Thursday, September 30, 2010


I am giving a presentation at Auburn High School tomorrow, Oct. 1, 2010 and this is part of what I will be saying. Enjoy!

It is difficult for us to understand the AF and this for several reasons. (1) There are not many AF around any more as they have died out. (2) We are, mostly, the children, the progeny of those we call "Federalists." Hence, to be an AF seems disloyal and we don't like disloyalty. (3) Most importantly: We live in "Federalist place," i.e., a place created by the Federalists and their descendants and so AF'lism seems strange to us, weird or even crazy. When I tell people I am an AF'list.......

NB: the implication here is that between the AF and the Federalists there are two fundamentally different ways of being in the world. And this is hard for us to understand, in large part because of how we have been taught. The Federalists are said to favor strong government. The AF are said to favor weak government. The Federalists are said to favor more government, while the AF are said to favor less government. But there is more to it than that, a lot more.

I will get at it as follows: The basic AF argument is that liberty or republics can only exist in small societies. And underlying this argument are three other arguments, as follows: (1) a voluntary attachment of the people to a government is only feasible in small societies. (2) Genuinely responsible government is only possible in small societies. (3) Small societies produce the kind of citizens that are needed in and by republics. I will review the first one to illustrate where it leads us.

(1) The AF thought that human beings confronted a choice, viz., that governments can rest on voluntariness/consent or force. Large societies are (a) large and (b) diverse and, as a result, they require force to maintain order. Think about the difference between Auburn and Boston or even Worcester. Small places, like Auburn, are "self-enforcing" or "self-policing." I grew up in Metuchen, New Jersey where the police force was, by and large, unnecessary and even some cops were jokes. Moms did fine in Metuchen enforcing our small borough, especially my mom. But large places need the police, that is, those who wear uniforms and carry weapons and are authorized to use them. They, the police, are just like the military in these regards which is of course what they are, a military force.

NB the implication: (a) Large societies are based on force because they need it. (b) Large societies are militarized, it is a "mind-set", a different way of being in the world than non-militarized societies. This mind-set is so pervasive that it is, to us, invisible. We don't even think of the police as a military force, that is, until they use deadly force. (c) Large societies are "war-like." That is, war makes sense there - much more so than at the state and local levels. Michael Dukakis never rode around in a tank when he ran for governor of Massachusetts, as he did when he ran for president trying, vainly, to prove his military prowess.

One argument some AF made went essentially as follows: "Ratify this proposed constitution and you will create a war-like government and a war-like society or people, a people who 'like' war or are attracted to war." Can you think of any reason(s) to think that the AF were correct? Two words come to mind: THE PENTAGON.

Now, let me emphasize how far we have come. (a) The place we live, our Federalist place, is militaristic; at least, it is more militaristic than an AF place would be. (b) We - WE THE PEOPLE - are militaristic, at the very least more militaristic than we would be as an "AF People."

And one of the deeper levels of AF'lism is a critique of war, a rather severe critique of war as essentially politically unhealthy or even obscene. War is especially unhealthy in republics, the AF argued. And this recalls, for me, President Eisenhower's Farewell Address where he warned of "the military-industrial complex," a warning that included the spiritual dangers of a militarized society. I repeat: Eisenhower said this.

Of course, force takes other forms as well, e.g., rule by bureaucracy. The AF also argued that were the Constitution to be ratified there would be swarms of officials roaming through society, compromising the privacy and the liberty of citizens, and issuing and executing rules that were radically uniform. Again, can you conceive of any reason to think that the AF might have been correct? The largest and most powerful part of our government is a humongous bureaucracy, and it is, despite its size, relatively invisible to us because we no longer think about it just as we no longer think about driving our automobiles at 65 miles per hour - or faster - while talking on the phone or, even worse, "texting."

A question is: What does this bureaucratization of society do to us? We get glimmers every so often of what it does to bureaucrats as when, for example, some worker goes "postal," as we say today, not realizing what we are saying or what our speech means. But the AF would have understood this phenomenon and this speech even better than we do because they were alive to issue of a voluntary attachment to government and a government based on force. We have become so inured to this issue that it is all-too-common to think that bureaucrats can evaluate students better than teachers can evaluate students or that bureaucratic measures like standardized tests can measure students better than their teachers can. Or to take a bit different take on this, we think that we can come up with a program, a curriculum, that will stimulate students to new levels of achievement and interest, that we can come up with a curriculum that will breathe new life into those dead white males who have contributed to what we call "Western Civilization." There is life there, I am convinced, but that life cannot be sustained by a program or a curriculum because all programs and curricula are or become routines. And if you want to see a popular presentation of this argument watch either "The Dead Poets' Society" with Robin Williams or "The Emperors' Club" with Kevin Klein. Bureaucracies can do a somewhat decent job distributing license plates but they cannot sustain republics. We have become "clients" rather than "citizens," even in our schools, public and private.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Arrogance and Hubris

Now here is a post from a former student who thinks, as you can tell from the first sentence, that Western Civilization, as he calls it, is clearly superior to the Muslim faith and Islam. He calls himself at times a "cultural imperialist" because he thinks that WE have the right and even the duty to transform the Muslims by "Westernizing" them.

I don't understand at least a couple of things about this.
(1) Where did WE get the authority to undertake this project? I mean, did I miss a meeting or something where "it" was decided that WE have the right to force others to change the way they choose to live? Is this just a throw back to the "divine right of kings" or some other divinely ordained responsibility? For me, foreign policy should be about defense, defending ourselves from the threats posed by others, not, as John Quincy Adams said, "going in search of monsters to destroy."

(2) But also, isn't Islam part of "Western Civilization?" I thought it was. Guess I was wrong.

(3) Even if Islam is wanting in some ways, and even if we exclude it from "Western Civilization" what makes us think that this civilization is so great that it is justified in transforming the rest of the world? To wit: Here are some of the goodies that Western Civilization has given the world: Nuclear weapons and the use of them [only one nation has ever used atomic weapons and it wasn't the Muslims!]; the Holocaust and Nazism and the slaugher 6 million Jews; Marxist Communism and the millions killed as a result of that ideology in the Soviet Union, China, and elsewhere; numerous wars like two World Wars that took millions of lives......And there is more but that is enough for my purposes.

It is like these "cultural imperialists" have taken leave of their senses in that they think some of the examples mentioned above, Nazism and Communism and World Wars, as ABERRATIONS. That is, they conveniently compartmentalize these phenomena and as a result think that, hell, those weren't part and parcel of Western Civilization, that they did not arise out of Western Civilization but must have been the result of some alien forces beamed down onto earth which were, as in the movie, The War of the Worlds, defeated by the forces of "Western Civilization." Nice try but it doesn't ring true. Nazism, Communism, World Wars, nuclear and other inhumane bombings [like the fire bombing of Dresden or of Tokyo] are all the "fruit" of "Western Civilization - and not the Muslim part either.

"I don’t think it’s hubris or arrogance. If there’s a superiority complex involved, it’s because we are objectively superior. Now there are two things at work when I say “WE” are superior.
1) Our Western values: Free inquiry and valuing of the individual. These are worth risking your life to protect. These are superior.
2) Capitalist realities: this is where the greed and imperialism come in. We don’t need to be greedy. We don’t need to be imperialistic. We could moderate our economic system into a mixed system: Keynesian economics where the government greases economic gears. If we exported mixed economy throughout the globe—at least made it available, it would improve many lives and has.
I would say it is in fact a matter of self-defense. It wouldn’t be important to Westernize Muslims in foreign lands if we never made contact. Realistically, it's necessary to make sure they are not a threat to us. (We’ve proven that all-out war is not a viable option for making sure…) Now I would combine a "Hitchens" view--and say the Islamic threat is somewhat inherent to its theology and a "Chomskyite" view--and say that the Islamic threat is inescapably of our own doing/ regional meddling. So as a rational political actor, I want to make sure the Taliban and Al Qaeda do not pose a threat to me by being dethatched. You stay in your world, I’ll stay in mine. Unfortunately with globalization, that’s not an option: contact between the two “civilizations” is inevitable.
So, there are only so many ways to deal with the inevitable “Islamic-Western nexus”. "Westernizing" is certainly one option. Chomsky would say this is cultural hegemony, but I'm okay with that, it’s FAR better than Islamic hegemony, or even a constant Islamic threat.
It’s not a neo-con thing. It’s been our policy since at least the end of WWII. We gave volatile non-aligned nations economic incentives to industrialize and modernize. In the industry, we call it “neo-liberal institutionalism” (which is different from neoliberal economics).
It’s helped to raze the land of Islamic superstition while help to modernize and develop the second and third world.
When I say Westernize Muslims, I mean domestically. We can’t have citizens of the United States supporting fatwahs against authors who “defame the name of Muhammad.” This is a constitutional issue. We can’t have newspapers afraid to publish cartoons that might offend people. Questions of poor taste aside, the freedom of speech is at odds with Islam.
As for the international community, I really believe in the principles of Trotskyism and the Socialist International: to help develop viable secular socialist communities. This can’t happen when a woman who has loosened her hijab has acid thrown at her face…..or when books are banned because they defame Allah……. Or when countries become anti-democratic overnight.
I am really put off by Malcolm X’s Islamic beliefs because it progresses an inimical narrative: that blacks in the US can’t do anything collectively without first inquiring with God. Blacks cannot be rational. Despite all the gritty work done by the Black Panthers and the US communist party for the Black community, their national heroes are Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Good grief.
As for the absence of racism in Islam: sure. But there’s plenty of petty tribal hatreds to take its place."

Friday, September 3, 2010


Hey, and this said without any morbidity at all, although many will not interpret it that way: What is the point of living until you need "assisted living?" I mean, come on, why not go "out" while you can under your own power so to speak? Is the goal to live as many days as we can, regardless of what those days consist of? This seems like such a poverty stricken notion to me.....

I am currently healthy, probably healthier than I have been in some years thanks to a quadruple bypass last December. So this is not now about me but, of course, it is about me and you and everyone else. I am looking forward to at least a few more years of good living but then, who knows? I hope when the time comes I will be able to say "Goodbye" on my own terms.....Have a party, drink a little rum or scotch, dance a bit, and then say, "Hey, it's been real. Now it is time for me to go."

Well, I wrote it so you can hold me to it when the time comes. I will probably want to watch one more baseball game, one more golf match, one more concert, just like everyone else. But then, on the other hand, who knows? I only hope that this musing is not evidence that my unconscious knows something my conscious doesn't!!! "Wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then," to quote Pete Seeger..........