Saturday, January 17, 2009

Heavens to Murgatroyd, I've found it

..."it" being perhaps the only case in which it is possible and appropriate to describe the Bush administration as "fascist" without sounding like a fourteen-year-old who's trying to come off as knowledgeable and self-righteous when he or she is really just whining. I am not the only person to have thought of this, it turns out--this looks like very interesting reading--but I'm pleased that it occurred to me independently as a result of my fine education in the history of political liberalism.

I was reading The Economist's thoughts on the exit of President George W. Bush, and was struck by these bits:

Yet Mr Bush’s presidency was also poisoned by his own ambition. Mr Bruni’s “timeless fraternity boy” wanted to be a great president. He not only wanted to win the second term that Bill Clinton had denied to his father—though that mattered to him enormously. He also wanted to usher in a period of prolonged Republican hegemony, much as William McKinley had done for his party in the late 19th century. After the September 11th attacks he not only itched to destroy al-Qaeda and the Taliban. He also wanted to tackle the root causes of terrorism in the Middle East. Mr Bush frequently spoke about how much he hated anything that was “small ball”. His close advisers repeatedly described him as a “transformative president”.

...Other facets of Mr Bush’s personality mixed with his vaulting ambition to undermine his presidency. Mr Bush is what the British call an inverted snob. A scion of one of America’s most powerful families, he is a devotee of sunbelt populism; a product of Yale and Harvard Business School, he is a scourge of eggheads. Mr Bush is a convert to an evangelical Christianity that emphasises emotion--particularly the intensely emotional experience of being born again—over ratiocination. He also styled himself, much like Reagan, as a decider rather than a details man; many people who met him were astonished by what they described as his “lack of inquisitiveness” and his general “passivity”.

...Ron Suskind, a journalist, has argued that Mr Bush created a “faith-based presidency” in which decisions, precisely because they were based on faith, could not be revised subsequently.

I think we can all recognize this characterization. We've seen it before. This in particular--"emphasises emotion...over ratiocination" and the notion of a "faith-based presidency"--combined with the Economist's view of GWB as desperate to prove himself in a big way, put me in mind of some of Carl Schmitt's thoughts from The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy. I direct your attention to Chapter 4, "Irrationalist Theories of the Direct Use of Force". (Emphasis added.)

Bakunin gave this struggle...the character of a struggle against intellectualism and against traditional forms of education altogether. ...Even science does not have the right to rule. It is not life, it creates nothing, it constructs and receives, but it understands only the general and the abstract and sacrifices the individual fullness of life on the altar of its abstraction. Art is more important for the life of humankind than science.

The ability to act and the capacity for heroism, all world-historical activities reside, according to Sorel, in the power of myth. ...Only in myth can the criterion be found for deciding whether one nation or a social group has a historical mission and has reached its historical moment. Out of the depths of a genuine life instinct, not out of reason or pragmatism, springs the great enthusiasm, the great moral decision and the great myth. In direct intuition the enthusiastic mass creates a mythical image that pushes its energy forward and gives it...the courage to use force.


From the perspective of this philosophy, the...ideal of peaceful agreement, an ongoing and prosperous business that has advantages for everyone, becomes the monstrosity of cowardly intellectualism. Discussing, bargaining, parliamentary proceedings, appear a betrayal of myth and the enormous enthusiasm on which everything depends. Against the mercantilist image of balance there appears another vision, the warlike image of a bloody, definitive, destructive, decisive battle.

I could go on--the book is full of things I think are applicable to the Bush Administration. I have several pages that I dogeared because I ran across them in looking for this part and I felt they were relevant in a way I hadn't yet thought of, but I'll spare the length and let it lie.

Anyway, it must be noted that I have excised all the analysis of Marxist thought because while it is important and interesting, I'm interested in Schmitt's conclusions about politics as a whole rather than in particularly how Marxism contributed to those conclusions, since we are not dealing with a Marxist president (although there are some respects in which one could argue that his administration thinks in terms of dialectics and heightening the contradictions).

I do think it's interesting, as in it somewhat upsets the ideal case, how the heroic myth became located in Bush himself and, to an extent, the Iraqi people (in Bush's thinking, that is) rather than in the people Bush ostensibly actually rules. It's as though the American polity were consuming popular will that's been manufactured overseas. Think about all the rhetoric about the "Iraqi people" and their freedom, or the freedom they need to have. The American occupation has been a sort of attempt at educational dictatorship--we will take them by the hand and teach them not only to vote but to vote for people who will do things we like, because then they will have learned to be free; we know better than they what they want and need--in a classical Marxist sense. Ironic, eh?

Schmitt, to be completely clear, was a big fan of dictatorship as a political ideal and is widely considered to have contributed intellectually to Nazism, whether intentionally or not. He is also a big hit among neocons--the very people who brought you George W. Bush and, more recently and more directly, Sarah Palin.

Theory of the unitary executive, anyone?

No comments:

Post a Comment