Showing posts with label jonah goldberg. Show all posts
Showing posts with label jonah goldberg. Show all posts

Saturday, April 12, 2008


This afternoon I spent a couple of hours on the floor of my local Borders perusing a couple of new books on the subject of fascism.  Holy Mackeral! There's a lot that I didn't know before! Apparently Mussolini was heavily influenced by the American pragmatist writers like William James (pragmatism = whatever works is good). Mussolini was a socialist, in fact he edited Italy's biggest socialist newspaper, but reading the Americans led him to think that there was a third way, which was neither capitalist nor socialist. It consisted of doing whatever seemed to work, whether the solution was a private or a public sector one.  The important thing for the pragmatists was to get things done!

This philosophy eventually created the Progressive movement in America, exemplified by Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. Wilson believed in drastically beefing up the power of the central government so that, when that power was needed, it would be there to solve problems quickly and definitively, without the ball and chain of endless arguments by local politicians.  Putting the power in the hands of higher ups meant a lot less power for individuals and Wilson and Roosevelt were fine with that.  They felt that parts of the American founding documents were fine for their time but were antiquated in the modern world, which demanded fast, decisive action.  

Of course the problem faced by the pragmatists was how to break it to people that the new ideas involved less freedom, and the solution was education to produce a new citizen who was so hyped up and so civic-minded that he wouldn't mind giving up some of his traditional freedoms. Wow! Shades of the French Revolution! 

In America and Britain the pragmatist philosophy was diluted by long held traditions favoring individual rights, but in continental Europe the concept of American and British-style rights were still controversial.  For them the idea of centralizing power led to power being vested in Marxist-style authoritarian parties,  and leaders who were like kings.  Since pragmatism involved using any solution that seemed like it would work, and since the party leader(s) decided what worked, European pragmatism degenerated into the whims of tyrants.

Is this a fair analysis? I haven't the slightest idea since I know very little about the period.  If the books are wrong then I'm wrong.  I just find it interesting that an American philosophy like pragmatism may have had a bigger impact than I'd previously thought.

Is anybody still awake out there?