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Ed Driscoll

From Gaius Gracchus to the Gleichschaltung

July 6th, 2010 - 11:54 pm

At Hot Air (where I’m also guest-blogging this week, as part of the five(!) person team Allahpundit assembled to almost make up for his keenly-felt absence during his vacation, the Anchoress invites us to revisit “Rome, Circa 450 AD:”

In the late 1970’s the genial science historian James Burke wrote and presented a ten-part series entitled Connections, which became appointment-tv for my husband and me. He had a way of applying past lessons to present circumstances that was both fascinating and entertaining and sometimes–as in this video–loaded with the prescience that comes from actually listening to history.

At about the 3:30 mark, you find Burke once again presenting past as prelude:

” The last time a world empire fell apart, it was about 1500 years ago. Then, the empire was Roman…. … What led the Barbarians walk over Rome is something that won’t take you a second to sympathize with. The taxes were too high, to pay for the army that was losing all the battles, and a bunch of freeloaders in government, and of course, and to pay for thousands of civil servants.”

Stick with this all the way through; you will be very, very surprised as to where it leads. Well, regular readers of The Anchoress might not be.

At his PJ Express blog, Bill Whittle spots another Roman analogy:

[Obama] is a product of his time; a product of a civilization that has been dynamic and successful long enough for its prosperity to feel inevitable and indestructible. It’s not even really his fault. It has always been pretty clear from his record who he is and what he believes, and we elected him because the country was in the mood for a “progressive” president.

But Progressivism is not progressive – it’s ancient. Cyclical. It’s circular. It is, in fact, the symptom and the eventual cause of impending collapse.

In fact, in all of human history, there has been only one genuinely progressive, genuinely liberating idea: a lightning bolt across the pages of history – the why in 1776, the how in 1787 – the idea of limited government, god-given rights, personal liberty and rule by the vast collective wisdom and industry of the common man, and not by the bored, pampered and self-hating elites that have run everything before and since. This is a once-in-history idea. This is why we have to conserve it. We have to conserve this fundamentally liberal idea.

I said that what we today call Progressivism is in fact ancient and circular. Don’t believe me? Well, the great roman orator Cicero, speaking in defense of his friend Sestius, around 55 BC, said – quote:

“Gaius gracchus proposed a grain law. The people were delighted with it because it provided an abundance of food without work. The good men, however, fought against it because they thought the masses would be attracted away from hard work and toward idleness, and they saw the state treasury would be exhausted.”

When a society – after generations of hard work, sacrifice and hardship – reaches a certain level of prosperity, “Progressives” like Bill Maher, Janeane Garofolo, Rosie O’Donnell and Gaius Gracchus – that last Progressive died in 121 BC – assume that the prosperity is endless, and push for more and more people to get more and more goods and services for less and less work. Why? Because – as today, in America, as with the British Empire, the French Empire, the Spanish Empire, the Ottomans, the Mongols, Rome, Greece, Eqypt, Babylon… They do it for political power. They live for political power. This “Progressivism” is ancient, recurring, tyrannical and ruinous.

And we voted for it. Just like the Romans did.

We can see from Cicero that throughout history, the disease is always the same – too much security and prosperity breeds laziness, narcissism, resentment and entitlement.

Don’t miss the rest of Bill’s essay, which moves from the Bridge of the Titanic, to the classrooms of the Frankfurt School, the birthplace of “Political Correctness” And speaking of which, as Jonah Golberg asks, “What is political correctness other than the gears of the liberal Gleichschaltung?”

Gleichschaltung is a German word (in case you couldn’t have guessed) borrowed from electrical engineering. It means “coordination.” The German National Socialists (Nazis) used the concept to get every institution to sing from the same hymnal. If a fraternity or business embraced Nazism, it could stay “independent.” If it rejected Nazism, it was crushed or bent to the state’s ideology. Meanwhile, every branch of government was charged with not merely doing its job but advancing the official state ideology.

Now, contemporary liberalism is not an evil ideology. Its intentions aren’t evil or even fruitfully comparable to Hitlerism. But there is a liberal Gleichschaltung all the same. Every institution must be on the same page. Every agency must advance the liberal agenda.

And this is where the Catch-22 catches. The dream of a nimble, focused, problem-solving government is undone by the reality of hyper–mission creep. When every institution is yoked to an overarching philosophy or mission, its actual purpose can become an afterthought. In 2005, volunteer firefighters from all over the country offered to help with Katrina’s aftermath. But FEMA sent many of them to Atlanta first to undergo diversity and sexual-harassment training (which most already had).

Such examples are everywhere. What is political correctness other than the gears of the liberal Gleichschaltung? The financial crisis was worsened because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac became tools for liberal social engineering. Let’s not even mention public schools.

The White House is determined to be a great friend (i.e., servant) to the unions, so everything from the stimulus to the automaker buyout to the Gulf spill must first pass union muster. Remember those vital, “shovel-ready” weatherization jobs the stimulus was supposed to pay for? The Labor Department delayed them for nearly a year while trying to figure out how to comply with pro-union “prevailing wage” rules for each of more than 3,000 counties.

Liberalism has become a cargo cult to the New Deal, but many of the achievements of the New Deal would be impossible now. Just try to get a Hoover Dam built today.

President Obama likes to say that “if we could put a man on the moon,” we can do anything, from socializing medicine to abandoning fossil fuels. That’s nonsense on stilts for a host of reasons. But it’s also ironic, given that we can’t even put a man on the moon anymore. Not when NASA’s foremost priority is boosting the self-esteem of children and Muslims.

Needless to say, modern-day NASA operates in sharp contradistinction to its Right Stuff-era predecessor, where the motto was, “Waste anything but time,” Jonah writes.

Ironically, unlike today’s NASA, that’s the one commodity that may be in awfully short supply for the space agency’s current overseers, James Pethokoukis notes.

Update: Micheal Ramirez graphically illustrates “Big Shoes and Small Steps.”

Update: Jules Crittenden adds:

Time to check our math on the O admin. NASA chief thinks Job One is Islamic outreach. Security chief thinks Threat One is conservatives and returning war vets. The boss, meanwhile, is all about the deficits … OK, punch in the numbers … error message: does not compute

Sounds like a recipe for a a no-win scenario to me.