It’s been a bit too long since I’ve written about Glenn Beck, dontcha think? Last time he came to my attention, he was saying that when Christian churches preached “social justice,” is was just a code word for Communism and Nazism. Of course, if Beck had just said, “nine out of ten times, in or out of religious contexts, when someone says ‘social justice’ they just mean ‘socialism, of the statist variety, meaning government intervention to regulate the economy and redistribute goods,’ though there’s no logical reason for that ideology to have a monopoly on the words ‘social’ or ‘justice’,” then he’d be absolutely right, and furthermore would have given his viewers something to thing about. But no, he’s got to go right to the reductio ad Hitler, peddling the view that everyone who disagrees with you politically is secretly an evil totalitarian out to get you.
Beck’s problem is that he is incapable of perceiving often rather large, to say nothing of fine, distinctions in political and social thought. Everything must be reduced to a duality of us and them, good and evil, freedom and slavery, god and the devil. And the reason for this is that his thinking is rooted in Mormon eschatology, especially as interpreted by the author, and former FBI agent and Salt Lake City police Chief, Cleon Skousen. I should know, because I come from a family of ardent Skousenites. Without going into all the paranoid details, it’s plain that this paranoid and fundamentally anti-intellectual view causes Beck to collapse and confuse categories, and link things together in often bizarre ways. Even when Beck is right (it happens), he’s right for the wrong reasons, and expresses himself wrongheadedly. As I’ve written about before, for all his supposed sympathy with libertarianism, he has a rather dim view of what it means philosophically, and if you add “anarchism” to the mix, well then Beck’s circuits just short out.
I bring all this up because he recently aired a segment which tried to link together the riots in the wake of Greece’s economic collapse with protests against Arizona’s immigration law. The common thread seemed to be that both featured large numbers of people in the street. (“How did they all get together so fast?” he wonders aloud-I’m not saying it must be a conspiracy, but it must be a conspiracy!) Never mind that the Arizona protesters, as can be seen in the footage he shows, are entirely non-violent. He concludes, or rather insinuates, that it represents an incipient communist uprising, and holds up as proof a book (which he does not quote from, and barely bothers to summarize) called We are an Image from the Future: the Greek Revolt of 2008. He says, “They are not anarchists,” which must seem like a non-sequitir to most of his viewers, unless they get curious and google the book, and discover that, hey, they are anarchists! In fact, the well-known anarchist publishing house AK Press put out the book, and in response they have published “An Open Letter to Glenn Beck.” The letter address an intriguing reason why Beck has such trouble with anarchism:
So we asked ourselves: What could account for this guy waving around a book written and published by anarchists, while never quoting a single word from it, and then going on to associate the book with political groups—like the Revolutionary Communist Party and the Workers World Party—that no one in the book, or associated with the book, would endorse? How could he miss something so obvious?
Then it dawned on us: you’re afraid of anarchists. You’re not afraid of the fake media portrayal of anarchists as bomb-throwing maniacs: that’s your bread and butter. You’re afraid of real anarchists, the actual ideas they espouse, the real work they do.
We don’t blame you, Glenn. When we sift through your rants, we realize that there’s a lot of overlap between you and anarchists. The difference is that anarchists are more honest, aren’t part of the same elites they criticize, and they make a lot more sense. They see you, and raise you one.
The admission that “there’s a lot of overlap” between Beck and anarchism is a startling one, though perhaps correct. An average establishment progressive or neocon intellectual, for instance, probably cannot see much difference between Beck’s views and genuine libertarianism.
I have not read We are an Image from the Future (which of course deals with the 2008 revolts, which had an explicitly anarchist bent, and not the recent riots which are a reaction to the collapse of social services that has accompanied Greece’s financial fiasco), but I doubt Beck has either. At any rate, the more profitable comparison could be made (in spirit if not ideas) between revolts like the one in Greece our own recent tea party phenomenon.