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.