Monday, October 11, 2004
michael ledeen and robespierre
The Ledeen enigma ...can be traced back to what he has called "the usual Machiavellian paradox: Compulsion -- or necessity, as he terms it -- makes men noble, and enables them to remain free, while abundant choice is dangerous, leads to chaos, and leaves men at the mercy of their enemies." Ledeen fears that some elements of society have forgotten the virtue of such compulsion. "The generals, the businessmen, and the athletic coaches know this, but the political leaders and journalists often forget it."this is the essence of what threatens american plebiscitarian democracy today. we are confronted by a decadent society that is dying, spiralling into ever greater absurdities, overflowing with the irresponsibility of emancipated individualism, running from all the institutions that were developed to hold our civilization together for centuries. the inmates, in most ways, are running the asylum.
the leadership of this nation -- and i do not limit that to just the bush administration leadership -- in response to that frightening and intractible problem, is choosing to use the implements of fascism in an attempt to restore vigor, vitality and cohesiveness through naked mythological nationalism. this explains a very great deal of the discourse in this election year -- particularly the obsession with rehabilitating vietnam.
moreover, part of feeding and developing that nationalism is -- and has been since reagan and granada in 1983 -- military adventurism abroad, skillfully marketed at home. this is ideologically crystallized now in the Global Democratic Revolution, our cassus belli in iraq (and soon iran), where the neocon (here voiced by ledeen) believes
". . . It is crucial for us to remember that the 18th-century revolutionaries and statesmen who created this country recognized that it is impossible for [democracy] to flourish if it is limited to a small corner of the world. The revolution, in other words, must be exported."this is, of course, a daft bit of historical revisionism. nothing so grand was created in the american colonial tax revolt of the 1770s. the revolutionaries and statesmen ledeen wants to refer to were in paris, changing western civilization by implementing the ideas of rousseau -- not in some third world backwater of the british empire, dumping tea in harbors. but neocon nationalism demands that the founding of the nation be mythologized heroic, as was the founding of rome, and so it has been recast.
and none of those revolutionaries, french or american, thought much of exporting their ideas. indeed, most of them primitivistically believed quite the opposite. when they were eventually exported beginning in 1799, it was at the hands of a former jacobin factionalist who was far more egomaniacal in his aims.
but this is a revealing use of parallel, for what are ledeen’s ideas but another permutation those of that first lot of jacobins? his call for “iron discipline” and compulsion in the defense of ideal freedom from chaos are not his words and ideas -- but those of robespierre. and this recurrence is not the first -- calls for such purges in the name of preserving ideals against threats real, imagined and manufactured characterized both the communist revolution of the 1910s and the fascist governments of the 1930s.
so this is the response of our political intellectuals: in the face of the growing chaotic decadence of a plebiscitarian, individualistic antisociety, we are to install The Terror. for as robespierre said, in justifying the state of despair and total panic he had then inflicted upon all of france:
"Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is therefore an emanation of virtue; it is not so much a special principle as it is a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our country's most urgent needs.ledeen, being a biographer of machiavelli, understands this when he says:
"To be an effective leader, the most prudent method is to ensure that your people are afraid of you."this is a man who speaks to an attentive white house. we have been warned.
UPDATE: american conservative published a similar study of ledeen more than a year prior.