Tuesday, February 13, 2018

It's Not Even Past #10 - Beginning

So before we go any further forward with the Eric Hoffer quote we started last week, I think I have to quote him slightly out of order to talk about his exceptions to mass movements - those moments, not many of them but hugely consequential when done correctly, when mass movements can be harnessed for good, just so we can understand right away that these mass movements of ours may, not will, but may, eventually have a beneficial outcome. I'm sure you understand at this point that I'm pessimistic about it, but I'm willing to concede that it's certainly possible. But in each of these cases, there is a leader who directs them. It's in the nature of bottom up movements that their benefits can be snapped up all the easier by people with power. A mass movement is too chaotic to not eventually cohere behind a single leader because once the scale is tipped to a single flank of the movement, no other flank is yet powerful enough to stop them - or usually him. The more leaderless and democratic a mass movement seems, the more it usually seems to cohere behind a single leader, and once it does, it's at the leader's mercy, whether that leader aims to for the good of the people for whom he or she speaks, or for the good of his or her own glory, is something that cannot be controlled by its followers once the leader takes its reins. 
There are, of course, rare leaders such as Lincoln, Gandhi, even F.D.R., Churchill and Nehru. They did not hesitate to harness man's hungers and fears to weld a following and make it zealous unto death in the service of a holy cause; but unlike a Hitler, a Stalin, or even a Luther and a Calvin, they are not tempted to use the slime of frustrated souls as mortar in the building of a new world. The self-confidence of these rare leaders is derived from and blended with their faith in humanity, for they know that no one can be honorable unless he honors mankind. 
Let's start unpacking this with a sidenote: to include Churchill in 2018 among this band of great leaders in 2018 is an extraordinarily controversial opinion - Churchill's reputation took a huge dive in our era given both his extreme imperialism and his lionization by Bush-era neoconservatives. Nobody should deny that to call Churchill one of the world's great leaders is, at best, an extremely problematic claim. But ask yourself: if the urge toward Conservatism is always going to be with us no matter how badly we want to curb its most reactionary excesses, and I certainly believe that the evidence shows it will, what kind of conservatism do you want to help foster among people who will always believe in it? Do you want right wingers who excuse the authoritarianism of the Right because at least it's Right Wing, or that looks at the authoritarianism of the Right and says 'absolutely not'? Racism will always be with us, so would you rather have racists who believe it's acceptable to treat supposedly inferior races in any and all manner of inhumane ways, or racists who believes that civilization demands that you treat the people ruled with at least some level of decency. The latter is the kind of conservative that you want as an opponent, a voice that demands respect for tradition and cautions against change that's too fast. It's the kind of conservatism that has fundamentally died in America, 

It's all well and good to say 'I don't want either kind of conservative.' But that's not an option, and every time you write conservatives off as the enemy, you leave them to their own devices and let their worst urges fester into something even more noxious. Whatever one thinks of George W. Bush, and I think he's an authoritarian reactionary rather than a conservative, there is a reason that the Obamas have made an enormous show of embracing the Bushes. The Bush Administration was far beyond the pale of any kind of conservatism that is good for America, but in showing a united front against Trump, the Obamas (and yes, the Clintons too), have shown how American liberals can embrace conservatives and even try to influence them to come around to less reactionary views. 

The True Believer was written in 1951, and since then, you would have to at very least add Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela to this list, and possibly Caesar Chavez, Alice Paul who headed the National Women's Party which fundamentally the organization that secured women the right to vote and the inclusion of women as a protected group under the Civil Rights act of 1964, the Czech leader Vaclav Havel, and even Lech Walesa, another name that would make liberals distinctly uncomfortable if they remembered who he was anymore... look him up.... 

But what makes each of them possible was, as always, the historical moment. In any mass movement, the threat of violence is always implied. What 

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