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Sunday, July 17, 2005

When the forefathers were gluing together this nation, they were careful not to make it easy to conduct a war. It was by this time a wellknown political maxim that the executive branch used war to encroach on the rights of the people. The Federalist papers were much concerned with war. Jay, in Paper 3, made it an argument for a national government that the best men from every state would be attracted to the national government, and that thus the best men able to judge the reasons for and the conduct of, if necessary, war. Hamilton, in no. 6, includes a list of wars that reflect the indulgence of tyrannical rulers:

“The celebrated Pericles, in compliance with the resentment of a prostitute, [1] at the expense of much of the blood and treasure of his countrymen, attacked, vanquished, and destroyed the city of the SAMNIANS. The same man, stimulated by private pique against the MEGARENSIANS, [2] another nation of Greece, or to avoid a prosecution with which he was threatened as an accomplice of a supposed theft of the statuary Phidias, [3] or to get rid of the accusations prepared to be brought against him for dissipating the funds of the state in the purchase of popularity, [4] or from a combination of all these causes, was the primitive author of that famous and fatal war, distinguished in the Grecian annals by the name of the PELOPONNESIAN war; which, after various vicissitudes, intermissions, and renewals, terminated in the ruin of the Athenian commonwealth.”

Hamilton, in Paper 26, mocks those who claimed that the U.S. national government would decay into a warmaking body. As he puts it, pointing to clauses 11 and 12 of the 8th section ( which gave Congress the power to declare war and “to raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years”):

"The legislature of the United States will be OBLIGED, by this provision, once at least in every two years, to deliberate upon the propriety of keeping a military force on foot; to come to a new resolution on the point; and to declare their sense of the matter, by a formal vote in the face of their constituents. They are not AT LIBERTY to vest in the executive department permanent funds for the support of an army, if they were even incautious enough to be willing to repose in it so improper a confidence. As the spirit of party, in different degrees, must be expected to infect all political bodies, there will be, no doubt, persons in the national legislature willing enough to arraign the measures and criminate the views of the majority. The provision for the support of a military force will always be a favorable topic for declamation. As often as the question comes forward, the public attention will be roused and attracted to the subject, by the party in opposition; and if the majority should be really disposed to exceed the proper limits, the community will be warned of the danger, and will have an opportunity of taking measures to guard against it. Independent of parties in the national legislature itself, as often as the period of discussion arrived, the State legislatures, who will always be not only vigilant but suspicious and jealous guardians of the rights of the citizens against encroachments from the federal government, will constantly have their attention awake to the conduct of the national rulers, and will be ready enough, if any thing improper appears, to sound the alarm to the people, and not only to be the VOICE, but, if necessary, the ARM of their discontent.”

Clearly, the U.S. was not conceived, originally, to be a great oppressor nation. There were limits put to the military ambitions of the national leaders, few of whom could hope to have Pericles qualities, but all of whom were heir to Pericles’ temptations. Clearly, there was more involved in the two year review of military outlay than the dickering over the site where the next unnecessary fighter plane is going to be built. The shape of American foreign policy, insofar as it is aggressive, was meant to be addressed seriously by the legislature.

Unfortunately, Jay’s prediction was wrong. The national government now routinely attracts rascals, criminals and cretins (ie, the present administration), bogus think tankers, political consultants and the White House press corps – all much worse than the occasional Athenian whore. If my webfriend Paul is right (see his comments to my Thursday post), we have now invented the insta-war – never declare the end of the last war, so we can thaw it out and have it again, any time it is politically convenient. A recent Harvard Law review article on the anti-terrorism act, passed in 2001, mentions in passing that no war declaration was needed for the Korean war or the Kosovo war. Given the brutalized state of political intelligence in D.C., where the two parties consist either two shades of opinion, one pallidly for, one rabidly for continuing the immoral, unconstitutional and unjust war in Iraq, it is too much to expect that the constitution has any sway in the matter. It will take prolonged anti-war protest, using civil disobedience in all likelihood, to pull the D.C. krewe away from violating the precepts upon which this place was compounded together. As Hamilton puts it, “to sound the alarm to the people, and not only to be the VOICE, but, if necessary, the ARM of their discontent.” But I don’t want the FBI knocking down LI’s door for subversive activities. We, of course, mean “ARM” to be symbolic, as in, we are going to call Bush and Rove dirty names and such.

The tradition of perpetual war that has woven itself into the conservative liberal consensus was the devil’s bargain sealed after WWII, when the anti-communist crusaders identified the U.S. with a particular ideological slant. On the face of it, something peculiar is going on here: why would the representatives of order transform themselves into the advocates of war? The contradiction between order and war beats away, deep in the heart of conservative thought. The compromise that has embedded war into the social order – to the tune of about 400 billion a year in this country – is subject to the massive censorship that comes down upon any real look at war in the last hundred years.

What do I mean by censorship? I mean by looking at war not as an accident or a necessity, but as an institution.

To use an example that springs to mind: how often have I read that Lenin was a mass murderer because of the labor camp system that was started under his regime? And how few times, if any, have I read that Asquith, Lloyd George and Churchill were much greater mass murderers, for the sustaining of trench warfare for four years in the heart of Europe – to say nothing of the fighting in the Middle East? In actual fact, Lenin, by withdrawing Russia from the War, was a net saver of lives. Russian casualties were horrendous on the Eastern Front. Seeing this, the Communists calmly pulled the plug on the project. It was the refusal to countenance more mass murder that made the Bolsheviks the enemy of the Western power – not the incipient Gulag.

However, war’s a freebie. At least, in the current conventional wisdom.

In LI’s opinion, the genealogy of this reliance on war, and denial of its real effects, goes back to Burke’s warmongering in the years of the French Revolution. Burke produced a model. In my next post, I plan to look at that.


Worrywart said...

The order that the conservatives wanted to preserve is no longer extant. They have to re-create it, and it'll be done through unending war.

The social conservatives threw in the towel on instilling (installing?) order from the bottom up after the social Kulturskampf of the early 1990s. We're too accustomed to our freedoms to have Buchanan, Bennett, Quayle, Robertson re-order our lives according to Holy Writ.

Better to spend twenty years at war, with not much worth conserving back on the home front (wait til' Wil and Grace go off the air, and the federal judiciary isn't filled with judges bearing 1970s-era law degrees from East Coast schools), and foster a degree of laxity, idiocy, and knee-knuckling in the next generation. We'll be softened up by then.

roger said...

Worrywort, sometimes I agree with you, but it depresses me too much. One thing you have left out of the equation is the evident insanity that is required to follow every squiggle of the new big government nation building imperial conservatism. It requires the mental ability to contradict yourself almost every other day, without any reference to what you once said and thought. That is perspectivism chopped up with a butcher knife, and leads to dissociation. Which is the current state of our politics.

kmort said...

Nice post sir. I skim some of that Hamilton-Jay jass occasionally to get a feel for the original principles of the USA, and believe that Hamilton, if somewhat Torysish in regards to the finance issues, still held to republicanism (in european usage) and dare I say was atheist, was he not. And the pacifistic and isolationist aspects were common to both Hamilton and Jefferson's ideology. Thus I agree with what I think you are suggesting, that those conservatives claiming Hamilton as a spiritual ancestor are completely mistaken--he was sort of a liberal tory, not some cowboy capitalist. He was contemptuous of the plebes, and perhaps a bit of the yankee aristo, but not such a horrible person or thinker: Pound admired him (as he did Jefferson).

I have only read a few sections of Burke and am not qualifed to speak: but my sense is that he was initially in sympathy with the aims of the French revolution (wasn't he whig and antiroyalist rather than tory) but sided with the Girondists and moderates rather than with the jacobins.

The current conservative hawks have little to do with these types of gents. Since Eisenhower-- Truman may also be counted among these types--they have been sort of sentimental mafiosos and cowboy barons (excepting Jimmy Carter--who, however simple and naive he may have seemed, wasnt that horrible in comparison with the likes of Nixon Reagan or LBJ) who understood little of the implications of their militarism and bogus patriotism.