Saturday, May 28, 2011

1984 in brief: Nietzsche's critique of Socialism

[04/27/2012 note: This is wrong and I'm rewriting it.  I'll leave this here and post an updated/revised version in the near future.]

[07/13/2012 note: Regarding whether or not the Nazis are socialists, see this post.]

Some time ago I was having a casual discussion with an acquaintance of mine when we somehow stumbled upon the subject of our respective left-wing socio-political ideologies and the appeal of faux authoritarian aesthetics. We agreed that while we both deplored totalitarian governments there definitely was an appeal to being able to metaphorically grab someone by the shoulders and scream, "Shape the fuck up and do something useful!"

Therein lies the trap that makes left-wing dictatorships so much more potent than their traditional right-wing counterparts: despotism is fueled by pettiness and greed while military juntas see themselves as a bulwark defending traditional society against an existential threat. Maosim, Juche, Soviet Commuisim etc are based in the concept that they exist to improve the human condition. This results in the moral and ethical imperative to 'correct' every aspect of a person's life, naturally and essentially leading to the complete sublimation of all individuals into the state. The freakishly fanatical cults of personality so typical of these regimes are simply tools to that end; much as the religious will prostrate themselves and seek communion with the Godhead (whether by styling themselves after a prophet in Islam or by observing the complete reverence of Mass in Catholicism) the citizens of fully realized left-wing dictatorships idolize a specific person who literally embodies the perfection of the Socialist ideal.

Thus a wretched parody of Karl Marx's 'Dictatorship of the Proletariat' is realized.

It was with that epiphany that I was able to reconcile the horrors of 20th century communism with my own understanding of Socialism. I am NOT endorsing what happened; on the contrary I think it's important to understand the connection so that those mistakes can be avoided.

I formed these opinions based mainly on two sources. The first is, obviously, Orwell's 1984. The other is the 473rd aphorism in Nietzsche's Human, All Too Human. As translated by Marion Faber it reads:

Socialism in respect to its means. Socialism is the visionary younger brother of an almost decrepit despotism, whose heir it wants to be. Thus its efforts are reactionary in the deepest sense. For it desires a wealth of executive power, as only despotism had it; indeed, it outdoes everything in the past by striving for the downright destruction of the individual, which it sees as an unjustified luxury of nature, and which it intends to improve into an expedient organ of the community. Socialism crops up in the vicinity of all excessive displays of power because of its relation to it, like the typical old socialist Plato, at the court of the Sicilian tyrant; it desires (and in certain circumstances, furthers) the Caesarean power state of this century, because, as we said, it would like to be its heir. But even this inheritance would not suffice for its purposes; it needs the most submissive subjugation of all citizens to the absolute state, the like of which has never existed. And since it cannot even count any longer on the old religious piety towards the state, having rather always to work automatically to eliminate piety (because it works on the elimination of all existing states), it can only hope to exist here and there for short periods of time by means of the most extreme terrorism. Therefore, it secretly prepares for reigns of terror, and drives the word "justice" like a nail into the heads of the semi-educated masses, to rob them completely of their reason (after this reason has already suffered a great deal from its semi-education), and to give them a good conscience for the evil game that they are supposed to play.

Socialism can serve as a rather brutal and forceful way to teach the danger of all accumulations of state power, and to that extent instill one with distrust of the state itself. When its rough voice chimes in with the battle cry "As much state as possible," it will at first make the cry noisier than ever; but soon the opposite cry will be heard with strength the greater: "As little state as possible."

As a socialist myself it's worth remembering that the Nazis were socialists in their early days. It was only after the 'Night of Long Knives' and the purging of the SA that they completely broke from socialism and became one of the prototypical fascist organizations.

More importantly: North Korea and the Khmer Rogue. That should be all that needs to be said.

I'd Love to hear other people's thoughts on this!

No comments:

Post a Comment