Wednesday, February 28, 2024

It's Politics, Not Nature


It’s Politics, Not Nature

Peter Schultz


            Read the following carefully: “Out there, lacking restraint, sanctioned to kill, confronted by a hostile country, and a relentless enemy, we sank into a brutish state.” [115] This is a quote from Phil Caputo’s book A Rumor of War, cited in American Myth and the Legacy of Vietnam, by John Hellman.


            Here are two other quotes, the first about Caputo and the second from Caputo, which occur, as does the one above, in the context of Caputo ruminating about his war crimes, that is, when he murdered two civilians. Although he was tried and acquitted, he still refers in his memoir to his actions as war crimes. Despite his crimes, Caputo is an admirable human being.  


            “Caputo shows … wilderness calling forth the universal savage nature within man.”


            “I would never again … fall under the charms and spells of political witch doctors like John F. Kennedy.”


            Caputo writes as if he had entered, in Vietnam, the state of nature, the “wilderness,” which revealed the savagery that is thought to be the natural condition of human beings. But if you consider Caputo’s language, this isn’t what happened. Read the first quote with added emphasis: “Out there, lacking restraint, sanctioned to kill, confronted by a hostile country, and a relentless enemy, we sank into a brutish state.” Sanctioned, country, and enemy are all political phenomena. So, in an important sense, Caputo’s “out there” was actually a political space, not a natural space, something that the lingo of the grunts in Nam recognized as well by calling Vietnam “Indian country.” And special note should be taken that Caputo attributes the creation of that space, that wilderness, to “political witch doctors like John F. Kennedy.”


            So, it is fair to say that it isn’t nature that calls forth the savagery engaged in by Caputo or by human beings generally, it is politics. And isn’t it obvious that the savagery displayed in Vietnam, the killing, the torture, the deceit, the maiming, on both sides, was politically motivated? More generally, isn’t obvious that the worst examples of savagery are always sanctioned, that is, legitimized via “political witch doctors like John F. Kennedy?” Savagery may well be natural, but it is activated, as it were, politically. As Hellman puts it: “Rather than a unique American capacity for evil, Caputo sees instead the lesson of American atrocities to be the utter lack of American uniqueness.” [114] That is, the American atrocities in Vietnam were no different than the British atrocities in Kenya, or the German atrocities against the Jews and others. Or, to put this another way, the Holocaust wasn’t unique; it was just another atrocity, an amazingly brutal atrocity, attributable to politics and the political generally. Most generally, it wasn’t “the wilderness” that led Caputo to do what he did, what led the United States to do what it did in Vietnam, it was politics because it was politics that created that “wilderness.”


            Thomas Hobbes famously labeled “the state of nature” a state of war of all against all. But, as Rousseau pointed out, Hobbes’ state of nature didn’t describe the original condition of human beings. In their original condition, humans weren’t warlike, Rousseau argued, they were peaceful or benign. Or, as Rousseau also put it, humans were born free but ended up in chains. And this was the result of political witch doctors who are so often celebrated as visionaries or benefactors of humankind, “charismatic” human beings that attract human beings like Caputo and even get them, sanction them to kill, maim, or torture other humans deemed to be enemies. But despite war, killing, maiming and torture being common occurrences, don’t blame them on nature. It’s all politics.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Politics Las Vegas Style


Politics Las Vegas Style

Peter Schultz


            Sally Denton and Roger Morris, in their excellent book, The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America, quote the Kefauver committee report’s conclusions about organized crime in Las Vegas and the US, to wit: There is an “alliance of gamblers, gangsters, and government” that used “high sums of cash … to control political action….” In states where gambling was legal, “there is no weapon which can be used to keep gamblers and their money out of politics.” Such alliances eventually would become “the essence of American politics” nationally with “casino conglomerates” dealing with governments “like a sovereign power, able to dictate public policies….” [115] So, gangsters and gamblers, given their wealth, would take over politics in the United States and, perhaps, even beyond them.


            Implicitly this means, according to the Kefauver committee, that gambling, both legal and illegal, threaten to or actually undermine democratic government in the United States. So, alliances of gangsters, gamblers, and politicians should be eliminated or controlled, starting with the end of legalized gambling, which conveys “a cloak of respectability” on these essentially “racketeers.”


            But is gambling and the organized criminal enterprises that arise in its wake the problem? Or is something else going on here?


            Alliances require common or shared goals, necessarily. Allies thus collude to reach their goals, so collusion is endemic to alliances, and we should ask what goal or goals do gangsters, gamblers, and politicians seek. One answer is “respectability,” or as Denton and Morris put it, “new likeness[es] and legitimacy.” It is the desire for respectability that drives gangsters, gamblers, and politicians, that explains their collusive behavior, their alliances.


            As is well-known and as Denton, Morris, and others have pointed out, gangsters began during Prohibition as “bootleggers” or, more generally, as “racketeers.” Then they became gamblers, e.g., as owners of casinos, which is of course how Las Vegas became the Las Vegas as we know it. From there, the gangsters became “investors” in all kinds of legitimate businesses; that is, they became capitalists traveling “the surprisingly short passage from racketeer to capitalist, becoming … Las Vegas’s revered benefactors.” [113] Capitalism, understood as respectability, not gambling or racketeering, corrupts or compromises democratic government and politics in the United States. Capitalism makes available “a cloak of respectability” to gangsters, gamblers, and politicians. The requirements to obtain this cloak are money, the more the better, and a willingness to abide by codes of conduct that are considered the essence of respectability.


            For example, gangsters, because and insofar as they seek respectability, do not, generally speaking, attack or kill law enforcement personnel, judges, politicians, or other “respectables.” Or consider Senator Kefauver who, while wanting to expose organized criminal enterprises in the US, did not, for example, “reveal [Dalitz, a prominent mafioso] for what he really was.” To do so, would have allowed Dalitz to expose Kefauver’s penchant for drink and gambling, thereby undermining his, Kefauver’s, respectability. Thus, “the committee seemed more interested in some retroactive tax evasions than [Dalitz’s] penetration of the legitimate economy.” [113] By “revealing [Dalitz] for what he really was” Kefauver would then have revealed the legitimate economy for what it really was, viz., a construct built on and maintained by the ill-gotten wealth of gangsters, gamblers, racketeers, and compromised politicians.  


            This phenomenon is, as some might say, classic, that is, classic political behavior. The quest for respectability, legitimacy, or power often begins with a less than or barely respectable act, e.g., bootlegging, racketeering, or what is now called “dog whistle politics” centered around verbally assaulting one’s political opponent. If successful, the bootleggers, racketeers, or attack dogs engage in more respectable behavior, e.g., owning casinos, controlling unions, investing “laundered money” in health care, legislating, or exposing the politically corrupt or compromised like communists or terrorists. Eventually, the racketeers, gangsters, or dog whistlers gain entry into the class of respectables, e.g., via a toney address like north Jersey [ala’ Tony Soprano for example] or “higher office” [ala’ Richard Nixon for example], or by owning your own island [ala’ Jeffrey Epstein’s Little St. James]. The Kefauver committee was then not only investigating but also engaging in behavior that had gone on since time in memoriam. It’s called politics.


            But having gained entry to the land of respectability, certain codes of behavior need to be followed to maintain that membership. And this why the politicians and the gangsters collude because each wants to and needs the other to maintain their respectability. The gangster doesn’t openly, proudly, or loudly try to control or manipulate the politician, while the politician doesn’t openly “reveal [the gangster] for what he really is.” Charging someone with tax evasion is legitimate, whereas charging them with penetrating the legitimate economy while “skimming” it to acquire wealth is a different matter altogether. Charging someone with marital infidelity is legitimate, while charging them with involvement in the distribution of illegal narcotics isn’t. Not surprisingly then, the latter charges are defended against by being characterized as the result of “conspiracy theories,” while the former are not. The less legitimate the charges, the greater the likelihood that they will be treated as the result of far-out conspiracy theories. Again, this is or should be called what it is: politics.







Sunday, February 25, 2024

Imperial Hubris


Imperial Hubris

Peter Schultz


            In his book, Imperial Hubris, Michael Scheuer argued that “The Muslim religion experience is intensely personal and yet genuinely communal.” This led me to a question: Is what I will call “the modern experience” intensely personal and genuinely communal?


            It’s fairly obvious that the modern experience is not genuinely communal. In fact, modernity seeks to replace the communal experience with nations; that is, with large populations managed by pervasively powerful bureaucracies. Nations are not communities; they are not even “homelands.” They are composed of “resources,” both physical and human.


            Consider the phenomenon called “community policing” by way of illustration. Such arrangements (1) have to be constructed which is (2) difficult to do. In fact, it may be impossible insofar as “policing” itself reflects the rejection of communities. Because communities are thought to be undesirable and need to be replaced, the police – that is, armed executive enforcers – are needed, along with what are called prisons, that is, cages where the disruptive, the “un-habilitated,” the criminals are kept caged up away from the habilitated and peaceful.


            So, if the Muslim religious experience is genuinely communal, it will not thrive in modern societies. Modern societies will nullify the Muslim religious experience, either by destroying it or by modifying it. Which is to say the separation of church and state, lying at the core of modern societies, leads to the destruction or modification of such religious experiences. Modern societies are not benign. In fact, from some points of view, they are repressive, oppressive, and so cannot be “intensely personal.” The personal, along with the communal, must be eradicated in order to create modern societies.


            Corporations reveal this because there is no or very little room in them for either the personal or the communal. In corporations, we become human resources, which requires us to check our personalities at the door. Also, the communal is displaced by HRDs, that is, Human Resource Departments, whose job it is to manipulate what were once human beings with personalities.  


            Looked at in this way, “jihad,” in the sense of defending the Muslim religious experience, is a vestige of trying to be human. As Scheuer implies, such jihads deserve some respect.


More generally, it might even be said that resistance to modernity is also a vestige of trying to be human. Some speak of “the seduction of crime.” Could this be the deepest manifestation of the seductiveness of crime, that is, trying to be or remain human? Is this why crime and criminality are seductive – and not just to criminals? Cf., for example, The Godfather, The Irishman, or The Shawshank Redemption.  

Saturday, February 24, 2024




Peter Schultz


            “It was ironic…. that Mary Norton (the first substantial woman in Congress) and William Dawson (the first substantial black in Congress) were both creations of corrupt political machines.” [Blood and Power: Organized Crime in Twentieth-Century America, 259]


Ironic too that “organized crime and corrupt urban machines formed the dark side of the New Deal.” [259] “Without the city bosses, especially Ed Kelly, Roosevelt would not have had a third term. The Democratic Convention of 1940 was held in Chicago for good reasons.” [260]


            Ironic too that the attacks of 9/11 led to the War on Terror, which was fought by warriors who practiced terrorism. Ironic too that when “stuff” is outlawed, outlaws are fortified, ala’ Prohibition. Ironic too that torturers see themselves as victims when those they are torturing resist them. Ironic too that victimizers look at themselves as victims, as did Americans looking at soldiers in Vietnam and afterwards.  


            The political is ironic. Hence, so is Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics, as well as Machiavelli’s The Prince and The Discourses. Their irony both hides and reveals or, it might be said, they reveal by hiding.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

One Nation Under God: Not So Much


One Nation Under God: Not So Much

Peter Schultz


            Kevin Kruse, his book One Nation Under God, argues that during the Eisenhower years, public religion unified America but then things changed and “The rhetoric of ‘one nation under God’ no longer brought Americans together; it only reminded them how divided they had become.” [274]


            Not quite. From the outset, during the Eisenhower years, “the good old days,” as many would describe them, the rhetoric of one nation under God didn’t intend to build a unity without enemies. It was intended to identify the nation’s enemies, to create them even. The unity it allegedly sought required enemies, as all political unity requires enemies. And, of course, during the Eisenhower years and later, America’s enemies were readily identifiable as not just as communists, but as atheists as well.  


            So, when Kruse implies that at one time the rhetoric of one nation under God unified the American people, and then, because a polarization occurred, at a later date that rhetoric no longer unified Americans, he overlooks or marginalizes the inherent divisiveness of that rhetoric. Why then was that rhetoric adopted? It was adopted because the goal, the agenda of the Eisenhower years and of later years was control disguised as unity. Unity was the cover story, so to speak, while the real story was control.


            As the cover story made less and less sense, as feminists, blacks, anti-war types, and gays and lesbians, for example, tried to claim places within the alleged unity of the nation, and were repulsed, the real purpose of the rhetoric of one nation under God, and its divisiveness became clear. It was not that “the political climate had been thoroughly transformed,” as Kruse put it. Rather, it would be better to say that the divisive political climate that came to characterize the U.S. was created by the rhetoric of one nation under God. Dissent didn’t undermine civic peace in the United States. The rhetoric of one nation under God did.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Randolph S. Bourne and Assumption College


Randolph S. Bourne and Assumption College

Peter Schultz


            Randolph S. Bourne, while dissenting from America’s participation in World War I, argued that America “suffer[ed] from a real shortage of spiritual values.” One reason for this; “the allure of the technical,” especially of the “war-technique.” The political result, at best: “a government by prudent, enlightened college men instead of by politicians,” those who sought nothing more than to make “everybody a partner in the booty of exploitation.” [62-63, Collected Essays]


            Bourne’s assessment points to the superiority of Assumption College’s original motto, “Until Christ Be Formed in You,” to the later one, “Learn, Achieve, Contribute,” because the original recognizes that the most important goal is the formation of spiritual values, and not the creation of technicians who “have never learned not to subordinate idea to technique.” [60]


            And the original, like Bourne, recognizes that spiritual values must be formed, that they aren’t like low-hanging fruit easily picked and consumed. Finally, the original motto is at least open to the idea that the formation of spiritual values requires what Bourne called “poetic vision.” That is, their formation requires something much more than the “pragmatic realism” that the later motto and most American intellectuals assume is the peak of human knowing.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Peter Dale Scott's "The Road to 9/11"


Peter Dale Scott’s The Road to 9/11

Peter Schultz


            Scott sees the Germans in the 1930s and the Americans post-9/11 as succumbing to “the phenomenon of subordination to paranoia,” leading to “deep state paranoia.” The result is an “ideological top-down domination” based on “consolidating the security bureaucracies in Washington.” In brief, the Deep State is imposed by means of paranoia created by “the [deliberate] follies of the Deep State.” [243-245]


            But the War on Terror, following 9/11, was seen as based on and displaying America’s moral virtues. We would, President Bush said, find and punish the evil doers. So, insofar as the WOT underlay and fortified the Deep State, then that state was not imposed, but was accepted, even embraced as a manifestation of U.S. “exceptionalism.” Just like “the horror” Kurtz embraced in The Heart of Darkness in the name of civilization, so too the horrors of the WOT were embraced by Americans in the name of Western civilization, underwritten by American exceptionalism. As the exceptional nation, U.S. horrors such as torture and assassinations could be – and were – taken as proof of America’s virtues.


            Moral virtue, not paranoia, lays at the roots of the Deep State and its horrors. The morally virtuous are capable of and even proudly display inhuman cruelty, as history has revealed time and again and is revealing even now in Gaza, Israel, Ukraine, Syria, Libya, and Yemen. So it goes.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

What U.S. Citizens Need to Study


What US Citizens Need to Study

Peter Schultz


            Here is an interesting sentence from Peter Dale Scott’s book, The Road to 9/11: “I do believe that U.S. citizens should study Germany in the 1930s, to see how a civilized nation, under stress, momentarily lost track of its inherent moral virtues and lapsed into a disastrous course of repression, xenophobia, and ultimately war.” [243]


            Two thoughts: (1) The Germans’ moral virtues were not “inherent.” Perhaps no moral virtues are “inherent.” Perhaps they are all constructed as habits, offsetting vices which may be inherent. Question: which are inherent, vices or virtues?


            (2) What if it was the Germans’ moral virtues, their desire to regain them, to display them, to fortify and to demonstrate they possessed them, that led them to embrace “repression, xenophobia, and war?”


            Didn’t Americans, post-9/11, embrace “repression, xenophobia, and war” to prove that they were virtuous and to display those virtues via the War on Terror? So perhaps what U.S. citizens should study is moral virtue itself, so as to understand what it is and what it isn’t.


            Question: Is understanding moral virtue more important than being morally virtuous?

Saturday, February 10, 2024

This, That, and the Other


This, That, and the Other

Peter Schultz


            Hobbes said: Life is the pursuit of power after power that ends only in death. Plato said: Only the dead have seen the end of war.


            Those are the same thought, only expressed differently. William Appleton Williams wrote a very good book, Empire as a Way of Life. But it could be retitled Politics as a Way of Life. Empire and politics both rest on expansion, on acquisition. All regimes want to expand their power. Monarchies, tyrants, aristocrats, oligarchs, democrats, even those favoring polity.


            Acquisition requires taking, i.e., taking from, that is from foreigners or from domestic rivals. The results are war and injustice, necessarily.


            What human activities or phenomena aren’t acquisitive? Or need not be acquisitive? Friendship, caring, love. The conventional British view of marriage, for example, was/is acquisitive, a way of maintaining or acquiring social status or economic status. What did Elizabeth learn about Darcy? That he wasn’t acquisitive, that he was caring, loving.  He didn’t merely want “a wife;” he wanted “a love.”


            “Romantic” movies: many are critiques of acquisitiveness. Labeling Austen “a romantic” downgrades her and obscures her work. Often said or thought about Austen: “Aren’t her novels ‘sweet?’ They’re certainly not ‘deep,’ right?”


            Aren’t the best novels often critiques of acquisitiveness?


            Socratic politics: a double turn inward, that is, away from empire and toward making your soul the best possible. That is, double turns away from acquisitiveness.


            Aristotle’s politics: his best, most wished for regime was small and located on a peninsula that could be defended by the building of beautiful walls. This means that defensiveness, not aggressiveness, is beautiful.