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Ed Driscoll

‘Vichy Lives’ or, ‘We Are All National Socialists Now’

April 29th, 2013 - 8:19 pm

Back around Christmastime, I wrote a long post with the pretentious title of “At Last, the 1948 Show,” a joke headline that perhaps two rabidly die-hard fans of Monty Python may have gotten. And likely, that’s how many people read my post, considering it went up the day after Christmas. But I wrote it because I had just rewatched an episode of the landmark early 1970s Thames TV series The World at War called “Home Fires,” an exploration of the cohesive nature of life in England during wartime, a sort of documentary dry run for the 1987 comedy-drama by John Boorman, Hope and Glory. (Great: two semi-obscure Anglophile pop culture references in the first paragraph of one post. Keep digging, Ed.) And because Stacy McCain and NR’s Andrew Stuttaford had just written posts on the hellish American and British Keynesian-derived economies of the 1970s, and I wanted to explore how they were birthed. (The Transatlantic quasi-socialist economies, not Stace and Stuttaford.)

That whole episode of the World at War (actually, the whole series, I believe), is online in bootleg form at Liveleak, but due to the vagaries of some browsers, it may be difficult to fast-forward to the segment I mentioned in my post. So over the weekend, given that we have a now PJM-branded video player here, I clipped it and uploaded the segment I referenced to that post. And I’m adding it here:

As I wrote back then:

As Walter Russell Mead notes in the recurring leitmotif of his blog, ever since the fall of 2008, we’ve been witnessing the slow collapse of the 20th century welfare state (see also: Greece, California, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., etc.) If you’d like to catch a glimpse of that welfare state beginning to become super-sized in England, you can watch online the latter half of “Home Front,” the segment of the remarkable World at War series from Thames Television in the early 1970s. Cue up the third clip at around the 10:00 minute mark (the starting point for the clip embedded above) for a fascinating look at how a nation could simultaneously defeat the ultimate form of nationalization and socialism — complete with an enormous welfare state, of course — even as it was implementing a version of its own. (And saying thanks to Winston Churchill for winning WWII by sacking him immediately after the war’s conclusion.) Fortunately, thanks to its benign prewar culture*, that version of Nationalized Socialism didn’t quite become the Ingsoc that George Orwell predicted in 1984.  The inevitable rot seeped into British society quite differentlyto tie this all in with the quote from Stacy McCain at the start of this post.  And it was already there in sufficient quantities amongst the nation’s leftwing elites even before the war, as Jonathan Last of the Weekly Standard noted in 2005.

Or as historian John Lukacs once wrote, as quoted in the 2011 book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, by Kevin D. Williamson of NRO:

We are all national socialists now. Of course the proportions of the compound of nationalism and socialism vary from country to country; but the compound is there, and even where social democracy prevails, it is the national feeling of the people that ultimately matters. What was defeated in 1945, together with Hitler, was German National Socialism: a cruel  and extreme version of national socialism. Elsewhere nationalism and socialism were brought together, reconciled and then compounded, without violence and hatred and war.

Which dovetails remarkably well with the topic that Jonah Goldberg explored this past Friday in the latest emailed edition of his G-File column, “Vichy Lives:”

For those of you without long memories or a properly functioning Way Back Machine, you may not know that I wrote a book called Liberal Fascism. Unlike a golden retriever I once knew who ate a whole paperback copy of The Catcher in the Rye, I’m not going to vomit up the whole book here. But one of my core arguments was that fascism was a phenomenon of the Left if you go by what constitutes being on the right in the Anglo-American tradition. (One reason liberals hated the book is that I defined my terms.) In America and England, conservatism has many varieties, but an emphasis on individual liberty and a limited government runs through all of them.

On the European continent things were different. An American libertarian pilgrim in, say, late-19th or early-20th century Germany searching for a political home would be like when Ellwood asks the bartender, “What kind of music do you usually have here?” in The Blues Brothers. She responds, “Oh, we got both kinds: country and western.”

In Germany they had two kinds of political philosophies, statist and really statist. American progressives liked the former more than the latter. From LF:

No European statesman loomed larger in the minds and hearts of American progressives than Otto von Bismarck. As inconvenient as it may be for those who have been taught “the continuity between Bismarck and Hitler,” writes Eric Goldman, Bismarck’s Germany was “a catalytic of American progressive thought.” Bismarck’s “top- down socialism,” which delivered the eight-hour workday, health care, social insurance, and the like, was the gold standard for enlightened social policy. “Give the working-man the right to work as long as he is healthy; assure him care when he is sick; assure him maintenance when he is old,” he famously told the Reichstag in 1862. Bismarck was the original “Third Way” figure who triangulated be- tween both ends of the ideological spectrum. “A government must not waver once it has chosen its course. It must not look to the left or right but go forward,” he proclaimed. Teddy Roosevelt’s 1912 national Progressive Party platform conspicuously borrowed from the Prussian model. Twenty-five years earlier, the political scientist Woodrow Wilson wrote that Bismarck’s welfare state was an “admirable system . . . the most studied and most nearly perfected” in the world.

Anyway, like me after eating two bratwursts, I could go on but I probably shouldn’t. But the thing I want to get to is that my argument was received by the Left the way my dog responds to that woman in yoga pants doing Tai-Chi in the park, i.e. with total irrational rage and contempt. (It really is awesome when Cosmo sees someone doing Tai-Chi at the dog park. He starts barking wildly “What are you doing!?” “Your strange poses and movements make me uncomfortable!” “Stop that!” “I’m Serious! Your weirding way defiles all I hold holy!”) A couple of years after Liberal Fascism came out, the History News Network organized a symposium on the book (at first they didn’t even want to invite me to participate or respond). The 800-pound gorilla in the gang-up was Robert O. Paxton, arguably the leading living scholar of fascism. You can read his critique here, and my omnibus response here I loved it, because it reassured me that while I didn’t necessarily get every single thing right, if that was the very best the scholarly community could do to rebut my book, that meant, well, I won.

Anyhow, I bring all of this up because Robert Paxton has a really interesting essay in the current New York Review of Books in which he unwittingly echoes so many of my arguments. French social democracy — what we would call liberalism in America today — is deeply indebted to Vichy fascism. The French Left has an instinctual aversion to hearing this because they find such facts mean. The modern welfare state is not antithetical to fascism but essential to it. Etc., etc. He writes:

All the modern twentieth-century European dictatorships of the right, both fascist and authoritarian, were welfare states. The current American conservative agenda of a weak state associated with laissez-faire economic and social arrangements would have been anathema to them, as an extreme perversion of a despised individualistic liberalism (in that term’s original sense). They all provided medical care, pensions, affordable housing, and mass transport as a matter of course, in order to maintain productivity, national unity, and social peace.

As Glenn Reynolds might say: Heh.

So, “productivity, national unity, and social peace,” eh? How’s that all working out these days?

Update: As is its wont, California takes the notion of the masses worshipping the state to a strange new level. Or as Albert J. Nock wrote in 1935, simultaneously paraphrasing (and dismissing) both Hitler and Hegel, “the State incarnates the Divine Idea upon earth.”

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This is an excellent distillation of several trains of thought that have been running through my mind. See also http://www.amazon.com/Chesterton-War-Peace-Battling-Movements/dp/1587420627/ref=cm_cr-mr-title for even deeper roots to the issues. Yes I know the link won't work, but it is enough to go on.

I think there is also an element of horror in reaction to the two world wars, that if government can cause that much suffering to its citizens it owes them something in return. The unintended consequences were not well thought out.

As with everything the government attempts meaning well at the onset doesn’t work out well in actual execution of the action.
1 year ago
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There are so many "ah-ha!" segments to be gleaned from viewing "The World At War", but the epic way they tell the story of Churchill throughout the series is one of the most insightful. How Chamberlain's downfall is described by witnesses and by the narrator, Laurence Olivier, will never be heard again except in this incredible series.
1 year ago
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