Sunday, January 31, 2010

“Turkeys voting for Christmas”

That's what the intellectual elite think of working class conservative voters. They think that voting Left is OBVIOUSLY in the best interests of the workers and cannot understand that the base of support for the GOP is mainly among the less affluent. They think that working class people are cutting their own throats by voting conservative. It's an old claim but an extended version of it has just appeared -- where else? -- on the BBC.

So what is the reason for this incredible folly among conservatives? Mental illness, emotional disturbance etc., of course. I can't be bothered to excerpt any of the nonsense this time. Suffice it to say that Drew Westen and Thomas Frank -- the usual suspects -- are trotted out to give their versions of the "explanation". How the BBC missed out on getting a comment from George Lakoff is the only mystery.

To give the author -- David Runciman -- his due he does point to the elitism and arrogance of the Democrats as a reason why ordinary people might not vote for them and he does reject the old but very extreme Hofstadter claim that it is all "paranoia". But, even, so, the explanation he gives is that conservatives are voting with their emotions and not their reason.

I am confident that in ten minutes I could give Runciman enough reasons for the rationality of conservatism to jar even him but why stray into politics when we are discussing political psychology -- which is my academic specialty? As some measure of how long Runciman's nonsense has been around my paper on the subject dates back to 1972! and it appeared in The British Journal of Political Science. So if Runciman -- who claims to be a political scientist -- were a competent scholar he would already be aware of it and would mention the evidence in it. But what Leftist is bothered about evidence?

What I found was that it was the working class conservatives who were "normal". It was the working class Leftists who were particularly rebellious and haters of the society in which they lived. That characterization of Leftist voters is of course not at all surprising but it does put the boot on the other foot for Runciman. It is the Leftist voters who are emotion-driven, not the conservatives. And my conclusions were based on carefully validated survey research using a representative general population sample, not the vague inferences of Thomas Frank, Drew Westen etc.

What a laugh they are!

Friday, January 29, 2010

What fun! HNN has just run a "special" denying that Fascism/Nazism was Leftist!

It is Jonah Goldberg's book that has got them steamed -- and steamed is the word. Most of the "critique" is little more than abuse, liberally leavened with unsupported assertions. What has got them steamed is that a recognition of the philosophical affinities between historical Fascism and modern "liberalism" has become rather widespread among conservative writers and broadcasters. The Left tried to ignore Jonah at first but now that the cat is out of the bag they are desperately trying to stuff it back in.

I note with some amusement that Jonah seems to be the sole villain as far as the HNN writers are concerned. I have been aware since my late teens (now more than 40 years ago) that Nazism was simply national socialism whereas Stalinism was international socialism so the information has always been there for anybody who cared to look. Additionally, my monograph on the subject much preceded Jonah's book. My monograph was was originally written in the '90s and was available on the net from around the year 2000. And I noted a growing awareness among conservative writers about the Leftist nature of Fascism well before Jonah's book came out two years ago. But Jonah is a much more energetic communicator than I am so he rightly deserves pride of place in the matter.

If interested in the "debate", you can start reading here. There are five "anti-Jonah" writers and Jonah responds here. Jonah notes that there is only one substantial historian -- Paxton -- among his critics and so concentrates his return-fire on Paxton's effusions. Although Paxton knows a lot about history, however, he has always been heavily biased. He has explicitly claimed, for instance, that Hitler was "anti-socialist".

I think Jonah demolishes Paxton pretty thoroughly so will not try to add much to Jonah's remarks. I think, however, that Jonah could have said more about the American Left (the "Progressives") of the prewar era. The similarity between the American Left and the Fascists in the prewar era was crystal clear and the Progressives were actually in some ways the progenitors of European Fascism.

A knowledge of that history would go a long way towards removing what is the big stumbling block these days towards recognizing the Fascism in modern Leftism. The stumbling block is that the Nazis were white-racists, nationalists and eugenicists while the modern Left are not. So comparing the current Left with the Nazis does seem to be missing the central point of it all. But the prewar American "Progressives" WERE white-racists, nationalists and eugenicists. White racism, nationalism and eugenics are no longer central political issues. They were simply the important political issues of the prewar era. They were not of the ESSENCE of Leftism or Nazism. But when they WERE big issues, the American "Progressives" and the Nazis were on the same side.

So what is the essence that Nazism and the modern Left share? Simple: A devotion to comprehensive control of everybody and every thing important in the life of the nation -- a hatred of individual liberty and a yen for lockstep unity behind the current doctrines of the party. Hitler controlled everything in Germany by laws and regulations and that is the always-obvious aim of the modern-day Democratic party too. They positively SPROUT regulations of just about everything that moves. Hitler eventually had a party representative in every factory to make sure that everything done there was politically correct. America has not got quite that far yet but I am sure the Democrats would love to get there, given half a chance.

The lead author in the attack on Jonah was David Neiwert, also known as Orcinus. I have crossed rhetorical swords with him before and my demolition of his arguments was sufficiently savage for Instapundit to remark at the time: "Remind me never to get this guy mad at me". So I am going to be a bit self indulgent and reproduce below what I wrote back then in late November 2004:

I am indebted to the mini-Chomsky himself, the great Brian Leiter, for a recommendation of a long article by Orcinus about the probability of America "going Fascist". Seeing Hitler was a socialist and Mussolini was a Marxist, you might think Orcinus is worried about arrogant trends in the Democratic party but, no, it is the GOP that he thinks is likely to "go Fascist". The Leftist origins of Fascism don't get a mention, in fact, so one knows immediately that the article will be low on scholarship. And its chief scholarly source for the nature of Fascism is in fact R.O. Paxton, the "historian" (much lauded in the N.Y. Times, of course) who said Hitler was an "antisocialist" -- when the very name of Hitler's political party was (translated) "The National Socialist German Worker's Party"! I think I have already at this early stage said enough about the article concerned to dismiss it for the claptrap it is but I cannot resist having a bit more fun with it.

The body of the article is in fact made up of what is actually a rather good proof of the idiocy of its conclusions. Orcinus quotes a long line of sources from the 1930s which offer all sorts of evidence for the claim that America was on the brink of going Fascist then. But it didn't happen! America did get the Mussolini-admiring FDR but thanks to the U.S. constitution and the U.S. Congress there were lots of limits placed on what he was allowed to do. So if America did not go Fascist during the Fascist era despite the many pressures towards it that Orcinus ably documents, how likely is it to go Fascist now, when Fascism is thoroughly discredited? The question answers itself, I think.

But let's have a look at a bit more weirdness. Take this Orwellian statement: "This tendency has finally metastacized into a genuinely dangerous situation, one in which the GOP has become host to a Stalinist movement that exhibits so many of the traits of fascism that the resemblance is now unmistakable." Quite aside from the fact that this great intellectual cannot even spell "metastasized", he is asking us to believe that the people who opposed Communism for decades and finally destroyed it utterly are themselves communists! I guess it's not impossible but seeing that the GOP and their Christian allies have always advocated the exact opposite of communism, the writer is clearly in cloud-cuckoo land. If you can say that free-enterprise=Stalinism, you might as well say black=white. I guess that a Leftist "postmodernist" would have no problem in doing exactly that, however.

More fun: Orcinus also looks for the day when "the attack style of politics -- in which the smearing an opponent substitutes for the lack of any substance or accomplishment -- has been relegated to the ashheap of history". Well. He got his wish. I think John Kerry has now been so relegated. Whoops! In true Leftist "projective" style, Orcinus was actually referring to the GOP rather than John Kerry, it seems!

Orcinus also deplores the way that "families, longtime friends, and communities are being torn apart by the divisive politics of resentment and accusation". He must be talking about all those guys documented at length on Leftists as Elitists! You could not conceivably get more resentment and accusation than is documented there.

Orcinus is a real humanitarian by Leftist standards, however. He ends up conceding: "Conservative-movement adherents are still human beings, and seeing them in terms of participating in a kind of fascism should not render them into mere discardable objects". He must have written that for the benefit of those of his colleagues who still admire Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Predestination -- and a small reflection on the Calvinist culture into which I was born

"It was meant to be". "It was all planned out before we were born". Such statements are the essence of Calvinism. And I think that they are still common in at least some Christian circles. In the English-speaking world, the home of such doctrines is the Presbyterian Church -- in its various incarnations. But very few modern-day Presbyterian churches still preach it from the pulpit.

Yet it has a good foundation in scripture. See Ephesians chapter 1, for instance. And because of that foundation a very theological version of the doctrine even appears in the famous 16th century 39 "Articles of Religion" of the Church of England. There was a time when the Church of England respected scripture -- and you had to assent to the 39 articles to be an Anglican priest, in fact. These days the only faith that most of the Anglican clergy seem to have is in homosexuality and global warming.

Despite its venerable historical and scriptural roots, however, it seems to me that predestination is still not generally a well-articulated doctrine. It is more an instinct than anything else.

I was born into a family that was not at all religious but was still somehow Presbyterian. I was sent to Presbyterian Sunday School as a kid and still have the fondest memories of that time even though I have been an atheist for all of my adult life. Yet my mother and my aunties would all from time to time come out with the statements with which I have introduced this post. What is not now preached from the pulpit still survives among the people. And the lady in my life -- Anne -- who also has a Presbyterian background but is no more religious than my mother and my aunties -- also comes out with such utterances to this day.

And Islam seems to have a very similar doctrine.

So I think that we should respect religious feelings even if a searching examination of them reveals large logical difficulties. Feelings are important. Anne does not in fact appear to believe in God. Yet she believes in a planner and a purposer. I have no difficulties with that -- even though I personally do not remotely share such beliefs.

Religion is much more a matter of feeling than anything else and I am delighted that I myself once shared such feelings. People who attack religion are in my view incompletely human. I don't in fact think that a true atheist feels any need to attack religion. Crusading atheists like Dawkins seem to me to be very religious themselves. They too are feelings-driven.

And while I am about it, I want to pay tribute to the immense power of the New Testament faith. Virtually all present Christian churches stray extensively from that faith -- as my commentary on the NT sets out in great detail -- but even that fragment of the original faith that Christians generally possess has survived, flourished and conquered for 2,000 years. And I have every confidence that there is at least another 2,00 years of life in it yet. Forget church doctrine and pagan preconceptions. Just read the NT and soak in it. It probably still has the power to transform you if you let it. It has certainly been the biggest single influence on my life.

A small addendum to that: There is one large diocese of the Church of England that does still hew closely to the scriptures: The Sydney diocese of the Anglican church of Australia. And their theological seminary -- Moore college -- is overflowing with around 300 young people (male and female) studying the faith. By contrast the local Roman Catholic seminary has about six students. Getting close to the NT is the key to power in Christian faith.