Tuesday, January 03, 2006

George Orwell, Meet Antonio Gramsci

Warning: long post.

Belmont Club’s Wretchard has an interesting piece today, commenting on two essays in the New Criterion discussing the “Suicide of the West” which includes essays by Roger Kimball and Mark Steyn:

Roger Kimball's “After the suicide of the West” (link not currently functioning) pronounces his post-mortem: a civilization suicided from despair; death from want of a reason to live. The contradiction within liberalism -- within multiculturalism -- Kimball argues, is that it unwilling to believe in anything definite, even in itself.

... an essay called “The Self-Poisoning of the Open Society,” ... dilates on this basic antinomy of liberalism. Liberalism implies openness to other points of view, even ... those points of view whose success would destroy liberalism. But tolerance to those points of view is a prescription for suicide. ... As Robert Frost once put it, a liberal is someone who refuses to take his own part in an argument.

And having emptied life of belief, liberalism has not coincidentally also emptied it of meaning.

Liberalism's first step is to render the past, with its ties to memory and tradition, despicable and valueless. From there it inevitably proceeds to make the future futile. The "me" generation is liberated not only from its myths but also from its dreams. Kimball cites James Burnham. Modern liberalism, Burnham writes:

does not offer ordinary men compelling motives for personal suffering, sacrifice, and death. There is no tragic dimension in its picture of the good life. Men become willing to endure, sacrifice, and die for God, for family, king, honor, country, from a sense of absolute duty or an exalted vision of the meaning of history.... And it is precisely these ideas and institutions that liberalism has criticized, attacked, and in part overthrown as superstitious, archaic, reactionary, and irrational. In their place liberalism proposes a set of pale and bloodless abstractions—pale and bloodless for the very reason that they have no roots in the past, in deep feeling and in suffering. Except for mercenaries, saints, and neurotics, no one is willing to sacrifice and die for progressive education, medicare, humanity in the abstract, the United Nations, and a ten percent rise in Social Security payments.

Wretchard moves on to Mark Steyn:
Mark Steyn makes a less abstract argument in It’s the demography, stupid. (Again, link not currently functional.).... The challenge now, he says, is no longer to save the West, but to see if anything can still be saved. For the West, make no mistake, is dying.

The design flaw of the secular social-democratic state is that it requires a religious-society birth rate to sustain it. Post-Christian hyper-rationalism is, in the objective sense, a lot less rational than Catholicism or Mormonism. Indeed, in its reliance on immigration to ensure its future, the European Union has adopted a twenty-first-century variation on the strategy of the Shakers, who were forbidden from reproducing and thus could only increase their numbers by conversion. ...

That’s what the war’s about: our lack of civilizational confidence. As a famous Arnold Toynbee quote puts it: "Civilizations die from suicide, not murder"—as can be seen throughout much of "the western world" right now. The progressive agenda —lavish social welfare, abortion, secularism, multiculturalism—is collectively the real suicide bomb. ...

When it comes to forecasting the future, the birth rate is the nearest thing to hard numbers. If only a million babies are born in 2006, it’s hard to have two million adults enter the workforce in 2026 (or 2033, or 2037, or whenever they get around to finishing their Anger Management and Queer Studies degrees). ... Europe by the end of this century will be a continent after the neutron bomb: the grand buildings will still be standing but the people who built them will be gone. We are living through a remarkable period: the self-extinction of the races who, for good or ill, shaped the modern world. ...

... Religious cultures have a much greater sense of both past and future, as we did a century ago, when we spoke of death as joining "the great majority" in "the unseen world." But if secularism’s starting point is that this is all there is, it's no surprise that, consciously or not, they invest the here and now with far greater powers of endurance than it's ever had. The idea that progressive Euro-welfarism is the permanent resting place of human development was always foolish; we now know that it’s suicidally so. ...
Things get interesting in the comments that follow Wretchard’s post, as in the following:
So much confusion results from the inexact use of language. Liberalism is not socialism, it is respect for individual rights, including the right to property. Democracy is not freedom, it is direct rule by the people. The United States was established as a constitutional republic to protect individual rights. It was then, and for the most part still is, a liberal form of government. The problem with the West is not liberalism, it is the rejection of liberalism in favor of socialism. Socialism is the cause of Europe's malaise. It is the reason why France cannot absorb its immigrants, and why it has nothing to offer them as an incentive to become Frenchmen.The writer proceeds to get lost, however, in trying to grant moral equivalency to conservatives, to whom he attributes erroneous motivations.

A UK commentator weighs in next. His excellent observations could have used an editor, but we excerpt them here (mostly) as they appear online:
The issue the suicide of Europe should embrace the question, "Did she fall or was she pushed?"For decades the liberal elites and the Gramscian marxists have been beavering away at the foundations of Western society...

...the Gramscians have been deliberately undermining Western institutions, education, religion, the family, patriotism and tradition. As with all revolutionaries the hand book delineates the destructive aspects of the creed but relies on faith that the self evedent superiority of Socialism will prevail, they were wrong.The Gramscians miscalculated, they analysed the situation in a closed environment, it is not that the principle of power abhoring a vacuum was misunderstood, but that there were other more virulent strains than limp liberal socialism.
Time out: For the uninitiated, Antonio Gramsci, one of HazZzmat’s villains of choice, is, in the West, one of the largely unknown and unsung forces behind what modern Marxism/socialism/collectivism has become. Seeing the power of what he regarded as the imperialist, capitalist West as he wrote from prison cells in the Post WWI era—Gramsci championed the notion of rotting the West from within rather than making a futile attempt to topple Western democracies via bloody Leninist revolutions.

How to accomplish this? First infiltrate, then transform government, the judiciary, education, and the arts into tools that would accomplish the opposite of what the West intended. Instead of serving as the instruments of preserving, protecting, and perpetuating Western culture and traditions and educating the young to take their place in this well-ordered world, the Gramsicans chose to turn this world, slowly and surely, on its head, into a sort of Bizarro World where everything would be the opposite of what it seemed, sowing dissention and confusing among the populace and a waning influence for the traditional keepers of the culture, whether in government, academia, or organized religion (which they also happily subverted.)

We see the effects of Gramsicanism today in the so-called American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU’s) tireless efforts to remove religion entirely from the realm of public discourse; in the near-universal tilt of self-selected academic faculties toward the hard left; in the near-universal anti-Republican and anti-US bias of Hollywood, Broadway, and the arts and writing communities; and the never-ending appetitite for income redistribution and the perpetuation of race hatred and resentment that lie at the core of the Democratic Party.

We now return you to our regularly-scheduled broadcast. Wretchard weighs back in in the Comments section:

When I remarked the suicides struggle for life at the last, I had in mind the possible impacts on liberalism by the reality of the endgame. European liberalism is in a terrible double bind. Islamic immigration is, if nothing else, a massive influx [of] liberalism's foes; and its only effective defenders the people that liberalism scorns. Huge though the inheritance from the 1960s was it is spending much faster than it earns….Personally I think 2006 or 2007 may be the years when the liberal enterprise is shaken so badly that it will start to lose legitimacy. For that reason, I'm less pessimistic than either Kimball or Steyn. Not that they're wrong, just that their predictions are only going to work if trends remain linear. But they won't; because societies are above all complex systems, full of emergent phenomenon.The key challenge for policymakers is to ask themselves 'how can we prepare for a crisis in Western liberalism if it comes?' There are warnings from the now-distant past. When systems die as after the Great War terrible new faiths arise; arise because nothing sensible steps into the vacuum.

The UK respondent observes:
"There seems to be no message to deliver that will open the hearts of the disenchanted and disallusioned. There seems to be no rallying cry, no "For the Glory of God and St. George" to interrupt the parties and the sleeping."To achieve all this, first the Gramscians had to get rid of the rallying cry, "For the Glory of God and St. George".Deconstruct a culture then replace it with the one you desire, unfortunately this has gone wrong.

Wretchard responds:
Nevertheless, maybe the storm petrels are come. Part of the reason the Left ascribes such a diabolical cleverness to George Bush, Karl Rove and a handful of neoconservatives is that it provides an explanation for what would otherwise be incomprehensible events. To wit: why was a system capable of abandoning Vietnam incapable of halting the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan? How did Bush win, not once but twice? Why did the EU constitution falter? How is Bush still in power when Nixon was hounded out on a much thinner basis? Where are the massive antiwar demonstrations?

...The neocon conspiracy explanations are too small in scale -- even if true -- to account for what's happening. In a way, the Left's fixation on President Bush is hastening the process of decline because the patient is focusing on the irrelevant, like a man with cancer worried about his zits.
Intriguingly, Power Line focuses on another aspect of this thread in some observations of their own. Belmont Club focuses on the death or suicide of a society without meaning. Power Line picks up on the Orwell thread in this argument, and explains—without alluding to Gramsci (and perhaps unaware of how pervasive his methods have become)—how the deeply assimilated Gramscian subversion of language, once the preferred tool of negligible English Department deconstructionist dilettantes, has permeated the world of journalism with astonishingly negative effects on our culture. By proclaiming, without any facts, new meanings for generally accepted terminology, today’s Gramscian (or deconstructionist) journalists create a new “reality” that has no grounding in objective truth. This “reality” is thus not subject to rational inquiry as it cannot be parsed:

In 1984 George Orwell portrays the importance of language in controlling thought. The totalitarian regime depicted in the novel had developed its own language -- Newspeak -- to meet the ideological needs of Oceania. In the novel's appendix on the language, Orwell explains:

In the year 1984 there was not as yet anyone who used Newspeak as his sole means of communication, either in speech or writing. The leading articles of the Times were written in it, but this was a tour de force which could only be carried out by a specialist.

Orwell adds:

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc [the regime's ideology], but to make all other modes of thought impossible. [Emphasis by Wonker.]

And so today, in the furor created by the New York Times stories by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, the Times and its media allies seek to impose the yoke of their thought on readers in order to stifle if not control the debate -- "to make all other modes of thought impossible." Let's call the lingo "Timesspeak" in honor of Orwell.

Here are two critical examples of Timesspeak in action:

1. References to the NSA eavesdropping program as "domestic spying." See, for example, the Times story on the investigation of the leaks underlying the story: "Justice Dept. Inquiry into leak of domestic spying." Contrary to the language used by the Times, the program is one of foreign intelligence surveillance; it is not a domestic spying program. Like the authorities in Oceania, the Times seeks to dictate the politically correct attitude to the subject.

2. Implications that the "nearly a dozen current and former government officials" who leaked the highly classified information on which the Risen/Lichtblau stories are based are "whistle-blowers." The linked Times story quotes Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project: "The whole reason we have whistle-blower laws is so that government workers can act as the public's eyes and ears to expose illegality or abuse of power." Yet no whistle-blower law authorizes government employees to report allegedly illegal conduct to the New York Times.

On the contrary, federal law (18 U.S.C § 798) precisely prohibits leaks of the type of classified information in which the Times articles on the NSA program trade. The Times articles themselves involve an epidemic of lawbreaking among current and former government officials -- a fact the Times conceals from its readers by failing to disclose the applicable law. Now why would it overlook such a critical piece of information even when reporting on the opening of a criminal investigation of the leaks?

It is good to see that the major, institutionalized blogs are starting to grasp the astonishing, major negative clout that Gramscian methodology, whether employed consciously or unconsciously, has possessed for at least the last half century. Gramscians and their fellow-travelers have ganged up, quietly, to bring Western culture—once the glory of the known world—to a very low ebb indeed. The cultural battle is at the heart of why HazZzmat has entered the fray. Being primarily political in orientation, both Belmont Club and Power Line, erudite, brilliant, well-informed, and up-to-date, still skirt, as do most conservatives, the core issues of thought and culture control. Without the obvious villain of Soviet Communism to joust with, the intellectual right—in many respects vastly superior to the shell that remains of the intellectual left—betrays its blind spot.

Whether because it incorrectly regards the culture as a footnote to politics, or because it falls to the temptation of focusing on hot rather than cold wars, the intellectual right, while occasionally gaining brilliant insights as in the exchanges quoted here, is generally asleep at the switch when it comes to the powerful negative effect that the left-dominated cultural, judicial, and educational establishments have had on undermining morals, religion, and commonly accepted tenets of jurisprudence. We’re here to fix that. The cultural hegemony of the Gramscian left is gradually being exposed by intellectuals on the right, little by little, as it dawns on them to comment.

HazZzmat, however, will continue to focus on the Culture Wars—for that is what they are—24/7. The more Americans in general and objective intellectuals in particular who can get a grasp of what’s going on in the cultural background, the better they’ll be able to gain control of the political foreground and stop this negative slide before, as Wretchard and Power Line fear, all is irretrievably lost.

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