Our friend Sidney Smith sends us this to continue the recent discussion:
Thank you very much for your critique and extraordinary insights.
At least in my opinion, the vision underlying economic "shock therapy" is the same as that leading to "shock and awe" as well as that which has resulted in the color-coded revolutions cheered on by the neoconservatives.
As mere speculation…I’ll offer the following for your consideration: that this vision is the same as that of the esoteric Straussian club. Or to word differently, the worldview of the Straussian club embraces these economic, political, and military revolutions and therefore they offer a way to define exactly what is the "fire in the mind" of the Straussian neoconservatives, if such indeed does exist.
The symptomatic manifestations of this vision — as the Peter Murrell suggests in his work — are glaringly apparent and point to one thing — a type of elitism that aspires to impose radical change. Economic shock therapy entails top down changes by an elite of technocrats who, in essence, foster a revolution and not an evolution. In the political realm, we have witnessed "revolutions", such as the cedar revolution, so wildly cheered on by the National Review crowd. And certainly Rumsfeld and the Pentagon architects reflected the same approach to the prosecution of the Iraqi war.
And just as the name "shock therapy" infers, the aim of this vision appears oriented towards erasing the collective memory of a people, along with their institutions. At least so far, the application of shock therapy –no matter whether it takes place in the economic, political, or military realm — has lead to extraordinary pain for the volk involved. As Larry Summers perhaps unwittingly suggested, it is a type of eugenics program writ large.
At least to me, a worthwhile inquiry, therefore, is to define this vision. What is the genesis of this vision and why the vision? And while I’m still taking notes of your descriptions of the various historical forces involved (thank God for Wikipedia), these historical tributaries you mention all seem to flow together to lead to your conclusion: " [i]t is the same perverse secularisation of Christian concepts which underlies, and have found its nemesis in, the invasion of Iraq.
But I would like to offer the following for consideration: the vision is much broader and encompasses more than a perverse secularisation of Christian concepts.
And with that, the first part of your post — directed towards M. Murry — illuminates other historical forces at work and actually now roiling within Judaism and Zionism. Increasingly, Jewish intellectuals have detected ominous changes when examining the moral compass of Judaism and are taking individual stands that run counter to the prevailing Fox news view . You mention Judt, Karon, Weiss, Birnbaum. I would just like to add Richard Ben Cramer — who took it upon himself to write, How Israel Lost. And of course the work of academicians, primarily in Israel, broaching a movement of "Post Zionism" also signals the recognition that the circle can no longer hold and we are in a time of what Weiss has called "ideological disarray". To employ one line from Yeats. The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
It seems to me that the searing pain and immense rage, along with existential fear, brought on by a centuries old pattern of state-sponsored pogroms and culminating in the holocaust certainly caused different Jewish intellectuals to respond in different ways to antisemitism, all with the aim of "never again". And luminaries of the Jewish intelligentsia of the second half of the 20th century did exactly that…and with great brilliance…as certainly their creativity was motivated by an incomprehensible tragedy that triggered the very deepest part of the survival instinct. As an example, Rothbard’s application of the Marxist dialect against the State, I contend, is motivated by a aim, at least in part, to decrease the possibilities of a State apparatus institutionalizing antisemitism.
But Rothbardianism is not in ascendancy. Strauss is. Or more accurately, those who have interpreted or misinterpreted his works are in power. Nonetheless, the same assumption arises — Strauss too was responding to the horrors of the holocaust. And the endpoint — the one of never again — justifies whatever means necessary, including that of the noble lie.
When you look at the work of American neoconservatives as well as that of Natan Sharansky, evidence seems to suggest that they believe — and rightly so in my view — that the American model is the best paradigm that leads to the lowest probability of institutionalized antisemitism. As a result, the impetus becomes to spread American democracy with revolutionary zeal around the world — meaning from the top down, elitist, and ultimately based on the Comintern mission. The end — meaning the end of antisemitism — justifies the means.
But what about the Zionism of neoconservatives? What is the endpoint? Their bizarre alliance with the rapturists perhaps offers a way to discover this aspect of the vision. No doubt, the rapturist movement springs forth from an antisemitic impulse. I am yet to find any work by a rapturist that empathisizes or suffers with the Jews in the "upcoming" Armageddon. There is no Edith Stein of the rapturist mvoement, best I can tell. After all they are raptured away beforehand. Convenient.
So to identify the Zionist goal of these post modern — and more importantly post Six Day War — neoconservatives, it becomes necessary to find the point where their goals intersect with that of the rapturists and other Christian Zionists. And Gershom Gorenberg, in my view, has done exactly that in his courageous book The End of Days. It is the Temple Mount and the desire to build the Third Temple with human hands. And the end justifies the means. Once again, Arab Muslims own real estate that Herzl’s Zionists desire.
You write…"Commonly, [Jews] are tied to Israel by a complex mixture of emotions — among them residual fear and that very deep loyalty people often have to the dead." But the neoconservative alliance with the rapturists suggests, perhaps, that more is at work now.
Is it possible that the Straussian vision of the neoconservatives is one that entails spreading American democracy with the zeal of Trotsky and based on the Comintern mission as well as striving for the ultimate goal of building the Third Temple? If so, then Herzl’s Zionism has completely rejected Buber’s notion of "I and Thou" (Ich und Du) –if it ever was part of Herzl’s Zionism to begin with — and now fully embraces a revolutionary spirit of what you referred to as "Blut and Boden" — a horribly distorted secularization of Judaism that is the "fire in the mind". Sidney Smith
I enjoyed Habakkkuk’s post and this response, but I am afraid things are getting a little off-base.
The vision underlying “shock therapy” for Russia was NOT a secularization of Christianity — unless every other imposture in human thought is also a secularization of Christianity. Let’s step back a minute.
There is a fatal omission-of-fact in present-day economic policymaking in the United States, and this has been going on, aided and abetted by most of our clownish journalists, since the Reagan years. Result? One result is, Western visitors to the old Eastern block in the mid-1990’s were astonished to find that the new policymakers HAD NO IDEA that capitalism can ONLY work under a huge number of necessary government rules and regulations, with courts and contracts. They were left to believe that it all just happens naturally. Why? Because no one told them about the necessity of institutions! Our “great” economists foolishly believed that the market system is a “spontaneous order” which naturally organizes, through the promotion of self-interest, to the benefit of all. Some of them still spout this nonsense.
Same thing was true in Iraq. The Bremer Proconsulate was fussing about market freedoms, tax structure and so on, in an intellectual abdication from the real problems the country faced.
Now you can argue that this is just the Enlightenment’s way of secularizing a new god to displace the other, but it’s not going to help, if it leads us to think that there is one magic key to lock-up this mess.
Because there are DIFFERENT things going on, and it is necessary to keep them separate, and to realize that in the United States, a certain political coalition, (now seeing its end,) had combined them out of electoral necessity: economic royalists, religious fundamentalists, foreign policy hawks including the Israel lobby, and last but not least, the energy (oil) lobby.
In a little part, this has been a marriage of political convenience, because without the religious fundamentalists the Republicans could not have won so many elections. The country is split almost 50/50, or rather 44% Rep./46% Dem., with a 10% swing vote in the center, and the regular issues naturally break the swingers toward the Democrats.
So the Republicans have needed the religious extremists for boots-on-the-ground to win the elections; this was true right up to the war-election of 2004. Privately they disdain them — a little fact that David Kuo told us about just last year, if you couldn’t already smell it for yourself. It is important to understand, for example, that George Bush is not the fundamentalist Christian he proclaims to be. It has been a cynical ploy. Read, for example, Al Gore, The Assault on Reason, pp. 61-62.
Right now this is changing a little. The Republicans’ unholy alliance with the U.S. religious fundamentalists began to unwind in the 2006 election. At the same time, U.S. domestic policy is heading Left for the foreseeable future, (due to the widening gap between rich and poor, the domestic impacts of globalization, and the environmental problems of our resources and wastes.)
So the U.S. Right is looking at losing political dominance for a very long time, unless they can keep the “war against terror” as a viable campaign slogan.
In Israel, since Jewish fundamentalists are out-birthing the secular Jews by 3 (or 4) to 1, and anecdotal evidence insists that the secular Jews are thinking about getting out of the country as fast as they can, Israel is headed into a political situation where religious fundamentalists end up running the country, instead of merely controlling lots of things by legislative blocks in coalitions. When that happens, U.S. neocons or whomever remains of them may have more trouble selling their own Middle East program to the U.S. electorate.
“Economic shock therapy entails top down changes by an elite of technocrats who, in essence, foster a revolution and not an evolution.”
translation, in the 1st world context: they aim to screw your out of your country, and all of its public services except the defense dept. and the IRS so you have to live in a gigantic impoverished prison, mute as your children die in service of a gigantic bait and switch op while the cream at the top, er, the scum, live like kings, playing out their grotesque fantasies across the planet.
their message to us: BOHICA to you all.
“But it is only to a degree that neocons are comfortable in modern America. The steady decline in our democratic culture, sinking to new levels of vulgarity, does unite neocons with traditional conservatives–though not with those libertarian conservatives who are conservative in economics but unmindful of the culture. The upshot is a quite unexpected alliance between neocons, who include a fair proportion of secular intellectuals, and religious traditionalists. They are united on issues concerning the quality of education, the relations of church and state, the regulation of pornography, and the like, all of which they regard as proper candidates for the government’s attention. And since the Republican party now has a substantial base among the religious, this gives neocons a certain influence and even power. …
“Finally, for a great power, the “national interest” is not a geographical term, except for fairly prosaic matters like trade and environmental regulation. A smaller nation might appropriately feel that its national interest begins and ends at its borders, so that its foreign policy is almost always in a defensive mode. A larger nation has more extensive interests. And large nations, whose identity is ideological, like the Soviet Union of yesteryear and the United States of today, inevitably have ideological interests in addition to more material concerns. Barring extraordinary events, the United States will always feel obliged to defend, if possible, a democratic nation under attack from nondemocratic forces, external or internal. That is why it was in our national interest to come to the defense of France and Britain in World War II. That is why we feel it necessary to defend Israel today, when its survival is threatened. No complicated geopolitical calculations of national interest are necessary. …
“The older, traditional elements in the Republican party have difficulty coming to terms with this new reality in foreign affairs, just as they cannot reconcile economic conservatism with social and cultural conservatism. But by one of those accidents historians ponder, our current president and his administration turn out to be quite at home in this new political environment, although it is clear they did not anticipate this role any more than their party as a whole did. As a result, neoconservatism began enjoying a second life, at a time when its obituaries were still being published.” (Irving Kristol, “The Neoconservative Persuasion,” August 25, 2003, Weekly Standard, Volume 008, Issue 47)
Sidney, David, and Michael address the American Dichotomy: idealism versus realism. I have heard neo-conservatism described as idealistic realism. The discussion takes me to Eric Hoffer’s “The True Believer” for its descriptive power of mass movements. On the one hand, we see a collection of “men of words,” the ideological purveyors of neo-conservatism. On the other, we see a collection of “men of action,” the potential facilitators and executors of the ideology. Or, to put it in economic terms, we see innovators and moneymen. Sidney, David and Michael indirectly imply this is a marriage of convenience rather than true love. The union’s tragic issue is Iraq.
The “men of words” excuse the theoretical manipulation of the vulgar masses in the name of the glorious movement. Indeed, all is fair in politics and war. The “men of action” facilitate or execute the manipulations under the theorists’ “ideological” cover. Therefore, religion can be a tool of manipulation. Thus, Fukuyama’s “End of History” seems to embrace and lament the apparent attainment of the Hegelian providential Idea. Subsequently, the neo-conservative “men of words” adopt an elite vanguard of “men of action” who are imbued with moral purity and “divine” purpose. I can’t tell if they are going forwards or backwards, although, I have my suspicions that it is definitely backwards.
We citizens can argue with or just ignore the “men of words.” We can construct a better historical and political narrative. After all, the neo-conservative “men of words” selectively choose what goes into their narrative (shades of Nietzsche). The “men of action” are a different matter entirely. They grasp the reigns of power with a death grip; they are playing for keeps. They are using the power of their offices to circumvent interference and exposure. Hannah Arendt likens this type of power structure to an onion. Using her model, President Bush does not live in a bubble as much as at the center of an onion. He has surrounded himself with layers and layers; those closest to him are the most committed to him and the movement. Those, in the outer layers, find specific common interest and use the movement and are used by the movement. Those on the outside of the onion are at best, tools, at worse, traitors. Where should we place Israel? Christian Zionists? The Infotainment industry? Kansas? Ourselves? And, are the “men of words” free riders, full partners, or accidents?
My head hurts.
All interesting comments and thoughtful. My more simplistic take is that we are dealing with people of no genuine moral center fromt eh administration to the new members of the court. In words from the older Anglican confession they have no sense of “..having done what they ought not to have done, and not having done what they ought to hve done, and of having no heath within them “. that sense arises from a sense of honor, of history, accurately seen and known, measured against, not ‘principles, but absolute standards. This allows them to choose means that defeat their ends but worse to hide their genuine ends, perhaps even from themselves. There is very little deep Christianity here justt as here is very little deep thoughtfulness concerning our national interest and the goals herof and the appropriate meants to obtain them. One is left with the sense that too many of these people are in a deep sense fraudlent persons.
I may go one step farther than Lee A. Arnold. Looking at the major foreign policy initiatives of the Bush administration, what is most striking and what they do best is creating failed states. I can’t help thinking that to them, a failed state is a variant, albeit a mutant variant, to their ideal state of less (no) government, a totally unregulated privatized&globalized economy, and all its attendant social Darwinesque Straussian social casts and revolutionary romanticism. As far as I can see, the greatest impediment to resolution in Afghanistan and Iraq is the U.S.’s fear and refusal to allow a state to emerge by its own means for its own ends.
Sorry guys, but these last few days smell of paralysis by analysis.
Throw us simpletons a bone, will ya?
Since this and previous posts involve dispensationalist fundamentalism, I wanted to mention that there is much valuable wisdom and truth in the Bible, but you have to read it carefully and critically. I think the necons, and their dispensationalist Christian allies, got the following verse wrong way round. In other words, they were innocent as serpents and wise as doves (which are basically small pigeons, to amplify the meaning a bit more.)
Behold, I am sending you out like sheep in the midst of wolves; be wary and wise as serpents, and be innocent (harmless, guileless, and without falsity) as doves.
The US imperial project has been very successful over the last 200 years – expansion into the Oregon Territory, annexation of 1/3 of Mexico, the Philippines, post WWII world were very successful and very profitable ventures for US. You must admit that.
But every once in a while, there seems to be some sort of a glitch: the Civil War, WWI, Vietnam, and now Iraq – some sort of cockiness perhaps?
These topics and issues that have been brought up in this forum are (partly) the wages of imperial expansion – I should think. If one is projecting power on a global scale and one’s competitors are les democratic, less scrupulous, and less law-abiding than oneself, I would expect that one eventually will become like his opponents in order to survive and compete.
Around 1900, you could walk up the steps of State Department, take a seat in the Secretary of State’s ante-chamber, and wait your turn to meet the Secretary of State. Once ushered in, he would say: “Hi, I am John Hay [Lincoln’s secretary]. What can I do for you?
Those were the days…
The water is getting deep! I tend to agree that the intellectual wing of the neocon movement are courtiers, carrying water for the administration in hopes of maintaining their position within the court. While there are no doubt many ‘religious neocons,’ I think the number is much smaller than the the neocons for whom Islam was a necessary replacement for Communism. Meanwhile, I think that Cheney’s brand of realpolitik has been bubbling since the Nixon days, and that philosophy at his level has been replaced by atavism, a ‘kill or be killed’ mentality.
Ultimately, the old saw about systems being perfect and men being corrupt has been proven once again–the lip service that the neocons have used to twist the notions of democracy and freedom are no substitute for competency on the ground. Right now, these guys are dancing as fast as they can to keep the agitprop flowing, and keep the lid on all the dirty means they have been employing–a true ‘dead enders’ game!
I was thinking about the theme of being wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove, and that drove me to attempt more serious thoughts. I had never connected Strauss to the idea of the holocaust, and had not thought much about that tragedy’s role in necon thought, at least among the Jewish necons. That gives some rationale to their approach to the Middle East, but their implementation of the noble lie, and embrace of violence, seems to me to betray a failure of nerve and a lack of self-confidence. I will give one example of my thinking on this.
Take Hamas’ offer of a ten year truce, as a substitute for official recognition of Israel’s right to exist. I am very strong supporter of Israel’s right to exist, even if I am also extremely opposed to Likud and neocon policies. Therefore the idea of accepting Hamas’ offer makes me very uncomfortable -makes me want to gag, to be honest about my reaction. I see some merit to the fear that the truce might be used merely to prepare for renewed violent confrontation or military attack. On the other hand, this fear assumes that after ten years, Hamas’ will still have the popular support to renew hostilities (or after four or five or seven years, depending on when it is convenient for Hamas to drop the ruse) But would Hamas have the required popular support after several years of peace and improving conditions? Suppose the US and Israel used the ten years to pursue measures to improve the welfare of Palestinians, and restore the Palestinian government to functionality. That will be difficult, given the history of corruption and dysfunction in Palestinian governments, but you wouldn’t have to do much to make things look good compared to recent history. Would the Palestinian populace be willing to endanger improved living standards and self-respect for another attempt at the lost cause of removing Israel? In order to think so, you would have to truly believe that the average Palestinian voter values destroying Israel above all else. Some people think that is the case, but I think there is much evidence to the contrary. I see parallels to Northern Ireland, which seems intractable, but will proabably be resolved, but I may be wrong.
Now look at the current bet the neocons have made: that there is a realistic military way to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. How likely is that? I have read that there is real doubt that even massive air strikes alone could do that over the long term. I have read that only massive and continuous air war over years that would destroy the country’s technological infrastrucure would likely prevent development rather than delay it. But that would also directly and indirectly kill enough people to amount to genocide. And how likely is it that such monstrous policy could be maintained politically in the US over the long term? The only other alternative is invading and taking over the country -which is impossible for the US to do, unless we become a Cheney dicktatorship and he reinstates the draft and turns the US into a martial state.
So, what these guys are advocating the creation of chaos and hostility among neighboring states, more than one of which have nuclear weapons, or will have them soon. Pakistan already has nuclear weapons and could fall to Islamic radicals more rash that anything Iran would probably produce. Iran is likely to have nuclear weapons within ten or fifteen years, and it is wishful thinking to believe the US or Israel can do much more than delay it by a couple. If you think that Islamic states in the neighborhood possessing nuclear weapons poses an existential threat to Israel, then that is the sad truth of the matter; it is dangerous wishful thinking to believe that mindless applied violence can do anything about it.
So, seems like the neocon approach is more a product of extreme fear, irrational insecurity, lack of self-confidence in their ability to be “wise a serpents” over the long term, than any superior craft or higher Straussian cleverness (or wisdom, or brutal guile, or whatever cool intellectual thingee it is that those folks have in their noggins).
So, if I were looking out for both US and Israeli interests, and it were up to me, I’d go for the truce, even if Hamas offers it with bad intentions. I think a leader like the late Rabin, could foil Hamas’ ploy without too much trouble. Or am I missing something here?
Anna Missed raised a trenchant point concerning the failed-states project (both foreign and domestic) long pursued by the Hobbsean Calvinist businessmen now enthusiastically looting and dismantling the American government. Their simple, self-interested power-lust and venality explain them far better than any after-the-fact apologetics masquerading as philosophy: whether paleo-conservative, neo-conservative, or just the usual, garden-variety reactionary fascism. Anna indeed hit the proverbial nail squarely on the head when she wrote: “I can’t help thinking that to them, a failed state is a variant, albeit a mutant variant, to their ideal state of less (no) government, a totally unregulated privatized-and-globalized economy, [with] all its attendant social Darwinesque Straussian social casts and revolutionary romanticism.”
Appropriately, Anna’s reference to so-called “Social Darwinism” alludes to the Gilded Age’s robber barons and their deliberate, cynical perversion of the Theory of Evolution Through Natural Selection (which they did not — or care to — understand) to lend a superficial patina of “scientific” respectability to their economic predations. Their typical — and boundlessly creative — practice of self-sanctification, however, has more ancient roots. Reflecting upon this historic “Puritan” integration of Christian dogma subordinated and harnessed to economic interests since the Reformation, Herbert Muller — in The Uses of the Past: profiles of former societies (Mentor Books, 1952) — wrote:
“The chief sufferers from [the] development [of Calvinist Puritanism], naturally, were the poor. In the Middle Ages the poor were objects of charity, however sentimental; poverty itself was sanctified by Christian tradition. In the Puritan scheme of retributive justice, poverty was a sign of moral failure. The poor became the ‘idle poor.’ The spiritual fervor that once had focused on the sins of pride and greed now focused on indolence and improvidence. Presently it was discovered that the best way to keep the poor industrious and rescue them was to pay them low wages, keep them poor. A long line of ministers down to [the 21st] century preached the necessity of poverty in the divine economy. Protests on the behalf of the poor were early denounced as incitements to ‘class hatred.’ Protestant theology supported a privileged class, with its division of mankind into the elect and the damned, but the pious grew more uncharitable because of their innocence of economics. Like the naive businessman, they assumed that success or failure was due solely to the individual; they were quite unaware how extensively their society supported and endowed business. With the Industrial Revolution the state became more lavish in its favors to business but continued to deny any responsibility for unemployment, poverty, and distress. Not until the Great Depression did the American government fully recognize and frankly accept this responsibility.”
The contemporary Hobbesean Calvinist robber barons (of what I like to call America’s New Gelded Age) do not at all like this concept of government taking responsibility for anyone’s needs but their own. They do not consider pride and greed as at all sinful, as professor Muller pointed out, and what Anna called “their ideal state of less (no) government, a totally unregulated privatized-and-globalized economy” they consider their due by something akin to divine right — with all the attendant government subsidies and services unacknowledged by them and paid for by someone else, naturally. The working poor (and the soldiers recruited from among them) can take care of themselves — as long as they keep paying payroll taxes and fighting to subsidize the “Straussian social casts and [their self-serving] revolutionary romanticism.”
At any rate, Anna got me to thinking about this quintessentially Protestant symbiosis of business and religion in America which, if time permits, I’ll try to work into an essay called “The Hobbsean and His Calvinist.” I’ve got a few quotes from James Madison and Thomas Hobbes to start things off, but others will have to carry the ball — as no doubt they will — until I can polish the piece into something worthy of this forum’s sophisticated readership. Hopefully, the failing (by design) American ship of state will not have completely capsized by then.
Their goal is genocide. When they speak in private, they applaud the massacre of “Arabs”. For them, the only good Arab is a dead Arab.
They have already placed as many Palestinians as they can in a reservation that makes the Indian reservations of the 19th century look like Club Med.
They have destroyed Iraq.
They have done their best to destroy Lebanon.
They are planning to destroy Iran.
Let’s call genocide, genocide.
‘And just as the name “shock therapy” infers, the aim of this vision appears oriented towards erasing the collective memory of a people, along with their institutions.’
I need to think about this, along with a lot else that you said. My initial reaction is yes, but that different impulses may be in play. One, although often not acknowledged, is simply to destroy potential power rivals. But there also may be a common assumption that we ourselves occupy some state of ahistorical ‘modernity’. Involved here is a denial of the importance of ‘collective memory’ in our own lives, and in our own loyalties to our societies and their institutions; also a denial of the extent to which we are products of our specific histories, rather than representing some natural end state of mankind. So we can be prone to think we are doing people favours, when we are trying to push them into occupying a space which we do not ourselves occupy and which does not actually exist. The effect is that rather than military action for concrete goals, we end up with a vision of force as a kind of culturally purefying agent. And this, I think, really is a Bolshevik vision. It ended badly for the Bolsheviks, and threatens to end badly for us.
Lee A. Arnold
You bought up the question of the importance of institutions in making economies work, and its neglect by advocates of ‘shock therapy’. I very much agree with much of what you said, but want to defend my initial claim that what look like purely secular theories often, on closer inspection, turn out to have elements of secularised theology about them.
In passing, the ‘evil empire’ formulation clearly echoes way back in Christian history. Actually, I do not think it was entirely wrong, by any means. I think the Bolsheviks’ militant hostility to religion and the morality associated with was a major reason why the Bolshevik Revolution turned out so badly. And indeed, I was fascinated to read in Paul’s Starobin’s Atlantic Monthly profile of Putin a while back that during his time in the KGB there was a wide-ranging internal discussion ‘about how destructive the nihilist attitude toward religion was for the country.’ But Leninism was also a strategy for modernising a peasant society, under conditions of external threat. The notion that there are simple self-evident truths about how to modernise societies, irrespective of context — that, as it were, had Nicholas II simply taken a few lessons from free market textbooks, or the February Revolution not been succeeded by that of October, Russia would have become like America — is I think nonsense.
Moreover, it was pernicious nonsense, because once one took for granted that communists were only communists because they repudiated a self-evident truth, one had no means of grasping that communists can change their views in the light of experience. In fact, the Soviet system did have achievements — the creation of the military-industrial base which defeated Hitler’s Germany, for one thing — but these were achieved at titanic cost, and by the mid-Eighties it had rather clear run into the buffers, in all kinds of ways. There was quite widespread recognition of the need for radical change among the upper echelons of the nomenklatura by this time. What kind of change was, unsurprisingly, controversial: whether one should move gradually or rapidly, the relationship between political and economic reform, and other matters were not agreed on, in part because the answers were not simple.
However, to most in the West the answers were simple. As you rightly say, ‘our “great” economists foolishly believed that the market system is a “spontaneous order” which naturally organizes, through the promotion of self-interest, to the benefit of all.’ But the folly I think reflects the fact that this belief is quasi-theological, in a number of ways. First, there is the assumption of a single self-evident truth, which mirrors belief patterns commonly found in monotheistic religions, but in a secularised form. As with monotheistic religions, belief is liable on occasion to harden into a kind of brittle certainty, where any dissent from the supposedly self-evident truth is to be interpreted as a sign either of ignorance or evil will. In much putatively secular Western thinking about the former Soviet Union in the Nineties, this happened. A vast spectrum of people — ranging from genuine diehard communists and people who thought that the only thing wrong with Hitler was that he wanted to kill Russians as well as Jews, to people who simply doubted the infallibility of the likes of Lawrence Summers — were lumped together as ‘hardliners’. Those who accepted the infallibility of the ‘best and brightest’ from Harvard, meanwhile, were treated as being possessed of absolute truth. The monumental problems of the exit from communism were thus conceived in terms of ensuring the destruction of the children of darkness by the children of light.
As moreover only the beliefs of the righteous could have any claim to moral validity, the very simple fact that any order not resting purely on force must be to some degree accepted as legitimate by the ruled as well as the rulers was ignored. But this moral dimension was in many critical to the disasters which ensued. I doubt whether Mikhail Khodorkovsky or indeed Boris Berezovsky were, at the outset, any worse than most other people. But clearly the vast acquisitions they made as a result of Western-sponsored privatisation programmes were never going to be accepted as legitimate by the Russian people. And so they had powerful incentives both to defend their acquisitions by gangster methods, and to asset strip and stash their loot abroad, rather than invest.
It was generally assumed, as Anatol Lieven put it in his classic 1998 article ‘History is not bunk’, that the options were ‘either the development of a successful western-style free market economy or “reversion to communism.”‘ The hope was actually as unreal as the fear. Moreover, both were bound up with two related beliefs, both of which I see as crypto-theological. It was assumed that there was some kind of ‘normal’ path of historical development from which communism was a kind of derailment. As it is patently clear that a very large number of societies have not followed any such path, this is evidently not an empirical construct, but a reflection of beliefs about a naturally benevolent course of history. In turn, this notion of a natural course of history tends to be bound up with a refusal to accept that the possibilities open to societies are constrained by their culture and their historical experience. Pointing to the gulf between the economists’ notion of the natural and what is closer to the statistically normal, Lieven wrote acerbically: ‘It is for the free market optimists to explain what special Russian characteristics prevent Russia from becoming some version of Mexico (if lucky) or Nigeria (if not). In the words of US economist Jim Millar: “The default mode in today’s world is not a market economy. It is stagnation, corruption and great inequalities of income.”‘
But there is a third way in which the ideas underlying ‘shock therapy’ were crypto-theological. The belief that ‘the market system is a “spontaneous order” which naturally organizes, through the promotion of self-interest, to the benefit of all’ is actually rooted in a value — that of individualism. Essentially, what is assumed is that individual emancipation is unproblematic. But — to get even more theological for a moment — the traditional social teaching of the Christian Church suggested that hierarchy was a necessity, because of the Fall. So the collapse of hierarchy was seen as threatening a kind of war of all against all.
After the French attempt to imitate the success of the American Revolution ended in the Terror and the imperialistic military despotism of Napoleon, French reactionary writers in essence attempted to resurrect this traditional teaching. Against them, Tocqueville argued for the continuing relevance of the American example. But of course he was led by the contrast to asking what the conditions under which an individualist society could work, and whether those conditions could be replicated in Europe. The whole long tradition of argument of which Tocqueville’s work forms part seems unfortunately to have passed the likes of Larry Summers by, as also the neocons. But the ironical consequence is that we end up with programmes of reform which are premised upon the assumption that reducing a society to atoms naturally produces the happy world of the invisible hand, while in fact the outcomes end up much closer to the old conservative nightmare of a war of all against all.
As anna missed points out, rather than nation building, we seem to have become rather good at nation destruction. But not only are we liable to display a quasi-Bolshevik insouciance about the lives of those on whom we practice our projects of reform — we seem not to grasp how dangerous they can be for ourselves. There appears to be a large element of consensus in Washington that Russia under Yeltsin was on the right track, and has been taken away from it by Putin. This is nonsense. What had actually been happening was something close to that ‘withering away of the state’ of which Lenin dreamed. This is a very terrible thing for those who experience it. But it has also risks for others. As the former Chief Political Analyst at the Moscow Embassy E. Wayne Merry put when interviewed for the PBS ‘Return of the Czar’ programme, ‘the very worst thing that could happen for American national interests throughout the whole Eurasian land mass is, if Russia were a complete failed state, to have a vacuum of any kind of effective political economic authority over eleven time zones is a prescription for nothing, nothing but trouble.’ If we added to that chaos in the Middle East, I think the prospects for the survival of any kind of meaningful democracy in on own countries would be become questionable.
I agree that the lack of moral centre is fundamental. Some remarks of Oliver Cromwell are I think to the point. He noted that his royalist opponents were gentlemen, who had ‘honour and courage and resolution in them’; to counter this, he recruited such men ‘as had the fear of God before them, as made some conscience of what they did.’ Codes can be of different kinds and come from different places, but if individualist societies cannot sustain them somehow we end up with catastrophe.
‘Innocent as serpents and wise as doves’ — I will treasure this, as I think it sums up the neocons beautifully.
Cold War Zoomie,
Apologies. Doubtless we will all return to practical matters shortly!
It would be interesting to invite some neo-conservative over here for a real live debate. Think any of them would come?
On topic, I am quite simply not smart enough to follow all the kremlological mazes in current US administration. However, I would point out the oldest tool in all political analyzis: Follow the money, and not just the legal money. Who profits from Afghanistand reemergence as the worlds major heroin-producer? Who profits from the opening of the old crime-routes through Afghan/Iraq? Like it or not, the black economy is enormous and universal. Think Iran/Contras, and match the names from those days with the current ones.
My head hurts too, btw.
In addition to your very fine remarks, I would say the following:
That the Enlightenment tradition and its precursors were against Religion. The destruction and discrediting of Revelation as the foundation of human knowledge & ethics was always part and parcel of that (Enlightenment) project.
Communism and Fascism were not aberrations. They, together with the post WWII liberal order in the West, were facets of the same God-less civilization that was slouching its way toward a new form of barbarism; i.e. worship of collective powers of man.
Yet, this tradition, having sensed the failure of its various gods [Communism in USSR, Maoism in China, Democracy] in creating a moral foundation for human life has felt obliged to grope for a new religion; ergo the elevation of the Shoah to semi-religious status.
As for the economists I offer the following comparison:
In US, a common trend has been that many [but not all] new companies are established by entrepreneurs that are eventually replaced by administrators, that are eventually in turn are displaced by financial guys. Perhaps this also applies to countries.
<"totally unregulated privatized&globalized economy">
Indeed, and one can argue the Neocon model seeks a neo-feudal world order devoid of international law as traditionally understood. Hence, Neocons seek systematically to create a “Hobbesian” world to replace the Westphalian model (1648) based on sovereign nation-states that underlies modern international law. The atheist Hobbes seems to have a particular appeal to the Neocons as does Nietzsche.
The Neocon “defense intellectual” set of a few dozen inner circle policy types (Abrams, Perle, etal.) serves a transnational imperial faction composed of US and foreign private interests. The analysis should not be limited to these some bit player Neocns “intellectuals” servicing these interests. Judging from the defense contracts, softening up the planet using American military power for private gain seems to be Cheney’s game and that of his ilk like the Carlyle Group. The new BAE scandal promises to cast some light in this regard.
It is no coincidence that Leo Strauss researched Hobbes in England during the 1930s on a grant obtained for him by his teacher Carl Schmitt, the Nazi jurist. Schmitt’s authoritarian concepts were applied to both internal and external policy in Nazi Germany. Schmitt and Nazi theoreticians incorporated, in particular, the Social Darwinism of an Austrian general into their outlook: see specifically, Gustav Ratzenhofer, Wesen und Zweck der Politik (Leipzig, 1893).
In this regard, it is interesting to read Rami Khouri’s new piece comparing the Westphalian order and the current Middle East situation.
I just returned from a visit to “the region” and it is apparent to the cabinet level officials with whom I spoke in the Gulf that US policy out there is a complete disaster and things are going from bad to worse.
A fascinating read by Christopher Parker and Peter Moore, The War Economy of Iraq outlines the trajectory of Iraq’s economy post Iran/Iraq war to the present – which is marked by a slow disntegration of state power and the rise of proxy tribal affiliations and underground economy. The CPA , and Bremmer’s various economic edicts further eroded the state apparatus to a shadow of its former self, in the name of radical privatization. Seeing that Iraq already had a thriving underground economy i.e. oil smuggling during the sanctions period, it would seem that the CPA removed any possibility of a viable “state” from emerging. While at the same time allowing the economy to fall into the control of the underground elements, the militias, tribes, and other sectarian interests. Its hard not to see these policies as intentional.
Carl Schmitt seems important to me in understanding the neo-conservatives (as does Ernst Junger). Schmitt writes: “A world in which the possibility of war is completely eliminated, a completely pacified globe, would be a world without the distinction of friend and enemy and hence a world without politics. It is conceivable that such a world might contain many very interesting antitheses and contrasts, competitions and intrigues of every kind, but there would not be a meaningful antithesis whereby men could be required to sacrifice life, authorized to shed blood, and kill other human beings. … War as the most extreme political means discloses the possibility which underlies every political idea, namely, the distinction of friend and enemy. … Every religious, moral, economic, ethical, or other antithesis transforms into a political one if it is sufficiently strong to group human beings effectively according to friend and enemy” (“The Concept of the Political,” p35-37). This, and your comment play right into the question of what kind of “Leviathan” is the United States?
(see http://www.utexas.edu/lbj/news/fall2004/Ikenberry_article.pdf for one answer to the question)
Schmitt also promotes a strong executive because he sees democracy as unstable in emergencies and crises. Legislative bodies are just too slow and cumbersome to effectively and efficiently address contingencies. As Frank Durkee comments, “we are dealing with people of no genuine moral center.” Moreover, I find myself agreeing with Martin K’s comment about looking for who benefits and Babak’s allusion to Schumpeter’s “circular flow.” Perhaps, the benefit accrues to the “men of action” who have used the “men of words” in the pursuit of power, money, and legacy, or something like that. But the image that keeps going through my mind is that of President Bush standing beside Harriet Myers and declaring that she shares his judicial philosophy.
There appears to be a very dark core to what we have observed over the past several years. Hope it passes soon. Thoughtful and thought provoking thread.
“One result is, Western visitors to the old Eastern block in the mid-1990’s were astonished to find that the new policymakers HAD NO IDEA that capitalism can ONLY work under a huge number of necessary government rules and regulations, with courts and contracts. They were left to believe that it all just happens naturally. Why? Because no one told them about the necessity of institutions! Our “great” economists foolishly believed that the market system is a “spontaneous order” which naturally organizes, through the promotion of self-interest, to the benefit of all. Some of them still spout this nonsense.”
Lee A. Arnold
The first vice-presidential debate held October 5, 2000 at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, between Joseph Lieberman and Dick Cheney foreshadows this “nonsense” of success independent of institutions.
“Lieberman: ….. I think if you asked most people in America today that famous question that Ronald Reagan asked, “Are you better off today than you were eight years ago?” Most people would say yes. I’m pleased to see, Dick, from the newspapers that you’re better off than you were eight years ago, too.
CHENEY: I can tell you, Joe, the government had absolutely nothing to do with it. (LAUGHTER)”
Smoking Joe, bedazzled by the glitter off Dick’s gold, musters only a weak gee whiz I wish I had cashed in pander and the debate moves on.
I would have stopped right there and challenged the snearing disdain the common good.
“…nothing to do with it.”
This assertion from a man who was educated in public schools, spent most of his professional life in government service, and then parlayed his government experience into a lucrative stint as Halliburton CEO. During Cheney’s reign, Halliburton received over 60% of its annual revenue from government contracts, and consumed without protest the public funded services (roads, courts, education, fire, police, etc.) and other conveniences available to a corporation doing business in a stable, prosperous country. Yet, according to Dick, “the government had absolutely nothing to do with it.”
Imagine the troubles Halliburton might have turning a profit while headquartered and operating in Iraq. No, wait a minute, no need to imagine.
Here is the seed of what went on in the early days of the CPA: the magical faith in money; the abstract lure of freedom; the power of unregulated markets; no taxes; the American myth of the self-made man — all blended into a sweet Rocky Road confection scooped high in the land of milk and honey.
For Dick, the lip smacking “dream” of a five-scoop banana boat has not passed. Nor can it. To do so would require a stinging rebuke of a life spent both riding high in the saddle and high on the hog.
Introspection eventually humbled Robert Strange McNamara, but we will see no second-guessing from Dick and his crowd. Self -made men, owing nothing to others, have no need to explain or apologize. Failure, after all, is the province of the weak and dependent. The help. Let them clean up the mess.
Your comment about Bremmer and the CPA illustrate what could happen if the World Bank and the IMF had the capability to use military force in the imposition of a structural adjustment program. Intentional. Good call.
I’ve read about Strauss and his students, but I can’t get too much into it because they seem so fatuous to me, at least on the level of actually, like, getting stuff done in the real world. Which has its points, although it is a tad vulgar compared to the university seminar room.
The noble lie as a political tool of the master class is kind of like the mice putting the bell on the cat. Great idea, but how do you actually do it? It has to be noble truth to the people you want to lead, otherwise the whole show becomes a farce or tragedy or perhaps both. If the ideas of Strauss are motivating some of the intellectual neocons, I think that they are very bad noble liars. Other than 51% the US voting population at election time, all the people they need to convince have not been convinced by what they say, whether or it is noble or not, or true or not. What did Straus ever say about the great men who try to pass off noble lies but they know it to be total BS? And who are very bad liars, at least among the wolves if not the sheep?
To anon, re the insufficiency of Hamas’ offer of a ten year hudna. I think during the time in the 70,s when my country sold wheat to the Soviets on credit, it was an article of the Constitution that they overthrow the government and forcibly remake civil society in their image. 10 years is a long time between outrages.
<"There appears to be a very dark core to what we have observed over the past several years.">
John in the Boro,
My sense is that there is indeed a “dark core” although the analysis of the imperial faction of the American “power elite” is difficult and complex.
Arthur M. Schlesinger’s book “The Imperial Presidency” (1973) gives some perspective on the machinations of the imperial faction. Bush 43 with its “Unitary Executive” ideology is an extension of the faction’s activity the post WWII roots of which can be found in the Truman Administration, say with Nitze and Acheson for example.
Prior to World War II, we see this faction’s financial and commercial interface with Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany. While it is hard for Americans today to grasp Wall Street-Big Business cooperation and collaboration with Fascism and Naziism, it is an historical fact. There is a solid academic literature on the matter not to mention what can be found in declassified materials in our National Archives. One can also simply read the old Time and Fortune magazines from the 1920s and 1930s to see the Luce empire’s endorsement of such authoritarian rule.
Going further back, I date the current phase of the imperial faction’s game to the unnecessary Spanish-American War of 1898 and the colonial project in the Philippines. Although we could have arranged purchase of the Spanish holdings from Spain via diplomacy why bother at all with such colonialism (corporate welfare) in the first place? In fact, anti-imperialism was a national election issue in 1900 in the US.
The present Bush Administration’s “transformation” rhetoric in the Middle East, particularly Condi’s, smacks of the earlier rhetoric about “our little brown brothers” on the Philippines. Curiously, all US colonial governors of the Philippines belonged to George Bush’s elite Yale fraternity (“final club”), Skull and Bones….and so did Henry Luce with his “American Century” thing.
[Teddy was Porcellian-Harvard.]
The contemporary equivalent of Spencer’s “survival of the fittest” is Richard Dawkins’s phrase – oft quoted in the City of London with a self-excusing shrug – “the selfish gene.”
Dawkins is also famous for his frenzied attacks on religion. The best rebuttal I’ve read of his most recent book on the subject is, surprisingly, by a lifelong marxist and aetheist, Terry Eagleton, who argues passionately that religion, especially Christianity, has always been at its strongest amongst the poorest and most marginal in society. What keeps peoples’ heads just above the water in Africa, in the failed states of the world, what gives them the rudimentary moral codes to keep some sort of order and humanity in their societies – religion – largely dismissed as superstition in the advanced and affluent West.
Ibn Khaldun noted seven centuries ago that religion is the root of all civilizations. Only its demand for self-discipline and transcendent portrayal of a greater good can quell the raw egotism and betrayals of a society in the throes of a Hobbesian, failed state anarchy. As conditions and order improve marginally, this gives room for debate and even bloodshed, but out of that – if the religion is strong enough to encompass these differences – can come law, a common sense of social discipline and social responsibility, even, in time, democracy. Eventually though, as noted, comes the romantic substitution of the self for the whole, and, in time, dissolution.
I’ve just got back from the funeral for an old woman in the village. One child of eleven – five of whom died in childhood – she was brought up in a rural slum. She wasn’t very bright – but had a very strong character and spoke her mind fearlessly and passionately. When young she was seduced by an uncaring master of the house in which she was a servant – and in a time when no help whatsoever was given to single mothers – managed to bring up three children. While still alive her eldest son died, then a daughter, then a son-in-law. Though stricken with grief, somehow or other she managed to keep going. She was a Primitive Methodist or Bible Christian, and it was from the fellow members of her congregation that she received help and support.
One might ask – why take any notice of her? After all, she was only an old lady in National Health specs who more likely than not was going to have an argument with you. What good she served was the thirty or so children, grandchildren, and great grand children who followed her coffin out of church weeping. She did that. She and her God and her few staunch friends created 30 human beings – small and pretty stunted and badly dressed, as most of the British poor still are. In the words of the hymn “Abide with Me” which we sang:
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
The Neo-Cons and the Cheney-ites and the Blair-rites might be hanging onto power at the top of the dungheap by ruthlessly betraying the world and even their own countries, but the force which is inevitably going to overthrow their barbarism is already brewing in the anarchy they have caused – religion.
Yes, U.S. foreign policy has been remarkably consistent in its goals if not in its means. Writing nearly one hundred years ago about the ethical question of American empire and the Philippine insurgency, Henry James Ford offered: “The moral to be drawn is not that futile endeavor should be made to avoid imperial responsibility when it presents itself, but that attention should be given to consideration of the means by which the responsibility may be safely borne.” (“The Ethics of Empire,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 3 (September 1907), 498-505.) The dark core has been extant for a long time (the Eastern Establishment for instance). His essay is a good read. He points out the American belief that it can remake peoples in its own image. He observes: “Such logic is like that of the clumsy tailor who argued that the clothes he made were all right but the man did not happen to fit them.” The plot remains the same, the characters and dialogue change.
One of the problems with Dawkins is that he treats religion simply as though it were a system of propositions — as though it was simply trying to do what science was trying to do, and doing it badly. But religion is characteristically composite, a matter of what people do, and in particular of the rituals they perform, as well as propositions about matters of fact.
Even in self-consciously anti-ritualist religion, like nonconformity in Britain, this is true. My father used to recall how back in the 1920s miners coming down from the Rhondda valley for a day out by the sea at Barry in South Wales used to sing hymns on the train home. I used to think this was a continuation of age-old and perhaps atavistic practice. But I remember being told by a sociologist working on the region that Merthyr Tydfil in the early years of industrialisation had been a kind of wild west town — before it suddenly got religion. So people were looking for resources to cope with new problems, rather than simply carrying on old practices. Barry itself was founded out of nothing in the 1880s to export the ‘steam coals’ of South Wales, the only fuel which would give the speed necessary for warships and steam trains. So it was at the heart of ‘modernity’ and indeed one might say ‘globalisation’ in pre-1914 Wales. But it was a kind of arcane religious patchwork — divided between Anglicanism and a variety of forms of nonconformity.
People like Dawkins also commonly inhabit a very specific culture, which was actually shaped by a long history of a very specific kind of religious practice — the culture of his university, Oxford, is seeped in the atmosphere of Protestant Christianity, however secular it may appear to be. And that culture is also sustained by the practice of scholarly endeavour, which has a morality of its own. The question of how their ideas might impact in other contexts, where this culture is absent, is one many of its products lack the imagination to contemplate.
As to the ‘worship of the collective powers of man’ in Communism and Fascism, I would not disagree with you. Actually among the people who most clearly anticipated this was Dostoevsky, whom Duncan Kinder brought up in an early post. The legend of the Grand Inquisitor, in The Brothers Karamazov, is an anticipation of how social collapse might lead to a reversion to ‘Caesarism’ — that is, an earthly ruler worshipped as a God. The sting in the tail of the argument was the suggestion — elaborated through the action of the novel — that the new ‘Caesar’ might actually turn out to worship himself.
As to the Shoah as a semi-religious cult, I would need to think about this. I can understand however how it irks Muslims, to put it mildly, to have Christians regarding it as perfectly normal that they should atone for their own past appalling treatment of Jews by awarding them a homeland in Muslim land.
Still, at the moment in the Middle East as elsewhere what has been done has been done, and what is urgent is to look for least worst options, starting from where we are.
REPUBLICANS ARE USING MOB RULE. DRUG WAR, 3 STRIKES, DEATH PENALTY, “PATRIOT” ACTS, GAY MARRIAGE, THE IRAQ WAR FOR OIL, AND NO AMNESTY FOR ILLEGALS: http://deanberryministries.net.
>But it was a kind of arcane religious patchwork — divided between Anglicanism and a variety of forms of nonconformity.
Nigeria at the moment seems to be filled with syntheses of different religions – christian, muslim and animism all mingling and intermingling into a multiplicity of sects. All over Africa ancestor worship seems to have been successfully welded with Anglicanism and Catholicism, but not with American evangelical christianity.
Religion does seem to give a basis of behavioural laws and rituals and beliefs which enable human beings to survive rapidly changing and often deeply confusing and threatening new realities. Thus are new societies born.
But when such societies become formed and predictable and safe, like North Oxford, that’s when the solidarity starts to fissipate into individualism – which is both glorious and ultimately doomed.
The person who first pointed out how Shoah has become semi-religious in the West was a Protestant American.