Thursday, October 18, 2007

Morris R. Cohen and a Basic Element of Liberalism

In 1946 Morris R. Cohen, philosopher, lawyer and legal scholar, published a collection of essays under the title “The Faith of a Liberal”. The first essay in the book was written in 1931 and entitled “What I believe”. This essay captures an essential element of liberalism that provides a marked contrast with much of what has passed as 'conservatism' in the U.S. since World War II. Cohen wrote:

The central fact to which... prevailing creeds refuse to accord sufficiently serious attention is the obvious impossibility of attaining omniscience…. [S]imple honesty requires us to admit that none of our creeds are entirely free of guesswork. This lack of omniscience is not cured by reliance on faith, intuition, or authority. For however certain we may feel, we never know that such faith, intuition, or authority will not in the end prove itself mistaken….

To the inadequacy of our knowledge must be added the tremendous force of temporarily pleasant illusions, compared with which the love of truth is pitifully frail…. The sources of illusion are many: inherited forms of expression, fashions in respectable or approved opinions, the idols of our tribe or clique, of the market place, of our professional conventions, and the like….

[G]reat religious teachers, like the morally wise men of science, have taught the great lesson of humility—that there are always vast realms beyond our ken or control….

The realization of the pathetic frailty of the knowledge or beliefs on which our life depends... leads not to despair but to open-eyed courage. But it also points to a most intimate connection between scientific method and liberal civilization…. [Science] is rather a method which is based on a critical attitude to all plausible and self-evident propositions. It seeks not to reject them, but to find out what evidence there is to support them rather than their possible alternatives. This open eye for possible alternatives, each to receive the same logical treatment before we can determine which is the best grounded, is the essence of liberalism in art, morals, and politics. Conservatism clings to what is established, fearing that if we let go, all the values of life will perish. The radical or revolutionary, impressed with the evil of the existing order or disorder, recklessly puts all faith in some principle without regard for the hidden dangers which it may contain, let alone the cruel hardships which readjustments must involve. The liberal views life as an adventure in which we must take risks in new situations, but in which there is no guaranty that the new will always be the good or the true. Like science, liberalism insists on a critical examination of the content of our beliefs, principles, or initial hypotheses and on subjecting them to a continuous process of verification so that they will be better founded in experience and reason…. [Emphasis added.]

Unless men reason they remain sunk in blind dogmatism, clinging obstinately to questionable beliefs without the consciousness that these may be mere prejudices. “To have doubted one’s own first principles,” said Justice Holmes, “is the mark of a civilized man.” And to refuse to do so, we may add, is the essence of fanaticism.

The fanatic clings to certain beliefs and in their defense is ready to shut the gates of mercy on mankind, precisely because he cannot see any alternative to them except utter chaos or iniquity. Rational reflection, however, makes us see other possibilities and opens our minds to the thought that some of the moral or physical principles that seem to us self-evident may be only sanctified taboos or inherited conventions.

To reflect that in the absence of omniscience all our principles of morality and conduct are but hypotheses need not prevent us from staking our lives on these anticipations of experience and from fighting as valiantly as we can for what we hold dearest…. Civil society depends not on blindness or insensibility to the loathsome traits of our fellow-mortals, but upon respecting their rights without taking them to our bosoms. This can be achieved only through sympathetic understanding. Co-operation with those from whom we differ is possible only if we rationalize our beliefs and thus make them intelligible to those from differing backgrounds.
This is why genuine liberals cannot be pseudo-conservatives or authoritarians. I think it's a great statement to which I subscribe.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

'Conservatism' as Unprincipled Opportunism

I am currently reading John W. Dean's Conservatives Without Conscience. Let me reveal some of my own mistaken biases: since I'm old enough to have been aware and politically active in the Watergate era I thought, "Oh John Dean, that Blind Ambition guy who was in Nixon's White House; he's just an ex-politico, what can he know?" Well, I was wrong. John W. Dean is an excellent researcher and thinker and Conservatives Without Conscience covered a lot of the ground I've been writing about myself. This guy Dean is a very serious thinker. (Why he's just got to be smart if he's writing about what I'm writing about!) I highly recommend his books.

But let me here develop an idea that he only hints at in his book. He writes at length about how so-called conservatives themselves so very frequently argue that there is no way to define 'conservatism'; they go so far as to revel in this supposed fact and celebrate their right to contradict themselves. Of course it IS difficult to give a definition of a belief system like conservatism or liberalism, there is no question about that; but when you get so MANY so-called conservatives opining that they cannot define their own belief system (see Dean, 2006, pp. 2-10) you should really begin to think about this.

It is hugely convenient for so-called conservatives to take this position. If you trumpet the fact that you cannot define what you stand for and you make an asset out of being able to take contradictory positions--what are the consequences of this stance? It allows you to be unprincipled and opportunistic in your pursuit of a coalition of followers as well as in your pursuit of political power. And it is precisely this that has occurred since Buckley and his colleagues created modern American 'conservatism' in the post World War II era. I have commented upon this earlier calling it the "witch's brew" of pseudo-conservatives (if you wish to see these search in my blog under "witch's"). So-called conservatives have been given a huge pass here by allowing them to mix the most contradictory elements and yet get away with giving the whole mess a single label.

They are for "limited government" but they support the Reagan-Bush-Cheney theory of the unitary executive! (On this see Charlie Savage's Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy; Savage won a Pulitzer for his articles about signing statements and is a very thoughtful, careful fellow.) They revere the great American Constitution but support the dismantling of its checks and balances. They are defenders of "individual freedom" but will rush back to Washington to pass special legislation telling Terry Schiavo's relatives how to manage her feeding tube. They support a "culture of life" but, unlike the Catholic Church which also opposes abortion, they are big supporters of the death penalty. They are the champions of small government but never met a defense department or national security budget increase they didn't like. They support bringing "freedom and democracy" to the rest of the world, just not where it is inconvenient as in the case of the democratically elected Hamas government. They are most emphatically Christians but seem to have 'forgotten' Christ's teachings about feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and sheltering those without shelter. They revere the Ten Commandments including the sixth, "Thou Shalt not Kill", except when it comes to Pat Robertson calling for "taking out" Hugo Chavez. They are absolutely against government interference in the economy except when it comes to passing legislation which weakens labor unions.

They are indeed a mass of blatant contradictions which truly reduces itself to an unprincipled, opportunistic grasping for popular and political power. And their strategy has been remarkably successful in America, especially since Reagan.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

More Important Findings about Authoritarianism and Who Rules America

I have ordered but not yet received John Dean's book Conservatives Without Conscience. This is an important book because while researching it Dean went through the social science literature and discovered Bob Altemeyer's 40 year body of work on authoritarianism. He integrated these social science findings into his book and brought renewed and much deserved attention to Altemeyer's work. As a psychologist myself I have heard often of how we are supposed to be involved in a longer term program of research in order to make a significant scientific contribution but this admonition is usually more observed in the breach than it is followed. Altemeyer is the model of long term programmatic research! He has been at it for 40 years and has accumulated a wealth of findings.

Altemeyer has researched mainly authoritarian followers or what he calls people who score high on his Right Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) Scale. In the 1990s a Swedish psychologist Jim Sidanius developed a measure of Social Dominance Orientation (SDO). He has mainly reported on this in professional journals but has published a book as well called Social Dominance: An Intergroup Theory of Social Hierarchy and Oppression. Persons high on SDO want to dominate others socially and are against increased equality. Research has shown that persons who score high on RWA and others who score high on SDO are each relatively highly prejudiced against minorities.

Since the RWA scale and the SDO scale do not correlate very highly with one another they explain different sources of prejudice. Altemeyer wondered how many persons might get both high RWA score and high SDO scores and it turns out that about 8% of his sample are "Double Highs", this minority scores highly on both right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance. Both Altemeyer and John Dean have drawn attention to these Double Highs as persons who might rise to leadership in the American Right. I suspect Dean identifies Dick Cheney as a double high.

RWAs believe in submission to their perceived authorities, are dogmatic followers of the conventions endorsed by these authorities, and are more willing to advocate and commit aggression to suppress dissidents and deviants. SDOs, on the other hand, are less ideological and they seek power in a more cynical fashion. Double Highs can appeal to the RWA followers for support because they hold enough of their views and are willing to do what is necessary to achieve socio-political power. So Double Highs would likely include George W. Bush who flaunts his born again Christian credentials to gain votes and, with the help of the ultimate Machiavellian, Karl Rove, is frequently willing to do whatever is necessary to defeat his opponents and gain political power.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Must Read: "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy"

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have just published the book which follows up their 2006 article by the same name which stirred a firestorm. This is a very carefully and thoughtfully reasoned book by two academic political scientists. It gives a wealth of information about how much money and support we have given Israel beginning in the 1960s; this aid is frequently in the form of grants they don't have to pay back and we give it to them no matter what they do with it. The authors make the argument that this unconditional support is contrary to US interests and those of Israel. If this seems difficult to believe please recall that governments have been horribly wrong in the past regarding their own best interests, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan doesn't look too smart now does it? How about Hitler's attempt to rule the world? Japan's decision to attack the US?

Read Paul Kennedy's "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers".
An economically expanding power… may well prefer to become rich rather than to spend heavily on armaments. A half-century later, priorities may well have altered. The earlier economic expansion has brought with it overseas obligations (dependence upon foreign markets and raw materials, military alliances, perhaps bases and colonies)…. In these more troubled circumstances, the Great Power is likely to find itself spending much more on defense than it did two generations earlier, and yet still discover that the world is a less secure environment—simply because other powers have grown faster, and are becoming stronger…. Great Powers in relative decline instinctively respond by spending more on ‘security,’ and thereby divert potential resources from ‘investment’ and compound their long-term dilemma (emphasis added).
I believe, along with Chalmers Johnson (see his Nemesis), that this is the position the U.S. is now in; it is on the downslope of over-reaching militarily which will eventually hurt it economically and seriously undermine its world power.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Be Sure to read "The Authoritarians" by Bob Altemeyer

I have just finished "The Authoritarians" a free online book written by Bob Altemeyer who has been researching this topic for 40 years. Apparently he is close to retirement and this book gives a summary of the many studies he has run over 40 years. This is a must read for anyone interested in understanding the American Radical Right today and why the term "pseudo-conservative" was first prominently used in a book called "The Authoritarian Personality" almost 60 years ago. Altemeyer also distinguishes 'conservatism' from 'authoritarianism' and I believe that authoritarianism is in large part what I refer to as pseudo-conservatism. It is important to understand that Altemeyer is reporting what he has found with scientific studies conducted over four decades and not, like me, just presenting opinions based on my own reading and thinking. I heartily recommend this book!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Still Trying to Distinguish Authoritarianism from Genuine Conservatism

Reflections on Authoritarianism

How should we define authoritarianism? Reading both Stenner (2005) and Altemeyer’s online book, “The Authoritarians” (2007), I have some thoughts. Let us first look at how Altemeyer defined authoritarianism. On page 9 he defined authoritarians as: “personalities featuring: 1) a high degree of submission to the established, legitimate authorities in their society; 2) high levels of aggression in the name of their authorities; and 3) a high level of conventionalism.”

I think there are good reasons to question Altemeyer’s use of “established, legitimate authorities” as a reference group upon which to base his most fundamental definition. And he himself provided examples of such reasons. On p.16 he wrote: “right-wing authoritarians did not support President Clinton during his impeachment and trial over the Monica Lewinsky scandal. So as I said, the support is not automatic and reflexive, but can be trumped by other concerns. In Clinton’s case his administration not only had advocated for groups anathema to authoritarians, such as homosexuals and feminists, his sexual misdeeds in the White House deeply offended many [authoritarians].”

But Bill Clinton was the duly elected President of the United States and thus he met every criterion of an established, legitimate authority. If authoritarians did not support an elected President then the definition of their group as exhibiting “a high degree of submission to the established, legitimate authorities in their society” is not accurate. Altemeyer (p. 15) had already pointed out: “We would expect authoritarian followers especially to submit to corrupt authorities in their lives: to believe them when there is little reason to do so, to trust them when huge grounds for suspicion exist, and to hold them blameless when they do something wrong.” Moreover, on p. 16 he showed that authoritarians supported Presidents Nixon and George W. Bush when their integrity had been challenged; why not Bill Clinton, an at least equally established, legitimate authority?

Altemeyer (p. 9) also referred to “traditional religious leaders” as examples of the kind of “established authorities” that “authoritarian followers usually support”. But authoritarians certainly discriminate between religious leaders such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, whom they usually support, and more liberal religious leaders whom they emphatically do not support, e.g., the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Another example occurred to me in relation to another study Altemeyer reported on (p. 28): “Gidi Rubinstein similarly found that [authoritarians] among both Jewish and Palestinian students in Israel tended to be the most orthodox members of their religion, who tend to be among those most resistant to a peaceful resolution of the Middle East conflict. If their authorities endorse hostility, you can bet most authoritarian followers will be combative.” But consider that Yitzhak Rabin was the duly elected Prime Minister of Israel, an established, legitimate authority, when he was assassinated by an ‘orthodox’ right-wing Israeli radical who opposed Rabin’s peace efforts. Rabin was obviously not the assassin’s authority even though he was ‘established’ and ‘legitimate’. Can it be merely a coincidence that Rabin and Bill Clinton were so close?

Throughout Chapter 1 of “The Authoritarians” Altemeyer repeatedly uses phrases like “their authorities” or “their in-groups” to refer to the groups to whom authoritarians give their allegiance. For example (p. 29) he wrote: “They are quite capable of adhering to the beliefs emphasized by their in-groups when these conflict with what is held by society as a whole.” (emphasis added) This seems to me an implicit admission that authoritarians have their own ‘authorities’ and ‘in-groups’ and do not give their allegiance to any and all “established, legitimate authorities”.

In thinking about this it has seemed to me that authoritarians will only glorify and submit to certain specific types of established authority, ‘authoritarian authorities’. However, this sort of formulation begs the question of defining “authoritarian”, which was the problem we set out to solve initially.

Stenner’s “authoritarian dynamic” involves the idea that when individuals with “authoritarian predispositions” are challenged by “normative threat” they will become more sharply authoritarian in thought and behavior (as well measured by Altemeyer’s Right-Wing Authoritarian Scale or RWA). She defined (p. 15) authoritarian predisposition in terms of “attitudes and behaviors variously reflecting rejection of diversity and insistence upon sameness…. The predisposition is labeled ‘authoritarianism’ because suppression of difference and achievement of uniformity necessitate autocratic social arrangements in which individual autonomy yields to group authority.”

Having “normative threat” as a very central concept she is required to consider what kind of “normative order” authoritarians would need to protect. Stenner wrote (p. 18) that she wished to distinguish authoritarians from “conservatives” by defining the latter as those who are committed to preserving a specific normative order, e.g., American Constitutionalism. She argued that although authoritarians would begin by defending the status quo and thus be hard to distinguish from mere conservatives, true authoritarians are primarily interested in maintaining uniformity and sameness in ethnic composition, political beliefs and moral values—and thus they would ultimately be willing to sacrifice any existing status quo (e.g., Weimar constitutional democracy) in favor of a new normative order that would guarantee uniformity and sameness. This then requires her to describe what type of normative order this would be.

Stenner wrote (pp. 18-9): “This is not to say, of course, that the ‘normative order’ of authoritarianism is completely interchangeable, that its content is entirely fungible, that oneness and sameness could be instituted and defended by collective commitment (voluntary or otherwise) to any set of values, norms, and beliefs. Oneness and sameness are attributes of the collective rather than the individual, and they are end states, not processes. They cannot be achieved without some type of coercive control over other people’s behavior…. If individuals are free, collective outcomes will vary, and oneness and sameness cannot be assured…. Thus, while the content of authoritarianism’s ‘normative order’ is somewhat flexible with regard to the specification of right and wrong… it is by no means value neutral. The normative order whose institution and defense might render ‘us’ one and the same can never value individual autonomy and diversity, and will always tend toward some kind of system of collective authority and constraint.”(final emphasis added)

Perhaps it is now somewhat clearer why I have been tempted to talk of ‘authoritarian authorities’. Altemeyer’s contention that authoritarians are characterized by “a high degree of submission to the established, legitimate authorities in their society” is not accurate. The only ‘established’ authorities that authoritarians glorify and defend are those who endorse a strict obedience to some form of coercive normative order that satisfies the needs of authoritarian followers. This could be Islamic fundamentalism or Christian fundamentalism, it could be Mussolini’s fascist philosophy or Hitler’s Nazi philosophy, it could be some form of coercive Marxism-Leninism or ‘democratic centralism—but, as Stenner argued: “The normative order whose institution and defense might render ‘us’ one and the same can never value individual autonomy and diversity, and will always tend toward some kind of system of collective authority and constraint.”

This may help to differentiate genuine conservatives like Bruce Fein and his call for impeachment of Bush and Cheney because of his profound commitment to the Constitution, from authoritarians like Bush and Cheney. To the degree that a conservative is committed to a particular normative order and advocates only slow and prudent changes to that order, like Edmund Burke, they qualify as genuine conservatives.

The category of so-called ‘laissez faire conservative’, which Stenner discussed (p. 86 and see her Index), as did Rossiter (1962, pp. 131-62) is, I believe, close to a contradiction in terms and I will deal with that at more length later. The only way I can see to save this concept is by arguing that American society as it has been constituted for a long time is committed to a type of ‘laissez faire’ philosophy and thus a conservative in the specifically American context might be an advocate of laissez faire. Nonetheless, the recognition that capitalism is itself sometimes a revolutionary force, as in the only true social revolution in American history, the industrial revolution—suggests why I think a philosophy that advocates giving free rein to capitalism and keeping government from regulating the economy cannot easily be called ‘conservative.’ And this is without dealing with the enormous revolutionary changes in American society worked by the corporate revolution, which should be kept conceptually distinct from the industrial revolution. If U.S. state governments and the courts had not awarded corporations such immense powers we would have surely had an industrial revolution but not necessarily a corporate revolution as well.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

American Proto-Fascism?

I've posted on what I see as gathering evidence of precursors of American fascism and have also recommended Robert O. Paxton's very excellent book, The Anatomy of Fascism. Here is another example which you can see for yourself on Keith Olbermann's "Countdown" TV program. To see a video go here and look for the August 17 "Worst Person in the World" segment which can be played online.

Melanie Morgan is a right-wing extremist commentator who recently has several times viciously attacked Jon Soltz of because, although he is a veteran of the Iran War, he has been publicly critical of the Bush administration and the war.

Here's what patriot Melanie Morgan had to say about him: "[Soltz is a] hypocritical cockroach. He needs to be stomped on and neutralized...."

Hmmm. In case you missed the rise of the Nazis before WW II and haven't read Richard Evans' book "The Coming of the Third Reich", perhaps you'll get a replay in the not too distant future of the US. I guess Supporting Our Troops stops once they become critics of US government policy. Freedom of Speech on political issues is one of the most fundamental values on which America was supposed to have been based; I find it remarkable that these patriotic Americans don't see any contradiction between their support for America and their concurrent violation of its most basic principles.

Why do I call this proto-fascist? This is precisely the kind of hate speech that Nazis used against their political enemies. Morgan doesn't say who should carry out the "stomping" and "neutralizing" but the Nazis had the Brownshirts as an organization that carried out extra-legal political violence against its enemies. If we see the formation of extra-legal groups prepared to carry out political violence then that would constitute one more step toward full-blown fascism.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Barbara O'Brien's Mahablog Has Interesting Posts on Pseudo-Conservatives

I want to direct people to a series of very interesting posts by Barbara O'Brien's The Mahablog concerning the whole topic of pseudo-conservatives and authoritarianism. You can start with today's post or search her blog under relevant terms. This whole topic of pseudo-conservatives being best understood as authoritarians is central, I believe.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

My Struggles to Understand the Appeal of 'Tough' Foreign Policy

In an earlier post I struggled mightily to understand the appeal of 'tough' foreign policy. I now think that this thinking makes so little sense to me because I can't empathize enough with the authoritarian personality. This notion of 'tough' punitive treatment of our opponents comes right out of the authoritarian's psychological playbook. See my previous posts involving Karen Stenner's The Authoritarian Dynamic. Search for these by using the Search tool in the upper left of my blog's homepage and type in Stenner.

Why Authoritarians Have a Fundamental Advantage

I have been reading an interesting book, Whose Freedom?: The Battle over America's Most Important Idea, by linguist and cognitive scientist George Lakoff. This is a good book with many good ideas. One of his most fundamental ideas is that 'progressives' have a very different concept of 'freedom' than right-wing 'conservatives'. He believes these different concepts of 'freedom' are based upon differing conceptions of the family: 'progressives' are committed to a "nurturant parent" family model and 'conservatives' are committed to a "strict father" family model. This is a reasonable attempt to organize the fundamental differences between so-called 'conservatives' and 'progressives' or liberals. This task is one that needs to be done: how do we understand and organize the fundamental differences between 'conservatives' and 'liberals'?

While reading Lakoff it occurred to me that Karen Stenner's book "The Authoritarian Dynamic" might really have more to say about these differences (see my several earlier posts on Stenner's book beginning with this) than Lakoff. Lakoff simply posits that different people have different conceptions of the family while not going deeper to ask why. Stenner argued that there are perhaps 30% of people who are born with a biological disposition to be authoritarian. I wrote:
In an excellent book, The Authoritarian Dynamic, political scientist Karen Stenner gave a brief description of the predisposition to be authoritarian; she wrote (p. 16) that the stances taken by the authoritarian “have the effect of glorifying, encouraging, and rewarding uniformity and of disparaging, suppressing, and punishing difference.” Ad hominem attacks are attempts to glorify uniformity and suppress difference. On the other end of the continuum from authoritarianism is libertarianism.
I frankly think it is at least plausible that approximately 30% of humans are born with a biological predisposition to be authoritarian and that this means they feel compelled to glorify, encourage, and reward uniformity and disparage, suppress and punish difference. It is these people who would naturally be drawn to Lakoff's "stern father" model of the family.

The fact that authoritarians glorify uniformity and punish difference gives them a fundamental political advantage: their stress on uniformity and rejection of difference allows them to share a reasonably common set of beliefs that give them solidarity. Liberals, on the other hand, stand for a diversity of beliefs and the right to disagree and be different. This puts them at a fundamental disadvantage to authoritarians! Look at Hitler's emphasis upon the necessity that members of the Nazi Party declare absolute allegiance to his 25 points (see Richard Evans, "The Coming of the Third Reich", pp. 179-180). As Evans points out these 25 points were "soon declared 'unalterable', so as to prevent it from becoming a focus for internal dissension." Although I haven't got a ready citation for this think of Lenin's emphasis upon the need for "democratic centralism" in the Bolshevik Party so that once a position or strategy had been agreed to all discussion and criticism must stop. Totalitarianism has this fundamental advantage over liberals and progressives because the latter prize diversity and believe that free discussion will eventually bring one to the truth.

In fact it seems to me that a very basic belief of liberalism is that humans are not in possession of the truth and thus using tools like free public discussion, or the scientific method, or continued search for innovation in technology and industry are at the very heart of liberalism. On the other hand, the authoritarian believes we know the truth (the Bible is the unerrant word of God, America is always right and thus you must love it or leave it, questioning the government in wartime is tantamount to treason, etc.) and thus diversity and differences are simply annoying discomforts that should be punished and suppressed. The uniformity, discipline and subordination to a leader (father) gives authoritarians a very strong advantage over liberals and this is at least worth being aware of.

Further Comments on Recent Posts

Let me respond to some of Steven Andresen's points here:
I am under the impression that political writers have been trying to point out the fascistic characteristics of the conservative movement for a long time. They've done it so much I hear the argument that they are like the boy who cried wolf.
Calling some group 'fascist' is indeed a well worn tactic but to me it makes a difference whether you are just throwing names around or taking seriously what the words mean. Thus, I cite Paxton who is a very serious and thoughtful student of fascism and use his carefully arrived at definition to determine if the label is justified or not.

I believe there are differences between the neo-cons and the christian zionists, for example.

I agree. The neo-cons are primarily Zionists (not all but most are) whose main concerns are a 'tough' foreign policy and US support for the hard right within Israel. The Christian Zionists are Christian fundamentalist evangelicals who believe that Israel must be supported because of their reading of the bible even though they often have the belief that Jews will ultimately go to Hell.
Do we want to argue that the kooks are beyond the pale and no one should be paying any attention to them?
I think they are part of what used to be called the 'lunatic fringe' but now the fringe has substantial power. I wish we could ignore them but as you say we can't do that if we wish to live in the real world of practical politics.
Are we wanting to question the reasoning behind the kook movements? That would be interesting. But, I'm not sure anybody has the will to follow through with any critique of their foundations.
We have to learn to be just as persistent as they are in putting forward our analysis and showing what is wrong with theirs. Drew Westen's recent book "The Political Brain" argues very convincingly how we must oppose the extremist right. Bill Clinton and Howard Dean strongly recommend this book.
I'm sure this was the argument the nazi party guys made to each other and to the German people. They said, you cannot deny the threat to our morality posed by the communists or the jews.
You are exactly right, Hitler and the Nazis emphasized the threat to the Fatherland of Communists, Socialists, Jews and homosexuals. I'd say the real threat to the US is the foreign policies we have pursued that have caused Muslims to want to fight and destroy us; similar to what Ron Paul argued at one of the recent Republican debates. Ron Paul is a Libertarian who believes we ought to leave other countries alone unless they truly pose a threat to us.
That is, the puzzle isn't so much about how all these people are different amongst themselves, but how we can know who to listen to for guidance about what to do?
I have indicated throughout this blog many of the people I think it makes sense to listen to and who have good ideas about what we can do.

Answer to a Question About 'Conservatism'

Steven Andresen recently asked a question about how to define 'conservatism' as a comment to my Why Pseudo-Conservatives Are Not 'Conservative' post and since my reply is longish I thought I'd add it as a new post.

I believe the term 'conservative' has been hijacked by right-wing extremists in the US and thus tends to mean what ever they want it to mean even if what they believe contradicts the dictionary definition of 'conservative' and even if the principles they say they espouse are self-contradictory. Could I direct your attention to the four part series of posts I wrote called "What Does 'Conservative' Really Mean?" that starts here?

So-called "Christian Conservatives" are usually right-wing extremists who come closer to qualifying as fascists than anything 'conservative'. I do not use the term 'fascist' lightly. Robert Paxton recently published a really excellent book called "The Anatomy of Fascism" which very carefully examines the appropriate uses of this term. Paxton is a historian at Columbia and has spent many years teaching, writing and thinking about fascism. Here's his definition (p. 218):
Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in an uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of
internal cleansing and external expansion.
While we have not yet realized a state of full-fledged fascism in the US Paxton demonstrates that movements can approximate fascism and there can be precursors. I suggest that the Christian right's preoccupation with 'moral decline' in America, it's preoccupation with seeing itself as the butt of a war on Christianity (let me know if you want an example), it's culture war against liberals, it's development of a compensatory cult of 'purity', it's mass-based militant nationalism ("America: Love It or Leave It"), it's collaboration with the traditional elites of the Republican Party and many in the corporate and military elites, the gradual but constant abandonment of democratic liberties under the Bush administration, the redemptive violence against abortion doctors and clinics, the goal of internally cleansing "secular humanists" and an external expansion that apparently knows no bounds (see Chalmers Johnson's "The Sorrows of Empire" and "Nemesis"--all of these elements are precursors of American fascism.

Sinclair Lewis is reputed to have said, "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross." I suspect this came pretty close to being an accurate anticipation and if Lewis said it his statement was made in the 1930s.

Friday, May 25, 2007

On the Origins of the Cold War

I've been reading a number of books on the origins of the Cold War because I really believe that it was the post-WW II period that set us on the path we're on today: militarism, empire, and lessening democracy and devotion to the Constitution at home. For a truly excellent description of "the path we're on today" read Chalmers Johnson's new book Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic. This is a book many will find difficult to take seriously but I find it very convincing; and Johnson is no knee-jerk radical, he worked as a consultant for the CIA for a number of years and has been a respected academic for many years.

At any rate I've been reading John Lewis Gaddis' The United States and the Origins of the Cold War. Gaddis is considered the primary 'respectable' authority on the Cold War and indeed his book is very well written and researched (I'm reading the original 1971 edition.). Gaddis began with a Preface in which he explained that he was going to look at foreign policy through the eyes of those who made it. What he failed to say was that this principle applied primarily to American policymakers and not their Soviet counterparts. One of the things this means is that America's commitment to "self-determination" for all peoples, as announced by FDR and Churchill in the Atlantic Charter of pre-Pearl Harbor 1941, is taken at pretty much face value. This is important because when the Soviet Union's armies, which fought the Nazis with little manpower help from England or the US for about three years and lost 16-20 million in doing so, wanted its own sphere of influence in Eastern Europe (through which it had been attacked three times within 130 years), the U.S. found it necessary to stand for the "self-determination" of Eastern European countries.

Gaddis finds it difficult to fully acknowledge that most of our talk about "self-determination" was disingenuous propaganda because acceding to Churchill we excluded most of the British Empire from self-determination and in our own history had amply demonstrated our hypocrisy re "self-determination". For evidence of the latter think of Cuba, the Phillipines and Puerto Rico in 1898, Cuba in 1960-1, Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, French Indochina (Vietnam) in the 1954-1974 period, Chile in 1973, etc. etc. etc. (Read Stephen Kinzer's book, Overthrow.) My belief is that historians ought to attempt to be as objective as possible but most of the American history I read is "patriotic" history.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

William Kristol's Revealing Slip of the Tongue, Transcript

See my prior post for more explanation. Kristol is being interviewed by Robert Siegel on NPR's "All Things Considered" about John McCain's current candidacy and asks Kristol what McCain's advantages are over other candidates. In part of his reply Kristol states:
"... but ultimately this is going to be a wartime election [2008], this is the first post-9/11 primary among Republicans, 2004 was a post-9/11 election but obviously Bush wasn't challenged, and I do think it will be a foreign policy election--that will be McCain's claim, that he can lead this country through the wars or through the difficult challenges [embarrassed chuckle as he says the word "challenges" correcting his slip "wars"] that we face."
That this warmonger-ideologue is still being so frequently interviewed on radio and TV unfortunately demonstrates that pseudo-conservatives have NOT been so embarrassed by their patently horrendous advice leading us into the Iraq War that they are discredited; one wonders: 'what will it take?'

What You Can't Make a Profit At

I've been thinking lately of what would be on the list of things that are essential but which you can't make a profit at (or enough of a profit). Last night on Bill Moyers Journal (first show of a new series) mention was made of how 'expensive' it is to hire the personnel necessary to research and report real factual news stories as opposed to how cheap it is to hire pundit 'experts' who merely sit and pontificate about their opinions. As a result more and more newspapers, 'news' magazines like "Time", and news bureaus for TV are getting rid of their news reporters/researchers and hiring more 'experts' to give opinions. Fewer facts and more opinions: the 'modern' fourth estate. The free press that is so essential to democracy.

I recall a fellow who had just finished yet another book on our health insurance 'crisis' who pointed out how it just wasn't profitable to provide care for people with serious chronic illnesses. Since we are such a 'Christian' society I guess Jesus would have preached that those people with chronic illnesses would just have to fend for themselves. (The Gospel according to capitalism.)

Being responsible for cleaning up one's own environmental pollution is apparently not profitable either.

I've heard discussions of medications in which it was revealed that certain drugs are just not profitable enough, thus drug companies don't research improvements in those regardless of how efficacious they would be for health. I guess Jefferson should have written:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, if said rights can be profitably pursued. — That to secure these rights, Corporations are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the Board of Directors.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

William Kristol's Revealing Slip of the Tongue

In my car about a half hour ago I was listening to All Things Considered on NPR. Robert Siegel was doing a piece on John McCain since McCain officially announced his candidacy today. The second part of the piece was an interview with pseudo-conservative William Kristol who is a McCain admirer. During this interview Kristol said something to the effect that we need a wartime president and then followed this with the remark that such a president would be necessary to fight the "wars" we would be involved in. After he said "wars" he gave an embarassed laugh and corrected himself to say "war". The transcript and the audio will be available by tomorrow at which time I will listen again and transcribe exactly what he said. Kristol is a rabid hawk and knee-jerk supporter of the Israeli far right and if he has anything to say about it we will have more "wars". Recall my previous post on Kristol during the Israeli bombing of Lebanon last year. There I wrote:
Claiming that Hezbollah, a group supported by Iran but with its own extensive political and social base among the 40% Shia population in Lebanon, is identical with Iran, Kristol suggested that either the United States or Israel “consider countering this act of Iranian (sic) aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? ... Yes, there would be repercussions—and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement.”
One of the healthiest things I've heard in a while was the comment by some pundit on TV recently that many Americans are concerned that the Republican Party is too warlike. I certainly hope this is true because the Republican Right would be only too likely to get us into more wars if they listen to Israel Lobbyists and war cheerleaders such as William Kristol. This is the same Kristol who told NPR audiences prior to the Iraq invasion that the idea that the Sunnis and Shia would get into sectarian conflict was "pop sociology".

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Support Norman Finkelstein for Tenure at DePaul

If you go to Norman Finkelstein's website you will find articles from the New York Times and The Independent about how Alan Dershowitz is trying to get Finkelstein's tenure turned down; although it has been OK'd by his Department and College there is a Dean who is giving in to outside pressure and saying Finkelstein should not get tenure. Finkelstein's crime is that he has been a very effective critic of Israel's mistreatment of the Palestinians (even though both his parents were in Nazi concentration camps). I have read two of Finkelstein's books and he is a very effective scholarly researcher who has received the admiration of very respected scholars in the fields about which he writes. His 'fault' has been that he is willing to attack scholarship that he thinks is wrong and he takes controversial positions. (God forbid anyone might take controversial positions in American academia.) Dershowitz tried to stop University of California Press from publishing his book "Beyond Chutzpah" and now he is trying to stop Finkelstein from getting tenure.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Now Here's a True "Must Read"!

I am just beginning a very unusual book, When Corporations Rule the World, By David C. Korten. Both the author and his writing style are very unusual. The author is a 70 year old with an MBA and Ph.D. from Stanford's Graduate School of Business, who taught and did research at Harvard's Graduate School of Business and has thirty years of field experience working in Asia, Africa and Latin America for the Ford Foundation, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and a number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). With a background like this one does not expect to read a book like When Corporations Rule the World!!! Moreover, his writing is remarkably honest and extremely clear--one cannot mistake what his values are and what he is saying; this in itself is an unusual blessing. Here's an excerpt that gives the flavor of the book (pp. 9 & 12):
[T]he systemic forces nurturing the growth and dominance of global corporations are at the heart of the current human dilemma.... These forces have transformed once beneficial corporations and financial institutions into instruments of a market tyranny that is extending its reach across the planet like a cancer, colonizing ever more of the planet's living spaces, destroying livelihoods, displacing people, rendering democratic institutions impotent, and feeding on life in an insatiable quest for money.
But let me point out how the author is an authentic conservative as opposed to pseudo-conservatives such as William F. Buckley. Here is Korten's description of his "values" (a much-abused word in contemporary America):
With regard to political values, I remain a traditional conservative in the sense that I retain a deep distrust of large institutions and their concentrations of unaccountable power. I also continue to believe in the importance of the market and private ownership. However, unlike many contemporary conservatives, I have no more love for big business than I have for big government. Nor do I believe that posession of wealth should convey special political privilege. I share the liberal's compassion for the disenfranchised, commitment to equity, and concern for the environment and believe that there are essential roles for government and limits to the rights of private property. I believe, however, that big government can be as unaccountable and destructive of societal values as can big business. Indeed, I have a distrust of any organization that accumulates and concentrates massive power beyond the bounds of accountability.
OK, here's the essential kernel that separates the sheep from the goats: However, unlike many contemporary conservatives, I have no more love for big business than I have for big government. This is what separates many authentic conservatives from pseudo-conservatives. The latter chatter incessantly about the horrors of 'collectivism' inherent in 'big government'; but they are stone silent about the 'collectivism' that is only too obviously involved in the growth of the modern corporation since 1865 in the United States. Korten is a very unusual fellow in that he is consistent on this point.

Actually, I've just been thinking about the meanings of "conservative" and there is a strain within conservatism which says that rule by the rich and well-born is best and that the 'mob' cannot be trusted. (John Adams believed this.) If one takes that seriously then people like William F. Buckley could be labelled 'conservative' in the latter sense because they certainly do support the powers that be. However, in this case Buckley is simply a liar because he does not honestly state that he distrusts the people and thinks the rich and well-born (like himself) should rule; rather he uses a variation of classical liberalism like that of Milton Friedman to rationalize his views and identify himself as a defender of 'liberty'. He attacks the state but is an ardent defender of business and the corporation.

Monday, April 09, 2007

A Thought on American Corporations

Listening to National Public Radio News this AM I heard a piece on how California and Vermont want to regulate Carbon Dioxide emissions in automobiles and how the auto companies have formed a group to sue them and argue that states do not have the power to regulate these emissions. The Attorney General of Vermont mentioned how this foot-dragging on the part of corporations was just like the huge fuss they put up opposing catalytic converters. Yes, and I'm old enough to recall the fuss they put up about seat belts and airbags too. Corporations have HUGE resources and they use them consistently to fight any social progress that they perceive as a danger to their profits; the hell with the good of society--they just buy up an army of lawyers and PR people to spin and argue that black is white and up is down. That is certainly what tobacco companies did for years regarding cancer and whether nicotine was addictive. Exxon-Mobil has spent millions of dollars funding propaganda that undermines the evidence supporting the existence of global warming. Here's just one article about this. For more go here.

A Thought on the Libertarian Party

Having gone through the Libertarian Party website and examined their platform my only large problem was their failure to articulate a position with regard to huge muti-national corporations. They have an email address where they say they welcome questions and I asked them about their position regarding corporations but got no answer. I have noticed that writers like Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman LOVE to denounce what they don't like in government by using the terms "collectivism" or "collectivization". I frankly can't recall reading how they define the term however. I would include the huge centralization achieved by the modern corporation as a prime example of modern collectivization. If they fail to do so I believe I'd consider that an inconsistency. Although people on the right in America LOVE to idolize Adam Smith it is a little known fact that Adam Smith was seriously concerned about corporations if not opposed to their being too frequently chartered. Why? For one rather obvious reason Smith was thoroughly serious about real competition and felt that owners of businesses should be fully responsible for their business practices and this was most likely to occur if they had something approximating face-to-face relationships with their customers as was the case with single owners and partnerships. Moreover, Smith could see the liklihood that corporations might wield disproportionate power over government and thus distort the political process. Any American who doesn't see that that has occurred in the United States really must have their head in the sand or be a died in the wool pro-corporate ideologue. (For Adam Smith's attitudes toward corporations, he called them "joint stock companies", see the 2003 Bantam Classics edition and read Alan Krueger's Introduction.)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Rep. Ron Paul on Bill Maher Show

On Friday Mar. 30 Bill Maher had Congressman Ron Paul on his show for an interview. Although Paul was elected a Republican he is a Libertarian and, although Maher thinks of himself as a libertarian he was shocked by some of Paul's stands: Paul had the temerity to suggest that the CIA should be abolished! Maher thought this was just much too extreme and actually stated that he feels a lot safer knowing there's a CIA! Maher is hilarious and I never miss his show but some of his political positions are ludicrous. He actually feels SAFER knowing there's a CIA! What an idiot. Paul rightly pointed out that the CIA has got us into many problems including the overthrow of the constitutional Mossadegh government in Iran in 1953 for which many Iranians still hate us. Given the history of absolutely botched intelligence in our recent history Maher really must not have given much thought to this. The greatest threat to America's freedom and perhaps even to America's future existence is the military-intelligence-industrial complex. Eisenhower had that figured out in 1960! Maher's 'libertarianism' is apparently only about a micron deep.

Paul also had said that he thought we shouldn't have fought the US Civil War and Maher again was just shocked by this opinion. I myself have given some thought to this question and don't think it is absolutely clear that the Civil War was on balance a good thing. The one thing that came of it that was good was freedom for the slaves but otherwise what was so great about it? Lincoln's original goal was to preserve the union NOT to free the slaves. He was only pushed to emancipation by the circumstances of a prolonged Civil War; if the North had suceeded militarily sooner the slaves would not have been freed. What would have been so awful, other than slavery, if the South had seceded? They would still have been most economically tied to the North because of our proximity. There was nothing sacred about the union; it had been formed by a very close vote when the Constitution was adopted and there were some shenanigans about the voting that took place for the Constitution. If it took a vote to form the union why shouldn't some states secede later if they so chose? Apparently Bill Maher's "libertarianism" is mostly about freedom to use drugs, sexual freedom, and freedom to be atheistic. I support all of these freedoms as well but for him to be so shocked that someone would think the CIA should be abolished and the Civil War was maybe not such a great idea demonstrates how thin his libertarianism is.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

U.S. Provides Israel With Cluster Bombs for Use Against the Lebanese People?

Israel Misused Cluster Bombs U.S. Delivered last August

State Department Report Delivered to Pelosi and Biden

February 7, 2007

At the height of the Israeli war against Hezbollah last summer, in which hundreds of civilians living in southern Lebanon were killed, the U.S. rushed a request from Israel for more than 1,300 American-made M26 cluster bombs. The request prompted an outcry in Congress and elsewhere that the artillery rockets, which disperse 644 submunitions each, might be used in civilian areas, contrary to the terms of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act. Last week, the Department of State delivered a preliminary report to Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, and to Sen. Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that is said by the news media to accuse Israel of exactly these charges.

A petition banning the use of cluster bombs and demanding an urgent clean-up of the more than 1 million cluster-bomblets sprayed over southern Lebanon has been launched by the American Task Force for Lebanon, a non-profit non-sectarian group based in Washington, DC. We urge our members to join the campaign that has been endorsed by Ralph Nader by signing their petition: "Stop the Carnage, Ban the Cluster Bomb."

Sign the petition to stop the carnage and ban the cluster bomb!

In the closing days of the war, after a deadline had been set by the U.N. and accepted by both the Israelis and Hezbollah and 72 hours before the ceasefire was to go into effect, the Israeli military fired thousands of cluster munitions into southern Lebanon, leaving behind a deadly legacy. As of January 25, 2007, the United Nations Mine Action Coordination Center South Lebanon confirms that 30 people have been killed and 184 injured from unexploded ordnance since August 14, when hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel ended. Many of the casualties have been children.

Cluster bombs have been controversial for many years. They were used by the U.S. army in both Iraq wars, inflicting damage on civilians especially, and by the Israeli army in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, prompting the Reagan administration to suspend shipment of the bombs to Israel for six years. The UK NGO Landmine Action has published evidence that Israel used American cluster munitions with expiration dates as early as 1974, which were made available to Israel from classified U.S. weapons depots in Israel. Thus the American taxpayer is once again supporting the slaughter of civilians through the misuse of its arms exports.

The findings of the State Department report on Israel's misuse of cluster bombs has not yet been made public. A resolution curbing the sale of cluster bombs last September that was introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) failed in the Senate by a vote of 70 to 30. A new resolution is said to be prepared by the senators for introduction in the Senate this year once the furor about the State Department findings has died down.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Where I've Been

I put my back out last Monday January 29 and have been flat on the floor ever since. Will return soon.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

"Free" Congressional Trips to Israel?

From the Christian Science Monitor:

The hidden cost of free congressional trips to Israel
By Former-Senator Jim Abourezk

SIOUX FALL, S.D. Democrats in Congress have moved quickly - and commendably - to strengthen ethics rules. But truly groundbreaking reform was prevented, in part, because of the efforts of the pro-Israel lobby to preserve one of its most critical functions: taking members of Congress on free "educational" trips to Israel.

The pro-Israel lobby does most of its work without publicity. But every member of Congress and every would-be candidate for Congress comes to quickly understand a basic lesson. Money needed to run for office can come with great ease from supporters of Israel, provided that the candidate makes certain promises, in writing, to vote favorably on issues considered important to Israel. What drives much of congressional support for Israel is fear - fear that the pro-Israel lobby will either withhold campaign contributions or give money to one's opponent.

In my own experience as a US senator in the 1970s, I saw how the lobby tries to humiliate or embarrass members who do not toe the line.

Pro-Israel groups worked vigorously to ensure that the new reforms would allow them to keep hosting members of Congress on trips to Israel. According to the Jewish Daily Forward newspaper, congressional filings show Israel as the top foreign destination for privately sponsored trips. Nearly 10 percent of overseas congressional trips taken between 2000 and 2005 were to Israel. Most are paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation, a sister organization of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the major pro-Israel lobby group.

New rules require all trips to be pre-approved by the House Ethics Committee, but Rep. Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts says this setup will guarantee that tours of Israel continue. Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported consensus among Jewish groups that "the new legislation would be an inconvenience, but wouldn't seriously hamper the trips to Israel that are considered a critical component of congressional support for Israel."

These trips are defended as "educational." In reality, as I know from my many colleagues in the House and Senate who participated in them, they offer Israeli propagandists an opportunity to expose members of Congress to only their side of the story. The Israeli narrative of how the nation was created, and Israeli justifications for its brutal policies omit important truths about the Israeli takeover and occupation of the Palestinian territories.

What the pro-Israel lobby reaps for its investment in these tours is congressional support for Israeli desires. For years, Israel has relied on billions of dollars in US taxpayer money. Shutting off this government funding would seriously impair Israel's harsh occupation.

One wonders what policies Congress might support toward Israel and the Palestinians absent the distorting influence of these Israel trips - or if more members toured Palestinian lands. America sent troops to Europe to prevent the killing of civilians in the former Yugoslavia. But when it comes to flagrant human rights violations committed by Israel, the US sends more money and shields Israel from criticism.

Congress regularly passes resolutions lauding Israel, even when its actions are deplorable, providing it political cover. Meanwhile, polls suggest most Americans want the Bush administration to steer a middle course in working for peace between Israelis and the Palestinians.

Consider, too, how the Israel lobby twists US foreign policy into a dangerous double standard regarding nuclear issues. The US rattles its sabers at Iran for its nuclear energy ambitions - and alleged pursuit of nuclear arms - while remaining silent about Israel's nuclear-weapons arsenal.

Members of Congress may not be aware just how damaging their automatic support for Israel is to America's interest. At a minimum, US policies toward Israel have cost it valuable allies in the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world.

If Congress is serious about ethics reform, it should not protect the Israel lobby from the consequences. A totally taxpayer-funded travel budget for members to take foreign fact-finding trips, with authorization to be made by committee heads, would be an important first step toward a foreign policy that genuinely serves America.

Jim Abourezk is a former Democratic senator from South Dakota and the vice chairman of the Council for the National Interest.

Friday, January 26, 2007

So-Called 'Conservatives' as Government Centralizers

I'm reading a very interesting but little known book by Edward Handler, America and Europe in the Political Thought of John Adams, Harvard UP, 1964. There are many interesting things about the book but what I want to emphasize here is how mistrustful of the unpropertied masses Adams was. Recall that Adams is nearly universally recognized by conservatives as their prime exemplar in American history, so we get a look at what the biases of 'conservatives' in America are.

While I see Joseph Ellis' book on Jefferson, American Sphinx, as an unfair hatchet job on our third president, reading Handler suggests that if one wanted to, which Handler does NOT, one could write a fairly critical and unempathic view of Adams quite easily. Adams used arguments in support of our war for independence which he later contradicted when opposing the French Revolution. But my primary point here is that Adams was so mistrustful of 'the great unwashed' that it is easy to see how he would have been a centralizer of government power. That he certainly was so is demonstrated by the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts during his administration:
The Sedition Act says anyone "opposing or resisting any law of the United States, or any act of the President of the United States" could be imprisoned for up to two years. It was also illegal to "write, print, utter, or publish" anything critical of the president or Congress.
Oh boy, would Cheney and Bush love that law. I think if you look at the types of political attitudes held by so-called American 'conservatives', whether it be Adams, Hamilton, William F. Buckley, or the 'neo-conservatives' of today, you will find them far more friendly to centralized government power than their rhetoric would like you to believe. They preach checks and balances and divided government, they profess reverence for our Constitution, but in practice their anti-democratic tendencies show in their readiness to support central authority and sacrifice civil liberties whenever they see fit.

What's the Matter With That al Maliki Guy Anyway?

I reprint here an interesting letter from Ed Peck, former U.S. Chief of Mission to Iraq.

A Simple Plan to Support Iraq's Prime Minister

Look, it's not really all that hard. If we are really serious about having Al Maliki, the Prime Minister of a democratically elected unity government, carry out his responsibilities, especially the ones we have publicly assigned him, let's give the guy a chance to demonstrate his problem-solving skills in an environment with challeges that are not only far less difficult but also far less dangerous to our interests. Oh... yeah, and his too.

What I propose is just a quick test, with visible benefits for all parties, that lets him show his stuff. Let's bring him over here, and turn him loose to: a) stamp out inner-city crime; b) settle the abortion issue to the complete satisfaction of all parties; c) win the war on drugs; d) end illegal immigration; e) eliminate corruption. Once those tasks are taken care of, and armed with the admiration and gratitude of the American people, plus the solid, no-longer tentative support of the current Administration, he can go home to Iraq - and fix it. (NB. "On the advice of the legal department, we announce that our Rule is no longer applicable in Iraq." - The Pottery Barn, Inc.)

Once back, with the augmented - No, wait, escalated... No, no... OK, got it, surged military presence required to insure that absolutely everyone, everywhere, understands that he is fully, totally, and completely in charge of every single aspect of goverance, the Prime Minister can address himself to resolving his country's issues.

We all know what he needs to do, and quickly: a) rebuild a totally destroyed infrastructure and the shattered economy it used to support; b) institute something resembling a universally accepted, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, cohesive and fully functional government; c) end sectarian violence; d) create large and effective police and military forces; e) institute total stability and security; f) induce forgiveness and, as necessary, memory loss in those who have suffered the most; and g) secure the blessings of liberty to himself and his posterity. Not necessarily in that order.

I estimate he will need a minimum of, say, eight to ten weeks, after which the entire secure and stable nation (Militias, Turkmen, Shia, Contractors, Sunni, Jews, Kurds, Yazidis, Saabeans, Christians, Collaborators) will be sitting around multiple campfires, democratic to the core, drinking steaming mugs of cocoa, singing Kumbaya and waving as our forces ride off into the sunset.

Won't that be swell? Won't the world admire us, and respect all that we have accomplished? And won't the Iraqi survivors love us?

However, and it is certainly seems entirely possible that those in leadership positions in this country may already have given a great deal of thought to this, we will clearly have someone else to blame when it doesn't work, despite all the help and support we have given Al Maliki What a loser, and it is all, all his fault.

What have we done, and are not yet finished doing, to ourselves, to Iraqis, and to our regional as well as global interests? A catastrophe while we stay; a different catastrophe when we leave. And I sincerely hope I am all wrong.

Amb. Ed Peck

(Please excuse this effort to employ weak humor to underline the arrogant stupidity of what we are asking of a man in minimal charge of a broken non-country. When our CNI delegation ( met with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad last January, after observing the Palestinian elections in Gaza, he told us that American officials always demand that he stop, right now!, people crossing the border into Iraq. He said he replies by asking for the Border Patrol to come over and explain how they did it with Mexico, so he can apply the same successful approach. Heavy silence follows, as it should.)

Ambassador Edward L. Peck is former U.S. Chief of Mission to Iraq and participated in a CNI delegation to monitor the Palestinian elections and meet with regional leaders in January 2006. A video chronicling the trip, titled "Islam and Democracy," is available on

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Robert Nisbet on U.S. War Preparation

In The Present Age: Progress and Anarchy in Modern America, conservative American sociologist Robert Nisbet wrote his opinions regarding why war and preparation for war have become such powerful influences on American government and on the American people (see my earlier post). He argued first that America's participation in World War I had a large impact upon us. However, when addressing why the defense budget and preparation for war loomed so large in the 1980's when he was writing he noted that the Cold War would not do as a complete explanation even though it was the explanation to which observers most often resorted. He wrote (for a book published in 1988) that there were two forces that "would surely continue to operate even if the Soviet Union were miraculously transformed into a vast religious convent [p. 24]." The first of these forces was the military-industrial complex against which Eisenhower warned us. This included a huge government defense bureaucracy and the "militarization of intellectuals" and "intellectualization of the military." The latter involved the universities which had become so addicted to the money flowing from defense expenditures and the " 'terror experts,' 'strategy analysts,' 'intelligence consultants,'" and others who manned institutes and think tanks and regularly appeared on TV. Nisbet wrote (pp. 28-9) quite presciently:
Even if there were no Soviet Union or its equivalent to justify our monstrous military establishment, there would be, in sum, the whole self-perpetuating military-industrial complex and the technological-scientific elite that Eisenhower warned us against. These have attained by now a mass and an internal dynamic capable of being their own justification for continued military spending.... Take away the Soviet Union as crucial justification, and, under Parkinson's Law, content of some kind will expand relentlessly to fill the time and space left.
This prediction proved true in just 5 years during which the Soviet Union did disappear and 'neo-conservatives' stepped forward to argue that the U.S. must take full advantage of this "unipolar moment" to make sure that no other power would be able to challenge the U.S. again. And, indeed, it was these 'neo-conservatives, the Krauthammers, Kristols, Feiths, Ledeens, et. al. who pushed us to spend yet more on the military and who provided the justification for invading Iraq.

The second force to which Nisbet referred was "the moralization of foreign policy" that began perhaps with Woodrow Wilson but continued up to today. Indeed, the so-called 'neo-conservatives' unite both forces in their rhetoric, they are huge cheerleaders for American military might and perhaps the most extreme moralizers of our foreign policy ever. It is these so-called 'neo-conservatives' who trumpet America's remarkable 'exceptionalism' and virtues and advocate using military might to bring 'democracy', 'freedom' and 'free market capitalism' to the rest of the benighted world. The majority of these individuals are also aggressively pro-Israeli and frequently pro-Zionist, and they support the far-right within Israel as well as in the U.S.

Here Nisbet merits the label 'conservative' because he breaks with pseudo-conservatives like William F. Buckley in noting the swelling of central government by the military and in maintaining some skepticism about "America the Virtuous." You cannot stand for small central government AND huge military budgets and an evangelical foreign policy, as people like Buckley and Reagan tried to do.

The Iran Drumbeat Continues

An organization I had never heard of before, the American Foreign Policy Council, has started showing 30 second TV ads trying to gin up fear and opposition to Iran. Running TV ads is a pretty expensive business. I wonder where a relatively obscure foreign policy 'think' tank gets the money to run TV ads??? I'd be willing to bet this money comes from the US government. If you go to the link provided above you'll see that these ads are mere propaganda pieces that the right has used to generate fear and hatred against perceived 'enemies.' Although these ads don't yet call for military action against Iran they are the prelude to such calls. Let us consider some facts about Iran that might be worth considering.

Since Iran is a very mountainous country, getting tied down trying to defeat them would be far more difficult than Iraq. Iran is approximately four times the size of Iraq. Iran’s population is 2.4 times the size of Iraq’s population. The advocacy of aerial military bombing of Iranian nuclear facilities would surely motivate Iran to try to seek revenge in whatever effective way it could and one possibility would be to interrupt its oil exports and send the price of oil high enough to trigger a worldwide recession. Iran could also become more actively involved in helping Iraqi insurgents to oppose us. It could also try to sabotage the Saudi oilfields which are just across the Persian Gulf from Iran.

Wikipedia: “Iran is OPEC's second largest oil producer, as it exports between four and five million barrels of oil per day; moreover, it holds 10% of the world's confirmed oil reserves. Iran also has the world's second largest natural gas reserves (after Russia).”

In 2005 Iran exported 856,000 barrels of oil per day to Europe, 597,000 barrels per day to Japan, and 205,000 barrels per day to South Korea.

Iran is also a country with many people who have been educated in the U.S. and there are a very considerable number of Iranians who have a friendly attitude toward the U.S.

Although trying to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons is a good idea, just as nuclear non-proliferation is a good idea, the Bush administration's deal to help India's nuclear program, to resrve our right to develop new nuclear weapons, to blink at Israel's nuclear weapons, etc., makes our hypocrisy quite clear to foreigners and makes it less likely we can successfully negotiate with Iran. But negotiate we should, and we will have to be willing to offer something of value to them if we wish to be successful.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Thank You Congressman Jones!

WASHINGTON, DC – Today Representative Walter B. Jones (R-NC) introduced H. J. Res. 14, a joint resolution concerning the use of force by the United States against Iran. The resolution requires that – absent a national emergency created by an attack, or a demonstrably imminent attack, by Iran upon the United States or its armed forces – the President must consult with Congress and receive specific authorization prior to initiating any use of military force against Iran.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Did the Framers Work to Avoid "Hypertrophy" of National Government?

I'm looking at yet another book by conservative sociologist Robert Nisbet, The Present Age: Progress and Anarchy in Modern America, based upon his 1988 Jefferson Lecture to the National Council of Humanities for which he was invited in the Reagan era by the then Chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities, Dr. Lynne V. Cheney (yes that Lynne Cheney--this gives an idea how the ideological right got such a foothold in the Reagan-Bush 12 years). In this book Nisbet is imagining what would most strike the Framers if they could see the America of today. His imagination leads him to guess they would be most struck by the "prominence of war in American life", "the Leviathan-like...national government", and how "loosely attached to groups" of kinship and community instead of by "the cash nexus."

This list gives an idea why I tend to see Nisbet as in many ways a genuine conservative but one whose analytic powers were blunted by his recognition by and association with modern right-wingers like Reagan and Lynne Cheney. His analysis is suggestive of the themes of a genuine conservatism but he fails to really draw the conclusions an authentic conservative like Peter Viereck would draw because he was too busy consciously or unconsciously protecting his modern sponsors. His mention of "the cash nexus" as the main glue of contemporary America should have led him to oppose someone like Reagan who absolutely glorified business and the search for profit, indeed, the 1980s were dubbed the era of 'greed'. A genuine Burkean conservative would have to be a thorough-going critic of America's devotion to revolutionary industrial capitalism which was the prime force that destroyed local face-to-face groups and made the 'cash nexus' one of the sole social connectors in modern America. If one is worried about the prominence of war in modern America who is more to blame than super-patriotic, hyper-nationalistic Ronald Reagan who devoted so much money to the 'defense' and 'security' establishment? And it is probably the growth of the power of 'defense' and 'security' that have contributed most to the growth of our "Leviathan-like" national government.

Here I want to stress just one point that Nisbet made which I think is flawed: in writing about the "hypertrophy" of our national government (p. xi) he said: "The Framers had worked most diligently to prevent any future hypertrophy of the federal government." Having done a lot of reading lately about the Constitutional period this strikes me as a rather partial and inaccurate generalization. The very purpose of the Constitution was to create a more powerful federal government because of the disatisfaction of 'the Framers' with the perceived decentralization of the Articles of Confederation. Many, if not most, of the arguments at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were over just how strong and centralized the federal government would be. Recall that it was "Federalist" centralizers vs. "Anti-Federalist" decentralizers that marked the parties of that era and it was the "Federalist" centralizers, with a lot of help from 'republicans' like James Madison who won out. In Leonard D. White's The Federalists: A Study in Administrative History he wrote (pp. 13-4):
The event which was seldom absent from memory [in the minds of the Framers at the Constitutional Convention] was Shays' rebellion. The ruling consideration was not the revolutionary ardor of the 1770's but the sober necessity of order, commercial recovery, and fiscal rehabilitation.... A strong executive was attained in the Convention only by the hardest and most persistent fighting. At the outset Edmund Randolph had proposed an executive of three, in order to represent the major geographical divisions and to put the "remote parts" on an equal footing with the center.
As we know this proposal of a three person executive was defeated because the Federalists believed that conflicts and animosities between the three would make for too much conflict and result in inaction. James Wilson "preferred a single magistrate, as giving most energy, despatch, and responsibility to the office [White, p. 14]." Roger Sherman of Connecticut argued (p. 14) "An independence of the executive on the supreme legislature was, in his opinion, the very essence of tyrrany...."

In other words, many at the Constitutional Convention argued against a single executive who would be too independent of the legislature because they feared that would lead to "hypertrophy" of central power and to "tyranny". The power and relative independence and "energy" with which the President might act were precisely the issues fought over at the Constitutional Convention and, as we know, the relatively more centralizing views of the "Federalists" prevailed. This history, it seems to me, cannot support Nisbet's careless generalization that: "The Framers had worked most diligently to prevent any future hypertrophy of the federal government." If they had been diligent about hypertrophy they would have kept the Articles of Confederation or at most amended them (which is actually what the Convention's original instructions requested; they decided themselves to write a whole new Constitution). Or they could have accepted some of the many suggestions made at the Convention which would have weakened the executive and truly tried to "prevent any future hypertrophy of the federal government."

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Limited Liability Law, Corporations, and Moral Hazard

David Moss in When All Else Fails: Government as the Ultimate Risk Manager points out (pp. 67-8) that opponents of a Massachusetts limited liability law explicitly made the moral hazard argument:
Another common counterargument was the traditional one: that limitations on liability would encourage reckless behavior. This represented an early articualtion of the moral hazard principle, though the term itself was not used. "Men who are restrained only by the limits of their capital stock," Representative Sturgis maintained, "do not and cannot feel under the apprehension of those who are restrained, each one by his own personal jeopardy,to the amount of all his means: to the extent of his very livelihood.... Your best security always is in the apprehension of your debtor."
Nonetheless, when it came to removing all obstacles to passive investment in corporations, the fear of the moral hazard of irresponsible corporate managers did not carry the day. In 1830 Massachussetts passed a limited liability law.

Moss indirectly also points up a moral hazard of allowing corporations with unlimited liability. When the creditors of corporations could count on all investors to be responsible for the corporation's debt they were thereby encouraged to provide easy credit (p. 66):
the effect was to make credit abundantly available to corporate managers, allowing (and even encouraging) them to borrow recklessly and engage in wild speculation. This is precisely the opposite of what had been argued in 1809, when lawmakers figured that unlimited liability would help to rein in reckless investing.
In 1809 legislators were counting upon corporate investors with unlimited liability to rein in recklessness of borrowing by corporate managers. However, I suspect that Moss' point (p. 64) that "passive investors were largely at the mercy of the corporate directors who managed their companies" was probably most accurate even in ca. 1800. Corporate managers had much control and if creditors--because of unlimited liability--were enticing them with easy borrowing, this was a moral hazard created by the nature of the corporation itself. This situation could have been an argument against corporations.

However, the proponents of a limited liability law used the recklessness of borrowing under unlimited liability as an argument for corporations with limited liability. But corporations with limited liability also were subject to the moral hazard of irresponsible managers. Limited liability might have made creditors more cautious but corporate managers primarily responsible to passive investors still had incentives to be reckless with other people's money. In fact, if limited liability applied to corporate manager-investors it is conceivable there was more manager moral hazard with limited liability than unlimited. With unlimited liability creditors would have an incentive to tempt corporate managers, but managers themselves, with unlimited liability, would also have an incentive to resist temptation.

Another Twist of Public Argument

Another example of an argument used opportunistically to support the passage of limited liability law for corporate investors is cited by David Moss on p. 65 of When All Else Fails: Government as the Ultimate Risk Manager.
Naturally, proponents of limited liability offered a variety of other arguments as well. One of the reformers' favorites was that unlimited liability was undemocratic, giving wealthy citizens a substantial advantage in gaining access to capital.
Hmmmmm. So the 'democratic' principle is that 'wealthy citizens' should not have 'substantial advantage'? I guess this 'democratic' principle only applies where certain advocates decide it applies.

One More Point About Hypocrisy Regarding 'Moral Hazard'

I have often been impressed with how arguments can be creatively twisted in public debate and in courts of law to support almost any outlandish position. In my last post I noted how first state governments passed legislation enabling corporations thus making it possible to collect the money of many passive investors and place it in the hands of corporate directors, and then these state governments passed limited liability legislation protecting investors from responsibility for corporate debts above the limit of their personal investment. I noted how both the allowance of corporations and limited liability law created their own 'moral hazards.'

It is interesting to note that when Massachussets was debating whether to pass limited liability legislation the then Governor, an advocate of limited liability, used the following argument (David Moss, When All Else Fails: Government as the Ultimate Risk Manager, 2002, p. 64):
"It is not reasonably to be expected," Governor [Levi] Lincoln had observed in 1825, "that prudent men, except under particular circumstances of personal confidence in their associates, should be ready to incur even the possible risk of utter ruin, for the chance of profit, in the joint stock of a manufacturing concern."
In other words, the Governor was arguing that since investors in joint stock corporations were only passive investors, they required the guarantee of limited liability to be encouraged to invest where they had no opportunity for 'personal confidence in their associates' because the corporate directors were likely not personal associates.

So first the state of Massachussets passes legislation enabling corporations thereby creating a class of passive investors and creating the moral hazard of directors risking other people's money; and then, arguing that this newly created class of passive investors would not be sufficiently motivated to invest unless the state limited their liability as well, created yet additional moral hazards both for corporate directors and passive investors. Instead of arguing that perhaps the state shouldn't have enabled corporations and passive investors in the first place, the Governor parlays the original bet on corporations into the perceived necessity to limit the liability of passive investors in order to provide them sufficient motivation to invest.

To me this is a fascinating use of argument. Instead of considering the hypothesized reluctance of passive investors to risk their money in joint stock companies as perhaps a reasonable hesitancy of 'prudent men', or considering this reluctance as a possible indication that joint stock companies may have been a flawed idea, Governor Lincoln argued that this reluctance to "incur even the possible risk of utter ruin" must itself be swept away by limiting the liability of passive investors and actively encouraging them to risk their capital in joint stock companies.

If one is convinced that corporations and passive investors and limited liability are essential prods to economic growth I guess the Governor's argument makes sense. But there is an interesting lack of concern about moral hazard when it is argued that initial moral hazards were not enough and now we are required to create yet additional moral hazards to encourage both corporate directors and passive investors to take risks they might not normally be willing to take. In this phase of American history government is aggressively intervening in the economy to encourage risk taking. Later it will be argued that workers must take total responsibility for themselves and any even imagined possibility of certain types of risk taking on their part must be severely discouraged.

American Hypocrisy About Government 'Meddling'

In David Moss' When All Else Fails: Government as the Ultimate Risk Manager it is clearly laid out how much help state and federal governments provided for business and manufacturing in the late 1700s and throughout the 1800s: governments provided loans, allowed businesses to raise money through lotteries, provided cash awards for high quality textile products, passed laws enabling incorporation allowing companies to raise money from many passive investors, and passed laws allowing investors to assume only limited liability if the company failed to pay its debts.

Again, many people thought these aids were a good idea and if you do too that is fine. They probably were a good idea. But if government intervention was 'good' when it was helping businessmen to accumulate the fabulous wealth and power they did in the 19th and 20th centuries, why did it become 'bad' when governments turned to help workers and consumers in the late 19th and 20th centuries? I believe it is because having accumulated the vast wealth and power businesspeople had, they then used this to actively promote an ideology protecting their privileges and power. Since many attempts to help workers and consumers would cost businesses somewhat more, and since regulations inhibited the freedom of business to do what it pleased, businesspeople and their many allies within universities, the press, the legal profession, among politicians, et. al. aggresively promoted the laissez faire philosophy that said it was very bad for the government to 'meddle' in the economy.

It had been great for government to do all those things to help business but that was long ago and few remembered or reminded us about all that government had done. After the industrial revolution had completely changed the face of American society creating a huge working class and huge cites where before an agricultural society had existed, now it was bad for government to 'meddle' by passing child labor laws, legislating to protect women workers, passing laws for workers compensation for on the job injuries, etc.

And one of the major arguments used by opponents of legislation to aid workers was that such laws would create 'moral hazard.' If we passed legislation protecting workers against on the job injuries then workers would be encouraged to be more careless and would be discouraged from saving for their own security. Horrors! However, earlier legislation allowing businesses to incorporate and attract many passive investors and limiting the liability of these passive investors--this legislation won the day. Yet, a momemt's thought suggests that allowing corporations and limiting the liability of investors obviously created its own 'moral hazards.' Allowing corporate directors to raise large amounts of money from passive investors would encourage corporate directors to be more careless with Other People's Money than they would have been with only their own at risk. As David Moss wrote (p. 64):
With little or no control over the day-to-day affairs of their corporations, passive investors were largely at the mercy of the corporate directors who managed their companies.
This limited responsibility of corporate directors would encourage irresponsibility or 'moral hazard.' The passage of limited liability laws protecting investors from responsibility for corporate debts also would create moral hazards: such laws protected the director-investors too, thus encouraging them to take more risk with their limited responsibility, and these laws would encourage investors to be less careful with their investment dollars because their corporate debt responsibilities were limited. But, somehow all these pro-business 'moral hazards' that seemed to have worked out well for economic growth were forgotten. When it came to protecting workers and consumers imagined 'moral hazards' were conjured up to oppose and defeat such legislation.