Monday, September 21, 2009

Glenn Beck's political guru

Willard Cleon Skousen (1913-2006)

When I wrote earlier that Glenn Beck was sounding like a straight-up John Birch Society fantasist, I didn't realize that he had publicly expressed his support for the group's recent paranoid campaign against the imaginary "NAFTA Superhighway", as Dave Neiwert describes in Glenn Beck chases "far left radicals" in White House, but loves right-wing radicals himself Crooks and Liars 09/17/09.

And the man who apparently is Beck's chief intellectual guru of the moment, one of whose books he recommends to anyone who will listen, is the late Willard Cleon Skousen, who is profiled by Alexander Zaitchik in Meet the man who changed Glenn Beck's life Salon 09/16/09. Skousen was a Morman rightwinger who taught at two Mormon universities and served for four years as the Salt Lake City chief of police, until the ultra-conservative mayor of the time fired him for being too hardline. "He operated the police department like a Gestapo," the mayor said.

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

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

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

Skousen's view of wealthy and evil capitalists behind behind the Communist movement is a long-time favorite far-right theory, with a conspiracy of Jews playing the main role of the capitalist manipulators in many of its versions. The Birchers then and now truck in nudge-nudge wink-wink theories which mirror anti-Semitic theories like that of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion but don't directly call the conspirators "the Jews". Beck's bizarre concoction of Rockefeller the Communist art conspirator fits comfortably into this model. As historian Louis Midgley summarizes it in the Dialogue symposium:

The "global planners" who are at the center of the Capitalist conspiracy are identified by Skousen as the "leaders of the world's secret center of international banking," the "super-rich," the "super capitalists." The "leaders of London and Wall Street" are chiefs of "the Anglo-American secret society" who are behind communism and everything else. Skousen puts bankers at the top of the list of conspirators: the Rothschilds, Barings, Lazards, Paul Warburg, J. P. Morgan. But also included are the following: John Foster and Alan Dulles, the Rockefellers, Cecil Rhodes, Arnold Toynbee, Walter Lippman, Albert Einstein, George F. Kennan, Douglas Dillon, Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger, Henry Cabot Lodge, Arthur Burns, George Ball, Ellsworth Bunker, Paul Hoffman, McGeorge Bundy, the Kennedy family, Dwight Eisenhower, John Dewey, and many others. By any standards, this is quite a list.
The Rothschilds are favorite bogey-men in pretty much every anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. Kissinger is a more recent favorite. Albert Einstein, who described himself as a socialist of the social-democratic variety, fits into the picture - not that there has to be any actual sense about which Jewish names get stuck into these lists. (If the title of Skousen's 1967 book Fantastic Victory; Israel's Rendezvous with Destiny is any measure, I'm guessing he promoted some form of Christian Zionism. Though that certainly doesn't exclude anti-Semitism, since its more common versions look forward to the day when God will have most of the Jews in the world slaughtered in a big war, and the rest will convert to Christianity.)

In his Dialogue response, Skousen denies that he listed all those names in The Naked Capitalist. Midgley doesn't respond in his rejoinder. From the way Skousen worded his comment, my guess is that Skousen is comma-dancing. Midgley probably took those names as people mentioned in that context throughout the book. Skousen is denying he listed them that way.

The symposium gives a good glimpse of how crackpot "scholarship" works. Just as Mad Annie Coulter's books are filled with footnotes, Skousen used a book by Carroll Quigley, Tragedy and Hope: A History of The World in Our Time (1966) as a source, but used the material in a thorough dishonest and frivolous way. Crackpot conspiracy theories usually don't lack for "sources" and footnotes. On the contrary, neurotic application of such proofs is a hallmark of them.

I checked the nearest library to see if The Naked Capitalist was available; they didn't have a copy available of Skousen's self-published classic. They did have a copy of Tragedy and Hope. It looks as though it were written to be a college text. And though its concluding essay expresses conservative worries about the general decline of civilization due to dirty movies and novels that talk about sex, it's clear that Quigley wasn't promoting anything like the paranoid crackpot worldview that Skousen used his book to justify.

Louis Midgley seems to have had a good sense of how far-right paranoid conspiracy theories are constructed. But in that Dialogue article he does perpetuate a fuzzy-headed notion that Glenn Beck and Jonah Goldberg and other Republicans today also promote, a conceptual merger of socialism with fascism and Hitlerism:

I believe that Skousen started his career with the goal of saving the rich from big government, but has found that the rich don't want his help — the rich he now discovers control big government and, in fact, are rich partly because of big government. Now he wants to attack the rich and especially their power base, their wealth. But he is not the first to have it in for Capitalists and to want to save the people from their rich masters. This is exactly the program of various forms of socialism and communism. It is difficult to miss the parallels between Skousen's program and much of the rhetoric of the New Left. But there are other instructive parallels. In Germany, where they also once came to believe that they were oppressed by conspiratorial bankers who also manipulated the Communists, the program was called National Socialism. Under this program the rich would be eliminated and power given back to the people (or so they said), the schools would be liberated so that the truth could be taught about the evil bankers, international ties would be eliminated, churches would be used for national propaganda and other purposes. Skousen also wants a political party to come to power with the express goal of eliminating the wealth and power of the rich (what better name for such a policy than socialism?) and this key process is to be accomplished by national governmental action — an appropriate descriptive title for his program would be National Socialism.
Without trying to recap decades of German history, Hitler added the word "socialist" to his party's name to make it the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) from the German initials; "Nazi" is a typical German shortening of the Party's name. The purpose was to attract more attention from working-class voters, who heavily supported either the Social Democratic Party (SDP) or the Communists (KPD). The NSDAP never took many voters directly from the SPD or the KPD. The SDP and the KPD all understood that the Nazis did not share either of their basic social, economic or political outlooks, as did the Nazis themselves. And the SPD and the KPD each rejected the other's version of socialism. Merging the concepts of Nazism, socialism and communism makes them basically impossible to understand.

But it is clear that Skousen and his disciple Glenn Beck have a political-paranoid, far-right vision of the world that has very much in common with that of the John Birch Society. So its not surprising that Beck would be raving on TV about Rockefeller sponsored Communist art to subliminally convert unsuspecting passers-by to socialismcommunismfascismliberalism.

According to this National Review Online article by Mark Hemingway, Romney’s Radical Roots 08/06/07, Mitt Romney is also a Skousen fan.

I see that Salon is running a 3-part series on "The making of Glenn Beck" by Alexander Zaitchik beginning on 09/21/2009.

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