Saturday, August 07, 2010

Friedrich Hayek, Nazism/Fascism, and the Angry Social Cons of the Tea Party Movement

I recently picked up my copy of Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, considered one of conservatism's hallowed tomes, and was rereading certain parts of it when I came across the following passage which struck me as having an eery particular relevance to the angry and aggrieved conservative Tea Party movement as filtered through the likes of folks like Sarah Palin and Andrew Breitbart. What really struck me was the scary parallels between Hayek's characterizations of the origins and purposes of National Socialism (or Nazism) and Fascism with how one might characterize the Tea Party movement as manifested by Palin and Breitbart. Now, I want to be clear that I do not believe that the Tea Partiers of today are like the Nazis/Fascists of the 1930s. I simply found that Hayek's characterization of the origins and motivations of Nazism/Fascism seem to mirror what populist demagogues like Palin and Breitbart represent at what I would consider the fringes of today's Tea Party. See if you don't find this passage by Hayek unsettling in this regard. (Note that what Hayek is doing in this passage is differentiating between what he calls the "older socialism" -- or "labor socialism" -- what I would called 19th Century "Marxist socialism" -- and Nazism/Fascism. To be clear, Hayek believes Nazism/Fascism is the inevitable offspring of the older socialism and operates under similar principles; but he does distinguish them in important ways, as the following passage shows):

The new socialist movement started with several tactical advantages. Labor socialism had grown in a democratic and liberal world, adapting its tactics to it and taking over many of the ideals of liberalism. Its protagonists still believed that the creation of socialism as such would solve all problems. Fascism and National Socialism, on the other hand, grew out of the experience of an increasingly regulated society's awakening to the fact that democratic and international socialism was aiming at incompatible ideals. Their tactics were developed in a world already dominated by socialist policy and the problems it creates. They had no illusions about the possibility of democratic solution of problems which require more agreement among people than can reasonably be expected. They had no illusions about the capacity of reason to decide all the questions of the relative importance of the wants of different men or groups which planning inevitably raises, or about the formula of equality providing an answer. They knew that the strongest group which rallied enough supporters in favor of a new hierarchical order of society, and which frankly promised privileges to the classes to which it appealed, was likely to obtain the support of all those who were disappointed because they had been promised equality but found that they had merely furthered the interest of a particular class. Above all, they were successful because they offered a theory, or Weltanschauung, which seemed to justify the privileges they promised to their supporters. -- pp. 118 in The Road to Serfdom (Pheonix Books imprint of the 1944 University of Chicago Press edition) This passage is the very last paragraph of Chapter VIII, which is titled "Who? Whom?"
Let's unpack this a bit. The Tea Party mantra of "taking the country back" from what they perceive as a socialist "aristocracy" (what is Barack Obama if not an effete, out of touch, community-organizing, labor-union-beholden, wealth-redistributing, Washington "insider" socialist who doesn't represent "real" Americans and their values/interests?) has led to a kind of victim mentality which sees reverse racism at every turn, a hostile mainstream media intent on denying them a fair representation on any matter, and deception and mistrust of Washington "insider" politicians, all of whom just aren't listening to them. I look at the antics of Andrew Breitbart, Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle, Rush Limbaugh, etc., I watch folks lambast the health insurance reform legislation while clinging to their Medicare/Medicaid entitlements, I see the blanket vilification of Islam coupled with the privileging of the Judeo/Christian religious traditions, I watch many conservatives go to Orwellian ends to redefine the meaning of torture in order to rationalize away their embrace of torture all the while demanding in outraged anger adherence to a singular and intransmutable definition of "marriage" as something that happens only and exclusively between a man and a woman -- so much so that they want it codified in the Constitution! --, and I can't help but think that Friedrich Hayek would be very, very wary of some of the stronger, more irrational impulses of the Tea Party movement, particularly its social conservative agenda.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Please stick to something you know even less about, like immigration.