In Albert Speer's book, “Inside the Third Reich,” he makes a single great observation amongst a tremendous sea of liberal hand wringing and architectural anecdotes. He observes during a speech of Hitler's that Hitler's true rhetorical genius wasn't in flourishes, or particular turns of phrase, but in his ability to look at a crowd and know what they wanted. To play exactly to the crowd's desires, to follow it's shifting mood. Hitler doesn't play the crowd, dictating to them the world as he sees it: the crowd has an already determined vision of the world, and Hitler builds it up before them, promises them the strength they individually lack to build it.
As when Marx said that every mode of production has its time and place, and dies precisely when the time has come to transition to a new mode, when the old mode has exhausted itself, so too can we say that all great triumphs were triumphs of a particular time and particular place. They were triumphs specifically because they fit their time and place, and all great failures are thus the opposite – events and actions not at all suited to their setting, either being from out of the past or the future. All of this can of course be summed up with the old saw that “Every country has the government it deserves.” Or, at least, they will eventually, for only the form of government suited to that nations specific circumstances will endure more than a few years. Anything else is an aberration.
This all seems like common sense, of course, but becomes problematic when applied specifically, which is to say critically. For example, let us consider the “long counter-revolution” to borrow a phrase, of American social-politics: that is, the last 40 years. Following the tremendous surge of “progressive” type activity under LBJ: the anti-poverty initiatives, the civil rights movement, the forced desegregation of schools and cities, the mass unrest in Chicago, so on and so on, America writ large performed a tremendous about-face and elected Nixon twice by a land-slide. With the exception of the crushingly unpopular Carter, whose mildest, most marginal challenges to the established thread of American political life earned him his great throne in the demonology of American political history, America has been completely dominated by a single thoroughly reactionary regime for over 4 decades.
In any other situation, one might look at such a scenario and reasonably come to the conclusion that the American people were conservative rightists, as a rule. To return to the introduction, four decades is a long time, and in its sovereignty center-right capitalism has reigned absolute. No type of opposition has been brooked: center-left candidates such as Nader are reviled in popular memory as reasonless wreckers, and anyone who attempts to articulate a non center-right center-left binary of politics in the media is derided as a loony, an Unrealistic Man who doesn't realize that Compromise Is The Soul Of Democracy. One must look hard, desperately hard, for any sign of leftism amongst the American people.
But that is the aberration, we are told! The rightist regime is all wrong, nobody really likes it, they've just been tricked into liking it! The American people are secretly leftists, perhaps they do not even know that they are, but most certainly they are! Such thought is the brother of Obama-type hopium of 2008: before consulting the nation at all, or analyzing its past, America is categorically categorized as a leftist nation which dare not speak its politics. For it to be otherwise would fly in the face of the sort of ridiculous “What's A Matter With Kansas?” type tripe that's soaked into the bones of American leftists. It is pointed out that Americans oppose cuts to social security, or that they are only in favor of winning wars, being as a rule opposed to losing wars, and in this way evince a sort of primitive, unaware leftisim. Is it leftism to demand that wars be brief and successful? To demand higher taxes on others and more benefits for yourself? If it were so, then we should find that all the great generals and capitalists ever chronicled were leftists, for they always urged that un-winnable wars not be fought and that others must pay for the maintenance of their lifestyle!
Many leftist-types of analysis of America thus jettison materialist analysis of the balance of social forces in American civil society (they must, for if they didn't then they would be forced to re-consider their positions!) and instead favor a very circumscribed vision, that is, explanation, for why Americans seem to be so conservative and 'regressive': political and martial repression. As discussed, the American people are secretly, primitively leftists, but the media doesn't allow them to speak! And the police beat them up when they try to organize! How are we to make a revolution, or even a revolution-minded people, when such are the odds against us? But allow me to ask: has any insurgency ever enjoyed a comparative advantage in technology, organization, or capital, over their opponents? Has any revolutionary army ever been allowed to form in peace, the armed guards of the counter-revolution standing gracefully aside, fearful of making things 'unfair' by intervening too early, before the revolutionaries have signaled they are ready for the contest to begin? Of course not! It has never happened as such and, for obvious material reasons, never will happen as such.
Revolutions happen precisely because one class has been denied agency and expression, if the American people were not only leftist but further able to organize freely as leftists then there would be no need for a revolution in the first place! The very conditions leftist-types demand before the execution of a successful revolution completely nullify the need for revolution! As an example, with one face American leftists declare that no one could ever win against the arrayed forces of the American military-political establishment (so as to excuse their own failure), and then with the other face they announce that it is common sense, born out by history, that the Afghan people, and no people generally for that matter, can ever be conquered by any imperial army so long as they continue to believe in victory. Revolution, to use that old phrase, seems to me to be a stick with two ends.
Identified as such, we can happily brush this paradox of liberal logic aside and return once more to the beginning: if the American people are not being repressed into line, then there must be something else keeping them in line. There is repression going on certainly, but there is repression in any but the most utopian of societies. If the American people were being truly oppressed then there would be some more material stirrings of unrest more significant than an explicitly anti-violent march on Wall Street to demand the president set up a board of inquiry. The economic argument has been done to death, so I shall leave it alone and focus instead on the cultural: that is to say, that the most powerful voting bloc - poor and middle class whites - still identify with the imagined community of the American right rather than with the imagined community of the American left.
America is a broken nation, and I here use nation in the old way, that is, a broken union of people. Once a distinctly white Christian murderous settler nation, the progressive era attempted to actually follow through on the nonsense promise of liberalism that 'eventually all differences will be leveled and all will co-exist peacefully and equally without division by creed or color', which had previously only existed as a mirage used to distract the poor while the rich of the world transitioned from plantation slavery to wage slavery. In attempting to set free the caged minorities of the nation, not even really doing so, but just appearing to do so, which is really all that matters from our perspective, LBJ and the other progressive-types did irreparable damage to the old America, trying to build a new one, one that would 'finally' synch up materially with the idiotic and flighty rhetoric of its founders. The vicious and swift response of the white American nation to the project: riots against busing, white flight, divestment from the city centers, a re-energized right and the beginning of the fight against progressive type legislation, reaching its apotheosis in Clinton's roll back of welfare and the coming Obama sponsored roll backs of social security and medicare, formed the core of the of the long counter-revolution, which we set out to examine in the beginning of this essay.
The success of the long counter-revolution over the past 40 years has been predicated on the continued social dominance of one solitary figure: that of the anxious white. Beset by fears economic, racial, and religious, the long counter-revolution has stood to this lonely group as the last possible sanctuary from The Barbarian Hordes. Presidents turned into cowboys, pledging to protect brave American settlers from enemies both foreign (Soviets) and domestic ( minorities), and a new American age was declared, preserving all that was good about the old order (the idealized tranquility of the American family unit) while all that was bad was ejected (the welfare state).
Obama himself, bizarrely, has functioned as the apogee of this model: by following more or less the same line as previous presidents of the counter-revolution, but being about as non-threatening a black man as possible, going so far as to even exchange basketball for golf, he re-assures the conflicted and instinctively self loathing white population of that nation that their fears are unfounded, America is not a nation built on and maintained by racism! Enjoy the spoils of your settler state in peace, you've earned it! Through Obama, liberal self-doubt and worry is transformed into a grand new project: the completion of the old, previously abandoned progressive-type ideas of equality and equity, but without any sort of material change, the kind which white Americans reacted to so violently at the start of this essay.
White Americans want equality, but they do not want the material developments which would bring it about: mixed neighborhoods , integrated schools, affirmative action, a revised history where the founding fathers are revealed as racist slave owners or union soldiers as racist conscripts who desert en masse whenever possible. Obama gets around all of this simply by existing: with a black president who transgresses not a single barrier other than that which is, shall we say, skin deep, we can have the counter-revolution and the revolution at once! White privilege is maintained precisely in material form, suffering not a single concession, not a single specifically black oriented economic program, and strengthened in cultural terms by the myth that it has now been compromised, that a Black President Is Progress Personified. Racist white Americans no longer have to stutter out that they have a black friend – they have done one better, they have voted for a black president!
America, historically, is a nation of white people. When it brushed up against no longer being a nation of white people, edged up against the idea of bringing minorities into the in group from out of the out group, the politics of the nation were so violently convulsed that the population began to believe that 'government is the problem', that if the government is going to try and push such a message then it ought to be disbanded, drowned to death. The material history of the nation over the past 40 years bears this idea out, that to wish for an America of all peoples and by all peoples, is to wish for some country other than America.