Thoughts on Valentine’s CIA
In his book, The CIA as Organized Crime, Douglas Valentine writes of the United States’ “predatory impulse to dominate” as the root of the Phoenix program, as well as the CIA/DEA connection in Latin America, as well as elsewhere. “Phoenix is both the methodological and programmatic way these repressed impulses to dominate gradually emerge.”
But, contrary to Valentine’s characterization of them, these impulses are not repressed, and they did not “gradually emerge.” Rather, they were embraced by the like of William Colby and other CIA agents and embraced openly without guilt. Why? Because “the impulse to dominate” is the crux of moral virtue and the psychology of the morally virtuous. Hence, what Valentine is actually describing is the pursuit of moral virtue playing itself out, both with regard to individuals like Colby and with regard to US policies like Phoenix.
Earlier in his book, Valentine quoted someone, a CIA officer, who characterized CIA types as being persons who sought “socially acceptable ways to express their criminal tendencies.” But this is not so. CIA types, like Colby, use their positions and power to express their moralistic tendencies, to express or demonstrate their moral virtue by imposing it on others.
Moral virtue is about domination, satisfying or gratifying one’s impulses to dominate oneself and others. This is what politics is also about and what makes it dangerous: gratifying the impulses to dominate. [Modernity: these impulses were to be disguised, even perhaps transformed, into government; that is, into offices with defined and therefore limited powers, thereby creating bureaucratic institutions which would be safe because the impulse to dominate would be controlled. One may wonder to what extent this project has proved to be successful.]
This means, among other things, that savagery isn’t the problem. Rather, morality is the problem because it leads to savagery and justifies it. Where is savagery more at home, in primitive, tribal societies or in civilized societies? Are tribal societies as moralistic as civilized societies? Aren’t civilized societies proud of the fact that they are moralism, whereas tribal societies are proud of their spiritualization? And doesn’t moralism lie at the heart of civilization, while spiritualism lies at the heart of tribalism?
Morality or moralism has almost nothing to do with spiritualism, as may be illustrated by the history of Catholicism, which when it became moralistic and sought to dominate others in the Holy Roman Empire lost its spirituality. Morality is about dominating, yourself and others. Spirituality is about “growth,” not dominating or “ordering” oneself or one’s soul, which is what Socrates meant when he told the Athenians at his trial that they should be about “making your soul the best possible.”
Moreover, Valentine keeps saying that the United States’ foreign policies, their wars especially, seek to destabilize governments. “Corruption is the best way of destabilizing a country.” But the United States’ goal isn’t destabilization, it’s stabilization via co-optation via hegemony. Think Karp, who was well aware that corruption underlay and bottomed the US oligarchy. Hence, the oligarchs practice a corrupt politics and act as if there is no alternative because “the system is broken” and can’t be fixed! At one point, Valentine seems to see as much too when he writes of “social engineering based on institutional racism.” Exactly! Racism stabilizes, keeps the oligarchs in power, just as corruption stabilizes, keeps the oligarchs in power. What Hillary Clinton sought in her coup in Honduras in 2009, what Nixon and Kissinger sought in their Chilean coup, what the US sought in Iran in the 1950s coup there, and what the US seeks in Ukraine today is not destabilization but stabilization. US policies are best described as social engineering based on corruption, including savagery.
What if Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, and Machiavelli were aware of the problematic character of morality and of “civilization?” What if their use of irony was a reflection of their exposing the inhumanity that underlay what were considered – and are still considered – the pinnacles of human civilizations, Athens, Sparta, and Rome? Socrates despised Pericles, as did Thucydides. Some have argued that in the Republic, Socrates and Thrasymachus became “friends” – at least Socrates silences Thrasymachus – perhaps because both see what was taken to be “the glory of Athens” for what it actually was.
And what if it is in the works of American dissenters that the same clear-sightedness occurs? If so, it would make sense to study seriously the Anti-Federalists as well as the Federalists, black political thought, feminist political thought, and political radicals generally.