Monday, December 13, 2010

Liberals -- The Great Schism 102

We are looking at the left for values and faith. This is hard to do because of a cacophony of arguments and ideological splits. The left is full of schisms and hair-splitting and tiny distinctions. But there is one distinction that bites and remains utterly topical: Either the institutions of government are correct because democratic or they are mere ideological constructs.

The Great Schism of the Left  – Austria 1927

“If it is possible to assign a date to the moment when European social democracy and European communism became lethal antagonists, then 14 July 1927 is a date worth bearing in mind. On that day the powerful social democrats of Vienna were confronted by an open challenge from the clerical right-wing regime. A contemptuously rigged jury had acquitted those who had openly lynched three social democrats in the town of Schattendorf. Furious workers leaders came to the offices of the Socialist Party, demanding action. They wanted to see the great Otto Bauer. They were told the protest should be verbal only. As Ernst Fischer, who was present at the meeting, records the argument in his book An Opposing Man, the militants from the power stations and the factories were instructed: “One can't demonstrate against a verdict returned by a jury.” Trial by jury is a great democratic achievement. Even if the jury is mistaken, you can't come out into the streets. The next day, the workers of Vienna took to the streets anyway, and were fired on by the Austrian mounted police.

“The failure of social democracy to challenge authority and legality on this and many other occasions meant that the pre-fascist right, which was cynical about its own legal norms, had an easy time crushing Vienna's poor for good in the bloodbath of February, 1934. (It was these events, brilliantly chronicled by Fischer, that led Elias Canetti to start thinking about crowds and power, and also let Kim Philby to join the Communist Party.) Fischer and many like him were so disgusted by the failure of nerve shown by Austrian and German reformists that when they fled, they fled to Moscow. They based their newfound Communism on the idea “vividly illustrated by experience and reality“ that bourgeois freedom was a sham and a snare. This bifurcation of the European left “between those who cared for democratic properties no matter what and those who saw them as an ideological construct” led to disasters from which the Continent has never recovered. Even Fischer, by then a devout Stalinist, became a little upset after a talk he gave to the German and Austrian exiles in Moscow, defending the Hitler-Stalin Pact. The Nazis had invaded France, and he was in the room when suddenly the door flew open and a German Communist rushed in: “We've taken Paris!” Dummkopf. How terrifying when the lessons of dogma are learned too well. One of the conformists at the meeting where Fischer spoke was Wilhelm Pieck, later President of the German Democratic Republic. The German Communists managed to outlive Hitler, though not to live down their compromises with him, and when they came home it was as clients of the Red Army.
    The Cunning of History, by Christopher Hitchens, ppg. 136-7

[Footnote: In an outside blog to which I will refer later, I use the paragraphs above by Hitchens to prove that western democratic socialism, Stalinist communism and Hitler's Nazi party all represent forms of socialism.]

= = = = = = = = = =

Something analogous to this has happened today. The ideological construct that the federal government can do whatever it deems appropriate is squarely opposed to the constitutional provision that the central government has only those powers enumerated (and thus has less police power than a governor).

A federal court in Richmond, Virginia has decided that the state law declaring that no Virginian may be required to purchase insurance is legitimate and that the Health Care federal law of 2010 is thus without legal standing. This is a clear fight between modern “living constitution” liberalism, favoring unlimited federal power, opposed to classical 18th and 19th century liberalism, in which powers are separated and enumerated.

The Virginia case is certain to be treated at the federal appellate level and probably ultimately by the Supreme Court of the United States.

1 comment: