Civil liberties and the single reactionary
Single? I’m kidding, obviously. Get married and have children, all of you.
(Unless you’re Roissy, in which case you are fabulous and perfect and must never ever change. Even when you’re so old you can only pick up cougars. I don’t think I’m the first real man to notice that “PUA” rhymes with “gay.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But I’m just sayin’. UR comes to you proudly from zip code 94114, in which pure alpha sexuality unrestrained by womanly wisdom flames out from every other storefront. Not that I’m one to judge, but it seems to age poorly past 50.
But, well, who cares? Roissy is a sex addict and he knows it. Hunter Thompson was a drug addict, and he knew it. I’d like to think my daughter (now reading Lemony Snicket in pre-K, thank you very much Mr. Galton) will read them both and draw the appropriate conclusions. At least, when it comes to staying off the pole.)
Alas, I’m here today to talk about a much less interesting subject: your so-called “civil liberties.” While I really try not to notice these things, I can’t help noticing that Americans have fallen into one of our routine moral panics that We Are Losing Our Democracy. Take comfort, kids. You don’t have one and nor did your grandpa. Because I was interested in knowing why I should care about my “civil liberties,” I actually downloaded this legal paper, which is the most popular download ever on SSRN. Would the pox vopuli come through again? I kept scanning for what exactly I had to fear. Fortunately, thanks to my enormous brain, I have no trouble with glorious neoplatonic gnosticisms such as:
Instead of being related by a common denominator, some things share “a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing: sometimes overall similarities, sometimes similarities of detail.” In other words, privacy is not reducible to a singular essence; it is a plurality of different things that do not share one element in common but that nevertheless bear a resemblance to each other.
or, even better,
Accordingly, there are no clear boundaries for what we should call or should not refer to as “privacy.” Some might object to the lack of clear boundaries, but this objection assumes that having definitive boundaries matters. The quest for a traditional definition of “privacy” has led to a rather fruitless and unresolved debate. In the meantime, there are real problems that must be addressed, but they are either conflated or ignored, because they do not fit into various pre-fabricated conceptions of privacy. The law often neglects to see the problems and instead ignores all things that do not fall into a particular conception of “privacy.” In this way, conceptions of privacy can prevent the examination of problems. The problems still exist regardless of whether we classify them as being “privacy” problems.
The very stuff and substance of Talmudic discourse in any creed or age. SSRN, alas, lacks the technology to measure customer engagement after download. But I can’t help suspecting that the completion rate on Professor Solove’s opus magnus resembles that of a Coursera course on Lacan. Finally, on page 22, I found something concrete: apparently in the ’90s a couple of actresses were killed by stalkers who got their addresses from leaky government databases. This is very tragic. Of course, a few years later, 3000 people died to protect Zacarias Moussaoui’s “civil liberties.” But I suppose this would be reducing privacy to a pre-fabricated conception of a singular essence.
I did emerge, like Mark Twain from his Germanic sentence, with the belief that the gnostic mystery of privacy has something to do with the gnostic mystery of democracy. Privacy, in Professor Solove’s wooly conception, would seem to be a political right—that is, a right to power, masquerading as an immunity from power. Hobbes’ “desolate freedom of the wild ass” is never far off.
Just the way Roissy is a sex addict, the civil-liberties zealot is a power addict. There is a difference, however. Roissy actually has sex. Or so I believe. There is unfortunately no word that means “porn” in the context of political power, but there should be. Being a slave to desire is a low condition of the human soul, but the only condition more pathetic is that of a slave to unfulfilled desire.
Of course, history is long. Even the 20th century was long. While the civil-liberties geek of 2013 is a pathetic and even hilarious figure, it’s not at all true that his passion has never gone requited. Actually, in its bureaucratic form, “civil liberties” helps keep the streets of San Francisco covered with turds and shambling zombies—two phenomena which constantly challenge and entertain my delightful precocious toddlers. “Why? Why, Pop?” Alas, though precocious, my offspring are nowhere near precocious enough to absorb the concept of the ACLU.
The ACLU! This universally respected organization, of course, is the first institution we think of when we think of “civil liberties.” The ACLU is all het up that the gubmint is readin’ yer emails. Who could be against the ACLU? Who but a crazy man?
Well. Does history matter, or doesn’t it? Here at UR, we believe it does. In the history of the ACLU, one man looms large—Roger Baldwin, who founded that universally respected institution in 1917 and remained its leader until 1950. Could we use this one man as a test of American sincerity in our national love for civil liberties? Are we all just a nation of concern trolls? Or is there one Diogenes? Was there, rather? Could it be this paladin of freedom—Roger Baldwin?
Well. If you scroll down to the bottom of that Wikipedia page, you’ll see a couple of interesting links. As a sort of spoiler, here is one. This whetted my appetite—but I wanted more. I couldn’t think of a better way to demonstrate the profound and utter phoniness, the shameless and thoroughly criminal hypocrisy, of the American obsession with “civil liberties,” than to visit my friendly local library and request a copy of Liberty Under the Soviets (1927).
I am happy to quote at length from this work. I feel that no inoculation is too strong against this particular variant of concern trolling. And besides, everything should be judged by its best work. As you’ll see, the progressive thought of Roger Baldwin is remarkably compelling, well-written, thoroughly researched (thanks to an extensive Russian tour, from which I doubt sevruga was absent), and would strike any innocent reader as judicious and profoundly wise. Here we go—excerpting liberally, starting from the very start of the book:
A few years ago two American workers who went to join the Kuzbas colony in Siberia wrote me their impressions and feelings about Soviet Russia. They wrote on the same day at the same table—and yet the letters might have come from two different continents, so oppositely did they view the Russian scene.
One said he never worked anywhere under better conditions. “A country in which the workers are nearer free than anywhere on earth.” The other said he never lived under such a regime of graft and espionage. “If you could see how the peasants and workers really feel about it, you would know it keeps power only by force.” Both men had gone to Russia pro-Soviet, but their temperaments led them to see and emphasize wholly different aspects.
Personal reactions color most of what is written about Soviet Russia. Where one puts one’s emphasis is a matter of feeling and opinion. Anyone who writes of Russia owes it at the start to confess his personal bias; and on Russia everyone has a bias, conscious or not. Life under the Soviets is so packed with contrasts and contradictions, that anyone can prove almost any case his bias dictates—and prove a case against them, if he likes, out of the mouths of the Bolsheviks themselves.
The central difficulty in any fair treatment of the Soviet experiment is to get and convey a rounded view of all the facts, showing which are temporary and incidental, and which are main tendencies and principles. Above all, anyone trying to understand Russia must bear in mind the human and historical background on which the Communists are tackling the colossal problem of reorganizing life in revolutionary terms.
On no subject is it more difficult to convey a fair view than on the issues of liberty and repression, because the viewpoints and facts are both so contradictory. Communists everywhere see Soviet Russia as the greatest hope for the freedom of the masses. Their opponents see it as just another iron dictatorship of a small, ruling bureaucracy, disciplining and regimenting life in the pattern of a fanatical Marxism. The objective truth, which must appraise both views, is hard to get in focus even with agreed facts. And even the facts are hard to state fairly, as witness the violent disagreement on them between the Communist majority and the Trotsky Opposition. The difficulty is not so much that facts are disputed, as that they are so diverse you can take your pick to suit your contentions.
My own prejudices are amply conveyed by the title of this book. Though over half of it is devoted to a description of the controls by the Soviet state, I have chosen to call it Liberty Under the Soviets because I see as far more significant the basic economic freedoms of workers and peasants and the abolition of privileged classes based on wealth; and only less important, the release of the non-Russian minorities to develop their national cultures, the new freedom of women, the revolution in education—and, if one counts it as significant, liberty for religion—and anti-religion.
Against all these liberties stand the facts of universal censorship of all means of communication and the complete suppression of any organized opposition to the dictatorship or its program. No civil liberty as we understand it in the West exists in Russia for opponents of the regime – no organized freedom of speech or assemblage, or of the press. No political liberty is permitted. The Communist Party enjoys an exclusive monopoly.
Nevertheless I emphasize by title and the arrangement of this book the outstanding relation, as I see it, between the dictatorship’s controls and the new liberties. For although I am an advocate of unrestricted civil liberty as a means to effecting even revolutionary changes in society with a minimum of violence, I know that such liberty is always dependent on the possession of economic power. Economic liberty underlies all others. In any society civil liberties are freely exercised only by classes with economic power—or if by other classes, only at times when the controlling class is too secure to fear opposition.
In Soviet Russia, despite the rigid controls and suppression of opposition, the regime is dominated by the economic needs of workers and peasants. Their economic power, even when unorganized, is the force behind it. Their liberties won by the Revolution are the ultimate dictators of Soviet policy. In this lies the chief justification for the hope that, with the increasing share by the masses in all activities of life, the rigors of centralized dictatorship will be lessened and the creative forces given free rein. Peasants and workers are keenly aware of their new liberties won by the Revolution. Anywhere you can hear voiced their belief that, whatever their criticism and discontent, that they are “free.” And they constitute over ninety percent of the Russian people.
Such an attitude as I express toward the relation of economic to civil liberty may easily be construed as condoning in Russia repressions which I condemn in capitalist countries. It is true that I feel differently about them, because I regard them as unlike. Repressions in western democracies are weapons of struggle in a transition period to socialism. The society the Communists seek to create will be freed of class struggle—if achieved—and therefore of repression.
Liberty in Russia cannot be fairly examined, as is usually attempted, on the basis of western ideas of bourgeois “rights,” of Socialist Party conceptions of parliamentary democracy as the chief instrumentality for achieving socialism, or of the anarchist program for the immediate revolutionary abolition of the state and the free cooperation of workers and peasants. It must be examined primarily in the light of what Communists are attempting to do to create a society in which liberty will be a reality when economic class conflict is abolished. Only through that process, according to the Communist view of progress, will liberty and democracy come to mean something other than the freedom of the propertied classes. […] What are these economic liberties? For the peasants—eighty percent of the people—they are primarily the right to the land they use, the control of its allotment, freedom from landlords, the right to buy and sell goods freely—and the power to run their village business with little or no outside interference. Those liberties, bourgeois in the sense of recognizing private property, are the foundation of peasant life, for which they would defend the Soviet regime against foreign attack or counter-revolution. Bolshevik politics, Communist propaganda, the long-range schemes for building socialism, mean little to them. But the regime’s encouragement of cooperatives, of machine farming, of the poorer peasants against the well-to-do, of improved agriculture, of education, of recreation, mean a new life, to which the villages, for centuries static under the old regime, are slowly responding as the new generation grows up.
No one who has seen the new life in Russian villages can doubt the feeling of liberty, of released effort and of hope which marks the active peasants—save for the ambitious well-to-do class (the Kulaks) who resist the new order because it restricts their freedom to hire labor and rent land. […] In practice Soviet democracy is obviously far short of a real democracy, that is, one in which all political functions are controlled by a majority of the persons participating in them. But such a democracy has rarely existed anywhere. That conception, however, offers a fair test by which to determine the democratic features of any system. Tested by it, the Soviet system clearly represents the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population—the workers and peasants – as opposed to propertied classes, and they alone participate in such democracy as the dictatorship permits. The trading class, richer peasants (Kulaks) and former czarist officials are alone disenfranchised. […] The question is often raised as to whether or not Party members occupy a privileged position in Russia as compared with ordinary citizens. The answer to that must recognize first the fact that Party membership carries responsibilities far greater than those of an ordinary citizen. A member’s life is controlled by the Party. His job, salary, outside activities, are all subject to orders like a soldier in an army. Members can be counted on for service as outsiders cannot. So they naturally get jobs when others are out of work, and they get better public jobs, sometimes by more competence, sometimes by political pull. But their salaries are limited to a maximum below that of many public employees, though their general salary level is higher than the average wage-workers. In certain public offices they may get some privileges through Party connections—such as cheaper and better lodgings, occasional use of the departmental automobiles, and sometimes wholesale rates on purchases.
But the picture so often painted of a ruling political class above and over the people of Russia, enjoying the privileges of greater wealth and position, is pure invention, originating probably in a comparatively few exceptions, some of them, it is true, flagrant enough to arouse public scandal. But the Party is severe on all those who seek personal privilege in goods or position out of office or Party membership. The Party continually cleanses its membership by expulsion, getting rid of those who are not devoted, or who try to use the Party for their private interests, or whose “ideology” is not Communist. The Communist Party is hard to get into and easy to get out of.
The scores of Communists I met all over Russia, from secretaries in the small towns and villages to the heads of departments in Moscow, struck me with few exceptions as extraordinarily able and astute men—on the whole abler, more alert and more devoted than any official class I ever met. This youth, enthusiasm and faith in what they are doing stand out in marked contrast to the routineers so common in most government service. […] Anyone who travels in Russia must be impressed at once with the extraordinary diversity of the peoples of the Soviet Union, and with the intensity of national feeling among the non-Russians. And if you dig under the surface to the policies of the regime you are struck at once by a newly released freedom of their cultures so striking that it bulks large among the achievements of the Revolution. […] Racial prejudice or discrimination of any sort on account of race is fought by law and propaganda. The Constitution “declares it contrary to the fundamental laws… to institute or tolerate privileges… founded on such grounds, or to repress national minorities, or in any way to limit their rights.” The criminal code severely penalizes stirring up religious or racial strife. Freedom from race prejudice is probably greater in Russia than in any country of mixed population in the world. It is imbedded in the Communist political philosophy, and it is expressed practically in their political institutions. The constant effort is to aid the poorest and most disadvantaged classes, who, in mixed populations, have historically been the victims of race prejudice. […] The Communist philosophy is vigorously anti-religious, based on a materialistic, scientific conception of life opposed to mysticism and theology. Though there is now no state church, there is an anti-church state. The weight of official influence is and has been continuously against the church as an institution and against religion as a force opposed to the Communist conception of scientific social progress.
To understand the significance of that attitude in Russia, one must bear in mind the primitive superstitions of the peasant masses, the priests’ support of landlords and police, and the still childlike belief of the peasants in miracles and rites to bring them good fortune and good crops. The Soviet anti-religious attitude in practice is primarily a crusade to abolish peasant superstition by education in science and by practical demonstrations of the power of scientific farming as against prayer. In a time of drought, for instance, when the priests head a procession into the fields carrying ikons to bring rain, the Communists will put up posters showing dry-farming methods and the wisdom of deeper ploughing to save the grain. […] To help diminish the power of religion, children under eighteen years of age are prohibited from attending religious schools. They may be instructed only by their parents in their own homes, and not even there in the cases of those youngsters who object to it, and who complain to the authorities, as many are said to have done. The Mohammedans, however, as we have noted, are allowed to admit to religious schools children as young as fourteen, a concession to the Oriental peoples, whose antagonism the Soviet regime is careful not to arouse.
Religious worship goes on almost unrestricted. The churches throughout Russia are practically all in active use and well-filled—by women more than by men, as with us. New churches are allowed to be built, though formerly they were not. Many were taken over in the early days for sport clubs and theatres but that caused so much resentment that it was stopped. Only in Tiflis, Georgia, where the cathedral on the main street was turned into an athletic club, did I hear resentment still bitterly expressed. But Georgia is generally resentful of the regime. […] Everywhere I went in Russian prisons I found long-haired, long-bearded priests still wearing their robes—some in for common crimes, most for political offenses dating chiefly from the time of the seizures of church treasures. In the detention prison in Leningrad, where I asked to be shown the cell which Lenin occupied for a while in 1896, the door opened on a startling sight—a patriarchal archbishop in the yellow silk robes of his office. He informed me in fluent French that he was “quite loyal to the Soviet regime,” but was held, he knew not for what, on account of the government’s hostility to the church. For good measure—for the prison was crowded—he shared the historic cell with a Finnish spy and a speculator. […] To sum up, it is evident that religious liberty under the Soviets is vastly greater than it was under the czar, despite the fact that the czar was for religion and the Soviets are against it. Freedom for anti-religion is naturally much greater than anywhere else in the world, since it is officially encouraged and directed as part of the Communist program—although it is still a weak force except as it opposes scientific agriculture to peasant superstition.
The sectarians, evangelicals, and the non-Christian religions enjoy about as much freedom as in other countries, and more than in most with a state church. The old Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches alone suffered severe restrictions, primarily due to their anti-Soviet activity. Such restrictions on general religious activity as exist, are not aimed at religious freedom. They are the restrictions common to the licensing of all private organizations and the censorship of all journals and books in the interest of promoting the Communist program.
On the other hand, the State is freer of religious influence than in any other country in the world—which is something to be said even in comparison with the United States, where the legal separation of church and state does not prevent the interference of sectarian interests in education—for instance through the prohibition of teaching evolution and through the compulsory reading of the Protestant Bible in public schools, to say nothing of the power of religious prejudice in elections. […] The control of foreign correspondents in two ways: first, through their admission to Russia; and second, through examination of their wire dispatches. Dispatches by mail are not examined, and can be checked up only by reading the foreign press. Control over the admission of correspondents is rigid. Correspondents of hostile papers are not admitted, nor are hostile correspondents of papers whose fair representatives might be admitted. A hostile paper is one which is regarded as systematically misrepresenting conditions in Soviet Russia. […] The Foreign Office keeps close watch on correspondents through reading the foreign press. It also sizes up their point of view. One type of correspondent, of whom there have been a number in Moscow, is the man who “lies by telling the truth.” He selects from the Russian press for his dispatches all the damaging articles he can find, omitting anything favorable to the Soviet regime. The censor cannot call him to account for inaccuracy, but he is warned that if his paper’s policy is to print only damaging news his leave to stay will not be renewed. […] What are the liberties of the press under the Soviets? From a western, bourgeois point of view there are, of course, none. But […] The GPU is an exceedingly efficient organization, probably the best organized political police department in the world, and therefore the most effective in discovering and arresting the offenders under its jurisdiction. It has the advantage of adding to the already highly developed system of the czar’s Okhrana the knowledge of underground tactics gained by the Bolsheviks in the years when they were an illegal conspiracy. Many of the technical methods of the Okhrana, together with some of its old specialists, have been taken over and incorporated into the new system, which has larger powers and a greater personnel.
The G.P.U. is the successor to the Tcheka (the Extraordinary Revolutionary Commission), formed to fight the counter-revolution which developed shortly after the Bolshevik seizure of power, and abolished by decree early in 1922 after the civil wars and foreign intervention were over. The Tcheka was the agency of the “Red Terror,” with unrestricted powers of arrest, imprisonment, and execution. The G.P.U., established in its place, taking over its machinery, buildings, and prisons, was restricted, first, by having the legality of all its orders of exile and imprisonment subjected to the review and joint control of a special Attorney-General, and second, by taking away the power of summary execution and requiring approval in advance by the Central Executive Committee. […] Reports of conditions in G.P.U. temporary prisons, where prisoners are isolated from all outside contact, often in solitary cells, subject to grilling inquiry—frequently in the middle of the night—and worse, to uncertainty as to their fate, also heighten fear. Reports of brutality by the G.P.U., particularly of beating and third degree methods, are current, but the evidence to sustain them seems mostly to date back to the days of the Tcheka. I have talked with many ex-prisoners in Russia and abroad, and have read also all the published accounts of the prison experiences of others, and from all of them I gathered that police brutality such as we know it in America is rare in Russia. Long-continued grillings, isolation, and wretched physical conditions are the worst of the evils of preliminary detentions. Only in Tiflis did I hear, from what seemed credible sources, of beatings to extort information.
One G.P.U. practice, frequently noted because so public, lends color to charges of brutality: the transfer of groups of prisoners on foot through the streets under soldier guard with fixed bayonets. To Americans it should be said that this brutality appears to be insignificant compared with the routine cruelties of the third degree practised daily by every sizeable police department in the United States. […] To sum up, the whole system of dealing with political opposition in Russia rests on extraordinarily broad foundations—broader than elsewhere in the world. It rests first on the loose and inclusive legal definition of political offenses, and second on the extraordinary powers of the G.P.U. in arrests, prosecution, “trial,” imprisonment, and exile. Both the conception of political crime and the discretion of the political police are wider either than under the czar, or than in other countries. They are analogous to other countries in a state of war, which is how Soviet Russia regards herself. But there is no such atmosphere in Russia, the system working almost invisibly.
Given the conditions out of which this stern discipline of the country grew, together with the inherited habits of government and the continuous struggle against enemies abroad and within, its excesses are understandable. They yield to a far more natural explanation than the romantic interpretation of “Asiatic cruelty” often attached to them. Moralizing about the G.P.U. system does not explain it. Its function in relationship to the dictatorship does. It occupies the place of the Communist Party’s immediate weapon of defense—swift, decisive, final. […] To avoid errors in quoting official policies, the entire first draft of this book was very kindly read by a Soviet official qualified to give exact information. …
Given this historical context, joining with Roger Baldwin in singing the praises of “civil liberties” is the rough moral equivalent of joining with Alfred Rosenberg in a celebration of the Deutsche Volk. Germans, we can agree, are good people. Nonetheless, if I want to say that Germans are good people, I will go out of my way ten times to avoid saying it in the same words as Alfred Rosenberg. Let alone through the same institutions as Alfred Rosenberg. Did you ever give money to the ACLU? Even $10? Feeling dirty yet? Hey, didn’t you love that reference to the nasty old Kulaks?
And worse still, the ACLU (even if, to be perfectly frank, it did originate as the legal defense organ of the CPUSA) is not and was never a pseudopod of the Soviet Union. It’s older than the Soviet Union. It is a quintessentially American institution in every way, shape and form—right down to its impeccably WASP founder, who no one could possibly mistake for some greasy, funny-talking little Jew. Its guilt is not their guilt. Its guilt is our guilt—and democracy’s guilt.
Suppose Professor Solove is right, and privacy and democracy go hand in hand. To defend privacy is to defend democracy. To defend the guilty, of course, is to double down. There’s been a lot of doubling down—a kind of moral martingale. When I think of the martingale, I always think of Wile E. Coyote, who is perfectly fine running off the edge of the cliff until he looks down. Don’t look down. Your whole country, your whole century, your whole planet, might be morally bankrupt. And when operating in bankruptcy, the most important thing is to avoid doing the books.
It’s not just that the Commucaust was ten times bigger than the Holocaust. It’s that both are best understood as epiphenomena of the democratic era. Which isn’t over yet! At least not when we classify pseudo-democracies among the consequences of democracy. And why wouldn’t we? Hitler’s Berlin, FDR’s Washington, and Stalin’s Moscow are each pretending, each in its own way, to be a “genuine democracy.” Without the ideal, how could we have the pretense?
Of these three ruthless regimes, the crimes of the first are rigorously investigated and permanently famous; those of the last have been sporadically looked into, a little; and our own in the middle, emerging victorious, remains well cloaked in the usual golden froth of a hagiographic personality cult with a locked archive. Indeed, until the American, British and Soviet archives are fully opened and the inevitable gaps charted, no intelligence-quality history of the 20th century can be written—which means no history worth reading, and certainly none worth believing in.
So, don’t believe! You can stop any time, really. Hey, man, it’s a new century.
Since the reality of political history is that all polities of nontrivial size are controlled by organized minorities, all nontrivial democracies are pseudo-democracies. They are all different, however, since every organized minority is different. Every government flavored with democracy is irredeemably foul, but broadly the 20th-century pseudo-democratic regimes can be separated into two broad categories: oligarchical (communist, impersonal) and despotic (fascist, personal). Your preference depends on whether you prefer to be ruled by an omnipotent politician or a faceless machine. There is no difficulty in classifying the USG, or any other major modern government—they are all oligarchies.
So are we truly guilty? Perhaps this is an out—it is not us, but our rulers, who have committed these terrible collaborations. And by them conquered, of course, the world. Leading inexorably to our present national position of “global leadership,” not at all to be confused with “world domination.”
The question of whether the voting community is an active participant, or a passive part, in this machine, is an empirical one. It is of course much easier for the community to be an active participant in a fascist regime where individual politicians take actual power as a consequence of their personal support—although once they attain that power, they can build the usual apparatus to “manufacture consent.” Thus in a sense fascism is the more democratic form, but only in a sense.
In an oligarchical regime, public opinion is always an effect rather than a cause. It still matters, but only in the sense that some effects cannot be caused. But the power of the machine is always increasing. Few in the Reagan era could have imagined that in the lives of their grown children, most Americans would come to regard gay marriage as an essential civil right. Why did this happen? Because the ruling class is sovereign not just politically, but also intellectually. What it believes, everyone comes to believe—and is horrified that previous generations somehow failed to believe.
Through the 20C America was always the leading communist power, but no form is pure. All these regimes are exquisitely vile and they have no hesitation in sharing syringes. The USSR, of course, was run by a Party organized on ultra-fascist despotic lines.
And by our good communist standards of the early 21C, early 20C America—Roger Baldwin’s America, no less—looks fascist in many ways. Racism, nativism, classism and just plain domination are everywhere in sight. Unimaginable sexual prudery is universal, with many perfectly comely young women not learning proper fellatio technique until high school or even college. And worst of all, as late as Teddy Roosevelt, elected politicians actually seem to be in control of the government. (Someone should assemble a “Hitler, Mussolini or TR” quote-matching test.)
On very generous days, we might admit that politicians retained significant authority over the USG as late as the 1950s. This was when a certain Senator from North Hicksville decided to look into the matter of why a billion foreigners were condemned to total slavery and thirty million to actual death, not even for any apparent national purpose, but apparently just to get the dicks of a few hundred Georgetown civil servants hard or at least maintain them in that accustomed condition.
So the esteemed Senator asked for the State Department’s super sekrit private files. State, never a stranger to hardball, told him to go take a flying fuck at a plate-glass window. The Senate, an elected institution, with massive support from the American People, up against a mere executive agency with no constitutional power. Total bureaucratic chimpanzee war! Or so you’d think. In fact, a last gasp.
Was State defunded? Erased from God’s bureaucratic earth by fire—like Hamburg or Tokyo, let’s not forget, ten years earlier? Roasted in the depths of a giant Sloar? State, of course, prospered. State prospers to this day. Despite the bloody scraps of Syria between its teeth. Despite? Or because of? Hey, everybody’s got to eat. Democracy is messy, I can tell you!
The Senator was shunned by his colleagues. He and his friends were exiled from public life and became, over the next five decades, a metonym for paranoid criminal insanity of the political type. The American People approved! They changed their minds! They saw the Senator on TV and decided he looked like a big meanie. He couldn’t even shave properly! He missed a spot! A fickle People. Perhaps next month they would have changed their minds right back. But really, why give them the chance?
The Constitution is great, but Nature has laws as well. One is that the fickle are generally not left in charge of armies, battleships or nuclear weapons. If the Constitution declares that the fickle shall rule, too bad for the Constitution. By contradicting Nature, the Constitution has contradicted itself. And it shall not rule. And that, dear Americans, is when you finally settled in under your new communist oligarchy. Whether you knew it or not. Not, mostly—but that’s what it is to be a chump.
Nature’s inflexible law is that if you want to hold power, you need to be competent to retain it. Otherwise, it is no use getting power. It will be taken away from you, for good and ill, by someone capable of defeating you. And the only thing more ignominious and pathetic than being defeated in the eternal contest for power, is being so owned and not even knowing it.
Alas, dear Americans—“progressives,” i.e., communists, and “constitutionalists,” i.e., fascists—the both of you, this is your pathetic condition. And you’re worried that someone is grepping your emails?
Since this last epic battle between the Congress and the Executive, your country, not to mention its gloriously liberated “allies,” i.e., captured satellite states, has been run (with spasmodic, unserious, temporary attempts at resistance, but not reversal) by its permanent civil service. This is what “democracy” means to you: government by permanent civil servants. As for your elected officials, you could dismiss them all tomorrow, and not elect more, and your experience of government would not change in the slightest.
This bureaucratic oligarchy is a common historical form in large old states. Regardless of formal status, a “permanent civil servant” is anyone who sets government policy, is funded by the government, or has privileged access to government secrets, and who cannot be fired by any practical executive action. This definition includes essentially all professors and journalists—and all legitimate and/or respected professors and journalists. It’s really quite sustainable. For instance, for the last two millennia it’s been the normal condition of Chinese government. It is unusual to have a figurehead People instead of a figurehead King, Pharaoh Emperor. But since neither matters, the difference doesn’t matter much, now, does it?
And this is how you come to live in a world where there are these two separate concepts, “politics” and “democracy,” with opposite emotional valence. Calling anything “political” is a harsh condemnation. But if it is “democratic,” it is good and sweet and true. But what is democracy without politics?
Nothing more than the American system of government—communism, i.e., rule by the party of civil service. As Americans, we can at least be thankful that communism has done less damage here than elsewhere. It’s great to be an exporter, especially when your product is dioxin. It gives you the comforts you need to worry that someone is grepping your emails.
Thus, while I am not really one for purges, I’d be dismayed to see anyone who calls himself a real reactionary worrying at all that Obama is reading his email. Or whatever.
First of all, a reactionary is a gentleman (or a lady). A gentleman (or a lady) doesn’t whine. If he finds himself whining, it will be because his leg has been crushed by a truck and he’s in enormous fucking pain. It won’t be because some meanie is denying him his universal human right to rule the country, or his \( 1/10^8 \) share in that right, or whatever.
My son actually thinks he has human rights. It’s because he’s 2. This morning he asserted his right not to take his amoxicillin—with some success, but not much. I expect the critics of the NSA to have about the same luck. When I became a man, I put aside childish things.
For a man or for a community of men, the right to rule is a function of the might to rule. If the sound competent Midwest can get itself euchred out of its democratic right to rule by a bunch of slick Harvard men, the sound competent Midwest cannot maintain its authority and will get euchred by someone someday. If it’s not Harvard today it’ll be Yale tomorrow.
As for your right to “privacy,” as if having your emails grepped affected you in any way, it is by accident. Forget about the opponents of the government being persecuted. If they are persecuted, which is not their decision of course, (a) it will not be by means of grep, and (b) they’ll have to learn to deal with it, like men, rather than whining like little girls.
Obviously, almost all of those complaining are complaining because they are better communists than the Obama administration. A remarkable achievement, though it owes more to the complainees. Power does season a man—maybe only Nixon could go to China, but only Eric Holder could crack down on the Associated Press. (Hey guys—I know you’re big fans—don’t you like the way that red lightsaber feels in your hand? Swing it around a little. Well-balanced, isn’t it? Nice test cut you’ve taken—maybe it’s time for some real rail-splitting? Take it home, use it for a week, bring it back if you don’t like it? You’ll really enjoy working out with this little baby, I can tell you.)
But unfortunately, America is a communist country and Americans are not persecuted for being too communist. Au contraire—they are petted and lionized. They appear daring while taking no risks. It’s perfect. It’s true that there were a couple of periods where as many as ten or twelve communists suffered mild professional consequences for cavorting too openly with the Soviet mass-murder cult. Surely ten Americans a day are fired for racism. Hitler has been dead for 70 years, and the Brown Scare rolls on—at a thousand times the maximum intensity of “McCarthyism” or the Palmer Raids.
So if you’re a good communist, you have only symbolic worries about your privacy. These worries are simply a projection of your political penis envy. You react the same way to having your emails grepped as if someone said you weren’t allowed to vote in 2016. In reality, this loss would not affect you at all. Symbolically, however, it would represent a profound Freudian castration. In fact, if you fail to express your symbolic political masculinity, preferably through a Facebook update, you will feel castrated by default. But gross public outrage restores your hypothetical testosterone.
Whereas out here on the “extreme right,” some of us actually do oppose the government. I would be genuinely worried if I thought Washington was capable of persecuting dissident intellectuals. One way to see where America is going is to look at where its satellites in Europe are, and Britain and other countries certainly treat jokes on the train and casual anti-Party tweets much the same way the Czech authorities in 1971 or the German authorities in 1937 treated unconstructive public comments about the Party or the Leader.
But really, these fools are easy targets. Yo, don’t be an easy target. Don’t blow shit up and don’t try to found any tax-exempt organizations, and you ought to be fine. The Cheka ain’t in the building. And the process of turning our progressive bureaucrats into Chekisty would not involve making them more awful, but more energetic, manly and capable. I won’t hold my breath.
It is obvious to those of us who actually have a reason to consider the government a genuine threat, that these surveillance mechanisms are not a genuine threat. Rather, they are designed, probably not very well, to do the job they are supposedly doing, which is a hard job and really can’t be done well.
A prudently governed nation would not need to record everyone’s phone calls and emails. A prudently governed nation would concern itself with its own affairs and no one else’s. It would thus maintain either a culturally and politically homogeneous state in which terrorism was no more a concern than in the conflict between Vermont and New Hampshire, or a polycultural regime like the Ottoman one, in which every culture governs itself and knows it will suffer, not advance, if its members go crazy. But apparently the Orwellian panopticon creates more jobs in Virginia than the boring alternative of fencing the borders and enforcing consular law, so we can expect it to thrive. Americans prefer this ridiculous regime to any other. Yet they still object to being blown up indiscriminately in public places as if they were Israelis enduring the “peace process.” So there is really no alternative, especially as our impending defeat in Afghanistan will swell the jihadi supply.
Moreover, the fascist militarists who actually do this job are some of the best men in America. American communism, for obvious reasons, loves to send America’s best men to Afghanistan to get their private parts Osterized by fertilizer bombs. This is American war since 1945: State solving the problem of how it can get DoD to stick its dick in a blender. Solving it rather well, I’d say. Many of America’s best men are in the Pentagon, and good men know how to obey, and into the blender goes that dick. Still, much testicle remains.
All this said, no nation is or ever has been perfect. All have committed terrible crimes. All men, of course, are sinners. America is a communist country, the whole world is America, and communism is a religion of pure hate and murder with 100 million corpses on its conscience. Still it continues. Many, even most, “progressives” are perfectly nice people. Libertarians, such as Edward Snowden (whose girlfriend, sadly, will have no alternative but to seek tingles in the arms of Roissy), are often even better. I used to be a libertarian myself. I didn’t realize my brain was doing the nasty with Roger Baldwin. Snowden himself seems like a nice guy, and future pressure-cooker bomb victims can only wish he’d found UR in time.
I sometimes think about how the Third Reich of 2013 would rationalize the Holocaust if somehow, in 1945, one of Hitler’s wonder weapons had actually turned the tide. The Holocaust, of course, was a war crime—the peacetime Reich never could have committed such a deed. Perhaps it could have only been committed by a Reich that knew it was losing the war. Perhaps we were lucky enough not to see what atrocities democracy would have committed, had it been about to lose its war—we certainly committed enough in the winning. But be that as it may.
Would this victorious Germany, in the lives of its grandchildren, feel any sense of national guilt? It’s easy to feel guilt on behalf of the Other—this is not guilt, but condemnation. The Germany of 2013 has conveniently converted its grandparents into an Other, and so can feel guilty on their behalf. Naturally it feels no guilt at all for the crimes of democracy, its actual present ideology. But be that as it may. What about the question?
I think the answer is no. First of all, though everything I know about Hitler tells me he ordered the Holocaust, this is just my personal judgment. There is no actual evidence either way. So the crime, though it could not possibly have been concealed from history, would be ascribed not to National Socialism, not even to Hitler, but rather to Himmler. Similarly, American historians overlook the obvious fact that Alger Hiss could have done nothing without FDR’s personal permission, and mistake the Hiss-Hopkins backchannel to the KGB for a case of “espionage”—not even considering the idea that FDR, the New Deal, or America as a whole could be seen as generally guilty for our collaboration, concealment, and general complicity with Stalin’s enormous crimes.
Never underestimate the power of “no true Scotsman.” I once enraged the husband of my cousin, a devout Obama voter who grew up in the Soviet Union, by asking him what the Russian translation of “progressive” was. Of course he knew perfectly well that the Soviet ogre had uttered this word continuously from 1917 to 1989. Indeed, “progressive” has been exclusively a euphemism for “communist,” on both sides of the Atlantic, since the mid-30s or so. And yet, his response would be: Stalin was not a true progressive, but a demon pretending to be a true progressive. In fact, this is the standard position of today’s neo-communist on the USSR: fascist deviationism, not true communism. Did the experiment fail? Au contraire, mon frère—it has never been tried!
Just so. And so, the National Socialist of our alternate 2013 would declare: nothing could possibly be as un-German as the Holocaust. (True.) Since Himmler ordered the Holocaust (true), nothing could be as un-German, and therefore as un–National Socialist, as Himmler. Himmler, therefore, stands unmasked by history’s prosecution as no true Nazi. And so forth. In fact, it is not out of the question that even Hitler himself could be condemned as no true Nazi. If Stalin is no true communist, why not?
And life in our alternate Third Reich? It would go on, as it does in our communist world—cheerfully unstained by any kind of genuine moral reflection. Just as I have a genuine respect for Roissy’s honest, if foul, amorality, I have an enormous contempt for sham moral outrage. Can there be real outrage? Absolutely. But you cannot get from the sham directly to the reality. You have to abandon it for pure cold cynicism, then work hard for even the smallest scrap of genuine human feeling. Alas, it will not be as stimulating as your porn, your “civil liberties” and the like. Hopefully in time you will nonetheless come to prefer it.