|This condensed interchange between co-host Juan Gonzalez and Max Blumenthal neatly delivers us to the heart of what Blumenthal is talking about--and the fact that it's not an ideology so much as a shared psychopathology:
JUAN GONZALEZ: Fifty years ago, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower issued a warning against the rise of extremist movements within his own party. During his presidency, Eisenhower had endured attacks by Senator Joseph McCarthy, the radical right John Birch Society and others. In a 1959 letter to a World War II veteran, Eisenhower wrote, quote, "Many prominent officials, possessing no standing or expertness as they themselves claim it, attempt to further their own ideas or interests by resorting to statements more distinguished by stridency than by accuracy."
Half a century later, in a summer of town hall disruptions and birth certificate controversies, what Eisenhower had warned against has come true: that the Republican Party has been captured by its extremist wing. At least that's what award-winning journalist Max Blumenthal argues in his new book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party....
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Eisenhower really believed in the big tent philosophy of the Republican Party, that in order to be a national party, you had to have a broad constituency. Today, the Republican Party is a one-ring circus, and it's controlled by people like Sarah Palin, who are warning of death panels, that Barack Obama's healthcare plan will decide who lives and who dies. It's controlled by people like Representative Paul Broun, this born-again Christian who was recently elected, who's comparing Barack Obama simultaneously to Hitler and Stalin. It's controlled by--it actually has no leadership. It's controlled by the movement that I say shattered the party, which is substantially the Christian right.
And the conservatism that defines it is not an ideology or a set of ideas; it's really a sensibility. It's a social psychology that I think is best summarized by a quote by Newt Gingrich, who's also supported Sarah Palin's claim about death panels. Newt Gingrich said, "I think you can write a psychological profile of me that says I found a way to immerse my insecurities in a cause large enough to justify whatever I wanted it to."
And so, in Eisenhower's letter, he actually recommended a really fascinating book by Eric Hoffer, who was a self-educated dockworker, to this military veteran. And the central thesis of Hoffer's book, The True Believer, is that faith in a holy cause is really a substitute for lost faith in ourselves. And that's sort of the thesis of my book and how--and what I've discovered from the true believer of the Republican Party that I've been around for the past six years.
Of course, one can believe something to be true without being a "true believer." Those who are psychologically secure do not feel that their beliefs are threatened by the fact that others may not share those beliefs. Hoffer is speaking of a "holy cause" in a pernicious sense, as something one would gladly kill and die for, say. In saner terms, a "holy cause" might better be understood as something one would gladly live by.
This much less obtrusive form of belief is repeatedly commended in the Bible, even as ostentatious belief is condemned. The ultimate reason is not, I believe, because it is bad to mislead others about our own piety, but because misleading others is a way of misleading ourselves. And that can be fatal to the chance of salvation. At least that seems most consistent with what Blumenthal observes about the countless failed attempts of rightwingers to save themselves from themselves by grand displays of piety they can't possibly keep living up to.
Blumenthal lays down a number of different important lines of argument in this interview, one of which is about the anti-democratic, religious/authoritarian extremist roots of the religious right. Another is the almost accidental nature of how the religious right we now know came to be. Thus:
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, and I don't want to go too far back in the past; I want to try to keep it present.
But I talk about R.J. Rushdoony, because this theologian, who's almost unheard of, influenced the Christian right and provided them with their blueprint for what they saw as the promised land, which is a actually theocratic dystopia. He advocated substituting theocracy for the Constitution, wrote, you know, thousand-word tomes explaining how this would work out during the 1960s, during the battles for desegregation, and influenced people like Jerry Falwell. And, you know, under Rushdoony's plan, disobedient children, witches, blasphemers, adulterers, abortion doctors would all be executed, according to, you know, Leviticus case law. As extreme as it sounds, it had an enormous impact on the right-wing evangelical movement as it moved from the pews into the political realm, because it gave them something to campaign for, even if what they were going to get was going to be more along the lines of a Republican Gomorrah than what they saw as, you know, a theocratic Canaan.
Francis Schaeffer is the guy who really gave them the tactics to make this happen. During the '70s, people like Jerry Falwell were still preoccupied with segregation. They were still upset that their Christian schools had to accept African American children. And Francis Schaeffer told them, "No, we have to campaign on abortion. Abortion is the issue."
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah, but who was Schaeffer? What was--
MAX BLUMENTHAL: And Schaeffer is a really fascinating and tragic character. He was an iconoclastic theologian who set up a hippy--Christian hippy commune in the Swiss Alps. And I write about, you know, how this commune--in my book, Republican Gomorrah, I write about how this commune accepted lesbians and African Americans and all kinds of people, as long as they, you know, believed in Christ. Timothy Leary visited this commune. Jimmy Page, the guitarist for Led Zeppelin, carried in his back pocket one of Francis Schaeffer's books. So he was sort of a tolerant character.
But when Roe v. Wade happened, something snapped inside Francis Schaeffer, and he became concerned that the United States government would eventually legalize infanticide and inspired this evangelical movement to take up the cause of abortion, when they were preoccupied with segregation, and eventually helped create the moral majority with Jerry Falwell. He helped convince Jack Kemp and Gerald Ford that abortion was an important issue. And, you know, from the Swiss Alps to Washington, he became an evangelist in the truest sense of the word.
But most importantly:
[MAX BLUMENTHAL:] .... And what Frank Schaeffer told me, which is most interesting, is that "This movement, we were like oncologists. We needed a crisis to keep occurring in American society in order for us to stay in business." And that's what we're seeing with the healthcare debate, too. I mean, we're seeing a movement that's terrified that the government will start to be able to solve people's crises, because they survive and thrive on manipulating people's personal crises.
Let that last part, the part I bolded sink in a little bit. Because that's the real heart of the matter of what's going on in America today-a profound rightwing panic because government solving people's problems would spell the beginning of the end for it.
Okay, now let's see about another way of looking at what Blumenthal is writing about. This comes from the British psychotherapist, Melanie Klein, who was developing her ideas from working with children right around the same time that Eric Fromm was struggling with his ideas about the authoritarian flight from freedom. The two turn out to be closely related.
Blumenthal's Observations In A Kleinian Framework
A framework Blumenthal doesn't invoke that I've discussed before (here and
here) is the two Kleinian "positons"--the paranoid-schizoid position and the depressive position--and the very different ways in which they allow us to deal with the primitive psychological processes of splitting and projective identification. The best way to explain these terms is not by abstract definition, but by quoting passages I've quoted before, using them in relationship. First is the following passage about the the paranoid-schizoid position:
Anxiety is experienced by the early infant's ego both through the internal, innate conflict between the opposing life and death drives (manifested as destructive envy) and by interactions in external reality.
A child seeks to retain good feelings and introjects good objects, whilst expelling bad objects and projecting bad feelings onto an external object. The expulsion is motivated by a paranoid fear of annihilation by the bad object.
Klein describes this as splitting, in the way that it seeks to prevent the bad object from contaminating the good object by separating them via the inside-outside barrier.
The schizoid response to the paranoia is then to excessively project or introject those parts, seeking to keep the good and bad controlled and separated. Aggression is common in splitting as fear of the bad object causes a destructive stance.
Sound familiar? How about this:
The child's ego does not yet have the ability to tolerate or integrate these two different aspects, and thus uses 'magical' omnipotent denial in order to remove the power and reality from the persecuting bad object.
This splitting, projection and introjection has a frighteningly disintegrative effect, pulling apart the fragile ego.
Projective identification is commonly used to separate bad objects whilst also keeping them close, which can lead to confused aggression.
Klein considers that anxiety occurs very early in an infant's life as the shock of external reality leads to pain and fears of annihilation. The initial paranoid schizoid position spans the first 3 to 4 months of life and subsequently can play a forceful role, to different degrees according to different circumstances, throughout a person's life.
As a part of the separation process, the good object may be idealized, making it more comforting and a contrasting polar opposite of the bad object.
This splitting can be seen in children's stories in the clear division and separation between good and bad.
In short, the paranoid-schizoid position is one of overwhelming fear of annihilation, which is utterly inimical to rational thought. In contrast, the depressive position is one in which threats can be experienced and faced, and dichotomies can begin to be resolved:
The initial depressive position
The initial depressive position is a significant step in integrative development which occurs when the infant discovers that the hated bad breast and the loved good breast are one and the same. The mother begins to be recognized as a whole object who can be good and bad, rather than two part-objects, one good and one bad. Love and hate, along with external reality and internal phantasy, can now also begin to co-exist.
As ambivalence is accepted, the mother can be seen as fallible and capable of both good and bad. The infant begins to acknowledge its own helplessness, dependency and jealousy towards the mother. It consequently becomes anxious that the aggressive impulses might have hurt or even destroyed the mother, who they now recognize as needed and loved. This results in 'depressive anxiety' replacing destructive urges with guilt.
The general depressive position
In the more general depressive position, projective identification is used to empathize with others, moving parts of the self into the other person in order to understand them.
To some extent, this is facilitated when the other person is receptive to this act. The experience that the projecting person through their identification is related to the actions and reactions of the other person.
When the thoughts and feelings are taken back inside the projecting person from the other person, they may be better able to handle them as they also bring back something of the other person and the way they appeared to cope. It can also be comforting just to know that another person has experienced a troublesome part of the self.
The depressive position is thus a gentler and more cooperative counterpoint to the paranoid-schizoid position and acts to heal its wounds.
The application to Blumenthal's description of religious right movement should be obvious: Instead of passing from the paranoid-schizoid position to the depressive position and resolving conflicts there, the people he describes created salvation fantasies for themselves without escaping from the paranoid-schizoid position. The threat of annihilation could never be overcome by such maneuvers, which is why the need for an evil other grew so intensely strong--the threat of annihilation could be entirely identified with that evil other. That was the only way it could be managed.
Those who are stuck in the paranoid-schizoid position forever believe that the threat lies in objects that confront them--and the more panicked they become, the more readily the source of threat may seem to pass from one object to the next. There is ultimately no controlling the spread of evil, the omnipotence of the threat. There is only the desperate, doomed attempt at purification of the self, and destruction of the evil other.
The Kleinian reality, however, is quite different. The threat lies not in the objects where it is perceived to be, but in the paranoid-schizoid position itself, which then gets transmitted into the panic one feels towards the objects and the helpless relationship toward them one experiences along with such panic. Salvation lies only in escaping from that position and passing into the depressive position. One does this either by letting go and discovering that one is not destroyed, or by some other move that leads to this same discovery. One way or another, some form of resolve is called for, some willingness to face ones utmost fears--even if it look like nothing more than fatalism. In reality--know it or not at the time--what's called for is a form of maturity. One somehow outgrows the panicked state.
James Dobson's Sado-Masochism Machine
But, of course, the conservative movement cannot survive if people outgrow the panicked state. Indeed, the movement feeds on panic, it feeds on terror, it feeds on helplessness. In his book Moral Politics, George Lakoff realized that Dobson's childrearing methods, described in his best-selling book, Dare to Discipline, were the metaphorical foundations for conservative ideology-the "Strict Father" family model. But Blumenthal shows that they are much more than that. They are also actual psycho-pathological producers of the conservative movement.
JUAN GONZALEZ: You have a whole chapter on James Dobson, and calling him perhaps the most influential and respected member of the radical Christian right in America today. Talk about Dobson's influence, his-how he was shaped by some of these other figures you've talked about, and his relationship to Sarah Palin.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: .... Dobson is a fascinating figure, because although he's leading what is widely considered a religious movement, he's not a religious leader. He has no theological credentials. He's not a preacher. What is he? He's a child psychologist. And the way that he's won so many followers is by, you know, doing radio shows about common, mundane problems, like bedwetting, for example, or dealing with a child that has, you know, issues with their sexuality, something like that. And he has a correspondence department in Focus on the Family that's so large it occupies an entire zip code in Colorado Springs. People write in with their personal problems. He sends them-his workers send them Dobson-approved advice. After they get into the database that Dobson maintains, he bombards them with political mailings and slowly cultivates them into Republican shock troops. So Dobson has, you know, turned personal crisis into political resentment.
Where did Dobson's fortune come from? How did he erect this empire? It came mainly from one book, which I quote from extensively in my book, Republican Gomorrah-Dare to Discipline, which is essentially a manual for corporal punishment, for beating your child. In this book, he says pain is a marvelous purifier that a child should be-that pain goes a long way with a child, that pain should be dispensed sufficiently enough to make a child cry, but then the child will crumple to your breast, and you should welcome the child with warm, open arms. This is a recipe for sadomasochism. And sadomasochism, as I discovered in-
JUAN GONZALEZ: And he saw himself originally as the antithesis to Benjamin-Dr. Benjamin Spock.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Dr. Benjamin Spock, who tells you to basically pick your child up and cradle it. And, you know, I mean, I was-you know, for whatever it's worth, I was raised along those guidelines. When your child's crying, you pick up the child.
By creating a belt-wielding army of millions, Dobson created the next generation of Republican shock troops, who are more radical than before. And sadomasochism-I know this sounds a little strange-is what defines the essential character, you know, that-this is what-at least what I've discovered-of the Republican follower of today. They're sadistic in that they want to lash out at deviants, at people who are weaker than them, homosexuals, immigrants, foreigners, socialists. At the same time, they're masochistic. They are followers of a higher cause, of a strong leader, a magic helper like Dobson or George W. Bush or the macho Jesus archetype that they worship. And this is what defines this movement.
So many of the people that Dobson has been able to get close to and work with in the Republican Congress and in American culture have been viciously abused as children. And he understood that by advocating violence against children, deliberate violence, he was creating this sensibility, which would produce a radical generation of political followers.
Welcome To CuckooLand!
Glenn Beck's recent antics "interpreting" the public art of Rockefeller Center--lampooned by Keith Olbermann on two consecutive shows--is an interesting illustration of one modality this sort of politics takes. At one point, Olbermann pointed out that since (as Beck himself stated several times) no one had noticed most of the art Beck pointed out, or at least any of the detail he fixated on, WTF was Beck upset about?
The answer, of course, is subliminal influence. And the godfather of all rightwing screeds about subliminal influence is:
I'm really sorry I don't have more info on this gem. I thought that by now there would be extensive excerpts posted online. But I recall laughing hysterically over it back in the day. There's more information about a followup work by the same author, David A. Noebel, Rhythm, riots, and revolution: An analysis of the Communist use of music, the Communist master music plan. See here for example. Also in line with Blumenthal's thesis, it's worth noting that Noebel had been an Associate Evangelist of Billy James Hargis's Christian Crusade. Hargis--although forgotten by many today--was the premier lunatic fringe anti-Communist preacher of his time. As Wikipedia notes:
At the height of his popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, his Christian Crusade ministry was broadcast on more than 500 radio stations and 250 television stations.
Wikipedia also notes:
He was disgraced after accusations of sexual misconduct from students at his American Christian College.
And further elaborates:
In 1974, Hargis announced that he would step down from most of his activities, including resignation from the presidency of American Christian College, due to health problems. However, a sex scandal erupted at the College the same year, involving claims that Hargis had had sex with four male and one female student. In fact, a couple he married found out on their wedding night that he had deflowered both of them.Time Magazine gave the scandal publicity in 1976. Hargis was forced out of American Christian College's presidency as a result. Further scandals erupted when members of Hargis' youth choir, the "All American Kids", accused Hargis of sexual misconduct as well. In September 1975, he returned to other ministries, who welcomed him after he, reportedly, had repented from his sins, and because his name was an irreplaceable asset. The college, however, would not admit him back, and he obstructed its operations. It eventually closed down in 1977. Hargis denied the allegations publicly, including in his autobiography, My Great Mistake (1985). He told a Tulsa reporter, "I was guilty of sin, but not the sin I was accused of."
Hargis was a fierce conspiracy theorist, just like his one-time assistant, Noebel. If you're starting to see a pattern here, well, all my work has not been in vain. The kind of psychological devastation that these people both suffer and spread make rational thought extremely difficult, and so conspiracism readily takes its place.
Conspiracism is not simply the belief in political conspiracies. Political conspiracies are virtually omnipotent. Every time politicians get together, their primary goal is to conspire to do something. That's not news. Conspiracism is the reduction of complex, multi-layer social processes, much of which is completely unconscious, to the conscious scheming of a small handful of almost omipotent hidden plotters. The plotters are so matter-of-factly presumed to be evil incarnate that no serious discussion of their actual ideas is necessary. (Hence, for example, who cares that there really aren't any "death panels" in Obama's health care proposals?) Instead, attention is obsessively focused on the intricacies of their nefarious plots and adventures.
This is what Noebel did in "discovering" that the primitive rhythms of rock 'n roll were a Pavlovian mind-control plot. And it's what Beck is doing in "discovering" that Rockefeller Center has Commie-Fascist cooties. The former of thinking they engage in is not logical, but merely linear, in that one thing follows another. The "logic" is that of association. I have written about this many times before, starting with my 2005 diary, "Terri Schiavo: We're Too Smart!":
A press release from the Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA) regarding the Terry Schiavo circus caught my attention. The complexity of thought it embodied contrasted sharply with the GOP/MSM discourse and reminded me of a typology of adult reasoning that goes like this:
- Sequential thinkers reason "by tracking the world," recognize regularities in sequences of events, but have no abstract understanding of cause and effect. The world they perceive is a world of appearances that has very little organization to it beyond the recurrence of sequences.
- Linear thinkers understand cause and effect, limited to a one-direction, one-cause/one-effect model. The world they perceive has logical order and structure, but the structure is invariably hierarchical, causality flows top-down, and the world is divided neatly into cause and effect.
- Systematic thinkers understand multi-faceted, multi-linear cause and effect, with mutual cause-and-effect relationships between different elements. The world they perceive is primarily a world of systems and relationships, rather than objects.
The typology I'm using comes from Shawn Rosenberg (no relation) in the 1988 book, Reason, Ideology and Politics. It is discussed along with other developmental approaches in an online papepr, Structures of geopolitical reasoning.
Sequential thinking is endlessly elastic. It can be shaped and reshaped at will. There are virtually no rules constraining it, and so it can be used to "prove" just about anything... sort of like a dream or a children's story. At one point, Rosenberg says that its concepts are "synthetic, but not analytical", meaning that they are put together, but can't be logically deconstructed. That's because they are mere amalgams, ala Frankenstein's monster, like the chaotic fears that shape the mind in Klein's paranoid-schizoid position.
Such is the narrative tissue that helps hold this movement together. You can't reason with it any more than you can reason with a nightmare.
That is what we are up against.