Over a time span of forty-four years, Kenneth Burke wrote a series of four essays beginning with “Waste — or the Future of Prosperity,” published in 1930, and concluding with “Why Satire, With a Plan for Writing One” in 1974. Between those two bookends were “Recipe for Prosperity: ‘Borrow. Buy. Waste. Want.,'” in 1956 and “Towards Helhaven: Three Stages of a Vision,” in 1971. Burke made explicit the affinity between the four essays in each successive iteration with repeated reference to the first essay:
Recipe for Prosperity: “Some years ago, in fact just before the stock-market crash of ’29, 1 wrote an article entitled “Waste or the Future of Prosperity.” It was a burlesque, done along the lines of Veblen’s ingeniously ironic formula, “conspicuous consumption,” as used in his Theory of the Leisure Class.”
Towards Helhaven: “Years ago I published a satire closely akin to the theme of my present “Helhaven” vision. It was called “Waste—or the Future of Prosperity.” The general slant was that, although there is a limit to the amount that people can use, there’s no limit to the amount that people can waste.”
Why Satire: “A rudimentary version of my satire was written just before the market crash of 1929, and published after. Done under the obvious influence of Thorstein Veblen, it was called “Waste—or the Future of Prosperity” (The New Republic 58). It was a perversely rational response to a time when the principle of “planned obsolescence” was already becoming a major factor in the engineering and merchandising of commodities manufactured for the mass market.”
In “Toward Helhaven,” Burke presented the satire of the “Culture-Bubble on the Moon,” the haven to which the .01% would flee to escape the polluted hell they had created on the earth.
For a happy ending, then, envision an apocalyptic development whereby technology could of itself procure, for a fortunate few, an ultimate technological release from the very distresses with which that very technology now burdens us.
Not incidental to Burke’s technological paradise would be a “Super-Lookout” for observing those “scurvy anthropoid leftovers that might still somehow contrive to go on hatching their doubtless degenerate and misshapen broods back there among those seven filthy seas”:
…a kind of chapel, bare except for some small but powerful telescopes of a special competence. And on the wall, in ecclesiastical lettering, there will be these fundamental words from the Summa Theologica: “And the blessed in Heaven shall look upon the sufferings of the damned, that they may love their blessedness the more.”
Of course Bezos claims that his vision will preserve earth as a pristine residential zone, with only light industry. Of course! Bezos, however, doesn’t have a track record for that kind of long run prediction. Burke did. His 1930 burlesque was proven prophetic by the time of his 1956 reassessment.
Central to Burke’s futurist satire, as he emphasized several time, was Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class. Familiarity with Veblen’s theory and “his ingeniously ironic formula, ‘conspicuous consumption'” would enhance understanding of Burke’s satire.
It is not easy to give a quick overview of Veblen’s book and theory. For starters, his “ironic formula” of “conspicuous consumption” is not meant to be ironic. Although composed in a satirical tone, The Theory of the Leisure Class is not a satire. Readers may find the sustained, exaggeratedly-elevated tone of the book grating, which may well be intentional.
Reading backward from the last chapter, “The Higher Learning as an Expression of the Pecuniary Culture” reveals that the “theory” of the title has a dual reference. The very notion of theory is itself imbued with class privilege, prestige, parasitism and obscurantism. To have the leisure to criticize the nature of class society is already to be implicated in the perpetuation of class hierarchies. There is no escaping from the labyrinth of language that has evolved to vindicate the right of the mighty.
Or, at least, there is no leisurely escape to be achieved by reading about it. One must do the work.
Veblen left a clue in the last chapter when he discusses the role of the priest or shaman as mediator between the “inscrutable powers that move in the external world” and the “common run of unrestricted humanity.” Science enters as a token of priestly prowess:
…as commonly happens with mediators between the vulgar and their masters, whether the masters be natural or preternatural, he found it expedient to have the means at hand tangibly to impress upon the vulgar the fact that these inscrutable powers would do what he might ask of them. Hence, presently, a knowledge of certain natural processes which could be turned to account for spectacular effect, together with some sleight of hand, came to be an integral part of priestly lore.
To illustrate his point, Veblen presented the “typical case” of the Norwegian peasants who “have instinctively formulated their sense of the superior erudition of… even so late a scholar in divinity as Grundtvig, in terms of the Black Art.” Norwegian peasants is self-referential; the Danish minister, N. F. S. Grundtvig, was a major influence on Veblen, particularly on his concept of language. In effect, Veblen was warning the reader that his prose was exemplary of the “sympathetic magic” performed by the theorist — “a by-product of the priestly vicarious leisure class.”
The core of Veblen’s theory is presented in the “Introductory” chapter one and the first six paragraphs of chapter two, “Pecuniary Emulation.” The following thirteen chapters elaborate the implications of that theory with the final chapter “deconstructing” the pretense of theory existing outside of the social strictures that have given birth to it. Veblen’s speculation about the origins of a “leisure class” and of ownership is outlined in two brief passages from chapter two:
The early differentiation out of which the distinction between a leisure and a working class arises is a division maintained between men’s and women’s work in the lower stages of barbarism. Likewise the earliest form of ownership is an ownership of the women by the able-bodied men of the community. …
The ownership of women begins in the lower barbarian stages of culture, apparently with the seizure of female captives. The original reason for the seizure and appropriation of women seems to have been their usefulness as trophies.
From that inauspicious beginning things only get more complicated and ingrained through emulation until ultimately even “enlightenment.” ritually clothed in its atavistic cap and gown, comes to the aid of subjugation and social domination. Emulation, invidious comparisons and distinctions, conspicuous and vicarious leisure, consumption and waste accumulate as habits in an accustomed way of life. But first of all emulation, which brings us back to the theme of Burke’s essays: waste as the basis of continued “prosperity”:
With the exception of the instinct of self-preservation, the propensity for emulation is probably the strongest and most alert and persistent of the economic motives proper. In an industrial community this propensity for emulation expresses itself in pecuniary emulation; and this, so far as regards the Western civilized communities of the present, is virtually equivalent to saying that it expresses itself in some form of conspicuous waste. The need of conspicuous waste, therefore, stands ready to absorb any increase in the community’s industrial efficiency or output of goods, after the most elementary physical wants have been provided for.
Two other aspects of Veblen’s theory indicate its usefulness for understanding our current predicament of regression: the central role played by subjugation of women, previously mentioned, and by the glorification of arms. Veblen stressed repeatedly the symbolic importance of arms to leisure class values:
Under this common-sense barbarian appreciation of worth or honour, the taking of life — the killing of formidable competitors, whether brute or human — is honourable in the highest degree. And this high office of slaughter, as an expression of the slayer’s prepotence, casts a glamour of worth over every act of slaughter and over all the tools and accessories of the act. Arms are honourable, and the use of them, even in seeking the life of the meanest creatures of the fields, becomes a honorific employment.
So, those offices which are by right the proper employment of the leisure class are noble; such as government, fighting, hunting, the care of arms and accoutrements, and the like — in short, those which may be classed as ostensibly predatory employments.
It is noticeable, for instance, that even very mild-mannered and matter-of-fact men who go out shooting are apt to carry an excess of arms and accoutrements in order to impress upon their own imagination the seriousness of their undertaking.
Kenneth Burke may have predicted Jeff Bezos’s moon colony dream 48 years ago but Thorstein Veblen predicted the 21st century GOP platform 120 years ago.
On Sunday, Attorney General William Barr sent a letter to Congress, summarizing the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. The most telling section, quoted directly from Mueller’s report, read:
“[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
That one sentence should end a roughly 33-month national ordeal (the first Russiagate stories date back to July 2016) in which the public was encouraged, both by officials and the press, to believe Donald Trump was a compromised foreign agent.
“That one sentence” unexpurgated:
Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through the Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.
William S. Lind’s cultural Marxism conspiracy theory boils down to the claim that in his essay, “Repressive Tolerance,” Herbert Marcuse “called for tolerance for all ideas and viewpoints coming from the left and intolerance of all ideas and viewpoints coming from the right” and that college administrators and professors have put Marcuse’s proposal into practice in the form of “Political Correctness.”
Marcuse did indeed make a statement that seemed to propose exactly that: “Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right, and toleration of movements from the Left.” The problem with taking the proposition literally, however, is that on the very first page of his essay, Marcuse had already dismissed it with the awareness that,”no power, no authority, no government exists which would translate liberating tolerance into practice.” The proposition, he added, was intended “to open the mental space in which this society can be recognized as what it is and does.”
Approximately 6,000 words of dense verbiage intervene between Marcuse’s discounting of the proposition and his restating it in stark, attention-getting terms. The casual reader could be forgiven for having forgotten the initial disclaimer along the way. What is implausible, though, is that college administrators and professors would have collectively adopted the formula as gospel while expressly ignoring the caveats. In fact, in a 1968 postscript to his 1965 essay, Marcuse indicated that his proposition had encountered “virulent denunciations” which he attempted to counter with a restatement of its rationale and acknowledgement that the practice he called liberating tolerance “already presupposes the radical goal which it seeks to achieve.”
Marcuse’s postscript apologia is hardly more convincing than his original essay. The problem, in my view, is that Marcuse attempted to illustrate a terminological paradox with a “counter-paradox.” His diagnosis — that “tolerance” in an administrated state rife with propaganda is not all it is cracked up to be — was apt. But he clumsily succumbed to the temptation to offer a prescription. And since he realized that there is no pat solution, he offered a pseudo-cure instead, in the form of a facile “thought experiment.”
It may well be that the crude, simplistic slogan of “intolerance against movements from the Right, and toleration of movements from the Left” would have appealed to student radicals in the 1960s, in which case, Marcuse’s popularity would have been due more to incomprehension than to affirmation. But among his peers, even in the Frankfurt School, there was no such luck. Correspondence between Marcuse and Theodor Adorno from 1969 show Marcuse’s defensiveness in response to Adorno’s tense disapproval of his “undialectical” activist sympathies:
You know me well enough to know that I reject the unmediated translation of theory into praxis just as emphatically as you do. But…
Like you, I believe it is irresponsible to sit at one’s writing desk advocating activities to people who are fully prepared to let their heads be bashed in for the cause. But…
Meanwhile, Max Horkheimer “too has joined the chorus of my attackers” while Habermas was publicly warning against “left fascism.” By the early 1970s, Marcuse’s brief moment of notoriety was rapidly fading.
Marcuse’s paradoxical fable of “liberating tolerance” (and intolerance) was not even the most pernicious part of his “Repressive Tolerance” essay. The same social conditions that make “tolerance” abstract and spurious, Marcuse argued, also “render the critique of such tolerance abstract and academic, and the proposition that the balance between tolerance toward the Right and toward the Left would have to be radically redressed in order to restore the liberating function of tolerance becomes only an unrealistic speculation.” So, there you have it, folks! Herbie has been giving you the jive and now he’s telling you it’s all jive. What, oh what… is to be done?
Indeed, such a redressing seems to be tantamount to the establishment of a “right of resistance” to the point of subversion. There is not, there cannot be any such right for any group or individual against a constitutional government sustained by a majority of the population. But I believe that there is a “natural right” of resistance for oppressed and overpowered minorities to use extralegal means if the legal ones have proved to be inadequate.
Andreas Baader invoked this “natural right of resistance” at his 1968 trial for arson, with the outcome that he was sentenced to three years imprisonment for political vandalism that caused no injuries and relatively modest property damage. So much for Marcuse’s objection to sitting “at one’s writing desk advocating activities to people who are fully prepared to let their heads be bashed in for the cause.”
Closely reading Marcuse’s “Repressive Tolerance” essay gives me a new insight into what Lind is doing with his cultural Marxism hoax. Lind has appropriated Marcuse’s theme of there being a regime of repressive tolerance but has inverted its origin and attributed it to Marcuse’s “liberating tolerance.” Marcuse’s “mental space,” “unrealistic speculation” or petitio principii that “already presupposes the radical goal which it seeks to achieve” is recycled by Lind as the actual persecution endured by conservative students under the imagined regime of “cultural Marxism.”
…it would be absurd to subscribe to the author the unintended consequences of an author’s statements without considering the circumstances which surround them. It is, however, equally absurd to pretend that the ideological history of a work’s consequences are entirely extrinsic. — Jürgen Habermas
With all its limitations and distortions, democratic tolerance is under all circumstances more humane than an institutionalized intolerance which sacrifices the rights and liberties of the living generations for the sake of future generations. — Herbert Marcuse
As we saw from his March 17 webcast, William Lind was not inclined to consider taking any responsibility whatsoever for the (presumably) unintended consequences of his rhetoric. This is not to say, however, that he isn’t eager to take credit for political influence his ideas may on powerful state actors.
In his March 24 webcast, Lind revealed the “scoop” that his initiative may have inspired President Trump’s executive order to protect conservative speech on university campuses. “We have,” Lind boasted, “what I think is the inside story on one of last week’s news events — mainly the President Trump’s announcement that 35 billion dollars worth of federal funding for higher education is going to be tied to freedom of thought and expression on college and university campuses.” According to Lind, what happened is that, as a board member of a conservative group of Dartmouth University alumni, he wrote a memo — subsequently forwarded to the White House by a well connected board member — that recommended substantially the steps taken by Trump in his executive order.
This, by the way, is a basic rule of politics. If you’re going bottom-up you come in as a supplicant. You’re either ignored or kicked in the teeth. The way you get something to happen politically is to come in top-down. You come on… you come down on the center you’re targeting from a higher political level. Well there’s no higher level obviously than the White House.
On March 15 a gunman opened fire on worshipers in two Christchurch mosques, killing 50 and wounding around the same number. Survivors of gunshot wounds often have traumatic injuries that require multiple surgeries and leave them severely disabled for life. Before embarking on his rampage, the alleged gunman broadcast over the internet a “manifesto” outlining the motive for his deed.
In his manifesto, the alleged perpetrator claimed to have had “brief contact” with “Knight Justiciar” Anders Breivik, the convicted Norwegian mass murderer, and to have taken “true inspiration” from Breivik’s “2083” manifesto. Indeed, the Christchurch massacre would fit the definition of a copycat crime in terms of motive, manifesto and mass murder.
As mentioned in the previous post, Breivik plagiarized approximately 15,000 words of his manifesto from a pamphlet on “Political Correctness” by William S. Lind. The alleged Christchurch killer plagiarized his deed from Breivik. On his March 17 traditionalRIGHT webcast, Lind spent a little over 16 minutes talking about the Christchurch rampage. Not surprisingly, neither he nor his interlocutors mentioned the Oslo precedent. John Lind referred explicitly to content of the alleged Christchurch shooter’s manifesto. Is it conceivable that Lind is unaware of the widely-disseminated, extensive plagiarism of his work seven and a half years ago by a mass murderer? That’s a bit of a stretch.
So what did William Lind talk about when he talked about the Christchurch terror attack? To what extent, if at all, does Lind take moral responsibility for the consequences — even those unintended — of his words?
Lind’s first observation was to caution that there was much that remained unknown about the attack. He then criticized “the establishment media rushing to judgment” by reporting that it was a right-wing hate crime. Then he launched into speculation — “I only say possible no idea at this point” — that the alleged attacker had been converted to Sunni Islam during his travels in Pakistan and that the attack on the mosques was “actually part of the Sunni-Shiite war” and that “it would make sense in many ways for him to try to blame this on the right because of course who’s leading the opposition to Islam in the Western countries?”
It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?
The “second thing that immediately jumped out” at Lind was “why in the Hell are there mosques in New Zealand to begin with?” This remark evoked appreciative laughter from his co-hosts, Brent and John. The real problem was allowing Muslims to come to Western countries, or, if they are allowed to come, allowing them to build mosques. Lind then expounded for three minutes on the unrelenting persecution of Christians in Islamic countries and the disregard of the establishment media toward “church bombings and mass murders — those get a paragraph or two in the same papers that splash this [Christchurch] across the headlines on the front page with the biggest type.” According to Lind, these atrocity are “happening all the time in Africa”:
We have had Christians worshiping on a Sunday morning suddenly the doors of their church are barred and it’s set on fire by Muslims. These don’t even make the New York Times. Remember the Times‘s real slogan is “all the news that fits we print.” So this [Christchurch shootings] fit their narrative of evil Christianity — evil white males, evil right-wing etc. The mass murder of Christians by Islamics doesn’t fit the narrative so, okay, doesn’t exist and this by the way is exactly what the President and his supporters means by fake news.
After discounting media coverage of the Christchurch attack, conjecturing about an alternative scenario and objecting to Muslim presence in Western countries and lack of media coverage of atrocities committed against Christians, Lind turned his attention to the strategic disaster of the attack. For this analysis, he assumed the “current narrative” of a right-wing, anti-Islamic attack. From that perspective, Lind expressed sympathy for the killer’s alleged motivation, “from what we’re being told now were inspired by this guy’s reaction to seeing Islamics all over France — well, that’s an understandable reaction [laughter].” Nevertheless, Lind was eager to advise “our colleagues on the right [that] it’s important to understand why actions like this actually work against us.”
Lind’s analysis of the strategic inaptness of this particular kind of “leaderless resistance” action relies on his theory of “fourth generation warfare” and with the “cult of the victim” that he attributes to Antonio Gramsci and Georg Lukacs, “what we know as cultural Marxism or political correctness.”
All Marxism is loser worship. It’s if you’re successful, if you’re a builder, if you’re a producer, if you’re out there doing great things, you’re evil, you’re a capitalist, you’re a member of the bourgeoisie, you’re an exploiter, you’re a landlord etc., you deserve a firing squad or the gulag. If you’re a complete loser who produces nothing you know you’re only a taker, you’re, you’re always defeated, then you’re a moral hero and in the climate that we now live in where cultural Marxism sets the tone throughout much of the world the highest status you can achieve is victim.
Why “loser worship” makes this kind of “leaderless resistance” violence strategically disastrous for the right is left unspoken by Lind. My interpretation of what Lind is getting at here but not clearly stating is that the attacks will evoke sympathy for the victims and thus elevate their status. But the real victims here, according to Lind and his colleagues, are the young, white heterosexual Christian men driven to violence by the pervasive cultural Marxist oppression:
…so many lost young men that feel like they have no future we’re not allowed to have our own spaces anymore as like white Christian European people without having to have without foreigners coming in here… \
…we can’t speak out against any of this without censorship or losing your job or something and it’s driving people mad…
…this feeling of oppression where you can’t say what you think about anything because because certain viewpoints have effectively been outlawed…
…more and more men young men particularly — and this by the way, Brent, is happening in many parts of the world — are finding themselves with no prospects if in this country they’re white Christian men, heterosexual. They are considered somehow evil. Again they’re the old equivalent of the capitalists and landlords under the old economic Marxism. They’re inherently evil and they can’t do anything without women but they can’t do anything with women because if they displeased a woman she could immediately claim sexual harassment and he’s guilty until proven innocent and the rage is just building and building and building and because of the way the internet fosters leaderless resistance I’m afraid you’re right, Brent, we are going to see more of this but on our side we need to understand it is strategically disastrous.
Does your head hurt trying to follow Lind’s logic? That is the point. It is not logic but a propaganda technique that relies on the listener/reader’s conditioning to assume that what they are hearing/reading and trying to follow is a logical argument. Jacques Ellul gave a concise description of the technique Lind employs:
Propaganda by its very nature is an enterprise for perverting the significance of events and of insinuating false intentions. There are two salient aspects of this fact. First of all, the propagandist must insist on the purity of his own intentions and at the same time, hurl accusations at his enemy. But the accusation is never made haphazardly or groundlessly.* The propagandist will not accuse the enemy of just any misdeed, he will accuse him of the very intention that he himself has and of trying to commit the very crime that he himself is about to commit. He who wants to provoke a war not only proclaims his own peaceful intentions but also accuses the other party of provocation. He who uses concentration camps accuses his neighbor of doing so. He who intends to establish a dictatorship always insists that his adversaries are bent on dictatorship. The accusation aimed at the other’s intention clearly reveals the intention of the accuser.
*Because political problems are difficult and often confusing, and their import not obvious. the propagandist can easily present them in moral language — and here we leave the realm of fact, to enter that of passion. Facts, then, come to be discussed in the language of indignation, a tone which is always the mark of propaganda.
Lind’s cult of the victim enlists young, white, heterosexual Christian men driven mad by having their future — their rightful prospects as successful builders, producers, capitalists, landlords and doers of great things — stolen from them by losers. They just can’t catch a break! Even when they go out a shoot a bunch of those losers, it is the losers who get elevated as high-status victims in today’s cultural Marxist climate instead of the real victims, those meritorious young, white, heterosexual Christian, deservedly-successful but dispossessed males. Ressentiment is a bitch.
The terrorist mass murder in Christchurch, New Zealand two weeks ago has sent me back to my archives to retrieve my documentation of Anders Breivik’s extensive plagiarism of the writings of William S. Lind, et al.
Did I say “extensive” plagiarism? Breivik copied and pasted the whole 19,000 word pamphlet, making minor revisions here and there and deleting around 4,000 words that dealt with more arcane academic topics, such as Derridean deconstruction. Below is an example of the markup comparison of documents from Lind’s to Breivik’s, with insertions in blue and deletions in red:
At the end of Lind’s tract, he included a bibliographical essay “…as a guide for interested citizsens who want to learn more about the ideology that is taking over Western Europe and America.” One of the entries in that bibliography was The Frankfurt School: Its History, Theories and Political Significance by Rolf Wiggershaus. Lind quoted a passage from the book’s “Afterword”
Since the publication in 1970 of his book The Poverty of Critical Theory, Rohrmoser has promulgated, in constantly varying forms, the view that Marcuse, Adorno and Horkheimer were the terrorists’ intellectual foster-parents, who were using cultural revolution to destroy the traditions of the Christian West. Academics such as Ernst Topitsch and Kurt Sontheimer, who saw themselves as educators and liberal democrats, followed in Rohrmoser’s footsteps. In 1972 Topitsch, a critical rationalist who was Professor of Philosophy in Graz, had stated that behind the slogans of ‘rational discussion’ and ‘dialogue free of domination’ there was being established at the universities ‘a distinct terrorism of political convictions such as has never existed before, even under Nazi tyranny’
What struck me as odd about the above passage was that “Rohrmoser” had no first name. At first, I suspected the passage was simply cut and pasted in without acknowledging that it was a quoted text. But the absence of quotation marks may have been simply an artifact of indent formatting lost during conversion to a web document. I was curious to find out Rohrmoser’s first name, which appeared in the sentence before the passage quoted by Lind:
Günther Rohrmoser was a social philosopher employed by [Hans] Filbinger, who, as a judge at a naval court martial during the last days of the Second World War, had pronounced a scandalous death sentence which he defended during the 1970s by saying that what was the law then could not be injustice today.
Hans Karl Filbinger was Minister President of Baden-Württemberg from 1966 to 1978. In October of 1977, in response to the kidnapping and murder of Hanns Martin Schleyer by the Red Army Faction, Filbinger gave a speech in which he blamed the teachings of the Frankfurt School for the terrorism. Such accusations, elaborated by academics such as Rohrmoser, Topitsch, Sontheimer and others became the basis for efforts to suppress student activism and the teaching of Critical Theory.
In 1978, Filbinger was accused of having presided — either as prosecutor or judge — over the executions of several sailors at the conclusion of the Second World War. The Wikipedia article outlines extenuating circumstances in his favor: several of the death sentences were in absentia and never carried out, others were commuted to prison sentences and in the one case that resulted in an execution he appears, according to the Wikipedia article, to have been “filling in” for a prosecutor who had already asked for the death sentence. In In Pursuit of German Memory: History, Television, and Politics After Auschwitz, Wulf Kansteiner offered the following account of the outcome of the scandal:
With proper symbolic guilt management, none of these facts would have ended Filbinger’s career, but he committed two major public relations mistakes that made his resignation inevitable. First, Filbinger failed to reveal the full record of his service as a military jurist; the press found a total of four death sentences that listed Filbinger as an officer of the court and that he professed to have forgotten. Second, although Filbinger explained and defended his actions at length, he never apologized to his colleagues, his voters, or the relatives of the soldiers he had condemned to death. He failed to realize that legal innocence no longer amounted to historical innocence. Just because he had not committed any crimes in the eyes of the law did not mean that he could survive in the court of public opinion.
So it wasn’t the crimes Hans Filbinger committed — or didn’t commit — but the cover-up that disgraced him. Lind’s omission of the context for Wiggershaus’s discussion of Rohrmoser’s attacks on Critical Theory as the “foster parents of terrorism” deprives his readers of two crucial perspectives. The more sensational but ultimately trivial insight was the status of one of the accusers of the Frankfurt School as an actual Nazi who presided over at least one execution and subsequently tried to conceal his past.
But the more important aspect was the precedent in West Germany of the 1970s of a political campaign against Critical Theory orchestrated by high government officials. In addition to Filbinger, Franz Josef Strauss, leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union, and Alfred Dregger chairman of the Christian Democratic Union in the state of Hesse “promptly labeled the Frankfurt School a cause of terrorism.”
Jürgen Habermas gave a contemporaneous account of this assault on the Frankfurt School in an article that first appeared in Der Spiegel in October 1977 and was subsequently translated and published in the New German Critique. It is worthwhile to quote at some length from that article because illuminates an historical parallel that few Americans would be at all aware of:
As an undergraduate I was struck by the fact that such influential figures of the post-war generation, eminent men like Martin Heidegger and Carl Schmitt, had made politically astonishing statements and had advocated unfortunate doctrines. The first, as chancellor of the University of Freiburg, had welcomed the Nazis’ seizure of power and exalted its significance metaphysically, while second had theoretically vindicated that state which Hitler created. After the war, neither of them considered an unequivocal political explanation or a public revision of their actions to be necessary.
These shocking examples – and they are, after all, just examples – sharpened my, sharpened our awareness of the consequences of the theoretical matters which we teach and write. They are not simply arguments which are absorbed by the scholarly process and then survive or dissolve within it. On the contrary, as published and spoken words, they have an effect on readers and listeners at the moment of their reception which the author cannot revoke or withdraw as if he or she were dealing with logical propositions. Now of course it would be absurd to subscribe to the author the unintended consequences of an author’s statements without considering the circumstances which surround them. It is, however, equally absurd to pretend that the ideological history of a work’s consequences are entirely extrinsic. There is only one pragmatic escape from this dilemma, and unfortunately it is not easily put into practice. An author’s awareness of this dilemma must sufficiently limit his teaching and writing: an individual should not succumb to the atmosphere of objective irresponsibility, nor should an individual expand moral accountability to such an extent that he or she is paralyzed by the fear of uncertain and unexplored areas. Then only silence would remain.
It is obvious that Strauss and Dregger want to intimidate us so that we shall seek refuge in this last alternative. Both obscure the fact that in the 1960s it was the left-wing professors who were especially and distinctly conscious of intellectual causalities. Instead Strauss and Dregger construct a scenario of objective responsibility in a manner which until now has only met with approval in the dominions of Stalinist bureaucrats.
Does William Lind take responsibility for the (presumably) unintended consequences of what he has written, given the dilemma framed above by Habermas? Lind does a weekly YouTube broadcast called traditionalRIGHT in which he gives his opinions on items in the news. On March 17, he discussed the mass murders in Christchurch. On March 24, he addressed an executive order signed by Donald Trump that would cut off federal funding from universities that inhibited the “free speech” of conservatives. I have listened to these segments several times and downloaded transcripts that I have read closely. I will present my summary and interpretation of them in a subsequent post.
I confess. I posted The Barr Letter and Useful Idiots of the Jaded Left to troll for tin-foil hats. I am agnostic on the Mueller investigation. I have never viewed Mueller, Comey or Rachel Maddow as the savior of truth, justice and the American Way. My objection to Taibbi, Greenwald et al.’s gloating is primarily against their premature ejaculation — although their glee is also reprehensible under the circumstances.
But here is the thing about tin-foil hat thinking: if you are going to engage in it, do it right. Let’s say there is this vast establishment, deep state conspiracy to overthrow the popular will electoral college result of the 2016 election. Hey, I can get down with that! What makes the Glenns and the Matts and the Halaszes and likbezes so confident that William Barr isn’t part of that conspiracy? Absolutely nothing. They simply haven’t thought through their heist.
Here’s how I would NAIL Donald Trump if I was William Barr: I would write a four-page letter that appears to exonerate him from conspiracy or coordination and in which I explicitly decline to indict on obstruction of justice charges. See what I did there? No?
I sidestepped the “can’t indict a sitting President” rule. That sets a precedent. Now we let that settle in for a while. Nobody objects — least of all the President of the United States who thinks he has just been cleared. Next comes the indictment from SDNY. But wait a minute! You can’t indict a sitting President! Oh yeah? The Attorney General just waived that rule.
Is my little scenario true? I doubt it. But it is no less plausible than the half-baked conspiracy scenarios heralded by the half-cocked tin-foil hat crew. Of course the paranoid style is not noted for consistency or for thinking things through.
The Barr Letter and Useful Idiots of the Jaded Left
As everyone knows by now, President Trump has been totally “exonerated” for everything, ever, by a four-page letter from William Barr, the Attorney General whom he appointed expressly to “exonerate” him. With regard to potential obstruction-of-justice, on page three of his letter, Barr cited Special Counsel Mueller’s statement that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Understandably, Trump’s allies and surrogates are ecstatic that Trump has been so unequivocally and unconditionally exonerated by a letter about a report that “does not exonerate him.” But the gloating does not stop there. A contingent of “left” journalists and self-styled pundits are jumping in the self-congratulatory bandwagon.
The “leftist” critique of the Russia collusion story follows a certain “dialectical” logic: first, the lesser of two evils is the greater danger and therefore my foe and second, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Alleged journalist Glenn Greenwald presents an inarticulate version of this critique when he sputters hyperbole on Democracy Now. Greenwald magically transforms not establishing an actionable criminal case into not a shred of evidence.
Matt Taibbi gives a more nuanced performance in comparing Russiagate to the Bush administration’s lies about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. Taibbi qualifies his hyperbole by noting the hundreds of thousands of deaths and trillions of dollars wasted as a result of the latter. “Unless Russiagate leads to a nuclear conflict, we’re unlikely to ever see that level of consequence.” But in terms of journalism?
As a purely journalistic failure, however, WMD was a pimple compared to Russiagate. The sheer scale of the errors and exaggerations this time around dwarfs the last mess. Worse, it’s led to most journalists accepting a radical change in mission. We’ve become sides-choosers, obliterating the concept of the press as an independent institution whose primary role is sorting fact and fiction.
What a load of bollocks. Are we now supposed to believe that up until the time of the Steele dossier, the corporate news media was “an independent institution whose primary role is sorting fact and fiction”? Fox? Breitbart? Daily Caller? Not to mention non-stop CNN and NYT coverage of Trump rallies, diners in rural Pennsylvania, personable neo-Nazis, Clinton emails and climate change…
In his comprehensive critique of journalistic failure, Taibbi mentioned Fox once and the Daily Caller twice — to note their coverage of Michael Cohen’s denial of having ever been in Prague. Throughout the whole affair, the vast right-wing propaganda Wurlitzer was presumably acting as “an independent institution whose primary role is sorting fact and fiction.” Thank you, Matt Taibbi for your bold refusal to choose sides!
Not that it matters, but the mainstream media framing of the Russia collusion story was orchestrated by the “victim” of the “witch hunt.” The Mueller investigation was initiated by the Trump-appointed Deputy Attorney General who wrote the memo to give Trump cover for firing James Comey. The soi-disant “left” critics of Russiagate have bought that framing and are now gloating that “their side” has won.