Authoritarians – On the Wrong Side of Both American Civil Wars

(Note: Authoritarian is used throughout this blog in the context of a personality type – not in the sense of a figure of authority such as a policeman, boss or Army general.)

While maintaining this blog for the last couple of years, I have spent more time watching interviews and book reviews on the CSPAN channels than ever before, and searching the internet for information that might help me add to the theme of this blog: Where Are We Going and how did we get where we are now.

The answers have come from many sources.

The first was a list of 14 “common threads” that were derived by Laurence W. Britt after reviewing 7 authoritarian regimes. Next came John Dean’s book Conservatives Without Conscience, which I have summarized in this blog. His book lead to two other areas that helped with understanding our recent direction toward a “single-party state.” One was the extensive work by Professor Robert Altemeyer from the University of Manitoba, Canada, on authoritarianism that grew out of other studies on Germany’s hegemony during WWII. The work of John Dean linked Altemeyer’s authoritarian studies to the neoconservatives and the religious right. This lead to the work of Dr. Shadia Drury on Leo Strauss, a refugee from Nazi Germany, and his extension of the teachings of Plato to what went wrong in Germany and what is going wrong in America. The teachings of Professor Strauss are used by Irving Kristol, his son William Kristol, and other neocons to try and rid us of too many freedoms. Dr. Drury put it this way, “The neoconservative goal is reactionary in the classic sense of the term. It is nothing short of turning the clock back on the liberal revolution. And it will use democracy to accomplish its task. After all, Strauss had no objections to democracy as long as a wise elite, inspired by the profound truths of the ancients, was able to shape, invent, or create the will of the people. In his interpretation of Plato’s myth of the cave, Strauss maintained that the philosophers who return to the cave should not bring in truth; instead, the philosophers should seek to manipulate the images in the cave, so that the people will remain in the stupor to which they are supremely fit.”

Another aspect of today’s current situation is how it relates to the Nixon administration and the culture war that started in the 60’s. We have had two key players and one tyro (beginner) from Nixon’s reign working for his highness Bush: Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove who was a college Republican working for the Nixon campaign. We also have the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 that resulted from Nixon’s “bad deeds” and has been ignored and subverted by the current administration for the sake of providing us a false sense of security.

This posting is adding another aspect of how the 60’s contributed to the current situation.

The right wing authoritarians of today were galvanized during the 60’s by a rejection of a few critical authoritarian boundaries which limited people’s freedoms and liberties, but they were boundaries which the right needed to feel secure. They needed the limitations to freedoms and liberties for fear of falling prey to them. They needed someone to protect them from themselves and others who might ‘infect’ them. These are the same freedoms the Taliban tries to control, only they do it with theocracy enforced by religious zealots with guns.

Here is what a few others have said recently about the 60’s and the resulting second “American Civil War.”

Steven M. Gillon discusses the cultural divide of the 60’s:

A few years ago, while doing research for my book, The Pact: Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the Rivalry that Defined a Generation, I asked President Clinton to highlight his differences with Speaker Gingrich. “If you want to understand the differences between me and Newt you have to go back to the 60s,” he told me. “If you think the 60s were generally good, chances are you are a liberal. If you think the 60s were bad, chances are you’re a conservative.”

Just as the military battle between North and South in the 1860s molded American politics for the rest of that century, so the cultural civil war of the 1960s has defined politics in our time. The clashes between protesters and police in the streets of Berkeley, Chicago, and Detroit were far less violent than the bloody battles between Union and Confederate armies that took in [sic] place at Bull Run, Antietam, and Gettysburg. Both civil wars, however, produced a generation that was scarred by the memory of the struggle, deeply divided over its meaning, and determined to win a long-term fight for the hearts and minds of the American people.

What are they fighting about? The ideological struggle over the meaning of the 1960s boils down to a debate over what I refer to as a “culture of choice.” The clashes over Vietnam, racial rioting, and student protesting have faded into memory, but they have left a lasting impression on the nation. Taken together the social movements of the decade expanded the range of individual choices people have about the way they live their lives. The civil rights movement dramatically expanded options for African-Americans. Along the way, it spearheaded other empowerment movements, especially for women and homosexuals. The range of choices expanded beyond political rights into the world of culture, where many young people questioned all forms of authority and loosened the rules of behavior that had guided their parent’s generation. That cultural revolution had a ripple effect that touched nearly every institution in society.

The dramatic changes prompted a backlash among traditionalists who complained that “counterculture” values had seeped into every institution of American society, breeding permissiveness and eroding the moral glue that held society together. Neoconservative thinkers focused on the public policy consequences of a culture that valued liberation over responsibility, claiming that the abandonment of older values such as family, hard work, and discipline have produced an epidemic of divorce, poverty, and crime. At the same time, religious fundamentalists probed the moral and religious results, claiming the culture of individualism led to moral decay. [Neocons and religious fundamentalists are two sides of the same authoritarian coin.]

The Republican Party … has become home to conservatives who advocate a “culture of authority.” They have turned the decade into a metaphor for a constellation of issues that resonated with millions of Americans who feared the erosion of traditional values and authority in society. For them, mention of the “60s” produces subliminal images of privileged students burning the American flag, radical feminists assaulting the family, militant minorities rioting in the streets, arrogant intellectuals mocking cherished values and blurring the distinction between right and wrong, and faceless government bureaucrats wasting hard-earned tax dollars while people on welfare did not have to work.

The clash between these two competing views of the 1960s reached a fever pitch during the impeachment debate in the final years of the Clinton administration. “Why do you hate Clinton so much?” an interviewer asked a prominent conservative. The response: Because “he’s a womanizing, Elvis-loving, non-inhaling, truth-shading, war-protesting, draft-dodging, abortion-protecting, gay-promoting, gun-hating baby boomer. That’s why.”

Joseph A. Palermo, comments on a conservative’s view of the 60’s:

The dominant trope driving Tom Brokaw’s interpretation of the meaning of 1968 for the History Channel goes something like this: The “Greatest Generation” had set up a period of quietude and tranquility that the tumult of the 1960s rudely shattered. He blames the “excesses” of the 1960s, not surprisingly, on the Left and on the kids, and indirectly on the Democratic Party.

“To many,” Brokaw intones, it seemed as though “the social fabric was unraveling” in 1968, and this, he explains, was how Richard Nixon was elected. Brokaw’s narrative is neat and clean: Nixon appealed to the social conservatives who were repelled by the “excesses” of the middle-class youth movement. Nixon promised to bring America back to that fabled (and non-existent) tranquil period of quietude of the 1950s ….

Forty years later, we have a huge national debt, (about $9.8 trillion), a debilitating occupation of an Arab country, gaping current account deficits with the rest of the world, an economic meltdown awaiting due to reckless de-regulation and privatization, and a government that seems unwilling or unable to tackle any of the nation’s most pressing problems. All of this governmental ineptitude and corruption seems natural under Republican rule because the Right never really believed in the power of government to do anything positive anyway so it becomes a convenient self-fulfilling prophecy.

Making matters worse, the right-wing baby boomers, like George W. Bush, Paul Wolfowitz, and Grover Norquist, who got draft deferments and were out waving the American flag when most of their generation was protesting the war, have created the worst mess for the nation since at least the Civil War. Brokaw’s underlying assumption is that the country is better off under conservatives because their values mirror the values of his father and those of the “greatest generation” more so than the baby boomers.

Brokaw accepts the premise that America is more “conservative” today, but one could just as easily argue that the workforce is simply more insecure and scared today; the cold hand of the market has disciplined their wayward children far more severely and effectively than their parents ever could. Compared to 1968, the U.S. economy is a shell of its former self, and the new status quo that Brokaw lauds limits opportunity even while the government has grown more authoritarian and nakedly imperialistic.

Our kids today have it a lot harder than we had it — we had far more support from the government in the form of educational and economic opportunities. There is relative quiet in 2008, even with an unpopular foreign war dragging on, because the conservative agenda has helped facilitate fear in the population on all levels, and its cynical brand of divide-and-conquer politics have demoralized would-be idealists. For over 30 years now the Republicans have told young people not to bother dreaming of creating a better world in the future. “Idealism is Dead,” they say in word and deed. Better to pile up material goods and be obedient consumers than act as politically engaged citizens.

There is nothing “great” about a generation — “conservative,” “liberal,” or otherwise — that tells its kids to stop dreaming of a better world, and holds as its creed that government cannot do anything positive for the people, that we should focus on what we cannot do as a nation, instead of what we can do, (or must do). Just look at the lack of “vision” of the current crop of Republican presidential candidates. At least in 1968 young people had hope and could dream of a better planet and a better future. Brokaw comes down on the side of the stern father shaming those unruly children for their “excesses,” while he ignores the damage to the nation his “conservative” heroes in his morality play have brought about.

Blake Fleetwood shares his near death experience of the 60’s and included this:

1968 was a heady time.

All over the world, students were angry and challenging authority.

It was the time of the Prague Spring and, later that summer in Czechoslovakia, there were more demonstrations against Russian troops. There were also demonstrations in Poland (against Soviet domination), France (against the Algerian war), and Mexico (against a feudal ruling class), to name a few.

But the real legacy of the ’68 turmoil was the idea that young people and students had the obligation to challenge authority, to question assumptions… and could succeed.

We drew strength from Robert F. Kennedy’s words when he told us, “Let us not have tired answers.”

This spirit of questioning and change from the Civil Rights movement and the sixties taught every succeeding generation of students and young people that they must speak truth to power. That it is their civic duty.

The women’s movement, the environmental movement, the Civil Rights movement, and the current anti Iraq War movement have all built on this legacy of questioning what is.

This attitude was a radical departure from the complacency of those students who grew up during World War II and the Fifties, when challenging authority was out of the question.

Robert S. McElvaine, in his discussion of “America’s 40 Years War,” added this:

The charge of “elitism” is one that Republicans have heaved at Democratic candidates to great advantage since the Sixties. Indeed, the Republican Party has been running as the anti-Sixties party for four decades now. That has been the main casus belli in America’s Forty Years War.

It was in the 1960s that the Republican Party–long (and still) the party of the economic elite–found a way to redirect the anti-elitism of Main Street from its traditional target, Wall Street, toward other thoroughfares that were disliked by Main Street: Pennsylvania and Telegraph Avenues and Santa Monica Boulevard, not to mention Harvard Yard.

McElvaine’s article went on to describe how Richard Nixon, Pat Buchanan and other Republican Presidents started and maintained this 40 year culture war. It was to the benefit of the economic elite and on the back of those on the other end of the economic spectrum. “Republicans have raised the specter of ‘class warfare’ every time Democrats attempt to point out to the victims of the economic elites what is being done to them by Republican policies.”

So, part of why we are where we are today, on the verge of a single-party system, a theocracy, a dictatorship, is that the authoritarians (conservatives without conscience) of the 40 year cultural civil war, similar to those in Laurence W. Britt’s seven authoritarian regimes referenced at the beginning of this posting, want to control the freedom and liberties of others based on their Leo Strauss neocon philosophies and religious right beliefs.



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About Andy Hailey

Vietnam Vet, UT El Paso Grad, Retired Aerospace Engineer, former union rep, 60's Republican now progressive, web admin, blogger.

One Response to Authoritarians – On the Wrong Side of Both American Civil Wars

  1. Andy Hailey says:

    Here’s a response I received from an long time aquaintance:

    “Most of this stuff is wrong or reversed, and Sounds like some major propaganda from the democrat website.

    “That stuff needs some fact checking.

    “That stuff on McCain, dont know some of it. He’s seems in many ways more of a perfect Democrat. I guess I’m one of those conservatives.”

    I replied with:

    “So fact check it – the www is at your Mac. But I don’t us the Democrat or Republican websites. I use others who have done the research and don’t have a horse in the race. Jim also has his own resources for the Bad Deeds, which are numerous.

    “So, if you see two Democrats running and your a conservative, are you not voting next November?”