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Ed Driscoll

Fast Times at Frankfurt School High

August 3rd, 2011 - 4:06 pm

“MSNBC Host, Guest Consider Whether Tea Partiers Are Addicts, ‘Delusional.’” Michael Warren of the Weekly Standard takes one for the team, and watches MSNBC so you don’t have to:

MSNBC host Martin Bashir interviewed Stanton Peele, a psychologist and an “expert on addiction,” this afternoon. Bashir urged Peele to psychologically evaluate supporters of the Tea Party. “It reminds us of addiction because addicts are seeking something that they can’t have,” Peele said. “They want a state of happiness or nirvana that can’t be achieved except through an artificial substance and reminds us of the Norway situation, when people are thwarted at obtaining something they can’t, have they often strike out and Norway is one kind of example to one kind of reaction to that kind of a frustration.”

Bashir later asked: “So you’re saying that they are delusional about the past and adamant about the future?”

“They are adamant about achieving something that’s unachievable, which reminds us of a couple of things. It reminds us of delusion and psychosis,” Peele responded.

But of course it does:

A handful of immensely influential Marxist theorists, mostly Germans from the so-called Frankfurt School (transplanted to Columbia University beginning in the 1930s), married psychology and Marxism to provide a new vocabulary for liberalism. These theorists—led by Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Erich Fromm, and Herbert Marcuse—tried to explain why fascism had been more popular than communism in much of Europe. Borrowing from Freud and Jung, the Frankfurt School described Nazism and Fascism as forms of mass psychosis. That was plausible enough, but their analysis also held that since Marxism was objectively superior to its alternatives, the masses, the bourgeoisie, and anyone else who disagreed with them had to be, quite literally, mad.

Adorno was the lead author of The Authoritarian Personality, published in 1950. The book presented evidence that people holding “conservative” views scored higher on the so-called F-Scale (F for “Fascism”) and were hence in dire need of therapy. The political scientist Herbert McClosky likewise diagnosed conservatives as a pre-fascist “personality type” comprising mostly “the uninformed, the poorly educated, and…the less intelligent.” (Lionel Trilling famously reduced conservatism to a series of “irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.”) For McClosky, Adorno, and establishment liberals generally, conservatism was at best the human face of the madness of Nazi-style fascism.

It’s tempting to say these theorists merely threw a patina of pseudoscientific psychobabble over the propaganda leaflets of Stalin’s Third International. But the tactic was more sophisticated than that. The essential argument was brilliant in its simplicity. The original Marxist explanation of fascism was that it was the capitalist ruling classes’ reaction to the threat of the ascendancy of the working classes. The Frankfurt School deftly psychologized this argument. Instead of rich white men and middle-class dupes protecting their economic interests, fascism became a psychological defense mechanism against change generally. Men who cannot handle “progress” respond violently because they have “authoritarian personalities.” So, in effect, anyone who disagrees with the aims, scope, and methods of liberalism is suffering from a mental defect, commonly known as fascism.

The Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter was the Frankfurt School’s most successful publicist. For Hofstadter, American history was a tale of liberals decapitating fascist Hydra heads in every chapter. His work dripped with the language of The Authoritarian Personality. In “Pseudo-Conservative Revolt”—which later became part of The Paranoid Style in American Politics—Hofstadter used psychological scare words to describe the crypto-fascist menace within: “clinical,” “disorder,” “complexes,” “thematic apperception.” As Christopher Lasch writes, “The Authoritarian Personality had a tremendous impact on Hofstadter and other liberal intellectuals, because it showed them how to conduct political criticism in psychiatric categories, to make those categories bear the weight of political criticism. This procedure excused them from the difficult work of judgment and argumentation. Instead of arguing with opponents, they simply dismissed them on psychiatric grounds.”

Let’s ask Chris Matthews what such Soviet-style pseudo-psychiatry reminds him of:

Hey, me too, Chris — a rare bipartisan consensus achieved.

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