Weimar analogies miss the point of America’s turbulence
The violent rise of QAnon is an anthropological, not historical, phenomenon
There’s currently a “lively debate,” as the euphemism has it, in the American press over whether or not the abortive march on the Capitol last week proves Trump displays fascist tendencies, and whether the global hegemon is undergoing a period of “Weimarisation.”
Hitler’s rise and fall has become the founding myth of liberal democracy, but the relentless focus on 12 years of European history at the exclusion of all else obscures far more than it reveals. In many ways, America’s politics is better understood though analogy with colonial or post-colonial societies than through comparisons with prewar Europe, and the QAnon phenomenon driving much of the recent revolutionary mobilisation is a perfect example.
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Consider the basic building blocks of the Q cosmology: a secret entity in possession of hidden knowledge passes messages, in coded form, to its devoted followers; according to Q’s wisdom, Trump’s term of office has not been marked by failure, but by fantastic (secret) success, with Trump the central figure in an ongoing war of good against evil, victory in which will cast out the usurpers of the corrupt regime from power, and restore America to a time of happiness and plenty. This is not politics as we understand it, but religion: it is, in fact, what anthropologists call a revitalisation movement, or crisis cult.
These movements take root in societies and ethnic groups undergoing a period of great and traumatic change, a time when “society appears to be disintegrating, social bonds dissolving, and chaos appears imminent,” when “ordered, structured reality is disrupted, and the collective self-esteem shattered.” At such times, in the right circumstances, a charismatic leader appears, in possession of occult knowledge, who promises to cast out the evil of the new regime — evil often linked with demographic change — and lead his followers to a utopian future, often through militarised mobilisation against the new order.
The Ghost Dance movement of the Plains Indians is the classic example from which the concept derives, but the pattern exists across all societies. Instead of Nazi Germany, we may be better off comparing Q to the Holy Spirit Movement of 1980s Uganda.
In 1986, the ethnic Acholi peasant woman Alice Auma became possessed by a series of spirits, primarily one called Lakwena, who instructed her followers, through a series of cryptic instructions, to mobilise and overthrow the Ugandan state, and restore Acholi society to a state of peaceful cohesion. Politically defeated and dispossessed, the Acholi were ripe for mobilisation: following Lakwena’s guidance, they marched on the capital Kampala, and were massacred by the state’s security forces.
America has a rich tradition of millenarian religious cult formation in a way Europe has not for many centuries. Instead of returning again and again to Nazi Germany — and LARPing the 1930s in the streets and in the comment pages as both liberal and authoritarian activists seem compelled to — perhaps by looking for less worn-out analogies American commentators can understand their political crisis better, and avoid reworking Europe’s great tragedy as their own farce — and circumvent a novel tragedy of their own.
The real danger to America and the wider west is clearly from the left. It controls all the levers of power and is seeking to mask its takeover by the old Fascist / communist means of demonising its critics – an easy task given the media’s craven capitulation to “woke”. If Trump were in any way a fascist himself, where are the camps, the “Trump Youth”, the uniformed paramilitaries, the violence? Indeed, in so far as these things exist, they serve the left – “Antifa”, the “largely peaceful” riots and muggings, the vandalism and extremist rhetoric. The left now prattles about “democracy” and “due process”, but spent four years cooking up conspiracy theories and vexatious litigation to unseat a legitimate president. And finally there is the sheer stench which refuses to depart from the US election. Yes, yes – the courts have thrown out any attempt to scrutinise the evidence; but with “Antifa” breathing down their neck, today’s answer to the Red Guard and the Brownshirts, not to mention the multitudinous penalties and prices in store for transgressors, how many judges will have the backbone to do their duty? Precious few.
It’s not even left versus right. Woke politics has little to do with economics. Our societies have become much more cosmopolitan, while inequality has increased many times over. The established social order is fracturing and what we consider British or American to be is shifting. This is a battle over our national soul and myths. It has little to do with communism. To be honest, this farcical analysis is just moral panic in a propaganda war against your opponents. Our current malaise has all the hallmarks of religious conflict with accusations of heresy on both sides and dogmatic ‘truths’ barring compromise.
You are wrong. Arrogantly wrong, as is the way these days. It has everything to do with communism, which sought the withering away of the state, if you recall – whilst putting a party apparatus of appalling brutality in its place. It then set about dismantling the cultures over it they had gained power – see the fate of Orthodoxy under Lenin and Stalin – or the “four olds” under Mao. Hence the fracturing of the social order, which even you have managed to notice. As for your fence sitting smugness – “accusations of heresy on both sides” – do you really imagine this impresses anyone?
This is demonstrably false. I know bankers on Â£120k a year that are among the most ‘woke’ people that you will meet. Our current divides cut across class lines. A far cry from the class war advocated by communists in the 20th century. They considered class war a pre-condition in order to purge bourgeois society. Parallels can be drawn but to consider communism the preeminent threat to Western civilisation in the 2020s is way off the mark.
And Lenin was the son of a civil servant; Trotsky a merchant’s boy; you are missing the point: communism has two enemies – not just the market but the nation state; and of the two it has currently decided that the second is worse. It is certainly the more vulnerable. Even in the 20s, the communists were forced to make some sort of common cause with the market in the New Economic Policy – not “new” at all, in fact; just a backshuffle in the direction of common sense. They have also, reluctantly, made common cause with nationalism at times – see the later Stalin; but they hate it with even more passionate intensity than they despise economic freedom, because it supports the cultures and hierarchies of the old world. You must understand that the official doctrines of communism are such nonsense that the reds themselves don’t seriously believe in them. They are interested in absolute power with a view to remaking mankind. They don’t think the “workers” understand or even want this. They began to realise that the “proletariat” was easily won over by welfare, patriotic capitalism back in 1900 and their practice in power tells you much more about their real aims than their official “diagnoses” and far-off Utopian prospectus. It is about stripping individuals of agency, memory and home, with a view to ordering the human ant-hill “efficiently”. Orwell saw this, clear as day. Why can’t you? Is it perhaps because you are red yourself engaged in a false flag operation? Your posts suggest as much.
I don’t disagee with any of that, well, aside from the claim that I am plotting a communist coup but I’ll ignore that childish suggestion. I don’t believe ‘communism’ adequately captures the social movements of today. All too often it is used in order to demonise and discredit. I am not a communist because I am concerned with inequality and racial issues. It’s the equivalent of labelling anyone to the right of Tony Blair as a fascist. It offers up nothing new and does not help us understand the peculiar events of our time.
You seem far too sensible and articulate to get a proper hearing here – I wish you all good luck!
Thank you 🙂 Have a great weekend.
‘Frankfurt School’, in a nut shell! The Liberal/Marxist, intellectual, group of the Weimar days. They wanted all you list, breakdown of family, community, nation, to disunified individuals with collective misery as their only asset.
Google them. They moved to USA And Columbia University in the 1950s and infiltrarated the Western Education and Media industries, and thus created the self loathing, Nihilist, wokeism of today. Google their 11 point plan for a list of all we know is being done to society.
No state has more inequality than California. Who’s been running it for decades? Seattle and Portland had months of crazy rioting, to include attempts at autonomous zones. Who runs them and has for decades? The same applies for all major cities. Now we have private business eagerly doing the bidding of a political party in silencing opponents. You can draw up all the false equivalence you like, but it remains false.
What’s your point? Inequality is a problem across the Western world in states with varying political parties and allegiances. These systemic issues go deeper than Democrat vs Republican.
My point is that inequality is a straw man of an issue. It’s not something to be solved by govt and the evidence before us shows that the people who make the most noise about addressing it produce results that only make it worse.
The social order is fracturing over the fixation with identity politics and claims of victimhood; it is fracturing because one group believes it is owed something by another group; and it is fracturing because far too many people are willing to vest far too much power in feckless elected officials.
I disagree. High or increasing levels of inequality usually result in more chaotic, corrupt and violent societies. The gini coefficient bears this out and you need only look at Brazil and South Africa to see the terrible systemic issues resulting from high inequality. Clearly inequality is not the only issue in South Africa or Brazil but it is important. Increasing inequality in the Western world is a cause for grave concern.
The fracturing of the social order is changing because people no longer believe our national stories. This is not a communist takeover. People genuinely and sincerely question Britain’s myths surrounding WW2, our place in the world and who we are. Fundamentally, this is a question of identity. It’s not an obsession with identity politics but a question of who we are. We obviously sit on opposite sides of this debate. Your characterisation is partisan as you do not acknowledge a single point that someone on the other side would say motivates them. You should try to understand where the other side is actually coming from.
‘Systemic issues resulting from high inequality’
The problem is not all folk are universally able. To get equality in your way the less able cannot just be paid from the more able, you actually would have to reduce the ability of the more able to equalize the groups as it is not viable to raise the less able to the level of the more so. This is being tried in the West, and is the goal of the Liberal/Leftie.
Many a dystopia has been written on this, weights put on the arms and legs of the graceful to make them move ungracefully, masks forced on the attractive to make them not so, random noise generating headphones on the highly intelligent to stop them thinking so well….
The choice now days is to make education poor, and to admit the less able to be in the classes of the more, to level them down, and the other up.
he real danger to America and the wider west is clearly from the left. It controls all the levers of power
Only 4 years ago Republicans controlled the Senate, house and the Presidency. They also dominated (still do) state legislatures.
As in most countries its not the elected that control the state its the bureaucracy. How woke are they, especially after all their CRT training?
Let’s accuse Trump of fascist tendencies while having private business collude with govt actors to silence him and other opponents. At what temperature does irony burn?
This writer and his Weimar Republic, well the Democrats are fully from that time, the ‘Frankfurt School.’ Weimar Germany, 1930s, Liberal Marxists who wished to destroy Western society by rotting it at its core.
Google their 11 point plan, it is the play book of all the Western Liberals.
How much support has the weird QAnon movement in the American population at large?
Is not QAnon a small minority cult believed in by cranks; but, as such, a straw man very welcome to the Establishment in the latter’s frantic bid to discredit all criticism of their ‘elite’ and ‘meritocratic’ rule by the people voting for Donald Trump as a desperate measure against years and years of ruinous domestic, economic and foreign policy?
The hideous and continuing vilification of reasonable, conservative people, and worse, based in terms of their race has become pathological.
If a mobilised, fanatical right is the great danger it’s presented as it seems like a particularly dangerous thing to provoke it. So why do it.
If you can’t find a reasonable reason for an action it can be inferred from the consequences; perhaps the intention is to create an extreme reaction.
What better way to justify the dehumanisation and oppression of your political enemies than have them behave badly.
As opposed to run of the mill liberals portrayed as genocidal communists for talking about racial issues. Do you agree that both sides of this debate are often characterised in unfair and extreme ways?
Yes Zach, there is mischaracterisation from both sides but I’m not aware of any significant portrayals (genocidal communists?) such as you describe.
Plenty of examples of folk concerned about immigration or supporters of European culture and civilisation being vilified as racist, white supremacist, xenophobes, gammon, nasties and so on. It’s not even remotely reasonable.
Really? I’ve had numerous conversations on Unherd this week and faced accusations that I am red plant sowing dissent and ultimately destroying western civilisation. Can you really not see? The point is that neither positions are reasonable and if we’re going to escape our echo chambers we must first seek to understand each other.
I’m studying Critical Theory for my doctorate. This is a direct quote from one of the dreary texts I’ve been made to read:
‘Hence, BlackCrit should also make space for the notion of chants becoming battle cries, tears becoming stones in clenched fists, and the hand-written signs machine guns”for the idea that the blood of whiteness must flow in the streets‘ (Dumas, 2016).
It’s there in black and white for all to see. My previous semester was spent listening about the evils of whiteness and how it needs to be eradicated. How must I go about understanding this?
You are the one studying this author so why don’t you tell me? I would posit that abstract critical race theorists do not represent mainstream left wing thinking.
56% of republican voters believe or partly believe in QAnon, 56%! https://www.forbes.com/site…
They believe in its underlying patriotism, not the weird pizzagate stuff. Not Trump deified, but for America, its past, future, constitution, people, culture, rule of laws, democracy, decency, strength, and basic goodness. It stands in contrast to self loathing, nation and culture loathing, wokism. It is merely a useful symbol, not believed in for the crazy side, but for the Patriot American side.
No one takes Qanon seriously, but it is a code word for Conservative American Patriotism. Patriotism is one of mankind’s Nobelist emotions, it is love of ones Nation and society which gave him all his benefits in life, it is duty and responsibility in maintaining it for future generations that they may also benefit as you have.
WWG1WGA is just a code acronym to most for meaning where we Americans go individually, we all go together. Americans for America First.
Why is it always boomers and weird young men who fall pretty qanon type stuff?
Why is it always young liberals who burn cities?
These are questions to which we do not have an answer.
Young liberals live in cities
Old people are too old to riot – so they embrace conspiracy theories. Senility kicks in and they embrace idiotic ideas.
Do not respond to my posts, you witless wonder of a teenager.
He’s not wrong though.
My latest niece has just started to utter words. She utters so many that occasionally they seem to make sense.
Good for her
but enough about Joe Biden.
You represent a clear example of the process.
A recent detailed program covering the political and military upheavals across the globe in the 1930s leads to the inevitable conclusion that WWII was begun – at the latest – in 1937, and was not from the start solely a European conflict
There are distinctly different, yet distinctly parallel, features in the current national and international dynamics that show a remarkable similarity to what we now know to be the global situation in the 1930s
It is often said that we never learn from our past mistakes, yet it appears to me that, throughout our history, it has been the personality traits and characteristics of certain individuals who have gained, or who have simply assumed, then somehow consolidated, one way or another, their actual positions of physical power, who have shaped events with little or no regard for the impact of their decisions, and their actions, on the wellbeing of the people most affected by their decisions and by their actions
This is, as I see it, exactly the position that pertains in the recent events in the so-called United States of America
The biggest 1930s event BEING
China is copying the ‘Greater Southeast Asia Co-prosperity Sphere’ of TOJO Japan, but also the including Africa in its economic colonizing.
You want 1930s? It is China, and Pearl Harbor may have already been done.
Since about 1970, the Left (in the Western world) has increasingly been held captive by – and thus been driven forward by – its commitment to sexual debauchery and sexual / gender diversity.
This has poisoned everything it says and does.
Reasonable analysis, friend.
The old civilization is dead, the old civilization is gone, useless, non-productive. The old civilization can no longer provide security, longevity, freedom from need, and life-enjoyment for people. Less and less can the old civilization do anything useful at all. The old civilization is now profoundly degraded, and will only get worse with time.
The Golden Golem of Greatness who for the past 4 years has haunted both the White House and the collective American psyche has of course speeded up the process of cultural disintegration by many degrees.
Nothing can be done within the old (now obsolete) system to rectify the situation.
The Golden Golem is an exact in your face manifestation of Beavis and Butthead as portrayed in the movie Beavis and Butthead Do America.
All the King’s horses and all the King’s men have not a hope in hell of putting Humpty back together again.
When the people are not guided and patterned in their living by Wisdom, they will inevitably perish or self-destruct (which is what is (inevitably) happening in Amerika. Beavis and Butthead dramatized everywhere.
Meanwhile why not check out the Dissident Voice website, and for starters the essays titled:
The Ends of Whiteness
Anteroom of Our Own Extinction
Trump May Be On Trial
Essays which a provide a much more complex and nuanced assessment of the present time and historical situation than anything provided by any of the usual culturally illiterate right-wing suspects that dominate the Comments section on the Unherd website
Humankind has always been (collectively) insane, even psychotic – this was/is particularly the case with Western man who suffers from The Wetiko Dis-ease (Psychosis), which is now in its most advanced form in Amerika.
The two world wars were a spectacular dramatization of the Western psychosis. The two wars effectively destroyed Western civilization (such as it was).
“Taught by a Paiute spiritual leader named Wokova, the Ghost Dance was a ritual meant to cleanse the spirit, promote clean living, and reunite the living with the spirits of the dead.”
Aris doesn’t mention it, but Bronze Age Mindset fits the first two items in that bill of particulars perfectly.
Populism is not pathology, but just like Left-wing utopianism it has pathological elements within it.
The point of the article is mostly a distinction without much of a difference, at least as to QAnon and crisis cults. Rather than Trumpism (and by extension QAnon) being a form of “fascism,” as is often claimed, it would be better to understand both Trumpism and fascism as crisis cults unique to their times. Certainly Nazism was a crisis cult with conspiratorial and religious aspects very similar to the classic understanding of crisis cults. (See From Ghost Dance to Death Camps: Nazi Germany as a Crisis Cult by John W. Connor). The post colonial aspect of US politics has always existed in its mainstreamed racial politics, not just fringe movements, and arguably the main point of elite driven US politics since the Civil War, at least, has been to prevent a political alliance between working class whites and non whites. Just about every form of identity and grievance politics promoted by both governing parties has had this as its goal. As long as the “little people” can be kept fighting each other over race, religion, etc., they can’t challenge the “money.” Now QAnon does veer into more deranged territory. If there is one real analogy between Weimar Germany and the US today, it has been that both societies’ traditional elites believed they could control, channel and tame their respective crisis cults, once confronted with them, for their benefit. In the case of Germany, the elites underestimated the intelligence and resourcefulness of the leader of what they considered a “peasant” movement, and in the US, the conservative establishment that has tolerated and apologized for Trump did so thinking his followers and QAnon, etc. were just another variation of the typical voter dupe of right wing identity politics (ala Southern Strategy, etc.) they could exploit for their gain. In both cases the results were disastrous for the elites. As an aside, Putinism in Russia (especially when you add in the associated movements of Aleksandr Dugin, etc) has now acquired aspects of a crisis cult lumped in with Putin’s longstanding gangster state megalomania.
No doubt this creation of a movement of mass hysteria by Trump and fans will keep sociologists well fed for decades to come! You wonder how the mob in DC thought it could change the outcome of the ‘stolen’ election. Or perhaps ““ as some have suggested ““ they really believed that Pence would act like a Returning Officer in a banana republic and declare only certain states’ votes valid. The implication being, they were there just to celebrate.
In certain regards, the scenes of mayhem in Washington were akin to those after the Arab Spring, or when Saddam was captured ““ anyone remember the bashing of his fallen statue with shoes? Or going further back, the joyous scenes of destruction when the Berlin Wall fell. No doubt people were harmed on those occasions, just like this one.
Some will claim USA is living under some equivalent of dictatorship by the ‘swamp’, which is why Trump’s fans were prepared to smash their way into the Capitol. Of course they don’t ““ they still live in one of the freest nations on earth. But somehow something has deluded them.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. America is the land of Disney where if you dream hard enough, anything can come true!
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