Tuesday, October 06, 2015

A crackpot ghost helping to run the Republican asylum

David Corn last week takes a look at how much Republican Presidential candidate Ben Carson admires a deceased Mormon fundamentalist crackpot who is also one of Glenn Beck's main gurus, maybe the main one. (Ben Carson's Love Affair With a "Nutjob" Conspiracy Theorist Mother Jones 08/29/2015

That would be the late authoritarian kook, Willard Cleon Skousen (1913-2006). I wrote about him on this blog in Glenn Beck's political guru 09/21/2009:

Skousen was a Morman rightwinger who taught at two Mormon universities and served for four years as the Salt Lake City chief of police, until the ultra-conservative mayor of the time fired him for being too hardline. "He operated the police department like a Gestapo," the mayor said.

Skousen in the early 1960s after being canned as police chief was involved with far-right groups like the Birchers' American Opinion Speakers Bureau, the Christian Anti-Communism Crusade, the All-American Society and the American Security Council. Zaitchik writes that Skousen in the early 1960s became "the nation's most prominent Birch defender." The Birchers were angry at Barry Goldwater's movement because the 1964 Republican Convention that selected Goldwater as its Presidential nominee also condemned the Birch Society which viewed former President Dwight Eisenhower as having been a Communist. The pique of the Birchers against Goldwater, despite his endorsement of many views to their liking, was probably not irrelevant to the fact that Goldwater's parents had been Jewish, though they had converted to Christianity.

The Skousen book that Beck so loves is The 5,000 Year Leap (1981). But he also made ripples in the sphere of far-right influence with other volumes like The Naked Communist, The Communist Attack on the John Birch Society, The Naked Capitalist (1970) and The Making of America (1982), the latter of which claimed that slaveowners had been the "worst victims" of the slavery system in the Old South.

As [Alexander] Zaitchik explains, the Mormon journal Dialogue: The Journal of Mormon Thought in its Autumn-Winter 1971 issue published a symposium on The Naked Capitalist, which was receiving notable attention from conservative Mormon intellectuals. Dialogue has made the symposium available on its Web site, including a pitch by an admirer of Skousen's book and a response by Skousen himself. You can get a first-hand look there at the ideology on which Beck is operating and recommending to his followers as it looked during the first Nixon administration, long before the "teaparty" movement became a favorite media entertainment item.
This is a picture of Ben Carson's and Glenn Beck's intellectual mentor:

It's fascinating to see in Corn's article that just last year, Carson referred to Skousen's book The Naked Communist this way: "It was written in 1958. Cleon Skousen lays out the whole agenda, including the importance of getting people into important positions in the mainstream media so they can help drive the agenda. Well, that's what's going on now."

A paranoid conspiracy theory that worked for the Birchers and similar rightwinger fringers in 1958 still can work for them today in only slightly modified form. Only today it works for mainstream Republicans like Ben Carson.

Victor Ferkiss wrote in 1962 ("Political and Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism, Right and Left" Annals 344; Nov 1962):

The single most important tenet of right-wing radicalism is the absoluteness of the menace of communism and the struggle against it. It is not only an important or the most important thing in the world, it is the only thing. Everything that happens is a function of it - a nationalist revolution in Africa, government medical care for the aged, or less homework in schools - just as for Marx everything was epiphenomenal to the control of the means of production. The Communists are winning because they recognize the absoluteness of the struggle; the United States is losing because, save for the radical right, it does not. [my emphasis]
It sounds this is true today for Skousen disciple Ben Carson, as well.

Frekiss also noted how the Radical Right then turned their paranoid against the all-threatening external Communist menace against domestic political figures that had nothing to do with Communism:

Today, ... the radical right ... holds that the Communists are basically weak and that what makes them strong is our failure to use the strength we possess-a concomitant of our failure to recognize the absoluteness of the struggle. Get rid of the traitors, spies, and do-gooders in our midst, and we will triumph over communism with a minimum of effort and expense.
What he said in the ellipse was, "the radical right de-emphasizes
military as well as foreign-aid expenditures." They still gripe about foreign aid, that's a perennially favorite grievance. But today they love, love, love military expenditure. Frekiss there was talking about the isolationist right of the John Birch Society type, which espoused the kind of segregationist "libertarianism" that the Paul family professes now. It always had a militaristic core. And Rand Paul's political evolution over the last few years shows a lot of that side of this type of "isolationist" radicalism.

But, amazingly, Frekiss also wrote about the Radical Right of 1962, "One noteworthy element is missing: racialism." He just went right of the tracks on that one!

Another article in the same number of the Annals, "Conservatism" by Jasper Shannon, shows how anti-Communism made for fluid distinctions between conservatives and reactionaries:

The frenzied frustration of the Cold War made Marxian communism the symbol of every kind of wickedness. Unable to destroy the enemy abroad, many conservatives turned to a real or fancied enemy within. Not content with warning against the diminishing number of official members of the American Communist party, baffled conservatives broadened the definition of communism to include anyone whose views they regarded as dangerous. Liberals and even moderate conservatives fell under the sweeping charges of what one may call the emotional conservatives. Some of these radical-right persons clung to General Douglas MacArthur as a forlorn hope for the presidency in 1952. Embittered by MacArthur's failure to win a considerable following, they supported Robert A. Taft. When Taft was defeated by Eisenhower, the wrath of these inflamed rightists turned against Taft for not throwing his delegates to MacArthur. No language was too strong to be applied to either Taft or Eisenhower in this moment of agonized disappointment.
That reference to Ohio Senator Robert Taft is relevant to discussion then and now about the split between conservatives and reactionaries. In practice, the boundaries between conservatives and Radical Right were often hard to detect.

And in the US today, finding those boundaries is practically an impossible effort.

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