Looking at the extremism of modern right-wing politics in the United States should demonstrate something that I think a lot of folks in my generation don’t quite get. Rabidly intense anti-communism never went away – its popularity was just waning for a while.
The years from the Great Depression to the end of the McCarthy era were the formative years of anti-communist extremism in the United States. I have a philosophical hypothesis that the sustained hysteria of Breitbart anti-communists was rooted in a very peculiar style of communication.
Yet people believed them! An entire generation of Americans grew up in a culture that hadn’t developed the media literacy to understand how ridiculous these hysteria films really are. The same hysteria was adapted to the anti-communist messaging of the early Cold War.
That hysterically paranoid conservatism was the mainstream right wing of political thinking, which saw even the most congenial trade union activist as a devious Stalinist sleeper cell. The least hint of collectivist politics, especially in the name of helping poor people, was a sign that the billy clubs were needed.
Friedrich Hayek and his network of think tanks kept its ideas alive during the social revolutions of the 1950s through 1970s. The John Birch Society kept the flames of deranged hysteria burning.
Those social revolutions were liberation movements – feminism, environmentalism, Indigenous awakening, black liberation, LGBTQ openness. The moralities of those liberation movements were very communitarian – informed by the moral importance of supporting each other.
These communitarian values are incompatible with one of the fundamental freedoms of classical liberal thinking – the freedom to tell everyone around you to fuck off. Call it the freedom of solitude, the sanctity of private property. That’s what it is.
Moral obligation as oppression. This is a popular belief I have seen more and more in everyday behaviour. People even directly said this to me. r/libertarian. Yet the idea is obscene. Imagine how hysterical, how intense your paranoia would have to be, for you to believe a philosophy to hostile to simply living as neighbours. It would literally be the end of society.
Yet in the Breitbart set, the communitarian values that strengthen promises and friendships in society are the bedrock of communism. As philosophy, this makes no sense. It mistakes the most abstract similarity – building and strengthening community is important – for the acorn whose greatest oak was Josef Stalin!
Conspiracy thinking as popular ideology. This is how having been one of literally thousands of students passing through a classroom over the years is seen as a nefarious mentorship in radical communism. Millions having been made – in their everyday thinking about politics – as deranged as McCarthy.
That was Andrew Breitbart’s original vision. We think of it as crazily white supremacist because that’s what Steve Bannon turned it into. So now, it's even more crazy. This is a popular way to think about marxism today. And even though I'm no marxist, I at least want to give the tradition's best thinkers their credit where my work is due.