JR'S Free Thought Pages
The Authoritarian Model
Conservatism, Fascism, Christianity and Depravity
By Johnny Reb
"We can hire half the working-class to kill the other half" - Jay Gould (1836-1892), Archetypal Gilded Age Robber Baron and Railroad Tycoon
"To be a revolutionary is to love your life enough to change to choose struggle instead of exile, to risk everything with only the glimmering hope of a world to win." - Andrew Kopkind, 1968
"In science, an observer states his results along with the “probable error”; but who ever heard of a theologian or a politician stating the probable error in his dogmas, or even admitting that any error is conceivable? That is because in science, where we approach nearest to real knowledge, a man can safely rely on the strength of his case, whereas, where nothing is known, blatant assertion and hypnotism are the usual ways of causing others to share our beliefs. If the fundamentalist thought they had a good case against evolution, they would not make the teaching of it illegal.” - Bertrand Russell, Skeptical Essays
A Brief History of Authoritarianism
The Hierarchical Model that has prevailed throughout history...only the names have changed
When people perched at the top look down, they see only shit-heads. When those at the bottom level look up, they see only assholes.
"The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth". - H. L. Mencken
"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act." - George Orwell
"At present, those who have power dread a disturbance of the status quo, lest their unjust privileges should be taken away. In combination with the instinct for conventionality which man shares with the other gregarious animals, those who profit by the existing order have established a system which punishes originality and starves imagination from the moment of first going to school down to the time of death and burial.” - Bertrand Russell
Despite the humanist enlightenment and scientific revolutions, it's unsettling to think how little things have really changed politically and ethically in the past two and a half millennia.
If you read Herodotus' Histories or Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian Wars for example, you realize that the political systems were then, as now, elitist, undemocratic and hierarchical, continuous wars were motivated by power and profit by wealthy conservative elites who also controlled the political apparatus, owned almost all of the wealth and wrote the laws to favor themselves. Moreover, the impoverished masses fought and died and were mutilated in those wars - as is the case in our amoral hyper-capitalist world today. My anarchist sentiments and life-long contempt for hierarchy and authoritarianism of every stripe has prompted me to put together a rant that I titled "We the Sheeple". It's posted here. What the current top-down model looks like I’ve described in “The Corporate Takeover of the Planet” here.
What I will refer to as the authoritarian model, with rare exception, has been the norm in early societies from the Roman, Greek and Persian empires of the ancient world to the theocracies and monarchies of the medieval era to the current neo-liberal/neo-conservative plutocratic capitalist states. In other words, throughout history, very nearly all societies and political arrangements have been stratified in one way or another, primarily hierarchies of wealth and power. The few egalitarian exceptions that shocked the first Europeans encountering them for the first time were indigenous cultures such as those found in the North American continent. These proto-anarchist societies were far more just, tolerant, compassionate, sharing, egalitarian and democratic than their European Christian visitors. The Christian white man's reaction was to refer to these indigenous peoples as "savages" subject these freedom loving indigenous peoples to denigration, enslavement, degradation of their religious and cultural practises, theft of their land and systematic genocide.
For those at the apex of the pyramidal hierarchy, preservation of their entitlements and privileges was exercised through various means of coercion, least of all raw force, and often maintained by appeal to some ordained natural order of things or special religious, mystical or intellectual powers to which the elites lay claim. The undemocratic alpha male model of monotheistic deities inherent in Christianity and Islam has served as the authoritarian models for two millennia and continues to do so. The Christian church, whether Catholic or Protestant was a willing partner in every secular tyranny, including the genocide of indigenous populations and theft of their land and resources during the past five centuries. The result has been tyranny of conservative elites concomitant with grotesque injustice and economic inequality as the norm. Today's ideological global economic order of neo-liberal corporatism and financial capitalism is no exception. Not surprisingly, levels of inequality are about as wide as they have ever been throughout recorded history.
North American and Western European collective understanding of authoritarianism and in what might be called traditional narratives of historical memory is always viewed as existing elsewhere. Considered an alien, pre-democratic or demagogic political system of the past, it is primarily understood as a mode of governance associated with the US installed dictatorships in Latin America in the 1970s and, of course, in its most vile extremes, with Hitler’s noxious Nazi rule and Mussolini’s fascist state in the 1930s and 1940s. These were and are societies that idealized war, nationalism, imperialism, militarism, patriotism and sacrifice, racism and a dogmatic allegiance to the charismatic leader and the state. Education and the media were the propaganda tools of authoritarianism, merging fascist and religious symbols with the language of God, family, and country, and were integral to promoting servility and conformity among the populace. This script is well known to the Western psyche and it has been played out in films, popular culture, museums, the mainstream media, and other cultural apparatuses.
Hannah Arendt, the great philosopher and theorist of totalitarianism, revolution and structural violence believed that the protean elements of totalitarianism are still with us and that they would re-emerge in different forms. Far from being a relic of the past, she believed that totalitarianism “heralds as a possible model for the future.” Arendt was acutely aware that the culture of traditionalism, an ever present atmosphere of fear, the corporatization of civil society, the capture of state power by big business and wealthy elites, the destruction of notions of the public good, the corporate control of the media, the rise of a survival-of-the-fittest ethos of greed and self-interest, the dismantling of civil and political rights, the ongoing militarization of society, the “religionization of politics,” a rampant sexism, an attack on labor, an obsession with national security, human rights abuses, the emergence of a police state, a deeply rooted racism, and the attempts by reactionary demagogues to undermine liberal education as a foundation for producing critical thinking citizenry were all at work in American society. For Arendt, these anti-democratic elements in American society constituted what she called the “sand storm,” a metaphor for totalitarianism.
Ethical Role Models
"To oppose the policies of a government does not mean you are against the country or the people that the government supposedly represents. Such opposition should be called what it really is: democracy, or democratic dissent, or having a critical perspective about what your leaders are doing. Either we have the right to democratic dissent and criticism of these policies or we all lie down and let the leader, the Fuhrer, do what is best, while we follow uncritically, and obey whatever he commands. That's just what the Germans did with Hitler - and look where it got them.” - Michael Parenti
The 20th century has been one of the most violent in human history but the murder and mayhem continue unabated with the evil immorality of the Iraq War and endless wars justified by the phony "war on terror" despite the fact the United States is the number one purveyor of terrorism on the planet. Who then do we look to as role models? One can readily think of Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, men who I greatly admire as icons of morality, integrity, decency and justice. But my own personal choice would be Noam Chomsky. MIT professor emeritus Noam Chomsky is now nearing 90 but his remarkable boundless energy, ethical consistency, breadth of knowledge and intellectual acuity seem to continue uncompromised and unabated. His astonishing command of facts, logic and cogency of argument are well-known by anyone who has read any of his hundreds of revealing books. His extensive documentation of the crimes of the United States government and their corporate owners are extremely constructive, but they ought to be obvious to any interested inquirer to warrant comment in this essay. His grace and kindness towards ordinary people, the exploited and oppressed on the one hand and his contempt for the privileged, powerful and plunderers on the other is legendary.
If anyone is searching for a man to provide us with an intellectual and moral compass, there is no better guide than the example of the humanity of a man such a Noam Chomsky. In our postmodern world of epistemic relativism, Chomsky is the last of the great Renaissance men, an icon of the anti-authoritarian scientific and liberal Enlightenment. His utter disdain for power systems and authority is matched by his reverence for the dignity and freedom of the individual. This is the essence of classical liberalism and an ethics of respect for the "other", the notions of reciprocation and moral universalism in which the expectation of ethical behavior of others, we apply equally to ourselves. It is the hallmark of real courage as exemplified by arguably the world's greatest contemporary intellectual and cultural critic. Chomsky's willingness to accept the truth by speaking out against injustice, avoiding self-deception and abiding by enduring ethical principles of non-violence, compassion, empathy and caring is legendary. In the spirit of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, one if free to express himself and pursue his own projects with the proviso the actions inflict no harm on others. In addition to applying the moral rules to yourself that you expect of others one must also choose how to behave by considering the predictable consequences of one's actions and not just honorable intentions.
Our parochial authoritarian neo-conservative* leaders in government such as a Stephen Harper and the corporate world of finance, of course, see things differently. In fact corporations are the paragon of hierarchical organization and totalitarianism as are the faux democracies we endure, whether the parliamentary or republican forms. It is precisely why these unsustainable immoral political and socio-economic ideologies must be rejected, dismantled and rebuilt. Our leaders and the indoctrinated masses judge human activity in terms of power, authority, wealth, race, popularity, charisma, celebrity, physical beauty, and other qualities that have either no relation or a negative relation to truth, ethics and rationality. Insofar as we, as individuals, periodically succumb to these unsavoury illiberal tendencies and vices, we must try to root them out by bottom up grass roots movements. An evil unjust system cannot be tolerated if the planet is to survive.
*An apt expression for Neo-conservative might be Regressive Conservative, those sclerotic hyper-capitalists who long for a return to the Dark Age theocracies or robber baron era of the late 19th century America (a vile toxic brew of Christian evangelism and libertarian capitalism). Their heroes run the gamut of hardened monarchists like Edmund Burke and Margaret Thatcher to Bible thumping intellectual mediocrities such as Ronald Reagan. The contemporary incarnation of this mutant pious reactionary Neanderthal are George W Bush, Sarah Palin and Stephen Harper.
There are things we can do about this predicament; first recognize that we are in the majority and government ought to be our government not a conduit for coercion, political careerism, privilege, wealth, greed, elitism and corporate power. Power is never self-justifying and rarely can it ever by externally justified. The impulse to challenge and dismantle power systems is the primary impetus for the pure direct democracy of the rich philosophical tradition of anarchism from Michel Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin to Noam Chomsky and David Graeber. If people would take the time to read the great anarchist philosophers, Chomsky and Graeber being among the contemporaries, they would realize they too are anarchists.
Chomsky regularly documents how Western leaders constantly violate the rule of international and domestic law–their own laws, laws that they themselves have enacted. In fact, no entity more consistently violates laws than the state, and no one is literally more of a criminal than the leaders of a those state, especially the United States - and their friends. Chomsky would surely agree with the contention that an ethical person ought to do more than he is required to do, and less than he is allowed to do. He must exercise judgement, self-restraint, compassion, empathy and conscience. Otherwise, we have a minimalist society where everybody is exploiting everybody else, pushing the world, its people and resources to its limits, continually violating basic rules of fairness and decency. This is the world in which we presently live. It's a world in which those in government are not representative of the majority promoting the common good, but rather sycophantic agents of privilege, wealth and corporate power. In that sense it differs little from the feudalism of the pre-Enlightenment Dark Ages.
In his December 2013 John Dewey Lecture called "What is the Common Good" Chomsky summed up his ethical world view:
Humans are social beings, and the kind of creature that a person becomes depends crucially on the social, cultural and institutional circumstances of his life. We are therefore led to inquire into the social arrangements that are conducive to people's rights and welfare, and to fulfilling their just aspirations - in brief, the common good.
For perspective I'd like to invoke what seem to me virtual truisms. They relate to an interesting category of ethical principles: those that are not only universal, in that they are virtually always professed, but also doubly universal, in that at the same time they are almost universally rejected in practice. These range from very general principles, such as the truism that we should apply to ourselves the same standards we do to others (if not harsher ones), to more specific doctrines, such as a dedication to promoting democracy and human rights, which is proclaimed almost universally, even by the worst monsters - though the actual record is grim, across the spectrum.
A good place to start is with John Stuart Mill's classic "On Liberty." Its epigraph formulates "The grand, leading principle, towards which every argument unfolded in these pages directly converges: the absolute and essential importance of human development in its richest diversity." The words are quoted from Wilhelm von Humboldt, a founder of classical liberalism. It follows that institutions that constrain such development are illegitimate, unless they can somehow justify themselves.
During the same lecture Chomsky went on to comment:
Concern for the common good should impel us to find ways to cultivate human development in its richest diversity. Adam Smith, another Enlightenment thinker with similar views, felt that it shouldn't be too difficult to institute humane policies. In his "Theory of Moral Sentiments" he observed that "How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it."
Smith acknowledges the power of what he calls the "vile maxim of the masters of mankind": "All for ourselves and nothing for other people." But the more benign "original passions of human nature" might compensate for that pathology.
Classical liberalism has been shipwrecked on the shoals of capitalism, but its humanistic commitments and aspirations didn't die. Rudolf Rocker, a 20th-century anarchist thinker and activist, reiterated similar ideas. Rocker described what he calls "a definite trend in the historic development of mankind" that strives for "the free unhindered unfolding of all the individual and social forces in life." Rocker was outlining an anarchist tradition culminating in anarcho-syndicalism - in European terms, a variety of "libertarian socialism." This brand of socialism, he held, doesn't depict "a fixed, self-enclosed social system" with a definite answer to all the multifarious questions and problems of human life, but rather a trend in human development that strives to attain Enlightenment ideals.
So understood, anarchism is part of a broader range of libertarian socialist thought and action that includes the practical achievements of revolutionary Spain in 1936; reaches further to worker-owned enterprises spreading today in the American rust belt, in northern Mexico, in Egypt, and many other countries, most extensively in the Basque country in Spain; and encompasses the many cooperative movements around the world and a good part of feminist and civil and human rights initiatives. This broad tendency in human development seeks to identify structures of hierarchy, authority and domination that constrain human development, and then subject them to a very reasonable challenge: Justify yourself.
If these structures can't meet that challenge, they should be dismantled - and, anarchists believe, "refashioned from below," as commentator Nathan Schneider observes. In part this sounds like truism: Why should anyone defend illegitimate structures and institutions? But truisms at least have the merit of being true, which distinguishes them from a good deal of political discourse. And I think they provide useful stepping stones to finding the common good.
For Rocker, "the problem that is set for our time is that of freeing man from the curse of economic exploitation and political and social enslavement."
It should be noted that the American brand of libertarianism differs sharply from the libertarian tradition, accepting and indeed advocating the subordination of working people to the masters of the economy, and the subjection of everyone to the restrictive discipline and destructive features of markets. Anarchism is, famously, opposed to the state, while advocating "planned administration of things in the interest of the community," in Rocker's words; and beyond that, wide-ranging federations of self-governing communities and workplaces.
Much of the most respected work in academic political science compares public attitudes and government policy. In "Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America," the Princeton scholar Martin Gilens reveals that the majority of the U.S. population is effectively disenfranchised.
About 70 percent of the population, at the lower end of the wealth/income scale, has no influence on policy, Gilens concludes. Moving up the scale, influence slowly increases. At the very top are those who pretty much determine policy, by means that aren't obscure. The resulting system is not democracy but plutocracy.
Or perhaps, a little more kindly, it's what legal scholar Conor Gearty calls "neo-democracy," a partner to neo-liberalism - a system in which liberty is enjoyed by the few, and security in its fullest sense is available only to the elite, but within a system of more general formal rights.
In contrast, as Rocker writes, a truly democratic system would achieve the character of "an alliance of free groups of men and women based on cooperative labour and a planned administration of things in the interest of the community."
No one took the American philosopher John Dewey to be an anarchist. But consider his ideas. He recognized that "Power today resides in control of the means of production, exchange, publicity, transportation and communication. Whoever owns them rules the life of the country," even if democratic forms remain. Until those institutions are in the hands of the public, politics will remain "the shadow cast on society by big business," much as is seen today.
In Ivan Turgenev's great 1862 novel Fathers and Sons, the central character was Evgenii Bazarov a freethinking young man of the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution. During the era of the brutal Tsarist monarchy and horrific conditions of poverty and squalor for the vast majority of the Russian population, he was said to be a man" who does not bow down to any authority and who accepts nothing on faith". The description could have easily been applied to any one of many student radicals in the 1960s. It could also apply to anarchist philosophers such as Mikhail Bakunin who rejected the idea that emancipation from hierarchy, authoritarianism and oppression could exist partially or in degrees: it either existed or it did not. Both the Church and the State ("the younger brother of the church") he deemed coercive and oppressive, institutions of minority power and privilege. For Bakunin, all forms of government do far were merely various forms of monarchy, different forms of despotism by a tiny conservative elite exercised against the vast majority. So why are the majority to docile and complacent?
H L Mencken's explanation was:
"The fact is that the average man's love of liberty is nine-tenths imaginary, exactly like his love of sense, justice and truth. He is not actually happy when free; he is uncomfortable, a bit alarmed, and intolerably lonely. Liberty is not a thing for the great masses of men. It is the exclusive possession of a small and disreputable minority, like knowledge, courage and honour. It takes a special sort of man to understand and enjoy liberty — and he is usually an outlaw in democratic societies." (Baltimore Evening Sun February 12, 1923)
"The state [like the church] is likewise nothing but the guarantor of all exploitation in the profit of a small number prosperous and privileged persons and to the loss of the popular masses. In order to assure the welfare, prosperity and privileges of some, it uses everyone's collective strength and collective labour, to the detriment of everyone's human rights. In such a set-up the minority plays the role of the hammer and the majority that of the anvil." (Three Lectures to Members of the Swiss International, May, 1871)
If more people thought like Bazarov and Bakunin, democracy might be a real possibility. Sadly, this has not been the case throughout history and is currently not the case. The anarchist notions of avoiding "size" (or scale) in any form of bottom-up direct democracy and avoiding inevitable tyrannies of bureaucratic formations was explained by Robert Michels in 1911 in what he called the "iron law of oligarchy" Michels, an associate of Max Weber, states that all forms of organization, regardless of how democratic they may be at the outset, will eventually and inevitably develop oligarchic authoritarian tendencies, thus making genuine democracy practically and theoretically impossible. This is especially the case in large groups and complex organizations.
Edward R Murrow, the journalist whose honest reporting helped bring the downfall of the Red Scare hysteria of McCarthyism, once said that, "a nation of sheep will soon have a government of wolves". This is, and always has been, a truism. Controlling people through fear by those holding power has been a tried and true ruse throughout history. The Iron Law of Oligarchy proposes that any and all governments or organizations aspiring to democracy and wishing to avoid oligarchy must take a number of preventative steps. They need to ensure that that strict checks and balances on power are in place that the electorate or rank and file remains active in the government or organization. Like the great anarchist philosophers have taught, all power needs to be regularly challenged for legitimacy to insure that it does not become arbitrary, and that the leaders not be granted anything resembling absolute control of any centralized administration. As long as there are open lines of communication and shared decision making between the leadership and the electorate or rank and file, an oligarchy cannot easily develop. Clearly, the problems of oligarchy, of the bureaucratic depersonalization described by Weber, and of personal alienation all are interrelated. If individuals and small groups are deprived of the power to make decisions that affect their lives in many or even most of the areas that are important to them, withdrawal into narrow factionalism, docility, trust in power and apathy are likely responses. Such withdrawals seemed to constitute a chronic condition in all highly centralized capitalist countries. The current venal form of corporatism and its doctrinaire neo-liberal hyper-capitalist ideology that has evolved over the past three or four decades is the quintessence of the phenomenon of the iron law of oligarchy. What little democracy that did exist has been decimated as levels of economic inequality continue to reach records.
In 1968, a raucous year during an era of ongoing civil unrest , Andrew Kopkind wrote in The New York Times Magazine, that "revolution is serious business", but he held out little hope for those such as Tom Hayden and Eldridge Cleaver who were two of its visible proponents. Revolution is what societies do in lieu of committing suicide, "when all alternatives have been exhausted and the connections that bind men's lives in familiar patterns have been cut." Kopkind held out little hope that real change was in the offing, that "despite some unruliness, a few perilous moments and a great deal of intramural bickering, the strongest fortresses of the system remain in the hands of the same conservative elites that had held power for years". Kopkind's insight reminds me of scene in the wonderful novel The Leopard, a captivating and sprawling tale of a decadent, calcified mid-nineteenth century Italian aristocracy threatened by the imminent forces of democracy and revolution. Written by Giuseppe di Lampedusa, the excellent 1963 movie rendering featured Burt Lancaster in the leading role as Don Fabrizio, Prince of Salina. One of the memorable scenes from the movie occurred when the cynical prince said to his radicalized son:: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” In other words, in defence of an established conservative hierarchy or other despotic political order of power, any innovation, aberration or dissidence can be dealt with; any past or future disruption disposed of. There are no Marxist historical determinations or progressive necessities that cannot be co-opted or crushed. Time is an irrelevancy.
People it would seem are basically sheep, care not for real freedom and prefer to be led by the nose and ruled by both humans they deem their superiors on earth or mean metaphysical religious fictions in the sky. And throughout history, both the earthly and the heavenly sovereigns have generally been partners in submission of the credulous and docile masses.
To any perfunctory observer of the grim conditions under the global hegemony of our current neo-conservative financial aristocracy, if anything has changed since then, the stranglehold of elites is far more ominous than ever. Levels of global economic inequality and imperialism are at historical highs and our evermore authoritarian intolerant surveillance state governments resemble fascist police states. In fact many of the 1960s enthusiastic progressives and revolutionaries who sold out are now the neo-conservative ideologues and CEOs of predatory financial behemoths such as Goldman Sachs and Wall Street hedge funds. In the 1960s, says Kopkind, dissent served an ironic political function as well as a constitutional position; it legitimized and supported the status quo:
"Only the dumbest establishments practise open suppression of dissidence; what Herbert Marcuse calls repressive tolerance" is far more effective. In practise, it is the art of letting dissident minorities say whatever they please within a system loaded in favour of the powerful elites. The dissidents let off steam; the controllers keep power. America is cleverest when it protects its oppositions and neutralizes them, by buying (War on Poverty), channelling or marketing them."(Andrew Kopkind, The Thirty Years War: Dispatches and Diversions, Verso, 1995, pp. 148-154)
But contrary to Kopkind, as the crushing of the Occupy Wall Street Movement makes clear, even peaceful dissidence is no longer tolerated. And the "repressive tolerance" that Marcuse referred to was not always so tolerant in consideration of the murder of Black Panther leaders such as Fred Hampton by the FBI and Chicago police or the wanton actions of Richard Nixon in calling out the National Guard to Kent State University that resulted in the killing of four innocent students. As many readers will recall, the Kent State atrocity was poignantly eulogized by Neil Young in his great song "Ohio". Where are those protest songs today, when they are needed more than ever.
After reading Chris Hedges excellent piece I've provided below and although I find it difficult, I'm compelled to admit the following: I believe that "revolution" against an authoritarian and undemocratic government can rarely, if ever, succeed in altering the systemic hierarchical and fascistic social and political structures that most humans grant consent, accept and submit to like sheep.* It would seem that it's only by changing ourselves, our inculcated conservatism and rigidity of thought, one family, group and individual at a time, that we can slowly rise out of the dark gloomy shadows of political and theocratic hierarchies, religious superstition, patriarchy and countless other forms of cultural and political conservatism and authoritarianism.
* Between 1914 and 1918 millions of working class people without forethought or critical analysis as to why they were carrying out such acts of barbarity, mindlessly slaughtered one another in the "War to End all Wars". This bizarre seemingly inexplicable phenomenon is graphically portrayed in Erich Marie Remarque's classic All Quiet on the Western Front, the 1930 movie based on the novel and other great anti-war movies such as Paths of Glory (1957). They were maimed and died for ends that were not theirs, defending the economic and political interests of their respective rulers. Those who had rallied to nationalistic abstractions such as, patriotism, the flag or national anthem butchered one another in the name of "the Kaiser", "God", "Democracy", "King" and "Country". Twenty years later the process was repeated on an even vaster scale. So on it goes.
The answer may be partly explained by a famous psychological experiment, called the Milgram Experiment. Stanley Milgram, perplexed by the authoritarianism, docility of Germans in the face of gratuitous violence and terror during World War II, wondered if "normal people" could be led to inflict violence and extreme pain. His experiment took place in 1961 when the Nuremberg trials were still a recent memory. In the experiment subjects were led to believe they were part of a "learning experiment" that involved delivering electric shocks with increasing voltage with every incorrect response, in fact torturing a fellow subject in the next room (who in fact was a member of the research team pretending to be a volunteer, and suffered no actual pain). As they continued with the increasingly powerful electric shocks, they were reassured by scientists in white lab coats that they would assume all responsibility, and urged to continue, subjects continued to (so far as they knew) inflict more and more painful shocks on their fellow subjects, even as the screams became louder and eventually became silent. In short, these people were willing to override their own innate moral sensibilities and inflict pain on strangers who were begging for mercy, pleading to the point of unconsciousness and possible death, based on the assurances of “responsible authority figures,” so long as the victim was framed as an outsider.
It's ironic that we are trying to save North America and Europe from these undemocratic movements, despite the fact the existing ruling regimes are, and always have been, bogus democracies, now totally controlled by corporations, banks and wealthy power elites.. But people have rarely turned to socialism or other options on the left during times of economic crisis, injustice and diminution of freedom. In light of the refugee crisis in Europe, Islamic extremists such as ISIS and the fear mongering by political conservatives, right wing demagogues and their lap poodle media, we have the disturbing phenomenon of neo-fascist parties in Europe that are gaining in popularity. These far right wing parties have innocuous sounding Orwellian names such as The Danish People's Party, Polish Law and Justice Party, Swedish Democrats (rooted in neo-Nazism }, UK Independence Party and National Front in France. In some Eastern European countries such as Hungary and Turkey, these dictatorial parties have formed the government.
With impending elections this fall (2016) in the United States, Americans are faced with the status quo of the war mongering imperialist Hilary Clinton or the equally unsavoury multi-billionaire authoritarian proto-fascist "strong man" Donald Trump. Trump claims to not have any moral issue with torture, he wants to increase the severity of torture, kill any suspected terrorists and even "take out their families." Trump’s disgraceful ignorance of international law (such as the Geneva Convention) and his dismissal of the US Constitution are mind-boggling. In the early 20th century Max Weber argued that every democracy grinds its way toward bureaucratized tyranny as those purported to represent are exposed as mere lackeys for wealth and power of the deep state. Dysfunction and corruption of governing bodies become entrenched as the masses begin to crave a charismatic strongman. It was Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt who gave a frightening, yet lucid, account of dictatorship by distinguishing a constitutional dictator from a sovereign one. The former is sanctioned by the existing legal order to violate it if required in a crisis or emergency. A sovereign dictator, on the other hand, breaches the status quo and creates an entirely new regime.
What brand of strongman will Donald Trump be? It’s clear that he’s inherited the enormous powers of the constitutional authoritarians who came before him. At the same time, his blatant vulgarity, ignorance and puerility don’t seem in line with any sense of constitutional loyalty. Trump has tapped into the darkness of American angst and disillusion at a time when the established order struggles to maintain its credibility and legitimacy. To see an impulsive bully, who behaves like a spoiled brat, dispenses with technicalities and fine print must be refreshing to many. Trump’s appeal is the appeal of power, unmediated and unrefined. This is where the fears of a Schmitt style sovereign dictator, or even a full blown fascist corporatist emerges. An authoritarian strongman assumes power to rattle the cages of the calcified status quo, not simply above the law but entirely outside it. Beneath the bad behaviour and hysterics of the crude Trump, there is only the banal, crude cost-benefit logic of a thuggish vulture capitalist and reptilian huckster, a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
The World Values Survey in 2011 exposed some shocking statistics regarding the propensity of Americans to blindly accept political authority. Wait for it. It found that 34% approved of “having a strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with Congress or elections”, the figure rising to 42% among those with no education beyond high school. Yes, it means that more than one in three US voters would prefer a tyranny to democracy. Those Americans, in choosing a dictatorship, even over the compromised democracy they currently suffer from, are also abandoning the very idea of real democracy itself.
These figures reinforce a pattern revealed by recent academic research that shows a body of US opinion predisposed toward liberal democracy’s polar opposite, namely, authoritarianism. One wonders whether a monarchy or theocracy would suffice for these people. For many evangelical Christians, the latter would very likely be acceptable.
Usually such an authoritarian sentiment remains dormant. It's unlikely people would admit to such feelings openly. When asked, they intuitively know that to admit to authoritarian preferences is to give the wrong answer to pollsters. Political scientist Stanley Feldman discovered that the most reliable way to break through that barrier was to ask four questions, not about politics, but about the problem of raising children. Which is more important for a child to have: independence or respect for elders? Self-reliance or obedience? A tendency to be tolerant or well-behaved? Curiosity and scepticism or good manners? How you answer those four questions apparently reveals all researchers need to know about how highly you value conformity, obedience and order over independence, autonomy and freedom.
Strikingly, the research revealed some 44% of white Americans as being authoritarians, with 19% registering “very high” on the authoritarian scale. And those feelings are not new: they have been picked up by surveys since Feldman first started asking those questions in the 1990s. Mostly, these authoritarian sentiments remain dormant, below the surface of the psyche. But scholars find they become “activated” when authoritarian-leaning people are under duress, especially when the status quo, social order or hierarchy that they value is threatened by possible change. That change could be a shift to greater ethnic diversity; it could be same-sex marriage, it could be stagnating wages, decriminalization of drugs, the right to assisted suicide, anything that seems to endanger the status quo.
Researchers also found that when that threat to the prevailing socio-economic order is accompanied by a perceived external or physical menace – such as unregulated immigration or ISIS – not only do the feelings of authoritarians become even more rabid, those who ordinarily would give non-authoritarian answers to the four child-raising questions can shift, out of fear, towards authoritarianism. In the words of Vox’s Amanda Taub, these insights combine to suggest "one terrifying theory: if social change and physical threats coincided at the same time, it could awaken a potentially enormous population of American authoritarians, who would demand a strongman leader and the extreme policies necessary, in their view, to meet the rising threats.” This strongman void that people want to fill perhaps explains the attraction to a man such as Donald trump. In fact, polls have shown that the most reliable indicator for support of Trump is authoritarianism.
Anarchist philosophers have made clear distinctions between the tyrannical individual who wants to rule, control, restrain and coerce others and the slavish individual who prefers conformity, direction, submission and the to obey the former. Neither of these two types of people have achieved any sense of moral or intellectual maturity or autonomy. The docility of the latter remains childlike and dependent, enabling the autocratic controlling type to exercise power over them. All power needs to be questioned. All power requires legitimization and justification and this rational process is rarely, if ever, successful. All power, regardless of its source, requires acquiescence and submission by those being controlled and coerced. Organized religion and autocratic political regimes are the two most common sources of this sort of master slave arrangement. According to retired University of Manitoba psychologist Bob Altemeyer, in his book The Authoritarians, acceptance of traditional religious beliefs in both Christianity and Islam have more to do with an intrinsic propensity to conservatism, docility, deference to authority and submissiveness than it does the credulity in believing in the mythology and doctrines of their religious faith. Not only organized religion, but the military, the workplace, the family and our various forms of governance, including parliamentary and republican "democracy" also provide apt examples. There are quite rational forms of temporary authority in situations in which someone with esoteric knowledge or of special competence or expertise is permitted by others to make decisions on their behalf. A medical doctor, scientist or teacher is an example of such relationships.
The Liberal Outlook
"The world is full of injustice, and those who profit by injustice are in a position to administer rewards and punishments. The rewards go to those who invent ingenious justifications for inequality, the punishments to those who try to remedy it". - Bertrand Russell
Liberal education, critical thinking and free thought are the most important pathways to removing the shackles of hierarchy, authoritarianism and tyranny. Without the Humanist Enlightenment and rise of scientific inquiry and understanding, the liberating Revolutions of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries that freed so many people from the tyrannies of theocracy and monarchy would not have occurred. Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) had written that human society was hopelessly dishonest, venal and corrupting, and that only total radical change could redeem it. That was why he was such a hero to revolutionaries: they had proved his vision to be possible. Never again would institutions, habits, or beliefs be accepted merely because this was how they had always been or, as believed by most at the time, were ordained by God. Can there be anything more despotic or authoritarian than the Second Commandment: "Thou shalt not have any other gods before me"? This sort of hierarchical pyramid with a deity perched at the apex is the original model of authoritarianism and tyranny that has been followed like sheep by the masses of people since recorded history. Religions, specifically the three main monotheisms, have been the most obtrusive obstacle to human freedom throughout history and remains so. But we have had our secular versions of slavery as well, the most current of which is the neo-liberal global ideology of corporate capitalism. Only the masters of mankind have changed.
There is clearly an irrational disconnect between the natural economic and social conditions of the masses versus their conservative outlook, docility and automatic deference to almost any authority. To explain this disconnect one needs to examine root causes that can be traced to childhood indoctrination into unquestioned acceptance of authority, hierarchical structures such as religion, both public and private educational institutions, the military, constitutional law, business enterprises and corporations, party politics, unions, parliamentary and republican forms of democracy and all their manifestation including the family. And the complicity of the conservative and reactionary character of the corporate media cannot be overestimated. All these and other cultural, religious and political hierarchical mechanisms of control lead to fear of freedom, ambiguity, independence and an inability to think for oneself.* Moreover, they lead to the active support of the status quo of rule by a tiny oligarchy and an ingrained sclerotic conservatism that stifles one's ability to rebel, or even question, entrenched entitlements of elites, injustice, exploitation and oppression. All these structures nullify any attempts at establishing organizations run along truly democratic principles.
* Those who control the means of disseminating "knowledge" will control what Jean Baudrillard called "the code", a concept of domination and control that George Orwell understood well. With the concocted language of "Newspeak" in his novel 1984, Orwell evoked the notion that those who control language control society. Newspeak is a jargon infested narrative in which heretical ideas become impossible to express, or even think. Furthermore, it is used by an elite conservative class as a mark of their class-membership: it is not spoken by the proles (Orwell's expression for the proletariat or working classes in Oceania). Today, types of Newspeak are rampant in the jargon-ridden languages of politicians, management consultants, and corporate leaders and journalists who limit language in order to preserve their own power and privilege. By demanding that any criticisms be translated into their language and ideology if they are to be taken seriously, they suppress the possibility of articulating ideas threatening to the status quo. This control of language and other signs has become a distinctive characteristic of today’s ideology of neo-liberalism, globalism and unfettered corporate capitalism. Any thought that we could live any other way is deemed blasphemous to the financial oligarchy and their enablers in government.
In the 1930s Wilhelm Reich, ignoring the advice of his teacher Sigmund Freud, developed ideas to explain the lag between class consciousnesses on the one hand and social and economic realities on the other, in addition to the irrational social and intellectual inertia reflected in habits of deference and submission to conservative authority among the oppressed masses. To do this he had to launch a frontal assault on the both the bourgeois and working class family. This resulted in vicious counter-attacks not only from reactionaries and religious bigots of all kinds, but also by orthodox Marxists and psychological associations. The result was expulsion from both the Communist Party and the German Association of Psychoanalysis. Reich also attacked the prudish Victorian inhibitions and resulting generational epidemic of guilt-ridden neuroses, sexual dysfunction and obedience to the pre-existing conservative political and social order. The sexual prohibitions, taboos and repression by conservative institutions such as organized religion had nothing to do with morality per se, but rather psychological coercion and control in maintaining the authoritarian social and political order. People submitted to such norms become incapable of democratic living, relying rather on dependency, custom, habit, loyalty and direction from above, thereby nullifying all efforts at sceptical critique, dissidence, rebellion and the establishment of bottom-up democratic institutions.
A elitist class society similar to the corporatist and financial hegemonic one that we currently experience, can only function and be maintained as long as those it exploits internalize and accept their exploitation. This assertion seems so obvious that it hardly needs elaboration. On the eve of the Russian Revolution, Lenin understood this when he wrote, "The bourgeoisie maintains itself not only by force but also by the lack of consciousness, by the force of custom and habit among the masses".
It is obvious that if large sections of the population were constantly questioning the principles of hierarchy, the authoritarian organization of production, the wage system, or other t fundamental aspects of the social structure, no ruling class could maintain itself in power for long. For rulers to continue ruling it is necessary that those at the bottom of the social layers not only accept their condition but eventually lose even the sense of being exploited. Once this psychological process has been achieved the division of society becomes legitimized in people's minds. The exploited cease to perceive it as something imposed on them externally from above. The oppressed have internalized their oppression. They tend to behave like automatons, programmed not to rebel against the established order. The automata may even seek to defend their subordinate position, to rationalize it and will often reject as "pie-in-the-sky" any talk of social justice, liberation or emancipation. They are often impervious to even discussing reform or entertaining progressive ideas. They often blame themselves for their bad choices, lack of intelligence or sloth, the propaganda incessantly repeated by conservative elites. Only at times of occasional insurrectionary outbursts do the rulers have to resort to force, as a kind of reinforcement of a conditioning stimulus. But when necessary- as in labour strikes, environmental protests or civil disobedience against imperialistic wars, the police and military are omnipresent to bust heads and even open fire on such dissidence in the interests of their plutocratic masters who pay their salaries.
Wilhelm Reich describes this process as follows:
"It is not merely a matter of imposing ideologies, attitudes and concepts on the members of society. It is a matter of a deep-reaching process in each new generation of the formation of a psychic structure which corresponds to the existing social order, in all strata of the population ... Because this order moulds the psychic structure of all members of society it reproduces itself in people... the first and most important place of reproduction of the social order is the patriarchal family which creates in children a character structure which makes them amenable to the later influence of an authoritarian order ... this charaeteriologieal anchoring of the social order explains the tolerance of the suppressed toward the rule of the upper class, a tolerance which sometimes goes as far as the affirmation of their own subjugation .. .The investigation of character structure therefore is of more than clinical interest. It leads to the question why is it that ideologies change so much more slowly than the socioeconomic base, why man as a rule lags far behind that which he creates and which should and could change him. The reason is that the character structure is acquired in early childhood and undergoes little change".
It is this collective character structure, this "protective armor" of rigid and stereotyped reactions and thoughts, which determines the irrational and self-contradictory behavior of individuals, groups or large masses of people. It is in this collective character structure of the masses that one might find explanations for the masses' lack of class consciousness, for its acceptance of the established order, for its ready endorsement of reactionary ideas, for its participation in imperialist wars. It is also here that one should seek the cause of dogmatism, of religious attitudes in politics, of conservatism even among revolutionaries and of the anxieties generated by the innovative and untried. It is perhaps here that one should seek the roots of the subservient and irrational behavior of the masses in polities and why they so often support those conservative elites who could care less about their hopes, aspirations and economic interests.
It would seem that if we accept Reich's arguments, the average mind has been conditioned for fascism - for authoritarianism, for dominance, for deference to power. The conservative mind attaches itself to power, it respects power, it defers to power it perceives greater than its own, it uses power on the individual minds that are weaker than its own. If we accept this, then it explains why it is so very much easier for the political right to win an election than it is for the left, because it has so little way to go to tap into the inculcated capitalist world view and some of the worst instincts of all of us. Their infused psychological temperament in accepting the authoritarian model, their fear of freedom, fear of independent thought, of thinking for oneself and longing for security and order of any kind as exhibited in the psychopathic personality of the "strong man". All of these propensities mitigate any aspirations for social and political emancipation, acting in one's economic interests and the prospect of real bottom-up direct democracy. Like a life-long adherence to religious dogma, if people realized they were wasting their live in submitting to an irrational, absurd and antidemocratic system, they would either go mad or commit suicide. It's far easier to suppress any such intellectual and emotional disturbances and simply rationalize and deny.
Progressives, socialists, anarchists and left wing revolutionaries frequently claim they are desperately trying to raise the levels of people's awareness. But experience has shown that their efforts come face to face with life-long indoctrination into a conservative world view, all the false consciousness, unconscious defence mechanisms, and against all the various excuses and rationalizations people have built up in order not to think about or face the reality of their exploitation, oppression and void in their lives. Our corporate capitalist culture, as Noam Chomsky has so often proclaimed, is a vile system of conservative elitist indoctrination and propaganda that starts very early in life and proceeds unabated until our deaths. But the conservative elites hired goon squads (police, military, corporate thugs, agent provocateurs) rarely have to beat people with clubs to make them submissive and docile because their endless propaganda is so highly effective.
The French Revolution invalidated forever an innocent world of servile unquestioning docility and compliance where almost everything seemed beyond change or remedy. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant, in a famous essay of 1784, had defined Enlightenment as mankind’s emancipation from self-imposed immaturity, childlike credulity and unwillingness to think freely for oneself. Kant's proposition was purely intellectual and he thought Enlightenment could only progress slowly, and that a revolution would never produce a true reform in ways of thinking. Five years later, he changed his mind. Although he believed that no revolution could ever be justified, he convinced himself that what had happened in France was a voluntary surrender of power by Louis XVI, because he recognized that the moment of emancipation from unthinking routines and lethargic reflexes had suddenly arrived.
Vive la Revolution
The French Revolution symbolized the assertion of secular political will against the constraints of history, circumstance, the Catholic Church, feudalism, slavery and other vested interests. But revolutionaries soon found themselves learning the hard lesson that intellect, will and effort alone was not enough to destroy the Ancien Régime. Not unlike the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, entrenched conservative reactionaries fought back; and it is the strength and determination of resistance and counter-revolution that largely explains the ferocity of the ensuing terror, the civil wars and Napoleonic aftermath.* And when all the strength that the revolutionaries could muster had been spent, terror abandoned, and Napoleon finally defeated, many of the things that revolutionaries had sought to destroy in and after 1789 were still there, or had rapidly re-emerged. Napoleon, whose career is inconceivable without the French Revolution, was responsible for many of the revivals. He in turn saw them as the mere recognition of political realities. A casual observer today might be forgiven for concluding that all the destructive zeal of the French and Bolshevik Revolutions had achieved nothing. That would be a mistake. Leon Trotsky, the old Bolshevik intellectual, revolutionary and no "casual observer" was banished from the Soviet Union in 1928 by Joseph Stalin and eventually murdered in 1940 by his secret police, was right when he referred to all revolutions as ongoing, permanent and unfinished. The fight against authoritarianism, hierarchy and oppression is a project that will never end.
* Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky sit together in the Winter Palace in the aftermath of Red October 1917, flush with the shock and optimism of their sudden triumph. As they discuss the recent events, a comrade enters the room to inform them of the secret state police records of the Tsarist regime and that they are on their way. They eventually arrive, a pile of papers documenting the informants and agent provocateurs of the tyrannical state. As they rummage through the stack, their faces are darkened with disbelief. They are each astonished by the number of their comrades who were secret informants, agents of the Tsarist government, quislings, turncoats and traitors among their inner circle. They gaze at each other with shocked incredulity. The room becomes portentously silent and the mirthful mood of the day vanishes beneath the bleak recognition that their solidarity was naïve. Then Lenin leans back in his chair and smiles. Stalin and Trotsky frown at him - there is nothing amusing about treachery. But Lenin brightens and says, “Don’t you see? It doesn’t matter that the government had infiltrated our ranks. When the tide of history is upon you, resistance is futile.”
So, as in the American Revolution, the Russian Revolution and numerous others, reactionary forces and the enemies of real democracy and liberty were persistent and omnipresent. It is not easy to completely remove the residue of totalitarianism, entrenched privilege and entitlement, tyranny and other pre-existing authoritarian institutions. Religion, monarchy and other undemocratic institutions are still with us. Free thought, reason and knowledge are the enemies of those who have power over us it’s why our current conservative governments want to corporatize our education system and reduce it to a rigid business model where our children are trained rather than educated. The system needs docile workers, not critical thinkers, primed and prepped for an atomized society of a despotic workplace and tyranny of the marketplace. People in positions of authority do not want and never have wanted a highly literate and thinking populace. That's why critical thinking, philosophy and real history programs have never been introduced in our public schools.
Conservative forces from the Christian churches to big business have resisted these curricula of real education from the very onset of education as a public enterprise. And now our public schools and its teachers are being relentlessly attacked by these same forces with the endgame being privatization. History, literature, philosophy, art and other liberal studies are deemed superfluous by our neo-conservative ideologues of an uncaring philistine market dominated society where profit trumps everything including family, the natural environment and even life itself.* Notions of a community of common good have been reduced to an almost total intellectual and moral defeat by the corporatization of the planet, aided and abetted by the endless propaganda of the mass media that multinational corporations now completely control. They also own and control our political apparatus and finance the election campaigns of the narrow and meaningless choice of political pimps, courtesans, dupes and knaves who are summarily elected more or less by acclamation. Noam Chomsky called the entire nefarious process of indoctrination and induced docility, "manufacturing consent", the very antithesis of any conception of democracy, regardless of how much one broadens the definition.
One of the earliest tracts of political philosophy that attempted to account for this mysterious phenomenon of docile acquiescence by the masses to tyrannical subjugation was titled The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude. It was written in mid-sixteenth century by Étienne de la Boétie, a close friend of the distinguished essayist Michel de Montaigne. Why, rightly he asked, do people consent to their own enslavement by the arbitrary power of an individual or tiny minority and why he asked do they not collectively, at the very least, simply withdraw their consent? Anarchists and libertarians of various persuasions have been asking this vitally important question regarding the autocracies of church and state for the past two centuries. The eminent Scottish philosopher of the 18th century Enlightenment, David Hume, posed the question with his usual clarity and perspicacity:
"Nothing appears more surprising to those, who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and the implicit submission, with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers. When we enquire by what means this wonder is affected, we shall find, that, as FORCE is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is therefore, on opinion only that government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments, as well as to the most free and most popular." [David Hume, Of the First Principles of Government, 1741]
Hume, in sympathy with the views of de la Boétie, emphasized the role of habit, the mere fact of having always followed a certain social and political arrangement; it's always been that way:
"Habit soon consolidates what other principles of human nature had imperfectly founded; and men, once accustomed to obedience, never think of departing from that path, in which their ancestors have constantly trod." [David Hume, Essays, Literary, Moral and Political]
Many revolutions have fallen short because of the pre-existing power structures (police, military, etc.) that are pressed into service by conservative elites, not only in their own countries, but from other countries like theirs throughout the world. Police, military and other private counter-revolutionary forces, ironically most of them from the same classes that are revolting, are unleashed to crush the dissidents. This was the case in the multi-year civil wars that followed both the Russian (1918-1922) and Spanish Revolutions (1936-39).
* Within the internal logic and the moral calculus of contemporary neo-liberal global capitalism the fate of our grandchildren counts for naught when compared with the imperative of greater and greater profits for an ever-diminishing wealthy elite. Our grandchildren are merely entries in a balance sheet whose value is reduced to zero.
As the controversial Freudian social theorist Wilhelm Reich explained many decades ago, revolutions cannot counter hundreds and even thousands of years of conditioning by social institutions such as the churches, military, authoritarian political regimes and family structures. When people grow up believing in authority - from the patriarchal family unit to the church or corporate chain of command - they can't just break out of that docile state of mind. It's really a slave mentality. It would seem that we have not as yet sufficiently evolved in order to purge our minds of authoritarian world views such as religion. Wilhelm Reich said in The Mass Psychology of Fascism, that the human mind seems to be wired for fascism - deferring to authority, dominance and power. It does not have to be that way.
It took thousands of years for humans to get to this abysmal situation where a handful of people in each country control the rest, and it will take a very long time to change this social arrangement, if it ever can happen. We like to think we've emerged from the monarchical, theocratic and feudalistic mentality that prevailed for centuries. Despite the impact of the Humanist Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution, we clearly have not. The representative forms of governance (republican or parliamentarian) we like to think of as "democratic". They clearly are not. Talk to pretty much anyone at random and ask them if their MP, MLA or congressman represents his or her interests?
One may consider Chris Hedges Rule 5 as a starting point - "fraternizing and educating" - but I wouldn't limit it to soldiers and civil servants. I would extend it to include one's own family and friends and co-workers, all of whom grew up in a hierarchical society and deep down (or subconsciously) still believe in the authoritarian model. If we continue to contaminate our nest and engage in wars of power and greed, none of this will matter because our days are numbered on this planet as a species. As the great anarchists philosophers such as Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin argued, all sources of power need to be questioned and legitimized, and most cannot. Bertrand Russell once said that "most people would rather die than think", but if enough people can be challenged to think for themselves, a change of mind and new paradigm may change the world from the authoritarian model to the genuinely democratic.