In his provocative if sadly narrow-minded book, “What’s the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America,” Thomas Frank reveals just how even people with good insights can turn a blind eye to the broader implications of what they partly understand.
The book is about why middle America is so ready to yield to fear mongering by Right Wing politicians and their cohorts. One of the best portions of the work includes a quote from Herman Goering, given by the Nazi ideologue in an interview while he was being tried for war crimes at Nuremberg:
“People don’t want to go to war … But, after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a parliament or a communist dictatorship … Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to great danger. It works the same way in any country.”
This quotation is deployed to indict mostly people on the political right, of course — Frank is an unreconstructed populist who would probably be most happy if Ralph Nader became president of the United States of America. What he misses, and what his book is utterly silent about, is just how Goering’s idea applies to how the Left behaves in the political arena.
If it is indeed the case, as Frank seems to agree with Goering, that “All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism,” it certainly may well be the case, to paraphrase Goering a bit, that “All you have to do is tell them they are being threatened and denounce the skeptics for lack of humanitarianism.”
Who do I have in mind here? The environmentalists, the gun-control freaks, the anti-smoking fascists and all the rest of the Left who, as John Stossell put it, are in cahoots trying to scare us all to death.
Alas, Frank seems to think — or wishes us to think — that the ploy Goering identifies is only used by the political Right. He is, of course, wrong. Moreover, he applies the doctrine for largely partisan purposes, namely, to smear any concern voiced by the American Right — but not exclusively, if you include the likes of George Orwell and Sidney Hook, among those on the Left who shared the concern — about the dangers of Communism.
No doubt, this concern could be built into a clarion call for opposite varieties of — albeit far less Draconian — oppression, what with Joe McCarthy and others who loved the House Un-American Activities Committee’s intrusiveness in the culture so as to keep us safe from Stalin & Co. But because some people went overboard in coping with a fear, it does not follow that the fear had no basis, as Frank wants his readers to believe.
All statists make use of the “scare them to death” scam, be they on the Right or on the Left. And in the USA, especially, it tends to be the Left that uses the tactic more diligently. They, after all, tend, also, to be in control of the news media — the major papers and broadcast organizations — and the academy, where the state funded “studies” are produced galore to back up their scare mongering.
The strategy of calling for the use of state coercion so as to cope with life’s adversities and risks is by no means confined to the political Right. Left and Right both eagerly embrace the practice. But both love to point to the other side, the version of statism they do not happen to favor, as the only guilty ones.
It’s a ruse. Don’t buy it.
Tibor Machan advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at