Logic: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, September 2022

I was on a college track in high school getting mostly A’s and B’s. There wasn’t quite the feeding frenzy in 1970 to stack my academic CV and get into the very best institution of higher education I could. Besides, my parents were barely middle class and we’d agreed that, to save money I’d attend the local community college for two years before transferring to UC Santa Cruz.

One of my English teachers my senior year was Lynn Bjorkman who instructed us on how to write a proper nonfiction essay and academic paper in preparation for our college careers. His specialty was the “science of logic,” both the formal logic of propositions, proofs and inferences and the informal logic of natural language argumentation and logical fallacies. He was a singularly unappealing individual who gave milquetoast a bad name. In the days when Star Trek’s Mr. Spock was the fascinating poster boy for logic, we would pass around notes depicting Bjorkman as an addled cube-headed robot spewing logical nonsense.

I was into pro-Summerhill/Skool Abolition/student liberation politics, so I decided to write an academic-style term paper using Marshall McLuhan’s famous catchphrase “the medium is the message.” In education that meant the message (content) of freedom and democracy was being taught in educational institutions (forms) that were profoundly authoritarian and hierarchical. So I argued that the form/medium invariably prevailed over the content/message, using plenty of quotes, footnotes and a respectable bibliography that included AS Neill’s Summerhill, Paul Goodman’s Compulsory Miseducation, Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society, Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and Jerry Farber’s The Student as Nigger. I got a C- on the paper. Bjorkman commented that my writing was bright and sparkling on the surface but deeply flawed logically. He also remarked that I was actually dangerous and unfortunately would make a persuasive propagandist. But aside from noting an occasional logical fallacy in the margins, he never engaged with my argument’s logic point-by-point nor did he try to refute my conclusions.

OK, the C- on that paper upset me. I’d thought about challenging the grade using the system of academic redress offered by the school but I was already considered an angry Leftist radical whom the principal had threatened to suspend because I was publishing an underground newspaper. Besides, I was due to graduate at the end of the year. So I stewed over my low grade but ultimately I let it slide.

As for logic being a science, it may be a rigorous system of rules for conducting an investigation into the internal consistency of an idea, a statement, or a body of thought. But it isn’t a science because it doesn’t rely on evidence for facts. Nor is it a philosophical inquiry because it is not really interested in truth. Logic is solely concerned with the consistency of any given thought process. And as Emerson once wrote “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

Medieval scholastics spent a lot of time logically debating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin by the grace of an almighty god. They devised absolutely logical arguments based on thoroughly false assumptions reaching thoroughly false conclusions because angels and god don’t exist. Far from being a dispassionate, objective methodology, logic is frequently used by people with agendas and by the powers-that-be as a tool to justify their prejudices and crimes. In turn, ideologies and social systems may each have a unique logic with its own set of rules and processes.

Capitalism has an internal economic logic that involves commodities, private property, market relations, profit maximization, individualism, etc., and which seeks to organize all of society—its social institutions and human relationships—in its image. Yet amoral capitalist logic is fraught with instabilities and contradictions like the boom-and-bust business cycle, war, and the falling rate of profit.

Marxism developed a dialectical logic that started with defining the working class by its relation to the means of production, expanded upon how workers might move from a “class against capital” to a “class for itself,” and concluded with the “dictatorship of the proletariat” as a final stage in self-emancipation before the proletariat abolished itself as a class. I consider myself a Marxist, but I’m well aware of the twists and turns in Marxist logic that produced the crimes of Lenin and Stalin.

Fascism is a far less coherent and much more syncretic ideology and social system that often invokes “might makes right” to bolster social darwinist conclusions. Right off, transitioning from individual contests of strength to societies stratified into superior-versus-inferior castes, classes and races is a logically fraught exercise. Similar logical inconsistencies can be found in attempting to equate biological evolution with social development under the misnomer “survival of the fittest.” Fascism has often been accused of reveling in unreason which may account for its profound logical irreconcilabilities. What then accounts for the dubious yet populist attempts at red-brown crossover politics that attempt to combine socialism and fascism?

Fascism was actually the original Third Positionism that promised to go beyond Left and Right.[1]  Reading Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s comprehensive yet enervating biography Gabriele d’Annunzio reinforces the analysis that Fascism arose in the early 1900’s as an attempt to be more nationalistic than conservative nationalism and more revolutionary than revolutionary socialism. D’Annunzio himself combined an extreme avant-garde cultural presence with a rabid ultra-nationalist Italian irredentism. His 1920 grab bag Charter of Carnaro after the Fiume coup d’état combined elements of ancient Athenian democracy, the medieval Italian commune, the Venetian Republic, anarcho-syndicalism and vague social corporatism into a willy-nilly hodgepodge that promised radical equality and universal suffrage. “But the charter never made the transition from words to action” under his indecisive personal dictatorship.[2]

In the case of red-brown NazBol Third Positionism, the lynchpin is extreme nationalism. I’ve talked extensively about this type of “neither Left nor Right” Third Positionism. I’ve also explored a much less well known libertarian Third Positionism between left and right anarchism through Karl Hess where anti-statism is the key.

The original two-axis Meltzer-Christie political compass—individualism vs totalitarianism/capitalism vs collectivism—evolved into today’s ubiquitous four-square meme with the top left square as authoritarian left, the top right square as authoritarian right, the bottom left square as libertarian left and the bottom right square as libertarian right. The durability of certain positions and the various political thinkers, leaders, organizations, parties and political systems represented by this schema is based in part on cumulative history and on the internal logic of the positions themselves. They are not “set in stone.” The easy mutability of the authoritarian and libertarian ends of that axis is well-documented, with viable combinations of centralized and decentralized social structures functioning everywhere. But the political and economic Left and Right are presumed to be cast in concrete until the examples of Gabriele d’Annunzio with Fascism and Karl Hess with libertarianism are brought up. It is theoretically possible to break from orthodox Left versus Right logic to engage in Left-Right crossover politics anywhere on the political compass.

Although I’m loath to contemplate this, it might actually be necessary to explain why it isn’t crossover politics all the time.[3]

I was a big fan of neo-Marxist Leszek Kołakowski in the early 1970s. I read and reread his collection of anti-Stalinist essays Toward a Marxist Humanism, and enshrined his optimistic “The Concept of the Left” for its deft dialectic regarding utopianism and the Left. He was expelled from the Polish United Workers’ Party in 1966 and exiled from Poland in 1968 for his “revisionist” Marxism. He would eventually reject Marxism altogether in writing his three volume Main Currents of Marxism which was published in 1976 and which nevertheless endorsed György Lukács’s interpretation of Karl Marx. Despite his brilliant writing, Kołakowski’s magnum opus was by no means comprehensive. The Main Currents of Marxism suffered from stunning errors and omissions, uneven comparisons and critiques of major Marxist individuals and schools, and by then a general hostility toward Marxism.

Kołakowski moved away from dialectical materialism and Marxism toward orthodox philosophy and the history of ideas as he became increasingly focused on religious questions and the meaning of life. In the process he became more conservative and pessimistic. One of his final works, the 1990 collection of essays, Modernity on Endless Trial, is quite gloomy. A piece from this book, entitled “How to be a Conservative-Liberal-Socialist,” has Kołakowski proposing three beliefs each rooted in conservatism, liberalism and socialism respectively which when alloyed: “[s]o far as I can see, this set of regulative ideas is not self-contradictory. And therefore it is possible to be a conservative-liberal-socialist. This is equivalent to saying that those three particular designations are no longer mutually exclusive options.”

That essay is available online. Like Kołakowski I’ve become more conservative and pessimistic as I grow older. But I’m not interested in endorsing a middle-of-the-road logic, a centrist Third Positionist politics as I fight the daily logic of capitalism.

SOURCES:
Personal recollections
Summerhill by AS Neill (1960)
Compulsory Miseducation by Paul Goodman (1964)
Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Friere (1968)
Toward a Marxist Humanism (1968), Main Currents of Marxism (1976), Modernity on Endless Trial (1990) by Leszek Kołakowski
The Student as Nigger by Jerry Farber (1969)
Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich (1970)
The Floodgates of Anarchy by Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer (1970)
“Fascist Ideology” by Zeev Sternhell, Fascism, A Reader’s Guide: Analyses, Interpretations, Bibliography ed. by Walter Laqueur (1976); “Crisis in Fin-de-siècle Thought” by Zeev Sternhell, International Fascism: Theories, Causes and the New Consensus ed. by Roger Griffin (1998)
T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone by Peter Lamborn Wilson (1991)
Dreamer of the Day: Francis Parker Yockey and the Postwar Fascist International by Kevin Coogan (1999)
“The palingenetic core of generic fascist ideology” by Roger Griffin, Che cos’è il fascismo? Interpretazioni e prospettive di ricerca ed. by A. Campi (2003)
The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism by Richard Wolin (2004)
Gabriele d’Annunzio: Poet, Seducer, and Preacher of War by Lucy Hughes-Hallett (2013)
Fighting the Last War: Confusion, Partisanship, and Alarmism in the Literature on the Radical Right by Jeffrey M. Bale and Tamir Bar-on (2022)

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Zeev Sternhell argued that nationalism + socialism = fascism whereas Jeffrey Bale revises this formulation to illiberal nationalism + non-Marxist socialism = fascism. I would add what Roger Griffin called the palingenetic core of generic fascist ideology to define a Fascist Minimum. [Fascism is] a genuinely revolutionary, trans-class form of anti-liberal, and in the last analysis, anti conservative nationalism. As such it is an ideology deeply bound up with modernization and modernity, one which has assumed a considerable variety of external forms to adapt itself to the particular historical and national context in which it appears, and has drawn a wide range of cultural and intellectual currents, both left and right, anti-modern and pro-modern, to articulate itself as a body of ideas, slogans, and doctrine. In the inter-war period it manifested itself primarily in the form of an elite-led “armed party” which attempted, mostly unsuccessfully, to generate a populist mass movement through a liturgical style of politics and a programme of radical policies which promised to overcome a threat posed by international socialism, to end the degeneration affecting the nation under liberalism, and to bring about a radical renewal of its social, political and cultural life as part of what was widely imagined to be the new era being inaugurated in Western civilization. The core mobilizing myth of fascism which conditions its ideology, propaganda, style of politics and actions is the vision of the nation’s imminent rebirth from decadence.
Roger Griffin, “The palingenetic core of generic fascist ideology”

[2] Alceste de Ambris, a revolutionary syndicalist, wrote the first draft of the Charter of Carnaro, and Fiume certainly attracted all types, including anarchists. But D’Annunzio was a proto-fascist who seized power in Fiume with the help of elite special forces of the Royal Italian Army, the infamous Arditi shock troops. That certainly puts the lie to Peter Lamborn Wilson’s claim that D’Annunzio was an anarchist and that Fiume was a free-for-all Temporary Autonomous Zone.

[3] In Dreamer of the Day: Francis Parker Yockey and the Postwar Fascist International Kevin Coogan wrote: “Today both communism and fascism, ideologies that the French fascist Robert Brasillach once called ‘the two poetries’ of the 20th century, seem exhausted given the triumph of multinational capitalism. Yet periods of ideological decay often breed strange new variants, such as the ‘Red-Brown alliance’ in the former Soviet Union, which do not easily fit into conventional political-science categories of ‘left’ and ‘right.’ […] What is especially worrisome is that much of the left has today so deteriorated that it may well lack the capacity for understanding, much less fighting, new forms of fascism that incorporate ‘leftist’ rhetoric and ideas.” But the near simultaneous development of Fascism and Leninism at the beginning of the 20th century (with Lenin praising D’Annunzio as “the only real revolutionary in Europe”) raises questions about the very notion of “ideological decay” as a viable analytic category.

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Alternate socialism: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, July 2021

I received a letter yesterday from my leftist penpal via the Multiverse Postal Service. We’ve been discussing the origins of the Cold War in our respective parallel universes. I quote from his lengthy missive below:

We both agree that the similar contours of our side-by-side worlds were consolidated after the disastrous Afghan war. But we each have differing timelines for the historical sequence of events starting from the February 1917 Russian Revolution that produced our present realities in our alternate universes.

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