Dangers of “a Plague on All Their Houses”

Many former Obama supporters…especially the younger crowd…have lost considerable faith in Obama and the Democratic Party.  Neo-Neocon notes that the political disillusionment encompasses both parties, and cautions that the “throw the bums out” mentality, however understandable, can be dangerous. She quotes from a book by Milton Mayer called They Thought They Were Free, which is an exploration of German attitudes from the 1920s through World War II. Interviews were conducted with 10 “typical” Germans, who Mayer refers to as “friends,” a couple of years after the war’s end. Excerpt:

National Socialism was a repulsion of my friends against parliamentary politics, parliamentary debate, parliamentary government—against all the higgling and the haggling of the parties and the splinter parties, their coalitions, their confusions, and their conniving. It was the final fruit of the common man’s repudiation of “the rascals.” Its motif was “throw them all out.” My friends, in the 1920′s, were like spectators at a wrestling match who suspect that beneath all the grunts and groans, the struggle and the sweat, the match is “fixed,” that the performers are only pretending to put on a fight. The scandals that rocked the country, as one party or cabal “exposed” another, dismayed and then disgusted my friends…


My friends wanted Germany purified. They wanted it purified of the politicians, of all the politicians. They wanted a representative leader in place of unrepresentative representatives. And Hitler, the pure man, the antipolitician, was the man, untainted by “politics,” which was only a cloak for corruption…Against “the whole pack,” “the whole kaboodle,” “the whole business,” against all the parliamentary parties, my friends evoked Hitlerism, and Hitlerism overthrew them all…

Indeed, revulsion against the dysfunctionalities of a parliamentary democracy can lead to something much, much worse. Weimar government and Weimar society had their problems, but they were infinitely preferable to what replaced them.

Also, most Germans in the 1920s and 1930s—like people in other European countries—keenly remembered the spirit of self-sacrificing idealism that had prevailed in 1914, and a considerable proportion of them believed that this idealism had, in one way or another, been exploited and betrayed. Idealism betrayed leads to cynicism, and cynicism can lead to new and twisted forms of idealism.

On May 5, 2013, Barack Obama warned Ohio State students about the dangers of political cynicsm. As it happened, this speech came only a few days before the public revelations about the Obama administration’s use of the IRS to target political opponents…which is, of course, only one of this administration’s many failures and violations of trust.

Erich Maria Remarque’s novel The Road Back is largely about the loss of idealism and social trust in the years following World War One…although it is set in Germany, the same factors were operative, if to a lesser degree, in the other European belligerent countries. One of the characters in the story is Ludwig Breyer–a serious aspiring intellectual as a student, a dedicated and responsible officer in wartime. A few years after the war’s end, he is shattered by the feeling that it was all for nothing:

They told us it was for the Fatherland, and they meant the schemes of annexation of a greedy industry.–They told us it was for honour, and meant the quarrels and the will to power of a handful of ambitious diplomats and princes..They stuffed the word Patriotism with all the twaddle of their fine phrases, with their desire for glory, their will to power, their false romanticism…And we thought they were sounding a bugle summoning us to a new, a more strenuous, a larger life. Can’t you see, man? But we were making war against ourselves without knowing it!…The youth of the world rose up in every land believing that it was fighting for freedom! And in every land they were duped and misused; in every land they have been shot down, they have exterminated each other.

One could do a present-day riff on this speech: “They told us it was for the environment, and they meant the handouts of taxpayer money to crony capitalists. They told us it was about improving education for the poor, and they meant protecting the privileges of incompetent administrators and teachers’ union…etc”

In the book, Ludwig Breyer’s despair drives him to suicide…and there were doubtless many real-life veterans who came to similar ends. Others, though…among veterans but also among those who had been too young or too old to fight..attempted to recapture the 1914 sense of idealism and unity through involvement in extremist politics of one band or another…and we know how that ended.

Good discussion thread at the Neo-Neocon post.


11 thoughts on “Dangers of “a Plague on All Their Houses””

  1. In an odd coincidence, Friday someone suggested to me that what we really needed to do was replace all the members of Congress, clean the whole place out. What that was supposed to accomplish, I have no idea.

    The problems are deeper and more structural. The regulatory power of the state is out of control. This is a little vignette, I know, but I think it’s telling. I was reading about an area in Utah where there are some interesting geological features. I looked at the Wiki entry to see what was there. The article mentioned that certain environmental groups were hopeful that the BLM would designate the entire area a wilderness. That means no roads, so the public cannot access it, except those who want to backpack in. I suspect the environmental group is made of members that backpack. You pay for, you guard it, in theory it belongs to you, but you and your family probably cannot access it or ever see it. They get to see it though, and thousands of square miles around it are given to them as a private backpacking reserve. Nice. It’s a microcosm of how the entire system works now. It reminds me of a medieval spoils system. Back the right princeling, and if he wins the throne your family gets an estate and a title.

    The solution is not to wait till your side wins, it’s to dismantle the entire rotten system.

  2. There is an implicit, and unverified, assumption that the current squirrel screw of Legislative yielding to ultimate Executive power can be reformed. Yes, the imposition of a “leader” from the outside has a pretty consistent record of failing. Remove Cincinnatus from the equation, and it is total.

    But what we are doing now is yielding to a “leader” and Party from the inside, with the Legislative and Judicial branches giving up their powers and responsibilities with both hands, gladly, in return for continued perks … for now.

    And there are no legal or electoral consequences for this or any other action. Voter Fraud is sufficiently widespread as to remove that as an option. And the applicability of the law has more to do with who you are rather than what you have done.

    There are no consequences for any wrongdoing by anyone in the Nomenklatura or employed by them. Thus, the rational assumption that anything that they do is probably illegal [but the laws do not apply to them], immoral, self-serving, and an attack on anyone not of their privileged group. TWANLOC.

    Until there is some sort of consequence reimposed for the fact that

    beneath all the grunts and groans, the struggle and the sweat, the match is “fixed,” that the performers are only pretending to put on a fight. The scandals that rocked the country, as one party or cabal “exposed” another, dismayed and then disgusted my friends…

    the current system cannot be repaired or reformed.

    And any such effort stands a very high chance of imposing the “leader”. And a failure to act means the reality of the ascension of such a “leader” and Party imposed by the insiders with no electoral resistance possible.

    Outside the former US Naval Base at Subic Bay, there is a town called Olongapao. There is a waterway through the town, named by the sailors. We are at the headwaters, lacking a tool used for pushing against liquids.

    Like the founding fathers, we will either return to the old tyrannical ways, or find a way to break totally new ground.

    Subotai Bahadur

  3. Our job is to use this opportunity to help the young people understand that these disappointments are inevitable when we rely on the skill and inherent “goodness” of technocrats (the very underpinning of progressivism).

    In the words of Niccolo Machiavelli: “It is necessary to whoever arranges to found a Republic and establish laws in it, to presuppose that all men are bad and that they will use their malignity of mind every time they have the opportunity.”

    The founders understood that all men are “ambitious, vindictive and rapacious”.

    Rather than attempting to create a form of government designed to help them build a “utopia” (the “Fatal Conceit”), they designed forms of government designed to mitigate against universal human depravity (decentralized and limited). A form in which the “separate and distinct exercise of the different powers of government” would allow each branch “to resist the encroachment of the others”. Ambition “made to counteract ambition.”

  4. I am very pessimistic about how this will end. I see an amazing volume of leftist enthusiasm for what is really a fascist system. I keep going back to Angelo Codevilla’s essay “The Ruling Class”. I apologize for linking back to my own blog but American Spectator has deleted the essay.

    Although after the election of 2008 most Republican office holders argued against the Troubled Asset Relief Program, against the subsequent bailouts of the auto industry, against the several “stimulus” bills and further summary expansions of government power to benefit clients of government at the expense of ordinary citizens, the American people had every reason to believe that many Republican politicians were doing so simply by the logic of partisan opposition. After all, Republicans had been happy enough to approve of similar things under Republican administrations.

    I reread the essay from time to time. I have started saving some of these things on my blog because they tend to disappear. Another example is David Warren’s comparison of Obama and Gorbachev , which is still valid in my opinion.

    On the other hand, some interesting comparisons could be made between the thuggish party machine of Chicago, which raised Obama as its golden boy; and the thuggish party machine of Moscow, which presented Gorbachev as it’s most attractive face.

    Both men have been praised for their wonderful temperaments, and their ability to remain unperturbed by approaching catastrophe. But again, the substance is different, for Gorbachev’s temperament was that of a survivor of many previous catastrophes.

    Yet they do have one major thing in common, and that is the belief that, regardless of what the ruler does, the polity he rules must necessarily continue. This is perhaps the most essential, if seldom acknowledged, insight of the post-modern “liberal” mind: that if you take the pillars away, the roof will continue to hover in the air.

    I save these expressions of wisdom although I despair of convincing the other side of their application to our situation. The “other side” includes several of my children.

  5. It seems to me that if we want to avoid the fate of Weimar Germany then we a need a political class that can appreciate the danger of continuing to ignore public anger against them.

    Instead we have Barry and his gang of extremists, opposed by the hapless Republican party.

    Or perhaps I should say not opposed, because the GOP seems to have little to say about the endless corruption to be seen everywhere in the government. But it’s an old saying or perhaps now a cliche that it’s difficult to get someone to understand something if their living depends on them not understanding it.

    I recall- for example- that Dennis Hastert, former speaker of house, left office a millionaire because of his time on the government payroll. Another example- the government of Illinois is widely renowned for corruption, yet I never hear a peep from the GOP about it. Further examples are legion.

    Hence, I conclude that the political class is wholly corrupt, and will not willingly reform itself. The money is just too good to give up.

    Either a reform movement will develop, or it won’t. If it doesn’t, yeah we’re doomed.

    But if it does, I suspect it will be aimed at the leadership of both parties. Likely it will have a charismatic leader at the top, as it will need a candidate for president. That person will have to be someone with the political ability to overcome relentless and well-funded hostility from the establishment, because they will get it.

    In short, it would look rather similar to the mass movement that ended Weimar Germany.

    My hope is that a GOP candidate will emerge from the Tea Party wing of the party and be competent enough to put the old establishment away gracefully. Since vast numbers of Obama supporters have figured out that they’re the mark this shouldn’t be as hard as it once would have been.

    But alas I doubt even this wonderful best case eventuality could occur without much ugliness.

  6. Great. So if I want to ‘throw the bums out,’ I’m a proto-Nazi. If I wanted to be called a Nazi, there are any number of other websites I can read. Yeah, yeah. I got it. It’s not what you meant. But it is the comparison you made.

    OK. I reject “a plague on both their houses.” I hope the Republicans re-nominate McCain or some other slow Leftist (e.g., Christie). That’ll show me.

    To return to reality, no American politician—even Obama and certainly not his opponents—publicly represents an anti-Constitutional, unAmerican ideology. The US isn’t Weimar Germany, no matter how much Allan Bloom asserted the comparison.

  7. Hostility toward sleazy politicians, of whatever party, is a *good* thing. Throwing up one’s hands and saying that the “system” is broken so the whole thing needs to be burned down, not so good.

    Obama is already trying to defect criticism of his managerial incompetence (re Obamacare) into generalized anger against government bureaucracy…with the obvious goal *not* being to accept the conclusion that maybe bigger government isn’t the answer to all problems, but rather to further concentrate power into the hands of the President.

    Future demagogues may very well argue that our problems (“inequality,” “climate change,” “racism”) are so severe that we can no longer afford the “gridlock” involved in separation of powers, judicial review, formal processes for regulatory approval, free speech for politically-incorrect views, etc.

  8. A problem is that the Founding Fathers erred in their view of human nature.

    Real people, for example, could not stand for a president and vice-president from separate parties. That’s a small error.

    There is a more serious one: the Fathers knew only one motivation for excessive obedience.

    The separation of church and state wisely left the narrow enforcement of religious conformity out of government in favor of a broad consensus on morality.

    But human nature wants conformity, so the kind of disputes that led to religious wars are now sublimated into ideological conformity, laws, and wars. Instead of calling these impulses religious, they called socialist or environmentalist. And therefore can be enforced in law. These new moralities, furthermore, can impose themselves on religions despite the separation of church and state because they appear to be God-neutral. They masquerade as common sense.

    There can be no separation of ideology and state; no ability to exclude environmentalism, say, from the purview of the state on philosophical grounds as there is for excluding Catholicism from the state.

    Furthermore, to these ideologues, this separation runs only one way: the state must be separated from the influence of the church, but not vice versa. Believers and churches (a church is not a building or a dogma, but the bodies of those who believe) will be compelled—as they already have been—to violate their consciences in service of state morality.

    Combining the Founding Father’s errors leads to politicians not jealous of their positions and not being a check on each others’ powers, but instead combining without conspiracy to enforce their common ideology. And so democracy becomes totalitarian by election.

    If only gridlock were the problem. Instead all power has devolved onto the executive and its agents, so that the thousands of findings, rulings, and interpretations by Czars and Secretaries—for which no one elected is accountable–cannot be overturned en mass.

    A solution would be to restore the Constitution: eliminate the regulatory agencies, restore state checks on federal power (e.g., state appointed senators), abolish the IRS (return to capitation taxes), etc. That solution is impossible. The society which would behave that way no longer exists, nor can it exist.

    So, yeah, I believe in total replacement (or “burn it all down” to put it more colorfully). I didn’t until recently, but, upon reflection over the last few decades has shown the society, culture, and laws which promote prosperity and freedom are no longer desired by a majority of voters.

  9. I think it would be a good idea to vote out all sitting members of Congress. This is a crude remedy but it’s also an easier sell than are more-clever plans, everyone has a stake in it, and it imposes a rough accountability on current officeholders.

  10. Given the current move toward government by executive order, how much does Congress matter? I think the real problem is the huge governmental machine and it’s need to continually justify it’s existence by inserting itself into every facet of American life.

  11. ErisGuy,

    I’m not accusing anyone of being a nazi.

    But it occurs to me that any successful reform movement is going to require mass support, is going to require leadership very likely in the form of a presidential candidate, and is going to have to go after the failings of our present political establishment rather more intensively than the not-at-all of the Romney campaign.

    Note that the Obama campaign had no qualms at all about about fabricating an endless swarm of vile lies against Romney despite (or perhaps because of) Romney’s craven unwillingness to actually attack Obama.

    But note also that Romney had no trouble at all carpet bombing Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry with tens of millions of dollars worth of attack ads, etc. Further note that the GOP establishment has apparently been feeding the media opposition research on Ted Cruz, had precious little reaction to charges that Obama has used the IRS to shut down Tea Party groups, and Mitch McConnell has even been caught calling Tea Party groups bullies whom he wants to punch in the nose.

    I could go on, but the point is that the GOP establishment seems rather disinterested in attacking democrats but is very interested in stomping on the Tea Party.

    So I think that any reform movement is going to have to go after both the radical left and the subservient GOP establishment in Washington.

    And the establishment isn’t going to like it. As an example Sarah Palin generated an amazing amount of hatred and contempt because she was popular with the public in a way that threatened the establishment, even though she was attached to the obviously losing McCain ticket.

    Imagine the hatred and contempt that would be generated if- say- a Sarah Palin or Ted Cruz-like candidate was at the head of the ticket and looked likely to win.

    Nazi would be one of the nicer accusations, I suspect.

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