The Donald Channels Caligula

Interesting. British historian Tom Holland has noted some uncanny parallels between Donald Trump and the Roman Emperor Caligula, as reported in today’s Guardian.

What makes the observation that the Donald is channeling Caligula so interesting is that the neo-con Robert D. Kaplan, the author of The Coming Anarchy and notable for an essay in The Atlantic entitled “Was Democracy Just a Moment?“, once extolled the emperor Tiberius as the model politician for American Empire. Caligula was the nephew of Tiberius.

Kaplan was probably being more honest than Francis Fukuyama about the real meaning of “the end of history”, and it wasn’t pretty. In Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a  Pagan Ethos — which is, quite frankly, fascist — Kaplan made his case why the future political leaders of the United States must emulate the Emperor Tiberius and the “pagan ethos”, and in the process, of course, roll back 2,000 years of Western philosophical and Christian history.

The one thing Kaplan was not honest about, in either The Coming Anarchy or Warrior Politics, was naming the beast for what it was — “fascism”. He seemed rather coy about that, for, I suppose, understandable reasons. And when Warrior Politics was published in 2002, I was surprised, too, how few reviewers of the book called it what it was — fascism.  In fact, I was more alarmed than surprised, since here was the very blueprint for a new power politics that fulfilled Bertram Gross‘s anticipation of Friendly Fascism (1980) and constitutional scholar Arthur Selwyn Miller’s concerns about The Modern Corporate State and Democratic Dictatorship.

(Gross’s Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America is available online for free for those interested).

So, given Miller’s and Gross’s very keen observations of the trends, I fully expected someone like “The Donald” to emerge at some point. But it’s rather uncanny that he should be compared to the nephew of Tiberius.

The newfound contempt for democracy and democratic institutions really emerged during and after the period of the World Wars: 1914 – 1945. It was in the fifties, really, that social science infiltrates the communications complex with its new understanding of human beings as fundamentally irrational beings — ergo, incapable of self-guidance and therefore incapable of self-determination. The literature of the fifties is full of this — noted, of course, by Vance Packard in his book The Hidden Persuaders, the relevance of which remains despite the naysayers and apologists for progaganda as being a necessary technology of social and political management and control.

It should be pretty evident that ideals of “self-government” and self-determination become quite meaningless where human beings are reimagined as little more than nervous bundles of fragmentary and incoherent needs, wants, and desires in perpetual conflict and in quest of constant stimulation and satiation — “happiness machines”, as it was portrayed in Adam Curtis’s great BBC documentary The Century of the Self.

In fact, I would make the case that the social communications of the fifties — in terms of publicity, advertising, branding, public relations — leads directly into “the culture of narcissism” of the 70s, as explored somewhat by Christopher Lasch in his book by that title. The theme of the fifties was all about “overcoming sales resistance” — that is, what the marketers saw as an impediment to erecting consumerism as a way of life — the “resistance” being the remnants of a pioneering Puritan discipline of frugality and an ethos that eschewed self-indulgence, self-display, self-promotion, self-pity, and self-aggrandisement.  I would say that underlying the “engineering of consent”, or social engineering, launched in the fifties was the aim to dismantle this “sales resistance” ethos. And it’s from this battle for hearts and minds that the “New Adam” and “New Eve” emerged — as average Joe and average Jospehine. They are the mold for the human of the new desirable type — the ideal consumer which, having the intelligence of “the average 13 year old”, must be guided and taken under permanent tutelage.

I would say that the communications complex of the Western capitalist democracies is the most effective ever devised. When Martin Mayer wrote his supposedly “neutral” assessment of the advertising industry in Madison Avenue U.S.A. (an apologetics for propaganda, really, that seemed quite partisan and intended apparently to discredit Packard) he identified the “tripartite” interlocking structure of the mass communications industry as a) advertising agency, b) corporation and c) mass media. But he was wrong even then, as he completely overlooked the integration of the university with this structure, perhaps deliberately downplayed it because it was the very thing which Packard focussed upon in The Hidden Persuaders. The result (as I’ll speak to later) is what Algis Mickunas, writing in Consciousness and Culture, calls “technocratic shamanism”, which is a very apt description of perception management and propaganda.

Mickunas, who is one of the translators of Jean Gebser’s Ever-Present Origin, was, like Gebser, most concerned with the reversion to the magical structure with the breakdown of the mental structure. “Technocratic shamanism” (which I’ve compared to the magician Klingsor in the Parsifal legend) is described, briefly, by Mickunas as follows: “..the fragmenting mental consciousness is supported by and is an expression of the magical consciousness. The latter pervades and dominates the metaphysics and ontology of modern reason and it is empowered to establish arbitrary rules for the mastery of the environment, including other humans” (“Magic and Technological Culture”, p. 125. My emphasis).

So, we’ll speak to that “technocratic shamanism” in due course, to what Mickunas understands by “technocratic shamanism” and its social and political implications — particularly its connection to “fascism”, since the very word “fascism” also draws in meanings from the realm of magic and sorcery — a “fascinum” (or fascination) also being a “binding” power as magical spell, an enchantment… That is to say, propaganda as spell-casting.


9 responses to “The Donald Channels Caligula”

  1. James K says :

    Very satisfying read. Thank you. First read ‘Hidden Persuaders’ back in the early ’70’s. Surprised to learn all of this and without one mention of Edward Bernays.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Mr. Bernays gets plenty of attention in the link to “The Century of the Self”, although I have discussed Bernays’ and his book Propaganda in earlier posts. Natch, the influence of Freud in Bernays’ strategy of “the engineering of consent” has been noted, but I think we have to look deeper. The influence of Freud doesn’t explain his apparent need to dominate and control. For that, we probably have to look to this very issue of the “magical consciousness” structure as it manifests through the mental-rational — ie, “technocratic shamanism”. And doesn’t Bernays really remind, especially, of Klingsor in the Parsifal legend? What really motivated and inclined Bernays toward this kind of approach to social organisation? For that, I think I need to find a good biography of the man.

  2. Wayne Ferguson says :

    Apropos of “technocratic shamanism” — I just happened to be revisiting this text this morning. It is from one of my favorite “coffee table books”:

    “The father of modern science, Francis Bacon, observed in the seventeenth century that ‘knowledge is power’ and so it has been ever since human brains began to process information. Information, knowledge, experience, could be stored in the brain as memory, retrieved at will and transmitted from individual to individual and from generation to generation. Special knowledge gave individuals like the ‘shaman’ power over others, provided groups of people like priests with influence over other classes, gave one nation an advantage over another. Information has always been a vital commodity in the strategy for human survival and the existence of power elites within societies but much of it was bound up in superstition and fantasy.


    “This incredible Norse creation-myth is no more remarkable than hundreds of myths from other societies. Here is another.


    “Is this ‘creation story’, told by scientists, any less fantastic than the Norse myth? Of course not. Yet this one we ‘believe’ while the others we dismiss. Why?”

    ~ David T. Suzuki (from the Introduction to the book, “Pebbles to Computers: The Thread”, by Hanz Blohm, Stafford Beer, and David Suzuki)

    • Wayne Ferguson says :

      Sorry — my angle bracket caused the blog script to leave out the two creation stories. Here they are:

      ‘Once there was only god, Ymir. And from his skull, the world was created. From his hair, the plants; from his tongue, the oxen; and man came forth from his eyes.’

      ‘Once all matter in the entire universe was contained in a point. Matter as we know it didn’t exist, time had no meaning, nor was there space. Then, fifteen billion years ago, that point exploded and boiled out into space as hundreds of new states of matter appeared from nothing and disappeared into nowhere. And as the universe grew, gradually clots of dust coalesced into a ball that burst into flame, lumps of matter circled such fires, and life appeared on one of them where none existed before.’

    • Scott Preston says :

      Mr. Bacon… yes indeed. An interesting character, as I’ve discussed in earlier posts. One point of interest especially is when Bacon was weighing the relative merits of magic or science for man’s conquest of nature, and finally decided that science (or natural philosophy, really) was more appropriate. But it’s quite interesting that he should even feel the need to compare them in that way. Why? Because to a large degree, both are concerned with will and power. It’s also interesting to find (lately) that Bacon’s name comes up on occasion in relation to advertising, and in the context of Plato’s “noble lie” theory. Bacon apparently endorsed a little bit of lying as adding spice to life. This aspect of Bacon’s views is something I have to explore further.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I’m familiar with most of David Suzuki’s writings. Wasn’t aware of that one. YOu’ve read the book? Can you provide a precis of it? Sounds like it might be interesting.

      • Wayne Ferguson says :

        David T. Suzuki — not to be confused with D.T. Suzuki (Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki). Yes–I have owned many copies of it over the years (buy ’em used for a few bucks and give them away). It’s very poetically and aesthetically appealing (about as many pages of pictures as text). It traces the history of calculating machines and discusses the power and limits of technology. The authors conclude with these lines from ‘hsin hsin ming’ — but using a slightly different translation:

        “Things are objects because of the subject (mind):
        the mind (subject) is such because of things (object).
        Understand the relativity of these two
        and the basic reality: the unity of emptiness.
        In this Emptiness the two are indistinguishable
        and each contains in itself the whole world.

  3. Scott Preston says :

    Speaking of “Klingsor” and the Parsifal legend, I’m not sure if anyone has pointed out how closely the movie The Matrix also follows the pattern of Parsifal. The same naive waif, as Mr. Anderson, who becomes “Neo” the “One” — the one foretold. Morpheus plays the role of Amfortas, the wounded king of the Grail who Parsifal must redeem from his suffering. And Klingsor is played by “The Architect” of The Matrix, which is equivalent to the illusionary realm that Klingsor weaves to try and distract Parsifal from his quest.

  4. abdulmonem says :

    Donald is channeling Caligula. In actuality we are all channelers and the most important question is whose image or word, we are channeling and in this, the human dilemma resides, that is why we have to be aware of what we channel. in a world that is bombarding us with all different images and messages every minute. Scott channels the soul of Blake or Gebser and some selected others for example, through their indestructible words, without forgetting his input and his unique path in this life. Personally I channel the soul of the divine scriptures and the soul of Ibn Arabi as the main sources to help me to choose my path in my present life,taking in consideration the ideas of the time I am living in, not forgetting there is a starting point and an end point to my life, with full awareness of the one who started me here and end me here, and wanted me to read my self and my universe in order to know my significance through this reading of all the signs he puts in me and around me and to recognize Him knowingly through these signs that are pointing to Him and how to be of service for myself and others. To know my spiritual journey and not let myself be deceived by all these misleading schools ,technocratic shamanism, scientific shamanism, artistic shamanism or all other types of shamanism that enslave and not liberate. The only freedom is with Him who has laid his knowledge for the human to use it in the service of truth and justice, the true savers of humanity. Some time I ask why do I see, feel, hear, think, imagine,talk and die and who put all that in me,and what is the purpose of all that and do I need them if the purpose is to live like the animal who are doing well without them, and if the purpose is living why I die. I think what we need, is to feel and recognize the Supreme power that is reigning over us, that has given us all that we enjoy in life and realize that it is not a neutral power, to read history well and to ponder the fate of thos who have passed. Some time I feel knowledge is a hindrance when it forgets the never-ending process of following the examples of others , that is why we read in the quran the insistence on following the example of Abraham. The human who had left his family and culture to serve the truth and refused to be enslaved by false idols. The text that describes all those who have deprived themselves of his example as fools.

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