“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Bollettino

LI must start out with a disclaimer. Unfortunately, this post is going to have to mention the late Theodore Shackley.

Those of you fortunate enough to miss the eighties will not recall that Shackley was at the center of a conspiracy cult in the 80s. The eighties were a time of irrational fads – Reagan’s voodoo economics, satanic cult murders, MTV, and the liberal ghost dance of conspiracy, organized by something called the Christic institute, and dedicated to the proposition that some counter-government, headed by the CIA, or elements in the CIA, had done all the bad stuff: October surprised Carter out of office, killed Kennedy, and invented crack. Messianic movements are usually symptomatic of deeper discontents. In the case of the conspiracy ghost dance, there were two dilemmas facing a good lefty (like myself): how to cope with the evident malignity of the powers that be, i.e. Reagan, and how to transition from Vietnam War era criticisms of the American empire into a sort of patriotism. The latter eventually found an outlet in the numerous admirers of the Clinton administration – in fact, we’d guess that the left ghost dance was a key transitional movement for many to come back to the Democratic party. The party, remember, that gave us the Vietnam war.

Now, we felt then, and we feel now, that the conspiracy theories are: a., a lot of fun, and b., a load of shit. Not that conspiracy can’t happen. Brutus knifing Caesar and the 1905 St. Petersburg massacre are some evidences that they can, and do. But conspiracy, over the long term, is a piss poor explanation of political attitudes and events.

Ted Shackley was a CIA agent who was involved in, and often responsible for, some of the Agency’s most awful policies: he worked with the anti-Castro Cubans, he directed operations In the secret war in Laos, and he was involved in Latin America during the Pinochet years. His good friends, Tom Clines and Richard Secord, were also involved in most of these things, and achieved greater fame, in 1986, when their connections with Oliver North were revealed in public. By this time, Shackley had resigned from the CIA and was supposedly out of the loop. In his bio, Blonde Ghost, David Corn shows that he was probably not as out of the loop as he made himself out to be.

And then there was Edwin Wilson.

Every account of Edwin Wilson shows him to be a CIA “cowboy” – that’s the phrase that pops up again and again. Big, gregarious, brutal, with that fierce loyalty to power itself, making it so easy to turn him. An authoritarian personality, in short. Secret police, in Moscow or Miami, are drawn from a pool of character traits that don’t differ over cultures. Wilson was born poor, went into the Navy, was recruited by the CIA, advanced entrepreneurially through the organization, and became an expert at setting up cut-out businesses – businesses that served as fronts for things the CIA wanted to do, whether that meant transferring weapons against U.S. law or gaining information. In our last post, we made fun of the WP editorial that gave us a choice between rouge and patriot – as if they were mutually exclusive categories. The excluded tertium quid, here, is the idea that an institution of the government can be, itself, a rogue institution. Every pathology evolves a bureaucracy. Wilson’s particular complexes were as perfectly adapted to the CIA’s ecology as the joker is to a deck of playing cards.

Perhaps this is why, when his ties with Khadaffi were being exposed in the papers in 1981, he became the target of so much vitriol from defenders of the old boy network in the Agency. Edward Jay Epstein, for instance, who practically made himself a p.r. man for James Angleton – another alcoholic, paranoid secret policeman with a constitutional aversion to democracy – wrote about him as a rogue, stating, for instance, that he had been ‘fired” from the CIA. He was released. However, he was not released with prejudice. He was even sold the cut out company he had created for the CIA on below market terms. Nothing that he had done up to then was in violation of the CIA's bylaws. Peter Maas’s book about Wilson is obviously dependent on agency insiders who are on the same track. Joseph Goulden’s book follows, unabashedly, the line that Wilson betrayed the Agency. He did -- by getting caught. The Washington Post editorial takes up the same tired. threads. Assassination, including that of character, always benefits somebody. In this case, it clearly benefits the agency. Alas, protecting the CIA seems to have been taken on as a household task by the Washngton Post.

When Wilson was put on trial in 1983 in Houston, he was charged with illegally running arms to Libya in the seventies. A good, compressed account of the issue in the trial is on Michael Ruppert’s site (although be warned that Ruppert is definitely very biased towards Wilson’s story):

"Ed Wilson stood accused of shipping 42,000 pounds of the plastic explosive C-4 directly to Libyan dictator Moammar Qadaffy in 1977, and then hiring U.S. experts - former U.S. Army Green Berets - to teach Qadaffy's people how to make bombs shaped like lamps, ashtrays and radios. Bombs were actually made, and foes of Qadaffy were actually murdered. This was the ongoing crime that had made Wilson, and his still-missing accomplice, former CIA employee Frank Terpil, the most infamous desperadoes in the world. C-4, according to some experts, is the most powerful non-nuclear explosive made. Two pounds in the right places can bring down a jumbo jet. Hence, 42,000 pounds would be enough to bring down 21,000 jumbo jets. C-4 is highly prized on the world's black markets and is much in demand. It is supposedly very tightly controlled where it is manufactured - in the U.S.

At the time it was shipped from Houston International Airport, in 1977, the 42,000 pounds of C-4 represented almost the entire United States domestic supply. It had been collected for Wilson by one California explosives distributor who collected it from a number of manufacturers around the country. Surprisingly, no one had officially noticed. Wilson had, in earlier and subsequent deals, also sold a number of handguns to Qadaffy, and several had been used in assassinations of Libyan dissidents in a number of countries, including the United States. It was these and other firearms violations by Wilson, including a scheme to ship more than a thousand M16 rifles to Qadaffy, that had put the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) and Larry Barcella on Wilson's trail back in late 1977."

The court didn’t investigate Wilson’s recruitment of a little army for Khadaffi. In the seventies, Khadaffi invaded Chad, using Green Berets that Wilson had delivered to fly helicopters and direct artillery operations. In 1980, Philip Taubman, the NYT reporter who, along with Seymour Hersch, wrote the most detailed and interesting reports about Wilson and the CIA network in which he was embedded, called his headquarters and actually talked to one of his mercenaries, a Robert Hitchman:

“Yesterday, however, a man answered his phone and identified himself as Robert Hitchman. Mr. Hitchman is Mr. Wilson's deputy. He threatened the reporter who called him and issued a stream of invectives and profanities.

He accused The New York Times of ''printing lies'' and called the reporters working on the story ''whores.'' ''You Jewish (expletive) are trying to destroy the C.I.A.,'' he said.”

Interesting side note: this Hitchman, like many of Wilson’s associates, suffered no black marks from his Libya gig. Far from it. IN 1992, the same Robert Hitchman’s name pops up again. He was one of three Dyncorps employees killed when a helicopter he was flying crashed in Ecuador: Ken Silverstein, who has written about private military service providers, is quoted by Alex Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair about this incident:

“… in 1992, one of those helicopters crashed in the jungle. On board were three DynCorp employees, including a man named Robert Hitchman. As Silverstein notes, "Hitchman was not in Peru to repair helicopters." He was a covert-ops specialist, who had worked for the CIA's Air America in the war on Laos and ran former CIA agent Edward Wilson's Libyan operation for Muammar Qaddafy. The State Department said that the helicopter simply crashed due to "crew fatigue." But Hitchman's son told Silverstein that in fact it had been shot down by Shining Path guerrillas and that then-Secretary of State James Baker asked him to keep quiet about the true nature of his father's death. Hitchman said that far from fixing planes, his father was flying DEA agents and Peruvians on missions into guerrilla territory to destroy cocaine labs, bomb coca, and coordinate the herbicide spraying program. He said his father was also training Peruvian pilots to fly combat missions.”

Wilson’s defense was that he was working with the full knowledge of the CIA. “Full knowledge’ is of course a misnomer, since the CIA tries hard not to know what it knows, compartmentalizing information, concealing operations, and generally going under the assumption that intelligence goes together with a schizophrenic organizational flow chart. The CIA produced an affadavit falsely stating that Wilson had not been in contact with the agency since 1971. After this was given to the prosecutors, the agency had second thoughts, and warned the prosecutors that the affidavit was untrue. Thye used it anyway. What Wilson did for Libya in the seventies was known to the CIA's top people, partly because it was done right in front of their noses. Wilson discussed sending explosives to Libya in front of Shackley, who did nothing. Wilson also used two active CIA agents to recruit technicians for him for Libya. It wasn't until this activity reached the papers that these agents were fired. So what was the Agency doing? At issue in the case was Barella’s question: “…what kind of logic would have to be employed to assume that the CIA would authorize the shipment of 40,000 pounds, 20 tons, of C-4, to the guy that was then the biggest terrorist in the world?"

The problem with that question is, of course, the unthinking substitution of a description for a proper name. The biggest terrorist in the world does not equal Khadaffi. In reality, he was the head of a country with which, during Wilson’s run, the U.S. had plenty to do. It wasn’t until the end of 1981 that the Reagan administration banned oil companies from doing business in Libya. To go back to the seventies, the situation in North Africa was in flux. Egypt went from being a Soviet client to being an American ally. Libya, under Khadaffi, must have looked like a tempting target. After all, the American strategy, back then, was to encourage Islamicists as a counter-force to godless communism. Who better than Khadaffi to help with this project? Plus, he was definitely a troublemaker, and had exchanged bitter words with Arafat about the direction of the PLO.

So, from a loopy point of view, helping Libya might return dividends. This was the kind of thing “cowboys” did – after all, the CIA was practically given Laos, behind the back of any American publicity about the deal, in the early sixties. And Shackley, Secord, Clines et al had been there for Laos. They thought the war there could have been won. This revanchisme ran through the whole Defense establishment at the time. It was intertwined with an instinctive repulsion for Carter, with his human rights gestures and his weakness, at least in their eyes.

As we know now, the answer to Barella’s question was not presented at the trial. Perhaps, now,it is lost. We know that, instead, the prosecutor’s lied about Wilson’s contacts with the CIA. And Shackley lied about his contacts with Wilson. And the man was buried in prison. But his ideas for using cut outs to contact apparent American enemies bloomed in the minds of his associates, and became the form in which the Iran-Contra network operated. Ironically, when Wilson was captured, in the Dominican Republic, he was trying to get himself into the good graces of the Reagan administration by setting up a dummy company in Central America, through which the Reagan people could operate against Nicarauga. This was reported in 1981, when it seemed like a cockeyed idea only omeone of Wilson's criminality would dream up . In 1986, Wilson was forgotten, the cockeyed idea was being examined by several congressional committees. It had become the secret policy of the executive branch.

There remains, only, the names of the people who colluded to falsify testimony against Wilson. Three of the prosecutorial team went on to become judges. Let’s look, in our next post, at this group of dishonorable honorables.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Bollettino

"If the accused says that she is innocent and falsely accused, and that she wishes to see and hear her accusers, then it is a sign that she is asking to defend herself. But it is an open question whether the Judge is bound to make the deponents known to her and bring them to confront her face to face. For here let the Judge take note that he is not bound either to publish the names of the deponents or to bring them before the accused, unless they themselves should freely and willingly offer to come before the accused and lay their depositions in her presence And it is by reason of the danger incurred by the deponents that the Judge is not bound to do this. For although different Popes have had different opinions on this matter, none of them has ever said that in such a case the Judge is bound to make known to the accused the names of the informers or accusers (but here we are not dealing with the case of an accuser). On the contrary, some have thought that in no case ought he to do so, while others have thought that he should in certain circumstances.
But, finally, Bonifice VIII decreed as follows: If in a case of heresy it appear to the Bishop or Inquisitor that grave danger would be incurred by the witnesses of informers on account of the powers of the persons against whom they lay their depositions, should their names be published, he shall not publish them. But if there is no danger, their names shall be published just as in other cases. -- Malleus Maleficarum, "The Hammer of Witches"

Badly formed categories create deformed acts.

As we wrote in the last post, the motive for Libyan acquiescence in purging itself of WMD has been much discussed,. Either the Iraqi invasion scared Khadaffi, or Khadaffi was already at the negotiating table, forced to it by the sanctions. Libya had already made moves to conciliate the West over Lockerbie before the invasion of Iraq, so there’s a lot to be said for the latter position. On the other hand, there’s nothing like a crude show of force to make an aging dictator wet his pants. And so on.

However, there’s an air of unreality about the whole discussion. Libya doesn’t need an atom bomb at the moment, but it would like, awfully, an influx of a couple billion dollars worth of “conventional” weaponry. The insistence on distinguishing between WMD and other weapons has the effect of allowing other weapons to be sold. These other weapons have been, overwhelmingly, the cause of mass destruction since Hiroshima. The casualty list is in the tens of millions. There’s been no mention at all of Libya’s recent history in all the reports about Libya’s offer. Naturally – how dare a country like Libya even have a history! But, in spite of the American idea that the rest of the world’s history is like tv – it only happens when we turn it on – history is going on even when the screen is dark and our studios are asleep. Libya has every reason at the moment to prefer the buying of tanks to the creating of an atom bomb. There is the non-report, in this country, of Libya’s aggression in Mauritania; Libya has caused trouble with its neighbors before, invading Chad, defeating an Egyptian army, etc., etc. Again, one would think that an administration that has pretended to be concerned about guarding Iraq’s neighbors from an aggression that wasn’t even on the horizon, in the case of Saddam H., would be alert to the aggression that is actually happening in Libya. But that would be to put too much faith in the propagandists who run the Pentagon. Still, this, one would think, would come up, be part of the news discussion at some point. Our bet is that it will … in two or three years from now. On page E, in some Sunday section of some paper, pigeonholed jovially as just one of those unexpected consequences.

And that’s an old history in itself. Paper’s are definitely not for connecting.

Right before Christmas, part of the Libya story, and part of our own history itself, became detached from the lock of the status quo. That’s always interesting. Edwin Wilson, who, with much fanfare, took a fifty year sentence for selling Khadaffi weapons in 1982, was partly vindicated in an appeals court in Houston in November, with the judge making particularly nasty comments about the prosecutorial team that withheld from Wilson the knowledge that an affadavit they had procured from the CIA stating that Wilson had no contact with the agency after he left it in 1971 was fraudulent, and had been found to be so by the CIA itself, and had been known to be so by the prosecutors themselves, whose willful concealment of this knowledge put a man in prison for thirty years.

It is a sign of the times that this decision was greeted by an editorial in the Washington Post that had the craftsmanship of the kind of thing Pravda used to spin out for Brezhnev. In other words, it was intellectually vacuous, morally vicious, and terminally silly. It isn’t surprising that the WP is now a fairly conservative paper. The D.C. establishment has been Republican since the Reagan years. It would be as odd for the W.P. to be out of synch with the Industry as it would be for the Los Angeles Times to diss the Oscars. However, the WP has a record of investigating the ways of power, and that is something it has to preserve, since the core of its identity is wrapped up in the various myths of Watergate and such. However, the Wilson case has always stuck in the WP’s craw. We’ve gone back and read what the papers said at the time of Wilson’s arrest and trial, in 1981 and 1982. The NYT was surprisingly hard hitting about the evidence for a CIA-Libya connection – while the WP confined itself to a few articles that did not, as they say, move the story along. It was obviously a story that, even at the time, the Post did not want to see moved along. This editorial exhibits that spirit of inertia and face-saving:

Thursday, November 13, 2003; Page A30


FOR THE PAST two decades, Edwin Paul Wilson has been a kind of prototype of a rogue intelligence operative. The former CIA officer was convicted in a series of trials in the 1980s of illegally selling arms and explosives to Libya -- and, after he was lured back to face trial, of seeking to have prosecutors and key witnesses killed. Mr. Wilson's defense on the arms-dealing crimes was simple: He was still working for the agency, he claimed, and the deals were a means of securing intelligence, which he then passed on. His high living and cozying up to Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi were merely cover. He was no rogue but a patriot.

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Wilson's success in marketing this theory to judges and juries has been limited, because the evidence is overwhelming that he is, as the government alleges, a vicious, self-serving thug. But recently a federal judge in Texas threw out one of Mr. Wilson's convictions in particularly animated and angry language. In the main, the decision by U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes seems a justified response to astonishing prosecutorial misconduct that cries out for investigation. But Judge Hughes does not stop there. He seems as well to validate the substance of the former spy's trial defense and even compares him to Japanese Americans interned during World War II. Such victimhood Mr. Wilson's history will not bear."

Etc. Etc.

The toady's distinction between a rogue and a patriot -- as if they were mutually exclusive categories -- comes right out of the era of Joseph McCarthy. What is suprising about the WP editorial is that it doesn't at all grapple with the consequences of Wilson's trial -- consequences that are very D.C.-centric. After all, Lynn Hughes has all but accused a retired federal judge on the most prestigious federal court, the DC Federal District court, of colluding in a felony. One would think that this would stir even the lizard like blood that flows in the veins of the Post Editorial staff. Well, it doesn't. From this editorial, you would never know that the 'one" of the convictions thrown out by the court was the main one, and that it has the effect of freeing him. The DoJ quietly folded, December 23rd, announcing that they wouldn't appeal the case. It is, eminently, the type of case that could burn too many fingers, now, if it is fully disputed in another trial. But not to worry -- in our next post, LI will engage with this and other issues. Where the Post fears to tread, we will tread -- with spike healed boots.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Bollettino

'But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth. – Matthew 6.3

268. Why can't my right hand give my left hand money? -- My right hand can put it into my left hand. My right hand can write a deed of gift and my left hand a receipt. -- But the further practical consequences would not be those of a gift. When the left hand has taken the money from the right, etc., we shall ask: "Well, and what of it?" And the same could be asked if a person had given himself a private definition of a word; I mean, if he has said the word to himself and at the same time has directed his attention to a sensation. – Wittgenstein

The philosopher treats a question like an illness. – Wittgenstein.

The disarmament of Libya is the latest episode in the preposterous policies generated by the bogus classification, “weapons of mass destruction.” The moniker applies, ironically, to weapons that have very rarely been implicated in mass destruction. The Uzi, the tank, the bomber – these very vendable items, of course, aren’t weapons of mass destruction. Rather, with its right hand, the West has stocked every country that could afford it with a supply of such things. That right hand has been busy, as even a cursory look at the arms sales totals could tell you. It is here, especially, that the 9/11 lie – the lie that 9/11 ‘changed everything’ – is stripped of its plausibility. While political factions in America throw charges of lying at each other, they both are comfortable with the structural lie, the one that kept Bush 1 and Clinton in the arms sales business, and that keeps Bush 2 there too. And the Swedes, Brits, French, Germans … let’s not leave out anybody. The Russians, of course, primus inter pares.

Ah, but then we have the sweep of the punitive left hand, disarming rock n roll tyrants like Khaddafi and putting all the editorial writers of the NYT to sleep with sweet dreams. Wittgenstein once advised that the philosopher’s method for solving his problems should be to go out and look. So let’s go out and look at this curious phenomena. What was behind the news from Libya?

There was hardly any reporting about the recent summit between EU countries and the Maghrebian Union – which ideally consists of Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania, Libya and Tunisia – that was held to discuss illegal immigration and the strengthening of economic ties between the EU and the MU in early December. L’humanite – the commie newspaper with the greatest slogan in the world – covered it and emphasized that here, as elsewhere, economic competition is foreshadowing political: the MU is considering a proposal by the United States for the creation of a free trade zone there:

“ For the EU, it’s a question of accelerating the European ties of the Maghreb by way of the Maghrebian Arab Union, which is currently out of order due to the conflict in Western Sahara. And it is doubtless not a coincidence that Colin Powell is undertaking a trip in these three countries on the eve of the opening of the 5+5 summit. America has proposed to the three countries of the Maghreb a project tied to a free trade zone that is being called Esenstat, with an inaugural injection of seven billion dollars, which is more than is being proposed by the EU in the framework of the euromediterranian partnership for the dozen countries of the South Mediterranean. Morroco, sweetened by the American offer, was on the point of making a step before France applied pressure to dissuade it. “

As we pointed out in our last post, Powell’s trip also had to do with securing a truce in Sudan – one that will allow the IMF to finance the building of an oil producing infrastructure.

In this framework, Libya giving up its laughable nuclear capacity is being taken as a sign of disarmament. We suspect that, long term, this is really a move to re-arm – to buy all the conventional weapons that Khaddafi longs for, and that the EU and the US longs to sell him. It has, after all, been a moneymaker in the past. Libya’s interest is not to regain some international stature – it is to keep up with its neighbors, to which it has been hostile in the past. In fact, recently Khaddafi has been stirring up coups in Mauretania. This, of course, without using the weapons of mass destruction – weapons of conventional destruction will do very nicely, thank you very much. So much for the tie between WMD and aggressive behavior.

As the news of the Libyan disarmament scheme came out, to the heartening of the short term memory loss Bushie crowd (the usual suspects: Christopher Hitchens, the Washington Post, etc. etc.), another news item, also reported by Humanite, was lost in the shuffle: on Christmas eve, the expected summit of the five Maghrabian nations was cancelled. Ostensibly, this was due to further disputes between Algeria and Morocco over Western Sahara. It was also due to Khaddafi’s recent coupmongering in Mauretania -- the kind of aggressive behavior that we are supposedly punishing. But also, the kind of behavior that requires conventional arms. To go to arms Kandyland, you have to promise Daddy not to, never to, no no no to develop nuclear weapons. And then, being a good little boy, you get your pick of tanks and fighters. It is a good deal, and just look at the mass destruction it causes! Why, it is better than those silly old Hiroshima era weapons anyway!

The current situation with regards to arms sales is that they are up, very up. This is due to the right hand. World Policy institute, which tracks the international arming, issued a report last year from which we take these grafs:

“Eager to reward and reinforce America’s allies in the war on terrorism, the U.S. has stepped up military assistance to allies old and new. The State Department and International Affairs budget request for FY 2003 is $25.4 billion, up $1.4 billion from last year. While the numbers pale in comparison to the Pentagon budget, security assistance has increased substantially. Furthermore, restrictions on military aid and arms transfers to regimes involved in human rights abuses, support for terrorism, or nuclear proliferation were lifted for a number of countries in exchange for their support in the administration’s war on terrorism.
Economic Support Fund (ESF) allocations are provided on a grant basis and are available for a variety of economic purposes, like infrastructure and development projects. Although not intended for military expenditure, these grants allow the recipient government to free up its own money for military programs. Foreign Military Financing (FMF) grants and loans must be used by the recipient nation to purchase U.S. defense-related items--a nice boost for U.S. defense contractors. International Military Education and Training grants are given to foreign governments to pay for professional education in military management and technical training on U.S. weapons systems.”

Of course, no reporter worth his place at the table was going to refer to such things when Bush was making his speech in praise of democracy this fall. The American left, of course, has adopted a rather silly rhetorical program of pointing out other dangerous, hostile regimes whose countries we haven’t invaded – such as North Korea. Actually, we have positively invaded, with our grants and our weaponry, many places, like Pakistan and Morocco, in the hopes of reinforcing the anti-democratic forces with which we are allied. The American left’s inexplicable whipping up of indignation over our sins of omission has pretty much abandoned the internal curbs on our numerous sins of commission. Such are the victories for the bad guys.

In another post, we want to continue with Libya’s arming – and in particular the nice coincidence of two news stories – one, the Khadaffi announcement, and two, the less noticed freeing of Edwin Wilson, the supposedly rouge CIA operator who did his best to arm Libya in the seventies and eighties, and was imprisoned for it, despite his claim that it was a CIA approved operation.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Bollettino

A peace agreement in Sudan was quietly heralded in Western presses this week. The Financial Times reported it like this on Friday:

"People would like to go back. So we are waiting now for peace." The speaker is Wol Amuk Guot, acknowledged chief of a sector of Wad al-Bashir, a camp for internally displaced persons outside Khartoum. He comes from southern Sudan, where six of his children live. He has not watched them grow up, and has not seen his mother for 14 years

An end to Sudan's 20-year war between the Arab Muslim government in Khartoum and rebels from the mostly animist and Christian south is now tantalisingly close. How many of these long-term refugees will be on the move again nobody can tell.

The war, one of the longest and costliest in African history, is reckoned to have claimed 2m lives and to have uprooted 4m people like these, making Sudan's population of IDPs - or internally displaced persons - the largest in the world. Fighting this year in a separate conflict in the western Darfur region, bordering Chad, is thought to have displaced at least another 600,000 people. More than 500,000 others are refugees in neighbouring countries.”

Nowhere has the curse of oil been as horrible as Sudan. It is the curse that is behind this peace – the main southern Sudanese militia, Sudan People's Liberation Movement, wants to share in the oil wealth with the Islamicist government. This curious workmanship of this agreement is the result of a number of different pressures. There is, as the major factor, oil. The oil comes from the South, which is Christian and animist, and goes to an elite in the North, which is military and Islamicist. That elite also condones the slave trade that sells Southerners to households in Khartoum. In the South, there’s a rebel authority that is as handy with the tools of massacre and torture as any Northern army. Between the two of them, an agreement has been jimmied up and blessed by the International Monetary Fund.
These are shadows and portents of something bad under the surface, a sharing of booty among various violent oligarchs, who attach as accepted costs to the sucking up of petrol by the giant American, European and, now, Chinese and Indian concerns. That tiers-mondialisme that was supposed to operate as a third force? Forget it. The Indians and Chinese are as willing as the Americans and the French to press oil profits out of African flesh and blood.

From Lord of the flies we go to a democracy of flies, a globalisation of flies. Of course, the slaving goes on; the impoverishment of the already impoverished goes on; the pushing of Africa into ever deeper pits goes on; and the engines in a million cars turn over morning after morning.

The latest deal is for a new constitution, power sharing between Garang and the Northern government, and a referendum, six years from now, on succession for the South. It isn’t hard to see that this deal is going to be violated. One diplomat interviewed by the FT calls it more like a prolonged truce. One does wonder whether the truce will be animated by a coalition force directed against the rebels on the Chad border. Truces are only stages to further violence in Sudan’s post-colonial history.

The World Today has a nice backgrounder on the whole thing by Jemera Rone, who is attached to the Human Rights Watch. She points to the role of Christian pressure groups on the Bush people, who sent John Danforth as an envoy to Sudan to try to negotiate this settlement. The Troika of the U.S., Norway and Norway have been persistent about getting the talks going, and hammering out some agreement. But as Rone points out,

“One of the main controversies is that only the main two fighting forces are party to the talks; neither was chosen in free and fair elections. Northern political parties, which repeatedly won elections in democratic times, and southern militia leaders threaten that as long as they are excluded, the agreement will be no more than a pact between 'two dictators' - which they are not obliged to recognise.”

This dovetails with the peace treaty’s central problem:

“Also controversial is the absence of any provision for human rights accountability. The Troika has not made serious accountability or truth proposals, and the parties - which have terrible human rights records - do not want to end up in jail. But this would be a big step backward from other recent African agreements providing some form of justice at war's end, or at the very least, disclosure.

Indeed, one of the chief causes of the war's persistence and spread beyond the south - to central Sudan in the 1980s, the east in the 1990s, and the west this year - is that the ruling Islamist-military party does not respect diversity among Muslims and Arabs, much less the country's African majority. There are gross abuses of the rights of the majority. If the government could abandon its central programme of Islamising and Arabising the people and agree to real multi-party democracy and human rights, peace might have a chance.”

The whole depressing saga of the poisonous alliance between oil and the Sudanese government’s policy of massacre as a twisted sort of land reform is detailed on the Human Rights Watch site, here.




Wednesday, December 24, 2003

When LI was on hiatus this summer in Portland, we spent a day hiking with L., our friend and an associate of ex – Microsoft exec, billionaire telecommunications wizard Paul Allen. L., like many of the people who are close to “Paulie,” as she teasingly calls him, is on a program to read the great novels. She was just coming off of Anna Karenina. I told her that the greatest female character in 19th century European lit, as far as I was concerned, was Anna Ozores, the Judge’s wife at the center of La Regenta.

L. had not heard of La Regenta. This didn’t surprise us. LI would never have read La Regenta either, or heard of it, if we didn’t have a habit of trolling the aisles of libraries, our shoulders hunched up like that of an old crow, dreamily pulling tomes off the shelf and looking at first paragraphs, blurbs, pictures of authors, etc. etc. Years ago, when we came upon La Regenta, we were in the mood for a long 19th century novel. At that time, believe it or not, we were living in utter poverty (gasp!), renting a room for a pittance from our friend H. That La Regenta was a long novel was all the reason we needed to check it out and take it home. We have a lovely memory of reading the book in great big gulps: a reel of reading, a continuum, a glide down a slide. We immediately grouped Anna with Nana in terms of overpowering sexiness. But Clarin, unlike Zola, was not in the habit of drooling over his heroine. In fact, Anna is quite intelligent; Nana merely has the intelligence God would have given to any more than usually shrewd member of the 19th century demi-monde. Purge the odor of sex around Nana, and you have an operator, a nineteenth century capitalist of her own extraordinary pussy, whose vital instincts have merged with the utilitarian calculus preferred by the laissez faire economists of the time in much the way any captain of industry’s did. Her industry was orgasm, Carnegie’s was steel. Same diff.

However, we had not returned to the novel since those golden times. L. informed us, a month ago, that the book was out of print. How shocking and stupid of Penguin. We decided, over the holiday, to treat ourselves to the novel once again.

The edition we are reading was put out by University of Georgia Press. Warning: it carries a completely bogus introduction by the translator, John Rutherford. The innocent reader, stumbling into the intro, might flee from the book entirely to escape the babbitry in which Rutherford so abounds. After congratulating Leopoldo Alas, aka Clarin, for having anticipated Freud (it was the fashion, back in the sixties and seventies, to take anything anyone said about sex before Freud to be valuable insofar as it anticipated Freud, or quaint insofar as it disagreed with him – Freud being to sex what Edison was to illumination), Rutherford reaches the very zenith of platitudes with the following sentence: ‘But thanks to its universal themes, psychological insight and technical boldness, it [the novel] has proved itself to be worthy of the attention of modern men and women.’

Oh, what bliss, to be worthy of the attention of modern men and women! The heart sings like a robin… A poisoned robin.

Too much of that kind of thing makes one wonder if the translation is going to be any good. Ignorant of Spanish, we can’t vouch for its accuracy – but it achieves a consistent tone well above the introduction’s heady sampling of Rutherfordism. And there aren’t big mistakes in the English – a state of affairs that is rare, nowadays. It is amazing, the carelessness of publishers who publish translations. This is a subject we have had plenty of reviewing experience of. Ça suffit…

We are happy to note that we hold to our original judgment: La Regenta kicks Anna Karenina’s ass.

The only way to justify this would be to go through the novel at much greater length than we have time for. Instead, let’s excerpt a paragraph.

Here’s the context. Anna Ozores is the daughter of an Italian dressmaker and a petty liberal aristocrat. The seamstress dies, the petty liberal aristocrat gives himself over to the struggle to remake Spain, and then retires in disgust in a small bungalow, having shot his inherited wad. On his death, Anna, who is a scrawny teen in the throes of her first menses, is taken in by her two spinster aunts in Vetusta, a backwards cathedral town. Her aunts intentionally “plump” Anna up – and she cooperates, realizing that her aunts want to make her “eligible.” Since she doesn’t have money, her ‘eligibility’ will have to consist of her blue blood – mention of the dressmaker is under strict rature – and her beauty, which in due time blossoms. Anna is one of those 19th century beauties – poitrine a la Nana, haunches like J-Lo. That Anna has a knack for writing is discovered by the aunts, and firmly suppressed as a vice. And so the aunts put her on the market, so to speak. They catch a millionaire, an ‘American’ who has returned to Vetusta and wants to buy the biggest house and the town beauty. Anna refuses. She is being courted, at this time, by an older man, Don Victor Quintanas. This is the description of her aunt Anuncia’s receiving Anna’s refusal of the millionaire. The scene is set in the dining room. There’s a fire in the fire place – otherwise, the room, one presumes, is not illuminated. The aunts have their little ways to save money:

“But Dona Anuncia needed no more to let loose the basilisk of fury which she carried in her bowels. Her shadow, amidst all the other shadows on the wall, at times resembled that of a gigantic witch; at other times, multiplied by the flickering flames and the old woman’s jerks and contortions, it represented all hell let loose. There were moments when Dona Anuncia’s shadow had three heads on the wall and three or four others on the ceiling, and it seemed that screams and shrieks were coming from all of them, so strident were her vociferations.”

Obviously, Alas is fusing, here, a memory of Goya’s Caprichios and a motif out of European folklore to create this scene – but how brilliantly it succeeds! LI has found that arguments are extremely hard to depict in fiction. As any rookie knows, modifications of “said’ are always rather iffy – yelled, vociferated, sarcastically observed, shrieked, cried – the lexicon is there, but the effects fall short of the intensity one wishes to convey, as though one were playing the keys of a piano in which the wires had been cut. The shadow play, here, supplies a context that does everything: merges the economics of marriage to a primal scene of cannibalism; caps the whole extended metaphor of plumping Anna up – a metaphor that creates, on one end, sympathy for a woman who is, after all, simply eating, and on the other end, transforms the cooks into monsters; and finally, it gives us a sense of just how close Anna is to that soap bubble film separating perception from hallucination. This quality is at the heart of her poetic talent. It is also at the heart of her downfall.

We could go on…

Just one other thing. We’ve mentioned this before – in fact, one of our first posts, back in 01, was about this. The relation between time and suspense in novels has never really been spelled out to our satisfaction. A novel in which a man is depicted borrowing money has installed a timer in its code – the timer is the debt. Time will be measured by the debt coming due. Time spatializes itself in the actions of the indebted man – the axe he finds to get rid of the pawnbroker from whom he has borrowed sums, the marriage he intends with the rich merchant’s daughter, etc., etc. There are all sorts of timers in the novel’s code. Here we see metaphor acting as a timer – the plumping out process has to end, for one thing – Anna can’t become too fat. She has to achieve a healthy avoidupois. For another, since this is a plumping up, the timer is running on the aunts. Eventually, they have to make good on their side of the metaphor – they have to become the monsters that plump up humans, that feed on human flesh. It is an agricultural metaphor, indicating an agricultural original sin – the slaughtering of the fed beast. Since feeding is, after all, a gift, one of the great founding gifts of society, to feed and then to slaughter is a contradiction that sets in motion a whole exculpatory ethic.

We could go on…



Bollettino

LI recommends the new weblog, The Loom, by a science writer, Carl Zimmer. We especially recommend this piece on William Hamilton, who is one of LI’s favorite intellectuals of the last fifty years. Zimmer reports that Hamilton, who died (as Zimmer does not distract himself to explain, died -- beginning of excursus -- while trying to find support for the thesis about AIDs propounded by Ed Hooper in The River – a thesis that has been ‘disproven’ only to the extent that Hooper’s extended point, which is that AIDS was actually activated by a polio serum, is probably wrong – but that it was spread by that serum remains, to our mind, a startlingly good thesis – end of excursus) in 2000, had been working on a theory about why leaves turn red and yellow in the fall. The larger details of the theory are here.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Bollettino

"The IMAGINATION, then, I consider as primary, or secondary. The primary imagination I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human PERCEPTION, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of CREATION in the infinite I AM. The secondary I consider as an echo of the former, coexisting with the conscious will, yet still identical with the primary in the kind of its cogency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of its operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates,in order to recreate; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still, at all event, it struggles to idealize and to unify." -- Coleridge

A week ago, my best bud and alter ego, D., sent me a news item from the NYT. The item was about Sharon’s speech. The speech didn’t surprise me. Sharon proposed that the Wall would be the basis for a line between Israel and Palestine. There was nothing unexpected in this, if you know Sharon’s history. D. was indignant, to the extent he ever gets indignant.

This, too, wasn’t unexpected. All my lefty friends at one time or another get indignant about Israel. When Israel bombs a refugee camp and kills Palestinian kids, they get red thinking about what a criminal state it is. When Palestinian kids blow up Israeli kids, they get suddenly rational: it is only a matter of the just struggle for the liberation of Palestine, blah blah blah.

I have experienced the other side too, from people who seem to think that the Palestinians should conveniently vanish, like the Cherokees or the Tasmanians. A couple of years ago, in L.A. I was having lunch with two friends, and one of them began a long rant about what a pissy character Yassar Arafat is, and how he bungled the chance for peace in 2000. Etc. The guy’s gripe was the idea of Return – that Arafat supported the right to return of Palestinians who were evicted from their land. This would make more sense if Israel didn’t also have an extensive policy giving French or Russian or Greenland Jews a right to Return – and dumping them in settlements on Palestinian land.

Now, Israel doesn’t excite my passions in quite this way. I see, on the left, the displacement of the Palestinians provoking tears and fellow travelers, martyrs that put themselves in the path of bulldozers, etc. etc. Where is the indignation about, say, the Arabization of Kirkuk, or the slave raids on Southern Sudanese Christian tribes? To mention only two examples. These, apparently, are indignations best left to specialists. On the right, of course, there has been this odd conjunction between the traditional anti-semitic Christians and the neo-cons. To criticize Israel, or not even Israel, but Sharon’s Israel, is to commit the blood crime of anti-semitism.

We can all get indignant, one way or another, about Israel.

I’ve written about Israel before. My position is well known. It is crystal, ahem, clear. It is, uh (where’d I put those notes?) the position of conscience (hey, did you hear the one about the rabbi, the rabbit and the priest? Oh, another time…) of an independent intellectual proud … did I say proud? Conscience, yeah I said conscience. Okay, drum roll please…

Okay, I don’t have a position about Israel. I have several, and some contradict each other.

That Israel unjustly drove out the Palestinians, or many Palestinians, seems beyond a doubt. That this founding act of violence was succeeded by the creation of a viable state seems beyond a doubt. There are many things to like about Israel. Other states have engulfed aid in amounts as huge as Israel’s, and the aid has basically swollen bank accounts in Switzerland. Israel, perhaps because the original founders preserved the old Socialist ethics, never went that route. All things being equal, Tel Aviv should be, to the Middle East, what Beirut was to it in the fifties – the financial center of the world. This is due, in part, to Israel bombing the shit out of Beirut in the eighties. And so it goes, ethical/dialectical tic tac toe.

I don’t think a treaty will bring peace to Israel or Palestine, although it will be a start. Rather, a more essential change has to happen.

That Israel, unlike other states in the post-colonial world, was expressly the product of the same European romantic nationalism that produced Germany and Italy (and failed to produce Scotland and Corsica) is the heart of the fascination of the place, and its current dilemma.

Bracket the violence. Bracket the struggle between Israel and Palestine. Even if you have a strong Marxist belief that the essence of the state emerges from struggle, it is still distinct from that struggle. What I think has been lost, in the talk of peace treaties and suicide bombers, is the question: what is Israel?

In 1949, Israel was pretty clearly the homeland of the Jews. But is that true in 2003? Is Israel forever identical to the homeland of the Jews?

There’s a story in the NYT today that presents this question under the guise of comedy. There is a small tribe in India that apparently embraced Judaism in the twentieth century. Their own story is that they are descendents of a lost tribe. So there is an organization, Amishav, who sponsor them. The Indians are dumped in Palestinian territories and given lessons in Hebrew. Between bouts of incomprehensible teaching, there is always kosher curry.

This is funny. It is also cruelly sad.

The reality of Israel is that its success as a state has distanced it from its status as a symbolic object. As a state, Israel is populated by Israelis, not Jews. But that state is still dependent on its symbolism – dependent on a world wide Jewish community’s feeling for Israel as a homeland of the Jews. A homeland that that world wide community, in the U.S., France, Canada, Italy, etc., has no intention, by and large, of moving to.

In other words, Israel, the state, wears a mask. The mask is that Israel is the homeland of the Jews. The mask is suffocating the state.

Masks and Powers, a well known essay by Africanist Elizabeth Tonkin, fleshes out this metaphor in a fruitful way.

Tonkin goes to the quote from Coleridge I’ve given at the head of this post to distinguish two levels of the imagination. Corresponding to those levels, there are two kinds of analyses of masks. Her analysis of masks is connected to her field work in Africa, where the mask connects up to ancestral spirits. The mask event, as she calls it, requires that there be a sense of the dead captured by the mask; that there be a position open in the semantic field for the non-masked; and that the dead have power:

Here is a fascinating passage. Note -- Tonkin capitalizes Mask to mean something like a mask with a spirit:

"Every Mask is part of an event, which can only be intelligible when understood as a performance with complex interactions between Masks and non-maskers. Indigenous explanations show that these are seen either as the actions of power or as the actions needed for its production. Power, all reporters agree, resides in the Mask (and often also in the mask on its own). The Mask is the exponent of power, which is manifested in all its actions – not just those which may be deemed instrumental exerting ‘social control’ to express power is to make power."

Masks events collect around rites of passage. As Tonkin puts it, they are metaphors-in-action, “transform[ing] events themselves of mediat[ing] between structures.” Mauss, the thinker with whom Tonkin is in dialogue in this piece, claimed that the mask was the genealogical precursor of the soul concept. Mauss was impressed by the connection between masking and the dead – that the spirits of the dead are re-produced, reborn, in the mask. Tonkin questions the generalizability of Mauss’ insight, but she, too, affirms the connection between the mask and the dead.

These remarks point to the violent energy contained in the mask of the Jewish homeland. The dead, here, are the dead of the holocaust. There’s no getting around that. But there is also no getting around the fact that the mask, perpetuating a rite de passage, an intermediate structure by which the dead are escaped, has taken over the face of the living. This, in our opinion, is the real loss to Israel of being led -- held captive, entranced -- by one of the great spirits of the Mask: Sharon.

We have other things to say about this topic, but we’ve maundered on, typically, too long.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Bollettino

It’s rare to find every ideological position LI is allergic to on display in one article, but the NYT Magazine’s John Tierney comes close. The utopian conservative dream of an Iraq that is democratic (but without elections), that is prosperous (without a social net, and with a seventy percent unemployment rate), and that is, above all, privatized to the gills – this is what the Douglas Feiths and Paul Wolfowitzes of the world have been working towards.

The heroic unit in the piece is a business family led by Nader and Wathiq Hindo who have come back from exile in the States to make potloads in Iraq. That you can make potloads always seems to astonish American journalists, but it would be a familiar situation to anyone who lived through the liberalization of the economy in any Latin American country. While most of the country, which wipes the baby’s ass, mends the roads, serves the chickpeas, and so on, struggles under the twin burdens of unemployment and inflation, the segment of the country in whom Americans find their own lifestyle mirrored suddenly can afford vacations and digital toys, as the money floods in, either from immense foreign loans or from the sales of public properties -- sales that always go awry. In this case, it is a much juicier cash stream, direct from our government. Nothing is as sweet as 165 billion of Federal money. And so the Hindo family has attached itself, diverting a little stream to its own businesses. Voila, wealth.

Discovering these mirror Americans, the journalist typically emits tears of joy in the Washington Post, or NYT – and five years later there is a running series of backstories about collapsing governments and World Bank loans.
The crucial grafs are on the fifth page of the piece. Tierney quotes an obvious favorite, Zakaria, who has been a staunch defender of holding elections in places like Iraq in the year 2121, or some such time, after the healthful wash of free enterprise ideology has rooted out the dissatisfied and given everyone a cell phone for Christmas. Here, we think, is the heart of the American case, and the American dilemma:

''Iraq's civil society is so weak and decimated that there's a great danger of a new state abusing its power,'' says Larry Diamond, a political scientist at the Hoover Institution and co-editor of the journal Democracy. He, Zakaria and other experts say it would be better to wait at least two or three years, or ideally as long as five, before holding national elections. Such a delay is probably impractical, but it would suit at least one bourgeois family in Baghdad.

During a rare moment off from their many enterprises, Nader and his parents sit around the conference table at their office debating when Iraq should hold national elections.

''Maybe in a couple of years,'' Nader says. ''We need Iraqi administrators to guarantee stability and contracts and property rights, but until we develop parties that are based on ideas instead of religion or ethnicity, we should hold off on elections.''

''Five years,'' his father says. ''That's enough time for a new generation to go through college.''

''Never,'' Nader's mother says, and it's hard at first to tell if she's kidding.

''Well, someday,'' Nidhal says, ''but I can't imagine when. People here have been through so much turmoil they're just not ready to vote.''

The “Never” obviously startles Tierney. The mirror Americans seem so … American. The maids, the rubber plants, the SUVs, the English, the jokes, the M.B.A.s, it all seems so refreshingly familiar and then… and then they emit some opinion that sounds like something some German businessman in 1938 would say about needing a strong hand to crack down on the Bolsheviks and Jews. There’s that small, telling crack in the mirror.

But isn't that why the Tierneys are there? The whole goal of mainstream American journalism is to make sure we don’t see the cracks in the mirror, even if the journalist can't quite hide it, that eerie sensation that the cracks make on him or her. And so, what better reference with which to finish off this post than Freud, god bless him, who explained the dialectically necessary return of the repressed in one of his great essays, Die Unheimliche. Read it -- in English, children, in English -- here.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Bollettino


The Washington Post reports on the Ashcroft version of ethnic cleansing – arresting anybody named Mohammed – that was allowed after 9/11. Many of the detainees were held in a Brooklyn jail and were routinely bounced off walls – meaning rammed into walls, kicked, held in restraints for up to seven hours, and had their conferences with their lawyers illegally taped and eavesdropped upon.

These were charges denied by the officials of the prison – a Federal prison – until a stash of videos were found recording it all. The videos, according to the director of the prison, had been ‘recycled.” During the investigation, prison officials blankly denied the charges. Are these prison officials going to be fired? That’s a good question.

The second and third grafs:

“An investigation by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine also found that officials at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, N.Y., which is run by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, improperly taped meetings between detainees and their lawyers, and used excessive strip searches and restraints to punish those in confinement.
The report concluded that as many as 20 guards were involved in the abuse, which included slamming prisoners against walls and painfully twisting their arms and hands. Fine recommended discipline for 10 employees and counseling for two others who remain employed by the federal prison system. He also said the government should notify the employers of four former guards about their conduct.”

Of course, this is lenient to the point of lunacy. Fine was systematically lied to in his investigation, and the lies lead to the head of the prison, Michael Zenk. Zenk should certainly be fired and charged with assault.

Who is this Zenk, and why are we putting up with him?

He is a big advocate of that torture known as solitary confinement. Last year, he defied a judge’s order to release Peter Gotti from solitary.

There’s a glimpse of the bureaucrat in this account of an Indian man kidnapped by the FBI after 9/11 and stashed in Brooklyn. The man, Mohammad Azmath Jaweed, was taken off a train in Fort Worth, interrogated with the presumption that he was a terrorist, shuffled to Brooklyn with no charges or evidence to justify imprisonment, shackled, thrown against walls, awakened at night in his cell, which was kept perpetually lighted, and subjected to freezing cold – all, as he says, because “The warden used to tell his men not to show us any mercy.” Jaweed, who seems to be an utterly reasonable man, wrote to Zenk about this, and received this reply: “You are under investigation for terrorism. We have information from intelligence agencies you have terrorist links. This is the reason you are kept in solitary confinement.” Not, mind you, because you are being investigated in any particular act of terrorism. Not because of your individual behavior. No, solitary comes out of the accusation that is being investigated – an accusation that could be leveled at anyone.

At, say, Zenk himself, if he was put in prison for the complicity in assault and corruption – not to say that he is guilty of these things. We’d suggest that during the investigation to determine if he is guilty, however, he be put in solitary, shackled, and prevented from sleep. Don't slam him into any walls though! (wink, wink)

As for the system he serves – future Foucault’s might want to peruse this fascinating document, released this summer by the DOJ, full of contradictions and false information, but more importantly full of the most astonishing exculpatory language and classifications. Here, for instance, is the DOJ talking to itself in that inimitable mumble of acronyms that always results in injury and state sponsored terror for someone:
“The BOP initially classified all September 11 detainees it housed as Witness Security, or WITSEC, inmates.91 Witness Security inmates generally are individuals who agree to cooperate with law enforcement, judicial, or correctional authorities by providing evidence against persons or groups involved in illegal activities. Because their cooperation with the Government can place their lives in jeopardy, the BOP takes significant precautions to ensure the safety of WITSEC inmates. Accordingly, any information about WITSEC inmates is closely guarded, such as their identity, location, and status.
Normally, the arresting agency would inform the BOP of the person's status and the need for WITSEC protection, but the BOP classified the detainees in this category without any individual assessment of the circumstances of their arrests.
When applied to the September 11 detainees, the WITSEC classification resulted in MDC officials withholding information about the detainees' status and location.”
Is this clever or what? Witness protection used against witnesses who witnessed nothing, and were protected against their own use of their constitutional rights. Whoever thought this one up would have been promoted quickly in Stalin NKVD: it was just the kind of mindfuck Beria loved.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Bollettino
My previous posts are now up, but they are full of these -- things. I don't know. I'm giving up. Sorry about that. I'm going to write an entirely different post. If you want to know what I wrote before, send me an email at rogerwgathman@yahoo.com, and I'll send it to you.
Bollettino

(These two posts are to be read together)

My friend, H., sent me an article about Leo Strauss and urged me to write a post about it for LI. Unfortunately, I know very little about Leo Strauss, and H. knows so much more that I feel a little ridiculous taking the pontifical chair.

For what it is worth: whenever his adherents quote Mr. Strauss, the words always seem disturbingly shallow – either platitudinous encomiums of Plato and Aristotle, one of the habits of German philosophers that the analytics had the good taste to do away with, or else exhortations that are the starting points for arguments that aren’t, in the event, ever made. I am simply giving you my impression of Strauss – but I admit, I’ve never really seriously read him.


However, I – and everybody else – has read a lot about Straussians. And I do think that there is one strain among the Straussians that exerts an improbable influence on American foreign policy today. Strauss had a great reverence for the American Constitution. He was a man, too, who felt that reading certain canonical texts was identical with thinking – with the discovery of truth itself. It all depended on the density of the reading, the concentration one brought to it. There is an obvious analogy, here, with the way a Judge, ideally, makes a judgment about the application of a law. For the Judge, too, the Constitution is a sort of set of truths – or a set of norms to which the formation of laws and regulations, and their applications, must conform. Perhaps it is this analogy that drew Strauss’s attention to the Constitution. In any case, he was hog wild for the thing, and his followers are, accordingly, also hog wild for the thing. His followers have extended this reverence, in fact, to the very idea of a constitution, in which they have invested a mystical and mystifying enthusiasm that distinguishes them, as a group, from the usual Burkean conservative. Burke was no enthusiast for theorists of Republics. He thought the craze for writing constitutions in his time was symptomatic of the way late Enlightenment thinkers had misunderstood the ‘science of government:” a science that he believed must mirror the natural adaptations of the relations of power and property in a given society. For Burke, the idea of a founding document – some text that exerts an ultimate shaping force upon those relations in a society, creating them, so to speak – is pernicious, mistaking the subservient document for the spirit of the laws. The American constitution did not, in this view, create America. It has, rather, exerted the local influence that such a document could exert upon a society that was organizing itself according to laws that are not meant to be boiled up and listed in a text, like so many items on a menu. America, for the Burkean, made the Constitution.

However, as we can see from the recent mania, among Americans, for writing a constitution in Iraq – a mania that must be puzzling to Iraqis, who have experienced many constitutions, and seen that all of them mysteriously permitted dictators or factions or tribes to do exactly what they wanted in the way of murdering their opponents – Leo Strauss’ enthusiasm is now a semi-official cause of at least one department of the Executive Branch.

To please H., then, we will write about, not Strauss, but Straussians. And, in particular, about a conflict that has sprung up between two noted Straussians, Harvey Mansfeld and Harry Jaffa, over the issue of the Declaration of Independence vs. the Constitution. There’s an essay about the controversy on the Claremont College website, written by Thomas G. West, apparently a student of Jaffa’s.

West’s essay makes the orthodox Straussian moves. First and foremost, the tics are assembled. The tics concern the embattled state of the real thinkers in a world in which the liberal establishment lays down the orthodoxy. This is always good – instead of being a humble thinker, one is an embattled remnant. Myself, I appreciate the dramatic value of this rhetorical penchant. It is just that I have a hard time conceiving of a bunch of tenured profs as the heirs of the Trojan warriors.

If you have an embattled remnant, surely you have a conquering army of evil. For the Straussians, this is the current orthodoxy of liberalism. Which is another way of saying, relativism. Relativism is the enemy.
West begins by asking a good question:

“What were the original principles of the American Constitution? Are those principles true?”

Then we have the inevitable gathering of the tics:

“Many historians and political scientists write about the first question. Scholars are never shy about telling us what happened in the dead-and-gone eighteenth century. But few of them think it is even worth discussing whether the Founders' principles are true. For example, in a review of my book Vindicating the Founders, historian Joseph Ellis accuses me of having committed "sins of presentism." My error, as he cleverly puts it, is believing "that ideas are like migratory birds that can take off in the eighteenth century and land intact in our time." Ellis does not even try to refute the Founders' principles or their arguments, summarized in my book, regarding property rights, women's rights, and welfare policy. For him, it is enough simply to dismiss my endorsement of their arguments and ideas as "bizarre."1 “

Then, the stating of the anti-relativist position:

“But what if some ideas — I mean true ones — really are like migratory birds that can land intact in any century? What if the principles of the founding are as true today as they were two centuries ago?”

So far, there is nothing unusual about the procedure here. The ‘founding” is a little scary, I admit – it makes the Constitutional convention and the rest of it sound like a very select meeting of the Order of the Golden Fleece. However, West makes a good point. If he was really a political philosopher, he might even consider that the point has an obverse side: what if some ideas – I mean true ones – that are current are like migratory birds that can land intact in the eighteenth century? For instance, the idea of the equality of women? But he isn’t a political philosopher – he is a Straussian. They don’t ask such questions.

“Students and admirers of Leo Strauss are among the few political scientists who write seriously about whether the Founders' principles are true. Strauss made this possible by convincing them that political philosophy in the classical sense is possible, that human reason may be capable of discovering the truth about the good society. Anyone who approaches the Founders from this perspective is likely to be open to their way of thinking, which took for granted that reason can figure out the principles of justice by observing and reflecting on the human condition.”

The truth is, everybody appeals to the human condition. Ellis, for example, is certainly appealing to it. His idea is that the human condition can accommodate such leaps that some political principles in the 18th century don’t hold in the 20th century. In fact, however, West isn’t going to argue about historical conditions, or the concrete situations that the human condition, embodied in humans, finds itself in. He is going to turn Straussian on us in his next sentence: “Strauss argued that the principles of classical political philosophers like Plato and Aristotle remain the standard for us today.”

This is the defining characteristic of the Straussian, as far as I can see. The appeal to truth is answered not by observing and reflecting on experience, but by appealing to the masters. The masters encode the human condition for all time.

Now, if we look closely at this habit, we can discern in it a familiar, and fundamental, objection to modernity. The idea that to discover a truth, reason must submit to experience – to the historically concrete event – instead of deriving truth from its own nature is pretty much the basis of the Enlightenment, and certainly the program of the natural “philosophers” of the seventeenth century, from which the positive sciences derive. In a sense, the Age of Reason was all about the dethronement of reason. That dethronement – that elevation of experience, or the Other of Reason – is what made the ‘experimental method’ so revolutionary. Truth, in other words, became dependent on the tests that distinguished what was true from what was false. This was the guiding idea for the eighteenth century’s political anthropology. But this, for the Straussian, is a bad and fatal thing, mixing together the contingent and the absolute. Rather, the truth must be segregated from the historically concrete. Which is why West can begin his essay with an appeal to the truth, and then foreclose on that appeal like this: “When his [Strauss’s] students approach the founding, therefore, they tend to judge it against the standard of the classics.” So much for observing the human condition.

After this prologue, we proceed to the topic, which is a dispute between Harry Jaffa and Harvey Mansfeld about the meaning of equality. This is not a dispute that refers to any recent sociological literature about equality, or takes an analytic approach to it and describes, for instance, the difference between juridical and economic equality. No, in this dispute, the contestants bring out their favorite texts. Jaffa refers to the Declaration of Independence and the speeches of Abraham Lincoln. Mansfeld prefers the Constitution and de Tocqueville.

Roughly, Jaffa maintains that the enforcement of civil equality is a “true’ principle of the human condition, considered from the point of view of politics, and that this truth was expressed by the Declaration of Independence and acted upon, rightly, by Lincoln. Mansfeld maintains that the Declaration of Independence was rightly curbed by the Constitution, and that De Tocqueville righly warns us of the cultural mediocrity attendent upon too much enforcement of civil equality.

Neither of these are bogus positions. What is interesting, however, is that both sides eventually, shyly, have to appeal to something beyond the standard of the classics. Even an anti-modernist philosophy is so infiltrated by the positivist spirit that its arguments are conducted with, well, some acknowledgement of the real consequences of the arguments.

Here, for instance, is Mansfeld by way of West.

“Mansfield argues that Locke, following Machiavelli, believed he had invented a kind of government in which no one really rules. The government never does what it wants; it is always carrying out the will of somebody else, namely, of the people….
But Mansfield says — and he believes he is following Aristotle here — that this hope of nonpartisanship is a vain dream. People will always disagree about the good. Even a regime that is designed to be nonpartisan will turn out to be as partisan as any other. This, Mansfield believes, is the lesson of Tocqueville's Democracy in America, a book that he and his wife, Delba Winthrop, translated. In their introduction, Mansfield and Winthrop call Tocqueville's book "the best book ever written on democracy and the best book ever written on America." According to Tocqueville, as summarized by Mansfield and Winthrop, America is "middle class, thus timid and mediocre, and lacking in both virtue and greatness." It is true that Tocqueville does not scorn this bourgeois way of life in the manner of Rousseau and Stendhal. But he does argue that a democratic nation, in which public opinion dominates, becomes a partisan political regime "without meaning to be." The majority comes to believe in "the infallibility of majority reason." Yet the majority is a "collection of self-consciously weak individuals." The democratic citizen is at once proud of his independence and aware of his weakness. "In this extremity," writes Tocqueville, "he naturally turns his regard to the immense being that rises alone in the midst of universal debasement." Mansfield and Winthrop explain: "The immense being — replacing God — is the state."

This is well done. West explains that Mansfeld sees, in the danger of Leviathan, a solution that emerges accidentally from the Constitution: “The Constitution was written to secure the natural rights named in the Declaration. But once written, it took on a life of its own, independent of the doctrine that gave rise to it. The Constitution, and no longer the principle that "all men are created equal," now became our regime, our arche or principle, our authoritative beginning that shapes and forms us and makes us what we are. We now understand ourselves (or once did), Mansfield argues, as a constitutional people, no longer as a revolutionary people.”

However, under the strain of segregating the truth and the historically concrete, Mansfeld actually buttresses his argument with … history.

“According to Mansfield, the result of this transformation from a natural-rights republic to a constitutional republic is that our politics are much less vulnerable to the kind of destructive moralism that we see in the French Revolution. The French, in Mansfield's view, made the mistake of taking the idea of equality too seriously. They tried to "finish" the modern revolution initiated by Locke and the other adherents of social compact theory. They failed to put an end to their revolution by constitutionalizing it, as the American Founders did. As a result, the French lived out the full destructive implications of the modern doctrine, while the Americans were spared that destruction. In Mansfield's analysis, sober forms take the place of dangerous moral absolutes. That is, the form and formalities of constitutionalism take the place, in America, of insatiable appeals to a standard of "natural rights [held] over the government."14 “

The appeal to the historically concrete rather ruins the Straussian preference for the standards of the classics, because it opens a space for questions deriving from history. In particular, one wants to ask, what about the destructive consequences of the slavery that was legitimated in the Constitution at the “founding”? Americans were not spared that destruction. And if we want to blame the Terror on taking Locke’s contractual notion of the state too seriously, couldn’t we blame the bias towards property, no matter what the cost to the human condition, inscribed in the Constitution for the total violence visited on Afro-Americans? It is here that equality becomes more than merely something deriving from the standards laid down by the classics, since, of course, there are classics and there are classics. Here, for instance, is an excerpt from a classic by one Conneau, published in 1854, entitled “Captain Canot; or, Twenty years an African slaver”

" A few days before the embarkation takes place the head of every male and female are shaven. They are then marked . . . with a hot pipe sufficiently heated to blister the skin. Some [purchasers] use their initials made of silver wire. . . . . this disagreeable operation is done only when several persons ship slaves in one vessel . . . . [The branding] is done as lightly as possible, and just enough for the mark to remain only six months; when and if well done, it leaves the skin as smooth as ever. This scorching sign is generally made on the fleshy part of the arm to adults, to children on the posterior" (Theophilus Conneau, A Slaver's Logbook or 20 Years' Residence in Africa [Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1976), pp. 81-82

Do I discern, in those slave marks, truths that, like birds, have migrated from the 19th century to this one?

I could stop here, and leave the impression that the Straussians are the usual racist pigs. But that wouldn’t be true. It is part of the confusion that surrounds the Straussians that West’s record of the dispute between Mansfeld and Jaffa accommodates the historic experience of slavery. Jaffa, it turns out, has his eyes on the prize. He is against slavery. But, being a Straussian, he can’t make an argument against slavery that doesn’t squeeze the juice from Plato, Aristotle and all the rest of them:

Even if we admit that there is some tiny number of men who are sufficiently godlike that they could be trusted with absolute power without consent, it would still not establish a politically relevant claim. For, Jaffa writes,
Plato's Republic is imaginary precisely because, according to Plato himself, philosophers do not wish to rule, and anyone wishing to rule is not a philosopher. Anyone who asserts a right to rule on the basis of his claim to wisdom is accordingly condemned in advance as a charlatan by philosophy itself. . . . Philosopher-kings are not possible, and genuine philosophers will always prefer a regime of equality under the law.19

Jaffa is saying that the classical argument for government without consent is refuted by the classics themselves, leaving us with the conclusion that the esoteric teaching, as it were, of the classics is that all men are created equal! This paradoxical claim should not perhaps come as a surprise. For Jaffa had said many years ago that according to Aristotle no normal human being is a natural slave.20

And so it goes. There is something comically satisfying about the members of the order of the founding finally coming round to the idea that slavery is bad in 2002, and defending that proposition as the conclusion of the esoteric teaching. As long as it can be interpreted out of Plato and Aristotle, there you have it: the truth.

The Straussians are very American in their anti-modernism. This is the same current of fundamentalism that Mencken had such fun with back in the twenties. The accusation of fascism and the like is wildly off the mark. This stuff is in the American grain. It is the kind of clubjoining, text-quoting thing that delights the Mason, brings tears to the eyes of the A.A. guy reverentially citing the 12 steps, and has always made your average suburban bürger feel a little bit special. Why not? I'm certainly not opposed to this kind of thing...

However, as a guide to the ‘truth,’ this falls well short of the modern philosophical standard

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Bollettino

My friend, H., sent me an article about Leo Strauss and urged me to write a post about it for LI. Unfortunately, I know very little about Leo Strauss, and H. knows so much more that I feel a little ridiculous taking the pontifical chair.

For what it is worth: whenever his adherents quote Mr. Strauss, the words always seem disturbingly shallow – either platitudinous encomiums of Plato and Aristotle, one of the habits of German philosophers that the analytics had the good taste to do away with, or else exhortations that are the starting points for arguments that aren’t, in the event, ever made. I am simply giving you my impression of Strauss – but I admit, I’ve never really seriously read him.


However, I – and everybody else – has read a lot about Straussians. And I do think that there is one strain among the Straussians that exerts an improbable influence on American foreign policy today. Strauss had a great reverence for the American Constitution. He was a man, too, who felt that reading certain canonical texts was identical with thinking – with the discovery of truth itself. It all depended on the density of the reading, the concentration one brought to it. There is an obvious analogy, here, with the way a Judge, ideally, makes a judgment about the application of a law. For the Judge, too, the Constitution is a sort of set of truths – or a set of norms to which the formation of laws and regulations, and their applications, must conform. Perhaps it is this analogy that drew Strauss’s attention to the Constitution. In any case, he was hog wild for the thing, and his followers are, accordingly, also hog wild for the thing. His followers have extended this reverence, in fact, to the very idea of a constitution, in which they have invested a mystical and mystifying enthusiasm that distinguishes them, as a group, from the usual Burkean conservative. Burke was no enthusiast for theorists of Republics. He thought the craze for writing constitutions in his time was symptomatic of the way late Enlightenment thinkers had misunderstood the ‘science of government:” a science that he believed must mirror the natural adaptations of the relations of power and property in a given society. For Burke, the idea of a founding document – some text that exerts an ultimate shaping force upon those relations in a society, creating them, so to speak – is pernicious, mistaking the subservient document for the spirit of the laws. The American constitution did not, in this view, create America. It has, rather, exerted the local influence that such a document could exert upon a society that was organizing itself according to laws that are not meant to be boiled up and listed in a text, like so many items on a menu. America, for the Burkean, made the Constitution.

However, as we can see from the recent mania, among Americans, for writing a constitution in Iraq – a mania that must be puzzling to Iraqis, who have experienced many constitutions, and seen that all of them mysteriously permitted dictators or factions or tribes to do exactly what they wanted in the way of murdering their opponents – Leo Strauss’ enthusiasm is now a semi-official cause of at least one department of the Executive Branch.

To please H., then, we will write about, not Strauss, but Straussians. And, in particular, about a conflict that has sprung up between two noted Straussians, Harvey Mansfeld and Harry Jaffa, over the issue of the Declaration of Independence vs. the Constitution. There’s an essay about the controversy on the Claremont College website, written by Thomas G. West, apparently a student of Jaffa’s.

West’s essay makes the orthodox Straussian moves. First and foremost, the tics are assembled. The tics concern the embattled state of the real thinkers in a world in which the liberal establishment lays down the orthodoxy. This is always good – instead of being a humble thinker, one is an embattled remnant. Myself, I appreciate the dramatic value of this rhetorical penchant. It is just that I have a hard time conceiving of a bunch of tenured profs as the heirs of the Trojan warriors.

If you have an embattled remnant, surely you have a conquering army of evil. For the Straussians, this is the current orthodoxy of liberalism. Which is another way of saying, relativism. Relativism is the enemy.

Let’s turn to the text.

West begins by asking a good question:

“What were the original principles of the American Constitution? Are those principles true?”

Then we have the inevitable gathering of the tics:

“Many historians and political scientists write about the first question. Scholars are never shy about telling us what happened in the dead-and-gone eighteenth century. But few of them think it is even worth discussing whether the Founders' principles are true. For example, in a review of my book Vindicating the Founders, historian Joseph Ellis accuses me of having committed "sins of presentism." My error, as he cleverly puts it, is believing "that ideas are like migratory birds that can take off in the eighteenth century and land intact in our time." Ellis does not even try to refute the Founders' principles or their arguments, summarized in my book, regarding property rights, women's rights, and welfare policy. For him, it is enough simply to dismiss my endorsement of their arguments and ideas as "bizarre."1 “

Then, the stating of the anti-relativist position:

“But what if some ideas — I mean true ones — really are like migratory birds that can land intact in any century? What if the principles of the founding are as true today as they were two centuries ago?”

So far, there is nothing unusual about the procedure here. The ‘founding” is a little scary, I admit – it makes the Constitutional convention and the rest of it sound like a very select meeting of the Order of the Golden Fleece. However, West makes a good point. If he was really a political philosopher, he might even consider that the point has an obverse side: what if some ideas – I mean true ones – that are current are like migratory birds that can land intact in the eighteenth century? For instance, the idea of the equality of women? But he isn’t a political philosopher – he is a Straussian. They don’t ask such questions.

“Students and admirers of Leo Strauss are among the few political scientists who write seriously about whether the Founders' principles are true. Strauss made this possible by convincing them that political philosophy in the classical sense is possible, that human reason may be capable of discovering the truth about the good society. Anyone who approaches the Founders from this perspective is likely to be open to their way of thinking, which took for granted that reason can figure out the principles of justice by observing and reflecting on the human condition.”

The truth is, everybody appeals to the human condition. Ellis, for example, is certainly appealing to it. His idea is that the human condition can accommodate such leaps that some political principles in the 18th century don’t hold in the 20th century. In fact, however, West isn’t going to argue about historical conditions, or the concrete situations that the human condition, embodied in humans, finds itself in. He is going to turn Straussian on us in his next sentence: “Strauss argued that the principles of classical political philosophers like Plato and Aristotle remain the standard for us today.”

This is the defining characteristic of the Straussian, as far as I can see. The appeal to truth is answered not by observing and reflecting on experience, but by appealing to the masters. The masters encode the human condition for all time.

Now, if we look closely at this habit, we can discern in it a familiar, and fundamental, objection to modernity. The idea that to discover a truth, reason must submit to experience – to the historically concrete event – instead of deriving truth from its own nature is pretty much the basis of the Enlightenment, and certainly the program of the natural “philosophers” of the seventeenth century, from which the positive sciences derive. In a sense, the Age of Reason was all about the dethronement of reason. That dethronement – that elevation of experience, or the Other of Reason – is what made the ‘experimental method’ so revolutionary. Truth, in other words, became dependent on the tests that distinguished what was true from what was false. This was the guiding idea for the eighteenth century’s political anthropology. But this, for the Straussian, is a bad and fatal thing, mixing together the contingent and the absolute. Rather, the truth must be segregated from the historically concrete. Which is why West can begin his essay with an appeal to the truth, and then foreclose on that appeal like this: “When his [Strauss’s] students approach the founding, therefore, they tend to judge it against the standard of the classics.” So much for observing the human condition.

After this prologue, we proceed to the topic, which is a dispute between Harry Jaffa and Harvey Mansfeld about the meaning of equality. This is not a dispute that refers to any recent sociological literature about equality, or takes an analytic approach to it and describes, for instance, the difference between juridical and economic equality. No, in this dispute, the contestants bring out their favorite texts. Jaffa refers to the Declaration of Independence and the speeches of Abraham Lincoln. Mansfeld prefers the Constitution and de Tocqueville.

Roughly, Jaffa maintains that the enforcement of civil equality is a “true’ principle of the human condition, considered from the point of view of politics, and that this truth was expressed by the Declaration of Independence and acted upon, rightly, by Lincoln. Mansfeld maintains that the Declaration of Independence was rightly curbed by the Constitution, and that De Tocqueville righly warns us of the cultural mediocrity attendent upon too much enforcement of civil equality.

Neither of these are bogus positions. What is interesting, however, is that both sides eventually, shyly, have to appeal to something beyond the standard of the classics. Even an anti-modernist philosophy is so infiltrated by the positivist spirit that its arguments are conducted with, well, some acknowledgement of the real consequences of the arguments.

Here, for instance, is Mansfeld by way of West.

“Mansfield argues that Locke, following Machiavelli, believed he had invented a kind of government in which no one really rules. The government never does what it wants; it is always carrying out the will of somebody else, namely, of the people….
But Mansfield says — and he believes he is following Aristotle here — that this hope of nonpartisanship is a vain dream. People will always disagree about the good. Even a regime that is designed to be nonpartisan will turn out to be as partisan as any other. This, Mansfield believes, is the lesson of Tocqueville's Democracy in America, a book that he and his wife, Delba Winthrop, translated. In their introduction, Mansfield and Winthrop call Tocqueville's book "the best book ever written on democracy and the best book ever written on America." According to Tocqueville, as summarized by Mansfield and Winthrop, America is "middle class, thus timid and mediocre, and lacking in both virtue and greatness." It is true that Tocqueville does not scorn this bourgeois way of life in the manner of Rousseau and Stendhal. But he does argue that a democratic nation, in which public opinion dominates, becomes a partisan political regime "without meaning to be." The majority comes to believe in "the infallibility of majority reason." Yet the majority is a "collection of self-consciously weak individuals." The democratic citizen is at once proud of his independence and aware of his weakness. "In this extremity," writes Tocqueville, "he naturally turns his regard to the immense being that rises alone in the midst of universal debasement." Mansfield and Winthrop explain: "The immense being — replacing God — is the state."

This is well done. West explains that Mansfeld sees, in the danger of Leviathan, a solution that emerges accidentally from the Constitution: “The Constitution was written to secure the natural rights named in the Declaration. But once written, it took on a life of its own, independent of the doctrine that gave rise to it. The Constitution, and no longer the principle that "all men are created equal," now became our regime, our arche or principle, our authoritative beginning that shapes and forms us and makes us what we are. We now understand ourselves (or once did), Mansfield argues, as a constitutional people, no longer as a revolutionary people.”

However, under the strain of segregating the truth and the historically concrete, Mansfeld actually buttresses his argument with … history.

“According to Mansfield, the result of this transformation from a natural-rights republic to a constitutional republic is that our politics are much less vulnerable to the kind of destructive moralism that we see in the French Revolution. The French, in Mansfield's view, made the mistake of taking the idea of equality too seriously. They tried to "finish" the modern revolution initiated by Locke and the other adherents of social compact theory. They failed to put an end to their revolution by constitutionalizing it, as the American Founders did. As a result, the French lived out the full destructive implications of the modern doctrine, while the Americans were spared that destruction. In Mansfield's analysis, sober forms take the place of dangerous moral absolutes. That is, the form and formalities of constitutionalism take the place, in America, of insatiable appeals to a standard of "natural rights [held] over the government."14 “

The appeal to the historically concrete rather ruins the Straussian preference for the standards of the classics, because it opens a space for questions deriving from history. In particular, one wants to ask, what about the destructive consequences of the slavery that was legitimated in the Constitution at the “founding”? Americans were not spared that destruction. And if we want to blame the Terror on taking Locke’s contractual notion of the state too seriously, couldn’t we blame the bias towards property, no matter what the cost to the human condition, inscribed in the Constitution for the total violence visited on Afro-Americans? It is here that equality becomes more than merely something deriving from the standards laid down by the classics, since, of course, there are classics and there are classics. Here, for instance, is an excerpt from a classic by one Conneau, published in 1854, entitled “Captain Canot; or, Twenty years an African slaver

" A few days before the embarkation takes place the head of every male and female are shaven. They are then marked . . . with a hot pipe sufficiently heated to blister the skin. Some [purchasers] use their initials made of silver wire. . . . . this disagreeable operation is done only when several persons ship slaves in one vessel . . . . [The branding] is done as lightly as possible, and just enough for the mark to remain only six months; when and if well done, it leaves the skin as smooth as ever. This scorching sign is generally made on the fleshy part of the arm to adults, to children on the posterior" (Theophilus Conneau, A Slaver's Logbook or 20 Years' Residence in Africa [Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1976), pp. 81-82

Do I discern, in those slave marks, truths that, like birds, have migrated from the 19th century to this one?

I could stop here, and leave the impression that the Straussians are the usual racist pigs. But that wouldn’t be true. It is part of the confusion that surrounds the Straussians that West’s record of the dispute between Mansfeld and Jaffa accommodates the historic experience of slavery. Jaffa, it turns out, has his eyes on the prize. He is against slavery. But, being a Straussian, he can’t make an argument against slavery that doesn’t squeeze the juice from Plato, Aristotle and all the rest of them:

Even if we admit that there is some tiny number of men who are sufficiently godlike that they could be trusted with absolute power without consent, it would still not establish a politically relevant claim. For, Jaffa writes,
Plato's Republic is imaginary precisely because, according to Plato himself, philosophers do not wish to rule, and anyone wishing to rule is not a philosopher. Anyone who asserts a right to rule on the basis of his claim to wisdom is accordingly condemned in advance as a charlatan by philosophy itself. . . . Philosopher-kings are not possible, and genuine philosophers will always prefer a regime of equality under the law.19

Jaffa is saying that the classical argument for government without consent is refuted by the classics themselves, leaving us with the conclusion that the esoteric teaching, as it were, of the classics is that all men are created equal! This paradoxical claim should not perhaps come as a surprise. For Jaffa had said many years ago that according to Aristotle no normal human being is a natural slave.20

And so it goes. There is something comically satisfying about the members of the order of the founding finally coming round to the idea that slavery is bad in 2002, and defending that proposition as the conclusion of the esoteric teaching. As long as it can be interpreted out of Plato and Aristotle, there you have it: the truth.

The Straussians are very American in their anti-modernism. This is the same current of fundamentalism that Mencken had such fun with back in the twenties. The accusation of fascism and the like is wildly off the mark. This stuff is in the American grain. It is the kind of clubjoining, text-quoting thing that delights the Mason, brings tears to the eyes of the A.A. guy reverentially citing the 12 steps, and has always made your average suburban bürger feel a little bit special. Why not?
However, as a guide to the ‘truth,’ this falls well short of the modern philosophical standard.