Thursday, September 14, 2006
The Conspiracy Theorists Are Plotting Against Us!
Jonah Goldberg has apparently broken with his self-described daily routine – eating bricks of microwaved cheddar cheese while watching women-in-prison softcore porn – to do a smattering of research into “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.”
Goldberg's latest syndicated column is a variation on a familiar trope -- “The conspiracy theorists are plotting to take over!”
He warns that belief in conspiracies constitutes a “a virulent form of unpatriotism [sic] festering in America today,” a “rough beast [that] slouches toward sedition because it assumes not that our leaders are knaves or even mere criminals, but that they are murderous Supermen with no loyalty to nation, decency, or law.”
This is “seditious dementia,” “diseased thinking,” a “fever of the mind,” types Goldberg (“writing” doesn't exactly describe what Goldberg does with the scraps and fragments of research provided to him, since what he publishes displays none of the insight or intellectual exertion that characterize actual writing). Like most, if not all, bred-in-the-bone Statists, Goldberg simply assumes that patriotism consists of upholding and supporting the government, as opposed to the rule of law – and that expecting the worst of rulers is tantamount to treason.
Were he an actual pundit as opposed to a poseur, Goldberg would have pulled on a thread dangling from one of the orphaned citations that litters his column: “In his 1964 essay, `The Paranoid Style in American Politics,' Richard Hofstader demonstrated that this fever of the mind [belief in conspiracies] is as old as America itself and its outbreaks flare up across the ideological landscape.”
Hofstader, Goldberg almost certainly doesn't know, joined the Communist Party at Colombia University in 1938 – back when its boss was Josef Stalin, who somehow managed to be both the consummate conspirator and one of history's most murderous paranoiacs, seeing plots and conspiracies practically everywhere.
"I join without enthusiasm but with a sense of obligation,” Hofstader said at the time he joined the Party. “My fundamental reason for joining is that I don't like capitalism and want to get rid of it. I am tired of talking... The party is making a very profound contribution to the radicalization of the American people.... I prefer to go along with it now."
This smells an awful lot like an admission that the man who would become the dean of anti-conspiratorial thinking had consciously enlisted in a conspiracy to overthrow “capitalism” (by which I think he meant private property and the relatively civilized society built on the foundation of private property ownership).
Hofstader, like many others, left the Party in 1939 to protest the Hitler-Stalin pact, and he eventually drifted from the orthodox Marxist faith – but he never abandoned his hatred for free market capitalism and (what's much the same thing) his reverence for the collectivist state. Like other Stalinists, both devout and disillusioned, Hofstader never abandoned the habit of treating anti-statist dissent as a form of mental illness.
In this he was close kindred to Theodor Adorno, who in 1950 published The Authoritarian Personality, a seminal work of pseudo-scholarship that fused Marxism and Freudianism in an attempt to demonstrate that Americans suspicious of government are “latent” Fascists – which makes as much sense as saying that chastity is a symptom of latent promiscuity (which is exactly the sort of thing ol' Siggy would say). People who are instinctively suspicious of government don't enlist in a movement defined by the credo “Everything within the State; nothing outside the State; nothing against the State.”
In fact, America's Constitution is an artifact of the anti-conspiratorial worldview that inspired its drafters.
As Harvard historian Bernard J. Bailyn documented in his Pulizer Prize-winning book The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, the Founding Fathers of the United States were splendid representatives of that kind of people who loosen the bladders of Statists like Jonah Goldberg: Armed, Bible-believing, anti-government “conspiracy theorists.” Which is to say that they recognized the reality of conspiracy and devised theories about its origins and how to defeat it.
The Founders, writes Bailyn, “saw about them, with increasing clarity, not merely mistaken, or even evil, policies violating the principles upon which freedom rested, but what appeared to be evidence of nothing less than a deliberate assault launched surreptitiously by plotters against liberty both in England and America."
In Conceived in Liberty, his history of the American Revolution, Murray Rothbard pointed out that the British government's plan was to use the threat of Indian attacks on the colonies as a pretext to maintain military garrisons in the colonies – supposedly for the purpose of protecting the colonists from the Indians, but actually as a way of enforcing Parliament's will on the Americans and screwing down a system that would eventually extract everything of value from the resource-rich colonies and reduce the English-speaking population to peonage.
The Founders weren't fools; they recognized a conspiracy when they saw one. And the language they used to describe what was happening reads quite a bit like what Goldberg dismisses as “seditious dementia.”
One useful example is found in a letter written by the Continental Congress to Great Britain, dated July 4, 1776.
While “all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed,” wrote Thomas Jefferson on behalf of his fellow demented seditionists, “... when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
That's high-octane conspiracy talk. It's also a useful digest of the foundational American belief about government: It is always and ever the biggest threat to the rights, liberties, and property of the governed; it is a latently criminal entity that will display its worst traits to murderous effect unless it is hedged by law, made accountable to the governed, and subject to abolition if and when such a course proves necessary.
James Madison, writing in 1785, elaborated further on the Founders' conspiracy-minded analysis of current events: “The freemen of America did not wait until usurped power strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle.”
The Founders, in short, assumed that all political leaders are, at best, knaves and criminals, and created a constitutional framework intended to deal with that unfortunate reality of fallen human nature.
As Harvard sociologist Pitirim Sorokin discovered in a 1956 survey of political rulers of all varieties, “the rulers of the states are the most criminal group in a respective population. With a limitation of their power their criminality tends to decrease; but it still remains exceptionally high in all nations.”
Government, emancipated from law, is nothing but a conspiracy against liberty, peace, and prosperity. That's the American view in a single phrase. It shouldn't surprise us to learn that Stalinists like Hofstader would find that perspective abhorrent. Nor should it surprise us that junior-league Trotskyites like Goldberg – who has no problem with the Total State, as long as its power is invested in an effort to kill the people he'd like to see killed – would embrace Hofstader's analysis, or at least the fragments or snippets easily culled through a quick Google search.
The chief target of Goldberg's column is the 9-11 Truth Movement, which disseminates evidence that the federal government was either complicit in, or actually choreographed, the Black Tuesday atrocities. “More than a third of Americans believe the US government was likely to have been involved in 9/11,” laments Goldberg.
That finding is alarming. I would hope that that percentage would be considerably higher.
This isn't because I subscribe to the idea that the WTC buildings were brought down by controlled demolition (I'm not convinced, but persuadable). Rather, it's because the evidence that the Bush regime had detailed prior knowledge of the attack, and (at very least) permitted it to happen, is abundant and compelling, and because of the cynical way that the regime has exploited that tragedy – while doing literally nothing to get its hands on the accused perpetrator. If a majority of the public understood or even suspected as much, the prospects for pulling out of our flat spin into despotism would be pretty good.
Oh, one other thing: While execrating "conspiracy theorists," Goldberg, dutiful Statist drone that he is, directed all of his criticism at anti-government conspiracists. He offered not a syllable of criticism for the world's most influential proponents of deranged conspiracy theories, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney -- you know, the guys who were telling us about Saddam Hussein's huge and expanding arsenal of WMDs, his fleet of death-dealing unmanned aerial vehicles, the numerous and intimate connections between Saddam and Osama, and so forth. Nor did Goldberg spare a moment or two to slap down Bu'ushists who passionately testify that Saddam's immense arsenal was secretly spirited to Syria, or buried in secret sites that have been revealed through dreams and visions.
All of this is sober and responsible talk, rather than "seditious dementia," y'see, because it redounds to the benefit of the Warfare State.
at 1:12 PM