The Road to Theocratic Serfdom
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Dec 30, 2006 at 01:30:56 PM EST
In 1944 F.A. Hayek published The Road to Serfdom. In it, the libertarian-minded economist warned that societies with "centrally planned" economies (read that either as New Deal-style Liberal or British Labour governments) eventually succumb to tyranny. It was his belief that contemporary liberal economics leads directly to the rise of a despot. But if Hayek were alive today, he would see that the very thing feared by traditional Conservatism--Caesarism--would come from the Right's more fundamentalist religious allies.
Upon its release The Road to Sefdom. immediately became popular among the ranks of the tradition-minded British Tory class. It was also well received by American conservatives many of whom hated the New Deal and its progeny. By 1948 Reader's Digest published an abridged version while General Motors released a comic book film version. In fact, shortly before she became Prime Minister, speaking before Parliament Margaret Thatcher held up a copy of the book and thundered, "...and this is what we believe."

Hayek did not, however disdain all activist government. He actually called for a limited role to police deforestation, control monopolies and limit abuse of working conditions. But he did advocate a laissez-faire approach to business, equating it with freedom and liberty. "The planning against which all our criticism is directed," he wrote, " is solely the planning against competition.") In this, the Austrian-born economist feared that New Dealism in America as well as the mixed center-Left economy advocated by Britain's Labour Party would fall short of a promised "utopia" which in turn would cause unrest and a ultimately a slide into strongman tyranny.

Ironically, the New Deal actually served as a bulwark against the tyranny Hayek predicted. As Jonathon Alter noted when FDR had the opportunity to declare himself a dictator immediately after his first inauguration. Others such as Truman, Eisenhower, JFK and LBJ also never attempted to sweep democracy aside.

Hayek failed to recognize that the lack of an activist government creates a power void. Liberals have always understood that the federal government of the people needed enough muscle in order to deal with the excesses of centralized economic power of trusts, monopolies and polluters. In fact, a government built upon liberal democratic principles is the greatest deterrent to the centralized power of a plutocracy.

But while Hayek was correct about a central authority being susceptible to a power grab, he did not foresee that in America the greatest threat would not come from the descendents of Keynesian economists, but from those on the Right who now advocate a centralized authority of faith.

Indeed. Secular Libertarian conservatism has been superseded by the emergence of an alliance of neoconservatives and the Religious Right. (caps added) Their activities are often underwritten by major rightist Foundations via the creation of "Astroturf" organizations such as the Institute on Religion and Democracy who disguise the motives of a plutocracy in the garb of religious faith. They openly encourage a mixture of invective spewing pundits and ultra-conservative clergy to instigate hate for the mainstream Left. This very unholy marriage no longer seeks to merely roll back "the excesses" of the Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, but to destroy its source, New Deal Liberalism.

Liberalism unlike pure socialism does not advocate the elimination of either profit or private property. Instead Liberalism democratizes capitalism. It does so by distributing profits more fairly to all those who contributed to its creation. As a result buying power of the many is increased; workers and smaller business owners have the greater ability to purchase homes, cars and other articles of property.

Even though the meritorious distribution of profits is part and parcel of both the Protestant Social Gospel and Catholic Distributive Justice movements, it is the antithesis of what much of the Religious Right desires. And that is important reason why certain corporate interests are funding this socially conservative movement to demonize Liberalism and its proponents as "ungodly." Within the Catholicism members of Opus Dei seek to steer the Church away from its current teaching of Social Justice while using the IRD to undo the Social Gospel message of the mainline Protestant churches.

The General Motors comic book film version

is useful at illustrating where Hayek was prescient about the abuse of religious authority. But instead of "socialist planners," the new authoritarians are a coalition of culturally conservative evangelicals and ultra-orthodox Catholics. Here are some examples from specific frames:

Number 7: "They try to sell the plan to all... In an unsuccessful effort to educate people to uniform views, "planners" establish a giant propaganda machine."

:  "The gullible do find agreement...
Meanwhile, growing national confusion leads to protest meetings. The least educated--thrilled and convinced by fiery oratory form a political party."

Gullible is a term that is rather insulting in the present case. However, the Religious Right and its agents do use confusion and misinformation in order to create a backlash against Liberalism. To that end, Liberalism is inaccurately portrayed as "socialism" and having an organized atheistic agenda. As a result, good hardworking people who put their trust in certain clergy often have that trust betrayed. They do not see what goes on behind the scenes in Washington think tanks funded by wealthy scions of the Right. Ordinary Americans who are just trying to pay a mortgage, put food on their table and raise children often don't have the time or stamina to personally research the motives of nefarious actors.

A perfect example of this is how the far-Right punditry is orchestrating a well-exaggerated "war on Christianity." This is done primarily to feed a backlash. And once the backlash is created it is then channeled to ultimately weaken progressive institutions that truly safeguard the Common Good. If liberalism can be vilified then it is easier to vilify and destroy liberalism's many successes--Social Security, Medicare and environmental protection. Perhaps they might even succeed at eroding the basic notion of commutative social justice.

Number 10: : "A strongman is given power...: In desperation, "planners" authorize the new party leader to hammer out a plan and force its obedience."

This is clearly evident in the Religious Right's continuing adoration of President Bush, And while the president is not a dictator, his numerous abuses of power is not only ignored by the Religious Right, but defended. The message is simple and effective: to be against President Bush and his policies is to oppose God's will.

Number 12: "A negative aim welds party unity...: Early step of all dictators is to inflame the majority in common cause against a scapegoat minority. In (Nazi) Germany was Anti-Semitism."

Isn't this what we now hear from Ann Coulter when she dissembles about Liberals being "godless" or from the ever bombastic William Donohue when he rants about "secular Jews" in Hollywood. And this scapegoating is clearly present in Bill O'Reilly's

allegation of an imagined organized "war on Christmas."

But nowhere is it more pernicious than in voices of certain religious leaders who inaccurately proclaim that the United States is and always has been a Christian nation. Obviously such exclusionary-minded folks have a very particular form of Christianity in mind. Such belief is the precursor of a coming undemocratic society where individuals are no longer judged on their merit but simply by their beliefs.

Number 13: "No one opposes the leader's plan...:Ability to force obedience always becomes the No. 1 virtue in the "planned state..."

What better way is there to extract blind obedience from people of faith than to threaten them with eternal damnation? Fear is the watchword of the New Right. This is reflected in the invective unleashed by hateful candidates such as Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) who recently proclaimed, "If you are not electing Christians, tried and true, under public scrutiny and pressure, if you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin."

And such stifling of dissent has brought us now to the age of the unitary executive. Patriotic opponents of the current administration's policies are tarred as "fifth columnists." It is also present in the dissembled statements of Rush Limbaugh who earlier this week again esoterically equated dissent with treason. Their so-called patriotism is nothing more than nationalism, the dark step beyond a reasoned love of country. The Caesarism so feared by generations of mainstream conservatives has not risen from a populist surge of the Left, but was instead nurtured by the Right itself.

Number 15: "Your wages are planned...:Divisions of the wage scale must be arbitrary and rigid."

Mallory Factor, one of the RNC's biggest Wall Street fundraisers explained how cultural issues obfuscate what the GOP's wealthiest supporters--many being secular conservative-- are really after. In anticipating the 2005 battle over the Supreme Court nomination of John Roberts, he freely told New York magazine in July 2005, "I think we'll have a better opportunity with the Supreme Court stuff going on than we would have without it," he argues. "A lot of the energy of the bad guys is going to be all spent on the Supreme Court issue. I'm not minimizing the issue of the Court, but you watch: Other things are going to be happening, and nobody's going to be writing about it, except on page 17."

More telling was factor's description of the trade-off the secular Right makes with cultural warriors such as Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.):

Having the power to force someone like Santorum to kneel before them hints at the influence of the meeting. However, politics is a zero-sum game. Santorum and other senators like him will always care way more about abortion than the capital-gains tax. To Mallory and friends, a Santorum is preferable to a Democrat, but the danger is that every Santorum they help send to Washington increases the leverage of the GOP's social-conservative agenda at the expense of its economic one. Factor insists the Santorums of the world can do both. "If they work on the Christian-right issues, that's fine," he says. "We'll solely judge them on how they do on the economic issues."

Senator Santorum is quite active in the Catholic Right He is a key player in a movement that seeks to undo the progressive evolution of Catholic Social Teaching. There is a direct path from Pope Leo VIII's Rerum Novarum to Hilaire Belloc's distributism to The Bishop's Plan of 1919 ghost-written by Monsignor John A. Ryan and finally to the New Deal.

Both Monsignor Ryan and the Bishops moved beyond the traditional Catholic notions of "the servile state" and recognized the necessity of government to provide old-age retirement insurance--Social Security. Now certain more reactionary Catholics such as Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa) seek to gut this essential part of the safety net by a march backward through long discard church teachings. This pernicious mixture of religion, politics and economics leads directly to a new serfdom.

Number 16:  "Your thinking is 'planned'...: In the dictatorship unintentionally created by the planners, there is no room for difference of opinion. Posters, radio, press-- all tell you the same lies."

This has come to pass through the emergence of commentators such as Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, the previously mention Ann Coulter and of course, the aforementioned Rush Limbaugh. Similarly non-mainstream Right voices are given a forum in the Washington Times, founded by the Unification Church's Sun Myung Moon.

This gospel of mendacity now has now brazenly made its way into the studios of Disney-ABC. Previews of its upcoming mini-series The Path to 9/11 elicited outrage over its highly inaccurate portrayals of how former President Clinton was too distracted by the Monica Lewinsky affair to effectively focus on the emerging al-Qaeda threat. As Max Blumenthal described the film's producer, David Cunningham at Huffington

Cunningham is no ordinary Hollywood journeyman. He is in fact the son of Loren Cunningham, founder of the right-wing evangelical group Youth With A Mission (YWAM). The young Cunningham helped found an auxiliary of his father's group called The Film Institute (TFI), which, according to its mission statement, is "dedicated to a Godly transformation and revolution TO and THROUGH the Film and Television industry." As part of TFI's long-term strategy, Cunningham helped place interns from Youth With A Mission's in film industry jobs "so that they can begin to impact and transform Hollywood from the inside out," according to a YWAM report.

This revisionist history of the events leading to September 11, 2001 brings us back to the elevation of Hayek's "strongman." As blame is reportedly shifted from President Bush (purportedly ignoring the Bush administration's immediate shifting of priorities away from terrorism and to missile defense) and onto the President Clinton, we see the role of the Religious Right in it continued attempt to demonize liberal leadership. Their message is simple: President Bush will protect you, a liberal president will not.


Although Hayek was wrong in forecasting all planned economies as the harbingers of authoritarianism, he was correct when he stated:

"But when economic power is centralized as an instrument of political power it creates a degree of dependence scarcely distinguishable from slavery. It has been well said that, in a country where the sole employer is the state, opposition means death by slow starvation."

But Hayek did not foresee that in America a strongman--a Caesar--could be raised from those on the Right who now advocate a centralized authority of faith. They are religious leaders who concern themselves more with limiting individual expression than with the morality of the Golden Rule. They elevate illogical conformity while quelling dissent even among the religious faithful. Their pundits cull the most orthodox prohibitions of faith and combine them as if to create an unofficial state religion that worships blind obedience.

Our society is now perilously close to the tyrannical serfdom Hayek feared. America has been brought to this precipice with the help of a Religious Right working hand-in-hand with wealthy secular conservatives both of whom seem all too willing to render God unto a Caesar of their own making.

This one of my favorite pieces that I've done over the past year. Read it and let me know what you think. And while you're doing that, accept my wishes for a Happy New Year.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sat Dec 30, 2006 at 01:44:54 PM EST
I'm heading home today, and thanks again for another article. One of the ideas that runs through my mind as I read this is the saying that "the thing we learn from history is that we don't learn from history." I fear that it will take another Great Depression for us to realize that  we can't afford a vast disparity between rich and poor if we are to maintain a vital democracy. Libertarianism, Hayek's laissez-faire policies, and Milton Friedman's monetarism are all examples of economic theories that work well as theory, but don't work quite as well when they are applied in the real world.

by khughes1963 on Sun Dec 31, 2006 at 10:41:59 AM EST

Fri, 24 November 2006
Episode 056

The Problem with Evangelicals / Why legislating morality is always a bad idea / Is principled libertarianism compatible with people of faith? / Why Christians MUST adopt libertarianism to survive

Direct download: Episode_056.mp3
Category: podcasts -- posted at: 10:37 PM

by Beauregard Catharsis on Sat Dec 30, 2006 at 10:31:54 PM EST

Legislating morality is not evil, per se. For example, outlawing unjustifiable homicide or kidnapping is a form of legislating morality. It does become problematic when a highly subjective morality--one that is factious in nature and runs contrary to "the aggreagate intrests of the majority or a significant minority"--is legislated, especially when it is disguised as being consensual.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Dec 31, 2006 at 07:13:00 PM EST

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