Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Wingnut Inferiority Complex, In RE: Gordon Liddy

Alfred Adler's theory of the inferiority complex does a lot to explain rightwing psychosis -- indeed, it does a lot to explain, in general, the tyrannic mindset, the mental germ of fascism.

The convert is always more pious than one born into the faith. The impostor always strains to show more "realness" than the genuine article. Churchill, the self-admitted coward in the Boer War, always pushed the jingo button when he reached a more mature age. Theodore Roosevelt, perhaps the best American example aside Liddy, was an asthmatic weakling of a child, then grew up to be a geopolitical menace and, indeed, bully (incidentally one of his favorite words).

The model works with a religious context -- or ideological, or nationalist. As for the first, some of the most devout people are those who were first converted by the sword. As for the second, note how many former leftists went on to become the most batshit sort of wingnuts, often, as Connor Cruise O'Brien observed before he himself walked the same path, willing to make sacrifices for and commitments to the counter-revolution that they never would have made for the revolution. With regard to the last, it's worth noting that three of history's greatest tyrants achieved power in nations in which they were not native: Stalin the Georgian in Soviet Russia, Napoleon the (Italian) Corsican in France, Hitler the Austrian in Germany. And the same dynamic works with petty fascists as well: many of the most rabidly racist and murderous Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories are not originally Israeli but rather Benny from Brooklyn type Americans.

Gordon Liddy was a puny, spoiled kid, like Theodore Roosevelt. From Will, his relation of how he first found the strength to overcome; where Francis Dollarhyde in Red Dragon had the eponymous spirit in William Blake's watercolor to help him in his "becoming," Gordon Liddy found a rather similar spirit to help guide him, emanating from his family's shortwave radio and from the mouth of his family's servant:

My mother and father saw to it that the Great Depression did not inconvenience their children. I received the finest Lionel electric train for Christmas and, when a very expensive tricycle given me for my fifth birthday was stolen in three days, it was replaced immediately. Even in the depths of the Depression, we had a maid. Her name was Teresa. She was a German national. I loved her.

Teresa's country had been, she said, in deep trouble. Now, however, a wonderful man had risen from the people and was solving all their problems. Weak after having been betrayed and then defeated in war, Germany was strong and proud again. Great roads were being built and, unlike in the United States, everyone in Germany now had a job.

My mother had won an Emerson shortwave radio in a raffle at SS. Peter and Paul Parish, and Teresa and I would listen to programs broadcast from her native land, the volume swelling and receding in cycles.

In those days one frequently heard broadcasts by President Roosevelt. He had a rich, reassuring voice with a calming and encouraging effect. Often I heard commentators repeat one of his best-known sayings: "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Obsessed as I was by fear, the phrase worked on me.

Listening to Germany touched me differently. First there was the music. I have always been particularly sensitive to music; to this day I must make a conscious effort not to permit it to affect my mood. My memory for it is like a tape recorder; I can play back in my head at will, fully orchestrated, anything I have heard. Indeed, from time to time my mood will throw an involuntary switch in my mind and, unbidden, an appropriate piece will fill me with its sound. The music that poured through the Emerson from Germany was martial and stirring. I lost myself in its strains; it made me feel a strength inside I had never known before.

From playmates who were German, I learned some of the language. One day Teresa was excited. He was going to be on the radio. Just wait til I hear him speak! Eagerly, I joined her at the Emerson. First the music, the now familiar strains of a song that started, "Die Fahne hoch..." -- "Raise the banner..." It was a rousing, powerful anthem, the Horst Wessel song.

We could tell when he was about to speak. The crowd could hardly contain itself. They hailed him in huge, swelling ovations that carried me along. "Sieg!" someone would shout, and what seemed like all the people in the world would answer with a roar, "Heil!" For he was their leader, Der Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.

Hitler's voice started out calmly, in low, dispassionate tones, but as he spoke of what his people would accomplish, his voice rose in pitch and tempo. Once united, the German people could do anything, surmount any obstacle, rout any enemy, achieve fulfillment. He would lead them; there would be one people, one nation, one leader. Here was the very antithesis of fear -- sheer animal confidence and power of will. He sent an electric current through my body and, as the massive audience thundered its absolute support and determination, the hair on the back of my neck rose and I realized suddenly that I had stopped breathing.

When I spoke of this man to my father, he became angry. Adolf Hitler, he said was an evil man who would once again set loose upon the world all the destruction of war. It was just a matter of time. I was to stop listening to him.

The lure of forbidden fruit was too strong; I continued to listen, though less frequently. Teresa had said that Adolf Hitler had raised her country from the dead, freed it from its enemies, made it the strongest nation in the world and delivered it from fear. Delivered it from fear!

For the first time in my life I felt hope. Life need not be a constant secret agony of fear and shame. If an entire nation could be changed, lifted out of weakness to extraordinary strength, certainly so could one person.


I knew what I had to do, and I dreaded it. To change myself from a puny, fearful boy to a strong, fearless man, I would have to face my fears, one by one, and overcome them. From listening to the priests at Sunday Mass, I knew that would take willpower. Even Adolf Hitler agreed. He and his people would triumph through the power of their superior will. But I knew from the priests the price would be terrible. God gave us free will, but to strengthen that will to meet the temptations of life required denial, "mortification," suffering.

Suffering. That was the key. Whatever the consequences of what I was to do, I must accept and endure them -- outlast suffering to achieve my goals. Wasn't that the message of my mother's stories? Of President Roosevelt? My fears were so many and so gripping that overcoming them, one by one, would build incredible willpower! The world opened up to me. I could become anything I wanted to be! The thought took my breath away.

Teresa had told me of the Germans' suffering before their rebirth; my mother had told me how the strength and bravery of the American Indian warriors was born of the suffering of torture. In the Book of Knowledge I had read of the Spartan boy who refused to cry out while a fox concealed beneath his clothing ate the boy's insides -- and thus the boy had died a true Spartan. Hadn't Glenn Cunningham suffered as he stretched the scar tissue of his burned legs to run faster? Hadn't my grandfather suffered to return to play football with only one eye? Had not Jesus suffered the agony of hanging nailed to a cross for three hours before He could triumph over death?