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I really want to follow up on my last diary, about the historical similarities of our current situation to 19th-century colonialism; but there is another historical similarity I need to discuss first that is equally important, is also covered by Hannah Arendt, and is much scarier. These two similarities reinforce one another; and we can't defeat one of them without defeating the other.

That other similarity is tribalism. Since the advent of cable TV, and even more after the advent of the Internet, people have been retreating from engaged citizenship into their own private social ghettos. It has been called "cocooning", but that is too innocuous a term for the polarization that has been building in America. Bill Bishop comes closest in his book, The Big Sort:

America may be more diverse than ever coast to coast, but the places where we live are becoming increasingly crowded with people who live, think, and vote like we do. This social transformation didn't happen by accident. We've built a country where we can all choose the neighborhood and church and news show — most compatible with our lifestyle and beliefs. And we are living with the consequences of this way-of-life segregation. Our country has become so polarized, so ideologically inbred, that people don't know and can't understand those who live just a few miles away.

Another word for "way-of-life segregation" is tribalism. It is a word with a horrible pedigree. Hannah Arendt sees continental tribalism, in the form of the pre-WW1 "Pan-German" and "Pan-Slavic" movements in Eastern Europe as the birthplace of modern totalitarianism:

Just as continental imperialism sprang from the frustrated ambitions of countries which did not get their share in the sudden (colonial) expansion, so tribalism appeared as the nationalism of those people who had not participated in national emancipation and had not achieved the sovereignty of a nation state. Wherever the two frustrations were combined, as in multinational Austria-Hungary and Russia, the pan-movements found their most fertile soil.

Tribal nationalism...had little in common with the nationalism of the fully developed Western nation-state...(two factors) remained separate in Austria-Hungary and Russia: nation and state...

Quite different was the first national reaction of peoples for whom nationality had not yet developed...If they wanted to match the national pride of Western nations, they had no country, no state, no historic achievement to show but could only point to themselves, and that meant, at best, to their language.

Tribal nationalism grew out of this atmosphere of rootlessness...The hallmark of the pan-movements was that they never even tried to achieve national emancipation, but at once...proclaimed a folk community that would remain a political factor even if its members were dispersed all over the earth.

- Hannah Arendt, "The Origins of Totalitarianism, Book 2, Imperialism"

I think that the current version of the United States (after 30 years of GOP sabotage) bears a strong resemblance to the decaying Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy of the early 1900s, a dynastic patchwork, a "belt of mixed populations", ruled by a monarch instead of a Parliament.

(Russia and Austria Hungary in 1914) were distinguished from other governments in that they governed the peoples directly by a bureaucracy; parties played insignificant roles, and parliaments had no legislative functions; the state ruled through an administration that applied decrees. The significance of Parliament for (Austria-Hungary) was little more than that of a not too bright debating society.

This "belt of mixed populations" has polarized itself by the mechanisms described in "The Big Sort"; but that begs the question of why people felt the need to make those choices. This is an exposive question; so you will pardon me if I answer it the long way around, by discussing the behavior of the polarizers instead of their motivation.

Today, the polarization in America is largely via the "Culture Wars", which are said to have a largely religious underpinning. The religion that is always on the offensive in these wars is fundamentalist Christianism. I am very clear that fundamentalism is not Christianity. Its doctrines are warlike and Old Testament in their viciousness, misogyny, and intolerance. But, one thing about fundamentalism (which was largely invented out of whole cloth, AFTER the time period Ms. Arendt is discussing) that Ms. Arendt zeroes in on is the constantly repeated fundamentalist trope of "chosenness":

In contrast to overseas imperialism, which was content with...a national mission..., the pan-movements started with absolute claims to chosenness. Nationalism has been frequently described as a surrogate of religion, but only the tribalism of the pan-movements offered a new religious theory and a new concept of holiness.

The pan-movements preached the divine origin of their own people as against the Jewish-Christian faith in the divine origin of Man. According to them, man, belonging inevitably to some people, received his divine origin only indirectly through membership in a people....The political advantage of this concept was twofold. It made nationality into a permanent quality which no longer could be touched by history, no matter what happened to a given people... Of even more immediate impact, however, was that in the absolute contrast between the divine origin of one's own people and all other nondivine peoples all differences between the individual members of the people disappeared...Divine origin changed the people into a uniform "chosen" mass of arrogant robots.

People under the age of 30 and irreligious can be forgiven for not knowing the historical origins of the fundamentalist mega-church movement and its takeover of less extreme religious organizations, like the Southern Baptist Convention. But, the fact is that the initial motivation for setting up private "Christian" academies was racism. These academies were largely a dodge around Civil Rights Laws. It was only after this infrastructure was in place, with a heavily racist and authoritarian membership, that it was twisted, by sophisticated application of funding and ideological guidance, into the Culture War machine that it is today.

Once again, Ms. Arendt, writing over 50 years ago, about events that took place over 100 years ago, is right on top of this non-coincidence:

Racism, which denied the common origin of man...introduced the concept of one people as contrasted with all others, thereby covering...human endeavor with a pseudomystical cloud of divine eternity and finality. This finality is what acts as the common denominator between the pan-movements' philosophy and race thinking..

She further identifies another thread of the culture wars - the totally disproportionate hatred of liberalism:

The tribalism of the pan-movements...owed part of its great appeal to its contempt for liberal individualism, the ideal of mankind and the dignity of man. No human dignity is left if the individual owes his value only to the fact that he happens to be born a German or a Russian.

At this point, I am asking myself whether this diary is an essay or an exercise in stenography. Ms. Arendt further predicts the lawlessness of the Tea Party:

Open disregard for law and legal institutions and ideological justification of lawlessness has been much more characteristic of continental imperialism than of overseas imperialism. This is partly due to the fact that continental imperialism lacked the geographical distance to separate the illegality of their rule on foreign continents from the legality of their home countries' institutions.

And their total hatred of government, in any form:

There are no (pan-) movements without the hatred of the state, and this was virtually unknown to the German Pan-Germans in the relative stability of pre-WW1 Germany. The movements originated in Austria-Hungary, where hatred of the state was an expression of patriotism for the oppressed nationalities...What held together the members of the parties in multinational Austria-Hungary was not a particular interest...but chiefly the sentiment of belonging to the same nationality.

What is interesting for me in this quote are the words "patriotism" and "oppressed". These are exactly the terms that right wing fanatics use constantly. Just as with yesterday's discussion of corporate colonialism, tribal nationalism is as old as the Industrial Revolution and its upending of the social order.

Unfortunately, Ms. Arendt sees tribalism as a viable strategy, something that will not easily be forced back in an era dominated by corporate colonialism. The two phenomena feed upon each other; and as I said in the intro, we can't defeat one if we ignore the other. We are stuck with a two front war:

Tribalism and racism are the very realistic, if very destructive, ways of escaping this predicament of common responsibility (for all crimes committed by men and nations). Their metaphysical rootlessness, which matched so well the territorial uprootedness of the nationalities it first seized, was equally well-suited to the needs of the shifting masses of the modern cities and was therefore grasped at once by totalitarianism...

Having circled all the way around the issue of motivation for tribal nationalism, it is finally time to address it. I have saved it for the end because I expect that this conclusion will get a lot of flack and HRs from trolls who I am about to give a big, fat target. So, follow along as I connect the dots.


American fundamentalist tribalism sprang from racism, and racism sprang from the Old South and its apartheid regime. The "chosenness" of Christianist fundamentalists is part of the "Noble Cause" legend that the South was blameless for its aggression in the Civil War era. The Confederacy was special. The Confederacy was the "nation" of these fundamentalist and racist whackjobs who feel no compunction at breaking the laws of the United States and attacking the basic principles in its Constitution.

Because the Confederacy was defeated, and the South was subjugated for a hundred years, it never developed into the "nation" it thought it could become. So, it became a hotbed of tribal nationalism.

For progressives to tiptoe around the relationship between fundamentalism, racism, the Old South, and the anti-government movement is to make a major mistake. These people by themselves would be as much trouble for America as the pan-movements were for Austria-Hungary. But these people are funded and manipulated by the same corporatists who are colonizing us. We can't ignore this dangerous relationship because we might be accused of bigotry or anti-white or anti-Christian bigotry. We are already accused of these things on a daily basis. So who cares. Suck it up and attack these racist SOBs.

Tomorrow, I will get back to the economic issues.


BTW, this diary revisits a topic I diaried in 2002: Kinder, Gentler Apocalyptic Nationalism. It seems I have to put this material out there every five to ten years for each new political generation.

Originally posted to ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement on Wed Jul 06, 2011 at 07:06 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Fascinating (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    entlord, falina

    and very well presented.

    For my own part I think that the current "Culture War" is based more in greed than anything else.

    If you control the organs of State, and the means of communication, then you control the people, and shape the way they think.

    If the Churches are willing to help you, because it helps them keep control of their flocks, well that's just a bonus.

    I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
    but I fear we will remain Democrats.

    by twigg on Wed Jul 06, 2011 at 07:15:48 PM PDT

    •  only for its leaders; rank & file really believe (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      twigg, arendt, OHdog, semiot, EthrDemon

      Conservatives seem doomed to be led by the most cynical and self-serving people our society can create, but the ordinary people truly believe in the culture war as a struggle for the salvation of their religion, their secular culture, the country, and even Western Civilization as a whole.  Even as the individual churches and the communities they dominate become more extreme, they're painfully aware of society as a whole evolving into something that not only doesn't privilege their lifestyle, but doesn't aspire to it or even respect it as valid.  What both we and they call a utopian offense born of a position of strength is in reality a fundamentally reactionary defense from a position of grave weakness.  The culture war is being fought against a culture that has all but destroyed theirs.

      For all the lofty and belligerent rhetoric, most culture warriors are motivated by concerns that'd find more support among liberals than  you'd think, if only they were spoken in our language. Lots of parents worried about their kids (sex, drugs, trash, etc.), working people worried about the economy but blaming it on those the plutocrats find and present to be convenient scapegoats, lots of people worried about the country's loss of respect and influence in the world and again what this means for their [almost] First World lifestyles. The only people that have no common ground with us are those who've been told for generations that they were "America", now believing that they're about to become a minority in their own country.

  •  That's a really important point (7+ / 0-)

    about how the seg academies were the cradle of the megachurch/religious right movement in America today.    And they've survived, sustained, matured, so the reproduction of their social base is permanently guaranteed.

    "Tu vida es ahora" ~graffiti in Madrid's Puerta del Sol, May, 2011.

    by ActivistGuy on Wed Jul 06, 2011 at 07:54:36 PM PDT

  •  in WWI Austro Hungarian army had to (6+ / 0-)

    issue daily orders in 17 different languages and dialects.

    One disadvantage of the information explosion is many people who were formally very comfortable with their world view, discovered there is a big scary strange world out there that can reach out and touch them.  Previously Nat Geo with its naked breasts was the closest the world came to their homes

  •  Humans are tribal animals (6+ / 0-)

    It is a basic survival strategy that has applied throughout human existance whether the tribe was nomadic hunter-gatherers or settled agrarian; in each case the recipie is different but the underlying principles is the same, strength in numbers and shared obligations/benifts, with a pecking order.

    This is a biological necessity: because humans take years to develop to maturity, survival of our species depends on this; there must be a social structure for cildren to mature to adults and procreate.

    Of course this is not unique to human species, it is common in nature.

    From this point we then consider the forms of tribes, from famillies of clans to nations. Ultimately it is a question of how we self-identify and the strength of each identity. Whether the allegence is along familly, religious or national lines, we simply do so and generally it is based on perceptions of self-interest at the individual and tribal level.

    This is all very deeply rooted in the organization and rules of states. As we progressed from small clans to nations the rules change, but the concepts do not simply because they work. Repreentative government is true to this concept; that we need local autonomy so our local society can survive and prosper.

    The modern concept of the supremity of the individual is actually a defective philosophy since individuals cannot survive, at least in the context of species survival. We depend on the tribe.

    So, in my viewpoint, tribes are not just a viable strategy but a necessary one.

    The question is whether, in any given case, nations maintain strong allegence of tribes to the state. Where they fail to justify that allegence they become weak.

    The challange modern communications technology and gloablization (the latter nothing new, just cyclical) present to nations-states is this tends to facillitate de-evolution of the sate as people identify along other lines as the technology facillitates it and economic treds force it.

    Facebook is a tribal facillitaor and it seems people often think that is a good thing since they can build a virtual tribe they strongly identify with.

    And this blog does that too - those who do not suport our tribal allegence or violate our tribal rules as stigmatized as trolls and cast out from the group.

    It is a very nice idealistic concept that societies can be run on the basis of fullfilling the needs of individusls by the constibutions of individuals but this has be proven no to work beyond a certian point. The second best thing is we promote the concept of common human ideals and convince tribes it is in their interest to cooperate.

    But to be effective, we much have a strategy to manage the tribes, and that is the nature of politics.

    Your thoughts?

    What about my Daughter's future?

    by koNko on Wed Jul 06, 2011 at 08:49:24 PM PDT

    •  It will take a while to compose a good response... (5+ / 0-)

      to this excellent post.

      I agree with everything, but I have not got the answer - short of suggesting you read my website on Distributed Government (which no one ever comments about).

      And, its bedtime. So let me sleep on it. I had forgotten that every once in a while you get an answer that is better posed than the OP. It is a challenge to respond in kind.

      I beg your indulgence for a night's sleep.

      •  I don't have my OOT handy, but... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        pawtucketpat, koNko

        there is a place in the discussion of tribal nationalism where Ms. Arendt discusses exactly the issue you raise; and she concludes that the protection of indivdual rights is only guaranteed by governments. (Agreeing with you.)

        Then she goes on to make some insightful comments that, as usual, are too complex to soundbite. I will try to find them when I have access to OOT.

        •  Government works both ways (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Ideally, government promotes shared interests and protects independant thinkers.

          Very ideally, cooperation between governments enlarges the circle of shared interests and I find this leads to an interesting question: is it better to work on the basis of interests (pragmatisim) or values/principles (idealism)?

          I suposse both are importiant, the former to being short-term and the latter long-term. And you need to share a little of both to build trust.

          What about my Daughter's future?

          by koNko on Fri Jul 08, 2011 at 08:48:36 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I have the quote, but no time to type it (0+ / 0-)


          it is unfortunate that the French revolution simultaneously proclaimed the universal rights of man and the total predominance of the nation state. This created a tension between the universal principles and the nation-state's total autonomy.

          This early entanglement of nation and state (i"m a little unclear exactly what things she assigns to what category) has resulted in rights being tied to national governments.

          So, its not clear what your reaction to this formulation would be.

    •  This could be a diary in the making (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Well worth it's own diary and discussion.


      The Fail will continue until actual torches and pitchforks are set in motion. -

      by No one gets out alive on Fri Jul 08, 2011 at 05:01:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Perhaps you're right. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        arendt, No one gets out alive

        After all, there is an election on the horizon and it is shaping up to be a tribal conflict of historic proportions so maybe the battling tribes of Progressivstonia should call a truce and focus on the Vandilii and Sarmatians across the river sharpening their stakes.

        What about my Daughter's future?

        by koNko on Fri Jul 08, 2011 at 08:57:25 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  To my mind, the only productive tribal... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          No one gets out alive

          organization to oppose the "chosen peeople"  tribes  would be around practical skills...something like guilds or unions. These would not be limited to the production of goods. You cculd have a guild of people who were passionate about a certain approach to government or the arts or the environment.

          These tribes would organize themselves naturally in my Distributed Government mechanism.

          In the upcoming election, it would be the job of the sensible people in each tribal guild to educate other members as to the destructive impact of insane GOP policies upon the guild's passionate organizing principle.

          As I say in DistGov, its much harder to use right wing boilerplate about the gay takeover when the topic is so tightly focussed, so mundane (e.g., the municipal sewer system) and concrete that the GOP moral panic propaganda makes no sense and gets no traction.

    •  Thanks for the boost! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      arendt, northsylvania

      An Fhirinn an aghaidh an t'Saoghail.

      by OllieGarkey on Thu Jul 07, 2011 at 11:10:55 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Its no accident we're both on this topic... (3+ / 0-)

        the elites are stirring up all this tribalism.

        Its like a replay of Bosnia, where the Serbs were organizing for years, Slobodan Milosevic was running on pure racism, and the other side was clueless.

        But, as Chris Hedges said, once this stuff gets pass a critical threshold, there is no way back. Then you just have to choose a side and fight; because non-violence just gets you killed.

        Thanks for raising awareness on yet another violent subculture. Meanwhile, the DOJ is crusading against Medical Marijuana.

        •  Indeed. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          We have the option to use nonviolence and democracy now, and we need to take advantage of it.

          I don't want violence to enter into mainstream american political discourse. We have our democracy, and it's under threat, but it's working on a basic level.

          I'm afraid of what might happen if people keep using issues of class to stir up racist bullshit about voter fraud (read: Voting while Brown).

          I wrote that diary because we need to stop using the politics of racial identity, and start working on the politics of class identity.

          If the republicans are going to wage a class war, then we need to fight back, and we can't do that if we're not united.

          An Fhirinn an aghaidh an t'Saoghail.

          by OllieGarkey on Thu Jul 07, 2011 at 01:35:12 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The replacement of class by race... (0+ / 0-)

            in American politics has been one of the basic victories of the right wing over the left since the death of JFK.

            The entire basis of progressive economic policies has been eliminated from the political discussion - except to call lefties communists, socialists, etc. The right doesn't even have to present facts any more. THey are free to smear and ridicule.

            Meanwhile, the media loves to pump up lies and distortions about ACORN or community organizing or Equal Opportunity as stealing stuff from the white folks.


            Yes.  As Warren Buffet says, we are in a class war, and the rich have won - the whole while the media refuses to talk about it.

            Bring back some semblance of sociial justice, and make it for people of ALL skin colors - because 99% of all races and ethnic groups are getting screwed.

  •  Yep, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    to quote from The Red Museum:

    The Nazi's doxy's moxie's unbelievable...

    [The artists formerly known as Quill Mike Eat Brains]

    by WOIDgang on Wed Jul 06, 2011 at 11:42:52 PM PDT

  •  Wow! Rescued two days in a row.... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    falina, northsylvania

    I am honored beyond my ability to express it. Seriously.

    Thanks again to a rescuer who likes Hannah.

  •  Questions, comments? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Even though its been rescued, not much is happening.

    I guess everyone is going ballistic over Obama's latest sellout and bullshit smokescreen to deny his sellout.

    I have long since given up on the lying fraud in the WH. So,  I would prefer to talk about dangerous hazards I am more likely to directly encouter - like tribalist assholes in my town.

    I can't do anything about Obama that won't make things worse. I can do something about the creeping authoritarianism.

  •  I prefer the diaries (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    on Kos that explore causes rather than symptoms. I might disagree with this one on details, i.e. having lived in the valleys of central PA for about ten years, and in both rural and urban Texas, that rural background has as much to contribute to attitude and fundamentalism both as does geography.  I read an article in (I believe) the New Yorker about mega-churches, which observed that many of their suburban members were from rural families who felt they had lost their roots when they moved into the suburbs.
    Anyway, excellent diary. Looking forward to more.

    •  Good point about rural people (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Sadly, that was exactly the dynamic at play in 1900 Germany. The country had gone from a thousand feudal states to the most advanced industrial country on the planet in the space of fifty years.

      Germans found the city hateful. I have some Arendt quotes on that. The rural hatred of the city got channeled into the Volkishh movement - and you know where that led.

      I will agree with you about the urban/rural dyanmic. See Rertro vs Retro America; but there is an underlying subversive push at play in fomenting, funding, and organizing the mega-churches.

      Look at how they have used them to take over the Air Force Academy. You can't say the Air Force are a bunch of people who have lost their roots.

      Good comment.

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