Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Third Way: A Ramble

Chomsky defines his politics as Libertarian Socialism, an honest enough label that, like a Jedi mind trick, has the effect of confusing the simple-minded. Guh, they say, drool streaming down their chins, that's an oxymoron!

Except it's not. Libertarian Socialists understand that power accrues to capital as well as to the state. They see both as despotic. They oppose both on such grounds. Thus Libertarian Socialists are, righteously, consistent. They know that pure communism results in a tyrranic bureaucracy or dictatorship; they also know that pure capitalism leads to plutocracy. This is as opposed to typical libertarians who detest the state but who are quite comfortable with, say, General Motors running the world, and to classic commies, who understandably relished the thought of shooting the crapitalists, but are too comfy with the concept of an Iron Man and politburo running the world.

If the worst of both worlds, capitalist and communist, is modern China -- and I think that it is -- what is the best? Well, probably some place in Western Europe, but really, we've never had the best of it, though we've come close in the past. Thing is, each time we've progressed, we've been thwarted, and most often and most forcefully by that ultimate collusion of capitalism and statism: war.

Here is Christopher Hitchens writing about Gore Vidal, who rejects labels like "Libertarian Socialism" but who has, like most modern leftists, continued to oppose unbridled capital while also maintianing a post-communist skepticism of classical socialism:

The Smithsonian Institution revisits and refines several Vidalian tropes. There is, first, his long-held view that 'entangling alliances' are death to republican virtue, and that they become domestic entanglements as well. This belief, that a warfare state may evolve into a domestic tyrrany, was first set out at length in an essay published in the month of the first Kennedy assassination...
(My emphasis.)

Hitchens then goes on to quote from Vidal's essay, "Edmund Wilson, Tax Dodger":

The line between Thoreau and Poujade is a delicate one. Yet it is perfectly clear that it must one day be drawn if the United States is not to drift into a rigid Byzantine society where the individual is the state's creature (yes, liberals worry about this, too), his life the property of a permanent self-perpetuating bureaucracy...


Hitchens continues,

Vidal claims that it was he, and not Milton Friedman [ed. note: rightly -- Retardo], who first coined the satirical line about the symbiosis between state planning and corporate power: 'Socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor.'


Hitchens then closes out analysis of that particular "Vidalian trope" by wondering why Vidal never writes about Charles and Mary Beard. The short answer of course is: he does.

Earlier in the same essay, Hitchens remarks of Vidal's novel The Smithsonian Institution, in which the hero, T., must stop a historical event, that

The only way to avert all these undesirable outcomes is to derail the locomotive of history well back on its track. This in turn necessitates a judgement of taste as well as mass -- which past president could we do most without? From a strong field of contestants -- most entertainingly reviewed -- T. does what I would have done and culls Woodrow Wilson. At one stroke, with some judicious blackmail, he removes the most sanctimonious and -- high-mindedness notwithstanding -- the most warmongering of the chief executives.


I could blog about this paragraph all day, but for the purposes of this entry, let us consider just what Woodrow Wilson wrought, the example of the executive template he not so much established as perfected, in which war and a malevolent version of internationalism is the best and typical engine by which the state-capital complex destroys the liberty of individuals abroad frequently and at home constantly.

In the back of Hitchens's mind here must be the small, annihilating study of the causes of American involvement in World War One by Charles Beard, The Devil Theory of War, in which a forceful chronological reading of the documentary evidence for all time damned American business interests as the intigators who caused Wilson to break the promise of neutrality that had got him elected. Simply speaking, these interests demanded that the US government insure the loans and credits they had given the Allied governments would not be defaulted -- insured the loans by means of making certain that the Allies won the war. Of course a capitalist will say that risk is part of the game, but in practice, when capitalists have the power to override democracy (as they almost always do: this is the crux of all our problems), they want the government to act as enforcer to ensure that their risk is minimal or slight. Beard quotes Wilson's pro-neutrality Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan's (who was of course eventually overruled and who then resigned out of principle) flawlessly reasoned rebuttal to the crapitalist tendency of wanting to have cake and eat it too:

...[A]n American citizen who goes abroad and voluntarily enlists in the army of a belligerent nation loses the protection of his citizenship while so engaged... why [should] dollars, going abroad and enlisting in war .. be more protected[?].. As we cannot prevent American citizens from going abroad at their own risk, so we cannot prevent dollars from going abroad at the risk of the owners, but the influence of the government is used to prevent American citizens from doing this. Would the government not be justified in using its influence against the enlistment of the nation's dollars in a foriegn war?


Of course we know Wilson's eventual answer and the outcome. Yet what does this have to do with domestic tyrrany in wartime? or with the general tendency of a nation at war to curtial, cease, or even rollback progressive interests? Well, obviously, war in itself put domestic reform on the back-burner. Hitchens, in another connection, and with a sneer, an unforgivable twist, and a stupid interpretation afterward, puts it like this:

I think this is more than just instinct on my part, the reaction of a lot of Democrats and liberals to the September 11th events was obviously in common with everyone else, revulsion, disgust, hatred, and so forth. But when they consider politically I think a lot of them couldn't say this, but they thought that's the end of our agenda for a little while. We're not going to be talking very much about welfare and gay marriage. We're going to be living in law and order times. Now the instinct is to think well, that must favor the right wing. Surely, that creates a climate for the conservatives--law and order and warfare and mobilization and so forth.


Now ignoring the bad faith on Hitchens's part, the instinct he describes here is sound: war does favor the right-wing domestically, which is one reason why right-wingers are quintessentially jingoists. People on the left know this. And Hitchens karmically deserves being pied for employing that crappy euphemism "law & order" in the context he describes. "Law & order" as practiced by the United States in wartime has always meant that the bill of rights was about to endure a body-blow, and often it meant that a bumpkin form of proto-fascism was setting up shop.

The undeclared war with France produced the awful Alien and Sedition Acts, which effectively nullified most of the Bill of Rights. The Mexican War didn't produce such an obviously egregious instance of tyrrany, but it did make for a disgusting millieu of jingoism and racism even by American standards. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln jailed newspaper editors, and the relish with which his Attorney General Edwin Stanton went after the free press can be compared to that of the grimiest 20th century regimes. The Indian Wars of the Gilded Age cemented the marriage of business and state; though the civil liberties of non-Indians were not infringed as a direct result of the wars, the infrastructure of government-business corruption was perfected. The Spanish-American War was a welcome diversion from domestic turmoil and the nascent progressive-populist agenda, and was of course the product of business-state collusion: an American Empire in the Pacific through formerly Spanish colonies was a boon to buiness interests which were salivating at the prospect of gaining access to Chinese coalfields and consumer markets. This war also perfected the use of the press as an arm of the government-business plutocracy, an arm which would come in handy under Wilson's watch.

William McKinley, while not the architect of the Spanish-American War, nonetheless presided over it and therefore over the torture and murder of thousands upon thousands of Filipinos in the "mopping-up" operations there after the fall of the Spanish colonial regime. Karma put paid to this debt in the form of Leon Czolgosz's bullet which killed the President in Buffalo, New York. The only problem was that Czolgosz wasn't a Filipino, but was, however, an unhinged nutjob tangentially connected to anarchists. That's close enough, fellow-traveller-wise, to the Progressive movement, which the plutocrats greatly feared and wished to destroy. thus the counter-revolutionists moved to squash the forces of progress, waving Czolgosz's guilt around like the bloody shirt. But the movement to destroy political progress couldn't become overt until, you guessed it, wartime.

Under Wilson's Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, counter-revolution moved with alacrity. Since war provides great opportunities to call one's political enemies traitors, and it also provides the state with the power -- legally but also public-relation-wise from an often paranoid (inculcated, largely, through that new arm of plutocracy, the Yellow Press) populace -- Palmer enthusiastically undertook a de facto repeal of the Bill of Rights. The result, The Palmer Raids, flushed the concept of due process down the toilet as aliens were deported without hearings, labor unions were smashed, and communists and anarchists, real and imagined, were jailed simply for their beliefs.

Thus under Wilson we see the perfection of wartime methods of domestic tyrrany. And we also see the first American use of mass-market lying, also known as propaganda, to persuade the citizenry to act -- and later, to consume -- against its own interests. Note the symbiotic relationship between business and state implied in the following:

During World War I, Lippman and Bernays were hired by the United States President, Woodrow Wilson to participate in the Creel Commission, the mission of which was to sway popular opinion to enter the war on the side of Britain.

The war propaganda campaign of Lippman and Bernays produced within six months so intense an anti-German hysteria as to permanently impress American business (and Adolf Hitler, among others) with the potential of large-scale propaganda to control public opinion. Bernays coined the terms "group mind" and "engineering consent," important concepts in practical propaganda work.

The current public relations industry is a direct outgrowth of Lippman and Bernays' work and is still used extensively by the United States government.


Of course it didn't stop there; the acts hostile to individual liberty (and here let me say, real liberty -- the kind that matters -- civil liberty, that is, and not the typical libertarian version of the concept, which instead places the right to property effectively above all others) became institutionalised -- so much so that the state-business complex could flex its muscles even during times of crisis that may have included foriegn wars, but were atypical versions of those wars.

Chronologically, the next egregious instance was during Prohibition. But even this was related to war, because it's highly unlikely that the law could have been put into effect had not so many voters been away from the polls, stationed overseas fighting first Huns and then Commies. That it was an outgrowth of state-business marriage may not first be so obvious (since the brewing industry, after all, was crushed in the process) but consider what H. L. Mencken had to say about it, which I think is spot-on:

Big Business, in America, is almost wholly devoid of anything even poetically describable as public spirit. It is frankly on the make...Big Business was in favor of Prohibition, believing that a sober workman would make a better slave than one with a few drinks in him. It was in favor of all the gross robberies and extortions that went on in [World War One].


Later, WWI would still have a direct effect on the relationship between business-state masters and citizen-slaves. This was seen when the Bonus Army, a group of WWI veterans, congregated in Washington to protest the government's denial of the care and monies promised to them for their war effort. The result here, from business-government's terror at the mass of poor angry protestors (during the first days of the Great Depression, which was itself a creation of business-government collusion, the buying by business of the Republican party in return for mostly laissez-faire economic policy), was the effective repeal of the right to petition for redress as well as the right of free association.

The marchers were cleared and their camps were destroyed by federal cavalry troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, in a possible violation of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. This is debatable since the incident took place in federal territory rather than state lands. Dwight D. Eisenhower, as a member of MacArthur's staff, had strong reservations about the operation, and George Patton was also ordered to take part in the operation. Tanks and troops with rifles were sent into the Bonus Expeditionary Force's camps. Hundreds of veterans were injured, several were killed, such as William Hushka and Eric Carlson, a wife of a veteran miscarried, and other such casualties were inflicted. The army burned down the BEF's tents and used tear gas. Reports of US soldiers marching against their peers did not help Hoover's re-election efforts; neither did his open opposition to the Bonus Law due to financial concerns.


Next we have World War II, in which the populace, who by then knew they had been burned by pro-war propaganda during World War I, was devoutly isolationist. Here we see another unfortunate result of World War I: the government had cried wolf in such a shameful manner, previously, that it had the effect of making the populace, understandably, too skeptical. No one believed tales of the Nazis not because they were Nazi sympathisers, but because it was too damn much like the lies told by the American and other Allied governments about German behaviour in Belgium during WWI. Big Business, of course, was for war, and proved as much by dealing with the Nazis when they could. When Pearl Harbor turned American opinion and made it possible for FDR to enter the war, of course this was a boon too, since business knew it could enjoy fat government contracts. Accidentally, some real political and social progress was made in that women and black became for first time included in American society, but don't worry, the rights of some domestics were still repealed, in the case of the internment, so admired by modern wingnuts like Michelle Malkin, of Japanese-Americans.

Next was the Cold War, which gave us witch hunts in the form of HUAC and McCarthyism, also greatly admired by modern wingnuts like that awful fascist drag queen Ann Coulter.

Then the Vietnam War, which "coincided" with crack downs on Civil Rights leaders, pacifists, dissenters, hippies, etc. The FBI was used to spy on political enemies of the various adminstrations in power at the time, which is to say that the Feds spied on, harassed, and likely worse things, various forces of domestic progress.

Now we live in the era of the PATRIOT Act, open talk of racial internment, institutionalised torture, you know the litany. The adminstration responsible is bought and paid for by corporate interests whom we may safely assume smile benignly on Bush's more or less open war on secular values as well as domestic dissent. Bush's goons have doled out massive amounts of corporate welfare and are obviously a part of, or in thrall to not only what used to be called in the days of clear speaking the "military-industrial complex" (think Halliburton) but also the oil companies and various industries which benefit from globalisation. War, and the constant waving of the bloody shirt of 9-11, has afforded the Bush administration ways and means to push through its domestic agenda that would not have been possible otherwise.

Technological infrastructure has made possible means of coercion that Wilson's Mr. Palmer could only have dreamed of. War provides the state with the excuse to coerce. But business has always liked wars, has always benefited from them, at least among western so-called liberal democracies. Business has also provided, or jointly developed, much of that infrastructure to and with government, and together they share ways of exploiting it. It is important that citizens remember that their fears of the government being too nosy and coercive are exactly the same as their fears of businesses being too nosy and overbearing, and just because the former can throw one in jail and the latter cannot does not make them appreciably different if one bears in mind that it is through their mutual agenda, and by their joint stranglehold on power, that one is coerced in the first place.

Just how different is society now than before the turning point of World War I? Here is A.J.P. Taylor noting the changes in the country that is our closest equivalent:

Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice any existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police. Unlike the countries of the European continent, the state did not require its citizens to perfomr military service. An Englishman could enlist, if he chose, in the regular army, the navy, or the territorials. He could also ignore, if he chose, the demands of national defence. Substantial householders were occasionally called on for jury service. Otherwise, only those helped the state who wished to do so.


Oooh, the classic libertarians, Randroid nutjobs, and various atavist reactionary nutsacks of the right are already salivating at that description: it sounds like their crypto-fascist paradise of laissez-faire! Except that it wasn't. Taylor, after noting that the English were taxed, though modestly, describes how the English had already by then learned the lessons of the callousness and stupidity of laissez-faire:

The state intervened to prevent the citizen from eating adulterated food or contracting certain infectious diseases. It imposed safety rules in factories, and prevented women, and adult males in some industries, from working excessive hours. The state saw to it that children recieved education up to the age of 13...it provided a meagre pension for the needy over age 70... it helped to insure certain classes of workers against sickness and unemployment...


In other words, here was a society that had made progress and was continuing to make it. To be sure, there were reactionary elements, but nothing like those in the United States, which screamed and squealed when such profitable enterprises as child labor were legally taken from them. Put still another way, here was a society that was coming to view the individual as something to be respected by the state, and to be protected from the powers of business. What democracies do when they aren't hijacked. Then the war came:

Five million men entered the armed forces, many of them (though a minority) under compulsion. The Englishman's food was limited, and its quality changed, by government order. His freedom of movement was restricted; his conditions of work prescribed. Some industries were reduced or closed, others artifically fostered. The publication of news was fettered. Street lights were dimmed. The sacred freedom of drinking was tampered with: licensed hours were cut down, and the beer watered by order. The very time on the clocks was changed... The state established a hold on its citizens which, though relaxed during peacetime, was never to be removed and which the second world war was again to increase.


In America, partly because we are stupid and slow, partly because the forces of reaction here are so powerful, we hadn't come as far as the English with reform before the war. But then during the war, while our government's restrictions and coercions on the citizenry were similar, they were also much more harsh, more lasting, more apt to be in the future cited as positive precedent and emulated as a template.

But then, also, we were as citizenry before the war more "wild", less "trackable"; we could appear and disappear in society. Though we have always had a class system in America, people in certain parts of the country could move up in class as well as down. We could opt out of obligations that would easily jail modern people. In a post on "traditional marriage" in which she smacks around that nutty (and as is typical with Randroids, thoroughly humorless) libertarian (a.k.a. objectively pro-wingnut) Jane Galt, elementropy-favorite Aunt Jenna references a book that, if I recall correctly, described the social conditions of 19th century America, specifically with regard to -- as Aunt Jenna corroborates -- the, well, fluidity of the institution of marriage. I'm pretty sure this is the same book I remember reading about; if so, it was argued (in a Hobsbawmish way that annihilates falsely and connivingly held notions of "tradition") that especially along the frontier of the times, but also in more settled parts of the country, people often dissolved marriages in an ad hoc sort of way, without the legalism of divorce. Now what does this have to do with the subject at hand, you ask? Well, the same principle applies. There was a mobility that the closing of the frontier had begun to curtail, but was absolutely destroyed by the business-government-implemented, top-down changes placed on society and its structures during World War I. Sure, there had been a draft before then, during the Civil War, but it was preciously more difficult for the government to jail a draft-dodger then than it became during and after WWI. Rationing, like what was done during WWII, would have been impossible to enforce. Borders, both state and national, were extremely porous. An ID card, a number for a name, a government or business database on citizens, would have been unthinkable. There was a healthy anarchy, and so long as the big players, the powerful (which is to say, business) were policed as they were beginning to be in Britain, this would have been ideal. Now, though, the the powerful are the police, and the citizen is tracked, tabulated -- we live in a "show your papers" society.

Who could resist, then, doing what Gore Vidal's protagonist in The Smithsonian Institution does to Woodrow Wilson? Though T. does it to avoid WWII (had there been no Wilson the Allies would not have prevailed in WWI as they did; WWI would have been a stalemate, with no Versailles to inspire a Nazi reaction in Germany; the chain of causality is plain: no Wilson, no Hitler), and this is the noblest reason, one might as well cull Woodrow Wilson from history for the awful template he established for warmongers and domestic reactionaries. No other President -- and Hitchens is right to say that there are many contenders, several of whom used Wilsonism even before Wilson himself -- presided over and was however intentionally or unintentionally the cause of, such dreadful changes which retarded social progress and helped to make slaves of us all.

There has been exactly one war, WWII, worth fighting in the last 110 years of our history. The rest, of which there are many when you count proxy wars, were wastes of lives, debasements of civilisation, and had the entirely unwelcome effect of establishing tyranny at home. Is it any wonder why so many of us are knee-jerkly anti-war? Is it any wonder why so many of them are knee-jerkly pro-war?

Just who nowadays claims to be "Neo-Wilsonian"? Oh yeah, these sacks of shit. To the extent that Woodrow Wilson was decent was in the emphasis he put on foreign countries' right to self-determination. Of course, those who would and do call themselves "Wilsonian" elide or ignore this important -- even redemptive -- concept, but in everything else Wilsonian, abroad and domestically, they are worthy heirs. We'll have to deal with the their likes and their lies until we establish an effective and united Third Way.

--Edits were made for typos, grammar, and word-choice. One shouldn't blog while inebriated.

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