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Showing posts from November 13, 2005

the geneology of horseback hall

I’ve said a bit about the imperial effect in my last post. In this series of posts about Stephen, Mill, and the Pilate controversy, my point is both historiographic and current. I think that there has been, since the beginning of the Cold war, a systematic distortion of the real political history of the conservative/liberal split. To my mind, the canonical text in which this distortion is inscribed is The Road to Serfdom. In that book, Hayek attacks socialism as the source of the planned economy, identifies the moment that the planned economy took power as state policy with communism, and identifies the classic liberal era as the golden era of individual liberty. All of these claims are false. Hayek’s notion of the planned economy makes an eccentric exception for law – as though the body that lays down the law code is doing neutral work. It is this exception that allows him to plausibly lay out a case for his historical perspective. Without that exception, the history of central planni

pilate intro

Years ago, I played around with writing a series of essays – a small book, in fact, about the evolution of modern liberalism and conservatism from classical liberalism. My angle was this: the traditional model of the formation of political ideologies in the 19th and 20th century emphasizes the role of the conflict between labor and capital, with imperialism being derived from that central conflict. My idea was that this didn’t really capture the imperial effect. I thought that these essays could employ Pilate as a legend around which these issues gathered. In the enlightenment, Pilate had become a practical skeptic, a cousin of the enlightened ruler, dealing with religious enthusiasm by asking ‘what is the truth?” But in the 19th century, in Britain, there was a shift in the meaning of this legend. Just as the British empire became the new Rome, Pilate became a quietly heroic colonial officer, much like the officers in India, controlling the native inclination to superstition and riot.

your mission, if you take it, is to destroy the department of War

Two stories in the last two days shed little pinpricks of light on the wholly, deeply, astonishingly disastrous reign of Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. Rumsfeld has earned for himself a rare niche, as far as cabinet officers go. Usually, the worst ones are venal. The worst ones pocket money for selling federal mineral rights, or authorize bribes to quiet blown illegal operatives working for the White House. Rumsfeld is a different variety of cat. His mission has been to destroy the Department of War, and to do it while ensuring America’s defeat in Iraq against the insurgency. He came in with plans that would perfect the technostructure for our battle with Soviet forces on the plains of Poland, and has stuck to that task with all the vigor of the monomaniac in Dracula who collects flies. Apparently in the five long, long years he has been there, nobody told him that we aren’t endangered by Soviet forces any more. In an administration composed of Confederate re-enactors, I suppose it i

the U.S. and the people without history

Years ago, Eric Wolf wrote a book with the catchy title, Europe and the People without History. The book was about a pattern in the early modern mindset that became a template for the colonialist ideology. Europe, in this perspective, or the West, had a history – there was a definite progressive pattern to the changes in the West over time. But the Other did not have a history. The other lived in eternal cycles – the Asiatic despots – or had no history at all worth speaking of – the noble savage. Over at Crooked Timber, there’s a post about the Jane Fonda myth that has aroused a lot of hot comments, some by LI. And the comments about the Vietnam war are oddly consonant with that old White Mythology, to use J.D.’s phrase. The war on the American side is considered to be full of dynamic changes. The students, the soldiers, the media all producing changes in the way the Americans felt and acted during the war. But on the other side, there are only monolithic, intemporal blocks. There ar

lies of intention and lies of fact

Although I’ve pretty much stopped reading Christopher Hitchens on Iraq, curiosity made me peek at his last Slate column. After two years, I wonder how he would stand up for his friend, Chalabi, whose speech he attended last week. Although the column is written in Hitchen’s now normal tendentious tone, a mix of scorn and insult that gives the effect of Captain Bligh giving his last speech to the crew of the Bounty, and though, of course, Hitchens is simply a lunatic about Iraq, he does have a valid central point about the Democratic claim to being mislead about Iraq. Hitchens simply points to a long line of legislation, going back to 1998, as well as Clinton’s own actions, to make the point that the Dems were on board the regime change ship (hey, having thrown in Captain Bligh, I’m sticking with this metaphor, sailor!). I think this is fairly accurate. The rush to war was a peculiarly D.C. moment. The DLC wing of the Democratic party – from Lieberman to Clinton – let Bush carry the mes

to bring the neo-liberal hero to life

To bring the dead to life Is no great magic. Few are wholly dead: Blow on a dead man's embers And a live flame will start. Let his forgotten griefs be now, And now his withered hopes; Subdue your pen to his handwriting Until it prove as natural To sign his name as yours… - Robert Graves, “To Bring the Dead to Life” Graves biographical method of going from the outside in is useful in bringing the neo-liberal hero to life. It is no great magic to imagine any European politician receiving the undiluted affection of American journalists. Given an X in, say, Spain, let him proclaim the need to reform the labor market; let him speak of tax cuts; set him up before audiences of working men, where he can frankly tell them he means to attack their standards of living – and they will applaud him fiercely, of course. Let him say that we have a few things to learn from America. And let him praise the free market, and let him be frank. Among the journalists who write of Spain, then, the story wi

heroes on parade

A few days ago, I was talking to a friend who teaches at Berkeley. I was complaining, for some reason, about the ineffectuality of lefty political movements. My pet peeve – for instance, the way the anti-war movement gets continually diverted to supporting factional and hopelessly unlikely projects, thus foreclosing on allies to the right that could seal the closure of this occupation. And he told me that sometimes he gets tired of his radical students playing the ultra game, with their seeming program of getting guns and going to the hills to fight capitalism. And, although he didn’t add this, their probable real future in business, entertainment, law and medicine. I said that this is just the kind of romantic lefty shit I hated. Especially the projection of a heroic ideal embodied by some revolutionary leader, Castro or Che or, as is the case right now, Chavez. Chavez, who has quite correctly begun diverting revenue from petroleum exports to human capital projects (just like Kuwait