Jeffrey A. Tucker
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Most people are aware of the influence of Karl Marx and his ideological compatriots in building 20th-century totalitarianism. But there is another tradition of thought, dating from the early 19th century and continuing through the interwar period, that took a different route in coming to roughly the same conclusions regarding the place of the state in our lives.
As opposed to Marx’s “left-Hegelians,” these thinkers are part of the “right-Hegelian” movement who dispensed with the universalism of Marx to applaud nation, race, and war as the essence of life.
These thinkers loathed commercial society and capitalism in particular.
These thinkers also loathed commercial society and capitalism in particular. They saw enterprise as soulless and culturally destructive, lacking in the higher meaning that only centralization and planning could provide.
Instead of trying to create some mythical future based in some fantasy of a new socialist man, they sought to beat back capitalism by clinging to the old order of government power, privilege, hierarchy, nationalism, and racist control. Their imagined future looked like the pre-capitalist past they idealized.
These five thinkers appear in chronological order. In the prehistory of the alt-right, I mapped the big thinkers. Here we have some more minor and eccentric players in the evolution of an anti-capitalist right.
John Ruskin (1819-1900) is inexplicably revered to this day as an aesthete, artist, and champion of small crafts, whereas in truth he was an absolute hater of commercial capitalism, laissez faire liberalism, and the modern world. A hugely influential thinker of the Victorian period, he romanticized a mythic England from the past, in which art and good taste prevailed over commercial frenzy and wealth-making. “I was, and my father was before me, a violent Tory of the old school,” he said. In his view, he completely agreed with his friend Thomas Carlyle that the forces unleashed by Adam Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment generally had destroyed the artistic sensibilities of generations, and they needed to be recaptured through a strong planning state.
His most political book is Unto This Last (1862) which took aim at the division of labor itself. Riffing off the Parable of the Vineyards, he finds it outrageous that the vineyard owner himself was in a position to decide pay at all. The entire book is a long and tedious screed against merchants for their lack of loyalty, their obedience to impersonal market forces, and absence of a moral reason for existence. The merchant, he said, is “the man who does not know when to die, does not know how to live.”
Like other critics of classical political economy (he compared it to “alchemy, astrology, witchcraft”), he denied that exchange alone could produce any value or profit. “It is only in labor there can be profit,” he declared. He had a particular beef with John Stuart Mill, and critiqued his price and wage theory, showing near-zero competence in economic theory at all. For Ruskin, economics was not a science but an aesthetic. He summed up his outlook on political economy as follows: “Government and cooperation are in all things the laws of life; anarchy and competition the laws of death.” It's no wonder that Ludwig von Mises said that Ruskin was "one of the gravediggers of British freedom, civilization and prosperity."
Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855-1927) is an exceedingly strange figure in the history of politics and ideas: a British-born German whose influence bled into Germany and back again to his home. As son-in-law to the famed composer Richard Wagner, he became a dear friend and fanatical admirer of Adolph Hitler and the most aggressive proponent of virulent anti-Semitism ever to come out of England.
He had decided early in life to locate the source of all political and economic evil in the Industrial Revolution, preferring his own made-up vision of what he called “Merry Old England” consisting of a beautiful aristocracy, hard-toiling and thrifty peasants, and patriotic citizens dedicated to preserving the language and race against the commercial forces of modernity. Under these conditions, unlike the demographic mess unleashed by capitalism, women were submissive to the wills of their fathers and husbands, devoted only to furthering the superior race.
His weird 1899 book The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century became a bestseller, many times over, throughout the Continent. Heavily influenced by the racial typologies that were increasingly popular, he described the Jews as mindlessly materialistic and the source of most evil in the modern world.
The Jews, he said, caused the downfall of Rome, for example. He argued that Jesus cannot possibly have been a Jew since all good in the world emanates from the pure Aryan race. Instead, he was “of exceptional beauty, tall and slim with a noble face inspiring respect and love; his hair blond shading into chestnut brown, his arms and hands noble and exquisitely formed.” It was in this book that he laid out his theory that a Jewish plot was afoot to wipe out the Aryan race and turn all Europe into a race of “pseudo-Hebraic mestizos.”
His book, which was printed in eight editions in the first ten years of its publication, and eventually sold as many as 250,000 copies by 1938, catapulted him into the status of a celebrity intellectual. And so his every utterance became gospel for his followers, even his proclamation that the Great War, which he believed the Jews had started, had led England “totally into the hands of the Jews and the Americans” and capitalist machinery.
It was in the midst of his fame that he reached out to an emergently powerful Hitler. Hearing that both Hitler and Joseph Goebbels could be counted among his fan base, he wrote Hitler in 1923:
“Most respected and dear Hitler, ... It is hardly surprising that a man like that can give peace to a poor suffering spirit! Especially when he is dedicated to the service of the fatherland. My faith in Germandom has not wavered for a moment, though my hopes were – I confess – at a low ebb. With one stroke you have transformed the state of my soul. That Germany, in the hour of her greatest need, brings forth a Hitler – that is proof of her vitality ... I can now go untroubled to sleep... May God protect you!”
After Hitler’s conviction of high treason following the Beer-hall putsch, Chamberlain stuck by him and kept hope alive. Hitler was touched, and, following Hitler’s release from prison, Hitler paid a visit to Chamberlain in Bayreuth in 1927, accompanied by Goebbels. Chamberlain assured Hitler that he was certainly “the chosen one,” thereupon lifting Hitler’s spirits. The leading Nazi in-house philosopher, Alfred Rosenberg, was perhaps an even greater fan of Chamberlain. An ailing Chamberlain died in 1927, never knowing of the Nazi attempt to deal with the “Jewish problem” he had dedicated his life to exposing.
For the rest of the article:fee.org/articles/five-forgotte…