Monday, September 13, 2021

Grooming Bin Laden

 

Grooming Bin Laden

Peter Schultz

 

            The title of the book is Losing Bin Laden: How Bill Clinton’s Failures Unleashed Global Terror. It’s an interesting book especially if you like grinding axes and hacking away at Bill Clinton. Richard Miniter, the author, certainly likes doing that.

 

            Here’s a title that would make a better book: Grooming Bin Laden: How Bill Clinton Turned Bin Laden Into A Mastermind Terrorist.

 

            What often goes unnoticed about US foreign policy is that it is conducted in ways that create and are intended to create enemies, enemies that can be used to justify large scale foreign policy adventures during which US power can be projected throughout the world.

Regarding bin Laden, for example, when Clinton became president, he, bin Laden, was not widely known. He quickly became know when his organization bombed two modern hotels in Aden, Yemen. Miniter argues that if Clinton had acted boldly then against bin Laden, the global war on terror would never have occurred.

 

            Of course, this assumes that Clinton – and others – didn’t want the global war on terror to happen. However, if Clinton and other US imperialists wanted a global war on terror that would allow them to fortify and extend the US’s national security state, as it is called, then it would make more to sense not to take out bin Laden. It would make more sense to groom him; that is, to remake him into a mastermind terrorist capable of taking tall buildings down with a couple of airplanes, almost like Superman who could leap tall buildings in a single bound. To justify imperialism, enemies are essential and to justify worldwide imperialism enemies with almost mythical powers are needed. Hence, the need to groom bin Laden, who once was nothing more than an accountant.

 

            For a little perspective, the US went out of its way to create enemies in Vietnam, enemies that had sought the US’s help in undoing the French imperialism there. Then, after refusing to sign the Geneva agreement that was intended to reunite Vietnam after elections, and encouraging the southerners not to hold those elections, the US moved millions of northern, largely Catholic Vietnamese south into the Mekong Delta where the residents were already struggling economically. Needless to say, this led to conflict which the US labeled communist inspired so it could create the conditions it needed to “force” the US to protect what it called “South Vietnam.”

 

            There are other examples of such activity on the part of the United States, for example, in Korea. So it is not beyond belief that Bill Clinton, et. al., were grooming bin Laden to serve as the poster boy for terrorism that would be labeled “an existential threat” to the US. And given the ambiguities surrounding the attacks of 9/11, one has to wonder whether those attacks, even if not facilitated by the US, weren’t seen as a gift to US imperialists, who could proclaim, over and over, that now “everything is different.”

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Machiavelli, Modern Realism, and Extremism

 

Machiavelli, Modern Realism, and Extremism

Peter Schultz

 

            In his book, Natural Right and History, Strauss asserts that “Machiavelli takes his bearings not so much from how men live as by the extreme case.” To illustrate for students what Machiavelli meant when he argued that it is so far from how men live to how they ought to live, I would use the Oedipus complex, viz., that what looks like love is actually a desire to kill one’s father and sleep with one’s mother. That is, what looks like love is actually incest, even murderous incest.

 

            It would appear that my explanatory example was unknowingly consistent with what Strauss says here. Obviously, Oedipus’s case was an extreme case. And, yet, Freud and others took this extreme case and made it seem normal, that is, descriptive of all human beings. But is it normal? Or is it not just extreme – that is, aberrational – behavior? Why do we think it describes all human beings? Because we too are modern realists.

 

            We are then, as modern realists, guided not so much by how human beings actually live but by extreme cases, which we take to be normal. In our politics, we take extreme cases as normal, thereby taking our bearings from those extreme cases, e.g., 9/11, 1/6, Pearl Harbor, Hitler and the Holocaust, and acting accordingly. Is it any wonder then that our politics is characterized by extremes, slavery, genocide, constant wars, humongous bureaucracies, including what Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex, imperialistic adventures, etc., etc., etc. No, it isn’t wonderful that we often, as Billy Joel sang, “go to extremes.”

Burke, Modernity, and Conservative Extremism

 

Burke, Modernity, and Conservative Extremism

Peter Schultz

 

            In his book, Natural Right and History, Leo Strauss argues that “Burke was satisfied that the French Revolution was thoroughly evil. He condemned it as strongly and as unqualifiedly as we today condemn the Communist revolution.” [p. 317] Could it be that “we” and Burke make the same mistake? Perhaps.

 

            Burke embraced the basis of modern political philosophy, viz., that human beings are radically malleable, that what we call “human nature” is the result of centuries of “development,” or of accidents that occurred in the course of human history. Hence, it is possible, Burke thought, that the French Revolution could radically change humans and the human condition because humans are radically malleable. As we would say today, the French Revolution represented “an existential threat.”

 

            But what if humans aren’t radically malleable? What if we humans have a nature, that that nature is in part political, and that that nature leads humans to resist tyranny or attempts to radically remake them? If looked at through this lens, what would the French Revolution look like? Would it look like an existential threat or just another in a long line of attempts to tyrannize over human beings, an attempt that is, inevitably, bound to fail? Of course, it would still look horrible under the latter lens but that its horror was bound to end as it came into increasing opposition to human nature.

 

            So, because “we,” like Burke, embrace the arguments of modern political philosophers like Rousseau, “we” see the Communist revolution as an existential threat to our way of life. It must be opposed by any means necessary so that it doesn’t overwhelm the way we are now. And this threat is not only real but “a clear and present danger” because the way we are now is, in reality, accidental. That is, the way we are now is the result of our history and the accidents we met as that history unfolded. The way we are now is not a reflection of any nature we might think we possess. Conversely, as Strauss puts it, Burke “regarded it as possible that the French Revolution, which conducted ‘a war against all sects and all religions,’ might be victorious and thus that the revolutionary state might exist ‘as a nuisance on earth for several hundred years,’” [317-18] which is what I was taught about the Communist revolution in college.

 

            Burke’s conservativism, like ours, is bottomed on, is as much a part of “modernity” as those endorsing the French Revolution. And, in fact, it is as extreme as the forces behind the French Revolution. It feeds the forces of imperialism insofar as the world appears as being malleable, as being controllable, as being susceptible to radical change if enough power is applied. After all, referring to the situation today, in the modern dispensation, Islam is just as much the result of accidents as Burke’s vaunted British constitution or its monarchy.  Islam is not the result of the “flourishing of human nature,” as it were, drawing its strength from its attempts to satisfy natural human desires. So, it too may be, should be changed, even undermined, by the appropriate applications of power and persuasion. The battle for their hearts and minds can and should be won.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Why Marseilles in "Stillwater"

 

Why Marseilles in “Stillwater”

Peter Schultz

 

            The setting for Matt Damon’s movie, “Stillwater,” is Marseilles, France, where a young American woman is in prison for a crime she claims she did not commit. Matt Damon plays the woman’s father, who is seeking to get his daughter released after five years in prison. There will be no spoilers herein but the setting of Marseilles is an interesting one in light of its history during and after WW II.

 

            “In 1947, Marseille was the main trading port of the French colonial empire and it had a Pro-Soviet mayor, Jean Christofol, who was backed by the labour unions for longshoremen, transportation workers, and dockworkers. In the coming Cold War, both the center-left French government and the US tried to fight Soviet influence in Marseille while occasionally employing illegal means to further their goal: the Guerini gang was employed to disrupt union and electoral gatherings, back strikebreakers and support US-funded anti-Soviet labor unions.

“From the 1950s to the 1960s, the Guerini brother were exempt from prosecution in Marseille. The Guerini brothers trafficked opium derivatives illegally imported from French Indochina using the services of the Messageries Maritimes, a French merchant shipping company.

“From the 1960s to the early 1970s the major Corsican gangs called Union Corse by American authorities organized the French Connection, a heroin trade between France and the United States.”

            In other words, the US and Gaullist France used the Corsican mafia to remove communists or Soviet sympathizers from power, and replace them with the Corsican mafia after WW II. And in return for getting rid of the communists, who had been active resistance fighters against the Nazis during WW II, the Corsican mafia was given free reign to peddle their drugs and engage in other criminal activities.

            When you see the movie or if you have already seen the movie, you will appreciate how this history colors the actions of Matt Damon, creating a context in which an angry American seeking justice in Marseilles might appear as hypocritical, and even arrogant to the point of blindness about his situation. Americans seem to think that they can move through the world, allegedly seeking justice and freedom, without having to account for their past or present injustices and viciousness. As Gore Vidal use to say, “We live in the United States of Amnesia.” And that seems to be the case.

 

Monday, August 23, 2021

The Biden Presidency: High Hopes

 

The Biden Presidency: High Hopes

Peter Schultz

 

            I have high hopes about the Biden presidency because it could prove to be revelatory. That is, as Biden’s presidency flounders about, as it will no doubt do absent another 9/11 or 1/6, it might become obvious that the most important problem isn’t this or that presidency but the presidency itself.

 

            That is, it should become obvious that it is the presidency, the office itself, that has led to US imperialism, to the desire, shared by both conservatives and liberals, to regain or remake American greatness by imposing America’s will on the world. The presidency is an office that rewards will rather than deliberation, and it was intended as such. We expect our presidents to be “strong,” to act, much more than we expect them to be deliberative. Deliberation and execution don’t go together very well, while strength and action seem almost to define an executive power like the presidency. So, it is the presidency that allows politicians to take for granted that the US should seek to impose its will on the world, to seek and achieve greatness. And it has been this pursuit of greatness that has undermined the American republic, replacing It with an imperialistically inclined national security state.

 

            This aspect of the presidency, this danger, was known and commented on when the Constitution was being debated in 1787-1788. Patrick Henry claimed in the Virginia ratifying convention that the proposed constitution “had an awful squinting;” that is, it squinted in the direction of monarchy. And that meant it squinted in the direction of creating “a great and mighty empire” where there must be “an army, and a navy, and a number of things….” [Storing, 31] The proposed constitution looked to make the United States “respectable as a nation abroad, and rich as individuals at home” in order to achieve “the grandeur and importance of America until time shall be no more.” [30-31] As a result, the United States would “imitate…those nations who have gone from a simple to a splendid government….Some way or other we must be a great and mighty empire….”

 

            The presidency would sit at the center of this great and mighty empire, both as its chief executive and as its commander in chief. Presidents could clothe themselves in military attire and ride at the head of the army, while nursing “dangerous dreams of national glory.” And what better way to gain national glory than by waging war, especially waging war endlessly. An Anti-Federalist argued that the happiness of the people depended more on the proper conduct of local affairs than on “all that glory and respect which nations achieve by the most brilliant military achievements.” Such achievements would shower the president with glory but would do little to secure the happiness of the people. As Patrick Henry said: “When the American spirit was in its youth, the language of America was different: Liberty, Sir, was then the primary object.” Americans should not “inquire…how you are to become a great and powerful empire, but how your liberties can be secured.”

 

            That the presidency was seen as potentially dangerous impacted how the presidency was constructed after the Constitution had been ratified and implemented. Washington saw the dangers, as is evident from his Farewell Address and his attempt, successful for a long time, to establish term limits for the presidency. He also refused to veto legislation unless he thought it was unconstitutional, deferring to the legislature in the making of laws. And as Hamilton argued in his Pacificus papers, the president was responsible for keeping the nation out of wars until they had been declared by the Congress. It was the president’s job to preserve the peace, while only the legislature could create a state of war. Jefferson ratified presidential term limits, as did every president until FDR ran and won a third term. And Jefferson helped create the process of congressional caucuses nominating presidential candidates, thereby modifying presidential independence. Some have argued that the creation of national nominating conventions was motivated by a desire to channel presidential ambitions in ways that would tie presidents to party platforms while advancing mediocre rather than meteoric candidates. Great men were not wanted in the presidency insofar as such men sought the glory that comes from undertaking great political projects like freeing slaves or enslaving freeman, as Lincoln put it in speech on “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions.”

 

            So, perhaps it is time and a good opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with the dangers of presidential power insofar as Biden has promised to seek normalcy after the disruptive Trump presidency. In the Trump presidency, as Biden seems to sense, one could see the dangers of presidential power as it has come to be on display. But those dangers weren’t due simply to Trump. They were and are also due to the presidency itself as an office that seems to beg for willful occupants, those who want to act without the deliberation needed to act wisely.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Reform Politics v. Care Politics

 

Reform Politics v. Care Politics

Peter Schultz

 

            I ran across these words in Christopher Lasch’s book The New Radicalism in America, in discussing Randolph Bourne: “If politics is defined as the impulse to reform society, as the tendency to elevate ideas into programs, then it is clear that the political impulse was by no means dead.” [p. 90]

 

            For some inexplicable reason the words “reform society” hit me and I began to wonder, despite the fact that these words and this view of politics is very common, whether this is the only or the best description of politics. What would happen if politics were to be defined as “building communities” rather than “reforming society?” Which is or should be the essence of politics and what’s implied by these different conceptions of politics?

 

            To “re-form” a society implies that its existing form is wanting, even that it needs to be “un-formed” first, and then reconstructed using “materials” not inherently present. For example, in “re-forming” a society, the emphasis is on “elevat[ing] ideas into programs;” that is, programs not natural or pre-existing, bureaucratic programs, programs administered by the government. On the other hand, communities require care or nurturing, which is a very different thing than creating and administering programs. You could say, for example, that Socrates was caring for, nurturing Athens and Athenians and was not interested in creating programs. Programs are, by and large, an alternative to caring or nurturing.

 

            For example, public schools are in the business of “re-forming” youth and are not, officially, caring or nurturing youth. The youth need to be “re-formed” because in their natural state they are unfit for, do not fit into society. So, as is often said, education is “socialization.” “Re-forming” society or youth implies that naturally, in their original condition, both societies and human beings are deficient in the sense of lacking things they cannot supply. And so caring and nurturing are of only marginal importance when it comes to “reforming” society. “Socialization” replaces caring and nurturing as the key to re-forming societies.

 

            On the other hand, communities are defined by caring and nurturing. Caring and nurturing are what make a community a community. Without caring and nurturing, there cannot be community. To say that politics should be about creating and maintaining communities is to say that the most important political tasks are caring and nurturing, which also implies that humans, in their original condition, have the potential to care and nurture other human beings. It may even be said, if you look at their behavior, that humans want to care and nurture others and are fulfilled when they do so. This is what Aristotle meant when he wrote that humans are “political animals,” they want to live in communities.

 

            So, reform politics and caring politics are very different phenomena, and they lead in very different directions. As noted above, it may be said that Socrates engaged in politics because he cared for Athens and Athenians, as illustrated in Plato’s dialogues and quite clearly in the Crito, where Socrates, using bad arguments, reconciles his friend Crito to his, Socrates’, impending death because Socrates knows that both Crito and Athens will be better off if Crito is reconciled in this way. Despite being treated unjustly by Athens and some Athenians, Socrates treats both Athens and Crito justly while demonstrating his caring for and nurturing of both Athens and Crito. So, if Socrates was a revolutionary, as he was, then he was a caring and nurturing one and this impacted decisively on his behavior.

 

            It seems to me that reform politics ends up, willy nilly, being or becoming militant. Re-forming society requires defeating the opponents of reform; that is, these dissidents are seen as unfit for the re-formed society. These dissidents become “enemies of the state” and should be dealt with accordingly, which of course would not involve caring or nurturing them. Re-formed societies must have “executive powers,” that is, the power to execute their programs and their enemies. Re-formed societies are militant through and through.

 

            It might also be the case that re-formed societies embrace, sooner or later, a transformational politics. That is, in their efforts to create re-formed societies, the reformers discover the need to embrace totalitarianism or the “extension of the political into the most intimate areas of existence.” [Lasch, p. 90] “….[I]f by politics one refers to the traditional business of government and statecraft, taxes, tariffs, and treaties,” then politics in the reformed society is “almost immaterial.” [90] Issues such as childhood, education, language, and sex are politicized and, before long, “culture wars” replace the more traditional political battles over taxes, tariffs, and treaties. In the US, what is rarely commented on is the fact that both sides in these culture wars are seeking to transform or “re-form” American society. Both sides are, willy nilly, totalitarian and for that to succeed they need “transformational leaders,” leaders with “visions.” So, the success of reformed politics turns on the existence of visionaries who possess a “will to power.” And needless to say, such visionaries are uninterested in, even opposed to caring and nurturing. It is relatively easy to see that much could go wrong.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

The Modern Project: Fanaticism Disguised as Realism

The Modern Project: Fanaticism Disguised As Realism

Peter Schultz

 

            In an essay entitled “The Heavenly City of Business,” Eugene McCarraher provides an illustration of the fanaticism that is buried in the modern project. Quoting New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman:

 

“For globalization to work, America can’t be afraid to act like the almighty superpower it is. The hidden hand will not work with a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell-Douglas, the designer of the F-15, and the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technology is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.” [p. 186 in The Short American Century, ed. by Andrew Bacevich]

 

            As McCarraher goes on, calling attention to “the religiosity” of Friedman’s language, that “Friedman salts his edict in unmistakably religious language.“ Thus, “…we glimpse an eschatological vision;….the commodity as sacramental token, material conveying the essence of the American spirit; understand corporate expansion culminating in judgment rendered and punishment administered.” [p. 188]

 

            There is, it seems to me, a fanaticism buried deep within the modern project or, it might be said, lying at the very heart of the modern project. As McCarraher points out, “Eschatology is always a narrative for a just and beloved community, ample with delight, innocent of violence, and complete and unceasing fulfillment. We long, as Augustine put it, for a ‘heavenly city’” but end up with “facsimiles of heaven that sometimes achieve imperial dimensions.” [188] And, of course, as Friedman’s argument illustrates, these facsimiles are only made possible and maintained by violence. And this fanaticism has been embedded in America’s history for a long, long time.

 

“…the American drive for global domination was not some fall from a state of republican grace that occurred after 1945. The roots of the modern American Century lie in an indomitable conviction, first articulated in Puritan theology, that business success was a sign of God’s providence and a token benediction for mastery over others.” [189]

 

            It has been argued persuasively that the moderns, that is, Machiavelli and those who have followed him, “lowered the standards,” that is, the ends sought in order to guarantee success. Hence, these moderns have been labeled “realists,” who, unlike the “ancients” such as Plato and Aristotle, rejected “idealism.” As Machiavelli wrote in The Prince, he was not interested in imaginary republics but was, rather, interested in “the effectual truth.” He was interested in “what works,” and was unconcerned with imagining the best political order.

 

            If, however, in place of saying the moderns have lowered the standards we say that they politicized the standards, a different picture emerges. By politicizing the standards I mean they sought success, worldly success consisting of security, prosperity, some liberty, and generally “the amelioration of the human condition” in this world. To succeed in this fashion, the most important ingredients are power, overwhelming power, and a willingness and ability to use it, even in what Machiavelli described as “inhumanly cruel” ways. Or as Hamilton said in the Federalist, “secrecy, energy, and dispatch” are the key ingredients in any government worthy of the name.

 

            But it seems that in order to use such power in such ways, it is necessary to embrace the idea that the results will be worth it. That is, it is necessary for those with the power and those who have legitimized its use to believe that the results will be a transformed world, a world that is a “just and beloved community, ample with delight, innocent of violence, and complete and unceasing in fulfillment.” That is, it is necessary for those with the power and those legitimizing its use to believe that they can create heavenly cities here on earth. And, of course, once that is believed, then those who stand in the way of such a world must be dominated or even exterminated.