Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Confusing Words

Some words seem to mean almost the same thing: Nazi, fascist, totalitarian, nationalist. How can we sort these out?

Naziism is nationalism plus socialism; therefore, it is a mixture of a moral valuation and an economic system. Nationalism is a moral value system, in which the existence, growth, and power of the nation-state is seen as the supreme and ultimate goal; nothing is more important - not family, not religion. Socialism is an economic system, and there are many varieties of socialism, but most of them include ideas like redistribution of income, state ownership of the means of production, regulated markets (i.e., no free market or "laissez-faire" economy), increased taxes, and so forth. To be sure, some versions of socialism do not include all those features, but most do.

Totalitarianism means simply total control by the government of all aspects of civil and private life.

Fascism is a combination of nationalism and totalitarianism.

This is, at least, a starting point for trying to understand the subtle differences between these various terms. Much more can be said.

Monday, May 23, 2005


Nietzsche's ideas are many and complex. I'm only going to talk about a few of them today; there is much more to him.

Nietzsch loved his sister, but he hated most of her views and opinions, and he hated the man she married, because he had those same views. Nietzsche did not like the fact that his sister was anti-Semitic, that she was a racist and a nationalist and a vegetarian, and that she wanted to revive ancient Norse paganism. Nietzsche, contrary to what is often said about him, opposed anti-Semitism, and did not like the fact that there was a growing anti-Jewish movement during his time (the late 1800's). He felt that racism was a shelter for mediocre people, who could get by if they happened to be of the majority power-holding race; he felt that mediocre people should be exposed and made to be servants of the better people, regardless of their race. Nationalism was an exercise of being part of a mindless "herd", and Nietzsche felt it was bad because it encouraged one to mindlessly follow the nation, and it (like racism) created a shelter for mediocrity. Oddly, vegetarianism was popular among both the leaders of the anti-Semtic movements and the early founders of the Nazi party.

Nietzsche, of course, is known for his atheism and his hatred toward Christians and the Christian faith. He despised the fact that the Christian faith encouraged people to "molly-coddle the weaklings", i.e., care for the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the oppressed. Nietzsche felt that not only should the strong survive (as in social Darwinism), but that the strong had the right, even the duty, to exploit the weak, and that the proper role of the weak was to serve those who were by nature simply better.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Two Teams Butt Heads

In European thought, at the end of the 19th century, we find two groups of thinkers who oppose each other systematically across a number of topics.

On one team, we find a series of "determinists"; deterministic thinkers propose, for our purposes, the notion that what you are, and what you do, was previously decided, not by you. Determinism, then, denies that human beings make any significant choices. Marx represents economic, political, and historical determinism: he says that the future has already been decided, and it is inevitable that a certain series of economic and political events will occur, and that the world will arrive at a specific economic and political condition. Darwin represents biological determinism; the human race, and each particular human being, is as it is because of genetic and environmental factors. Freud represents psychological determinism: the choices I seem to make are actually determined by events earlier in my life - my parents and early childhood experience will dictate whether I choose Coke or Pepsi, Democrats or Republicans, Protestantism or Roman Catholocism. By denying that human beings make significant choice, determinists deny any "meaning" to human life, at least as most people would understand "meaning" - thus, they are ultimately nihilists. This team of determinists is also a team of materialists: by this we mean that they deny the existence of anything besides physical objects. So they would say that there are no such things as ideas, memories, spirits, minds, souls, emotions, etc. Marx's materialism causes him to conclude, for example, that we should get rid of marriages and families, and that men should be allowed to view all women as their sexual property; since Marx's economic theories revolve around the ideas that all men should hold all objects as common property (and that therefore there is then no property), so his materialism, which views human beings simply as physical objects, causes him to say that all men should hold all women as common sexual objects (and that therefore there is then no such thing as marriage or family): this amounts to the assertion that, according to Marx's ideas, women are property. Also on this team would be Friedrich Nietzsche, whose message to the human race is that it is merely an instrument of higher forces and drives in the universe: human beings should not credit themselves with meaning, value, or dignity.

On the opposite team, we find people like Dickens, whose novel, "A Tale of Two Cities", revolves around a series of individual human beings who make important and meaningful choices, and those choices have significant impact on other human beings and on the world. Dickens is telling us that human beings are not determined like chemistry and physics, but rather have a freedom to decide; he is telling us that our choices have consequences, which can be good or bad. Ibsen shows us a family which is falling apart, in which the wife and the husband fail to show each other the support and warmth which is a real marriage; Ibsen is showing us why we should reject Marx's idea that women are property: Ibsen says that a loving and mutually affirming marriage is possible only when the wife and husband understand that they can make a meaninful choice to be faithful and supportive to each other. Kierkegaard, as the founder of existentialism, directs his attention to the individual: meaningful choices, he says, are made by the individual, not by groups or categories of people; thus I must make my decisions as a single human being, not as a member of my nation or profession or ethnic group or political group. Dostoyevsky shows us that, when faced with painful circumstances (whether the pain be political, emotional, or physical), the human being can triumph by making an "inner revolution", not an outer revolution; Dostoyevsky is saw help for each human not in a political movement, but in an internal change.

J.S. Mill, Liberalism, and Nationalism

The first wave of nationalism to sweep across Europe, prior to 1815, was a unifying reaction to Napoleon's invasions, conquests, and attempted conquests.

The second wave was the liberalist wave, a type of nationalism encouraged by the liberals as a reaction against the established and re-established legitimate powers institutionalized by the Congress of Vienna. The Liberals saw nationalism as the freedom of an ethnic group to express its identity, in defiance of any monarchy or other established authority. A nationalist state's legitimacy arises from the ethnic identity of the people, replacing the older legitimacy which arose from the hereditary claims of a dynasty. John Stuart Mill and his Liberals saw nationalism as the vehicle by which the masses could express themselves. For this same reason, Metternich opposed it.

The third wave of nationalism was more authoritarian; after 1848, this type of nationalism gave authority to governments to take steps in order to avoid another series of attempted revolutions.