Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The (authoritarian) Dogs of War

There is a saying of which I'm fond- Great men talk about ideas, average people talk about things, and small people talk about people - which touches on the essence of this short post. I believe the great advances of mankind occur when ideas are the driving force- the enlightenment period in Western Civilization, or even the founding of the United States come to mind- and the great declines occur when people are the driving force- cults of personality come to mind.

John Dean of Watergate fame released Conservatives without Conscience last year and has recently written 3 essays summarizing the views contained therein:

Understanding the Contemporary Republican Party: Authoritarians Have Taken Control

Why Authoritarians Now Control the Republican Party: The Rise of Authoritarian Conservatism

The Impact of Authoritarian Conservatism On American Government

The sense I got when reading Theodor Adorno's The Authoritarian Personality, a book written, in part, as a response to the question of how Hitler came to power, returned while reading Mr. Dean's essays. That sense is that the personalities described seemed more fitting for dogs than men.

Dogs in the wild, or wolves, if you prefer, run in packs led by alpha males. Obedience to the leader is strictly and brutally enforced and a change at the top involves violent revolution from within. Returning to that saying of which I'm fond, one key aspect of these wolf packs and these authoritarian groups is that they are led by wolves or people respectively, not ideas.

Consider this sentence from Mr. Dean: Most conservatives today do not believe that conservatism can or should be defined. They claim that it not an ideology, but rather merely an attitude. That about sums it up, doesn't it? These people don't need ideas to drive them, they have leaders and what their leaders do defines the movement. To wit, If Bush or Cheney do something it must be conservative.

This lack of ideology (a phrase Bill O'Reilly uses in a pejorative sense) is what strips them of conscience. Morality is an ideological standard, after all. The New Testament scene wherein a stoning is averted when Jesus says, Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone, comes to mind. It continues, And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last.

Thus the phrase, let loose the dogs of war has acquired a new meaning for me.