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Anticommunism and American Decadence

The autumn of 1994 I spent at Messiah College, in Grantham, PA. My family were moving at the time, both the business and the residence, and it seemed better for me to be near to home at such a time. One of my three roommates that semester was a Korean who had been adopted by a Texas family, spoke with a bit of an accent, wore cowboy boots, and chewed tobacco. He was also greatly enamored of the foreign policy writings of George Kennan, considered one of the architects of the policy of containment. This fondness provided fodder for the occasional conversation, and my expression of reservations concerning the judgment of a man who came to perceive in the specific character of American opposition to communism and the Soviet Union a greater threat to the commonweal than the often dissembling anti-anticommunism. Kennan feared the release of the simplifying, reductive passions of a nationalism that would, far from grasping the profounder, historical, geopolitical, and yes, spiritual dimensions of the standoff, construe it as a confrontation of rival ideologies. The Cold War was not merely a matter of geopolitical wrangling and foreign policy; it was a test of national character.

This, in my youth - I was but twenty years old at the time - I did not perceive. I had not yet learned to discriminate between the various tendencies and strands of the American character, to winnow the noble from the base, the prescient from the purblind, the prudent from the foolhardy. And so I thought that anticommunism was anticommunism, and that the imperative thing was that one have opposed communism, that specter of a godless, totalitarian collectivism, stamping on a human face in the name of the future.

In retrospect, however, George Kennan was correct in his prophetic fears, if you will. The long 'twilight struggle' of the Cold War slowly and inexorably ideologized the American consciousness, and, what is more damning, American conservatism. What went awry? Consider the following, written in 1960:

No, the source of the poison of Communist totalitarianism is our era's social crisis as a whole, which has now spread to also to the colored peoples; it is the disintegration of the social structure and its spiritual and moral foundations. Communism thrives wherever the humus of a well-founded social order and true community has been removed by proletarianization, social erosion, and the disappearance of the bourgeois and peasant classes; it thrives where men, and intellectuals above all, have lost their roots and solidity and have been pried loose from the social fabric of the family, the succession of generations, neighborliness, and other true communities. Communism finds the most fertile soil of all wherever these processes of social disintegration are associated with religious decline, as first in China and now in the Moslem world and in Japan. (Do remember that these words were written in 1960.)

(All emphases mine.) Totalitarianism gains ground exactly to the extent that the human victims of this process of disintegration suffer from frustration and non-fulfillment of their life as a whole because they have lost the true, non-material conditions of human happiness. For this reason it is certain that the decisive battle between Communism and the free world will have to be fought, not so much on the field of material living conditions, where the victory of the West would be beyond doubt, but on the field of spiritual and moral values. Communism prospers more on empty souls than on empty stomachs. The free world will prevail only if it succeeds in filling the emptiness of the soul in its own manner and with its own values, and not with electric razors. What the free world has to set against Communism is not the cult of the standard of living and productivity or some contrary hysteria, ideology, or myth This would be borrowing Communism's own weapons. What we need is to bethink ourselves soberly of truth, freedom, justice, human dignity, and respect of human life and the ultimate values. For these we must set our course unerringly; we must cherish and strengthen the spiritual and moral foundations of these values and vital goods and try to create and preserve for mankind such forms of life as are appropriate to human nature and support and protect its conditions.

Wilhelm Ropke (sorry, my old computer doesn't do umlauts..) would go on to argue that material prosperity for the masses could not be the absolute standard of opposition to Communism, and that the heedless, reductive pursuit of this prosperity undermined the traditional forms of thought and life which alone could resist the crisis of the age. The Humane Economy, now nearing its fiftieth anniversary since first publication, remains eminently worth reading.

The post-Cold War period of American history evinces nothing so firmly as that America had unleashed those destructive, simplifying passions Kennan so feared, and that Ropke recognized as evasions of the deeper sources of the modern crisis. To the Communist juggernaut, America increasingly came to oppose, not something so subtle and profound as the truth of man's spiritual nature, ever in tension in the in-between of being, but just that cult of prosperity: the superior productivity and material comfort of democratic capitalist 'civilization', also conceived, in a mirroring of the Communist dogma, as at once the telos of history and the engine of its unfolding. These spiritual depths were not altogether forgotten, but it seems fair to judge that it was left to the Church and the Poles to uphold them. To the Communist collectivism, with its command economy, America opposed the corporation, and then the multinational corporation, as somehow embodying and exemplifying freedom and liberation, which were thus identified, largely, with the crapulence of consumer society and a life of consummate material ease. America swallowed many myths about the Cold War epoch, but none have been so self-serving, and so destructive, as that the denoument of the Cold War somehow vindicated the American system, and justified its export to the world as a template for emulation. The failure of an adversary is not a proof of one's virtue; and 'better than Communism!' is justification of nothing when the spiritual soil of Western civilization has been turned and sowed with salt, as much by the disorders of materialism and ruthless luxury as by moral decadence. 'Creative destruction' still carries the capacity to undermine social order and to deracinate men, the danger in which is not - now - that they will become Communists, but that, in their blind flight from the truth of themselves, they will bring down civilization with them.

American conservatism has been complicit in this degradation, not aloof from it as though it were the work of some distant establishment. American conservatives have joined in the hymning of the American system, often as though it were a deliverance from Sinai, ideologizing that system and its constituent parts, all the more so after radicals of the New Left began to assail it for its regimentation and bureaucratization as much as for its failure to realize the dream of equality and fraternity. We might flesh out the argument by indicting the pointlessness of the old fusionism, which essentially invoked traditionalism in order to justify the corporate, managerial capitalism which has been its inveterate foe; but the character of contemporary conservatism will have to stand as the first count of the indictment. That conservatism has celebrated uncritically and reflexively the American economic system, and has regarded democratic capitalism as a universal template, souring on the administration which sought to export it by force of arms largely on account of its domestic bungling. And it has demonized critics as anti-American and unpatriotic, because they have had the temerity to view America as an historic, bounded nation - a nation we love not because she is the universal nation, but because she is ours.

George Kennan was right. It was the manner in which America came to oppose the Soviet threat that ultimately mattered, and mattered in a way which, recent history shows, led us to become spoiled and hubristic. Dubious means corrupt even worthy ends.

Comments (14)

Strange how this same post, with some minor vocabulary changes, could appear on any of the better progressive blogs.

This is the third post I've seen on this blog like that.

Mike, you have stumbled upon a feature of WWWtW: the intellectual diversity among its contributors.

If I didn't know better, I'd think you were trying to score points with that comment.

I admit it sounds catty. But it has that universal cattiness about it that makes it hard to say with or against _whom_ it is intended to score points.

It is true that similar analyses or interpretations could appear on progressive blogs; they could with equal ease appear - and occasionally do - among paleoconservatives. This is reflective of the marginalization of the more interesting (sorry - value judgments are inevitable) schools of American thought, the ones that are actually interested in contesting first principles, and of the ideological hegemony of the duopoly. With respect to one of the issues broached in the post, there is approximately a mils worth of difference between the Democrats and the Republicans on the merits of globalization and corporations; a vote for either means that the corporatocracy is coming for dinner, with the only difference being the vegetable each would prefer. Frankly, a conservatism that amounts to an inversion of whatever it is that liberals or progressives are doing - a purely reactive conservatism, which is what the conservatism of the corporate world has always been (reacting, first, against the agrarian order, and second, against those who criticized its lurid excesses) - interests me less than 'not at all'. A line of critique is not falsified by a dubious progressive remedy.

American conservatives will awaken to the nature of the multinational corporation, once they have lost almost everything it is possible for them to lose. The owl of Minerva still takes to wing at night.

Maximos, is your implication that those on the _further_ left are "more interesting" than their more moderate Democrat friends, because the former are really challenging corporatism and the latter aren't? Because I think you should reconsider that, if so. Setting aside economics for a moment, what do we find on the farther left? 9/11 Troofers, anti-Semites, apologists for terrorist groups, and generally kookballs of every leftish sort. This fact might just make one question how deep any critique of "corporatism" might be from that quarter and how much of it is just...hatred of anything identified with Evil Corporations. Reactionary? There are few things much more reactionary than a really flaming leftist anti-capitalist.

But it has that universal cattiness about it that makes it hard to say with or against _whom_ it is intended to score points.

It is intrinsically catty, not catty due to intentions or circumstances.

Zippy, exactly. I can't make it un-catty by good intentions. :-)

Lydia, progressives are not defined solely by the 9/11 conspiracy theorists, the frothing antisemites, and other such denizens of the fever swamps. The folks at The American Prospect or Democracy: A Journal of Ideas do not, so far as I am aware, offer space in their publications to such evil and nonsensical windbaggery. To be certain, most of their proposed remedies would be deleterious if implemented; however, these folks' work does possess the merit of actually addressing concrete realities, rather than passing off as serious analysis more hymns to Bill Clinton and Robert Rubin, whose policies gave corporations about 95% of what the 'right' would have given them.

If and only if criticisms of globalization and multinational corporations are tantamount to conspiracy theorizing and antisemitism does it become possible to lump the left all together.

Thanks for specifying the targets of the endorsement, Maximos, that's clarifying.

"...rather than passing off as serious analysis more hymns to Bill Clinton and Robert Rubin, whose policies gave corporations about 95% of what the 'right' would have given them."

I can't help feeling, though, that there may still be something reactionary there. Again, is it really not reactionary to say that we mustn't give corporations what the right presumably wants to give them or would give them? Perhaps we will get to the conclusion that we mustn't do so if we start with the premise that corporations are plain bad. But perhaps part of the problem here is that I don't actually regard the term "reactionary" as a negative designation, even when it is so intended. I think neo-Marxists and those who use neo-Marxist terminology are headed in a very bad economic direction indeed, so I "react" against them. They, presumably, think corporations are very bad indeed, so they "react" against giving the corporate execs what they want.

I self-identify as a reactionary, "conservative" having been bled white of its significance over the years, so the term carries no inherent negative connotations for me. In context, I only mean to employ it to describe the character of Republican/conservative embraces of the managerial corporation: increasingly affirmative over the decades, merely because the left is so obnoxious, and the socialist alternative - in those binaries so beloved of the unthoughtful - so preposterous (if economic centralization in corporate hands is problematic, how does combining economic and political centralization resolve anything? The problem with much of the left is that they seem to believe that concentration is swell, as long as it is politicized...).

In what way is "economic centralization in corporate hands" particularly "problematic?"

I'm not saying it isn't - and I'm certainly not saying that economic centralization *qua* economic centralization is a *good* thing.

Is there anybody who *does* say that?

Or are there people whose announced views are merely a "cover" for some such position?

I'm genuinely puzzled.

"The Soviet Story" is a story of an Allied power, which helped the Nazis to fight Jews and which slaughtered its own people on an industrial scale. Assisted by the West, this power triumphed on May 9th, 1945. Its crimes were made taboo, and the complete story of Europe's most murderous regime has never been told. Until now?


The film tells the story of the Soviet regime.

- The Great Famine in Ukraine (1932/33)
- The Katyn massacre (1940)
- The SS-KGB partnership [in the late 1930s the KGB was called NKVD]
- Soviet mass deportations
- Medical experiments in the GULAG.

These are just a few of the subjects covered in the film.

"The Soviet Story" also discusses the impact of the Soviet legacy on modern day Europe. Listen to experts and European MPs discussing the implications of a selective attitude towards mass murder; and meet a woman describing the burial of her new born son in a GULAG concentration camp.
"The Soviet Story" is a story of pain, injustice and realpolitik.

I'd like to point out that in the US mainstream politicians supported Stalin. In the pages of The Nation and the New York Times writers wrote in support of Moscow show trials. The US government tried to get Stalin's foremost political opponent, Trotsky expelled from Mexico. Liberals, Conservatives and Socialists alike had adopted a fervent "anti-communism". Thus when Stalin was killing most of his political opponents, anti-communism wasn't really ever a priority. Likewise, it was Nixon who cut a deal with Maoist China. It was FDR and Truman who supported Tito's regime in Yugoslavia, as their Chetnik counterparts were too pro-fascist and unreliable in the war against Germany). The US regime of Ronald Reagan supported Pol Pot in his war against the Vietnamese backed Cambodian government. The very politicians who made their careers on anti-communist rhetoric made deals with the worst Stalinist thugs on the planet. They were "anti-communist" when it came to destroying their own internal opponents but often very much "pro-communist" in their actual foreign policy deeds. The Smith Act was originally hailed by the CPUSA as a means of destroying their Trotskyist and Anarchist political opponents on the left, but later had the law used against themselves.

Take Poland for example. The Catholic Church from the pulpit always spouted a Polish nationalist and extremely anti-communist and anti-semitic line in words, but recent revelations show that eight in ten Polish catholic priests who took confessions were ratting Polish workers out to the Stalinist government.

The "anti-communism" of the liberals and conservatives has always been a joke, devoid of any serious analysis of Stalinism and hostile to Stalin's foremost political opponents. There are those on the left in the US today who know quite well whose side the forces of American order were really on and it wasn't on the side of Stalins real political opponents.

US anti-communism was a means of flogging the dead horse of the left in the US, which never ever recovered from the Palmer Raids. The Palmer Raids decimated whole political parties, destroyed the IWW and permanently altered US politics. In essence what leftists used to refer to as the "Iron Heel", that is mainstream repression of their political organizations, became the standard modus operandi of both liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans alike. US anti-communism bred monsters like Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban. It created the club of ex-Nazis and their collaborators and Latin American emulators in the form of the World Anti-Communist League. Anti-communism in the US is directly responsible for the bulk of all deaths in Southeast Asian during the Vietnam war, officially 2 million Vietnamese are counted, but the figure is probably more like 3 or 4 million if you count US sponsored wars in Laos and Cambodia. Not to mention the deaths of 20 million Southeast Asians from starvation due to US bombing and economic destruction, which was an intentional policy in Vietnam to starve the opposition of its base. This doesn't mention how in the Korean War the US overthrew the moderate Korean left government butchered millions and then failed to keep the Stalinist from creating a vicious puppet state in the North. American Anti-Communism was no different in political content than the Anti-Terrorist scare in the wake of 9-11. If one looks at the US Department of Homeland Security's web page one finds that the main terrorist groups that have committed the largest number of acts of terrorism are anti-Castro Cubans terrorizing less-anti-Castro Cubans, and of course the right-wing violence of Rabbi Meier Kahane's Jewish Defense League. For the last thirty years the face of terrorism in the US has been right-wing.

American conservative and liberal mainstream politics has an enormous mote in its eye.

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