The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

Month: November 2008

Humor Me

As a change of pace, I would like to respond to or rebut some reader comments made about a trio of movies mentioned in “A Mess of Pottage” (November 24) on the Rule of Reason site, particularly about The Manchurian Candidate and His Girl Friday. President-elect Barack Obama and his plan to expand FDR’s welfare state programs, together with the looming threats of Islam, Russia and other predators, including Congress, are not going away any time soon, so there will be plenty of time and opportunity to discuss them in the future.

Some readers agreed with my very brief endorsement of The Manchurian Candidate. It is a very serious, revealing, and compelling drama. But, believe it or not, some critics treated it as a comedy or satire! I can only surmise that these critics’ intention was to deny the seriousness of the story and infect the minds of anyone who saw it soon after its release. Virtually the sole humor in it is expressed by one of the villains, Yen Lo (played by Khigh Dhiegh), the apparent mastermind behind the Sino-Soviet plot to install a president in the White House who could help facilitate the Communist conquest of the United States. This humor attacks the U.S. and Lo’s immediate victims, and is not funny. But, in the context of the story, Lo’s humor plays a legitimate role. It underscores his and his co-conspirators’ evil, much as Ellsworth Toohey’s humor underscores his evil in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.

My only reservation about the film is that it credits evil men with too much intelligence or with a species of omniscience, that is, with a capacity for successful long-range planning or with the ability to make the unreal appear to be real. Recall, for example, those notoriously failed Five-Year Plans, and our own government’s actions to “fine-tune” or “manage” the economy, a policy failure which it refuses to acknowledge and which Obama plans to exacerbate with his own Lenin-esque New Economic Policy.

It seems that two readers of the “Pottage” commentary have based their objections to the humor in His Girl Friday on what very little Rand wrote or spoke about humor. While she addressed or identified some fundamentals concerning humor, I do not think she exhausted the subject, perhaps having had little time or interest to devote to it. She did remark, however, that

“Humor is a metaphysical negation. We regard as funny that which contradicts reality: the incongruous and the grotesque.”*

And,

“What you find funny depends on what you want to negate. It is proper to laugh at evil (the literary form of which is satire) or at the negligible. But to laugh at the good is vicious.”**

Rand wrote what I would say were general guidelines to humor, and sketched out the parameters of what is legitimate and vicious humor. There may be in the Rand archives at ARI as-yet unpublished material on the subject. I am reminded of the plot of The Name of the Rose (1986), set in a medieval monastery about a lost book or treatise by Aristotle on comedy (with Sean Connery as the detective monk).

Some comedies are funny, other comedies not so funny, and still others not funny at all. His Girl Friday (1940) is uproariously funny. It does not rely on sight gags or humor as crude as that of The Three Stooges or even of the Marx Brothers. Its humor is just a shade above subtle, and pokes fun at the metaphysically negligible, such as Rosalind Russell’s fiancé and the Mayor and his lackey sheriff. This was the second film version of the 1931 production, and far superior to it. It was based on the play co-written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur (1928), who also collaborated on the screenplay of another “screwball” comedy, Twentieth Century (1934), and on three non-comedic dramas: Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), and Gunga Din (1939).

The central story line of His Girl Friday is the hilariously unscrupulous campaign waged by Walter Burns (Cary Grant), the editor-in-chief, to keep his best reporter, Hildy Johnson (Russell), from leaving his newspaper and his life. (In the original play and first film version, Hildy was a male role, and no romantic relationship between Burns and Hildy was suggested or insinuated). Burns entertains no dichotomy between his paper and Hildy; they are one and the same, and he is in love with them both. Of course, all the actions Burns takes to keep Hildy are exaggerations of actions that could be taken in real life: setting up Hildy’s insurance salesman fiancé for several falls, beating other newspapers to a breaking story, getting the goods on a pompous, two-faced politician and his cronies.

As for Hildy, she is tempted to leave the career of a “newspaperman” (that’s what she calls herself) for the sedate existence of a housewife (“…and in Albany, too,” Burns kids her), and possibly because her romance with Burns hasn‘t progressed beyond chasing the news together and the occasional bedroom fling.

Burns and Hildy are divorced, but the divorce isn’t working (now, that’s funny). Burns knows Hildy better than Hildy knows herself, and it doesn’t take long for him to convince her that Bruce Baldwin (played wonderfully down to the meanest mannerism by Ralph Bellamy) is not the man for her and that the conventional life Bruce promises her would be suffocatingly dull.

Burns succeeds in keeping Hildy. She is a value to him. That makes him, if not the hero of an epic, then the hero of a satire on newspapers. “Screwball” comedy like His Girl Friday is not supposed to be taken seriously. It is a kind of dessert to be enjoyed after a main course. Both Rule of Reason commentators implied that since the film did not adhere to the defining attributes of an epic or serious drama, then it couldn’t be good. No one is supposed to take seriously the bête noire of the story, the pathetically meek and unstable Earl Williams, scheduled to be executed for shooting a policeman but whose timely pardon by the governor is suppressed by the corrupt mayor. He escapes in the most ludicrous circumstances and winds up hiding in a roll-top desk. Another commentator asked,

“How can you laugh at a woman convincing a murderer that it isn’t his fault that he used a gun to kill a man because, after all, the purpose of a gun is to kill?”

In this instance, one can’t. Hildy, in the prison interview scene, isn’t trying to convince Williams that it wasn’t his fault; she is simply probing the mind of a lunatic to find a context in which to write her story, and in the bargain mocking Marxist economics (production for use, not for profit, etc.). And, one doesn’t laugh at Hildy; one merely appreciates her sense of a news story and the lengths to which she will pursue it. So, one laughs with her as she pursues it, such as when she literally tackles the bailiff who can grant her the prison interview with Earl Williams.

What is also humorous is Hildy’s futile efforts to combat Walter Burns’ constant scheming to stymie her impending marriage to Bruce Baldwin. She is foiled by him everywhere she turns. By the film’s end, she is furiously pounding out the story on her typewriter, taking her cues from Walter Burns, while Bruce is on the far periphery of her consciousness, contradictory to her character and rendered negligible. She is at home, and Walter Burns has won.

His Girl Friday is one of my favorite comedies. Each line of dialogue in it feeds the next at a nonstop pace; it is the dialogue that establishes the context for the action, instead of the other way around, which is the standard practice in most comedy. It is from this and other films (not all comedies, of course, not to mention plays and novels) that I learned how to craft dialogue for my own stories.

Rand wrote,

“Good natured, charming humor is never directed at a value, but always at the undesirable or negligible. It has the result of confirming values; if you laugh at the contradictory or pretentious, you are in that act confirming the real or valuable.”***

That statement can apply to much of what could be called benevolent comedy. A comedy can feature admirable, eccentric, or likeable characters caught in preposterous or absurd situations. American instances of this in film are Bringing Up Baby (1938), The Philadelphia Story (1940), Ball of Fire (1941), and Born Yesterday (1950). British instances are The Importance of Being Earnest (1952), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), and The Man in the White Suit (1952). There are many more instances of this level of comedy in film, too numerous to mention here.

Humor — the benevolent, non-vicious kind, at least — also is highly contextual. Someone who might enjoy the television series Fawlty Towers may be left cold by My Name is Earl; conversely, someone whose measure of good comedy is The King of Queens may be unmoved by P.G. Wodehouse Theatre. The context and what enjoyment one derives from any of these television series, or any comedy, both depend on one’s sense of life: Is it benevolent and rational, or malevolent and eclectically chaotic?

Does a person need a laugh track to prompt him that something funny has happened or has been said? Should a comedy require a person’s full focus to detect, appreciate or evaluate its humor, or should it patronize his mental passivity? Does one enjoy seeing a good character get his “comeuppance,” or a bad character his? Is one willing to suspend belief in order to enjoy a light-hearted, benevolent comedy, or should one emulate the Classicists, and approach it in a second-hand, doctrinaire frame of mind?

If Aristotle truly wrote a treatise on comedy as a companion or supplement to his Poetics, these and other questions might have been answered. Except for plot, characterization, and resolution, the requisites for great drama are not all applicable to comedy. Drama is the broader literary form and subsumes all the criteria necessary for good comedy. Some of the greatest literature also includes unparalleled humor.

What did not amuse Queen Victoria might have amused me.

*Chapter 11, ”Special Forms of Literature,” in Ayn Rand — The Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers, edited by Tore Boeckmann, Plume softcover, 2000, p. 165.
**Ibid, p. 166
***Ibid, p. 166

A Mess of Pottage

Having recovered from a despairing disgust with Barack Obama’s successful bid for the presidency, I turned my attention to some other matters one could say are cultural partners to that victory deserving of brief attention. While Obama assembles his administration, recruiting some leftover veterans of the Bill Clinton era and some other choice political Pharisees and mountebanks to fill various posts, the news media, which enjoys a larger viewership than newspapers have of readerships, continues to offer through their news desk anchors regurgitated items with patronizing and earnest disingenuousness in cadence with Entertainment Tonight-style segments such as NBC’s Matt Lauer in Belize and ABC’s Diane Sawyer on the “hot seat.”

This is in addition to end-of-broadcast special reports on “making a difference” and “the American spirit,” which focus on “giving back,” “community service,” and other episodes of dutiful selflessness.

All three major news channels, for example, have devoted at least five minutes to where Obama’s two daughters will go to school in Washington — a private school, of course, their parents justifiably wary of public schools, into which the president-elect wishes to pour even more billions– and their rooms in the White House. Also, the news media waits breathlessly for the selection of the new White House dog, placing almost as much importance on that as on the composition of Obama’s cabinet.

One can take only so much of this kind of pap before developing chronic nausea.

I recently finished reading Albert Jay Nock’s Memoirs of a Superfluous Man (1943) and will probably also read his Our Enemy, the State (1935). Nock tempered his admiration of the Founder when discussing the subject of universal public education, which Jefferson advocated. Nock did not believe, as Jefferson did, that education, compulsory or otherwise, necessarily improved one’s intelligence or capacity for independent thought.

“I think…he [Jefferson] would have risked a wry smile at the spectacle of our colleges annually turning out whole battalions of bachelors in the liberal arts who could no more read their diplomas than they could decipher the Minoan linear script. He might also find something to amuse him in the appearance of eminent shysters, jobholders, politicians, and other unscholarly and unsavory characters, on parade in gowns and hoods of the honorary doctorate.”*

Or addressing graduating classes on the value of selfless service to the community or the nation. However, not once in the Memoirs did I encounter a hint that Nock regarded man as a “being of volitional consciousness.” He was one himself, but he seems to have overlooked the fact while implicitly denying most other individuals that defining attribute.

Nock rarely involved himself in any political movement of his time, choosing rather to remain a detached observer and commentator, and consequently superfluous.

“If all I had casually seen…was of the essence of politics, if it was part and parcel of carrying on the country’s government, then obviously a decent person could find no place in politics, not even the place of an ordinary voter, for the forces of ignorance, brutality and indecency would outnumber him ten to one.”

The recent presidential election would seem to confirm the truth of Nock’s assertion; it matters not who would have won this round of politics, Obama or McCain, for each offered a different style of fascism or statism. But that is no excuse to simply resign one’s self to the alleged inevitability of decline and destruction. This is what Nock did and it is what he recommended others do, asking his successors to address the “Remnant” and hope for the best.

I concluded that Nock was a kind of fastidious, Epicurean Robert Stadler, the scientific villain in Rand’s Atlas Shrugged who wailed that since there was no reasoning with people one had to compromise one’s principles and accept the status of being rational but irrelevant, and that since most people were ignorant, brutal and indecent, the sole way to deal with them was with force.

Nock did not advocate force to compel men to be rational, but neither was he a consistent exponent of the primacy and efficacy of reason, except among the cultivated and discriminating few (the “Remnant”) whom he thought may or may not have any power or chance to effect cultural change for the better.

One saving grace of Nock was his agreement with Aristotle (and with Rand) that

“History…represents things only as they are, while fiction represents them as they might and ought to be; and therefore of the two, he adds, ‘fiction is the more philosophical and the more highly serious.'”(Nock’s own translation from the Greek from Aristotle’s Poetics.)**

If he had lived long enough (he died in 1945), Nock might have observed the commercial successes of Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and their influence in the culture, and perhaps retracted his earlier dismissal of those novels’ millions of readers as interchangeable “mass-men,” the willing dupes and playthings of criminally-minded politicians.

Speaking of Aristotle’s judgment of fiction and history, Stephen Adams in The Daily Telegraph, in a November 6th article, “Novels ‘better at explaining world’s problems than reports’,” discussed that very subject without once mentioning Aristotle. The subject of his article is how fiction can better communicate ideas and the “real life” of people in or from the Third World.

He quotes Dr. Dennis Rodgers of Manchester University’s Brooks World Poverty Institute:

“Despite the regular flow of academic studies, expert reports, and policy position papers, it is arguably novelists who do as good a job — if not a better one — of representing and communicating the realities of international development….And fiction often reaches a much larger and diverse audience than academic work and may therefore be more influential in shaping public knowledge and understanding of development issues.”

Adams cites three prize-winning novels written by Third World authors, Brick Lane, The Kite Runner, and The White Tiger, as instances of (naturalistic) fiction which, as far as one can determine, not so much have shaped public knowledge and understanding as complemented public policy and sanctioned diversity and multiculturalism.

While some Western academics are lauding fiction as a handmaiden of government social programs, Hollywood continues its bungee free-fall into unreality and fantasy. Bankrupt to the core, except when it has left-wing messages to convey, and unable or unwilling to depict real life heroes and real world conflicts, it has turned more and more to animation, comic books, and graphic novels for material to sustain box office revenues. As evidence of this trend, one website carries an article by Martin Anderson, “75 comics being made into films.”

A goodly number of the stories are set in grim futures or in parallel universes, while many others feature magic or heroes with super powers. Only one of them looks promising, The Megas, scheduled for release in 2010.

Megas postulates an alternative America where the founding fathers created an aristocracy instead of a democracy, and centers on a detective investigating the seedy underbelly of the American royal family.”

The Founders created a rights-protecting republic, not a democracy, as practically everyone today believes they created; the terms, as I have often stressed elsewhere, are not synonymous. But the story line is similar to Robert Harris’s novel Fatherland, in which Nazi Germany won World War Two, and a German police detective in the 1960’s investigates the seedy underbelly of the Third Reich to learn that the Holocaust really happened. One can only suppose that the story idea’s originator was inspired by the fact that many Americans wished to make George Washington a monarch.

All of these films are in some stage of production, but upon their release it is doubtful I will want to see a single one.

It is interesting how fiction — or movies — often apes reality. Many years ago I saw for the first time The Mouse that Roared (1959), little realizing at the time that the story line, in which a postage stamp-sized European country declares war on the U.S. for the sole purpose of being defeated and thus qualifying for massive injections of American monetary aid, took its inspiration from history. Is this not what happened in the 1950’s, and has happened recently with Mexico, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Colombia, and other countries that hate America a little less because of our no-strings-attached aid and financial rescue programs? Peter Sellers in his triple roles in Mouse was at least amusing, while his real life counterparts are not.

Art emulated history before history was even made in John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate (1962), a controversial political thriller based on Richard Condon’s novel that pre-dated John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas the following year. Few films can match its production and esthetic qualities. Its level of intelligence and suspense is impossible to achieve in Hollywood today. (The recent remake of it is utter and politically correct rubbish.) The Manchurian Candidate demands one’s full focus to appreciate a single scene or single line of dialogue, much as Howard Hawks’ newspaper comedy, His Girl Friday, is a perfect, non-stop integration of dialogue and action requiring one’s full, undivided attention.

Recently I revisited The Manchurian Candidate, and was struck by the performances of James Gregory, as Senator John Yerkes Iselin, and Angela Lansbury, as Mrs. Iselin. Gregory plays an addle-headed, buffoonish politician very reminiscent of President George W. Bush. He is putty in the hands of his power-seeking wife, who was too evocative of Hillary Clinton, and who schemes to put her husband in the White House by mostly foul means. She predicts that her husband, at the climax of his party’s nomination convention, will rally “a nation of television viewers into a hysteria that will sweep us up into the White House with powers that will make martial law look like anarchy….”

Perhaps we will have a foretaste of that, now that a demagogue has been swept up into the White House to work with a very simpatico Congress.

*Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, Hallberg Publishing, 1994 edition, p. 264.
** Ibid. p. 161.

A Post-Election Autopsy

The Republican Party has entered into a state of post-traumatic shock after its resounding defeat in the 2008 presidential election. Christian conservatives are licking their wounds. Conservatives are engaged in a half-hearted pep rally about how Republicans can reclaim Congress and the White House, or are wandering off in various stages of dazed soul-searching. “What did we do wrong?” “What hit us?” “Where did that come from?”

Some conservative columnists and bloggers have even begun to question whether the G.O.P. has anything of substance to offer the electorate in terms of political philosophy. (It certainly has not been freedom, or capitalism.) Others are accusing president-elect Barack Obama and the Democrats of advocating socialism in the guise of populism.

These last are right, but they cannot pursue the truth any real distance without jettisoning their own collectivist political philosophy and ethics of altruism.

And while these last are more honest than their colleagues, it is doubtful they will connect the dots and concede that the very political agenda Obama slyly put over most American voters is simply a more consistent, more vigorous version of what the Republicans have endorsed or tried to co-opt from the Democrats for decades. The Republican Party for too many years can be likened to Cervantes’s Sancho Panza, a credulous squire obediently following the lead of a shrewd, dissembling Don Quixote out not to save America, but to conquer it.

President George W. Bush and many of his predecessors in office helped to prepare the ground on which Obama now triumphantly stands with their own programs of altruism, collectivism and appeals to selflessness and self-sacrifice. What is to wonder about? Obama and Company owe George Bush and the Republicans so much. The president-elect and his amoral cronies in and out of Congress wish to implement their own “No American Left Behind” program to ensure that as many Americans as possible are enlisted in the march to full-scale statism.

“The thing that truly depresses me,” wrote Burt Prelutsky in his article, “All the News That’s Fit to Censor” on November 10th, “is that millions of my fellow Americans know the truth, but simply don’t seem to care.” The root of his depression is the fact that the news media and Obamaniacs are emotionally and psychologically insulated against all revelations about Obama’s questionable political past, his disreputable associations, the role of ACORN’s voter fraud, the suspicious sources of a big chunk of Obama’s campaign donations, and his socialistic agenda. It is not likely many members of the press will seriously pursue any of those avenues of investigation. They want to believe.

Without defining what he meant by “hope” and “change,” Obama persuaded countless rudderless and predisposed Americans that he was the man of the moment. After all, he makes Americans and the news media feel good, so what have facts got to do with that? They must not be allowed to get in the way to spoil the euphoria or shatter expectations.

Making whole populations feel good about their futures has been a device of ambitious power-seekers for millennia.

In the meantime, the news media is still beating the team of dead horses that pulled the Republican gun carriage through the two-year war of the presidential campaign, one of them vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s $150,000 wardrobe. But Obama’s $650 million war chest is beyond the scope of the news media’s concerns, and also that of the Federal Election Commission. His image as a Messiah armed with a bag of miracles at all costs must not be sullied, and woe to those who attempt to examine more closely his cash cows or his ideology. Most news anchors, journalists, and editors speak and write about Obama from a realm of self-induced myopia. They want to believe, and not doubt, suspect, question, or think.

“Obama can deny it all he likes,” wrote Prelutsky, “but anyone who subscribes to the belief that we should adopt a fiscal policy based on ‘From everyone according to his abilities to everyone according to his needs’ is a disciple not of Warren Buffett, but of Karl Marx.” But Warren Buffett, together with George Soros and countless other very well-heeled rich, are apparently disciples of Marx, as well, for they supported Obama, knowing full well what he represented. They did not care, either.

“When I suggest that socialism often leads to tyranny,” wrote Prelutsky, “I am not indulging in right-wing hyperbole. After all, aside from control of capital and the means of production, one of the essentials of all dictatorships is central control of the media. In 2008, the left already controls most of the MSM, not to mention the liberal arts departments on most college campuses.”

The news media surrendered their moral and philosophical press passes to Obama a year ago.

Prelutsky might have added most high schools, middle schools and pre-schools. Also, socialism is tyranny. What leads to it is the unwillingness or inability of freedom’s defenders to oppose on rational moral grounds the incremental encroachments of statism that are the benchmarks of a mixed economy. And from socialism a country is led to dictatorship, once a population has been softened up for a final assault.

And a population can be softened up if the minds of countless individuals have been softened up beforehand. It would be interesting to learn, for example, how many college-age Americans voted for Obama as a consequence of their liberal arts education, a pedagogical venue largely in the control of leftists and nihilists. It is no secret that they dominate the subjects of political science, economics, and literature in most universities and colleges, and react with voluble outrage when accused of indoctrinating their charges. They invoke their “academic freedom of speech” while upholding campus speech codes that restrict or deny students their freedom of speech if that speech conflicts with their politically correct criteria of what is permissible.

But, A is non-A, writes Patricia Cohen in her New York Times article of November 3rd, “Professors’ Liberalism Contagious? Maybe Not.” She reports that most academics think that the left-liberal dominance of the humanities is a myth invented and perpetuated by envious “right-wingers.” She quotes two political scientists who claim that “There is no evidence that an instructor’s views instigate change among students.”

“If there has been a conspiracy among liberal faculty members to influence students, ‘they’ve done a pretty bad job,’ said A. Lee Fritschler, professor of public policy at George Mason University and an author of the new book ‘Closed Minds? Politics and Ideology in American Universities’ (Brookings Institution Press).

“The notion that students are induced to move leftward ‘is a fantasy,’ said Jeremy D. Mayer, another of the book’s authors….When it comes to shaping a young person’s political views, ‘it is really hard to change the mind of anyone over 15,’ said Mr. Meyer, who did extensive research on faculty and students.”

But college students can be and are softened up beginning in primary schools with an insidious combination of politically-correct textbooks, mandatory group think and “team work,” and the subtle or not-so-subtle power of teachers to punish non-conformity and reward conformity to comply with local school board and federal and state guidelines. Combine those factors with speech codes and mandatory or “voluntary” community servitude and a host of other collectivist imperatives extorted from 15-year-olds, and helpless students, by the time they reach a college campus, will be unable to think or speak for themselves.

What is more, no “conspiracy” of left-liberals was necessary for professors to corner the market in the humanities. They are simply the beneficiaries of the ongoing pandemic destruction of philosophy in Western culture over the last century or so, which entailed the abandonment of reason, which in turn led to the disparagement of freedom and the advocacy of statism as the panacea for all “social” problems, all of which most of them have aided and abetted throughout their careers.

Is America headed for fascism? All political and cultural indications point in that direction. But I have been saying for years and years that if fascism ever comes to this country, it will not emulate the concrete manifestations of German Nazism or any other European style statism. No gangs of brown-shirted thugs roaming the streets, no jackboots tramping in unison on parade, no swastika emblazoned banners flying over government buildings will appear to alert one to the phenomenon. (Not so curiously, one can see these manifestations adapted by Islamist groups in the Middle East, together with the Nazi salute.) Substitute T-shirts, sneakers, and smile buttons, and one will have the American style of fascism.

What was disturbing were the Obama rallies during the campaign. Not a few commentators have remarked how similar they were in spirit and size to Hitler’s Nuremberg shows of “solidarity.” Obama spoke emotively, seductively, saying nothing but promising everything, and his audiences responded wildly in answer, thinking nothing but believing he had said it all. Audience and speaker blended into a single beast in a scary gestalt, transcending the sum of their emotions to become a force ready and willing to brush aside or crush any evidence of individual, rational resistance, in a kind of reverse demonstration of Orwell’s Two Minutes Hate in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

People who participated in those rallies, or who see Obama as their earthly savior, have carried that spirit beyond into their everyday lives. Because they are governed by their emotions, they are not capable of calm argumentation or debate. To question Obama’s motives, means and ends, is to invite a cold stare or a livid flaring of the eyes in reply. These people have put themselves outside the bounds of rational discourse. There is literally no reasoning with them.

Edward Rothstein, writing for The New York Times on November 4th in his article, “What Would George Bailey Do?” hauled out that hoary old cinematic chestnut, It’s a Wonderful Life, and painted the bailout in terms of a run on Bailey Brothers Building & Loan Association. While his article is a skeptical critique of both the government’s and Wall Street’s actions, whether he realized it or not, it was a good choice for an analogy. After all, George Bailey sacrifices his values and goals repeatedly to serve the “general good.” Rothstein concludes:

“What is strange is that now we depend on the state to re-establish trust by rescuing and even nationalizing financial institutions, relying on the same authority that gives paper money its value. But after the events of the last century, can anyone fully believe that the state should be the ultimate standard for trust and fiscal faith? And would even a real-life George Bailey be able to coax us into confidence, let alone belief that good intentions have power over principles of finance? We are in for perilous times.”

Perilous and dangerous times, to be sure. The times ahead of us will be perilous, because of the government’s powers to enforce obedience and conformity with little chance of dissention; and dangerous, because so many Americans are comfortable with those powers, and see in them the ingredients for “hope” and “change.”

It is interesting to note that early in the 1770’s, the British government forbade importation into the American colonies muskets and gunpowder, to reduce the ability of the colonists to resist by force the force that would be initiated by the Crown. Soon after news of Obama’s election as president, gun sales in this country skyrocketed on the bet that the new president and Congress would so severely limit gun purchases and ownership that the market – and the right to bear arms – would simply cease to exist.

Take that bit of news as you will.

Of Subversion, Subservience, and the Suffocation of Freedom

“So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other.”

That might have been the appeal uttered by U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to support the subprime bailout, but it is actually an excerpt from president-elect Barack Obama’s victory speech, reprinted in the Daily Telegraph (London) on November 5.

Compare that excerpt with:

“The first obligation of every citizen must be to work both spiritually and physically. The activity of individuals is not to counteract the interests of universality, but must have its result within the framework of the whole for the benefit of all.”

That was Point Ten of the program of the NSDAP, or the National Socialist German Workers Party, better known as the Nazi Party.

It gets better.

“John McCain and Sarah Palin, they call this socialistic. You know, I don’t know when they decided they wanted to make a virtue of selfishness.”

That was Obama glibly papering over his attacks on “the rich” in defense of his proposed tax policies, which in spirit are little else but a populist appeal to envy, to counter John McCain’s accusation late in the campaign that they were socialistic. Excuse the expression, but it was the pot calling the kettle black. McCain’s proposed tax policies were watered down versions of Obama’s, and no less socialistic than the Illinois senator’s.

And, in the realm of the ludicrous, it is a measure of Obama’s superficial grasp of economics that he could accuse McCain of wanting to make a “virtue” of selfishness, when McCain’s moral imperatives differ in no way from Obama’s, both men invoking selflessness and sacrifice as “virtues” that will help revitalize the country’s economy. Obama, however, was too preoccupied with his own appeal to voluntary servitude to take notice of McCain’s. If he had noticed it, and belabored the point, perhaps even an Obamaniac would have seen or at least sensed there was no difference between them.

It is also a measure of Obama’s ignorance and of his patronizing arrogance that all throughout the campaign he expressed concern about the plight of the middle class, which he seeks to make dependent on government largesse and favors.

“It combats the selfish spirit within and around us, and is convinced that a lasting recovery of our nation can only succeed from within on the framework: common utility precedes individual utility.” [Italics mine.]

“It” being the Nazi Party, in Point Twenty-four of the Nazi program. The italics are mine, selfish substituted for “Jewish-materialistic.” If one were able to ask any member of Congress if he agreed with the italicized statement in Point Twenty-four (without identifying its source), that the needs of the many trump the freedom of the individual, one would receive an affirmative. And, given the fact that the Democrats have taken virtually complete control of Congress, and that the Democratic Party’s determination to “reinvent” America is in accordance with the “change we seek” to make — that is, the change Obama seeks to make — the Democratic Party may as well be redubbed the National Socialist Democratic American Party.

It may strike some as a wild idea, but all one need do to see the parallels is compare Obama’s program for “change” with the Nazi program for “change” to grasp how closely the programs mesh in means and ends. Omit all references to Jews and Germans in the Nazi twenty-five point program, and in the appropriate points substitute individualism and private property for what Hitler and the Germans were obsessed with nationalizing, stealing, eradicating or “changing,” and one has the Democratic Party platform.

Others may assert that I am being too easy on Obama and the Democrats, and claim that Obama especially is a communist. Certainly the junior senator grew up in the company of adults who were communists or sympathetic to communism, and his activist work in Chicago before he ran for Illinois office was blue-printed by Saul Alinsky, the man who wrote a manual or two on how to “change” politics and society and who has also been praised by Hillary Clinton, who was less successful in applying his ideology.

But fascism, or National Socialism, or Nazism, in fundamentals is merely watered-down communism, a glittering fool’s gold side of the same ideological coin. It merely allows one to strive in the illusion that one has private property and a modicum of dissent, but expects one to shut up and take one’s orders from on high in service to the “general welfare” or the “public good.” Communists, when they nationalize everything, take the blame when things go wrong, and Party heads roll.

Under fascism, if things go wrong, it is the nominally private sector that will take the blame for failed policies and plans and receive the punishment, not their governmental authors and enforcers. This is what happened with the collapse of the subprime mortgage industry. That whole scam was socialism with a twist of Wall Street. The debacle gave Congress, the president, and both presidential hopefuls the excuse to blame “greed” and impose more controls, especially in the matter of suborning financial institutions that were in better shape than their failed or failing colleagues.

As has been widely noted elsewhere, the parallels of current events with events in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged are eerily applicable. Think of the Steel Unification plan that the government tried to talk Henry Rearden into, a scam that was intended to save Orren Boyle’s inefficient and looting steel company by enslaving Rearden’s. The same extortionate, larcenous plan can be seen in the bailout. The recent enlistment of BB&T in the bailout is a singular instance of the government’s program to leave no instances of solvency unshackled and independent of control.

To subvert the ideas of the Founders is to require obedient subservience to Obama’s vision of a socialist America in the name of “patriotism.”

I am picking up here where Nick Provenzo left off in his November 3rd posting on the parallels of Obama’s agenda with fascism, but have instead focused on the language of fascism as expressed by Obama from a few of his unacknowledged sources, the language of absolutism in politics that he slickly disguised in American patois.

“The Promise of American life is to be fulfilled — not merely by a maximum amount of economic freedom, but by a certain measure of discipline; not merely by the abundant satisfaction of individual desires, but by a large measure of individual subornation and self-denial….The automatic fulfillment of the American national Promise is to be abandoned, if at all, precisely because the traditional American confidence in individual freedom has resulted in a morally and socially undesirable distribution of wealth.”*

Barack Obama would certainly agree with that assertion, because, among other recommendations, its author called for the expansion of executive authority, the growth of federal regulations and control of not only the economy, but of the personal lives of Americans to redirect them from their individualism to achieve social and nationalist ends, among them a morally and desirable redistribution of wealth. To make that possible, Obama proclaims, America must “break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution.”

Constraints, or obstacles to his quest for power? But, allow us to let Obama speak for himself.

“This is our time…to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth — that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, We Can.”

From beginning to end in his campaign for the presidency, Barack Obama appealed to emotion, not to facts, not to men’s reason, not to their repugnance for selfless service to causes higher than themselves. I do not believe, as some commentators claim, that the Americans who voted for Obama were “lulled” by his emotionalist oratory. These are the Americans whom Ayn Rand might have said had “let it go” — “it” being the idea of a great nation founded on the recognition of inviolate individual rights and the liberty to enjoy them without interference or coercion — and have settled for a demagogue who offers hope and promises change.

In the name of the values the Founders argued and fought for, I would deem such Americans “Tories for statism.”

“Hope and change” are what Hitler promised the Germans who enthusiastically supported him even while he and the Nazis were impoverishing them in pursuit of the German “dream.” They believed him even when scandals broke concerning the racketeers, incompetents and charlatans that Hitler had assembled around him or who were appointed to the various ministries, just as Americans who support Obama will repress knowledge of the racketeers, incompetents and charlatans Obama is assembling for his White House staff and cabinet.**

Point Twenty-three of the Nazi platform should concern anyone reading this who is certain that the best way to counter Obama’s and Congress’s perfidious subversion of America is to spread the ideas of the Founders, of life, liberty, property and the pursuit of one’s own happiness. That Point in no way conflicts with the agenda of the Democrats, which is to adopt censorship but call it “fairness” and “equal opportunity.”

“We demand legal opposition to known lies and their promulgation through the press….Publications which are counter to the general good are to be forbidden. We demand legal prosecution of artistic and literary forms which exert a destructive influence on our national life, and the closure of organizations opposing the above made demands.”

While Obama is in office and while the Democrats control Congress, expect a demand to revive the “Fairness Doctrine,” in addition to renewed demands to regulate the Internet. The federal government already monitors the Internet to detect terrorist plots and its actions often render it sluggish and even inoperable. There is no reason to doubt that a government which regards Americans answerable to the state for their ideas and opinions and whose freedom of speech would be deemed counter to the general good and a destructive influence would not refrain from silencing critics by every foul and coercive means imaginable.

Obama cheerleaders, you will have asked for the incipient totalitarian regime that is about to take office. All others who value their freedom, you know what is now expected of you, to argue, while you still can, for the reinstatement of a republic of reason.

* Herbert Croly, The Promise of American Life (1909), Northwestern University Press, 1989, p. 22. Croly, founder of The New Republic with the guilt-soaked money of multi-millionaires, was a proto-fascist writer whose books influenced and were admired by a number of reformers, ambitious politicians, and dictators. It is noteworthy that he was heavily influenced by Auguste Comte, the French founder of Positivism and sociology who coined the term altruism. For the link between Croly’s Progressivism and the collectivist policies that have been adopted and continue to be implemented in the U.S. beginning with Teddy Roosevelt, see Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.

**See Ian Kershaw’s nonpareil two-volume biography of Hitler, Hubris and Nemesis for the kinds of men Hitler chose to consult on foreign and domestic policy and to run Nazi Germany. The Hitler “cult,” subscribed to by countless Germans, discounted any revelation of the ubiquitous criminality of Hitler’s “inner circle,” just as Obama’s political antecedents are discounted by Obama cultists, as well as the shady and murky backgrounds of the people he is now picking for his administration. But the best philosophical exposé of both Nazi Germany and modern America is Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America (1982).

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