Jon Stewart: genuinely ignorant or just hiding the ball when it comes to socialism

I caught a few minutes of last night’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart, during which Stewart amused himself by taking potshots at a very big target:  CPAC.  I haven’t paid much attention to CPAC, so I can’t and therefore won’t comment on whether his shots were righteous or dishonest.  If you’d like to know more about CPAC from a couple of people who were there, I can recommend this and this.  My suspicion is that, unlike a tightly scripted Democratic function, CPAC was a genuine grass roots conservative gathering, representing a wide range of viewpoints, some more pleasing than others.  But, as I said, I don’t know, I’m just guessing.

What I do know is that Stewart had fun with that portion of Beck’s speech in which Beck spoke about two forms of socialism:  revolutionary and evolutionary.  From his grunts, sighs and moans, all of which passes for Stewart’s version of intelligent political commentary, I gather that Stewart found it (a) amusing that a right winger would even mention the word “evolution” and (b) impossible to imagine that, if something happens slowly, it could be akin to a socialist revolution.  By taking that latter position, Stewart either betrayed his historical ignorance or is intentionally trying to fool a credulous audience.

In fact, back at the turn of the last century, there was a very active evolutionary socialist movement called the “Fabian Society,” and the movement remains as a functional backdrop to today’s Labour and Democratic parties.  As is often the case for historic information that isn’t at the center of a political maelstrom, Wikipedia has a solid entry on the subject (emphasis mine):

The Fabian Society is a British intellectual socialist movement, whose purpose is to advance the principles of social democracy via gradualist and reformist, rather than revolutionary, means. It is best known for its initial ground-breaking work beginning late in the 19th century and continuing up to World War I. The society laid many of the foundations of the Labour Party and subsequently affected the policies of states emerging from the decolonisation of the British Empire, especially India. Today, the society is a vanguard “think tank” of the New Labour movement.

[snip]

The group, which favoured gradual incremental change rather than revolutionary change, was named – at the suggestion of Frank Podmore – in honour of the Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus (nicknamed “Cunctator”, meaning “the Delayer”). His Fabian strategy advocated tactics of harassment and attrition rather than head-on battles against the Carthaginian army under the renowned general Hannibal Barca.

That it was slow-moving didn’t make the Society’s ideas any less hateful:

The Fabian Society in the early 1900s advocated the ideal of a scientifically planned society and supported eugenics by way of sterilisation.

If you’d like to see the charming side of Fabian Socialism, you should read Jean Webster’s two delightful books:  Daddy Long Legs and Dear Enemy.  Both are epistolary novels written in the 1910s.  One is set at a women’s college (Vassar-ish) and the other is set in an orphanage.  The former presents a pretty picture of Fabian Socialism and the latter sweetly and ardently advocates eugenics.  They are the perfect distillation of a Woodrow Wilson style Progressivism, which wanted to purge America of any impure people and then, once America was properly populated with nice, WASP-y people, to impose a wondrous socialist vision upon them.  Jonah Goldberg captures perfectly the time and the vision in Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change.  In America, this “delicate,” incremental slide to the Left had a friendly, middle-class intellectual gloss.  In other countries, that same driving need to take away individual freedom and invest all power in government was less lovely (Germany, Russia, North Korea, China, etc.).

Whether Socialism is fast or slow moving, it’s still socialism.  And much as Jon Stewart wants to laugh at the labels (having great fun with CPAC pronouncements that variations of Leftism, such as Bolshevism, Communism, Trotskeyism, etc. are the enemy), the fact remains that any movement that seeks to divest individuals of their freedom and place maximum power in the government is the enemy.  Shakespeare understood that labels are useful, but that it is the substance that matters (“That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”)  When it comes to political ideology, what matters is finding a happy medium between anarchy and totalitarianism — and the sad fact is that, whenever a political movement in a fairly well-functioning society forcefully or politely advocates the transfer of every greater power to the government, no matter that movement’s name, you are looking at a graceful slide into totalitariansim.

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Comments

  1. says

    The movie, though charming, bears only the most superficial relationship to the book.  The book is even more charming than the movie but, reading it as an adult, I’m very aware of the Progressive politics that animate it.  But the real Progressive politics are in Dear Enemy, which is pretty much a eugenics tract.  Even when I first read the book, back when I was 20, I found the subject matter off-putting — and that was despite it’s being neatly wrapped in Jean Webster’s warm and humorous prose.

  2. suek says

    >>The movie, though charming, bears only the most superficial relationship to the book.>>
     
    That’s not unusual, I guess.  But I had no idea that it was in the Progressive column.
     
    Actually, I’m drawn to the eugenics philosophy.  The problem though, is that first you have to have an image of the perfect result.  We don’t have one for humans, and because we don’t know the future, are unlikely to ever have one.  And of course, even if you _did_ have an image, there are all those other messy details…like life and reality.  And you really do have to throw the occasional evil genius into the mix.  So…for me it falls into the category of “just because you _can_ , doesn’t mean you _should_”.

  3. SADIE says

    It’s not the labels – it’s the mislabeling by omission or submission.
    In America, this “delicate,” incremental slide to the Left had a friendly, middle-class intellectual gloss.  In other countries, that same driving need to take away individual freedom and invest all power in government was less lovely (Germany, Russia, North Korea, China, etc.).
    Well put and I’ll frame it in the form of a question:
    What is the difference between America and the usual suspects:
    A. The usual suspects rape you and America puts on mood music, offers you a glass of wine while raping you.

  4. Gringo says

    As Jon Stewart is a comedian, I will vote for ignorant, though he  often seems more knowledgeable than many politicians.
    Here is a further point about Fabian Socialism.  Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, was  marinated in the flavors of Fabian Socialism at Cambridge. In the spirit of Fabian Socialism, he created the License Raj to ensure that India had a planned economy, a “mixed economy” with substantial government ownership. Under the License Raj, private companies had to request permission of dozens of  government agencies before they could make the most trivial move.  Government fiat and not market demand often determined production. The License Raj also greatly  restricted direct foreign investment.
     
    The result was 4 decades of  economic stagnation, which did not get turned around until Rajiv Gandhi, Nehru’s grandson,  began dismantling the License Raj in the mid 1980s.  Given the entrepreneurial bent of  the Indians, there is no telling where India would be today if  the License Raj had not been created.
     
    The python of government regulation can strangle economic growth not just in India, but in any country where it dominates the landscape.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/License_Raj
     

  5. Mike Devx says

    Gringo #5,
    Given the entrepreneurial bent of  the Indians, there is no telling where India would be today if  the License Raj had not been created.


    Gringo, that’s another brilliant example we can use in discussions with family, friends, neighbors in 2010 and 2012, about government interference and too much regulation and of the wrong kind.  And we can bring up Governor Bradford’s diary of the early Pilgrim socialist experiment that was failing, leaving them destitute and starving, and the subsequent return to family farm ownership, prosperity and the first Thanksgiving.   Strangulation by regulation can happen here; we Americans can suffer and stagnate and wither.  It is happening here.

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