May 12, 2014

Ideology vs. Truth

Commentary for 12 May 2014

There is a tendency, especially today, to reduce all political analysis to an ideological formula, and to judge everything according to this formula. Such a reduction is usually erroneous, even dangerous, when applied to a complicated world. It is, of course, easier to simplify everything in order to make it more comprehensible. But the world does not become simpler when we ideologically simplify. We become simpler – to the point of stupidity.

Most people ideologically simplify because they are distracted and have no time for political studies, or historical studies, so they adopt an ideological template. This allows them to quickly categorize all political phenomena into two categories: (1) that which agrees with their own ideological template; (2) and that which disagrees with their own ideological template. Here is a corrupt practice which says that if something disagrees with the adopted political ideology, it is wrong or evil. If it agrees, it is right and proper. In other words, under the auspices of ideological simplification we do not judge honestly. We judge by the yardstick of ideology, without fully realizing that ideology is not reality.  

It is axiomatic, today, that everyone has an ideology. Even the denial of ideology is taken to be an ideology. People conceive of themselves as belonging to the Right or the Left. This division is further broken down into factions or sects. Someone recently asked what my political beliefs are. My answer is covered in the next few paragraphs.

James Burnham once wrote that politics is about three things: (1) It is about power; (2) it is about power; (3) and it is about power. In other words, Politics is about who holds political power, and whether power is concentrated or separated, legitimate or illegitimate. Of course, one might ask what is meant by the word “power.” The great cultural historian, Jacob Burckhardt once wrote that “power is evil.” In my view, this truth is the foundation of all political wisdom. Lord Acton was famous for writing, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” He also said, “Great men are almost always bad men.” Such is a dark truth, and very hard for political enthusiasts to swallow; for men want to believe in political heroes, and they want to believe in political salvation. But there is no such salvation as they commonly imagine – except in the limitation of power. Burckhardt was right to say that power is evil, and Lord Acton was right to say that power tends to corrupt. The teaching that follows, therefore, is that of the Founding Fathers; namely, to limit the power of the state and the corruption that flows from state power.

This principle of power as applied to the state also applies to the individual. To look at oneself and say that “I will do anything I want,” is to embark upon a path of self-destruction and demoralization. Such, however, is the animating spirit of our age (both for government and the individual). It is somehow imagined that propriety is a form of oppression from which the individual must be liberated; and so, on every side, a process of liberation has begun. Only it is a corrupting process, in which the subject of liberation becomes ever more degraded, ever more brutalized and decadent.

Governments that enjoy unlimited power over their people also become degraded and brutal. Consider the example of Hitler, whose brutality can be seen in blaming the German people for the failure of his aggressive military policies; or consider the example of Mao Zedong, the dictator of Communist China, who slept with different girls on different nights, wishing to give them whatever venereal diseases happened to be afflicting him at the time. 

If politics is about power, as Burnham said, and power is evil, as Burckhardt said, then a relatively benign political system must be based on checks and balances. At the same time, a malignant political system typically idealizes the concentration of power (i.e., as with the Communist idea of “democratic centralism” or Hitler’s “Fuehrer principle”). Utopian projects are also dangerous:  Egalitarian socialism because its partisans need unlimited power to bring about universal equality; Communism because absolute control over the economy requires a powerful police state; National Socialism because all power was concentrated in one man, Adolf Hitler. The concentration of power in the twentieth century brought about catastrophic wars, widespread enslavement in concentration camps, and economic deprivation. 

Those who demand total power in the name of a cause (whatever it might be), are either dangerous fools or criminals. They are not to be trusted with power because they will use what power they have to get more, and they will continue to accumulate power without regard for the damage they do, or the people they hurt. The only persons who may be trusted with power are those that do not want it, who know that power is evil, and who feel that power is a burden and not an advantage.

There is a caveat to all this, however, which is not easy to reconcile. When a community is threatened with war, power must be concentrated in the hands of a commander-in-chief. This cannot be avoided because the principle of unity of command must be applied. Wars cannot be won without strategy, and strategy requires a commander who has the final say in all things. Here we catch a glimpse of why the war system coincides with totalitarian aspirations. War helps to justify the dictator, while peace makes him appear superfluous. Thus we have the basis for two forms of society: free society and totalitarian society. 

To apply these precepts (outlined above) to a given political situation is not always easy. To take the case of Ukraine as an example, we can readily see that Russia has already invaded, infiltrated and broken off parts of Ukraine for annexation (adding land and power to itself). The Kremlin obviously hopes to subjugate the whole of Ukraine through a process of “divide and rule.” A majority of the Ukrainian people genuinely want their state to be inviolable and sovereign. They are tired of being governed by Soviet-type criminals. The cause of freedom has made significant gains, even if some of the newly ensconced “democratic” leaders are the secret creatures of Moscow. At the moment, these agents cannot carry out Moscow’s orders without giving themselves away. Freedom therefore has a chance, however small. Furthermore, a great protest movement is being planned for Russia on 18 May, in which countless people will demand that President Putin step down. Here we see a spontaneous movement of concerned citizens taking action to limit the power of a government which recognizes no check on its authority. Will the Kremlin lash out? Will hundreds die? Will thousands be arrested? 

To set an example for Russia, Ukraine must establish a model limited government. Furthermore, Kiev’s response to Russia’s paramilitary provocations must be carefully measured. Bloodshed must be kept to a minimum, yet the Russian infiltrators must be expelled (and this is best done by small sequential actions rather than all at once). In this confrontation, as well, it is unwise to make military or economic threats, but to welcome friendship with Russia’s people at every opportunity. It must be stressed that the Ukrainian and Russian peoples are brothers. Anyone who starts a war between these peoples, or who spreads hatred between them, is an enemy to both; for the real problem between Ukraine and Russia is the concentration of power in the Kremlin and the corruption that flows therefrom. It is this power and this corruption that now threatens the peace of Europe.

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