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And the routines, slogans, promises, corruption and political vocabulary of “woke liberalism” are best described as …..,. I’ll let the political consultant, Steve Schmidt fill in the blank. Thank you.

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I entirely agree with the distinction between Caesarism and fascism. The new European Caesars fit the mold. They are highly intelligent, ruthless men-with-a-plan. They also preside over ethno-states. Orban's Hungary is pure Magyar. They all have a compelling ethnic theme. Now, over to the US. None of this applies. We are all immigrants and the most diverse major country in the world. "American culture" is the NFL. Please. In fact, we don't even have a Caesar. A minority chunk of Americans with delusions of being "genuine", after decades of RW siloed information and grooming-with-guns by the republican party, coalesced around their idea of nationalism, racism and christianism (NatCs) and looked around for a leader. Presto, trump*. None of the other republican "leaders" would stoop to throw a bridle on them for a ride. trump* was looking for a following for his insatiable need for self-aggrandizement, self-enrichment and those who would cheer him on in his favorite pastime after lousy golf: settling grudges. He has no plan, no policies, no vision. Like a one-celled microbe, he moves toward the warmth of acquisition, adulation and crushing of his detractors. That is it, and that is not Caesarism. It sort of looks like it, and the resultant effect is close. However, a cadre of trump* lampreys implement Caesarism to benefit themselves and crush their enemies while the functionally illiterate mad king struts, preens, indulges in McDs and Fox, golfs and score-settles...it's all he's got, and all he wants. Oligarchs get tax credits and de-regulation, the groundlings get to apply their christianism to society unhampered by the (now-stacked and corrupt) SCOTUS, and are told by trump* to "Be your worst!"...and they are...and love it. The problem is that as has been noted, they are a minority, and when push comes to shove will be confronted by the broad diversity of the majority, something that neither old fascists or new Caesars have to contend with. My guess is that, if trump* is elected, he will assume Caesar's mantel, but will have to leapfrog to violence rather quickly. Not bright enough to wield it effectively we will be in for a mess.

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Oct 16, 2022Liked by Claire Berlinski

Although I greatly appreciate this work and, in general, fully agree with its contents, I still have to point out the presence of a rather relevant inaccuracy: Trent and Trieste were conquered, not lost, by Italy at the end of World War I. As a Triestine, however, I can say that there are many, despite the fact that more than a century has passed, who even today would have appreciated more the alternative outcome indicated in the article :)

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Oh, my goodness-you're right and that's so embarrassing. How did that slip through? Maybe I was trying to say, "Although its enemy Austria was destroyed and Italy gained Trieste and Trent, Italians had hoped to join France and Britain in gobbling up Germany’s colonial possessions" and somehow screwed up the sentence because I was too tired? That's super-embarrassing. I'm quite surprised you're the only one who caught it--that's a howler.

I absolutely did know better-- I've written book chapters about the history of Trieste!

Thank you for catching that, I'll correct it.

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I don't think this is helpful. All of the competing political philosophies in the world have failed, including liberal democracy. The world is devolving to a uniform sea of oligarchies and kleptocracies with stylistic flourishes of liberalism and macho communalism.

People spend far too much time criticizing competing value systems. If you don't like liberal democracy's competitors, fix liberal democracy itself. Make it a more attractive system than the alternatives. Figure out how to properly discipline elites and motivate them to act in the best interest of their host societies. How do you prevent elite self-segregation leading to a breakdown in the rule of law? No one is even asking this question despite the unfolding utter disaster that is U.S. law right now.

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Hey...We have impeachment, and the SCOTUS. Woopsie. Mitch McConnell engineered a corrupt SCOTUS and he did not give either impeachment the shove that would have ended this nightmare when the opportunity arose. McConnell, Leonard Leo, Rupert Murdoch have turned the "great men of history" thesis on its head. We had the tools to save our liberal democracy, but a handful of evil corrupt men done us in.

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I wanted to yell "Yes, yes, yes!" a dozen times while reading this introduction to the phenomenon of New Caesarism. Excellently conceptualized and presented.

I do disagree profoundly with the sentiment that America is somehow "armored" against it; the example given in Thomas M Gregg's comment ("There's no central point, no commanding height, that if seized by a group of putschists would give them power") illustrates how America is perhaps armored against old-style fascist or communist takeovers, but it in no way undermines Claire's point that "The New Caesars don't disdain elections; indeed, they love them, often transforming the system as much as they can to a plebiscitary rather than a representative democracy."

As I wrote in my comment to the second part of this series, "Caesarism will only flourish when a sufficient plurality of the populace is unwilling or unable to secure some rights and, increasingly, privileges for themselves and turns to a "savior" to fight for them." That is my reading of Trump's continued appeal.

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Exactly right--your second paragraph, I mean. This is exactly the point. I'll elaborate upon this in the coming essays. (I really do have a whole unpublished book here--I'm glad you guys seem interested in it.)

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Thanks for helping define populism. I have struggled with that. Now I need some examples of left wing populists to argue with my progressive friends who think every conservative politician is a right wing populist.

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Readers of The CG, and Americans in particular, benefit from being reminded of the original (I am tempted to add, “and true”) meaning of the term “fascism.” Claire’s article, along with Thomas Gregg’s comments give essential context needed to distinguish authoritarian or illiberal democracy from the Fascism of Mussolini or the National Socialism of Hitlerian Germany.

Putting these revolutionary movements into their particular historical contexts defines the terminology, and in so doing removes it from being mere epithets for politics or people which the average American can identify as antithetical to liberal democratic values. Before reading the article and commentary I doubt I could have made such a fine distinction between Mussolini’s Fascists and anodyne “blood and soil nationalists”, for example.

If we are to fight our political battles with words, not swords or muskets, it behooves us to use words with care and precision. We are only sowing confusion, instead of understanding, if we use words — even correctly — whose meaning is unclear to our listener, or imprecise and subject to multiple interpretations.

Speaking of the meaning of words, I am reminded of this quote from Lewis Carroll.

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.

’

’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’



“The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

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For Claire and R.Hodsdon-I think this portion of a Memo by the late Jude Wanniski has relevance in the discussion. Notably: "The reason I write this memo to the two of you, though, is that you both fussed over a passage in the Morris book that mentions Reagan's belief that Franklin Roosevelt admired Mussolini and fascism. You both seem to have concluded that Reagan was simply misinformed. As a matter of fact, when FDR was inaugurated in March 1933, most of the world was agog over Mussolini's success in avoiding the Great Depression that gripped the rest of the world. As I wrote in my 1977 book, The Way the World Works, Roosevelt and his "Brains Trust," the architects of the New Deal, were fascinated by the concept of Italy's "fascism," a term which was not pejorative at the time. It simply meant a form of economic nationalism built around consensus planning by the established elites in government, business and labor. FDR's intellectual team included three academics, Raymond Moley, Rexford Tugwell and Adolph Berle, plus Henry Morgenthau, his Treasury Secretary. They, like everyone else in the world, had assumed the Depression had been brought on by the failure of the free market in the 1929 Wall Street Crash. If the free market did not work, then wise men had to step in to manage the national economy. As I put it in my book (p.154): "The idea was to use the central government both to promote economic growth through regulation of business and to assure balanced growth between industrial and agricultural sectors. This meant a reallocation of resources away from the direction they would normally flow in a free market, either by government direction, government partnership with business and labor (in syndicates, which is why the process is sometimes called syndicalism), or taxation and spending. The Brain Trust was impressed not only by the experiment in central government direction, but in 1933 there was a general interest in Washington and other world capitals in what Mussolini had accomplished in Italy."

You can find all this and more in Elliot Rosen's 1977 book, Hoover, Roosevelt and the Brains Trust, which landed on my lap just as I was writing this piece of my book in 1977. I think I may be the first, so far only person, to note that both Roosevelt and Hitler were fooled into thinking Mussolini was making the trains run on time with his form of what I now call "corporatism" in our own country. Italy had kept its economy running because Mussolini had a finance minister, Alberto di Stefani, who was fanatical about keeping income-tax rates down, tariffs down, and a commitment to a gold lira. As I recall from my research at the time, Mussolini finally did get a swelled head by all the global attention he got for his fascist approach -- especially from Hitler -- and he got rid of di Stefani, invaded Ethiopia, and the rest you know." (Jude Wanniski) The rest you know is history.

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I hope the podcast gets uploaded. I’m still waiting on Dina’s second interview and the one with Steenblik and Koplow. 😉

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Oct 7, 2022Liked by Claire Berlinski

Good luck with the book!

I would argue that Mussolini’s roots lie in Socialism- state control of the economy, as well as the view, fairly widespread amongst educated elites in the early 20th century, that advances in scientific reasoning allowed an informed elite to make all the right decisions for the ignorant masses. Communism was nominally about rule by the proletariat and committee but devolved into “scientific” decision making by an elite. Mussolini started with the view that the elite should command the economy and added the militaristic/patriotic angle to keep the masses in line. Wilson and FDR and many American socialists weren’t far off Mussolini in their view of the wisest course for management of an economy (elite decision making and planning) but thankfully weren’t particularly oppressive Or censorious (well, at least FDR wasn’t), perhaps because there wasn’t a lot of grass roots appeal in America for “order” having been spared the massive changes and wars in Europe late 1800s-WWI. I see communism, state socialism and Mussolini’s fascism as labels enshrining the concept that a few smart people at the top could plan for a whole country and should be given maximum leeway (by vote by law or by force)and relieve the ignorant, inferior masses of any decision-making responsibility. Different countries/leaders tried different ways to impose elite/“scientific” planning and decision-making- communism, fascism, socialism. Before his alliance with Hitler, Mussolini was sometimes envied by many western socialist elites (akin to Tom Friedman’s envy of the PRC’s command and control decision-making).

I agree there aren’t many fascist parallels with today’s populist authoritarians. They are after political power and patronage but don’t really seek to control the all aspects of the economy or “manage” anything except staying in power. When they can, they use state power or imprisonment to silence the opposition (or sometimes use corporations run by their donors to censor the opposition and their “inappropriate” thoughts), but every authoritarian leader (and sometimes every pol who can get away with it- Adams, Wilson, Nixon, GW Bush, Obama, Biden) tries to silence opponents. This doesn’t make them fascists- merely pols.

To me a populist is someone who picks an enemy, others them, and either blames them for all of ones troubles or portrays them as a threat to the nation. Often they promise to “get” or punish this enemy. The enemy could be the Chinese, illegal immigrants, Muslims, egghead elites, the Woke, the unvaccinated, white supremacists, MAGA republicans, members of parties who wish to “put Blacks back in chains” or launch “a war on women”, the 1 percent, big pharma, Pfizer, Fauci, the Supreme Court, CRT, Evangelicals, big oil, tech tycoons, etc.

In the US, most of the practitioners of this sort of hate mongering (from Obama, Biden, Sanders and Warren to Trump and the new right) are merely craven and are following this strategy because it works politically and because hate mongering and division is quite easy to implement using digital and social media. Obama was the first to realize and leverage this from 2010 onward. If we want to stop hate and division from being the winning strategy we have to call it out (and call out demagogues who rule and bait via “wedge” issues). Most people have only one eye open, focused on their political opponents.

I don’t really equate the trend of craven pols in the US trying to pick winning messages and leveraging social/digital media for hate mongering (or censorship) as having much overlap at all with the Orbans and Erdogans of the world, who rule countries with no real tradition of democracy and human rights. One election, one time, is a saying for a reason.

The US pols are going to stick to their current strategy until it stops working, and then they will try something else. Meanwhile, does anyone really believe Trump hates elites (having hobnobbed with them for decades) or Bernie hates the 1 percent (of which he is a member) or Warren hates tycoons? They are all merely picking opportunistic strategies that resonate with us (we are the problem). Erdogan and Orban, on the other hand, are true believers. I don’t see any Erdogans on the horizon in the US- not even Trump. He is impulsive and unhinged, to he sure, but also unserious.

I’ll read your book, though, to see if I am wrong.

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Oct 7, 2022·edited Oct 7, 2022Liked by Claire Berlinski

There's a lot in this, for sure. Particularly useful is the distinction drawn between fascism and contemporary left- and right-wing populism. The term "illiberal democracy" is apt. So is "Caesarian Democracy"—for those familiar with the career of ancient Rome's man who would be king.

A few words about Donald Trump. It's certainly true that he rode the wave of American populism, but surely he was no true believer. In assessing his political career, one must bear in mind that Trump the politician was a product of America's celebrity culture. He never shook off the persona of the game show host; recall his performance as ringmaster of the daily pandemic briefings. Recall as well how quickly the parade of cranks and clowns that followed him into the White House were sent away again. The presidency of Donald J. Trump was all about—Donald J. Trump. He certainly had illiberal impulses, but he had no illiberal principles.

Besides, if you look at his actual record as president up to 2020, you'll find that his administration was a pretty conventional Republican one. He did some dumb and objectionable things, as did the presidents who preceded him, not to mention the one who followed him. But it wasn't until he lost the 2020 election that Trump really fit the profile of an illiberal democrat and that, I'm convinced, was the product of sheer adolescent egotism. It was a disturbing and dangerous moment but the insurrection, if such it was, came to nothing.

I believe that America is armored against Caesarian democracy by the sheer weight, complexity and inertia of our political system. There's no central point, no commanding height, that if seized by a group of putschists would give them power. I'm not suggesting that America has complete immunity from the virus of illiberal democracy. But we do have strong antibodies—as, I believe, the events of late 2020-early 2021 showed.

As it happens, I took up the question of fascism's definition last May on my own little corner of Substack. For those who may be interested, here's the link:

https://unwokeindianaag.substack.com/p/what-is-fascism-anyway?r=dibcs&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web

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Yes, I agree with all of the points you made. (Clearly.)

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I'm reminded of Disraeli's bon mot: "My idea of an agreeable person is a person who agrees with me."

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I tend to agree with everything that has been said. One challenge to Caesarian democracy is it is not at clear how it can work in any type of Federal system of government never mind a Federal system as complex as America's. Now the counterpoint is that most Americans or at least most politically active Americans really don't want a Federal system of government instead preferring a unitary system of govt similar to France or England where you have things like a nationwide school curriculum for example. Even though I do not consider myself "woke" I tend to take issue with many anti-woke conservatives for example making a big deal about "woke" issues that I consider as a constitutional manner the province of state and local govt(such as trans athletes on high school teams) and from the other side it is has long been a staple of left wing progressivism that a unitary state is superior to the complex Federal system that America has.

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And Thomas himself shows this inevitable tension between a Federal system of govt and a unitary state in a post he wrote a few weeks ago on abortion(that Claire liked) which is on an issue like abortion that both sides of the issue very much want America to be a unitary state including Thomas(note to Tom the European countries you refer to like France and Sweden are unitary democracies).

https://unwokeindianaag.substack.com/p/infanticide-nation

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I do not know whether to be amused or dismayed by the popular notion that erosion of truly liberal values in America began with Trump. At the very least it began when the entire country accepted George Bush's de facto elimination of the 1st amendment with the creation of "Free Speech Zones" with barely a peep from the nation's institutions. It was that very moment when the democratic institutions of the US began their slow decline into disrepute.

I laughed out loud at Clinton campaign talking points that Russians were undermining confidence in American institutions when to any thinking person, it was so clear that these institutions were doing an admirable job of it all on their own, and had been doing so for two decades.

Republican and Democrat alike, each successive administration participated in chipping away the bill of rights in the name of security. In this context, there was no travesty of justice worse (although many equal) than Clapper's outrageous lies to congress all tacitly approved (certainly never punished) by the Omaba administration.

Although it is arguable that some subsequent administration -might- have committed this illiberal atrocity at some future point, it is nonetheless unavoidable fact that Obama's -did- do it, and as such is directly responsible for the Snowden affair, and all subsequent loss of faith attendant to it.

To write "The press is not abolished tout court, but censored on grounds that please the public" as though it was/is purely a "Trump" phenomenon is to willfully ignore the active participation of the Federal administrative state in activities such as the suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story (from "all the hallmarks of a Russian disinformation campaign" to phone calls to Facebook), to name just one of uncountable examples attributable to the administrations that bookend Trump. It is just that when it is *your* sensibilities that the censorship is playing to - perhaps, for example the suppression of "medical misinformation" - you do not even see it for what it is.

I do not disagree with all that you wrote, but I find that your TDS detracts from the otherwise interesting political analysis. Do you really need to score hits on such a soft target in order to garner credibility for your arguments, or are you actually, seriously, convinced that Trump was/is the alpha and omega of the illiberalism so rampant in the US today?

Is there not perhaps a deeper problem at play in American Society? Is it possible that Trump is a symptom, not a cause?

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Where did I say, exactly, that this is a purely Trump phenomenon? Can you point to a single sentence in which I said this? Of course it isn't a purely Trump phenomenon: That's my point.

I do, however, believe Trump to be *by far* the most Caesarist postwar president we've had.

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Claire,

Your statement that "The press is not abolished tout court, but censored on grounds that please the public" was a specific attribute of what you describe as "New Caesarism". You clearly include Trump as a "New Caesar".

You start your Introduction with: "When pundits describe Trump’s rise to power as “unprecedented,” and go on to describe as presidents things that happened in other countries, not the US. I made the inference that no previous US presidents met your definition of a New Caesar, therefore I inferred that you felt that democratic (and use this term very precisely) censorship of the press was a phenomena starting with Trump.

The way I see it I could mistaken in the following ways:

1) You do not feel that democratic censorship is uniquely a symptom of New Caesarism and has been around for some time before Trump. If this is the case, just le the know, I will stand corrected.

2) You do not feel that Trump was the US's first New Caesar. If this is the case, I would certainly be interested in know what other presidents you would lump in with Trump, and I would be curious why, only now during the administration of Biden, did you feel inspired to write about this?

Your reply to me suggests option 2. In saying that Trump is the "most Caesarist" you imply that the US presidents haw also been Caesarist, just less so.

FWIW, I think that your case would be made better by elaborating on the Caesarist tendencies or prior (or current) US presidents. If this is *not* only about Trump, then including a few other presidents would help make that more clear to me, and perhaps to other readers.

It would indicate that your might agree with me that there is a deeper problem at play than just Trump, and the illiberalism in America needs thoughtful analysis that does not include, or is at least independent of, Trump. I certainly would be very interested to see you write that analysis. (Sincerely, not rhetorically)

best,

AZW

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No, I have not read the yesterday’s chapter. And I have not read anything of yours prior to this Substack.

Thanks for reminding me of the larger context. I’ll bear that in mind as I read on.

Thank you for your thoughtful replies.

AZW

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"[T]here is a deeper problem at play than just Trump, and the illiberalism in America needs thoughtful analysis that does not include, or is at least independent of, Trump. I certainly would be very interested to see you write that analysis." Yes, I agree very much with that. I found Obama deeply disturbing, and wrote about being disturbed by him and the cult of personality around him throughout all eight years of his presidency. (I'd been looking forward to the election of a president who didn't make me want to throw pizza at the television whenever he was speaking, until Trump came along and said, "Hold my beer," achieving what I would have said impossible--making me miss Obama.)

Remember that this is a chapter in a *book*--the book is about 80,000 words--and we haven't got to the chapter about the US yet. A few people have written to say, "I agree, but you missed [Point A or Point B.]" Mostly it's stuff that's coming up in subsequent chapters.

Presumably you read yesterday's chapter: Although I don't agree with his every word, I do admire Reincourt's argument, and I agree with him that this isn't something that happens overnight.

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Excellent points!

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Oct 7, 2022Liked by Claire Berlinski

Thank you for providing a lot of historical context!

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Oct 7, 2022·edited Oct 7, 2022Author

I'm glad you think it's useful. I've been wide-eyed at the awfulness of the coverage of the Italian election, which seems to be divided between fatuous claims that Georgia Meloni is a fascist and equally fatuous claims that since she's obviously not a fascist, there's nothing to worry about. But I realized the other day that probably, most of the people writing these things are too young to have grown up with relatives who lived through the rise of European fascism and fought in the war. Mussolini is as distant from them as Gladstone, say, is to me: He's someone you'd have to study if you wanted to understand who he was, not someone who shaped the lives of their grandparents.

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