Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Realists" v. "Idealists"

Realists versus Idealists
P. Schultz
February 28, 2012

This just occurred to me as I was responding to a former student who labeled himself a “youthful idealist” as he objects to our politics today as being unbalanced. What occurred to me was this question: Why do we call those who play fast and loose with power and the Constitution “realists?” I mean, after all, these “realists” came to grief in Vietnam, in Cuba, in Iran, in Iraq, and now in Afghanistan, as well as in at least several examples of domestic policies, such as the war on drugs, the war on crime, the war on terror, and the war on poverty. If these guys keep proposing policies that don’t work – and I haven’t even mentioned the economy above – why do we call them “realists?” This would be like calling those humans who think they can fly and therefore jump off buildings “realists.” This does not make a lot of sense.

I believe this goes back to what George Orwell saw as a characteristic delusion on modern politicians and political thinkers, viz., their embrace, even obsession with power. They make the mistake of assuming that whither things are tending, that the current alignment of forces, of power will continue into the future, has to continue into the future. So, if the United States decides to exert its power in Vietnam or Iraq or Afghanistan, it will prevail because that is the way “the wind is blowing.” Besides, we have all these “theories,” like counterinsurgency theory, that “prove” that certain forms of power will work – even though they haven’t and they don’t.

That they don’t work doesn’t deter these “thinkers” and “actors” because they can always come up with an explanation for why their exertions of power failed. They make studies, a lot of studies, to show that if only we had done “A” or if only we had not done “B”, our exertions of power would have worked. But they never raise the question: What are the limitations of power?

And despite all of this we persist in calling these people “realists.” It really is quite mad.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Kennedy, Religion and Politics

Kennedy, Religions and Politics
February 27, 2012
P. Schultz

Below is a quote from a speech John F. Kennedy gave while running for the presidency in 1960, on September 12th to be exact. Recently, Rick Santorum has come under fire for criticizing JFK’s views on the separation of church and state, that is, the separation of religion and politics. In one fact check column, it was argued that Santorum attributed things to Kennedy that he did not say. But regardless of the details or the words Kennedy said, it is clear from the following that Kennedy had a very different view of the separation of church and state than Santorum and other “conservatives” today.

Kennedy, Sept. 12, 1960: I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the president — should he be Catholic — how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him.

Note well that Kennedy said that he favored an America where “no church or church school is granted any public funds….” There are not too many today who would favor such an arrangement as this. And note he also argued that he preferred an America where priests did not tell presidents how to act or, it seems analogous, tell parishioners how to vote. And he did say that the separation should “absolute.”

So, perhaps Santorum did not quite get Kennedy right, but he and Kennedy are definitely not “on the same page” when it comes to their respective understandings of the separation of church and state.

One provision in the Constitution that is too often overlooked: "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." So, from the viewpoint of the Constitution, religion is irrelevant when it comes to being qualified to hold any office or trust "under the United States." Or to put this a bit differently: When it comes to exercising official power in the United States, one's religion, including whether one is religious or not, is irrelevant.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Hypocrisy Supreme

Hypocrisy Supreme
P. Schultz
February 24, 2012

The hypocrisy of “freedom loving” “conservatives” is all-too-evident in Virginia these days. And in Virginia, Martin Luther King Day is officially known as “Lee, Jackson, King Day”! I kid you not.

“The Daily Show” host [Jon Stewart] discussed that aspect of the legislation before the General Assembly — complete with an image of the ultrasound probe — then ran audio, video and newspaper clips of ultrasound bill supporters speaking out against other forms of perceived government intrusion.

Full-body pat-downs at airports?

“I think that’s probably over the line with regard to peoples’ concerns about privacy and their civil liberties,” said Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), who in recent days has backed off his unconditional support of the ultrasound bill.

Requiring school-age girls to get immunized against a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer?

“Government intrusion into health care,” said Del. Kathy J. Byron (R-Lynchburg).

Federal healthcare legislation?

“Forcible economic rape,” said Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William).

Monday, February 20, 2012

Specialization and Politics

Just a really good quote from Wendell Berry. As with Plato, the state of a community reflects the state of the soul. This is what the "realists" ignore.
“The disease of the modern character is specialization. Looked at from the standpoint of the social system, the aim of specialization may seem desirable enough. The aim is to see that the responsibilities of government, law, medicine, engineering, agriculture, education, etc., are given into the hands of the most skilled, best prepared people. The difficulties do not appear until we look at specialization from the opposite standpoint – that of individual persons. We then begin to see the grotesquery – indeed, the impossibility – of an idea of community wholeness that divorces itself from any idea of personal wholeness.” Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America, p. 19.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Farcical Politics, Continued

Farcical Politics, Continued
P. Schultz
February 18, 2012

Discussion continued of the state of our politics today. Good discussion. Or so it seems to me.

Former student:

“well, i would also argue that the media are complicit in this, too. i have not yet seen a single reporter ask a serious question to a candidate. for example: contraception. george stephanopoulos, during one debate, spent a good fifteen minutes on that same topic. or this ever-present question: if you are elected president, what will it feel like? what does it mean to you?

“i disagree with your use of the term oligarchy, but, for whatever reason, people do not seem willing to engage in serious issues.

“i would say that we no longer have to fear the schoolmaster state. it has already arrived.”

My response:

Oh, to the contrary: People are prepared to discuss important issues and vote on them. It is the oligarchy that represses them. Ever heard of the Tea Party. Or Occupy Wall Street. However misdirected their anger might be, they realize they are being hosed by the few wealthy, the oligarchy. And other people, often the young, are prepared to listen to Ron Paul and his critique of our imperialism. And I have discovered that almost anyone who reads Howard Zinn's book A People's History of the U.S., likes it, provided of course they have not been "educated" by the likes of Mahoney/Dobski.

But I also wonder why you worry about what you call "the schoolmaster state" when we are bombing and killing people throughout the world in order to "project our power abroad" as "the realists" like to say? You know, Jon, Aristotle's political classification is much better, more illuminating than such categories as "schoolmaster state." And I have to say if you are unwilling to use the word "oligarchy" than you have as little to contribute to a useful discussion of our political situation as Peggy Noonan, and she contributes very little.

Finally, of course the media is complicit in this. The media merely serves the oligarchy, because after all it is the wealthy few who control it, just as they control the political process as well - constitutionalized by Supreme Court in Citizens United, which is another issue the people are willing to take on while the establishment is not. Is either party criticizing this decision? The only one in the media who is dealing with this is Colbert! Obama did criticize it once, a high profile once, but of course has done nothing since about it and rarely, if ever, talks about it.

Given the overwhelming power of the wealthy few, how can you not say this is an oligarchy?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Farcical Politics v. Real Politics

Farcical Politics v. Real Politics
P. Schultz
February 17, 2012

“But the reason it is a farce is not because of "negative ads" or any other technique. The reason it is a farce is because we don't have two parties but only one, the oligarchy, and so they are forced to fabricate differences to make it seem like there are two parties. Peggy Noonan knows nothing about politics, that is, real politics and as a result is utterly unable to make any contribution to understanding our situation. This column is an illustration of this: Stephen D. and Abe did not engage in "negativity" because they had real issues to debate and were willing to debate them. Just like the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. Debate is farcical when it is pretend debate, which is what we have now. No one, with perhaps the exception of Ron Paul, is raising any issue of fundamental importance. I mean, come on: Mitt Romney's religion is an issue? It is not a real issue. And contraception is a real issue? I don't think so. It is all smoke and mirrors and, hence, farcical.”

This is my response to a former student who sent me a column by Peggy Noonan in which she concocted a negative ad on behalf of Stephen Douglas about Abe Lincoln. The student involved saw that our presidential campaigns are farcical, but like Noonan seemed to want to attribute this to certain techniques, like “negative ads.” My argument is that our politics is farcical not because of negative ads but because no one involved in our political process is willing to debate real issues, as Douglas and Lincoln were willing to do. Hence, because no one wants to debate the real issue, which is of course the issue of oligarchy versus republic, our political discourse is farcical, focusing on such non-issues as gay marriage [already settled] or contraception [when only the smallest minority practices non-contraception] or Romney’s religion [you’re upset he’s a Mormon? Really?]. There is no debate over Israel’s pending attack on Iran or on our policy in Afghanistan or on anything else of significance. Or, to put it differently, when there is actually only one political party, the oligarchic party, then it is necessary to formulate phony issues, and the result is farce. And, as is usual in politics, farce is often followed by tragedy. And, no doubt, if tragedy ensues, we will shake our heads and wonder: WTF?  

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What I Learned in School Today

What I Learned in School Today
P. Schultz
February 16, 2012

Actually, I learned these things yesterday but this is a nicer title.

First, I learned that a goodly number of young Americans, and probably older Americans, don’t care if we go to war with Iran or if we support a war against Iran by, say, Israel. What can be said of this? Not so much. But I shouldn’t be surprised insofar as our society has become so militarized or more militarized. These youths don’t really know an alternative and, of course, have been propagandized since 9/11 to think of the U.S. as a victim nation.

Second, as I lectured on our institutions, viz., the Congress, the executive, and the courts, it struck me with particular force how central LAW is to our way of being in the world. I had noticed this before but not with the same clarity and I found myself speaking about the differences between “outlaws” and “criminals,” how the latter don’t represent a grave threat to the nation because, as odd as it sounds, criminals operate within the law, unlike outlaws. Criminals break the law but outlaws live outside the law; you might even say outlaws reject the legitimacy of the laws and perhaps of law itself.

A clear example of someone who was both a criminal and an outlaw was Malcolm X. As Malcolm Little, he was a small time criminal, selling some drugs, committing burglaries and other felonies, for which he eventually went to prison. There he became a Black Muslim – and later a Muslim – and he became an outlaw. And, of course, even though he no longer did drugs or committed crimes, Malcolm was deemed – and in fact was – more dangerous in his later manifestation than his earlier one. He was no longer a criminal, had become an outlaw, and hence was now more dangerous than previously. His death should come as no surprise to anyone; it did not surprise him. [I also argued that Martin Luther King, Jr. was on his way to becoming an outlaw when he was assassinated. Not all protest is of the outlaw variety and many outlaws live lives without actually protesting. Nothing especially dangerous about protests, at least about most protests.]

Finally, I tried to demonstrate to the classes how laws are overrated in their importance. Using the example of Columbine, which they remembered, I used the examples of the calls for more gun laws after Columbine and that of a working class mother in Boston who said on the news: “If my kid is building a bomb in my garage, I know about it.” My students recognized this latter activity as parenting and they knew that there will never be, can never be a law to replace parenting.

Ah yes, laws! Not quite as important as we have been taught.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Sting

The Sting
P. Schultz       
February 11, 2012

Here’s the set-up. It is in two parts.

First part: No matter if Romney or Santorum gets the nomination, the Republicans will lose. The “conservatives” won’t support Romney because he is not “conservative enough for them and they will feel betrayed by the failure to nominate Santorum. But Santorum cannot carry enough “moderates” to win and many Romney supporters will not support Santorum with sufficient intensity or at all.

Second part: When the Republicans lose to Obama, the “conservatives,” especially those of Tea Party credentials, will get the blame because (a) they did not support Romney with sufficient intensity or (b) because they are the reason Santorum got the nomination.

So, all Republicans like Boehner have to do is to sit back and watch the debates and the primaries, enjoying the fight which they know is futile for those they want to “purge” from the party or, at the very least, “discipline” in what they call “the art of politics.” And besides, what is so bad about Obama from an establishment Republican point of view? And by keeping him in power for another four years, they can campaign against him and his “socialism,” thereby setting up what will be a closely fought election in 2016 when the Tea Party and other such “conservatives” will hardly be a force to be reckoned with.

Further, this is fine with the – establishment - Democrats as they get another four years of Obama and will have a decent chance of prevailing again in 2016. And all the time until then Obama will perpetuate the prevailing power arrangement and revive the failed economic system to keep it on life support for a bit longer.

Machiavelli wrote a play, La Mandragola , where through the use of fraud everyone satisfies their desires, including adultery.  

One of the main themes in the comedy is the use of fraud, as none of the characters' objectives could be accomplished without it. Machiavelli makes it clear that fraud is acceptable, so long as it furthers a worthwhile cause. In Mandragola, almost every character uses fraud.”

This analysis depends upon deeming adultery “a worthwhile cause” as the play revolves around the efforts of a young man to sleep with and seduce the beautiful wife of an old man, with the help of a friar and the wife’s mother! He succeeds.

“The end of the play is a happy ending, as all characters are satisfied with the
new arrangement: Callimaco has the object of his desire whenever he wants,
Ligurio has a place to stay and eat, Nicia will no doubt have an heir, Lucrezia
has a new love, and Timoteo has his money and the satisfaction of knowing that
he outsmarted everyone else. The fact that all this deception has turned into a
happy, peaceful state shows an interesting view of Machiavelli's world. This
says that fraud is acceptable when it attains positive ends. In fact, as long as
the results are pleasing to someone, it appears that fraud is a valid means of
attaining them. As the friar remarks, "in all things one must look to the

NB: “all the characters are satisfied” but none is virtuous. Quite opposite in fact, even the friar. “A happy, peaceful state” is possible on the basis of fraud, a result and a means that seems to describe our current situation quite well. But then it is questionable whether the happiness and peace we seem to have is genuine and durable. My suspicion is that it is not.  

Friday, February 10, 2012

Silent State

“Silent State
The Campaign Against Whistleblowers in Washington
By Peter Van Buren

“On January 23rd, the Obama administration charged former CIA officer John Kiriakou under the Espionage Act for disclosing classified information to journalists about the waterboarding of al-Qaeda suspects. His is just the latest prosecution in an unprecedented assault on government whistleblowers and leakers of every sort.

“Kiriakou’s plight will clearly be but one more battle in a broader war to ensure that government actions and sunshine policies don’t go together. By now, there can be little doubt that government retaliation against whistleblowers is not an isolated event, nor even an agency-by-agency practice. The number of cases in play suggests an organized strategy to deprive Americans of knowledge of the more disreputable things that their government does. How it plays out in court and elsewhere will significantly affect our democracy.”

This is part of an agenda, embraced by both Republicans and Democrats, to insulate the government from examination, critical examination. It includes a decades long project of rendering the impeachment provisions of the Constitution null and void. The latest piece of this project was the joke – the joke is on us, the people – of the Clinton impeachment which, of course, the Republicans never wanted to win [as if they wanted Al Gore to be able to run as an incumbent president!] and which has neutered the impeachment provisions by virtue of its clear abuse of those powers. These guys, these oligarchs are shrewd and one victim has been the Constitution.

P. Schultz
February 10, 2012

"Talk About A Revolution"

“Talk About a Revolution”
P. Schultz
February 10, 2012

Here is a question I don’t hear raised much: How come almost all attempts at dealing with the current economic “crisis” are presented as attempts to “get us back on track?” That is, almost everyone assumes and talks as if the current situation tells us nothing about the worth, the desirability of our current economic “system.” Or to put this slightly differently, almost no one seems to think that the current situation is evidence that the current “system” needs to be changed in basic or fundamental ways. Perhaps this is only true of “mainstream” opinionating but it does seem to be prevalent.

Maybe this is why the establishment reacted so strongly to the Occupy Wall Street “movement;” in fact, so strongly that it seemed strange given what would appear to be the rather insignificant numbers of those protestors/citizens. That is, the perceived threat was that this movement would successfully challenge the prevailing framework of the debate over what should be done now, viz., how can we restore the prevailing economic order. If successful, then those who hold the power in the current system would be dislodged from their positions of power and prominence. And, it seems to me, that this threat is always one that causes anxieties in those with power, not only in the “real world” but in academe as well.

Or maybe those who are the powerful currently know how thin is the veil that covers over, hides the real character of their system. That is, they know that it would not take much to reveal the oligarchic character of the system, thereby condemning that system to the dustbin of history.

In any case, it seems to me that our debate about our situation is about as constrained as it could be. But then some would say there is little to be surprised at here as that seems to be the state of our discourse more often than not. And insofar as this is true, then all the talk about the intensity of our discourse, how intensely “ideological” it is, is really just another cover story for what is, in fact, a rather boring, narrow, and unenlightening discourse that is controlled by the few at the expense of the many.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Contraceptives and Government: Simplicity

P. Schultz
February 9, 2012

Isn’t the resolution of the current dispute over whether religious institutions like hospitals and schools must cover contraceptive expenses pretty simple? The government has said that these institutions must provide such insurance for reasons of women’s health. It is the same reason that the government says that certain Native American religions cannot legally use peyote or other mind altering drugs in their religious ceremonies, as well as the same reason why certain religious practices like allowing venomous snakes loose during religious services are not allowed and are in fact criminal offenses. It is also why the government can force parents with religious scruples against such requirements as vaccinations to have their children – and probably themselves – vaccinated. It is also why the government can impose child labor laws on those who would violate them in the fulfillment of their religious obligations.

This is what the government does all the time, has done since the Constitution was adopted, and was doing even before it was adopted. One of the least controversial ends of governmental action is preserving and protecting the health of its citizens, employing even coercive measures to do so successfully, even when these measures trample on the consciences of some of those citizens.

But here is another puzzle. If those in the employ of such institutions share their principled objections to contraceptives then what is the problem? Obviously, if this were the case then those institutions would not have to cover any such expenses because no one would be buying contraceptives! Of course, this is extremely unlikely because as polling makes obvious, almost no women in, say, the Catholic Church object to using contraceptives [98% is the figure often cited] and overwhelming majorities are in fact using them [68% of Catholic women, 73% of Protestant women, and 74% of evangelical women]. Now, there’s a shock: Overwhelming numbers of women use contraceptives despite the fact that the religious institutions they belong to are against or frown on such use! Go figure!

But the Republicans have a political winner here, for sure! Hardly. It is almost as if these Republicans want Obama to be re-elected, perhaps because their wives prefer him on issues such as this to those who would endanger their health while trying to save their souls, almost all of whom are, I am suspecting, men! Perhaps these churches ought to spend more time trying to convince their members of the sinfulness of contraceptives – oh, I would love to hear how that campaign goes – than trying to stop the government from doing what government has been doing since, well, forever!

Monday, February 6, 2012

More on Santorum

More on Santorum
P. Schultz
February 6, 2012

Once again, having taken up the subject of Rick Santorum with a friend, he, Santorum, deserves more attention. The complaint was made that Santorum’s views on what we label “homosexuality” have led to his being “victimized” by means of derision. Of course, this is, to the extent true, unfortunate and needs correction.

However, because it does not involve derision, I stand by my earlier argument that Santorum, by seeming to address only the question of gay and lesbian marriage, avoids the real question, viz., whether those who are gay or lesbian can be fully virtuous human beings.  However, worse than this is that Santorum does not really avoid this question but implies, without saying so, a negative answer to this question. When Santorum and others, like Bill Bennett, argue that marriage, traditional marriage, lies at the foundation of Western – and, hence, superior – Civilization and that gay and lesbian marriage would undermine that institution and, hence, that civilization, they are saying that gays and lesbians are subversives. So, to satisfy their sexual desires, the implication is, they are willing to undermine the achievement that is Western Civilization. They are subversives, selfish and sexually unrestrained subversives.

Interestingly, this friend agrees with my arguments against Santorum’s imperialism and sees that it is logically inconsistent with Santorum’s “pro-life” pronouncements on the issue of abortion and euthanasia. However, Santorum’s imperialism and his rejection of the legitimacy of gays and lesbians are of a piece. That is, Santorum, like many others, is imperialistic because he perceives it to be “manly” and, hence, of a piece with “traditional morality” as Santorum understands it.  Traditional morality is predominantly “masculine,” and anything that threatens masculinity threatens traditional morality – which like traditional marriage lies at the base of Western Civilization. As a result, Santorum dislikes feminism and the feminization of society, which latter is advanced by the legitimation of gays and lesbians. Gays are not “real men,” that is, they are not the kind of men who made and who will defend and perpetuate Western Civilization. Legitimation of gays then leaves us open to being destroyed by other “real men,” say men like Islamic fundamentalists who put no store in either feminism or homosexuality. It is interesting, as an aside, that those who see the West as having “invited” Islamic fundamentalists to attack us by seeming weak or “feminized,” espouse a view of virtue that reflects the view of virtue espoused by these fundamentalists. But, more to the point here, Santorum’s imperialism and his rejection of the legitimacy of gays and lesbians fit together nicely as for him imperialism is part and parcel of our traditional, masculine morality, a morality that is threatened by those who are not “real men.” So just as we must embrace war to prove we are "real men," so too we must not kowtow to those who are not "real men," the gays.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


P. Schultz
February 4, 2012

            Here is a thought perhaps: The most enduring, the most constant aspect of politics and political life is injustice. That is, injustice is far more common than justice in politics. Injustice may be said to characterize political life, which is one reason why decent people are not apt to go “into politics.”

            Here is another thought perhaps: Those who are considered “the greats” when it comes to political analysis, those like Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Nietzsche, and others agree that injustice is the most common aspect of political life. However, the difference between those called “the ancients” and those called “the moderns” is that the former seek for ways to tame or redeem political life, through philosophy or education/playfulness or religion, while the latter, despite the prevalence of injustice, embrace politics and the political life unashamedly. For the former, the prevalence of injustice in the political arena leads to a search for alternative arenas where human beings are not, necessarily, tainted by injustice. For the latter, the prevalence of injustice leads not to a search for alternative arenas but to what is presented as a “manly” or “vigorous” or even “existential” embrace of a political life, snubbing one’s nose, at it were, at injustice. As Machiavelli wrote, what the prince needs to learn is “how not to be good” and to use this “talent” as needed.  For Machiavelli, it was the desire to be good that needed to be tamed, not the desire to do injustice.

            And isn’t this the key to what we moderns call “realism?” The modern realist says: “Oh, wouldn’t it be nice, wouldn’t the world be a nice place if we could afford to be just all the time? Oh, but we cannot afford that, anymore than we can afford to create an economy that is humane and just. We must embrace injustice, not blink when we have to incinerate lots of human beings and do other things that are, let us admit it, unjust by any normal reasoning. By our embrace of injustice, we prove our virtu, which is not to be confused with virtue as understood by those who contemplated imaginary republics.”

            But modern realism is only realistic if we make certain assumptions, most importantly, if we assume that we humans are not harmed, irreparably and deeply, by doing injustice. If this assumption is wrong, than what parades itself as “realism” is not “realistic.” And don’t the facts that we can imagine a just political order and that this imagining appeals to us, that it draws us to it, prove that we know, deep down, that doing injustice is wrong, deeply and irreparably wrong? That is, our souls long for justice just as they long for beauty, for community, and for redemption, confirming rather than denigrating our imaginations and teaching us what is most fully human.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


P. Schultz
February 2, 2012

“It’s a sunny little dream I have of a happier mankind. I couldn’t survive my own pessimism if I didn’t have some kind of sunny little dream. That’s mine and don’t tell me I am wrong: Human beings will be happier – not when they cure cancer or get to Mars or eliminate racial prejudice or flush Lake Erie but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities. That’s my utopia. That’s what I want for us.”

Kurt Vonnegut

Ah yes, “primitive communities”: a strange sounding proposition. But is it so strange? Whenever I teach American government and teach about the Anti-Federalists and their argument that small republics are more humane than large republics, I point out to the students that when I grew up in the small and by today’s standards “primitive” Metuchen, New Jersey, my mother knew that I had gone where I was not suppose to go by the time I got home one night. It was not a bad place but I was not to go there and, of course, did anyway. But as I point out to students, we had mothers but today we need cameras to spy on us. I suspect that this “primitive” arrangement is better than the “modern” arrangement we have today. And I bet you can think of other examples of the advantages of “primitive” arrangements that no longer exist.