Two decades ago, I came across a remarkable mimeographed manuscript, “The Fabian Transmission Belt.” The author was a member of a tightly disciplined religious order and the daughter of a prominent U.S. Senator. She had access to an enormous file of materials relating to the development and transmission of Fabian socialist ideas. She named the major figures on both sides of the Atlantic who had set up communicating organizations that were dedicated to creating a new world order, and showed how they had succeeded in capturing the media.
The manuscript was suppressed by her ecclesiastical superiors. She was ordered to destroy all copies still in her possession. Fortunately, several copies had been sent to other scholars. One of them found its way into the hands of Rose Martin, who used it as a guide in writing her shorter and far more readable account, The Fabian Freeway (Western Islands, 1966). The book is still in print.
The title of that manuscript has stuck in my mind for many years. It expresses a unique concept of ideological development. The conservative American sociologist Robert Nisbet once remarked that “ideas don’t produce ideas the way that butterflies produce butterflies.” Igor Shafarevich, the Russian dissident who is now in the U.S., has also remarked on the odd development pattern of socialist organizations and ideas: “At the moment of their inception, socialist movements often strike one by their helplessness, their isolation from reality, their naïvely adventuristic character and their comin “Golgolian” features (as Berdayev put it). One gets the impression that these hopeless failures haven’t a chance of success, and that in fact they do everything in their power to compromise the ideas they are proclaiming. However, they are merely biding their time. At some point, almost unexpectedly, these ideas find a broad popular reception, and become the forces that determine the course of history, while the leaders of these movements come to rule the destiny of nations.” (The Socialist Phenomenon, Harper & Row, 1982, p. 129.)
Ideas require organizations to carry them abroad. The best historical account of the transmission of the idea of revolutionary socialism is James Billington’s Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith (Basic Books, 1981). He shows, by painstaking and exhausting research, where the ideas came from, who devoted their lives to transmitting them, and what kinds of organizations were built in terms of them.
The Pyramid Society
From the days of the Tower of Babel, the symbol of the pyramid has fascinated men. The religion of humanism sees man’s task as originally creative: to establish his own world order, through power, across the earth. Men attempt to build a social order in terms of man’s omniscience. To accomplish this, the rulers must claim access to exhaustive knowledge (data) and comprehensive economic theory (plan). They believe that through a massive centralization of control, an elite corps of planners can synchronize and direct the affairs of all mankind. It is this imitation of the sovereignty of God over creation which leads men to create socialist commonwealths.
Those who are convinced that the construction of a pyramid society is a moral imperative and a serious possibility adopt a distinct concept of ideological progress They see the advance of civilization as the product of a combination of education, motivation, and concentration of power. But to achieve their goals, they believe that it is necessary to guarantee the spread of their ideas through their control over the various media.
This view was stated clearly by Lester Frank Ward, the first President of the American Sociological Association. He was also the man who first articulated the position of planned evolutionism. In his classic (and neglected) book, Dynamic Sociology (1883), Ward discussed the problem of controlling men’s opinions. “The attempt to change opinions by direct efforts has frequently been made. No one will now deny that coercion applied to this end is a signal failure. . . . There is one way, however, in which force may and does secure, not a change of existing opinion, but the acceptance of certain approved beliefs; but this, so far from weakening the position here taken, affords a capital defense of it. The forcible suppression of the utterance or publication in any form of unwelcome opinions is equivalent to withholding from all undetermined minds the evidence upon which such views rest; and, since opinions are rigidly the products of the data previously furnished the mind, such opinions cannot exist, because no data for them have ever been received. . . . it is simply that true views may as easily be created by this method of exclusion as false ones . . . The more or less arbitrary exclusion of error, i.e., of false data, is to a great degree justifiable . . . This, however, is the essence of what is here meant by education, which may be regarded as a systematic process for the manufacture of correct opinions. As such, it is of course highly inventive in its character, and the same must be said of all modes of producing desired beliefs by the method of exclusion’ (vol. II, pp 547-48).
This, put more bluntly, is thought control. Ward saw the public schools as the most efficient agents of thought control by statist planners. But as he said, this method of exclusion is not limited to educational institutions All the media are useful in “producing desired beliefs by the method of exclusion.”
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)