“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government [Plato is one great thinker who thought this – VJM] except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time….”Sir Winston S. Churchill, 11 November, 1947, speaking at a Remembrance Day ceremony two years after the end of WW2.
(Photo Credit – The Well Project)
If any statesman of the last one hundred years understood something about how democracy, and especially the British model of democracy through a Parliamentary system (are you listening Canada?), must function in order to remain healthy and viable, it was Sir Winston Churchill. Churchill also won the right to be considered one of the greatest Statesman in world history by inspiring the Allies, under the name of “the United Nations” – a term he coined, by the way – to forge a great international alliance and adopt a winning strategy to bring down the greatest menace to freedom ever faced, the Axis Alliance of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial (Military Fascist) Japan in World War 2 (1939-45). The three major “Axis” powers, as they called themselves, were the original and greatest “Axis of Evil”.
The farther removed we become from the horrors of war and tyranny faced by our forebears, the easier it is to forget how those times really were and the more possible to whitewash, romanticize, and idealize the great Dictators. History amply demonstrates that forgetting its lessons usually takes about two generations. War, denounced in its immediate aftermath as horrific and sloganized as “never again”, once more becomes palatable and somehow noble and heroic the farther we get from it, at least to those who love the idea of settling accounts by swift, decisive, and “necessary” violence.
For any who think romanticization of the “great nobility” of heroic deeds of daring-do is passé in our age of instant spectatorship of live-stream murder and mayhem and even real-time massacre, think again. How do ISIS and crime gangs recruit? Why are military strike-forces always full-up? Why are mercenaries so readily available to para-national super-organizations?
If you have a taste for such reading, and want to see what goes on in a young-man’s head before, during, and after taking up arms even for a truly noble cause, read about young Henry Fleming in The Red Badge of Courage, considered the finest true-to-life war novel about a young recruit, certainly of the 19th Century, and perhaps of all time.
Likewise, it is just as easy to forget the great, risky, temporary sacrifices the free nations made to achieve their victory over the Fascist Dictatorships between 1939 and 1945. That is really not so long ago. For six years Canada and Great Britain, which were in the war from start to finish, sacrificed the most fundamental things of a democracy, rights such as habeas corpus. Many other basic liberties and human rights were also suspended with eyes wide open. They were returned after it was all over.
We truly have little idea of what giving up such basic rights means, Canada’s little blip with “The War Measures Act” in 1970 under PM Pierre Elliot Trudeau (father of our present PM) notwithstanding. As WW2 got under way, there was serious debate about needing to so severely curtail people’s personal liberties, including severely limiting access to the most basic consumer goods considered necessities by most homemakers. To compare the limitations the world has faced over the last two years with those years demonstrates a frightful historical ignorance, as does comparing both our Mssrs. Trudeaus’ “authoritarianism” with what Canadians accepted and got through under Mackenzie-King and the Liberals of those days.
To deem a convergence of difficult factors beyond any one government or combination of governments’ ability to control into a super-sinister global conspiracy to rope us all into socialist conformity like obedient soviet proletarians is a desperately far reach. With our culture’s deep aversion to viewing the times we live in through the intensely clarifying lens of history, we drift into seeing Hitler’s moustache on persons in power who have not one hundredth of that demonic genius’ malevolence. We are watching live real-life performances of Berchtold Brecht’s Theatre of the Absurd.
None of this does any of us proud.
Friends, hurling anathemas upon the current crop of perceived “agents of the Devil” is not a road to reaching the great majority of “the lost”. Breaking a whole slew of laws and seriously impinging on the rights and liberties of our neighbours is not going to dispose them to listen to your voices, or to lead anyone to believe that this is the way to amend a hobbling and wobbling but still legally functioning and elected democratic government in a nation built on usually sagacious, even if often self-interested compromise.
As Dickens wrote, “These are the [sort of times] that try men’s [human] souls”. What comes out of us through the wine-press of testing proves more than anything else what we have truly put our trust in.
Free, democratic societies cannot operate without restrictions on the rights and liberties their citizens enjoy. Our World War ancestors knew this and, very largely, accepted it and lived through it. Rights come with equally important responsibilities. They have limits, such as where they impinge on other people’s equally important rights and liberties.
The Fascists of old knew how to play the game to the hilt. They were intimidation demonstrators par excellence. They were coup d’état opportunistic specialists. Democracy was what they hated, and its subversion by every means till people were fed up trying was their methodology. That is how Mussolini took Italy with only 30% of popular support. That is how Hitler wheedled his way into the Chancellery in January 1933 with only 32% of Germany’s popular vote.
The neo-Fascists we see coming out of the closet today are reading from the same hymn-book. Use fear and misinformation to whip up discontent and conviction that the system cannot work, until it really does quit working. While a great many listening in to them are hearing the song they want to hear, they miss the Horst Wessel Liede (the Nazi Party anthem) thrumming in the background.
As the living witnesses to all the terrible things done in World War 2 and the Gulag (and its facsimiles in China and North Korea even today) pass on, it becomes more possible to deny much of the evil and to excuse what the enemies of freedom and democracy did as legitimate efforts to “set things right”. In Mein Kampf Hitler boldly described what he intended to do and how. He also said flat-out that the basic technique to win the public to your goals was by retelling the Big Lie over and over again, louder and louder. He commissioned the all-time greatest propagandist, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, to drum the message home by every means available. Goebbels took Hitler’s demonically inspired methodology and perfected it. He is still much studied to this day, with adaptations to our latest technological refinements for getting the story out there.
One can admire the undeniable efficiency and straightforward solutions to serious issues achieved by dictatorships. In a lamentable and staggeringly foolish pronouncement, our own present Prime Minister once expressed admiration for Red China’s efficient methods of becoming a leading super-power.
By downplaying or simply denying the dark evil that emerges so quickly and at last destroys everyone’s right to everything, and up-playing the superficial resolution of chronic problems such as unemployment and abject poverty of whole underclasses, admirers of authoritarian rule can plausibly propose to address the sense of disenfranchisement of disillusioned sectors of the population. Ultimately, you just disenfranchise everyone (except the right people who belong to your limited ideological religion) and you (nominally) eliminate inequality! Voilà “National Socialism” – everyone socialized to be the right cog in the right slot of national glory!
Neither the Right nor the Left has a monopoly on undemocratic dehumanization and demonization of its adversaries. If you are of the Right, the demons-in-human-form are any number of possible undesirables – those blasted Commies/Socialists/Jews/inferior races/immigrants, etc, etc. If you are of the Left, those demons are those Neanderthal throwbacks to the Dark Ages a.k.a. as “Religious Fanatics” (usually Christian here in the West)/pro-Lifers (preferably disparaged as “Anti-Choice”/Creationists (caricaturized as mindless Bible-thumpers who are anti-science/”Climate-Deniers” (a term which is nonsensical, everyone knows we live in a climate of some sort and that, over time, climates change)/ and, the newest one, Anti-Vaxxers – who are supposedly just another version of any of the above, etc., etc.
Screamers and Yellers of both Right and Left are guilty of the same offences and of equally undermining democracy. Pushed to their logical ends (as Mr. Spock would have it), both roads end up in the darkness of tyranny and slaughter of all who stand in their way. As Spock tells us, “It is illogical to say that an illegal occupation by the forces of the Right is better or worse than an equally illegal occupation by the forces of the Left.”
Even anarchy has its Left and Right. The usual characterization of anarchism is as the most “out-in-left-field” application of Marxism. But, for six years before he took power, Hitler’s Brown-Shirts were masters of creating anarchy as a road to their ultimate goal. Their main street-fighting opponents were the Communist Black-Shirts who savoured the anarchy as much as their foes.
The incipient and thus far rather mild-mannered anarchy invading our streets is not even remotely like a Kropotkin book about the anarchy ideal. All versions of anarchy seen in history operate first by disregard for the law. This is justified by appealing to ”a higher law” (choose your religious or ideological filter for the text) which overrules the “bad law” foisted on the victimized ordinary folks. The anarchic saviours are the agents of the people who know better (the all-but-invisible wire-pullers firing out the propaganda and doing the e-transfers).
Fascism and Communism, like other ideological systems, morph according to the ground they grow in. The Marxist ideal of Communism morphed into Marxism-Leninism in the Soviet Union, then moved into murderous Stalinism – a very long stretch from anything either Marx or Engels had imagined. In China it became Maoism, which was really a sort of ideological hunchback of Notre-Dame as far as its being Communist.
The original Fascism in Mussolini’s Italy appeared with new shades when adopted in the other European Fascist small-fry such as Spain under Franco, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Croatia, and Bulgaria. Thus, Fascism can, does, and will present itself with many faces, just as it did “back in (great) grandpa’s day” (my parents’ day), wearing the national colours of its chosen targets, but sporting black and brown when doing its real business.
Failure to look and see and hear and understand bodes very ill for the trembling Western liberal democracies, some of which are under serious strain as we speak. It would seem that unless there is some significant awakening to the signs of what Churchill called The Gathering Storm (the title of the first volume of his monumental and Nobel Prize-Winning six-volume history of the Second World War), we, like the West of the 1930s Churchill describes with such resonant clarity, may be sleep-walking on top of a Vesuvius which will spew deadly ash and lava from and to both the Right and Left.
TO BE CONTINUED