Category Archives: Extremism

Is Civil War in the US possible?

One of the two respected jurists William S. Cohen who wrote about the disappointing actions of Republicans complaining about the Justice Department warrants at Donald Trump’s home, is a former secretary of defense and former Republican senator from Maine who was such a moderate Republican that he served as Secretary of Defence in the Democrat Clinton administration. The other, William H. Webster is a former director of the FBI and the CIA and a retired judge of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. He served under both Democrat and Republican administrations, including that of Donald Trump.  These are not partisans.

 

These men have pointed out that the Republican leaders, disrespect for maintaining law and order is serious, and can have very serious consequences.  They even suggested those actions might lead to Civil War! Remember these are not fringe leftists clamouring about the possibility of Civil War. These are respected lawyers who served both Democrat and Republican administrations in national security matters and they are not alarmists. They remind us that fears and warnings of Civil War are not outlandish, given the conduct of Republican leaders and the former president. They are real possibilities.

 

The opinion of Cohen and Webster was based on their personal experience and also their reading of respecting historian Barbara F. Walter who in her book “How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them,

 

“Walter raises valid concerns about the United States slipping into a place where civil war is possible. She writes about a netherworld of anocracy — between democracy and autocracy — a breeding ground for political violence, where the grievances and resentments of a large white underclass have greatly increased the potential for civil war.

 

These predictions once sounded like the fever dreams of far-right lunatics who would welcome such a bloody conflict; today, such predictions are coming from responsible voices such as Walter and others who have carefully studied this phenomenon around the world.”

 

 

Please note how Cohen and Webster refer to “these valid concerns” and that such opinions are not “the fever dreams of far-right lunatics.”  These concerns are brought forward by the upper echelons of American jurists and public servants. Again, this is serious stuff and should be taken seriously.

Some people have suggested Merrick and Wray should not have issued and executed the warrants at Mar-a-Lago, because the risk of causing civil unrest, which Trump in fact has been encouraging, again, but these two jurists rightly point out that, “our nation’s senior law enforcer, a man who has an impeccable record of fairness and impartiality as a distinguished jurist, cannot tailor his judgment to accommodate the rage of the lawless.

Genuine believers in the rule of law, like Merrick and Wray, must do their duty, rather than bowing to the reckless cries of lawless insurrectionists and their Republican enablers. There was a time when conservatives were dedicated to law and order. This is not one of those times. If there are no longer many conservatives, the radical left or the radical right will the vacuum.

Trump Calls for Insurrection (Again)

 

Did you hear what Trump said? Just a couple of days ago, on September 15, 2022 Donald Trump was interviewed by a Mr. Hewitt on the radio and was asked what would happen if he was indicted. This is what Trump said said,

I think if it happened, I think you’d have problems in this country the likes of which perhaps we’ve never seen before. I don’t think the people of the United States would stand for it.

 

Then he was asked by Mr. Hewitt what kind of troubles, Mr. President? Trump responded this way:

“I think they’d have big problems, I just don’t think they’d stand for it.”

It was chilling. I thought of January 6th 2021. Don Lemon asked Phillip Mudd, a CNN analyst and former counterterrorism analyst if that was a threat.  Mr. Mudd’s answer was about as direct as you can get.  This was his answer:

Yes! I don’t know if that is a subtle enough answer Don. That’s a yes, Don. Let me be clear about what this is.  In the world of extremism which I followed for decades, that is what I would refer to as validation. So we saw on January 6th there were a lot of people who watch leadership. Whether it’s Lindsay Graham or other members of the White House, or the president of lawyers, who watch leadership and determine whether that leadership is validating the citizen’s belief that they were robbed. You don’t have to tell someone to go out there and commit an act of violence for them to say, ‘Well if we were robbed then it is my constitutional right and responsibility to go to the Congress and storm it.’ That is the president of the United States having witnessed January 6th saying, ‘Well let me have a redo of that. That redo will happen if I ever get indicted.’  To me as an extremist follower that is not a political statement, that is a statement that anybody who follows extremists can understand. That is validation…”

 

Juliette Kayyem, a CNN National Security Analyst agreed completely. She said,

“It is not even hinting anymore. We used to use the word “dog whistle” when we talk about Trump. This is now directing. Don’t just listen to Trump’s words. Imagine what his supporters are hearing. They are hearing the call to action…We need to call it what it is that we have a former president who is inciting violence as an extension of his political defeat. That’s what it is now.”

 

I know Trump’s supporters don’t believe anything CNN says, but I think they got this right from Trump’s own words. I listened to his words and I agree with the CNN interpretation. This was the only logical interpretation of what Trump said. This was a call to violent action if he was charge with a criminal offence  without mentioning the word. The message was absolutely clear, just as his words were absolutely clear to his supporters on January 6th. They knew what to do. And Trump was threatening to do it all over again if he was charged! This was doing what Donald Trump always does when he is cornered. He does not back down. He doubles down.

Americans must realize what Trump is doing. He is doing the same thing Hitler did after the German Reichstag burned down. The German people knew what to do and they did it.

Now the question is what will the American people do? Will they acquiesce with this dangerous slide into fascism?  I know many of his supporters will do that. They will accept that with the enthusiasm they showed on January 6, 2021.

I am not sure of what the majority of Americans will do, but I am uneasy.

No monopoly on Truth

 

 

It is strongly implied from the analysis of John Stuart Mill, that whenever we are involved in a dispute we should remember it is very likely, though not certain, that there is some truth to the position of our opponent.  Most disputes between competing doctrines and opinions work exactly like that, but too often we tend to forget that. I know I have too often forgotten that. I need to see the other side of a question. I may reject most of it, but if I reject all of it, I am likely making a serious mistake. The truth is usually shared as Mill said. Looking for all of the truth on one side of a serious debate is short-circuiting the search for truth. That is why we must welcome diversity of opinion and listen to all sides. Only then will we find the whole truth and not just a partial truth. That is why free speech is so important for society. Free speech is a human right, but it is more than that. It is also a social good.

 

Mill gave one more example, which I also liked. He talked about liberals and conservatives. There is often truth on both sides, though perhaps not equally balanced. Mill said,

 

“In politics, again, it is almost a commonplace, that a party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life; until the one or the other shall have so enlarged its mental grasp as to be a party equally of order and of progress, knowing and distinguishing what is fit to be preserved from what ought to be swept away.  Each of these modes of thinking derives its utility from the deficiencies of the other; but it is in a great measure the opposition of the other that keeps each within the limits of reasons and sanity. Unless opinion favorable to democracy and aristocracy, to property and to equality, to co-operation and competition, to luxury and to abstinence, to sociality and individuality, to liberty and to discipline, and all the other standing antagonisms of practical life, are expressed with equal freedom, and enforced and defended with equal talent and energy, there is not a chance of both elements getting their due; one scale is sure to go up and the other down. Truth in the great practical concerns of life, is so much a question of reconciling and combining opposites, that very few have minds sufficiently capacious and impartial to make the adjustment with an approach to correctness, and it has to be made by the rough process of a struggle between combatants fighting under hostile banners. On any of the great open questions just enumerated, if either of the two opinions has a better claim than the other, not merely to be tolerated, but to be encouraged and countenanced, it is the one which happens at the particular time and place to be in a minority. That is the opinion which, for the time being, represents the neglected interests, the side of human well-being which is in danger of obtaining less than its share. I am aware that there is not, in this country, any intolerance of differences of opinion on most topics. They are adduced to show, by admitted and multiplied examples, the universality of the fact, that only through diversity of opinion is there, in the existing state of human intellect, a chance of fair play to all sides of the truth.  When there are persons to be found who form an exception to the apparent unanimity of the world on any subject, even if the world is in the right, it is always probable that dissentients have something worth hearing to say for themselves, and that truth would lose something by their silence.”

 

 

Even if there are few contrary voices (as in the case of Rousseau versus the Enlightenment above) we ought always to pay attention and respect to the voice of the dissenter. Otherwise there is, as Mill said, “not a chance of both elements getting their due.”  The rebel is critically important, even when we least expect it. It is virtually impossible for one side to capture 100% of the truth. Let the rebel help us to find what is missing for the winning side will always benefit.

 

This approach of always making room for the rebel opinion has a lot of worth. It is only if one side is infallible that we can escape this approach. Infallibility is unlikely ever to be found. I wish it were otherwise.  But one side rarely holds the entire truth. It can always benefit from some overlooked truth from the other side.

 

In today’s market place of ideas, acknowledging that the other side might have some truth is deeply unpopular. This is particularly true in the United States where to merely acknowledge the other side might have a point is considered traitorous. Members of the group are quick to jump on anyone who even hints at compromise with the wicked other.  In many places in Canada this is also all too common.

 

Mill also wants us to understand that this approach applies to all important issues, not just religious issues, because no side ever has a monopoly on truth. II really think Mill has found a key here in these 3 important propositions that all call for permitting—no encouraging—diversity of opinion. It is the closest we can come to a royal road to the truth.

I must admit that I find this amazingly well argued. How about you?

When the opinion is partly true and partly false.

 

John Stuart Mill in his classic book, On Liberty, considered free speech from one more perspective: namely beliefs that are partly true and partly false. Here too, he said, is another situation in which diversity of opinion is advantageous. In fact this is almost always the situation for invariably any opinion is not absolutely true. First, he considered the case of an opinion that might be false. The second was the case where the opinion is actually true, but a conflict with the opposite error is needed in order to clarify the opinion or preserve or create a deep feeling about that true opinion. In this case the contrary opinion can help immeasurably. Thirdly, Mill considers the case where neither opinion contains the whole truth and nothing but the truth. As Mill said,

 

“But there is a commoner case than either of these; when the conflicting doctrines, instead of being one true and the other false, share the truth between them; and the non-conforming opinion is needed to supply the remainder of the truth, of which the received doctrine embodies only a part  Popular opinions, on the subject not palpable to sense, are often true, but seldom or never the whole truth. They are a part of the truth; sometimes a greater, sometimes a smaller part, but exaggerated, distorted, and disjoined from the truths by which they ought to be accompanied and limited.   Heretical opinions, on the other hand, are generally some of these suppressed and neglected truths, bursting the bonds which kept them down, and either seeking reconciliation with the truth contained in the common opinion, or fronting it as enemies, and setting themselves up, with similar exclusiveness, as the whole truth. The latter case is hitherto the most frequent, as in the human mind one-sidedness has always been the rule, and many-sidedness the exception. Hence, even in revolutions of opinion, one part of the truth usually sets while another rises.”

 

We ought never to think in black and white. We should always think in colour or include many shades of gray. Even revolutions usually just add one partial and incomplete truth for another. Hopefully the new truth will be better adapted to the needs of the time than the opinion or doctrine that is replaced. This is the profound point that Mill made which is particularly relevant to the age of extremes in which we live.

It was the glory of English empiricism and liberalism that grew out of the great period after the Religious Wars of the 17th century that produced thinkers willing to acknowledge that truth was not always entirely confined to one side of a discussion. Nowadays, this attitude is sadly rare. Nowadays, both sides often think they have the entire truth and the other side is of the devil. We must recognize that pure truth and pure falsehood rarely find homes on opposite sides of a dispute. That’s why holy truth and pure evil can rarely be found either. We should never expect to find pure truth or pure falsehood. Life is always more complicated than that. Mill was a member of that great British tradition of empiricism and liberalism.

As John Stuart Mill said,

“Such being the partial character of prevailing opinions, even when resting on a true foundation, every opinion which embodies somewhat of the portion of the truth which the common opinion omits, ought to be considered precious, with whatever amount of error and confusion that truth may be blended. No sober judge of human affairs will feel bound to be indignant because those who force on our notice truths which we should otherwise have overlooked, overlook some of those which we see. Rather, we will think that so long as popular truth is one-sided, it is more desirable than otherwise that unpopular truth should have one-sided assertors too; such being usually the most energetic, and most likely to compel reluctant attention to the fragment of wisdom which they proclaim as if it were the whole.”

 

The thinkers of the Enlightenment were surprised that they did not have the entire truth in their minds. They were shocked because it did appear to them that all proponents of science and philosophy would ultimately agree with them. They thought they had the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but they were rudely awakened from their slumber by one lonely thinker. That thinker was Rousseau. He gave Mills an example of a thinker who opposed the gathering consensus and cut it down at the knees. Mills described this momentous event this way,

“Thus, in the eighteenth century, when nearly all the instructed, and all those of the uninstructed who were led by them, were lost in admiration of what is called civilization, and of the marvels of modern science, literature, and philosophy, and while greatly overrating the amount of unlikeness between the men of modern and those of ancient times, indulged in the belief that the whole of the difference was in their own favour; with what salutary shock did the paradoxes of Rousseau explode like bombshells in the midst, dislocating the compact mass of one-sided opinion, and forcing its elements to recombine in a better form and with additional ingredients.  Not that the current opinions were on the whole farther from the truth than Rousseau’s were; on the contrary, they were nearer to it; they contained more of the positive truth, and very less of error.  Nevertheless there lay in Rousseau’s doctrine, and has floated down the stream of opinion along with it, a considerable amount of exactly those truths which popular opinion wanted; and these are the deposit which was left behind when the flood subsided. The superior worth of simplicity of life, the enervating and demoralizing effect of the trammels and hypocrisies of artificial society, minds since Rousseau wrote; and they will in time produce their due effect, though at present needing to be asserted as much as ever, and to be asserted by deeds, for words, on this subject have nearly exhausted their power.”

 

This was an outstanding example of what Mill was talking about. One side rarely has the whole truth. Mill, like me, had a lot of sympathy for the thinkers of the Enlightenment who brought reason and critical thought to the problems of the times. This was desperately needed. Mill accepts almost everything the Enlightenment thinkers stood for. So do I. But that does not mean they had the whole truth to themselves and their opponents had nothing good on their side. Rousseau was the outstanding example of exactly thought. He added truth to the other side and hence made both sides richer.

In fact, this phenomenon is extremely common. You can see it clearly in contemporary politics where each side thinks it has the whole truth, when both sides would benefit from a dose of truth from the other side, but is very reluctant to accept such a heretical possibility. Instead of that each sides tries to shut the other down.  Each should be listening to the free speech of the other. Once again, I come down on the side of heresy.

 

 

Thoughtlessness

 Hannah Arendt also wrote a book about the trial of Adolf Eichmann. She used that famous expression “the banality of evil” to describe him and his kind.  He was a man who facilitated horrid acts of violence against the Jews.  But Arendt said what set him apart was his “thoughtlessness.” To her he looked and acted like a boring accountant.

She had been shocked by how glib he was in court. He talked about exterminating millions of Jews as if it was nothing. What was there for him to admit to, he asked. He suggested, as did Himmler, that they could be reconciled with the Jews.  They had a sense of elation when they considered this possibility. But the feelings were not real. It was, in Arendt’s phrase, “an outrageous cliché.”  She said, “it was a self-fabricated stock phrase, as devoid of reality as those clichés by which people had lived for twelve years.”  As Carol Brightman said, “Clichés and conventional sentiments functioned as armor blocking the consciousness of the accused at just those painful junctures where painful intrusions of reality threatened.” These are some of the enemies of thought. In fact, during the trial Arendt had noticed how Eichmann was not perturbed by his starling contradictions. He was certainly not engaged in thinking. He was not stupid. He was just completely thoughtless.

Arendt was stunned that such horrific crimes could be committed without consciousness. She said she disagreed with Kant, who, according to her believed that stupidity was caused by a wicked heart. She contended instead that “absence of thought is not stupidity, it can be found in highly intelligent people, and a wicked heart is not its cause, it is probably the other way around, that wickedness may be caused by absence of thought.”

According to her teaching assistant Kohn, Arendt believed, as I believe, that “thinking conditions people to resist evildoing.”  Most ethicists do not accept this, but I find it profoundly compelling. I believe, like the American novelist Henry James, that ethics is high reason. Where there is no reason there is no ethics. this is what the sleep of reason is all about.

Arendt was clear when she said that everyone could think. Of course, that does not mean that everyone will think. You didn’t have to have an education to think. She was not elitist.

Arendt got mad when Jews accused her of being self-hating and anti-Jewish as a result of her book on Eichmann. She said that all she wanted to do was to think about what he had done. She wanted to understand him and that was not the same as forgiving him or being soft on the Nazis. It was her job as a philosopher to think about these things. And she thought that was very important. In the film about her, Arendt summed up her thinking this way,

“Trying to understand is not the same as forgiveness. It is my responsibility to try to understand. It is the responsibility of anyone who tries to put pen to paper on this subject. Since Socrates and Plato we have understood thinking to be a silent dialogue between me and myself. In refusing to be a person Eichmann utterly surrendered that single most defining human quality, that of being able to think. And consequently he was no longer capable of making moral judgments. This inability to think created the possibility for many ordinary men to commit evil deeds on a gigantic scale, the like of which one had never seen before. It is true I have considered these questions in a philosophical way. The manifestation of the mind of thought is not knowledge, but the ability to tell right from wrong; beautiful from ugly. And I hope that thinking gives people the strength to prevent catastrophes in these rare moments when the chips are down.  ”

 

For Hannah Arendt, what thinking meant was to train the mind to go wandering.  I love that concept. It brings me back to my concept of meandering.  I love to meander–physically and mentally. That is the essence of free thinking (and there is really no other kind) to meander through thoughts without regard to preconceived ideas, ideologies, or prejudices. Only the free mind can think. I said that. But that is a concept directly inspired by Arendt.

Arendt’s first major book was On the Origins of Totalitarianism. She thought there was something new or modern about totalitarianism. It was not like anything we had seen before. It presented profound change from everything that preceded it. It was much more than tyranny or dictatorship. It cut at individual will. It cut at our individual identity. In fact, according to one of Arendt’s most profound insights, totalitarianism cuts at our capacity to think.

As always, I ask myself how this is relevant to our times. There are not many totalitarian regimes around right now, but there are movements—various forms of populist movements—that tend in the same direction. I think often of the American near fascists—i.e. the Trumpsters, the insurrectionists on Capitol Hill that were looking to hang Mike Pence only because their leader told them that he had been betrayed by Pence.  That was enough to set off ordinary people looking to hang the vice-president of their country! Had they lost the capacity to think? To me it seemed that way.

Mutual Respect of Tyrants

 

 

To many it seems strange that Stalin and Hitler respected each other. One was a left-wing Communist, and the other supposedly a right wing fascist. They were mortal enemies weren’t they? Well yes, but also no. According to Hannah Arendt, in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism,  the only man for whom Hitler had unqualified respect was ‘Stalin the genius.” She also pointed out, “Hitler recognized in the early twenties the affinity between the Nazi and the Communist movements: ‘In our movement the two extremes come together, the Communists from the left and the officers and students from the right.” Khrushchev in his speech before the twentieth Party Congress said  Stalin trusted only one man, Hitler.

Trump made it clear that the politicians he loved the most were the dictators around the world. He had little use for democratically elected leaders. Like likes like.

 

It is interesting that all 3, Stalin, Hitler, and Trump, found their supporters growing in the same fertile soil. Arendt described this as follows,

“Totalitarian movements are possible wherever there are masses who for one reason or another have acquired the appetite for political organization. Masses are not held together by a consciousness of common interest and they lack that specific articulateness which is expressed in determined, limited, and obtainable goals. The term masses applies only where we deal with people who either because of sheer numbers, or indifference, or a combination of both, cannot be integrated into any organization based on common interest into political parties or municipal governments or professional organizations or trade unions. Potentially, they exist in every country and form the majority of those large numbers of neutral, politically indifferent people who never join a party and hardly ever go to the polls.

 

It was characteristic of the rise of the Nazi movement in Germany and of the Communist movements in Europe after 1930 that they recruited their numbers from this mass of apparently indifferent people whom all other parties had given up as too apathetic or too stupid for their attention.”

 

Isn’t this a perfect description of Trump’s supporters whom Hillary Clinton most unwisely dismissively called a “basket of deplorables” 60 years later? Dismissing these people is outlandishly unwise. It is from such soil that fanatical followers can be found, precisely what political leaders with totalitarian tendencies need. These were “people who had reason to be equally hostile to all parties.”  They particularly despise elites like Hillary Clinton as we saw in the 2016 US presidential election. These are people who are ripe for a “strong man,” to whom they can give undying, fanatical and absolute, loyalty.

And therein lies the danger. Dismissing them is a big mistake.

 

Desire for Cruelty

 

Because of their incredibly strong desire to separate themselves from respectable society—the establishment as 1960s rebels would call it—the true believers of totalitarian movements of the 1930s and following in Europe, inculcated a desire for cruelty. They were driven by a desire for cruelty. That desire fueled their passion.

Lately I have been rewatching the mob of Trumpsters on Capitol Hill on January 6th and have noticed the same phenomenon. The similarities to the older totalitarian mobs are astonishing. As Hannah Arendt said in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism in which she described the insurrectionists of the 1930s and 1940s:

“They read not Darwin but the Marquis de Sade.  If they believed at all in universal laws, they certainly did not particularly care to conform to them. To them, violence, power, cruelty, power, were the supreme capacities of men who definitely lost their place in the universe and were much too proud to long for a power theory that would safely bring them back and reintegrate into the world. They were satisfied with blind partisanship in anything that respectable society had banned, regardless of theory or content, and they elevated cruelty to a major virtue because it contradicted society’s humanitarian and liberal hypocrisy.”

 

That applied to Nazi mobs and Communist mobs. I think it also applied to modern American Trump inspired mobs.

Watching the rioters on Capitol Hill on January 6th of 2021 I was struck by how much fun they were having.  It was obviously a blast for them. Literally a blast. It was probably one of the most exciting days of their lives. Running down the corridors of the Capitol in search of Mike Pence chanting that they would hang him and  Nancy Pelosi was incredibly exciting for them. They were filled with passion. Arendt mentioned in her book how the older rebels has a “yearning for violence.” Arendt had said how the revolutionaries experienced

the self-willed immersion in the suprahuman forces of destruction seemed to be a salvation from the automatic identification with pre-established functions in society and their utter banality…”

They were finally loosed from the chains of mediocrity. As Arendt said about the older rebellions,

“What proved so attractive was that terrorism had become a kind of philosophy through which to express frustration, resentment and blind hatred, a kind of political expressionism which used bombs to express oneself, which watched delightedly the publicity given to resounding deeds and was absolutely willing to pay the price of life for having succeeded in forcing the recognition of one’s existence on the normal strata of society. It was still the same spirit and the same game which made Goebbels, long before the eventual defeat of the Nazis, in case of defeat, would know how to slam the door behind them and not be forgotten for centuries.”   

 

Many have been surprised by the fact that Donald Trump could attract support from elites as well as those who had been humbled by globalization. How was that possible?

First, as Hannah  Arendt said, “The members of the elite did not object at all to paying a price, the destruction of civilization, for the fun of seeing how those who had been excluded unjustly in past forced their way into it.” Next, Arendt also said this about earlier insurrectionists: “The temporary alliance between the elite and the mob rested largely on this genuine delight with which the former watched the latter destroy respectability.” The elite wanted to see the cruelty of the mob in action. It was the same on January 6th 2021. The lust for cruelty can be surprising powerful.

Anyone who unleashes these powerful and uncontrollable emotions must be prepared for the unholy explosion that is likely to follow. Trump was prepared for that. Some of his followers were not, for they abandoned him. It is now being determined how many others are prepared to enjoy the train wreck too.

Zealotry

 

Hannah Arendt looked closely at the supporters of totalitarian movements of the 1930s and 1940s and many of the things she learned are applicable to the current authoritarian movements. She found that the enthusiasm of the true believers was stunning. This is what she said about the totalitarians of the 1930s and following decades:

“They shared with Lawrence of Arabia the yearning for “losing their selves in violent disgust with all existing standards, with every power that be. They all remembered the “golden age of security,” they also remembered how they had hated it and how real their enthusiasm had been at the outbreak of the first World War. Not only Hitler and not only the failures, thanked God on their knees when mobilization swept Europe in 1914. They did not even have to reproach themselves with having been an easy prey for chauvinist propaganda or lying explanations about the purely defensive character of the war. The elite went to war with an exultant hope that everything they knew, the whole culture and texture of life, might go down in its “storms of steel” (Ernst Jünger) In the carefully chosen words of Thomas Mann, war was “chastisement” and “purification”; “war in itself,” rather than victories, inspired the poet.” Or in the words of a student of the time, “what counts is always the readiness to make a sacrifice, not the object for which the sacrifice is made”; or in the words of a young worker, “it doesn’t matter whether one lives a few years longer or not. One would like to have something to show for one’s life.”

 

The true believers were truly zealots. And note the religious significance here. Sacrifice is of course a fundamental religious concept in virtually every religion. It is no accident that the words “sacred” and “sacrifice” come from the same root. You only have to look at that wonderful series, A History of Religious Ideas, in 3 volumes by the Master Mircea Eliade to see the similarities.

 

Arendt also pointed out how

“the “front generation” in marked contrast to their own chosen spiritual fathers, were completely absorbed by their desire to see the ruin of this whole world of fake security, fake culture, and fake life. This desire was so great it outweighed in impact and articulateness all earlier attempts of a “transformation of values,” such as Nietzsche had attempted…Destruction without mitigation, chaos and ruin, as such assumed the dignity of supreme values.”

 

Arendt also pointed out in her book The Origins of Totalitariainism that willingness to go to war for the cause was in itself insufficient. This attitude had to survive the war, no matter how horrific it was:

“The genuineness of these feelings can be seen in the fact that very few of this generation were cured of their war enthusiasm by actual experience of its horrors. The survivors of the trenches did not become pacifists. They cherished an experience which, they thought, might serve to separate the definitively from the hated surroundings of respectability. They clung to their memories of four years of life in the trenches as though they constituted an objective criterion for the establishment of a new elite.”

 

So it is hardly surprising that Trumpsters were not done after the storming of the Capitol. They wanted more. I believe it is likely that. They want to follow their leader into the next battle.

Hannah Arendt said this about the totalitarian believers of Europe:

“This generation remembered the war as the great prelude to the breakdown of classes and their transformation into masses. War, with its constant murderous arbitrariness, became the symbol for death, the “great equalizer” and therefore the true father of a new world order. The passion for equality and justice, the longing to transcend narrow and meaningless class lines, to abandon stupid privileges and prejudices, seemed to find in war a way out of the old condescending attitudes of pity for the oppressed and disinherited. In times of growing misery and individual helplessness, it seems as difficult to resist pity when it grows into an all-devouring passion as it is not to resent its very boundlessness, which seems to kill human dignity with more deadly certainty than misery itself.”

 

Will the same be true of Trumpsters? We have no way of knowing. None of this is pre-ordained. I am not suggesting Arendt was a prophet. I am just saying her remarks about true believers of the totalitarians makes one look at the modern variants with deep trepidation. At the very least we have little justification for easy optimism or over confidence. We should not be quick to believe the troubles are over. It is more likely that they are just beginning. That is not a comforting thought.

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Hannah Arendt and the War on Truth

 

This is what Hannah Arendt said in her magnificent book published in 1951 called the Origins of Totalitarianism:

“Before they seize power and establish a world according to their doctrines, totalitarian movements conjure up a lying world of consistency which is more than adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself; in which through sheer imagination, uprooted masses can feel at home and are spared the never-ending shocks which real life and real experience deal to human beings and their expectations. The force possessed by totalitarian propaganda—before the movements have the power to drop iron curtains to prevent anyone’s disturbing, by the slightest reality, the gruesome quiet of an entirely imaginary world—lies in the its ability to shut the masses off from the real world.”

 

This is exactly what Hitler did, Putin did, and Trump is trying to do right now. It is interesting to me that National Review the American conservative journal ranked it #15 in the on its list of the greatest non-fiction books of the 20th century.

 

It is astonishingly to me how Arendt could have been writing about Trumpsters in the early 1950s. It is so incredibly prescient. These words can be applied precisely to them decades after the words were written, showing once again that Arendt was the pre-eminent political philosopher of the 20th century.

Hannah Arendt paid attention to the people who supported totalitarian movements. She did not dismiss them like Hillary Clinton did. This is what she said,

“Totalitarian movements are possible wherever there are masses who for one reason or another have acquired the appetite for political organization. Masses are not held together by a consciousness of a common interest and they lack that specific class articulateness which is expressed in determined, limited, and obtainable goals.”

 

For example, with Donald Trump many people, like me, were often surprised that the masses would support him because it wasn’t really in their best interests. He obviously didn’t really care about the masses. He carried about his rich buddies (to the extent that he cared about anyone). The masses are the people who don’t fit into any organization. His fans just wanted to join a group that would wreck things. It was the same in Nazi Germany where, we should never forget, Nazis were originally elected to power. Arendt noticed this about Nazi Germans and Communists. As she said,

“It was characteristic of the rise of the Nazi movement in Germany and of the Communist movements in Europe after 1930 that they recruited their members from this mass of apparently indifferent people whom all other parties had given up as too apathetic or too stupid for their attention.”

 

In other words the Nazis and Communists found supporters among the “basket of deplorables” of Europe. Just like Trump did in the US in 2016. No one paid attention to these people before in Germany, Russia or the US. That made things convenient. These people were never involved in or even cared about politics before. As a result, the demagogues could use entirely new methods of political propaganda. As Arendt, said they had “indifference to the arguments of their opponents.” Just like the Trumpsters.

As a result the mass movements of Europe put themselves out of the political system and against the political system. As a result

“they found a membership that had never been “spoiled” by the party system. Therefore, they did not need to refute opposing arguments and consistent preferred methods which ended in death rather than persuasion, which spelled terror rather than conviction. They presented disagreements as invariably originating in deep natural, social, or psychological sources beyond the control of the individual and therefore beyond the power of reason. This would have been a shortcoming only if they had sincerely entered into competition with other parties; it was not if they were sure of dealing with people who had reason to be equally hostile to all parties.”

 

Again this could not have described Trump and Trumpsters better. Remember they were equally hostile to Republicans and Democrats. Trump only used the  Republican party  because it was convenient. He was never a Republican. He was never a conservative. His ideology, again to the extent he had one, was fascist racism  (white supremacy) and nationalism. As Arendt said,

“Thus when totalitarian movements invaded Parliament with their contempt for parliamentary government, they merely appeared inconsistent: actually they succeeded in convincing the people at large that parliamentary majorities were spurious and did not necessarily correspond to the realities of the country”…

 

Once again Arendt prophesied Trump and his supporters in astonishingly specific terms.

This is a book worth reading!

Kulture Wars go to Court

 

America is reaping what it has sowed.  People are up in arms about the current Supreme Court overruling the landmark precedent case of Roe V. Wade.  So am I. But, the Supreme Court can do that. Since the previous decision was a Supreme Court decision only the Supreme Court can overrule it. But it can do that and has often overruled previous cases  in the past. This is what the legal doctrine of Stare decisis is all about. That doctrine obligates lower courts to follow historical cases when making a ruling on a similar case. Stare decisis ensures that cases with similar scenarios and facts are approached in the same way. Simply put, it binds courts to follow legal precedents set by previous decisions. The prior decision which is called a precedent is binding on lower courts only. However, it does not bind the Supreme Court.

 

The Supreme Court in Canada and the United States can always overturn a previous decision and when you think about it that is absolutely necessary.  Otherwise the court would be locked  forever when it made a decision. For example, those who now disagree with the decision the court made in the recent Dobbs case where Roe v. Wade was overturned  would have to accept the result forever. That would be highly unacceptable. The fact is sometimes courts make bad decisions that should be reversed.

 

That does not mean I agree with the recent decision of the US court. In fact, I think it shows what happens when for decades Supreme Court decisions and appointments to the court are determined by politics and ideology and not good reasoning. That has happened to an alarming extent in the US for decades. I hope Canada does not follow suit. And let me be clear, both parties have been guilty of this  egregious offence.  The parties have been trying to turn the court into what John Hanna of the Associated Press called “culture warriors.” That is exactly what these people have been doing.

 

The most recent example was the farcical confirmation hearings for Joe Biden’s nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. Ms. Jackson had 3 important characteristics that drove the Republicans crazy:  She was black, a woman, and smart. As a result the conservative Senators dipped into their arsenal of stupid. Senator Cruz and other Republicans came out and insinuated that she was soft on crime and suborning pedophilia. The insinuations were nasty, brutish, and stupid but that did not build caution in her attackers. It was obvious that her Senate foes cared nothing about the truth or her obvious qualifications but cared only about showing off to the Republican base how they would defend “traditional values” like attack dogs.  As Amy Davidson Sorkin said in The New Yorker, “At one point, Republican Senator Ted Cruz suggested that supporting Jackson was comparable to calling for the police to be abolished.” Republican Senator Tom Cotton  said “Judge Jackson has also shown a real interest in helping terrorists.” Cruz was joined by Josh Hawley  in suggesting that she was part of a liberal conspiracy ring supporting a child-trafficking ring.  Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene said the 3 G.O.P. Senators who vote for her were “pro-pedophile.” Senator Marsha asked Jackson to define “woman.” When she did not provide a definition, Cruz asked her how she could expect to  rule on cases involving gender if she did not know what a woman was. Jackson instead said that the woman she admired most in the world, her mother,  who was at the hearing, is a woman. Clearly, she did not need Cruz to help her understand what a woman was.

 When criticisms become so untethered  from reality, it is obvious that the purpose of the charges has nothing to do with an assessment of the candidates and everything to do with scoring points in the Kulture Wars.

 

This has been going on in the US for decades. As a result, America has the Supreme Court it deserves deserves. Our Canadian system is far from perfect, but at least we haven’t gone there.