30 April 2008
Isn't it possible that Wright's opinion represents the more authentically Christian attitude toward warfare? From the perspective of Jesus, is there a moral distinction to be drawn between the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the attacks of 11 September 2001 that damns only the latter while justifying the former? Some of you may want to talk about the Christian "just war" tradition, but how much of that doctrine can be traced back to Jesus himself? Is there anything in the Gospels in which Jesus justifies war? Do you want to say, "Render unto Caesar?" Before you do, consider that Jesus wouldn't even let his disciples fight to defend him from the minions of the Sanhedrin. What makes you think he would encourage people to fight for any other cause, or that giving your life to the state is equivalent to paying taxes? Even after Jesus left the scene, where do you find Christian self-defense forces in the Acts of the Apostles? I don't recall any.
Let's face it: any notion of war being a proper activity for Christians probably dates back no further than the co-option of the faith by the emperor Constantine. That gave religious leaders a stake in the state and a reason to send the faithful to fight for it. Roman Catholics may remain convinced by all the "just war" commentary that followed from this change, but neither Jeremiah Wright nor Barack Obama nor Hilary Clinton nor John McCain nor George W. Bush is a Catholic. Wright's position seems clear (though I wonder whether he'd accept that a slave had no right to kill his master), but all the others also proclaim themselves Christians. How do they rationalize their commitments to present or future wars. How do the rest of you Christians do so? It's one thing for Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris to cry havoc against the Muslims; they're atheists. It's a similar thing for Zionists to join the charge; for good or ill, they have a warlike tradition to guide them. But Christians are not supposed to fight; you're supposed to turn the other cheek or accept passive, pacific martyrdom. Some of you have probably been tempted to think that Rev. Wright is not a good or a true Christian because he supposedly hates certain people and has spoken apparent untruths. But on the question of war, it strikes this objective observer that he's a better Christian than most of his fellow citizens. I welcome any attempt to prove me wrong.
29 April 2008
My one reservation about the ruling was only partially relieved when I learned that Indiana charges nothing for a non-driver's ID. Had it been otherwise, the Court would have issued an unconstitutional ruling, because they would have authorized a poll tax, which is forbidden according to the 24th Amendment. While the Court determined that the Indiana law doesn't unreasonably burden citizens, the ruling may unreasonably burden states, since any state that wants to adopt a similar rule is going to have to make a free ID option available. In New York, you have to pay for a non-driver's ID; that will have to change if the state ever wants to impose an ID law. For that matter, since most people are going to present their driver's licenses instead of getting a separate ID just for the purpose of voting, won't those licenses have to be free if they become a prerequisite for voting? I'm not a constitutional lawyer, but it seems to me that if a state tells you that you need to present some documentation that you had to pay for before you can vote, that payment becomes, for all intents and purposes, a poll tax. Don't be surprised if you see this case back in court before long, especially if Democrats feel as bad about it as they seem.
28 April 2008
MS. LEINWAND: In your sermon, you said the government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color. So I ask you: Do you honestly believe your statement and those words?
Wright responded this way:
REV. WRIGHT: Have you read Horowitz's book "Emerging Viruses: AIDS and Ebola"? Whoever wrote that question, have you read "Medical Apartheid"? You've read it? ... I read different things. As I said to my members, if you haven't read things, then you can't -- and based on the Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything.In fact, in fact, in fact, one of the -- one of the responses to what Saddam Hussein had in terms of biological warfare was a non- question, because all we had to do was check the sales record. We sold him those biological weapons that he was using against his own people.So any time a government can put together biological warfare to kill people and then get angry when those people use what we sold them, yes, I believe we are capable.
Let's see what we can learn about his sources. Emerging Viruses ... is written by Dr. Leonard G. Horowitz (see also here) who apparently offers several theories at once regarding the origins of the titular plagues, ranging from accidental mutations during cancer research to deliberate population reduction strategies emanating from Henry Kissinger. Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington seems to be a more widely accepted work because it deals with history, not speculation -- specifically the history of experimentation on blacks, beginning in slavery times and culminating in the Tuskegee experiments Wright refers to.
It's worth noting that, while the talking heads are damning Wright for allegedly affirming today that the government propagated AIDS, the man himself only articulated the minimal position of conspiracy theory: that the powerful are capable of anything. Arguably, he's taken a step back from his original charge, choosing to hide behind his sources. Curiously, while Wright appears to be a learned person in his chosen field, he takes the autodidact's approach to the AIDS question, reading certain books that came to hand (randomly?) that happen to confirm a worldview ("our government is capable of doing anything") that he already held.
If it were just me listening to a sermon from some preacher, I could dismiss it all pretty easily. But as you may have figured out, something bugs me about this whole business. Let me give you a sample.
* * *
There's another guy in our office, whom I've not bothered to nickname, who often gets into loud, angry arguments with Mr. Right. Unlike others, like myself or Mr. Peepers, this guy is usually content with mocking Mr. Right or answering his arguments with nonsense catchphrases. Mr. Right, however, has nothing to do with this anecdote and was minding his business in the Sports department when the evening news showed an excerpt of Rev. Wright's talk.
Having heard the story, this guy's response to Wright was, "He sure seems to be enjoying the attention." For some reason, that irked me.
"What makes you think so?" I asked him.
"Just look at all the speeches he's making now," he explained.
"And you think he's doing it because he craves the attention?"
"Just look at him!"
"Well, what about Barack Obama? He makes a lot of speeches."
"Yeah, but he's running for President."
"So couldn't he be running because he craves attention?"
He seemed to dismiss the question, but I couldn't dismiss the complaint. The way it sounded to me was that Rev. Wright had some hard things to say to the country, some true, some false, but the nation was going to dismiss it all as the "self-absorbed" ravings of an attention seeker. My own opinion is that this country is going to have to learn to listen to hard words, and its citizens are going to have to get less self-absorbed themselves and learn to see themselves as others see them, even if the other is sometimes a fictional character like God. If our first impulse is to dismiss the hard words as those of a attention seeker or a crank, the words are only going to get harder, and we might be forced to hear them.
1. "A commitment to individual liberty, tempered by the conviction that genuine freedom entails more than simply an absence of restraint."
This is so unobjectionable as to be inadequate for defining conservatism except in opposition to anarchy. But for now let's emphasize the unobjectionability of it.
2. "A belief in limited government, fiscal responsibility, and the rule of law."
Again, this is so broadly stated as to be insignificant, since the issue between conservatives and their opponents is how limited government shall be. If it's to be limited simply by the imperatives of fiscal responsibility and the rule of law, that still leaves plenty of room for debate. The proper scope of government is exactly where ideologies clash, and where citizens must reach consensus.
3. "Veneration for our cultural inheritance combined with a sense of stewardship for Creation."
Here Bacevich makes some room for environmentalism, which isn't welcome for many self-styled conservatives. Conservationism, to use an older term, shouldn't be inimical to conservatism, except that too many so-called U.S. conservatives are committed to the "creative destruction" of entrepreneurial capitalism to be comfortable with a principle that limits their freedom for no good reason that the Market can discover. As for cultural inheritances, where does one draw the line? Those who call our country a "Christian nation" make their position clear. Bacevich's position is less clear, perhaps intentionally so.
4. "A reluctance to discard or tamper with traditional social arrangements."
Well, this wouldn't be conservatism without something like the above. To be fair, let's note that he says "reluctance," not "refusal."
5. "Respect for the market as the generator of wealth combined with a wariness of the market's corrosive impact on human values."
This gets right to the ambivalent heart of American conservatism, which wants to eat its cake and have it, too. Many seem to believe that "creative destruction" will only destroy the insufficiently creative or insufficiently competitive, but most will affirm that there's also a cultural competition in progress that their side might not win. However they define their own culture, which they tend to identify as the American culture, they know that it's vulnerable to competition. Some frankly want to abolish cultural competition and give the monopoly to tradition or theocracy, but they're just a fringe right now. Others are unwilling to do without the benefits of "creative destruction," but find themselves questioning the consequences. Maybe they could clear their heads if they thought of labor, not the market, as the generator of wealth.
6. "A deep suspicion of Utopian promises, rooted in an appreciation of the sinfulness of man and the recalcitrance of history."
For people like Bacevich, Bush's ideology is not conservatism because it has a Utopian commitment to ending tyranny and imposing "freedom" everywhere. You don't have to believe in "original sin" to disparage such a scheme. Man is fallible, not "fallen." Maybe "the recalcitrance of history" is the secular version of "the sinfulness of man." On the other hand, it remains debatable what humanity can or can't accomplish, or what they should or shouldn't try. Disputes with conservatives often become bitter because their opponents, sometimes rightly, suspect that conservatism declares impossible some things that they simply don't want to do.
To sum up, Bacevich's conservatism still isn't anything I'd sign up for, but he seems, at first glance, like someone with whom it'd be more possible to have a civilized debate than it would be with many other self-styled conservatives.
27 April 2008
Obama has most likely demurred because, even without moderators of suspect loyalties, he knows that as long as his opponent remains the same any debate with her will be about "electability" rather than the issues of the day. The Illinois senator has made clear that he's sick and tired of these "distractions." I addressed the point already a few days ago, but to repeat: electability is a valid issue when a party chooses its candidate, but in a democratic party with primary elections voters have just as much right to consider who'd make the better President as they have an obligation to consider electability. If electability is the primary consideration (pun unintended but probably subconscious) for party leaders, they should never have let the nomination process out of the smoke-filled rooms. For his part, Obama has the right to assert that policies determine electability more than distractions, and Clinton has an equal right to argue otherwise. But I don't think any group of Democrats in Indiana wants to be in a room for three hours hearing that particular debate, and I know the candidates don't need to be in that room to debate the point further.
If Clinton really believes that the 1858 format has virtues, the first thing she should do if nominated is issue the same challenge to McCain. That should be even less of a risk than her current ploy, because the Republican would most likely have even less desire to pull such a stunt than Obama does, for fairly obvious reasons.
Any atheist or anti-theist or merely aggressive agnostic who can't deal with merely being against something is in the wrong vocation. The whole point of the exercise is to be a dissident, a freethinker -- to be against groupthink or any other form of accepted wisdom. Merely saying "no" to what is wrong should not be disparaged. It's an essential activity in any democracy. When a bad policy is proposed, it should be opposed because it is wrong in itself, not just because you propose something else instead. It may trouble some folks to be told that they "believe in nothing," but I suggest turning that on your accusers. If they tell you that you believe in nothing, tell them that they do, too, if you get my meaning. Once those people become convinced, as many seem to be already, that atheists are actually proposing some sort of alternate "religion," they'll only harden their hearts that much more against your message.
By all means, atheists and other freethinkers should have support networks, committees of correspondence, chatrooms, etc. But each freethinker has an obligation to the integrity of his or her own intellectual development. My hope is that people reject the religions of Abraham and all similar societies not because they've read a popular book, or because atheism has become trendy, but because they've managed to figure things out for themselves based on the evidence readily available. To some extent, it may be a lonely intellectual journey, but maybe it should be.
26 April 2008
24 April 2008
"When something is taken like a sound bite for a political purpose and put constantly over and over again, looped in the face of the public," Wright says, "that's not a failure to communicate. Those who are doing that are communicating exactly what they want to do, which is to paint me as some sort of fanatic or as the learned journalist from the New York Times called me, a 'wackadoodle.'
"It's to paint me as something: 'Something's wrong with me. There's nothing wrong with this country…for its policies. We're perfect. Our hands are free. Our hands have no blood on them,'" Wright says. "That's not a failure to communicate. The message that is being communicated by the sound bites is exactly what those pushing those sound bites want to communicate."
And what does Wright think "they" wanted to communicate?
"That I am unpatriotic, that I am un-American, that I am filled with hate speech, that I have a cult at Trinity United Church of Christ," Wright says. "And by the way, guess who goes to his church, hint, hint, hint? That's what they wanted to communicate."
This seems correct to me, but if that represents the whole of what he has to say on the subject, he'll leave a lot of people unsatisfied. For many critics, the issue is not his general characterization of American history, but specific charges which the critics consider delusional if not outright lies. It will be interesting to see if Moyers will raise the specific issues of AIDS and crack with Wright, and more interesting to see how the minister responds outside the safety zone of his pulpit.
Meanwhile, Senator McCain continues his (perhaps conveniently) futile struggle with rogue elements in his own party who wish to slander Senator Obama by association with Wright. McCain plays the good cop by condemning the advertising, but since he has no power whatsoever to stop this particular group from doing as they please, their campaign continues with added publicity thanks to McCain's condemnations. I think that on some level the Arizonan is trying to do the right thing, if perhaps only because he fears reciprocal attacks due to his ambivalent association with John Hagee. I'm also fairly certain that McCain recognizes that the risk involved in assuming the rhetorical high ground is minimal, so let's not give him too much credit this time.
By the way, check out the discussion thread at the bottom of the ABC site. It's a raw feed of the twisted political and cultural consciousness of a nation and will prove appalling or amusing, depending on your vantage point.
23 April 2008
Superdelegates, of course, are entitled to consider the good of the party. They should do so regardless of the pressure from the Obama camp to respect the will of the majority of primary voters nationwide. If those voters don't like the result, maybe they'll learn a lesson about political parties. Nor should the superdelegates be swayed by the sophistry of Clintonites. They say that their candidate's victory in the "big states" means Obama can't win them in the general election. The idea is self-evidently absurd. It presumes that everyone who votes against Obama in a Democratic primary will vote Republican in the general election. The Clintonites are trying to force this argument, it seems, by telling exit-pollsters in disturbingly large numbers that they would vote for McCain against Obama in November. If not disingenuous, they certainly must be bitter, or else some of them, at least, are just plain bigots. How do you like those choices? But in any event, once the Democratic leadership rallies behind Obama, should he be nominated, and starts running "Roe v. Wade is in danger" commercials and similar stuff, I doubt the remaining Clintonites would want to take their chances with McCain.
Clinton has tried to make the primary endgame all about electability. All the guilt-by-association attacks on Obama and the orchestrated outrage over "bittergate" (I've actually heard this term!) are meant to demonstrate that the Illinois senator is more vulnerable to "swift-boating" in the fall. Electability is a proper consideration for the bosses in the smoke-filled rooms; it's a "good of the party" argument. Unfortunately for party leaders, primary voters probably think they're voting for whoever they think will be the best President, not merely the best candidate. Understandably, a lot of them take offense at the negative turn the campaign has taken. They should take offense at the idea that they should vote in these primaries as partisans first and citizens second.
22 April 2008
He does admit that many people won't be happy with the change. He writes: "From the perspective of nation states to which we are accustomed, market states seem a disavowal of much we have been taught to expect from the State. With regard to global governance, the preferences of market states for informal incentives, deregulation, and voluntary association may seem like a renunciation of the rule of law itself" (505-6).
But if so many people would presumably be hostile to the change, why can't they stop it or reverse it? Bobbitt may think that this is the sort of historical change that simply isn't subject to political will. That'd be consistent with his abstract level of thinking; after all, Terror and Consent recommends sweeping changes in military and intelligence strategy on the basis of a theory of history. At the same time, he clearly expects many if not more people to benefit from the market state order, as long as they enjoy the opportunities market states must provide. He envisions a more cosmopolitan world where individual identity trumps old claims to exclusive national loyalties.
The move to the primacy of persons as individuals and as members of self-chosen groups rather than only as nationals has several other implications for global governance. Foremost, considerations of history, culture and geography that were suppressed or highly structured by nation states will be more keenly felt (and expressed). As a corollary, it ought to be possible for individuals to be citizens of more than one state and for their states to be members of more than one regional group.(508)
Everyone will be free to join everything, Bobbitt imagines, but what happens to the sense of belonging, of membership that confers mutual obligations as well as individual benefits? What's to become of solidarity in this new constitutional order? People are going to miss these things unless they've been prepared for the change by generations of brainwashing, as has arguably been the case in the U.S. Inevitably, people are going to resist the transition from nation to market state when they see it happening in real time on their ground. My worry is that Bobbitt has painted these people and their governments into a conceptual corner, so that by resisting the transition to a market state, they become (in his mind) a state of terror.
On several occasions, Bobbitt writes that democracies won't necessarily qualify as states of consent as long as they lack a "rule of law" of the kind that would presumably be appropriate to a market state. Recall his assertion that market states of consent can't tolerate the existence of other forms of government. Consider that, while he accuses al Qaeda of an aggressive agenda to impose sharia on a Caliphate, he acknowledges that bin Laden and his pals have repeatedly asked only to be left alone to impose it on only one part of the world. Recall again that Bobbitt says that market states of consent cannot leave states of terror alone. What then, if any country (what the hell, let's call it Russia) tells the world, "we intend to remain a nation state and play by the old rules, and we have our people behind us, and we will resist the encroachments of market states by all means lawful to a nation state"? According to Bobbitt's framework, such a country is likely to be a terrorist threat to the extent that it attempts to limit opportunities for individuals outside its borders (see part II of my review) and will be increasingly desperate to preserve its old-fashioned opaque national sovereignty. How long would it take, then, before market states, under some fine-sounding rubric like a "league of democracies," wage "preclusive" or "anticipatory" war against the offending nation?
I don't mean to accuse Bobbitt of advocating such a policy, but he leaves himself open to speculation because he never acknowledges that the great transition on which all his premises are founded can ever be contested by the will of a people. As a result, the overall impression I get from Terror and Consent is that all of us are either with the program or against it, and that those of us who are against it are a threat.
Philip Bobbitt himself might ask me what I'm afraid of. Well, he paints a pretty harrowing portrait of the chaos in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and he damns the Bush administration for its incompetence, but while he would argue that that's not how a proper market state would handle things (he has plenty of his own suggestions), my own hunch is to the contrary. He hopes that future administrations, by enacting and abiding by new systems of international law, intelligence gathering and military justice, will earn the people's trust for more effective security measures, without allowing that citizens will continue to disagree about the fundamental reasons for any military venture, especially if future interventions are founded on the Bobbitt doctrine that we can't leave nasty countries alone, and that dissidents in a "war on terror" environment legitimately worry that governments will interpret dissent from war aims as subversion or treason. I can readily accept that there are parts of the world where I wouldn't be welcome, and I'm not so all-encompassingly ambitious to think that my opportunities, much less my rights, are limited as a result. If I offer my viewpoint as a model for American foreign policy, will I have Bobbitt or other people call me an enemy of freedom?
I'll leave the topic with a paradox: Can a person speak out against freedom, and still be free? When writers like Bobbitt summon visions of armed freedom on the march, and politicians like John McCain (who has advocated a "league of democracies" similar to Bobbitt's idea) seem to be listening, we had better figure out the answer soon.
21 April 2008
Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos are taking a lot of heat for spending so much time asking about Jeremiah Wright and the 'bitter' comments. But the fact is that voters want a president who basically shares their values and life experiences. Fairly or not, they look at symbols like Michael Dukakis in a tank, John Kerry's windsurfing or John Edwards' haircut as clues about shared values.
If Brooks is right, then the country has become more democratic in a way that does no credit to democracy. Most voters of 200 years ago most likely neither shared nor expected to share the "life experiences" of aristocrats like Washington and Jefferson or learned men like the Adamses, but that didn't disqualify such people from political life in American eyes. I grant that American voters of 200 years ago were an "elite" unto themselves by today's standards, but the "anti-elitism" that today's conservatives want to foster didn't automatically follow from the country getting more democratic, as the popularity of FDR and JFK will prove. Something else is at work that Brooks wants to call "values" but is really "ideology." He wants to convince the working class that the corporate class shares with them "values" that those decadent godless pervert liberals oppose, and that it's the liberals, not the corporate guys, who dare tell the rest of us how to live. This tactic has seemed to work before; let's see if it will again.
Now here's George Will with an amazing proposal for corporate America:
If Congress cannot suppress its itch to 'do something' while markets are correcting the prices of housing and money, Congress could pass a law saying: No company benefiting from a substantial federal subvention ... may pay any executive more than the highest pay of a federal civil servant ($124,010). That would dampen Wall Street's enthusiasm for measures that socialize losses while keeping profits private.
This sounds like a good idea, but I fear that Will only proposes it sarcastically. He's a market idolator who argues that the Federal Reserve's "duty is not to avoid a recession at all costs" and fears that its efforts will only exacerbate the developing one. No business is "too big to fail" as far as Will's concerned, so he opposes any kind of bailout. I suspect that, once CEOs learn their lesson and agree to play purely by market rules, Will would be happy to see them paid as much as the mighty market will permit.
Let's move on to some theological speculation from Bill O'Reilly:
Are you telling me that Jesus would not have used TV, radio and the Net to spread his word? Come on. If Jesus were here right now, he'd definitely have a cable program or at least be doing commentary on '60 Minutes.' Clerics might think about that.
The Fox talker must have been watching South Park too often. Contrary to that show's suggestion, even public access cable would probably be beyond the capacity of the historical Jesus. Since believers and non-believers appear to agree that the man never wrote anything, it would appear that he didn't even avail himself of the most advanced communication technology of his own time. Why would he do differently now?
Finally, these are excerpts from a letter to the Albany Times Union written by Larry Roth of Ravena:
Sen. Barack Obama is being subjected to a lot of synthetic criticism for choosing to describe a certain class of Americans as bitter. Understandably so, too. Americans are supposed to be the most cheerful, optimistic people in the world. They have to be -- because if they weren't, they might be asking people like Sens. John McCain and Hilary Clinton some tough questions...
Apparently, someone who wants to be president is supposed to be some kind of national cheerleader, to make us feel good about ourselves. Well, that's exactly what we have now, a president who spent his college days as
a cheerleader. He's also the same man who lied us into an unending war, done his best to bankrupt the country while enriching his friends, and signed off on the job his top people did on deciding the best ways to
torture people while bending the law to make it 'legal.'
A majority of Americans think America is on the wrong track -- but that's OK as long as they're not bitter about it. That would be unthinkable -- and talking about it, unacceptable.
20 April 2008
The irritating thing about Bobbitt's grand thesis is his macro-historical assumption that the transformation of nation-states into market-states is inevitable and irreversible. Even more irritating is his equation of market states with "states of consent." While he acknowledges the possibility of "market states of terror," for which al Qaeda serves as a prototype, Bobbitt clearly thinks that the typical market state will be a state of consent. Indeed, the advent of the market state seems to make states of consent more hostile to "states of terror" than ever before.
Bobbitt predicts that market states of consent will be pressured more often by their own people to invade states of terror (allegedly) like Sudan because a globalized media will publicize that country's outrages and inflame public opinion in favor of humanitarian intervention, i.e. war. The concept of "none of our business" will be obsolete. Instead, as Bobbitt tellingly explains, states of consent "seek to maximize the opportunities of their citizens by empowering the citizens of other states." (487). Reduce that phrase to the actual policy Bobbitt idealizes and it means: market states maximize opportunities for their citizens by invading other countries. If that sounds self-interested rather than idealistic, that doesn't bother Bobbitt. Here he is discussing the decision to invade Iraq.
Market states, however, require a common ethos in a way their predecessors did not....Market states must demonstrate the worth of global markets and the globalising principles -- including the rule of law -- that underlie such markets.
* * *
More importantly, a state that turns on its own citizens is state of terror no matter what its constitutional evolution, and as such it will always pose a challenge to states of consent, to their self-respect, and to their legitimacy in the eyes of their own citizens. Sudan does not threaten the E.U. or the U.S. any more than Serbia did when it conducted its massacres in Kosovo. But these states of terror do threaten the fundamental premise of the market state -- that it will maximize the opportunity of its people -- because they suggest that opportunity is bought at the price of allowing terror to triumph (if elsewhere), and once that bargain is struck it is a short step to the demand that a state of terror replace one's own state of consent when the going gets rough. (229-30)
Iraq's oil wealth cannot have been irrelevant. Why would critics of the war demand that it be so? Why do we expect states never to have multiple, mixed motives when most of us wouldn't choose a university -- wouldn't even buy a car -- without a complicated calculus of many values, sometimes in conflict? This demand -- that a state's motives must be purely self-sacrificing if they are not to be judged discreditable -- reflects expectations about states that are so unrealistic as to be counterproductive to those very goals that human rights advocates wish to promote. Instead of concluding that states with geopolitical interests should be barred from interventions, we should instead be devising doctrines ... that clearly state how strategic interests, measured on a global scale, intersect with humanitarian interests in order to move states in the direction of protecting civilians. (493)
Bobbitt's purpose in Terror and Consent is to suggest doctrines that will justify interventions by market states of consent against states of terror. Once the proper doctrine is established, he expects, the intervening states won't be acting without justification or only out of self-interest. There has to be a doctrine because all these interventions have to happen according to a rule of law, or else the intervening states cannot be states of consent. Bobbitt's beef with the Bush administration is based on their apparent belief that international law can be dispensed with altogether, rather than rewritten, as the author urges, to legitimize American actions. He worries that moving further in Bush's direction could turn the U.S. into a state of terror, but he also worries that we could end up one if we don't pass the stronger surveillance and data-sharing laws he advocates, because our failure to have a legal system and government apparatus in place appropriate to the new threat of market-state terrorism could force us to turn to martial law in a crisis.
The foundation of Bobbitt's doctrine is that not all nations are equal anymore. The old international order, embodied in the UN and founded on the equal inviolable sovereignty of all nations, he declares obsolete. In short, states of terror have no sovereignty that states of consent are bound to recognize.
"Transparently" is a technical term for Bobbitt, who defines three degrees of state sovereignty. Opaque sovereignty is the old standard, which says one state's internal affairs are nobody else's business. Translucent sovereignty happens in entities like the European Union, in which the member states are accountable to each other and liable to sanctions when they violate agreed-upon rules. Transparent sovereignty is the American way, on the Jeffersonian/Federalist model, which is "founded on the notion that the People possess rights that can't be alienated by delegation to the government" (466).
I offer this provocative proposed rule: a state of terror can never be sovereign.... Persons within a state of terror may prosecute armed struggles against the State and not be subject to lawful sanction or extradition; they are not terrorists unless they attack civilians with no connection to the state depredations they are resisting. Other states may lawfully intervene against such a state to halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, genocide, or international terrorism, or to forestall mass catastrophes ignored by the regime -- all indicia of states of terror. To be assured of sovereignty, and of the protection of the international community, both domestically and among states, a state need only become transparently a state of consent. (481-2)
At this point, Bobbitt makes a disingenuous leap. He claims that the concept of transparent sovereignty justifies humanitarian intervention against states of terror. Transparency "holds that a state's acts toward the state's own citizens, within its own territory can be judged by other states and serve as a predicate for armed intervention even in the absence of an endorsement by the appropriate international institutions" (469). The really disingenuous bit follows: "This fully fits the American concept of sovereignty, for when a state violates the compact of human rights it implicitly holds with its people, it forfeits or at least sharply compromises its sovereignty, because popular consent is the source of state sovereignty."
Did you catch the trickery? What Bobbitt just did was use the concept of government's accountability to its own citizens (the "American concept of sovereignty") to justify an invasion by another country or coalition of powers. You can deny that Bobbitt just pulled a fast one if you can show me any document in which Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison etc. theorized a right of foreign countries to invade the United States. I bet you can't.
Of course, catching Bobbitt in an error doesn't mean that his argument is wrong on its own merits, but it does make you suspect that something is wrong with his picture. That's why I keep coming back to the question of whether a welfare state transformed against the will of its citizens into a market state is really a state of consent after all. If it isn't, what are the implications for all of Bobbitt's self-described political philosophy? I hope to address that question in a third and final article.
17 April 2008
16 April 2008
Bobbitt anticipates the criticism that "you can't wage war on a tactic" and tries to deflect it by defining terror as a condition, a state of being. A "state of terror" is one in which people are deterred by violence or the threat of violence from doing what they actually have a right to do. This, he asserts, is what terrorists wish to impose on the world. It's a new aspiration for terrorists that reflects the evolution of nations from "nation states" to "market states." Al Qaeda is only the first wave of "market state terrorists" or "market states of terror," all of which will want to terrorize the whole world in order to secure for themselves freedom of action in their own part of the world or universal compliance with some ideological or religious demand.
Because he thinks the form terrorism takes is a product of the prevailing world order, Bobbitt doesn't care to elaborate on root causes of Islamic terrorism or the history of the Middle East. This seems evasive because it allows Bobbitt to fit al Qaeda into a mold of his own making. In his view, bin Laden's movement is an aggressive force positively motivated by the desire to impose sharia rather than defensively motivated in response to actual or perceived aggression by the West. He acknowledges that al Qaeda basically wants to be left alone to build a sharia Caliphate somewhere, but for Bobbitt this is an unacceptable objective.
The advent of the "market state" (which apparently favors individual opportunity over social welfare and emphasizes physical security over economic security for its citizens) seems to have brought us to a "House Divided" moment in world history. In American history, Abraham Lincoln said "a house divided against itself cannot stand." He wasn't predicting that the house would fall, but that it would cease to be divided. In the American context, that meant the U.S. would either belong to slaveholders or to free labor. He wanted to ensure that slavery was in "the course of ultimate extinction," and that commitment put him on a collision course with the slaveholders. Bobbitt doesn't mention Lincoln in this context, but echoes him in asserting that the world can't be divided between "states of terror" and "states of consent" -- the latter being those nations dedicated to democracy and/or the rule of law in the name of individual liberty. To continue the analogy, "states of consent" must be satisfied that "states of terror" are on the course of ultimate extinction, which puts the two sets of states on a collision course that leads to the "wars on Terror."
To render it plainly, "states of consent" cannot tolerate the existence of any place on earth where their citizens wouldn't be perfectly welcome or wouldn't enjoy the same individual rights they have at home. They are somehow compelled to suppress "states of terror" on the theory that their own citizens aren't secure in their rights until everyone on earth is secure in the same rights. It so happens that those rights are the ones Jefferson defined in the Declaration of Independence. Bobbitt believes in universal, individual, "inalienable" rights, and that political sovereignty depends on the consent of the governed. While he often insists that not every "state of consent" will resemble the U.S., you can't help but assume that he wouldn't object if they did.
In any event, "states of terror" or, worse, "virtual market states of terror" (e.g. al Qaeda) recognize this fundamental antipathy and are impelled to spread terror to defend themselves. The problem, as far as Bobbitt is concerned, is that "states of terror" have no right to defend themselves. The new constitutional order cannot permit "states of terror" to have the same rights as "states of consent" because their recourse to terror in self-defense illegally terrorizes citizens of states of consent, who are entitled to seek the destruction of states of terror.
It sounds a little like circular reasoning to me. We have to wage war on states of terror because they want to terrorize us so we won't wage war on them. Bobbitt himself acknowledges this problem. The major part of Terror and Consent is his attempt to forge a system of international law that would legitimize the wars on Terror so that no given war will be seen as merely an attempt by some great power to oppress a weaker but hostile force. His big beef with the Bush administration is over their apparent contempt for international law, but he meets them halfway by insisting that international law must change to reflect the new constitutional order and the new challenges of "market state terrorism." Similarly, he considers the Bushies their own worst enemies because of their obsession with secrecy and executive power, but he insists that civil libertarians must moderate their objections to new intelligence strategies because liberties are threatened more by terrorism than by surveillance.
I've taken notes on the book that I've left at my office. In Part Two of my review, I'll let Bobbitt speak for himself on some of the topics already mentioned while articulating more of my own criticisms. I'll leave the subject for now with the warning that "states of consent" might not be the most accurate label for the "market states" Bobbitt describes.
14 April 2008
People who don't want to be bothered by the likes of Rev. Wright want us all to focus on the progress that's been made over the last fifty years or so, which should convince blacks to get over their grievances. So let's consider this little token of progress. Rep. Davis sounds like quite the throwback, doesn't he? He must have been hanging out on the front porch sipping juleps with Strom Thurmond and such folk, right. Guess what: he's only 49 years old.
13 April 2008
Still, people of diverse and contradictory political views often cite Jefferson as an authority or guide for present thinking. Our local paper last week printed an op-ed that's been circulating through the press from a libertarian writer who quoted Jefferson thusly: To take from one because it is thought his own industry ... has acquired too much, in order to spare others who have not exercised equal industry and skill is to violate the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.
Jefferson wrote this in the margin of a book on Political Economy, but the author didn't quote the note in full. In 1816, the ex-president wrote of "his own industry and that of his father's" compared to "others, who, or whose fathers have note exercised equal industry." That's an interesting omission: doesn't the op-ed writer endorse the idea of inheritance, or did she think bringing that up would obfuscate her point, which was to line up Jefferson on the side of "free enterprise" and against taxing the rich?
As Crhymethinc pointed out to me, and wrote himself to the paper, this is fine talk however you slice it from a man who lived off the labor of slaves. But you don't need to refer to Jefferson's deeds to find him contradicting himself; he did so in writing as well, or at least it seems so. We found another Jefferson quotation in a recent issue of The Nation. In this one, which I traced to the same year, 1816, this time in a letter to a man named George Logan, Jefferson wrote: I hope we shall ... crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.
But from the libertarian viewpoint, doesn't the letter contradict the marginalia. Isn't the corporate bigwig as much entitled to the fruits of his or his father's industry as anyone else? Or did Jefferson make a distinction that the libertarian refuses to acknowledge, between those who work with their hands, farmers and craftsmen, and those engaged in commerce or capitalism, which he distrusted. The University of Virginia, which he founded, provides lists of quotes from Jefferson on various topics; alongside the last bit about crushing aristocracy, we find him writing in 1809: The selfish spirit of commerce ... knows no country, and feels no passion or principle but that of gain. And from 1814: Merchants have no country. The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains.
The same issue of The Nation ran a review of another book that appears to portray Jefferson as the original faux-populist, a la Senator Clinton this weekend. That is, he and his faction attempted to divert criticism away from big landholders and slaveholders like themselves by portraying merchants and speculators as the real elitists who threatened our national virtue. Some people say you can trace a straight line from Jefferson to today's demagogues who claim that the true elitist isn't the billionaire who disposes of thousands of jobs like so much clutter, but that pointy-headed intellectual who supposedly looks down his nose at the customs of a "bitter" populace.
Jefferson still has his rabid defenders, professors and politicians both, who don't want their hero judged by "presentist" standards. They argue that his hypocritical espousal of democracy was still preferable to the policies of his rivals, who allegedly despised democracy altogether. There's some sense to this defense. After all, it'd make no sense to say that: 1. Jefferson preached democracy; but 2. He proved himself a hypocrite by owning slaves; so 3. We ought to live under dictatorship. But we shouldn't forget that he was a hypocrite, if only because our standards have changed, and therefore he can't be a perfect or absolute guide to modern politics.
Thomas Jefferson understood that himself. In last week's New Yorker I came across yet another quote from the man. Having outlived many of his fellow Founders, he was already being asked what his colleagues would do or say if they could come back from the dead. He answered: This they would say themselves, were they to rise from the dead. ... Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.
12 April 2008
In 1904 the Olympics were held in St. Louis, U.S.A. At the time, the U.S. was wrapping up its military campaign against a native insurrection in the Philippines, which this country had taken from Spain after the 1898 war. Historians estimate that American troops killed hundreds of thousands of Filipinos during the insurrection. The games were not boycotted.
In 1908 the Games were held in London. This was during the time when the sun supposedly never set on the British Empire. Great Britain's was the largest of the European colonial empires. King Edward VII was also Emperor of India, without the consent of the Indian people. The games were not boycotted.
In 1920 the Games were held in Antwerp, Belgium. Even little Belgian had an Empire, ruling the "Belgian Congo" which had once been the personal property of the Belgian King and was proverbial for murderous exploitation. The games were not boycotted.
In 1924 the Summer Olympics were once again held in France, and once more not boycotted.
In 1928, the Olympics came to Amsterdam. At that time, the Netherlands ruled Indonesia and a number of smaller colonies, without the native peoples' consent. The games were not boycotted.
In 1932 the Summer games were held in Los Angeles. The U.S. still ruled the Philippines, and would do so, not counting the Japanese occupation during World War II, until 1946. The games were not boycotted.
In 1936, many people did object to the idea of Adolf Hitler hosting the Olympics in Berlin, but the games were not boycotted.
In 1948, the first Summer Olympics after World War II were held in London. While Great Britain had recently divested itself of India, it still ruled an increasingly restive empire extending from Malaya to Hong Kong to Kenya, and the games still were not boycotted.
It's nice to suppose that we are simply more enlightened than our insensitive ancestors, and that there's no double standard involved when people object to China hosting the Olympics, or when they objected to Moscow hosting them. The issue, however, isn't whether anyone has a double standard, because a great gulf of years separates the latest of these colonial-era Olympiads from the boycott era. The point of this history lesson is to have you ask: what's changed? I'd suggest that ideology has crept in here as it has in so many places, and that ideologues would find any excuse to deny the legitimacy allegedly conferred upon rival ideologies by hosting the Olympic Games. You'll probably see the same thing if a Muslim country gets to host the Games, presuming that such a country wants them. The Olympic ideal, of course, is a kind of ideology unto itself, and that, too, may be why Americans like to talk about boycotts so often.
Q. Do you agree with the following statement, or do you find it offensive in some way?
You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And it's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations
These are the words of Barack Obama from last Sunday, as quoted by the BBC and by the Senator's rivals. According to the Clinton campaign, these are "elitist" sentiments. According to the McCain campaign, they demonstrate in "breathtaking" fashion that Obama is "out of touch" with the American mainstream. According to Obama's own mea culpa, the comments were ill-phrased, but why exactly should he apologize? Is it "elitist" not to flatter the American people in every phrase? Are you "out of touch" if you describe facts without expressing complete and approving empathy with the people you describe? Some people are bound to think so, but they're the ones who confuse democracy with self-esteem. The American people need to hear hard truths this year, but given the response (from the other candidates, at least) to this truth that wasn't even particularly hard, our prospects aren't very promising.
09 April 2008
His complaint is that critics of the War on Terror have posited a conspiracy theory around the alleged influences of former Trotskyites and followers of the infamous Leo Strauss to explain policies that aren't really innovative in the context of U.S. history. He contends that we don't need to talk about Strauss or any ex-Trotskyites (or Zionists, heaven forbid) to explain American aggressiveness after 11 Sept 2001. The "neocons," he suggests, are only scapegoats to be blamed for ventures that haven't succeeded but had broad support at first.
Kagan fits the current trouble into a historic pattern:
The search for an extraneous explanation is an old tradition. The Spanish-American War was probably the most popular war in American history, uniting left and right, southerners with northerners, Theodore Roosevelt with William Jennings Bryan. But when the aftermath of the war left a sour taste in the mouths of many, a new account of the war emerged, according to which a very small number of people had managed to manipulate the levers of power and the
emotions of millions in order to pursue their imperialistic conspiracy. This account became the accepted version of events, so much so that to read many history textbooks today, you would imagine that the war was foisted upon an unsuspecting nation by a handful of cagey “imperialists”—Roosevelt, William Randolph Hearst, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Alfred Thayer Mahan—rather than having been launched enthusiastically by a bipartisan majority in Congress that all but trampled McKinley in its rush to war. When Americans came to regret their equally enthusiastic rush into World War I, many chose to blame the nefarious
manipulations of bankers and munitions makers. Opponents of American entry into World War II, from Charles Beard to Robert A. Taft, insisted that Franklin Roosevelt “tricked” or “lied” the nation into war. Today it is the Iraq War, once approved by an overwhelming bipartisan vote in the Senate and by large majorities of Americans, that is now inexplicable except by reference to a neoconservative conspiracy.
I agree with the argument that nothing's really new about the Bush Doctrine, except maybe the justifications it offers, but shifts in attitude from aggression to realism, or however you call the opposite positions, don't just work like the tides. Opinions are pushed by people, and it's reasonable to ask why certain people advocate specific interventions in specific parts of the world. Interventionism may be a consistent American impulse, but since the United States has never waged indiscriminate war against tyranny, we can ask why we've fought only in specific places, and who has encouraged those wars. We can criticize the present effort as against actual American interests, but I concede Kagan's point that it isn't anti-American -- which is unfortunate for America.
While I'd like to see the U.S. regain its primacy in steel production, this doesn't seem to be part of Fight Back America's agenda. Instead, by becoming a honorary steelworker I'd be participating in lobbying efforts for the Food & Product Responsibility Act "and other legislation to protect the lives and economic security of Americans from the consequences of unregulated global trade." I would join their "Protect Our Kids -- Stop Toxic Imports" campaign "to press elected leaders to end unregulated trade and empower Americans to protect their families."
In the cover letter, USW International President Leo W. Gerard explains, "I understand that we must reach out beyond our traditional union membership in order to defeat the multinational corporations and corrupt politicians who are undermining consumer safety, workers' rights and environmental protections." Gerard reaches with his palm out: it will cost me $40 to participate in this admirable-sounding movement., -- but that's a markdown from the normal $48 annual rate.
I suppose it's a good thing that an obsolescent union bureaucracy has found something new to do to justify its continued existence. But as usual, I have to say that there ought to be a better way of pursuing their political goals than forming a lobby and collecting money in order to pay for mailings like this one. If the USW is founded upon some original concentration of actual steelworkers in actual steeltowns, it might have considered forming a political party to take over city governments and elect to Washington congressmen who wouldn't need to be lobbied. You would think that unions were uniquely positioned to serve as the building blocks for alternative parties, just as you'd think the members would rather exercise some power of their own rather than merely influence those with the power. Instead, Fight Back America appears to be all talk (or print) and no real action. Any mass-based or working class-based organization that expends its resources on lobbying rather than party-building is wasting its own time -- and our money.
07 April 2008
06 April 2008
04 April 2008
There's been some speculation lately over whether King, had he lived, might have turned into a Rev. Wright, or was already turning that way when he died. He had passed the peak of his popularity and risked exiting the mainstream, some thought, by extending his agenda to oppose the Vietnam War and demanding more thorough redistribution of wealth. I don't have my source at hand right now, but I've read one column quoting a King sermon in which he imagines God punishing, or at least threatening to punish the country for its arrogance. I can cite the sermon, at least. It's called "The Drum Major Instinct." Here's the pertinent part of it.
God didn't call America to do what she's doing in the world now. (Preach it, preach it) God didn't call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war as the war in Vietnam. And we are criminals in that war. We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I'm going to continue to say it. And we won't stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation.
But God has a way of even putting nations in their place. (Amen) The God that I worship has a way of saying, "Don't play with me." (Yes) He has a way of saying, as the God of the Old Testament used to say to the Hebrews, "Don’t play with me, Israel. Don't play with me, Babylon. (Yes) Be still and know that I'm God. And if you don't stop your reckless course, I'll rise up and break the backbone of your power." (Yes) And that can happen to America. (Yes) Every now and then I go back and read Gibbons' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. And when I come and look at America, I say to myself, the parallels are frightening.
There might have been more along the same lines later, had he lived to be among us now, possibly still active at age 79, but I don't know enough about King to speculate intelligently on the subject. I do know that most people thought better of him once he was dead. Some people, like John McCain, were slow to catch on, and Ron Paul appears to have been even slower about it, but death is the great reconciler, and King in his grave could be imagined to have made his peace with America and white people, just as John Kennedy in his grave is honored for all the great works he might have accomplished or, like his murdered brother, for the promise he embodied. We often make the dead represent the best in us, because they can't disagree with us. Prophets have no honor in their own countries, and that includes the country of the living.
03 April 2008
02 April 2008
"Who calls it that?" Mr. Right demanded, "Why do they call it that? If a Democratic president had invaded Iraq, would they have called it Clinton's War, or Gore's War, or Kerry's War? But they call it Bush's War. It's not Bush's War. It's America's War. It's Our War."
But this movie showed that it is Bush's War, his and Cheney's," Mr. Peepers insisted, "They're the only ones who wanted it."
"It was the right thing to do," Mr. Right retorted, "There is nothing you can say that will convince me otherwise. You'll never convince me that it wasn't the right thing to do."
That left me wondering whether Mr. Right was certain of his evidence, or merely strong in his faith, but the discussion went no further. Mr. Peepers moved on to another task, and Mr. Right was immediately re-enthralled by the ballgame. That's one of his admirable qualities, and on the political front, it might be an argument to keep baseball season going all year round.
I should re-emphasize that there should be no slackening of vigilance against any actual attempt to stop Ashcroft from speaking, whether by protesters on the ground or by faculty behind the scenes. At the same time, I wonder whether the Skidmore Republicans might be inspired by their scary experience to "denounce and reject" their RPI counterparts for their role in driving the Virtual Jihadi exhibit off that campus. It would probably be even more interesting to read why they wouldn't.
"If you find faults with our country, make it a better one. If you are disappointed with the mistakes of government, join its ranks and work to correct them,"
The problem, of course, is getting everyone to agree on the faults and mistakes, and how to better or correct them. Fortunately, democracy requires only that you get a majority to agree. You should try to convince everyone, but you don't have to. That means someone will probably disagree with your diagnosis, call it a mistake, and try to correct it. Your obligation to that dissident is to treat him as a fellow citizen and not an enemy. When you're the dissident, that obligation falls on the party in power. If McCain takes his own words seriously, and means his invitation sincerely, we should see the proof during the campaign to come.
01 April 2008
To be clear: if anyone at Skidmore or in the neighborhood actually intends to prevent Ashcroft from speaking, I have to defend Ashcroft. If a campus group has a right to invite him, he has a right to talk -- and the talk might prove instructive for everyone. Ashcroft may be unapologetic about the War on Terror in general, but he's also given indications that he feels burned by the Bush administration for some occasions when they tried to treat him like little more than a rubber stamp. It's probably no accident that he didn't stick around until the bitter end, nor even for the start of the second term. If he intends to talk about that aspect of his career, he may well perform a public service worthy of everyone's attention. If he ends up dispensing nothing but Republican propaganda, then he deserves a good old heckling -- but only after he's had a hearing first.
Representatives of Islamic organizations objected to the UN's recognition of Kuznetsov's church on the ground that the lunar-based Islamic calendar does not include a month of April and that, according to Islamic tradition, there can be no prophets after Muhammad, the founder of Islam.
"The atheist U.N. thinks it funny that a Russian dog calls himself a prophet, when instead there should be sanctions against this insult to religion," spokesman Pir al-Loof told reporters, "But God Himself is punishing the infidel, and it's okay for Him to laugh."