The totalitarian impulse

If only we could organize society like a military campaign…  with us Good Guys as the generals…

Jonah Goldberg “vaguely remembers writing a book about this sort of thing” and says:

You’ve got to love how a system that requires total loyalty, curbs free speech, free association, freedom of movement etc is now either “lefty” or “liberal” because it gives “free” healthcare and daycare.

Nicholas Kristof at The New York Times uncovers a “new” reason to admire “Our Lefty Military“.  New, that is, if you don’t recall the 1930’s or even the late 19th century.

The business sector is dazzlingly productive, but it also periodically blows up our financial system. Yet if we seek another model, one that emphasizes universal health care and educational opportunity, one that seeks to curb income inequality, we don’t have to turn to Sweden. Rather, look to the United States military…

The United States armed forces knit together whites, blacks, Asians and Hispanics from diverse backgrounds, invests in their education and training, provides them with excellent health care and child care. And it does all this with minimal income gaps: A senior general earns about 10 times what a private makes, while, by my calculation, C.E.O.’s at major companies earn about 300 times as much as those cleaning their offices. That’s right: the military ethos can sound pretty lefty.

“It’s the purest application of socialism there is,” Wesley Clark, the retired four-star general and former supreme allied commander of NATO forces in Europe, told me. And he was only partly joking.

“It’s a really fair system, and a lot of thought has been put into it, and people respond to it really well,” he added. The country can learn from that sense of mission, he said, from that emphasis on long-term strategic thinking.

The military is innately hierarchical, yet it nurtures a camaraderie in part because the military looks after its employees. This is a rare enclave of single-payer universal health care, and it continues with a veterans’ health care system that has much lower costs than the American system as a whole.

Perhaps the most impressive achievement of the American military isn’t its aircraft carriers, stunning as they are. Rather, it’s the military day care system for working parents…

Granted, it may seem odd to seek a model of compassion in an organization whose mission involves killing people. It’s also true that the military remains often unwelcoming to gays and lesbians and is conflicted about women as well. And, of course, the opportunities for working-class Americans are mingled with danger.

But as we as a country grope for new directions in a difficult economic environment, the tendency has been to move toward a corporatist model that sees investments in people as woolly-minded sentimentalism or as unaffordable luxuries. That’s not the only model out there.

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4 Responses to The totalitarian impulse

  1. Paul Marks says:

    Mr Kristof is being absurd as well as dishonest (dishonest because he does not really admire the military – he is pretending).

    It was not the “business sector” (I suppose “business sector” are words to cover what people have traditionally called “civil society”) that “blew up our financial system” (what is that word “our” doing there – is it meant to imply that the “business sector” is somehow not part of “us”?).

    What blow up the financial system was the government controlled Federal Reserve’s monetary expansion (over years) and the direction of this credit money into the housing market by the government controlled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Even if these latter (and utterly weird) insitutions had not existed the monetary expansion backed by the Federal Reserve (every time the bubble looked like it would finally burst “Alan Greenspan saved the world” by making the bubble BIGGER) would still have led to a terrible boom-bust.

    In the days before the Federal Reserve there were still boom-busts – due to the unstable nature of fractional reserve banking (which, some argue, is based upon fraud) especially under the wrong headed National Banking Act system.

    However, the creation of the Federal Reserve made everything much worse – and these days banks operate with only a tiny fraction of the reserves that they did days when J.P. Morgan was accused of wreaking the country. In J.P. Morgan’s day bankers like himself had hard cash to cover about a third of their total liabilities (and that was thought wild and unstable) – these days it is closer to a couple of percent. So much for the wisdom of government intervention.

    As for the military:

    The absurdity of the claim is so obvious that it should not need to be stated – but it seems that it does need to be stated.

    The military produces next to nothing. For all the courage and dedication of the people in it, the military is in fact financed by the productive civil society, By the farmers and manufacturers and so on.

    Therefore to claim that the military is a model on which one can base society is absurd – utterly absurd.

    One may need a military in order to defend civil society (although for the vast majority of its history the United States made do with a military a tiny fraction of the present size and expense) and one should certainly respect the courage and sacrifice of military people (by the way – it is exactly for that reason that one should be wary about sending them to die in wars, is the war really necessary? if not why send other people to die it it?), But one can not base civil society on the practices of the military.

    Again the idea is so absurd that one should not need to even point out how absurd it is.

    Of course Mr K. has another “alternative” in mind – socialism, he is just saying “organize society like the military” because he thinks that will appeal to flag wavers.

    • John says:

      I think he was being honest – at least for the moment – in an attempt to make his point. “Look at how clever I am” or “Look I don’t really hate the military.”

      A point which is absurb for the reasons you & Goldberg state.

    • John says:

      I’ve heard those complaints about the Fed before, but honestly haven’t studied up on the topic myself. It certainly seems like the financial crises are worse now, if perhaps less frequent. But again – that’s not based on any research on my part, just my ‘sense’ of it.

      If we were to get rid of the Fed, the small-c conservative in me would want to get comfortable with the proposed alternative, since it is a 100-year old institution on which the current international order is based. At least until we explicitly and officially debauch the dollar. Soon enough, soon enough…

  2. Paul Marks says:

    A couple of books on the 2008 mess – Thomas Woods “Meltdown” and Thomas Sowell’s “The Housing Boom and Bust”.

    Will people turn against the Fed?

    Most people will NOT turn against the Fed – till the whole structure finally comes down (which is much closer than many think).

    The real question is “how will people react when the money bubble goes down?”

    And that depends on what opinions have – on who has managed to get to them and convince them.

    Want to prevent battle on the streets?

    Then win the ideological battle – then people will be expecting what will happen – and they will know WHY it is happening. So they will not fall for the B.S. about how it is the fault of “capitalism” or “the rich”.

    That way you reduce (although you do not totally prevent) violence on the streets, And you prevent people (or as many people as you can reach) falling for the trap of calling out to the government to “save them”.

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