American liberals and progressives used to consider themselves the voice of reason. Not any more. If eminent New Yorker music critic Alex Ross is any indication they have now descended into emotionally overwrought ranting.
With the election of Donald Trump to the American presidency, they have been running around like modern-day Paul Reveres. Their message:
The Nazis are coming! The Nazis are coming!
Their reasoning is so lame that one suspects that they are trying to undo the Enlightenment. Were they thinking clearly they would know that if they want to fight the good fight against sexist, homophobic anti-Semites, there is no shortage of Shariah-loving Muslim terrorists. But, that would require some courage. And, on the left, courage seems to be in short supply.
They prefer to fight the good fight against what they see as an incipient Nazi movement. I will offer one piece of advice. No one is going to think you are very bright or very serious or very courageous if you persist in fighting the last war. Or better, if you are fighting phantoms while the real enemy is advancing.
According to Alex Ross, the ascendance of the authoritarian proto-fascist Donald Trump was foretold by the great prophets of what is called the Frankfurt School. This School was comprised by Marxist German philosophers who emigrated to the United States during World War II, only to discover that an incipient Nazism was about to descend on the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Since they believed that Nazism was on the rise in America during the 1950s, their prophetic powers left a great deal to be desired. One also notes that they were spinning out Marxist fairy tales, and thus, that their judgment of political economy was lame and dangerous.
Pretending to be a deep thinker Ross has trotted out the Frankfurt School in order to rehabilitate their tattered reputation. Apparently, if your wide-eyed prophecies come true at some point in the future you are automatically a great thinker and a great theorist. The fact that these philosophers were so consistently wrong makes no difference.
Because… what the world needs now is more Marxism.
Allow Ross to describe his Frankfurt masters:
Mann was hardly the only Central European émigré who experienced uneasy feelings of déjà vu in the fearful years after the end of the Second World War. Members of the intellectual enclave known as the Frankfurt School—originally based at the Institute for Social Research, in Frankfurt—felt a similar alarm. In 1950, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno helped to assemble a volume titled “The Authoritarian Personality,” which constructed a psychological and sociological profile of the “potentially fascistic individual.” The work was based on interviews with American subjects, and the steady accumulation of racist, antidemocratic, paranoid, and irrational sentiments in the case studies gave the German-speakers pause. Likewise, Leo Lowenthal and Norbert Guterman’s 1949 book, “Prophets of Deceit,” studied the Father Coughlin type of rabble-rouser, contemplating the “possibility that a situation will arise in which large numbers of people would be susceptible to his psychological manipulation.”
One might argue that these German refugees, having lived through the rise of Nazism in their home country, wanted to warn their adopted nation of the dangers they saw. It would have been a nice way to return a favor.
And yet, people who have been traumatized tend to see dangers even where there are none. When you have been traumatized your mind goes into trauma-avoidance mode and you select out any signs you associate with the trauma, then to magnify their importance. They might not signal a clear and present danger, but what harm is there in taking precautions.
Or else you could say that they were suffering from cognitive dissonance. They must have been happy to see that the armies of the Anglosphere defeated Nazism, but they could not accept the influence of a culture that was alien to their own. British empiricism and American pragmatism cannot coexist with continental idealism.
Adorno believed that the greatest danger to American democracy lay in the mass-culture apparatus of film, radio, and television. Indeed, in his view, this apparatus operates in dictatorial fashion even when no dictatorship is in place: it enforces conformity, quiets dissent, mutes thought. Nazi Germany was merely the most extreme case of a late-capitalist condition in which people surrender real intellectual freedom in favor of a sham paradise of personal liberation and comfort. Watching wartime newsreels, Adorno concluded that the “culture industry,” as he and Horkheimer called it, was replicating fascist methods of mass hypnosis.
Of course, this is absurd. I am not going to attribute it to Ross, since he is merely a carrier for Frankfurt School nonsense. What does it means to say that Nazi Germany was “the most extreme case of a late-capitalist condition.” You see, the Nazis were tricking you when they called their movement National Socialism. And they were even ore deceptive when they used its full title: National Socialist German Workers Party.
Does that sound like capitalism to you?
And, let’s not overlook the fact that German Nazis did not just hate the Jews. (One notes that Jewish bankers were instrumental in facilitating economic growth and development in Europe.) They hated Britain and America, as many continental Europeans do. Since Britain had invented free market capitalism, liberal democracy, human rights, the Common Law and so on, going to war, and being defeated by, nations that practiced true free enterprise does not make Nazi Germany the embodiment of late-capitalism.
One suspects that these Marxists were trying to recruit American graduate students to their cause, because no one is more gullible than an American graduate student who believes he is a serious thinker.
It takes minimum of thinking to see that Nazi Germany rejected both free markets and the free trade in ideas. It was obviously a cult to the will of a single individual, a Fuhrer. Rather than respect tradition, custom and convention and the rule of law, or the verdict of the marketplace, Nazis bowed down to the will of their Fuhrer. They preferred instinct to reason and sought to return to pre-Enlightenment days.
The Frankfurt School thinkers sided with Marxism because they, like many other Europeans, refused to accept that their wondrous Middle European culture had been defeated by the dread Anglosphere. After all, Nazism and fascism and Communism had arisen out of European idealism. This philosophical tradition was not congenial with the more pragmatic and empirical British and Americans. Idealism did not inspire an American constitution that valued the balance of powers and that severely limited the power of the executive.
And yet, the Frankfurt School saw Marxism as the best way to be anti-Nazi and anti-fascist. It did not understand that Marxism had given rise to cults to the personality of people like Lenin, Stalin and Mao Zedong.
Being an idealist means never allowing your theories to suffer the verdict of reality. Ross notes astutely that the alarms raised by Frankfurt School thinkers in the 1950s amounted to so much noise. After a time, he says: “… the Frankfurt School was seen in many quarters as an artifact of intellectual kitsch.”
And yet, the School has been having something of a comeback on American campuses. Apparently professors who are trying to figure out how to deal with the crisis in international capitalism have exhumed the Frankfurt School. They should have let it rest in peace.
The irony is inescapable. After Marxism failed miserably to fulfill any of its promises, serious pseudo-intellectuals are tormenting themselves about the crisis in capitalism. Might they not think about how they could have gotten it all so wrong? Marxist governments produced nothing more than depression, desolation, famine and death. And these serious thinkers are worried about capitalism. They sound like a bunch of sore losers.
One suspects that the ability to blind oneself to reality is a sign of abiding faith in this pseudo-religion. These idealistic theories differ significantly from an Anglo-American culture based on empirical and pragmatic considerations. A culture that allows facts to decide the truth and that cares about whether a theory works in practice is not congenial to fascism.
Of course, Marxists do not care about such banal considerations. They want to be considered to be above mundane considerations and to live among the philosopher kings.
Ross then excoriates the media for having given us Donald Trump. At the least, it shows that he has transcended banal facts. He does not give any weight to the fact that all of the mainstream media outlets, and nearly all newspapers detested Donald Trump. The New York Times considered the danger so great that it dispensed with the pretense of running objective journalism. Many other media outlets did exactly the same.
Ross is undeterred by realities. He wants to blame it all on… you guessed it: Mark Zuckerberg. Because the trending stories on your Facebook page swung the election toward Donald Trump. You know which ones, the ones that consistently lean left. And one might add that the powers that be in Silicon Valley were big Clinton supporters. Google searches somehow tended to favor Hillary Clinton.
Ross deals with these facts in his own special way. He proclaims that the media was suffering from an unconscious desire to elect Trump. Yes, you heard that right:
Traditional media outlets exhibited the same value-free mentality, pumping out Trump stories and airing his rallies because they got hits and high ratings. At some point over the summer, it struck me that the greater part of the media wanted Trump to be elected, consciously or unconsciously.
One hates to repeat oneself, but apparently one needs to do so. Authoritarian government is government by executive fiat, by executive edict or executive order. It is not a constitutional republic. Which president, we might ask ourselves, declared that he had to govern by executive order because Congress had failed to act? Where did he find that extra-constitutional principle?
And Ross, his mind having been seriously addled, declares that Trump will remove America from its role of world leader. Forget that fascist dictators always aspire to rule the world. Ross has another idea:
However the Trump Presidency turns out—whether it veers toward autocracy, devolves into kleptocracy, or takes some unheard-of new form—America has, for the time being, abdicated the role of the world’s moral leader, to the extent that it ever played that part convincingly. “Make America Great Again” is one of Trump’s many linguistic contortions: in fact, one of his core messages is that America should no longer bother with being great, that it should retreat from international commitments, that it should make itself small and mean.
You cannot help but laugh. Since Barack Obama has done everything in his power to diminish America’s role in the world, between walking away from Iraq, letting Syria burn, leading from behind in Libya and ceding authority to Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, it’s a bit rich to complain that Trump will abdicate the role of the world’s moral leader.
To Ross, moral leadership means allowing more and more refugees into your nation. He sees the beleaguered German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, as the last, best hope for democracy. No kidding:
Germany, on the other hand, increasingly appears to be the strongest remaining bastion of liberal democracy.
As we know, liberal democracy was invented in that great bastion of capitalism: Great Britain. That nation just voted itself out of the European Union because British citizens were tired of taking their marching orders from unelected bureaucrats in Belgium and because they wanted to stop Merkel’s legions of Muslim refugees from arriving on their shores.
One thing that is clear: the refugees who are arriving by the hundreds of thousands in Merkel’s Germany are not coming for the liberal democracy. They have no interest in free markets or free speech. They want to impose their culture and their Shariah law on European infidels. In a growing number of cases the courts and the governments are more concerned with stifling what they have call hate speech than with stopping the refugee invasion.
If this is Ross’s version of the last best hope for liberal democracy, he really should stay away from Frankfurt School philosophy. It has seriously messed up his mind.