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Watergate and Anarchism

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  • elfuncle
    Richard Milhous Nixon, anarchist? I just saw that Ron Howard movie the other night, Frost/Nixon. Quite interesting and suspenseful, and sometimes even
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 19, 2009
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      Richard Milhous Nixon, anarchist?

      I just saw that Ron Howard movie the other night, Frost/Nixon. Quite interesting and suspenseful, and sometimes even informative, but I was somewhat disappointed because although Frank Langella got all those heavy awards for his portrayal of Nixon, it was a caricature, perhaps even more so than Anthony Hopkins' portrayal in the Oliver Stone flick. I have to date never seen anyone play Nixon who didn't distort this extremely complex and enigmatic individual.

      These caricatures arise from public passions, and these passions certainly have a lot of justification, especially if we take into consideration those tape transcripts where Nixon talked to Kissinger about thinking big in terms of using the nuclear bomb against North Vietnamese civilians, about using the IRS against his political opponents and what have you. (There wasn't much of this in any of the movies, it's just stuff we already know about.) But then again, look at Bush and Cheney, who have brought the US and the world into far greater disasters than Nixon ever did, and yet none of them are hated, in spite of the possibility that some parents may scare the daylights out of their children with a portrait of Cheney on Halloween. But Bush and Cheney are not hated. People have learned to hate their policies, their imnpeachable crimes that include war crimes, but they don't hate them personally, which is probably why the impeachement of Bush never got off the ground. Many people wished for it, but the passion as fuel was lacking. (We've seen such passion here, but the AT is not Congress.)

      Come to think of it, Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, those guys were not hated wither. They were feared, not hated. But Richard Nixon was hated, probably even before he went rogue in the Oval Office, which makes it a mystery why he was elected twice, and 1972 was a landslide for him. But after Watergate, this hatred spread from a minority to the majority, to the point where it almost got out of hand, or maybe it did. And this is why we've never seen a Nixon portrayed by an actor except as a caricature where some aspect or other of his dark side is given comic book proportions, probably because the audience and the critics won't accept anything else.

      One of the problems with this type of biographical movies is that the directors insist upon making perceived spiritual qualities physiologically visible. Self-loathing belongs to these perceived qualities, but that's apparently not enough.


      Four days before the final session on Watergate, Frost is awakened in his hotel room by a phone call from a drunken Richard Nixon asking Frost what he was doing in his room on a Friday night.


      Shortly before the final interview, Frost mentions the phone call; however, Nixon asks him, "What phone call?" and looks very unsettled.


      Several historical inaccuracies were noted in the film by multiple sources, including Nixon biographers Jonathan Aitken and Elizabeth Drew. Aitken, one of Nixon's official biographers, spent much time with the former president at La Casa Pacifica and rebukes the film's portrayal of a drunk Nixon and a late night phone call as never having happened and "from start to finish, an artistic invention by the scriptwriter Peter Morgan." Aitken remembers that "Frost did not ambush Nixon during the final interview into a damaging admission of guilt. What the former president 'confessed' about Watergate was carefully pre-planned. It was only with considerable help and advice from his adversary's team that Frost managed to get much more out of Nixon, in the closing sequences, by reining in his fierce attitude and adopting a gentler approach."

      They can never resist this sort of thing, and what disappointed me about Langella's performance was the rather dull, extremely tired heaviness that made Nixon appear 20 years older than he was in 1977, and besides it wasn't Nixon. But the real Nixon was extremely strong and resilient, even after the total shipwreck of his public career.

      I've read Richard Nixon's 1976 memoirs, which contains a lot of interesting things that in hindsight lend credence to the theory I heard recently that he was frustrated and clumsy with his job because he chose the wrong career, the wrong vocation. He was educated as a lawyer, but he should probably have been an author, musician or even actor. Not only was he a Quaker with a mother who honored the tradition of using "plain speech" (Elisabethan English) at home; he was also an avid reader of Tolstoy to the point of almost becoming a Tolstoyan, he tells us. In addition to that, he acted in plays for an amateur theater, and as everybody knows, he played the piano. And he had a photographic memory.

      So my question has always been, how did this incredibly gifted and talented young man, who was on the verge of becoming an anarchist with his Quakerism and love of Tolstoy, turn out the way he did? I think it all began in 1946, when he was elected to Congress and on his first day on the job he was invited by president Truman into the Oval Office. The first thing Truman did was pull up a map and point to the region of Southeast Asia, talking about the valuable natural resources there, as if Vietnam whould have been a piece of the United States. But Nixon's most detrimental influence in Washington was, in my view,  John Foster Dulles, a chief ideologue behind the Cold War who caused Nixon to view all Communists as some kind of lying demons, and he developed a similar view of anarchists. One a visit to some Latin American country as vice president, his car was attacked by a mob and Nixon and his wife feared for their lives with good reason, before someone intervened and rescued them. Nixon referred to the mob as anarchist thugs.

      Later on, between his defeat against JFK in the 1960 presidential campaign and his victory in 1968, Nixon was subjected to severe abuse of power by his political opponents, The  Kennedys and LBJ. The extremely wealthy and powerful Kennedys even used the IRS to go after his poor elderly parents, subjecting them to severe auditing in an endeavor to find something amiss in the purchase of their home many years earler. That was how Nixon learned his dirty tricks, but he didn't have the Kennedy Hollywood charisma to get away with things, so dirty tricks became permanently associated with Nixon's less glamorous Pinocchio nose. But his falling for the temptation to abuse his power as president to get his enemies was undoubtedly rooted in his experiences with the Kennedys in the early sixties.

      As a sidenote, we should also keep in mind that Kennedy's exceptionally narrow victory over Nixon in 1960 was accomplished through voting fraud.

      I am certainly not interested in seeing an attempt to exonerate Nixon or to put him in a favorable light, any more than the unthinking, passionate public is. What I miss is the naked Nixon, the true naked Nixon, not the nakedness that people imagine because, to their utter frustration and anger, he never took his clothes off. So they add rumors to facts, and one of the worst rumormongers was John Ehrlichman after his release from prison, who may be the original source of a curious line in the movie, when Frost mentions an aquaintance of his who would have liked to marry Diahann Carroll and Nixon says with disapproval: "She is black, isn't she?" Ehrlichman kept saying that Nixon believed blacks to be inferior to whites, that he called black people "porch monkeys" and so on, but as far as I know there's nothing like that in the tape transcripts and besides, Nixon supported the Civil Rights movement from the very beginning of his 1968 campaign and made this clear to his kitchen cabinet. So I suspect all of those rumors about Nixon's alleged racism -- or most of them at any rate --  are traceable to Erlichman and his ilk, although I may be wrong, I'm not a scholar and I certainly haven't read everything. But I did read "The Powers That Be" (1979) by David Halberstam, a book about the history of the media which he also called an introduction to Watergate. Highly recommended for history buffs. Halberstam was an excellent journalist and writer, and he makes no secret of his personal dislike of Richard Nixon, a dislike that many people shared, which brings us right back to the curious phenomenon of an intensely hated man who who the presidency twice, and second time by a landslide.

      I became interested in Nixon in the late seventies perhaps precisely because I discovered what a helluva gutsy fighter he had been, sitting ll by himself in the Oval office saying "I am the president!" with his vice president Agnew, his chief advisors Colson, Ehrlichman and Haldeman fired and indicted, with general Haig performing almost a coup by telling all foreign leaders to call the Pentagon instead of the White House about international affairs, and with the entire world hating his guts, which cause him to say in his final address to his own staff:

      "Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself."

      That's why I miss a higher level portrayal of the mysterious and enigmatic Richard Nixon.

      Rudolf Steiner, anarchist?


      "Perishable Money in a Threefold Commonwealth: Rudolf Steiner and the Social Economics of an Anarchist Utopia"

      It all boils down to semantics. Colin Wilson wrote a non-anthroposophical biography of Rudolf Steiner that was for the most part very positive, but also with some quite interesting criticisms. And about the Threefold Social Order, Wilson wrote that Steiner was offering the German people nothing but anarchy -- so it all depends upon how you define anarchy.

      Mahatma Gandhi participated at one point in the newly independent Indian parliament, and his approach to the social problem were in many ways more explicitly anarchistic than those of Rudolf Steiner, I think. And very radical, ultra-progressive and attractive, like the suggestion that instead of locking criminals away, we should move into their neighborhoods, thus changing their environment and influences for the better. (This may not be possible with dangerous and violent criminals, especially if we have young children, but as a measure against pettty crimes I think it's genius.)

      Anyway, Steiner and Gandhi had a lot in common, I think, in terms of eliminating social ills in such a fashion that this would in turn reduce the need for police, and by making international relations healthier it would also reduce the need for the military -- significantly in both cases. And then again we would spend far less time in court with all kinds of lawsuits ant trials, many of which are extremely petty and unnecessary if you ask me. (Ever watch Judge Judy?)

      However, Gandhi never called himself an anarchist, although posterity has put this label on him, especially anarchist admirerers. Rudolf Steiner, however, did state that he would accept the label 'individualist anarchist' in a letter to Henry MacKay which he also published in Magazin für Litteratur, and this seems to irritate many "bourgeois" anthroposophists who want to make anthroposophy respectable instead of countercultural. So they argue that although Steiner flirted with anarchism in his younger Berlin years, he came to his senses later on and must have abandoned his anarchism. But the obvious "anarchism" (for lack of a better word) embedded in the Threefolding idea of his later years suggests that these ideas are a further development, a maturing of anarchism that makes it possible to implement even in external practical life. Furthermore, there is also a passage in one of his very, very latest lecture cycles, the one to the CC priests in September 1924 (GA 346), that is thoroughly anarchist from a purely theological point of view. So if we call it "individual autonomy" instead of "anarchism" it may be more palatable to bourgeois anthros.

      However, one of Peter Staudenmaier's unexpressed bones of contention may be precisely the fact that he calls himself an anarchist and that his articles and books are most popular in certain anarchist circles. So there is a competition here, a battle for the hearts of anarchists. Many anthroposophists would perhaps argue, who gives a hoot about the hearts of anarchists, they're all stone-throwers and hoods anyway. Those who think along those lines should realize that it's important for Peter Staudenmaier first of all to eradicate all sympathy for Steiner and his works in academic anarchist circles; from there he'll hope to influence the rest of academia and also mainstream media. so in my opinion, PS needs to be confronted where he is, in anarchist circles. (Forget the hole where he is preaching to the choir.)

      For this reason if for no other, one ought to think twice before claming that Rudolf Steiner was no anarchist (which is the diametrical opposite of fascist and nationalist), although Steiner's "anarchism" in its pure form was never intended as a political ideology. He came up with the Threefolding under pressure, because disaster was in the air and it also arrived full blast, and if one finds a little anarchism in the threefolding, all I can say personally is that I wouldn't want it any other way.

      Steiner and Nixon, wow, what a team they would have been, crusading for anarchism :)


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