The New American Radicals
During the Jacobin Revolution of 1793, in those quaint days when the lower classes still thought of themselves as the lower classes, it was for upper-class sympathies and for not reading “subversive leftist literature” that aristocrats got in trouble.
Note the reversal in America. Here the lower classes seem to be the upper classes–they have automobiles, lace curtains, and votes. Here, in consequence, it is for alleged lower-class sympathies–for “leftist” sympathies–that the aristocrats are purged by the lower class.
In reality those lower-class sympathies are microscopic in most of that social register (Lodge, Bohlen, Acheson, Stevenson, and Harvard presidents) which McCarthy is trying to purge; even so leftist sympathies are the pretext given for the purge. Why is it necessary to allege those lower-class sympathies as pretext? Why the pretext in the first place? Because in America the suddenly enthroned lower classes cannot prove to themselves psychologically that they are now upper-class unless they can indict for pro-proletariat subversion those whom they know in their hearts to be America’s real intellectual and social aristocracy.
Ostensibly our aristocrats are being metaphorically guillotined for having signed, 20 years ago, some pinko-front petition by that egghead Voltaire (a typical reversal of the 1793 pretext) and for having said not “Let them eat cake” but “Let them read books” (violation of loyalty oath to TV). Behind these ostensible pretexts, the aristocratic pro-proletarian conspirators are actually being guillotined for having been too exclusive socially–and, even worse, intellectually–at those fancy parties at Versailles-sur-Hudson. McCarthyism is the revenge of the noses that for twenty years of fancy parties were pressed against the outside window pane.
In the Populist-Progressive days and in New Deal days, those same noses were pressed with openly radical, openly lower-class resentment. During 1953 and 1954 the same noses snorted triumphantly with right-wing Republicanism. This demagogue’s spree of symbolically decapitating America’s intellectual and social upper class, but doing so while shouting a 200-percent upper-class ideology, suggests that McCarthyism is actually a leftist instinct behind a self-deceptive rightist veneer. This combination bolsters the self-esteem of sons of Democratic urban day laborers whose status rose into stuffy Republican suburbia. Their status rose thanks to the Communism-preventing social reforms of Roosevelt. Here for once is a radicalism expressing not poverty but sudden prosperity, biting the New Deal hand that fed it.
The New Royalty
Many of our intellectual aristocrats have helped to make the McCarthyite attack on themselves a success by denouncing McCarthyism as a rightist movement, a conservative movement. At first, they even denounced it as a Red-baiting, anti-Communist movement, which is exactly what it wanted to be denounced as. By now, they have at least caught on to the fact that it is not anti-Communist, has not trapped a single Red spy–whether at Fort Monmouth, the Voice of America, or the State Department–and is a major cause of the increased neutralism in Europe, McCarthy being the “Typhoid Mary” of anti-Americanism.
But although American liberals have now realized that McCarthyism is not anti-Communist (which is more than many American businessmen and Republicans have realized), they have still not caught on to the full and deep-rooted extent of its radical anti-conservatism. That is because they are steeped in misleading analogies with the very different context of Europe and of the European kind of fascism. Partly they still overlook the special situation in America, where the masses are more bourgeois than the bourgeoisie. I am speaking in terms of psychology, not only of economics. A lot more is involved psychologically in the American ideal of the mass man that the old economic boast (a smug and shallow boast) that simply “everybody” is “so prosperous” in America. “Every man a king” is not true of America today. Rather, every man is a king except the kings.
The real kings (the cultural elite that would rank first in any traditional hierarchy of the Hellenic-Roman West) are now becoming declassed scapegoats: the eggheads. The fact that they partly brought the fate on themselves by fumbling the Communist issue does not justify their fate, especially as the sacred civil liberties of everybody, the innocent as much as the guilty, must suffer for that retribution.
America is the country where the masses won’t admit they are masses. Consequently America is the country where the thought controllers can self-deceptively “make like” patriotic pillars of respectability instead of admitting what they are: revolutionaries of savage direct democracy (Napoleon plus Rousseau plus Tom Paine plus the Wild West frontier) against the traditional, aristocratic courts and Constitution and against the protection of minority intellectual elites by the anti-majoritarian Bill of Rights. The McCarthyites threaten liberty precisely because they are so egalitarian, ruling foreign policy by mass telegrams to the Executive Branch and by radio speeches and Gallup Poll. The spread of democratic equal rights facilitates, as Nietzsche prophesied, the equal violation of rights.
Is Liberté incompatible with égalité? It was, as people used to say in the 1930’s, “no accident that” an American Legion meeting in New York in July 1954 passed two resolutions side by side–the first condemning another Legion branch for racial discrimination (the “Forty and Eight” society) and the second endorsing McCarthyism. This juxtaposition is noted not in order to disparage the long overdue anti-bigotry of the first resolution. Rather, the juxtaposition is noted in order to caution the oversimplifying optimism of many liberal reformers who have been assuming that the fight for free speech and the fight for racial tolerance were synonymous.
Admittedly not all nationalist bigots have yet “caught on” to the more lucrative new trend of their own racket. Many will continue to persecute racial minorities as viciously as in the past, though surely decreasingly and with less profit. Because of the Southern atmosphere of Washington, the anti-segregation resolution could not be repeated when the Legion met there a month later.
Often untypical or tardy about new trends, the South is more opposed to the good cause of Negro rights and to the bad cause of McCarthyism than the rest of the nation. One Southerner (I am not implying that he represents the majority of the South) told me he regards as Communistic defenders of civil liberties of any of our several racial minorities; then he went on to reproach the north for “not fighting for its civil liberties against the fascist McCarthy.”
The same day I heard that statement, I read an account of a McCarthy mass meeting in the North at which racial discrimination was denounced as un-American and in which anyone defending civil liberties against McCarthy was called Communistic. At the same meeting, a rabbi accused the opposition to Roy Cohn of anti-Semitic intolerance. Next, Cohn’s was called “the American Dreyfus Case” by a representative of a student McCarthyite organization, Students for America. This young representative of both McCarthyism and racial brotherhood concluded amid loud applause: “Roy Cohn and Joe McCarthy will be redeemed when the people have taken back their government from the criminal alliance of Communists, Socialists, New Dealers, and the Eisenhower-Dewey Republicans.”
This outburst of direct democracy comes straight from the leftist rhetoric of the old Populists and Progressives, a rhetoric forever urging the People to take back “their” government from the conspiring Powers That Be. What else remained but for Rabbi Schultz, at a second Cohn-McCarthy dinner, to appeal to “the plain people of America” to “march on Washington” in order to save, with direct democracy, their tribune McCarthy from the big bosses of the Senate censure committee?
Bigotry’s New Look is perhaps best evidenced by McCarthy’s abstention, so far, from anti-Semitic and anti-Negro propaganda and, more important, by countless similar items totally unconnected with the ephemeral McCarthy. A similar juxtaposition occurs in a typical New York Times headline of September 4, 1954, page one: PRESIDENT SIGNS BILL TO EXECUTE PEACETIME SPIES; / ALSO BOLSTERS BAN ON BIAS. Moving beyond that relatively middle-of-the-road area to the extremist fringe, note the significant change in “For America.” This nationalist group is a xenophobic and isolationist revival of the old America First Committee. But instead of appeasing the open Nazis who then still ruled Germany, as in the old-fashioned and blunter days of Father Coughlin, “For America” began greatly expanding its mass base in 1954 by “quietly canvassing Jewish and Negro prospects.”
And so it goes. From these multiplying examples we may tentatively generalize: Manifestations of ethnic intolerance today tend to decrease in proportion as ideological intolerance increases. In sharp contrast, both bigotries previously used to increase together.
If sociologists require a new term for this change (as if there were not enough jargon already), then at least let it be a brief, unponderous term. I would suggest the word “transtolerance” for this curious interplay between the new tolerance and new intolerance. Transtolerance is ready to give all minorities their glorious democratic freedom–provided they accept McCarthyism or some other mob conformism of Right or Left. I add “or Left” because liberals sometimes assume conformism is inevitably of the Right. Yet “Right” and “Left” are mere fluctuating pretexts, mere fluid surfaces for the deeper anti-individualism (anti-aristocracy) of the mass man, who ten years ago was trying to thought-control our premature anti-Communists as: “warmongers” and who today damns them as “Reds” and who ten years from now, in a new appeasement of Russia, may again be damning them as “Wall Street warmongers” and “disloyal internationalist bankers.”
Transtolerance is the form that xenophobia takes when practiced by a “xeno.” Transtolerant McCarthyism is partly a movement of recent immigrants who present themselves (not so much to the world as to themselves) as a 200 percent hate-the-foreigner movement. And by extension: Hate “alien” ideas. Transtolerance is also sublimated Jim Crow: against “wrong” thinkers, not “wrong” races. As such, it is a Jim Crow that can be participated in with a clear conscience by the new, nonsegregated flag-waving Negro, who will be increasingly emerging from the increased egalitarian laws in housing and in education. In the same way it is the Irishman’s version of Mick baiting and a strictly kosher anti-Semitism. It very sincerely champions against anti-Semites “that American Dreyfus, Roy Cohn”; simultaneously it glows with the same mob emotions that in all previous or comparable movements have been anti-Semitic.
The final surrealist culmination of the new development would be for the Ku Klux Klan to hold nonsegregated lynching bees.
At the same moment when America fortunately is nearer racial equality than ever before (an exiting gain, insufficiently noted by America-baiters in Europe and India), America is moving further from liberty of opinion. “Now remember, boys, tolerance and equality,” my very progressive schoolma’m in high school used to preach, “come from co-operation in some common task.” If Orwell’s 1984 should ever come to America, you can guess what “some common task” will turn out to be. Won’t it be a “team” as they will obviously call it) of “buddies” from “all three religions” plus the significantly increasingly number of Negro McCarthyites, all “co-operating” in the “common task” of burning books on civil liberties or segregating all individualists of “all three” religions?
It required Robespierre to teach French intellectuals that égalité is not synonymous with liberté. Similarly, Joseph McCarthy is the educator of the educators; by his threat to our lawful liberties, he is educating American intellectuals out of a kind of liberalism and back to a kind of conservatism. The intellectual liberals who twenty years ago wanted to pack the Supreme Court as frustrating the will of the masses (which is exactly what it ought to frustrate) and who were quoting Charles Beard to show that the Constitution is a mere rationalization of economic loot–those same liberals today are hugging for dear life that same court and that same Constitution, including its Fifth Amendment. They are hugging those two most conservative of “outdated” institutions as their last life preservers against the McCarthyite vision of what their Henry Wallaces used to call “the century of the common man.”
Our right to civil liberties, our right to an unlimited nonviolent dissent, is as ruggedly conservative and traditionalist as Senator Flanders and the mountains of Vermont. It is a right so aristocratic that it enables one lonely individual, sustained by nine nonelected nobles in black robes, to think differently from 99.9 percent of the nation, even if a majority of “all races, creeds, and colors,” in an honest democratic election, votes to suppress the thinking of that one individual.
But what will happen to that individual and his liberties if ever the 99.9 percent unite in direct democracy to substitute, as final arbiter of law, the white sheets for the black robes?
Originally published in The Reporter, December 1954.
Peter Viereck (1916-2006) was an American historian and poet, and author of, among other works,Conservatism Revisited: The Revolt Against Ideology.