I was sent an article posted on Aljazeera recently: The deep roots of conservative radicalism, by Corey Robin.
Robin is the author of the The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, and in his Aljazeera piece, he challenges Paul Klugman on his definition of a conservative.
Klugman uses the literal meaning of the word, by suggesting that conservatives by nature should be "calm, reasonable, quiet, averse to the operatic, friendly to the familiar ..." but instead are "revolutionary and radical rather than realistic and moderate, that it's activist rather than accommodating, that it's, well … not … really … conservative."
P.M. Carpenter, takes Klugman's views further by suggesting that the media should simply stop calling them "conservatives" altogether, because it is just too confusing. Says he, "stop calling conservative pols what they are not: conservative. They are pseudoconservatives, they are reactionaries, they are radicals, and in some instances they are merely lunatics. But they are not conservative." I feel the same way every time our media refers to Stephen Harper's party as "Tories". Absolutely ridiculous.
Carpenter does remind his readers that modern conservatism has its roots in the traditional conservatism of Edmund Burke and his reaction to the French Revolution, which is seen as the beginning of liberalism. Burke felt that the upper echelon were too comfortable in their wealth and privilege to recognize the threat from within.
We know that 1789 was a turning point in history. In fact the idea of Right vs. Left stemmed from the French Revolution when at Assemblies those rejecting change sat on the right side of the room, and those supporting radical change on the left.
The new conservative movement then is an attempt to change the results of 1789. Edmund Burke vs. Robespierre. The Rights of the Individual vs the Rights of Man.
So Then Were the Nazis Conservative?
In a radio broadcast on April 1, 1933, Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, proclaimed it clearly : with the Nazi revolution "the year 1789 has been expunged from the records of history." It was obvious to all why Goebbels compared 1933 to 1789. Any contemporary, whether schooled in history or not, instinctively knew that the French Revolution was the measure of things in the modern world. "We want to eradicate the ideology of liberalism and replace it with a new sense of community" (1)This places Goebbels and the Nazis on the "Right" side of history and in line with modern conservatism's goal of eradicating the "ideology of liberalism".
Friedrich Hayek has become the guru of Libertarianism, because he challenged the Utopian theory of socialism; but he played a more important role for the conservative movement, or fusion, as a whole.
In his new book A Generation Awakes, Wayne Thorburn says of Hayek's Road to Serfdom, that it "not only provided a comprehensive rejection of socialism but also clearly tied together all forms of collectivism - socialism, communism, and fascism - and challenged the view that Nazism and fascism were "right-wing" movements. (2)
The new right needed that argument to justify their actions, which were almost identical to those used by the Nazi party, pre-Holocaust. If you study the rise of Hitler and his fascist Brown Shirts, the tactics they used to attack liberalism were not unlike those used by the new right. They went after university professors, teachers, scientists, the media. All deemed to have a left-wing bias.
We tend to think that all of this was immediate, but most was incremental. Working through new right-wing publications, like Julius Streicher's, Der Stürmer, they attacked the Jews, and though the paper was constantly being sued, they had a smart lawyer to get them off.
When the Nazis attacked scientists, those among them believed that their protests would be heard. Instead Bernhard Rust, Minister of Science, Education and National Culture, dismissed the scientists, literally and figuratively.
Max Planck's scientific peers made him feel that he must make a bold reply to Bernhard Rust ... at the Congress of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society for Advancement of Science he made what was considered a daring speech indeed ... "History proves that the greatest and most vital discoveries were made by scientists who worked for the sake of pure science only." Indulgently Nazi Rust did not crack down on Professor Planck, but as president of the Society Herr Planck dolefully reported that 85 scientists have sent in their resignations and are suffering "economic difficulties" under the Nazi regime. (3)And in a bit of deja vu:
Citing actions taken by the Conservative government since winning a minority government in 2006, 85 scientists across Canada have signed an open letter to all national party leaders calling on them to state how they will 'improve Canada’s track record' regarding the objectivity of science.(4)[My emphasis in both excerpts.]
Instead of listening to them, Harper named Gary Goodyear, a man who does not believe in Evolution, as science minister, and Christian Paradis became our Bernhard Rust, muzzling government scientists. (5)
"Our national policies will not be revoked or modified, even for scientists." - Adolf HitlerThe socialism of the Nazis was based on race, and created to counter offers being made by the Bolsheviks to take care of the German people. But the idea of the supremacy of race came from Edmund Burke. According to Hannah Arendt:
While the seeds of German race-thinking were planted during the Napoleonic wars, the beginnings of the later English development appeared during the French Revolution and may be traced back to the man who violently denounced it as the "most astonishing [crisis] that has hitherto happened in the world"—to Edmund Burke . The tremendous influence his work has exercised not only on English but also on German political thought is well known. The fact, however, must be stressed because of resemblances between German and English race-thinking as contrasted with the French brand. These resemblances stem from the fact that both countries had defeated the Tricolor and therefore showed a certain tendency to discriminate against the ideas of Liberte-Egalite-Fraternize [Liberty, Equality and Freedom] as foreign intuitions. Social inequality being the basis of English society, British Conservatives felt not a little uncomfortable when it came to the "rights of men". (6)As Burke said, he "preferred the rights of the Englishman to the Rights of Man."
Today that racism is shielded by words like 'multiculturalism', which the new right opposes, anti-immigration policies, or what Arendt refers to as "extermination through respectable foreign policy". Blood for oil wars are justified by the need to eradicate Islamic fundamentalists, and yet the wars drastically reduce civilian populations.
Maybe Corey Robin is Right
Robin suggests that for those who don't believe that the new right is conservative, they should not just read Edmund Burke, but READ Edmund Burke, to understand where their conservatism comes from.
I get this suggestion many times from my right-wing readers, when I make the claim that Stephen Harper is not a conservative in the Canadian tradition of people like George Grant, Diefenbaker or John A. MacDonald, and definitely not a Tory.
I might counter their argument by saying that maybe they should read Edmund Burke, since they often cite a Burke quote: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing". That quote cannot be found in any of Burke's writings. The closest attribution comes from Tolstoy's War and Peace.
I might also tell the media to listen to people like Corey Robin, instead of crying foul every time the Harper government does something that goes against Canadian principles. The Right mistakenly declares that the media has a left wing bias, but the left instead believe that the media is simply ignorant of who the new right really are.
Everyone in the Dark
What the neocons, Burkians, whatever they are; fail to understand is that the Welfare State, FDR's New Deal, LBJ's Great Society and Trudeau's Just Society, were necessary to avoid bloody revolutions. A well fed, well educated, well housed and healthy population, becomes a country's human capital, as important as money in the bank.
And when we are treated as human capital, not to be squandered but invested in, we will happily go about our business.
Burke once claimed of the French Revolution, that it was "more concerned with the condition of the gentleman than with the institution of a king." This fits with Herman Cain's denouncing of the Occupy Wall Street movement, as those merely jealous of the rich.
If it were that simple.
Hannah Arendt challenges Burke by saying that the revolutionaries questioned why the "gentleman" was still so rich once the king was toppled. The same question can be asked today. Why did only the 99% suffer during the economic crisis, while the 1% continued to live in splendour, and many of the institutions bailed out by the 99%, are now reporting "record profits", with unemployment still so high?
We need to make the "occupy" movement a state of mind, and start asking some of these questions. We never resented the rich, until acquiring at least some of the wealth, became so unattainable, for so many.
Our system is broken and we can't rely on politicians to fix it, especially under a Harper majority.
Naturally, I'm not suggesting a bloody revolution or a new Reign of Terror, but just a bit of activism. They will have to listen once they realize that we are not going away.
1. Foundational Pasts: The Holocaust as Historical Understanding, By Alon Confino, Cambridge University Press, 2011, ISBN 978-0-52173-632-9, p. 6
2. A Generation Awakes: Young Americans for Freedom and the Creation of the Conservative Movement, By Wayne Thorburn, Jameson Books, Inc., 2010, ISBN: 13-978-0-89803-168-3. p. 1
3. GERMANY: False Planck? Time Magazine, June 18, 1934
4. Canadian scientists protest Harper's attacks on science, Wikinews, October 13, 2008
5. Ottawa’s media rules muzzling federal scientists, say observers, By Margaret Munro, Postmedia News, September 12, 2010
6. The Origins of Totalitarianism, By Hannah Arendt, Harcourt Books, 1994, ISBN: 978-0-15-670153-2, p. 175