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October 14th, 2007


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10:55 pm - An interesting window on the past
peaseblossom linked to a US-made 1946 Encyclopedia Brittanica short educational film (clearly meant for classroom use) on despotism. What is truly shocking is how liberal it is for the era. I'm guessing that it was likely considered excessively liberal within 5 years, but for a short time after WWII, the horrors of what had happened briefly overwhelmed the extreme nationalism and xenophobia that followed. In addition to being a fascinating glimpse of what was likely a fairly short, but also very hopeful period of time, it also made me speculate about what percentage of parents in the US would object to this being shown to their children today, in the more conservative areas, I fear the numbers might be frighteningly high.

As a side note, I look at this piece, and I think of the immediately post-Vietnam, post-Watergate era that I was a young teen in, and in both I see glimpses of the ideas that I fervently support, hope, optimism, freedom, a real desire for equality of opportunity, a concern for the welfare of others that is greater than any pervasive greed, combined with a distrust of nationalism and jingoism. I sadly also seen (in the US at least) how fleeting these moments of hope seem to be. These ideals have been replaced time and again with corrupt or foolish concerns like religious zealotry, the will to power, fear, paranoia, xenophobia, individual and corporate greed (both monetary greed, and the desire for utter control that is another name for greed, found (among other things) in all manner of radical property rights measures and those who support them), and most of all, a complete dismissal and distrust of the idea of any sort of common good.

I do not know why Western Europe, and to a slightly lesser extent Canada and New Zealand have all done so much better than the US. I miss what the US has briefly been and even more what it might have been.
Current Mood: sadsad

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Comments:


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From:scholargipsy
Date:October 15th, 2007 07:54 am (UTC)
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Fascinating document -- thank you for this (I am a history teacher, and already see classroom applications). It's striking how many of the signs of despotism identified in the film currently characterize the Bush administration's approach to governance. Of course, I currently live in Japan, where subtle (and not-so-subtle) despotism in the guise of liberal democracy is the order of the day.
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From:alobar
Date:October 15th, 2007 07:54 am (UTC)
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Watching this video just now, I remembered seeing it on TV back in the 1950s, during the McCarthy era. The TV station must have been very brave to air this movie back then.

I note that one of the indicators of despotism is lots of family farms being bought up by agribusiness interests.

Looking at New Orleans, this place is fucking despotic on every scale mentioned in the video.

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From:heron61
Date:October 15th, 2007 07:58 am (UTC)
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Watching this video just now, I remembered seeing it on TV back in the 1950s, during the McCarthy era. The TV station must have been very brave to air this movie back then.

My strong guess is that the nation was more liberal right before the McCarthy era, simply because the lesson of the Nazis (and how they were popularly elected) clearly showed what Despotism really meant. Sadly, people forgot far too rapidly and Nazism just became another foreign evil and not a warning for the US that things like it could also happen here.

Looking at New Orleans, this place is fucking despotic on every scale mentioned in the video.

So I've heard :(
[User Picture]
From:alobar
Date:October 15th, 2007 08:05 am (UTC)
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I watched the movie during, not before the McCarthy era. Probably somewhere between 1955 and 57.
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From:heron61
Date:October 15th, 2007 08:23 am (UTC)
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Very daring indeed. Then again, this was before mass media was nearly as centralized as it is now and so they could be somewhat more daring.
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From:pompe
Date:October 15th, 2007 08:44 am (UTC)
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It isn't all cheery here either. But Europe lost much of its idealism, nationalism and pride in ashes of fallen empires and ruined cities, and the systems appealing to people in such cases were more communal, be that christian democracy or social democracy. I mean, it can be argued the welfare state in a sense is founded on wartime economy. Of course, America was too safe and powerful for that to take hold in the same way.

Still, all empires fall.
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From:heronheart
Date:October 15th, 2007 12:34 pm (UTC)
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" I mean, it can be argued the welfare state in a sense is founded on wartime economy"

It has often been said that the US Army is the largest socailist economy in the world.
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From:mindstalk
Date:October 15th, 2007 01:12 pm (UTC)
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I've once seen it said -- Paul Krugman? -- that the US can be seen as a pension plan with an army. Social Security/Medicare dwarf defense expenditures which in turn dwarf all other functions. Well, interest payments are competitive.
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From:pyat
Date:October 15th, 2007 01:15 pm (UTC)
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I don't if you've ever seen any of Frank Capra's WWII propaganda films, the Why We Fight series, but one thing that struck me was just how relatively liberal they were.

For example, one of the films goes to great lengths to point out that Americans are fighting for freedom of religion, and specifically notes that this freedom includes the freedom to deny the existence of God.
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From:heron61
Date:October 15th, 2007 07:49 pm (UTC)
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I've seen some of them, and they impressed me a great deal.

and specifically notes that this freedom includes the freedom to deny the existence of God.

I hadn't noticed that, and am now even more impressed. I suppose fighting a government that was such a pure manifestation of the evils of despotism (especially since, the evils of Nazi Germany could not be conveniently dismissed as being due to some racial fault or inferiority of the German people) gives people a rather strong tendancy to worry about and try to combat similar tendancies in their own nation. However, it faded far too soon after the war, or perhaps as bruceb mentions below, it was deliberately stopped by a cabal of conservatives.
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From:bruceb
Date:October 15th, 2007 03:38 pm (UTC)
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I've been talking with Mom about this and that, and getting her reactions to some of the things people like Digby and Barbara O'Brien/Maha have been posting. Mom very much agrees with the idea that the postwar Red Scare was a manufactured thing. It hit on something receptive in the American public, but it took a small group - the young Nixon prominent in it - to stir it up, and in the absence of a dozen or two dozen key folks just wouldn't have happened "naturally", so to speak. She guesses that the default politics of the '50s would have been a much more liberal anti-imperialism that would included a tangled mixture of cooperation with the Soviets on some fronts (particularly non-proliferation) and opposition to them on others.
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From:heron61
Date:October 15th, 2007 07:34 pm (UTC)
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That makes a disturbing amount of sense. My guess is that the individuals involved noticed how the nation seemed to be headed and found this idea both troubling and problematic to their own quest for power. I would definitely like to have seen what that particular alternate future would produce. On the positive side, fewer wars, but I wonder if we would have made it to the moon in the 1960s or if electronics would have gotten the same boost.
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From:athenian_abroad
Date:October 15th, 2007 06:26 pm (UTC)
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I was particularly struck by the inclusion of the "Respect Scale" -- the notion that a key indicator of a community's risk of despotism is the existence of groups from whom common courtesy is withheld. This is, I think, a dimension that's rarely given sufficient emphasis.

One peculiarity: although the issue of race is present in the film, through images of lynching and a KKK cross burning, I fail to spot a single non-white face.

On the film and the Red Scare: I wonder whether, at the height of the Red Scare, the identification of democracy with "us" and of despotism with "The Reds" was so firm that many -- from network programming executives to audience members -- might have missed the point entirely. If one isn't paying close attention, the message of the film -- which is, after all, "beware the stealthy onset of despotism in your town" -- might have seemed to fit perfectly well into the prevailing anti-Communist hysteria.
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From:heron61
Date:October 15th, 2007 07:42 pm (UTC)
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I was particularly struck by the inclusion of the "Respect Scale" -- the notion that a key indicator of a community's risk of despotism is the existence of groups from whom common courtesy is withheld. This is, I think, a dimension that's rarely given sufficient emphasis.

One peculiarity: although the issue of race is present in the film, through images of lynching and a KKK cross burning, I fail to spot a single non-white face.


Both points are definitely important. For far too many conservatives, "Respect Scale" is typically view in an absolutely opposite manner, with less extreme levels of respect and deference to leaders being seen as a very bad thing and destructive to the social order. Both that and the discussion of economic equality and inequality were the two most surprising and liberal elements.

The talk of racism and lack of people of color was fascinating, because it directly mirrors many white-lead anti-discrimination efforts made almost 20 years later. It wasn't until MLK became the focus of the civil rights movement that civil rights became associated in the public mind and the media with people of color demanding more rights, rather than liberal white folks giving them to passive (and presumably grateful) recipients.

On the film and the Red Scare: I wonder whether, at the height of the Red Scare, the identification of democracy with "us" and of despotism with "The Reds" was so firm that many -- from network programming executives to audience members -- might have missed the point entirely. If one isn't paying close attention, the message of the film -- which is, after all, "beware the stealthy onset of despotism in your town" -- might have seemed to fit perfectly well into the prevailing anti-Communist hysteria.

If they could ignore the images of US despotism that clearly had nothing to with potential Soviet infiltration (such as racism, religious intolerance, or the KKK).
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From:rjgrady
Date:October 16th, 2007 03:31 pm (UTC)
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What a great find!

Lack of respect is a very serious issue that preludes a breakdown of a society into camps. One of many reasons I favor pragmatism over idealogy in the public realm. It is sometimes tempting to regard the political other as evil or inhuman, but rarely productive, even in the face of vast corruption and error.

The film has an interesting populist slant, probably echoes of the econonomic era that preceeded WWII. I was amused that the film either missed the irony of an oath of allegiance to a free nation or was being especially sly. I found some of the commentary simplistic. For instance, from time to time, despotic forms of government have been the agent of introducing or re-establishing personal and economic freedoms.
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From:heron61
Date:October 16th, 2007 07:17 pm (UTC)
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I was amused that the film either missed the irony of an oath of allegiance to a free nation or was being especially sly.

My reading of the film was definitely the second, but I certainly could be wrong.

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