Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Political Prophecies

Political Prophecies
P. Schultz
December 7, 2011

Here are the words of a former colleague of mine, trying his best to defend one of his heroes, Raymond Aron, from the charge that, like so many others, he, Aron, failed to see that his anti-Communism was more than a bit rabid. According to this former colleague, Aron understood “once events occurred it was tempting for our contemporaries to assume that those events were somehow inevitable all along. This temptation was present both during the Cold War and afterwards.” [Daniel Mahoney, The Conservative Foundations of the Liberal Order, p. 176] The cold warriors, those who according to Mahoney “resisted the totalitarian temptation….[were] later criticized for wasting their time fighting a movement that was…destined to collapse.” [ibid.] And then Mahoney characterizes those who dissent from this viewpoint as deserving of Aron’s “rebuke” for their “cowardice and abstention by historical detachment.” [ibid] So, if one disagrees with Mahoney’s and Aron’s arguments it must be due to a moral failing because, apparently, any disagreement is patently foolish.

Well, there is a wonderful essay written by George Orwell entitled James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution wherein Orwell comments on the tendencies of intellectuals, of managers, of professors and other “thinkers” to confuse current trends with future trends. And here is a passage most relevant to Mahoney’s argument:

“Towards the end of the essay Burnham compares Stalin with
those semi-mythical heroes, like Moses or Asoka, who embody in themselves
a whole epoch, and can justly be credited with feats that they did not
actually perform. In writing of Soviet foreign policy and its supposed
objectives, he touches an even more mystical note:

“’Starting from the magnetic core of the Eurasian heartland, the Soviet
power, like the reality of the One of Neo-Platonism overflowing in the
descending series of the emanative progression, flows outward, west into
Europe, south into the Near East, east into China, already lapping the
shores of the Atlantic, the Yellow and China Seas, the Mediterranean, and
the Persian Gulf. As the undifferentiated One, in its progression,
descends through the stages of Mind, Soul, and Matter, and then through
its fatal Return back to itself; so does the Soviet power, emanating from
the integrally totalitarian centre, proceed outwards by Absorption (the
Baltics, Bessarabia, Bukovina, East Poland), Domination (Finland, the
Balkans, Mongolia, North China and, tomorrow, Germany), Orienting
Influence (Italy, France, Turkey, Iran, Central and south China. . .),
until it is dissipated in MH ON, the outer material sphere, beyond the
Eurasian boundaries, of momentary Appeasement and Infiltration (England,
the United States).”

            And then Orwell continues as follows:

“It will be seen that at each point Burnham is predicting A CONTINUATION
OF THE THING THAT IS HAPPENING. Now the tendency to do this is not simply
a bad habit, like inaccuracy or exaggeration, which one can correct by
taking thought. It is a major mental disease, and its roots lie partly in
cowardice and partly in the worship of power, which is not fully
separable from cowardice…Power worship blurs political judgement because it leads, almost unavoidably, to the belief that present trends will continue. Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible.”

            Aron’s anti-Communism could be seen then as merely an illustration of what Orwell labels here “a major mental disease,” a dis-ease that afflicts managerial types, intellectual types, professorial types because they engage in “the worship of power.” And for Orwell, the or one antidote to this dis-ease is democracy:  

“Fortunately the "managers" are not so invincible as Burnham believes. It
is curious how persistently, in THE MANAGERIAL REVOLUTION, he ignores the
advantages, military as well as social, enjoyed by a democratic country….The immediate cause of the German defeat was the unheard-of folly of attacking the USSR while Britain was still undefeated and America was manifestly getting ready to fight. Mistakes of this magnitude can only be made, or at any rate they are most likely to be made, in countries where public opinion has no power. So long as the common man can get a hearing, such elementary rules as not fighting all
your enemies simultaneously are less likely to be violated.”
[Emphasis added.]

            For Orwell, it is not “the common man” who is governed by unrestrained passion so much as it is the intelligentsia. And, after all, this makes a certain amount of sense because “common men” are, willy nilly, more aware that the limitations imposed on human beings are inescapable. “Common men” do not dwell in “ivory towers,” entertaining “big theories” because they don’t have the time. What “common man” would ever think up something like a “war of terrorism” and think that such an undertaking stood any chance of success? It is the common men who want one day to be pretty much like other days, who want to be secure in their neighborhoods, who want to be paid a livable wage earned at a decent job and little more.  The managerial types look into the future and see nirvana – thanks of course to them – while the common man knows that “in the long run we are all dead.” As I heard said once: City planners generally don’t provide cemeteries in their planned cities!

            In brief, one need not be a coward or historically detached to question Aron’s anti-Communism. One simply might be “common.” One might simply need some "common sense."

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