The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Thursday, December 22, 2005

The "Armoury of Weapons for Authoritarian Movements"

On several occasions, I've posted links to articles detailing the "fourteen characteristics of fascism" (including the link above). Their eerie familiarity to anyone who follows the shenanigans of Bush Republicans is the stuff of nightmares. But let's go ahead and turn up the intellectual burner a bit

But last night, as I was revisiting a book by my favorite modern thinker, Sir Karl Popper, I came across another list of things common to all authoritarian regimes of his own device. Popper knows what he's talking about when it comes to fascist regimes. The physicist and philosopher was a tireless proponent of democracy and liberty, leaving his native Austria after its capitulation to the Nazi regime, never to return.

Here's a paraphrasing of Popper's list, from Chapter 12 of "The Open Society and its Enemies," first published in 1961. It chilled me to the bone to see that what Popper terms the "perennial revolt against freedom and reason" is now being fought in the United States.

1. Nationalism; the concept of a chosen nation destined for world domination.

2. The state's identity as fundamentally unlike other states-- emphasis on differences, and why they must be maintained to preserve the state.

3. Exemption from moral obligation; "historical success" as the sole judgment. The ends justify the means, up to and including propaganda and lies.

4. War as a moral imperative. War is not only inevitable, but sometimes a desirable way to strengthen the state. Military superiority is evidence of state superiority.

5. "The creative role of the Great Man," what Hegel called the "World Historical Personality," and Popper describes as the religion of glory. The "Great Man" despises public opinion in his desire to achieve something great-- indecision or moral obligations only spoil his chances of success.

6. The ideal of a heroic life. Life is not about rationality or reason, but action. The more sweeping and dramatic the action, the better one has lived.

Even this cursory listing sets off some warning bells. Especially in a week where Bush has been desperately arguing for the morality of the war even as he (sort of) acknowledges that the administration distorted the facts in making the case for war. Bush loves to portray himself as the man willing to do what he believes, regardless of popular opinion, and frequently insists that "history will be his judge."

I would highly recommend Popper's book, especially Volume II.