Thursday, September 10, 2009

Liberal Fascism Watch: Tom Friedman's Love Affair with Dictatorship

Well, sometimes they do come right out and say what they are thinking. In an op ed piece in the Daily Worker, oops make that The New York Times, Tom Friedman gushes over the "enlightened people" who run China today and how much better it is to have a dictatorship that can impose change on the unenlightened mob of citizens who, clearly, do not know what is best for them. He says:

"One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a
reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have
great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but
critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st
century. It is not an accident that China is committed to overtaking us in
electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind
power. China’s leaders understand that in a world of exploding populations and
rising emerging-market middle classes, demand for clean power and energy
efficiency is going to soar. Beijing wants to make sure that it owns that
industry and is ordering the policies to do that, including boosting gasoline
prices, from the top down."

One party autocracy (trans. dictatorship) has "drawbacks"? Is that an adequate discription of the murder of tens of millions of people by a revolutionary movement dedicated to totalitarianism? "From the top down" - does he really mean for us to understand that he thinks that planned economies actually work? Does he really mean that?

He calls Obama a "centrist" not a socialist. But Tom, haven't you read your Lenin? He has to pretend to be a centrist until he has consolidated power. Oh, I get it, you are pretending to criticize him so people will think he isn't on your side, since you are so overt about your socialism. Wink, wink. I get it now.

Here is Jonah Goldberg's response:

"So there you have it. If only America could drop its inefficient and
antiquated system, designed in the age before globalization and modernity and,
most damning of all, before the lantern of Thomas Friedman's intellect
illuminated the land. If only enlightened experts could do the hard and
necessary things that the new age requires, if only we could rely on these
planners to set the ship of state right. Now, of course, there are "drawbacks"
to such a system: crushing of dissidents with tanks, state control of
reproduction, government control of the press and the internet. Omelets and
broken eggs, as they say. More to the point, Friedman insists, these "drawbacks"
pale in comparison to the system we have today here in America.

I cannot begin to tell you how this is exactly the argument that was
made by American fans of Mussolini in the 1920s. It is exactly the argument that
was made in defense of Stalin and Lenin before him (it's the argument that
idiotic, dictator-envying leftists make in defense of Castro and Chavez today).
It was the argument made by George Bernard Shaw who yearned for a strong
progressive autocracy under a Mussolini, a Hitler or a Stalin (he wasn't picky
in this regard). This is the argument for an "economic dictatorship" pushed by
Stuart Chase and the New Dealers. It's the dream of Herbert Croly and a great
many of the Progressives."

Goldberg's book, Liberal Fascism, is a terrific analysis of the fascist tendencies of contemporary American liberalism (which, of course, has long since ceased to be "liberalism" in the classical 19th century sense of the term). The only debate is whether it inclines more specifically toward socialism or fascism. The value of Goldberg's book is that he shows how both are true at once. He reminds us of something that only massive Communist propaganda could cause us to forget: that Hitlerism was a form of socialism - the National Socialist kind.


R.O. Flyer said...

Wait are you saying Thomas Friedman, the advocate of globalization, is a socialist? What on earth? Friedman is the prototypical enemy of the Left.

Craig Carter said...

Yeah, and so was Hitler the enemy of the Left. Figure it out.

Craig Carter said...

Listen, there are two ways of mapping the great divide in modern Western politics.

1. One way distinguishes the two main parties on the basis of their differing sets of goals. The first party could be called the "social justice at all costs" party. This way wants a revolution, but will settle for evolution as long as "progress" is being made toward equality. It will trade political freedom (so long as the masses get to keep sexual freedom, which when detatched from the family is harmless to the totalitarian state) for material equality.

Opposing this group is the "individual liberty is a higher good than equality." This includes classical liberals and also traditional conservatives (like John Paul II, for instance). John Paul II laboured hard for freedom in Poland with the hope that people would use that freedom to serve God and love others according to the teachings of the Church. In this he was sorely disappointed as post-Communist Poland embraced consumerism to a great extent; but Augustine has no doubt straightened out his rather unrealistic expectations by now. Nevertheless, what unites this party is that even if inequality results from freedom, freedom is still morally superior to totalitarianism. Traditional conservatives point out that the less we disrespect tradition, the more responsible people will be in the use of their freedom.

2. The other way to map politics is the standard textbook way of defining the left as the party which believes in a centrally planned economy and public ownership of the means of production and the right as the party that wants capitalism (private property, free trade etc).

You will understand my post if you accept that the second way of mapping the field is obsolete in the 21st century. With China practicing "state capitalism" and with a big government liberal in the White House, the old categories are inadequate.

The main goal of the "social justice at all costs" party is equality (not of opportunity but of outcome) and how that comes to pass is secondary. So some want it done democratically through the welfare state, while others favor democratical socialism and still others favor Marxist-Leninism. The important point is that even a one-party fascist dictatorship like China (or Hitler's Germany) is an acceptable method providing it delivers the right results.

I do not believe that men may do evil in order to achieve a utopian goal of equality of outcome and I believe that human nature is fallen and, further, that the kind of equality dreamed of in the French Enlightenment is a "beautiful dream" that leads to the Gulag.

This is why I see commonality between Friedman, Obama, Chavez, much of European socialism and New Labour in the UK.

R.O. Flyer said...

I just find it funny that you think Tom Friedman of all people is a socialist. Seriously, he's among the most influential living advocates of global capitalism today. I'm honestly just baffled by this post. Perhaps you are just not familiar with Friedman's work, but I find that hard to believe.

Are you familiar with Friedman's The World is Flat? The entire book is something of an apologetic for capitalist globalization.

R.O. Flyer said...

In fact, I think you'd rather like his books.

Craig Carter said...

I'm afraid, you just didn't get it. I didn't mean to imply that Friedman is a socialist in the economic sense. But he is advocating a fascist solution to social problems (fascist is likely the best description of China today). Fascism and socialism share a common trust in hierarchial government to dictate solutions to social problems from the top down (by elites of experts). In fascism, the government does not own outright the means of production, but private corporations are integrated into a single, organic, totalitarian structure that governs society as a whole. Thus, from a conservative perspective, fascism and socialism have important similarities.

When Jonah Goldberg titled his book "Liberal Fascism" he was using liberal in the evolved 20th century sense of the term in which it has come to mean "trust in big government, the welfare state, soft totalitarianism."

The problem with large corporations is that they often work hand in glove with big government to ensure monopolies through complex regulation that discourages competitors from challenging the global hegemony of those corporations. The old "socialist versus liberal" distinctions just aren't capable of adequately describing these new realities.

I'm afraid you are stuck in 1960's ideology in which the only solution to the problems created by capitalism is to embrace socialism, which, unfortunately, is like pouring gasoline on the fire.

R.O. Flyer said...

Craig, what does this mean?

"He calls Obama a "centrist" not a socialist. But Tom, haven't you read your Lenin? He has to pretend to be a centrist until he has consolidated power. Oh, I get it, you are pretending to criticize him so people will think he isn't on your side, since you are so overt about your socialism. Wink, wink. I get it now."

It seems that you are suggesting that Friedman is a socialist here and is somehow in cahoots with Obama, who is actually not a centrist, but a socialist himself, just waiting to consolidate power. Am I reading you correctly here? So, you call Friedman and Obama "socialists," but not in the economic sense? By socialist you basically mean fascist here? OK, but how is that helpful? Doesn't that just confuse the point?

Thomas Friedman is not a socialist. You may think he is a "liberal fascist," but it is ludicrous to call him a socialist. You and Friedman share more in common than you may think. He's resolutely opposed to Palestinian violence, "the arab-world," and Islam. He's a promoter of capitalism, but at some level wants to retain traditional cultures. Seriously, I think you'd like his work. But, you really should understand that Friedman's ideology diametrically opposed to leftist thinking.

You may think that I am still in the 1960s or something because I think U.S. liberals aren't left-wing socialists, but this is just really silly thinking. I'm not sure what else to say. You're the one constantly equivocating by suggesting that the words liberal and socialist, leftist and fascist, basically all mean the same thing.

Craig Carter said...

I do think Obama is a socialist at heart, although he is smart enough to know that it is political poison to let that be seen widely.

I wasn't commenting on Friedman's thought in general, with which I'm not familiar. I was assuming he was a liberal with fascist tendencies based on that op ed praising the totalitarian Chinese government because "it gets things done." This is what the New Dealers admired about Mussolini. (Friedman could not be a classical 19th cen. liberal and have any admiration for a totalitarian regieme like China.)

If Friedman is an apologist for global capitalism, that does not mean he could not be a fascist sympathizer: that is the point of Goldberg's book. Liberals who slide toward a big government, statist position are more fascist than the right, which is committed to individual liberty and civil society and the non-integration of all of life into a collective unity.

The labels right and left fail us here. From the 1930's on Marxist propaganda has tried to paint national socialism ( and all fascism) as a right wing movement. But that is just unfair to traditional conservatism. To the extent that liberals abandon their committment to liberty, they move into acceptance of fascism. I see that happening in Canada and in the US. Even the clumsy attempts to fashion a personality cult of Obama are examples of the mindset.

The sense in which Obama is on Friedman's side is the way in which he wants big government to take over most of the US economy so as to bring society more and more under centralized control. Friedman admires that in the Chinese system because it allows someone at the top to "get things done." So one coming from the liberal side and one coming from the socialist side come together.

I think you make the mistake of identifying being conservative with being capitalist. I've posted a lot of criticism of capitalism on this blog and I have tried to distinguish between such pre-modern ideas as private property and the rule of law, which pre-dated Enlightenment capitalism and capitalism itself.

It seems to me that you can't see me as anything but confused because you think that anyone who rejects socialism must be guilty of everything modern capitalism stands for, while simultaneously thinking that socialism is not modern, nor subject to many of the same critiques as modern capitalism is.

R.O. Flyer said...

I don't know, Craig, I just think that the ranting on this blog as of late lacks nuance and care, particularly care for words. As a theologian, I suppose I would hope this would be a priority. But, I do realize this is just a blog. That said, if you do begin to publish some of this kind of material as an academic, I will certainly make a point of critiquing you in journals. In saying this, I mean nothing personal, just that I strongly disagree with the recent direction of your thought.

Craig Carter said...

Sure you can disagree. I respect that. And I look forward to more dialogue.

I think you might find my new post on Andreas Kinneging's book helpful. If I am confused, it appears I am not the only one. The post summarizes his chapter 2 on the Enlightenment, which I agree with entirely. His book, "The Geography of Good and Evil: Philosphical Investigations", won the Socrates Prize as the Best Dutch Book in Philosophy in 2006. I'd recommend it as a terrific example of conservative thought

(By the way, I need to say something soon about Hayek. You likely think I swallowed him hook line and sinker since I only posted some of my agreements with elements of this thought. I plan to post a discussion of his essay "Why I am Not a Conservative" soon. That should remedy the false impression that I agree totally with him, an Enlightenment liberal.