his economy of violence was the “pure” use of power, undefiled by pride, ambition, or motives of petty revenge.

A more meaningful contrast to Machiavelli would be the great modern theoretician of violence, Georges Sorel. Here is a true example of the irresponsible political individual, fired by romantic notions of heroism, preaching the use of violence for ends which are deliberately and proudly clothed in the vague outline of the irrational “myth,” contemptuous of the cost, blinded by a vision of virile proletarian barbarians who would revitalize the decadent West. In contrast, there was no hint of child-like delight when Machiavelli contemplated the barbarous and savage destructiveness of the new prince, sweeping away the settled arrangements of society and “leaving nothing intact.” There was, however, the laconic remark that it was better to be a private citizen than to embark on a career which involved the ruin of men. This suggest that the theorist like Machiavelli, who was aware of the limited efficacy of force and who devoted himself to showing how its technique could be used more efficiently, was far more sensitive to the moral dilemmas of politics and far more committed to the preservation of man than those theorists who, saturated with moral indignation and eager for heroic regeneration, preach purification by the holy flame of violence.

The Poverty of Conservatism
The ideology of power, privilege and plutocracy

by Johnny Reb

A Little History

“Hatred of the left in all its guises, from the most tepid to the most outré, is thus not incidental to fascism; it is at its core.The fascist route to power has always been passed through cooperation with conservative elites; without the acquiescence or even active assent of the traditional elites could never have attained power” – Robert O Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism

Historian and political scientist Robert O Paxton informs us that hatred and fear of the left is not just a key characteristic of fascism, but of conservatism as well. For conservatives it’s the trepidation that the majority underclass will rise up and demand real democracy and social justice as they did in France in 1789 and Russia in 1917. This hatred and fear is the locus of the conservatives reactionary response to democratic movements that challenge their traditional entitlements and privileges. Violence is, and always has been, an open option for conservatives, but one of their less dramatic and vicious responses to left wing movements is propaganda, cooption or minor concessions to the working classes that don’t meaningfully change their supremacy within the socio-political order.

It’s generally agreed by political philosophers that the monarchist Edmund Burke (1729-1797) who, in his ponderous uncompromising diatribe on the French Revolution*, was the first express and define conservatism as a discrete political ideology of moderation and prudence. But the history of the past 200 years has been anything but moderate or prudent when one considers the fanatical anti-democratic invectives against the French and Bolshevik Revolutions, the defense of racism, slavery and Jim Crow, the genocide of indigenous peoples throughout the world, the vicious attacks on trade unionism, the red baiting and persecution of ordinary working people, social democracy and the welfare state, the ongoing hostility to the New Deal of FDR, the Great Society of LBJ, civil rights, humanism, feminism, gay rights and endless imperialistic wars**. Whereas the predecessors of today’s conservatives (and the transmogrified new beta version, the neo-conservative) in the old regime thought of inequality as a naturally occurring phenomenon ordained by God, an inheritance passed on from generation to generation, their encounter with many people’s revolutions such as in the Russian and Cuban revolutions and the Spanish Civil War clearly demonstrates that the revolutionaries were right after all: inequality is a distinctly human creation. No book on conservatism since Burke’s magnum opus comes close to improving on his contempt and condescension of working classes, which he described as the “swinish multitude”, and the pompous celebration of his “natural aristocracy.”

* Edmund Burke, Reflections of the Revolution in France, 1790. Every major political tradition without exception lays claims to liberty and the tradition of freedom. None have so far delivered for the masses the freedom from constraint or coercion that these claims entail. Anarchism is, in my view, really the only genuine political philosophy of freedom and egalitarianism. But it’s never been provided with an opportunity with the exception of many indigenous cultures in North America, the short period of the Spanish Civil War and the Kronstadt Mutiny during the Bolshevik Revolution. Burke, whose opinions are not so uplifting as some of his grandiose prose, advised William Pitt that his government ought not concern itself with helping to feed starving citizens by any other means than for sale through profit and not be concerned with actions that would alleviate the suffering and death by famine. This expresses the essence of Conservatism (blame the victim) and Burke’s resolute opposition to democracy and obsession with private property rights that has been carried on by his successors. In fact it was conservatives who consistently blocked the vote for those who did not own property. And only those who are well-heeled, entrepreneurial or efficiently acquisitive are of any value to society and who have the right to lay any claim to liberty. These were the values of the white slave and land owning white aristocratic conservatives who were the framers of the US Constitution.

**Conservatives, it can be evidenced, love war. The historical record confirms that, far from being saddened, burdened, or vexed by violence, conservatives have been energized by it. Not necessarily in a personal sense, though it’s true that many conservatives have expressed an unanticipated enthusiasm for violence. “I enjoy wars,” said Harold Macmillan, wounded three times in World War I. “Any adventure’s better than sitting in an office.” The conservative’s commitment to violence is more than psychological, however; it’s a philosophical; it’s a “war is life and peace is death” philosophical commitment. Power and its partner violence, the conservative maintains, are the experiences in life that makes us most feel alive, and violence, particularly warfare, is an activity that makes life exhilarating, full of risk and worth living.

One possibility explanation for the conservatives love for war is its embrace of authoritarianism and hierarchy, with their twin requirements of submission and domination; the other is violence, particularly warfare, with its rigid injunction to kill or be killed. Perhaps not coincidentally, both are of great significance to conservatism as a theoretical tradition and historical practice. Consistent with Edmund Burke’s argument, however, the conservative often favours the latter over the former. Once we are assured of our power over another being, says Burke, it loses its capacity to harm or threaten us. Make a creature useful and obedient, and “you spoil it of everything sublime.” It becomes an object of contempt, contempt being “the attendant on a strength that is subservient and innoxious.” At least one-half, then, of the experience of hierarchy—the experience of ruling another—is incompatible with, and indeed weakens, the sublime. Confirmed of our power, we are lulled into the same ease and comfort, undergo the same inward melting, that we experience while in the throes of pleasure.

* * *

Rebirth of a Nation
by Jackson Lears
pp. 18-19

The organic imagery embodied in “the national tree” reflected a new strain of romantic nationalism, which melded the individual with the collective by likening the nation to a natural organism. According to Edward Everett Hale’s popular didactic tale, The Man Without a Country (1863), one’s personal identity—indeed one’s very life—was dependent on immersion in a larger national identity. While Lincoln used the language of “the people” to elevate democracy as well as nationhood, more typical orators deployed the same idiom in the service of organic nationalism, wrapping the government and the citizenry in the sacred garment of the nation.

The sanctity of the nation justified its demands for blood. Redefining unspeakable losses as religious sacrifice, Northerners forged a powerful link between war and regeneration. In some formulations, personal rebirth seemed to arise simply from the decision to risk combat—to plunge into action as an end in itself, heedless of the consequences. (This would be the version that Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. would eventually celebrate, as he recalled his own war experience, and that Theodore Roosevelt would unwittingly parody.) More commonly, the revitalization was explicitly moral. For generations, republican moralists had been haunted by visions of a citizenry grown soft through indulgence in luxury and other vices of commerce. The many forms of sacrifice demanded by the war provided a perfect opportunity for Americans to redeem themselves from commercial corruption, to transcend private gain in pursuit of a larger public good. So moralists said.

Sacrifice was most appealing when imagined from a distance. As usual in such cases, the loudest yelps for blood often came from those farthest from the battlefield. Charles Eliot Norton, a well-connected young Brahmin intellectual, waxed eloquent over “the Advantages of Defeat” after the Union Army was routed at the first battle of Manassas. The humiliation might have the salutary effect of sobering us, soldiers and civilians—of reminding us that this “religious war” would require a mass blood sacrifice. “But there must be no shrinking from the prospect of the death of our soldiers,” the young man warned. “Better than that we should fail that a million men should die on the battlefield.” Victory would eventually come; and meanwhile Northern character—so long sunk in selfishness and softness—would be purified by protracted struggle. Years later, Norton would repudiate these youthful fatuities and become an outspoken anti-imperialist. But during the Civil War, his breathtaking arrogance was commonplace. Men routinely praised the cleansing power of war from a comfortable distance.

Some turned in therapeutic directions. The Albany Argus predicted that “A vigorous war would tone up the public mind, and impart to it qualities that would last after the calamities of war had passed.” And the historian Benson Lossing wrote to Sue Wallace (the wife of General Lew Wallace) in 1862: “I have felt profoundly impressed with the conviction that out of all this tribulation would come health, and strength, and purification for the nation.” From the perspective of the people who actually fought it, or were swept up in it, one could attribute few more bizarre effects to the war than “health, strength, and purification.” Here as elsewhere, one can glimpse the connections between millennial dreams of collective rebirth and the sort of organic nationalism that could eventually mutate into fascism.

pp. 27-29

But for many other observers, too many American youths—especially among the upper classes—had succumbed to the vices of commerce: the worship of Mammon, the love of ease. Since the Founding Fathers’ generation, republican ideologues had fretted about the corrupting effects of commercial life. Norton and other moralists, North and South, had imagined war would provide an antidote. During the Gilded Age those fears acquired a peculiarly palpable intensity. The specter of “overcivilization”—invoked by republican orators since Jefferson’s time—developed a sharper focus: the figure of the overcivilized businessman became a stock figure in social criticism. Flabby, ineffectual, anxious, possibly even neurasthenic, he embodied bourgeois vulnerability to the new challenges posed by restive, angry workers and waves of strange new immigrants. “Is American Stamina Declining?” asked William Blaikie, a former Harvard athlete and author of How to Get Strong and Stay So, in Harper’s in 1889. Among white-collar “brain-workers,” legions of worried observers were asking similar questions. Throughout the country, metropolitan life for the comfortable classes was becoming a staid indoor affair. Blaikie caught the larger contours of the change:

“A hundred years ago, there was more done to make our men and women hale and vigorous than there is to-day. Over eighty per cent of all our men then were farming, hunting, or fishing, rising early, out all day in the pure, bracing air, giving many muscles very active work, eating wholesome food, retiring early, and so laying in a good stock of vitality and health. But now hardly forty per cent are farmers, and nearly all the rest are at callings—mercantile, mechanical, or professional—which do almost nothing to make one sturdy and enduring.”

This was the sort of anxiety that set men (and more than a few women) to pedaling about on bicycles, lifting weights, and in general pursuing fitness with unprecedented zeal. But for most Americans, fitness was not merely a matter of physical strength. What was equally essential was character, which they defined as adherence to Protestant morality. Body and soul would be saved together.

This was not a gender-neutral project. Since the antebellum era, purveyors of conventional wisdom had assigned respectable women a certain fragility. So the emerging sense of physical vulnerability was especially novel and threatening to men. Manliness, always an issue in Victorian culture, had by the 1880s become an obsession. Older elements of moral character continued to define the manly man, but a new emphasis on physical vitality began to assert itself as well. Concern about the over-soft socialization of the young promoted the popularity of college athletics. During the 1880s, waves of muscular Christianity began to wash over campuses.

pp. 203-204

American politicians were capable of this sort of sentimentality, too. In public, at least, they could insist that their apparently imperial aims were uniquely leavened with moral concerns—in particular a commitment to the spread of freedom and democracy. But in private, their sentiments were less exalted. Writing to Rudyard Kipling, Theodore Roosevelt reviled “the jack-fools who seriously think that any group of pirates and head-hunters needs nothing but independence in order that it may be turned forthwith into a dark-hued New England town meeting.” Most “dark-hued” peoples lacked the crucial character trait, he noted elsewhere: “There must be control. There must be mastery, somewhere, and if there is no self-control and self-mastery, the control and the mastery will ultimately be imposed from without.”

Roosevelt’s obsession with “mastery” revealed the trigger of empire. Behind all the economic calculations and all the lofty rhetoric about civilization and progress was a primal emotion—a yearning to reassert control, a masculine will to power amid the drifting slack waters of the fin de siècle. Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan invoked the cautionary example of ancient Rome, after it had abandoned its “strong masculine impulse” and “degenerated into that worship of comfort, wealth, and general softness, which is the ideal of the peace prophets of to-day.” Mahan was the leading big-navy imperialist, and imperialism was the most important political form of late-nineteenth-century longings for regeneration. Those desires flourished on both sides of the Atlantic, taking shapes peculiar to their surroundings. In the United States, the quest for regeneration through empire reworked ancient Protestant dreams of rebirth into a secular militarist agenda. Yearnings to recapture the heights of Civil War heroism combined with Anglo-Saxon racism, fears of overcivilized decadence, and a providentialist faith in American mission.

The result was an ideological witches’ brew. In Europe similar mixtures fostered fascism; in the United States imperial ideology had more benign consequences—for U.S. citizens themselves, if not for their subject populations. The reasons for this divergence are many and complex, but perhaps the most important was the genius of the Constitution’s framers in creating the checks and balances that prevented executive tyranny. Still, American imperialist rhetoric, including Roosevelt’s, often sounded remarkably proto-fascist. Like the ministerial ranting of the Civil War, fin de siècle militarism celebrated blood sacrifice in combat, but with new and more secular emphases on sheer physical courage and the inherently revitalizing effects of conflict.

Popular misunderstandings of Darwinism equated evolution with inevitable progress, and assumed that progress could be achieved only through death-dealing struggle. “Antagonism,” the Popular Science Monthly announced in 1888, is “a necessity of existence, and of the organism of the universe so far as we can understand it; [it is apparent] that motion and life cannot go on without it; that it is not a mere casual adjunct of nature, but that without it there would be no nature.” A struggle for existence was at the heart of all life, among men as well as wolves, in commerce as in war, “as necessary to good as to evil.” Without it life would be boring to the point of ennui, or nonbeing.

* * *

The Fantasy of Creative Destruction
The Haunted Moral Imagination
Imagination: Moral, Dark, and Radical
Reconstruction Era Race Relations
Juvenile Delinquents and Emasculated Males
The Right-Wing New Age

Progress and Reaction in a Liberal Age

I have some thoughts rumbling around in my head. Let me try to lay them out and put order to them. What I’m pondering is liberalism and conservatism, progressive reform and the reactionary mind, oppression and backlash.

One conclusion I’ve come to is that, ever since the Enlightenment, we live in a liberal age dominated by a liberal paradigm. So, in a sense, we are all liberals. Even reactionaries are defined by the liberalism they are reacting to. This relates to Corey Robin’s observation of how reactionaries are constantly co-opting ideas, rhetoric, and tactics from the political left. Reaction, in and of itself, has no substance other than what it takes from elsewhere. This is why conservatives, the main variety of reactionaries, often get called classical liberals. A conservative is simply what a liberal used to be and conservatism as such merely rides along on the coattails of liberalism.

This isn’t necessarily a compliment to liberalism. The liberal paradigm ultimately gets not just all the credit but also all the blame. What we call liberals and conservatives are simply the progressive and regressive manifestations of this paradigm. The progressive-oriented have tended to be called ‘liberals’ for the very reason these are the people identified with the social order, the post-Enlightenment progress that has built the entire world we know. But this easily turns those on the political left toward another variety of reaction. Liberals, as they age, find themselves relatively further and further to the right as the population over the generations keeps moving left. This is how liberals, as they age, can sometimes start thinking of themselves as conservatives. It’s not that the liberal changed but the world around them.

As reactionaries have no ideological loyalty, liberals can lack a certain kind of discernment. Liberals have a tendency toward psychological openness and curiosity along with a tolerance for cognitive dissonance (simultaneously holding two different thoughts or seeing two different perspectives). This can lead liberals to be accepting of or even sympathetic toward reactionaries, even when it is contradictory and harmful to liberalism. Furthermore, when experiencing cognitive overload, liberals easily take on reactionary traits and, if stress and anxiety continue long enough, the liberal can be permanently transformed into a reactionary (as a beautiful elf is tortured until becoming an orc).

We are living under conditions that are the opposite of being optimal for and conducive toward healthy liberal-mindedness. That isn’t to say the liberal paradigm is going to disappear any time soon. What it does mean is that the political left will get wonky for quite a while. American society, in particular, has become so oppressive and dysfunctional that there is no hope for a genuinely progressive liberalism. Right now, the progressive worldview is on the defense and that causes liberals to attack the political left as or more harshly than they do the political right. As they increasingly take on reactionary traits, mainstream liberals trying to hold onto power will defend what is left of the status quo by any means necessary.

Yet there is still that urge for progress, even as it gets demented through frustration and outrage. It was inevitable that the #MeToo movement would go too far. The same pattern is always seen following a period of oppression that leads to a populist lashing out or at least that is how some will perceive it. It is what is seen in any revolutionary era, such as how many at the time saw the American and French revolutions going too far, and indeed both led to large numbers of deaths and refugees, but that is what happens under oppressive regimes when the struggle and suffering of the masses becomes intolerable. The judgment of going too far was also made against the labor movement and the civil rights movement. Those stuck in the reactionary mind will see any challenge to their agenda of rigid hierarchy as being too much and so deserving of being crushed. And as reactionary worldview takes hold of society, almost everyone starts taking on the traits of the reactionary mind, hence reaction leading to ever more reaction until hopefully a new stability is achieved.

All of this has more to do with psychological tendencies than political ideologies. We all carry the potential for reaction as we carry the potential for progressivism. That struggle within human nature is what it means to live in a liberal age.

Black Global Ruling Elite

One of my favorite activities is reversing arguments, in order to make a point. It is using the structure of an argument to contradict someone’s claim or to demonstrate the fundamental irrationality of their worldview. Also, sometimes it can just be an act of playful silliness, a game of rhetoric. Either way, it requires imagination to take an argument in an unexpected direction.

To be able to reverse an argument, you have to first understand the argument. This requires getting into someone else’s head and seeing the world from their perspective. You need to know your enemy. I’ve long made it a habit to explore other ideologies and interact with those advocating them. It usually ends in frustration, but I come out the other side with an intimate knowledge of what makes others tick.

The opposing group I spent the most time with was HBD crowd (human biodiversity). HBDers are filled with many reactionaries, specifically race realists and genetic determinists. The thing about reactionaries is that they love to co-opt rhetoric and tactics from the political left. HBD theory was originated by someone, Jonathan Marks, making arguments against race realism and genetic determinism. The brilliance of the reactionaries was to do exactly what I’m talking about — they reversed the arguments.

But as chamelion-like faceless men, reactionaries use this strategy to hide their intentions behind deceptive rhetoric. No HBDer is ever going to admit the anti-reactionary origins of human biodiversity ( just like right-libertarians won’t acknowledge the origins of libertarianism as a left-wing ideology in the European workers movement). The talent of reactionaries is in pretending that what they stole was always theirs. They take their games of deception quite seriously. Their trolling is a way of life.

“There’s only one thing we can do to thwart the plot of these albino shape-shifting lizard BITCHES!” Their arguments need to be turned back the other way again. Or else turn them inside out to the point of absurdity. Let us call it introducing novelty. I’ve done this with previous posts about slavery and eugenics. The point I made is that, by using HBD-style arguments, we should actually expect American blacks to be a superior race.

This is for a couple of reasons. For centuries in America, the most violent, rebellious, and criminal blacks were eugenically removed from the breeding population, by way of being killed or imprisoned — and so, according to HBD, the genetics of violence, rebelliousness, criminality, etc should have decreased along with all of the related genetically-determined behavior. Also, since the colonial era, successful and supposedly superior upper class whites were impregnating their slaves, servants, and any other blacks they desired which should have infused their superior genetics into the American black population. Yet, contradicting these obvious conclusions, HBDers argue the exact opposite.

Let me clarify one point. African-Americans are a genetically constrained demographic, their ancestors having mostly come from one area of Africa. And the centuries of semi-eugenics theoretically would have narrowed those genetics down further, even in terms of the narrow selection of white genetics that was introduced. But these population pressures didn’t exist among other African descendants. Particularly in Africa itself, the complete opposite is the case.

Africa has more genetic and phenotypic diversity than the rest of the world combined. Former slave populations that came from more various regions of Africa should also embody this greater genetic diversity. The global black population in general, in and outside Africa, is even more diverse than the African population alone. As such we should expect that the global black population will show the greatest variance of all traits.

This came to mind because of the following comment:

“Having a less oppressive environment increases variance in many phenotypes. The IQ variance of (less-oppressed) whites is greater than (more-oppressed) blacks despite less genetic diversity. Since women are on average more oppressed (i.e. outcasted more for a given deviance from the norms and given norms that take more effort to conform to) their traits would be narrower.”

The data doesn’t perfectly follow this pattern, in that there are exceptions. Among certain sub-population in oppressed populations, there sometimes is greater IQ variance. There are explanations for why this is the case, specifically the theory that females have a greater biological capacity for dealing with stressful conditions (e.g., oppression). But for the moment, let’s ignore that complication.

The point is that, according to genetic determinism, the low genetic diversity of whites should express as low IQ gaps, no matter the environmental differences. It shouldn’t matter that, for example, in the US the white population is split between socioeconomic extremes — as the majority of poor Americans are white and the majority of rich Americans are white. But if genetic determinism is false (i.e., more powerful influences being involved: environment, epigenetics, microbiome, etc), the expected result would be lower average IQ with lower class whites and higher average IQ with higher class whites — the actual pattern that is found.

Going by the data, we are forced to conclude that genetic determinism isn’t a compelling theory, at least according to broad racial explanations. Some HBDers would counter that the different socioeconomic populations of whites are also different genetic sub-populations. But the problem is that this isn’t supported by the lack of genetic variance found across white populations.

That isn’t what mainly interested me, though. I was more thinking about what this means for the global black population, far beyond a single trait. Let us assume that genetic determinism and race realism is true, for the sake of argument.

Since the African continent has more genetic diversity than the rest of the world combined, the global black population (or rather populations) that originated in Africa should have the greatest variation of all traits, not just IQ. They should have the greatest variance of athleticism to lethargy, pacifism to violence, law-abiding to criminality, wealth to poverty, global superpowers to failed states, etc.

We should disproportionately find those of African ancestry at every extreme across the world. Compared to all other populations, they would have the largest numbers of individuals in both the elite and the underclass. That means that a disproportionate number of political and corporate leaders would be black, if there was a functioning meritocracy of the Social Darwinian variety.

The greater genetic variance would lead to the genetically superior blacks disproportionately rising to the upper echelons of global wealth and power. The transnational plutocracy, therefore, should be dominated by blacks. We should see the largest gaps within the global black population and not between blacks and whites, since the genetic distance between black populations is greater than the genetic difference between particular black populations and non-black populations.

Based on the principles of human biodiversity, that means principled HBDers should support greater representation of blacks at all levels of global society. I can’t wait to hear this new insight spread throughout the HBD blogosphere. Then HBDers will become the strongest social justice warriors in the civil rights movement. Based on the evidence, how could HBDers do anything less?

Well, maybe there is one other possible conclusion. As good reactionaries, the paranoid worldview could be recruited. Accordingly, it could be assumed that the genetically superior sub-population of black ruling elite is so advanced that they’ve hidden their wealth and power, pulling the strings behind the scenes. Maybe there is Black cabal working in secret with the Jewish cabal in controlling the world. It’s this Black-Jewish covert power structure that has promoted the idea of an inferior black race to hide the true source of power. We could take this argument even further. The black sub-population might be the ultimate master race with Jews acting as their minions in running the Jew-owned banks and media as front groups.

It’s starting to make sense. I think there might be something to all of this genetic determinism and race realism. It really does explain everything. And it is so amazingly scientific.

The Fantasy of Creative Destruction

An interesting take on the Nazis and their sympathizers comes from Jorge Luis Borges. What motivates a certain variety of reactionary authoritarianism isn’t straightforward politics. The vision is grander than that, almost a cosmic battle. Issues of who is victorious in war is maybe secondary.

In moments of honest admission, Adolf Hitler explained that the struggle he envisioned went beyond mere national interest. He wouldn’t allow German soldiers in Russia to retreat. Either Germans were superior and would succeed or they were inferior and would lose. His only purpose was to test the German race against foreign races. Let the best people win, that was his attitude. It had apocalyptic implications. Other races had to be destroyed and subjugated. Failing that, the German population must be sacrificed in the attempt. It was total war requiring total commitment.

This is similar to Karen Armstrong’s interpretation of Islamic jihadis. She has pointed out that the 9/11 terrorists seemed to intentionally flout Islamic law, as if they were demanding Allah’s attention and forcing the Divine Hand to intervene. They were trying to call down apocalypse, not unlike American evangelicals hoping to incite violent attack on Israel as they believe must happen prior to the Second Coming. It isn’t mere nihilism.

Some would argue that a similar attitude is held by Trump supporters. Not even those who voted for him, according to polls, thought he would do what he promised. But the one thing that he could accomplish was to destroy a corrupt system. Electing Donald Trump as president was like lobbing a grenade into a bunker. It may be an act of desperation, although it makes perfect sense as an all too human motivation. Studies have shown that individuals are willing to punish perceived wrongdoers even at great costs to themselves. It is what morality becomes when morality has been denied for too long.

In The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred Pennyworth describes the Joker in saying, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” But that isn’t quite right. In his own words, the Joker explains himself: “Introduce a little anarchy – upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. And you know the thing about chaos – it’s fair.” Exactly! It’s fair. Death and destruction is the last refuge of fairness, what is necessary to bring on justice, even if it is the justice of a mad man’s chaos. The slate must be wiped clean. Then something new can emerge from the ashes. An apocalypse is a revelation.

To the reactionary mind, sacrifice of self can be as acceptable as sacrifice of others. It’s the fight, the struggle itself that gives meaning — no matter the costs and consequences, no matter how it ends. The greatest sin is boredom, the inevitable result of victory. As Irving Kristol said to Corey Robin, the defeat of the Soviet Union “deprived us of an enemy.” It was the end of history for, without an enervating battle of moral imagination, it was the end of the world.

There is a balance point in this, though. It is the fantasy of violence that matters most, the glorious battle that transcends mundane reality. The other way victory threatens is by making the violence all too immediately real. It was easy for Hitler, safely back in Germany, to play out his ideological visions on distant battlefields. When violence gets too close, it simply becomes terrifying. The Nazi sympathizers Borges described had the advantage of cheering on Hitler from a continent across the ocean. But even for them, the possibility of the Nazis actually winning caused trepidation.

* * *

The metal vultures and the dragon
by Alec Nevala-Lee

In another essay, Borges remembers the man who came to his house to proudly announce that the Germans had taken Paris: “I felt a confusion of sadness, disgust, malaise. Then it occurred to me that his insolent joy did not explain the stentorian voice or the abrupt proclamation. He added that the German troops would soon be in London. Any opposition was useless, nothing could prevent their victory. That was when I knew that he, too, was terrified.” This speaks for itself. But what troubles me the most is Borges’s conclusion:

Nazism suffers from unreality, like Erigena’s hell. It is uninhabitable; men can only die for it, lie for it, wound and kill for it. No one, in the intimate depths of his being, can wish it to triumph. I shall risk this conjecture: Hitler wants to be defeated. Hitler is blindly collaborating with the inevitable armies that will annihilate him, as the metal vultures and the dragon (which must have known that they were monsters) collaborated, mysteriously, with Hercules.

After the war, Borges explored these themes in one of his most haunting stories, “Deutsches Requiem,” in which he attempted to write from the point of view of “the ideal Nazi.” Its narrator, the subdirector of a concentration camp, writes out his confession as he prepares to face the firing squad, and his closing words feel like a glimpse of our own future, regardless of the names of those in power: “Now an implacable age looms over the world. We forged that age, we who are now its victim. What does it matter that England is the hammer and we the anvil? What matters is that violence, not servile Christian acts of timidity, now rules. If victory and injustice and happiness do not belong to Germany, let them belong to other nations. Let heaven exist, though our place be in hell.”

The Reactionary Mind
by Corey Robin
pp. 243-245

As Orwell taught, the possibilities for cruelty and violence are as limitless as the imagination that dreams them up. But the armies and agencies of today’s violence are vast bureaucracies, and vast bureaucracies need rules. Eliminating the rules does not Prometheus unbind; it just makes for more billable hours.

“No yielding. No equivocation. No lawyering this thing to death.” That was George W. Bush’s vow after 9/ 11 and his description of how the war on terror would be conducted. Like so many of Bush’s other declarations, it turned out to be an empty promise. This thing was lawyered to death. But, and this is the critical point, far from minimizing state violence— which was the great fear of the neocons— lawyering has proven to be perfectly compatible with violence. In a war already swollen with disappointment and disillusion, the realization that inevitably follows— the rule of law can, in fact, authorize the greatest adventures of violence and death, thereby draining them of sublimity— must be, for the conservative, the greatest disillusion of all.

Had they been closer readers of Burke, the neoconservatives— like Fukuyama, Roosevelt, Sorel, Schmitt, Tocqueville, Maistre, Treitschke, and so many more on the American and European right— could have seen this disillusion coming. Burke certainly did. Even as he wrote of the sublime effects of pain and danger, he was careful to insist that should those pains and dangers “press too nearly” or “too close”— that is, should they become realities rather than fantasies, should they become “conversant about the present destruction of the person”— their sublimity would disappear. They would cease to be “delightful” and restorative and become simply terrible. 64 Burke’s point was not merely that no one, in the end, really wants to die or that no one enjoys unwelcome, excruciating pain. It was that sublimity of whatever kind and source depends upon obscurity: get too close to anything, whether an object or experience, see and feel its full extent, and it loses its mystery and aura. It becomes familiar. A “great clearness” of the sort that comes from direct experience “is in some sort an enemy to all enthusiasms whatsoever.” 65 “It is our ignorance of things that causes all our admiration, and chiefly excites our passions. Knowledge and acquaintance make the most striking causes affect but little.” 66 “A clear idea,” Burke concludes, “is therefore another name for a little idea.” 67 Get to know anything, including violence, too well, and it loses whatever attribute— rejuvenation, transgression, excitement, awe— you ascribed to it when it was just an idea.

Earlier than most, Burke understood that if violence were to retain its sublimity, it had to remain a possibility, an object of fantasy— a horror movie, a video game, an essay on war. For the actuality (as opposed to the representation) of violence was at odds with the requirements of sublimity. Real, as opposed to imagined, violence entailed objects getting too close, bodies pressing too near, flesh upon flesh. Violence stripped the body of its veils; violence made its antagonists familiar to each other in a way they had never been before. Violence dispelled illusion and mystery, making things drab and dreary. That is why, in his discussion in the Reflections of the revolutionaries’ abduction of Marie Antoinette, Burke takes such pains to emphasize her “almost naked” body and turns so effortlessly to the language of clothing—“ the decent drapery of life,” the “wardrobe of the moral imagination,” “antiquated fashion,” and so on— to describe the event. 68 The disaster of the revolutionaries’ violence, for Burke, was not cruelty; it was the unsought enlightenment.

Since 9/ 11, many have complained, and rightly so, about the failure of conservatives— or their sons and daughters— to fight the war on terror themselves. For those on the left, that failure is symptomatic of the class injustice of contemporary America. But there is an additional element to the story. So long as the war on terror remains an idea— a hot topic on the blogs, a provocative op-ed, an episode of 24— it is sublime. As soon as the war on terror becomes a reality, it can be as cheerless as a discussion of the tax code and as tedious as a trip to the DMV.

The Many Stolen Labels of the Reactionary Mind

Ideological labels are used in an odd way on the political right. They are wielded more as weapons of rhetoric than as accurate descriptions. This relates to Corey Robin’s analysis of the reactionary mind. One of the most interesting things that distinguishes the reactionary from the traditionalist is how easily the reactionary co-opts from the political left.

This is particularly central to American society. The reactionary mind, like fundamentalism, is the product of modernity. And the American experience was born out of modernity, beginning with post-feudal colonial imperialism. The social order and social identity fell into disarray and so political ideology became ever more primary. The reactionary mind is dynamically adaptive, for it shifts according toward which it is reacting. It thrives in instability and will promote instability, even as it scapegoats its enemies for this very same instability that it requires.

Reactionaries are tough opponents. They feel no moral obligation to fight fairly. Nor will they ever state their true intentions. The mindset and worldview precludes it, at the level of consciousness. The reactionary mind is not just a set of tactics but a way of being in the world, a permanent survival mode of mistrust and deception. Labels in themselves mean nothing to the reactionary. They are like crabs, in camouflaging themselves, that attach things to their shells — pieces of coral, anemones, etc. There is a hodge-podge quality to their stated views, a little bit of this and a little bit of that with no need for principled consistency.

The earliest example of this is the fight over Federalism. The war of rhetoric was won by those fighting for centralized power. They didn’t actually want Federalism. What they were attempting to create, as Corey Robin explains so well, was a new form of hierarchy and ruling elite involving the same old pattern of concentrated wealth and power. They were as much attacking the traditional ancien régime (old order) as they were attacking the revolutionary movement. They co-opted from both of their enemies, but over time as traditionalism declined they increasingly focused on co-opting from the political left. This is the reason conservatives today, as reactionary as ever, use rhetoric far to the left of liberals of centuries past.

The first great victory of American reactionaries was in falsely claiming to be Federalists. They did this by co-opting the revolution itself and, by way of the Constitutional Convention, redirecting it toward counter-revolution. This forced their opponents into the position of being called Anti-Federalists, even though their opponents were the strongest defenders of Federalism. The winners not only get to write the history books but also get to do the labeling. The enemies of Federalism defeated Federalism by adopting the word and making it meaningless. It’s a genius subterfuge, a masterful tactic.

This is how a society like ours, founded on liberalism, quickly had its radical liberalism defanged. Thomas Paine, in a short period of time, went from revolutionary hero to social pariah and political outcast. He didn’t fit into the reactionary scheme of the new centralized establishment. Even to this day, the political right goes on trying to co-opt the label of liberalism, despite the absurdity in calling themselves classical liberals. Now a radical progressive and social democrat like Paine was a classical liberal, but he was largely written out of the history books for almost two centuries.

This pattern has repeated throughout Anglo-American history (and I’m sure elsewhere as well). The capitalists originally were strong liberals with a clear progressive bent. Paine, for example, was for free markets. And like Paine, Adam Smith saw high economic inequality as a direct threat to a free society. Yet the reactionaries took over free market rhetoric to promote the inevitable authoritarianism and paternalism of a high inequality society. Because of this, it has become harder and harder to take seriously the rhetoric of free markets — in its being falsely used to defend crony capitalism, plutocratic corporatism, soft fascism, inverted totalitarianism, neoliberal globalization, market fetishism, and crude (pseudo-)libertarianism. There is nothing free, much less classically liberal, about this capitalist realism.

There are more examples. Consider right-wing libertarians and right-wing anarchists (e.g., anarcho-capitalists). Both varieties of right-wingers typically defend the legacy of inequality and injustice. Their labeling themselves as libertarian and anarchist would have been absurd a century ago. Both libertarians and anarchists arose out of the left-wing workers movement in Europe (Property is Theft: So is the Right’s Use of ‘Libertarian’).

This was admitted by the infamous right-winger Murray Rothbard: One gratifying aspect of our rise to some prominence is that, for the first time in my memory, we, ‘our side,’ had captured a crucial word from the enemy. ‘Libertarians’ had long been simply a polite word for left-wing anarchists, that is for anti-private property anarchists, either of the communist or syndicalist variety. But now we had taken it over.” (The Betrayal of the American Right, p. 83). Yet here we are with the political right having successfully co-opted the label of libertarianism and are in the process of co-opting the label of anarchism.

There is nothing they can’t co-opt, once they set their mind to it. This is true even for labels that involve race issues. The theory and label of human biodiversity has become popular among the political right, specifically among alt-righters, the Dark Enlightenment, and other similar types. They use it to promote the cynical worldview of genetic determinism and race realism. The sad part is that the originator of human biodiversity, Jonathan Marks, created the theory specifically to disprove these right-wing claims. The story of this appropriation is told by Angela Saini, in describing Steve Sailer’s email list from the 1990s:

“Others joined in their dozens. By the summer of 1999, Sailer’s roster of members was astounding. Along with prominent anthropologists such as Marks, there was psychologist Steven Pinker, political scientist Francis Fukuyama, and economist Paul Krugman. In hindsight, the large number of economists in the group might have been a warning. There in the mix, too, was the controversial author of The Bell Curve, political scientist Charles Murray. That should have been another red flag. […]

“What intrigued him especially was that Sailer happened to be brandishing Marks’s own neologism, calling his list the Human Biodiversity Discussion Group. […] That school of racism was long dead, he assumed. Yet her on this email list, something strange was happening. Observing the conversations that Sailer steered through the group, Marks noticed the term “human biodiversity” being used differently from the way he had originally intended. Members were using it to refer to deep differences between human population groups. […] When Sailer talked about human biodiversity, he didn’t appear to be using the phrase in a politically neutral way, but as a euphemism. He had spun the language used by liberal antiracists to celebrate human cultural diversity to build a new and ostensibly more acceptable language around racism.

“For those sucked into Sailer’s electronic arena for the intellectual discussion of race, his email list was just a taste of the virulent racism that would later be seen far more often in the shadowy areas of the internet, then more openly on social media and right-wing websites, and finally in mainstream political discourse. Many more soon took hold of the phrase “human biodiversity,” giving it a life of its own online. Today it’s nothing short of a mantra among self-styled race realists. […]

“To be fair, few could have guessed that the email list was a precursor to something bigger. But as the group slowly went defunct, Steve Sailer’s political convictions became increasingly obvious. He and other members of the list went on to become prominent conservative bloggers, writing frequently on race, genetics, and intelligence. […]

“But it all came as a more of a surprise to academics like Jonathan Marks. “I was working on the assumption that these guys were the lunatic fringe. If you had told me twenty years later that they would be part of a political mainstream wave, I would have said you are absolutely crazy. These guys are antiscience. These guys are positioning themselves against the empirical study of human variation and they are clearly ideologues for whom empirical evidence isn’t important,” he says with a laugh. “But I think they were a lot cleverer than us professors” “ (Superior: The Return of Race Science, pp. 88-92).

About his legacy as a scholar, Marks writes: “For me, it increasingly seems as though my lasting contribution will be to have coined the phrase “human biodiversity” in my 1994 book of that name. Unfortunately it has come to mean the opposite of what I meant, due to the distortions of internet racists. In fact, they have even abbreviated “human biodiversity” as a meme for the semi-literate, HBD. […] To have provided racists with a scientific-sounding cover for their odious ideas is not something to be particularly proud of, but I can’t take it back. All I can do is disavow it” (I coined the phrase “Human Biodiversity”. Racists stole it.). That is sad. Yet more of the ideological battleground is ceded to the political right.

With almost fatalistic resignation, the political left accepts defeat too easily. Once again, here we are with the political right having so thoroughly co-opted a label that its very origins is forgotten. It’s a theft not just of a label but the destruction of meaning. It makes genuine debate impossible, and that is the entire point. Reactionaries are constantly seeking to muddy the water. They do everything in their power to control the terms of debate. Their opponents are left in a state of disorientation and constantly on the defense. This is easy for reactionaries to do because they have nothing specific to defend or rather that they keep well hidden what they are defending by way of obfuscation.

The reactionary, by the way, isn’t only limited to the overtly right-wing. The liberal class has a long history of falling under the thrall of the reactionary mind. Jonathan Marks indirectly points out that the New York Times, a few days after declining to publish his above linked essay, “published a column by Bret Stephens on Jewish genius (or, Jewnius©) that actually cited the horrid 2005 paper on that subject by the late biological anthropologist Henry Harpending. Harpending was regarded by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a White Nationalist.

Think about that. The New York Times is what goes for the far left of the supposedly liberal MSM. This is how the corporate media and corporatist politicians, across the narrow ‘spectrum’ of elite opinion, have managed to push the Overton window so far to the extreme right, beyond the bounds of the radical progressivism of the silenced majority (US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism; & American People Keep Going Further Left). The reactionaries aren’t limited to the overtly authoritarian right-wingers and the crazed alt-right. The entire system of concentrated wealth and elite power, including the privileged liberal class, is reactionary. What they are reacting to is not merely the revolutionary left for, more importantly, they are reacting to the threat of the American public.

We on the political left struggle against enforced ignorance and amnesia. This wouldn’t necessarily mean much if these were isolated incidents but that is not the case. The consistent pattern of rhetorical manipulation and ideological game-playing can be seen across the centuries and it has a lasting impact on the entire society, distorting everything and destroying any hope of a free and healthy society. It’s clearly significant in what it says about the modern political right and the consequences it has for the political left. The lesson is this. Never take them at their word. And never fight on their terms. Labels do matter. In language, there is immense power, to be used for good or ill.

Thrive: Libertarian Wolf in Progressive Clothing

A friend sent me a piece by Foster Gamble, An Encouraging Look Forward. It’s from Gamble’s Thrive blog. As you might recall, Thrive was a popular documentary from a few years back. It garnered a lot of attention at the time, but it didn’t seem to have any long term impact. My friend asked my thoughts about it. I’ve looked into Thrive in the past, although I can’t say I keep up on Gamble’s writings.

I must admit that I couldn’t be bothered to read the blog post beyond a quick skim, once I saw Gamble praising Trump as good and attacking socialism as evil (i.e., Trump saving us from the Democrats, specifically the threat of Sanders). This is someone who simply doesn’t understand what is happening… or worse, does understand. He can offer no hope because he can offer no worthy insight. It’s just another old rich white guy stuck in an old mindset. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that he finds hope in Trump, as both are the products of plutocratic inherited wealth. There is a long history of libertarians (and anarcho-capitalists) supporting authoritarians, from Pinochet to Trump. It has been called authoritarian libertarianism, which basically describes how liberal rhetoric of liberty and freedom can be used for illiberal ends.

Thrive comes across as a standard pseudo-libertarian techno-utopia with echoes of Cold War rhetoric and Bircher fear-mongering. The capitalists will save us if we only could eliminate big gov, progressive taxation, social safety net, legal civil rights, and democracy. He is an anarcho-capitalist, like Stefan Molyneux who is another Trump supporter. It turns out that (along with Ayn Rand, Ron Paul, Ludwig von Mises, etc) he does like to quote Molyneux.

He is no different than the rest of the disconnected elite, but maybe more clever in co-opting progressive rhetoric — similar to how right-wingers co-opted the libertarian label. Interestingly, Trump was elected on progressive rhetoric (by way of Steve Bannon) and that didn’t work out so well. The economic nationalism that Trump promised is the keystone of fascism. Right-wingers like Hitler and Mussolini were able to persuade so many on the political left by their saavy use of progressive rhetoric by glorifying a bright future — and these fascists did rebuild their countries right before sending them back into destruction. It’s highly problematic that Gamble is making many of the same basic arguments that brought the fascists to power earlier last century.

In his blog post, Gamble writes that, “It’s a turn away from globalism toward nationalism and toward localism that will, if allowed, continue until it finds the true unit of human wholeness — which is the individual, not the abstraction of “the group.” Meticulously honoring the intrinsic rights of the individual is what leads to true, voluntary community — which in fact best honors the needs of most people.”

This dogmatic ideology of hyper-individualism has been a mainstay of right-wing politics for this past century. All else is seen as abstractions. Right-wing ideologues, interestingly, are always attacking ideology because only other people’s beliefs and values (and not their own) are ideological — this kind of anti-ideological ideology goes back to the 1800s, such as the defense slaveholders used against the -isms of the North: abolitionism, feminism, Marxism, etc (and yes Lincoln was friends with all kinds of radicals such as free labor advocates and there was a Marxist in Lincoln’s administration).

From the ultra-right perspective of crude libertarianism, love of the supposedly non-ideological and non-abstract Nietszchian individual is the penultimate goal, specifically in the form of a paternalistic meritocracy of the most worthy individuals, a vanguard of enlightened leaders and rulers, even if those superior individuals are aristocrats, monarchs, fascists, or whatever else. As Gamble says that “the group” is an abstraction, Margaret Thatcher said that there is no such thing as society. We the public don’t exist, in the fantasy of plutocrats. Anyone who claims otherwise is an enemy, which is why democracy is so viciously attacked.

Beyond the dark right-wing conspiracies, the co-opting of progressive leaders is the most dangerous. Many of those interviewed stated that they were lied to and given false pretenses for why they were being interviewed and what kind of film it was to be. It was built on deception. It’s a propaganda piece produced and funded by right-wing plutocrats. All the fancy production and optimistic spin in the world can’t change that fact.

If you want to understand the worldview of Thrive, read the Rational Wiki entry on the Mises Institute or read some of the Misean defenses of Pinochet to get a flavor, such as General Augusto Pinochet Is Dead and More on Pinochet and Marxism. To Miseans, a social-democrat/democratic-socialist like Allende who was democratically elected, promoted compromise, and killed no one is more dangerous than a fascist like Pinochet who stole power through a coup, eliminated all traces of democracy, and went on a killing spree to subdue the masses. The ends justify the means, no matter how horrific. Capitalism must win at all costs, including human costs. As stated by Gamble’s hero, Mises:

“It cannot be denied that [Italian] Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.”

My conclusion about Gamble is beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. I’ve seen this game played far too often. My tolerance for bullshit is approximately zero, at this point. It’s because of plutocrats like Gamble that we are in this mess. I don’t care about his proposed solutions. If we are to gain genuine progress, it will be without the likes of him.

For all my criticism, I must acknowledge the brilliance of using progressive rhetoric to frame an anti-progressive agenda. This is high quality propaganda. Who wouldn’t want the world to thrive with free energy, rainbows, and butterflies? But who exactly will be thriving, the plutocrats or the public? And what kind of freedom are we talking about that requires the snuffing out of democratic process, democratic representation, and democratic rights?

* * *

Deconstructing Libertarianism: A Critique Prompted by the film Thrive

Thrive : Deconstructing the Film

Gamble admits to being “profoundly influenced by Ludwig von Mises,” founding member of the libertarian Austrian School of Economics. As an author, von Mises is celebrated by right-wing presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, who claims, “When I go on vacation and I lay on the beach, I bring von Mises.”

If I thought the film was libertarian propaganda, it was nothing compared to what I found on the Thrive website. The “Liberty” paper (under the Solutions section) is a real shocker. Peppered with quotes from Ayn Rand, Ron Paul, and Stefan Molyneux, there is even an attack on democracy! Gamble lumps democracy in with bigotry, imperialism, socialism, and fascism and says they all — including democracy! — violate the “intrinsic freedom of others.”

Thrive – The Conspiracy Movie

On April 10, 2012, that nine of the people interviewed in the film had signed a letter repudiating it and claiming that Foster Gamble misrepresented the film to them. These people were John Robbins, Amy Goodman, Deepak Chopra, Paul Hawken, Edgar Mitchell, Vandana Shiva, John Perkins, Elisabet Sahtouris, Duane Elgin and Adam Trombly. In the letter Robbins noted: “When I wrote Foster Gamble to voice my disappointment with many of the ideas in the film and website, he wrote back, encouraging me among other things to study the works of David Icke, Eustace Mullins, Stanley Monteith and G. Edward Griffin. These are among the people he repeatedly refers to in the movie as his “sources.” It is in these people’s worldviews that Thrive has its roots. I find this deeply disturbing. Here’s why…”

The Hidden Right-Wing Agenda at the Heart of ‘Thrive’

In case anyone misses the point—that the state must wither so that man can be free—Gamble shares von Mises’ opinion that like Communism, fascism and socialism, “democracy wrongly assumes the rights of the collective, or the group, over the rights of the individual.”

But wait a minute. Wasn’t that Paul Hawken on the screen a little while ago? How did we get from Paul Hawken to a thinly veiled anti-democracy rant and Ludwig von Mises?

Paul Hawken happens to be one of my personal heroes. A veteran of the civil rights movement, Hawken founded a couple of successful companies in the 1970s, and then went on to became the world’s leading environmentalist/economist with the publication of The Ecology of Commerce in 1993.

In Thrive, he delivers a passionate speech drawn from ideas in his latest book, the marvelous Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming.

“If you look at the people who are involved with restoring the earth and stopping the damage, and reversing the depredation, and nurturing change, and reimagining what it means to he human, and you don’t feel optimistic, then maybe you need to have your heart examined,” he says in the film. “Because there is an extraordinary, gorgeous, beautiful, fierce group of people in this world who are taking this on.”

Now, that’s what I’m talking about! Enough of this conspiracy hogwash—let’s do some positive-minded politics! (For a local example, see this week’s cover story about the awesome work being done at Save Our Shores.html.)

In addition to being an admired economic thinker, Paul Hawken is a successful businessman and is nowhere near a socialist. Furthermore, Hawken was among the many sane people who championed the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009, which Foster Gamble claims was an Illuminati/New World Order effort to create a global currency and destroy America’s sovereignty.

So—what’s Paul Hawken doing in this movie? I emailed him to find out. He replied he was just surprised as I was to find out he’s in the film.

“I did that interview many years prior under false pretenses,” Hawken replied. “I had no idea I was being interviewed for such a movie. Having said that, I have only seen the trailer [and] don’t really want to see the film, having read about it. I do not agree with the science or the philosophy.

“I do feel used, no question, as do others. It’s a lesson in signing releases.”

Similarly, In an email Thursday, Elisabet Sahtouris said that when she was interviewed for the film, she understood it was to be a very different kind of movie, and is “dismayed” at some of what she saw in the final cut. “I loved the footage shot of me and my colleagues; I deplore the context in which it was used.

“To put the individual above community is simply misguided; without community we do not exist, and community is about creating relationships of mutual benefit; it does not just happen with flowers and rainbows…  and no taxes.”

It appears that Hawken and Sahtouris aren’t the only people who regret having appeared in Thrive. In a scathing review on the Huffington Post, Georgia Kelly of the Praxis Peace Center reports that she has heard from several of other interviewees, none of whom had any idea they were helping to make a libertarian propaganda film.

Film review: Why ‘Thrive’ is best avoided

Ah, so that’s what ‘Thrive’ is all about …

Then, at the end of the film, we finally get into Thrive’s manifesto, it’s vision for the future and how we might get there.  There is lots in there that I wouldn’t disagree with, more local food, renewable energy, local banking, local shopping and so on, apart from free energy being thrown into the mix too.  But now, it is in this final section of ‘Thrive’ that the dark side of the film emerges.  One of the things put forward, alongside local food, renewables and so on, is “little or no taxes”.  Eh?  Where did that come from?!  Ah, now we get into the real agenda of the film, a kind of New Age libertarianism, a sort of cosmic Tea Party, and it all starts to get deeply alarming.

Gamble sets out his 3 stages to get to humanity’s being able to thrive.  Firstly, he argues, we need to hugely scale back the defence industry and the Federal Reserve.  Well I could go along with that, but then the second is “shrink government’s role in order to protect individual liberty”, and the third is then, because we are now freer, with “no involuntary tax and no involuntary governance” and with “rules but no rules” (?), we can all now thrive.  OK, whoa, let’s pause here for a moment.  Indeed the film’s website goes further, describing ‘involuntary taxation’ as “plunder” and ‘involuntary governance’ as “tyranny”.

In her review, Georgia Kelly quotes Oliver Wendell Holmes as saying “taxes are what we pay for a civilised society”.  In spite of all it’s cosmic graphics and pictures of forests from the air, it is in essence a kind of New Age Tea Party promo film, arguing for a society with no government, no taxes, no laws, alongside “interplanetary exploration”, which somehow combine to create a world that respects the rights of all.  Apparently, this would lead to a world where “everyone would have the opportunity to thrive”.  In reality, it would lead to a world in which the wealthy would thrive, but the rest of us would lose healthcare, social welfare, libraries, public transport, pension entitlement, social housing etc etc.  Sounds more like a surefire route to the kind of Dickensian world that led to the creation of a welfare state in the first place.

Responding to any of the truly global issues, such as climate change (which ‘Thrive’ clearly dismisses as part of the conspiracy), would no longer happen due to intergovernmental co-operation presumably being interpreted as steps towards a ‘one world government’. The film presents its suggestions in complete isolation from any notions of ‘society’ and community, presenting a vision of the future where the entire global population is living the same lifestyle as Gamble, the resources to enable this presumably being imported from other planets, or perhaps created afresh using magic?

Nowhere in the film do you hear the words ‘less’, or anything about reduced consumption in the West.  Just as free energy and cures for cancer are our birthright, so, presumably, is the right to consume as much as we like – to think otherwise is to lapse into a ‘scarcity’ mindset.  What I find most alarming about ‘Thrive’ is that most of the people who have asked me “have you seen Thrive?” are under 20, and they seem genuinely excited by it.  Perhaps it is the simplicity of the message that appeals, the “all we need to do is” clarity of its ask.  But having to discuss why free energy machines are impossible and the shortcomings of conspiracy theories with otherwise educated young people who are inheriting a warming world with its many deep and complex challenges is deeply depressing.