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.