Friday, January 13, 2017

Hitler defeated Lenin, Chiang defeated Mao

It is a commonplace that the victors write history. But which victors? The victors that are claimed to write history are normally taken to be those who win wars and other conflicts. But just because one side wins a war or conflict, it does not follow that its ideas triumph in the longer term.

Consider contemporary China. Mao Zedong defeated Chiang Kai-shek in their epic decades-long conflict, driving him and his Kuomintang forces to exile in Taiwan. Now, look at contemporary China--is it closer to Mao's vision or Chiang's?

Obviously Chiang's. As a wit observed, the story of post-1979 politics in both "Chinas" (the People's Republic and Taiwan) is the Communist Party of China trying to become the Kuomintang and the Kuomintang trying to become the Democratic Progressive Party. Mao may have won the military struggle, but Chiang's vision won the wider social war. It turns out that social reality is not entirely plastic to our visions, and Chiang's proved to be more human and achievable than Mao's. That matters, in the end.

Lenin's successor Stalin, with huge help from the Anglo-Americans (who provided trucks, rolling stock, canned food, and munitions crucial to the Red Army while their bombing campaign diverted the Luftwaffe and many thousands of tank-killer 88mm guns from the Eastern Front), defeated Hitler on the Eastern Front. But consider contemporary postmodern identity progressivism (PIP), with its concern for authenticity, identity, emotion over reason, environment, obsessions with the Jewish state, dismissive treatment of workers and belief that a sufficiently interventionist state does not have to own firms to control them: whose obsessions does it better reflect, Hitler's or Lenin's?

Obviously Hitler's (though also obviously not with his identity rankings). As post-Enlightenment progressivism turns out to be the Counter-Enlightenment rebooted (which is why it is so easy for more openly Counter-Enlightenment politics to adopt the political tropes of PIPism), this is less shocking than it appears.

For the triumph of Chiang's vision over Mao's, and Hitler's obsessions over Lenin's, is, in a deep sense, the same triumph (or, more accurately, the same failure). In both cases, the Radical Enlightenment (the belief that humans and society could be utterly transformed by applied social reason) turned out to be triumphant in direct military struggle and a failure thereafter.

Winning the war ...  
The Radical Enlightenment instanced by Leninism and Maoism was triumphant in direct military struggle because it both motivated and mobilised. It provided a vision, a goal, of such transcendent power that it could motivate enormous, focused efforts. Moreover, efforts that could not only motivate intensely but mobilise broadly. Since every aspect of society was to be transformed, every aspect of society was up for being contested and mobilised without inhibitions, moral or conceptual. No aspect of society, or social group, was beyond contesting or mobilising for a future that seemed to epitomise modernity. Mao could count on much more motivated allies and fellow-travellers than Chiang, including broader sympathy within the US State Department, for example--and not from communists or crypto-communists but from liberal/progressive folk repelled by the corrupt inefficiencies of Chiang's regime.

During the struggle on the Eastern Front, Hitler threw away potential allies on race-theory grounds while diverting resources to genocide. Stalin was even more willing to engaged in megacidal slaughter than Hitler, but was much better at sequencing slaughter than Hitler. Mobilising for the current struggle always came first.

Within Weimar Germany, interwar politics demonstrated that class theory was worse at alliance building than race theory. As a direct consequence, once in power being ruled by Hitler in peacetime was generally far safer than being ruled by Stalin: a typical German was much less threatened by Hitler than a typical Russian was by Stalin.

Internationally, it was the other way around--class theory was better at alliance building than race theory. While Nazism and Stalinism were even on the motivation stakes, Stalinism was better at allies and breadth of mobilisation.

... but failing human and social management 
Hence, Stalinism won (with help from its allies). But won the war, not history for, again, social reality is not entirely plastic to our visions. As political economist Mancur Olson pointed out, you can make Stalinism work (in the sense of providing a high proportion of social resources for the purposes of the ruler)--provided you are willing to engage in regular purges to break up the resource diverting and suppressing "self-help" (i.e. patronage and corruption) networks that command-and-control systems naturally generate. But as the people purges need to threaten (those in the power apparat) in order to work are precisely the people with the greatest ability to end them, they are not likely to be a permanent feature of any society. (Well, there is a way around that--have a hereditary ruler.) Once the purges end, then the self-servicing networks build up and the (now unchecked) pathologies of command-and-control begin to spread until the system is buried by them.

Nanjing, China
Unless you do as Deng Xiaoping did, and allow other social mechanisms (specifically those of markets and private property) to operate across wider and wider range of social space. You are still left with attempting to manage command-and-control mechanisms, but across a narrower span of social action supported by an expanding economy rather than a stagnating, or even contracting, one.

Hitler's obsessions, on the other hand, are much less directly destructive of economic activity while equally representing a rejection of the Sceptical Enlightenment (the belief that human nature and social dynamics--such as the problems of knowledge and incentives--provide a permanent constraints on what applied reason can achieve). The rebooted identity obsessions of the Counter-Enlightenment provide motivating purposes and grounds for social mobilisation compatible (mostly) with market mechanisms. In the face of the collapse of command economics as a plausible social model, they were a natural place for salvationist politics (i.e. politics that provides a substitute for religion in imparting a sense of meaning, importance and path to a transcendent future) to move to, and so it has.

It turns out, being good at military success is not enough; being compatible with longer run social success counts more. In the failure of the Radical Enlightenment because people and society are not as plastic to our visions as it claims--indeed, requires--we can see why Chiang's vision defeated Mao's and Hitler's obsessions overtook Lenin's.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]


  1. 1. "But consider contemporary postmodern identity progressivism (PIP), with its concern for authenticity, identity, emotion over reason,"
    -- "Students who reported more 'conservative' political views tended to have larger amygdalae,[5] a structure in the temporal lobes that performs a primary role in the processing and memory of emotions. In addition, they found clusters in which gray matter volume was significantly associated with conservativism in the left insula and the right entorhinal cortex.[5] There is evidence that conservatives are more sensitive to disgust [7] and the insula is involved in the feeling of disgust [8] On the other hand, more 'liberal' students tended to have a larger volume of grey matter in the anterior cingulate cortex,[5] a structure of the brain associated with monitoring uncertainty and handling conflicting information.[5][6] It is consistent with previous research suggesting that individuals with a larger ACC have a higher capacity to tolerate uncertainty and conflicts, allowing them to accept more liberal views [9]--
    The left wasn't the one who was duped by fake news and Trump in America. This current "post-truth" zeitgeist is by all measures an exclusively right-wing phenomenon. The left also wasn't the one who was scared shitless into voting to leave the EU in the name of national identity, out of fears and disgust of refugees and immigrants, utterly ignoring all empirical, verifiable data presented by those rational "elitist experts" with their numbers and figures. Again, it was the right. So who's more identity- and emotionally driven now?

    2. "environment,"
    --Again, because the left is the side that accepts mounting empirical evidence -- that inconvenient thing otherwise known as science -- not the right.

    3. "obsessions with the Jewish state,"
    --Sorry, it's actually its neighbor that the left is obsessed with. Again, because actual, verifiable reality.

    4. "dismissive treatment of workers and belief that a sufficiently interventionist state does not have to own firms to control them"
    --LOL now you're REALLY reaching. Yes, because we all know how much the right loves workers' rights.

    1. I hear you, mate. Honestly, Lorenzo, the white nationalists all over the West with their Nazi salutes and obscene ideas of racial purity/authenticity/identity and the Orange Hitler that America just elected are not exactly known for their leftist views. Your argument is so structurally unsound it's essentially self-collapsing.

    2. Do both of you realise nothing you cite is actually an argument against what I say in the post? "Cultural appropriation" is, for example, all the rage amongst the more avid PIPs, and that is all about some notion of authenticity. The whole "do not offend" is about prioritising emotion over reason. How wicked/in the wrong etc Israel is again a recurrent progressivist theme (e.g. BDS). The outbreak of progressivist contempt over the British working class voting for Brexit and the American working class voting for The Donald was blindingly obvious. And so on. Citing what some folks on the right might be like says nothing about the patterns of postmodern identity progressivism. Really, turning everything into "The Right [undefined] Is Always Worse!" may make you feel better, but it is not remotely an argument.

    3. If your land and culture have been plundered for centuries, you would be crying foul, too. "The whole "do not offend" is about prioritising" civil decency in public discourse. If you call me a nigger or a fag or a terrorist or a bitch every time I stand up for minorities and women, then the Trump presidency is what you get, not rational discourse. If your public land and private property are being stolen inch by inch with each passing year, I highly doubt you would think kindly of the side doing the thievery. And for the last time, just stop it with your faux solidarity with the working class. It's positively unseemly (

    4. You said, Lorenzo, that the left prioritises emotion over reason. Anonymous cited empirical evidence and political reality to the contrary. How is that not "an argument against what I say in the post"? The working class and white people generally have every right to vote for populist politics. What they cannot do is pretend that it's based on reason as opposed to emotion. I've been to a Trump rally. There's nothing even remotely rational there.

    5. I do a post on why PIP has overtaken the modernist left and you want to tell me that legitimate grievances exist. OK, but shifts in how issues are prioritised and framed does not affect whether legitimate grievances exist. As for "faux solidarity", I would have thought the way working class voters are going for The Donald, Brexit and national populism might be a wee bit of an issue. Having large slabs of voters feel unrepresented is not a healthy thing for democracy.

    6. "the left prioritises emotion over reason": no, not what I said. I said that it is a tendency within postmodern identity progressivism. That emotions might be part of politics in general hardly rebuts that.

    7. You claimed that "the Radical Enlightenment (the belief that humans and society could be utterly transformed by applied social reason) turned out to be triumphant in direct military struggle and a failure thereafter", and you cited as your evidence the myriad, relatively recent "obsessions" of the overzealous left. Decades of modernist triumph is not so easily overturned, Lorenzo, and a temporary setback -- be it at the hands of the far-left or the far-right -- is hardly a defeat. If you had not pushed it with your Hitler analogy -- as if the progressivists, for all their excesses, are a bunch of hateful, genocidal maniacs -- and stuck with the facts instead, you would not have raised such strong objections on our part. In any case, "Having large slabs of voters feel unrepresented is not a healthy thing for democracy" proves our point precisely: that it is the right who is more susceptible to emotion, not the left. If white people who are massively overrepresented in the British Parliament and the US Congress can "feel unrepresented", then how does a person of color supposed to "feel"? Happy?

    8. Lorenzo: "I said that it is a tendency within postmodern identity progressivism."

      Postmodern identity progressivism being a category that you've made up. I note that in your absurd efforts to put meat on the bones of this theory of yours, you've even cited juvenile behavior by a couple of goats in Uni back in the Old Blighty. The fact of the matter is that the behaviour you talk about mostly exists to a minor degree and even then it happens at the fag end of nowhere very important. Meanwhile, we have a US President (Trump) so obsessed with identity politics that he wanted a judge thrown off a case that involved him because the judge had an Hispanic name!

  2. Obviously, the comment "I do a post" is a response to Anonymous and "the left" is to raverroes. On the point of folk driven from lands, yes quite an issue:

    1. I'm not an Islamophile, and two wrongs don't make a right.

  3. Lorenzo says: " How wicked/in the wrong etc Israel is again a recurrent progressivist theme (e.g. BDS)." What a pile of crap. A tiny fringe is involved in BDS and what one cannot help but noting is the ubiquity of Jewish names associated with the group. I, like most lefties, find the issue rather dull and not at all relevant to my country, Australia, or our neighbourhood, or my life for that matter.

    You and many other righties on the other hand are obsessed by Israel and Islam. When I look back through your blog history I find it hard to believe you live in Australia as you are utterly obsessed to a point where I am left to ponder your mental health.

  4. Lorenzo: "The outbreak of progressivist contempt over the British working class voting for Brexit and the American working class voting for The Donald was blindingly obvious."

    Do you have any evidence for this rubbish? And why don't you call Trump by his name? Giving Trump a pet name makes it sound like you get a stiffy whenever you think about him. It's gross.

  5. With the thoughts you'd be thinkinJanuary 19, 2017 at 8:24 PM

    The motivated and millitancy of the left describe made me think of David Hines twitter posts on the left in the 70s, which both Spandrell and Rod Dreher posted about and wow is it bananas. Guess the left didn't get the level of control to descend into the level of organised madness that China, USSR and even Cuba displayed.

  6. The Christian Taliban (GOP) President promises to bring back torture:
    I wonder when the Witch Burnings will restart? All in the name of liberty, of course.

  7. An uppity "postmodern identity progressivist" rocks the boat on Orstraya day cops his very own kristallnacht:

    "He is a considered and reflective man whose visual art – like his coffee shop – is gaining national attention. While the threats against Chun, who has a six-year-old son in Bermagui, have eased, a year on they’ve still not stopped.

    “Yes, [I’ve had] windows broken, beer bottles thrown through the glass, damaging the [cafe] interior, eggs and flour over the shop front, locks drilled out, etc,” Chun says. “Also some mild altercations; I was also pushed around by a couple of local men outside my shop one evening, who wanted to remind me that ‘white people fought for this country’. There have been a few exchanges like that over the past year.

    “But really, the relentless online hate and phone messages have been much more wearing, and enduring, than the physical attacks. The last voicemail threat was only a few days ago.” "

  8. Hey dopey, do the Trump teams "alternative facts" not suggest a certain "postmodern identity regressivism".

  9. Trumpian right wing postmodern identity regressivism claims its first scalps. Congratulations.

  10. Lorenzo (Michael Warby), you have gone awfully quiet. Why haven't you commented on Trump's extreme form of identity politics, which now includes banning nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries: Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. You might also like to comment on the rather convenient exclusions including Saudi Arabia, a country with which Trump has business ties and which, unlike the countries subject to his travel ban, has supplied the USA with terrorists.

  11. I have often thought that the commonly quoted saying that, "History is written by the victors" should be changed to "History is written by the survivors" as often, at least in the modern era and periods immediately before, the losing side does not get wiped out entirely and writes their own history that may or may not be any more accurate than the victor's version. Or you have a culture that gain prominence and seizes on an older defeated culture as their ancestors or forerunners regardless of whether that culture has any actual connection to them. The most obvious example to me is the way the Romans attached themselves to the Trojans from the Iliad, and then used that in relating themselves to their Greek and Carthaginian neighbors, both of whom they later conquered.