His reputation preceded him on campus. If a student were to take political science, the scuttlebutt was, the man to take it from was Dr. Hugh Linus LeBlanc. Even though we were in Washington, DC at The George Washington University where politics was in the water (beer?) we drank and air we breathed, rumor had it that Dr. LeBlanc made it “real.”
LeBlanc, from whom I took almost every course he taught, and who was my thesis adviser for my Master’s Degree by which time he was Dean of the Department, came by his reputation the hard way. Of Cajun Louisiana background, as a high school and college student he was stridently anti-the Long dynasty/empire of that state and ultimately became a Louisiana refugee, fleeing the state on a mid-night freight the police in hot pursuit. That story caught my attention as did his accent and dictum day one of class that, “This may be political science, but the language of currency in the class is English. Make sure you use it correctly on your exams!” I was gonna like this guy.
LeBlanc had a way of simplifying the complex. In talking about totalitarianism, he said one day that most professors spoke of political ideologies by using a straight line with the left at one side and the right at the other. Then he drawled, “There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the totalitarian left and the totalitarian right,” as he drew a circle of politics on the board intersecting it with a line. “At that point, political repression is political repression. ‘doesn’t make much different to the oppressed if its couched in communist or fascist terminology.”
He ended that lecture by pointing out that the United States of America has never had a creditable threat from the left, but has had several from the right. He told the story of the “Know Nothing Party” in the 1800’s. He spoke of isolationism and its proponents after WW 1, the massive Klan march down Pennsylvania Avenue in the 20’s. And of course McCarthyism. I was out of school in the mid-70’s when it happened again. There was the Klan revival and the rise of the right in the Mid-West in the guise of such organizations as the Patriot Movement and the Christian Identity Movement. I submit to you, it’s happening yet again. And Dr. LeBlanc, last I heard in his 90’s somewhere up in N. Florida must be again muttering expletives about it in that peculiar Louisiana draw, which at certain junctions in sentences sounds like my own south Brooklyn.
One thing Dr. LeBlanc preached about was the separation of powers. The other was the free press. While the equal branches of government are perforce never equal, when government is running as smoothly as it can they are in balance. When unbalanced they threaten the system. FDR’s “court-packing’ scheme, where he tried to have the court’s fixed number of justices expanded and then appoint the additional justices to insure passage of New Deal legislation was a favorite example. It failed.
And then of course there was the free press, called by some the 4th branch of government, or “Fourth Estate.” While we’ve had the days of the Yellow Dog Press, the Hearst Syndicate advocating wars, there were always enough newspapers and news magazines in the country with wide circulation that printed differing and disparate views–left, right and center–so the country could sup on diverse political stews.
Before I ask the reader to compare the above examples to their companion comparisons today, I ask you to indulge me a bit more “ink” as I quote from an article written at the request of the NY Times, by Vice President Henry H. Wallace who had returned from an extensive post-World War 11 visit to Europe. The article was about fascism and authoritarianism. (“The Danger of American Fascism”–Henry A. Wallace, NY Times 4/9/1944.) I recommend it.
“A fascist is one whose lust for money or power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends.”
“The perfect type of fascist throughout the recent centuries has been the Prussian Junker who developed such hatred of other races and such allegiance to a military clique as to make him willing at all times to engage in any degree of deceit and violence necessary to place his culture and race astride the world…”
“…The really dangerous American fascists are not those who are hooked up directly or indirectly with the the Axis…The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.”
“Still another danger is represented by those who, paying lip service to democracy and the common welfare, in the insatiable greed for money and the power which money gives, do not hesitate surreptitiously to evade the laws designed to safeguard the public from monopolistic extortion.”
And the final excerpt: “The American fascists are most easily recognized by the deliberate perversion of truth and fact…They use every opportunity to impugn democracy. They use isolationism as a slogan to conceal their own selfish imperialism. They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, they are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective…is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.”
Maybe I’m wrong–but maybe I’m right. Comparing this to what the last 130+ days have been like, I see unsettling, even fear-inducing, similarities. For those you do read the whole text some things will jump out at those of you who are Trumpeters and cause you to trumpet, “that’s not him–or us!” Like this example.
In one sentence Wallace talks about fascists undermining Britain and Russia. ” ” Russia, you’ll say? When the Democrats are grinding him to dust with the Russia collusion story?”
Yet this is asked even while the former communist turned fascist President Putin tries to subvert the US and President Trump at every turn. That sentence about Russia must be read in the political context of 1944 , not 2017. Since, post Paris, we seem to have no more over seas friends, only overseas skeptics. That would be today’s context.
To me the Wallace piece screams again that political truism: “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.”
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