Friday, July 01, 2016

Francis on McCarthy

To repudiate McCarthyism, however, would be to accept not only the establishment but also the premises and agenda on which it operates, for the complex of public and private bureaucracies that compose the establishment is inseparable from the environmentalist, utopian, and social engineering functions that the premises and agenda of liberalism express and rationalize. The American Right, then, if it is serious about wanting to preserve the nation and its social fabric and political culture in any recognizable form, must continue to embrace Joe McCarthy and the kind of militant, popular, anti-liberal, and antiestablishment movement that he was the first to express on a national scale. 
One of the best essays, in my opinion was Francis's take on Joe McCarthy.  McCarthy is a much maligned figure in American history and undoubtably was a reckless man. However its important to remember that revolutions are not really started by intellectuals but by mortal, fallible men facing the contingencies of the time.  The prayers that reach God are not only uttered by saints but also by "sons of bitches" and Joe McCarthy seemed more of the latter. Burnham didn't like him, though he was too smart to disown outright, claiming that he was "anti anti-McCarthy". Whittaker Chambers also wanted to disassociate himself from McCarthy, not because he didn't recognise the validity of his claims, rather the recklessness of his methods was likely undermine the long term anti-liberal cause. He thought him as a "rabble rouser" who "simply knew the that a tomato had been thrown and the general direction from which it came."

By all accounts, McCarthy was not a "nice" man. Francis writes;
He violated the rules of the Senate as well as the standards of common decency. He physically attacked Drew Pearson. He lost his temper, bullied witnesses, talked dirty, and drank too much. He insulted such devoted public servants and stalwart patriots as Dean Acheson, Adlai Stevenson, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and George Marshall. He tried to link Stevenson with Alger Hiss, and he made attorney Joseph Welch cry on national television. Perhaps worst of all, when journalists or other senators called McCarthy a liar, a criminal, an extremist, a homosexual, or a fraud, he paid them back in the same coin with his distinctive gift for invective. Joe McCarthy said and did all these things and more, and the evil that inheres in them lives after him and recoils upon us to this day in the hatred that attaches to his cursed name. 
Francis recognises that McCarthy evokes a visceral hatred out of all proportion to the nature of McCarthy's "crimes", since many of the people and institutions that he did criticise were ultimately responsible for the deaths of millions of people. So why the hate? Francis writes;
The real reason for the hatred borne by the name of Joe McCarthy has little to do with the evil that is attributed to him or with his uncompromising anticommunism but rather with what he discovered about the forces—the people, ideas, and institutions—that by 1950 had come to dominate American government and public discourse and with what he communicated and exposed to the American people about those forces. McCarthy not only claimed that a communist presence had entered into the federal government but also that noncommunist or ostensibly anticommunist elements in the government and more broadly in the national elite were in some sense "soft" on or sympathetic to communism and, consequently, that they lacked the resolution to extirpate the internal communist presence and deal effectively with communism abroad. Even more, he suggested that the connection between the elite and the forces of subversion and aggression was in itself an indictment of the elite, regardless of whether its members were formally affiliated with communism, whether they had actually committed espionage or treason in a legal sense, or whether they verbally espoused opposition to communism. McCarthy, in other words, was not principally concerned with the issue of communism in government but with the relationship between communism and the elite, or establishment, and because his concern necessarily involved a militant challenge to and a rejection of the elite, it launched a massive political and verbal counterattack upon him, crushed him and the movement he created, and transformed him into the demonic embodiment of evil that moves among us even today.
Francis recognised that the changes bought about by the New Deal in the United States had effectively resulted in a displacement of America's traditional governing class and its replacement by a managerial class who, while opposed to the methods of communism, were quite sympathetic to its ends. This intellectual sympathy, rendered them "soft" when combating communism  and in many instance instances, wittingly or unwittingly, helped further along the communist cause.  Francis fully understood that liberalism--in the American sense--did not differ from communism by very much being simply a "softer" variant of it, a point that Francis further elaborates in the essay.

It's important to recognise significance of the liberal capture, especially in light of historical developments in the second half of the 20th Century, particularly with regard to the failure to contain Soviet aggression and the cultural collapse of traditional western society in the Sixties.

Liberals had captured all the key institutions by the early 50's, so it's no surprise that by the early Sixties, when the universities had started agitating for cultural change, the institutional pushback was not there. That's because the institutions were already in agreement with demands of the students. Mainstream America's attempt to push back against the tide was doomed to failure, since the institutions of government were against them. This also explains why relatively peaceful movement such as protests and civil disobedience were so effective out of all proportion to the efforts and why in a country like North Korea, where the managerial class is quite happy with the state of affairs, similar such protests are suicidal.

It also explains a lot of the conservative failure in pushing back the "left tide". Emulating the methods "left's success" i.e. protests and civil disobedience are likely to be ineffective, since the Left's methods are premised on having an elite that is sympathetic to their ideals. Conservatives, emulating their methods lack the pre-requisite elite support and likely to see their methods fail. But more importantly, conservatives using such methods are being diverted from more practical modes of opposition by using the civil rights paradigm as a model of resistance. If anyone doubts this the current institutional apathy in pursuing left wing groups who are violent towards the right are a case in point. Had a the roles been reversed, and a right wing group responsible, arrests would have been made. McCarthy was able to impress upon the public the extent of the liberal capture.

The elite's horror of McCarthy stems not from his failure to apply due process but rather the fact that he used their methods on them and was able to stage a populist revolt:
Nevertheless, it was not the minutiae of congressional investigations and the administration of federal laws and regulations that created McCarthy's following, nor did they significantly contribute to the hatred of him that the new elite exhibited. Had McCarthy announced, in Wheeling, West Virginia, on February 9, 1950, the discovery of Communists in labor unions rather than in the State Department, his speech would have attracted little notice. The State Department and the individuals whom McCarthy proceeded to identify by name were at the heart of the establishment and its agenda, and when McCarthy made bald assertions about their connections to communism, he was launching an attack upon the establishment that it could not ignore and which it could reciprocate only with hatred. Other criticisms of the elite from the Right—of its economic and foreign policies or of the constitutionality of its legal measures—did not challenge its fundamental legitimacy or its basic loyalty and integrity, nor did they generally suggest that the establishment was a distinct social and political, as well as an ideological, formation, implicitly and inherently alien and hostile to the mainstream of the nation[ED]. Hatred and destruction of McCarthy were the only possible responses to this kind of attack. Thomas Reeves says in his large biography of McCarthy that he is our King John. It may be more appropriate to say that he is the liberals "Trotsky", their Emmanuel Goldstein, their Jew. His very existence was a threat to their interests and power and was ultimately incompatible with their dominance in the United States. 
While most people recognise McCarthy as a red "witch hunter", Francis makes the crucial distinction in recognising that McCarthy was a populist witch hunter who had, for the first time, managed to organise some sort of pushback against the managerial state. Intellectuals may have been able to put forward good intellectual arguments against the New Deal but McCarthy was the first to organise a populist pushback.
It was McCarthy's accomplishment to infuse into the American Right the militancy of a counterrevolutionary movement, and the large following he attracted tends to confirm that there was indeed what Chambers called a "jagged fissure" between the elite and the "plain men and women of the nation" on the issue of the relationship between the elite and communism. The militant anti-liberal and anticommunist movement that McCarthy was the first to instigate also underlay the Goldwater movement of the early 1960s, the Wallace following of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the "New Right" of the last decade. Every time these mass expressions of anti-liberalism have appeared, mainstream conservatives and the Republican party have hastened to take political advantage of them and use them to gain political office—as Eisenhower did in 1952, Nixon in 1968, and Reagan in 1980. Yet every time also, those who gained office have proceeded to ignore, to compromise, or actually to betray the constituency on which their officeholding was based. They have done so because they are themselves part of or closely connected to the elite against which this constituency is mobilized. 
Francis casts McCarthy's legacy in a different light. While it is true that he was a flawed man, "the son of a bitch" was the first to politically challenge the liberal elite. Subsequent scholarship and particularly the disclosure of the Venona project have vindicated him to a degree, however Chambers assessment of him was ultimately correct; his faults and excess were ultimately his downfall.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I only want to say: Thank you for this series of posts about Francis.

Saying that they are enlightening is an understatement.

The Social Pathologist said...

Thanks for the feedback. I was getting the feeling that I wasn't getting much traction.

Samuel Nock said...

Very enlightening piece. By analogizing the old elite's relationship to communism with the current mainstream conservative movement's accommodation with the Left, you really clarify how correct McCarthy was and how much to the heart of things he was getting in drawing attention to this relationship.

You may also be interested in Francis' essay "Neoconservatism and Managerial Democracy: How Conservatism Evolved into the Right-Wing of the New Class". It is reprinted in Radix Journal vol. 2, The Great Purge.

More importantly, and exciting, Radix is just about to release, or may have released just today, Francis' heretofore unpublished book "Leviathan and its Enemies: Mass Organization and Managerial Power in the 20th Century". The Burnham influence is obvious even from the subtitle.

Link below for your reference.

http://www.radixjournal.com/books/leviathan

Wanda Sherratt said...

These essays are very interesting. I've received my copy of "Beautiful Losers" but haven't read it yet, and my limited reading of Burnham and Chambers is many years in the past, so I don't feel I have enough background to be able to comment.

The Social Pathologist said...

Thanks Sam

I'm looking forward to the book.

Colin Reily said...

Never left a comment before, but I love your blog. These ideas I have felt most of my life, but not had the proper language to express and refine until recently. Keep up the good work, you have expanded a number of minds.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Colin

Thanks a lot. It really is appreciated.

Jason said...

Another interesting essay, doctor, as usual, although honesty dictates that I register some respectful disagreement against you and Francis based on the excerpts provided. I think your potrayal of the elite of the late 40s and 50s, for example, should at least be qualified. By the time McCarthy made his famous Wheeling speech the Truman Administration - the liberal establishment par excellence, after all - was already comducting serious efforts to root out whatever remaining Communists there were in significant government organs. And on the Cold War front, remarkable - and often unpopular and costly - efforts had been made by that same elite to right the ship of state against the Soviet Union. For all of their flaws, I think Cold War liberals (of which there were many then) deserve tremendous credit for their brave and realistic (vs. populist and Manichean) statesmanship then. (Consider Truman's firing of the very populist MacArthur, which was widely criticized but ultimately considered by even the president's critics the wise thing to do.)

Jason said...

As you both point out the McCarthy phenomenon was much more than about spies in government. As I see it at least, it was in many ways a delayed reaction against the Roosevelt years, which conservatives were too weak to tackle at the time but could now against a less deft Truman (in 1946 the Republicans' campaign message was "Had enough?"). And of course there were some reasonable criticisms to be made, probably most notably against FDR's failure to limit more Stalin's conquests at the end of the war (e.g. in Czechoslovakia or the Balkans, where unlike in Poland or eastern German, in my opinion, we may have provided better protection if we had been more longheaded). Yet I think McCarthy's supporters often went well beyond such legitimate criticism and were just hysterical, labeling members of the elite traitors because they "lost China [as if we ever had that country in the first place]" or "sold out the Poles at Yalta [as if there is anything realistic we could have done againt Stalin at that point, who had every reason from his point of view for keeping the country under his tight grip]." Frankly, I think many of such critics (interstingly enough often 2nd generation ethnics - Croats, Irish, Slovaks, etc.) in their perhaps understandable frustration were simply unwilling to admit then what a Mccarthy supporter like Pat Buchanan asserts now, that the U.S. shouldn't have fought the Nazis and that half of Europe under Stalin was worse than all of Europe under Hitler.

Jason said...

In making these qualifications, I certainly don't want to appear unsympathetic to your thesis. A level of populism in our age of mass democracy is inevitable and probably salutary if handled well. But there's the rub - mastering and taming such an unruly horse requires great character and intelligence, qualities that fortunately individuals like Truman, Ike, and Reagan had and which they used to channel Americans' strong anti-Communism, that compund of noble and ingnorant elements, into productive channels. For most politicians alas, populism becomes a tiger that they mount and then realize to their consternation they cannot let go of, and they end up wreaking havoc and immense collelaterol damge. Such is what I believe occured with McCarthy, and will I suspect also happen with a President Trump.

Jason said...

But you know, perhaps theorizing about all of this is moot. Whether Trump is elected or not, we probably will soon be entering a period of much greater populism. The results of it will be plain for everyone to see, in Technicolor, and we'll find out if you and Francis are right.

Just to answer your question doctor from another thread, I first went to Germany as a little kid with my family (my maternal grandmother was Pomeranian and had after the war lived in Munich for a bit) and off on my own as an adolescent, and later visited Moscow as an undergraduate (a mission trip, when I was still devout). More significantly, I taught ESL after college in eastern Slovakia 1997-1998 which gave me some opportunity for wandering around the continent, and have travelled around Europe sporadically since then (only Central Europe, except for my recent trip with my mom to Italy where we commemerated my late sister). I don't mention all this to toot my horn or anything but simply to suggest the joy I get out of travel, which does a lot of good for my soul and temperament.

The Social Pathologist said...

Thanks for the comments Jason,

Unfortunately, I can't comment on them (as yet)as I'm just about the fly out of the country. I will respond when I get back. (about 4 weeks)

Just wouldn't mind leaving you with this link which I feel is pertinent to your points.

http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/hiss/nixononhisscase.html

Augustina said...

I too would like to add my compliments of your blog. Your research and essays are eye opening, and insightful. I learn a great deal from every post. Your efforts are very much appreciated. Keep it up!

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