• The Political Forum

Socialism + Nationalism = ?

We’re not sure why, but the other day, the conservative commentator Stephen Miller (@redsteeze) dredged up a three-year-old interview given by Senator Bernie Sanders to the young-adult web site Vox.com. Focusing on an exchange over immigration, Miller wrote, “this is gold.” The conversation went as follows – and it is, indeed, gold:

Ezra Klein
You said being a democratic socialist means a more international view. I think if you take global poverty that seriously, it leads you to conclusions that in the US are considered out of political bounds. Things like sharply raising the level of immigration we permit, even up to a level of open borders. About sharply increasing ...
Bernie Sanders
Open borders? No, that's a Koch brothers proposal.
Ezra Klein
Bernie Sanders
Of course. That's a right-wing proposal, which says essentially there is no United States. ...
Ezra Klein
But it would make ...
Bernie Sanders
Excuse me ...
Ezra Klein
It would make a lot of global poor richer, wouldn't it?
Bernie Sanders
It would make everybody in America poorer —you're doing away with the concept of a nation state, and I don't think there's any country in the world that believes in that.

Again, we’re not sure why Miller dug down into the archives to find this gem of an interview, but we’re glad he did. It serves as a reminder of a couple of important points.

First, it’s important to remember that before he became a serious contender for the nomination (and then the White House), Donald Trump’s ideas were pretty popular in some circles on the Left. Trump and Sanders had a great deal in common, and not just on immigration. They were/are both populists. They held almost identical positions on entitlements, campaign finance, and American adventurism abroad. They both made “the people vs. the powerful” – or some variance thereof – the theme of their campaign. And, of course, they both argued against “open borders” immigration, seeing it as a threat to the American way of life – cultural and economic.

Today, the media and others look at Sanders as a sort of anti-Trump, the polar opposite of the gross, greedy man they loathe so much. But this is pure nonsense. In many ways, Trump and Sanders were left- and right-wing mirror images of one another. The Democrats and the media would rather forget all of this, though, since they’ve lately decided that Trump is the personification of evil, while Sanders remains just a cuddly old man from Vermont who wants kids to go to college for free and everyone to have free healthcare.

The second reminder that the Sanders-Klein exchange provides is one that is a little uglier and a little more ominous. With all of the hype surrounding the rebirth of socialism in the Democratic Party, it’s important to remember that socialist beliefs have a tendency to lead people down some very dark paths. The media and the “Resistance” are enjoying their righteous indignation these days, calling Trump and his supporters “Nazis” and “fascists,” yet they still embrace Sanders and their ilk, thereby demonstrating their ignorance of those terms.

Take this quiz: what do you call a socialist who rejects the global proletariat and is instead a nationalist, who rails against Chinese who “steal our jobs,” who opposes free trade with Latin America, and who detests global business interests that aren’t “playing fair?” Well…maybe it’s just us, but we’d call him a national socialist, i.e. a socialist who is also an economic nationalist. Actually, it’s not just us. Others have trod this same ground.

As we note in our book – and as still others have noted before us – the intellectual foundations of fascism and its German cousin, National Socialism, are strictly leftist. Like Marx, Hitler was the philosophical child of both Kant and Hegel. Like Stalin, Hitler believed in “socialism in one state.” And like all leftists since Rousseau birthed their deadly ideology, Hitler despised Christianity and sought to replace it with his own secular philosophy of redemption. Indeed, with respect to this last characteristic, the two great chroniclers of Gnostic/Millenarian fervor – Eric Voegelin and Norman Cohn – both saw the similarities between the Marxists and the National Socialists. In his classic, Pursuit of the Millennium, Cohn described the similarities as follows:

The story told in this book ended some four centuries ago, but is not without relevance to our own times. The present writer has shown in another work [Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion] how closely the Nazi phantasy of a world-wide Jewish conspiracy of destruction is related to the phantasies that inspired Emico of Leningrad and the Master of Hungary; and how mass disorientation and insecurity have fostered the demonization of the Jew in this as in much earlier centuries. The parallels and indeed the continuity are incontestable.
But one may also reflect on the leftwing revolutions and revolutionary movements of this century . . . Those who are fascinated by such ideas [egalitarian Millenarianism] are, on the one hand, the populations of certain technologically backward societies which are not only overpopulated and desperately poor but also involved in a problematic transition to the modern world, and are correspondingly dislocated and disoriented; and, on the other hand, certain politically marginal elements in technologically advanced societies – chiefly young and unemployed workers and a small minority of intellectuals and students . . .
During the half-century since 1917 there has been a constant repetition, and on an ever increasing scale, of the socio-psychological process which once joined the Taborite priests or Thomas Muntzer with the most disoriented and desperate of the poor, in phantasies of a final exterminatory struggle against “the great ones”; and of a perfect world from which self-seeking would be forever banished.

Now, to be fair, none of this means that Bernie Sanders is a closet Nazi. Clearly, he’s not. It is, however, to say that the ideas he embraces – and that the Left more generally is embracing as well – are of incredibly dubious origin. They are not simply the compassionate pleas of a man who seeks to right the wrongs in the world and defend the defenseless. These ideas have history. And that history has shown that they produce ugly outcomes.

We have long believed and have repeatedly stated that we agree with our old friend Angelo Codevilla, who has written that the forces unleashed by our ruling class’s incompetence and self-absorption will grow more and more dangerous over time. Someday, we will all look back at Trump wistfully, noting his normalcy and moderation, relative to those who came after him. And while we agree that Trump is a populist, he is also an anti-statist, which is to say that he correctly identifies that the state has become the principal protector and guarantor of power and privilege. Despite decades upon decades of evidence, this is something the Left still cannot fathom.

We are at an awkward and dangerous point in global civilization. And it is at these moments in history that ideological revolutions occur, leaving nothing but destruction in their wake. Again, to quote Norman Cohn:

As we have seen again and again…revolutionary millenarianism flourishes only in specific situations. … Revolutionary millenarianism drew its strength from a population living on the margin of society — peasants without land or with too little land even for subsistence; journeymen and unskilled workers living under the continuous threat of unemployment; beggars and vagabonds — in fact from the amorphous mass of people who were not simply poor but who could find no assured and recognized place in society at all. These people lacked the material and emotional support afforded by traditional social groups; their kinship-groups had disintegrated and they were not effectively organized in village communities or in guilds; for them there existed no regular, institutionalized methods of voicing their grievances or pressing their claims. Instead they waited for a propheta to bind them together in a group of their own….
Because these people found themselves in such an exposed and defenceless position they were liable to react very sharply to any disruption of the normal, familiar, pattern of life. Again and again one finds that a particular outbreak of revolutionary millenarianism took place against a background of disaster: the plagues that preluded the First Crusade and the flagellant movements of 1260, 1348—9, 1391 and 1400; the famines that preluded the First and Second Crusades and the popular crusading movements of 1309—20, the flagellant movement of 1296, the movements around Eon and the pseudo-Baldwin; the spectacular rise in prices that preluded the revolution at Münster. The greatest wave of millenarian excitement, one which swept through the whole of society, was precipitated by the most universal natural disaster of the Middle Ages, the Black Death; and here again it was in the lower social strata that the excitement lasted longest and that it expressed itself in violence and massacre.
But the rootless poor were not only shaken by those specific calamities or upheavals that directly affected their material lot — they were also peculiarly sensitive to the less dramatic but equally relentless processes which, generation after generation, gradually disrupted the framework of authority within which medieval life had for a time been contained.

Bernie Sanders may be a harmless old man. But the ideology he embraces and the ideas he has normalized are anything but.