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.


Friday, August 6, 2021

Some Thoughts on Tocqueville and Religion

 

Some Thoughts on Tocqueville and Religion

Peter Schultz

 

            In reading Marvin Zetterbaum’s book Tocqueville and the Problem of Democracy, Zetterbaum argues quite sensibly that Tocqueville turned to religion “to remedy the deficiencies of the doctrine of self-interest rightly understood.” As did the founders of the American political order like George Washington who in his inaugural argued that it was essential for the nation to follow “the eternal rules of order and right” that were provided by religion. And in his Farewell Address, Washington said the “morality can[not] be maintained without religion.” So, Tocqueville, like other moderns, used religion to serve political purposes, as Zetterbaum pointed out.

 

            However, it would be better to say that the moderns used religion for worldly purposes. That is, religion was used to, e.g., allow the American experiment to succeed, where succeeding means obtaining power, security, prosperity, some liberty, or in a word “greatness,” or “empire.” The advantage of emphasizing how religion was used for worldly purposes is that other, even religious institutions – like the Catholic Church – may be said to have used religion for their worldly purposes, for their success, for their greatness, for their empire, for their fame, for their “immortality.”

 

            And this raises a question about the assertion that the moderns “lowered the standard” in order to guarantee success of their project. Is it that the moderns lowered the standard or that they politicized the standard, meaning that the standard became success or greatness? A lot turns on the difference. Because if the moderns politicized the standard, then it means that they fanaticized it by implying that the human task is or should be the pursuit of greatness. This pursuit of greatness leads away from the polis toward nations, as Machiavelli demonstrated, and, of course, nationalism is a kind of fanaticism or points toward a kind of fanaticism.

 

            So, fanaticism is then buried deep within the modern project. In fact, it might be called the essence of the modern project. And so when fanaticism appears, say as in the Inquisition or during the Holocaust or in a war terror that aims to eliminate evil from the world, we ought not be surprised.

 

            And isn’t the crux of the differences between Plato and Aristotle and, say, Pericles and Athens, just this? That Plato and Aristotle turned away from greatness or empire and tried to turn political life away from the pursuit of greatness and empire. It may be argued, for example, that Socratic politics was characterized by a double turn inward. First, Socrates wanted Athens to turn inward, that is, turn to domestic affairs rather than foreign affairs or empire. Second, Socrates wanted the Athenians to turn to the pursuit of virtue, of “making your soul the best possible,’ which required most importantly being just.

 

            Religion, spiritually understood, would represent such a turning away as was wanted by Socrates. But once religion is co-opted, made to serve worldly purposes, made to serve political purposes, it forfeits the capacity to have human beings turn away from the pursuit of success, from the pursuit of gratification, from the pursuit of greatness, from the pursuit of a kind of immortality, whether that pursuit be personal or political. And so it is not clear that while the use of religion might be beneficial in some ways, it cannot be useful in the most important way, that is, as an alternative to political fanaticism. In fact, as we have seen repeatedly, religion so used will in fact be used in the service of political fanaticism.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Assessing Obama: The Audacity of Embracing Conventional Values

 

Assessing Obama: The Audacity of Embracing Conventional Values

Peter Schultz

 

            Below is an email exchange with a friend. I hope you enjoy it. I know I did.

 

On Wed, Apr 19, 2017 at 4:18 PM Peter Schultz <lpkschultz@gmail.com> wrote:

Interesting piece. Seems balanced to me……to you too? 

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/01/barack-obama-presidency-trump-inauguration/

 

On Aug 3, 2021, at 7:33 AM, Matthew B. wrote:



From The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
"Eventually, my rejection of authority spilled into self-indulgence and self-destructiveness, and by the time I enrolled in college, I'd begun to see how any challenge to convention harbored within it the possibility of its own excesses and its own orthodoxy.  I started to reexamine my assumptions, and recalled the values my mother and grandparents had taught me.  In this slow, fitful process of sorting out what I believed, I began silently registering the point in dorm-room conversations when my college friends and I stopped thinking and slipped into cant: the point at which the denunciations of capitalism of American imperialism came too easily, and the freedom from constraints of monogamy or religion was proclaimed without fully understanding the value of such constraints, and the role of victim was too readily embraced as a means of shedding responsibility, or asserting entitlement, or claiming moral superiority over those not so victimized" (Obama 30-31).

 

On August 3d Peter Schultz wrote:

Well, golly gee, Matthew, I thought one reason young people left home to go to college was to stretch, if not break, the influence of the family and its conventional moral base. If Family values were to be questioned, even challenged, it would be beneficial to leave its confines and enter the “academy”. Apparently, if we are to believe Obama’s account here, when he went to college he ended up not challenging the family’s conventional beliefs but reinforcing and then re-embracing them to avoid “the excesses” of challenges to “convention.” Or, perhaps, he became aware that in order to be a success and be honored and even achieve fame as a result of that success, it would be “prudent” to embrace the conventional “values my mother and grandmother had taught me.” So much for “denunciations of capitalism or American imperialism.” I guess Obama didn’t meet any teachers who could successfully challenge the lessons he learned from his mother and grandmother. I was more fortunate at Wake Forest where I met those who challenged me to question the conventional values I had imbibed at home. I feel sorry that Obama didn’t get to experience something like that, sorry both for him and for the nation. 

 

 

Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Best and the Brightest: A Modest Proposal

 

The Best and the Brightest: A Modest Proposal

Peter Schultz

 

            What the United States needs most of all is to develop a sense of community and commitment among its elites. Too often, it seems that our elites think and act primarily for themselves and their cohorts. They display a passion for their own well-being that is “peculiarly intense” – to quote Tocqueville – that makes this passion “the prominent and indelible feature” of their lives.

 

            Therefore, to moderate and redirect this passion, it seems to me necessary and beneficial that the offspring of our elites – social, economic, political elites – be made to perform national service for two years, one year of military service and one year of domestic service in some needy place in the homeland. These two years would best occur prior to enrollment in college and after high school and would of course be compensated in a way that would reduce the burdens of college tuition, at least marginally. And because wealthy and prominent families now can afford what is called “a gap year,” that is, a year off between high school and college, this proposal can hardly be pronounced radical.

 

            This chance to serve our nation would be, of course, “means tested.” That is, it would be limited to young persons of wealthy and socially or politically prominent families. For example, the children of congresspersons, of presidents, of high-level bureaucrats, of governors and other state officials, as well as those of federal justices and judges would qualify for this opportunity for national service.

 

            To the objection that such a program would be discriminatory against the wealthy and the prominent, it has been said many times, “From those who have much, much is to be expected.” Moreover, allowing these young people the opportunity, the compensated opportunity to serve the homeland seems sufficient to redeem whatever discrimination might exist. And given the appropriate rituals, like reciting the pledge of allegiance and honoring the national anthem, along with enjoying thoroughly patriotic movies like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Saving Private Ryan, Forest Gump, and Apollo 13, these youths would emerge from their two years of service as patriotic Americans capable of appreciating just how exceptional America is.

 

            They would also be ready, even invested in something other than their own well-being. And because some would not complete the two years – let’s be honest here – either by resigning or by being dismissed, it might even be said that this program is a way of transforming a socially based elite with a naturally based elite. At the very least, it would allow us to produce and identify “the best and the brightest.”

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Pelosi v. Trump

 

Pelosi v. Trump

Peter Schultz

 

            The headline read: “Nancy and Paul Pelosi Making Millions in Stock Trades in Companies She Actively Regulates.”

 

            Pelosi has proved herself no better than Trump. In fact, though, she is worse than Trump in that her respectability serves to disguise her venality, making it and her appear respectable. Trump’s venality lies exposed for what it is, greed and egotism. It is less destructive than Pelosi’s because it’s less attractive, less seductive. No trapping of being “cultured” can hide Trump’s venality, whereas such trappings gild Pelosi’s venality. In Pelosi’s cases, putting earrings and make-up on do in fact hide her piggishness. Unlike Trump, Pelosi makes venality respectable. And she, like Trump, destroys the basis of a decent and just political order.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Critical Race Theory: Convenient and Guilt Free

 

Critical Race Theory: Convenient and Guilt Free

Peter Schultz

 

            CRT, Critical Race Theory, is all the rage. Simplified, it’s the theory that racism in the United States is systemic, deeply-rooted, pervasive, and long-standing. Which raises the question: Why is it so popular?

 

            It’s popularity is due to its redemptive qualities. That is, if I embrace CRT and advocate teaching it, then I am no longer embracing racism. It’s a way of saying, at exactly the same time, that I am racist and I am not a racist. Like a magic act, I both acknowledge my racism and erase it in the same act. The thought is, apparently, that by acknowledging “the system’s” racism, I am no longer a racist. So CRT is both convenient and guilt free.

 

            This is weird. Suppose I were to say that savagery in the United States in systemic. That is, suppose I were to say that US elites engage in or manage savagery both at home and abroad. And this is true across the political spectrum and is pervasive and deeply-rooted. Let’s call this “Critical Savagery Theory,” or “CST.”

 

            Ask yourself: What would the response be to CST and the idea it should be advocated and taught throughout the United States? That is, we are to assert and teach that US elites, across the board, are engaged in savagery. Seems doubtful that CST would be as popular as CRT, right? Of course it would not.

 

            What does this mean for CRT? It means that the racism CRT refers to has been tamed or domesticated, has been made abstract, has even been made to disappear when we say the magic words, “Critical Race Theory,” or “systemic racism.” That is, the racism that CRT refers to wasn’t and isn’t savagery, because no one would take kindly to being called a savage or with being held complicit in savagery, no matter how “systemic” that savagery might be. And very few indeed are those who would or do advocate that the US is a savage nation. And those who do are marginalized, at best.

 

            In other words, CRT fits quite nicely into the conventional wisdom that the United States, despite some flaws, is a decent, freedom-loving, egalitarian, compassionate, and peace-loving society. It is popular precisely because, even while claiming to recognize that we are vicious, that our elites and even we the people have behaved like savages, it confirms our virtues. But those virtues seem elusive while the savagery is crystal clear, at least for those who look for it.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

The FBI, the CIA, Ali Soufan, and the War on Terror

 

The FBI, the CIA, Ali Soufan, and the War on Terror

Peter Schultz

 

            Ali Soufan has written a book, The Black Banners: Declassified: How Torture Derailed the War on Terror After 9/11, in which he delineates how the CIA’s reliance on torture and its interference with the FBI led to several terrorists attacks that would have become known and likely stopped if the Soufan and the FBI had been allowed to interrogate captured terrorists using proven, humane methods of interrogation.

 

            Some of those attacks, which happened because of the CIA’s reliance on torture and their banning of Soufan from interrogating the terrorists, are the following:

 

1.     An attack on the oil tanker, Limburg, on October 6, 2002, off the coast of Yemen, killing one and injuring 12, and spilling 90,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Aden.

2.     March 11, 2004 attack by al Qaeda Madrid’s train system, killing 191 and injuring around 1800 people.

3.     July 7, 2005 attack in London, killing 52 and injuring more than 700.

4.     October 1, 2005 attack in Bali, killing 20 and injuring more than 100.

 

The CIA had banned Soufan and the FBI from interrogating a major terrorist, KSM, tortured him and never got the intelligence that might have led to these attacks being prevented. As Soufan puts it: “Those of us in the FBI who had seen what had happened with Abu Zubaydah, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Liby, Qahtani, Ramzi Binalshibh, Karim, and others now had to sit on the sidelines as even more important al Qaeda terrorists were put into a program that didn’t work and created faulty intelligence.” [514] All of those named above had been providing the FBI with good intelligence until they were subjected to torture by the CIA.

 

Soufan is too polite to say so, but it should be remembered that the CIA had little to lose from successful terrorist attacks because they knew such attacks, which they would write off as impossible to stop given their existing resources, would eventually lead to more power for the CIA. So not only did the CIA not have much to lose when terror attacks succeeded; they also had much to gain. So long as the war on terror is ongoing, the CIA is going to prosper both financially and politically.

 

 

Monday, June 28, 2021

Mary Shelley and the Bomb

 

Mary Shelley and the Bomb

Peter Schultz

 

            “It’s a boy!” This was the code General Groves, head of the US program to build an atomic weapon, used to tell President Truman that the Trinity test had been successful.

 

            So interesting that, as James Carroll wrote in his book House of War, the image conveyed by this code had “men conceiving and delivering” the bomb as if they had conceived and delivered or birthed a baby boy. [72] It’s interesting too that in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein undertook to both conceive and deliver or birth a human being, a male human being, scientifically.

 

            Apparently then, modern science allows men to rise beyond their natural limits, to do what they cannot do naturally, conceive and deliver or birth “babies,” either human babies or nuclear “babies.” No wonder then that Truman, upon being informed of the successful test, felt “tremendously pepped up” and that he later called the bomb “the greatest thing in history.” Imagine how exhilarating it was to shed nature’s limits by creating something that “grants [its creators] control of Mother Nature.” [72] And, not surprisingly, Truman and his Secretary of State, Jimmy Byrnes, as well as others, just assumed that this creation would allow the United States to control the post-war world and especially the Soviet Union. Victor Frankenstein has similar dreams about his power once he had “discovered the secret of life.”

 

            Shelley’s Frankenstein ends with horrific bloodshed as the creature, left uncared for by Victor who was shocked by the ugliness of his creation, turns on Victor and kills his lover and wife, as well as his niece. Is this so different from what the world has experienced since the end of World War II, viz., endless wars, genocides, pandemics and other raging viruses? Is this what happens when men overpower nature, when they successfully try to “control Mother Nature?” Mother Nature, and perhaps other mothers as well, has conceived and has tried to birth an order, one that is sustaining and even nurturing. And so perhaps the human quest should be discovering and caring for that order as that is preferable to controlling, managing, and overpowering it. And remember, as an old commercial had it: It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Homeland v. Republican Politics: Part Three

 

Homeland v. Republican Politics: Part Three

Peter Schultz

 

            Homeland politics are or degenerate into tribal politics. Tribes are connected to places, places that are treated as sacred because they are and have been populated by multiple generations and, often, even by past generations who still “reside” there in burial grounds.

 

            Republican politics aren’t tribal. Republican politics are connected not to places but to political principles, such as representation, free elections, free speech, due process, and trials by juries of one’s peers. Republican politics are also characterized by political parties, i.e., groups that define themselves not by places but as defenders of certain political principles. In a republic, political parties are in no way like the Apache, the Comanche, or the Cherokee tribes.

 

            As many have noticed, tribes have formed in the United States political arena. As a result, dissent is confused with disloyalty because loyalty is a prerequisite of tribal life. Moreover, in the homeland, patriotism is often confused with loyalty, so that patriots are those who salute when flags are flown and who don’t take a knee when the national anthem is played. In the homeland, public officials are thanked for their service, while in republics public officials are questioned, challenged, even arrested and tried for their service.

 

            The extent to which our politics have become tribal is attested to, illustrated by the lack of any substantive debate about political principles. Politicians attack each other rather than debating each other, just as, say, the Apaches might attack another tribe but would never debate that tribe. A debate about whether being an Apache or a Cherokee is better makes no sense, just as these days a debate about being a Republican or a Democrat seems senseless. Republicans attack Democrats while Democrats attack Republicans because they both think there is nothing to debate. These parties have become tribes, contending for control of the homeland, not for persuading the people to adopt the proper political principles. In republics, disagreements don’t lead to attacks bot to debates, at times even to debates over basic principles. And after the debates, the people get to decide which principles will have their consent. And that is the key to republics: They are political arrangements that function according to “the consent of the governed.”

Homeland v. Republican Politics, Part Two

Homeland v. Republican Politics, Part Two

Peter Schultz

 

            The following includes two quotes from Thomas Jefferson, in letters written to James Madison and another to Abigail Adams, concerning what is called “Shays’ Rebellion, which occurred in Massachusetts and by which Daniel Shays and a few thousand followers tried to take over the government in Massachusetts.

 

“In a letter to Madison on January 30, 1787, Jefferson wrote “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical… It is medicine necessary for the sound health of government.”[1] In another letter Jefferson expressed to Abigail Adams, “The spirit of the resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all.” [2] Jefferson saw the people as the ultimate way to protect liberty and their rights. He felt so strongly about this idea that he did not think the rebels should be punished.”

 

            Jefferson also wrote that the motives of the Shaysites were “founded in ignorance not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion….And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance?....The remedy is to is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them.”

 

            Jefferson’s arguments seem radical to us these days, when we are in the midst of “protecting the homeland” from enemies, foreign and domestic. Homeland politics cannot allow or abide by “a little rebellion,” whereas according to Jefferson, republican politics requires and benefits from “a little rebellion,” at least every twenty years. Take note that Jefferson did not consider the Shaysites to be “enemies” and did not call for a war on domestic terrorism. Set them straight and pardon the rebels.

 

            Homeland politics is a distinctly anti-republican kind of politics. It’s the kind of politics that prioritizes “domestic tranquility” and treats those who disturb that tranquility as enemies, even these days “terrorists.” But if you think about it, in the United States, those who have subverted domestic tranquility have changed for the better our political and social arrangements. Recall the peace movement during the Vietnam War, recall the Stonewall rebellion when gays and lesbians rebelled against the police, recall MLK and the civil rights marches that led, eventually, to the end of de jure segregation, etc., etc., etc. As Jefferson pointed out, if there aren’t disruptions, rebellions every so often, the people’s liberties will be lost.

 

            But homeland politics doesn’t take its bearings from preserving liberty. Rather, it takes its bearings from “protecting the homeland,” and whatever liberties are left over after that is done – and it is never done – are all the people are entitled to, but only so long as “domestic tranquility” isn’t disturbed.


Friday, June 25, 2021

Homeland Politics v. Republican Politics

 

Homeland Politics v. Republican Politics

Peter Schultz

 

            “The Homeland” seems like such an innocuous phrase, without political implications. But in fact it isn’t innocuous at all, which can be illustrated by contrasting it with the phrase “the republic.”

 

            In the Pledge of Allegiance, we pledge our allegiance, strictly speaking, not to the flag but to “the republic for which it stands.” A republic, whatever its details, is something that can be lost. Ben Franklin is reputed to have said upon leaving the constitutional convention when he was asked what the proposed constitution established, “A republic, if you can keep it.” A republic is a particular political arrangement, one that may be lost, one that needs to be maintained, one whose future existence is not guaranteed. Whatever its details, a republic is not a homeland and a homeland need not be a republic.

 

            In fact, “the homeland” has nothing to do with any particular political arrangement. Were the United States a monarchy or a national security state, it could not be a republic; but it would still be “the homeland.” A homeland is a place, not a political arrangement. But although not a particular political order, calling a place “the homeland” has political implications, even significant political implications.

 

            One implication, already alluded to, is that in the homeland, political arrangements are of peripheral importance, secondary, even subservient to “protecting the homeland” against enemies, foreign and domestic. In protecting the homeland, the creation of “czars,” like “drug czars” or “intelligence czars,” is not controversial. Whether such offices can be grafted on to a republic without subverting the republic is not a question that need be raised. Similarly with what is called “mass incarceration.” Whether a republic can survive mass incarceration isn’t a concern when the goal is “protecting the homeland.” In fact, if “protecting the homeland” requires subverting the republic, then so be it. The homeland is to be protected even at the expense of republican political arrangements, which means that at times republican arrangements get in the way of “protecting the homeland.”

 

            It is obvious then that “homeland politics” and “republican politics” need not co-exist. In fact, homeland politics – a politics unconstrained by principled political arrangements – and republican politics – a politics bound by principled political arrangements – cannot co-exist. Homeland politics will, when push comes to shove as it always does, undermine, subvert republican politics – which is one reason the elites most interested in acquiring, maintaining, and using their power are quite taken with “protecting the homeland,” as opposed to “protecting the republic.”