Saturday, December 28, 2019

For What It's Worth: Neo-Liberalism or Democracy?

For What It’s Worth: Neo-Liberalism or Democracy?
Peter Schultz

See the link below to an article entitled “After Neoliberalism,” for which I have appended some comments, for better or worse. My comments are in red.

“The central question of our time is what comes after neoliberalism. New political paradigms emerge in response to the challenges and failures of the preceding era, and today, four possibilities for the future are emerging.”
This is not the central question because (a) neoliberalism isn’t dead yet and (b) what the author labels “neo-liberalism” is actually oligarchy. To think that the target is something called neo-liberalism is to guarantee that you will miss the real target.

“The first possibility is reformed neoliberalism.” There is no such thing as “reformed neoliberalism” because there is no such thing as neo-liberalism. As noted above, the current arrangements, the prevailing regime, are oligarchic where the wealthy rule at the expense of the not-wealthy. To “reform” these arrangements means nothing more than moderating the degree to which the wealthy benefit and the not-wealthy lose. This illustrates why it is beneficial to call our current arrangements “oligarchic” and not “neo-liberal.” Oligarchies are less amenable to change than the rather vague phenomenon neo-liberalism. And the author seems to recognize this. “Others, like those who see the Universal Basic Income as a paradigm for the future, want to correct the dislocations that neoliberal policies created—but they are hesitant to attack the root causes of inequality head-on. The real danger of this path is that it threatens more of the same: persistent disaffection, further erosions of trust and social solidarity, and demagogues waiting in the wings.”

“The second possibility is nationalist populism, which combines ethnic, religious, or cultural nationalism with economic populism.” This is, to me, rather weird as a distinct “possibility” because nationalism is endemic to a world composed of “nation states.” Show me a nation that does not embrace to one degree or another “populistic, ethnic, religious, cultural, and economic” nationalism. As the author identifies this with Steve Bannon, I believe this is just a category meant to isolate the likes of Bannon – and of course Trump – as aberrations. They are not aberrations; hence, their abiding popularity. The author dismisses this possibility because it does not, he argues, constitute “a governing strategy,” which is also odd to me in that it implies that politics is about governing. When will people like this author learn that politics is not primarily about governing? It’s about the pursuit of “the good,” although “the good” is understood differently by democrats and oligarchs and aristocrats. This is why the likes of Bannon is appealing: Because he makes no bones about pursuing a particular understanding of “the good.” And if that pursuit renders government less than “efficient” or “progressive,” then so be it. Human beings desire “the good” and pursue it continuously. They desire “the good” even more than they desire power, contra Hobbes, Locke, or even Nietzsche.

“The third possibility, which many refer to as authoritarianism, has gotten the most attention.” Once again, to refer to a distinct phenomenon as “authoritarianism” is weird to me, especially from someone who takes seriously politics as being about governing.  Government is authoritarianism, plain and simple. This is what Machiavelli knew and helps explain why he helped create the phenomenon we call “government,” in distinction from, say, Aristotle who wrote an entire book on politics and never once used the word “government.” Government is, as Machiavelli understood it, essentially bureaucratic and, of course, bureaucracies are “authoritarian,” as Max Weber knew so well, calling bureaucracy the “iron cage of rationality.” The author seems to understand this:

The better term for this third future is “nationalist oligarchy,” and Trumpism is its American variant. This form of government feeds nationalism to the people but delivers oligarchy—special privileges to the rich and well connected. Its economic approach is a corrupt outgrowth of neoliberalism. Its social policy is nationalist backlash. Its political program involves rigging the rules so popular majorities cannot overthrow the powerful. Nationalist oligarchy is undesirable, to say the least—but it could easily define the next era of politics.”

Although the author recognizes oligarchy here as a distinct phenomenon, incredibly he identifies this option with Trump, as if Trump created “special privileges to the rich and well connected.” And then he goes to assert that “Its political program involves rigging the rules so popular majorities cannot overthrow the powerful.” Given the consistency with which our political parties have rigged the rules to perpetuate their rule, one could accuse the author here of suffering from what Jimmy Dore calls “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” And it seems to me that “nationalist oligarchy” is precisely what we have today. So don’t be surprised if it does “define the next era of politics.”

And then we come to the fourth and obviously the favored possibility, democracy. The author sees that democracy requires equality: “For thousands of years, since at least the ancient Greeks, political leaders and philosophers have recognized that democracies could not succeed in the presence of extreme economic inequality.”
This is all well and good. But what he does not seem to see is that the fact of economic equality is not sufficient. That is, he does not seem to see that a middle class mindset is essential for democracy. People must be convinced and act as if being middle class is better than being wealthy. They know of course that being middling is better than being poor but they need to embrace equality not just as a fact but as an aspiration. The wealthy in such a society are tolerated and, if John Adams was right, they should be isolated – say in a senate – where they can be watched and controlled. They are not to be idolized or lionized as they are in the United States these days. And they are certainly not to be given wealth wholly disproportionate to the not-wealthy. In fact, in democratic societies, the wealthy would try to hide their wealth, try to appear to be middle class by acting and living like they are middle class. Otherwise, as the author points out: “In an unequal society, either the rich would oppress the poor and democracy would descend slowly into oligarchy, or the masses would overthrow the rich, with a demagogue leading the way to tyranny.” In other words, the rich as well as the not rich must embrace the fact that justice requires equality, that the just seek equality, not distinction. Equality is “the good” that should be pursued.

And this leads to the author’s next argument about democracy: “And an economic and united democracy cannot be achieved or sustained without a political process that is responsive to the people.” He is correct, of course, but again his language leaves something to be desired. It is not that in a democracy, as described above, that the governors are “responsive to the people;” rather, it is that they are responsive to the demands of justice. Responding to the people is, of course, reactionary language while pursuing justice is not.

And again our author: “It requires that elections capture the popular will rather than the will of interest groups and wealthy individuals, that elected officials act in the public interest rather than doing the bidding of lobbyists, and that civil servants and judges do not stray from their popular mandates. As important as constitutional restraints and protections of minorities are, majoritarianism is critical to democracy.” The author’s focus here is on the popular will as opposed to interest groups and wealthy individuals, on the public interest and popular mandates and majoritarianism. But the focus should be on equality as “the good,” equality not as a manifestation of “the popular will” but as a manifestation of justice. The popular will could be corrupted by the appeal of wealth or by appeals to greatness ala’ Pericles. The popular will is of ambiguous value whereas justice is not. The popular will might point toward “the good,” but justice necessarily points toward or is that “good.”

When Lincoln said that a house divided against itself cannot stand, he was, I believe, talking about justice, about how a nation that is divided on the question of the justice of slavery cannot go on in that condition. Human beings pursue justice and, therefore, either the nation would become either all slave or all free, there being no way to reconcile these different versions of justice. Lincoln was appealing, as best he could in his time, to justice, not to the popular will, as Stephen Douglas did. Lincoln knew that the popular will did not and would not – at least not then – support equality. But justice required Lincoln to save the union as a free nation, not a slave nation. And through it all, Lincoln held firm to his belief that slavery was unjust and, hence, had to be destroyed. This is what Frederick Douglass perceived about Lincoln and led him, despite his clear-sighted assessment of Lincoln as “the white man’s president,” to honor Lincoln and to recommend that the freedmen should honor him also. Lincoln’s goal was justice and this would, Douglass knew, benefit, eventually, the former slaves as well as white men. Justice is good for all.

What the United States needs these days is what it has always needed, viz., a politics of justice. A “responsive political system” might or might not be just; an oligarchy, whether populistic or nationalistic or both is not just. An interventionist foreign policy, as some like to call it, might or might not be just; an imperialistic foreign policy is unjust. Justice is “the good” and it is or should be the goal of our political system. It would be good if a politics of justice succeeded our current oligarchy.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

A Response to Tulsi Gabbard's Impeachment "Vote"

A Response to Tulsi Gabbard’s Impeachment “Vote”
Peter Schultz

            Tulsi Gabbard voted present regarding the impeachment of Donald Trump.
Here is my response.

            Nice try but no cigar, Tulsi. If it was a partisan attempt to remove a president than it wasn’t about his “wrong doing” as you say. And if it wasn’t about political crimes then you should have voted against it. But of course, you couldn’t do that without being hung by the partisans in your party pushing impeachment. So you saved yourself or tried to with this gambit. But you’re already finished because the same people impeaching Trump have hung you out to dry because you don’t support their policies, their oligarchy, their wars, their injustices. Unless those policies are changed, there will be no unity, and all the love in the world won’t accomplish that. Unity requires a politics based on justice, not sentiments like patriotism or love of country. You may love America all you want and shout it from the roof tops but such sentiments are powerless to achieve the unity you seek. As Sally said to Harry on New Year’s eve, “It doesn’t work like that!” What America needs is justice, justice for Americans and justice for non-Americans, even for Muslims. So, again, nice try but no cigar. A house divided must seek, as Lincoln knew, justice because justice is the key to political unity. And as Lincoln also knew, justice is not easily achieved or achieved by “being present.”

Monday, December 16, 2019

Could It Happen Here?

Could It Happen Here?
Peter Schultz

            “Slowly at first, but then with gathering momentum, the ……. public began to discover how deeply it had been misled – not only about the accident and its consequences but also about the ideology and identity upon which their society was founded. The accident and the government’s inability to protect the population….finally shattered the illusion that the…..was a global superpower armed with technology that led the world. And, as the state’s attempts to conceal the truth….even the most faithful citizens….faced the realization that their leaders were corrupt and that the…..dream was a sham.”

            This is a description of a process of discovery that overtook one nation as its people realized that their elites were imposters and that the ideology upon which the state was based was defective, as defective as the nuclear reactors this nation had built to usher in nirvana. Yup, the nation in question was the USSR and it was the “accident” at Chernobyl that led to their “awakening.”

            In the US, it would seem that the elites have more staying power than those in the USSR. After all, the debacle in Vietnam didn’t awaken the people, 9/11 didn’t awaken the people, the economic collapse of 2008 didn’t awaken the people, a war in Iraq built on lies didn’t awaken the people, the inhuman treatment of POWs and others didn’t awaken the people, and Trump apparently hasn’t awakened the people to the facts that “their leaders [are] corrupt and that the [capitalist] dream [is] a sham.” So what will it take? Perhaps an accident on the scale of Chernobyl would do it. But even then I suspect our elites would find a way to cover over the disaster, the deaths of thousands of people, and contamination of huge areas and prevail, or even be fortified. But until people are awakened, the endless wars will continue, the wealthier will get wealthier as the not-wealthy get less wealthy, mass incarceration will be necessary, and the police state will be strengthened.

            But as the people did awaken in the USSR, it would be unpersuasive to say it can’t happen here.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Imaginary Conversation With Nancy Pelosi About Impeachment

An Imagined Conversation with Nancy Pelosi About Impeachment.
Peter Schultz

“So, Madam Speaker Pelosi, you said that although George Bush lied to get the US to invade Iraq that that would not justify impeaching him. Is that correct?”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“Well, how can you explain that? I mean it seems hard to make sense of that argument given that the Iraq war, waged under false pretenses, destroyed a nation, killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including many, many civilians and, actually, didn’t succeed in establishing anything approaching a genuine democracy in Iraq. Moreover, 4000 plus US soldiers were killed in that war and many more were maimed, some of them permanently.”

“Well, let me put this way. Everything you said is true. But, of course, Bush didn’t know those things would happen when he lied about invading Iraq. He thought he was doing a good thing; his intentions were good, whereas other presidents, like Trump and Nixon, had intentions that were not good. Trump and Nixon were seeking to undermine democracy while Bush was seeking to establish democracy.”

“But doesn’t the fact, which you agree with, that Bush lied, leading to death and destruction on such a huge scale, matter? I mean perhaps he had, as you say, good intentions but do good intentions justify what might be called criminally irresponsible actions? Shouldn’t the focus of an impeachment be on actions rather than intentions? Doesn’t the focus on intentions actually allow presidents to act in what might prove to be criminally irresponsible ways?”

“But Bush was seeking to establish a democracy in Iraq and that indicates to me that he shouldn’t have been impeached.”

“So even though Bush’s war ended up slaughtering Iraqi civilians, destroyed that nation, a nation that posed no threat to the US, he’s to be granted a pass, as it were, because his intentions were good. Is that your argument?”

“Yes, that’s a pretty good summary of my thinking.”

“Well, I must admit I don’t know how to respond to your argument, other than to say that the same argument could be used by a person like bin Laden in defending the attacks on the US on 9/11 and on other dates. His intentions, from his point of view, were good too as he sought to rid what he took to be the ‘holy land’ of invaders who were unbelievers. So doesn’t justice and humanity make demands on us no matter how good our intentions are? Or are we humans free to do whatever it takes to actualize our good intentions?”

“Well, as the old expression has it: ‘You can’t make mayonnaise without breaking some eggs.’ And you cannot change the world without embracing death and destruction, perhaps even of a very high order. I mean, we must be realistic, no?”

“Even if being realistic means that you embrace lying and death and destruction on a very large scale? And if it means that, isn’t that a very dangerous argument to make?”

“Yes, I guess it is a dangerous argument but we shouldn’t shy away from dangerous arguments or dangerous policies. And this is especially true for the US, which is of course ‘the indispensable nation.’ If the world is to be changed, then we Americans are going to save it.”

“OK. I hear you. But what kind of realism is that, thinking, first, that the world can be changed in fundamental ways and, second, that the US is the only nation that can change it for the better? I mean, pardon my expression, but that seems delusional to me. That seems to me to be creating your own ‘reality.’ Isn’t that as fanciful as people like bin Laden thinking they can recreate a far-flung Islamic caliphate?” 

“Well, we have wandered quite far from the question of why George Bush shouldn’t have been impeached, haven’t we?”

“Well, no, I don’t think we have. We have, I think, laid bare the reasons you don’t want to use the impeachment power against politicians like Bush, because such politicians embrace greatness and seek to actualize American greatness. To use impeachment to restrain presidents and their use of power implies a critique of a politics of greatness. Political greatness requires a nation to embrace both good and evil deeds, and great nations are known by and remembered for both kinds of deeds.”

“I don’t know about that. That seems pretty wild to me. Besides, there is a vote upcoming on the floor of the House so I must go. Good talking with you.”

“Likewise, Madam Speaker, and thank you for your time.”

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

"Analysis" of the Afghan War from D.C.

“Analysis” of the Afghan War from D.C.
Peter Schultz

            Below is a link to an article in the Washington Post that purports to be “a secret history of the war” in Afghanistan. Needless to say, it is or should be controversial. I offer some thoughts, briefly, taken from my Facebook post about the article. 

Interesting analysis but unpersuasive. "By expanding the original mission, they said they adopted fatally flawed war fighting strategies based on misguided assumptions about a country they did not understand.
"The result: an unwinnable conflict with no easy way out." 

              Our elites probability knew but certainly didn't care if the war was winnable. Because like Vietnam, fighting the war was enough to serve Bush's and Obama's political goals, domestic and foreign. Whether it was won was and is inconsequential, which is why the US has been fighting there for 19 years.

While there are pictures of injured American troopers, there are none and no mention of the massacres that occurred at al Majalah and Gardez where civilians were gunned down, including 3 women at Gardez at a baby-naming party for a family working with the government and the US. In Gardez soldiers tried to dig the bullets out of the dead women bodies so their acts would avoid detection. It ultimately didn't work but the massacre was defended by General Hugh Shelton: The women were in "the wrong place, at the wrong I am OK with that....I think you write it off as one of those damn acts of war." [Dirty Wars, Scahill, p. 347] Maybe that's how we should think about the attacks of 9/11: Just "one of those damn acts of war!" As the Afghani home owner in Gardez said: "now we think of that Americans themselves are terrorists....They bring terror and destruction." And as the father of one of slain women said: "We call them the American Taliban." [p. 346]

Friday, December 6, 2019

Obama, bin Laden, and Violence

Obama, bin Laden, and Violence
Peter Schultz

            Here are some sentences I ran across recently from Obama’s speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, a speech that was praised by the likes of Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich.

            “For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies….To say force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.”

            Here is my question: Why couldn’t bin Laden say exactly the same things in defense of his embrace of violence? And insofar as this is the case, how would one distinguish Obama’s embrace of violence from bin Laden’s? If you embrace “force” or violence because “evil does exist in the world,” you have justified such violence indiscriminately. Without an appeal that goes beyond “a recognition of history,” beyond “the imperfections of man,” beyond “the limits of reason,” you have not only condoned such violence but you have facilitated it, promoted it, even to the point of condoning a “program of global assassination” and this by either bin Laden or Obama, by jihadists or by the United States.

            The non-violent movements, which Obama dismisses in his speech, rest on considerations of justice. That is, they point toward the question: What does justice require of us when confronting the evil that exists in the world? Obama ignores this question altogether in his embrace of violence and so it is little wonder that his administration embraced a program of global assassinations that necessarily, inevitably committed injustices, including the murder children. By embracing what may be called “political realism” Obama embraces, willy nilly, indiscriminate violence; that is, violence unrestrained by considerations of justice. This seems to me a kind of politics that should be avoided.

Delusions? Not Really Just Politics

Delusions? Not Really. Just Politics
Peter Schultz

            Here is an interesting article by Major Danny Sjursen arguing that our elites delusions are keeping humanity on the road to destruction. “As the U.S. government, as well as far too many Americans, remain fixated on the decidedly minor threat of Islamist “terrorism,” two actual global existential perils persist and are hardly addressed. I’m speaking, of course, of nuclear war and man-made, climate-based catastrophe. Hardly any serious establishment political figure in this country has taken meaningful action on such grave matters, mind you—busy as they are either reflexively attacking or defending Trump’s comparably trivial policies in Ukraine or Syria.”

            This is a persuasive argument although many will dispute that the Islamist terrorism is a “minor threat” or that Trump’s policies in Ukraine and Syria are “trivial.” But here’s what struck me as I read this.

            All of a sudden the lights went on and I saw how the Republicans and Democrats have been colluding to mask the most important issues the nation faces. The Republicans have given us the Trump clown show, as it were, replete with inane tweets, outright lies, and all-around clownishness. While the Democrats have given us an impeachment “drama” that drains almost all the air out of any room and overwhelms any discussion of politics in these United States. In this situation, more important issues like climate change, nuclear weapons, oligarchy, and imperialism disappear, replaced by essentially minor issues like Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Venezuela and Trump’s bribery of Ukrainian officials. So our elites get to avoid these phenomena as issues and the status quo continues essentially unchallenged and is even fortified. And, of course, both factions of our imperialistic oligarchy are fortified as well while the nation suffers.

            It’s sort of like a perfect storm for our oligarchs. Those on “the left” get to ridicule Trump’s clown act, while those on “the right” get to impale those on “the left” on the spears of an impeachment that is bound to fail in the Senate. And all the while the mainstream media is playing its role by hyping Trump’s clown act and the Democrats faux impeachment. Although the nation continues to suffer, especially the not wealthy, it must be said that these oligarchs are quite good at maintaining their power and status. If the results weren’t so bad, you could admire the oligarch’s ability to disguise our reality.

            “Sometimes the light’s all shining on me. Other times I can barely see. Lately it occurs to me: What a long, strange trip it’s been!”