Friday, December 29, 2023

The Strange Character of American Democracy


The Strange Character of American Democracy

Peter Schultz


            At times, like right now, the manipulative character of American politics is clearly visible. Now, with some states banning Trump from their presidential ballots, using almost inane arguments based on the 14th Amendment to justify their actions, the manipulative character of American elites is front and center. But it should be noted that such manipulations are, as a rule, characteristic of presidential elections.


            In 2000, of course, such manipulations were clearly visible when the Supreme Court, on a straight party vote, using specious reasoning, denied Al Gore the presidency by stopping recounts in Florida that would have made him president. But in 1960, less visible manipulations by Chicago Democrats like Mayor Daley, awarded the presidency to JFK over Richard Nixon, even while by the barest of margins Nixon had outpolled Kennedy in popular votes.


            Moreover, less visible manipulations decided presidential elections in 1968, 1980, 1992, and in 2016. Nor are such manipulations only recent as they also occurred in 1824 and 1876, when, respectively, Andrew Jackson and Samuel J. Tilden were denied the presidency by way of elite manipulations rather than by way of popular votes.


            As the elections of 2000, 2016, and 2020 illustrate, the electoral college facilitates such manipulative behavior. No state election for governor, anywhere or any time, has been decided by the kind of manipulations that have characterized presidential elections. Why? Because gubernatorial are decided by direct popular votes. It is immensely more difficult to “rig” direct popular elections than it is to “rig” elections involving features like the electoral college. In 1800, 1824, 1876, 1960, 2000, and 2016, the electoral college made the popular vote irrelevant, opening the way for elites to manipulatively decide those presidential elections. Throw in the elections of 1980 and 1992, and the elite manipulations involved, and you have an impressive list of presidential elections decided by the few rather than by the many.


            Perhaps such a list doesn’t subvert the all-too-common praise of “American democracy.” But it certainly puts a dent in it. Perhaps “Democracy dies in darkness,” as the Washington Post claims, but it most certainly dies when elites, the few, the oligarchs, are able to control presidential elections. Trump is said to be a threat to democracy, a charge not without substance. But those seeking to manipulate the upcoming presidential election are also a threat to democracy. And the thing is: Their threat, even though undemocratic, is thoroughly American.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Hitler's Virtue


Hitler's Virtue

Peter Schultz


Stuff bothering me: From something Thomas Pangle wrote in his Montesquieu book: “Virtue is not the goal of a republic; it is the means to the freedom or self-rule which is the goal. The fatherland (the community) does not exist for the sake of virtue, but rather virtue for the sake of the fatherland.” [57]


Having read Ullrich’s biography of Hitler, I wondered how Hitler understood this relationship. Most would say that he understood virtue as existing for the sake of the fatherland. But he also thought that by re-establishing of German greatness with his Third Reich, Germans would be virtuous once again. So, it would seem that Hitler, and maybe others, thought that the relationship between the fatherland and virtue was complimentary, so to speak.


But isn’t this true of all war lovers? They see war as serving virtue and the fatherland simultaneously. – check out, for example, Teddy Roosevelt’s recommendation in favor of war, to wit: “No triumph of peace is quite so great as the supreme triumphs of war.” And isn’t this what those who affirm the political think, that serving virtue and the fatherland are not only compatible but reinforcing? Hence, their goal is to mobilize politically.


So, this affirmation depends on a certain understanding of virtue, viz., that virtue is or culminates in power, strength, and ruling, i.e., control of yourself, your society, and even other societies. And this points to the most important issue is: What is human virtue? How is human virtue best understood? This is most important because it determines how or whether the fatherland and virtue are related.


Saying the virtue exists for the sake of the fatherland hides the issue of virtue itself as the issue of greatest importance. But because this is the issue of greatest importance, being virtuous isn’t as crucial as understanding what virtue is. Being morally virtuous isn’t as important as figuring out what it is, or isn’t. And, so, the intellectual virtues are then indispensable.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Americans and the Political

Americans and the Political

Peter Schultz


            The Americans pursued two tracks in Vietnam, limited war and “winning hearts and minds.” The American mistake was assuming that winning the war would win hearts and minds. And the basis of this mistake was thinking that hearts and minds can be won or changed politically when hearts and minds can only be “won” or changed philosophically. Moreover, the political is not only immune to, but is even hostile to philosophy. Witness the fate of Socrates, who as a philosopher posed a real threat to Athens and Athenian “hearts and minds.”


            The political is the realm of war, and of the inhuman cruelty war creates. Therefore, mobilizing politically leads to war and oppressive, i.e., anti-philosophic politics. Insofar as changing hearts and minds can only be done philosophically, then mobilizing politically will never change hearts and minds. In fact, as Socrates’ fate indicates, the more likely result of mobilizing the political will be fortification of the prevailing hearts and minds. The more that Socrates proved to be attractive to the young, the more necessary it seemed to the Athenian establishment to fortify that establishment by condemning him.


            What the Americans didn’t realize in Nam – and don’t realize elsewhere – was that by mobilizing Vietnam politically via war and occupation, they were fortifying the very “hearts and minds” they wanted to change. In other words, because the Americans were ignorant of the character of the political, they were never going to succeed in Vietnam so long as they waged war there, no matter how much blood they shed doing so. Human sacrifices fortify but never change “hearts and minds.”

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Stopping Genocide


Stopping Genocide

Peter Schultz


            In this piece by Craig Murray, he argues that the genocide in Gaza needs be stopped, as required by international law. But what is lost by labeling Israel’s war in Gaza “genocide?”


            Such a label obscures that what is going on in Gaza now has been going on, in one form or another, in Gaza for a long time, viz., Israel’s attempt to “remove” the Palestinians from land the Israelis want and claim as theirs. By labeling what is happening now “genocide,” it makes it seem that Israel is doing something now it wasn’t doing before. By labeling what is happening now “genocide,” the politics of the situation is hidden, making it appear that Israel is responding to the Hamas attacks of October 7th, when in fact it is merely continuing its long-standing policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians and Hamas.  


            This kind of thing goes on all the time, whereby the political context of events is disappeared, as it were. Particular events are thus made to appear to be extraordinary, thereby requiring what are presented as extraordinary responses. Only by ignoring its political context could 9/11, for example, be made to appear extraordinary, just as only by ignoring the political context could Pearl Harbor be made to appear extraordinary. Anyone aware of the political contexts of those events would not have been surprised by them. The same goes for the situation currently in Gaza and Israel, as the actions of both Hamas and Israel are merely a continuation of long-standing policies.


            Such analyses are quite melodramatic, giving them the appearance of being a movie script. And, as in the movies, the good guys and the bad guys are clearly identified, with the good guys being forced to respond to the bad guys with “guns a blazing,” or with all the fire power they possess while “collateral damage,” as it’s called, mounts. And another righteous war breaks out, with its death and destruction justified, whether such death and destruction are caused by either Hamas or Israel. And calls for peace seem hopelessly naïve, like voices of those lost in the wilderness.


            What is being labeled “genocide” is then the result, in large part, of ignoring the political context of the events in question. By ignoring the political, hiding it behind what amounts to a moral fable of good versus evil, we move inexorably toward war and toward the inhuman cruelty war always involves. By ignoring the political, we guarantee that what we label genocide will reoccur again and again. The way to stop genocide is by recognizing the political and realizing the need for political restraint rather than political mobilization.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Politics and Vicious Circles


Politics and Vicious Circles

Peter Schultz


            Political life creates vicious circles. The Nazis treated Jews as deplorables for social, political, and genetic reasons. Now the Israelis are treating Palestinians as deplorables for social, political, and genetic reasons. As we were reminded recently, deplorables abound in political life. No political society has ever existed without recognizing, categorizing, and defending against “aliens,” that is, the deplorables. And, so, on the level of politics, within the confines of political life, there is no way out.


            Which may be what led Plato to assert that “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” Similarly, Machiavelli saw no way out; that is, he saw no way out unless humans came to understand that inhumanity is deeply embedded in, lies in the roots of political life.


            Some will say that what we are witnessing in Gaza and Israel today is madness. I, however, will just call it politics. 




            In reaction to Volker Ullrich’s Hitler. Focusing on the Jews in Nazi Germany hides the political. The Holocaust hides the political, thereby redeeming or affirming the political. Insofar as the political led to the Holocaust, this is disastrous. Talk about a vicious circle: affirming the political to avoid other holocausts will ultimately lead to more holocausts.

Saturday, December 9, 2023

Politicians' Ignorance


Politicians’ Ignorance

Peter Schultz


            Politicians use their intelligence to hide their ignorance. That is, their realism, which makes them knowledgeable about all kinds of things, hides their ignorance of more important matters, such as, realism can never achieve its ends, will never succeed. What they know isn’t as important as what they don’t know. They will always end up “shooting the elephant,” in George Orwell’s phrase. This is the crux of what Fowler, in The Quiet American, calls Pyle’s “innocence.” Pyle is ignorant of the fact he is innocent and, therefore is, like a leper, deadly.


            The many are also innocent and ignorant, but are less dangerous than the few because they aren’t ambitious. They sense but don’t understand or fully appreciate how contingencies pervade the human condition. Hence, their cautious behavior, both in terms of their actions and their goals. Their circumstances render them immune to the pursuit of greatness for themselves. But those who pursue greatness, the few ambitious humans, those who lust after fame or immortality, can seduce the many to follow them, in large part because the many don’t realize how chance, how fate, how contingencies control human affairs. Their ignorance makes them susceptible to such seductions.


            What to do? One key would be not to provide the few with opportunities for such seductions. For example, don’t create offices or positions that offer the opportunity for the exercise of great power. Don’t create an office that appeals to those who are governed by “the love of fame,” and who would seek that fame by gaining such an office to undertake great projects meant to serve the public good. After all, it is only the ignorant who think such projects actually do serve the public good. Such ignorance combined with great political capacities is the nitroglycerin of political life, a combination that leads to death and destruction whenever it appears. It is not the many we need to fear; it is the few.


            Similarly, it is not the many the philosophers need to fear. It is the few because they sense that philosophers seek to subvert their grandiose plans. The many did not accuse Socrates, although they did convict him – barely. And even though Crito was not wise, Socrates was his friend and knew Crito intended him no harm. Socrates, the philosopher, cared for Crito and demonstrated that care by reconciling Crito to Athens despite Athens’ unjust treatment of himself. The philosopher, because he’s human, cares for the unphilosophic, even if or when it jeopardizes his or her life. Philosophic courage is indistinguishable from philosophic humanity. Hence, Socrates’ turn toward the human things was an erotic turn. Eros lifts us up where we belong. Not politics.

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Ullrich's Hitler


Ullrich’s Hitler

Peter Schultz


            Volker Ullrich, in his book Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939, likes an analysis of Hitler written by Theodore Heuss in 1932, Hitler’s Way. The focus of Heuss’s analysis is what he labeled “the dual nature of the Nazi movement” and of Hitler himself.


            The movement was dual in that “Rationalistic power calculations coexist[ed] … with unbridled emotions.” Seems persuasive, but isn’t this what all political movements do essentially? Political movements appeal to popular or elite emotions while calculating how to get, maintain, or fortify their power. In fact, it might even be said that politics in general is characterized by an emotional rationality, and that this is in fact the nitroglycerin that leads to political explosions of the kind created by the Nazis. This is not Nazi politics; it is politics simply.  


            Regarding Hitler, Heuss claims he was a master manipulator of the people’s emotions, a mastery based on “psychological techniques” inspired by Hitler’s own “passion(s).”  But, again, isn’t this merely the same “chemical combo,” the same nitroglycerin that Heuss found lying at the heart of Nazi movement? It would seem so.


            Heuss also said, along with his emotional mastery, Hitler was merely “a politician who want[ed] power.” Of course he did, just like every other politician ever. If a person doesn’t want power, s/he doesn’t enter the political arena. And if s/he does want power, s/he enters the political arena. Seems almost self-evident, no?


            But Heuss goes on to say that Hitler’s respect for the law was merely “tactical.” Well, of course it was because law itself a merely a tactic that serves an existing order. In democracies, the laws serve democracy and democrats; in oligarchies, the laws serve oligarchy and the oligarchs; and in monarchies, the laws serve the monarchy and the monarchs. As is clear from campaigns for “law and order,” laws are tactics for maintaining an existing order. Hence, any politician who opposes the existing order, as Hitler did, will not, cannot unequivocally embrace the law(s). This is, again, just politics.


            Similarly, Heuss claimed that Hitler’s moderation was also merely tactical. Again, I must say that of course it was because, like law, moderation is merely a tactic, one that serves to maintain or fortify an existing order. Any politician, like Hitler himself, who opposes an existing order will not, cannot unequivocally embrace moderation. This is just politics.


Why is Heuss’s analysis worth deconstructing, as it were? Because when deconstructed, his analysis reveals one reason why political life so often moves toward extremism. In fact, Heuss’s analysis points us toward the conclusion that political life itself, that is, in all its forms, is essentially, congenitally extremist. And insofar as that’s the case, then the political task becomes taming political life, not affirming it in hopes of ameliorating the human condition.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Johnstone, Stone, and Political Extremism


Johnstone, Stone, and Political Extremism

Peter Schultz


            Caitlin Johnstone: “After the war they went to the suburbs and pretended everything was fine. (It wasn’t fine.) … pretending everything is fine.”


            These are Johnstone’s laments, powerful laments indeed. But what makes them so powerful is her own belief, a belief that rivals the belief that “everything is fine,” that everything should and could be fine. Otherwise, her laments would not be so powerful and conditions in suburbs – and elsewhere – would not seem so bleak.


            For example, there is another view of the suburbs presented in the television series, The Wonder Years. It is a show introduced and developed as a look at the suburbs – partly devastated by the Vietnam War, as Winnie’s brother has been killed in Nam in the first or early episode – that sees life there as filled with the dramas that are played out in families like the Arnolds [Kevin’s] or Winnie’s or Paul’s [who is Jewish]. What emerges are portrayals of human beings trying to navigate through life and its difficulties, doing the best they can which is often not quite good enough, but is certainly human. Kevin and Winnie are negotiating their romantic relationship, while Kevin is negotiating his relationship with his father and mother and, eventually, discovering that they are just human beings also trying to negotiate through life.


            The ugliness that Johnstone sees reflects her disappointment at the failure of American life to be beautiful or to acknowledge its defects. In other words, American exceptionalism underlies Johnstone’s laments, as she assumes that such an exceptional state not only should but could exist, if only there hadn’t been all those “corpses.” Johnstone is still a believer because she clings to the possibility of American (or human) exceptionalism. A marvelously peaceful, beautiful, and fulfilling world awaits, if only we could get beyond war and war criminals.


            Here’s a thought: assumptions of exceptionalism lie behind most of those lamenting the horrible state of US society. And such assumptions point toward extremism, e.g., of the kind embraced by Reagan and Bush I in “the new world order,” by Bush II post-9/11, or by Donald Trump who will “Make America Great Again.”


            Oliver Stone’s mistake evidences such assumptions. Regarding the Vietnam War, in his movie, Nixon, is the following speech from a young war protestor at the Lincoln Memorial talking to Richard Nixon, who appeared there one night unannounced: “You can’t stop it, can you? Even if you wanted to. Because it’s not you. It’s the system. And the system won’t let you stop it.”


            Insofar as it’s “the system,” the flaw is correctable and American exceptionalism would appear or re-appear in the new system, in a new world order. So, the issue isn’t philosophic; it’s systemic. The issue isn’t the idea of exceptionalism; it’s a faulty political system. The issue isn’t the embrace of power as the key to ameliorating or redeeming the human condition; it’s how that power is arranged or who has it that’s the issue. 


            History, however, reveals that Stone’s perspective is flawed because Nixon and Kissinger did stop the war, with the aid of the Chinese and the Soviets by the way, and without changing the system. But it is important to understand that Stone’s perspective is flawed because he fails to see that those who assassinated JFK were responsible for creating that war. But that connection had to be buried, and was by the Warren Commission, because otherwise it would be difficult to think of the United States and its elites as exceptional. And if that connection weren’t buried, it might lead some to wonder about the character of political life itself. And such wonderings might end up dismissing political exceptionalism as the delusional entryway to extremism.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Politics and the Seduction of Extremism


Politics and the Seduction of Extremism

Peter Schultz


            What drives politics towards extremism, the pursuit of the good or of the bad? Try the good.


            “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Barry Goldwater/Harry Jaffa.


            Extremism in the eradication of evil, terrorism and radicalism is no vice.


            Extremism in the pursuit of purification, restoration, redemption, or reconstruction is no vice.


            Extremism in the defeat of treason, secession, or the eradication of slavery is no vice.


            Extremism in the pursuit of greatness, political, cultural, or economic greatness, is no vice.


            Extremism in the pursuit of the good is no vice.


            So, Hitler’s extremism in the name of a German rebirth or a rebirth of genuine Germanness was no vice. And his antisemitism was part of this project, which was admittedly extreme. Extremism, as Goldwater’s assertion indicates, is politically attractive, is politically seductive. We may even speak of the seduction of political extremism.


            Nat Hentoff, in his book Free Speech for Me but Not for Thee, argued that censorship is more powerfully seductive than sex. And it may be argued that political extremism is more powerfully seductive than political moderation. Witness the appeal of Reagan, Bush II, and Trump versus the lack of appeal of Carter and Bush I.


            Ullrich, in his biography Hitler, argues that people frequently underestimated Hitler’s appeal, which Ullrich may also be guilty of as well. Perhaps this is merely a reflection of how most people fail to recognize how powerfully seductive political extremism is. Hitler understood it.


            Interestingly, those most immune to Hitler’s seductive powers were “blue-collar workers” insofar as “despite [directing] their propaganda” at these workers, “the Nazis didn’t do well with this demographic group.” Hitler wrote: It is “difficult to win over workers who have belonged to the same organizations for decades.” As a result, in 1922, although the Nazis aspired to be “a popular movement, not at class movement,” they had not succeeded. Apparently, the middle class is more immune to political extremism than are other classes, including the upper classes. Perhaps it is because middle-class conditions impress its members with the limited potential of the human condition. So, for them, political extremism is a vice.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Political Extremism


Political Extremism

Peter Schultz


            What is it that drives politics toward extremism? Some interesting possibilities arise from a reading of Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939, a biography of Hitler by Volker Ullrich.


            Hitler appealed to the German masses as potentially virtuous. He appealed, it might be said, to their souls as Germans, to their Germanness. He even envisioned a “dictator who is also a genius…, a man of iron who is the embodiment today of the German spirit….” Those are Hitler’s words by the way.


            Hitler appealed to Germans to reclaim virtues they once had, when Germany was characterized by “orderliness, cleanliness, and precision… [where work was done] honestly and dutifully.” [98] Again, those are Hitler’s words. Ullrich argues the Hitler regarded the masses “as nothing more than a tool to be manipulated to achieve his political ambitions.” [102] Hitler might be said to manipulating German masses, but he might also be said to be “grooming” the masses so as to raise them up by appealing to them to recover the virtues that were shown in “the great heroic time of 1914” when Germany was forced to take up arms against the Entente of Britain, France, and Russia at the start of World War I.


            Hans Frank, who heard Hitler speak in January 1920, said that “He spoke from the bottom of his soul and all our souls.” There was a “unity of the word and the man,” according to Konrad Heiner, his first biographer. “A measure of authenticity flowed over the audience even when he was telling obvious lies.” Authenticity trumped lies.


            Was Hitler a populist? Yes and no. Yes, he was in that he appealed to the many as if they were capable of being, once again, virtuous, pure, hardworking, patriotic Germans. He didn’t sell the German people short. But, also, he wasn’t in that the people’s potential for virtue, for patriotism could only be actualized by the leadership of a few who were men of iron, men who were embodiments of the German spirit. Genuine or complete populists, on the other hand, trust the many and, therefore, empower them without seeing a need for dictators, geniuses, or men of iron. “Heil Hitler” showed the limits of Hitler’s populism.


            Genuine or complete populism points away from what might be called a politics of leadership or a visionary politics. Woodrow Wilson and Hitler thought of themselves as visionaries and both embraced a visionary politics, not genuinely populist politics. It might seem then that it is visionary politics that drives politics toward extremism, even though such a politics may be and has been called “soul craft.” And as the leader “ascends” while conveying his vision to the many, so too, it is thought, that the many and the nation “ascend.” Visionary politics understood as soul craft was well summed up by Barry Goldwater when he said, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” a line allegedly written by Harry Jaffa, the leader of the “West Coast Straussians.” Understanding politics as soul craft is most comforting but, among other things, it makes the issue of tyranny disappear. There is some danger in that.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Oligarchy and Elections


Oligarchy and Elections

Peter Schultz


To simplify: oligarchs don’t respect the outcome of elections, e.g., JFK’s, Nixon’s, Carter’s, Clinton’s, Trump’s. Some are respected, not as expressions of the popular will, but just because they more or less ratify the oligarchy’s power, its control: LBJ, Reagan, Bush I & II, Obama, Biden.

[Why Biden? At his age, he’s a most suitable representative for the oligarchy, just as Reagan’s age made him suitable. Their age conveyed the message: the oligarchy has been established for a long, long time, so it must be respectable and legitimate given its age! Just like grandfathers. And Obama’s election conveyed the message: this oligarchy isn’t racist. A message that Cornell West is now reinforcing.] 

But also: oligarchs don’t respect elections per se, and so they have no issue with manipulating them, with undermining their integrity: 1960, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1992, 2000, 2004, 2016, 2020. 

And the media facilitate these oligarchic manipulations by treating elections as “horse races,” focusing on who is winning, and who won, which is of course the only thing of importance in a horse race. Elections, however, have other important implications. 

In brief, in oligarchies, elections are a joke, and the joke is on the many, especially those who take the elections seriously! Talk about irony! It’s laughable. 

In sum: it’s all oligarchy, all the time! 

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Secrecy: The Coin of the Realm


Secrecy: The Coin of the Realm

Peter Schultz


            It’s been said that JFK tried to keep the US out of Vietnam covertly or secretly, while LBJ got the US into Vietnam covertly or secretly. In his book, Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, Ken Hughes has a section “Fear of a Damaging Disclosure,” in which he recounts how Nixon feared “that his own secrets would leak.” [104] And Nixon tried to maintain his secret Operation Menu – his secret bombing campaign in Cambodia – even after the national security rationales for doing so were no longer relevant. Question: What is going on here? Are these men all paranoids? Why the apparent obsessions with secrecy?


            It is important to ask: What does secrecy do, or what does it accomplish? One thing it does is to divert any questions about the overall impact of particular policies. Because of Nixon’s secrecy, “no stories had appeared in print drawing the connection between the secret bombing of Cambodia and all of its calamitous consequences. The ‘whole story of the Menu series,’ as Nixon put it, remained untold.” [105]


            So, secrecy diverts attention away from the underlying policies, thereby affirming those policies surreptitiously, without having to face debate or to gain consent for those policies. In other words, secrecy is a way of governing while bypassing the consent of the governed; it is an oligarchic way of governing, a way of governing favored by the few against the many. Oligarchs construct regimes of secrets because in that way they can govern the many without seeking the consent of the many. In oligarchies, and especially in oligarchies where the oligarchs pretend to be democratic, secrecy is politically compelling. Secrecy is oligarchic because it serves the needs of the few against the needs or desires of the many. Secrecy keeps power in the hands of the few, limiting or bypassing the power of the many.  


            So, when secrecy is the coin of the realm, so to speak, then it may be said that the realm is oligarchic. It will be practiced widely and continually, as it was during Nixon’s presidency, as well as during other, if not all other presidencies. While Hughes focuses, as most people do, on Nixon’s penchant for secrecy, he overlooks the facts that others, e.g., the Washington Post and the NY Times practiced secrecy as well by not revealing the source or sources of the Pentagon Papers. And, of course, Daniel Ellsberg practiced secrecy as well as he copied those papers and then gave them surreptitiously to others. Just like Nixon, the Post, the Times, and Ellsberg had to practice secrecy to successfully implement their policies and achieve their goals.


            Moreover, major governmental agencies practice secrecy as well, e.g., the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the IRS. In fact, it is difficult to imagine these organizations being able to operate openly, i.e., without relying on pervasive and officially protected secrecy. If, as Hughes wrote, that “Legally, [there] was no reason to keep [Menu] secret, [while] politically [there] was a compelling one,” [105] then it may be said that there are politically compelling reasons – that is, oligarchic reasons – for bureaucratic agencies to practice secrecy.


            To accuse Nixon of practicing what may be called “a politics of secrecy,” as if this distinguished him from other presidents or other governmental officials and organizations, is either naïve or dishonest. Nixon practiced a politics of secrecy just as other presidents have done so, especially his two predecessors, JFK and LBJ, both of whom undertook, secretly, major policy initiatives, for better and worse. And, of course, those presidents, just like Nixon, had to engage in cover ups in order to keep those policies secret. Which is to say, all three presidents knew they were operating in an oligarchy and so they knew that they could not succeed except secretly.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Language and Its Consequences


Language and Its Consequences

Peter Schultz


            Daniel Ellsberg, in describing and defending his release of the Pentagon Papers, said that the Vietnam War was “a moral and political disaster, a crime.”


            Now, the words “moral disaster” and “crime” suggest that some kind violations had occurred, moral violations or criminal violations. As a result, the focus lands on the violators, and the question becomes, who violated and why. But what if there were no such violations? That is, what if the war was the result of a particular, let us say an imperialistic kind of politics? That war wasn’t a moral disaster or a crime. It was merely the consequence of an imperialistic political order. There was no “moral disaster” or “crime” at all. Rather, the political order worked precisely as it was meant to work, imperialistically. Spoken of in this way, the focus shifts from persons and their alleged “crimes” to the character of US politics. The war was not an anomaly or an aberration. As Leslie Gelb put it, although in a different way, “the system worked.”


            From this viewpoint, the Pentagon Papers were diversionary in that their focus was on events and personalities, on moral failings, crimes, or mistakes. Those papers led people to ask:  What was wrong with Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson? They did not lead them to ask: What was wrong with the American political order? And the unspoken implication was that that political order was healthy, even exceptional. For all the fuss they caused, the Pentagon Papers ultimately reinforced American exceptionalism and, therewith, American imperialism.

The Political: Good Guys v. Bad Guys


The Political: Good Guys v. Bad Guys

Peter Schultz


            Political persons are distinguished by their embrace of the dichotomy of “friends and enemies.” It is how they view the world and, hence, the basis of their behavior. Their goal is to defeat their “enemies,” i.e., those who are not their “friends.” To understand politics, it is necessary to keep these facts in mind.*


            Ken Hughes, in his book Chasing Shadows, considers closely the 1968 presidential election between Nixon, Humphrey, and LBJ, the latter of whom was intensely and intimately involved. Hughes describes it as a morality tale, where Nixon was the “bad guy” who sabotaged LBJ’s attempts to get peace talks started in Paris to end the Vietnam War, so he, Nixon, could win the election. For Hughes, LBJ was concerned about his “legacy,” and that meant he wanted to secure peace, finally, in Vietnam. As such, LBJ was a “good guy.”


            But it becomes pretty clear that it was no morality take, but simply three men being political animals, who wanted to defeat their “enemies.” LBJ wanted to defeat his “enemies,” Nixon and Hubert Humphrey, while Nixon wanted to defeat his “enemies,” LBJ and Humphrey. Finally, Humphrey wanted to defeat his “enemies,” both LBJ and Nixon. Each man schemed in order to emerge victorious; Nixon by having supporters encourage President Thieu of South Vietnam to resist peace talks; Humphrey by staking out policy positions that undercut LBJ’s attempts to get peace talks going; and LBJ by wiretapping the South Vietnamese ambassy and its ambassador, as well as others like Nixon’s vice presidential nominee, in order to discover what Nixon might be doing to undermine his “peace initiatives.” LBJ was no more a “good guy” than Nixon and Humphrey were “bad guys.” They were merely political animals seeking to defeat their “enemies.”


            Why does this sound cynical, and why does Hughes’ account seem truer, more acceptable, more appealing? Because we humans want to, perhaps even need to believe that the political arena is not a madhouse populated by egotistical, even sick persons who are most concerned with winning, needing to acquire and maintain their power and authority. So, we like hearing morality tales about our politics and our political elites because those tales allow us to make sense of the world, to think of the world not as a tale of sound and fury making little sense.


            If there are “good guys” and “bad guys,” and especially if – as Hughes likes to think about Nixon – the “bad guys” lose, then we can live confidently that our world makes sense. If wars create “heroes,” then we will not be overwhelmed by the madness and obscenities of war. If politics creates “good guys,” statesmen, great leaders, then we will not be overwhelmed by the madness of the political world. Insofar as Nixon was a “bad guy” and ended up being forced to resign his presidency because of his badness, then we can go on believing that not only does the political world make sense, but even that it can redeem the human condition. 

* From Ken Hughes book, Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes: Regarding the release of the Pentagon Papers and grand jury testimony regarding Ellsberg. Nixon: "You've got to really have a sophisticated assault on the Democrats. Humphrey must be destroyed. Muskie must be destroyed. Teddy Kennedy must be destroyed." [114] And then in conversation with Chuck Colson, regarding Ellsberg: Nixon: "He's our enemy. We need an enemy." Colson: "Agree completely, and he's a marvelous one. He's a perfect enemy to have." [115] 

Sunday, November 19, 2023

JFK's Cowardice

JFK’s Cowardice

Peter Schultz


            In his excellent book, The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles and Their Secret World War, Stephen Kinzer reports that the following took place between Allen Dulles and the newly elected Kennedy. “Allen pointedly reminded Kennedy that cancelling the operation would give him a ‘disposal’ problem. Cuban exiles at the Guatemala camp would have to be discharged. Many would return to Miami. Their story would be: ‘We were about to overthrow Castro, but Kennedy lost his nerve and wouldn’t let us try.’ This narrative would become part of Kennedy’s permanent legacy.” [297]


            Here’s an interesting thing about this: What could the assertion that “Kennedy lost his nerve” mean other than that Kennedy had been cowardly? So, not invading was cowardly, while invading would have been courageous. Invading would have been morally virtuous, while not invading was morally reprehensible. Viewed politically, then, the morally virtuous thing to do was to invade Cuba, assassinate Castro, and overthrow his Communist government, while the morally reprehensible thing to do was not to invade, not to assassinate Castro, and not to overthrow his Communist government. Politically speaking, the morally virtuous displays itself in war and assassination.


            As Aristotle asserted in his Politics, we humans are political animals. Apparently, this means that as political animals we embrace war, even carnage and terrorism, as morally virtuous. Is it any wonder then that we humans view mass incarceration or involuntary servitude as morally virtuous? Or that we view the militarization of our police forces as morally virtuous? Is it any wonder that we think that humongous military budgets are morally virtuous? As Thomas Pangle wrote in his book on Montesquieu: “Contemplation of the outcome of virtue is deeply disquieting.” [88] Or as Plato is alleged to have said: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” Or as Machiavelli put it: The distance between how humans actually live and how they think and say they live is hard to measure. Or as one wag put it recently: “More than a few Americans pray for peace but vote for war.”

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Some Things to Ponder


Some Things to Ponder

Peter Schultz


            In his book on Montesquieu, Thomas Pangle says the following about Aristotle: “Aristotle adopts the view of the citizen, who believes the fundamental thing, the thing that defines his regime and differentiates it from others, is the particular, praiseworthy way of life which appears to be the regime’s purpose and the reason for everything else.” [49]


            Now, because this is the viewpoint of the citizen, it should be questioned. How true is this viewpoint? How differentiated are human beings by their regimes? And doesn’t this view underwrite the “friend/enemy” dichotomy that seems endemic to political life? During the Cold War, US elites took the position that “neutrality” wouldn’t be tolerated, was even “immoral.” Peoples and nations could be either a friend to the US by embracing the American way of life or an enemy by not embracing that way of life and, thereby, threatening it. The “friend/enemy” dichotomy is indeed endemic to politics [Carl Schmitt], but only as that life is understood by citizens. All citizens are, in their own minds, partisans. But is this how the philosopher sees the political?


            Pangle points out that Aristotle viewed politics as a mediator and, thereby, viewed politics itself not as a rivalry, a battle even between friends and enemies, but as mediation. But to view politics as mediation and politicians and citizens as mediators, it is necessary to forego the view held by citizens that different regimes have essentially particular and praiseworthy ways of life. The American way of life is, so to speak, just one way of dealing with the human condition, one of many possibilities, all of which are manifestations of desires common to all human beings, and all of which are in some ways legitimate, even in some ways desirable. As President Kennedy said in a speech at the American University in D.C., Russians and Americans want their children to survive and prosper. In that way, there are no differences between these two peoples and their regimes, and those labeled “communists” are no threat to the US.


            Pangle wrote: “Montesquieu broke with this view.” That is, he broke with the citizen’s view of political life. He wanted to replace the citizen’s viewpoint with another viewpoint, which might be labeled for simplicities’ sake, “the bourgeois viewpoint.” From this viewpoint, “’the end of government’ is the same for all regimes.” [49] There is differentiation in the political arena, but the differences reflect different power arrangements, not different ways of life. As Alexander Pope put it: “For forms of government, let fools contest. That which is best administered is best.” All governments are, ultimately, devoted to enforcing peace. And this is the view that Carl Schmitt, for example, attacked as leading to dehumanization, to a life characterized by production and consumption, topped off with entertainment, a life without nobility or greatness. Apparently for Schmitt, et. al., a life without enemies is a life not worth living.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Harry Truman: Affirming the Political


Harry Truman: Affirming the Political

Peter Schultz


            Here is what President Truman said about the need to defend the countries in Southeast Asia, after WW II: If these countries were to be “lost,” it would be “a terrible defeat for the ideals of freedom – with grave spiritual consequences for men everywhere who share our faith in freedom.” [Cited in The Brothers]


            Take note that for Truman a political loss is a spiritual loss, meaning conversely that a political win is a spiritual win. Political health is spiritual health. So, if one embraces the proper politics, one is spiritually healthy. And your enemies threaten not only your military security or your economic health; they also threaten your spirituality, your soul. Enemies like that should not only be defeated but annihilated or eradicated so as to protect your spirituality, your humanness, your virtues, your soul. Or, in Cold War terms, such enemies should be contained as a prelude to being eradicated.


            By affirming the political as Truman does, it’s through politics that humans are saved, redeemed, spiritualized, made virtuous, or sanctified. So, political life should be totalitarian, needs to be totalitarian in order to achieve its goals. Nothing less than a total effort politically is desirable. After all, our humanity and the humanity of others is at stake.


            However, if political life is in fact characterized by different and competing regimes, all of them being both just and unjust, then the affirmation of the political is, at the very least, controversial. In fact, the affirmation of the political seems to lead to tyranny, even to look like madness.


            And referring to the Cold War that Truman was overseeing, while anti-communism was important, once the political is affirmed anti-communism is no longer essential in determining the character of American politics. US politics would have been imperialistic even without the presence of communists and communism. So, it shouldn’t have been surprising that US politics changed very little even after the demise of the Soviet Union and its communistic regime. The same may be said of 9/11 as well, that US politics changed very little after those attacks. Bill Kristol’s wish, prior to those attacks, for a “Pearl Harbor type event” merely illustrated that like Carl Schmitt, Kristol had affirmed the political and wanted others to do so as well. [Kristol: a “Straussian?” Not so much.]



Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Affirming the Political, Downgrading the Political


Affirming the Political, Downgrading the Political

Peter Schultz


            “Affirming” the political means that the political is the most important human arena and activity. Why? Because partaking of the political is understood to give citizens their souls, to fortify and order their souls. Being a good American is taken to mean having a healthy soul. Being political, participating, is taken to mean having a healthy soul. Being a “leader” or a “statesman” is taken to mean having a healthy, even a great soul. Being great politically means having a great soul, and, hence, to be understood as honorable and to be honored.


            Downgrading the political means redefining the relationship between the political and the soul. Being a good American doesn’t mean having a healthy soul. Precisely, it means having a thumotic soul rather than having an erotic soul, having a soul that is spirited, one that tends toward anger, rather than one that tends toward loving and being drawn toward the beautiful.


            Souls thrive via the beautiful; they flourish, they’re illuminated as it were. Whereas through politics, souls are fortified, are “armed,” as it were. The political soul seeks to rule, even to conquer or subdue the others, those not known. Before the philosopher appears in Plato’s Republic the highest class are the guardians, said to be like noble dogs that attack those they don’t know, foreigners. Political speaking, foreigners are aliens, the “other.” When granted citizenship, they are said to be “naturalized.” Then they are no longer aliens, no longer “unnatural.”


            Modernity is the ever-increasing disappearance of the erotic and the ever-increasing fortification of the thumotic, even in the direction of totalitarianism. That is, in the direction of a complete and overwhelming political world, a Brave New World, where loving is shameful and forbidden. “Sexting” is allowed, even encouraged, but loving is condemned. Finally, the best is represented as “the will to power,” ala’ Nietzsche, et. al. The powerful have the best souls and there is “no way out” so long as the political is affirmed. For example, pro-Palestinians and pro-Israelis affirm the political and there is no way out of their conflict except of course via the annihilation of one or the other.


            Politics fortifies our souls but without their flourishing; politics sanctifies our souls but without beautifying them. The common recommendations “Be yourself” or “Do you own thing” don’t quite get it. Better recommendations would be “Be beautiful” or “Cultivate your beauty.” Or, more simply, be caring, be loving; forego conquering or ruling. Don’t affirm the political.


            [Recall all the art in Darcy’s estate, all the beauty. While his shyness made him seem thumotic, in fact he was erotic, drawn toward the beautiful. Which is why he was drawn toward Elizabeth Bennett.]

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Bernie Babbles On

Bernie Babbles On

Peter Schultz

Sanders is at a loss, hence, his “crocodile tears” for Gaza while supporting Israel’s military actions. "Starting with the headline “Gaza needs a humanitarian pause, then we need a vision of where we go from here,” Sanders adopts a vague and passive style….” 

Sanders, like most, doesn’t understand that the “barbarism” he and others complain about - often focusing on the barbarism of one side or the other - is that that barbarism is endemic to contemporary politics. It isn’t an aberration, it isn’t an anomaly. It’s the essence of contemporary politics, as practiced by al Qaeda, the United States, Israel, Russia, Ukraine, or the Palestinians. Because Sanders doesn’t understand this, he has nothing useful to say. He just babbles on. And “the barbarism” goes on and on and on, with pauses every so often. 

in brief: It’s not simply that the Palestinians’ attack was barbaric. It’s that our politics is generally, deeply barbaric, characterized by death and destruction, even annihilation, which are seen as the keys to progress.
And here is the genuinely troubling thing: What if that’s correct? What if progress can only come by means of death, destruction, and annihilation? 

Perhaps the choice is rather simple: Either we embrace a politics of annihilation or we embrace a politics of accommodation. Right now, though, we don’t even recognize we have a choice.