Leaders and the mob

In a book called Terror and the Police State, the author says:

It is haunting how our evil acts so consistently – for both the hunter and the prey – when we become mere animals.  There are three characteristics of these crazy but evil authoritarian states.  First, they must have a leader with absolute power, more absolute than any mere Tsar, Bourbon, or Stuart.  Secondly, all thinking is banned – when all else fails, just turn up the hate.  Thirdly, the leaders put themselves and their security before the interests of their people.

You can see references to these elements in people like Napoleon, Stalin and Hitler – although the French never got close to banning thinking – not least because Napoleon came to power after the Terror – during which you could lose your head for doing little more than doing just that.

Before looking at what history may say about current events in the U S, we might reflect on why Trump or his like could not expect to get elected here – or in England, Germany, France – or any other country that is sensibly governed.  Put to one side that trump is a property developer with many enemies and a reputation for dishonesty and untrustworthiness, and a private life as gruesome as any in Hollywood.  He evaded doing military service and paying tax.  No such person could be forward for preselection here.

Nor could such a person seek to hold an office here which the law says can only be held by people of integrity.  It would for example be silly to suggest that Trump could be awarded a licence to sell gaming machines.  He would be disqualified on at least the ground that so many of those people with whom he has associated have been sentenced to jail terms for dishonesty.  For that reason alone, he would never be appointed to the board of a major public company. 

(I have some experience on this point.  About thirty years ago, I had to decide whether an American gaming machine maker should get a licence here.  One objection was that which is stated above.  In the end, we did not have to decide it.  The applicant admitted to lying on one occasion to a U S regulator on an aspect of his business.  That was enough in our view to disqualify him.)

People in France and elsewhere still talk about the ‘Dreyfus affair.’  A Jewish officer in the French army was found guilty of espionage and sentenced to long exile.  There is no doubt that the main evidence was concocted, but the conviction was affirmed and the controversy bitterly divided France for many years.  Those against Dreyfus were led by the army and the Jesuits – two castes given to fighting wars.  People followed their lead by ignoring the evidence or accepting hogwash in response. 

The ailment of the French involved much more than a prejudice against and jealousy of the Jews.  At about the time the Rothschilds were helping Disraeli acquire the Suez Canal for his queen, the French were getting ready to shaft the Jews for their alleged role in a scandal about a botched development of the Panama Canal.

Hannah Arendt looked at this in The Origins of Totalitarianism.  In France there was a clear alliance between the army and the Jesuits.  The common target was the Jewish community.

These parasites upon a corrupt body served to provide a thoroughly decadent society with an exceedingly dangerous alibi.  …  It did not matter to them that the corruption of the body politic had started without the help of Jews; that the policy of businessmen (in a bourgeois society to which Jews had not belonged) and their ideal of unlimited competition had led to the disintegration of the state in party politics; that the ruling classes had proved incapable any longer of protecting their own interests, let alone those of those of the country as w hole.  The antisemites who called themselves patriots introduced that new species of national feeling which consists primarily in a complete whitewash of one’s own people and a sweeping condemnation of all others. (Emphasis added.)

That looks spot on – and its relevance to the U S now is immediately apparent.

The Catholic Church faces big questions about its dealings with Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler and Franco.  Arendt says that the Jesuits took the lead against the Jews.  Ancient statutes – going back to 1593 – banned all Christians of Jewish descent from the Society.  Later, the novice only had to prove that he had no Jewish blood going back to the fourth generation.

The Jews were OK in France provided that they knew their place.  Then they got uppity.  And in the caste of the army – whose ancestors had fought the fatherland during the revolutionary wars.  As ever, the forces of reaction were gratified by the hierarchy in the Church.  For many, the hierarchic system of the church was the antidote to chaos and anarchy.  And the Church was seeking to recover from the belting it took in the revolution. 

But when the Jews began seeking equality in the army, they came face to face with the determined opposition of the Jesuits who were not prepared to tolerate the existence of officers immune to the influence of the confessional.

Arendt says the Jesuits had the direction of the Church’s international policy.  One devout member proclaimed – ‘By the will of democracy, all Frenchmen are to be soldiers.  By the will of the Church, Catholics only are to hold the chief commands.’

It got so bad that Gentiles refused to act as seconds in duels with Jews.

What, if anything, had the revolution achieved?  What, if anything, had become of the Enlightenment?  Has the world seen a greater affront to liberty, equality, and fraternity?  Or do such grand phrases always portend pure bullshit?

Now, that church is not heavily involved in the US political collapse.  But Protestant Evangelicals are in it up to their necks – and what a sleazy lot they are.  At a time when Australians get new evidence every day of the damage done to our body politic by a Hillsong zealot who truly knew not what he did.

And in the US, the Jews are not the main target.  They are reserved for the refuse at the bottom of the uprising.  For the most part, those who support Trump have missed out, and they want to take it out on others they think they can look down on – people of colour, Latin migrants, people with different sexuality, and those who are just too bloody smart.  And their nightmare is that the blacks and Latinos will have the numbers – and the descendants of the Puritans will have no one to look down on – or look up to.

So, it is time to raise up the mob.

While the people in all great revolutions fight for true representation, the mob will always shout for the ‘strong man’, the ‘great leader’.  For the mob hates society from which it is excluded, as well as Parliament where it is not represented.  …..

There is the MAGA motley in all its miserable fury.  But let us stay with France.

There can be no doubt that in the eyes of the mob, the Jews came to serve as an object lesson for all the things they detested…While it is a mistake to assume that the mob preys only on Jews, the Jews must be accorded first place among its victims…Excluded as it is from society and political representation, the mob turns of necessity to extra parliamentary action.

The violence became so much worse.  There were ‘rival gangs of charlatans squabbling for recognition by the rabble.’  And people who should have known better were manipulating the mob with the zeal of manic puppeteers.

Every stroke of the [pro Dreyfus side] was followed by more or less violent disturbance on the streets.  The organisation of the mob by the General Staff was remarkable.  The trail leads straight from the army to the Libre Parole….and all accounts agree that if Zola, when once charged, had been acquitted, he would never have left the courtroom alive.

For Parole Libre, read Fox News; for Zola, read Mike Pence – with apologies to Zola. 

Someone said it was no longer a ‘question whether Dreyfus is innocent or guilty, but only of who will win, the friends of the army or its foes.’  And remember there was no real issue of fact about the innocence of Dreyfus. 

Just as there is no issue about who won the last presidential election.

In discussing the rise of populist leaders between the two world wars, Arendt described ‘the temporary alliance between the mob and the elite’.  She referred to their ‘failure in professional and social life’ and their ‘perversion and disaster in private life.  That sounds familiar.

The fact that their lives prior to their political careers had been failures, naively held against them by the more respectable leaders of the old parties, was the strongest factor in their mass appeal.

As I follow it, Trump says that he had no tax to pay because of the losses he took in business failures.  He said that was clever.

The temporary alliance between the elite and the mob rested largely on this genuine delight with which the former watched the latter destroy respectability…  The object…was always to reveal official history as a joke, to demonstrate a sphere of secret influences of which the visible, traceable, and known historical reality was only the outward façade erected explicitly to fool the people…the difference between truth and falsehood may cease to be objective and become a mere matter of power and cleverness, of pressure and infinite repetition.

Chapter and verse for Trump.  Then there was the man who said ‘When I hear the word culture, I draw my revolver.’   Arendt finishes this section with a bell-ringer.

Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.

There you have Betsy DeVos and those other crackpots and lightweights in that preposterous Loony Tune outfit called the Trump Cabinet – whose members prostrated themselves to their leader after the manner of those who do the same for Kim – the serial killer with whom their leader fell in love.

Kafka did miss the best parts. 

In Terror and the Police State, the author says:

In retrospect, it is the intolerance of those at the head of these regimes that might be their dominant common characteristic.  They were zealots, and they were pathfinders, and they knew that they had real enemies, and they were disposed to conjure up many more.  They were, as we have seen, politically inexperienced or immature.  They were cast iron ‘black or white’ people.  They could only deal in absolutes.  They were incapable of anything like what John Keats called ‘negative capability’ – when someone is capable ‘of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.’  You are either for us or against us – but the choice has terminal consequences – if you get it wrong, you are dead. 

The death there is merely political – as Ms Cheney has now discovered. 

But these sorts of divisions have been with us since we got clear of the apes.  Here is one version.

To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings.  What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member; to think of the future and wait was merely one way of saying that you were a coward; any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character; an ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action.  Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man, and to plot against an enemy behind his back was perfectly legitimate self-defence.  Anyone who held violent opinions could always be trusted, and anyone who objected to them became a suspect.  To plot successfully was a sign of intelligence, but it was still cleverer to see that a plot was hatching.  If one attempted to provide against having to do either, one was disrupting the unity of the party and acting out of the fear of the opposition.  In short, it was equally praiseworthy to get one’s blow in first against someone who was going to do wrong, and to denounce someone who had no intention of doing any wrong at all…

Love of power, operating through greed and personal ambition, was the cause of all these evils.  To this must be added the violent fanaticism which came into play once the struggle had broken out.  Leaders of the parties in the cities had programs which appeared admirable – on the one side, political equality for the masses, on the other the safe and sound government of the aristocracy – but in professing to serve the public interest, they were seeking to win the prizes for themselves.  In their struggles for ascendancy, nothing was barred, and in taking revenge they went further still…

As a result of these revolutions, there was a general deterioration of character throughout the Greek world…Society had become divided into two ideologically hostile camps, and each side viewed the other with suspicion. 

That was written by Thucydides more than two and a half millennia ago. 

If you want a more recent account of how leaders engage with mob, go to Henry VI (Part 2), Julius Caesar, and Coriolanus.  This playwright knew all about the mob and he will take your breath away.  You even get a taste of ‘birtherism’.  With Jack Cade, the claim is up-market rather than down-market – but the fiction is as inane as the tripe that was promoted by Trump.  Perhaps his obsession with ‘witch-hunts’ comes from the fact that he so often acts like a witch.

Leaders and the mob

In a book called Terror and the Police State, the author says:

It is haunting how our evil acts so consistently – for both the hunter and the prey – when we become mere animals.  There are three characteristics of these crazy but evil authoritarian states.  First, they must have a leader with absolute power, more absolute than any mere Tsar, Bourbon, or Stuart.  Secondly, all thinking is banned – when all else fails, just turn up the hate.  Thirdly, the leaders put themselves and their security before the interests of their people.

You can see references to these elements in people like Napoleon, Stalin and Hitler – although the French never got close to banning thinking – not least because Napoleon came to power after the Terror – during which you could lose your head for doing little more than doing just that.

Before looking at what history may say about current events in the U S, we might reflect on why Trump or his like could not expect to get elected here – or in England, Germany, France – or any other country that is sensibly governed.  Put to one side that trump is a property developer with many enemies and a reputation for dishonesty and untrustworthiness, and a private life as gruesome as any in Hollywood.  He evaded doing military service and paying tax.  No such person could be forward for preselection here.

Nor could such a person seek to hold an office here which the law says can only be held by people of integrity.  It would for example be silly to suggest that Trump could be awarded a licence to sell gaming machines.  He would be disqualified on at least the ground that so many of those people with whom he has associated have been sentenced to jail terms for dishonesty.  For that reason alone, he would never be appointed to the board of a major public company. 

(I have some experience on this point.  About thirty years ago, I had to decide whether an American gaming machine maker should get a licence here.  One objection was that which is stated above.  In the end, we did not have to decide it.  The applicant admitted to lying on one occasion to a U S regulator on an aspect of his business.  That was enough in our view to disqualify him.)

People in France and elsewhere still talk about the ‘Dreyfus affair.’  A Jewish officer in the French army was found guilty of espionage and sentenced to long exile.  There is no doubt that the main evidence was concocted, but the conviction was affirmed and the controversy bitterly divided France for many years.  Those against Dreyfus were led by the army and the Jesuits – two castes given to fighting wars.  People followed their lead by ignoring the evidence or accepting hogwash in response. 

The ailment of the French involved much more than a prejudice against and jealousy of the Jews.  At about the time the Rothschilds were helping Disraeli acquire the Suez Canal for his queen, the French were getting ready to shaft the Jews for their alleged role in a scandal about a botched development of the Panama Canal.

Hannah Arendt looked at this in The Origins of Totalitarianism.  In France there was a clear alliance between the army and the Jesuits.  The common target was the Jewish community.

These parasites upon a corrupt body served to provide a thoroughly decadent society with an exceedingly dangerous alibi.  …  It did not matter to them that the corruption of the body politic had started without the help of Jews; that the policy of businessmen (in a bourgeois society to which Jews had not belonged) and their ideal of unlimited competition had led to the disintegration of the state in party politics; that the ruling classes had proved incapable any longer of protecting their own interests, let alone those of those of the country as w hole.  The antisemites who called themselves patriots introduced that new species of national feeling which consists primarily in a complete whitewash of one’s own people and a sweeping condemnation of all others. (Emphasis added.)

That looks spot on – and its relevance to the U S now is immediately apparent.

The Catholic Church faces big questions about its dealings with Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler and Franco.  Arendt says that the Jesuits took the lead against the Jews.  Ancient statutes – going back to 1593 – banned all Christians of Jewish descent from the Society.  Later, the novice only had to prove that he had no Jewish blood going back to the fourth generation.

The Jews were OK in France provided that they knew their place.  Then they got uppity.  And in the caste of the army – whose ancestors had fought the fatherland during the revolutionary wars.  As ever, the forces of reaction were gratified by the hierarchy in the Church.  For many, the hierarchic system of the church was the antidote to chaos and anarchy.  And the Church was seeking to recover from the belting it took in the revolution. 

But when the Jews began seeking equality in the army, they came face to face with the determined opposition of the Jesuits who were not prepared to tolerate the existence of officers immune to the influence of the confessional.

Arendt says the Jesuits had the direction of the Church’s international policy.  One devout member proclaimed – ‘By the will of democracy, all Frenchmen are to be soldiers.  By the will of the Church, Catholics only are to hold the chief commands.’

It got so bad that Gentiles refused to act as seconds in duels with Jews.

What, if anything, had the revolution achieved?  What, if anything, had become of the Enlightenment?  Has the world seen a greater affront to liberty, equality, and fraternity?  Or do such grand phrases always portend pure bullshit?

Now, that church is not heavily involved in the US political collapse.  But Protestant Evangelicals are in it up to their necks – and what a sleazy lot they are.  At a time when Australians get new evidence every day of the damage done to our body politic by a Hillsong zealot who truly knew not what he did.

And in the US, the Jews are not the main target.  They are reserved for the refuse at the bottom of the uprising.  For the most part, those who support Trump have missed out, and they want to take it out on others they think they can look down on – people of colour, Latin migrants, people with different sexuality, and those who are just too bloody smart.  And their nightmare is that the blacks and Latinos will have the numbers – and the descendants of the Puritans will have no one to look down on – or look up to.

So, it is time to raise up the mob.

While the people in all great revolutions fight for true representation, the mob will always shout for the ‘strong man’, the ‘great leader’.  For the mob hates society from which it is excluded, as well as Parliament where it is not represented.  …..

There is the MAGA motley in all its miserable fury.  But let us stay with France.

There can be no doubt that in the eyes of the mob, the Jews came to serve as an object lesson for all the things they detested…While it is a mistake to assume that the mob preys only on Jews, the Jews must be accorded first place among its victims…Excluded as it is from society and political representation, the mob turns of necessity to extra parliamentary action.

The violence became so much worse.  There were ‘rival gangs of charlatans squabbling for recognition by the rabble.’  And people who should have known better were manipulating the mob with the zeal of manic puppeteers.

Every stroke of the [pro Dreyfus side] was followed by more or less violent disturbance on the streets.  The organisation of the mob by the General Staff was remarkable.  The trail leads straight from the army to the Libre Parole….and all accounts agree that if Zola, when once charged, had been acquitted, he would never have left the courtroom alive.

For Parole Libre, read Fox News; for Zola, read Mike Pence – with apologies to Zola. 

Someone said it was no longer a ‘question whether Dreyfus is innocent or guilty, but only of who will win, the friends of the army or its foes.’  And remember there was no real issue of fact about the innocence of Dreyfus. 

Just as there is no issue about who won the last presidential election.

In discussing the rise of populist leaders between the two world wars, Arendt described ‘the temporary alliance between the mob and the elite’.  She referred to their ‘failure in professional and social life’ and their ‘perversion and disaster in private life.  That sounds familiar.

The fact that their lives prior to their political careers had been failures, naively held against them by the more respectable leaders of the old parties, was the strongest factor in their mass appeal.

As I follow it, Trump says that he had no tax to pay because of the losses he took in business failures.  He said that was clever.

The temporary alliance between the elite and the mob rested largely on this genuine delight with which the former watched the latter destroy respectability…  The object…was always to reveal official history as a joke, to demonstrate a sphere of secret influences of which the visible, traceable, and known historical reality was only the outward façade erected explicitly to fool the people…the difference between truth and falsehood may cease to be objective and become a mere matter of power and cleverness, of pressure and infinite repetition.

Chapter and verse for Trump.  Then there was the man who said ‘When I hear the word culture, I draw my revolver.’   Arendt finishes this section with a bell-ringer.

Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.

There you have Betsy DeVos and those other crackpots and lightweights in that preposterous Loony Tune outfit called the Trump Cabinet – whose members prostrated themselves to their leader after the manner of those who do the same for Kim – the serial killer with whom their leader fell in love.

Kafka did miss the best parts. 

In Terror and the Police State, the author says:

In retrospect, it is the intolerance of those at the head of these regimes that might be their dominant common characteristic.  They were zealots, and they were pathfinders, and they knew that they had real enemies, and they were disposed to conjure up many more.  They were, as we have seen, politically inexperienced or immature.  They were cast iron ‘black or white’ people.  They could only deal in absolutes.  They were incapable of anything like what John Keats called ‘negative capability’ – when someone is capable ‘of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.’  You are either for us or against us – but the choice has terminal consequences – if you get it wrong, you are dead. 

The death there is merely political – as Ms Cheney has now discovered. 

But these sorts of divisions have been with us since we got clear of the apes.  Here is one version.

To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings.  What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member; to think of the future and wait was merely one way of saying that you were a coward; any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character; an ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action.  Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man, and to plot against an enemy behind his back was perfectly legitimate self-defence.  Anyone who held violent opinions could always be trusted, and anyone who objected to them became a suspect.  To plot successfully was a sign of intelligence, but it was still cleverer to see that a plot was hatching.  If one attempted to provide against having to do either, one was disrupting the unity of the party and acting out of the fear of the opposition.  In short, it was equally praiseworthy to get one’s blow in first against someone who was going to do wrong, and to denounce someone who had no intention of doing any wrong at all…

Love of power, operating through greed and personal ambition, was the cause of all these evils.  To this must be added the violent fanaticism which came into play once the struggle had broken out.  Leaders of the parties in the cities had programs which appeared admirable – on the one side, political equality for the masses, on the other the safe and sound government of the aristocracy – but in professing to serve the public interest, they were seeking to win the prizes for themselves.  In their struggles for ascendancy, nothing was barred, and in taking revenge they went further still…

As a result of these revolutions, there was a general deterioration of character throughout the Greek world…Society had become divided into two ideologically hostile camps, and each side viewed the other with suspicion. 

That was written by Thucydides more than two and a half millennia ago. 

If you want a more recent account of how leaders engage with mob, go to Henry VI (Part 2), Julius Caesar, and Coriolanus.  This playwright knew all about the mob and he will take your breath away.  You even get a taste of ‘birtherism’.  With Jack Cade, the claim is up-market rather than down-market – but the fiction is as inane as the tripe that was promoted by Trump.  Perhaps his obsession with ‘witch-hunts’ comes from the fact that he so often acts like a witch.

Politics – US – Trump – the mob – dictatorship.

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