By David G. Hanger
December 27, 2010
Somewhere between about 1600 and 1790 the first “nation” in the world emerged. Before then there were empires, kingdoms, dukedoms, and tribal regions, but there were no “nations.” Nationhood is a much more modern concept that has a lot to do with the Atlantic Ocean, the New World, trade, and who had control over the manufacture of cannon. Religion as an issue in Europe was essentially resolved by 1648 with the treaties that concluded the Thirty Years War, thus other concerns were allowed to emerge in determining the course of boundaries.
Despite religious differences that basically divided the country north and south, reflected in fact by the two names, the Netherlands and Holland, which actually were once two different countries, call it what you may, the Dutch probably deserve credit for establishing the first real “nation.” They had a tendency to assassinate their stadtholders, thus a severe shortage of available nobles, so among their many other achievements of the seventeenth century they created the first modern officer corps, invented capitalism and most of what we take not only as modern art but also its reason for being. A noble was still elected or appointed “king,” but the wealth derived from trade was what motivated the Dutch, and any “king” who got in the way of that had his reign abruptly concluded. The rough edges suggest more of a proto-nation, and limited geographical barriers caused its subjugation by Louis XIV by the end of the century.
While Spain demonstrated what New World wealth could do for what was otherwise a relatively moribund kingdom, it did not evolve beyond the status of a kingdom until at least the middle of the nineteenth century, and it is arguable then. Spain’s natural geographical barriers have established its boundaries, but within those boundaries to this day its internal politics remain recidivist.
France is a more interesting example in the sense that it established its nationality via star forts and cannons. Centralized control of cannon manufacture allowed the king to knock down the walls of any castle or town that resisted central authority, and all over France the walls came down. The frontiers were thereafter sealed by the star forts of Vauban and his successors. Both France and Spain had thereby more or less established their current geographic boundaries by the middle of the seventeenth century, but as with the case of Spain, France remained a kingdom or an empire until at least the middle of the nineteenth century.
An interesting feature of this evolution of “nation” status is how it traces itself from its roots in Holland through Great Britain and on to the United States. As is said of capitalism, the Dutch invented it, the Brits improved upon it, and the Americans made it fly. (A cautionary note about kites is here included.) “Nation” is thus a word that originates in its modern form and definition as a substitute for something that is not a kingdom or an empire, and that is defined and established in its fundamental aspects from the bottom up rather than from the top down. This is not in fact a question of central authority or control, but instead who is in charge of that central authority or control.
The first three nations in the world were the Dutch, Great Britain, and the United States, in that order. Nationhood was established by the people via internal violence against those then in charge in all three instances, and in all three instances the people have basically been in charge ever since. Empires and kingdoms by the middle of the nineteenth century began in some instances to refer to themselves as nations, but clearly at that time such usage was euphemistic at best. Thereafter, Euro-centric, and undoubtedly in many instances eccentric to the point of insanity, surveyors chopped up the world with boundary lines that hardly make sense, and called what was inside this nation or that.
Between Jesus Christ, Mohammed, and the modern day the single most important human being is Napoleon Bonaparte, and it is simple fact that much of modern scholarship, including the –isms, is all about trying to figure out what that man unleashed. The prototype for modern totalitarianism, he is also the prototype for egalitarianism and libertarianism. Under Napoleon, sergeants and blacksmiths became field marshals, and Gascon con men and family members became kings. Merit was the path to a marshal’s baton, graft and nepotism the path to higher position, but all was in the service of the libertarian of all libertarians, the Emperor himself, self-appointed and self-crowned; the first modern dictator in all but name.
As courses of study, military history and military science originated as efforts to comprehend his campaigns. By destroying any remaining logic to the right of rule as a matter of birth, he opened the door to any multitude of options as substitute, and, obviously, many of those options have been attempted. The “-isms” began not with political science but with economics, the dismal science. Karl Marx was an economist, but his concepts became the ideological fodder of politicians. Marxists, anarchists, and trade unions were all opponents to the established “conservative” order, the Hapsburg empiricists, or the Prussian militarists, for example.
Certainly beyond the tenets of liberalism in that they call for the complete rearrangement, if not the destruction of the established order, anarchists and Marxists were referred to the left of both liberalism and classic liberalism (which actually means something quite different) since both were extreme political views relative to the mean. But the first question is not the definitional meaning of the relative terms “liberal” and “conservative” and their relationship to the mean, or to the center, but rather what and where is the center? What is eminently clear is that in a century-and-a-half in the United States the polarities have exchanged places, the Republicans now being perceived (legitimately) as conservative to the point of being reactionary, right wing extremists; the Democrats (not as legitimately) as left of center liberals.
By the end of World War I one set of extremely self-righteous, self-centered, and inbred goofballs in fancy uniform and dress were in the final stages of being replaced by a somewhat more dubious bunch of self-righteous and self-centered mongrel goofballs in even fancier uniform and dress. Within days of the conclusion of actual hostilities in Germany and in Italy, the uniformed fruitcakes who brought us fascism and Nazism were already in operation. With their emphasis on order combined with centrality of political control, clearly these were conservative, anti-progressive movements, but what placed them beyond the bounds of traditional conservatism was their intolerance of all views and parties other than their own, and their willingness to use violence to get and maintain political control; hence, Nazism and fascism, essentially national variants of similar political philosophies were referred to the right wing of the political spectrum.
While the center of this political spectrum of views remains mysteriously undefined and amorphous; an apparent dead zone of calmness and platitudinous nothingness; our contemporary right and left wings are now clearly defined. To the immediate right of center are conservatives, then extreme conservatives, and then fascists or Nazis. In short, if you are extreme in your conservative views, it is not entirely unreasonable for a political opponent to refer to you as a fascist or a Nazi.
To the left we have classic liberals (essentially a class conscious centrist philosophy), liberals, progressives, progressive liberals, socialists, and communists, more or less. There are a variety of brands in addition, to be sure, and a problem for right wingers in that there are too many meaningless labels, and few that have any real sting. Calling a left-wing political opponent a Communist, for example, is a clarion admission of the name caller’s ignorance and stupidity for the simple reason that liberals also believe in a market economy; labeling a leftie a socialist is about as ho-hum as one can get. All North American and European governments are socialistic to a greater or lesser degree, thus such labeling is about as meaningless as it gets.
Putting a Hitler moustache on a picture of Barack Obama and calling him a Nazi tells us straight off that you are a pretty dim bulb. Better that you just admit that you don’t like the guy because he is black, because someone else told you he was born in a different country even though his birth certificate says otherwise, and because you are so uneducated and/or ignorant that you let some moron on the radio or at the bar do your thinking for you.
If you want to insult him in accordance with a directional proximity of his political beliefs, put a hammer and sickle over his head and a Stalin moustache on him. At least then we know you have some sense of direction.
Rather than this rightie/leftie stuff being a matter of straight-line delineation on a graph, the extremes of the right or of the left tend to end up in the same place, totalitarianism. Stalin and Mao were the great purportedly left-wing (Communist) dictators of the twentieth century, each responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of their own citizens. Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco were the notable right wing dictators of the twentieth century. Mussolini’s act was essentially self-centered buffoonery, and despite his grandiose illusions, as killer he was a small-time punk. Hitler and Franco were complete psychopaths by comparison, each responsible for massive killings of internal political opponents, and in Hitler’s case the opportunity to export his killing to other countries, there to magnify his body count into the tens of millions.
The three notable differences between these dictatorships of the right and of the left are the righties wore fancy uniforms, and the lefties invariably wore much drabber garb. The righties killed tens of millions of citizens of other countries; the lefties tens of millions of their own. The final difference is the Communist dictatorships lasted considerably longer; China and North Korea are still Communist, in the case of China today in name only. But whatever the label, all of these operations were one-party, one-man dictatorships. I think any of them capable of killing in large numbers the citizens of another country, even though they have not done it yet.
Rather than a linear progression, it does seem to be rather circular with totalitarianism being monstrous in whatever form. Those are the governments that kill people by the millions. Rationalists of both the left and the right understand clearly the hazard of these extremes.
No commentator or elected official who is left of center in this country is calling for any kind of extreme left-wing position; another simple fact. The left in the last three decades has moved so far toward the center that arguably it is the center of the political spectrum. Barack Obama is not a liberal in any sense of the term; he is a wishy-washy moderate conservative who wants to compromise away everything.
The right wing in this country has taken on a completely different character. In a system they claim they worship, a system designed for compromise as a matter of routine, the very word has been officially removed from the vocabulary of these so-called conservatives, whose intolerance has already crossed the extremist boundary of thinking the dull clanging that goes on between their ears is the only possibility among all possibilities, and anyone who disagrees should be dead.
The arrogance of these people is amazingly unbounded. Taught now in many of these right-wing churches is the same resurrectionist nonsense foisted on the poor youngsters who became the cannon fodder of the American Civil War. Follow the one-way, my one-way, or else; it’s not a matter of hell or purgatory, oh no. For any non-believer in the one way has no soul. We are all meaningless, soulless husks if we don’t believe in the one way. Killing such a soulless husk is as consequential as shucking corn.
Anyone who claims factual knowledge of the great beyond is a fool, a fraud, or a liar, possibly all simultaneously. Believe what you want to believe, but respect the fact that your belief is equal in all measure to what anyone else might believe. If you don’t get that, start working on it real hard; you are not in any sense a civilized individual until you do. Everyone fears death; no one really knows what is beyond the door. There will be plenty who yell loudly that they do.
But with this as their foundation it becomes easier, particularly when egged on by the right wing propaganda machine, for them to view many of their neighbors as future victims; soulless husks dumped in a pile by the side of the road. We have already moved well beyond the insipid verbiage of “sprinkling the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” to electing to public office pugs whose storm troopers are physically beating up their political opposition, in the case of Rand Paul right in front of him. Joe Miller’s new (old) right wing political philosophy called for the elimination of food stamps, unemployment, social security, etc., etc., as unconstitutional, all at a time when the corruption of the super rich has left us with an actual unemployment rate of twenty percent. In short, Joe Miller, along with Bill O’Reilly, is fully prepared to let tens of millions of Americans starve to death because they are such a useless drag on the economy and on the body politic. That is in fact what they are actually proposing.
Thousands of Americans have already died from starvation, cold, or want this year. They have hardly been noticed. Across the country every day a few here, a few there, swept up and removed with the dead cats and dogs. No politician speaks for them. They even eat garbage out of garbage cans in front of the U.S. Capitol. I have seen them. In the land of plenty Americans are eating garbage in sight of their Capitol.
More than one-third of Alaskan voters voted for Joe Miller. Since Miller was both adamant and excessively vocal about eliminating food stamps, unemployment, and social security, one must conclude that one-third of Alaskans are already willing to watch tens of millions of their fellow citizens starve to death because they are such a drag on the economy, or because they are the wrong color, or go to the wrong church, or just don’t believe there is only one way. That is an astounding level of both intolerance and cruelty.
Communism, socialism, progressivism, liberalism, centrism, conservatism, extreme conservatism, fascism, and Nazism, in sequence those are your political –isms, and when, as so-called conservatives, your level of intolerance extends to supporting policies that would in fact lead to mass starvation of Americans, you have already moved beyond fascism. Add to that your repeated calls for “second amendment solutions” to your disagreements and disputes, i.e. shoot your neighbor full of holes because they do not agree with you, and what are you really?
Let’s talk about the Rose Bowl, certainly a big deal right now down in TCU land. The Rose Bowl seats somewhat in excess of 105,000 people, and for the big game each year they damn sure fill it. Visualize now for a moment that stadium with only 40,000 seats filled; it will actually appear rather empty.
There are 308 million people in this country, but the government and the economy are working for 40,000 super rich obscenities, less than half a stadium full of people. By supporting them with your vote you add greater assurance that your posterity will be relegated to peasant status in perpetuity, just like your neighbor if you haven’t already plugged him.
As we commemorate the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War and the 120-year continental peace the efforts of those folks bestowed upon us, I encourage you all to pull back from the extremes, in both attitude and in speech, and to recognize the true dilemma of this country is economic, and that solely because of war and a level of greed on the part of a few that exceeds anything anyone has ever seen before.
David G. Hanger
Received December 23, 2010 - Published December 27, 2010
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