Friday, June 10, 2016

Journal of American Greatness

This post is a little complicated. First off, I came across this column [link] that starts off a bit weirdly, but bear with me. Read this and then I'll chime in:

Trumpism for intellectuals

Damon Linker

Martin Heidegger's decision to embrace the National Socialist movement is the most notorious case of political malfeasance on the part of a philosopher in a century filled with competing examples. The Heidegger case belongs in a separate category both because of the execrable moral status of the movement and its leader, and because of the thinker's status as arguably the greatest philosopher of the 20th century. What accounts for Heidegger's fateful act of political engagement? How is it related to his thought? And is the one unavoidably tainted by the other?

Dozens of scholars and intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic have debated these questions for years, as more and more sordid details of Heidegger's writing and actions during the 1930s have come to light and been published. Perhaps most troubling of all is the fact that Heidegger never really repudiated his Nazism, at least in moral terms. Throughout the remainder of his life (he died in 1976), he emphasized that Hitler and the Nazis had profoundly disappointed him — but his criticisms amounted to saying that they had failed to realize the considerable potential he (and perhaps he alone) had discerned within them.

One might say that Heidegger was and remained an idealistic National Socialist.

Heidegger's judgment of the Nazis has been much on my mind since reading a recent Peggy Noonan column about an obscure but exceedingly interesting website called the Journal of American Greatness (abbreviated JAG) — really an anonymous collective blog for idealistic admirers of Donald Trump.

Now, to be clear: Trump is not Adolf Hitler. And a thoroughly Trumpified GOP would not be a resurrected National Socialist party. (Though it's also true that Nazi sympathizers would be among its most motivated and enthusiastic supporters).

Still, pondering the parallels between Heidegger's judgments and those on display in JAG is a useful and illuminating exercise. JAG's contributors are very smart, very thoughtful provocateurs who recognize many of Trump's faults as a candidate and a person. And yet, they stand behind him. On an informational page of the website, they answer the question "Do you really support Trump?" by declaring, "We support Trumpism, defined as secure borders, economic nationalism, interests-based foreign policy, and above all judging every government action through a single lens: Does this help or harm Americans? For now, the principal vehicle of Trumpism is Trump."

Which is a little like supporting an intellectualized form of National Socialism while conceding that its leader is a bit of a loon.

The parallel is useful and illuminating not because Trump is a would-be totalitarian dictator and mass murderer, but because in both cases the gap between the idealized version of the movement and the actual person leading that movement was and is enormous and almost certainly insurmountable

You can read the whole thing here:

Okay. Despite his disclaimers, a quick read of this column suggests that we are supposed to compare Trump to Hitler, and you wonder why, if he doesn't want us to, he brings up Heidegger and the National Socialists at all. His point, that there is often a gap between the intellectual underpinnings of a movement and the leader of the movement is certainly true, but he could have used a multitude of other examples without lurching into Godwin's Law [link] at the outset. The American Revolution would be a better example, come to think of it. George Washington wasn't a great theorist, but he was a great leader. Likewise, FDR wasn't a deep thinker, and the theories behind the New Deal were devised by others, but, again, FDR was an excellent leader to promote the theories.

And, though I don't like the way he says it, he's probably right that there are better theoreticians of Trumpism than Trump, but Trump has shown himself to be an excellent leader of Trumpism. For that matter, Pat Buchanan worked out most of the intellectual underpinnings of Trumpism years ago, but Trump is the one to put them into effect.

As an aside, what about Hillaryism? Who's a good theoretician of that? Only one possible answer to that — Saul Alinsky.

So, fun to read, maybe, but never mind the snarkiness of this Linker fellow. His very name indicates that he's better at linking to things than writing about them. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

The important thing, indeed, is that he led me to, and, interestingly, the first post there (as of this reading) is an answer to Linker's column, so go there and read that next. I'm going to put it in the Blogroll for your convenience.

Quibcags: First one is llustrated by Holo, of Spice and Wolf (狼と香辛料 Ōkami to Kōshinryō?, lit. Wolf and Spice), the second is an older one, and I don't remember where I got the illustration.


  1. Hitler's - and the 3rd Reich's problem was mainly impatience. Lebensraum didn't require attacking the UK or Russia or allying with Japan when they bombed Pearl Harbor. Nor did it require the mass slaughter of Jews - but for some reason (perhaps diabolical hubris in their tempters) they decided to expend resources to fight on multiple fronts and to keeping the camps open.

    Not that a Third Reich wouldn't be evil even if confined to the subcontinent, only that like Rawanda, the Armenians, and the Ukranians, we would have looked the other way as we do on Abortion today. We would have traded with them and learned to give as gifts imported chocolates with swastikas.

    And that is the reason Trump is NOT Hitler. Hitler never had to build things or run a business or a highly rated reality TV show. All the evils of national socialism also are inefficient and ugly. Trump rejects both. If a Trump existed in 1945, he would have closed the camps (as he hopefully will close the departments of Education, the EPA, IRS, NHTSA, etc.) and concentrated on making the Reich great.

    There is a tendency to over-analyze Trump. That is why it fails. He really is simple (though not shallow). He doesn't have some big overarching ideology or principle, nor does he care about the various clubs of the elite. The bull does not care about the origin of the china in the china shop.

  2. Sigh. Another set of long reads, especially since they quote things like this:

    The Constitution, therefore, is not a guarantee of good government; it is not a machine that runs itself. Each generation has the responsibility to make it a success, and the wisdom of the Founders is more a challenge to choose freely and well than a solution we have merely to accept.

    Or to encapsulate the object of American exceptionalism: America is an attempt to write a program for liberty, but throws an exception occasionally when a bug is found.

  3. It is even more exceptional than that.

    America's Constitution is an attempt to forge a nation with a narrow but still significant diversity based on separation and dispersing power, and to be a nation not of blood, or tribal passion, but of reason.

    The French attempted it, but without the dispersion of power, and without attempting to create a unified umbrella upon which diverse views could flourish. They addressed the failures by the guillotine, but still eventually crashed as power was concentrated and caused corruption not unlike concentrated radioactivity.

    The founders realized they needed fire, but knew that it was unsafe and normally ended in a conflagration that destroyed everything. The Constitution is the Internal Combustion equivalent of a political system.