For the Right, Freedom Isn’t Free — In Any Sense of the Word

by Kevin Carson

We seem to hear the words “freedom” and “liberty” from some pretty unlikely sources.

Think back to the “liberty cabbage” of WWI — recently updated as “freedom fries.” The word “Freiheit” figured pretty prominently in Nazi propaganda; Nazi Minister of Propaganda Josef Goebbels started out as editor of Volkische Freiheit.

I usually don’t write columns about stuff on blogs, because I assume that if people reading a newspaper column were interested in inside baseball from the blogosphere they’d just read the blogs themselves. But in this case, I think Matt Yglesias states things about as well as it’s humanly possible to state them. Reviewing Tim Pawlenty’s latest political ad, which looks like something out of Paul Verhoeven’s version of “Starship Troopers,” he writes (“Tim Pawlenty and the Rhetoric of Freedom” Jan. 25):

“I continue to be fascinated by the way in which the rhetoric of ‘freedom’ is always so closely associated with authoritarian populist nationalist movements. Absolutely nothing in the imagery of the video or the policy agenda of the Republican Party is suggestive of freedom. It’s full of flags and grim-faced folks and bourgeois respectability and military jets flying in tight formation. It’s an ad from a conservative politician that’s about exactly what an ad from a conservative politician ought to be about — about preserving a way of life against Muslims, freeloaders, sexual deviants, and other threats.”

In other words, all images that would have been just as much at home in Nazi propaganda posters, in which the word “freedom” was so ubiquitous. For the Nazis, “freedom” was about a collective way of life — the right of the German people to their “place in the sun.” And for the American Right, “freedom” — in their idiosyncratic sense of a collective way of life — seems to be threatened mainly by other people being allowed to do what they want: Like people with the same sexual equipment being allowed get married, or people with unfamiliar religions being allowed to build places of worship.

In the Lee Greenwood conceptual universe, it’s unclear just what “freedom” is actually supposed to mean beyond a worshipful submission to all manifestations of uniformed authority — except perhaps for a bunch of stuff like baseball games and church picnics that not even Hitler was ever interested in actually stopping anyone from doing.

After 9-11, George Bush suggested shopping and other forms of public relaxation as a way to prove that “the terrorists haven’t won.” Because shopping at the mall, apparently, is the central sacrament in the religion of American freedom. But it’s hard to imagine anyone in the Nazi state objecting to any of the things that Bush celebrated as exemplars of “freedom.”

Can you imagine Hitler complaining about Germans spending money at department stores, attending soccer matches, or using public transit? Do you think that he’d grumble that they were “entirely too free,” and that something needed to be done about it? No, Nazi propaganda posters were full of imagery of happy Germans going about the very same kinds of daily activities to which Bush exhorted Americans after 9-11.

What would have angered the Nazis is precisely the kinds of things that the folks on right-wing talk radio object to today. Hitler would have frothed at the mouth over someone questioning the background of the Reichstag fire or the powers granted in the subsequent Enabling Act. He would have ordered the immediate arrest of anyone who publicly questioned the official account of events in Danzig as a rationale for invading Poland. He would have shut down any publication that challenged the power of the German national security state, the necessity of an expansionist foreign policy to “defend Germany’s freedom,” or the alleged “threats” presented various foreign powers.

It’s the stuff the people in uniform don’t want you to do that makes you free.

10 responses to “For the Right, Freedom Isn’t Free — In Any Sense of the Word

  1. I can’t remember ever seeing a British political advert that was

    ‘full of flags and grim-faced folks and bourgeois respectability and military jets flying in tight formation.’

    Unless i am very mistaken, this has no relevance to British politics at all.

  2. It’s all my fault.

  3. All what, pray?

    I thought Kevin Carson’s essay was funny.


  4. It’s always interesting to hear about the eccentricities of the Americans but what bearing does this have on British politics or society?

  5. Because the same “Obedience to Authority” mindset is at work in both countries.


  6. To compare Tim Pawlenty to the Nazis is pathetic. They wanted a bigger government and he has always stood for a smaller one.

    As for “right wing talk radio” the most popular speakers (again) want a SMALLER government not a BIGGER one (as the National Socialists).

    More on Governor Pawlenty himself ….

    He has a reasonably good record as regards private property and holding back government. Indeed by Minnesota standards he has a remarkably good record (the best Governor since the 1920s – not that the competition is very stiff) – although it is very unfortuntate (to say the least) that now the State legislature finally has a majority for cutting government spending, the new Governor is from the left (thanks to the Republican establishment backing a vote splitting Independent in order to DEFEAT the conservative Republican candidate).

    The thing is Kevin that (inspite of you being being born in the United States and having lived there all your life) you do not actually know much about American politics.

    Certainly not about Minnesota.

    Or about talk radio.

    Or even about the National Socialists in German history.

    In fact I suspect there is nothing you do know about.

    Certainly not political economy.

    Your support of “cheap money” (monetary crankism) and the Labour Theory of Value (amongst other absurdities) shows this.

    Why are you on a site that calls itself “libertarian”?

  7. Indeed, there is a particularly stupid strain of libertarianism that seeks to smear all ‘conservative’ values as being somehow analogous to Nazism.

  8. Of course the second most popular voice of talk radio (after Rush) is Glenn Beck – with his “America should be like Switzerland” position (i.e. anti Progressive nation building – not lots of cow bells and stuff).

    As for Facism and National Socialism.

    These were movements of the economic and cultural LEFT.

    The idea that they were “conservative” is a Marxist invention (a propaganda move).

    A “libertarian” would have to be very stupid (or very ignorant – not the same thing) to believe this bit of Marxist propaganda.

    The next move would be to claim that anyone who opposed socialism had an “Authoritarian Personality” and was “Paranoid”.

    Both, of course, propaganda moves of the Marxist Frankfurt School that moved to New York.

    Marxist Theodor Adorno for the “authoritarian” lie. His (American born) follower Richard Hofstader for the “paranoid” lie.

    I wonder if Adorno and Hofstader were still alive if they would be invited to post on the Libertarian Alliance blog?

    They would fit in well with some of the postings here.

  9. Erich Fromm would be interesting to read.


  10. I have a simple test for these people.

    Would they defend or attack the Koch family – the latest hate figures of the left AND OF THE “THIRD WAY” FASCISTS.

    I rather doubt that these “great intellectuals” would defend the Koch family’s property from demonstrators like “Code Pink” (people who DO support Adorno and Hofstader and so on).

    And the people who support Hamas and Islamic Socialism (with its National Socialist roots).

    And the people who say that Justice Thomas (if he is not just “sent back to the fields”) should be hanged – after he is force fed his fingers and toes, and is made to watch his wife being killed.

    “They are just nice anti war intellectuals”.