“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

Saturday, June 03, 2006

other great american massacres we can compare haditha to

World War II has certainly been turned into the strangest referent. Like Baptists figuring out where they stand on witches by looking at Leviticus, the war party feels better if they can invoke, in the most ridiculous ways, WWII.

Recently, Bill O’Reilly tried to justify Haditha by referring to Americans slaughtering Nazis at Malmedy. He had that a bit wrong – it was the Nazis who were slaughtering the Americans. The tonier purlieus of the WAPO op ed page shows how to right the big Fox guy’s blunder, publishing a heartwarming tale by the father of a GI, Frank Schaeffer. Schaeffer comes out of the gate a bit ahead of O’Reilly: for instance, he claims to have read a book. The book is Norman Lewis’ Naples ’44. This is a book that is foreign to the O'reilly fan base. In this book, there are no Clancy like descriptions of the latest secret American weaponry; there are no muscular Navy Seals; and there is no obligatory sex scene – by which I mean using high tech weaponry to blow suitable enemies limb from limb, while hopefully maintaining the level of pain along their nervous system for as long as possible. Thus, we can differentiate between the audience of B.R. and the audience of Schaeffer. I would call Schaeffer’s audience the decent. The centrists. The muscular liberals.

Schaeffer quotes the following passage from Lewis' book:
“"I saw an ugly sight: a British officer interrogating a civilian, and repeatedly hitting him about the head with the chair; treatment which the [civilian], his face a mask of blood, suffered with stoicism. At the end of the interrogation, which had not been considered successful, the officer called on a private and asked him in a pleasant, conversational sort of manner, 'Would you like to take this man away, and shoot him?' The private's reply was to spit on his hands, and say, 'I don't mind if I do, sir.'

"I received confirmation . . . that American combat units were ordered by their officers to beat to death [those] who attempted to surrender to them. These men seem very naive and childlike, but some of them are beginning to question the ethics of this order.

"We liberated them from the Fascist Monster. And what is the prize? The rebirth of democracy. The glorious prospect of being able one day to choose their rulers from a list of powerful men, most of whose corruptions are generally known and accepted with weary resignation. The days of Mussolini must seem like a lost paradise compared to us."

Luckily, though, we know that all came right in the end. For why was the U.S. in WWII? To selflessly bring democracy to Italy and Germany. And Japan. That Italy was ruled for fifty years by the same party, or that the U.S. spent large sums to make sure that this was the case, which might be called bribery, treachery, and non-democratic, is one of those penny ante lefty objections.

“Judging by Lewis's diary -- and many other accounts -- the so-called Greatest Generation of World War II was often badly led and worse-behaved, and was certainly less merciful than our present-day soldiers and their leaders. We haven't carpet-bombed Baghdad or nuked Fallujah to spare the lives of our troops. Yet most Americans are glad we forced Italy, Germany and Japan to become democracies, however brutal our means.”

Yet one wonders – how about the marvelous massacres of other U.S. wars? Surely Schaeffer should dig down and find other great things the Great Spirit has led Americans to do. I’d recommend the Sand River Massacre. There, now, was a massacre. Men women and children. But who can doubt that we had the best interests of the American Indians at heart? We were only trying to force them to join a democracy, however brutal the means.

Here’s an account of it:

"The attack was initially reported in the press as a victory against a bravely-fought opponent. Within weeks, however, eyewitnesses came forward offering conflicting testimony, leading to a military investigation and two Congressional investigations into the events.

Starting in the late 1850's, the gold rush in the Rocky Mountains, then part of the western Kansas Territory, had brought a flood of white settlers into the mountains and the surrounding foothills. The sudden immigration came into conflict with the Cheyenne and the Arapaho Indians who inhabited the area, eventually leading to the Colorado War in 1864.

Conflict between the Native Americans and the miners spread, and the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes made wagon travel extremely dangerous across Colorado's eastern plains. The warriors had been harassing white settlers with scattered Indian raids. Territorial governor John Evans sent Col. John Chivington to quiet the Indians at the head of a locally-raised militia. After a few skirmishes and an effective warpath on the part of the Indians, many of the Cheyennes and Arapahos were ready for peace and camped near Fort Lyon on the eastern plains.

Early in September, Maj. Edward W. Wynkoop arranged a peace meeting between Gov. John Evans of Colorado Territory and several chiefs from the Arapaho and Cheyenne Indian tribes. When he received word of Wynkoop's plans, commanding Gen. Samuel R. Curtis sent word that there would not be any peace could be made until he approved the terms and until the guilty Indians first were punished for their depredations.

Both of the tribes had recently signed a treaty with the United States in which they ceded their lands to the United States and agreed to move to the Indian reservation to the south of Sand Creek in Oklahoma, demarcated by a line to be run due north from a point on the northern boundary of New Mexico, 15 miles west of Purgatory River, and extending to the Sandy Fork of the Arkansas River.

Black Kettle, one chief of a group of mostly Southern Cheyennes and some Arapahoes, some 800 in number, reported to Fort Lyon in an effort to declare peace.

While the Indians waited for negotiations to begin, they camped at Sand Creek, 40 miles northeast of Fort Lyon, believing they were safe, having complied with the white man's demands to lay down their arms. Feeling comfortable he sent out most of his warriors to hunt. Against the advice of military officers and civilians, Col. John M. Chivington, commanding the District of Colorado under Curtis, led the 950 100-day men of the 3rd Colorado Cavalry, the 1st Colorado with its 2 howitzers, and a detachment of the 1st New Mexico Infantry in reprisal against the Indians. The men of the 3rd Colorado had been recruited to put down the outbreak of hostilities that had begun after the Regular Army was transferred east in 1861. With their enlistments about to expire, they were eager for revenge.
On November 29, at sunrise, Chivington's troops reached the Indian village. To prevent escape, they seized the Indians' ponies and unlimbered the howitzers, training them on the still-sleeping Cheyennes and Arapaho. Soldiers attacked the village from 3 sides. When he saw the troops approaching, Black Kettle, chief of the Cheyenne, raised the U.S. flag over his lodge as a gesture of peace. Chivington also ignored the pleas of interpreter John Smith to break off the attack, and his men began shooting indiscriminately, following his orders to not take any prisoners.
Some of the warriors seized their weapons and formed a battle line 1/2 mile above the camp at Sand Creek, but their defense collapsed before overwhelming odds. The Indians contested the soldiers' pursuit for 5 miles before dispersing into the countryside. One officer, Capt. Silas Soule, a Massachusetts abolitionist, refused to follow Chivington's orders. He did not allow his cavalry company to fire into the crowd.

Estimates of the number of Indians at the encampment range between 500-1,000; 400-600 were killed, many of them women and children whose bodies had been mutilated.

Public reactions to the brutal massacre ranged from approval to condemnation, but many blamed Chivington for having committed an unpardonable act of violence that resulted in a renewed outburst of hostilities.”

As everybody can see from this account, the Indians actually formed a line to defend themselves, or so the hate America crowd would call it, against American troops. So much for their story of victimage – these people refused to be killed peacefully by our troops. When I say our troops, you know I have a lump in my throat. A lump as big as Mount Rushmore. I always have a lump in my throat when I think of American troops. I also have a hardon, but the less said about that, the better.

As many have pointed out about Haditha, the Iraqi child can be one of your craftiest enemies. It is best to shoot him in the cradle, which, in the afterlife, he will appreciate – this is how you force him to be democratic. This is what democracy is about. Similarly, can anyone doubt that looking down from heaven, those Indians slaughtered much like the Philistines by the Israelites can only be grateful that American troops were there to make them do what’s right, or pay the penalty?
The Schaeffer’s of the world also give LI a lump in his throat. But weirdly enough, not a hardon. Funny, that.

historicality and the one armed nun

When Tom Paine came back to the U.S. in 1802, he wrote a series of letters to sorta reintroduce himself. He began by giving his impression of the New New World, as though he were the survivor of a shipwreck – and indeed, the tone and the some of the sentences irresistibly evoke Ishmael:

“AFTER an absence of almost fifteen years, I am again returned to the country in whose dangers I bore my share, and to whose greatness I contributed my part.
When I sailed for Europe, in the spring of 1787, it was my intention to return to America the next year, and enjoy in retirement the esteem of my friends, and the repose I was entitled to. I had stood out the storm of one revolution, and had no wish to embark in another. But other scenes and other circumstances than those of contemplated ease were allotted to me. The French revolution was beginning to germinate when I arrived in France. The principles of it were good, they were copied from America, and the men who conducted it were honest. But the fury of faction soon extinguished the one, and sent the other to the scaffold. Of those who began that revolution, I am almost the only survivor, and that through a thousand dangers. I owe this not to the prayers of priests, nor to the piety of hypocrites, but to the continued protection of Providence.

But while I beheld with pleasure the dawn of liberty rising in Europe, I saw with regret the lustre of it fading in America. In less than two years from the time of my departure some distant symptoms painfully suggested the idea that the principles of the revolution were expiring on the soil that produced them.”

The divide between 1776 and 1802 is considerable – an abyss. Which brings us to Andrew Abbott’s brilliant essay on the individual and the social structure that LI mentioned in our next to last post.

(We warned you that we were coming back to this topic, gentle reader!)

Abbott gets right to the point with a sentence that makes the Marx-y heart sink: “I wish to argue this afternoon that we should reinstate individuals as an important force in history.” But instead of giving us some implausible ideology a la Ludwig von Mises, Abbott has in mind something a bit more interesting, if a lot less heroic.

“To be sure, social structure can and sometimes does confer on particular individuals extraordinary power to shape the future. But the crucial explanatory question in such cases is not the quality or actions of that individual, interesting as these might be. Rather it is the conditions under which such social structures emerge and stabilize.”

Abbott begins by examining one problem with the individual, viewed in terms of the living trajectory he embodies through history: although we like to think that the periodizations of history have a real counterpart, actually, there are insurmountable difficulties in putting bottom and top bounds on these ‘things’. They are fictions. Worse, as we understand more about the effects of boundaries – via the complexity people – we see that the boundaries aren’t, and can’t be, neutral. In other words, the Weberian ideal type, the modality into which periodization is packed, isn’t just a summing over histories but a selection of ending and beginning points that inevitably effects the whole set. If this sounds like a pomo complaint about metanarratives, it is – but the interesting thing is that the pomo critique instantly transmuted into another failed attempt at periodization. The other option seemed to be sheer nihilism.

Abbott considers these options briefly, with the example of the sociological study of careers – something he has done a lot of in his work. And then he comes to the point he wants to defend:

“In brief, I shall argue that the sheer mass of the experience that individuals carry forward in time—what we might think of in demographic terms as the present residue of past cohort experience—is an immense social force. It is all too easy to ignore this force, for we fall into that ignorance almost inevitably when we take up periodized historical thinking as we so often do when we work at the group level. But the vast continuity of individuals over time in fact forbids periodic analysis, however convenient it may be. In short, individuals are central to history because it is they who are the prime reservoir of historical connection from past to present. This is what I mean by the historicality of individuals.”

Now I know what my readers are saying – you are saying, isn’t this some disguised reintroduction of that awful Dilthey crap about generations? Hey, you in the back, I do not appreciate the joke about Dilthey and the one armed nun, capisce?

Okay, the thought crossed my mind too, but Abbott makes a pretty strong case – one that could be strengthened by using the materialization of memory – newspapers, diaries, movies, media in general – as a strong form of that cohort experience.

One other theoretical note, and then let’s get down to Abbott’s cases:

“Let me start by saying in a little more detail what I mean by historicality. In the first instance, I mean continuity over time. And I argue that individuals have continuity over time to a degree that social structures do not. Note that we assume this relative dominance of individual continuity whenever we
make the common (and somewhat questionable) remark that social change is getting faster and faster. This assertion involves the assumption that individuals last longer than social structures, for only then do they have to endure the changes in the latter and hence come to realize the rapidity of its change.
In a world of which it can be said that social change in it is happening faster and faster, that is, it must be the historical continuity of individuals that provides the sinews linking past and present. It is the historicality of individuals that enables us, even forces us, to know social change.”

Now, what does it mean to say that individuals have continuity over time that social structures lack? This might strike us as exactly backwards. This is how Abbott explains it, first using the example of the corporation and the changes in its various persona – the famous intangible capital of corporations, and then going on to other social organizations:

“… the vast majority of social structures are not corporations or even formal organizations.They are things like neighborhoods, occupations, newspaper readerships, church congregations, social classes, ethnicities, technological communities, and consumption groups: often disorganized or unorganized but nonetheless consequential as social structures. These often do not have formal records. If they do, these records are often of diverse kind, changing rapidly over time. And even their nonrecorded memories are scattered through diverse people having diverse relations to them.Only a few members of them have more than a miniscule connection with the whole body of those memories. Such social structures have quite diaphanous historicality. Their vast riot of memories is embodied in neither a few persons nor a legal being. Because their memories are widely distributed and their records often weak, such structures can change quickly and easily. There is little to keep them coherent over time. My discipline of sociology, for example, has been something like a social reality for about a century. In that period it has drifted quite rapidly from being a progressive and fairly religious common interest group of do-gooders, reformers, and political academics to a group of highly professionalized social scientists with an exclusive disciplinary association that aims to produce college teachers. Much of the reason for this change lies in the sheer ease with which the discipline can forget its past—a past that is expiring as I speak in decent silence in the minds of emeritus colleagues.”

Hmm, this post is getting overlarge. LI will do a couple more posts, going from Abbott to Paine to the end of the target cities of the Cold War – as LI pursues our eternal white whale, what went wrong with America????

Friday, June 02, 2006

bliss it was to be alive...

LI’s faithful reader, Mr. New York Pervert, left a comment a few days ago about the Homeland Security redistribution of Homeland Security money away from NYC and Washington D.C. and towards St. Louis and Kansas City – on the premise that the heartland is threatened with imminent attack, whereas whose ever heard of a hick place like New York City?

The woman who headed the “defund the places that we are supposed to secure” project for Homeland Security, Tracy Henke, is a piece of work. I mean, in the sense of a joy forever. The Bush culture has produced its flashes in the pan, but one can only hope that Henke is as immortal as, well, Ponzi. There was a bit about her in the Washington Post that has not, I’m surprised to see, been circulating around the bloggysphere. So, doing my part, here’s the cherry of it:

Henke had caused a ruckus last year when she demanded that a Justice Department report on racial disparities in police treatment of blacks in traffic cases be taken out of a news release. A respected career employee was demoted after protesting the move.
But indications are that Henke's working hard and handling her new post -- an important job to make sure scarce anti-terrorism money is spent effectively across the country -- with appropriate priorities.
Take this e-mail she sent to staff members last week:
"Another item I mentioned during the All-Hands meeting was the need to seek suggestions on how we can neatly encapsulate what we do at G&T to help others understand (inside and out of the department)," Henke wrote. She went on to say that when she was at the Justice Department her job included handing out money, being a contact beacon for states and local communities and helping victims of crime. "I used the 'Santa Claus, Batman and Mother Teresa' analogy" to sum up the functions.
But here's the problem. "Mother Teresa won't work for G&T," she wrote. "I requested that you think about and submit suggestions for another analogy to fill in the blank 'Santa Claus, Batman and ______.' This analogy is not for publication, but to be used in conversation to assist individuals in understanding the great work, activities and possibilities of G&T. Several of you have sent suggestions. Thank you for your interest and great ideas.
"To make certain that everyone has the opportunity to participate and to be involved," she wrote, "I have asked Anne Voigt [an aide] to chair a short-term committee to work on this for me. If you could please e-mail your suggestions to Anne . . . she will assemble the options. I ask that if you are interested in helping her, please e-mail her your name by COB on Tuesday, March 7. She will put the names in a hat (bowl or anything else we can find) and we will pick the other individuals to serve on the short-term committee with her.
"This committee will narrow the options down to no more than three and we will then have an all-hands vote to select the 'Santa Claus, Batman and ?' The individual whose suggestion is selected will be invited to lunch with me," she wrote, "my treat."

Feel safer already, don't you?”

Oh, what bliss to be ruled by people like this! The worst, the most idiotic, the most incompetent, the most mendacious, the one’s without a single redeeming social virtue, have created a sort of amusement park in D.C. for their own kind. My cold spectator’s heart brims with joy – every day, they simply give. And give some more. My only complaint -- and it is a teeny one -- is that they live on this planet. It would be nice if they were ruling another planet. That's all. A minor complaint, but I thought I'd put it out there.

The birth of HP out of the spirit of DEFCON

Heidegger’s critique of the subject was aimed at getting metaphysics out of the magic circle of the subject; for this purpose he used the term Dasein. In 1945, according to Eileen Welsome’s Plutonium Files, the medical staff at a Rochester hospital went Heidegger one better. The staff began injecting unwitting patients with plutonium in an experiment conducted in tandem with other doctors across the country, organized by the Department of War – and eventually absorbed by the Atomic Energy Commission. The staff referred to the patients as HP – Human Product.

We are all HP now, processed through 60 years of DEFCON [defense condition] culture. One of the truths of the post 9/11 period that LI holds to be self evident is that after 9/11, everything was the same – except more so. The trillion dollars of extra spending on the military has, of course, done everything except capture the 4 or 5 thousand people who attacked on 9/11 – for they now serve the vital function of being the threat on tap. Although there are always threats on tap, they volunteered. And DEFCON culture, and all of us HP, leaped to the challenge.

In LI’s last post about Bellarchy, we promised we’d be back for Bellarchy 2, like some subdeb Hollywood blockbuster. But we have been unable to piece together all the symbols that we’ve been gathering to illustrate the War State. LI is in a poetic mood, not a discursive one – we can see meanings, but we can’t directly tell you what they are. These things strike, you know. For we have one, overriding question, which is this: how did the war state create plug and play HP? The culture of acquiescence? In a story published in the WAPO about the Hanson Plutonium Plant in Richland, Washington a few years ago, there was a passage that seems so richly symbolic that we know it means something larger, something on a Delillo scale:

“Richland sprouted Atomic Bowling Lanes, an Atomic Body Shop, Atomic TV Repair, even an "Atomic Man." He was Harold McCloskey, a technician who survived a 1976 accident at Hanford that sprayed his face with the largest human dose of radiation ever recorded. He became the most thoroughly studied nuclear victim in America. Baggies of his feces and urine (labeled "Caution Radioactive") were stored for years in laboratory refrigerators and freezers across the Hanford site. After the accident, McCloskey was almost blind and his face could set off Geiger counters 50 feet away. But he was pro-Hanford until the end (he died of a heart attack in 1987). "Just forget about me being anti-nuclear, because I'm not," he said a decade after the accident. "We need nuclear energy."
Football players from Richland High wore a mushroom cloud on their helmets and called themselves the Bombers. The symbol of the atom was carved atop stone columns at the entrance to the cemetery. When liberated from federal ownership and allowed self-government in 1958, Richland's residents staged a simulated atomic explosion in a vacant lot on the edge of town. And when the Cold War began to wind down, announcement of the closure of N reactor, one of Hanford's largest, brought mournful Tri-Citians into the streets by the thousands. They held candles and sang "Kumbaya."”
Kumbaya! The HP beast slouches towards the perfect anthem, the favorite song of my Vacation Bible School days back there in Clarkston, Georgia. Someone’s dying Lord – and it is us HP, mourning the amazing structures of the Cold War, the architecture, the fallout, the atom soldiers, the preparedness, the dictionary of acronyms and phrases, the way we turned, turned, turned.
Thomas Paine wrote, in the Rights of Man:
“As war is the system of Government on the old construction, the animosity which Nations reciprocally entertain, is nothing more than what the policy of their Governments excites to keep up the spirit of the system. Each Government accuses the other of perfidy, intrigue, and ambition, as a means of heating the imagination of their respective Nations, and incensing them to hostilities. Man is not the enemy of man, but through the medium of a false system of Government.”

Paine’s words have been kidnapped for many reasons – they’ve been kidnapped to justify the ‘moral interventionist’ position of perpetual war and domination by U.S. However, for LI, what is important is the idea that war is a system – a system of the state. LI feels – instinctively – that the Defcon system is connected to the present, systematic inability to deal with the problems that have emerged with the treadmill of production as it is currently maintained. That war and environmental disaster are mutually dependent. But we aren’t sure how to go from that instinct, a bias really, to an argument. In a future post, we are going to make an argument about the geneology of HP through a detour – a consideration of an article by Andrew Abbott published last year in the Social Science History journal, The Historicality of Individuals.

PS - though it has been getting zip publicity, the Defense Department's grotesque proposal to test 700 tons of high explosive to simulate the effects of a low-yield nuclear explosion named (oh, the inevitability of names) Divine Strake (a name o redolent of Rumsfeldianism that surely its mere mention sends Midge Decter, Rummy's official panagyrist, into spasms of sexual passion) has been postponed -- due, perhaps, to protests mounted by downwinders in Nevada and Utah. The proposed test would scatter soil that has been well and truly irradiated by years of nuclear testing over Southern Utah -- once again.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

putting the jack back in the jack in the box

The Washington Post has done us pikers in the hinterlands a favor by publishing an editorial lavish in its praise of the Administration’s offer to talk to Iran. The praise tells us that the offer is a joke, and the editorial makes it clear that the offer is a joke, cut from much the same comedy routine that was played, in the fall of 2002, as the administration pretended that it wanted the sanction of the U.N. to play cop against Iraq for violating U.N. sanctions. Since the WAPO editorial board speaks in the forked tongue specialized in by Fred Hiattish/Charles Krauthammerish kinds of think tankers, their support for the Bush initiative is a signal from the V.P., Darth Vader, that this is a sop to fools.

However, the real fools are the V.P. and our war criminal Department of War guy, Donald Rumsfeld. While they want a war and they want it now, the idea that the U.S. is now going to show it gave an inch and should be rewarded with the landing of troops on the Iranian side of the Persian Gulf and a triumphant march to Teheran isn’t going to happen. The majority in the world, unlike the majority of the editorial board of WAPO, understands the rank hypocrisy of rewarding those powers that didn’t sign the nuclear treaty and have gone ahead and developed weapons – India, Pakistan, and Israel – while putting sanctions leading to war on Iran for basically violating the fine print of a nuclear treaty. In essence, the U.S. policy in the Bush years has been -- we reserve the right to overthrow regimes we don't like on flimsy pretenses. It is an extension of the U.S. policy in Central and South America low these many years. It has cracked there, and its crackup globally is right before our eyes.

The thing about re-running comedy routines is – we get to know the jokes. The Jacks are all out of the Jack in the boxes, and though we stuff them back in, close the lid, and then open it again, the jacks aren’t going to surprise those of us who are mentally over the age of two. This means, of course, that Bush’s latest ploy will be ferociously backed by the usual zombie segment of the population, who will dart rays of disdain at anyone who doubts the utter sincerity of the White House – and, as the White House contradicts itself, will insist that the series of contradictions are part of one overarching truth. LI has written before that we don’t believe that the Bushies will bomb Iran – we think the domestic risks are too high. Oil spiking to one hundred a barrel will simply bury the GOP in the South, a gashogging part of the country that deserts those leaders that would put a dent in the three car garage life style. The filibustering spirit is one thing, being able to drive the jacked up truck down to the grocery store for a loaf of bread is another. Given the way in which the administration is playing with the national guard like a game of pick up sticks, and given that the guard will no doubt be unavailable for a crucial three or four days in late summer when another hurricane eats up another American coastal area, our idea is that the house limit on military action might be very near.

Typically, the offer of talks, which in 2001 would have, perhaps, been of crucial importance to the moderates, is now going to shore up the politics of Ahmadinejad, who we believe may be very underrated in the U.S. – because he is an Antisemite from hell who seems bent on pruning back the open society (however tiny the advance towards open society was under Khatami). There is a tendency to talk him down on the anti-war end, and to talk up the reasonable mullahs, which eerily echoes what was said in the beginning of Iranian revolution about Khomeini – you’ll remember, Khomeini was a flash in the pan, and the real forces of Iranian politics, whoever they were, were going to take over the state, using Khomeini as a convenient figurehead. Juan Cole recently wrote a blog about Ahmadinejad’s essential mock status, for instance. But at the moment, we are more convinced by Ray Takeyh’s view of the evolving nature of Ahmadinejad’s power.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

jean jacques juge par tout le monde

This week’s philosophical spat is about a spat between philosophers. At least in the U.K., there were reviews in all the major venues of Rousseau’s Dog, a book about Hume and Rousseau by the team that is doing all the quarrels of all the philosophers (Popper vs. Wittgenstein, Bullwinkle vs. Rocky), David Edmonds and John Eidinow. Ophelia Benson, over at Butterflies and Wheels, is naturally taking the Humean side. The review in the Sunday Times is a sad commentary on the currently low wattage of the conservative intelligentsia. The reviewer ropes the book together with one on Voltaire’s mistress, says various astonishing things about how boring and unread Voltaire is (the more astonishing as he seems to think Samuel Johnson’s Rasselas is just the antidote for the tedium of Candide – although one suspects that Rasselas is a distant memory, given the reviewer’s general state of incredible barbarism), and then repents a bit – it turns out Voltaire, like Donald Trump, made money, so he is a good guy all the way around. In the Spectator the reviewer concentrates much bile on poor old David Hume, accusing him of wanting to burn all books that didn’t contain mathematics – surely a reading of Hume that underemphasizes the irony.

The Guardian takes a chapter from the book. Unfortunately, if this passage is representative, we are not about to read the whole thing. Here’s the intro to Rousseau as the Johnny Depp character from the Pirates of the Caribbean:

“The year was 1766 and Rousseau had just cause to fear for his life. For more than three years he had been a refugee, forced to move on several times. His radical tract, The Social Contract , with its famous opening salvo, "Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains", had been violently condemned. Even more threatening to the French Catholic church was Emile , in which Rousseau advocated denying the clergy a role in the education of the young. An arrest warrant was issued in Paris and his books were publicly burned.

In The Confessions , a literary landmark described as the first modern autobiography, Rousseau spoke of "the cry of unparalleled fury" that went up across Europe. "I was an infidel, an atheist, a lunatic, a madman, a wild beast, a wolf . . ."

Fleeing France, he had found safe haven in a remote village in his native Switzerland. But soon the local priest began to whip up hatred against him, charging him with being a heretic. The atmosphere turned ugly. Rousseau was abused in the street. Some believed this lean, dark man whose eyes were full of fire was possessed by the devil.”

Notice the remarkable profusion of the passive tense in the first paragraph. The Social Contract was condemned, an arrest warrant was issued. The invisible hand is everywhere. And then, dropping or drooping down to the second, we meet the ‘described as’ of the Confessions… No reference, nor any standing up and simply ‘describing’ it oneself. This is the kind of thing that I cordially hate – or that I can be described as cordially hating.

As for the intro to Hume – it is, if anything, worse, since it takes one of Hume’s great phrases – that the Treatise of Human Nature fell “stillborn from the press” – and squashes it into a gummy muddle:

“Today, Hume is known above all for his philosophy, but then he was renowned for being an historian. His first philosophical work, The Treatise of Human Nature , had been, if not exactly ignored, then certainly not acclaimed as the sublime work of genius it is.” This isn’t writing – this is a species of cribbing.

Since Popper and Wittgenstein, the last in the series of battling philosophes, represent genuinely different philosophical positions, it is tempting to pit Hume against Rousseau as similar champions. The Spectator turns them into factotums of that dismal perennial, the Analytics vs. the Continentals.

This is how Edmonds and Eidenow sum the two men up:

“In hindsight, it seems unlikely that they were ever going to get along, personally or intellectually. Hume was a combination of reason, doubt and scepticism. Rousseau was a creature of feeling, alienation, imagination and certainty. While Hume's outlook was unadventurous and temperate, Rousseau was by instinct rebellious; Hume was an optimist, Rousseau a pessimist; Hume gregarious, Rousseau a loner. Hume was disposed to compromise, Rousseau to confrontation. In style, Rousseau revelled in paradox; Hume revered clarity. Rousseau's language was pyrotechnical and emotional, Hume's straightforward and dispassionate. JYT Greig wrote in his 1931 biography of Hume, "The annals of literature seldom furnish us with two contemporary writers of the first rank, both called philosophers, who cancel one another out with almost mathematical precision."

While they may be described now as thinkers in "the Age of Enlightenment", how far "Enlightenment" covers a common national experience or meaning is a matter of vigorous dispute. A particular reading of French history tends to shape the general idea of "the Enlightenment" as, broadly, the French philosophes ' belief that the application of critical reason to received traditions and structures would bring human advancement. The dominating Enlightenment narrative becomes a small and easily identifiable group of brilliant people, a central activity, the Encyclopedie ; the sweetness of the salons balanced by the risk of imprisonment, the focus on reason, and the whole enterprise terminating in the guillotine.”

The chain of opposing characteristics loops about itself a bit – rebellious, certain, pessimistic, paradoxical – and Hume revering clarity is a bit of a twist – in fact, it is a bit of a twist to oppose the clear and the paradoxical, given the way empiricism proceeded by ‘problems’ like the Molyneaux cube.

Hume’s little brochure on the matter can be found here.

And this is from Hume’s correspondence:

“You will see that the only possible alleviation of this man's crime is that he is entirely mad; and even then he will be allowed a dangerous and pernicious madman, and of the blackest and most atrocious mind. The King and Queen of England expressed a strong desire to see these papers, and I was obliged to put them into their hand. They read them with avidity, and entertain the same sentiments that must strike every one. The king's opinion confirms me in the resolution not to give them to the public, unless I be forced to it by some attack on the side of my adversary, which it will therefore be wisdom in him to avoid.' Private Corres. p. 210.
Rousseau to Lord Marischal.
'[Wooton] 7 Septembre. Il [Hume] a marché jusqu'ici dans les ténèbres, il s'est caché, mais maintenant il se montre à découvert. Il a rempli l'Angleterre, la France, les gazettes, l'Europe entière, de cris auxquels je ne sais que répondre, et d'injures dont je me croirais digne si je daignais les repousser.' Œuvres de Rousseau xxiv. 393.
Up until now, he has advanced in the shadows, hiding himself, but now he walks uncovered. He has filled England, France, the newspapers, and all of Europe with cries to which I can’t help but respond, and insults of which, if I deigned to push back against them, I would think myself justified.
And here’s Voltaire:
Voltaire to Damilaville.
'[Ferney] 15 Octobre. Il [Hume] prouve que Jean-Jacques est un maître fou, et un ingrat pétri d'un sot orgueil; mais je ne crois pas que ces vérités méritent d'etre publiées; il faut que les choses soient ou bien plaisantes, ou bien intéressantes pour que la presse s'en mêle…. Je pense que la publicité de cette querelle ne servirait qu'à faire tort à la philosophie. J'aurais donné une partie de mon bien pour que Rousseau eût été un homme sage; mais cela n'est pas dans sa nature; il n'y a pas moyen de faire un aigle d'un papillon: c'est assez, ce me semble, que tous les gens de lettres lui rendent justice, et d'ailleurs sa plus grande punition est d'être oublié.'

“He proves that Jean Jacques is a master fool, and an ingrate kneaded by the stupidest vanity; but I don’t think these are the kind of truths that need to be published; things have to be either more amusing or interesting than this for them to be mixed up in the newspapers. … I think that the news of this quarrel will only serve to make philosophy look bad. I would have given a good part of my property to have made Rousseau a wise man; but it isn’t in his nature; you can’t make an eagle out of butterfly. It is enough, I think, that all the gens de letters think that Hume is right. Besides, Rousseau’s greatest punishment will be to be forgotten.”

Sunday, May 28, 2006


These are the times that try a Painite’s soul – especially with the terrible threat, looming just off the horizon, of a book on Tom Paine coming out from C. Hitchens. Perhaps (oh, thin hope) Hitchens will find some way out of the corner his prose has painted him into – the grafting of Bungalow Bill hectoring upon the petrified mendacities of your average Fred Hiatt editorial. The style of Hitchens premiere jeunesse worked because it infused the sham Augustinianism one usually associates with Tories with a lefty attitude. Contrast, sometimes, is all. Although to be fair, there was also a carefulness in going about making a point, and a distinct negative capability, especially when he was writing about literature. Well, negative C. has been long trashed, and the spiral downwards has been encrusted with a variety of platitudinous insults launched at the left that Hitchens seems to have picked up for a song at some John Birch fire sale. The precipitous descent can be measured by comparing, for instance, the glorious demolition of Isaiah Berlin – what was that, around 1990? – with the beef and choler prosecution of Joseph Wilson, a sad soliloquy in the best Captain Bligh manner.

To be fair, the insults that have been returned, from the academic left, have been fixated upon Hitchens drunkenness. This, too, is sad – all too often the academic left, like your average parole officer, is foursquare against smoking, drinking, doing drugs or shooting firearms. To which LI can only say: fuck you. (Although, less self righteously, LI might have indulged in a few drinking comments ourselves in 2003. But then we stopped.)

Now is the time to pre-empt the capturing of Tom Paine and the dragging him about as the great grand Godfather of neo-conservatism in some shabby triumph through the pages of the Weekly Standard. This isn’t to deny that there are traces, in Paine’s life, of an interventionist mindset. At one point, he did advise Napoleon to invade England. It was the same craziness that made Karl Marx, latter, criticize the historical views of German nationalists for hailing resistance to Napoleon instead of seeing in that resistance the reactionary impulses of which it was composed. Paine, in other words, sometimes thought conquest, in the service of liberty, was a good thing. But the deeper strain in the writing is against it. Paine was well aware of the contradiction between Republicanism and war. One simply has to fish the dialectic out of the supposedly now obsolete polemic against monarchy and inherited privilege. To paraphrase Randolph Bourne, Paine saw that war was the health of the monarchy.

Unfortunately, political philosophers rarely seem to understand war as an institution. Rather, it is looked upon as an accident, at best a derivative of other state interests. The state, after all, in classical theory, is the opposite of war – the essential curb on it. Thus it seems dialectically out of the question that war might become part of the state, colonize the state’s DNA, as it were, determine its political form (a possibility materialized in the way a state taxes and distributes money, in the way a governing elite gets its hands on the state, in the very culture of belligerence that the busy little state spreads among a population).It is as if, among possible state forms, one is missing. Democracy, monarchy, oligarchy, anarchy – all of them are there except for… bellarchy.

Bellarchy, in premodern times, impressed itself on the core of the state in terms of conquest, plunder, and glory. It, of course, existed – from the Assyrians to the colonizing West – but these things seem alien to the state in any of its modern guises. In modern times, it was Hitler who codified the arms race and perpetual readiness for war into the state’s answer to the numerous problems posed by the treadmill of production. After World War II, this was Hitler’s legacy to the two great superpowers, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. So, for instance, the U.S. was able, in the Cold war, to do what it had been unable to do for almost one hundred years – develop the South, using the military to distribute aid to that underdeveloped part of the country, just as it also did to the West. And that structure has had cultural effects we have seen to this day. A constituency for war has been created such that war unleashes, without any questioning, the massive resources of the state.

If Paine never quite foresaw this system, he certainly knew of and derided the connection between war and monarchy – or, if you will, the executive branch. Here he is still very much the prophet – meaning that his words are still not taken seriously. Only when prophecy is safely defunct is the prophet honored, which is why we dread the honor about to be done to his scattered bones by enlisting him to fight in the mock war against Islamofascism, that counterfeit ideology. In the next post, we will outline Paine’s thoughts about war.

PS -- The war state suns itself every day in the newspapers, so there is no need to say here it is or here it is. Nevertheless, readers are urged to look at this story in the NYT in which the Department of War, as is its habit, urges the acquisition of an unnecessary weapon to augment America's 'pre-emptive' capability:

"The program to develop a conventional version of the Trident II missile was foreshadowed in the Nuclear Posture Review, a classified study the Pentagon carried out in 2001. The study urged that nonnuclear systems be added to the existing triad of long-range nuclear air, land and sea forces — a concept that the military nicknamed "Global Strike."

The Strategic Command, which oversees the long-range nuclear weapons in the United States arsenal, was given the responsibility to figure out a way to develop such a capability. In 2004, General Cartwright, a Marine officer, was appointed to head the command.

In looking for a new weapon, General Cartwright said, his goal was a nonnuclear system that could respond to a threat in no more than an hour, including the time that would be needed to secure the president's authorization to attack."

See, we only, only ever, really, respond to threats. Like the world's largest paranoiac, we would be peaceful as pie, we would sit still in our chairs like the guy at the end of Psycho, we wouldn't hurt a fly, if we didn't have to respond to all these threats. They keep coming in. They fill the air. They buzz around. We just have to respond to them! again and again, tearing aside the shower curtain, striking out with our nonnuclear tips, again and again and again, to the background music provided by Bernard Herrmann.