Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The Anti-Federalist Problem and Promise

 

The Anti-Federalist Problem and Promise

Peter Schultz

 

            The most insightful of the Anti-Federalists understood that the debate over the proposed constitution was a debate over ends, not means. That is, they understood that “The Federalists [were] using an argument about means to enlarge the ends of government, shifting their gaze from individual liberty to visions of national empire and glory.” [Storing, What the Anti-Federalists Were For, p.  ]

 

            The Anti-Federalists’ problem was that their end, individual liberty, was inadequate in opposing the Federalists’ desire for a great nation. Individual liberty cannot withstand claims made on behalf of society or the people. Whenever individual liberty is pitted against the common good, individual liberty will lose, as even the Anti-Federalists understood when it came to national defense. Common interests always trump individual interests, including individual liberty.

 

            The Anti-Federalists needed then a way to define the common good that was better than those visions of empire and glory embraced by some Federalists. And this they did not have access to because, among other things, they did not think through their preferences for a homogeneous, middle-class republic. What does such a republic point toward and how it is different than or an alternative to the Federalist version of republicanism?

 

            Homogeneous and middle class point toward a republic where people are alike and where people don’t aspire to be distinguished or superior. In such a republic, for example, education’s goal wouldn’t be separation or “elevation” according to “merit,” but rather to create a homogeneous, like-minded, people. That is, the goal of education would not be, ala’ Jefferson, the creation of an aristocracy, natural or otherwise, but rather creating a community.

 

            And the Anti-Federalists never really did get to the point of seeing community as the proper end of politics, in large part because they, like the Federalists, were seeking success in terms of being a modern nation. Modern nations are built of acquisition, of land, of wealth, of power, whereas communities require cultivation and caring. Cultivation and caring are alternatives, create alternative “lifestyles,” to those created by an ethic of acquisition and exploitation. And it is less than clear that nationalism is compatible with cultivation and caring.

 

            Despite their limitations, the Anti-Federalists point toward an alternative republicanism than the republicanism of empire and glory espoused by some Federalists. It is, of course, the latter that has defined the United States throughout its history, for better and worse. But that need not obscure the fact that at the second founding there were two competing, alternative visions of republicanism, not “large” versus “small,” not even “national” versus “confederal,” but rather communal versus imperial. Would many deny that at the very least emphasizing the communal alternative, perhaps in the form of “a kinder, gentler nation,” would improve our politics and our society?

 

           

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Contemporary Liberalism

 

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and Contemporary Liberalism

Peter Schultz

 

            In his book, The Real Anthony Fauci, RFK, Jr. writes at one point, in a section entitled “Gays Join Fauci:” “Blind faith in Saint Anthony Fauci may go down in history as the fatal flaw of contemporary liberalism….” [p. 231] Nice thought but he’s wrong.

 

            This blind faith in Fauci won’t be the fatal flaw of contemporary liberalism because it is, from a progressive perspective, not “a flaw” that undermines the legitimacy of contemporary liberalism. And it won’t be considered a fatal flaw of contemporary liberalism even if it turns out that “Saint Anthony Fauci” was wrong and RFK, Jr. and other dissenters were right. Just as from a progressive viewpoint, the Vietnam War or Bush, Jr.’s invasion of Iraq weren’t considered flaws that undermined the legitimacy of contemporary liberalism or progressivism. Why not? Because these wars demonstrated US hegemony – cultural and military – and demonstrated that even as unjust and inhuman as they were that hegemony could survive and, eventually, even be fortified. Why? Because it is taken as an article of faith that contemporary liberalism is just and humane and that the arc of history bends towards its dominance.

 

            Similarly, what Anthony Fauci was doing regarding HIV/AIDS was a demonstration of his power, power he was using in the service of fortifying contemporary liberalism with its commitment to science and the modus operandi of contemporary medicine. And that, of course, is Fauci’s goal, preserving the hegemony, cultural, political, and scientific, of contemporary liberalism which is also the basis of his power, prestige, and wealth. So even if Anthony Fauci proves to have been wrong regarding the connection between HIV/AIDS, that won’t be allowed to undermine the legitimacy of contemporary liberalism, just as the Vietnam War and Bush’s Iraq war did nothing to undermine the legitimacy of the progressive mindset that underlay contemporary liberalism.

 

            And the gays who joined Fauci, as RFK, Jr. put it, did so because they are committed to that progressivism and to contemporary liberalism. And they will honor that commitment even it means that some gays would die as the result of thinking HIV is the sole cause of AIDS, just as many Americans died in Vietnam and Iraq to honor the nation’s commitment to contemporary liberalism. Progressivism and contemporary liberalism require such sacrifices. Whether those sacrifices are justified depends upon whether progressivism and contemporary liberalism are in fact just and humane.

Monday, January 17, 2022

A Federalist/Anti-Federalist Dialogue

 

A Federalist/Anti-Federalist Dialogue

Peter Schultz

 

Anti-Federalist [AF]: I am opposed to this proposed constitution because it will undermine, replace our confederation, which is a voluntary association of sovereign states bound by friendship.

 

Federalist [F]: See, there’s your mistake.

 

AF: What’s that?

 

F: Well, states cannot be friends.

 

AF: They can’t? Why not?

 

F: Because some thing always gets in the way.

 

AF: What thing? Tell me.

 

F: The desire to penetrate and subdue, which controls all states. It’s their nature.

 

AF: It is? Why?

 

F: Because all states want, desire, crave sovereignty. And so they seek sovereignty over any other states they interact with. And the closer, the more intimate the interaction, the greater the vulnerability, the stronger is the desire for sovereignty. And that dooms the possibility of friendship, and of confederations.

 

 

[Question: In When Harry Met Sally, how does Harry understand “the sex thing” so it excludes the possibility of friendship?

Answer: Because he understands “the sex thing” as a way of demonstrating male superiority, male sovereignty. The quest for sovereignty seeks to make women “meow,” to make women “pet-like.” And women, by faking orgasms, seemingly play along, pretending to be “pet-like.” But listen or recall the lyrics of “It Had To Be You:” love of a woman who “tries to be boss” is possible. Such love even makes a man “be true,” and this even though she makes him “cross.” “The sex thing,” surrounded by love, is not about dominance – which women demonstrate they understand by faking orgasms.]

Friday, January 14, 2022

The Keys to Progress and The Real Anthony Fauci

 

The Keys to Progress and The Real Anthony Fauci

Peter Schultz

 

            The keys to progress are commodification and simplification or reductionism. As Marx pointed out, capitalism commodifies things, so homes become houses or, more precisely, investments. They become “property” which means of course that they can and should be sold, thereby revving up the economy and creating wealth understood as money. “How much are you worth?” is a mainstay of a commodified society, how people measure themselves. Other things are also commodified, e.g., health which is to be guaranteed by medicines which are to be bought and sold. Medicines replace other paths to health, such as “exotic stuff” like acupuncture, diet, or play. As a result, doctors become “pill pushers,” who are underwritten by pharmaceutical corporations.

 

            What I am calling “simplification” is another key to guaranteeing progress. For example, “national security” replaces peace as the goal of foreign policy because it is easier to guarantee the nation’s security than it is to guarantee peace. As a result, advocates for peace look like na├»ve idealists seeking what it is most unlikely to achieve. “Pacifists” are marginalized as untrustworthy, even as dangerous who threaten national security. Happiness is displaced by “the pursuit of happiness” or, as I like to say, by success. Like peace, happiness as a goal seems oceanic, overwhelming, whereas success can be measured and is reachable. One question that recurs, however, is; Does success compensate for the loss of happiness?

 

            Both of these keys to progress are visible in Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s book, The Real Anthony Fauci. The commodification of health as medicine is visible, for example, in the fact that drug companies have sought to replace one commodity, ivermectin, with other commodities that act like ivermectin but are more profitable and, thereby, create more wealth, allegedly making the US healthier as well wealthier. Other commodities, like vaccines, are developed to deal with pandemics, displacing the treatment of patients in order to eradicate the pandemics. Eradication, via “herd immunity” or vaccines, replaces the medical art of doctoring, of treating human beings for the sake of their health. Along with the definition of health, even the definition of being diseased is simplified, reduced to being infested with germs or viruses. A more comprehensive understanding of health as not being “dis-eased” disappears with the result that human beings forget that “a healthy lifestyle” consists of much more than washing one’s hands, wearing masks, locking down, or maintaining “social distance.”

 

            In fact, it is also forgotten that repression is not conducive to healthy lifestyles. And so the reductionism of modernity is complete insofar as it reduces politics to repression and  commodifies our “freedom” as “going shopping,” as President Bush recommended after the attacks of 9/11. So “progress” is defined, actualizes as the combination of repression and shopping, two phenomena that, as Machiavelli might say, go together very well.

 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Politics and Natural Order

 

Politics and Natural Order

Peter Schultz

 

            Progressives want progress, of course; that is, adaptations to changing circumstances, to newly arrived circumstances.

 

            To say there is a natural order is to say that some issues are eternal or permanent. One such issue is the political nature of human beings. What does this mean? Usually, it is assumed that Aristotle, who is famous for saying that human are political animals, saw this as a positive thing because as political animals humans could create arrangements that would benefit human beings. But the more or the deeper one looks into Aristotle’s political teaching – as happens with other thinkers, e.g., Tocqueville – the more it looks like man’s political nature isn’t an unalloyed good. In fact, it begins to look like politics points toward imperialism (war) and tyranny (despotism). Insofar as this is true, then there is or should be a permanent agenda, viz., how to prevent political life from eventuating in imperialism and/or tyranny, from destroying or dehumanizing human life.

 

            The progressives may be said to focus on other issues, most especially on tangential issues such as drugs, poverty, or even racism. They assume that the resolution of such issues is obtainable if governments are rendered powerful enough, are active enough, are rational enough in addressing them. That they are concerned with peripheral issues does not occur to progressives because they do not think of political life as revolving around certain permanent issues or choices. Were they to think in terms of permanent issues, permanent choices, they would see that progressivism disguises or distorts the human condition.

 

            Political philosophy is then the attempt to illuminate political life, to illuminate the permanent political issues, the permanent human issues. For example, Plato’s Republic has been said to abstract from eros, which was Plato’s way of illuminating one of the most basic aspects of political life, viz., its depreciation of the erotic, of eros. Plato’s Republic calls attention to the limits of political life or, in other words, to the fundamentally flawed character of political life. More generally, Plato’s Socrates illuminates the fundamentally flawed character of Athens, where Athens represents one of the best available regimes or political orders. And those flaws are illuminated by the fact that Athens has Socrates tried, convicted, and put to death as a subversive. Athens’s relative superiority to other regimes is attested to by the fact that Socrates was allowed to live for some seventy years before he was executed. Maybe that “as good as it gets.”

 

            How does a progressive see the fate of Socrates? Not as evidence of a fundamental conflict between philosophy and political life, not as a conflict that cannot be transcended. For a progressive, that conflict can be manipulated by means of, say, “the freedom of speech,” or “the freedom of conscience,” means that promise to protect both the philosopher and the city. To the extent that such manipulations fail, the progressive sees such failures as “mistakes” due to failures of intelligence, of empathy, or of the existence of character flaws. From the progressive point of view, we need not be overly troubled by Socrates’ fate or by our own “mistakes” because both are little more than ephemeral phenomena that do not illuminate crucial aspects of the human condition. With better organization and rational decision making, the progressive thinks we can successfully navigate the human condition and arrive, eventually, at “the end of history.” It is a comforting way of thinking. It would be more comforting if it were true.

Monday, January 3, 2022

The Age of Betrayal: A Comment

 

The Age of Betrayal: A Comment

Peter Schultz

 

            In his rewarding book, The Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900, Jack Beatty asks the question: “Why, if politics ignored their needs, did roughly 30% more Americans than now vote then?” And his answer is: “the politics of distraction.” That is, “the parties exploited sectional, racial, cultural, and religious cleavages to win office, then turned government over to the corporations.” [p. 221]

 

            Well, although not an uncommon explanation, this is not an answer. That is, this just restates the issues: Why didn’t voters catch on? What did people think they were doing by voting? What was their political psychology? They didn’t see themselves as fools or as being fooled and, hence, they went on voting – as many still do today. What was the appeal of voting?

 

            The appeal came and comes from what I call the “triumphant nationalism” that Americans embrace. That is, people see themselves as participating in a grand, nationalistic ritual, one that is as sacred to our politics as the mass is for Catholics, as sacred as pilgrimages are for Moslems, or as sacred as Passover is for Jews. It is this triumphant nationalism that underlays, that supports oligarchy, the great power and authority of the few. In those times that Beatty is assessisng, this nationalism took different forms: pensions for Northern Civil War veterans and their families, the tariff meant to support American industries, even or especially white, Protestant supremacy which was thought to underlay American purity and greatness.

 

            So, in order to fortify the prevailing oligarchy, this triumphant nationalism had to be fed and fed it was by the creation and maintenance of great economic institutions, the corporations; fed also by expansion, meaning the creation of more states as well as expansion overseas; and by crusades meant to project American values throughout the world, in Cuba, the Philippines, and Hawai’i. 

 

             More generally, triumphant nationalism is the trump card of our politics, no pun intended. It overrides self-interest, because making or keeping America great, maintaining its supremacy is the most important thing. Other issues are viewed through the lens of this triumphant nationalism, of American supremacy, of its right and capacity to rule the world, to create a “new world order.” Culture war battles are waged in the shadow of this triumphant nationalism and, so, issues like abortion or gun control are not decisive issues for most Americans. They do not distract; rather, they are distracted from by the appeal of triumphant nationalism. The real war isn’t cultural; it’s political and it’s waged over how to keep America great, triumphant, supreme because both the Republicans and the Democrats strive for greatness, for triumphs, for US supremacy.

 

            Beatty cites Thomas Frank’s book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America,” as illustrating that the same phenomenon is ongoing in the United States now, the people being blinded by what Ross Perot called “the ‘gorilla dust’ of ‘social issues’ like abortion and gun control.” [p. 222] But Frank and Perot are mistaken. Conservatives haven’t won the heart of America; oligarchs have. And these oligarchs have won America’s heart not by appealing to issues like abortion or gun control. Rather, they have fortified their power by appealing to the triumphant nationalism that the American people so readily embrace and rally around. And it isn’t money that triumphed from 1865 to 1900 – although the wealthy certainly did benefit – it was nationalism. It is not money; it is not conservatism that lie at the root of our current situation. It is triumphant nationalism. Until we get this straight, we will be controlled by an oligarchy that looks after itself at the expense of the rest of us.