History

Let's Lay Off the 1930s Reenactments

Eroding faith in free markets and civil liberties, populist politicians, political street fights. Sound familiar?

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We can be forgiven, I think, for wondering if historical reenactors are looking to the 1930s for inspiration and excitement. Two groups of losers (to borrow a favorite pejorative of the moment)—white supremacists/neo-Nazis and antifa/neo-communists—have revived the hoary collectivist ideologies of that era in a seemingly conscious effort to live out their Weimar dreams of heroic street fighting.

It would be bad enough if the 1930s reenactments were confined to bloody clashes in the streets, but they're not. Then, as now, those clashes were the outcome of a larger loss of faith in individualism, tolerance, and the sort of open, unbossy, relatively live-and-let-live society that we sum up, within broad parameters, as liberal democracy.

"Democracy has become much more dysfunctional in the West, and particularly in the United States, I think more than anywhere else," Adrian Wooldridge told a Harvard Business School interviewer after the 2014 publication of his book, The Fourth Revolution: the Global Race to Reinvent the State. "And that is it seems to be completely gridlocked, it seems to be incapable of taking long-term decisions, and it seems to have become a prisoner of various interest groups."

Writing before the rise of Trump, as well as of populist movements and politicians across Europe, Wooldridge, Management Editor of The Economist, and co-author John Micklethwait, former editor-in-chief of the same magazine, posited that modern democracies have paralyzed themselves with unaffordable welfare-state commitments.

"Ever-bigger government meant ever-greater social dysfunction. Vested interests competed ever more viciously for their share of the pie," they write in the book.

Debt-ridden and sclerotic, democratic governments are unable to keep their promises or clean up their messes, and so anger their constituents. In desperation, voters look further and further afield for solutions—even to explicitly authoritarian fixes and demagogues who finger unpopular groups or classes to blame.

We've been here before. In the 1920s and 1930s, after the bloodbath of the Great War and even more with the onset of the Great Depression, Americans and Europeans also lost faith in liberal democracy.

"In the wake of global economic disaster, there was no particular reason to prefer the political system most closely associated with capitalism—liberal democracy—to new systems that promised a brighter future," muses historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch in his 2006 book, Three New Deals.

The fate of Weimar Germany is well-known, as is the rise of authoritarianism and totalitarianism across most of Europe of the time. But the U.S. did better only by comparison.

The atmosphere in Washington, D.C. was "strangely reminiscent of Rome in the first weeks after the march of the Blackshirts, of Moscow at the beginning of the Five-Year Plan.…America today literally asks for orders," the New York Times reported on May 7, 1933. In short order, administration officials including Hugh Johnson, Rex Tugwell, and even President Franklin Delano Roosevelt were openly praising the policies and precedents set by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

And they weren't fond of naysayers.

"Roosevelt appointed loyalists to the Federal Communications Commission who made it clear that licenses would be revoked for broadcasters who aired programs critical of the government," Thaddeus Russell notes in A Renegade History of the United States.

The current White House occupant is no fonder of press critics than his 1930s predecessor, calling journalists "liars" and "sick people" and questioning their patriotism. He's also called for loosening libel laws to make it easier for political figures to penalize unfriendly media outlets—although it should be noted that Trump's anti-press efforts so far consist more of hot air rather than actual government action.

But free speech may be even less popular in the wider society than it is in the White House. "The Supreme Court is upholding the black letter of liberty, but are Americans upholding its spirit? When college students, encouraged by professors and administrators, believe that they have a right to be free of offense, no," wrote legal blogger Ken White in June of this year. He noted that legal protections for free speech have never been stronger, but that the cultural basis required to keep those legal protections in place and relevant seems to be eroding.

While polls continue to find strong support for free speech in the abstract, people are less certain about protecting speech that actually requires protection—say, public demonstrations by racists, as revealed by a recent UC-Berkeley poll. More disturbingly, college students seem to be tightening the boundaries of speech they deem worthy of unpunished expression, supporting restrictions on "language or expression that intentionally hurts or offends others," in the words of Gallup. That's understandable given that they're taught by academics like Laura Weinrib of the University of Chicago Law School who sneers that "free speech has served to secure the political influence of wealthy donors," and by the UCLA School of Law's K-Sue Park who slams the ACLU for its free speech advocacy, charging that "By insisting on a narrow reading of the First Amendment, the organization provides free legal support to hate-based causes."

If our civil liberties are again at risk, so are our related economic freedoms. Americans who thought we had narrowly dodged the totalitarian dangers posed during the 20th century now live in a world in which New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio openly muses, "I think there's a socialistic impulse, which I hear every day, in every kind of community, that they would like things to be planned in accordance to their needs. And I would, too….Look, if I had my druthers, the city government would determine every single plot of land, how development would proceed."

De Blasio is a favorite for reelection, by the way.

The president for his part—nominally a political opponent of the New York City mayor—also sees economic activity as something to be manipulated by the state for the purposes of government officials.

"The United States is considering, in addition to other options, stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea," he tweeted earlier this month. That's after threatening penalties for any business that moves its operations overseas.

So private enterprise is to engage in transactions only at the whim of the state, and if it tries to escape such controls, it'll be punished. Got it.

And "rather than jeer Trump's protectionist positions, Democrats are echoing them and amplifying them," notes the Washington Post. This despite the fact that economists overwhelmingly agree that free trade builds prosperity.

But that was the case in 1930, too, when economists overwhelmingly opposed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff act. The bill passed anyway, an international trade war ensued, and world trade plunged by two-thirds within a few years.

Which helped pave the way for increased doubt about freedom, democracy, and the market system.

The disastrous flirtation of the 1930s with socialism and fascism, brownshirts vs. redshirts, and disillusionment with personal freedom did long-term, but not crippling damage to the world in which we live. Liberal democracy survived, though in a bruised form, and presiding over governments more intrusive than in the past. That lesson was taken to heart at the time by some people who tried to pass it on to the generations to come. As a warning against repeating such mistakes, Karl Popper wrote The Open Society and Its Enemies, and F.A. Hayek penned The Road to Serfdom. They'd seen how easy it was for free societies to lose faith in themselves and to follow cynical leaders and thuggish ideologies.

We could read those warnings and learn from them. That would cause a hell of a lot less heartache and injury than blindly reenacting the 1930s.

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  1. I think maybe it is inevitable. The saying you always hear is “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

    As a peoples get away from some revolutionary origin you see more people willing to abuse it. And it is natural I think. We seek to have power in our corner, and government is the ultimate of that, regardless of what authors attempt to show.

    We often talk about the revolutionary nature of our founders, and I find myself more and more wondering if they weren’t revolutionary enough. Though, I realize that the libertarian wing of politics is probably the most extreme political belief in history.

    Marxism is nothing but the same thing: someone with power controls us all. The trifle that it’s supposedly altruistic or divided amongst people is minor. Libertarianism is the only one to say otherwise. And honestly, even many branches of it still give overt commendation to the state.

    1. The American Revolution was an attempt by Britain to “revolutionize” us so that we would be like them. The Founders fought to *preserve* America as it was: a country with popular sovereignty, free speech, lots of guns, and a decided orneriness.

      If the American Revolution had succeeded, we would still be subjects.

      1. Is this intended nonsense?

        1. What part of it do you disagree with?

          America was almost exactly the same, politically, before and after the “Revolution”. The Founders merely took the freedoms we already had and enshrined them. The British were the ones trying to bring about “radical change”- AKA, a “revolution”.

      2. So….the American Revolution was actually a giant gaslighting of the colonies, an enormous application of reverse psychology?

        OK, that’s a new one.

        1. I was referring to what it was “philosophically”. Using “revolution” as a synonym for “sweeping, violent change”, which was neither the goal nor the result of the Founders’ endeavor.

        2. You took it the way I did initially too, and wow what a provocative & fascinating concept, huh? But no, it seems he meant something much more prosaic.

          Still, it would be fascinating to find out some major historic event was the result of an “influence block”, judo, reverse psychology, briar patch, etc. I guess that does go on in the form of false flag ops & black propaganda.

          1. Yeah, I probably should have started that comment by saying, “philosophically speaking, …”

    2. “I think maybe it is inevitable”

      I agree. As I have said before, the only flaw in capitalism is the complacency and ignorance that accompanies great wealth.
      The people are living such a high standard of living that they stopped paying attention and got dumb at the same time.

      How else can you explain the fact that most americans have no knowledge of the evils of Marxist communism so soon after the fall of the iron curtain? Seeing kids where Che’ shirts is just the inevitable outcome of having stupid teachers in our schools.

      1. “As I have said before, the only flaw in capitalism is the complacency and ignorance that accompanies great wealth.”

        I doubt you are familiar with Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter, who gave us the phrase creative destruction. According to him, capitalist societies undermined themselves, destroying their own foundations. I really don’t think wealthy Americans are any more ignorant or complacent than poverty stricken foreigners. The idea seems idiotic.

        1. You didn’t understand what I am saying.

          and creative destruction relates to weeding out of bad businessmen by market forces of innovation, poor operating ability, bad pricing, bad service, etc… All of these things lead to proper capital allocation, price discovery, investment in new technology, etc…

          The complacency of wealth is symptom of the whole population, rich and less fortunate, having a higher standard of living and thus not paying attention to the fleecing by scum government actors.

          1. As I said, you should familiarize yourself with the work of Joseph Schumpeter. According to him it was capitalism’s undermining of its own foundations that posed the biggest threat to capitalism, not that higher standards of living leading to ignorance and complacency.

            1. Cool story, Marxist bro.
              Still waiting for Capitalism to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. Any day now.

              1. Libertarians typically claim Schumpeter as one of their own. Only at Reason is Schumpeter considered a Marxist.

                1. Libertarians typically claim Schumpeter as one of their own. Only at Reason is Schumpeter considered a Marxist.

                  Jesus, you are a lying sack of shit.

                  1. “Jesus, you are a lying sack of shit.”

                    And Jesus, Schumpeter is a Marxist after all. The Morans of Reason had it right all along.

                    1. Schumpeter is an Austrian economist in ONLY the most literal sense of the words. Libertarians do not count him as one of their own, however, some of his theories and contributions such as on entrepreneurship and creative destruction (though not the cynical conclusions Schumpeter drew) are accepted just as some of the works of Keynes and Krugman are.

                      Sure, he didn’t like socialism, by his own words, but he sure did spend a lot of time arguing how it could work, and he sure did base a lot of his ideas on the works of Karl Marx. He was at odds with Mises and Hayek in many of his theories.

                      The thing is, I’m pretty sure you know all of this, but you’re a mendacious cunt who is trying conflate the fact that he was literally Austrian and trained in Vienna with the school of economic thought known today as Austrian economics.

                    2. “The thing is, I’m pretty sure you know all of this, ”

                      I’m pretty sure you know more about Schumpeter than I do. I didn’t mean to offend you when I said he was an Austrian economist. I thought he was in the Libertarian camp and he wasn’t grouped among enemies like Krugman and Keynes. Unlike the latter two, I’ve never seen anyone say anything critical of, and many of Reason’s contributors write admirably about creative destuction, Schumpeter’s most important contribution.

                    3. The Morans of reason had it right all along?
                      What about the O’Brians, the O’Tooles and the Rileys?
                      Did they get it right too?

      2. If you know anybody who harbors positive thoughts about communism, have them see this movie. I can’t recommend it enough.

            1. I don’t know. Apparently Microaggressor thinks so highly of it that he can’t bring himself to mention its name.

              1. I guess you guys did not click the link, is the internet to hard for you to figure out?

                1. mtrueman removes all html from a page before he opens and comments.

                  1. “mtrueman…”

                    is more of a hoverer than a clicker. If that dooms me to a fate of never learning the title of this movie then so be it.

            2. First They Killed My Father

              Watch “The Red Violin”. Towards the end of the movie the violin is destroyed during the commie takeover in China.

              1. I’m sure we all agree that violins were much safer during the Nazi regime.

      3. Not just kids but seeing WEALTHY kids in Che shirts is a special kind of stupid.

  2. “free speech has served to secure the political influence of wealthy donors”

    And capitalism serves to secure their privately-owned wealth. Why do we prefer this? The answer to both: because a pack of rich people gives you a vastly greater array of options than one commissar.

    Also still waiting to see the wealthy donors’ influence in the receipt for the 2016 elections (someone kept it, right?)

    1. Is that the election where Hillary spent twice as much as Trump?

      That probably means she sucked twice as bad…

  3. I think I’ve uncovered the problem with libertarianism: it tries to fight tyranny by going in the wrong direction.

    I mean, seriously, trying to make it so that all human interactions are consensual, preaching tolerance and personal autonomy, telling people that rape and robbery are bad… It’s just not happening. I mean, come on! Listen to yourselves! You think you’re gonna convince the 55-year-old divorcee down the street to NOT vote teenage potsmokers into the University of Involuntary Homoeroticism? You think you’re gonna convince Bubba Gunsmite that immigrants aren’t, in fact, under his bed at this very moment, or Miss Sloan that there aren’t AR-47s coiled up under hers? Please! You can’t take away our God-given right to hurt each other because we’re bored!

    Clearly, we need to rethink our strategy. And I believe there is only one way to free us from this cycle of violence: namely, get rid of the “cycle” bit.

    Think about it. How could anyone get murdered, in a world where *everyone is already dead*? How could anyone get robbed, in a world where *every* stereo and XBox is too hot to touch? How could anyone get raped in a world where everyone’s ass was already so sore they couldn’t move?

    Nihilism is not caring whether you live or die. But I DO care, kids… *that* you die. Which is why I call on you to join my cause, and create a world where no one ever dies or cries (after a while)!

    I call it Biercism.

    1. I arogantly made my first post with some cocky idea that I was had a solid drunked rambling to post, but then you rolled in and shut me the fuck down. Good show.

      1. Pro tip: the best liquor for weird commenting is Elmer’s.

    2. “everyone’s ass was already so sore they couldn’t move”
      So that’s what the article meant by “loosers”.

  4. These are not reenactments. These are lefty antifa and lefty neo-Nazis groups vying for the hearts, minds, and bodies of America to further their socialist revolutions.

    The idea of Trump or at least the action of voters on election 2016, caused a palpable shift in the direction of America and its lefty decline. This shift is unacceptable to socialists so they have taken to the streets and social media to gather the masses and try and overthrow the Trump administration.

    This has not worked nor will work, so expect escalating violence and just straight criminal syndicate type behavior by the left to get their way.

    All we can do in America is try and roll back the lefty agenda policies that were implemented and slow the decline as much as possible. Repealing ObamaCare, reforming the tax code, and cutting the budget of the Military Industrial Complex would set the lefties back decades. Cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid would set lefties back almost a century.

    1. “Cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid would set lefties back almost a century.”

      I’m not convinced. The last time the left was in ascendancy was during the 1960s. It was stopped by assassinating the leaders like Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. That took the wind from their sails. These programmes you want cut were vastly expanded by the right under Nixon, and more were added besides, like the EPA.

      1. Pretty sure the great experiment was under LBJ. That was the largest expansion of the nanny state since FDR’s SSI.

        Nixon loved some massive government too.

        By the way, the party affiliation is irrelevant. All politicians love massive government and spending. They just know they can play the two party divide like a fiddle to get away with it.

        1. “Pretty sure the great experiment was under LBJ. That was the largest expansion of the nanny state since FDR’s SSI.”

          You never looked into the expansion of the food stamp programme under Nixon? It may have been the largest expansion in history. Some 3 million recipients when he took office, 15 million when he left. According to Wikipedia.

          “They just know they can play the two party divide like a fiddle to get away with it.”

          Targeted assassinations are not playing the two party divide. They remove potential leaders who threaten to unify the opposition and overturn the status quo.

        2. You can’t win the presidency without promises of great expense, health care or a wall or larger “x” we will never see a president win who does not promise to do things bigger and better. They can’t win by saying they will take something away. I dare say I don’t think any president has ever not expanded government. Its its own cancer

          1. Mencken, as per usual, got it right. Every election is an advance auction on stolen goods.

  5. We could read those warnings and learn from them.

    The pessimist in me says, “Not a chance.”

  6. The current White House occupant is no fonder of press critics than his 1930s predecessor, calling journalists “liars” and “sick people” and questioning their patriotism. He’s also called for loosening libel laws to make it easier for political figures to penalize unfriendly media outlets?although it should be noted that Trump’s anti-press efforts so far consist more of hot air rather than actual government action.

    …except he hasn’t threatened to revoke licenses for criticism of him. There really is no comparison…especially given how absurdly positive press coverage of FDR was as opposed to Trump. This constant hope of a false dichotomy gets old.

    “Sure, Roosevelt threatened to put them out of business…but Trump calls them names. They are about the same!!”

    De Blasio is a favorite for reelection, by the way.

    Because the image of New Yorkers being intelligent or tough has been a lie for a long time. New Yorkers want a daddy so badly it is not even funny.

    1. I probably should have read the beginning of your comment before I posted pretty much the same thing.

    2. New Yorkers want a daddy so badly it is not even funny.

      Maybe for the 16% or 17% of them who actually vote for Democrats. You are aware that the system is so broken that up to 80% of folks don’t even bother voting, right? So you can stop with the collectivist BS.

      1. Maybe for the 16% or 17% of them who actually vote for Democrats. You are aware that the system is so broken that up to 80% of folks don’t even bother voting, right? So you can stop with the collectivist BS.

        Not showing up to vote his ass out of office is tantamount to voting for him anyway. We don’t need a wall at the Mexican border, we need one at the NYC/Bronx line. Or at least Manhattan; the outer boroughs might return to some sense of sanity if we cut off R’lyeh, AKA Manhattan.

    3. FDR’s party hired him to run on a “legalize beer” platform. God’s Own Prohibitionists wanted more dry killers, and saved Nazi Germany from repaying war reparations through enactment of Herb Hoover’s 1931 “standstill agreement.” In Atlas Shrugged that was parodied as the “Moratorium on Brains.”

  7. “The current White House occupant is no fonder of press critics than his 1930s predecessor, calling journalists “liars” and “sick people” and questioning their patriotism.”

    How do you conclude that Trump Tweeting at CNN calling them fake news means he is no fonder of press critics than the person who used government power to silence his critics. Drop down and give me ten for that sloppy comparison!

    1. Not only that, but he compares De Blasio saying govt should control every single plot of land, with Trump saying we shouldn’t do business with North Korea. They both may be flawed economics, but De Blasio’s view is far more pernicious.

      1. De Blasio explicitly moaned about private property. He literally believes workers are not entitled to the fruit of their labor, because the state has better ideas of what to do with it. That’s full socialism; thank god he doesn’t get what he wants.

        And you know who else was a passionate socialist?

  8. At least Trump hasen’t had any news reporters family members put in jail for a few day or spied on news reporters like Obama did. but there is still time

  9. modern democracies have paralyzed themselves with unaffordable welfare-state commitments.

    There’s really nothing more to say. There is neither the will nor votes among either politicians or voters to turn away from that disaster. We’re doomed, as John Derbyshire says.

    1. “There is neither the will nor votes among either politicians or voters to turn away from that disaster. We’re doomed, as John Derbyshire says.”

      We’re doomed if you think we can vote ourselves out of the disaster. And you’d be right; as the president says, the elections are rigged. But you shouldn’t leave the last word to an old Tory like Derbyshire. He seems to lack the imagination necessary for solutions.

  10. Someone isn’t getting invited to my Wizard Of Oz re-enactment.

  11. OT: Getting those early bird LP convention emails. I was a delegate once but I’m not feeling it anymore, especially after the Johnson / Weld mess and the leftward drift of the party. And the identitarian / collectivist madness that’s infecting the country. Anybody here planning to go or at least have extra enthusiasm to share for the future of the LP?

    1. You couldn’t pay me to step into that madness*.

      Godspeed.

      *Of course you could – I will do just about anything for a few clamerinis.

  12. … it [democracy] seems to have become a prisoner of various interest groups.

    Isn’t that the very goal of democracy? We vote not out of civic responsibility, but vote to get our piece of the pie. Every group is a special interest group, and we succeed by associating ourself with winning groups. Hell, the American Revolution was about spiltting off from a polity that did not respect the colonials’ special interest groups.

    1. “Every group is a special interest group”

      What makes these groups ‘special’ to you? How can every group be a special group?

  13. RE: Let’s Lay Off the 1930s Reenactments
    Eroding faith in free markets and civil liberties, populist politicians, political street fights. Sound familiar?

    Yeah, it sounds familiar.
    Sounds like early 1930’s Germany.

  14. What abt the looters laying off of 1930s mystical altruism? National Socialists and communists both claimed to be the only real purveyors of altruism. To Nazi collectivists, the commies weren’t really altruists, but selfish jews. Communists replied that nazis were racially collectivist Spanish Inquisition zealots betraying the masses to wealthy churchgoing industrialists. In other words, only predatory altruism was to them then and is now virtuous and each gang still views the other as an antithetical impostor. But libertarian and objectivist voting strength is up 300% from 4 years ago. In next election we get 9%, that’ll be as clout-laden as the 1992 percentage that put the Marxist income tax on the books and into the Dem platform.

  15. Blue, black, red shirts. But we should never forget the Soviet Blue caps that ran the gulags either.

    As for DeBlasio’s chances of being reelected. New Yorkers are weird.

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