Saturday, November 28, 2015

A Lesson for Politics from Hawai'i

A Lesson for Politics From Hawai’i
P. Schultz

            In 1883, the plantation owners in Hawai’i introduced the mongoose to their island in order to control the rat population that was wreaking havoc with their sugar cane. As a result, while the rat population was unaffected – rats are nocturnal while mongoose are diurnal – the mongoose population grew exponentially, feeding off the eggs of birds, almost all of whom were ground nesters, until the that population was all but extinct. From the article linked below:

“Like so many invasive species that now run amuck on islands around the world, mongooses were intentionally introduced to Hawaii. Sugar cane farmers took their cue from Jamaican plantation owners who imported mongooses to control rat populations. In 1883 the mongooses were let loose in the fields, an approach that proved to be colossally uninformed. As it turns out, rats are nocturnal and mongooses are diurnal. The exotic predators never came in contact with their rodent prey, and native bird populations began crashing instead.”

What’s the lesson here? Well, if your dealing with rats and you think that an invasion by an alien presence will solve the “problem,” think again. Think this isn’t relevant for politics? Well, then read a book entitled Operation Flytrap, which deals with a successful gang intervention program in Los Angeles. That is, it was successful in the limited sense of moderating gang behavior in the area where it was implemented. But when its results were looked at more closely, this “success” came at a rather high price, i.e., it devastated the families of the gang members arrested and imprisoned, thereby reinforcing the very conditions that led to the creation of the gangs in the first place!

Or, if you wish, just look toward and into the Middle East, and you will see the same phenomenon occurring. It is an interesting situation.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

ISIS: Force of Nature or Just Politics?

ISIS: Force of Nature or Just Politics?
P. Schultz

            People may be forgiven for thinking that those being labeled “ISIS” are a force of nature because that is what the powers that be want us to think. That is, those with the power want us to think that this phenomenon, “ISIS,” has arisen, spontaneously as it were, arising from, say, the Islamic religion and gathering speed and power like a hurricane or a tornado. Hence, this force of nature threatens to sweep us away as if it were a tsunami. And we had better band together to fight ISIS, to resist this allegedly “natural” phenomenon that threatens all of Western civilization, if not civilization simply. Needless to say, we need to fortify those with power to fight off this potentially overwhelming force.

            Now, this scenario obscures and even makes disappear the fact that ISIS is merely the result of politics. That is, there is a political agenda afoot in the Middle East, an agenda embraced by “the West” and its allies, which involves “regime change.” George Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, while disguised as an attempt to find and destroy Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, was part of this agenda, an agenda that has not been repudiated by the Obama administration or, additionally, by anyone with power in D.C. In 2006, the Democrats pretended to repudiate it but once controlling the Congress again, did nothing to effectuate that pretense.

            Part of this agenda was carried out in Libya, where jihadists, supported by the U.S., were used to overthrow and kill Kaddafi, which led eventually to the deaths of some Americans, including the American ambassador. Of course, the powers that be disguised this by making the issue Hillary Clinton’s alleged irresponsibility in this situation. As a result, no one bothered to question the original policy or agenda. Similarly, it is necessary to keep in mind that what is being labeled ISIS today is merely the result of pursuing regime change in Syria, where once again, as in Libya, jihadists are being used to unseat an existing and unfriendly regime.

            Insofar as this is true, ISIS constitutes no more a threat to “the West” than those jihadists in Libya or the Sunnis the U.S. supported during “the surge” in Iraq. Sure, they have, can, and will do some damage but it should be recognized that this too is not unacceptable to those seeking regime change. Some death and destruction, especially involving those places and activities in “the West” such as concerts or sporting events that reflect its alleged superiority to “the Rest,” will only make it appear all the more important to get rid of Assad, thereby getting at Hezbollah and Iran, both of whom support and are supported by the Assad regime. And once that objective is attained, ISIS will fade away or become, for all practicable purposes, insignificant.

            So, yes, ISIS is or reflects “just politics.” And while this is perhaps reassuring, it is also unsettling in revealing the character of our ruling class.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Malcolm X, ISIS, and the Good

Malcolm X, ISIS, and the Good
P. Schultz

            When I use to have students read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, I would ask them to distinguish between what led Malcolm, then Malcolm Little, to be a small time criminal and what led some of them, the students, to want to go to law school and become lawyers. Always, the first response was, usually expressed only in looking at me like I was insane, “Are you kidding, Schultz?”

            But, eventually, after some discussion, they came to see that what led Malcolm to be a small time criminal and what led them to desire a law degree and what comes with it were exactly the same things, viz., social status, [some] wealth, and a respectable career. Malcolm Little had acquired all three as the result of being a small time hood, selling some drugs, burgling some homes, and strutting his stuff, with his conked hair and zoot suit. He even had a nickname, “Big Red,” which confirmed that he was a known quantity among his “peers.” He might even have been called the “F. Lee Bailey” of his hood.

            Eventually, of course, Malcolm was arrested, charged, tried, convicted and sent to prison, not just for his crimes but also, he was convinced, because he had crossed the color line by having a white girl friend. Anyway, in prison, Malcolm “got religion,” and became a Black Muslim. As a result of this conversion, Malcolm cleaned up his act, gave up crime, drugs, and alcohol, and became eventually a leading member of the Nation of Islam. He also became what he hadn’t been as a petty crook: A subversive who was viewed as a threat to American society.

            So, what had changed? Why was Malcolm Little no threat to our society, but Malcolm X was? You could say it was his conversion to Islam but you would be wrong, at least for the most part. Malcolm X was concerned with actualizing what I will call here “the Good,” whereas Malcolm Little was only concerned with being “a success.” Yes, X’s concern for “the Good” took the form of one version of the Islamic faith and then another. But that might be called tangential insofar as those who become concerned with and actively strive to actualize “the Good” in society are, almost always, seen as subversives. Think of Martin Luther King, Jr.; think of Frederick Douglass; think of the suffragettes; think of the famous socialist, Eugene V. Debs; or think of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton. You could even think of those rappers who were “Straight Outta Compton,” along with the Beatles, Elvis, or Bruce, or way back when, Beethoven or Mozart [yes, they were viewed as subversives too].

            Those concerned with success present no threat to society, even if they pursue that success by “breaking the law.” It is not the criminal but the outlaw who is a threat to society. What’s this to do with ISIS? Not much but it does have a lot to do with how we think of those who are drawn to ISIS. They are, in their minds, “doing good,” or committing what might be labeled “righteous slaughter.” If we don’t see this, if we continue to think and react to these people as “delusional,” “evil” in some simplistic or Mary Poppins way, “lost sheep,” or “mindless terrorists,” we will not grasp who they are or what they are doing. And without that knowledge, we will spin our wheels as we revolve around in one of those “vicious circles” reserved for those who don’t know what they or their enemies are doing.

The ISIS Playbook: Yes, There Is One

The ISIS Playbook: Yes, There Is One
P. Schultz

            Below is a link to an article written by one Scott Atran, in which he argues quite persuasively that ISIS is much worse than “mindless terrorists,” that they have what might be called a “playbook,” entitled “Management of Savagery/Chaos.” And of course as Atran argues this is worth studying by “the West” so as to better understand what ISIS is about and what to expect from them.

            As the title suggests, the ISIS strategy is to create chaos in “the West,” among what it calls “the crusaders” and “the Zionists” by attacking them where they are “soft” or vulnerable, such as resorts or soccer stadiums or, as we know now, Paris. They are also focused on recruiting new members, especially from the young, who are “rebellious” and ready for sacrifice. And, conversely, the message “the West” has are mostly “negative” and mass messaging, rather than intimate.

            This is, for me, all quite interesting and even revealing. And surely Atran is correct that “treating Isis as a form of “terrorism” or “violent extremism” masks the menace. Merely dismissing it as “nihilistic” reflects a willful and dangerous avoidance of trying to comprehend, and deal with, its profoundly alluring moral mission to change and save the world.” Certainly, Atran is correct to emphasize the fact that ISIS has a “profoundly alluring moral mission,” one that appeals to the young and the despised. And this, if taken seriously, would help “the West” understand ISIS in a way it does not today, when it seems all too likely to dismiss this phenomenon as a kind of insanity or simple minded “religious extremism.”

            But what Atran’s argument lacks is any consideration of how the strategy of “the West” plays into the hands of ISIS for that strategy seems to be also the management of savagery and chaos. As has been pointed out, here and elsewhere, “the West” seems content with fighting what seem to be losing wars, e.g., in Afghanistan and Iraq. Why is this the case? Perhaps because, from the perspective of those fighting these wars, “losing” is actually “winning” in that chaos in the Middle East is the goal, to say nothing of the fact that losing wars does little or nothing to damage those who wield power, the ruling class. So, those in power achieve both the chaos they seek, a chaos that is being used to advance what are labeled “regime changes” in the Middle East, while fortifying “the West’s” allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel. And at the same time, these power brokers are fortifying their own status and the regime within which they operate, as any attempt at dissent can be portrayed as almost treasonous.

            The point is this: “the West,” like ISIS, is attempting to manage savagery and chaos, as it were. This means that “the West” is not fully committed to warding off ISIS’s attacks, as these attacks create more chaos. Is it a dangerous game “the West” in playing? Of course it is, extremely dangerous. And it is also deadly, especially for the innocent, in “the West” or in the Middle East. But if it shortsighted of “the West” to underrate the allure of ISIS, it is also shortsighted to underrate the extent to which “the West” will go to impose its will on the world. And while it is useful and necessary to study ISIS as Atran does so well, it is also just as useful and necessary to study “the West” and its brand of imperialized politics.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Paris Is Burning: We Didn't Start the Fire?

Paris is Burning: Now “the West” Started the Fire
P. Schultz

            The latest attack in France, in Paris, has been labeled by the French government “an act of war,” as if this act was initiating a war and not continuing a war already initiated. Moreover, this rhetoric obscures the fact that the already initiated war was initiated in part by the “victimized” France, as well as by the allegedly “victimized” “West.” Hence, the message is: the blame lies with “the Rest,” not with “the West.”

            But this is clearly false. “The West,” as it in called by some, has been engaged in war with “the Rest” for some time now, starting at the very least with Reagan and continued, by choice, by Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama, with the support of other nations of “the West.” Repeatedly, “the West” has chosen and chooses to make war against “the Rest.”

            Starting with Reagan, that is, leaving aside for now the U.S. choice to make war in Korea, in Cuba, and in Vietnam, his administration and the U.S. government generally chose to go into Afghanistan to support the jihadists there against the Soviet Union, chose to station marines in Beirut, chose to invade Granada, chose to make war in Nicaragua, chose to support Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran, and chose to make war in Libya. Papa Bush chose to undertake “Desert Storm,” invading Iraq by choice.

            Similarly, Clinton and the government generally chose to keep the war against Iraq going, while engaging in warfare in eastern Europe. Bush II chose to invade Iraq, after invading Afghanistan after 9/11, despite the fact that Iraq had had nothing to do with 9/11 and had been “defanged” since “Desert Storm.” And Obama, and the government generally, have continued Bush II’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq, while supporting jihadists in Libya and Syria for the sake of “regime change.”

            The point is this: For a long time, the U.S., with the support from other members of “the West,” has chosen to engage in wars, either full blown wars or “low intensity conflicts,” against “the Rest.” And “the West” has done this by choice, and not because it was forced to do so by “the Rest.”

            Some have labeled such war making “yuppie war,” because “the West” sought to conduct these wars – or this war – in a way that did not interfere with its lavish or posh life styles, a choice that advancing technology seemed to make more and more prudent or realistic. But as such, it was and is important that these choices for war making be disguised, and this in at least two ways.

            First, these wars or this war needed to be disguised as defensive or as “accidental” or “unintentional,” as in the famous quagmire called Vietnam. Either ‘the West” was and is merely reacting to “the Rest,” which is necessarily labeled, as needed, an “evil empire,” the “axis of evil,” or bloodthirsty Islamofascists. Or, conversely, “the West” gets sucked into, against its will, another quagmire from which it could not escape, ala’ Vietnam.

            Second, these wars or this war must be disguised as “small” or “clean” wars, fought with “smart” weapons used to make “surgical strikes,” thereby hiding their brutality, their bestiality, and their inhuman character. Otherwise, it would not be possible for the aggressors, “the West,” to react each time they are attacked as if they were being “victimized” by those, “the Rest,” who allegedly “hate us” for our life styles and freedom, and not because we are repeatedly attacking them. One thing I find so interesting is how so many people genuinely seem to believe that “the West” is being victimized. But then you can “fool some of the people all of the time.”

            And these disguises work so well, win so many “hearts and minds,” as it were, that I am tempted to think and say that Machiavelli was correct. That is, what appears to be moral virtue is actually little more than a disguise behind which the brutal, the bestial, and the inhuman hide. But even if I were to succumb to this temptation, I would console myself with the realization that Machiavelli knew what our current day “Machiavellians” don’t know, viz., that the brutal, the bestial, and the inhuman are not deserving of his or our admiration. For Machiavelli, unlike our current “Machiavellians,” was not a relativist and he sought to improve upon or at least control those inhuman beings so often confused with and even praised as real humans. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Victory in Vietnam

Victory in Vietnam
P. Schultz

            The current campaign for the presidency has shown me that the United States’ war in Vietnam, a war for “hearts and minds,” was victorious. To see this, all you need do is to remember that the “hearts and minds” to be won were and are located here in the United States. And as there is no one seeking the presidency from our two major parties that rejects America’s current wars or its past wars, including Vietnam, then the campaign for “hearts and minds” has been successful. All of our wars, past and present, were and are “good wars,” including the Vietnam War.

            What did it take to win the Vietnam War, so understood? Exactly what some of those in power at the time of the war, e.g., McGeorge Bundy, thought and said it would take: Massive bombing of Vietnam, north and south, as well as Laos and Cambodia; killing millions of Vietnamese, north and south; and last but far from least, sacrificing the lives of thousands of American soldiers and the bodies and minds of thousands more, despite or rather because of the fact that the war could not be “won” on the battlefield, as those in power knew and said, at least privately. The men in power, “the establishment,” were right in their strategy for winning the Vietnam War in this fashion and they have prevailed. Even Richard Nixon died a “statesman.”

            It took me awhile to realize our victory in the Vietnam War, because I am a bit slow to comprehend these things. But it is all-too-evident now, in 2015, as attested to by the views of those seeking the presidency, none of which is opposed to our war making, both past and present.

            And make no mistake: In 2016, if you vote for either candidate from the Republican or Democratic parties, you are voting for war. There are no two ways about it. And so when the chickens come to roost, as they always do, no complaining because, among other things, when you wage war on others, you are legitimating them waging war on you; because, as we Americans tend to forget, “making war” is a two way street.


Saturday, November 7, 2015

Low-Intensity Conflict: Yuppie Warfare

Low-Intensity Conflict: Yuppie Warfare
P. Schultz

            At times, the most amazing things happen, things that help clarify just what is going on politically. One of those times happened today when, to pass the time, I read an essay entitled, “Low-Intensity Conflict: A Growing Threat to Peace,” written by Michael T. Klare and published in a book entitled, Peace: Meanings, Politics, Strategies.

            To get right to it, Klare argues that what is called “low-intensity conflict” has been US policy for some time before 1989, when this book was published. It consists of four particular types of military action or war making: counterinsurgency, pro-insurgency, peacetime contingency operations, and military show of force. As Klare puts it: “From a low-intensity conflict point of view, the United States is at war, extensively, aggressively, and with every evidence of continuing this activity.” [p.114]

            Of course, “low-intensity” does not mean low levels of violence, bloodshed, or savagery. Low-intensity conflict in Guatemala took over 100,000 lives, and other actions have taken at least that number. Moreover, low-intensity warfare is a post-Vietnam phenomenon because it keeps “U.S. involvement . . . sufficiently indistinct and inexpensive,” both financially and personnel wise, thereby avoiding “the strident demonstrations and antimilitaristic attitudes of the Vietnam era.”

It is, as Klare puts it so nicely, “the ultimate in ‘yuppie’ warfare” as “it allows privileged Americans to go on buying condominiums, wearing chic designer clothes, eating expensive meals at posh restaurants, and generally living in style without risking their own lives, without facing conscription, without paying higher taxes, and, most importantly, without being overly distracted by grisly scenes on television.” [p. 115] As Klare sums it up: “”Hence, by definition, low-intensity conflict is that amount of bloodshed, torture, rape, and savagery that can be sustained overseas without triggering widespread public disapproval at home.” [p. 115] And, of course, as the aftermaths of 9/11 or the Boston marathon bombing illustrated so well, even “grisly scenes on television” need not deter and will even fortify our “yuppie war-making.”

            Quite obviously, such warfare was perfectly adaptable to the alleged “war on terror.” But it would be prudent to keep in mind that its purposes preceded Bush’s and even Reagan’s wars on terror, encompassing “anyone in the Third World who calls for a radical restructuring of the global system.” As General Maxwell Taylor put it: “As the leading affluent ‘have’ power, we may have to fight to protect our national valuables against envious ‘have-nots.’” Or as it was put in a Rand Corporation study of 1977: “There is a non-negligible chance that mankind is entering a period of increased social instability and faces the possibility of a breakdown of global order as a result of a sharpening confrontation between the Third World and the industrial democracies.” [p. 115]

            In 1988, a report of U.S. Commission in Integrated Long-Term Strategy said that focusing on the USSR was tunnel vision and as such would blind us to situations that have “an adverse cumulative effect on U.S. access to critical regions, on American credibility among allies and friends, and on American self-confidence.” So, in order to protect ourselves from “a world of obvious ‘have-nots’,” who are too many to kill off or to keep out with walls, “the cheapest solution is to hire or co-opt armies of thugs and mercenaries [or jihadists], and use them to starve and terrorize populations to the point that they are too dispirited, or too frightened, or too weak to resist.”

And if this seems like an extreme interpretation of U.S. policy, just consider what is now going on in Syria, Iraq, and the Middle East generally, including the creation of thousands upon thousands of refugees who are threatened with homelessness and even death. What better way “to so terrorize the population – by inculcating a constant fear of a knock on the door in the middle of the night, followed by blindfolding, torture, mutilation, and death – that it remains silent no matter what hideous crimes against humanity are being committed?” [p. 117] And think how well drones and drone strikes fit into this scenario. Now, populations can be terrorized from thousands of miles away, with the terrorists nowhere to be seen, and with whatever “collateral damage” that occurs serving to advance the cause. Hence, it would seem that accidentally bombing weddings or hospitals serve the cause of low-intensity conflicts.

Klare also points out, because there continue to be those who oppose such conflicts, that low-intensity warfare “is a strategy aimed not only against the envious ‘have-nots’ of the Third World, but also against those Americans who speak out against U.S. intervention in internal Third World conflicts . . . Domestic public opinion is the home front in the global struggle against U.S. ‘enemies,’ and low-intensity conflict strategy is addressed as much to this front as to overseas fronts in Central America, South Africa, and elsewhere.” As one spokesperson for such conflicts put it: “It is vital that the American public and our policymakers be educated as to the realities of contemporary conflict, and the need to fight little wars successfully.” [p. 119]

As with the Vietnam War, the hearts and minds to be “won” were in the United States as well as in Vietnam. And, it would seem, that campaign has been successful, at least in the United States. For now, one must “support the troops” regardless of the war they are involved in. Anything else seems tantamount to treason.  


Machiavelli's Critique of Aristotle

Machiavelli’s Critique of Aristotle
P. Schultz

            In his book, Machiavelli and Empire, Mikael Hornqvist notices the following: “The Prince 16, which on a superficial level seemed to reiterate a conventional theme from the mirror-of-princes genre, has on closer examination proved to contain a direct assault on the very foundation of this traditional moralist genre, the ethical teaching of Aristotle. Through this radical move, Machiavelli opens up a new form of political discourse…..” [p. 179]

            This radical move may be described as follows. Whereas traditionally the mirror-of-princes genre was based on the idea that there were certain virtues that princes – and of course others – should practice because, well, because they were virtues and choice worthy. It followed from this that princes should then embrace a kind of politics that was consistent with or based upon these virtues. Because liberality was a virtue, princes should practice liberal politics. Thus, being liberal points to a certain kind of politics, say, a generous politics.

            Machiavelli turns this reasoning on its head. That is, for Machiavelli, princes - or anyone seeking success for that matter - should adopt the kind of politics that makes liberality possible or safe.  As Machiavelli makes plain, being liberal does not guarantee one’s success and, in fact, can breed failure by creating resentment, say, at being heavily taxed to support liberal or generous policies. Eventually, Machiavelli turns the question, “What virtues should princes practice?” into the question, “What kind of politics need princes practice to ensure that liberality is successful?” And the answer is, it would seem: To be liberal, one must be “acquisitive” or imperialistic, because that allows a prince to be generous without burdening his subjects to pay for his generosity.

            It is important to notice how Machiavelli’s question changes political discourse. Whereas traditionally it was asked, what virtues should a prince practice, it is now asked, how should princes behave to be deemed virtuous? For Machiavelli, seeming replaces being, and seeming virtuous replaces being virtuous.  And, of course, once this kind of thinking is embraced, manipulation, concealment, and deceit – in a word, “appearances” or “credibility” as we would say today – become all-important. A politics of smoke and mirrors is only a very short step away.

            Successful rule replaces virtuous rule as the standard around which political discourse revolves. Success is that which striven for and, when achieved, often confused with virtue. But, in fact, success is virtue’s replacement, a fact that Machiavelli conceals beneath his appeals to restore “ancient virtue.” In fact, “ancient virtue” is so far from being the remedy that it is the problem. And that which rules in the political arena will also rule in the social arena, with “Be Successful” replacing “Be Virtuous” as the polestar for human behavior. And when success becomes confused with virtue, we should not be surprised as that was the goal all along.

            That Machiavelli thought in this way is evident, at least intermittently, throughout his writings. For example, in the Discourses, II, 13, in a chapter entitled “That One Comes from Base to Great Fortune More through Fraud Than through Force,” Machiavelli says upfront: “I esteem it to be a very true thing that it rarely or never happens that men of small fortune come to great ranks without force and without fraud….Nor do I believe that force alone is ever found to be enough, but fraud alone will be found to be quite enough…..”

            Leaving aside the question that Machiavelli obviously wants us to debate, which is more important for success, force or fraud? and notice that he has reduced the possible explanations for success to two, force and/or fraud. He has left out, apparently, two other possibilities, virtue or chance, although he does mention inheritance, which might be a kind of chance. “Great fortune” or success is achieved, when not inherited, by force and/or fraud, leaving virtue out of the equation altogether. And, of course, if one uses force, it would be good to disguise this fact in order to make people think that your success did not have to be seized but was well deserved, was a reward at it were for one’s virtues. So even when force is used to achieve success, fraud is necessary and beneficial.

            But note should be taken as well at how Machiavelli reduces the world, at it were. That is, in Machiavelli’s world, virtue plays a very small role therein. Machiavelli’s world is a world of “movers and shakers,” of human beings “on the make;” it is not a world of imaginers, of poets, of saints, of caregivers, of the inquisitive as opposed to the acquisitive.  One might say that the “inspired,” in Machiavelli’s world, are consigned to the margins of society, even banished as it were from “respectable society” as the poets were banished in Plato’s Republic. Not just imaginary republics but imagination generally will play a very small part in Machiavelli’s world. Modern realism, to be pragmatic, shrinks “real reality” and, therewith perhaps, shrinks humanity itself.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Machiavelli's "Humanism"

Machiavelli’s “Humanism”
P. Schultz

            [The following are some reactions to a book entitled, Machiavelli and Empire, by Mikael Hornqvist.]

            Machiavelli was, obviously, “disenchanted” with “traditional political ethics.” But the implications of his disenchantment are quite interesting.

            Machiavelli’s task was to “demystify” “traditional political ethics,” based as they were on ideas such as natural and/or divine justice, ideas that Machiavelli thought concealed a “frightening emptiness” insofar as these ideas were mere chimeras. Hence, Machiavelli rejected not just the prevailing theories of “just wars,” but he rejected “the very idea of the just and divinely sanctioned war itself.” [p. 96]

            Nothing too controversial here. But what is often overlooked is that in Machiavelli’s world, precisely because of its “emptiness,” manipulation, rhetoric, concealment, and deceit acquire a status, a usefulness, that they did not have previously, while war itself is devalued.

First, once the emptiness of “just and divinely sanctioned wars” is embraced, wars can only be useful or prudent; they cannot be justified, either by nature or by God because there is no natural or divine justice available.  If there actually were natural or divine justice, then wars could be justified, even be obligatory, being fought in the name of such justice. Wars could be “holy” or wars could be fought for “universal principles,” whereas for Machiavelli, wars can only actually be useful or prudent. This would seem to mean that the world would become less warlike, which is true for another reason as well.

Given its emptiness, the world, Machiavelli’s world, is more malleable because it is simply matter, devoid of form, and hence can be molded more readilty than if it were form as well as matter. As a result, manipulation, rhetoric, concealment, deceit, even “salesmanship,” become the new virtues replacing the old virtues of, say, spiritedness or piety. The more malleable the world, the safer it is and can be made to be by these means. War can be replaced by these new virtues, which of course Machiavelli can sell as “ancient virtues,” thereby proving his point.

Moreover, Machiavelli, described as the only non anti-Semite of his age, has no grounds for being such because to be an anti-Semite, it is necessary to see the world as “ordered,” with some human beings being superior and others inferior, if not beastly or sub-human. Machiavelli’s “humanism” is, at it were, part and parcel of his “nihilism,” as it were.

So, war is  “tamed” in Machiavelli or domesticated, being reduced to a useful or prudential action, unencumbered by delusions of grandeur. And, similarly, so it what we call “government,” because in a malleable world, purges, genocide, mass murders are un-necessary. And even “inhuman cruelty” of the kind practiced by Hannibal is un-necessary or imprudent. In Machiavelli’s “new modes and orders,” life becomes safer, less warlike, more “civilized” than life in Rome. And it is almost possible to forget that these modes and orders have no transcendent supports. Almost.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Francis and Caring

Francis and Caring
P. Schultz

A bit of an email exchange:

On Oct 30, 2015, at 3:04 PM,
"Third, while highly intellectual in his own distinctive way, Francis is clearly a less systematic thinker than either of his predecessors, and especially than the academic-minded Benedict.  Whereas the previous pope defended popular piety against liberal critiques, Francis embodies a certain style of populist Catholicism—one that’s suspicious of overly academic faith in any form.  He seems to have an affinity for the kind of Catholic culture in which Mass attendance might be spotty but the local saint’s processions are packed—a style of faith that’s fervent and supernaturalist but not particularly doctrinal.  He also remains a Jesuit-formed leader, and Jesuits have traditionally combined missionary zeal with a certain conscious flexibility about doctrinal details that might impede their proselytizing work.  This has often made them controversial among other missionary orders, as in the famous debate over the efforts of Matteo Ricci.  A Jesuit in China during the late 16th and early 17th centuries, Ricci was attacked for incorporating Chinese concepts into his preaching and permitting converts to continue to venerate their ancestors.  That Ricci is currently on the path to canonization, and his critics are mostly forgotten, says something important about the value of Jesuit envelope-pushing within the Church.  But it also says something important that Catholicism has never before had a Jesuit pope" (

And now we know that what distinguishes Francis is caring. Ricci cared and Francis cares for human beings as human beings, not as “recruits” to the “one, true faith.” Seems to confirm how radical the phenomenon of caring actually is, especially in the modern world. But I would point out, it was radical in Aristotle’s world, the Athenian world, as well, where Pericles was most highly honored, to say nothing of Plato/Socrates’ radicalism, as illustrated by Socrates’ execution. 

Hence, by ridding ourselves of bureaucracy, for example, we don’t guarantee that people will care. This is something I think Hummel misses and makes his thought somewhat melodramatic. Which is not to say, of course, that his thought isn’t worth paying a lot of attention to. Without the melodrama, fed by the notion that our situation is “either/or”, as it were, one need not simply turn away from the world or seek a monastic like life, although at times perhaps this turning away is the best we can do. 

Speculations in the am.