Saturday, July 6, 2024

The Impossible as the Inevitable


The Impossible as the Inevitable

Peter Schultz


                  “Affirming the political” means, quite simply, embracing the impossible while thinking of it as the inevitable.


                  The following is from Seeds of Repression: Harry Truman and the Origins of McCarthyism, by Athan Theoharis:


                  “The … rhetoric of post war foreign policy begat a popular obsession for achieving a total victory over communism ….  The failure to do so would directly threaten American liberties and … subvert … American moral leadership in the world. Accordingly, the Truman administration’s foreign policy [was] judged in terms of effectiveness in meeting the threat of communism. Since post war rhetoric also popularized the theme of American omnipotence, it [was] believed that an American victory was inevitable – inevitable, that is, so long as the country possessed the necessary will and resolve. The Soviet threat per se was not considered major; Soviet gains were thought merely the result of administration errors or inaction.” [98]


                  The results of United States’ post war policies may be summarized as follows: An intensification of the Cold War and an intensification of domestic politics revolving around charges and counter charges of betrayal and subversion.


                  In other words, affirming the political creates and intensifies political warfare, creating vicious political circles both at home and abroad. And this warfare occurs, ironically, despite a broad-based consensus about ends – total victory over communism – and means – vast military power, surveillance programs, covert and limited war, loyalty oaths, and “going to dark side” via torture and assassination. Thus, as US policies failed as they did in China or Korea, the “McCarthyites” charged the Truman administration with selling out to communism while betraying traditional American values; while Truman, et. al., indicted the McCarthyites with subverting civil liberties and civility generally.  And, so, vicious circles of such charges and counter charges were created which fed political warfare without avoiding political failures, like “losing China” or Cuba.


                  Consider, for example, that neither the Truman administration nor the McCarthyites came up with loyalty programs that worked. Truman’s policies were so broad that they punished both the loyal and the disloyal, hopelessly confusing the two. And the McCarthyites’ policies suffered from the same defects and for the same reason: The goal was to wipe out disloyalty completely. That goal, like the goal of total victory over communism, was unachievable but was seen as inevitably successful “so long as the country possessed the necessary will and resolve.” So, of course, as the policies failed, as they had to do, charges and counter charges of betrayal and subversion, communist inspired or not, became common and were popularly embraced. There was no alternative rhetoric or political discourse.  


                  And political failure was the result both at home and abroad. Abroad, the Cold War as seen by both Truman, et. al., and the McCarthyites served to fortify communism, e.g., in the Soviet Union and China, by creating the image of these nations as allegedly so powerful that they represented the end of history as “the final tyrannies.” Or, as Ronald Reagan put it, these were “evil empires;” that is, nations possessing satanic like powers that could undermine Western civilization. So, just as Bush’s Global War on Terrorism fortified Islamic terrorism, so too did the Cold War fortify communism. Ironic but true.  


                  And domestically the Cold War facilitated the rise of McCarthyism, as well as facilitating the creation of what is called “the imperial presidency,” and the fortification of the national security state grounded on institutions like the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA. In other words, the Cold War did not effectively protect American democracy as it was intended to do. It might even be said that the Cold War helped to subvert that democracy insofar as a national security, surveillance state seems anything but democratic.


                  Affirming the political, it might be said, leads to political failure because it embraces the impossible as the inevitable, leading to political extremism. And political extremism in the defense of liberty, democracy, or civilization, whether a Western or an Islamic civilization, is a fool’s errand.




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