From Hugh Hewitt’s seventy minute interview with Jonah Goldberg discussing his new book Liberal Fascism: the Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning:
Hugh Hewitt: Jonah, at the risk of doing something that will have program directors across the United States screaming at me, I want to talk about Rousseau. This may in fact be the first time…
Jonah Goldberg: (laughing)
HH: …ever on talk radio that Rousseau has been brought up. But I don’t know how you get to fascism unless you cover Rousseau to the French Revolution, and then on to the branches in Europe and America. And basically, it’s Rousseau’s radicalism which unleashed the whirlwind on the West.
JG: Right, I mean, and there are two ways to talk about this. There’s the intellectual history, which I think is what you’re getting at, where basically it goes French Revolution… the French Revolution, I argue, is the first fascist revolution. It merges nationalism with populism. It tries to replace God with the state. You have these intellectual revolutionaries who use terror and violence to remake society and start over at year zero. They create a secular religion out of politics, where they change the traditional Christian holidays to state holidays. And all of this gets replayed in Nazi Germany, and fascist Italy, and in the Soviet Union. But I think there’s an important point to be made, which is that this, it’s not necessarily that the fascists of Nazi Germany were inspired by Rousseau, it’s that the same thing was happening again, that they were following the same sort of Rousseauian path. And Rousseau, as a philosopher, he basically gives word to a desire that beats in every human heart, to create a tribe out of society, to create, to impose this notion of the general will, where anybody who deviates from what the collective thinks he should do is a heretic or a traitor, to sanctify politics. And that’s what inspired the French revolutionaries. That’s what they took from Rousseau. And in many ways, that’s what people like Mussolini and Hitler took from the French Revolution, is this same sort of burning desire to create a religion of the state. And we see the same thing that happened in the French Revolution replay itself in Germany, and to a lesser extent, replay itself in fascist Italy.
HH: And you know, it’s the same temptation over and over again, and it’s one abroad in the land right now, which is why I want to pause on this, which is Rousseau believed that man was good, you know, that the state came along, or that society came along and screwed things up, but that actually, that men were innately good. And that’s simply not a conservative view, Jonah Goldberg. It’s anti-conservative. It’s also anti-theology in most senses.
JG: Right. I mean, I think the fundamental difference, the difference that defines the difference between American, Anglo-American conservatives and European welfare states, leftists or liberals, is Locke versus Rousseau. Every philosophical argument boils down to John Locke versus Jacques Rousseau.
JG: Rousseau says the government is there, that our rights come from the government, that (they) come from the collective. Locke says our rights come from God, and that we only create a government to protect our interests. The Rousseauian says you can make a religion out of society and politics, and the Lockean says no, religion is a separate sphere from politics. And that is the defining distinction between the two, and I think that distinction also runs through the human heart, that we all have a Rousseauian temptation in us. And it’s the job of conservatives to remind people that the Lockean in us needs to win.
I emphasized those bits because I believe they are at the heart of the difference between the Left and the Right in this country and the world. Hugh Hewitt is accurate in his assessment that Rousseau believed that man was inherently good, and that society – more accurately “civilization” – was at fault for the corruption of Man’s nature. You see it most explicitly in the mythos of primitive tribal cultures being “at one with nature” (as opposed to modern civilizations “rape” of it,) and so on. It is the belief that if Man was just restored to his inherent goodness, we would all live in a fair and free society where each would give according to his abilities and would receive in accordance to his needs.
But as Tony Woodlief once put it (I paraphrase), anyone who espouses a belief in the inherent Goodness of Man has never stood between a toddler and the last cookie.
Jonah mentions that Hillary Rodham in her commencement address at Wellesly in 1969 said this:
What does it mean to hear that 13.3% of the people in this country are below the poverty line? That’s a percentage. We’re not interested in social reconstruction; it’s human reconstruction.
She didn’t want to fix society, she wanted to fix humanity. Michele Obama tells us:
We have lost the understanding that in a democracy, we have a mutual obligation to one another, that we cannot measure our greatness in this society by the strongest and richest of us, but we have to measure out greatness by the least of these, that we have to compromise and sacrifice for one another in order to get things done. That is why I’m here, because Barack Obama is the only person in this race who understands that, that before we can work on the problems, we have to fix our souls. Our souls are broken in this nation.
Yes, you see, society has altered us from our inherent goodness, and if we could just…
If we can’t see ourselves in one another, we will never make those sacrifices. So I am here right now, because I am married to the only person in this race who has a chance of healing this nation.
I guess “fixing our souls” is a form of “human reconstruction.” Michele Obama believes that her husband has that power, the ability to “heal the nation” by “fixing our souls” and returning us to our inherent goodness. She continues:
We say we’re ready for change, but see, change is hard. Change will always be hard. And it doesn’t happen from the top down. We do not get universal health care, we don’t get better schools because somebody else is in the White House. We get change because folks from the grass roots up decide they are sick and tired of other people telling them how their lives will be, when they decide to roll up their sleeves and work. And Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism, that you put down your division, that you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones, that you push yourselves to be better, and that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.
But it is Rousseauian. As Donald Sensing put it, both parties now lurching Leftward
have a foundational philosophy that is the same:
America is a problem to be fixed, and Americans are a people to be managed.
Slightly altering that sentiment, Americans are a problem to be fixed, and America is a society to be managed.
Neither side has chosen a Lockean candidate for the office of President. John McCain has stated that he believes that rights are essentially creations of government. On the question of free speech, he said on Don Imus’s radio program:
I would rather have a clean government than one where quote First Amendment rights are being respected, that has become corrupt. If I had my choice, I’d rather have the clean government.
“Quote ‘First Amendment rights.'” He says this as a Senator who must swear this oath upon assuming office:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.
But the First Amendment apparently doesn’t count – which makes one wonder which other parts of the Constitution he’s willing to put “scare quotes” around.
Still, McCain doesn’t seem interested in fixing humanity, just legislating for our better behavior. It is Hillary and Obama that worry me the most, as they are uncomfortably close to the levers of power, and their philosophical counterparts may hold sway in both houses of Congress after the next election.
Donald Sensing continued in his piece:
A friend of mine emigrated here from Romania after Ceaucescu’s regime fell. He told me the other day that Americans are over-regulated. Think about that; a man coming from a communist country believes that Americans are over-regulated. It chills.
A long time ago Steven Den Beste observed in an essay, “The job of bureaucrats is to regulate, and left to themselves, they will regulate everything they can.” Celebrated author Robert Heinlein wrote, “In any advanced society, ‘civil servant’ is a euphemism for ‘civil master.’” Both quotes are not exact, but they’re pretty close. And they’re both exactly right. Big government is itself apolitical. It cares not whose party is in power. It simply continues to grow. Its nourishment is that the people’s money. Its excrement is more and more regulations and laws. Like the Terminator, “that’s what it does, that’s all it does.”
I do not believe Bush’s domestic policies are in the best interests of our long-term freedom. I do not think that Bush’s domestic legacy will, in the long run, be good for the country.
Hence I cannot urge anyone to vote for Bush in 2004.
Which is not to say that I endorse any of the Democrats running for president; they are more strident big-government activists than Bush, and won’t protect us from terrorism to boot. So I feel caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
I predict that the Bush administration will be seen by freedom-wishing Americans a generation or two hence as the hinge on the cell door locking up our freedom. When my children are my age, they will not be free in any recognizably traditional American meaning of the word. I’d tell them to emigrate, but there’s nowhere left to go. I am left with nauseating near-conviction that I am a member of the last generation in the history of the world that is minimally truly free.
As Tam put it yesterday, things have gotten worse:
If you’ll excuse the geeky metaphor, we’ve come to the Kobayashi Maru election scenario.
The founding philosophical document of this nation, the Declaration of Independence, is absolutely Lockean. The founding legal document of this nation is Locke’s philosophy made law.
And now we’ve abandoned Locke for either Rousseau or… I don’t know what, but it isn’t Locke. Jonah Goldberg concluded on the Locke/Rousseau topic:
(I)t is a natural human desire to want to recreate that sort of religious, spiritual tribal feeling. And we constantly are looking for it in our politics. The problem is it’s fool’s gold. You can never get it. And so we constantly are following these false prophets. And that’s why in my view, all of these people who sell this stuff… Marxism was essentially selling this, that we’re going to create a Heaven on Earth. Fascism was doing a thousand year Reich. All of these guys sell the same thing. That’s why I think they’re all reactionary, because they’re all trying to recreate this feeling that we got when we lived in caves. And the only true radical, revolutionary, inspiring revolution of the last thousand years was the Enlightenment Revolution of Locke, Rousseau, the American founding, which said our rights come from God, and that government is our servant, not our master.
But it will become our master, because we’ll let it in our desire to chase false prophets who can heal our souls, reconstruct humanity, remake society and create Heaven on Earth.
UPDATE: Read this associated post by the Geek from Election Eve of 2006, too. (Link broken.)
For that matter, re-read my own Tough History Coming from November of 2005.