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What the Founders Thought   Leave a comment

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What the Founders Thought   1 comment

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What If America Stayed out of World War I?   Leave a comment

We all know the story we were taught in school – the United States entered the fray of World War I on the side of Britain and secured peace and democracy for Europe and the world. Then Americans demanded their government withdraw from the world stage, which sabotaged the peace efforts and lead to Hitler coming to power.

Image result for image of woodrow wilsonBut is that really what happened? Was Woodrow Wilson really a brilliant leader who didn’t want to go to war until it became absolutely certain that our intervention was necessary?

World War I was an expensive war fought with new-fangled weapons. Millions died in heavy artillery barrages. By 1916, the British and French were running out of money and could no longer renegotiate their loans. They could not continue to prosecute war against Germany for much longer.

We are told t hat the United States had been neutral up to this point and that U-boat attacks on our merchant fleet is what finally drove us to choose a side. But is that true?

I’m not a professional historian, but I am a fan of history books. I didn’t stop reading them when I got my degrees. It was during that continuing education in my living room that I learned stuff that the public schools definitely don’t bother to teach us.

In January 1917, European leaders were ready for the war to end. Germany had fought England and France to a standstill. From a technical military standpoint, 1916 featured complicated and progressive experimentation with methods of war that would break up the stalemate. Germany might have been slightly closer to winning the war in December 1916, but that would have been splitting hairs.

In December 1916, Field Marshal Haig, Commander of the British forces on the Western Front, sent in an extensive report to his government on the just completed Somme Campaign. Allied lines had advanced in some places, but hadn’t come close to break through, but casualties had been appalling. Yet Haig declared the Somme campaign a victory because it had worn down of the Germans and stabilized the front.

Haig’s report didn’t make British statesmen optimistic. The Somme advance had been shallow, and that the Germans still held onto nearly as much of France as they had before. Significantly, the Central Powers were killing Allied troops at a faster rate than the Allies were killing the Germans. For every two deaths on the side of the Central Powers, three Allied soldiers were dying.

Meanwhile, Romanian soldiers in Eastern Central Europe were faced with an an Austro-Hungarian, German, and Bulgarian force that had captured Bucharest. Although they might have taken some pressure off the Western front, they’d suffered enormous losses. In Russia, people were hungry and demoralized and the edge of revolution, which would have tipped the balance of power sharply in favor of the Central Powers had the United States not intervened.

Meanwhile, the Great Britain had already adopted conscription in January 1916. On the diplomatic front, the British government began a process that would end by promising overlapping parts of the Ottoman Empire both to the future “king of the Arabs” and to Jews across the world as a future homeland, which has consequences into our own time. At the same time, British propaganda aimed at influencing the United States to enter the war heightened dramatically. Charles Masterman’s War Propaganda Bureau in London worked on the “American question” with articles in the United States newspapers, speaking tours, increased distribution of the famous Bryce Report on German atrocities in Belgium, and in other ways.

One crucial example of non-traditional attempts to break the impasse was the British blockade resulting in the starvation of German civilians. In place since late 1914, the blockade kept even neutrals from delivering food and other essentials to Germany. Before it was lifted in 1919, somewhere between 500,000 and 800,000 German civilians died from starvation and the effects of malnutritional.  See Ralph Raico’s detailed review of the classic book on the subject by C. Paul Vincent.

In order to survive the war, Britain had to control the seas. In order to survive the war, Germany had to eat. At the same time, Germany had to avoid bringing the United States as world’s most powerful economy into the conflict. Unlimited submarine warfare was the most likely way to break the blockade and eat, though German statesmen feared this step would bring the United States into the war.

Ending the war seemed out of the question. Both sides desired any help they could get, but both sides had turned down offers of mediation, truce, and negotiations because they wanted to gain territory and not have to pay financial obligations.

Additionally, the winter of 1916/17 was one of the coldest in memory. The Germans were starving, but the soldiers on all sides found the cold almost unbearable. Misery in the trenches and encampments did not bode well for the future will to fight for either army.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the United States had been expending west (and north into Alaska), but had by now reached its continential limits and had been advancing into the Asian sphere. Colonel Edward Mandell House had played a central role in choosing and grooming Woodrow Wislon to become a presidential candidate. House became an intimate friend of Woodrow Wilson. Wilson’s chief of staff, Joseph Tumulty, testified to this close relationship, as did dozens of others. Ultimately, House would become a special roving emissary of Woodrow Wilson in Europe from 1914 onward. Through a large private network of highly influential friends, House’s influence on American intervention in World War I not exaggerated. So who was this very important American?

House was a Texan. His father was an early immigrant to the state, making a fortune as a blockade-runner during the American Civil War. Edward Mandell House was born in 1858 in Houston and attended elite secondary schools in England and the northeastern United States. Eventually, he ended up at Cornell University. When his father died in 1880, House returned to Texas and took over management of the family fortune of $500,000 (equivalent of $11 million dollars today). That didn’t put him in the same league as the individuals he would soon be associating with. Involved in banking and railroads, House crossed paths with the J.P. Morgan more than once, and many other leading individuals of the day. He left business for politics, but his aim was to work behind the scenes, to influence politics rather than leading as a figurehead. The real power often rests with the man behind the curtain.

In Texas, House backed a gubernatorial candidate in 1890. Surprisingly, for all House’s railroad and oil connections, he chose the “trust-busting” populist Democrat “Big Jim” Hogg. Governor Hogg appointed him an honorary state “Colonel,” a designation which House adopted proudly. The Colonel masterminded the elections of four Texas governors, then headed East just after the turn of the century to seek out a national candidate to groom for President.

House had collected a very large circle of wealthy individuals, including many in the rarefied world of J. P. Morgan. He combined an introverted public view and amazing social skills, including a very sharp sense of humor.

By the time he entered politics, House had begun to embrace Progressivism, a doctrine of “efficiency and wise leadership” which was informed by the Positivist doctrine of French sociologist Auguste Comte. Progressivism became a widespread political movement in American lifeand the world. In America, it emanated from and came to characterize the wealthy and wise men of “efficiency” and “capital,” chiefly from the Northeast. The Colonel wrote a novel in 1912, Philip Dru, Administrator, wherein the protagonist would reshape the government of the United States, freeing it for reform by freeing it from the corrupt and ignorant element of an elected legislative branch, a constitutional element Comte himself saw as roadblock to “Positive” administration.

Woodrow Wilson, an academic Progressive who had been a one-term governor of New Jersey, had served as President of Princeton, but entered New Jersey state politics, after leaving Princeton under heavy criticism for his high-handed reform of the curriculum and direction of the institution. He was condemned by many as a self-righteous, authoritarian leader who hated compromise. Upon a first “delightful visit” in late 1911, House wrote to a confidant, “He is not the biggest man I ever met, but he is one of the pleasantest and I would rather play with him than any prospective candidate I have seen.”

House and Wilson were opposites in many ways. The non-religious Texan admirer of heroic frontier men of violence and the Presbyterian minister’s son whose life was circumscribed by a long line of church ladies. House, who reveled in recounting the practical jokes of his youth designed to belittle and control those around him, and Wilson, whose humor was of the quietest, most conventional kind. House, whose diary and letters universally groan with gourmet meals in the best restaurants with wine flowing, and the abstemious Wilson, who ate and drank little, preferring a quiet family circle.

Yet the two men had much in common. Historians note that both were outsiders in terms of national politics, late-comers to the Progressive political movement, middle-aged Southerners, and admirers of “vigor” and efficiency in individuals and government. Both men admired Great Britain with passion. They were both extremely ambitious to “go down in history.” Both House and Wilson embodied those Comtean, Positivist elements of Progressivism that relied on the certainties of social science as a means of ruling. The great project of the Progressive movement was the efficient organization of the world though the power of the state upon the liberties of the individual. Both House and Wilson consistently put their faith in wise men who would lead rather than merely represent the people.

After House helped get the one-term Governor elected President in 1912, a Washington insider asked the new President about House’s apparent authority to make political commitments about the future. Wilson replied:”Mr. House is my second personality. He is my independent self. His thoughts and mine are one.”

Working behind the scenes, House ramrodded the new administration’s legislation implementing the Federal Reserve and much else. His communications with “the Governor” (as he continued to address his presidential friend) were always flattering, always indirect, always purposeful, and full of sage advice. His role in managing William Jennings Bryan was especially important. He gained Bryan’s endorsement of the election, persuaded Wilson to appoint him Secretary of State, kept the unpredictable but powerful populist off balance, and arranged for him to be isolated from the President’s inner circle.

With Wilson’s agreement, House roamed Europe with the full authority of the President’s intimate and special emissary, meeting with kings, prime ministers, intellectuals, and others, “planting the seeds of peace.” The Colonel was a supreme political operative in the United States, but knew European international politics a little, and the craft of diplomacy not at all. Historian Walter Millis suggested that for all the “seeds” the Colonel planted with European leaders, none of them had the least chance of germinating.

Then war broke out in August 1914. House concentrated on putting Woodrow Wilson in a position to mediate the terrible war raging in Europe. Theodore Roosevelt had brokered the end to the much less extensive Russian-Japanese conflict of 1904-5 and won the Nobel Peace Prize. Both House and Wilson considered Wilson far greater than Roosevelt.

President Wilson immediately proclaimed American neutrality. Wilson’s Secretary of State, populist Democrat William Jennings Bryan, the Great Commoner, assumed that traditional neutrality would also preclude financial support of one side or the other by American big business and financial interests. Bryan tried to keep the United States on good terms with all countries by promoting treaties of friendship and conciliation.

Truthfully, any mediation by Wilson would come with supplies of money, arms, ammunition, food, and other necessities of war. The Germans seemed tempted to take up Wilson’s mediation offers at several points. Wilson felt he made progress in mediation in the coming months, even after more U-Boat sinkings of armed civilian vessels in designated zones. In the spring of 1916, he pressured the Germans to drop their unlimited submarine warfare program.

In spite of increasing talk of “preparedness” and anti-German sentiment in the United States, Americans weren’t interested in seeing their country intervene directly in the war. The election of 1916 focused on “he kept us out of the war” even as Wilson was meddling in European affairs and funding both sides of the war.

Three months before the Lusitania sinking, House met in London with the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Grey, and made an amazing commitment. The Colonel had vague instructions from Wilson to persuade the British to lift the blockade, but House defied the President and committed his nation, under certain conditions, to enter the conflict on the Allied side.

A vast number of Americans were of German heritage and had no stomach to fight their cousins. The Midwest, especially, seemed unwilling to go to war, and much of the socialist left, anarchists, and populists, as well as many peace-oriented religious and social groups, opposed the war, but most American Progressives and much of Wall Street had ties to Britain,. The Wilson Progressives remained firm in their allegiance to Britain, as did the bankers themselves, many of whom had affiliate banks in London and Paris. From 1914 onward, British agents offered monetary awards to newspapers across the United States in exchange for war news and opinion favorable to the Allies.

Bryan had been appointed by Wilson reluctantly and only as repayment for Bryan’s support in the 1912 election. He had little influence on the President and his populist anti-imperialism had little support from a chief executive who aimed at a new kind of American expansiveness and a revamped, American-led organization of the world.

Hence, Bryan’s denunciation of the British blockade of Germany had little effect, and nobody listened after the sinking of the Cunard liner Lusitania on May 7, 1915. Among the 1198 dead were 128 United States citizens. The torpedoing of the Lusitania reoriented America to war. The German Embassy in Washington had taken out ads in 50 American newspapers warning Americans that the liner would be entering a zone of war, and that any vessel flying the British flag would be “liable to destruction” in those waters. The blockade of Germany constituted a war against civilians. Although the British government denied that the ship was carrying armaments, underwater archeological research and archival evidence has since shown that the Lusitania carried a very large load of armaments, including four million rounds of U.S.-manufactured .303 Remington bullets.

At the State Department, Bryan argued that the United States should use the Lusitania as part of a diplomatic offensive to persuade both British and Germans to cease their brutal warfare against civilians, steering the Germans from their ruthless unlimited submarine war, the British from their unrelenting, starvation blockade, but with House making increasingly specific promises to Allied leaders, and persuading Wilson in the same direction, arguments against the blockade fell on deaf ears.

“Why be so shocked by the drowning of a few people, if there is to be no objection to starving a nation?” Willian Jennings Bryant in his resignation letter of June 1915[

State Department Counsel, Robert Lansing, replaced Bryan as Secretary. Lansing, an international lawyer of wide experience had gotten along with Bryan but had confidentially harbored strong pro-intervention sentiments. Lansing’s nephew was the rising star John Foster Dulles, who at only 27 in 1915, he was a member of the influential international corporate law firm Sullivan & Cromwell which had worked closely with the J. P. Morgan interests since the early 1880s. Lansing immediately recruited his nephew for negotiations to secure Latin American aid in the coming war–a year and half before the United States entered.

Wilson had ridden to power on rhetoric against Wall Street, but the new Secretary’s Wall Street connections are an important part of the decision-making that led to American intervention and his alter ego was closely associated with these same “interests.” How do these dots connect?

Woodrow Wilson was the hub for all those connections. Although he had strong opinions of his own, he could be swayed by “expert” advice. In the Positivist mode outlined by Auguste Comte and Edward House, Wilson saw himself as heroic philosopher king, hopeful of using the war and the peace to reform the world system. From 1914 to 1916, although he thought a lot about intervening directly, Wilson saw his role as that of World Mediator–the lonely leader who would bring peace through the systematic and scientific reorganization of the world through knowledgeable bureaucrats. The flattery of House, Charles R. Crane, and other educated, wealthy men of affairs and intermediaries between Wall Street and the government, he became increasingly willing to accept the indirect suggestions and advice of the financial elite he had thundered against during his early political years. He saw them as experts in their fields. The Morgan financial empire became the conduit of both massive American loans to the Allies in 1915 and of massive Allied purchases of American war matériel thereafter. Separately, the J. P. Morgan Empire and other international financial interests saw the war as an opportunity massively expand the whole pre-war pattern of imperial finance.

The whole issue of “world power” had a clear impact on decisions leading to war. In the weeks before the United States declared war on the Central Powers in April 1917, Wilson would mourn the fact that America’s entry would put financial interests in the saddle again, but Wilson’s Progressive measures had done much to keep high finance intimately involved in foreign policy decisions. After Wilson’s election, the international bankers had refined the jargon of the expansionist “dollar diplomacy” of pre-Wilson years, learning to speak Wilson’s Progressive language. In particular, they learned to justify measures favorable to them in the name of efficiency and bold leadership.

One perfect example of this process was the Federal Reserve System (1913), which the leading bankers of Wall Street constructed, and for which Wilson initiated the supporting legislative measures. Colonel House and others played vital intermediary roles, selling the Federal Reserve to Wilson as a social reform for efficiency of government. Part of the appeal for Wilson the ease with which the Federal Reserve System would produce a fiscal “flexibility” that would ease administration projects. That flexibility would eventually apply to wartime. Wilson paid for the 1916 invasion of Mexico by using the other new 1913 boon for Federal finance, the income tax, both by raising taxes and by pushing through the Revenue Act of 1916. The Act was designed to make sudden tax hikes more palatable for voters by introducing what one historian has called a “highly progressive” element. Yet in 1917, Wilson would see the advantages of money manipulation through the Fed for fighting a much larger and more important war.

On the Wall Street side, during the period from the outbreak of the war in Europe until American entry, the financial and business circles of J. P. Morgan, the Rockefellers, Jacob Schiff, Kuhn, Loeb & Co, and their affiliates saw in the war the opportunity to replace British and French investments and loans throughout the imperial world. These plans represented a sea change in the distribution of funds within the future “developing world,” but they also represented a reliance on close cooperation with the crusading visions of Wilson’s administration.

Hence, high finance was forging closer and closer ties with an activist state driven by the visions of Wilson and House for efficient Progressive world management. The result would be top-down leadership with American organizers of the world, both colonial and non-colonial. Fears that Britain might lose the war in early 1917–discussed in an earlier essay–opened up the vista of supplanting Britain as the world’s banker, but with more efficiency, coordination, and control by the United States.


Wall Street dominance relative to the war during the “neutrality” period is fairly straightforward. The stalemate of the Western Front had hardly set in before France and Britain began to realize the need for more funds. The Shell Crisis following the Western Front Battle of Neuve Chapelle (March 1916), during which the British failed to exploit their victory owing to lack of shells, made the issue of armaments shortages public and acrimonious. The French and British immediately applied for loans from the J. P. Morgan banking group. The United States approved, over the objections of Secretary of State Bryan just before he resigned. The loan structure was worked out between spring and fall, and the result was a loan of half a billion dollars (1915 dollars) with two billion more to follow before the war was over.

Moreover, the anti-Wall Street administration of Wilson okayed the appointment of J. P. Morgan, Jr., as Allied purchasing agent. Trade disruptions during the first months of the war were drastic: the British Blockade of Germany cut American exports to Germany from $169 million to just a million. But business with the Allied powers soon replaced these lost orders many times over.

The election of 1916 forms the backdrop to the declaration of war. Woodrow Wilson had won the election of 1912 comfortably, but against two opponents, one of them Theodore Roosevelt. Democratic prognosticators were much less sure of a shoe-in for 1916. For all the hue and cry of “Americanism” and “preparedness” that emerged in late 1915 and in 1916, Wilson led a country which would not have supported intervention except in the case of a direct assault by one side. The President had calmed the Lusitania uproar in his famous “too proud to fight” speech, and the crisis passed when the Germans agreed to put a halt to unrestricted submarine warfare. Running on the slogan, “He Kept Us Out of War,” Wilson carefully advertised himself as a man of peace (people just ignored that the United States invaded Mexico with 10,000 troops in March 1916).

Wilson defeated Charles Evans Hughes by only three percentage points. In the Electoral College, things could have gone either way — the President won some crucial states by tiny margins. In the end, the Electoral College vote would be 277 to 254. If, for example, Hughes had won Kentucky, which Wilson won with 51.9 percent, the election would have gone to Hughes.

Winning the race, Wilson achieved his own political “New Freedom.” He no longer needed to answer to the public’s anti-war sentiment. Britain seemed in disastrous shape. Wall Street was fully integrated into the Allied cause. Many American elites desired and actively promoted intervention, seeing entry into the war as fulfillment of their particular cause or goal. By the time the Germans decided to reinstate unlimited submarine war against secretly armed British civilian ships once more, (February 1, 1917) a whole structure of military expenditures, extensive redefinition of “neutrality,” and an amazing increase in the level of shipments to the Allied powers were in place. In February 1917, the British handed over an intercepted cable from the State Secretary of the German Foreign Office, Arthur Zimmermann, offering an alliance with Mexico against the United States should the US declare war on Germany. The Germans had already announced that they would resume submarine war on ships carrying supplies to the Allies, including neutral carriers, and in the next weeks, five American ships were torpedoed.

On April 2, 1917, Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress, calling for a declaration of war against the German Empire, in order “to make the world safe for democracy.” Wartime Allied propaganda had Americans believing the Germans were solely guilty, and that the conflict was a war for democracy, when the most autocratic country in Europe, Russia, was on the Allied side. Remember, there was no Internet back then to fact-check the propaganda.

It used to be known when my parents were young that the United States had not been “forced” to go to war. American intervention led to higher death tolls and a settlement that unhinged the world. In light of this knowledge, Wilson’s decisions seems misguided and wrong.

In the run-up to World War II and then after, American historians re-interpreted Wilson as the Man of Peace who was forced to war. The forty days before American entry into the war were tempestuous. Once the Germans announced resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare, on February 1, 1917, Wilson became increasingly bellicose, preparing bill after bill that aimed at military expenditures and “preparedness” and carrying measures of war security, even war hysteria, that anticipated wartime repression, spying, and information control.

The news of these measures found a public almost, but not quite, ready for war. The Midwest and West were largely opposed to American entry. Many of the populist remnants, and indeed the agrarian and anarchist socialists rejected participation in the war since it was a war of the kind of “interests” Wilson had long railed against. The war was extremely unpopular among Irish immigrants and their children and among immigrants whose national origin was in the lands of the Central Powers. Then, too, a large number of women’s associations rejected the war for a variety of reasons, as did Christian pacifists. Though many Progressives were in fact much more openly bellicose than Wilson himself, a number of Progressive intellectuals and activists opposed American intervention vehemently, including public intellectual Randolph Bourne and social theorist and activist Jane Addams.

Politically, a small remnant of anti-intervention congressmen fought a desperate battle in the last weeks before intervention. Among them, Senator Robert M. La Follette of Wisconsin, a Progressive himself, was foremost. “Fighting Bob” was the leader of Senate opposition to President Wilson’s nearly complete departure from neutrality after the 1916 election. In particular, La Follette organized a coalition of Senators who opposed Wilson’s Armed Ship Bill, sent to the Senate in late February 1917. The bill proposed arming American ships carrying war goods to Europe, asserting the rights of the neutrals to sail into war zones with full rights of the sea, including the right to engage hostile ships. To La Follette and his colleagues, “The Armed Ship Bill Meant War,” and La Follette used this phrase in a position pamphlet published in late March 1917. La Follette charged that the administration tactic was to flood Congress with very large appropriations bills so close to the end of the session that Congress would never have time to deal with all of them with sufficient attention. As La Follette described it, “In the last hours of the 64th Congress, all of these bills [arrived], including finally the Armed Ship Bill, which reached Congress 63 hours before its recess and claimed sweeping discretionary power involving warlike acts.”

This small band of Senators organized a filibuster that defeated the passage of the Armed Ship Bill in early March 1917. The President, who rarely took opposition well, branded the Senators as a “little group of willful men” who, “representing no opinion but their own, have rendered the great government of the United States helpless and contemptible.” If Wilson was wrong in assessing motive and wisdom, he was right in that they were certainly in the minority. Both parties had now become war parties. Henry Cabot Lodge and other prominent Republicans demanded an immediate declaration.

From London, Ambassador Page informed Wilson that British gold reserves were nearly exhausted: “Perhaps our going to war is the only way in which our present preeminent trade position can be maintained and a panic averted.”

Wilson’s closest advisors had long since advised war. Wilson spoke with Colonel House on March 27 and asked if he should address Congress and ask for a declaration or simply declare a state of war and request “the means to conduct the conflict.” House advised the non-Constitutional route. On March 29, Wilson put the whole proposition of war to the Cabinet, which unanimously supported intervention. Some of the cabinet officers hoped to limit intervention to naval and supply assistance, and some even to financial aid. Wilson called a joint special session of Congress for April 2. The New Jersey governor had originally been chosen by House and others in part because he was a fine orator. In the biggest speech of his life, he pulled out the stops.

America, Wilson said, had been forced to war by the German submarine campaign on civilian ships, whether armed or not. During the course of this, Germans had killed Americans. He did not mention that these American ships were sailing through a designated war zone, or that many of them were carrying supplies and armament for the Allied powers.

Wilson outlined a series of war measures to be taken immediately, including the introduction of conscription to enlarge the army to 500,000, increasing loans and subsidies to the Allies while reorganizing society for war.

No doubt by the time Wilson began his speech, most national representatives had already made up their minds. The Senate voted for the declaration on April 4. Only six voted against: La Follette, Harry Lane, George Norris, William J. Stone, Asle J. Gronna, and James K. Vardaman. Eight senators abstained. The war resolution passed in the House at three in the morning on April 6. The vote was 373 to 50.

The United States was at war … for better or worse.

Posted May 8, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in History, Uncategorized

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Dark Currents   1 comment

It’s strange the thoughts that go through my head while I’m writing Transformation Project. It’s an apocalyptic series set the day after tomorrow, when terrorists have fried several US cities to a crisp with suitcase nukes. A Threatening Fragility is about to go into rewrite and I’m thinking about how the headlines affect the plot.

When I’m on the exercise machines at the gym, I listen to the Communist News Network (CNN) and the Fanatics News Network (Fox) and I think “this is the exact right time to write this series because we are witnessing the collapse of social democracy.”

It’s not a new crisis. It’s been swelling gradually for decades like a cancer that started years before and has just been discovered. We see the symptoms in the extremist parties in Europe and the sometimes violent political confrontations in the United States. The times cry out for a complete rethinking of the relationship between the individual and the state and between society and its governing institution. I get to do that fictionally, but there’s a real world comuppence headed our way.

I was surprised to discover the other day that our son didn’t know what a social democracy was. He’s getting As in Government and Economics and he didn’t know the term. Wow! That really speaks volumes about how bad the American education system has become. I daresay his sister only knew it because I told her. For the record, we live in a social democracy. Put aside the notion that this is socialism or even democratic, because it’s not. A social democracy is the unlimited rule of self-proclaimed elites who think they know better than the rest of us who to live our lives.

Image result for image of the breakup of social democracy

Quick history – end of World War 2, the intellectual and political elites in the United States decided that ideology should die. This wasn’t a new thought for them, but they decided that after two devastating world wars with high rates of American deaths, they could introduce the concept to American culture and we’d not object to their plans. I suggest reading 1960: The End of Ideology by Daniel Bell. A self-described “socialist in economics, a liberal in politics, and a conservative in culture,” he said that all wild-eyed visions of politics had come to an end. They would all be replaced by a system of rule by experts that everyone will love forever. They believed the world would be a safer place if nobody believed anything too deeply and we all agreed on some system of public administration that controls every aspect of our lives so that conflicts aren’t possible. To this end, they would build a cradle-to-grave welfare system so that scarcity would no longer be an issue, an administrative state wherein objective and scientific experts would be given authority to build and oversee large-scale state projects that would touch on every area of life. This would involve a regulatory apparatus to make all products and services perfect, a labor agency to achieve the perfect balance of capital and labor, huge infrastructure projects to inspire public awe, all while fine-tuning the economy along Keynesian line, administering a foreign-policy regime that knew no limits to its power and empowering a central bank to act as the lender of last resort.

Although they claimed they wanted an end to ideology, these central planners codified an ideology that wasn’t socialism, communism, fascism or capitalism. They called it “social democracy”, a gigantic invasive state, administered by elite bureaucrats drawn from the intellectual class and given the cover of consent through the use of ill-informed universal suffrage. After all, democracy will assure that no oppression occurs. Right? Uh, ….

A funny thing happened on the way to social nirvana. During the Cold War, the threat of Soviet communism kept many people from questioning the institutions around them. Yeah, they didn’t match what we read in the Constitution, but if they kept us safe from the Soviets …. We were taught in school that it was best to be post-ideological, but we still needed to be on guard against the ideological extremism of Russia and anyone who might sound like Hitler, so ignore these contradictions. You wouldn’t be able to exercise the former right as a government-regulated privilege if the government weren’t protecting you from Vladimir Putin … I mean, Nikita KhrushchevThe threat of nuclear annihilation was enough to keep mass discontent with government institutions at bay until the Cold War abruptly ended in 1989, beginning a new attempt to impose a post-ideological age as the elites had wanted for so long.

“What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” (The End of History, Francis Fukuyama)

Yet, it was now safe to question the post-war social-democratic consensus. We no longer needed to put aside our differences to face an existential threat. Over the last 25 years, every institution of social democracy has been discredited and the middle class now faces the grim reality that the American dream is failing.  The moon landing was the last time a government program really seemed to work well. As government became a symbol of inefficiency and waste, heavily ideological protest movements began to spring up in all corners of American public life: the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, Bernie, Trump, and whatever comes next.

Intellectuals today fret about the fracturing of American civic life, expounding about what has gone wrong and why. Social media reflects this anxiety, certain that this leader or that program is the answer to our problems, that which will pull us back together in cohesion. Alternatively, this leader or that program is said to be “a sure fired way of destroying all that America stands for.”

Bull! Our government institutions have grown bloated and imperious over time and are becoming increasingly untenable. The experts didn’t know what they were doing after all, and this realization is shared widely among the people who were supposed to be made so content by the existence of these institutions. This is because they have discovered that most programs are failures.

Many forms of welfare only work because they borrow from the future to support the present. Nobody asked my children’s generation if they wanted to support other people’s grandparents and sometimes their great-grandparents in luxury for 30 years after retirement. Social Security worked so long as the few in older groups could pillage the numerous in younger groups. Now that the demographics are flipping so that there are many on the receiving end and few on the paying end, young people know that they will be paying their whole lives and either get nothing in return or net a terrible return on investment. Medicare and Medicaid are beset by the same problem. The welfare state became a way of life rather than a temporary help. Subsidy programs like housing and student loans created unsustainable bubbles that burst, causing fear and panic.

All forms of government intervention presume a static world without change and institutions that operate in certain predictible ways. Public schools today operate as they did in the 1950s, despite access to a new global information system that has otherwise transformed how we seek and acquire information. Antitrust regulations deal with industrial organization from decades ago even as the market has moved forward. There is a huge variety of programs open to the same criticism: labor law, communications regulations, drug approvals and medical regulations, and so on. All this red tape costs and those costs grow and grow, while the service and results deteriorate.

The bailouts after the 2008 financial crisis were indefensible to average people. Both political parties participated in this. What was started under Bush was repeated under Obama. Neither party can say “Oh, it was the other guy.” Nope, it was both parties.

I don’t know how to justify using all the powers of the federal government to provide well-connected elites billions in bailout money for the crisis they created. Forget about too big to fail or concepts of fairness. Capitalism is supposed to be about profits and losses, but in 2008 it became about private profits and socialized losses. The sheer injustice of it staggers the mind, but that’s just the surface. How can you pillage average Americans of 40% of their income then blow the money on programs that are either terminally inefficient, financially unsustainable, or just plain wrong? The US government administers a vast spying program that violates any expectation of privacy held by American citizens. Meanwhile, wars now last decades and leave only destruction and terrorist armies in their wake.

People have been discontent with inefficient, low-quality, or morally questionable government and not neared revolution before. So what’s the difference now?

“Government by agreement is only possible provided that we do not require the government to act in fields other than those in which we can obtain true agreement.” (FA Hayek, 1939)

Exactly. For public institutions to be politically stable, they must at least enjoy some agreement of opinion in the population. There must be some minimum level of public consensus to elicit consent. That’s possible in small countries with homogeneous populations, but it becomes far less viable in large countries with diverse populations, as represented by the United States and the European Union.

Diverse opinion and big government create politically unstable institutions because majority populations begin to conflict with minority populations over the proper functions of government. Under this system, some group will always feel oppressed and exploited by others, which creates large and growing tensions in the key ideals of social democracy, that of government control and public services.

Our vast array of public institutions are predicated on the presence of agreement, but we no longer agree on much. We currently live in a political environment divided between friends and foes, and these fault lines increasingly open up along lines of class, race, religion, gender identity, and language. If the goal of social democracy was to bring about a state of public contentedness and confidence that the elites will take care of everything, it appears they have failed. Discontentment is growing, as is a sense that everything is spinning out of control.

In 1944, F.A. Hayek warned that when agreement breaks down in the face of nonviable public services, strongmen come to the rescue. He was explaining Hilter and Mussolini (or for that matter, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt), but he could just as easily have been describing Donald Trump. President Trump won for a reason. He’s the canary in the coal mine, warning us that the old order is sinking fast. It was already too late for Europe when Hitler came to power, so I’m thinking there’s big trouble headed our way sooner rather than later.

With dark and dangerous political movements festering all over the Western world, seeking new forms of command and control, social democrats must make a choice. Will they keep their liberal ideas of multiculturalism and jettison their attachment to rule by an administrative elite that cannot tolerate diversity of opinion or will they jettison their multicultural ideals and keep their beloved unitary state?

Social democratic partisans can fight a hopeless battle for the restorations of their ideas, but they’re working against human nature as they do so, so they might wisely prefer not. They might consider joining the classical liberals to rally around the only real solution to the looming crisis — freedom itself.  The ultimate end-of-ideology system is liberty. Genuine liberalism doesn’t require universal agreement on some system of public administration. It tolerates vast differences of opinion on religion, culture, behavioral norms, traditions, and personal ethics. It permits every form of speech, writing, association, and movement. Commerce, production, and trade are the lifeblood of liberalism, allowing everyone who wishes to participate a means to live a better life. It only asks that people – including the state – not violate basic human rights. Live your life the way you see fit, so long as your actions do not harm someone else.

Voluntarily choosing your own path in life … isn’t that better than distant bureaucrats deciding how we should live our lives regardless of our own thoughts on the subject?

The future battle lines of ideology will not be left versus right, but freedom versus all forms of government control. The social-democratic dream of widespread consensus has been defeated by human nature, which yearns to put self in control of one’s own choices. Might it not be better to work with human nature rather than to attempt to explain it away?

We Should Have Destroyed This Brute   1 comment

The United States recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of President Woodrow Wilson’s speech to Congress seeking a declaration of war against Germany. That seems appropriate to a nation where the president inherited a half dozen conflicts and the Democrats are clamoring for war with Russia, but let’s take a moment to review World War 1’s goals and consequences.

Image result for image of woodrow wilson

In 1916, Woodrow Wilson was narrowly re-elected using the campaign slogan, “He kept us out of war.” This was a lie. Wilson had massively violated neutrality by providing armaments and funding to the Allied powers that had been fighting Germany since 1914. In his war speech to Congress, Wilson hailed the U.S. government as “one of the champions of the rights of mankind” and proclaimed that “the world must be made safe for democracy.”

American soldiers helped turn the tide on the Western Front in late 1918, but the cost was much higher than Americans anticipated. More than 100,000 American soldiers died in the third bloodiest war in U.S. history, which another half million Americans perished from the Spanish flu epidemic spread by the war.

In his speech to Congress, Wilson declared, “We have no quarrel with the German people” and feel “sympathy and friendship” towards them. Americans of German descent was the largest ethnic group in the country at the time, so he had to be careful in what he said, but his administration speedily commenced demonizing the “Huns.” One Army recruiting poster portrayed German troops as an ape ravaging a half-naked damsel beneath an appeal to “Destroy this mad brute.”

Wilson treated the congressional declaration of war against Germany as authority to suspend the US Constitution. Harvard professor Irving Babbitt commented in 1924: “Wilson, in the pursuit of his scheme for world service, was led to make light of the constitutional checks on his authority and to reach out almost automatically for unlimited power.” Wilson even urged Congress to set up detention camps to quarantine “alien enemies.

Image result for image of us ad destroy this bruteWilson unleashed ruthless censorship of any criticism. Anyone who spoke publicly against military conscription was subject to arrest and incarceration on federal espionage or sedition charges. Possessing a pamphlet entitled Long Live the Constitution of the United States earned six months in jail for a Pennsylvania malcontent. Censorship was buttressed by fanatic propaganda campaigns led by the Committee on Public Information, a federal agency whose shameless motto was “faith in democracy… faith in fact.”

The war enabled the American equivalent of the Taliban to triumph on the home front. Prohibition advocates “indignantly insisted that… any kind of opposition to prohibition was sinister and subversively pro-German,” (William Ross, World War 1 and the American Constitution). Even before the 18th Amendment banning alcohol consumption was ratified, Wilson banned beer sales as a wartime measure.

To punish lawbreakers, the federal government added poisons to industrial alcohol that was often converted into a type of moonshine; ten thousand people were killed as a result. Professor Deborah Blum, the author of The Poisoner’s Handbook, noted that “an official sense of higher purpose kept the poisoning program in place.”

History records that Prohibition was a public health disaster; the rate of alcoholism tripled during the 1920s.

The war also provided the pretext for unprecedented federal domination of the economy. Washington DC insisted that “food will win the war” and farmers vastly increased their plantings. Price supports and government credits for foreign buyers overstimulated crop and land prices. When the credits ended in 1920, prices and land values plunged, spurring massive bankruptcies across rural America. This spurred perennial political discontent that helped lead to a federal takeover of agriculture by the Roosevelt administration in the 1930s.

World War 1 was ended by the Treaty of Versailles, which redrew European borders without much thought to nations and imposed ruinous reparations on Germany. Henry White, one of Wilson’s top aides at the peace talks, lamented: “We had such high hopes of this adventure; we believed God called us and now we are doing hell’s dirtiest work.”

Wilson intensely disliked Vladimir Lenin because “he felt the Bolshevik leader had stolen his ideas for world peace.”  Wilson had proclaimed 14 points to guide peace talks; instead, there were 14 separate small wars in Europe after peace had been proclaimed. Millions of Irish Americans were outraged when Britain brutally repressed Ireland during and after the war. The League of Nations was worded so that it might have obliged the U.S. to send troops to help Britain crush the burgeoning Irish independence movement.

The chaos and economic depression sowed by the war and the Treaty of Versailles helped open the door to some of the worst dictators in modern times, including Germany’s Adolf Hitler, Italy’s Benito Mussolini, and Vladimir Lenin–whom Wilson intensely disliked because “he felt the Bolshevik leader had stolen his ideas for world peace,” (Thomas Fleming, The Illusion of VictoryAmerica in World War 1, 2003).

Despite winning the war, Wilson’s Democratic Party was crushed at the polls in both 1918 and 1920. H.L. Mencken wrote on the eve of the 1920 election that Americans were sickened of Wilsonian “idealism that is oblique, confusing, dishonest, and ferocious.”

Apparently, today’s policymakers have learned nothing from this century-old debacle. Wilson continues to be invoked by politicians who believe America can achieve great things by warring abroad. Both Republican and Democratic leaders echo Wilson’s desire to “make the world safe for democracy,” but never seem to have considered that their version of democracy may not be safe for the world.

Everytime this subject comes up, I consider expressing my thoughts on the subject and therefore, I entitled this blog post “We should have destroyed this brute.” Woodrow Wilson and his fellow intellectual travelers should be shouted down by saner voices and certainly not elected to public office. That includes every Congress person currently who wants to march American troops into Syria or go to war against Russia.

STOP! Wake up! We’ve been here before and it didn’t work out so well.

Martin Heidegger: Philosopher of Nazism and Other Collectivist Cults | Tom G. Palmer   1 comment

Philosophy matters. We all “do philosophy” every time we ponder what we should do or whether a statement is true or false and how we know it. To do philosophy, one merely need devote time to thinking about those important questions and others that arise in the course of thinking about them. That makes one a philosopher. I say this consciously and not necessarily systematically, but, generally, people who style themselves philosophers go for being systematic in their thinking, for creating “philosophies” that express their ideas about life, truth, and action, and that serve as a means of legitimating their actions or those of their followers.

Image result for image heideggerMany of the problems we face today are the creations of philosophers. It turns out that one of the most dangerous things in the world is a philosopher with power. Thinking systematically about things and coming up with the wrong answers can lead to systematically bad ideas: communism, fascism, political Islamism, and many other ideologies have contributed greatly to human suffering, and because they are philosophies, they do so far more systematically than merely random acts of cruelty or stupidity.

All three of these philosophers wrote in German, although the last wrote many of his most important later books in English. The first two are important to me because I believe that we can discern their influence in all of the major organized intellectual and political challenges to libertarian values and principles around the world.

In modern political communitarianism, nationalism, populism, leftist politically correct assaults on freedom of speech, radical Islamism, and resurgent fascism and national socialism in Europe. I’ll talk through what may seem technical issues in philosophy, some in puzzling language, but there will be intrigue, war, and – as this is Planet Hollywood – nefarious Nazis, as well.

Martin Heidegger

The first philosopher is one of the most difficult to read and understand because he wrote in a style that is, in my opinion, deliberately opaque. His name was Martin Heidegger and he is widely considered one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century. He made his big splash in philosophy in 1927 with the publication of his book Being and Time, a start on a longer work that was never finished.

In his book, he seemed to be following the program of the man widely believed to be his mentor, but whom we have since learned he despised and quickly dumped as soon as he had used him to secure a strong position as his successor at the university. That man was Edmund Husserl, considered the founder of the phenomenological movement in philosophy, that is, a scientific method whereby objective study of what would otherwise be considered subjective matters, such as consciousness and such conscious acts as perceiving, judging, comparing, and so on.

The Philosophy of Heidegger

Heidegger asks about the meaning of being, which is a term that has been considered either so general or so empty as to defy description. However, seeming to start with a phenomenological method, Heidegger looks into the kind of being that asks about being, which is us, which he terms – in German – Dasein. He claims boldly that we can see the meaning of being by examining our very asking about it.

In the process, he inaugurates what comes to be known as existentialism, for he argues that, whereas we use categorials to name the ways in which we can speak of a thing, such as substance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, and so on, in contrast, Dasein is structured by existentials. He denies that Dasein has an essence, or a “what,” “because its essence lies rather in the fact that in each case it has its Being to be, and has it as its own.” Dasein, he wrote, “always understands itself in terms of its existence – in terms of a possibility of itself: to be itself or not itself.”

It’s by building on that primordial relationship that we might come to understand things better as rooted in something more basic.

That kind of talk seemed very exciting at the time and seemed to allow us to start with human beings as we really are in the world, before we come to study ourselves using scientific methods. Thus, we live in a world in which we are related, not to scientifically described objects, but to things as they are ready to hand for us to use. When I relate to a podium, I don’t relate to it as it might be described in either Newtonian or quantum physics, but as a useful thing on which to rest my arms. It’s by building on that primordial relationship, of being at home in the world, that we might come to understand better things such as the scientific understanding, as itself rooted in something more basic.

In contrast to Immanuel Kant, who started by asserting the truth of Euclidean mathematics and Newtonian physics and then attempted to reveal what must be true metaphysically for those sciences to be correct, Heidegger proposed to start with the structures of human existence, without presuppositions about things as understood scientifically, and then build up a philosophy of human existence.

So categories structure our perceptions of things, but existentials structure our own existence. What is remarkable, however, is how so many of the alleged existentials and their substructures are drawn from the literature that grew out of World War I and the experience of combat and death, such as authenticity, resoluteness, steadfastness, and being toward death. Heidegger offered a metaphysical dressing up of the cultural themes of violence, brutality, and domination that had emerged out of the war, especially as glorified by the novelist and essayist Ernst Jünger, who had a major influence on Heidegger.

Heidegger’s History

Heidegger famously publicly joined the National Socialist German Workers Party in 1933 after the takeover of power by Hitler. He organized and supervised militaristic organizations of students and faculty, insisted on public allegiance to the Leadership Principle, or the Führerprinzip, and much more. After the war, he denied that he was a Nazi, presented himself as a naïve and bewildered philosopher who grew disillusioned with the party after just one year, who retreated into a kind of private opposition, etc., etc. His ideas were not at all implicated in National Socialism and should be judged independently, and so on. It was all lies. All of it.

After the war, when his whole career was at stake, Heidegger denied that he had been a Nazi or even a sympathizer, saying that he had not read Mein Kampf, due to how repulsive he found the ideas in it, which was clearly a lie. As the Freiburg University historian Hugo Ott discovered when examining newspaper articles from the time, private diaries, party archives, personal correspondence, and much more, virtually everything Heidegger publicly said after the war was a lie. In fact, Heidegger was not merely a naïve professor who was tapped by the ministry of education to come in and take over the burden of administration after his predecessors were removed by the authorities. The party archives revealed that he was an active collaborator and agent of the National Socialist Party before he was named Rektor of the university, and had actively conspired with them to take over the university. A National Socialist professor reported on 9 April 1933 to his party handler in a written memo that:

To take the first point raised at our recent discussion, concerning the alliance of National Socialist university teachers, we have ascertained that Professor Heidegger has already entered into negotiations with the Prussian Ministry of Education. He enjoys our full confidence, and we would therefore ask you to regard him for the present as our spokesman here at the University of Freiburg. Professor Heidegger is not a Party member, and he thinks it would be more practical to remain so for the time being in order to preserve a freer hand vis-à-vis his other colleagues whose position is either unclear still or openly hostile. He is quite prepared, however, to join the Party when and if this should be deemed expedient on other grounds. But I would particularly welcome it if you were able to establish direct contact with Professor Heidegger, who is fully apprised of all the points that concern us. He is at your disposal in the coming days, but I should say that there is a meeting in Frankfurt on the 25th which he could usefully attend as the spokesman for our university. (Ott, p. 144)

The lies that Heidegger told to save his miserable life were promulgated by a large movement of anti-liberty intellectuals who rallied to rescue him in the final days of the war and for decades until and after his death in 1976. His defenders, notable among them the French deconstructionist Jacques Derrida, who staunchly defended Heidegger until his own death in 2004.

Martin Heidegger was one of the least understood of philosophers because he was, on the one hand, so efficient at concealing his ideas behind clouds of impenetrable prose, and, on the other, able to falsify his record during the Nazi era.1 He was at the same time one of the most influential of all such philosophers; his anti-individualist ideas have infused and motivated the far right, the far left, radical and violent “Islamism,”2 the radical environmental movement – which was given power by his influential essay “The Question Concerning Technology,” the “Social Justice Warriors” who censor and silence others in the name of “political correctness” – and other collectivist movements.

Decades of post-World War II readers who puzzled over his writings about “existence” (“Dasein” in German) thought that Heidegger was writing about what it means to “be” an individual human being or for you and me to exist as a human. In fact, as he made clearer during the period of National Socialism (Nazism), when he could speak more openly about his ideas, Dasein is something of which one can speak only in the collective “we,” and specifically, the Dasein of a particular people, the German Volk. As Heidegger declared in his lectures after the National Socialist seizure of power,

The German people is now passing through a moment of historical greatness: the youth of the academy knows this greatness. What is happening, then? The German people as a whole is coming to itself, that is, it is finding its leadership. In this leadership, the people that has come to itself is creating a state.3

That is to say, in “finding its leadership,” the leader (“der Führer”) will decide for all of the people. And, indeed, that collective Dasein, by finding its leadership, will be infused with power: “Only when we are what we are coming to be, from the greatness of the inception of the Dasein of our spirit and people, only then do we remain fit for the power of the goal toward which our history is striving.”4 Rene Descartes, famous for his “Cogito ergo sum” formulation (“I think, therefore I am”) was denounced by Heidegger because, for Descartes, “the I of the thinking human being thus moves into the center of what can truly be humanly known.”5 Heidegger wished to displace the “I” with the “We” of a collective.

As he stated in a very strange lecture course on logic delivered under the National Socialist regime, which had little to do with what is normally understood as logic and much to do with Heidegger’s enthusiastic racism and National Socialism, “we have … the advantage that the question of who we ourselves are is timely, as distinguished from the time of liberalism, the I-time. Now is the We-time.”6 The “We” was not merely this or that “nameless crowd” or “revolting mass,” but the Volk.

As for Marx, for Heidegger, Dasein was not the existence of an “isolated” and “self-forlorn” individual, nor of mere collections of them, but of a self-conscious collective. In Marx’s case this was the class and State, and in Heidegger’s case the Volk and State: “it becomes clear why the character of the self does not consist in the reflexivity of the I, of the subject; for it is precisely the blasting of I-ness and of subjectivity by temporality, which delivers Dasein, as it were, away from itself to being and thus compels it toward self-being.”7 The entire performance is mired in non sequiturs, opaque language, unjustified leaps of inference (often justified by whether words sound similar), and other moves, but Heidegger considered it one of his most important works, although not published until many years after his death, as his explicitly Nazi works started to emerge from the archives.

Founding Political Correctness

Heidegger set the stage for the rejection of individual freedom and responsibility in recent decades by insisting that the center stage should be occupied by the We, in his own case the We of the German People (Volk), which he considered a historical people with a historical mission. Heidegger’s elevation of the concept of “authenticity” as the test of true existence set the stage for a wide range of anti-individualist movements: nationalist, racist, socialist, ethnic, and even the recent surge of “politically correct” identities. Others have merely substituted for the German Volk other collectivities, consistently with Heidegger’s polylogism (the idea that there are different truths for different groups) and rejection of universal truths.8 In each case, it is an authentic existence that is asserted to be collective, as distinguished from the mere “I” in the company of other individuals that characterizes classical liberalism.

Heidegger set the stage for the rejection of individual freedom and responsibility.

Metaphysical collectivism, the assertion that existence itself is inherently collective, was eagerly taken up by aggressive anti-individualist extremists of left and right, all of whom assert that their ideological submersion of the individual into the greater whole represents the embrace of “authentic” Dasein, and all of whom are united in their rejection of the idea of individual freedom and responsibility. Of course, such absorption of the individual into the “We” always means the subordination of some individuals, usually the majority, to other individuals, usually a small and well-organized clique of people who have seized power for themselves in the name of the collective.

I should add that, to put him in perspective in an American setting, the wave of political correctness also derives from one of Heidegger’s most famous students, the Marxist theoretician Herbert Marcuse, who saw in Heidegger the metaphysical foundations for Marxist collectivism. As he excitedly wrote in 1928 of Being and Time, “this book seems to represent a turning point in the history of philosophy: the point at which bourgeois philosophy unmakes itself from the inside and clears the way for a new and ‘concrete’ science.”

What excited Marcuse was the way in which formal rules would be dissolved in a concrete life, inevitably a collectivity, and thus the rule-of-law that characterizes liberalism could be swept away. As he noted in his 1928 gushing over Heidegger’s work,

Recognizing the historical thrownness of Dasein and its historical determinateness and rootedness in the ‘destiny’ of the community, Heidegger has driven his radical investigation to the most advanced point that bourgeois philosophy has yet achieved – and can achieve. He has found man’s theoretical modes of behavior to be ‘derivative,’ to be founded in practical ‘making provision, and has thereby shown praxis to be the field of decisions. He has determined the moment of decision – resoluteness – to be a historical situation and resoluteness itself to be a taking-up of historical fate. Against the bourgeois concepts of freedom and determination, he has posed a new definition of being free as the ability to choose necessity, as the genuine ability to grasp the possibilities that have been prescribed and pregiven; moreover, he has established history as the sole authority in relation to this ‘fidelity to one’s own existence.’

Later, in the US, he became a leader of the far left and argued that capitalism and liberalism had so infused all modes of life that the only way to be truly liberated from it, to achieve real freedom, was to abolish toleration. In his 1965 work on Repressive Tolerance, the deepest source of political correctness and the social justice warriors, he argued that to achieve liberation would require,

the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc. Moreover, the restoration of freedom of thought may necessitate new and rigid restrictions on teachings and practices in the educational institutions which, by their very methods and concepts, serve to enclose the mind within the established universe of discourse and behavior – thereby precluding a priori a rational evaluation of the alternatives. And to the degree to which freedom of thought involves the struggle against inhumanity, restoration of such freedom would also imply intolerance toward scientific research in the interest of deadly “deterrents,” of abnormal human endurance under inhuman conditions, etc.

The idea of authenticity that Heidegger promoted is another key idea that has been deployed by anti-libertarian movements, in which an authentic collective self is allegedly liberated from the abstract rules-approach of liberalism. Every modern national fascist movement, every modern populist movement of modern times, has roots that are deeply embedded in the soil prepared by Heidegger, which found authentic existence in a historical collectivity, which may be taken to be a national-linguistic-racial collectivity, such as Germanness, or the Islamic Umma, or community of believers. Heidegger’s thinking is central to the neo-Nazi Jobbik and Golden Dawn movements in Hungary and Greece, the Neo-Eurasianist Nazi movement in Russia, and in the Islamic Republic of Iran and radical Islamism generally. The Islamic Republic is a most interesting case, because the intellectual leaders behind its establishment were very committed Heideggerians.

This is an excerpt from a speech delivered at the 2016 FreedomFest.
Parts 2 and 3 can be found here and here.


[1] See Emmanuel Faye, Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009) and Hugo Ott, Martin Heidegger: A Political Life (New York: Basic Books, 1993).

[2] See for Heidegger’s influence on the founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran Ali Mirsepassi, “Religious Intellectuals and Western Critiques of Secular Modernity,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, Vol. 26, No. 3 (2006), pp. 416-433.

[3] Martin Heidegger, Being and Truth, trans. by Gregory Fried and Richard Polt (Bloomington, In.: Indiana University Press, 2010), p. 3. The lectures in the book were delivered in 1933-34, after Heidegger’s Nazi Party had come to power in Germany.

[4] Ibid., p. 6. As he makes clear, “our western, German Dasein” refers to “our historical being-with-others in the membership of the people.” Whether “the derivative mock culture finally collapses into itself” “depends solely on whether we as a people still will ourselves, or whether we no longer will ourselves.” p. 11.

[5] Ibid., p. 33.

[6] Martin Heidegger, Logic as the Question Concerning the Essence of Language, Wanda Torres Gregory and Yvonne Unna, trans. (Albany: State University Press of New York, 2009), p. 45.

[7] Ibid., p. 139.

[8] Polylogism, in both its superficially distinct Marxist and Nazi versions, was subjected to withering criticism by Ludwig von Mises in such books as Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War (1944), Theory and History (1957), and Human Action: A Treatise on Economics (1966), all of which can be purchased or accessed online at

Source: Martin Heidegger: Philosopher of Nazism and Other Collectivist Cults | Tom G. Palmer

How Communism Became the Disease It Tried to Cure | Richard M. Ebeling   Leave a comment

The great German sociologist, Max Weber (1864-1920) offered an understanding of the evolution of socialist regimes in the twentieth century from revolutionary radicalism to a stagnant system of power, privilege and plunder, manned by self-interested Soviet socialist office holders.

Image result for image of leninMax Weber, in his posthumously published monumental treatise, Economy and Society (1925), defined a charismatic leader as one who stands out from the ordinary mass of men because of an element in his personality viewed as containing exceptional powers and qualities. He is on a mission because he has been endowed with a particular intellectual spark that enables him to see what other men do not, to understand what the mass of his fellow men fail to comprehend.

But his authority, Weber explains, does not come from others acknowledging his powers, per se. His sense of authority and destiny comes from within, knowing that he has a truth that he is to reveal to others and then knowing that truth will result in men being set free; and when others see the rightness of what he knows, it becomes obvious and inevitable that they should follow his leadership.

Certainly Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) fit that description. While many who met or knew him pointed out his either non-descript or even unattractive physical appearance and presence, most emphasized at the same time Lenin’s single-mindedness of being on a “mission” for which he had absolute confidence and unswerving determination, and due to which others were drawn to him and accepted his leadership authority.

Surrounding Lenin, the charismatic, was an array of disciples and comrades who were called and chosen, and saw themselves as serving the same mission: the advancement of the socialist revolution. As Weber says:

“The . . . group that is subject to charismatic authority is based on an emotional form of communal relationship . . . It is . . . chosen in terms of the charismatic qualities of its members. The prophet has his disciples . . . There is a ‘call’ at the instance of the leader on the basis of the charismatic qualification of those he summons . . .”

The “chosen” group renounces (at least in principle, if not always in practice) the material temptations of the worldly circumstances, which the goal of their “mission” is meant to overthrow and destroy. And, this too, marked the often conspiring, secretive and sometimes Spartan lifestyle of Marxist revolutionaries. Max Weber explained:

“There is no such thing as salary or a benefice. Disciples or followers tend to live primarily in a communistic relationship with their leader . . . Pure charisma . . . disdains and repudiates economic exploitation of the gifts of grace as a source of income, though to be sure, this often remains more an ideal than a fact . . . On the other hand, ‘booty’. . . whether extracted by force or other means, is the other typical form of charismatic provision of needs.”

But once the charismatic and his followers are in power, a transformation soon occurs in their behavior and relationship to the rest of the society. Now it becomes impossible to stand outside of the flow of the mundane affairs of daily life. Indeed, if they do not immerse themselves in those matters, their power over society would be threatened with disintegration. Slowly, the burning fervor of ideological mission and revolutionary comradeship begins to die. Said Max Weber:

“Only the members of the small group of enthusiastic disciples and followers are prepared to devote their lives purely and idealistically to their calling. The great majority of disciples and followers will in the long run ‘make their living’ out of their ‘calling’ in a material sense as well . . . Hence, the routinization of charisma also takes the form of the appropriation of powers of control and of economic advantages by the followers and disciples and the regulation of the recruitment of these groups . . .

Correspondingly, in a developed political body the vassals, the holders of benefices, or officials are differentiated from the ‘taxpayers.’ The former, instead of being ‘followers’ of the leader, become state officials or appointed party officials . . . With the process of routinization the charismatic group tends to develop into one of the forms of everyday authority, particularly . . . the bureaucratic.”

I would suggest that in Max Weber’s analysis we see the outline of the historical process by which a band of Marxist revolutionaries, convinced that they saw the dictates of history in a way that other mere mortals did not, took upon themselves to be the midwives of that history through violent revolution.

But as the embers of socialist victory cooled, such as in Russia after the Revolution of 1917 and the bloody three-year civil war that followed, the revolutionaries had to turn to the mundane affairs of “building socialism.” Building socialism meant the transformation of society, and the transforming of society meant watching, overseeing, controlling and commanding everything.

Self-Interest and the New Socialist “Class Society”

Hence, was born in the new Soviet Union what came to be called the Nomenklatura. Beginning in 1919, the Communist Party established the procedure of forming lists of government or bureaucratic positions requiring official appointment and the accompanying lists of people who might be eligible for promotion to these higher positions of authority. Thus was born the new ruling class under socialism.

In the end, the socialist state did not transform human nature; human nature found ways to use the socialist state for its own ends.

Ministries needed to be manned, Party positions needed to be filled, nationalized industries and collective farms needed managers assigned to supervise production and see to it that central planning targets were fulfilled, state distributions networks needed to be established, trade unions needed reliable Party directors, and mass media needed editors and reporters to tell the fabricated propaganda stories about socialism’s breakthrough victories in creating a new Soviet Man in his new glorious collectivist society.

Contrary to the socialist promises of making a new man out of the rubble of the old order, as one new stone after another was put into place and the socialist economy was constructed, into the cracks between the blocks sprouted once again the universals of human nature: the motives and psychology of self-interested behavior, the search for profitable avenues and opportunities to improve one’s own life and that of one’s family and friends, through the attempt to gain control over and forms of personal use of the “socialized” scarce resources and commodities within the networks and interconnections of the Soviet bureaucracy.

Since the state declared its ownership over all the means of production, it was not surprising that as the years and then the decades went by more and more people came to see membership in the Nomenklatura and its ancillary positions as the path to a more prosperous and pleasant life. In the end, the socialist state did not transform human nature; human nature found ways to use the socialist state for its own ends.

The system of privilege and corruption that Soviet socialism created was explained by Boris Yeltsin (1931-2007), the Russian Communist Party member who, more than many others, helped bring about the end of the Soviet Union and an independent Russia in 1991 that at first tried democracy. In his book, Against the Grain (1990), Yeltsin explained:

“The Kremlin ration, a special allocation of normally unobtainable products, is paid for by the top echelon at half its normal price, and it consists of the highest-quality foods. In Moscow, a total of 40,000 people enjoy the privilege of these special rations, in various categories of quantities and quality. There are whole sections of GUM – the huge department store that faces the Kremlin across Red Square – closed to the public and specially reserved for the highest of the elite, while for officials a rung or two lower on the ladder there are other special shops. All are called ‘special’: special workshops, special dry cleaners, special polyclinics, special hospitals, special houses, and special services. What a cynical use of the world!”

The promised “classless society” of material and social equality was, in fact, the most granulated system of hierarchical privilege and power. Bribery, corruption, connections and favoritism permeated the entire fabric of Soviet socialist society. Since the state owned, produced and distributed anything and everything, everyone had to have “friends,” or friends who knew the right people, or who knew the right person to whom you could show just how appreciative you could be through bribery or reciprocal favors to gain access to something impossible to obtain through the normal channels of the central planning distributive network for “the masses.”

And overlaid on this entire socialist system of power, privilege and Communist Party-led plunder was the Soviet secret police, the KGB, spying, surveilling and threatening anyone and everyone who challenged or questioned the propaganda or workings of the “workers’ paradise.”

Communist Contradictions and the End to Soviet Socialism

It all finally came to an end in 1991 when the privilege, plunder and poverty of “real socialism” made the Soviet system unsustainable.

It is not an exaggeration to say that everything that the Marxists said was the nature of the capitalist system – exploitation of the many by a privileged few; a gross inequality of wealth and opportunity simply due to an artificial arrangement of control over the means of production; a manipulation of reality to make slavery seem as if it meant freedom – was, in fact, the nature and essence, of Soviet socialism. What a warped and perverted twisting of reality through an ideologically distorted looking glass!

It all finally came to an end in 1991 when the privilege, plunder and poverty of “real socialism” made the Soviet system unsustainable. Indeed, by that time it was hard to find anyone in any corner of Soviet society who believed, anymore, in the “false consciousness” of communist propaganda. The Soviet Union had reached the dead-end of ideological bankruptcy and social illegitimacy. The “super-structure” of Soviet power collapsed. (See my article, “The 25th Anniversary of the End of the Soviet Union.”)

In 1899, the French social psychologist, Gustave Le Bon (1841-1931), looked at the, then, growing socialist movement at the end of the nineteenth century and the soon to be beginning twentieth century, and sadly said in his book, The Psychology of Socialism:

“One nation, at least, will have to suffer . . . for the instruction of the world. It will be one of those practical lessons which alone can enlighten the nations who are amused with the dreams of happiness displayed before their eyes by the priests of the new [socialist] faith.”

Not only Russia, but also many other countries in Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America have been forced to provide that “practical lesson” in the political tyranny and economic disaster that socialist society, especially in its Marxist permutation, offered to mankind.

It stands as a stark demonstration of the disastrous consequences when a society fully abandons a political philosophy of classical liberal individualism, an economic system of free markets, and an acceptance of self-interested human nature functioning within a social arrangement of voluntary association and peaceful exchange.

Let us hope that with this year marking the one-hundredth anniversary of the communist revolution in Russia mankind will learn from that tragic mistake, and come to realize and accept that only individual liberty and economic freedom can provide the just, good, and prosperous society that humanity can and should have.

Based on a presentation delivered as the John W. Pope Lecture sponsored by the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism at Clemson University on March 1, 2017.

Source: How Communism Became the Disease It Tried to Cure | Richard M. Ebeling

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