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Main points of lecture about polarizing political speech, part 2 - Input Junkie
March 15th, 2012
09:03 am


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Main points of lecture about polarizing political speech, part 2

Kathryn Ruud Lecture, Part two

June 2010 issue of Talkers Magazine, an industry publication-- an article compares political talk radio to pro wrestling

It's the job of the talk show host to crank up fear at the other side because that gets attention and advertising revenue:

Fear the enemy: the government
Fear the Other: political opponents
Rachett up fear through polarization
A sales technique with serious consequences

2:39 Glen Beck clip: He's selling gold because Marxism will wreck the country and people will need soemthing to start over with. [Anyone who's pretty sure they'll be able to protect their gold in a totalitarian dictorship probably deserves to give their money to Glen Beck.] Followed by malice about illegal immigrants.

Cicero: "He who knows only his own generation remains always a child."

There are good reasons to fear communism and fascism. Both were very pro-violence.

In Germany, there were political street battles between the wars.

In totalitarian countries, there was control which extended into people's homes.

Things went differently in the US-- while there were believers in far left and right ideas, but mostly, there was a rotation around a pragmatic middle. In Germany, the middle was weak and small.

Totalitarianism starts with ideologies which do not describe themselves as totalitarian.

Glen Beck and others put libertarianism exactly in the middle between totalitarianism and anarchy. This leaves out a lot of context about the range of non-totalitarian possibilites which are not libertarian, Republican, or constitutionalist.

Beck places Nazism on the left rather than acknowledging that totalitarianism can come from the right. Nazism and Communism get lumped together rather than being described as having quite different ideological roots. You can't recognize a problem if you have a mental framework which excludes it.

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[User Picture]
Date:March 15th, 2012 01:52 pm (UTC)
"Left" and "right" are very vague terms, especially when applied outside the context of a specific political culture. Nazism and Communism came from quite similar roots, traceable in part to Hegel. Both rely on the idea of inherent conflict among social classes, which can be resolved only by violence by the "victim" class against the "oppressing" class. Both politicize science. There was strong conflict between the Nazi-Fascist "right" and the Communist "left" in the twenties, but it was a battle between factions holding similar premises, both identifying themselves as socialist: that freedom had failed, that a strong central government was needed to avert economic disaster, that the established order had to be overthrown, that their method of government had to be imposed on other countries.

The options in a totalitarian dictatorship are poor, but gold is easier to hide than most other forms of wealth.
[User Picture]
Date:March 15th, 2012 02:20 pm (UTC)
Anyone who's pretty sure they'll be able to protect their gold in a totalitarian dictorship probably deserves to give their money to Glen Beck.

[User Picture]
Date:March 15th, 2012 03:26 pm (UTC)
I grant that there are differences between fascism and communism. But I think it's a mistake to call fascism "right wing." It's certainly not conservative. We know what conservatism looks like—real conservatism, not the half-assed American version: It's the party of kings, landed aristocrats, military forces (especially the officer caste), and priests of an established church. Its totalitarian institutions are things like the Bourbon lettres de cachet and the Spanish Inquisition. Fascism wasn't closely tied up with any of that; it's well known, for example, that the old officer caste in Germany largely detested the Nazis, and Nazi hatred of the Jews was almost entirely detached from old religious bigotries. In fact, I think fascism can most plausibly be described as middle of the road totalitarianism?

That sounds implausible? Everyone knows that the left and the right can give rise to totalitarianism, as an outgrowth of extremism, but the middle by definition cannot be extreme?

I don't think "extremism" is a valid concept. I think it's basically a convenient rhetorical label, used to discredit anyone who adheres consistently to principles, regardless of what those principles are, by suggesting that adherence to principles makes you a totalitarian and a potential mass murderer. For example, Barry Goldwater was one of the first people to be honored with that label—and Goldwater was one of the least favorable to repressive government of twentieth century political candidates. Even his worst failure of judgment, his support for states' rights, which brought him a lot of segregationist votes, grew out of caution about unbalanced power in the hands of the federal government. And currently, people whose political agenda is constitutionalism, that is, strict enforcement of constitutional law as a restraint on governmental power, are likely to be called "extremists."

The hidden rhetorical agenda of many people who use that category is to discredit any consistent adherence to principle in political matters. That is, it's pragmatism, and the political implementation of pragmatism as progressivism: The idea that the government should step in to every individual case and do what it sees is needed, without regard for legal restraints on its power or for general principles such as individual rights. That idea is what inspired, for example, Holmes's decision legitimizing forced sterilization of the "unfit." But as this example illustrates, an ideology of case by case decisions can perfectly well itself open the door to totalitarian practices. In fact, I would go further and say that pragmatism is the essential ideology of totalitarians, and that things like fascism and communism are just flavors. The basic choice is to have a state that is subject to legal restraints on its actions—including restraints on what laws it can pass—or to have one that has no such restraints. And in any case, pragmatism is not much shelter against abusive policies.
[User Picture]
Date:March 15th, 2012 04:26 pm (UTC)
"... it's well known, for example, that the old officer caste in Germany largely detested the Nazis, and Nazi hatred of the Jews was almost entirely detached from old religious bigotries"? What history of Nazism are you reading? Because the standard text, Evans' The Rise of the Third Reich, makes pretty much exactly the opposite of your points: before the Reichstag fire, the Nazis were the junior coalition partner in a 3-party right-wing coalition: pro-corporate Christian Democrats, pro-monarchist Catholic Nationalists, and themselves. The losing alliance in that election was the pro-labor Social Democrats, the Socialists, and a handful of Communists.

Shortly thereafter, in the Spanish Civil War, you see the exact same alignment: Christian Democrats, Catholic nationalists, and the fascist Falange rising up to overthrow the winning coalition of social democrats, socialists, and anarcho-communists, and guess who Hitler and Mussolini armed and provided air cover for? (See Beevor, The Battle for Spain.)

And, by the way, guess which side American Republican campaign donors and Republican politicians were supporting up until 1941?

A lot of smokescreen has been thrown up since 1941 to find some way to blame Hitler on the left, but it's just that, a historically dishonest smokescreen. Nazism is, and always was, a right-wing phenomenon.

And, I have to say, this whole argument is an irrelevant side issue, a distraction, to the point that Nancy is making: we are seeing right-wing American talk radio drag back out of obscurity a lot of the same linguistic techniques that Nazi propagandists used, not because they're Nazis, but because (at times like this) they work.

Edited at 2012-03-15 04:27 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:March 15th, 2012 04:32 pm (UTC)
And, by the way, guess which side American Republican campaign donors and Republican politicians were supporting up until 1941?

I don't care to guess. Could you provide some specifics of whatever you have in mind, keeping in mind that anti-war is not the same as pro-enemy?
[User Picture]
Date:March 16th, 2012 02:05 am (UTC)
All the way through the Spanish Civil War, when US law made it illegal to ship arms or other materials to the belligerents on either side, US companies kept extending credit to, and shipping weapons to, the Nazi side. They did the same thing for Hitler up until (and in some cases after) 1941.
[User Picture]
Date:March 15th, 2012 05:24 pm (UTC)
Any argument that's based on alliances in a two-sided power struggle is not going to be informative about the actual beliefs of the allies. By that sort of reasoning, you could prove that not only Roosevelt but Churchill was a Communist—given who they allied with in WWII. Or you could argue, as a conservative former friend did to me, that since I am opposed to making Christianity the American state religion I must be a support of Muslim conquest of the United States and replacement of the Constitution with sharia.

In-group/out-group thinking, of which left/right thinking is one of the currently popular forms, does not support any sort of rational analysis. And it tempts people into forming precisely the sort of fatal alliances you describe in Spain.
[User Picture]
Date:March 15th, 2012 10:28 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:March 16th, 2012 03:22 am (UTC)
Taxonomies are fascinating for what they reveal about the taxonomist: Beck dislikes both National Socialism and Communism, so he puts them together in one category. It makes sense!

Exaggeration of differences between Self and Other and ratcheting up the fear of Other not only makes for more dramatic (and therefore more entertaining) radio programs, it also, within the context of the narrative that's created, makes the talk show host and those who identify with him feel extra heroic by virtue of the demons they suppose are arrayed against them. (I see the same thing in the other direction too: people will describe some new right-wing abridgment of their liberties in the most dire terms in order, I'd say, to whip of fear and a sense of being desperate heros.

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