On Monday my wife and I watched the last episode of the second series of Man In the High Castle, the TV series (if that's the right term for a multi-segment drama released all at once for Internet streaming) based loosely on Philip K. Dick's alternate-history novel in which the Germans and Japanese win World War II. I can't say anything about the show's relationship to the book, which I haven't read, but I get the impression that there isn't a great deal of connection apart from the basic idea.
I thought Series 1 did an excellent job of portraying that might-have-been scenario, in which the Nazis rule the eastern half of the country, the Japanese rule roughly a third on the western side, and the rest, called the Neutral Zone, is independent and somewhat anarchic. The plot is complex and didn't seem entirely coherent, but that could be my fault. It revolves around a film or films that depict an alternate reality (alternate to the story's world, that is) in which the Allies win. For reasons that were never clear to me these films are very important, and they have some connection with the mysterious Man in the High Castle. Various people get involved with them and various things happen, many involving a resistance force that operates in both the German and Japanese sectors. There are a lot of subplots, and they make sense, but I was left unsure what the story as a whole was all about. The second series is better in that the bigger picture seems clearer and the whole thing more coherent (again, maybe that's just me).
In both, the portrayal of what life in the U.S. might be like under Nazi or Japanese rule is very convincing. One major character is Obergruppenführer John Smith, a former U.S. Army officer who has managed to do quite well for himself as a Nazi. The story takes place around 1960-'62, I think--and the everyday fabric of American society is not too dissimilar from what it actually was, which is to say that it's very 1950s-ish. (There is no rock-and-roll, however--"Negro" music is entirely forbidden.) Nazi evil is very domesticated: it's generally accepted, for instance, that racial hygiene requires that defective persons be eliminated, and the insertion of that sort of thing into a middle-American setting is disconcerting, to say the least. Smith is married with three children and has a nice home in a nice neighborhood and leads a life that looks in most ways normal for its time. But he goes off to work every day to help advance the Reich. And one supposes that such a world really could have come to seem normal.
Anyway: what I actually started out to mention is a little speech given by a very-high-up Nazi to a younger one who is having misgivings about the whole world-conquest thing. What he says is striking because he describes the goals of the Reich not in terms of the sort of grandiloquent and apocalyptic rage for domination that we associate with Hitler, but in a way that sounds more like John Lennon. "We are trying to build a better world. Don't you want to be a part of that? Imagine a world at peace, unified at last under one global government." It's easy if you try!
In those sentences he sounds much like an ordinary progressive. And that brings me to a book I've been meaning to mention for some months now: Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism. You may have heard of it. It was published ten years or so ago. I read a few excerpts at the time, and they didn't seem especially good, so I didn't read the book. But a couple of years ago my friend Robert talked me into giving it another look. Also, in the intervening years I'd become more aware of and interested in the tendency in progressivism to want to exercise very tight control over many aspects of life as part of the march toward that better world, to compel participation in the vision. So I gave the book another try, and on the whole I found it impressive.
It's flawed in some ways, and the biggest flaws are visible here:
I mean the title and the cover. They give the impression that the purpose of the book is to call liberals fascists, and that its contents would be about as superficial as any book on contemporary politics with the word "fascism" in the title. And that's exactly the way it was treated by many. But the title actually comes from H.G. Wells, and it was a prescription. Here is the abstract of a paper discussing the concept in Wells. The use of the phrase is, therefore, justifiable intellectually. But as a matter of marketing it seems a bad choice for the title (not that I can think of a better one).
Aside from the bad impression given by the title and the cover, the book also seems somewhat unfocused to me. There is an awful lot of detail, but I was often unsure exactly what it all added up to, apart from demonstrating the historical connections between fascism and progressivism. That may have been my fault, but then the ten-year-anniversary edition, which is the one I read, has a new afterword in which Goldberg states his purposes explicitly, so apparently I wasn't the only one.
In spite of any reservations, though, I found it fascinating and instructive in part because for a long time I've thought that the political taxonomy which has fascism on the extreme "right" and communism on the extreme "left" is wrong, that those two things are much more alike than they are different. My pat one-sentence summary is that fascism is national socialism and communism is international socialism. Those on the left seem to think that the word "socialism" in "National Socialism" is some kind of accident, but it is not.
From my point of view then, the most important aspect of the book is that it shows historically that the two ideologies are members of the same family, siblings or first cousins, and that what we now call liberalism or progressivism has roots in both. All are responses to the decline of religion in Western culture, and involve a quasi-religious attempt to find meaning and hope in secular politics, which inevitably means in the state, to some degree.
It also--and this is one of the theses stated in the new edition--refutes--refudiates, to use Sarah Palin's wonderful accident--the association of American conservatism with fascism, detailing the left-progressive roots of characters and movements now ignorantly spoken of as conservative: for instance, Fr. Coughlin. American conservatism may be a good thing or a bad thing, it may be fundamentally confused in its attempt to mate classical liberalism and traditionalism, but it is not fascist, or generally sympathetic to fascism and linked to it in the way that progressivism is sympathetic to totalitarianism, whether described as "left" or "right."
I can't remember the context, but I'm pretty sure that somewhere along the line here we've discussed the interesting quasi-English accent of upper-class Americans in movies prior to 1950 or so. A few days ago I ran across a page at Vintage News that claims to explain it: that it was not exactly a natural phenomenon, but something deliberately cultivated. Having read that, I resorted to Wikipedia, which gives considerably more detail.
I'm afraid I've become one of those people who tends to get a little depressed during the "holiday season." This has been growing little by little for some time. It's not the sort of misery that apparently afflicts some people, and that seems to drive them to therapists and such--just a certain degree of melancholy. My medication for this, which I providentially discovered around the time the syndrome began to manifest itself, is to read P. G. Wodehouse, whose writing tends to make me feel for a little while the way champagne looks. This year it was Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit. I read a chapter or two most evenings over a couple of weeks, and the effect was salutary, as usual.
One evening, along about page 83, Bertie described his Aunt Dahlia (she's the one he likes, if you recall) as speaking with "the explosive heat which had once made fellow-members of the Quorn and Pytchley leap convulsively in their saddles." Usually when reading Wodehouse and coming across some obscure reference like Q and P, I just move along. The name is amusing, and it apparently has something to do with hunting, and I figured that was enough to know. And besides, how would one ever track it down? But my iPhone was handy, and I decided to ask Google about it. Not surprisingly, it turns out that they--two different things--are the most well-known hunts in England (see Pytchley Hunt and Quorn Hunt in Wikipedia).
So what? So I found the meaning of those at a very wonderful web site, Madame Eulalie's Rare Plums. If you've read The Code of the Woosters, you know the reason for "Eulalie" (to explain it would spoil the plot), and "Plum" was Wodehouse's nickname, derived from a childish pronunciation of "Pelham" (the "P" in "P.G."). At Madame Eulalie's you can find annotations for several Wodehouse novels, including The Code of the Woosters, which also contains a reference to Quorn and Pytchley. This is a great service. For instance, perhaps in reading Code you wonder what exactly Anatole, Aunt Dahlia's treasured chef, has done when he prepares nonettes de poulet Agnès Sorel. Well, now you can consult Madame Eulalie's plums and learn that
Nonettes are small honey cakes, filled with marmelade or another preserve. They are not made from chicken (poulet).
Agnès Sorel (1421-50), was the mistress of King Charles VII of France. She also has no connection with chickens.
If Anatole's dishes are as creative as the names he bestows on them, it's easy to see why Aunt Dahlia is reluctant to lose his services.
Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit also takes place partly at Aunt Dahlia's, and half a dozen or so of Anatole's dishes are mentioned. It had never occurred to me that the names are meant to be funny.
I guess many of us have had the experience of becoming estranged from friends and family over differences of religion and politics. The traditional counsel says not to discuss them on social occasions, and I've always resisted that, because those things are among the most interesting topics available, and I don't like small talk and am not good at it. It is, unfortunately, wise counsel if you want to continue to have good relations with the people involved.
I've never intentionally and directly cut someone off because of those differences, and it's hard to imagine something that would make me do so. (Since the election I've seen a number of Facebook posts and other online statements from liberals saying they want nothing further to do with Trump supporters, on the grounds that support for Trump is not just a political disagreement but an embrace of real evil. I can imagine applying the same logic though I can't think of any present issue that would provoke me to do so.) But in many instances there has been a slow drifting apart, for which I accept at least half the responsibility. Both parties cease making the effort to maintain contact, because it's just awkward. Or at least that's how it's looked from my side. This post from Neo-neocon describes the process very well. Social encounters that exist for enjoyment become strained, and not enjoyable, and so lose their reason for existing, and dwindle away. It's unfortunate and it only increases the polarization. But one tires of being in the position she was in at that party, and begins to avoid it.