Critiquing LaRouche Ideology
in Earth’s Next Fifty Years (2005)
Joe Szimhart, 2011
an essay/review includes comparison with Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
“Global Warming: As fake as your girlfriend’s orgasm”—LaRouche member picket sign
“In 1995, the German government decreed that the LaRouche political organization was a political cult, and critics have said membership involves the emotional and psychological manipulation of vulnerable young recruits, who are expected to devote their lives to LaRouche and his warnings of economic apocalypse.” (Terry Kirby, The Independent, Internet, 3/27/04)
My awareness of Lyndon LaRouche began in the 1970s but reached a kind of fruition when I became a cult “exit counselor” in the 1980s. LaRouche earned a sordid reputation among his ex-members who easily identified as ex-cult members, finding an astounding array of similarities with former Moonies, ex-Scientologists, and surviving former People’s Temple members. I received a number of calls from families concerned about someone who converted to LaRouchian agendas. One example is typical: In 2002 a father contacted me. His 19 year old son who had just started college with intent to study engineering in Seattle met LaRouche recruiters and was impressed with “how intelligent these guys are.” He enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of weekly meetings. He read politically charged literature recommended by the group. He came to believe that he needed to separate from his mother altogether. He was considered “gifted” in grade school, had a choir ready voice, and graduated as a grade school valedictorian. The young man was told by LaRouchians to “watch out for people using material from books by Chip Berlet and Dennis King, stating these books were all lies.” Berlet and King have done extensive research into LaRouche. He basically cut his family off from communication after one month with the LaRouche group.
One life lesson that appears to have eluded Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr. (born 1922) is broadcasted within his own teaching. LaRouche fancies himself as the elite economist and social engineer who reveals a scientifically-based system that can save the world. In other words, LaRouche combines religious zeal with irrefutable science to create a “sacred science” which is precisely one of the eight themes that contribute to systems of thought reform as eloquently described by Robert Jay Lifton (1961) in his groundbreaking study of ‘brainwashing’ in Communist China, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism.[i]
LaRouche identifies as a Promethean exemplar that has “stolen fire” or wisdom from the gods of Olympus for the benefit of mankind. LaRouche metaphorically met Zeus and gave the old god a grand finger, likening Zeus to the devil himself, the demon of oligarchy as handed down to us into modern times through the empiricism of Aristotle, the Venetian Party, the Rothchilds, George W. Bush and Hippy environmentalists who would both cynically control and ultimately destroy the functional fabric of the world. The evil oligarchies include in general all institutions of higher learning that are ultimately worthless as lackeys for the status quo because none of the ivory tower academies recognize as LaRouche has the genius stream of “ancient Pythagoreans, Plato, and so on, and with the modern science of such as Nicholas of Cusa, Johannes Kepler, Fermat, Pascal, Christiaan Huygens, Leibniz, Gauss, Riemann, et al….” as the basis for why “this republic of ours has a sacred mission”[ii]
LaRouche harps repeatedly in his writings about his imagined “true sovereign republic” first brought forth in “Louis XI’s France and in Henry VII’s England…dedicated to that principle of the general welfare known to the ancient Greeks as the agape of Plato’s Republic and the Apostle Paul’s celebrated 1 Corinthians 13.”[iii] Now, what does that mean? In LaRouche’s mind we as a nation are veering away from principles especially espoused by Ben Franklin and Alex Hamilton who were apparently well-anchored in the aforementioned principles of Plato and Paul. Bertrand Russell on the other hand created a “cult” of empiricism based on Aristotle and others that have lately infected education, the economy and foreign policy.
The problem I have with this book and LaRouche writings, in general, is his sloppy thought process and lack of reasoning when for example he moves in his first chapter, “The Follies of the Economic Hitmen” from science using Kepler and Gauss, then into slavery to show how his science purportedly applies, next finding justification in Greek mythology and finally trying to tie it to notions of a noosphere! When LaRouche waxes lofty with his feet firmly off the ground in a Platonic stupor, he says things like, “For me, this republic of ours has a sacred mission….It has a mission conceived in the certainty that the individual human being, anywhere and everywhere, is set apart from and made in the likeness of the Creator of this universe, and dedicated to service on behalf of the continuing unfolding of that endlessly continuing Creation.”[iv] Then, as if he forgets his lofty principle he states, “The President of the United States [George W Bush] is a mental case. This is not a characterization; this is a clinical diagnosis: The man is mentally ill. But he’s a puppet, of a head of state of a powerful nation, even if he’s only a puppet, even if he’s chiefly controlled by people like Shultz and Cheney.”[v]
Now, does LaRouche really mean that a “mentally ill” George W Bush was created in “the likeness of the Creator of this universe?” What kind of god is that? LaRouche plays god here with his diagnostic skill which is naïve at best. Mental illness as a clinical term has specific definitions to rational human beings. Diagnosis does also. LaRouche never formed his opinion of ‘W’ professionally. Mental illness is not a diagnosis. Mood disorder not otherwise specified is a diagnosis. Schizophrenia, chronic paranoid type in acute exacerbation is a diagnosis. To maker a proper diagnosis, a psychiatrist typically conducts a personal interview with a client to determine mental status based on a host of standardized categories. LaRouche did none of that. LaRouche plays god, however badly, in the Biblical sense: Jesus once said, “Ye are gods” in John 10:34, but what he meant was “Ye are judges in the place of God.”[vi]
LaRouche’s leaps of logic to diagnose persons he does not like and label social forces according to his “science” are extraordinary. Lyndon’s term for this superhuman activity is “creative mentation” implying a kind of shamanic flight into the netherworld or rare reaches of the “noosphere” where few men have gone before and no one other than LaRouche today seems capable of going, that is, if you can believe him and his loyal-to-a-fault devotees.
LaRouche impressed fellow cellmate and televangelist Jim Bakker (born 1940) when LaRouche was incarcerated from 1989 through 1994 at Federal Medical Center Rochester, Minnesota for fundraising fraud similar to Bakker who was serving time for mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to rip-off donors, with his knowledge of the Bible.
The Reverend Bakker ironically but not surprisingly actually read the Bible completely for the first time while in jail and learned where he went wrong by imposing his idiosyncratic isogesis on Bible passages, which is to say, lifting them out of context for his personal benefit. Bakker noted that “LaRouche received daily intelligence reports by mail, and at times had information about news events days before they happened. Bakker also wrote that LaRouche believed their cell was bugged. In Bakker’s view, “to say LaRouche was a little paranoid would be like saying that the Titanic had a little leak.”” [vii]
Bakker appears to have been humbled by his conviction and incarceration: “The more I studied the Bible, however, I had to admit that the prosperity message did not line up with the tenor of Scripture. My heart was crushed to think that I led so many people astray. I was appalled that I could have been so wrong, and I was deeply grateful that God had not struck me dead as a false prophet!”[viii]
LaRouche, on the other hand, fed his conspiratorial mind while in jail with a self image as a persecuted savior and martyr for a sacred cause. Hell, the old curmudgeon even ran for president again from prison in 1992 under the “Economic Recovery Party” garnering a total of 26,334 votes! He would have gotten far more if the forces of evil had not conspired against him, that is, if you ask any of his devoted flock.
LaRouche’s use of the Bible appears idiosyncratic as well in his finding certain passages in St. Paul that support his concocted sacred science. If you read a bit beyond 1 Corinthians 13 (the popular passage about love as agape trumping all else including prophesying and speaking in tongues) you should notice how off LaRouche remains regarding New Testament meaning in his personal and group’s conduct. 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (in concert with Romans 1:3-4) attributed to St Paul as author defines what came to be known as the regula fidei that 1st and 2nd Century proto-Orthodox Christians came to define later in the Apostles Creed and subsequently the Nicene Creed (early 4th Century). LaRouche like Bakker employed a pick-and-choose, pseudo-Christian, approach to interpretation similar to 2nd Century Marcionism and similar neo-Platonic and Gnostic cults.
Marcion in rebellion to bishops in Rome that rejected his interpretation started his own churches to rival the proto-Orthodox and created his own testament by reworking the letters of St Paul with the Gospel of Luke into a Docetic view of Jesus as not human but a phantasm of God that merely appeared human. In other words, Marcion interpreted the Christ story wholly within a neo-Platonic frame beyond the reasonable application of Platonic thought by other church fathers. LaRouche in no way grasps sophisticated Christian thought that evolved through the regula fidei into what became the cognitive version of what all that meant surrounding the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Indeed, it is hard to find an average Christian anywhere who can properly grasp what happened in those early centuries that emerged as the regular Bible and the working kerygma by the 4rth century, but LaRouche virtually violates the very Gospel he touts. The only “love” I found in Earth’s Next Fifty Years was LaRouche’s unbounded (narcissistic) love for his own ideas.
I say regular and working because the Christian texts are not absolute as paranoid Fundamentalists would have it. Fundamentalists smell Satan at every turn when one questions the absolute Bible brick in their heads. In many ways LaRouche is more like the Fundamentalists who treat their ideas of the Gospel like a brick in the mind rather than the living “Word” that it is. With LaRouche one finds a hard-headed ego that refuses to bend in any way because he “knows” in the sense of a sacred gnosis that his ideas are right, even absolutely right, and anyone that dares criticize him is “Satanic.”
Robert Lifton points out that Totalist leaders and followers do not say they are “God” as much as they treat their ideas as God.[ix] Anyone who has had the mixed experience of arguing with a LaRouche devotee soon experiences one of two things: an onslaught of angry invective shored up by a ready grab-bag of quotes and references from LaRouche writings and against his perceived enemies, or one will encounter a kinder person who remains passively aggressive quoting the same stuff in circular fashion. Try to get a LaRouche devotee to think out of the brick box in their head and you will generally encounter evasion, tangential responses, attack or complete avoidance of the topic. There are always exceptions—the devotees are, after all is said and done, still human.
To grasp how LaRouche arrives at his grandiose philosophical and theological views one must appreciate his, to me at least, naïve enthusiasm for Plato and equally naïve disdain for Aristotle and by extension St Thomas Aquinas, Jacques Maritain, and Bertrand Russell (around whom LaRouche sees a rabid cult: “The intent of the cult of empiricism launched by Venice’s Paolo Sarpi, to this effect, was shown fully naked, by the cult-circles of Bertrand Russell and such followers as his devoted acolytes Norbert Wiener And John von Neumann.”[x]).
It is interesting to contrast LaRouche with Ayn Rand in this light: she an avid Aristotelian, and he an avid Platonist. Now I do not tout myself as a philosopher or an intellectual on the par of Rand or LaRouche—do not get me wrong—but I do find it extraordinary that both in their own way fell into egoistic traps they set for themselves. This self-trap is common to almost all manipulative cult leaders. What I am getting at here has less to do with ideas or problems of knowledge—both Rand and LaRouche have some good ideas—than it does about conduct and governance of a surrounding social circle. Both Rand and LaRouche cultivated and fell prey to charismatic relationships with doting admirers albeit with different results.
The devotional circle around the living Ayn Rand, an atheist, and her relationship with a much younger man who eventually defected from her “embrace” has been well-documented. LaRouche has suffered, similar to the parallel cult figure Ayn Rand in recent history, from a chronic phobia of professional editors not to mention the need for a competent therapist who helps patients with character disorders to moderate and manage chronic narcissism. Ms Rand with her tongue not firmly in her cheek quipped, regarding criticism that her run-on novel Atlas Shrugged needed an editor, “Would you cut the Bible?”[xi]
I will offer only this tidbit that should alert anyone of just how cultic Rand’s following became:
“The Biblical nature of Atlas for many Randians is illustrated by the wedding of a Randian couple that took place in New York. At the ceremony, the couple pledged their joint devotion and fealty to Ayn Rand, and then supplemented it by opening Atlas – perhaps at random – to read aloud a passage from the sacred text.” [xii]
Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged offers a radically dual view of the world—men and women of “value” and their skilled workers that drive industry and thereby raise the standard of living in society verses a money-sucking, self-serving government that feeds a liberal cadre of social workers that support the lazy poor. This radical dualism in Rand became glaringly apparent to me when I read and annotated Atlas Shrugged. Rand also offers an apocalyptic vision of a society gone sorely wrong with a magical place of escape or commune among the Colorado mountains for a select clique of talented folks screened and accepted by leader John Galt. The commune is not visible to the outside world even from the air due to a kind of invisibility shield invented by one of the novel’s geniuses. The entire epic is a reiteration of Gnostic myth wherein only the few who “know” and avoid getting trapped “in this fallen world” deserve to go to the “Pleroma” which is the Gnostic heaven or Pantheon for the gods—in Atlas Shrugged, heaven is in Colorado.
LaRouche is another radical dualist who divides his world into his way or hell—take your choice! At the very end of Fifty Years from a speech he gave at an obscure seminar LaRouche sponsored through his magazine Executive Intelligence Review in Berlin in 2005, LaRouche states:
“We are looking, as I said, at a potential New Dark Age…”
“And that’s what I will be working for, from the United States. I will be fighting for this. It’s going to be a big educational fight—but I think we can win it. We can win it, not because people want to be won over, but because they’ve suddenly become convinced they have no alternative, but to be won over.
“On the day they perceive, in general, that the system is going down, that institutions which they took for granted are no longer there, they’re going to scream. If we provide the answer, they’ll probably grab it then, where they would refuse it before. If we don’t provide the answer, then the Devil will! Thank you.”
This last statement reminds me of so many other apocalyptic cults I’ve studied that are at the ready to offer their elite system to take over a desperate population once the world collapses. Rand and LaRouche are by no means alone. Even “the family” cult that surrounded Charlie Manson believed this. Manson code-named his plan for world domination Helter Skelter.
LaRouche clearly is infected with this same messianic syndrome:
“From all evidence currently in view, I am the only person presently qualified, intellectually and emotionally, to serve as commander-in-chief of our U.S.A under the present conditions of global general breakdown-crisis of the world’s present, floating-exchange-rate monetary-financial system.”[xiii]
All LaRouche devotees would be well-served by a close reading of The Plato Cult by David Stone (1991).[xiv] Now, do not jump to any conclusions from the title—Professor Stone is by no means dismissing Plato’s value as a philosopher. What he does throughout in his series of essays is bring great philosophers down to earth from their legendary, thus unrealistic status in the academy and among the likes of devotees Rand and LaRouche:
“The case of Plato is not at all unique, merely extreme. In fact, all great philosophers attract a reverence which is far stronger and more widespread than that which, by any rational estimate, they are entitled to. The idolatry of Aristotle, for four hundred years after the revival of his philosophy in the twelfth century, is a stock example. But Kant, similarly, has enjoyed for two hundred years a reputation as a philosopher which is ridiculously exaggerated: as is the odour of Enlightenment-sanctity which surrounds his life. Hegel’s philosophy is now as much respected as it deserves to be despised, and even his most prosaic (not to say sordid) political adjustments are represented, in retrospect, as Absolute Spirit working itself out in history. And so on.”[xv]
This brings me back to Robert Jay Lifton of whom I wrote at the beginning of this odd review. His book The Protean Self (1993) offers an antidote to not only the sense of fragmentation we experience in the modern world but also the temptation we all have to accept soothing, totalist answers to deal with fragmentation. Lifton points out about famous mental health innovators and theorists exactly what Stone above noted regarding heroic figures in philosophy. Regarding 20th Century behavioral health theorists R.D.Laing, Jacques Lacan, Heinz Kohut, Lifton writes:
“Laing, Lacan, and Kohut experienced an irony in common: each took on a powerful charisma for an immediate group of followers, a process that inevitably “stops time,” imparts a form of magic to intellectual exchange, and thereby undermines the original exploratory impulse.”[xvi]
And that is the problem with Earth’s Next Fifty Years; it expects, even demands “a form of magic to intellectual exchange” through the imposition of charisma one has to feel surrounding LaRouche to take him seriously at all.
Overvaluing Platonic themes with a belief that one is that special person in the cave of shadows who has like Prometheus broken through into the world of absolutes and not only seen the light but “stolen” it often leads to destructive theocracies and fascist governance. Pythagoras (c570-c495 BC), whose ideas had a strong influence on Plato, is a historical and legendary case in point. He established a very real but short-lived cult at Krotona (aka Crotone), Italy. Using mostly ideas he learned in Egypt, he attracted a large following that lived in accord with ascetic principles that Pythagoras possibly borrowed from Jainism, then a new religious movement in what became modern day India—Pythagoras studied with “magi” during his exile in Babylon. Pythagoreans like Jains believed in reincarnation, strict vegetarianism and the effort to not destroy life—even today devout Jains drink through a fine screen filter lest they ingest any small organisms. The Pythagorean cult held sacred the idea of number and how it behaved in mathematics, music and architecture. Indeed, Pythagoras had a lot to say that was accurate and good about math and music. But his cult pushed it even further to try to govern politically based on laws of science, thus creating a “sacred science.” Locals in the area eventually rebelled against the austere, secretive, elitist [politically inept] Pythagorean authority that amounted to a fascist enterprise. Krotona fell apart—the political experiment failed as all fascist social experiments must. Pythagoras fled Krotona and starved himself to death (presaging the Gnostic rite of the endura—not eating till death.[xvii]
One disorder mentioned in mental health diagnostic manuals is the “overvalued idea or belief.”[xviii] By overvaluing someone or something one is not necessarily delusional because there is usually a rational underpinning to the value. But by overly valuing we enter into an unrealistic relationship with the idea or person and resist criticism of that idea or person, often to our peril. Whenever I dare say anything to diminish Ayn Rand and her novel Atlas Shrugged to a Randian I get some curious ad hominem reactions including accusations that I am not smart or educated enough to grasp what she is saying. LaRouchians will often react that same way to criticism of their hero, thus blocking out essential questions that could lead to the “exploratory impulse” and a more enlightened perspective with a freer set of values.
[i] Robert Jay Lifton. Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: a study of ‘brainwashing’ in Communist China (North Carolina Press, 1989)
[ii] Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr. Earth’s Next Fifty Years (LaRouche PAC, 2005) 13, 27.
[iii] IBID 27
[v] IBID 318
[vi] Ye are gods - This was said of magistrates on account of the dignity and honor of their office, and it shows that the Hebrew word translated "god," אלהים ̀elohiym, in that place might be applied to man. Such a use of the word is, however, rare.— http://bible.cc/john/10-34.htm
[ix] Lifton, Thought Reform, Chapter 22: Sacred Science-- The assumption here is not so much that man can be God, but rather that man's ideas can be God: that an absolute science of ideas (and implicitly, an absolute science of man) exists, or is at least very close to being attained; that this science can be combined with an equally absolute body of moral principles; and that the resulting doctrine is true for all men at all times. Although no ideology goes quite this far in overt statement, such assumptions are implicit in totalist practice.”
[x] LaRouche, Earth’s Next Fifty Years, 62
[xi] When the editor who took it on at Random House, Bennett Cerf, wanted Rand to cut the central portion, a 60-page philosophical dissertation by the protagonist, John Galt, Rand responded by saying, I assume with a wink, “Would you cut the Bible?” http://www.yumasun.com/opinion/rand-33328-human-ideas.html
[xiii] LaRouche, Earth’s Next Fifty Years, 26
[xiv] David Stone. The Plato Cult: And other philosophical follies (Basil Blackwell, Inc.,1991)
[xv] IBID xii
[xvi] Robert Jay Lifton. The Protean Self: Human Resilience in an Age of Fragmentation (University of Chicago Press, 1993) 27
The parents of Jeremiah Duggan, who was struck by a car and killed shortly after leaving a meeting run by a Lyndon LaRouche-connected group, in Wiesbaden, Germany, have launched a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of “cult-style” organizations.
German authorities ruled Jeremiah’s death a suicide, but London coroner Dr. William Dolman said Jeremiah died “while in a state of terror,” perhaps caused in part, his parents say, by the young man’s realization during a week-long retreat at LaRouche’s Schiller Institute that he, a Jew, had become involved with an anti-Semitic group.
Mrs. Erica Duggan said: “We would like to see the establishment of a Cult Awareness Week in memory of my son . . . and that schools and colleges warn young people and students about the need to be vigilant against organizations that prey upon them.”
In 1995, the German government decreed that the LaRouche political organization was a political cult, and critics have said membership involves the emotional and psychological manipulation of vulnerable young recruits, who are expected to devote their lives to LaRouche and his warnings of economic apocalypse. (Terry Kirby, The Independent, Internet, 3/27/04
Presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche says the Star Wars defense was his idea, not President Reagan’s, and that it emerged from a series of meetings between LaRouche and Reagan staffers in the early 1980s. “The most important product of those meetings was my 1982–83 role in conducting back-channel talks with the Soviet government . . . The proposal changed the world,” LaRouche said. (Charles Mahaleris, Talon News, Internet, 6/11/04)