“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

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Michael Walzer, moral midget

It is a bright shiny morning – oops (or erm, as IT says) now that I look out the window, I see that it is a gray, lifeless morning. A good morning to read about our wonderful celebrities in the NYT Magazine. There’s Angelina Jolie with some person in the photo on the cover – oops, that’s not Angelina Jolie. It is Natalie Portman. In truth, celebrities are a bit of a mash to LI – they blend into each other so that telling them all apart becomes one of those intellectual tasks that I, like Sherlock Holmes, have decided to leave to my reference books – or Google. I have never exactly seen Natalie Portman in a movie, but apparently she is a strong advocate for micro-lenders in Mexico. Hurray! Except that it is notorious that village usurers have usurped the title micro-lender to loan out small sums at rates of interest that are almost unbelievable – 300 percent per month, for instance. But such factoids have no place in the grand sweep of this article.

Hmm, LI has been thinking that it is about time that one of the newspapers mentioned that Blackwater, the murder outfit, is still operating with impunity in Iraq. Or maybe that Andrew Moonan, a murderer whose escape to the U.S. was facilitated by the State Department, is not only still at large but happily living in the 300,000 dollar home he built in Seattle while the family of his victim is no doubt happily on the way to Syria or Northern Iraq, given that surviving in a Baghdad apartment when the man of the apartment is shot down in cold blood causes Hobbesian problems. But lo! what light in yonder faux liberal palace breaks? It is the irrepressible Michael Walzer in the New Republic, filling a page with such depressingly ill thought out and ill written dribble that one wonders where his keepers are.

Walzer starts out with a couple sentences that seem to have been written in a mild state of intoxication:

“Weber's definition suggests that the state is constituted by its monopoly on the use of force. It is also, and perhaps more importantly, justified by its monopoly. This is what states are for; this is what they have to do before they do anything else--shut down the private wars, disarm the private armies, lock up the warlords. It is a very dangerous business to loosen the state's grip on the use of violence, to allow war to become anything other than a public responsibility.”

Since there was no preceding reference to Weber in this fucking throw-away, to refer to Weber’s definition is a bit of intellectual discourtesy – it assumes we all know Weber’s theory of the state. But, in actuality, it assumes that we all know the leading cliché that we get from a first year sociology class about Weber’s theory of the state. And even here we have this weird construction of “monopoly on” rather than “monopoly of”, which, though a common construction among sociologists (who are to the English language as the borer beetle is to the pine tree) shows a significant lack of looking up the Weber quote – which goes, for fans of the Economy and Society translation by Talcott Parsons:

“A compulsory political organization with continuous operations (politischer Anstaltsbetrieb) will be called a “state” insofar as its administrative staff successfully upholds the claim to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order. Social action, especially organized action, will be spoken of as “politically oriented” if it aims at exerting inflence on the government oof a polical organization….”

This, of course, is an entering wedge of rotten cheese for the decayed Walzer, because, being a moral interventionist of such moral gravitas that the moral atmosphere bends when he walks, and when he meets with his other good friend, that moral entrepreneur of fame and fortune, Paul Berman, it is almost moral hurricane weather – Walzer wants to consider whether another saintly organization, Blackwater – which he compares with the daring of a zombie on prozac to the International Brigades in Spain – should “save” Darfur.

“There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. Speaking at a conference of arms merchants and war contractors in Amman, Jordan, in March 2006, Blackwater vice chairman J. Cofer Black offered to stop the killing in Darfur. "We've war-gamed this with professionals," he said. "We can do this." Back in the United States, another Blackwater official, Chris Taylor, reiterated the offer.

Since neither the United Nations nor nato has any intention of deploying a military force that would actually be capable of stopping the Darfur genocide, should we send in mercenaries? Scahill quotes Max Boot, the leading neoconservative writer on military affairs, arguing forcefully that there is nothing else to do. Allowing private contractors to secure Darfur "is deemed unacceptable by the moral giants who run the United Nations," Boot writes. "They claim that it is objectionable to employ--sniff--mercenaries. More objectionable, it seems, than passing empty resolutions, sending ineffectual peace-keeping forces and letting genocide continue."

Some of us might prefer something like the International Brigade that fought in Spain over a force of Blackwater mercenaries. But the International Brigade was also a private militia, organized by the Comintern and never under the control of the Spanish republic. Does it matter that most of its members fought for ideological rather than commercial reasons? Scahill tells us that Blackwater is run by far-right Christian nationalists--for me, as for him, that doesn't make things better.”

Ah, you will notice that this brief from Max Boot and Blackwater skips lightly over Blackwaters Einsatzgruppe actions in Iraq – for instance, the recent massacre in Baghdad. If Walzer suggested sending, say, Al Qaeda to sort our the Darfur mess, he might have generated some controversy. But our terrorists have been normalized, in places like the New Republic, so that we don’t even bother referencing their blood spotty record.

Here’s how he finishes up – with a soupcon of irony that must make the ice rattle in the ice tea glasses in Princeton. Oh that Walzer, always one for the glancing reference to the tragic fate of man!

“Whatever Blackwater's motives, I won't join the "moral giants" who would rather do nothing at all than send mercenaries to Darfur. If the Comintern could field an army and stop the killing, that would be all right with me, too. But we should acknowledge that making this exception would also be a radical indictment of the states that could do what has to be done and, instead, do nothing at all. There should always be public accountability for military action--and sometimes for military inaction as well.”

So sweet! He is willing to send American mercenaries to the oil rich fields of Southern Sudan on … on moral grounds. I’m sure that the oppressed Christians of southern Sudan are contributing, even as we speak, a portion of their corn meal to raise a monument to this dissenter from the “moral giants.” Quoting Max Boot, whose sincere moral midgethood has been burnished by his support for the massacre of more than half a million Iraqis over the past four years – plus, let’s not forget, an amount of refugees that is a million over the count in Darfur – shows that Walzer is able to sally out and meet the knights of rightward thinking. His lance is at the ready!

Ah well. Walzer at one time did have a brain. But when you set yourself up as a moral panjandrum whilst slurping with the high and mighty, gradually it begins to slip away – down to the back pocket, then out the hole in the back pocket onto the floor, and next thing you know, mistaking that ugly grey spot for some chewing gum, you’ve thrown your brain away. A sure sign of that is writing pro-warmonger pieces in Marty Peretz’s mag.


Anonymous said...

LI, I would have to respectfully take issue with you - calling Mr. Walzer a moral midget is way too flattering, considering the man's talents.
I have to admit that I don't quite know what to call someone who compares Blackwater with the International Brigades!!!

Allez, Zapatero!


Chuckie K said...

That Weberian neologism 'Anstaltsbetrieb' suggests to me public urinals operated for profit. So the notion would naturally lead Walzer to Blackwater.

roger said...

Amie, I believe there is an essay by Feynman entitle how small can we go - or something like that. So maybe I will have to go to the nano dimension to survey Walzer's moral status.

CK - Owen is starting an anti-Weberian campaign against the privatization of public bathrooms. And now you bring it up. Aux Armes, Citoyens!

Or, because I am in a Hole mood this weekend, perhaps I should say that Walzer just wants to be the girl with the most cake.

Anonymous said...

Li, fuck Walzer and his ilk. Exactly how long is one supposed to take such scum for sages?
And forget


roger said...

Amie, wow, the victory in Spain has put some pepper into you! I like the milicianas, some of whom are probably alive today. And definitely smiling.

Anonymous said...

Ah, LI, it is good to think of the old milicianas smiling, they did have the most unbelievable smiles when they were young!
Over in France, the PS and PCF did quite well in the local elections this past weekend. Hope they can carry through in next weekend's second round and really kick Sarko & Co in the nuts.


northanger said...

recently wondered where the word "strongman" came from: caudillo. you & amie probably know more about it, but found some stuff i liked. The left and the right in Latin America each have had, in recent years, their own Latin Lover — the idealized strong man who would hold the nation in his arms and banish disorder. Order — the strongman's promise spread throughout the land. There was no more erotic word in the lexicon of Latin America (Romance and Romantics, Revolution and Reality). this definition seems weirdly appropriate: To play the part of the strong man, to be whipped at the cart's tail; i.e. to push the cart and horses too. googled up United States Caudillo, United States Caudillo Action &c, but my favorite's from a 1934 Time article about an Argentine cattle thief hiding the product until prices go up: "I got the idea from the Yanqui plan organized by the United States Caudillo Francisco Roosevelt. . . . It's a great idea, supply and demand, and it saved us from closing shop. When a man called Francisco Roosevelt can do it, so can a man called Francisco Gomez."

i think The Ten Commandments for Developing Countries should be revised for Developed Countries. revising your formula, monolopy of v. monopoly on: right to bear arms v. american caudillo. right to bear arms is the right to define the battlespace; american caudillo is the red telephone ringing at 3AM answered by the "strongman". "monopoly on" infringes upon the right of the People to defend themselves blah blah yadda yadda.



Anonymous said...

North, those are quite some quotes! Have you seen the film, Pan's Labyrinth? Well worth seeing - and in relation to the caudillo and the Spanish Civil War.


northanger said...

thanks Amie. i checked out Pan's Labyrinth when it first came out, but it's a bit too strong for me to watch. that brings an interesting layer to the caudillo since i also googled up The Caudillo in His Labyrinth—any ideas about that labyrinth? btw, Matthew 12:29 (binding the strongman) & Matthew 18:18 (binding/loosing) were also "caudillo" googled.

Anonymous said...

North, I have to admit that Pan's Labyrinth isn't exactly easy viewing, but if you can take googling The Caudillo in His Labyrinth, maybe you can give the film another chance.
All this has me recalling another labyrinth - The Labyrinth of Solitude, by O. Paz. He went to Spain during the civil war and writes about it in the book. I don't have it with me, but do remember his writing about the faces of the Republicans, of the desperate hope etched there.
To quote a line from memory:

Whoever has looked Hope in the face never forgets it and everywhere he goes he is forever looking for it.


northanger said...


I remember that in Spain during the civil war I had a revelation of "the other man" and of another kind of solitude: not closed, not mechanical, but open to the transcendent. No doubt the nearness of death and the brotherhood of men-at-arms, at whatever time and in whatever country, always produce an atmosphere favorable to the extraordinary, to all that rises above the human condition and breaks the circle of solitude that surrounds each one of us. But in those faces—obtuse and obstinate, gross and brutal, like those the great Spanish painters, without the least touch of complacency and with an almost flesh-and-blood realism, have left us—there was something like a desperate hopefulness, something very concrete and at the same time universal. Since then I have never seen the same expression on any face. ¶ My testimony can be dismissed as an illusion, but I consider it futile to attempt any answer to this objection: the evidence is now a part of my being. I believed and still believe that "the other man" dawned in those men. The Spanish dream was broken and defiled later, not because it was Spanish but because it was universal and, at the same time, concrete, an embodied dream with wide, astonished eyes. The faces I saw have become as they were before they were transformed by that elated sureness (of what: of life or of death?); they are the faces of coarse and humble people. But the memory will never leave me. Anyone who has looked Hope in the face will never forget it. He will search for it everywhere he goes, among all lands of men. And he will dream of finding it again someday, somewhere, perhaps among those closest to him. In every man there is the possibility of his being—or, to be more exact, of his becoming once again—another man.

Anonymous said...

North, thanks for digging up the passage that I was trying to recall.