Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dwight D. Eisenhower and Eric Hoffer: Strange Bedfellows

Imagine, if you will, President Eisenhower channeling Eric Hoffer, the “Stevedore Philosopher.” It actually happened in a letter that the president wrote in response to a private citizen who had complained of “uncertainty” in the face of his difficulties in understanding the politics of the Cold War.

(Max Blumenthal, “Ike’s Other Warning,” Int’l Herald Tribune, no doubt re-printed from somewhere else.)

Wow! Imagine people complaining about the quaint, relatively benign uncertainties of 1959! Confronted with the complexities of our own age, their heads would explode. Much like heads are exploding all around us as I write.

Ike’s point, and Hoffer’s, was that many people, faced with high levels of anxiety inducing uncertainty, retreat into a fortress of other-directed absolute certainty, which may take the form of totalitarianism or religion.

From Ike’s letter, paraphrasing Hoffer: “. . . dictatorial systems make one contribution to their people which leads them to tend to support such systems – freedom from the necessity of informing themselves and making up their own minds concerning these tremendous complex and difficult questions.”

Ike called this the desire for insulation from the pressures of a free society.

Anybody else see this happening in our own time? All of these Tea-Bagging fools and religious fundamentalists want that same return to certainty, to normalcy, they want freedom from this terrible democratic burden of engaging in discussion, trying to figure these things out, trying to find compromises that are acceptable to everybody.

I see people turning to anti-democratic, authoritarian political methodologies, although they may not actually realize what they’re doing. The Tea-Baggers are, after all, just stooges of Corporate-Crypto-Fascism. They demand that government take away their safety-nets, stop collecting taxes, impose draconian security measures, and give those terrorists hell. Who benefits from all of this? Not the Tea-Baggers, that’s for sure. So who benefits? You may have guessed it: the big corporations.

I see people turning to religion, usually the mindless brands that are short on theology and good works, and long on brainless adherence to simple slogans and political directives from their so-called ministers.

History is very good at repeating itself. In the last century, high levels of uncertainty in Europe, coupled with the failure of government institutions, led to the rise of fascism, with all of that associated unpleasantness. Who can be sure that it won’t happen again? Closer to home?

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