The Problem of the Weakly Principled

As I see it, there are basically two ways a person may conduct himself in a modern political society. He may be loyal to a party, or he may be loyal to principle. This does not preclude a principled person associating with a party, either as a member or a fellow traveler. So, to clarify, I mean this in relative terms.

The relative degrees of loyalty to party and principle predict how the person will behave when confronted by change. With strong party loyalty, a person risks pinning his fundamental moral and political beliefs to the evolution of the party. A strongly principled person, in contrast, resists changes that affect his fundamental moral and political beliefs and, if unsuccessful in steering the party back to foundational principle (if he even bothers to try), will sever his ties to the party and end his identification with its platform.

The Democratic Party Convention 2016

Suppose a party that has stood firmly on the grounds of civil liberties and rights. The party has championed free speech and assembly, bodily autonomy, and so forth. The party has moreover been critical of concentrated wealth and power, instead emphasizing the interests of working-class citizens in formulating its policies and fashioning a politics. The party promoted the equality of individuals before the law and in opportunity.

Now suppose this party moves in an authoritarian direction, the commitment to individual liberty and personal rights replaced by a commitment to corporate power and an appeal to the special rights of selected minorities. Workers, once valued as autonomous and rational persons, become the targets of state surveillance and control, social coercion differentiated by identity. The change is sweeping, however gradual in development. Any objective observer can step back, look at the party’s trajectory, and admit to its changed character.

I need to clarify something before continuing with this example. Often, I hear about how liberals have changed. I am an admirer of Glenn Greenwald, but on a Rumble livestream last Friday he did just this (while at the same time professing liberal values). The proper way to put this is not that liberals believe something different now, but that, because they believe something different, they are no longer liberals. Liberalism is a rather fixed set of beliefs, even with contradictions and inconsistencies. Either one subscribes to the set and can properly call himself a liberal, or he abandons the set and becomes a former liberal. In other words, he becomes something else. He may become a fascist. Liberalism doesn’t become fascism. When a liberal becomes a fascist he ceases to be a liberal. There are those with latent or accumulating fascistic tendencies who identify as liberal and associate with liberals. So there are those who abandon liberalism and those who wear liberalism as a cloak.

The difference between the loyal party man and the man loyal to principle will over time become obvious. There may be a moment when the person’s true character is revealed (I discuss this in the second part of this blog). Many of those strongly identifying with party, desiring to remain loyal to their party identity, adjust their morals and politics to accommodate shifts in party platform. Many do not find the authoritarian drift alarming and, perhaps subconsciously seeking to remain emotionally and psychologically comfortable, rationalize criticism of the party and its platform. For those who, in contrast, base their choices firmly on principle, while admittedly less likely to be loyal to party in the first place, even the gradual trend towards authoritarianism is alarming and will cause them to leave or, if they are fellow travelers, distance themselves from the party and its platform, an action that will likely be portrayed in an unflattering light.

Let me use my own trajectory to demonstrate. My beliefs have always been strongly liberal. Liberalism promotes free speech and expression (cognitive liberty), which includes the right to remain silent, freedom from compelled speech, and the right of individuals to have access to ideas; the right to privacy; bodily autonomy; religious liberty or freedom of conscience, i.e., secularism or separation of church and state; freedom of assembly and petitioning government for redress of grievances. These are democratic-republican values. I am not completely in sync with liberalism as classically formulated in that, while I believe in the labor theory of value, indeed because I believe in this theory, I do not believe in exclusive control over the means of production. In dialectical fashion, a higher unity demands removing from the classical liberal standpoint the notion of capital as exclusive property since it constrains the ability of individuals to produce for themselves and thus be maximally free.

In light of the constraints of the US (effectively) two-party system, Democrats tended to be better in upholding civil rights than the Republican. That was my perception, anyway. Bill Clinton and the New Democrats, the aggressive turn to globalization and neoliberalism (mirrored in the United Kingdom by the Third Way of Tony Blair and New Labour), was a clear signal that the Democratic Party was changing. As I grew more sophisticated in my knowledge of history and politics, I came to see that the Democratic Party and the progressive ideology it had embraced and institutionalized over the first half of the twentieth century explained that change. The point I want to make here is that, despite playing the chief role in globalizing late capitalism, including integration of the Chinese economy, the Democrats were better on liberal values than Republicans, the latter having sold their soul to the devil to fashion a coalition out of disaffected southern Democrats and evangelical Christians (mostly the same thing).

But this all changed over the course of the last two decades. The position of the Democratic Party today on the matter of civil liberties and human rights now reflects its subservience to transnational corporate power. The technocracy stood up by progressivism has become a coercive administrative arm of the oligopoly. With assistance from establishment Republicans, the Democratic Party has emerged as the house party of the oligarchy. To keep the corporate state apparatus in command, the liberal freedoms I extol, even when rehearsed in rhetoric, are sharply curtailed. The Democratic Party is the party of authoritarianism.

That the party loyalist does not find the drift towards authoritarianism alarming is explained by weak loyalty to principle. Rationalizing deviation from principle is easier for weakly principled persons. The party loyalist is differently motivated compared to the strongly principled person. The political party constitutes a society that makes the loyalist feel good about himself, providing him with a sense of belonging. Parties have banners, buttons, designs—they are brands. Politics become a personal style. It moreover feels good for weak egos to be around people who agree with them, especially when they wear the same slogans and express the same sentiments. A person feels empowered agreeing with the people he is around because it seems to him that the crowd is agreeing with him. The party loyalist’s desire to be part of the crowd is thus in part motivated by ego.

It is also motivated by laziness. The party provides ways of talking about and doing things (many of which are largely symbolic and ritualistic) that do not involve independent thought. Independent thought requires work. With a political party or movement, the individual is handed a script, repeats its points and slogans, and receives in return amens and strokes. Being one with a crowd means one does not have to act courageously while pretending to be courageous. The party loyalist can depend on the congregation to stand behind him when he confronts members of the other party or those who identify with none. It’s a church, where confronting apostates and infidels is easy with many at your back, while confronting the clerics over their hypocrisy means disloyalty and group shaming, even banishment.

Humans are prepared for congregating and herding because they are social animals. This natural history produces good and bad consequences. When it causes people to act as sheep to slaughter, following the crowd is contrary to self-interest—at least for the sheep. Absorption into the party does not bury ego. It puts ego in its service, making members feel as if their obedience to party dictates is virtuous—even while it robs them of the liberties and rights the party used to defend (at least better than the other party). Humans are naturally prepared on a psychological level to rationalize anxiety-provoking stimuli. We will die someday, so we imagine another world where we will live forever, a good place if we are good, even when some part of us recognizes that another world defies everything we know about reality (the curse of our big brains).

There are many such examples. Psychologists have identified the phenomenon that enables them as “cognitive dissonance.” If a person has a bit of principle in him, and the party loyalist is not always entirely bereft of principle, having to question the party’s evolution is anxiety-provoking. He will have to find that other form of courage, the one where a man has to speak against his comrades. There, he may have nobody standing with him. It is the rare man who does this. For most, that something that has to give is principle. Suppressing principle makes rationalizing change much easier. It is, in this way, that party loyalty is hazardous to the principled life.

In the context of party politics, cognitive dissonance is likely when a member or supporter of a party who is strongly oriented towards party loyalty and weakly oriented towards loyalty to principle is confronted by a policy or position that the party and its member have in the past opposed. The party loyalist doesn’t demand the party change back, or maybe he feebly tries with no success (and only ever so often does he find numbers sufficient to effectively raise internal opposition), but rather changes himself to accommodate his party. He may even convince himself that the party really hasn’t changed at all, that what the critic is characterizing as authoritarianism is nothing new or anything remarkable. The world has always been that way, he will tell others (and himself, since that is who he is really trying to convince). This way, despite his personal transformation, he can claim to be the same person he was along. He will be a puppet who does not think of himself as such.

If, on the other hand, he operates strongly on principle, finding the answer to his question unsatisfactory, and unable to pull the party and its members from the brink, he will quit the party and find a different party to travel with or even join. Or maybe he will abandon party politics altogether. His adherence to principle will almost invariably be portrayed as personal transformation. He was “radicalized” or some other such horrible thing. Those whose subjectivity moves with the herd do not see the herd’s changing direction because they move along with it. This is the optical illusion of positional relativity. Unlike quantum mechanics, however, space-time is not actually affected. The party left the principled man; he did not change.

Some people can easily transform themselves in tandem with the party’s evolution and these those who are weakly attached to principle. But there are those who are weakly attached to principle who also leave parties whether they are static or evolving. I have written about them on Freedom and Reason. Something should be briefly said about them here. These are the people who are drawn to parties for emotional and psychological needs. Eric Hoffer calls them “true believers.” (A Fact-Proof Screen: Black Lives Matter and Hoffer’s True Believer.) True believers are attracted to the energy of actions, movements, and slogans. Consider how easily a person who finds satisfaction in physically confronting people in street-level action floats between activist groups depending on the opportunities they provide for neural stimulation. Street-level neofascists and antifascists are indistinguishable in their organization and tactics, their ideology merely a technique of rationalization. Even their dress, if but for different colored braces, buttons, and shoelaces; they are as differentiated in costume as two NFL football teams. It’s why they keep their actions confined to an arena (a park or street corner) and never actually challenge power. They are an annoyance. The party loyalist is something much worse. He becomes a threat to the democratic-republican order when his party becomes authoritarian and illiberal in character.

* * *

The New Fascism is a Lot Like Being Dead: You Don’t Know You Are

For this section, I am going to use Michel Foucault’s notion of fascism. Despite my criticisms of Foucault’s work and politics, there are real insights in much of it, and his treatment of fascism in at least one instance is useful for understanding the subjective side of the phenomenon, the task with which we are here faced.

Foucault, in a noted analysis of Gilles Deluze and Felix Guattari’s 1972 Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, abstracted fascism from its historical concrete forms to encompass “the fascism in us all, in our heads and everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominate and exploits us.” This should remind those who are familiar with his work of Erich Fromm. This is the character of Fromm’s authoritarian personality thesis (Escape from Freedom). Like Fromm, Foucault’s solution to the problem of endemic fascism is political and social practice that emancipates the individual from “unitary and totalizing paranoia.” (See Living at the Borderline—You are Free to Repeat After Me.)

Worshippers at the Church of Scientism

I was horrified yesterday to discover how easily people I have known for years have slipped into the authoritarian mindset. This example will serve to illustrate some of the points I made in the first section of the blog. The opportunity to reveal the fascist living in their heads came when I shared a cartoon of people worshipping a syringe (see above) with the comment: “Because it’s not the science that justifies mandates and passports.” Passports are documents citizens are required to carry (now conveniently stored on your phone, soon maybe a chip in your hand) and present to a gatekeeper (soon to be completely automated for your convenience) if they want to enter spaces open to the public. These have always been part of our world, my Facebook friends said.

No, they have not always been part of our world. This is rhetoric designed to normalize the pathological. This is not normal. Never before in the history of America have citizens been forced as a general rule to present proof of vaccination to enter spaces open to the public. I have never had anybody ever ask me for my vaccination record to enter my child’s school, to dine in a restaurant, to attend a concert—to go anywhere. Even when I have been obviously sick, coughing and blowing my nose, nobody has ever questioned me about it or restricted my movements on account of it. Not a single time. I am fifty-nine years old. I won’t let people normalize fascism by acting as if what’s happening is not an extraordinary development in the history of our country.

(I am sure somebody reading this will identify my white privilege here. Maybe white people never had to present proof of a legitimate reason for being out and about, I hear a woke voice say, but this was a common experience of black people for centuries. Yes it was. And it was wrong. It is wrong to treat people this way. You’re making my argument for me.)

What makes mandates and passports so extraordinary is that the United States is based on the premise that a free and open society where the civil rights of the individual are paramount is essential for a good life. Mandates and passports are elements in totalitarian societies, not free and open ones. The power elite are using COVID-19 pandemic as cover to establish a totalitarian administrative state apparatus. What we are witnessing in real time is nothing less than a paradigm shift in the character of the United States.

The fascists-in-training shrug their shoulders as if it’s no big deal. Their acquiescence to authoritarian control exposes the fascist that lives in their heads. And they are utterly unprepared and ego-bound to confront their emerging authoritarian personalities. The brute force of clear and present reason has no effect on them. Not mature enough to deal with confronting error, they have an ego to defend. The greatest disaster for a weak ego is the collapse of worldview. I think it is too late for them.

There was some confusing on the particular thread I am referencing and the matter of international travel was raised. There we find passports. Yes, we do, and so we should. But let’s take a look at that, because it makes my point all the more. I have been to Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Jordan—multiple times. I have been through France and the Netherlands. I never needed to be vaccinated to travel to any of these places. Nobody ever asked me about my medical history. Yet even here we’re seeing an extraordinary development. While the rank-and-file authoritarians live in a dreamworld constructed for them by the culture industry, the trans-Atlantic community is being transformed into a grand totalitarian administrative apparatus. 

These two Facebook friends are hardly alone. Hundreds of millions across the trans-Atlantic community are walking zombies for corporate state totalitarianism. The success of the power elite in incorporating young Americans into the social logic of corporate capitalism is spectacular. There’s no reaching them. They’re foot soldiers for the technocratic order, prepared to take up any cause deftly wrapped in the rhetoric of social justice.

As I have documented on Freedom and Reason, the power elite are using the rhetoric of public health and the religion of scientism to effectuate a new fascist order (Biden’s Biofascist Regime; see also A Dark and Authoritarian Path is Paved by Pathologizing Humanity). It’s obvious from the standpoint of any theory of power. But it is just as obvious from the standpoint of common sense. By definition, rule by the departments of public health constitutes technocratic government. Technocracy is diametrically opposed to democratic-republican values and libertarian norms. Mandates and passports are clear markers of the fascistic reorganization of western society. And all that flies by the rank and file authoritarians, because they have allowed a fascist to live in their heads—and cognitive dissonance has produced in them a false belief that all this is normal and necessary. But it is on the contrary objectively abnormal and scientifically unnecessary and we must resist it.

Fascism works by creating a subjectivity that seduces those weakly devoted to reason and principle into taking up authoritarianism.

* * *

Spreading the Mind Virus that Causes the Fascist Disease

Things were going fairly well until the Irish population reached a high level of vaccination. But once most people were vaccinated, COVID-19 cases started rising. Well over 90 percent of the Irish population is now vaccinated. See the below graph. Look familiar?

Cases of COVID-19 in Ireland

Why do we see an association between case frequency and high rates of vaccination? Because these vaccines do not confer immunity and by reducing symptoms allows the infected to spread the virus more successfully. Instead of being at home in bed with cold and flu-like symptoms, they are out interacting with other people. Moreover, passports allow infected people who have been vaccinated greater access to spaces exclusive of those not vaccinated.

If you fear COVID-19, you should be told that being around vaccinated people represents a significant risk to being exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and that, even if you are vaccinated, you may contract and develop the disease. Not only are you not being told this, but you are being led to believe the opposite. None other than the president of the United States told an audience recently, “You’re not going to get COVID if you have these vaccinations.” This is false. When the authorities admit this, they tell you that the vaccine prevents severe illness. But once infected, you can still get sick, you can still wind up in the hospital, and you can even die. But mostly, you will just spread it to others.

I explained this weeks ago on Freedom and Reason. But I am painfully aware that facts don’t matter to people who peddle the vaccine. They are motivated not by science but by a desire for force people to submit to technocratic rule (and profits, of course). Authoritarianism is, after all, the desire to control other people, and it often comes with sadism. Support for mass vaccination has become the chief indicator of the extent of fascist subjectivity among the general population in western societies. And fuck is it extensive.

We might think of fascist desire as a mind virus, one that is much more dangerous than SARS-CoV-2. The mind virus causes people to do things that are especially damaging to children. Masking children is early training in obedience to arbitrary rules, the intervention occurring during the crucial years of personality development. And now they are going to jab them for a virus that will give them a cold, if they have any symptoms at all. And still make them wear a mask. And still quarantine them.

It’s as obvious as anything can be that the virus that causes COVID-19 is being used to spread the virus that causes the disease of fascism and the population has been so deranged that they’re welcoming totalitarian rule with open arms. This is because people are weakly principled.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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