How Could We Have Missed It? Research Time, 02/05/2018

You know, I want to be a little careful about how I write this post, given how Kanye West’s publicity for his latest single seems to have taken an unexpected turn.

Through some of my notes from a while ago, I’m having another look at a recurring problem in my own political thinking – Why do people desire their slavery? I’m not at all talking about what Kanye’s talking about, and I’m rather glad I never have.*

* My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is still a masterpiece, and I’m going to keep listening to it. Though I will never do so in a way that will ever give Kanye West money again. He’s had enough of mine.

If you don't understand its danger, you can't protect yourself.
No, I’m talking about the slavery of fascist ideas – embracing the leadership of an increasingly authoritarian state as long as it acts in the name of your resentments.

I started reading the latest book by Timothy Snyder this week, The Road to Unfreedom. It's a fascinating analysis of the ideas, ideologies, imagery, and marketing communications techniques at the heart of modern fascism’s resurgence. Some thoughts on that one directly are coming eventually.

I’m still looking through this idea with Gilles Deleuze’s concepts themselves, for now. Paul Patton’s book on his political concepts reveal a few useful aspects of our return to fascism.

For one thing, he helps explain how so many mainstream leaders in governments, political parties, businesses, and international institutions didn’t really see this anti-democratic movement coming. There were troubling developments in places like Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary.

Awful parties with policies built around racism were terribly successful in local elections. But those were in backward countries, the excuses went, where democratic thinking was still under-developed.

Billionaires and former spies kept dying rather violently. Some words were definitely said along diplomatic channels, but it was surely a simple matter of a heavy hand from an old-fashioned leader. Nothing to be concerned about. Nothing to see here, folks.

Why did so many liberal democrats not see the danger of fascism’s comeback? I think Deleuze, Patton, and Snyder are all onto something, though they all describe the same phenomenon a bit differently.

Picture: A kindly old man.
Democrats tend to feel like the principles of democracy make so much sense, that it’s intuitive that it’s the best life. The problem is, they’ve been raised in a democratic country with democratic values baked into almost every aspect of the culture. Or at least enough for it to be really significant.

Most liberal democrats are ordinary folks for whom this society is just how government, law, business works. When you take something for granted so intuitively as most liberal democrats take democracy, you’re unable to conceive of a different way of life. Once people understand democracy, you think, of course they’ll want to embrace it.

That’s dangerous thinking, because it means you no longer know how to argue for the greatness of democracy. You never learned what democracy’s real virtues were. You only know the call-and-response.

What’s great about democracy? “Freedom!” What keeps us free? “Democracy!” Isn’t it great to be free? “Yeah!”

If you can’t even conceive why people would reject your values, then how can you even start figuring out how to protect them from attack. It's difficult enough for you to understand why anyone would want to attack democracy in the first place.

George W. Bush said “they hate our freedom.” Which sounds amazing. But what does it mean? It’s been nearly two decades since I first asked that question. Since we all should have been asking that question. But so few of our leaders – whether politicians, writers, or business leaders – can even take a decent shot at answering.

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