Sunday, June 28, 2009

Wingnut of the week -- Spengler

To qualify for Omniorthogonal's prestigious wingnut of the week award (which needs a better name, since I hardly do this weekly), the recipient has to exhibit above average intelligence, erudition, or imagination, as well as being a right-wing maniac. We're not talking ordinary mouth-breathers here, or the likes of Jonah Goldberg. I'm not looking simply for dumb people to mock; those are too common and too boring and plenty of other places take care of them. I'm looking for people who think differently from me and do so in a way that's strong and strange enough that I might actually learn something or be convinced to change my opinions. Then I mock them.

Spengler is the pseudonym of David P. Goldman, who used to write at Asia Times and now is an associate editor and blogger at the reactionary religious First Things, and before that had an apparently interesting and varied career in finance and philosophy. I'm not sure this guy deserves the wingnut label; his writing seems orders of magnitude more organized than most. He seems to represent the best sort of conservative thought: acerbic, learned, and rigorous. He's also knowledgeable about classical music, and I have to admit to being intimidated by people who can claim that, since it's one of my larger blind spots.

So why would he even qualify as for my prestigious award, seeing as he has the wing but not the nut? a lengthy confession of his political history, he admits to having been a dedicated follower of Lyndon Larouche for ten years! This mystifies me, because I distinctly remember figuring out for myself that the Larouchies were creepy crackpots when I was about 17 years old. If my unformed youthful self could figure it out, how could someone of such manifest intelligence waste ten years of their life chasing these ideas? Oh well, people are different and what is obvious to one person is not necessarily so to another. Anyway, Spengler gradually figured out that he was beholden to a "gnostic cult" and extricated himself.

If that wasn't enough to interest me, it turns out that before he hooked up with Larouche, Spengler was affiliated with Hashomer Hatzair, a Socialist-Zionist youth movement that I myself belonged to for a few years (also around age 17). How one transitions from that to the vaguely anti-semitic Larouche cult is another mystery. Goldman has a complicated relationship to his Jewishness and his present conservatism seems to be an effort to recapture something that he missed in his red-diaper-baby childhood.

I sometimes wonder why I never had this kind of rebellion. My parents were conventional liberals, I was somewhat radical in my youth and am now more or less a conventional liberal myself. My brother, on the other hand, became a raving right-wing nut, and many other people from left-wing backgrounds have become rightist ideologues. I think the people this happens to are those who take their political beliefs too seriously, who want to use a political ideology as a personal identity and a root philosophy. As a math and computer geek I looked elsewhere for that stuff, and so I never expected politics to conform to a neat conceptual system, so never felt the need to shift from one extreme to another.


TGGP said...

I have never found anything valuable in Spengler. He's an out-and-out bullshitter who doesn't know what he's talking about but pulls the wool over the eyes of morons because he's more cultured.

As a math and computer geek I looked elsewhere for that stuff, and so I never expected politics to conform to a neat conceptual system, so never felt the need to shift from one extreme to another.
Uh, without computer geeks where would libertarianism be? Hayek seemed to think mathematicians & engineers were the most prone to the "fatal conceit" of thinking society could fit in a neat conceptual system. Like Caplan, I think he was off.

mtraven said...

Thanks for the additional background on Spengler. The more I read of him, the less impressed I am. His stuff on Iran is standard neocon hysteria. Daniel Larison is about the only voice on the right who doesn't seem either a liar or insane or both (but without the insanity he can't win my award).

I suppose a lot of computer geeks are libertarians, but not the best ones who (in my day anyway) congregated around government-funded research labs and had the sense to know who was funding the future. This Internet thing you are using? Brought to you by the cream of the military-industrial-academic complex, with industry playing a distinctly minor role.

For awhile in the late 80s I had a running debate going with Eric Raymond on an anarchism mailing list (me being a left-anarchist, him being the usual anarchocapitalist blowhard). Raymond later become an open-source
guru, so he essentially wound up being a leader of a very successful movement towards socialized production, although he probably wouldn't see it that way.

TGGP said...

You're dangerously close to no-true-Scotsman territory. I'd say libertarians are overrepresented among computer geeks relative to the general population, so merely being a computer geek hardly grants immunity.

I don't think right-libertarians have any problem with civil society. I am personally skeptical of the extent to which it can replace profit-and-loss, but I still like many of the goodies I get out of it.

Michael said...

To describe Larouche-ism as a 'gnostic cult' is to give it more credit than it deserves. It is too incoherent to be properly gnostic, either in the original sense of classical antiquity, or in the political sense of the term as employed by Eric Voegelin.

TGGP's point about civil society and its benefits as perceived by libertarians seems quite correct to me. Albert Jay Nock was a fan of civil society, which exerted 'social power' by means of moral suasion, as opposed to (and in conflict with) 'state power' imposed by physical force (or at least the threat thereof). Some libertarians seem to advocate complete autonomy of the individual, but others, like Nock, believe rather in the separation of civil society and the state.

mtraven said...

You're dangerously close to no-true-Scotsman territory.

? I'm not make any claims about geeks and libertarians in general, just about my own experience.

What you are calling "civil society" is exactly the sort of vague thing that left-anarchists thought could replace both the state and capitalist enterprise (which are viewed as more or less different aspect of the same thing). Nobody is really opposed to it. The argument between Raymond and me was about the utility of market mechanisms as a substitute for government, and he ended up helping subvert the market for software and other intellectual works.

mtraven said...

Oh, sweet! The latest version of the Larouche conspiracy graph includes the MIT Media Lab, where I did my graduate work. And at least three people that I've actually met.

aimai said...

I'm not going to beat you up over the geek thing, its a great post and I learned a lot from it. But I will say that certain people have a tendency to get lonely in one tight community and seek comfort in the arms of another. These people will fall from one totalizing, communitarian experience to another because all they care about is the warm embrace and they are seeking something--more followership or more leadership--which they don't find in the first group. Sometimes people want to be embraced by a higher authority, sometimes they want to feel like they might rise to the top in a new community. Whatever: its not the ideas per se that attract them its their role in the dissemination of those ideas and their ability to feel comfortable in the community.

The LaRouchies, like the Moonies, are damaged people who get off on feeling like outsiders and handing out literature to people who reject them over and over. Because something in the communal experience of interacting with other members of the cult is soothing to them.