State Considering his kind assessment of my work (“Force and Idea,” February), which is matched by my judgments of his, it may seem ungenerous to criticize Sam Francis’s treatment of my comments on ideology in After Liberalism. I bring up our difference of opinion only for purposes of clarification. In most of our views about the managerial state, particularly about its necessarily antibourgeois and relentlessly globalist character, the two of us have no disagreement. What we disagree about is the rationality, or lack thereof, of managerial ideology. Unlike Dr. Francis, I do not believe that the managerial class is merely “masking its drive [for power and wealth] by adopting and invoking convenient ideologies that justify expanded government and state manipulation of social functions.” Nor do I think this elite merely feathers its nest by “denigrating, debunking, and delegitimizing the older pre-managerial class and the institutions and values by which it dominated.” Such an interpretation of social behavior seems reductionist and disregards the irrational sources of ideological struggle.
Careerists, like Bill Clinton, undoubtedly trim their sails to favorable political winds; and some fit must exist, as Pareto points out, between the prevailing psychological climate and victorious elites. I would go further and stress the necessity for elites to make legitimizing ideologies suit their historical situation; in our case, one shaped by a rotting WASPdom, an international managerial economy, the popularity of public administration, and a consumerist culture.
I am unwilling to make two assumptions that Dr. Francis treats as self-evident. One, it is not clear that the political class manipulates, without in varying degrees embracing, the “ideological symbols” tied up with its domination. Though it may not consistently uphold these symbols and may even backslide into “homophobia” or “sexism,” to whatever extent our elite believes anything, it embraces its declared ideology. The fact that someone benefits politically from a specific set of beliefs does not mean that the beneficiary privately scoffs at those beliefs. Eighteenth-century British vicars were certainly placeholders, but there is no indication they were not equally Christians, even if they had personal reservations about one or more of the Anglican Church’s 39 Articles. Bourgeois Protestants may have drawn economic or political advantage from their theology and confessional communities. But there is no evidence that they were not (for the most part) sincere about the Calvinist doctrines they professed.
Two, I do not share Dr. Francis’s confidence that those now hacking away at Western Christian society are mere political opportunists. Most seem genuinely driven, though their passion may also be helpful to the managerial elite. Alan Dershowitz, who surely qualifies as a successful appendage of the political academic class, does not rage against the presumed white gentile establishment simply because he craves wealth and power. He could have both without being hysterically bigoted. Like Hitler, Dershowitz deeply hates those he attacks. While it is possible to explain such irrationality by linking it to someone’s long-range interest, such groping for an orderly thought-process overlooks the obvious. Politics are fueled by hate, and rising or established elites are subject to that emotion. At particular times, such a feeling may be politically useful; at other times, it is something to be worked around. It will not do as an explanation, however, to equate impassioned, spiteful debunking with strategic planning.
Dr. Francis Replies:
I am afraid that Paul Gottfried still does not quite take my point, which is not that I think exponents of certain ideas do not believe in those ideas, but rather why some ideas and those who espouse them prosper at the expense of other ideas. Regardless of the assumptions that I may or may not treat as self-evident, I think that Dr. Gottfried is assuming that there is a clear disjunction between a political class “manipulating” the “ideological symbols” connected to its dominance and the same political class “embracing” those symbols. In my view, there is no such disjunction.
It is not simply an accident of history that most members of the dominant elites in the Western world in this century have “manipulated” the idea-system generally known as “liberalism.” Those ideas clearly serve the interests of elites seeking to enhance the power of a state they control, discredit the institutions and codes of rival elites, and consolidate the controlling elites’ dominance through social engineering and therapeutic policy.
At the same time, I do not doubt that these elites and their members (whether Dick Armey or Alan Dershowitz) “really believe” in (i.e., “embrace”) the ideas they espouse. To note that an elite has a material interest in “manipulating” an idea (i.e., invoking it as a defense of its conduct) does not mean or imply that the elite does not also “really believe” in the idea.
I reject what seems to be an overly rationalistic interpretation which views human behavior as the obedient and consistent servant of the logical implications of various intellectual systems. I suspect the process by which “ideas have consequences” is usually more akin to the psychological defense mechanism known as “sublimation,” whereby an actor comes to believe in an idea not because of its own correspondence to reality or its logical coherence but because believing in it offers him some psychic or material satisfaction and because, through his own socialization experience, he is culturally disposed to believe in it.
One problem with the “rationalistic” view of ideas having consequences (classically stated by Richard Weaver in the first chapter of his famous book) is that it offers no explanation of why some ideas have flourished while alternative ideas have languished. In my view, the correspondence of ideas to reality (their truth) and their logical coherence have far less relationship to their influence on human behavior than their usefulness for various social and political forces that find some ideas more expedient for pushing their interests and therefore more desirable to embrace than others. This view does not imply that those ideas are any less ardently embraced, but it does suggest that the psychic and social usefulness, and not the rationality and truth, of the ideas are the main determinants of whether they will be embraced.
Leave a Reply