Glenn Beck’s analyses of the history of authoritarian movements has many people concerned, and justifiably so. Most recently Beck has been laying out the ways in which the progressive movement in the U.S. has been following a three phase strategy to undermine the free-market constitutional order traditional to America.
Two Cheers For Glenn Beck, With Some Reservations
He has also uncovered ways in which progressivist propaganda on behalf of President Obama taps surreptitiously into language of earlier extremist thought, most notably Stuart Chase’s book,” The Road We Are Traveling,” and his invocation of Political System X. Chase was a Fabian socialist who was influential in the left wing of the New Deal, and may have coined the phrase ‘New Deal’.
Beck argues that phase 1 of the program, which focused largely on the institutionalization of the socialist movement and the de-legitimatization of traditional free institutions, has been completed over roughly the past 100 years. Phase 2 of the agenda, largely a matter of creating an escalating series of crises, Beck argues can happen ‘at lightning speed’. Phase 3 refers to a time in which the people, tired of chaos and crisis, permit the Left to grab power and perhaps even to liquidate inconvenient groups of people.
There is a lot to appreciate in Beck’s work, and I do not share the tendency among some in the conservative institutional elite to deride him. When someone like a Peggy Noonan at the Wall Street Journal describes Beck as ‘insane’, she may well be responding more to the social pressures of the Manhattan cocktail party circuit than to anything Beck has actually said. Frankly, I’m tired of conservatives, such as David Frum and others, who have made a career out of appearing in liberal media venues to ritually denounce Beck or Palin or whoever is the liberal hate icon of the month, as beyond the pale.
In fact, I share Beck’s association of Obama with the Fabian socialist movement, and did so very early, perhaps earlier even than Beck did.
Personally, I like Glenn Beck. I appeared as a guest on his TV show when he was on CNN. He did something which TV broadcasters almost never do: he talked to me (through my ear piece) during the break. He told me “You are my absolutely favorite economic commentator,” no doubt in keeping with the well-known Beck hyperbole. I told him that he was something which I’ve found to quite rare in broadcast TV, an actual vulnerable human being.
So, mutual admiration aside, do I agree completely with Beck? No, I do not. I’ve found myself talking with investors often over the last couple of years who need to be coaxed down off the ledge of despair over alleged imminent depressions, hyperinflations, and dollar collapses. I’ve seen analysts on his former Fox show running elaborate scenarios about horrible economic events to unfold in matters of months, if not days or weeks. I am increasingly running into investors, often Beck watchers, who have thrown aside the ancient wisdom of asset diversification in order to jump with both feet into precious metals.
What I think Beck is missing is a sense of depth perception.
He sees a danger ahead, but, can’t seem to focus his eyes in order to see how far ahead it is. Taking what he no doubt believes is the safest approach, and one that accords with the emotional intensity of broadcasting, he pronounces the danger to be imminent. Beck’s shows are anxiety-inducing; they’re meant to be. In fact, a colleague of mine was advised by his psychiatrist to stop watching the shows because they were triggering unhealthy anxiety episodes in him. The psychiatrist is an evangelical Christian who is not by nature inclined to be unsympathetic to Beck’s worldview.
I am not the only one who notices Beck’s lack of depth perception and tendency to telescope disastrous events…
“The one thing I always get wrong is timing. I told you three years ago that they were going to print money, that inflation was coming, that trouble was coming, three years ago. Before Bear Stearns collapsed. And I said the stock market was going to crash. I didn’t know when. I used to tell you when things were happening, but I noticed, I see everything as a flat wall. Everything I see in the future is just right here, right now. And it used to give me real high anxiety. ”
So, let’s leave aside for the moment the timing issues, which we as investors must pay close attention to, and take up the issues about the direction of our country, which we as citizens must also pay close attention to.
Beck is right and his critics are wrong about a number of things:
The progressive movement is totalitarian at its core. Whenever it has been allowed free reign, it has become highly repressive, and in some cases, genocidal.
Large swaths of the liberal coalition are, in fact, progressivists, especially those in the emotion-forming industries such as film, TV and music.
It can happen here. No nation is immune from the totalitarian impulse and countries which had once been the high water marks of western civilization such at Italy, Greece, Turkey and Germany have all succumbed to totalitarian impulses at one time or another.
American economic hegemony is not inevitable. Every other great nation which has adopted a fiat currency has seen that currency eventually collapse. Every other nation whose currency enjoyed the exorbitant privilege of reserve currency status, has lost that privilege.
Most nations which have reached our level of public indebtedness, eventually, suffered severe economic crises.
But, when and how, and most urgently, how quickly do events like this happen to nations such as the U.S.? Yes, Rome fell, and so did the Byzantium, Spain, and the British Empires. But how long did it take to fall? How many reprieves did those nations get? How fragile are nations like the United States in terms of culture and political institutions compared the great nations which collapsed in ruin?
Those sorts of questions are what serious investors need to ask.
And the perspective which is added, when history is consulted, transforms the ‘flat wall’ perception of the future, adding depth perception and a sense of sequence to our view, and by so doing shows that disaster is much less inevitable than we often feel it must be after our well-intended harbingers of warning have delivered their messages. This perspective is something which concerned investors who are Beck viewers need to add to the daily dose of dread.
That’s what we plan to address in the next installment of this series.
Mr. Bowyer is the author of "The Free Market Capitalists Survival Guide," published by HarperCollins, and a columnist for Forbes.com.