Friday, May 12, 2006

George W. Bush, Carl Schmitt, and Hannah Arendt

I have consistently argued for a deep resonance between tenets in the work of Carl Schmitt, Leo Strauss, and Bush Doctrine police-state neoconservatism. I do not say the Bush regime is fascist, but I do say that you have to study fascism to understand a lot of what they do. There are profound agreements and significant disagreements between the way Bushco runs things and the way the two fantasied enemies of the administration, WWII era German Nazis and Japanese militarists, ran their programs.

The official GOP understanding of judges who interpret law with an eye toward social welfare and distributive justice as dictatorial activist legislators was a case Carl Schmitt had already made in the twenties (it should be noted Schmitt himself was hardly an unqualified representative of Nazi doctrine). Schmitt argued that distributive justice was opposed to democracy in principle. Both Leo Srauss and F.A. Hayek, the icons of GOP movement conservatism, share this view. The conclusion that Schmitt drew from this belief was that true democracy was a function of assent rather than formal legal process that could be sidetracked by the letter of the law. Distributive justice was liberalism. Assent to the authority of the leader by the people was true democracy. I think this attitude is quite strong in the GOP. This is a connection Jay Rosen of PressThink appears to have implicitly moved closer to in his more recent, more critical posts regarding McClellan-era Bush administraton PR assumptions of assent to authority and contempt for persuasion.

Hannah Arendt argues that Nazism was a movement that was opposed to party and state structure and hierarchy. Generating an image of infallibility and actively creating a world that backed up the organizing ideological fiction--in this case that the GOP is faced with a liberal conspiracy they must conspiratorially organize against to overcome, manifested most profoundly in the liberal bias of journalists individually and mass media organizations generically--were top priorities.

As for differences, while the Fox/Limbaugh axis has done an impressive job of keeping the organizing ideological fiction of the movement going the last five years in the face of all facts to the contrary, actively refusing to adjust the ideology to the well-known liberal bias of reality, Rove and Bush's consistently demonstrated concern to return value for cash on the barrelhead stakeholders such as Big Oil, Big pharma, transnational bankers, and transnational contractors like Halliburton and the Dubai port management group show a patent failure to stick to the "crusading nationalists versus sell-out atheist liberal traitor" script. As dangerously incompetent as Bushco is, in this sense (at least so far) they still seem to be much more reality-based than the Nazi party.

Regarding Bush administration militarization of US foreign policy, the distinctions between Bush, Nazi, and Japanese militarist policy are much more subtle and difficult to discern. If the last two official US "defense" strategy papers were not doctrines of global military domination, it's hard to imagine what might qualify.

I'll leave you with a quote from Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism that seems particularly appropriate to more recent developments over the last few weeks:

Practically speaking, the paradox of totalitarianism in power is that the possession of all instruments of governmental power and violence in one country is not an unmixed blessing for a totalitarian movement. Its disregard for facts, its strict adherence to the rules of a fictitious world, becomes steadily more difficult to maintain, yet remains as essential as it was before. Power means a direct confrontation with reality, and totalitarianism is constantly concerned with overcoming this challenge. Propaganda and organization no longer suffice to assert that the impossible is possible, that the incredible is true, that an insane consistency rules the world; the chief psychological support of totalitarian fiction—the active resentment of the status quo, which the masses refuse to accept as the only possible world—is no longer there; every bit of factual information that leaks through the iron curtain, set up against the ever-threatening flood of reality from the other, nontotalitarian side, is a greater menace to totalitarian domination than counterpropaganda has been to totalitarian movements.
p.510