Monday, August 17, 2015

National Socialism

Glenn Reynolds has had fun poking at Bernie Sanders and others that the socialism they are advocating isn’t the international version put forward by the PRC or USSR (or CPUSA), but a national socialism. The point being to create an association in the reader’s mind between their philosophy and National Socialists.  Nazis.  The echoes of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism have been explicitly noted in a few spots.

In a purely intellect sense this is entirely reasonable. A philosophy of Socialism In One Country, though it is completely at odds with Marx and Engels, was established as a practical alternative among prominent communists a century ago. The more successful versions of socialism now, as I have noted before, tend strongly to be in homogeneous nations – Switzerland, Scandinavian – which maintain a robust and even severe free-market attitude in their relations with other nations. No one is giving away Volvos, nor even Volvo technology, to the oppressed masses.

But the popular imagination does not separate arid economic discussions from the historical reality of death camps, gulags, and invasion of neighboring countries. Whatever else Bernie and the Debts are about, they aren’t strong advocates for invasions, torture, and mass extermination. Comparing the smell wafting from their kitchen to Auschwitz, even playfully, isn’t fair.

I suppose it might be fair, if it could be established that national socialism and fascism are similar enough to be spoken of as much the same thing at all points, and inevitably led to such abuses. I doubt we can get that far.

However, we may be able to get further down that road than is popularly supposed.

Hitler used right-wing imagery and appeals, but much of the program was left-wing.  Not fully, as there was no push that the workers might own their means of production, nor that a levelling of income was the goal. But it was explicitly clear that no industry, no sector, no estate was to exist for its own good, but "for the good of all." Profit motive and rights of the individual went quickly by the wayside. Perhaps we should consider it the parent of corporatism today, that unholy mix of the worst of left and right.

As to imagery and appeals, I grant there was often some nod leftward in fascist appeals, but in the main, it was the standard stuff one finds in culture after culture.   The Right usually promises to get the young people working and talking respectfully, not swearing in the streets or hanging around uselessly and getting into trouble; to honor in art, and music, and rhetoric the inner nobility of The Tribe, stretched as far into the past as is dared; to have flags and parades and displays. For all these things the blessing from the military and religious cultures is important, if not essential (though they can be easily infiltrated and disempowered later).  Evangelical Christians ate this stuff up in Germany and Catholics did the same in Italy, the Orthodox in Slav states, only to be betrayed a few short years later.

By the way, why is it that conservatives and gays both like parades? Is this a subtle key to understanding conflict?

Are the two parts easily separable? The central idea behind fascism is the all-stick-together advice known as far back as Aesop. One can see that this might put people who didn't sign on with full force a bit under suspicion, and immediately recall that this is exactly what did happen in Germany. It happens in gentler and lesser ways in all human groups. So already in National Socialism we have the potential for the government (because it's national) lean on people to get with the program, either with carrots or sticks. Still, even though the Swedes all decorate their houses exactly the same at Christmas and are pretty insistent telling even other Scandinavians how wrong they are, they seem fairly happy with it.  No one breaks their arms to make them do this. It is unraveling badly in Malmo and even Stockholm now, but perhaps they can out-nice their new immigrants and get them to buy in.

But so far, no.  And the Swedes seem to have forgotten how to make citizens do things they should.
My overarching picture is that sharing within the tribe is the human norm. Even among the smallest bands this is seldom entirely egalitarian, as some members are considered more valuable and get greater resources, but all are provided for in some way. Those outside the tribe are entitled to nothing and are regarded as less-than-human. As organization of population increases, the number of people considered to be “in the tribe” increases.  There is always a balancing act, for having a large cooperative clan means improved ability to command resources in the environment and defend oneself.  OTOH, it means more people to provide for, and more conflict of needs. In the age of empires many peoples could be brought under one banner, but it was still clearly many peoples. A select few of each could be tapped for leadership or citizenship, but people otherwise kept their clan status.
The coalescing of clans into larger tribes, and tribes into nation- states is more recent. Only in the last few centuries has come the idea that a nation is "really" all one people.  The United Kingdom has had to straddle that divide, regarding themselves as separate nations in some instances, a single force in others.  The US has come closer to being United but separate states, but still has clear regional divisions.  We also continue to define ourselves quite emphatically along racial lines, though ethnic and religious differences are getting washed out. If anything, racial identification is getting stronger, a dangerous trend. When we were at least in theory attempting to be a melting pot, we could also at least attempt to see ourselves as all-in-this-together. If the goal is to be multi, I fear increasing numbers of people will buy out, saying "What's my motivation?  If you don't want to be part of me, why should I care?" Other dividing lines may occur to you.

I see no evidence that human beings are currently equipped to go farther down the road of expanding their de facto definitions of "who is my neighbor," whatever their ideals.  Those who profess to be the most international turn out to be deeply identified with some citizens of other (usually western European and Anglospheric*) countries, of similar class, outlook, and profession to themselves.  They become just as "nationalist" in some sense - just defining it differently.
Christians have a responsibility to get there somehow. Whether it comes naturally to us by upbringing and personality or whether it comes only by grace, we are under orders that our tribe is the Christian tribe, regardless of what original tribe each of us came from.  I don't see that as the same thing as what is happening politically.  I think "national" is as far as we can go in the flesh - indeed, that seems too far most days, as the nationals who accomplish it all come from places where everyone looks the same - and "international" is a dangerous illusion. I hear that independent evangelical churches are showing the best integration we've ever seen in some locations, and I hope it's true.  Up here in NH, you'd never know.  Our evangelical church has many more African Americans than usual, but it's still a small number, and there are reasons peculiar to our congregation for that. We'll see where it goes.

*They also like various Asians while they are here.  I get to see a lot of international students and internationally-trained doctors coming through.  When they go back to Korea or India they must somehow become less important, as the internationalist Americans  I work with have almost no understanding what various factions in those countries of origin think.  They take it as given that the internationals hated George Bush and love Barack Obama.  It is an amazing thing to behold when the actual furriners politely or even timidly contradict that notion. It has almost zero effect.


Earl Wajenberg said...

"I see no evidence that human beings are currently equipped to go farther down the road of expanding their de facto definitions of "who is my neighbor," whatever their ideals. [...] Christians have a responsibility to get there somehow. Whether it comes naturally to us by upbringing and personality or whether it comes only by grace, we are under orders that our tribe is the Christian tribe, regardless of what original tribe each of us came from."

It goes further than that. The answer to "who is my neighbor" was the parable of the Good Samaritan. Samaritans weren't co-religionists with the Jews. They were heretics as well as foreigners; they were traditional enemies.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yep. And if someone sneaks in barely under the LCD, they're ours. And we own that, regardless of the pain.

In this I am both more conservative and more liberal than what one would find in popular religious culture. The secular religion, which tells us we have equal obligations to Neighbor A and Neighbor B, I reject entirely. We owe the same kindness and generosity to both. We owe acceptance to one but not the other. But here's the pain: we owe entire acceptance. It is beyond our ability. We must have grace.

Practical example, stated in extremes for illustrative purposes. Neighbor A, who is a sociopathic criminal whose grew up in the church, made a profession, attends prison Bible study in hopes of getting parole, and has a mother who intercedes for him daily, absolutely belongs to me. Neighbor B, who is a local Muslim who I chat with and like seeing in line on election day, is not. Church-raised but long departed Little League coaches - I don't know.

Christopher B said...

Re the fairness of the Instant-Man's running 'National Socialism' gag

I find it entirely fair.

The Left in this country (Democrat, liberal, progressive, what every the flavor of the moment) has been not too subtle about claiming they are the only thing preventing conservatives from arranging jackbooted marches down Pennsylvania Avenue while building up an array of social, political, and legal instruments to enforce the kind of conformity they are always claiming to be against. In the last few years they've even dropped the pretext of being against enforcing conformity so long as it is conformity with their preferred values.

Texan99 said...

We've known for a long time that the left-right split is orthogonal to the libertarian-statist (or, as I would call it, freedom-totalitarian) split. Socialism is hard to separate from statism, so for those of us who are particularly sensitive to the dangers of totalitarianism, there's not much to choose between a communist and a fascist. The distinctions strike me as trifling and legalistic. Both claim to be looking out for the People, and both do it by concentrating control of the economy in the hands of a few government apparatchiks, using as much force as necessary in light of the level of resistance of the Enemies of the People.

While I detest statism with a passion, there are countries where they pull it off without the evident excesses of the worst communist and fascist regimes. I'll always be suspicious and want nothing to do with their experiments, but, oddly enough, we want the same thing, in a way: people to pull together for each other. It's just that I want them to do it only to the extent they can agree voluntarily, and I favor starting with small, intimate groups, expanding only when possible without compulsion.