Friday, March 23, 2018

If you use these words, you will help democracy die

Words matter.

Newt Gingrich, understanding this truism, once sent out a list of phrases for conservatives to use in discourse, especially when characterizing enemies. We should follow his example.

Read the following passage (from this article on Steve Bannon and Cambridge Analytica) and see if you can spot the writer's deadly error in word choice:
Steve Bannon has made no effort to disguise his intention to bring down liberal democracy and replace it with white nationalism. He’s currently on a European tour, where he’s cheered on fascism at every stop and praised Mussolini’s fashion sense—all those fetching black shirts and sharp uniforms.

Cambridge Analytica was the tool that Bannon and the Mercers built to enable their fascist utopia
In an otherwise fine passage, the ruinous phrase is, of course, "liberal democracy." Use of this term allows the right to do incalculable damage.

No doubt you are now dying to inform me that the term "liberal democracy" is correct and academically defensible. Indeed it is. I am quite aware that the "liberal" part of this phrase refers not to the liberal/conservative dichotomy currently besetting American politics, but to classical liberalism -- that is, to Adam Smith-style capitalism.

Bannon's belief system would be less popular on the right if more people understood that an attack on liberal democracy is an attack on the free market.

The term "liberal democracy" is based on the presumption that capitalism works best in a system of universal suffrage, secret ballots and freedom of expression -- a system in which both the elected representatives and the most successful capitalists must obey the rule of law. What rankles Bannon most is not capitalism so much as the very concept of democracy. He prefers a mutant capitalism divorced from democracy, a kind of high-tech feudalism which Bannon calls "Traditionalism."

All of which brings us to the main problem: How to explain this terminology to the average person?

Many Americans have never been to college, and many of those who have attended college did not study history or political science. Most Americans do not read books. Most Americans can't name the three branches of government and seem to have little understanding of what the president actually does. More than forty percent the citizenry believe in Creationism. They are easily swayed by demagogues using emotive language. These people did not mind voting for a man unfamiliar with the concept of the nuclear triad, because they themselves were unfamiliar with that concept.

Some Americans -- too many -- are worse than uneducated: They are ineducable. Amusingly, they might not take offense if you called them "ineducable" to their faces, because they do not know the meaning of the word and lack the ability to glean meaning from context.

However, they do know the meaning of the word "liberal" -- or at least they think they know.

In their world, the word "liberal" means those awful, fiendish elitists that Fox News keeps warning us about. "Liberalism" means taking money from virtuous white working people and giving it to lazy unemployed blacks. "Liberalism" means Hollywood actors who rape children and worship Satan. "Liberalism" means high taxes. "Liberalism" does not mean capitalism; it means socialism.

These are the images and the associations which fill most American minds whenever the word "liberal" appears on paper or on screen.

No argument will ever dislodge those images and associations. Don't kid yourself: Even if you you speak with the tongues of angels, you do not possess -- you will never possess -- the ability to dislodge these ingrained perceptions. You are playing a loser's game if you try to explain that language changes over time, and that the word "liberalism" has had more than one meaning (just as the word "run" can refer to something your feet do and to something your nose does).

Go ahead: Try telling most red state Americans that the phrase "liberal democracy" really means "capitalist democracy." You won't get far. Your hearers will consider you a con artist. These people have been taught since childhood that a liberal and a capitalist are two very different things -- things which usually stand in opposition to each other.

When someone like Bannon attacks "liberal democracy," most Americans presume that the target is some form of socialism

Russia's answer to Steve Bannon is the neo-fascist philosopher Aleksandr Dugin. A right clever one, Dugin is: He often replaces the term "liberal democracy" with a single word: "Liberalism." A careless reader stumbling across one of his posts might conclude that what Dugin means by "liberalism" is the same thing that (say) Ronald Reagan or Walter Mondale might have meant by that term. But such is not the case. When Dugin assails "liberalism," what he means is that he hates such concepts as equal rights, pluralism, social mobility, and the voting booth. He likes the system in Russia, where the oligarchs are chosen from "on high," as opposed to the American ideal of an entrepreneur achieving success through hard labor and clever decisions.

Newt was right. We must define the enemy through proper word choice.

So strike the term "liberal democracy" from your discourse (except when speaking to an educated audience). Make sure your readers and listeners understand that what Steve Bannon seeks to destroy is an idea called democracy. What Cambridge Analytica seeks to destroy is an idea called democracy. What the Alt Right seeks to destroy is an idea called democracy.

Cut out the L-word. It just confuses the issue.

When you employ the proper phrasing, you force even the most thoroughly-brainwashed Fox News watchers to ask themselves: Am I really willing to give up on the concept of democracy? What should replace it? Wasn't Churchill right when he said 'Democracy is the worst system imaginable, except for all the other ones that have been tried"?

Some people will answer: Yes. Let's do away with democracy. These people believe in despotism because they have puerile, arrogant dreams of becoming the Dude-In-Charge, or at least a key toady to the Dude-In-Charge.

A few intellectuals will use abstruse rationalizations to critique democracy. They will offer essays filled with historical references and impressive polysyllables. They will list the very real failings of American democracy -- slavery, war, exploitation, unwise foreign interventions and so forth. They will cite these failures as a reason to give up on the entire concept of democracy, which is a bit like citing tooth decay as a reason to get rid of one's teeth.

(Of course, slavery, war, exploitation and so forth are invariably worse in non-democratic systems, as Hitler and Stalin proved.)

Though arguments of this sort can be provocative and tempting on an abstract level, most Americans -- perhaps even many among the Charlottesville tiki-torchers -- will not want to give up on their right to vote. Even the most crimson among the red staters sense the dangers. They understand that it is better to attain change through the ballot than through armed revolution, especially in an age when drones and digital eavesdropping makes revolution almost impossible. Most of us know in our hearts that, if the ballot be compromised, the solution is to improve the system of voting, not to give up on voting altogether.

So do not say that the Alt Right hates "liberal democracy." Always replace with a simpler term: "democracy."

Here's another forbidden term: "Traditionalism."

We've allowed Bannon and other Alt Right "intellectuals" to mislead millions by using this word without offering a proper definition. I've already done so: "Traditionalism" means scrapping democracy and replacing it with what came before -- feudalism and theocracy.

Most people don't understand this fact -- and in that misunderstanding, mischief finds a nest.

When Alt Rightists use the T-word, most people think that the reference goes to the old-fashioned values -- Mom and apple pie and keeping your word and watching old John Wayne movies. They think of opening doors for ladies, of younger folk addressing older folk as "ma'am" and "sir." They think of Tevye's opening number in Fiddler on the Roof.

No. This is not that.

Traditionalism, as used by Julius Evola (Bannon's ideological mentor), actually refers to the system that kept Tevye in a ghetto -- and which ultimately put Tevye's relatives in a concentration camp.

Traditionalist philosophers festoon their ideology with all sorts of metaphysical goop, including the use of terms borrowed from Hinduism. Metaphysical goop can be seductive and enchanting. I myself am not immune to its charms, if the mood is right and I feel the need for an intellectual stretching exercise. But in the end, I tend to concentrate on the essentials.

The most important thing you have to know about the Traditionalists is that they consider the Enlightenment to be the ultimate evil.

The left-wing analogues to the Traditionalists are the post-modernist philosophers, who still have enormous influence in certain European universities. They, too, consider the Enlightenment to be the ultimate evil. This essay is not the place to explain how the post-modernists and the apostles of Evola arrived the same destination by differing (but parallel) paths; our present purpose is simply to remove the veils and reveal the beast.

The founders of this country were proud creatures of the Enlightenment. All anti-Enlightenment philosophies are conspiracies to seduce the common man into giving up his right to choose his own destiny. All anti-Enlightenment movements are schemes to eradicate equality as an ideal and to make social stratification hereditary and inviolate -- to keep each peasant mired in peasant-hood for the next thousand years. All anti-Enlightenment writers are plotters intent on returning us to the dark ages -- and in furtherance of that goal, they will tell any lie and employ any strategy.

What Bannon and his kind call "Traditionalism," we should call fascism.

The F-word is always imprecise and hard-to-define. I'm not convinced that it is the ideal term to define the apocalypse of our time. Unfortunately, no one can point to another word that does a better job. Nationalism? No. Authoritarianism? No. Populism? No no no.

Do not fear to call your enemy by his proper name: Fascism. If the enemy acts offended by that term, good. You're not going to defeat fascism if you fear to offend.

Ultimately, I do not stand with those who consider Trumpism a manifestation of Putinism. Putin himself is but one carrier of a virus which has given rise to a pandemic: The fascist resurgence.
Thanks for the 'ineducable', it gave me a laugh because it's all around me in East Tennessee. Too bad that in many cases it's willful, my siblings included.
Bill Hearn

Fascism is palingenetic ultranationalism/hypernationalism, usually (but not always or essentially) distilled through a charismatic totalitarian leader. Fascism is a type of totalitarianism. And totalitarianism is a type of authoritarianism. Where in authoritarianism (as, for example, the People's Republic of China), social pluralism and diversity are tolerated so long as political power is not challenged, this is not the case in totalitarianism or fascism. In totalitarianism, pluralism and diversity are strangled and a single truth on a plural world is imposed.

Regarding Putinism, it is not a distinct thing but a branch of a pre-existing system in Russia (formerly the CCCP). Putinism is a type of Chekism. Imagine if the CIA, NSA or some other piece of shit intelligence or state secrets agency controlled the United States. That's what Chekism is. It's when an intelligence agency, secret police or other state secret agency (ie. the Deep State) controls the levers of power (government). Chekism can be a type of fascism, as it is in the Russian Federation, where it is combined with toxic palingenetic ultranationalism.
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Wonderful essay.
@Joshua - I like your Cheka reference. Do you know Dziga Vertov's 1924 film "Soviet Toys", which was clearly an influence on Terry Gilliam of Monty Python? Those budenovka hats - admittedly not a Chekist thing and worn throughout the Red Army during the civil war - are modelled on the headgear of the legendary bogatyrs. The Cheka leather jacket was always black, like Ivan the Terrible's oprichniks' horses. Then there's the broom.
Watching the March For Our Lives coverage there was a bit about Nancy Pelosi crashing a pizza and sign making party. We are where we are at thanks to her "Impeachment is off the table" scold back in 2007. The word that will end our republic is SPINELESS.
Fascism by by another name is still the same. Porsche, Bayer, Mitsubishi, whoever, working hand in glove with the strongman's extreme nationalist government. Guaranteed profits for the war machine. We have it all but the strongman. He is in waiting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
I am discovering a lot of Trump supporters here in California among people I have known for decades, including people with accents who came from other countries legally and are now citizens. The concept of democracy and voting may be the buried issue in all of this.

If someone has lived in the U.S. for 50 years and is a naturalized citizen, and have worked their entire lives and paid taxes, they want their vote to count for more than someone who just came to the country, whether they came legally or not because "newbies" to the country are more likely to vote for entitlement programs that they don't have the necessary capital to support among their work history.

I think that is actually a reasonable request and also why we are now in a civil war that won't end until another country snookers us through hacking. I fear democrats as much a republicans these days because the issues of immigration and gun control matter less when one has to witness the ER simply turn away an elderly women who was on MediCARE. If we presently can't properly triage our regular citizens, especially senior citizens when they need medical help, then why are the democrats so fixated on immigration issues. Could it be all the votes they will pick up?
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