Tuesday 17 May 2022

The Truth Prevails.

“The truth prevails, but it’s a chore.” – Jan Masaryk: The intensification of ideological pressures is bearable for only so-long before ordinary men and women reassert the virtues of tolerance and common sense.

ON 10 MARCH 1948, Jan Masaryk, the Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia, was found dead below his bathroom window. His death was ruled a suicide, but very few Czechs believed the official story. Everyone knew that Masaryk, son of the country’s first president, Thomas Masaryk, had for months been a thorn in the side of the Communist-dominated government of Czechoslovakia. While he remained in office, it was still possible for liberals and conservatives to believe that the democratic state over which his father had presided still breathed. Jan Masaryk’s murder and the murder of democracy in Czechoslovakia occurred at precisely the same moment, at the hands of the same Soviet assassins.

Six months after Masaryk’s assassination, the Berlin Airlift was in full swing. Determined to drive the Western allies out of the Soviet Zone of Eastern Germany, Joseph Stalin had ordered the city’s land corridors to the west blocked-off. Without the food and fuel delivered to West Berlin by road and rail, the city would be forced to capitulate, and another thorn in the side of the new Soviet masters of Eastern Europe would be removed. What Stalin hadn’t counted on was American airpower. After nearly a year of Berliners being supplied by US aeroplanes, the Soviets threw in the towel. West Berlin remained a free city.

These brief historical snapshots from the late-1940s reveal exactly why the governments of the Western states, soon to be grouped under the aegis of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) had grown increasingly alarmed at the behaviour of their former wartime ally. Why, within the security services and across the government departments of the Western democracies, anti-communist attitudes began to harden, and serious questions began to be asked about the loyalty of individuals known to be sympathetic to the Left in general and to the Soviet Union in particular.

With the explosion of the first Soviet atomic bomb in 1949, and the subsequent exposure of the extent to which Soviet espionage had made it possible, Western suspicion of the Left metastasised into full-blown political paranoia. The years that followed, known as the McCarthy Era (after the Wisconsin Senator who put himself at the head of the Red Scare) were notorious for the “witch-hunts” that saw people turned out of their jobs, imprisoned, and even executed for the “crime” of being a communist. Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Association counted for little in the Cold War battle against the “Global Communist Conspiracy”.

Seventy years later, the word “McCarthyism” is again on people’s lips. Politicians and journalists point to the current persecution of individuals whose ideas do not sit comfortably with the “Powers That Be”, and attempt to construct an argument of equivalence.

It isn’t that hard. Once again, persons expressing unpopular opinions are risking their employment. Once again lists of required beliefs are being drawn up to weed out politically unacceptable aspirants to government funding and/or government jobs. People who once spoke freely to mass audiences are being “de-platformed” – lest their evil notions attract followers.

There is, however, a huge difference between the persecution of communists that took place in the decade following World War II, and the attacks on those giving voice to heterodox opinions in the early years of the Twenty-First Century.

The first and most obvious difference is that the Soviet Union was a brutal, totalitarian, nuclear power whose leaders openly boasted that their Marxist-Leninist ideology would “bury” capitalism. The Soviets did operate a global network of spies – some of whom, like Kim Philby, rose to the highest echelons of the Western security apparatus. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics thus constituted a real threat to the freedom and security of the capitalist West. While the state authorities, egged-on by an aggressive news media, may have caught up far too many innocent citizens in their anti-communist witch-hunts, no one can say, truthfully, that their fear and their zealotry were without at least some justification.

Identifying the equivalent of the Soviet Union behind the persecution of today’s conservatives and liberals poses real difficulties for contemporary political analysts. What, exactly, is the source – or sources – of the fear and antagonism currently coursing through the public service, academia and the mainstream news media? What is it that reduces hitherto voluble civil servants, professors and journalists to wary silence? What sets an entire government off on a quest to extirpate “Hate Speech” from all public discourse – even at the cost of putting a match to the Bill of Rights Act?

There are those on the Right who are adamant that what they call the “woke” are nothing more nor less that the children and grandchildren of the Marxists who commenced what they called “the long march through the institutions” way back in the 1960s and 70s, and who have now risen to positions of power and influence in the public service, academia and the mainstream news media.

From these “commanding heights” of our society and culture, argues the Right, these “woke commissars” are overseeing the deliberate dismantling of our liberal-democratic capitalist institutions. Like a grim spectre, the Communism which most people in the West thought dead and buried has risen from the grave to exact a terrible revenge.

A slightly less paranoid explanation identifies “wokeism” as the ideological terminus of the so-called “new social movements” of the 1960s and 70s: anti-racism, feminism, gay liberation and environmentalism. With the economic, social and political doctrines of actually existing socialism buried beneath the triumph of liberal capitalism in the 1990s, these new movements, often grouped under the heading “identity politics”, became the only “left-wing” game in town.

Backed, as they are, by the Centre-Left parties of the major Western powers: the Democratic Party of the USA; the Labour, Social-Democratic and Green parties of Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand; the politics of identity can boast sponsors every bit as powerful as the Communist International (Comintern) of the 1920s and 30s.

If it was Stalin’s murderous totalitarianism that terrified the nations of the West in the years after World War II, igniting the Cold War, and causing them to lash-out at anyone considered a “fellow traveller” of the people who murdered Jan Masaryk and blockaded Berlin, then we can only assume that it is the West’s alleged racism, sexism, homophobia, and hatred of the natural world, that has mobilised the identity politicians behind the woke witch-hunts.

Putting his own eccentric spin on this explanation, the prominent English historian, David Starkey, has posited “wokeism” as a Twenty-First Century echo of the Protestant Reformation of the Sixteenth. He likens the social-media of today to the cutting-edge communications technology of the printing-press back in the days of Martin Luther. A technology which spread Protestantism’s revolutionary credo across Europe with unprecedented speed. Starkey’s entertaining “The Woke Reformations: Historical Parallels” is available on You Tube.

Whatever it is that drives the persecution of old-fashioned liberals and conservatives in the Twenty-First century West: Marxism Redux; Identity Politics; or the social-mediated, quasi-religious fervour identified by Starkey; its promoters would be wise to ponder the common fate of History’s witch-hunters. The intensification of ideological pressures are bearable for only so-long before ordinary men and women reassert the virtues of tolerance and common sense.

The Enlightenment robbed religious extremism of its political heft. McCarthy was censured by the US Senate. The Soviet Union fell. The Czechs are once again a free people. Wokeism, with all its militant intolerance of debate, will also fail.

As Jan Masaryk said, paraphrasing the motto of the Czechoslovak state: Pravda vítězí, ale dá to fušku. – “The truth prevails, but it’s a chore.”

This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz of Monday, 16 May 2022.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Whatever it is that drives the persecution of old-fashioned liberals and conservatives in the Twenty-First century West"

Sorry, this is tosh. Firstly "old-fashioned liberals" are usually self-described – and mostly members of the extreme right – or at least very conservative.
Secondly, the 21st century West? That consists mostly of the US, which is rapidly becoming a repressive right-wing regime, Britain, a right-wing regime led by a clown – albeit an educated clown, Australia – another right-wing regime that treats New Zealanders like shit, and a cluster of centrist and social democratic states who AFAIK don't persecute conservatives or those who pretend to be liberals.
On the other hand, there are states in the US where it's illegal to boycott Israel, the Supreme Court consists of a majority of Catholic fanatics who I suspect the Pope wouldn't approve of, they are censoring what can be taught in schools, they are insisting on political approval of university lecturers, and in every way trying to subvert the US's quite liberal free speech laws.
If these conservatives are being silenced – how can we keep hearing so much from them? You can't shut Jordan Peterson up, I still get his crappy YouTube videos in my feeds, having watched a few in morbid curiosity. So tell me, who are these conservatives that are being persecuted? As far as I can see, the numbers are roughly equivalent to the number of neo-Marxists that Jordan Peterson could name that are taking over the world. Pretty close to zero.

AB said...

Interesting Chris. This seems to be what you are saying:
1.) McCarthyism was sort of justified because the Soviet Union was realy, really bad
2.) 'Wokeism' is just as repressive as McCarthyism
3.) But 'Wokeism' is not justified because liberal democracy is not really, really bad

Number 1 is wrong because although the second half of it is correct, the first half is incorrect.
Number 2 is wrong as a matter of fact.
Number 3 is mostly wrong because 'wokeism' is not actually a repudiation of the whole of liberal democracy or 'western civilisation' or whatever - just of small bits of it that particular special interest advocates find offensive. In fact you will find that the arguments of so called 'wokeism' are based of familiar liberal notions of equality and individual rights. It is essentially just a set of marginal arguments (agreed, sometimes laughably absurd) within that tradition.

In my opinion, you really are overcooking all this in quite a strange way.

greywarbler said...

I see wokeism as being a hothouse offshoot of a sick plant, that of our post WW2 awakening.   But what were we waking to?   We hadn't thought about it in a practical way - what did we actually want and how would we get there?  

We knew things were happening, it was evolving and we had a good mindset to sort out problems.   But we thought actually that there were no real intractable ones.   We had won WW2 and with determination and a good attitude would continue to better the world for human living.   But the tricky minds of rich men and their fellow travellers in the financial world thought up many devious ways of turning money through 360 degrees till we hardly recognised it, and these people gave new ways of 'shilling' those who could be duped, and got permission from governments to over-ride laws and be 'modern' not slow and old fashioned.   'Let's shoot for the stars' - the sort of crap that appeals to people short of a full picnic after too many beverages.  

Not looking at the reality of the swindle, always wrapping it up in talk of percentages and profit, future enjoyment, material pleasures, creating ponzi schemes - you too can get rich not like those lazy people without ambition, who just do an ordinary job and never amount to anything (measured in money and materialist status).   And so it goes

David George said...

Great Essay Chris.
How does, what would have been considered a few years ago, extreme and absurd become not just accepted but enforced thinking. The idea that a man can become a woman by the power of mere belief or that The West is somehow uniquely evil, for example, has been institutionalised, accepted as The Truth, in our corporations, government departments and in our schools.

The obsessions of fringe crazies is one thing and really less of a problem (unless you happen to find yourself, literally, in the firing line) than we're encouraged to believe. It's the broad acceptance of The Big Lie, the vilification of counter arguments, as we are seeing that has the potential for something truly ugly. The authors of the terrible tragedies of the 20th century - Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot knew that, they said as much.

The absurd and deeply dishonest critical theories and their promotors seem able to get away with the most incendiary comments, to become best selling writers and receive quasi official approval. It's not hard to imagine where their bullshit can lead if the voice of reason is effectively silenced. Maybe the gulags and the gas chambers are not on their immediate horizon, who knows. Equally, a dangerous and just as crazy backlash is a possibility.

When your comforted by lies to genuinely confront the truth can be very painful, but the alternative?
Great wee clip on the truth, eleven and a half minutes: "You'll be hurt but you have to do it" https://youtu.be/js4g4fJ4ZGw

The truth will set you free.

David George said...

Our attempts (if they can even be called that) at finding the truth are in decline.
The current critical theory delusion a case in point. In science the formulation of theory is followed by a strenuous effort to disprove the theory; the scientist is committed to trying to kill his baby, as someone put it. They then hand it out to the broader scientific community to see if they can kill it. Though the complexity of human interaction, the distortions and nuance make things more difficult, the same applies to the social sciences. It's called critical thinking.

Critical theory on the other hand seems to start with a theory (everything is whitey's fault in the case of CRT) and strenuously ignore, devalue and lie about anything that is counter to the theory. Much of it is so obviously wrong it's a wonder anyone but a fool or a fanatic would fall for it. But there we are.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Critical theory on the other hand seems to start with a theory (everything is whitey's fault in the case of CRT) and strenuously ignore, devalue and lie about anything that is counter to the theory."

No it doesn't. Or if you think it does why don't you provide some evidence for it. Assertion doesn't make it true. If you need a bibliography to do some research, I'm at your service. You've obviously done none beyond reading right wing blogs.

CRT simply says that the system is racist at its most basic. It has a number of strands and there are some disagreements. But as far as I know, and I have researched it quite a lot – properly in an academic context – no one says "it's all Whitey's fault". They wouldn't use such nonacademic language anyway.