Dr. Gottfried and I were part of the same panel on the Left and the State at the 2014 H.L. Mencken Club conference. Here is the text of Paul’s presentation.
Adapted from Paul Gottfried‘s address to the 2014 H.L. Mencken Club Conference, at a panel focused on “The Left and the State,“ following remarks made by Carl Horowitz of the National Legal and Policy Center and Keith Preston of Attack the System.
I’d like to come back to a remark that Carl Horowitz made in his presentation about the state, which also occurred to me while working on a book dealing with fascists and anti-fascists. During my research I discovered that American anti-New Dealers, in particular Libertarians, characterized fascism as a movement of the far Left The reason was that fascism gave a central role to the state, and any movement that exalts the state, we are told, must be on the Left.
However, apparently unbeknownst to those who make these arguments, the European Right for many centuries favored an authoritarian state. This is the essence of European conservative thought—that the state, by which one must understand a traditional state that defends a traditional, stratified society, has certain imprescriptible rights. The state is not only a political player, but is essential to a well-ordered society.
I remember discussing this with European traditionalists. They could not even understand why Libertarians in America were considered to be on the Right. Given their view of political power, Libertarians sounded like left-wing eccentrics.
I wouldn’t go quite that far and in fact see a positive role for Libertarians in our own society, but I think their notion of the state is extremely skewed.
I would also argue that traditionalist members of the American Right—and here I am thinking about Robert Nisbet, Russell Kirk, and certainly Sam Francis—believed the state can play a very constructive role in preserving inherited social arrangements. Naturally, they had in mind a certain kind of state, one that rejected the Cultural Marxist lunacies that Keith Preston described in his remarks, and one that would have little in common with our present “liberal democratic” dispensation.
It also pays to understand (and here I may be borrowing again from my deceased friend, Sam Francis) that what we understand as the state today is, whatever else it may be, a system of control that operates within a system of interlocking parts. I think Sam characterized all of these integral parts as isomorphic and managerial. That is to say, the state, economy, and society all act more or less in harmony and reflect shared principles and ideas of administration. This managerial control is based on neither family nor traditional community but on a largely impersonal administration where people are trained in a “science of government.”
One can see this particularly in the construction of what becomes the managerial democratic state of the twentieth century. Not all managerial states are necessarily democratic but, as I argue in my book After Liberalism, successful managerial states are able to claim for themselves the cloak of popular approval. They present themselves as acting democratically and those who hold elected office can usually arrange to keep themselves in power by manipulating elections with the help of friendly media.
It was Bob Weissberg who gave me the idea that elections are self-legitimating rituals used by those in power to stay in power. The elections we have in the United States with largely indistinguishable parties, a feature that is characteristic of other Western states that imitate us, is part of socializing process rather than a situation in which significant choices are possible.
If we look at the economy, there is a structural similarity to the organization of the state, but here we are dealing primarily with international corporate capitalism. I am always amused when I turn on FOX and encounter an interview with someone running a family business in, say, Flagstaff, Arizona. Mitt Romney, we are encouraged to believe, was the candidate of such independent small entrepreneurs.
But the capitalists who count in terms of political influence and philanthropic activity belong to an international economic system, one that transcends nations and communities, and which has global interests. Like political managerialism, economic managerialism is global in character, and there is no reason this phenomenon should stop at the American or English borders.
Administrators can create supranational government, which the European Union is doing right now, and the same managerial Behemoth that exists in France or Germany is being extended to the European Union. Here we are dealing not with a traditional nation-state, but with public administration, which is almost indefinitely expandable.
This post-national order is pro-immigration. It wants more people to administer, just as its multinational corporate counterpart favors Open Borders to increase its supply of cheap labor and internal markets.
One moves easily from what used to be nation-states, which are now almost archaic in the US and in the rest of the Anglosphere, towards the operation of supranational agencies. EU officials would be delighted to see the political unit they administer moving beyond its present European limits to embrace Turkey and other non-European societies. Thus we have political managerialism, which is essentially universal, economic managerialism which is equally universal; and, finally, a multicultural ideology that is being pushed by what I call in my books the priesthood of the managerial state: that is, the academy, news agencies, the media, the political parties (which are a front for the system), and now much of the clergy.
Someone asked a question in an earlier session concerning the lack of spirituality in our society. John Derbyshire answered sarcastically, “Be careful what you wish for. There is one big growth point of spirituality in the West. Begins with ‘Is,’ ends with ‘lam.‘”.” But I may be closer in my thinking to Keith [Preston], who views the Left as theocratic. The Left has recycled Christian beliefs and Christian symbols. Indeed the Left is unthinkable without Christianity. It is Christian vision of the triumph of the suffering just and the belief that the last will be first that animate the Left. Like the Primitive Church, the Left appeals to individual men and women as parts of a new universal covenant.
Although the Left tries to destroy traditional institutionalized religion, particularly Christianity, which it links to white male heterosexual dominance, it gladly avails itself of the symbols and hopes of what it is working to subvert. This counterfeit is so extensive that Christian churches have become dangerously vulnerable to the replacement religion intended to relegate it to the historical dustbin.
The same problem, I have argued in my book on fascism does not really exist for a movement like Nazism. There is absolutely no overlap between Christianity and Nazism, except in the imagination of the Anti-Defamation League.
Fascism, as opposed to its virulent reconstruction as Nazism, was mostly a Latin Catholic movement that incorporated, selectively of course, Catholic corporatist economics and Latin authoritarian symbols. But there is far more that the Left has taken from Christianity, and one can make this observation without sounding like a Nietzschean lecturing on Christian slave morality. There is a Christian paradigm that the Left continues to recycle and which the clergy seems to have difficulty protecting itself against.
I would also note, in looking at the Left as a Christian heresy or replacement religion, that not all religions undergo secularization in the same way. Muslim or Jewish societies that become secularized do not look like Catholic societies that have gone through this process, while Protestant societies become secularized in a slightly different way but not all that differently from Catholic ones. The Left represents a form of secularization that is heavily dependent on the Christian tradition, particularly as revealed in the Gospels. One could not make the same observation about the relation between the left and secularization in non-Christian societies, unless those societies had first been westernized.
Something else I would stress about the present political order is the way the elements of the system fit together. The ties among the parts are political, economic, and cultural, and those who dominate the system are generally able to coexist and even cooperate. This is a point that Keith Preston made in his book about attacking the system. Looking at how Keith describes the interlocking structures he hopes to see dismantled, I came away with the impression that at least for the present Keith’s hated system may be indestructible. There is more cooperation than disagreement at the top, but also a definable pecking order.
Politics and culture, I would observe here, rate higher than the economy. It fits the need of overpowering economic interests to have Open Borders, with a continuing influx of cheap labor, and those in charge are happy to arrange for sensitivity sessions so that the work force can be made to think alike and not offend political authorities. Feminism also serves recognizable corporate capitalist interests, to the extent that women can be made economically productive outside the home, and the “liberation of women” will enable the population to buy more “stuff.” We can therefore understand how a multinational corporate economy can find shared interests with the state and its media and educational priesthood.
But it is quite easy to imagine Big Business getting along in a different system.
I was reminded of this while looking at a book that I recommend for those who read French, by Eric Zemmour called Le suicide francais, The French Suicide. In 1972 a law was passed in France, and which was pushed by the Minister of Justice, that criminalized insensitive speech nationwide. The beneficiaries of this censorship would not be French Catholics, but gays and the usual assortment of preferred victim groups. If you speak out in France against any of the protected groups, you may be committing a criminal offense, if the offended group or its “human rights” advocates bring charges against you.
Now this was apparently the first law in France in which the government was judging not your action per se, but whether you said something with unkind intentions. In that respect the French law may parallel the rationale behind Obama’s “hate crimes” legislation, which adds penalties to a criminal offense based on “discriminatory” intentions. Efforts were made to hold back the proposed French legislation on the grounds that it violated French legal tradition. But Georges Pompidou, who was then French President, made the point that ” the owners of industry are demanding the law.”
What Pompidou meant was that the people who were building the dwellings required for the wave of Third World immigrants and who were being paid by the government, wanted the law passed in order to please the future residents of their housing. These contractors and their employees wanted to create a congenial environment for Third World immigrants because it would advance their material interests.
But although some capitalists may profit from multiculturalism, the real question is this: can the system operate in the absence of sensitivity training or politically enforced verbal hygiene?
My answer: an unequivocal yes. Big business is full of political prostitutes who’ll say or do anything to keep the government and Leftist Main Stream Media off their backs. It will try to operate in any system in which it can make profits.
In our still-soft totalitarianism, CEOs operate in the way big business chugged along in Nazi Germany. Note that, unlike Stalin, Hitler never nationalized the means of production. Moreover, his first Minister of Economics, Hjalmar Schacht, was an exponent of free market economics, who respected the leaders of the Austrian School. Although Hitler dismissed Schacht for saying disrespectful things about the Nazis, he was not in principle opposed to the profit motive, providing it benefited his regime. Industrialists in Nazi Germany knew they were under the gun, and plutocrats like Fritz Thyssen were thrown into concentration camps for defying Hitler. Still, Hitler did allow big business, industrialists, and bankers to survive and even prosper, as long as they toed the line and did what he wanted.
I think the same thing has happened in the United States, albeit less dramatically. Take the case of former basketball team owner Donald Sterling, who was hounded out of his position and publicly humiliated for speaking ill of young black males in a private telephone conversation with his (multiracial) mistress. Sterling had tried to build up a reservoir of grace with the Leftist media and his black players by giving heaps of money to the NAACP. This business mogul could have lived happily without doing that but he tried to protect himself against running afoul of those he feared.
Let’s take another case. Is Bill Gates really a fervent supporter of gay marriage, a cause on which he bestows trainloads of money? We may be allowed to assume, until shown differently, that Gates is paying protection money, lest he face the angry opposition of the MSM, and possibly government threats directed against him, as a very rich bigot.
And why are so many corporations running to disinvest from the Boy Scouts because of this organization’s continued resistance to gay scoutmasters? Is it because all our CEOs agonize about the suffering of would-be gay scoutmasters? It’s more plausible that it is because they want to get along within the system.
If signals were to change tomorrow, in all probability these people would go with the flow. Their economic interests would be served even if the sensitivity police left the scene.
Big business and financial moguls may also be afraid of their wives, as Bob Weissberg pointed out to me. The wives and lady friends don’t want to be socially ostracized because the men in their lives didn’t donate enough money to promote the cause of the transgendered.
It seems to me that the state and the culture have deeper vested interest in maintaining the present system of PC control than venal businessmen. Entire agencies of government, mass media and the education industry are deeply invested in fighting “discrimination” and cleansing us of the remnants of bigotry. Even the slightest retreat on these issues—for instance, proposing that women pay for their own contraceptives—will unleash a torrent of denunciations from the MSM and government officials. The female vote has also ensured the continued success of such tactics of intimidation unleashed by what Keith Preston calls “the system.”
There is absolutely no historical perspective in the way the advocates and beneficiaries of this system see the world. The past has been totally obliterated from their minds, except as the evil moment before the last.
Although this may sound like a story from Mars, I grew up in an America in which both political parties, except on some economic issues, were well to the right of where they are now. On cultural and social issues, the GOP, and much of Conservatism, Inc. are well to the left of where the Soviet Communist Party once stood.
Putin’s views on gay liberation, which have been attacked in our “conservative” press as “anti-Western,” represent exactly the traditionalist stands on social morality that I would expect from a former KGB official. After all, gays were thrown into concentration camps by the Communists for their decadent bourgeois practices. Communist regimes put women into the work force not to enable their “self-actualization” but to raise industrial and agricultural outputs. As late as the 1930s, proto-feminists Eleanor Roosevelt and Francis Perkins favored a single family wage for husbands, so that wives could stay home and raise their children.
I make these points not to lay incense on the altar of progress but to underline the obvious. The world that the system has given us is far more radical in its consequences than any society of the past. And any retreat from the latest non-negotiable demand or cry for fairness and sensitivity coming from our safely ensconced elites is treated as a leap back into an age of mass human servitude.
This all-or-nothing stance works at least partly because the past never existed for most people—except as an evil prehistory from which we are now, they tell us, fortunately awakening.
Paul Gottfried [ email him ] recently retired as Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College, PA. He is the author of After Liberalism, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt and The Strange Death of Marxism His most recent book is Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America.
Categories: Left and Right