Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Mediated democracy and the temptations of Leninism

This is very good and incredibly important:

On the pernicious legacy of Vladimir Lenin.
Two decades before Hitler, Lenin created a totalitarian state devoted to mass murder. Too few people are aware of this.

What is new, and uniquely horrible about the Soviets and their successors, is that they directed their fury at their own people. The Russian empire lost more people in World WarI than any other country, but still more died under Lenin. His war against the peasants, for instance, took more lives than combat between Reds and Whites.
This was not an accident or an unintended consequence of laudable actions:

Dmitri Volkogonov, the first biographer with access to the secret Lenin archives, concluded that for Lenin violence was a goal in itself. He quotes Lenin in 1908 recommending “real, nationwide terror, which invigorates the country and through which the Great French Revolution achieved glory.”

Lenin constantly recommended that people be shot “without pity” or “exterminated mercilessly” (Leszek Ko³akowski wondered wryly what it would mean to exterminate people mercifully). “Exterminate” is a term used for vermin, and, long before the Nazis described Jews as Ungeziefer(vermin), Lenin routinely called for “the cleansing of Russia’s soil of all harmful insects, of scoundrels, fleas, bedbugsthe rich, and so on.”
By rights, the Hammer and Sickle should be as repugnant as the Swastika. Decent people should shun those who wear it or march under its banner.

Intrepid reporters who hunt down grandmothers for sharing memes on Facebook have no problem with some symbols of mass murder. How can they? They know that “red-baiting” was bad and The Resistance is good. And besides, it is all the Trumpkins fault.

Without realizing it, they have succumbed to Leninthink.

Leninoid thinking has taken over the minds of our aspiring Manadrin class

The truly frightening thing about Morson’s essay is the clear parallels he draws between Leninism and the state of our intellectual debate. The pundits, journalists, and politicians are not Leninist per se, but “Leninthink” shows up in all our contentious political and cultural disputes.

The essence of the Leninist style is that they are not interested in debate at all.

In Lenin’s view, a true revolutionary did not establish the correctness of his beliefs by appealing to evidence or logic, as if there were some standards of truthfulness above social classes. Rather, one engaged in “blackening an opponent’s mug so well it takes him ages to get it clean again.”
G. K. Chesterton advised that one should never let a quarrel interfere with a good argument. Lenin had no interest in good arguments, reasoned debate, or even a quarrel. His goals were best achieved through slander and vituperation.

As his disciple Willi Munzenberg told Arthur Koestler:

Don't argue with them, Make them stink in the nose of the world. Make people curse and abominate them, Make them shudder with horror.
This passage from Morson has resonance today:

Critics objected that Lenin argued by mere assertion. He disproved a position simply by showing it contradicted what he believed. In his attack on the epistemology of Ernst Mach and Richard Avenarius, for instance, every argument contrary to dialectical materialism is rejectedfor that reason alone. Valentinov, who saw Lenin frequently when he was crafting this treatise, reports that Lenin at most glanced through their works for a few hours. It was easy enough to attribute to them views they did not hold, associate them with disreputable people they had never heard of, or ascribe political purposes they had never imagined. These were Lenin’s usual techniques, and he made no bones about it.

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Lenin did not concern himself with objective standards of truth, morality, or justice. All that mattered was Who/Whom: Did it help the Party or hurt its enemies? Then it was good and necessary. Because Leninthink accepts no restrictions on the power and actions of the Party, a truly loyal member does not quibble about facts or logical consistency.

While this sounds absurd -- thinking fit only for maniacs and the Devil himself -- we find examples all around us.

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Or take the tropes mocking “Whataboutism”. At their core these dismissive tweets are cheap Leninthink. Actions are not good or bad in and of themselves; they are to be assessed purely in terms of Who/Whom. It doesn’t matter if Trump is following a precedent set by Bush, Clinton, or Obama. Orange Man Bad. Impeach him.

I recall a Soviet citizen telling me that people in the USSR had absolute freedom of speech-- so long as they did not lie.
We now see members of the Senate and Congress trying to carve out similar exceptions to the First Amendment. Journalists cheer them on. They see no contradiction between their pose as defenders of democracy and limiting the speech of American citizens.
Lenin at least was conscious of his rejection of the norms of debate. Our self-nominated mandarins are too ignorant and insular to realize what they are destroying.

Or maybe they do:

To be most effective, propaganda needs the help of censorship. Within a sealed information arena, it can mobilize all means of communication-- printed, spoken, artistic, and visual -- and press its claims to maximum advantage.
Norman Davies, Europe: A History
On “mediated democracy”:

They still don't get it

We really are ruled by inept experts

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