Nov 192010
 

The New Yorker. March 1, 2004.

A radio producer in Washington, D.C., got a promotion a few years ago on the grounds that he was a “good decision-maker.” Self-deprecating to a fault, he reminded his bosses that many of the decisions he’d made since joining the station hadn’t exactly worked out. They didn’t care. “Being a good decision-maker means you’re good at making decisions,” one executive cheerily told him. “It doesn’t mean you make good decisions.”

This boss figured that the station had less to fear from periodic screw-ups than from the day-in, day-out paralysis of someone too cowed by choice to choose at all. He had a point. A few decades of research has made it clear that most people are terrible choosers – they don’t know what they want, and the prospect of deciding often causes not just jitters but something like anguish. The evidence is all around us, from restaurant-goers’ complaints that “the menu is too long” to Michael Jackson’s face.

The phenomenon isn’t new. “The ordinary man believes he is free when he is permitted to act arbitrarily, but in this very arbitrariness lies the fact that he is unfree,” Hegel wrote. “Negative infinity” was his term for how the man without a well-anchored sense of self would perceive the marketplace. There can even be common ground between those who recoil from choice and those who have no choice at all, or so Louis MacNeice implied in a poem from the nineteen-forties about drunks:

Those Haves who cannot bear making a
choice,
Those Have-nots who are bored with
having nothing to choose,
Call for their drinks in the same tone of
voice,
Find a factitious popular front in booze.

Researchers of cognitive dissonance in the nineteen-fifties found that consumers would continue to read ads for a new car after they’d bought it but would avoid information about other brands, fearing post-purchase misgivings. And in the early eighties the social thinker Albert 0. Hirschman, in “Shifting Involvements,” sought to introduce the concept of “disappointment” into mainstream economic theory. “The world I am trying to understand,” he wrote (and the desperate italics are in the original), “is one in which men think they want one thing and then upon getting it, find out to their dismay that they don’t want it nearly as much as they thought or don’t want it at all and that something else, of which they were hardly aware, is what they really want.”

Mischoosing of this kind is what Barry Schwartz, a social scientist at Swarthmore, has in mind in his new book, “The Paradox of Choice” (Ecco; $23.95). In his view, “unlimited choice” can “produce genuine suffering.” Schwartz makes his case mostly through research in psychology and behavioral economics-research that shows how far real people are from the perfectly rational “utility maximizers” posited by classical economists.

In the real world, neither people nor firms maximize utility. Life is complicated, the options of the marketplace are numerous, and the human intellect is frail. As Herbert Simon, the 1978 Nobel laureate in economics, observed, any firm that tried to make decisions that would “maximize” its returns would bankrupt itself in a never-ending search for the best option. What firms do instead is “satisfice,” to use Simon’s term: they content themselves with results that are “good enough.” Schwartz, who is a close reader of Simon, worries that the profusion of choices we face-a hundred varieties of bug spray, breakfast cereal, extra virgin olive oil-is turning us into maximizers, and maximizers, he thinks, are prone to misery and depression.

Schwartz looks at the particular patterns of our irrationality, relying on the sort of research pioneered by two Israeli-American psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and the late Amos Tversky. It turns out, for instance, that people will often consciously choose against their own happiness. Tversky and a colleague once asked subjects whether they’d prefer to be making thirty-five thousand dollars a year while those around them were making thirty-eight thousand or thirty-three thousand while those around them were making thirty thousand. They answered, in effect, that it depends on what the meaning of the word “prefer” is. Sixty-two per cent said they’d be happier in the latter case, but eighty-four per cent said they’d choose the former.

Research in the wake of Kahneman and Tversky has unearthed a number of conundrums around choice. For one thing, choice can be “de-motivating.” In a study conducted several years ago, shoppers who were offered free samples of six different jams were more likely to buy one than shoppers who were offered free samples of twenty four. This result seems irrational – surely you’re more apt to find something you like from a range four times as large-but it can be replicated in a variety of contexts. Students who are offered six topics they can write about for extra credit, for instance, are more likely to write a paper than students who are offered thirty.

Why should this be? Schwartz suggests that it has to do with the irrational way people measure “opportunity costs.” Instead of calculating opportunity cost as the value of the single most attractive foregone alternative, we seem to assemble an idealistic composite of all the options foregone. A wider range of slightly inferior options, then, can make it harder to settle on one you’re happy with. Similarly, when people direct their wants toward “classes” of goals, they tend to figure they’ll get a better-than-average example of the class. When a person says, “I feel like a plate of spaghetti,” he envisions a particularly good plate of spaghetti. And, as the psychologists Daniel Gilbert, of Harvard, and Timothy Wilson, of the University of Virginia, have observed, “If it is difficult to know whether we will be happy fifteen minutes after eating a bite of spaghetti, it is all the more difficult to know whether we will be happy fifteen months after a divorce or fifteen years after a marriage.”

There are even cases, as Schwartz notes, where just one additional choice can produce outright paralysis. Tversky and the young Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir asked experimental subjects how they would react to a desirable Sony appliance placed in a shop window, radically marked down. The offer met with predictable enthusiasm. When a second appliance, similarly marked down, was placed alongside the bargain Sony, enthusiasm-and sales-dropped. Some hypothetical customers were evidently frozen by indecision.

You might wonder how much these sorts of findings should really concern us. Even if there were some raging epidemic of buyer’s remorse, strangers to the mall hardly need worry. But who is a stranger to the mall nowadays? Ours is a consumer culture that promises to liberate us to the extent that we can buy what we please; any evidence that we are poor choosers is a blow to its foundations.

Nor is the “paradox of choice” limited to the shopping aisle. It helps explain why so many people at age thirty are still flailing about, trying to choose a career-and why so many marriageable singles wind up alone. You await a spouse who combines the kindness of your mom, the wit of the smartest person you met in grad school, and the looks of someone you dated in 1983 (as she was in 1983) … and you wind up spending middle age by yourself, watching the Sports Channel at 2 A.M. in a studio apartment strewn with pizza boxes.

A central problem of choice is what Wilson and Gilbert call “miswanting.” Wanting, in their definition, is “a prediction of liking.” Predictions are often biased, and predictions of one’s feelings are more biased than most. Current preferences “contaminate” future plans-so that, on weekly trips to the supermarket, customers who have just eaten tend to buy too little food, and hungry ones too much.

You might try to draw on experience to help you choose, but your memories aren’t to be trusted. As Kahneman has shown, our minds focus on the peak and the final moments of a past experience while crowding out memories of its duration.

Given that we’re so bad at choosing what will make us happy, we seem to be faced with two options: mending the way we choose, or limiting our choices. Schwartz, in an effort to help us mend our ways, applies to individual shoppers Simon’s distinction between maximizing and satisficing. A maximizer is someone who “can’t be certain that she has found the best sweater unless she’s looked at all the sweaters,” Schwartz writes. “She can’t know that she is getting the best price until she’s checked out all the prices.” Instead, he says, one should become a satisficer, “content with the merely excellent as opposed to the absolute best.” It’s not obvious that you can simply decide to convert from maximizing to satisficing. But Schwartz, though he distrusts American abundance, has a deeply American faith in our ability to refashion ourselves.

What about the other approach – trying to choose less? In some measure, we all do this, using a strategy that the Columbia social theorist Jon Elster calls “self-binding.” Like Ulysses lashing himself to the mast of his ship in order to prevent himself from succumbing to the Sirens’ song, people make the choice of limiting their choices. Gilbert and Wilson note that there is one exception to the rule that hungry people overbuy and sated people under buy at supermarkets: it’s people who bring a grocery list, which the two psychologists call “a copy of A Theory About What l Will Want in the Future.” Strategies like this can be carried out at the level of society, by rules or social sanction, and surely help to explain Americans’ extraordinary flight from addictive behavior in recent years-so sudden that it resembles a concert-hall panic. In 1965, even after the Surgeon General’s report linking smoking to lung cancer, forty-two per cent of Americans smoked. Today, the figure has been cut roughly in half. Societal self-binding, rather than just new information, deserves much of the credit. (Or, if you like, the blame.)

Elster rightly insists that an individual’s binding of himself is a very different kind of “pre-commitment” from lawmakers’ binding of others-as different as resolution and coercion. But if choice is as painful as social scientists claim (Schwartz says it “tyrannizes” us)-and if miswanting is as prevalent–then a root-and-branch means of liberating us from it will always tempt policymakers and political thinkers. Some will advocate having others, perhaps the state, choose for people; for these advocates, behavioral economics provides a rationale for paternalism. The economist George Loewenstein, of Carnegie Mellon, has said that anyone studying happiness was bound to end up leaning left. Indeed, miswanting can be seen as a version of Marxism’s “false consciousness,” only in a more alluring guise – no longer just an oratorical ruse to sidestep the expressed wishes of the working class but a hard datum of social science. In a recent law-review article, the Chicago legal and political theorist Cass Sunstein and the behavioral economist Richard H. Thaler elaborate on a doctrine they call “libertarian paternalism”: “Libertarian paternalists,” they write, “want to promote freedom of choice, but they need not seek to provide bad options, and among the set of reasonable ones, they need not argue that more is necessarily better.”

All the abstract arguments against choice become harder to make when they are translated into concrete terms. When Schwartz notes that young Americans are unduly troubled by their choice of career, because they are “remarkably unconstrained by what their parents did before them,” he sounds kindhearted and sincerely concerned. But he also sounds a bit like an English nob defending the class system while he sits in a leather armchair in Boodle’s in about 1926. And if Schwartz’s book is really about the anguish of choice in general-and not merely about choice as a facet of shopping-there is no reason for any such argument to stop before it reaches, say, “a woman’s right to choose.” Once you stop taking people’s expressed preferences at face value, pretty much every single contentious political, economic, sexual, familial, social, and labor issue can be opened up to unpredictable renegotiation. There are less disruptive remedies. Robert Reich, in his recent book “The Future of Success,” notes that modern consumers, like corporations, respond to the marketplace by “outsourcing” choice. They hire experts-critics, in the old way of looking at things. While many experts, such as interior decorators, offer personalized service and charge a mint, the masses have access to choosing services that are essentially free. That, in effect, is what a “brand” is.

One function of certain New Economy innovations is to make choosing easier by automating it. TiVo, in theory, allows television addicts to lose themselves in ever more programming choices, but it can also be used as a filter, a means of allowing viewers to dispense with choosing altogether. Internet grocery services, such as Peapod, allow shoppers to fill out a template that protects them from having to rechoose every week. In practical terms, the Peapod shopper is confronted with far fewer new brands and choices than was a suburban housewife pushing her cart down a grocery aisle during the Kennedy Administration.

It’s also true that in a consumer society the most widespread of the misjudgments that humans bring to choice may also be a productive one. Researchers can tell us why someone can quickly become bored with a new Jaguar, or revert to thinking that life is meaningless two weeks after receiving a promotion he’s sought for a decade. But the phenomenon-sometimes called the “hedonic treadmill”-can also explain why disaster, whether bankruptcy or incapacitation, seldom burdens our spirits for very long.

Strangely, we lose sight of our human resilience when we make big choices. People are consistently puzzled that so many things they had dreaded – from getting fired to being ditched by a spouse-“turned out for the best.” Gilbert and Wilson even speculate (in a diplomatic way) that our inability to forecast this adaptive capacity spurs some people to a belief in God. “Because people are largely unaware that their internal dynamics promote such positive change,” they write, “they look outward for an explanation.” A tendency to overestimate the joy we’ll get from buying baubles and winning honors is only half of a complex predisposition. The other half is our enormous capacity for happiness, even in the absence of such things. The surprise isn’t how often we make bad choices; the surprise is how seldom they defeat us.

 Comments Off on Christopher Caldwell. “Select All: can you have too many choices?”
Nov 192010
 

From Plastic Words: The Tyranny of a Modular Language. Penn State Press, 1995. Translated by Jutta Mason and David Cayley.

Poerksen considers the following as examples of “plastic words”: basic need, care, center, communication, consumpion, contact, decision, development, education, energy, exchange, factor, function, future, growth, identity, information, living standard, management, model, modernization, partner, planning, problem, process, production, progress, project, raw material, relationship, resource, role, service, sexuality, solution, strategy, structure, substance, system, trend, value, welfare, work.

A. Origin and Usage

1. The speaker lacks the power of definition; the words do not acquire meaning or nuance from their contexts.

2. As “context-autonomous” words that do not depend on their connections, they superficially resemble the terms of science, but lack the precisely defined meanings of such terms, and their freedom from associations. The use of the same word inside and outside science leads to the assumption of kinship, and to the words becoming independent norms. In the vernacular, these nephews of science become stereotypes.

3. As a rule they originate in the vernacular, are adopted and reshaped by some brand of science, and then, like returning émigrés, rejoin the vernacular.

4. They have the character of metaphors inasmuch as they link the heterogeneous spheres of science and everyday life. They are distinct from metaphors in that they no longer evoke any image; they do not, like other comparisons, indicate their origin.

5. This makes their capacity to alter and illuminate their objects even more powerful. The less obvious their metaphorical character, the less it is noticed, and the more effectively it works. These words become commonsense, background concepts in our thinking.

B. Scope

6. The words surface in countless contexts. Their application is limited hardly at all by space or time.

7. They squeeze out and replace a wealth of synonyms. Synonyms after all are not words whose meaning is the same but whose meaning is similar, words with as many delicate differences and shadings as there are contexts. Before plastic words one knew which synonym belonged in which factual or social context. Now there is a “jack of all trades,” a word that serves the whole world.

8. They squeeze out and replace the verbum proprium, which precisely “fits” in a given context, with a nonspecific word.

9. They fill silences and replace indirect ways of speaking, exposing delicacy and tact to the action of stereotyped generalities.

C. Content

10. When we seek to grasp the meaning of the words, through their content rather than their sphere of influence, it comes down to a single characteristic. They manifest the logical law of the inverse proportionality of extension and intention: the broader the application, the smaller the content; the poorer the content, the larger the application. They are words that reduce a gigantic area to a common denominator. They put forward a universal claim, with a reduced and impoverished content.

11. In other words, the object spoken about, the referent, is not easy to grasp; the words are poor in substance, if not altogether without substance.

12. They seem to resemble the concepts of postclassical physics: purely imaginary, meaningless, self-referential, and functioning only as stackable poker chips. Is language being undermined in parallel with the use of these poker chips in the thought structures of mathematics and physics?

D. History as Nature

13. The words lack a historical dimension; they are embedded in no particular time or place. In that sense they are shallow; they are new and they don’t taste of anything.

14. They reinterpret history as nature and transform it into a laboratory.

15. They dispense with questions of good and evil and cause them to disappear.

E. Power of Connotation and Function

16. Connotation dominates, spreading out in expanding waves. In place of the power of denotation, they provide an experience of counterfeit enlightenment.

17. Their connotation is positive; they formulate a property or deliver the illusion of an insight.

18. In their usage the function of the discourse dominates, not its content. These words are more like an instrument of subjugation than like a tool of freedom.

F. General Function

19. By means of their limitless generality they give the impression of filling a gap and of satisfying a need that had not previously existed. In other words, they awaken a need. They reduce all domains to a common denominator and sound an imperative and futuristic note. The words seem to demand that these domains adjust themselves to the words and not vice versa. They draw attention to deficits.

20. Their asocial and ahistorical naturalness reinforces this demand.

21. Their powerful aura of associations demands action.

22. Their many-sided generality brings about consensus.

G. Social and Economic Usefulness

23. Their use distinguishes the speaker from the unremarkable world of the everyday and raises his social prestige; they serve him as rungs on the social ladder.

24. They carry the authority of science into the vernacular: they enforce silence. (In the GDR Marxist-Leninist science was already monumentalized by being the explicit foundation of the state structure. In the Federal Republic the scientific vocabulary pushed itself into a comparable position as an instrument for awakening economic needs.)

25. These words form a bridge to the world of experts. Their content is actually no more than a white spot, but they transmit the “aura” of another world, in which one can obtain information about them. They anchor, in the vernacular, the need for experts. They are pregnant with money. They command resources, and, in the hands of experts, become resources.

26. They can be freely combined, and they are eager to increase themselves through derivation and the creation of compounds. This modular capacity makes them an ideal instrument in the hands of experts interested in the speedy manufacture of models of reality.

H. Time and Place of Dissemination

27. Their scientifically authorized objectivity and universality make the older words of the vernacular appear ideological. A word like “communication” makes alternatives – conversation, discussion, gossip suddenly appear out of date.

28. The words appear as a new type. In recent history such newcomers have evidently been introduced in each epoch. The type in vogue in the 1930s is not the type in vogue in the 1990s.

29. This vocabulary, even if it appears at slightly different times in different places, is international.

I. Connection to Making Oneself Understood without Words

30. The words cannot be made clearer by tone of voice, pantomime, or gesture, and cannot be replaced by these.

Nov 192010
 

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.

Success is the important thing. Propaganda is not a matter for average minds, but rather a matter for practitioners. It is not supposed to be lovely or theoretically correct. I do not care if I give wonderful, aesthetically elegant speeches, or speak so that women cry. The point of a political speech is to persuade people of what we think right. I speak differently in the provinces than I do in Berlin, and when I speak in Bayreuth, I say different things than I say in the Pharus Hall. That is a matter of practice, not of theory.We do not want to be a movement of a few straw brains, but rather a movement that can conquer the broad masses. Propaganda should be popular, not intellectually pleasing. It is not the task of propaganda to discover intellectual truths.

There was no point in seeking to convert the intellectuals. For intellectuals would never be converted and would anyways always yield to the stronger, and this will always be ‘the man in the street.’ Arguments must therefore be crude, clear and forcible, and appeal to emotions and instincts, not the intellect. Truth was unimportant and entirely subordinate to tactics and psychology.

Intellectual activity is a danger to the building of character.

The rank and file are usually much more primitive than we imagine. Propaganda must therefore always be essentially simple and repetitive. In the long run basic results in influencing public opinion will be achieved only by the man who is able to reduce problems to the simplest terms and who has the courage to keep forever repeating them in this simplified form, despite the objections of the intellectuals.

What you want in a media system is ostensible diversity that conceals an actual uniformity.

It is the absolute right of the State to supervise the formation of public opinion.

We enter parliament in order to supply ourselves, in the arsenal of democracy, with its own weapons. If democracy is so stupid as to give us free tickets and salaries for this bear’s work, that is its affair. We do not come as friends, nor even as neutrals. We come as enemies. As the wolf bursts into the flock, so we come.

We have made the Reich by propaganda.

Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.

Not every item of news should be published. Rather must those who control news policies endeavor to make every item of news serve a certain purpose.

Whoever can conquer the street will one day conquer the state, for every form of power politics and any dictatorship-run state has its roots in the street.

Faith moves mountains, but only knowledge moves them to the right place.

That is of course rather painful for those involved. One should not as a rule reveal one’s secrets, since one does not know if and when one may need them again. The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.

If we are attacked we can only defend ourselves with guns not with butter.

The war made possible for us the solution of a whole series of problems that could never have been solved in normal times.

During a war, news should be given out for instruction rather than information.

When today a clique accuses us of having anti-Christian opinions, I believe that the first Christian, Christ himself, would discover more of his teaching in our actions than in this theological hair-splitting.

A verbal confession cannot suffice; we require an active confession. Christianity to us is no empty form, but rather a continual action.

In the interpretation of the Gospel one may hold the command of God higher than human commands. In the interpretation of political realities, we consider ourselves to be God’s instrument.

If the day should ever come when we [the Nazis] must go, if some day we are compelled to leave the scene of history, we will slam the door so hard that the universe will shake and mankind will stand back in stupefaction.

“The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.” [this is NOT a quote by Goebbels but is actually from Hitler’s Mein Kampf and often misattributed.]

GOEBBELS’ PRINCIPLES OF PROPAGANDA

Based upon “Goebbels’ Principles of Propaganda” by Leonard W. Doob, published in Public Opinion and Propaganda: A Book of Readings edited for The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.

1. Propagandist must have access to intelligence concerning events and public opinion.

2. Propaganda must be planned and executed by only one authority.

a. It must issue all the propaganda directives.
b. It must explain propaganda directives to important officials and maintain their morale.
c. It must oversee other agencies’ activities which have propaganda consequences

3. The propaganda consequences of an action must be considered in planning that action.

4. Propaganda must affect the enemy’s policy and action.

a. By suppressing propagandistically desirable material which can provide the enemy with useful intelligence
b. By openly disseminating propaganda whose content or tone causes the enemy to draw the desired conclusions
c. By goading the enemy into revealing vital information about himself
d. By making no reference to a desired enemy activity when any reference would discredit that activity

5. Declassified, operational information must be available to implement a propaganda campaign

6. To be perceived, propaganda must evoke the interest of an audience and must be transmitted through an attention-getting communications medium.

7. Credibility alone must determine whether propaganda output should be true or false.

8. The purpose, content and effectiveness of enemy propaganda; the strength and effects of an expose; and the nature of current propaganda campaigns determine whether enemy propaganda should be ignored or refuted.

9. Credibility, intelligence, and the possible effects of communicating determine whether propaganda materials should be censored.

10. Material from enemy propaganda may be utilized in operations when it helps diminish that enemy’s prestige or lends support to the propagandist’s own objective.

11. Black rather than white propaganda may be employed when the latter is less credible or produces undesirable effects.

12. Propaganda may be facilitated by leaders with prestige.

13. Propaganda must be carefully timed.

a. The communication must reach the audience ahead of competing propaganda.
b. A propaganda campaign must begin at the optimum moment
c. A propaganda theme must be repeated, but not beyond some point of diminishing effectiveness

14. Propaganda must label events and people with distinctive phrases or slogans.

a. They must evoke desired responses which the audience previously possesses
b. They must be capable of being easily learned
c. They must be utilized again and again, but only in appropriate situations
d. They must be boomerang-proof

15. Propaganda to the home front must prevent the raising of false hopes which can be blasted by future events.

16. Propaganda to the home front must create an optimum anxiety level.

a. Propaganda must reinforce anxiety concerning the consequences of defeat
b. Propaganda must diminish anxiety (other than concerning the consequences of defeat) which is too high and which cannot be reduced by people themselves

17. Propaganda to the home front must diminish the impact of frustration.

a. Inevitable frustrations must be anticipated
b. Inevitable frustrations must be placed in perspective

18. Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred.

19. Propaganda cannot immediately affect strong counter-tendencies; instead it must offer some form of action or diversion, or both.

 Comments Off on Joseph Goebbels on propaganda
Nov 192010
 

January 17, 1961

Good evening, my fellow Americans: First, I should like to express my gratitude to the radio and television networks for the opportunity they have given me over the years to bring reports and messages to our nation. My special thanks go to them for the opportunity of addressing you this evening.

Three days from now, after a half century of service of our country, I shall lay down the responsibilities of office as, in traditional and solemn ceremony, the authority of the Presidency is vested in my successor.

This evening I come to you with a message of leave-taking and farewell, and to share a few final thoughts with you, my countrymen.

Like every other citizen, I wish the new President, and all who will labor with him, Godspeed. I pray that the coming years will be blessed with peace and prosperity for all.

Our people expect their President and the Congress to find essential agreement on questions of great moment, the wise resolution of which will better shape the future of the nation.

My own relations with Congress, which began on a remote and tenuous basis when, long ago, a member of the Senate appointed me to West Point, have since ranged to the intimate during the war and immediate post-war period, and finally to the mutually interdependent during these past eight years.

In this final relationship, the Congress and the Administration have, on most vital issues, cooperated well, to serve the nation well rather than mere partisanship, and so have assured that the business of the nation should go forward. So my official relationship with Congress ends in a feeling on my part, of gratitude that we have been able to do so much together.

We now stand ten years past the midpoint of a century that has witnessed four major wars among great nations. Three of these involved our own country. Despite these holocausts America is today the strongest, the most influential and most productive nation in the world. Understandably proud of this pre-eminence, we yet realize that America’s leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.

Throughout America’s adventure in free government, such basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among peoples and among nations.

To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people.

Any failure traceable to arrogance or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us a grievous hurt, both at home and abroad.

Progress toward these noble goals is persistently threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. It commands our whole attention, absorbs our very beings. We face a hostile ideology global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. Unhappily the danger it poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle – with liberty the stake. Only thus shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment.

Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in the newer elements of our defenses; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research – these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel.

But each proposal must be weighed in light of a broader consideration; the need to maintain balance in and among national programs – balance between the private and the public economy, balance between the cost and hoped for advantages – balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between the actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration.

The record of many decades stands as proof that our people and their Government have, in the main, understood these truths and have responded to them well in the face of threat and stress.

But threats, new in kind or degree, constantly arise.

Of these, I mention two only.

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.

Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.

In this revolution, research has become central, it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system – ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.

Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society’s future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.

Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.

Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war – as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years – I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.

Happily, I can say that war has been avoided. Steady progress toward our ultimate goal has been made. But, so much remains to be done. As a private citizen, I shall never cease to do what little I can to help the world advance along that road.

So – in this my last good night to you as your President – I thank you for the many opportunities you have given me for public service in war and peace. I trust that in that service you find some things worthy; as for the rest of it, I know you will find ways to improve performance in the future.

You and I – my fellow citizens – need to be strong in our faith that all nations, under God, will reach the goal of peace with justice. May we be ever unswerving in devotion to principle, confident but humble with power, diligent in pursuit of the Nations’ great goals.

To all the peoples of the world, I once more give expression to America’s prayerful and continuing aspiration:

We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.

Now, on Friday noon, I am to become a private citizen. I am proud to do so. I look forward to it.

Thank you, and good night.

 Comments Off on Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Farewell Address to the Nation
Nov 192010
 

“A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism.” -1983 American Heritage Dictionary

“Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” -Giovanni Gentile, entry in the Encyclopedia Italiana (plagiarized by Mussolini).

The following is an essay published on April 9, 1944 in the New York Times by US Vice President Henry Wallace on what is an American fascist.

On returning from my trip to the West in February, I received a request from The New York Times to write a piece answering the following questions:

What is a fascist?
How many fascists have we?
How dangerous are they?

A fascist is one whose lust for money or power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends. The supreme god of a fascist, to which his ends are directed, may be money or power; may be a race or a class; may be a military, clique or an economic group; or may be a culture, religion, or a political party.

The perfect type of fascist throughout recent centuries has been the Prussian Junker, who developed such hatred for other races and such allegiance to a military clique as to make him willing at all times to engage in any degree of deceit and violence necessary to place his culture and race astride the world. In every big nation of the world are at least a few people who have the fascist temperament. Every Jew-baiter, every Catholic hater, is a fascist at heart. The hoodlums who have been desecrating churches, cathedrals and synagogues in some of our larger cities are ripe material for fascist leadership.

The obvious types of American fascists are dealt with on the air and in the press. These demagogues and stooges are fronts for others. Dangerous as these people may be, they are not so significant as thousands of other people who have never been mentioned. The really dangerous American fascists are not those who are hooked up directly or indirectly with the Axis. The FBI has its finger on those. The dangerous American fascist is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way. The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.

If we define an American fascist as one who in case of conflict puts money and power ahead of human beings, then there are undoubtedly several million fascists in the United States. There are probably several hundred thousand if we narrow the definition to include only those who in their search for money and power are ruthless and deceitful. Most American fascists are enthusiastically supporting the war effort. They are doing this even in those cases where they hope to have profitable connections with German chemical firms after the war ends. They are patriotic in time of war because it is to their interest to be so, but in time of peace they follow power and the dollar wherever they may lead.

American fascism will not be really dangerous until there is a purposeful coalition among the cartelists, the deliberate poisoners of public information, and those who stand for the K.K.K. type of demagoguery.

The European brand of fascism will probably present its most serious postwar threat to us via Latin America. The effect of the war has been to raise the cost of living in most Latin American countries much faster than the wages of labor. The fascists in most Latin American countries tell the people that the reason their wages will not buy as much in the way of goods is because of Yankee imperialism. The fascists in Latin America learn to speak and act like natives. Our chemical and other manufacturing concerns are all too often ready to let the Germans have Latin American markets, provided the American companies can work out an arrangement which will enable them to charge high prices to the consumer inside the United States. Following this war, technology will have reached such a point that it will be possible for Germans, using South America as a base, to cause us much more difficulty in World War III than they did in World War II. The military and landowning cliques in many South American countries will find it attractive financially to work with German fascist concerns as well as expedient from the standpoint of temporary power politics.

Fascism is a worldwide disease. Its greatest threat to the United States will come after the war, either via Latin America or within the United States itself.

Still another danger is represented by those who, paying lip service to democracy and the common welfare, in their insatiable greed for money and the power which money gives, do not hesitate surreptitiously to evade the laws designed to safeguard the public from monopolistic extortion. American fascists of this stamp were clandestinely aligned with their German counterparts before the war, and are even now preparing to resume where they left off, after “the present unpleasantness” ceases:

The symptoms of fascist thinking are colored by environment and adapted to immediate circumstances. But always and everywhere they can be identified by their appeal to prejudice and by the desire to play upon the fears and vanities of different groups in order to gain power. It is no coincidence that the growth of modern tyrants has in every case been heralded by the growth of prejudice. It may be shocking to some people in this country to realize that, without meaning to do so, they hold views in common with Hitler when they preach discrimination against other religious, racial or economic groups. Likewise, many people whose patriotism is their proudest boast play Hitler’s game by retailing distrust of our Allies and by giving currency to snide suspicions without foundation in fact.

The American fascists are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact. Their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity, every crack in the common front against fascism. They use every opportunity to impugn democracy. They use isolationism as a slogan to conceal their own selfish imperialism. They cultivate hate and distrust of both Britain and Russia. They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.

Several leaders of industry in this country who have gained a new vision of the meaning of opportunity through co-operation with government have warned the public openly that there are some selfish groups in industry who are willing to jeopardize the structure of American liberty to gain some temporary advantage. We all know the part that the cartels played in bringing Hitler to power, and the rule the giant German trusts have played in Nazi conquests. Monopolists who fear competition and who distrust democracy because it stands for equal opportunity would like to secure their position against small and energetic enterprise. In an effort to eliminate the possibility of any rival growing up, some monopolists would sacrifice democracy itself.

It has been claimed at times that our modern age of technology facilitates dictatorship. What we must understand is that the industries, processes, and inventions created by modern science can be used either to subjugate or liberate. The choice is up to us. The myth of fascist efficiency has deluded many people. It was Mussolini’s vaunted claim that he “made the trains run on time.” In the end, however, he brought to the Italian people impoverishment and defeat. It was Hitler’s claim that he eliminated all unemployment in Germany. Neither is there unemployment in a prison camp.

Democracy to crush fascism internally must demonstrate its capacity to “make the trains run on time.” It must develop the ability to keep people fully employed and at the same time balance the budget. It must put human beings first and dollars second. It must appeal to reason and decency and not to violence and deceit. We must not tolerate oppressive government or industrial oligarchy in the form of monopolies and cartels. As long as scientific research and inventive ingenuity outran our ability to devise social mechanisms to raise the living standards of the people, we may expect the liberal potential of the United States to increase. If this liberal potential is properly channeled, we may expect the area of freedom of the United States to increase. The problem is to spend up our rate of social invention in the service of the welfare of all the people.

The worldwide, agelong struggle between fascism and democracy will not stop when the fighting ends in Germany and Japan. Democracy can win the peace only if it does two things:

Speeds up the rate of political and economic inventions so that both production and, especially, distribution can match in their power and practical effect on the daily life of the common man the immense and growing volume of scientific research, mechanical invention and management technique. Vivifies with the greatest intensity the spiritual processes which are both the foundation and the very essence of democracy.

The moral and spiritual aspects of both personal and international relationships have a practical bearing which so-called practical men deny. This dullness of vision regarding the importance of the general welfare to the individual is the measure of the failure of our schools and churches to teach the spiritual significance of genuine democracy. Until democracy in effective enthusiastic action fills the vacuum created by the power of modern inventions, we may expect the fascists to increase in power after the war both in the United States and in the world.

Fascism in the postwar inevitably will push steadily for Anglo-Saxon imperialism and eventually for war with Russia. Already American fascists are talking and writing about this conflict and using it as an excuse for their internal hatreds and intolerances toward certain races, creeds and classes.

It should also be evident that exhibitions of the native brand of fascism are not confined to any single section, class or religion. Happily, it can be said that as yet fascism has not captured a predominant place in the outlook of any American section, class or religion. It may be encountered in Wall Street, Main Street or Tobacco Road. Some even suspect that they can detect incipient traces of it along the Potomac. It is an infectious disease, and we must all be on our guard against intolerance, bigotry and the pretension of invidious distinction. But if we put our trust in the common sense of common men and “with malice toward none and charity for all” go forward on the great adventure of making political, economic and social democracy a practical reality, we shall not fail.

 Comments Off on The Danger of American Fascism