A Sea of Bile

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

by Paul Gottfried by Paul Gottfried

In the summer issue of The Occidental Quarterly, my longtime friend Sam Francis undertakes to review my study of multiculturalism, with mixed results. Bluntly put, Dr. Francis drowns our methodological differences in a sea of bile. According to my esteemed critic, I have wrongly traced the managerial-therapeutic state to liberal Protestantism, into which I have tried to squeeze American political culture. I have also turned my back on James Burnham’s Marxist or Marxist-Trotskyist reading of the managerial class, namely, as a socio-economically dominant class that controls the state and which manipulates the populace with contrived ideologies.

These mistakes have distorted my view of contemporary social-political reality. For one thing, I have no grounds on which to resist the regnant belief-system: "If most Americans support multiculturalism, why object to it?" I also err by privileging "liberal Protestantism as the animating force behind the managerial therapeutic state’s war on traditional culture" and by teaching that the managerial elite are driven by "irrational motivations." Finally I descend into the vulgarity of treating the state as a "synonym for what Goldwater conservatives of the 1960s would have called u2018big government’ — the centralized federal government that regulates the economy, dishes out welfare to selected constituencies, and overrides state, local and private authorities." (Actually J.S. Mill and Max Weber would have had no trouble recognizing this, long before Goldwater, as a description of the democratic administrative state.)

For the record, I never state that "liberal Protestantism is the ideology" of the managerial state. What I argue toward the end of Chapter Two is that in the US and other Anglophone societies, liberal Protestantism provides the "precondition" for politically enforced multiculturalism. I compare this observation to Max Weber’s idea about the moral theology of Calvinism. According to Weber, early finance capitalism depended on the willingness of investors to give up opportunities for pleasure in order to pour their profits into new projects. Like the psychological precondition for capitalism posited by Weber, liberal Christian guilt seems to be essential for the self-mortification that accompanies the misnamed celebration of diversity.

Nor do I deny that Protestantism produced an admirably conservative culture in the past, a point that Dr. Francis neglected to notice in the Introduction and in Chapter Two. I also dwell on the irony that while mainline denominations are losing members, their multicultural ideas have spread to other churches, including Evangelicals and Catholics. Nowhere, to my knowledge, do I question that this process of deploring one’s ancestral way of life, while seeking "enrichment" by importing Third World proletariat and by glorifying strange lifestyles, has not reached Catholic societies, though arguably this tendency has not wrought as much havoc on Latin Catholics as it has on Germanic Protestants.

Feminism and gay rights, for example, enjoy demonstrably more popular support in England, Canada, Germany, and the US than they do in Catholic Southern or Eastern Europe. Contrary to another accusation against me, my statistics about popular attitudes toward immigration are not confused. Different pollsters in different years took the polls that Francis draws from my book. The lower figures for opposition to immigration, taken from Peter Schuck’s research, are intended to underline how precarious anti-immigrationism is in the US. It fluctuates more than Dr. Francis would like us to believe. In the US, unlike Catholic Flanders or Catholic Lombardy, reactions to Third World immigration have not become an issue around which electoral contests are decided. It is impossible for me to believe that if Americans, broadly understood, cared about immigration as much as they do about state-subsidized prescription drugs, this concern would not become a wedge issue. Note Dr. Francis and I are entirely justified to express this concern, even if the general American population, which by now shows the effects of the Immigration Act of 1965, does not sufficiently care. Why should we not try to change minds even if the majority disagrees with us?

Francis is right to assume that I question his and MacDonald’s sweeping ascription of blame for the contemporary politics of guilt to Jewish troublemakers. Unlike MacDonald, whose book The Culture of Critique I do find generally "illuminating," I cannot make sense of what seems the civilizational self-loathing of Euro-American Christians exclusively or primarily by looking to Jewish minorities. The blame-the-Jews hypothesis remains an insufficient cause even if one accepts MacDonald’s barely demonstrated argument, that Jews naturally enjoy a standard deviation higher IQ than Euro-American Christians.

Unfortunately I’m always running into gentiles who do not have the pleasure of associating with Jews but believe, as self-mortifying Christians, all the platitudes about white Christian guilt preached by the Anti-Defamation League. From all accounts, Christian churches are full of such types, as witnessed by my almost judenrein Protestant college in which theologians and chaplains agonize over the historic Christian responsibility for the Holocaust and sexism.

Moreover, MacDonald argues on the basis of very limited knowledge of the ancient world that the Jews have always exhibited the same cultural traits he points to in contemporary Jewry. Personally I remain unconvinced by his attempt to trace lines of continuity in Jewish strategic responses to the surrounding world from the Exodus on. Also it is hard to imagine that the unkind attitudes toward Christian culture that is evident in Jewish intellectuals and Jewish special pleaders comes from a "competition for resources" being waged against gentiles.

Jewish fear of and dislike for Christians, which MacDonald illustrates in impressive detail, may explain this hostility better than the operation of social-evolutionary competition. So much by way of justification for my characterization of MacDonald’s opus as being "methodologically uneven."

Where Francis is on firmer ground is in attributing to me two beliefs that he emphatically rejects: accepting an "irrationalist explanation" for why the managerial class and those who submit to it think as they do; and assuming that political power in the modern world counts for a lot more than material resources. I see no reason to believe that "irrationalist explanations are never as persuasive as looking for perfectly rational reasons why an entire class thinks and behaves as it does." There is too much in human history that contradicts this Marxist certitude, which Burnham and now Francis are trying to refurbish, that all of the weird beliefs that dominant class have taught and enforced have existed to buttress and express their social dominance.

At least in the contemporary world the concept of "political religion," which emerged in interwar Germany, explains the cultic attraction of entire societies to the state, as a vehicle of human redemption or human perfection. On this point I am closer to Eric Voegelin and Hans Jonas, who wrote on this worship of the state as a religious act tied to a vision of historical and human fulfillment, than to Marx and Trotsky. And there is no reason to imagine that elites do not share widespread ideological beliefs, any more than to suppose that Henry VIII did not really believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation — but pretended to in order to remain King of England.

It is also questionable whether any sane elite would choose multicultural ideology on which to base its power. As Francis himself concedes, "the dynamics of managerial power undermines its own power" and does so by pushing a destructive body of beliefs that has nothing to do with rationality.

As for the relative ranking of economic power, it seems to me that what power is about is being able to force others to do as one wants. While money may be a means to achieve this end, monopolizing force, as the post-medieval state has done, is an even better way to get others to do one’s will. Moreover, in a mass democracy, as opposed to a regime based on real self-government, political leaders can acquire mass endorsement in return for redistributing wealth and by holding periodic plebiscites — organized by parties that belong to the system. Unlike "dictatorships" and traditional aristocratic societies, "democracies" can create consensus around their exercise and extension of power. Whether Fritz Thyssen and other falsely confident industrialists in the Third Reich or some hapless millionaire who failed to pay off the winning party or aroused popular envy, the rich are now subject to a political class — and often to a faceless bureaucratic one. It may be the ultimate Marxist superstition to think that economic disparities count for more than political ones — or that wealthy people must be in charge of the state because the government leaves them alone and takes their bribes.

Having said all of this, I am nonetheless grateful that Sam Francis devoted many pages of dense critical prose to my arguments. It speaks volumes that those on our side are willing to express their differences openly and sharply, unlike the army of zombies assembled by neocon publications and foundations. Obviously in reading my book, Francis noticed how much less of a Burnhamite I am than he is. This perception is true though subject to qualification. While I do not embrace The Managerial Revolution as the final key to modern historical change, Burnham’s conception of managerial rule has nonetheless affected my thinking deeply. What I have tried to do is remove the elements of dialectical materialism that came from his years as a communist theorist and to valorize the centrality of the "democratic" state in the success of the managerial revolution.

Where my book on multiculturalism goes beyond the treatment of administrative rule is the emphasis placed on the political religion of state-imposed diversity. Nowhere do I claim that the welfare state is benign without its multicultural exotica. What is maintained is that the identification of democracy with state administration and state indoctrination is necessary for the multicultural "war against discrimination," but that the second need not necessarily follow the first. Certain cultural-religious preconditions are essential for this to happen. My conclusions may not have pleased the semi-Trotskyist who penned The Managerial Revolution but it might have suited the author of The Suicide of the West, whose unsympathetic view of leftist pathology is clearly my own.

August 7, 2003

Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is professor of history at Elizabethtown College and author of, most recently, the highly recommended Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt.

Paul Gottfried Archives

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare
  • LRC Blog

  • LRC Podcasts