Friday, December 31, 2021

The New Deal, Racism, and Imperialism


The New Deal, Racism, and Imperialism

Peter Schultz


            In his book, Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time,” Ira Katznelson asserts: “The ability of the New Deal to confront the era’s most heinous dictatorships by reshaping liberal democracy required accommodating the most violent and illiberal part of the political system, keeping the South inside the game of democracy.” [p. 25]


            This is most interesting in that Katznelson argues that US imperialism, an imperialism dedicated allegedly to promoting democracy throughout the world, required accommodating racism as it existed throughout the United States, but especially in the South. That is, triumphant nationalism fed racism, not vice versa. This suggests that to deal with, to undermine racism required and requires subverting US imperialism or its transcendent nationalism by which the US sees itself as the “exceptional nation,” one capable of reforming others and defeating “heinous dictatorships.” Thus, it is imperialism, not racism, that must be dealt with insofar as it was and is imperialism that required and requires “accommodating the most violent and illiberal parts” of the American political order. And, of course, these "most violent and illiberal parts" of our political order will change over time, even if they remain significantly racist. They could also take the form of "Islamophobia" or sexism.


            [A further question arises as well: Was this “accommodation” merely the result of calculation? Or does the compatibility of imperialism and "the most violent and illiberal parts of the political system" cut even deeper? Was this situation really an accommodation?] 

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Aristotle and Plato: Teachers Not Politicians


Aristotle and Plato: Teachers Not Politicians

Peter Schultz


            I finally get it. That is, I get what political philosophy is. Politics, looked at philosophically, provides access to the permanent human questions and to human nature itself. It’s in the political arena that human beings reveal themselves, that their souls are revealed in all their complexity. And that complexity is reflected in the political world where there seem to be almost countless possibilities from among which humans choose how they wish to live.


            As such, political philosophy, as understood by Plato and Aristotle at least, does not culminate in a political agenda, in a recommendation for or a defense of a particular political order. So understood, political philosophy is a kind of contemplation, and it can be a most beneficial kind of contemplation insofar as human beings are political animals. Those who understand political philosophy as something like a practical endeavor, as an endeavor that points toward an embrace of a particular political agenda or a particular political order misunderstand what political philosophy, at its best, is. And this is the meaning of Pascal’s assertion – as well as of others – that Aristotle, for example, didn’t have a politics. Aristotle’s Politics is his contemplation about the political world, not a defense of this or that kind of political agenda or political order. To be an “Aristotelian,” if that is taken to me a partisan of a particular kind of politics or political order, misunderstands what Aristotle was about. In other words, Aristotle would not be “an Aristotelian,” just as Plato would not be “a Platonist.” For the Aristotelians and the Platonists have turned Aristotle’s and Plato’s philosophizing into politics and have turned these philosophers into politicians of a high order but still into politicians. Aristotle and Plato were teachers, not politicians.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

American Exceptionalism: Understanding American Politics


American Exceptionalism: Understanding American Politics

Peter Schultz


            To understand American politics, it is necessary to get beyond the conventional wisdom that our political arena is characterized by an ever-recurring conflict between “the left” and “the right.” While there is such conflict, it is, at best, superficial and so it disappears at a moment’s notice. Recently, for example, the Congress passed a humongous “defense’ budget – it’s a war-making budget, not a defense budget – and “the left v. the right” conflict was nowhere to be seen. This phenomenon recurs regularly in our political drama, indicating that “left v. right” is not the real situation.


            The real situation is that our political elites – like most of the people they represent – are united by a commitment to American exceptionalism; that is, that the US is the exceptional nation in the world and should, therefore, control, manipulate, and exploit that world. All fo the sake of justice, peace, prosperity, and the American way. This might be best called a militant triumphalism, which celebrates our nation’s greatness, its political, economic, cultural, and military greatness. Of course, the Democrats accuse the Republicans of undermining this triumphalism with racist and sexist policies, while the Republicans accuse the Democrats of undermining it by way of socialistic policies. But both parties, both “left” and “right” embrace American exceptionalism as something to be celebrated. And neither party rejects the politics of greatness that underlay American politics. While Trump wanted to “make America great again” so too did the Democrats and have argued that they have succeeded by electing Joe Biden to replace Trump as president. Happy days are here again allegedly as American greatness has triumphed once again.


            And this is a situation that many people accept as a recurring one in American history. That is, the US, ever since it separated from the mother country, has avoided – seemingly at times at the last moment – political disaster by recovering her greatness via its democratic republic and impressive leadership. The Constitution replaced the fatally flawed Articles of Confederation, thereby replacing “weak government” with “strong government,” the kind of government that allowed the US to manifest its destiny by occupying and conquering territory from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and even beyond. Greatness beckoned and our “Founders” responded proving our exceptionalism. Then Lincoln and the Republicans once again reclaimed America’s greatness by fighting the Civil War, saving the union and abolishing slavery. Then, as the US after the Civil War tended toward a plutocracy, the progressives came along and, eventually, by means of great presidents like TR, Woodrow Wilson, and FDR, made America great again. And, of course, thanks to Woodrow Wilson, the US entered WW I and made the world “safe for democracy,” or so it was claimed. Then as the nation divided violently in the 60’s, LBJ declared and established, briefly, a “Great Society,” Nixon achieved “Peace with Honor” in Vietnam, and Ronald Reagan rode out of the West to, once again, reclaim America’s greatness. After 9/11, said to be an “existential” threat to the homeland, George Bush rode to the rescue by invading Afghanistan and Iraq, triumphantly proclaiming America’s greatness, a triumph followed by the election of bi-racial president. And in 2020, the election of Joe Biden, displacing Donald Trump as president, proved once again that America “was back,” that it had once again become militantly triumphant.


            And yet this conventional wisdom doesn’t seem to have penetrated the consciousness of a good many people, who at present indicate little faith in our political institutions or our political elites. Lurking in the shadows of our conventional wisdom is doubt, even significant dissatisfaction despite America’s obvious greatness. But our elites, instead of wondering about the persuasiveness of the triumphant version of America’s history or wondering about the desirability of achieving greatness, have focused on those who are openly challenging the conventional narrative, dissenting and at times even causing civil unrest. These dissenters, who some like to call “blame America firsters,” have done so far to accuse the US of being guilty of war crimes and their leaders being war criminals, using purloined documents as evidence.


            In the face of such dissent, once again “the left” and “the right” have disappeared as they have come together to oppose, even criminalize, this dissent. For without a conviction that the US is the exceptional nation, American politics looks a lot like the politics one finds in many third world nations and its actions in the world do indeed look like criminal acts. The current regime depends upon the idea that America is an exceptional nation, even the exceptional nation. And were the “subversives” to succeed in undermining this myth, our elites know that their days would be numbered.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Francis Bacon's Ethic of Alienation


Francis Bacon’s Ethic of Alienation

Peter Schultz


            Theodore Roszak [Where the Wasteland Ends] points out that Bacon and others had “found a great truth: break faith with the environment, establish between yourself and it the alienative dichotomy called objectivity, and you will gain great power. Then nothing – no sense of fellowship or personal intimacy or strong belonging – will bar your access to the delicate mysteries of man and nature. Nothing will inhibit your ability to manipulate and exploit.” [p. 168, emphasis added]


            This ethic is what made modern science possible and so powerful. But it can also explain our politics. That is, break the link between politics and the community and the result is a great advance of power for those ruling. How break that link? By way of government; that is, by way of creating institutions that turn citizens into “the governed” or, as is often said these days, into clients. By severing the link between politics and the community via government, “Nothing will inhibit [the] ability [or check the desire] to manipulate and exploit” the governed. As James Madison wrote in the Federalist: “The first task [in creating a government] is to enable the government to control the governed and then [oblige] that government to control itself.” The government controls the governed primarily by embracing this ethic of alienation. Government is, as Madison implied, all about control; that is, it is all about manipulation and exploitation. The more powerful the government, the more pervasive the manipulation and exploitation.


            Within such an ethic, the governed become “mere things on which we exercise power. Between [those governing and us] there is no commerce of feelings, no exchange of sentiment or empathy. We [are known] only as … behavioral surface[s]….” Those governing “can remark coolly how interesting it is that [some] make sounds of protest, anguish, or despair….But [those governing, for the sake of objectivity should] make certain that their distress strikes no sympathetic cord – for….[the] project requires [those governing] to go no further than to record, to measure, to probe further, and to get on with the assigned job,” whether that job is educating human beings, incarcerating them, vaccinating them, or sending them to war. [pp. 168-69] This is what it means “to be realistic.”


            And this ethic of alienation proves to be very useful in liberating human beings to use their power with “energy and dispatch,” as Hamilton recommended in the Federalist. As Roszak points out, this ethic is “an excellent device for dealing with ‘behavioral organisms’ not only under the researcher’s eye in the laboratory, but under the bombsights of the military, under the guns of Murder Incorporated.” And it should come as no surprise that those doing the bombing eventually find themselves not in planes but in what might be called laboratories from whence they launch killer drones at digital representations on a screen, representations that can’t even be labeled “behavioral surfaces.” The bomb is launched and, poof, those digital representations are gone. It’s like a magic show, a deadly, inhuman magic show. From these laboratories, guided by the ethic of alienation, our military can make whole villages disappear. After which, those responsible will record, measure, probe further, and get on with the assigned job.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Listening While Malcolm X Laughs


Listening While Malcolm X Laughs

Peter Schultz


            In my sleep last night, I could hear Malcolm X laughing his ass off at the idea of Critical Race Theory (CRT). “What? White people now need and have a theory about racism in the United States. Are you fucking kidding me? Why would anyone but an ignoramus need a theory about racism, about “white privilege” in the United States?”


            And when I awoke, I realized why Malcolm X found CRT so laughable. As he and Martin Luther King, Jr. knew, what was needed in the United States was combat against racism, not a theory about racism. They both issued calls to action to combat racism, with Malcolm X saying he would wage combat against racism “by any means necessary,” and gave a most challenging speech entitled “The Ballot or the Bullet.” And while King chose to combat racism pacifistically, he knew that protests and political action were necessary, that racism had to fought, not theorized about.


            So, in light of these thoughts, I wondered: What purpose is served by CRT? That is, what purpose is served other than permitting white folks to confess and thereby cleanse themselves of racism, without having to do anything, without having to take any action to combat racism? And then it dawned on me: CRT is simply another example of white privilege and its acceptance as “radical” illustrates just how deeply white privilege is embedded in US society and especially in the minds and lives of white folks. And, of course, when CRT draws opposition and criticism, these same white folks can take pride in their alleged radicalness, all the while not disturbing the status quo much at all and without doing any other than espousing “a theory.”


            I guess this should be called “theoretical anti-racism,” although the irony is that in fact this theoretical anti-racism is just another manifestation of how pervasive racism is in the United States. Racism is so prevalent in the United States that it is, as the expression has it, hidden in plain sight. It even comes disguised as anti-racism. It is a most interesting situation.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Some Shit Schultz Says


Some “Shit” Schultz Says

Peter Schultz


            “If you live like Jesus,” my father said, “you should expect to be crucified.” Indeed. What my father sensed was that Jesus’s crucifixion was no aberration. It was the result of how he chose to live. Similarly, it may be said that Socrates’s trial, conviction, and death were not aberrations either. They were the result of how Socrates chose to live, i.e., philosophically.


            While we think of philosophy as an academic discipline or as an intellectual phenomenon, it isn’t. Rather, it is a way of being in the world; it is a way of life. And it is distinct from other ways of being in the world, e.g., being political or living what might be called “the political life.” Not only that but being philosophic brings the philosopher into conflict with those who are being political, as the trial, conviction, and death of Socrates illustrated. That Socrates accepted his fate indicates that he understood this.


            Aristotle argued that moral virtue was also a way of being in the world. For example, being courageous, being just are ways of being in the world. That is, for Aristotle, what we call morality was not following certain rules or prescriptions like “honesty is the best policy.” Aristotle’s take on moral virtue was not rule oriented; rather, it was a way of life, a way of being in the world, a way of being in the world that was the result of habits developed as human beings mature or age.  


            Similarly, Aristotle thought of politics in the same way. He spoke of “the political life” as a way of being in the world. It was a way of being characterized, most often, by thumotic passions rather than erotic passions, which has significant consequences for the kind of life the political life is. Leo Strauss claimed that Plato in The Republic had abstracted from eros, thereby presenting through Socrates a thumotic picture of the best regime. One can wonder, of course, what the political life would look like were the erotic to be included. Perhaps this is what Aristotle was doing in his Politics, analyzing the political life as it would appear were the erotic passions taken into account.


            In Aristotle’s political science, he analyzed political communities in terms of “regimes,” which are ways of being in the world. That is, Aristotle argued that democracies and oligarchies, as well as democrats and oligarchs, have different ways of being in the world. Or, one might say, that being reveals itself differently in democracies and oligarchies, just as being reveals itself differently in the political life and in the philosophic life. If being reveals itself more fully in the philosophic life, than it becomes a question of how to construct a political life that is open to philosophy, open to the fullest possible revelation of being. And what makes the best regime the best is that it is the regime that is most open to philosophy, and therefore it is the regime that should be prayed for. But, of course, the conflict between the political life and the philosophic life is enduring because the philosophic life will always be subversive and, as a result, always be endangered. As noted above, Socrates’s fate was not an aberration, just as Jesus’s fate was not an aberration.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Politcs, the Ambitious Few, and Making America Great Again


Politics, the Ambitious Few, and Making America Great Again

Peter Schultz


            “The ambitious,” “the few,” “the oligarchs,” those who Aristotle calls, euphemistically, “the gentlemen,” aren’t they the most dangerous politically? Isn’t Aristotle’s Politics addressed primarily to them? Aren’t Socrates’ interlocutors in The Republic, Glaucon and Adeimantus, representative of the ambitious few? Didn’t Socrates want to tame their ambition, much as he opposed Periclean imperialism in Athens? Wasn’t the elevation of the ambitious few one phenomena most feared by the Anti-Federalists were the new, proposed constitution to be ratified?  


            And that constitution was written to appeal to the ambitious few, by creating a government that would appeal to them, appeal to their desires for fame and power. As Hamilton put it in the Federalist, the presidency was constructed to appeal to those who “love fame,” which was “the ruling passion of the noblest minds.” Without term limits, the offices of the proposed government would appeal to the ambitious few, those most interested in creating an “extensive empire,” “from sea to shining sea” and beyond, as it came to be.


            Whereas it may be said that the Anti-Federalists wanted to establish a “small republic;” that is, a republic characterized by what might be called “small mindedness,” a mindedness not captured by dreams of glory, dreams of greatness, dreams of eternal fame. As Herbert Storing characterized the dissent of the Anti-Federalists: “Ambitious Federalists [were] captured by visions of ‘stately palaces’ and ‘dazzling ideas of glory, wealth, and power” [and] wanted us ‘to be like other nations.’” [p. 31, What the Anti-Federalists Were For] The Anti-Federalists saw in Hamilton’s scorn of their arguments “dangerous dreams of national glory.” As Patrick Henry put it in the Virginia ratifying convention: “If we admit this Consolidated Government, it will be because we like a great splendid one. Some way or other we must be a great and mighty empire; we must have an army, and a navy, and a number of things: When the American spirit was in its youth, the language of America was different: Liberty, Sir, was then the primary object.’”


            As very few object to “making America great” these days, it would be useful to consider whether the pursuit of greatness is compatible with liberty, justice, or even decency. It may be that one of the most important things needed is to recover the thought of those who saw political greatness as a temptation best resisted.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Aristotle, Regimes, and American Politics


Aristotle, Regimes, and American Politics

Peter Schultz


            Aristotle’s political teaching revolves around what he called “regimes,” which were political phenomena that were the result or reflection of the outcome of battles for power waged by, most frequently, democrats and oligarchs. For Aristotle, it was the regime that made a polis what it was; that is, a democracy, an oligarchy, an aristocracy, a monarchy, or a tyranny.


            According to Pangle, the Enlightenment political philosophers “reconceived politics” by referring to “the state,” which was the means of protecting “society.” As a result, “a new kind of political order, ‘liberal constitutionalism’ was constructed….” In this new order, “liberals” and “conservatives” replaced oligarchs and democrats as the contestants for power.


            Jim Hightower, e.g., has argued that that didn’t happen, that the basic political conflict was not between the “left,” the liberals and the “right” or the conservatives but was between “the top,” the wealthiest and most powerful, and “the others,” the less well-off and the less powerful. That is, when you look at what actually happens in the U.S., you can see that the political drama is still a matter, as Aristotle contended, of the few, the wealthy few, contesting for power with the many. US politics revolves around the conflict between the have-a-lots and the have-not-so-much, to put it crudely. The top seeks to control and the bottom, while the bottom seeks the power to control the top.


            Walter Karp is also distinguished by his looking at what is actually going on in the US, viz., that the few prosper at the expense of the many because the few, of both the liberal and the conservative varieties, collude to control the state. Illustration: Our elites, both liberal and conservative, marginalized Ralph Nader, just as earlier those same elites marginalized the populists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in order to maintain their control of the state.


            Aristotle’s political science illuminates what is actually going on better than conventional political science does because he thought in terms of “regimes,” and not in terms of “the state” and “society.” “The national security state,” e.g., obscures what is actually going on, viz., that the wealthy few are seeking to establish a “benevolent empire” that serves their interests and would establish what they conceive to be the best available regime. This helps to illuminate why such “mistakes” as the Vietnam War was not a “mistake.” The war was part of our oligarchs’ political agenda and was only ended when dissent threatened to undermine the oligarchy by bringing to power such people as George McGovern, RFK, or Eugene McCarthy. As dissent became more threatening our oligarchs had to pull together by nominating the likes of Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon as presidential candidates in 1968, both of whom claimed to be “peace candidates.” Victory was forsaken for “peace with honor,” which Nixon claimed to have achieved and for which he was rewarded with a landslide victory in 1972 over – wait for it – George McGovern. So, the oligarchy prevailed after all, and the peace movement and New Left were for all practical purposes defeated. And the American people were apparently willing to call the war “a mistake,” so they didn’t have to consider what its savagery said about the nation’s regime and about them. And the oligarchic regime was eventually fortified by Ronald Reagan’s election, after which the Democrats fell in line behind Reagan’s politics, something they had not done for Jimmy Carter.


            Hightower and Karp are not progressives because they see the American political drama as repeated attempts by democrats to wrest control from oligarchs – and repeatedly being defeated or marginalized. This is a take on our politics that the oligarchy needs to suppress, replacing it with the progressive mythology that our elites are trying to improve life in the U.S. by combatting phenomena like crime, drugs, climate change, or pandemics. By this view, our elites are well-intentioned although they do make “mistakes,” even with some frequency, e.g., by allowing 9/11 to happen or allowing JFK to be assassinated. These “mistakes” need to be corrected of course; but because they are merely “mistakes’ they tell us nothing important about how we have chosen to live and to govern, about what we hold most dear and pursue with passion. For example, for progress to occur, it was thought that government must be “reinvented,” as Clinton and Gore put it. Or post 9/11, progress required that we go to “the dark side” because after 9/11 “nothing is the same.”


            If Aristotle was correct, if Hightower and Karp are correct, this progressivism is merely the cover story for our elites fortifying their rule. If Aristotle, Hightower, and Karp are correct, the post 9/11 drama of American politics hasn’t changed. It is still a drama of the few trying to lord it over the many and the many trying to resist such rule, only now this drama takes place within the war on terror, a war that should be understood politically, as one part of our oligarchs’ agenda. The war on terror, like the wars on crime and on drugs, needs to be understood politically; that is, needs to be understood as fortifying the rule of some, here the few, over others, here the many. 



NB: in chapter three Pangle points out that Aristotle replaces the patriot’s viewpoint - that the place and the people - define the polis with his argument about regimes. The patriot viewpoint lends itself to talk of a “homeland,” whereas Aristotle’s viewpoint underwrites our pledge of allegiance to the flag and to the republic for which it stands. We owe our allegiance to a republic, not to a homeland. No republic, no allegiance required. 

The patriot viewpoint also underwrites the idea that our elites may be described as well-intentioned, because they are, allegedly, committed to the homeland and not to an oligarchy. As oligarchs they are not well-intentioned, but committed to suppressing the many-not-so-well-off when necessary to maintain their power, and it will always be necessary.  

Finally, Aristotle’s regime analysis is based on what we can see happening, ala’ Karp and Hightower. It is empirical, based on actions, not on intentions or the rhetoric of the elites. If a regime is producing more and more millionaires and billionaires, it’s obviously an oligarchy. And it is the oligarchy that should be opposed, rather than the abstraction “capitalism.” One can, obviously, oppose capitalism while supporting oligarchy, as this is precisely how the oligarchy has been and is preserved in the US.