Sunday, February 12, 2012

Can One Be a Good Nazi and a Good Latter Day Saint?

   An excellent little essay on the meaning and taxonomy of conservatism as a philosophy can be found here and we should analyze the concepts of each of the ten points at length (which we will do in a future post).  For the present, we will begin an exploration of a question that has arisen again and again, usually in rancorous form, which is the question of whether it is possible for a faithful, committed LDS to be, at the same time, a committed philosophical leftist (contemporary "liberal") and to support leftist political and social policy in the public sphere.

   We want to make clear here, at the beginning, that we are not necessarily asking whether one can be a faithful member of the Church and be a member of a particular political party.   The indignant wails of anguish regarding an alleged sociological fact of many western European Mormons adhering to socialist and communist parties and party platforms and the awful "Americanization" of the Church, and the deeply self conscious sense of a kind of outsider status among many LDS liberals (if my many years among LDS Internet message boards and email lists is any indication) who are loyal to the Democratic party and its politics, are indicative of the mine field one traverses if one wishes to frame the matter in the context of party politics.

   It is also the case, however, that political philosophy and ideology (which is this blog's primary concern) tend to concentrate themselves in political parties, as this is where organized political power is, at the end of the day, generated, expressed and ultimately, acquired.  Support for various parties and their platforms does express, at some point, deeper preferences and habits of heart and soul.  To what degree is this relevant to the gospel?

   As I've already defined ideology as both an idolatry of the self and an idolatry of humankind itself, and clearly identified leftist thought as the preeminent carrier of ideology and the ideological frame of mind in the modern world, it remains for us to discuss the nodes, points and intersections at which various ideas, concepts and beliefs in the political realm diverge from the  principles of the gospel.  While any number of discreet principles, beliefs and policies deriving from a general political philosophy may be, to one extent or another, compatible, or at least neutral, with regard to gospel doctrine, ideology, with its tendency to envelop and assimilate to itself many of the primary areas of the human condition with which the gospel shares primary relevance, presents us with a much more difficult state of affairs.

   Over a number of years, and even on what could only be termed "apologetic" message boards, I have confronted a rather fascinating dynamic.  Always in the past, when a group of LDS leftists turns to the defense or rehabilitation of socialism and Marxism and/or the societies and political systems its practical application spawned throughout the 20th century, and an attempt is made to graft branches of socialist theory to the trunk of the gospel tree, I have repeated, time and again, the question "can a good Latter Day Saint also be, at the same time, a good Nazi?".

   The general response to this question over as many years, from LDS liberals and leftists who claim, simultaneously, that various leftist political ideologies, up to and including revolutionary communism involving a classless society and the abolition of private property rights and a market economy, are fully compatible with Church teachings while also asserting that politics itself has little if any relevance to the living of the gospel as a practical matter, has been nothing short of fascinating.

   The reason I have always used the Nazi example is simple: the Nazis (the National Socialist German Workers Party) and Marxian and Marxist derived socialist theory as exemplified at the time by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, were ideologically and temperamentally close siblings within a family of leftist political systems (including Italian Fascism) that were rivals politically (and especially because of their totalitarian nature) but not in any sense oppositional philosophies in many core respects.  As the eminent Sovietologist Richard Pipes has written, "Bolshevism and Fascism were heresies of socialism".

   Socialism spawned, over time during the first third or so of the 20th century, spawned what are best understood as a group of heretical sects, which kept many of the core ideological components, as well as understanding of the nature of politics and its relation to the human condition, while diverging on various matters of doctrine, each to a greater or lesser extent.  We can dismiss the longstanding Soviet propaganda (which has long ago settled within the modern western Left as historical fact) that Fascism, for example, was an example of free market capitalism in its last, desperate stages, or that it was a manifestation of private capital in control of and guiding an imperialistic and aggressive state (this mythic tale was necessitated, in part, by the breaking of the Molotov - Ribbentrop Pact and the invasion of the Soviet Union by Hitler, at which time "fascism" (German National Socialism is not, strictly speaking, fascism per se, although it contains strong elements of fascism, including its approach to economic policy) became the enemy of "socialism" for public consumption in America through the Popular Front movement).

   The similarities between the two systems (both are totalitarian, both are collectivist, both create a regimented police state society, and both are the relentless enemy of free market capitalism and liberal democracy) present many with a thorough case of cognitive dissonance.  Why?  Because if it is perfectly possible, given the family resemblance between National Socialism and internationalist, class based socialism, for a good Latter Day Saint to be a good socialist or communist, then it follows from this that it is at least as possible for a good Latter Day Saint to be a good National Socialist.

   If one were to support a system which eventuated in the murder of well over a hundred million human beings, the scarring and destruction of the lives and potential of many millions more, and the institutionalization of poverty and destitution as permanent features of life, on the basis of race and ethnicity, one would be legitimately condemned as a moral ignoramus, and indeed, as much worse than this.

   If, on the other hand, one were to accomplish the same macabre feats on the basis of class, and in the name of equality, liberation and the brotherhood of man...wait...something changes here.

   Something changes...something... is... different in this case, and great spasmodic - even if sophisticated and urbane - contortions of effervescent doublethink and psychological inner conflict erupts into the arena of discourse, and in many cases to the point where names are called and character is attacked, when this question is asked.  Why?  Well, that is the question to which, over a number of years, I have never recieved an intellectually substantive or cogent answer.

   As Ayn Rand wrote, when people on the Left are asked this kind of question, "blank-out".

   And yet an interesting question it remains, especially for those who claim both that LDS teachings are amenable to socialist thought, even of the most radical kind, and who at the same time compartmentalize politics and religion so as not to have to make the decisions demanded of the gospel relative to the relations between them.

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