The Real Clash of CivilizationsAuthor of this text: John Chuckman
There is a real clash of civilizations
in the world, but one that has little to do with East and West. It is found in
the advanced world and consists in the values of traditional liberalism being
attacked by the right wing. Nowhere is this battle noisier and of more
consequence to the world's peoples than in America where victory for the right
appears all but certain.
I have no quarrel with honest, decent
conservatives. The essence of conservatism is the preservation of what is best
from the past, the unwillingness to change what remains useful or valid just for
the sake of change.
But all social and political
arrangements are subject to change where there is economic growth. Old ways pass
away, everything from the daily wearing of traditional garb and the absolute
role of males to the average number of children and the selling of brides
changes, sometimes in a single lifetime. Liberals differ from conservatives in
being more ready to recognize this fundamental reality and to accommodate change
in a timely way.
America's right wing is another matter
altogether. Attitudes here go beyond conservatism into the shadowy realm of
social Darwinism, selfishness exalted as virtue, muscular arrogance, and turning
one's back on many aspects of enlightenment. These attitudes come embedded in an
intense, almost religious, fervor.
When people read the word Nazi
they first think of mass murder, and rightly so, but the Nazis had a set of
beliefs and attitudes other than racial theories. In fact many Germans, and even
party members, did not share Hitler's incandescent, almost inexplicable hatred
of Jews, although anti-Semitism was very much a theme in German history, Martin
Luther, for example, a remarkable man in so many respects, having said and
written things every bit as vile as Hitler.
What were the characteristics of Nazism
that might justify comparisons with influential contemporary groups in America?
As the title of Hitler's book, Mein
Kampf,suggests, the Nazis viewed life as a struggle, embracing the
idea that only the able should thrive and reproduce. It is helpful when you hold
this belief if you also regard yourself as among the ablest, and so the Nazis
did. Hitler was a social Darwinist with a mystical belief in the special merit
The Nazis had an absolute loathing of
Communism, or Bolshevism as it was called then, and contempt for all forms of
liberalism and social democracy. All philosophies that offered hope against
their vision of a world of successful predators prevailing over the weak were
despised. Ruthlessness itself was held up by Hitler as a virtue because it could
bring victory, or so he thought.
The Nazis were big-business capitalists,
although political expediency had put socialist
in the party name, but where issues of great national significance were
concerned they never hesitated to redirect with subsidies, contracts, and other
pressures the efforts of German industry. The Nazis encouraged the development
of gigantic corporate entities. Small business was actually held in contempt by
Hitler, hence his famous derisive comment about the British being a nation of
shopkeepers. To support the Nazis' worship of military strength, only vast
enterprises would do.
The Nazis were willing to accept a good
deal of repression in their society if that guaranteed the success of their
primary values, and, despite Germany's being in many ways one of the most
advanced and cultured of European states, the Nazis were willing to tolerate
floods of ignorant propaganda so long as it supported their aims.
Based on these criteria, it might be
hard to distinguish America's extreme right from a good many Nazis, but I think
the prefix crypto helpful in
distinguishing them from their more straightforward cousins. For America does
have a set of written ideals about human rights and freedoms at odds with Nazism,
although these ideals have been interpreted with great flexibility or totally
ignored over long periods of the country's history, often accommodating dark and
brutal practices. Where the will to make good on constitutional promises does
not exist, they remain fine words on parchment, as many wonderful-sounding
third-world constitutions attest.
That is why the cypto-Nazis always
attack the courts as unelected legislators when what the courts are mostly doing
is the necessary job of deciding how to interpret grand general statements into
the specific day-to-day circumstances of people's lives, and that under
ever-changing circumstances. By the way, in the Nazis' early period, before they
felt free to drag judges from their courts or murder them, they had exactly the
same view of courts that dared to make unfriendly decisions.
The father of this contempt for courts
in America was Thomas Jefferson who loathed the idea that the Supreme Court
would interpret the Constitution's generalizations on behalf of the states. That
is why he is the patron saint of America's crypto-Nazis. Jefferson was an expert
at sounding high-minded while acting shabbily.
During the early Federalist period,
Jefferson was ready to have Virginia secede — more than half a century before
the rise of the Confederacy — over the issue of the Supreme Court's authority.
Why? Because he understood the intrinsic conflict between a Bill of Rights and a society of aristocratic slaveholders, a democratic-sounding Constitution and a Virginia where about one percent of people could vote, and he was, despite all
his high-sounding language, quite comfortable being an aristocratic slaveholder.
The Bill of Rights sounded fine, but just don't set up anyone to interpret and
Parts of America's right drift off into
utter blindness and even phobic hatred. Jefferson to his dying day believed
blacks were inferior, almost another species, and that women didn't merit the
same education, and certainly not the same political privileges, as men. You
don't find America's Aryan churches or weird militia groups or anti-gay
organizations with liberals on their membership rolls. America's extreme right
provided the vicious anti-Semites of American history — the founding males of
many clans like the Fords or the Bushes — but they rule now in an odd
partnership with the religious right whose eyes tear over with every mention of
words like Holy Land, the End
of Time, and Armageddon.
One of the major bonds tying them
together is the fundamentalists' fear of social change. Fundamentalist minds
seem fixed somewhere around 1840 or so as offering the ideal family and social
arrangements, although they do enjoy suburban living, television, fast food, and
SUVs, and not many of them have ten children or mail-order brides anymore. They
see the never-ending pressure for change in American society — the inexorable
result of long-term economic growth — as destructive to their vision of what
society should be, and they are right, it is. This is why undefined blubber
about „family values" joined the right-wing lexicon some years back.
Ironically, the right wing's simplistic and enduring love for „the hell
with regulations" economic growth, actually works against the long-term
interests of fundamentalists, creating even greater future stresses on their
vision of society, but few of them seem to understand this fact.
What of liberalism and its history in
America? Although America rejected the idea of a king or lifetime president,
taking what was a liberal view in the 18th century, the early
Republic was effectively an aristocracy, an aristocracy of men with money, farms,
and slaves rather than noble birth. It was the spirit of liberalism that
gradually extended the franchise to include more than a small number of (male,
white) property owners. It was the same spirit that gave the franchise to women
and that made the United States Senate an elected rather than appointed,
aristocratic body. It was liberalism that finally freed America's blacks from a second bondage, brutal apartheid in every detail, and gave them the franchise a century after the supposed end of slavery. It was liberalism that produced the
great reforms of the Depression, creating hope and saving America from the
brutal coups and civil wars of Europe during the troubled 1930s. It was
liberalism that drove hope and progress for universal education. It was always
liberalism pushing to make the tolerance for speech or religion promised in the
Constitution into something tangible.
The mouthpieces for America's equivalent
of the 1930s' Krupp or Farben — Rush Limbaugh, Anne Coulter, William F. Buckley,
and dozens of others — are rarely seriously challenged over their sophomoric
historical knowledge or their sneering jokes at hard-won human values. There
appears to be a large appetite in America for re-cycled political garbage. The
money supporting its production comes in truckloads. And there are truckloads,
too, for phony institutes where ideologue-propagandists pose as academics, much
like actors in white lab coats posing as doctors on ads for hemorrhoid relief.
Money gushes like blood from opened arteries to support meaningless
advertising's suffocation of genuine debate in American elections, and the
George Wills of this world are paid handsomely to cover this naked display of
power with arguments about free speech.
All the insensitivity and stupidity
spewing over America's airwaves and carried in its newspapers does have an
effect, as its sponsors intend that it should. Without any serious political
opposition inside the country, America has launched two meaningless wars on weak
nations, killing and maiming thousands of innocent people. It threatens still
others and keeps prisoners in cages offshore. There is considerable public
acceptance of barbarities like torture and assassination, and hundreds, perhaps
thousands, inside the country are arrested and held with no access to courts or
legal help. There is a vast increase in spying on your own people, and there is
selective support for leaders of some countries no better than tyrants or
Meanwhile, "Hon, they've got a special on air conditioners down at the mall. Do you think we could drive down
after the news?"
John Chuckman, (YellowTimes.org columnist, Canada)
Submitted to the American Rationalist ©.
« Society (Published: 03-08-2003 Last change: 21-09-2003)
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Writes for independent news outlets, such as Democracy Now, Free Speech Radio, CounterPunch, and the American Rationalist; YellowTimes.org columnist, Canada.
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