Ed Driscoll

A Century of 'Progress' Comes Full Circle

Speaking of “progressive” Mobius Loops that ultimately go nowhere, near the end of David Frum’s How We Got Here: The 70s The Decade That Brought You Modern Life — For Better Or Worse, a book written back in 2000, long before he went off into RINO-land, Frum wrote:

The sprawling, garrulous, fractious, unequal, polyglot republic of the early twenty-first century looks a very great deal like the republic of the beginning of the twentieth. Then as now, the United States was haunted by cares and doubts. Old certainties had collapsed and the new certainties—socialism, eugenics, imperialism, war—threatened traditional values and ideals. City streets jabbered in foreign tongues, racial tensions pervaded the country, the sudden agglomeration of wealth raised the ominous question of how democratic government could survive the arrogance of the rich and the envy of the poor. Family life seemed to be disintegrating, as the rise of great cities encouraged unhappy men to desert their families and the weakening of religion chipped away at traditional sexual norms.

The social stability of the 1950s was not inherited from some distant past. It was the self-conscious achievement of a society that had overcome its disorder, doubt, and disunity. And when that stability was lost, the disorder, the doubt, and the disunity returned.

Perhaps Frum was merely a decade or two off. Back in 1987, in The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom wrote that after the war, America slowly morphed into the disorder, doubt, and disunity of Weimar Germany of the mid-1920s:

This popularization of German philosophy in the United States is of peculiar interest to me because I have watched it occur during my own intellectual lifetime, and I feel a little like someone who knew Napoleon when he was six. I have seen value relativism and its concomitants grow greater in the land than anyone imagined. Who in 1920 would have believed that Max Weber’s technical sociological terminology would someday be the everyday language of the United States, the land of the Philistines, itself in the meantime become the most powerful nation in the world? The self-understanding of hippies, yippies, yuppies, panthers, prelates and presidents has unconsciously been formed by German thought of a half-century earlier; Herbert Marcuse’s accent has been turned into a Middle Western twang; the echt Deutsch label has been replaced by a Made in America label; and the new American life-style has become a Disneyland version of the Weimar Republic for the whole family.

A century of “progressivism” coming full circle and returning to its roots a century ago was also a topic that Jonah Goldberg explored in the emailed version of his G-File last week:

Obviously, there’s more to be said about Obama’s Kansas speech. An excellent place to start is  NR’s editorial. You might also want to see my column today. But here are a few more points in rapid fire:

1. Nationalism = socialism. I’ve been saying for years that the presumption that nationalism and socialism are opposites — an idea ingrained in many Marxist minds — is nonsense. Nationalism, in terms of public policy if not necessarily culture, is socialism. When we nationalize health care, we socialize medicine. Teddy Roosevelt’s “new nationalism” was a call for a “new socialism” — a point his advisers, Charles van Hise, Richard Ely et al., would have happily conceded.

2. President Obama has been shockingly nationalistic. Sputnik moments, “Beat China!” “We owe it to the troops to support green energy,” “Kneel Before Zod!” And now he disinters Teddy Roosevelt’s “new nationalism.” In actual policy terms, he’s been vastly more nationalistic than George W. Bush was. The difference is that liberals hate cultural nationalism. They hate it so much they even see overt displays of patriotism as scarily nationalistic. But they love programmatic nationalism — Everyone shut up and build things liberal like! The danger is when you get cultural nationalists joining forces with socialists. In fact, that’s called national-socialism. Maybe you’ve heard of it?
3. Where the hell are the “new ideas”? Perhaps because I wrote a book arguing that liberalism remains loyal to the progressive philosophy first laid out over a century ago, or maybe because my next book is in no small part about how they try to hide this fact, I’m particularly vexed by the fact that conservatives are supposedly in thrall to “old ideas” but liberals are all about new ones. In his Kansas speech, Obama kept insisting that conservatives are beholden to the failed ideas of the past. Er, okay. And that’s why you dusted off a 101-year-old speech by a failed third-party candidate? Got it. Obama talks as if raising taxes on rich people so they can pay their “fair share” is a new idea when “let’s take more from that guy to pay for stuff I want” was an old idea when proto-humans were drawing stick figures on cave walls with saber-tooth-tiger scat. And yet somehow Republican politicians never turn the tables on this incandescently stupid argument. It vexes me. I am exceedingly vexed.

As Jonah writes, “It’s Like They Never Want Liberal Fascism to Go Out of Print.” Hopefully future generations of journalists and pundits won’t be listening to “Midnight, the Stars, and You,” trapped in this same wing of the Overlook Hotel a century from now.