Book Review: “Savage Mules”

by Daniel on July 22, 2008

I think that over the last few years, the view has quite frequently been expressed in comments on CT and other blogs that it is rather a shame that Christopher Hitchens has suffered something of a decline in his talents as a writer even as the general direction of his politics has coarsened and moved rightwards. How we wish, a significant proportion of the readership lament, that there was somebody around writing exhilarating and scabrous left-wing polemics with a contrarian twist!

Check out “Savage Mules” by Dennis Perrin, guys, you’ll like it.

Savage Mules is a cracking read – I’m only half way through it, but for reasons I’ll get onto in a minute, I thought it made sense to post the review early. As the title suggests, it’s a book about the Democratic Party of the USA, and about their long history of violence, imperialism, authoritarianism and craven surrender to the worst excesses of American right-capitalism. As such, in the current media environment (which seems to be dominated by a suffocating mix of unquestioning idolatry from the left and half-baked smears from the right), it’s a tonic. Yes indeed, there do exist people in America who are prepared to criticise the Democrats from the Left!

And what a criticism. Reading “Savage Mules”, you realise what a sorry job Jonah Goldberg made of “Liberal Fascism”. From the Trail of Tears to the internment of Japanese-Americans to , if you actually want to stitch the Democratic Party up as a gang of authoritarians, nuts and genocidaires, there’s more than enough material available in the historic record for you to do so. The only thing is, that if you’re going to stitch the Democrats this way, it makes no sense to pretend that they’re socialists too.

In fact, (and this is pretty much a commonplace to everyone who doesn’t live in America), the Democratic Party are a right-wing capitalist party which is broadly favourable to the military-industrial state, and as a result, when they act like one. As Adolph Reed notes (via Dennis’ blog, and in an article that looks like it’s one to print out and reread every time Obama gives a stirring set-piece speech, to re-establish bearings), there’s something a bit dumb about being repeatedly “shocked” by Democratic moves to the right (most recently, that wiretapping thing); they happen so frequently and systematically that they can’t be explained away as “pragmatism” or “compromise”; the Dem leadership does these things because they want to.

Why is this? I think at base, Dennis’ real explanation is a structural one; in the rare “but seriously folks” moments in Savage Mules (which mainly concentrates on Democratic adventurism in foreign policy rather than domestic politics), he always seems to be moving in the direction of something not far off Marx’s analysis of imperialism and the view that the Democrats are simply, like the Republicans, an arm of the American ruling class. However, this isn’t really set out in detail (or at least, not in the first half of the book), and other chapters also deal with the “not wanting to look like a wimp” theory, the “scared of being redbaited” theory and the currently still fashionable “arrogant and unrealistic assessment of humanitarian benefits” theory – he’s particularly caustic, as is Reed, on the tendency of grad-school humanitarians like to play “let’s you and him fight” on a global scale and on the serried ranks of old farts who are always hanging round explaining that while the war that they opposed in their youth was a hideous exercise in imperial brutality, the current war being pursued now that they’ve passed draft age is a high-minded humanitarian crusade. He’s also caustic about nearly everything else.

It’s not a perfect book, it has to be said – the key strength of it is that it’s wildly, hilariously unfair to its targets and at times (particularly when Dennis deals with the way in which FDR boondoggled the US into World War 2), this slips into glibness; he also, in order to shoehorn JFK into an overall narrative of bloodthirsty Dems, takes a pretty slanted view of the historical evidence on the direction which Vietnam policy was going in 1963. And the habit of, a la Nick Cohen, always assuming the very worst motives indeed on the part of his opponents, and tarring whole groups of well-meaning people with the motives of the nastiest tendencies that can be tangentially associated with them, is the sort of thing that would get irksome in a longer book.

On the other hand, I find it a lot easier to forgive this meanspiritedness in “Savage Mules” than in the literary output of the Decent Left. Why? Well for one thing, and it’s pointless to deny it, I am like everyone else in finding it a lot funnier when someone’s having a go at my enemies than at me and my friends. But for another, there’s an underlying honesty there that has to be respected. There’s no hidden agenda behind his excoriation of the Democratic Party; he just hates them and wishes that they didn’t peel off so much strength from the only marginally existent American left (compare this to a book like “What’s Left?”, where the author spends hundreds of pages pretending, ludicrously, that his phillipics are only tangentially related to the Iraq War). The point of view expressed is also such a marginal and unpopular one (as opposed to the official policy of a major government) that it ought to be cut more slack in the tactics used. And finally, there’s not a hint of careerism here.

My God, there certainly isn’t a hint of careerism here. A funny and eloquent writer capable of doing good foreign policy analysis from the left of the Democratic Party might certainly realistically aspire to carving out a decently if not terrifically remunerated niche somewhere around the third floor of the “netroots” movement. So Dennis devotes an entire extended chapter to burning all his bridges there with a Hunter S Thompsonesque rant about YearlyKos (I sneaked a peek at this one; the general theme is that the Kossacks are still full of it because they haven’t given up on the Democrats). So no consulting gig there.

Which brings me to the reason for posting this review ahead of finishing the book. It’s published by Verso, a publishing house which has many virtues, but which (shall we say) doesn’t have much of a track record of making rich men out of its authors. More to the point, books published by Verso have an irritating tendency toward short print runs and quick deletions and given that it is to a great extent an election-year book, “Savage Mules” is likely to be even more vulnerable to this Jack Kevorkian deletion policy than, say, Wall Street. So buy a copy now. In fact, it might make sense to buy two copies, as I rather suspect that this book would make a perfect present for any stroppy or rebellious teenagers of your acquaintance, given that it’s full of the sort of fascinating and embarrassing facts about the political history of the USA over the last hundred years that would be more or less guaranteed to light a firework in any high school civics class.

Full disclosure: Dennis and I used to be members of a popular mailing list about five years ago and I think it’s fair to say that we didn’t get on (this exchange is pretty typical). But a lot of water’s gone under the bridge since then and I like his blog. That’s it basically.

{ 154 comments }

1

hardindr 07.22.08 at 3:57 pm

Perrin can definitely be funny, and it is probably worth my while to find a copy of the book and read it, but I can’t help but wonder if another LBO-Talk alum’s description of Dennis is accurate. There really isn’t any “Left” in America to speak of, so we’re kind of stuck with the Democratic Party with all its faults and short-comings.

2

Jeff Rubard 07.22.08 at 4:05 pm

From the Trail of Tears to the internment of Japanese-Americans to , if you actually want to stitch the Democratic Party up as a gang of authoritarians, nuts and genocidaires, there’s more than enough material available in the historic record for you to do so. The only thing is, that if you’re going to stitch the Democrats this way, it makes no sense to pretend that they’re socialists too.

Do you understand the expression “stitch-up”?

he also, in order to shoehorn JFK into an overall narrative of bloodthirsty Dems, takes a pretty slanted view of the historical evidence on the direction which Vietnam policy was going in 1963

Interesting point. Other interesting points: the missile “gap” and Crisis, JFK’s wartime diaries enthusing over Hitler’s rapport with his people.

The point of view expressed is also such a marginal and unpopular one (as opposed to the official policy of a major government) that it ought to be cut more slack in the tactics used.

It’s good to know the American left has the City’s support.

3

dfreelon 07.22.08 at 4:20 pm

What I’d like to know is, what would Perrin have us hapless Dems do? There are plenty of folks in this country (myself included) who would love a leftist electoral alternative, but have chosen to sign up with the next best thing rather than be shut out of power completely. If anyone else has a better idea, I’d love to hear it.

4

ejh 07.22.08 at 4:24 pm

in order to shoehorn JFK into an overall narrative of bloodthirsty Dems

Ah, well, there was the Bay of Pigs, and he did run against Nixon from the Right in foreign policy terms.

I used to work – for thirteen awful weeks, and I’d taken the job as a permanent one – for the company that distributes Verso (or at least it did then, and may well do so). As it happens it was controlled by a well-known Oxford publishing family with a penchant for far-right politics. One can take links (or their significance) too far.

5

Steve LaBonne 07.22.08 at 4:36 pm

If anyone else has a better idea, I’d love to hear it.

Me too. But the system is so thoroughly rigged that I really don’t see one.

Also, the populace has been so brainwashed into cherishing its delusions of imperial grandeur (i.e. American “strength” and “leadership”, not to mention “making gas cheap again so we can afford to drive our SUVs” and “keeping us safe from scary brown people with bombs”) that a non-aggressive foreign policy is genuinely highly unpopular. There’s a strong positive feedback loop between the pseudo-(small d) democratic political system and the general culture, strongly reinforced by the corporate-monopoly media, that keeps it that way. I just don’t don’t see how you could even make a dent in that cycle. I seriously don’t think anything will ever do so short of total defeat and humiliation a la Germany and Japan in 1945.

6

Miracle Max 07.22.08 at 4:50 pm

For the record I plan on reading Dennis’ book. I like him and I hope the book does well. We need more like it.

7

Miracle Max 07.22.08 at 4:51 pm

Oh and I’m not an LBO alumnus. I’m still there, virtually.

8

abb1 07.22.08 at 4:54 pm

Sounds like a good book. Myself, I’m currently working on a thesis that the Democratic party (post-LBJ anyway) is not a real party at all. It’s a moulage (like, say, those fake ducks hunters use, or punching bags used by boxers) designed to create the impression that there are two players in the game. I’m not sure: is this thesis stronger (i.e. more radical) or weaker than Dennis’?

9

deliasmith 07.22.08 at 5:15 pm

a) what would Perrin have us hapless Dems do?

Build The Party, if I recall the WRP line correctly.

b) in order to shoehorn JFK into an overall narrative of bloodthirsty Dems

No need for that shoehorn – the shoe fits. The VietNam direction in 1963 was inwards and upwards.

c) the populace has been so brainwashed into cherishing its delusions of imperial grandeur … that a non-aggressive foreign policy is genuinely highly unpopular

Unpopular is not the same as wrong, of course. See a) above

10

Total 07.22.08 at 5:16 pm

the populace has been so brainwashed

It’s probably time to give up on the “false consciousness” meme. “They’d see things our way if only they really UNDERSTOOD how the world worked” is both patronizing and inaccurate. The reality is that the populace likes quite a lot of things that we progressives find atavistic and appalling. And that’s the root of the problem with books like Perrin’s. It’s a lovely and daring thing to slag off the Democrats and, at the end of the day, one can go home and have a pint with Ralph Nader and Bob Barr.

11

ejh 07.22.08 at 5:48 pm

It’s probably time to give up on the “false consciousness” meme

Personally I’d be grateful if people stopped using the term “meme”.

12

Steve LaBonne 07.22.08 at 5:50 pm

I think that while it’s clearly naive to attribute everything to “false consciousness” it’s equally naive to deny that elite manipulation has a strong impact on popular attitudes.

And I’m sorry, but it’s a demonstrable fact that, for example, the “war on terror” is an inept and totally unrealistic response to what is actually an international law-enforcement problem, and that people who are genuinely well-informed DO see this quite clearly. (And I have no doubt that this group includes the brighter politicians, like Obama- which therefore makes his WOT rhetoric consciously disingenuous and hence doubly infuriating.) The fact that average Joe really and truly believes something does nothing to establish the correctness of that belief- and I hope you were not trying to aver the contrary. Nor does it render useless attempts to discover WHY he believes that, attempts which will certainly need to take seriously- I don’t say assume, merely take seriously- the possibility that Joe has been duped by people with ulterior motives.

13

Rich Puchalsky 07.22.08 at 6:03 pm

“in the current media environment (which seems to be dominated by a suffocating mix of unquestioning idolatry from the left and half-baked smears from the right)”

I haven’t read the book, but the opinion above seems to be Daniel’s, so is fair game. *What* “unquestioning idolatry from the left”? I have to say that as far as observation goes, that’s nonsense. Remember FISA? Who is supposed to be idolizing whom? I don’t know, but let’s say it’s Obama — the rest of the Democratic party is an unconvincing target for idolatry. I wasn’t disappointed in Obama about FISA, but that was because I was already pre-cynicized. The attitude of the netroots about him is, basically, that he’s going to win, and that he’s better than the alternative. That’s not idolatry.

This notion that supporters of the Democratic party are unquestioning idolators has always been what a few fringe leftists like to tell themselves in order to justify their own ineffectuality. I heard it over and over at each stage of growth of the netroots. “Oh, they’re a tiny group of middle class people who like to hear themselves talk, and who do nothing but raise money, and will never affect the Democratic Party.” “Oh, they’ll never participate in primaries to try to drive the party to the left, they’ll just ratify whatever the party does, and keep quiet.” There’s nothing difficult about contrarianism if you don’t bother to ever check it against reality, after all.

14

abb1 07.22.08 at 6:06 pm

I think the brainwashing is quite obvious on the conceptual level, like calling the corrupt corporate-government symbiosis “free market” and believing that “free market” is the correct name for this phenomenon. “War on terror”, sure; garden variety Orwellian stuff. “Are you for winning or for capitulation?”

However, if you ask questions in common, practical, non-conceptual terms, there is no problem, I don’t think it’s possible to brainwash on this level.

Would you like to close military bases in 150 countries around the world and use the money to finance free medical care for everybody? Would you like to tax multi-millionaires and use the money to provide free higher education for everyone?

I don’t think anyone would answer ‘no’, but they are never given this choice. Their choice is between “free market” and “government bureaucracy”.

15

Steve LaBonne 07.22.08 at 6:09 pm

I don’t think anyone would answer ‘no’

You’d be surprised…

16

ejh 07.22.08 at 6:11 pm

the rest of the Democratic party is an unconvincing target for idolatry.

Well, not all of it by any manner of means. Though of course you’re right to say that idolatry is far from being as widespread (let alone all-encompassing) as some people suggest.

17

dfreelon 07.22.08 at 6:12 pm

Build The Party, if I recall the WRP line correctly.

It seems the WRP hasn’t quite cornered the market on that particular slogan.

18

Walt 07.22.08 at 6:12 pm

I think there’s something to the “false consciousness” thesis, but it proves too much. Since it’s hard to reliably distinguish between when someone agrees with you because of false consciousness, and when they just disagree with you, you can basically season your theory to taste. If you’re feeling pretty cynical about human nature, you can assume people really mean it; if you’re felling optimistic, you can attribute it to false consciousness.

19

Steve LaBonne 07.22.08 at 6:13 pm

The attitude of the netroots about him is, basically, that he’s going to win, and that he’s better than the alternative. That’s not idolatry.

Exactly. Despite my disgust for the current state of our politics, I still identify as a Democrat because they’re the only game in town-the only alternative on offer truly is even worse. But I prefer to use my very limited supply of political $$ to help genuinely progressive Congressional candidates rather than send them to Obama- who is certainly managing more than fine without me. Trying to make the Democratic Party incrementally better is the best we can do under current conditions.

20

engels 07.22.08 at 6:21 pm

I’m a little unclear as to why anyone thinks that the fact that many Americans have preferences for things that are ‘atavistic and appalling’ should refute any ‘false consciousness meme’…

21

Miracle Max 07.22.08 at 6:28 pm

It’s possible to note that the Netroots are not very critical of the DP without the hyperbole of “idolators.” The fuss over FISA, which I respect and share, is pretty exceptional so far.

Dennis notwithstanding, it’s still possible to be optimistic. With strong majorities on the Hill and a Dem in the WH, we could look forward to more initiative. But if you never ask (complain) you never get.

22

Total 07.22.08 at 6:43 pm

Personally I’d be grateful if people stopped using the term “meme”.

mememememememememememememe. Nyah.

The fact that average Joe really and truly believes something does nothing to establish the correctness of that belief-

I didn’t say that it did. I said that assuming that ordinary people don’t have some understanding of what’s going on and–right or wrong–make decisions based on that is patronizing. It’s akin to one of the Bush administration’s most annoying habits: “if only you had the top-secret information I had, you wouldn’t disagree.”

I’m a little unclear as to why anyone thinks that the fact that many Americans have preferences for things that are ‘atavistic and appalling’ should refute any ‘false consciousness meme’…

Love the irony of your nickname.

But in any case do we really want to argue that if it wasn’t for elite manipulation that lots of folks wouldn’t be racist/sexist/homophobic? “They made me do it” is a child’s excuse. Why are we so quick to apply it to those who hold positions we don’t like (excepting the evil brainwashers, of course)?

23

Steve LaBonne 07.22.08 at 6:50 pm

I’m not trying to relieve them of responsibility for their views, if that’s where you’re going. But where I live and work I’m surrounded by typical conservatives, so I’m pretty familiar with their mentality- this is not just theoretical for me. And I can tell you for a fact from talking to them that if it were not for the right-wing noise machine echoing in their heads, a significant number of them could be moved a considerable distance. Sometimes one can even make headway regardless, but it quickly becomes apparent that the years of crapola they’ve been fed by the likes of Limbaugh and O’Reilly has a very real effect and significantly increases their resistance to re-thinking their positions.

24

An American 07.22.08 at 6:52 pm

The Democratic Party kind of sucks, but I’m pretty sympathetic to their plight. The bizarre factional space in the U.S. (which nowadays includes liberal evangelists, leftist xenophobes, subjectively militarist Ron Paul supporters who watch Michael Savage, and many other such unlikely creatures.) creates formidable curve fitting problems for anyone who actually, you know, wants to get elected. In light of this, casting Democrats as “an arm of corporate interests” is way, way too easy.

Nonetheless, I’d encourage anyone who thinks they could do better than those awful establishment Democrats to put their money where their mouth is. Maybe we can use you. (Probably not, though.)

25

Total 07.22.08 at 6:53 pm

And I can tell you for a fact from talking to them that if it were not for the right-wing noise machine echoing in their heads, a significant number of them could be moved a considerable distance. Sometimes one can even make headway regardless, but it quickly becomes apparent that the years of crapola they’ve been fed by the likes of Limbaugh and O’Reilly has a very real effect and significantly increases their resistance to re-thinking their positions.

Maybe, though speculating on what someone *would* do in the absence of some other factor doesn’t strike me as the strongest evidence, but in any case people can choose whether or not to listen/participate, etc. I note that the right-wing noise machine’s message about Iraq has been pretty consistent over the last few years, but a substantial proportion of the American public had changed their mind about it.

26

"Q" the Enchanter 07.22.08 at 6:55 pm

Er, the “An American” pseudonym was a nonce-name for another comment. This is my actual made-up name.

27

Ben Alpers 07.22.08 at 7:09 pm

I think calling their loyalty “idolatry” is rather unfair to partisans everywhere, but the Netroots are essentially defined by their loyalty to the Democratic Party. That loyalty, plus a certain set of strategic and tactical commitments, is what unites them, rather than any particular ideological or policy views. The Netroots often criticize the Democrats (the latest FISA spat is far from unique). But they never seriously consider voting for or supporting anyone but the Democrats, and tend to be very suspicious of any political action that does not take place within the Democratic Party (see their frequent ire aimed at single-issue groups, especially when such groups endorse anyone who isn’t a Democrat).

28

abb1 07.22.08 at 7:29 pm

Netroots are essentially defined by their loyalty to the Democratic Party

But how can the Democratic Party generate any loyalty? That seems incredible. It’s a typical centrist party, a party of compromise, how can it induce any? feeling, other than boredom? I dunno…

29

novakant 07.22.08 at 7:30 pm

But they never seriously consider voting for or supporting anyone but the Democrats

Because it’s useless at best, but more likely counterproductive. Nader brought us Bush. The real problem, as far as I can see, is that the Netroots have no real bargaining power, as opposed to e.g. the unions.

30

mpowell 07.22.08 at 7:45 pm

The problem with Dennis’ view of Kos is that if the people who are sympathetic to that view stopped being Democratic loyalist, we’d just end up being more screwed because we’d be electing more Republicans.

So yeah, the crazy Democratic party loyalists, who I think act like a bunch of idiots sometimes, are still critical to preventing further movement towards the Right in this country. It’s fine to write a book that skewers them for it, but, seriously, I value their commitment. I’ll send $$ to candidates now and then, but I don’t have the spirit or willingness to commit significant amounts of my time to helping to elect Democrats. These people do. It probably requires a lot of cognitive dissonance or kool-aid drinking. So be it. We need these poeple.

31

Rich Puchalsky 07.22.08 at 7:49 pm

“I think calling their loyalty “idolatry” is rather unfair to partisans everywhere, but the Netroots are essentially defined by their loyalty to the Democratic Party.”

Loyalty and idolatry are two very different things, especially in the context of the “current media environment”, which was what the original sentence was about. But even “loyalty” isn’t quite the right word. It’s like talking about someone’s loyalty to mathematics. If you’re in a system that, mathematically, is set up so that only one of two large parties can win elections, then of course you have to be “loyal” to one of them if you want to participate in electoral politics.

32

parse 07.22.08 at 8:07 pm

if you actually want to stitch the Democratic Party up as a gang of authoritarians, nuts and genocidaires, there’s more than enough material available in the historic record for you to do so. The only thing is, that if you’re going to stitch the Democrats this way, it makes no sense to pretend that they’re socialists too.

This suggests that it wouldn’t be possible for a political party to be authoritarian, nuts, genocidal and socialist. The combination may not be factually correct as a description of the Democratic Party, but I don’t think it would be difficult to make a sensible argument that a single group could comprise all those attributes. (And given the long history and broad sweep of the Democratic party, I t hink it’s probably factually correct that various elements have been, variously, authoritarian, nuts, genocidal and socialist.

33

PersonFromPorlock 07.22.08 at 8:11 pm

Interesting. All these sweeping assertions of the ‘false consciousness’ of non-Leftist Americans and not a hint of insight into the possibility of a Leftist false consciousness. That’s doubtlessly one of those things that’s impossible-by-definition, like the idea that the non-Left might have some reasons for believing as it does and the right, as responsible adults, to come to those conclusions.

34

Steve LaBonne 07.22.08 at 8:15 pm

Hey, any time you feel like it, go right ahead and show us how John McCain’s foreign and economic policies really will benefit (and Bush’s have benefited) ordinary non-rich folks. Have at it.

35

abb1 07.22.08 at 8:16 pm

are still critical to preventing further movement towards the Right

But that’s not obvious at all. I’ll say: Democratic party loyalists, all they do is allowing the Democratic party to move further to the right, and that, in turn, forces the Republicans to move to the right yet again. It’s the Naderists and such who slow down the sliding. That’s because liberalism has no cornerstone, it can only exist as a compromise between radical doctrines. If there’s vacuum on the left, they’ll move to the right.

36

mpowell 07.22.08 at 8:24 pm


But that’s not obvious at all. I’ll say: Democratic party loyalists, all they do is allowing the Democratic party to move further to the right, and that, in turn, forces the Republicans to move to the right yet again. It’s the Naderists and such who slow down the sliding. That’s because liberalism has no cornerstone, it can only exist as a compromise between radical doctrines. If there’s vacuum on the left, they’ll move to the right.

It’s not at all clear to me that Nader didn’t move the country to the right. Our politics over the last 8 years have definitely been more conservative as a result of Nader. And I think the Overton window shifts with the party in power. Maybe the backlash we are about to experience will more than make up for it, maybe not. But then you’re debating political strategy. To me, it’s idiotic to assume that the natural drift is always rightward. I think if the Democratic party were strong, in power and more confident in themselves, they very well could lead the country leftward from where we are currently at. In fact, I’m betting on it by voting Democratic.

37

Aaron Baker 07.22.08 at 8:25 pm

I thought Christopher Hitchens was an irresponsible loose cannon back when he was a lefty as well. I remember an article of his called “The Chorus and Cassandra,” a blanket defense of Noam Chomsky for a number of things that in my view fully deserved criticism: e.g. the disgraceful petition on behalf of Faurisson. I’m not sure Hitchens has really changed all that much.

38

Michael Dietz 07.22.08 at 8:32 pm

Total says: “Why are we so quick to apply it [the ‘false consciousness’ label] to those who hold positions we don’t like (excepting the evil brainwashers, of course)?”

Because they hold positions-we-don’t-like that are demonstrably opposed to their own interests? Because they vote for policies-we-don’t-like that have demonstrably caused them and theirs harm? Those are fairly important qualifiers.

Seems to me that if you want to explain the electoral behavior of the American public during, say, the last (Reagan) generation or so, “false consciousness” gets you straight down the Occam highway. I don’t much care whether the terms might sound patronizing of people whose consciousness you deem false; the alternative is to insist that the broad middle of the populace collectively decided some time ago that the richest 0.1% just weren’t rich enough, and have been working diligently and in full knowledge since then to rectify matters.

In fact, the alternative is to insist that it’s the evil brainwashers who are blind to their own interests–since they’re spending shitloads of money on an elaborate (and, if false consciousness isn’t real, supererogatory) media/PR infrastructure designed to achieve and maintain the results so eloquently painted on the income ineqality charts. That’s a lot of yachts they could otherwise be buying.

Again, it may be patronizing of me, but if you ask me who has a better and more politically effective understanding of their own interests, I’ll go with the ownership classes–since it’s tough to attribute it to chance that their interests always seem to be the ones to come out on top.

39

Peter H 07.22.08 at 8:46 pm

Interesting. All these sweeping assertions of the ‘false consciousness’ of non-Leftist Americans and not a hint of insight into the possibility of a Leftist false consciousness. That’s doubtlessly one of those things that’s impossible-by-definition, like the idea that the non-Left might have some reasons for believing as it does and the right, as responsible adults, to come to those

Somebody just hasn’t been following the discussion very closely…

40

Rich Puchalsky 07.22.08 at 9:00 pm

“I’m not sure Hitchens has really changed all that much.”

I agree with that. What did he ever write that was actually insightful? I think that people who used to like him liked to be able to say “Wow, I just read a guy who attacked Mother Theresa, that’s so cool. You think that you’re a rebel? I’m a stone cold rebel, dude.” It’s a perfectly fitting template for the Decent Left later. “You think that you care about people? Well, you don’t, because you’re not willing to, like, take military action. You have to be a stone cold hard guy, dude.”

Now I’m just waiting to laugh when the people who liked “God Is Not Great” hear that Hitchens has become a Muslim.

41

seth edenbaum 07.22.08 at 9:04 pm

“Democrats are simply, like the Republicans, an arm of the American ruling class.”
As are “liberal” academics including most of the authors of this blog. Perrin apparently discusses the assaults on Lebanon and Gaza. Little discussion of the former that I know of here, and none on the latter.
On iraq, no discussion of the nationalist insurgency as such. No discussion of the similarities between Maliki and Abbas, as puppets of an occupying force. No discussion of Iran as a people; as a culture. No mention on blogs as to why the American embassy in Tehran was overrun. “Embassies are sacrosanct!” quoth Josh Marshall. The founding of Israel was “a necessary crime…” “The world owed the Jews” again Marshall. Yes, quotes. No discussion of the Dayton Plan for a force of Palestinian “Contras.” No sandniggers in on the debate at all. Joshua Marshall and Matthew Yglesias get respect, but no As’ad AbuKhalil and no Sinan Antoon. Am I supposed to take Kevin Drum seriously on Iraq? Brad DeLong seriously as an intellectual? Tyler Cowen… on morality!!?? Is Henry Farrell “on the left” just because he says so? Rationalism and self-reporting: sorry but it’s not enough.

The question of the day is still why Tony Judt is to the left of Robert Reich.
If you want to know why there’s no left wing in the country [meaning in this context any real argument for social democracy (best you can do)] then look at who your friends are.
Look in the god damn mirror.

42

harry b 07.22.08 at 9:05 pm

Oh, Hitchen’s has an absolutely brilliant essay about Paul Johnson. What he’s always been best at is attacking other people, often with insight and biting humour, as in Johnson’s case. (And Clinton’s, for that matter). I sometimes wonder if he ever re-reads the Johnson essay and, if so, what it makes him think.

43

Walt 07.22.08 at 9:15 pm

PersonFromPorlock discovers this incredible conundrum: People think that their own opinions are right, and contrary opinions are wrong. And yet, if someone can be wrong in their opinions, the very people who think that they are right could be the ones who are wrong! Puzzling, but true.

44

Shane Taylor 07.22.08 at 9:17 pm

I read Savage Mules, and Daniel’s review nails it. The party history in Dennis Perrin’s book is easy enough to come by, but the crock is how rarely it is applied to partisan rhetoric.

And Perrin scrambles the image of dour scolds on the American “far left.” Savage Mules is an indictment of the Democrats as a war party by a raucous Pan.

45

salientdowns 07.22.08 at 9:20 pm

I don’t much care whether the terms might sound patronizing of people whose consciousness you deem false

Agreed. It’s hard to see how it’s patronizing to admit that, human nature being what it is, people on the whole are susceptible to being misled a calculated, organized, and well-financed campaign to deceive them.

46

salientdowns 07.22.08 at 9:21 pm

Correction: …being misled *by* a calculated…

47

roger 07.22.08 at 9:30 pm

I suppose I have a problem with all the assumptions underlying the idea that the “left” can automatically attack the war state generated by Democrats and Republicans cause war is icky. The war state also generated the social democratic state in the U.S. – and, given the fact that about 40 percent of the GDP is spent by the Fed. government and the states, one can only deny that that is there by being utterly blind. Hell, the American government spends twice the EU average on higher education. Our Social democracy is a thing of patches – but what created it was war. And war created the civil rights movement in the South, an underdeveloped area of the country that was shoveled into modernity via being spoonfed by the Pentagon after WWII – there’s a reason for all those bases in the South – which of course meant that it became a place to invest in by the late fifties, save for the inconvenient apartheid.

Of course, the U.S. isn’t alone in this. Swedish social democracy rests on Sweden’s long history of being a super-duper weapons exporter. And the colonial wealth that allowed the British Labour party to grow, basing itself on what Engels called the “aristocratic” labour sector, did not come when Indians decided to reach into their pockets and help their liverpool brethren. The war state and social democracy have been joined at the hip since, well, since the French revolution saved itself by militarizing in the mid 1790s.

This isn’t to defend the war state – it is a plea for less dumb analysis. The very idea that the Dems are rightist capitalist imperialists, while, say, the SPD has a history full of sweetness and light (going back to those patriotic demonstrations by its socialist predecessor when the Kaiser declared war in 1914) is a pretty silly comparison. There have been a few Jaures types, but mostly, not, in any western society. The tooth fairy did not rain down all that European wealth.

48

Aaron Baker 07.22.08 at 9:46 pm

I must admit: when Hitchens is good, he’s very, very good. Here he is, on Paul “Spanker” Johnson:

THE RIGHT-WING HISTORIAN’S LONGTIME MISTRESS DEALS HIM THE UNKINDEST WHACK OF ALL.

– – – – – – – – – –

BY CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS

There is almost no English surname, however ancient and dignified, that cannot be instantly improved by the prefix “Spanker.” So deeply is the habit and culture of corporal punishment imbricated with the national psyche that whole shelves of specialist literature, to say nothing of entire racks of newspapers and magazines, are regularly devoted to the subject. A decade or so ago, I outed the barking Tory pamphleteer Paul Johnson as an enthusiast or votary of this cult. For evidence, I had no more to go upon than certain suggestive and repetitive elements in his “work.”

So it was decidedly invigorating to learn, in the dog days of mid-May, that he had been exposed by his mistress of 11 years, the writer Gloria Stewart, as a spankee:

“Paul loved to be spanked and it was a big part of our relationship. I had to tell him he was a very naughty boy.”

A pretty easy task (the second bit, I mean). Johnson has made a career as an especially bilious and persecuting moralizer. His disgraceful book “Intellectuals,” a foul-minded assault on the Enlightenment, laid a feverish stress on the private lives of secular and rationalist intellectuals. Rousseau was not only “vain, egotistical and quarrelsome,” but he “enjoyed being spanked on his bare bottom.” Ibsen “would not expose his sexual organ even for the purpose of medical examination. Was there something wrong with it — or did he think there was?” I don’t need to draw you a picture: With sermonizers like this it’s just a matter of setting one’s watch. Give it just a little time and — presto! We open the tabloids to see their withered haunches bared to the slipper, and the haggard remnants of their Johnsons exposed to the cruel light of day. (Oxford English Dictionary: Johnson. A common surname, used in low slang to designate: a)The penis. b) A man who is kept by a prostitute or prostitutes; a ponce.)

Stewart unmasked Spanker Johnson to the tabloids because she could not bear to read another word of his “family values” tripe in the press. As recently as March, interviewed by Jacob Weisberg for the New York Times Magazine, he had claimed to be an advisor to the late Princess Diana. “Don’t commit adultery,” he said, was his “chief advice” to the divine one. When various Tory MPs were found in a trouser-free condition not long ago, Johnson predicted the ruin of the state and said that adultery, especially when committed by those who opposed it in public, should be severely punished.

But here’s the bizarre thing. Johnson is not just a cult figure wherever two or three spankers are gathered together. He is an adored object of the American Right. Norman Podhoretz loved “Intellectuals.” Nixon used to send out Johnson volumes for Christmas. Oliver North was once overcome with admiration at seeing William Casey read a whole Johnson on a plane flight. Dan Quayle kept a copy of Johnson’s awful “Modern Times” by him, and employed it as a prop against those who accused him of being no great reader. (When pressed for an exegesis of its content, he announced contentedly that it was “a very good historical book about history.”) To be fair to Quayle, “Modern Times” is almost technically unreadable. And so is Johnson’s most recent extrusion, “A History of the American People.” Of this pseudo-scholarly atrocity — slavery a mere blip, the New Deal a monstrous tyranny, Watergate a liberal conspiracy, Reagan the summa of statesmanship — Newt Gingrich has stepped forward in the Weekly Standard to announce it as “perhaps (sic) the most important history of the American people in our generation.” And Steve Forbes, in the Wall Street Journal, terms it “a magnificent achievement.” And neither of them, I feel confident, agrees with Johnson’s grand, risk-taking, entrepreneurial claim that Thomas Edison invented the telephone.

Perhaps there is an element of anti-American self-hatred involved: a surreptitious contempt for American freedom and democracy and a slavish need for approval from a Brit Spanker? (On meeting James Baldwin, Johnson once famously said: “I’m not unaware of prejudice. If you’re born like me, red-haired and left-handed and Catholic, you know exactly what prejudice is.” Baldwin’s impassivity on that occasion did him credit.) But perhaps, also, there is a bodice-ripping Right that hides behind the mild visage of Steve Forbes. So, since Johnson’s “novels” are now remaindered beyond recall, I consider it my stern duty to give you a flavor of his magnificent and sweeping style. Here’s an extract from “Merrie England,” where the blurb promises “cabinet ministers and ponces”:

Felix Appleby, dressed for the office, sat on the edge of Lady Titty Ross’s rumpled four-poster bed, his eyes anchored firmly on the ample cleavage displayed by her negligee… “There, you don’t see a pair like that every day, do you darling?”

And here’s another, from “Left of Center”:

Henry found his gaze straying to her round and rosy bottom, which rose and fell gently to the rhythm of her breathing. What to do? Henry pondered in the doorway. … “There’s nothing more calculated, old man, to excite a woman than a good hard slap on her behind. None of your playful taps, mind. A real stinger. They come up foaming at the mouth.”

Dora’s bottom invited him. Here was his chance, at one blow, to reassume his masculine, paramount role in their relationship. Draining his glass and setting it down decisively on the dressing table, he advanced purposefully over Dora’s sleeping form and brought his hand down with tremendous force.

It’s both satisfying and unsatisfying that Spanker Johnson is now, conclusively and forever, a figure of ridicule and contempt. He ought also to be remembered for his bigotry and spite and bullying. (And maybe for an accidental tincture of literary prescience: One light smack and he “comes up foaming at the mouth.”) But not all the perfumes of Araby can sweeten that spanking hand; nay, not all the genius of the Pfizer Corporation can make this Johnson rise again.
SALON | May 28, 1998

49

Total 07.22.08 at 9:47 pm

Because they hold positions-we-don’t-like that are demonstrably opposed to their own interests?

Demonstrably to whom? You? That’s all part of the patronizing bit: “You’re not smart enough to understand what’s best for you.” Please.

I don’t much care whether the terms might sound patronizing of people whose consciousness you deem false

Such a statement is one of the reasons why the American left (and the Democrats as part of that) have never met a victory we couldn’t turn into a defeat.

the alternative is to insist that the broad middle of the populace collectively decided some time ago that the richest 0.1% just weren’t rich enough, and have been working diligently and in full knowledge since then to rectify matters.

See and this is exactly it: your definition of the best interests of the broad middle of the populace is entirely economic. They may believe that their best interests include things non-economic. Wouldn’t it be nice to find out, instead of just broad-brushing them with the tar of “false consciousness”?

50

mpowell 07.22.08 at 10:03 pm


See and this is exactly it: your definition of the best interests of the broad middle of the populace is entirely economic. They may believe that their best interests include things non-economic. Wouldn’t it be nice to find out, instead of just broad-brushing them with the tar of “false consciousness”?

No, this is just not right. It’s not as if ample time and space here and elsewhere is not committed to trying to answer this kind of question of what motivates people to vote for Republicans. I’m sure that the same commenters here have even participated in that debate. But based on that investigation, which has been substantial, false consciousness is one answer that bubbles up as a big part of the story. This isn’t an argument anyone would offer against a conservative as to the legitimacy of left/liberal views- that would be a waste of time and irrelevant (so all these, ‘what if it’s your false-consciousness?’ worriers can just knock it off). But it is an important issue in trying to figure out how to get to a more liberal society as a political strategy.

51

Deliasmith 07.22.08 at 10:11 pm

The Faurisson affair was a long time ago and anyone in the opinion business would bet that the details are forgotten now; hence the opportunists, pedlars of the New York Times line, … old wives of both sexes, stuffed shirts, hollow men with headpieces stuffed with straw, bird-wits, lookers-under-beds, trained seals, creeping Jesuses, … policemen, leaders of white mouse factions and noted connoisseurs of bread and butter (how I honour Hugh MacDiarmid) think it’s safe to add a bit of turps to the dried-out old smear and give it another go. So, for the sake of the robust assertion of an honest point of view: this is the stuff.

52

Total 07.22.08 at 10:11 pm

false consciousness is one answer that bubbles up as a big part of the story.

A link would be nice.

In any case, I’m not arguing that misperception doesn’t play a role. What I’m suggesting is that the attitudes in this thread, in which false consciousness is the *only* reason given are offensive and patronizing.

53

Roy Belmont 07.22.08 at 10:27 pm

Ignore Seth Edenbaum long enough and he might go away, but the questions he’s asking won’t.
But since the answers to them are fairly obvious, maybe we should just assume them as already answered, then extrapolate that on out to larger venues like the Democratic Party and American society as a whole, and be done.

The answer to the broad vague question of why there is no real functioning American left is its membership was exterminated, and the remnants of its membership after that consistently denied voice and access to democratic power.

Three different modes were employed, one during the Great Depression, another during WW2, and the third during the 1950’s. By the 60’s the left was starved skeletal and consisted mostly of naive thrill-seeking college kids. Who then got the shit beat out of them and either became radicals and went underground, or gave up and went home. Or graduated.

The astonishing thing to me is the people who accept readily that the obscenely repressive techniques that were delivered, with hands-on instruction for their use to Latin American fascists by covert American governmental agencies, and who accept that uncounted thousands of leftists in those countries were violently exterminated, that the same people who believe all that did take place somehow manage to believe it never happened here.

That nothing like that ever happened here. That the same American shadow agencies, that engineered and enabled the nightmares of El Salvador and Guatemala and Chile and Argentina and more, turned out to believe so strongly and firmly in democracy they never did anything more repressive in the US than a few National Guard policing actions, like at Kent State and Berkeley. And maybe a couple things like dropping Fred Hampton.

One wonders if the absence of a radical left in America may be due to native temperament, that we’re just too nice as a people to get all that upset about politics.

Pretending that process of extermination never happened here, couldn’t happen here, isn’t happening here, makes lengthy discussion of what to do about things almost realistic, and lot more comfortable, doesn’t it?

54

mpowell 07.22.08 at 10:27 pm

Are you seriously expecting a link to various blog posts discussing the voting preferences of the American public and whether or not the middle class gets screwed economically by Republicans? No list of links would do that one justice. If you think the ‘attitudes’ in this thread are meant to persuade Republicans, you’re looking in the wrong thread. But I don’t think they’re all that patronizing. The American public is willing to tolerate things like torture and unsolicited war to a disturbing degree. And there’s not much evidence that Republican voters are consciously holding their noses to vote against their economic interests in order to make abortion illegal or keep the mexicans in their place.

I don’t think it makes sense to construe what anyone has said here to be that false consciousness is the only reason for current political alignments. It’s more that they are lamenting the power of propaganda we currently see. Maybe you find this patronizing, but that’s hardly an argument that the case is otherwise.

55

abb1 07.22.08 at 10:35 pm

If I understand correctly the “false-consciousness” thing, any kind of ideology that distracts you from the class struggle is false-consciousness. Since “class struggle” is never discussed, subject of one of the strongest taboos in American society, one could argue that pretty much all consciousness out there is false-consciousness.

56

seth edenbaum 07.22.08 at 10:57 pm

Who gentrifies working class neighborhoods full of socially conservative church goers (of all races)?
Educated liberals.

Regardless of cultural capital, which doesn’t always help, at least Perrin and I have spent years of our adult lives as members of the economic working class, digging in the dirt that you won’t touch. Being lectured on false consciousness by those who think it impossible that such a term might be applied to them… my god how americans are so fucking unaware.
“Those people are so… irrational! Why aren’t they like us”
Neoliberalism means never having to say you’re sorry.
It’s individualism vs community. Liberals are liberal individualists. Poor conservatives buy into the lie that conservative defenders of capitalism are like defenders of the monarchy: of stability and order. Liberals are seen to oppose that. They’re seen as the instrument of change. They show no respect. I’m seen enough in 20 years. They’re the velvet glove on the iron fist of capitalism. But all they feel is softness of the the glove and the glove is all the poor see.
Liberals feel pity and pity in close quarters is contempt.
And thank you Roy Belmont for finding more examples of others to blame.
It’s always “them.” “They’re the problem.”
No asshole, it’s us. Figure that out and then begin to hope, and work a little bit.

57

blah 07.22.08 at 11:09 pm

I don’t know. Looking at the history of the Democratic Party before, say, 1960, doesn’t give you much insight at all into the current state of the party. It is obviously true that the historical party was involved in some very bad stuff, but that has little to do with the current party.

What you need to know is that the the Vietnam War made the Democrats the de facto dove party (relative to the hawks); the Civil Rights movement made the Democrats the de facto civil rights party; and second wave feminism made the Democrats the de facto feminist party. All of these developments had the effect of splintering the former New Deal coalition.

Then the 12 long years of Reagan-Bush pushed the national Democrats further to the center on economic issues.

The combined effects of Vietnam, McGovern, Carter & the hostage crisis, the first Gulf War, and 9-11 pushed many democrats further to the right on foreign policy issues.

What you have today is a not entirely coherent party that is made up various constuencies that often do not see eye to eye on important issues.

And because the U.S. has a first past the post system, Diverger’s Law suggests that the Democrats will be the only game in town for those who are left of center.

58

sg 07.22.08 at 11:14 pm

Seth, you spent years of your life as a member of the “economic working class”? I never knew! You could have told me!

59

Michael Dietz 07.22.08 at 11:24 pm

Total: See and this is exactly it: your definition of the best interests of the broad middle of the populace is entirely economic.

Corrected: See and this is exactly it: your definition of the best interests of the broad middle of the populace as presented in a single blog comment is entirely economic.

I’m getting the impression you don’t really understand the limits of the medium here, Total.

60

seth edenbaum 07.22.08 at 11:33 pm

And Perrin wrote a book and TV shows before he ended up scrubbing office bathrooms to pay the rent.

Education marks you. You can lose the shirt off your back, but not that.

61

scantron 07.22.08 at 11:49 pm

Is it just me, or is it not really, really naive to accept on its own terms the charge that only liberals and radicals use the concept of “false consciousness” to criticize their political opponents? Conservatives do this all the goddamn time. They just don’t use terms like “false consciousness” or “ideologiekritik.” Consider, for example, a pair of columns by George Will (trust me, this will only take a few seconds; it won’t hurt too badly):

In his 4-15-08 Post column, commenting on Obama’s “bitter” comment, Will trots out all the familiar charges against liberals as being “condescending.” He even brings up the “false consciousness” meme in order to cast it in liberals’ teeth as snobbery.

Now, just two days earlier, in a column about the housing crisis (inaccurately so-called, according to Will), he had had this to say about the nation’s whiners (sound familiar?):

“The idea that protracted golden years of idleness are a universal right is a delusion of recent vintage. Deranged by the entitlement mentality fostered by a metastasizing welfare state, Americans now have such low pain thresholds that suffering is defined as a slight delay in beginning a subsidized retirement often lasting one-third of the retiree’s adult lifetime.”

If this isn’t just another way of saying Americans are victims of “false consciousness” (albeit with the result that they exhibit behavior Will doesn’t happen to like), grits ain’t groceries.

For a less sophisticated (ha!) version, see the title of Michael Savage’s book: Liberalism is a Mental Disorder.

The last thing I’m trying to say is that one side is just as bad as the other. I’ll leave that up to the eminently “reasonable” Cass Sunstein. Rather, I’m saying that it’s hypocrisy for conservatives to say that at least some rather prominent members of their ranks don’t regularly ascribe social conditioning and/or brainwashing to liberal voting patterns. Indeed, such techniques have comprised a healthy part of their campaign strategy for at least 40 years, with Nixon as proud parent of this development: liberals cannot be trusted because they have been co-opted, either willingly or unwillingly, by sinister “un-American” forces — radicals, foreigners, the UN, homosexuals — and so don’t understand the glorious naturalness of rapacious capitalism. (The fact that most contemporary Democrats are much more rapacious economically than Nixon ever was is not lost on me.)

So can we at least cut the crap?

62

scantron 07.22.08 at 11:51 pm

God, my use of html sucks. Just ignore the various italicization and boldfacing.

63

Donald Johnson 07.23.08 at 12:18 am

Whatever one thinks of “false consciousness”, Dennis isn’t one to let ordinary Americans off the hook, as anyone who reads his blog regularly would know. I don’t think he believes the Chomskyan notion that if only ordinary Americans knew what was done in their name, they’d all be shocked and appalled. Well, some might, but others wouldn’t.

64

novakant 07.23.08 at 12:21 am

Problems with the false consciousness meme:

It’s obviously patronizing and “we know what’s best for you” rightfully enrages people, as it is totally against any enlightenment conception of man and has been used to mislead people time after time.

It only addresses the economic interests of people and thus is indicative of a very limited vision – people care about tons of other stuff.

What about all those middle to upper-middle class people who vote for parties with policies that don’t necessarily coincide with their economic interests – are they too victims of false consciousness, shouldn’t they rather vote their interests?

It’s built on an ancient and largely anachronistic theory of class struggle that isn’t very relevant to our socio-economic structure anymore.

But, hey, if you want to dig your own grave – do go on.

65

Donald Johnson 07.23.08 at 12:32 am

I’m a little confused about the “false consciousness” debate here. For those of us who accept that the US government has murdered or helped to murder a lot of people, it is kind of important to understand why most people aren’t more outraged about it. There are several possibilities–

1. They are outraged and, like me, don’t do much about it except write an occasional letter to some congressperson or newspaper or worse, a blog comment post.

2. They don’t know what’s done in their name.

3. They do know, or at least they know enough, and they support it because

A) They rationalize it as the least bad choice
B) They enjoy the vicarious pleasures of kicking foreign butt.
C) They believe that crime pays and we benefit from this
D) Some other reason.

Which one of these would be “false consciousness”?

66

weserei 07.23.08 at 12:40 am

@blah: Duverger’s Law gets broken an awful lot–see the rise of the American and Republican parties in the US, the NDP and later the Reform Party/Alliance in Canada (which, remarkably, happened in a single election cycle), the rise of Labour in the Great Britain, the SNP in Scotland and Plaid Cymru in Wales, everything about Northern Ireland politics for the last 40 years, etc. I think we need to look for another explanation for the two-party stranglehold.

67

seth edenbaum 07.23.08 at 12:43 am

“It’s built on an ancient and largely anachronistic theory of class struggle that isn’t very relevant to our socio-economic structure anymore.”

Bullshit. Just because the working class is too ashamed to call itself by that name doesn’t mean that’s not precisely what they are.
And self-serving forms of argument will always be in vogue. People love to point out others’ glass houses, but nobody wants to admit they live in one. False consciousness exists. “True” consciousness doesn’t. And the best laid plans won’t make it so. They’ll always be room for delusion.

68

blah 07.23.08 at 12:51 am

“@blah: Duverger’s Law gets broken an awful lot”

It’s held up pretty consistently in the U.S. for 200+ years. The Republican Party arose because the Whigs disintegrated and most of their voter based moved to the Republicans.

69

seth edenbaum 07.23.08 at 12:52 am

I’m not writing very well on this one. Too many stupid mistakes.
I’m just not having any fun I guess.
I’m out.

70

blah 07.23.08 at 1:01 am

I don’t think “false consciousness” is a very useful concept because it assumes that people should have certain views based solely on their socio-economic position. Humans are more complicated than that.

Concepts like “media bias,” “manufactured consent,” or “propaganda” are more useful because they point out information problems or attempts to mislead people and it’s reasonable to think that some people would change their views if they had access to different information.

71

Steve LaBonne 07.23.08 at 1:17 am

Concepts like “media bias,” “manufactured consent,” or “propaganda” are more useful because they point out information problems or attempts to mislead people and it’s reasonable to think that some people would change their views if they had access to different information.

Well, yeah, that’s certainly what I at least was talking about, or attempting to. And please notice that the actual phrase”f.c” was a red herring tossed into the thread by total , not by any of the people trying to discuss the matters mentioned in what I just quoted from you.

72

Helen 07.23.08 at 1:24 am

As an Australian reader of US feminist blogs – Feministe, Pandagon, Shakesville, Problem chylde and others – I have to say that the attitude of the left as demonstrated there is completely non-idolatrous. US feminists seem completely au fait with the fact that Democrats and their supporters often see “wimminz issues” as side issues that must be downplayed and postponed indefinitely for the greater good of not frightening away the more impressionable voters (and in favour of issues affecting, you know, people, rather than women).

73

weserei 07.23.08 at 1:43 am

@64: We may be talking past each other to some extent, but: Duverger’s Law states that a polity with first-past-the-post elections will develop exactly two electable parties. In Duverger’s world, British politics is still a contest between the Conservative and Liberal parties, with probably no other parties holding seats in Great Britain; Northern Ireland is divided between a single Unionist party and some mushy party that unites Nationalists with liberals who don’t really care; and Canadian socialists consistently vote Liberal out of a despair of other options. Since this is not our world, the electoral system alone can’t possibly be the deciding factor in the utter domination of American politics by two parties.

Also, even if we accept that the Republicans completely co-opted the Whigs’ voter base (something that certainly didn’t happen in the South), Duverger’s Law says nothing about why the Republican Party emerged with a different platform than the Whigs. Or what the hell the deal was with the American Party or the Constitutional Union Party (itself a group mostly of rump Whigs who refused outright to have anything to do with the Republicans).

74

Aaron Baker 07.23.08 at 1:52 am

Sorry, Deliasmith,

The response you cite from Chomsky, like everything else he’s written on the subject since he signed the petition in question, evades one very important question: why was he foolish enough to let his name be attached to a document full of denialist rhetoric? For a particularly choice example, try this: “Since 1974 he [Faurisson] has been conducting extensive historical research into the ‘Holocaust’ question.” In other essays on the subject, Chomsky has wrapped himself in the Bill of Rights, as if all he (Chomsky) had done was to defend Faurisson’s right to speak his mind. Sorry, but if you sign your name to something, you render yourself accountable for what it says.

75

Down and Out of Sài Gòn 07.23.08 at 2:34 am

Some may think it is patronising for middle classes to bring up “false consciousness”. I disagree. It’s not just the workers who suffer from the syndrome; the middle classes are targets – not victims, targets – of it too. And the attempt of the American media to downplay the existence of class is just one example.

“The middle class is disappearing,” says Sanders. “In real ways we’re becoming more like a third-world country.”

Here’s the thing: nobody needs me or Bernie Sanders to tell them that it sucks out there and that times are tougher economically in this country than perhaps they’ve been for quite a long time. We’ve all seen the stats — median income has declined by almost $2,500 over the past seven years, we have a zero personal savings rate in America for the first time since the Great Depression, and 5 million people have slipped below the poverty level since the beginning of the decade. And stats aside, most everyone out there knows what the deal is. If you’re reading this and you had to drive to work today or pay a credit card bill in the last few weeks you know better than I do for sure how fucked up things have gotten. I hear talk from people out on the campaign trail about mortgages and bankruptcies and bill collectors that are enough to make your ass clench with 100 percent pure panic.

None of this is a secret. Here, however, is something that is a secret: that this is a class issue that is being intentionally downplayed by a political/media consensus bent on selling the public a version of reality where class resentments, or class distinctions even, do not exist. Our “national debate” is always a thing where we do not talk about things like haves and have-nots, rich and poor, employers versus employees. But we increasingly live in a society where all the political action is happening on one side of the line separating all those groups, to the detriment of the people on the other side.

Matt Taibbi: Economic Realities Are Killing Our Era of Fantasy Politics.

76

Down and Out of Sài Gòn 07.23.08 at 2:35 am

Last two paragraphs were meant to be block-quoted as well.

77

geo 07.23.08 at 3:07 am

69: Sorry, but if you sign your name to something, you render yourself accountable for what it says.

What Chomsky signed his name to was a thousand-word statement about the affair that Faurisson’s publisher, without Chomsky’s knowledge (as I understand it), attached to Faurisson’s book. In any case, to say that Faurisson’s civil rights were violated — which is all that Chomsky said, and which is beyond dispute — is obviously not to endorse Faurisson’s beliefs. It really is dispiriting to consider all the illogic and/or bad faith that has gone into ignoring this.

78

Donald Johnson 07.23.08 at 4:07 am

I’m not sure what Aaron Baker is implying–if he’s only saying that Chomsky behaved foolishly in trusting people he shouldn’t have trusted, or something along those lines, then maybe he’s got a point, though not a very interesting one. It’s only interesting if he’s accusing Chomsky of being a Holocaust denier, but that’s false.

79

Rich Puchalsky 07.23.08 at 4:54 am

No, please, not another Faurisson-go-round. Please give me hope that if I live for another two decades, we won’t still be discussing, I don’t know, Ward Churchill.

80

Bruce Baugh 07.23.08 at 5:46 am

Huis Clos, The Next Generation: Hell is other people’s blog obsessions.

81

abb1 07.23.08 at 7:27 am

It only addresses the economic interests of people and thus is indicative of a very limited vision – people care about tons of other stuff.

You don’t understand, guys. The ‘economic interests’ is more like a basis of classical liberalism, milton-friedmanism.

In marxism you have ‘class-consciousness’ and ‘false-consciousness’, because what you are, everything that happens to you is fully determined by the socio-economic system, you are a product of that system. It’s the difference between one single accurate world-view and all the bullshit world-views out there.

Imagine, for simplicity’s sake, that you’re a slave in chains. All your family are slaves, all your friends are slaves, pretty much all the people you know are slaves. What is the single factor that defines your consciousness? Is it the size of your ration (your ‘economic interests’)? Is it that the new Mexican slaves are lazy and you have to do more work because of that? Is it that your slave-master is an asshole who tortures you for fun? Is it the yucky homosexual slaves? Atheist slaves, muslim slaves? Or is it the institution of slavery?

So, if they give a vote, should you be voting for doubling your ration or for the elimination of the institution of slavery?

Now, if you, people, think that you are not a product of the socio-economic system, that what’s in your head – your consciousness – is pretty much independent and autonomous (implanted directly by God, for example) – that’s fine, otherwise, I think, you’ll have to admit that it makes at least some sense.

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Dave 07.23.08 at 7:55 am

Yah, dude, if only it were that simple [and if only slaves had votes, eh, wouldn’t THAT be neat?]. But if we prolong the analogy slaves/capitalist property/exploitation/general unpleasantness, it behoves us to point out that today many slaves own slaves, many slaves are quite well off [or certainly well enough off to fear the consequences of upheaval], indeed the political system is run by people who are, in point of fact, almost as much ‘slaves’ as anyone else, just richer ones. And that those who would unambiguously benefit, even setting aside the horrific chaos of transition, from the abolition of this ‘slavery’ are [within the borders of any given ‘advanced’ state] almost certainly in a minority. So, on a cost-benefit analysis, what is it best for people to believe about their ‘slavery’, that it should end, or continue?

83

abb1 07.23.08 at 8:20 am

It doesn’t matter, Dave, you don’t need to yearn for a revolution. The idea is that as long as you understand that the socio-economic system is the foundation, the underlying cause of everything else – then you’re OK, you are not a dupe, you are well equipped to analyze everything that floats above, any given political phenomenon.

I know, it may sound a bit arrogant, but consider the ‘evolution vs creationism’ debate – are the Darwinists too arrogant to insist that their world-view is the correct one, the only correct one? Well, it’s exactly the same kinda thing here; only apropos of society instead of biology.

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Dave 07.23.08 at 9:29 am

OK, but then you must also acknowledge that it is quite possible to see anything – up to and including an effort of religious propaganda – from the perspective of one who wishes the present socio-economic setup to endure, and therefore is quite justified in presenting people with imaginary reasons why it should. Only if you introduce some arbitrary dimension of morality can you go on to claim that it is *wrong* to make up stories about sky-pixies to get people to stay happy little consumers… And how idealist would that be?

85

abb1 07.23.08 at 10:18 am

I don’t think there is any right and wrong here, just like there is nothing right or wrong/justified or unjustified in prehistoric fish growing legs or something. It may be wrong for an individuals to make up stories to fool people, but as far as societal evolution goes – given enough time religious beliefs and various bullshit ideologies will certainly emerge. There’s no right and wrong, it’s a deterministic process described by the law of large numbers.

86

Dave 07.23.08 at 10:24 am

Ah, I see you’re taking the large view. If only other followers of Marx had been so wise, a lot of trouble would have been avoided.

87

abb1 07.23.08 at 10:31 am

Revolutionary movements and various unsuccessful evolutionary developments, dead-end branches are also predetermined and inevitable.

88

engels 07.23.08 at 11:03 am

And that those who would unambiguously benefit, even setting aside the horrific chaos of transition, from the abolition of this ‘slavery’ are [within the borders of any given ‘advanced’ state] almost certainly in a minority.

Umm, this is begging the question somewhat, n’est-ce pas?

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engels 07.23.08 at 11:08 am

Also Dave it’s hard to see how most of what you have written has any bearing specifically on the question of ‘false consciousness’, rather than just giving expression, for the millionth time, to your all-consuming loathing of revolutionary politics…

90

Donald Johnson 07.23.08 at 11:48 am

Rich at 79–

Good point. I felt a little guilty typing 78 for precisely that reason–maybe someone should propose a new internet principle involving this topic to stop further outbreaks of the madness.

91

novakant 07.23.08 at 12:00 pm

everything that happens to you is fully determined by the socio-economic system

abb1, this sort of vulgo-marxist reductionist and deterministic basis-überbau nonsense has been decisively refuted by none other than Engels himself (e.g. Letter to J. Bloch, 1890):

I qualify your first major proposition as follows: According to the materialistic conception of history, the production and reproduction of real life constitutes in the last instance [Engels’ emphasis] the determining factor of history. Neither Marx nor I ever maintained more. Now when someone comes along and distorts this to mean that the economic factor is the sole determining factor, he is converting the former proposition into a meaningless, abstract and absurd phrase. The economic situation is the basis but the various factors of the superstructure – the political forms of the class struggles and its results – constitutions, etc., established by victorious classes after hard-won battles – legal forms, and even the reflexes of all these real struggles in the brain of the participants, political, jural, philosophical theories, religious conceptions and their further development into systematic dogmas – all these exercise an influence upon the course of historical struggles, and in many cases determine for the most part their form. There is a reciprocity between all these factors in which, finally, through the endless array of contingencies (i.e., of things and events whose inner connection with one another is so remote, or so incapable of proof, that we may neglect it, regarding it as nonexistent) the economic movement asserts itself as necessary.

history is so made that the end-result always arises out of the conflict of many individual wills, in which every will is itself the product of a host of special conditions of life. Consequently there exist innumerable intersecting forces, an infinite group of parallelograms of forces which give rise to one resultant product – the historical event.
This again may itself be viewed as the product of a force acting as a whole without consciousness or volition. (…) But from the fact that the wills of individuals – who desire what the constitution of their body as well as external circumstances, in the last instance economic (either personal or social) impel them to desire – do not get what they wish, but fuse into an average or common resultant, from all that one has no right to conclude that they equal zero. On the contrary, every will contributes to the resultant and is in so far included within it.

Marx and I are partly responsible for the fact that at times our disciples have laid more weight upon the economic factor than belongs to it. We were compelled to emphasize this main principle in opposition; to our opponents who denied it, and there wasn’t always time, place and occasion to do justice to the other factors in the reciprocal interaction. But just as soon as it was a matter of the presentation of an historical chapter, that is to say, of practical application, things became quite different; there, no error was possible. Unfortunately it is only too frequent that a person believes he has completely understood a new theory and is capable of applying it when he has taken over its fundamental ideas – but it isn’t always true. And from this reproach I cannot spare many of the recent “Marxists”.

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abb1 07.23.08 at 12:14 pm

How is it different from what I said? The socio-economic system is the foundation, is it not?

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Dave 07.23.08 at 12:16 pm

engels, darling, sweetie, to quote you on me: “giving expression, for the millionth time, to your all-consuming loathing of revolutionary politics…”

if only you knew what I knew, you would find that as amusing as I do. But as for the present, there are no “revolutionary politics”, there are only deluded idiots, small numbers thereof, who still think that, at some miraculous point in the future, everyone will suddenly start agreeing with them.

Unless, that is, you are one of the sad, sick bastards who thinks that the majority who don’t agree with you will just have to be liquidated?

ciao, mmwah!

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Dave 07.23.08 at 12:26 pm

BTW, re. your comment #88:

a] technically, no, it isn’t;

b] on the historical evidence, the number of people who can be said to have unambiguously benefitted from any documented example of revolutionary upheaval, particularly one which sets out to overturn the entire socio-economic foundation of a functional society, is low, to put it mildly. And when I say ‘low’, I mean if you include *all* the people who died somewhat earlier than they were planning to, even the ones you may not like, along with all the ones who found themselves living in societies that were, oddly enough, not as free and equal as the ones they’d thought they’d been promised in the rosy dawn of a new age.

But what the hey, eh? If you’ve got an idea, and you think it’s good, and you want to run with it, who am I to stop you? Call me when the Supreme Soviet is due to convene, I’ll vote for you [would be dangerous not to, wouldn’t it?]

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engels 07.23.08 at 12:31 pm

Dave, argument isn’t really your forte, is it?

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abb1 07.23.08 at 12:48 pm

Yeah, seriously, Novakant – you’re being grossly unfair. You ignore the totality of my oeuvre in this thread, pick out one phrase and based on the most uncharitable interpretation of it call the whole thing “vulgo-marxist reductionist and deterministic basis-überbau nonsense”. That is uncalled for and regrettable, I must say.

Note also that I was compelled to emphasize this main principle in opposition to my opponents who denied it, and there wasn’t always time, place and occasion to do justice to the other factors in the reciprocal interaction.

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novakant 07.23.08 at 12:49 pm

How is it different from what I said? The socio-economic system is the foundation, is it not?

That’s not what you said and I hate to repeat your own words to you, but I guess I have to:

everything that happens to you is fully determined by the socio-economic system

This is wrong according to Engels, in fact such a view is exactly what he criticizes in this letter:

Now when someone comes along and distorts this to mean that the economic factor is the sole determining factor, he is converting the former proposition into a meaningless, abstract and absurd phrase.

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christian h. 07.23.08 at 12:53 pm

What abb1 said, for the most part (I do think, abb1, you put it too strongly in 87). The point here is that false consciousness isn’t simply the act of believing something that is wrong, and it can’t be eliminated by “telling people the truth”.

It is a product of the alienation produced by the exploitation within the socio-economic system. All forms of false consciousness will be finally overcome only in a communist (in the sense of Marx, say, not in the sense of ‘socialism plus electrification’) society.

To achieve social progress in the meantime, it is necessary to develop the class consciousness of the oppressed sufficiently to overcome the various forms of false consciousness – not get rid of them, since that’s impossible, but overcome their reactionary force.

As an example, take liberation theology. Or take joint struggles by workers divided by racism. It can happen, through struggle.

A good read regarding, in particular, religion is this piece by J. Molyneux in International Socialism (it is also one of the better put-downs of Dawkins and Hitchens one can find).

(Note to Dave: we are not sitting around waiting for the revolution magically to appear. But neither are we sitting around telling us that we can’t do anything, and have to live with whatever the Democrats/New Labour/whoever decide to throw us as a bone. If that makes us dead-ender and dreamers, so be it. I’d rather be a dreamer than a cynic.)

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abb1 07.23.08 at 1:00 pm

Novakant, I preempted your explanation. Yes, this one particular phrase of mine could be interpreted as “to mean that the economic factor is the sole determining factor”, but please rest assured that it meant ‘in the last instance it is the determining factor of history’. Obviously. I am vulgar, but not that vulgar.

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novakant 07.23.08 at 1:38 pm

abb1, the words I quoted were written by you to directly refute a claim of mine, so it is not unfair of me if I offer a counter-refutation quoting these words.

As regards your “oeuvre” in this thread, it pretty much runs counter to everything Engels says, in fact it is a good example of the dumbed down version of Marxism that Engels (and others) criticizes.

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Aaron Baker 07.23.08 at 1:46 pm

In responses to my post, geo & Donald Johnson seem to have missed an important fact: Chomsky quite knowingly signed his name in 1979 to the following petition:

“Dr. Robert Faurisson has served as a respected professor of twentieth-century French literature and document criticism for over four years at the University of Lyon-2 in France. Since 1974 he has been conducting extensive historical research into the “Holocaust” question.
Since he began making his findings public, Professor Faurisson has been subject to a vicious campaign of harassment, intimidation, slander and physical violence in a crude attempt to silence him. Fearful officials have even tried to stop him from further research by denying him access to public libraries and archives.
We strongly protest these efforts to deprive Professor Faurisson of his freedom of speech and expression, and we condemn the shameful campaign to silence him.
We strongly support Professor Faurisson’s just right of academic freedom and we demand that university and government officials do everything possible to ensure his safety and the free exercise of his legal rights. “

This, and nothing else, is the document I was referring to. And there’s no bad faith here in saying that Chomsky was a bonehead for putting his name on such a document. It is clearly more than a defense of Faurisson’s free speech rights. It contains all-too typical denialist rhetoric, such as putting “Holocaust” in quotation marks, as well as suggesting there’s something called “the ‘Holocaust’ question.” The question-begging characterization of Faurisson’s ravings as “findings” is also typical of the same dishonest rhetoric.

Note, by the way, that I am NOT accusing Chomsky himself of being a denialist. I’m saying only that it was atrocious judgment to put his name on a piece of denialist propaganda. And the offense, I think, was only compounded in Chomsky’s later writings on the subject, in which he seems completely incapable of grasping why signing this thing was so stupid.

My point, that Chomsky exercised poor judgment, may not be the most interesting in the world; but the only bad faith I see is in the continued efforts to defend that poor judgment with irrelevant appeals to free speech.

A further matter, which I won’t emphasize here because I can’t independently confirm the allegation: the late Pierre Vidal-Naquet, who criticized Chomsky’s signing of the petition without accusing Chomsky himself of being a denialist, asserted that an important claim in the petition was false: namely that Faurisson had been barred from public libraries and archives. According to Vidal-Naquet, Faurisson had been barred from the CENTRE POUR DOCUMENTATION JUIVE, a private archive, because its directors (entirely understandably) were tired of the uses to which he was putting their hospitality. I don’t know whether Vidal-Naquet was right here or not. If he was right, Chomsky’s judgment would of course look even worse than it already does.

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Dave 07.23.08 at 2:26 pm

engels: Argument? Who argues any more, when you can abuse? Besides, it’s not like *you* offered anything a neutral observer would call “evidence” is it?

christian – I’d rather be a dreamer than a cynic, too. Unfortunately there comes a point when experience of enough “dreamers” turns one into a cynic. Or at least, someone who realises that the “dreamers” of this world aren’t actually achieving anything, and may, in fact, with their endless persistence in reciting hackneyed formulae, be actively preventing any form of genuinely imaginative solutions to social, political and ecological problems from emerging. Or whatever.

Question for the attentive masses: what proportion of people who post here actually give a damn, vs what proportion are just taking the piss?

And can anyone tell the difference?

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engels 07.23.08 at 3:06 pm

Who argues any more, when you can abuse?

Most people who comment here.

can anyone tell the difference?

Yes.

104

abb1 07.23.08 at 3:10 pm

Novakant,
As regards your “oeuvre” in this thread, it pretty much runs counter to everything Engels says, in fact it is a good example of the dumbed down version of Marxism that Engels (and others) criticizes.

I know that’s what you’re saying, but why are you saying this? Could you explain, please.

It seems to me it runs exactly along with everything Engels says (although, obviously, it’s a shorter and somewhat simplified version; we are, after all, in a comment thread).

It’s strange how the two of us can have such opposite opinions about just a couple of paragraphs, I’m really anxious to hear your explanation.

Thanks.

105

Donald Johnson 07.23.08 at 3:23 pm

“Note, by the way, that I am NOT accusing Chomsky himself of being a denialist. I’m saying only that it was atrocious judgment to put his name on a piece of denialist propaganda.”

I’m not in complete agreement, but IMO he did show bad judgment in this business. Since we’re boring the rest, you can have the last substantive word on this, at least for my part.

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Aaron Baker 07.23.08 at 3:37 pm

Thanks, Donald Johnson, for your courteous response. I jumped into a minefield where courtesy was the last thing I was expecting. As for boring everyone else, well, we’re all academics, would-be academics, or former academics here. Boredom is what we do best.

107

abb1 07.23.08 at 3:40 pm

How can defending the freedom of expression show bad judgment?

Give up?

I tell you how – when you’re defending the freedom of expression practiced by the popular and the powerful.

108

ROYT 07.23.08 at 4:29 pm

Aaron Baker, you are a great bore. To say, as you do, that your “point” may be of little interest, is indeed to greatly overstate its merits.

Chomsky: “One who defends the right of free expression incurs no special responsibility to study or even be acquainted with the views expressed. I have, for example, frequently gone well beyond signing petitions in support of East European dissidents subjected to repression or threats, often knowing little and caring less about their views (which in some cases I find obnoxious, a matter of complete irrelevance that I never mention in this connection). I recall no criticism of this stand. “

For you, the Faurisson petition was not a defense of free speech, but something unacceptably, dangerously “more.” Something from which we can learn, one would suppose, how to avoid certain forms of atrocious judgment and later bad faith argument.

Your final tag, “I don’t know if X is true, but it’s worse if it is,” lets us know where you’re coming from. Of course, you’re coming from the place where extreme care is taken never to associate oneself with anything but verifiable truth from which no misinterpretation can occur.

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Donald Johnson 07.23.08 at 4:55 pm

“Chomsky: “One who defends the right of free expression incurs no special responsibility to study or even be acquainted with the views expressed. I have, for example, frequently gone well beyond signing petitions in support of East European dissidents subjected to repression or threats, often knowing little and caring less about their views (which in some cases I find obnoxious, a matter of complete irrelevance that I never mention in this connection). I recall no criticism of this stand. ”

I’ve read that too and it’s fairly persuasive, but still, in this case (and for all I know, the cases of some of those Eastern Europeans he mentions), there is an obligation on the part of the person typing up the free speech petition not to misrepresent what Faurisson is saying. In the case of Faurisson, whoever typed that petition went much further than was necessary, making it out that Faurisson was a scholar doing legitimate research on the Holocaust. Chomsky and others who might have signed that petition in good faith were made to look like Faurisson’s allies. Shouldn’t Chomsky be irritated by that?

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geo 07.23.08 at 5:12 pm

Chomsky and others who might have signed that petition in good faith were made to look like Faurisson’s allies. Shouldn’t Chomsky be irritated by that?

Yes, they were made to look like Faurisson’s allies by obtuse or dishonest people who hated Chomsky for other reasons. And yes, of course, Chomsky was irritated by that.

I don’t know what “legitimate” (as opposed to “illegitimate”?) research is, but the petition only says “extensive” research. “Findings” means “results,” period, as Chomsky has pointed out many times; it does not imply anything about the correctness of the findings. Consult a dictionary. As for the quotation marks around “Holocaust,” I agree they shouldn’t be there. I don’t at all agree, though, that that makes the petition “denialist propaganda.”

Chomsky showed no poor judgment whatever in signing the petition. The poor judgment — and, often, considerable bad faith — is all on the side of his critics.

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seth edenbaum 07.23.08 at 5:14 pm

“The model of intellectualism as expertise elides the earlier questions of preference. The myth of individual self-invention renders such questions irrelevant, renders history irrelevant. The subject imagines himself founded not on preferences developed in infantile experience, as reaction and response, but as something generated solely by himself, godlike, and yet impersonal, objective, Platonic. “

False consciousness is Chomsky’s rationalist assumptions as to the roots of human behavior. It’s abb1’s simplistic assumptions concerning the US; it’s Engels’ conflation of his own righteous anger with thoughtful analysis; it’s Henry Farrell’s knee-jerk fixation on libertarianism as a means of escape from the backwards reactionary communalism of his country of birth. It’s Miracle Max’s disgust with Gangsta Rap and effusive praise for the psycho killer revenge porn of Dexter, which allows him to vent his frustrations at the world and the idiot adolescent blogosphere from the comforts of a rec room in suburban Maryland. The most violent rap is flooded with tragedy. Dexter by comparison is more the cynical marketing of symptom . It’s corporate gangsta-pop.
And Max is one of the good guys. What makes DD and Max and Perrin bearable is that all of them start from and cultivate their own subjectivity, using reason as a tool to argue what they believe: in fact what they assume, and hope. You’ll never hear any of them claim “Reason made me an asshole” or “The numbers made me do it.” And they’re all assholes too. God luv’em.

What are the economics of the passive voice?
Assume: People act out of self-interest.

What is the economics of the ambiguities of the the world?
Observe: People are greedy, and yet they’re often torn. Many, even most, are raised not to be greedy so live negotiating the anxiety of multiple and conflicting obligations.

But if they have multiple obligations, then people are not free, and don’t people want freedom?
By and large, people don’t want freedom, they want respect. Freedom is an invention, in fact, an illusion. It’s an idea and an idée fixe, never a reality. People who celebrate it are celebrating themselves. As it exists in this world it’s the freedom of newborn babies laughing and rolling around in their own shit and sociopaths who kill without anger or regret.

The logic of the passive voice: The assumption that people are monads does not begin with observation but the preference for monadism. Show the supposedly impersonal logic for what it is: taste, sensibility, reaction, and you’ll begin to reconstitute society as social in origin.
Max, put down that computer manual and pick up some Philip Roth. Better yet, read Armies of the Night. And drink more.

Observe: educated liberals act largely out of self-interest but have feel-good hobbies and the most engaged ones the best intentions. Working class conservatives act in their personal lives of out obligation that liberals disdain. Working class conservatives, like educated liberals, recognize the false consciousness of others. You follow me now?
Liberals are idealists. Working class conservatives are hardened cynics.
end of the lesson.

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Aaron Baker 07.23.08 at 5:24 pm

Royt:

Whether I bore you or not is a matter of so little interest to me that I don’t know how to quantify just how unimportant it is.

I fully agree with Chomsky when he says: “One who defends the right of free expression incurs no special responsibility to study or even be acquainted with the views expressed. ” True, but irrelevant here for a reason I’ve already been at great pains to make clear: in this case Chomsky signed a petition that endorsed the opinions in question.

As for Vidal-Naquet’s charge, I said I didn’t know whether it was accurate, but I brought it up, not for the sake of sly insinuation, but because of its bearing on this issue. I will add something here, though: in my (former) field, Classics, Pierre Vidal-Naquet was widely known as a first-rate scholar and a man of unimpeached integrity. If he said it happened that way, the odds are pretty good it did. At any event, I’ve checked the website for the CENTRE DE (not POUR; my error there) DOCUMENTATION JUIVE CONTEMPORAINE, and it isn’t a public library. (See http://www.memorialdelashoah.org/b_content/getContentFromNumLinkAction.do?itemId=713&type=1) If someone knows the name of a public library from which Faurisson was barred, I’ll happily agree that Chomsky was less of a dunce than Vidal-Naquet charged.

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Aaron Baker 07.23.08 at 5:49 pm

geo wrote:

“I don’t know what “legitimate” (as opposed to “illegitimate”?) research is, but the petition only says “extensive” research. “Findings” means “results,” period, as Chomsky has pointed out many times; it does not imply anything about the correctness of the findings. Consult a dictionary. As for the quotation marks around “Holocaust,” I agree they shouldn’t be there. I don’t at all agree, though, that that makes the petition “denialist propaganda.””
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Please give it up before you really embarrass yourself. If you can read “Since 1974 he has been conducting extensive historical research into the ‘Holocaust’ question,” and not recognize it as denialist propaganda, you know nothing about the subject and you’re unqualified to express an opinion. In the interests, however, of furthering your education, I’ll refer you to this document: “The Irrational Vocabulary of the American Professorial Class with Regard to the Holocaust Question,” delivered by Holocaust denier Bradley Smith at Tehran in 2006: http://www.codoh.com/newsite/articles/bradleysmith/adoc04a.html(The Crookedtimber moderators will thank me for not reproducing it here). “Holocaust question,” with or without quotes around “Holocaust,” means one thing and one thing only where denialists are involved.

As for “findings,” you know very well that it conveys an impression of objective validity. One is unlikely to say or write: “As a result of his schizophrenia, he made findings [or: he found] that the Virgin Mary had been to see him about renting an apartment.” If your dictionary hasn’t alerted you to this fact, get a new one.

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abb1 07.23.08 at 6:05 pm

I am sure those petitions in support of East European dissidents he mentions were probably written in an even more distasteful manner; these dissidents were probably described as martyrs for freedom and democracy and so on. And, as he’s saying – mysteriously no one objected, no extreme scrutiny there, no one bothered to apply lexical analysis, or numerology, looking for the 666 among the letters. They give you a petition in support of the freedom of expression of some guy, you sign it, end of story. What’s so complicated here?

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noen 07.23.08 at 7:12 pm

Working class conservatives are hardened cynics.

Another word for cynicism is despair. People on the left sometimes seem to think you can raise the consciousness of the working class by words and intellectual argument. No, I don’t think so. The way one brings another over to your side is not through words but through behavior. Treat them as co-equal human beings and you might get somewhere. Case in point:

Markos Moulitsas – Bitter

Down in Austin I did a short segment on MSNBC’s Road to the White House where I was asked such tripe as “what would Obama die for” and “can Obama win without the left?” I did the interview from a remote studio — just a room with a camera, several backdrops depending on the kind of interview, and a satellite uplink to the network. The networks pay these studios for the time guests are on.

There was one middle-aged woman working the operation that day, roughly 50 years old. The TV was on the background and I heard “Obama” and “Afghanistan” in the same sentence. I asked, “Oh, is Obama already in Afghanistan?” She shrugged. “I don’t know. I haven’t followed the news.”

I stayed quiet, because ill and desperate for sleep, I thought I might squeeze a quick catnap before my segment came on. But the woman continued on her own. “I’m really disenchanted with McCain.” Oh, I responded, was she an Obama person? “No, I don’t like him either. I don’t trust him. And my daughter, she hates him.”

I inquired further, why? “Because he’s not patriotic, with the flag pin and the pledge of allegiance and his wife!” So we determined that she wasn’t going to vote, which was disappointing to American democracy, but good for us because she had been a reliable Republican voter. My interest piqued, I dug a little further: given how the economy was going, people losing their homes, the cost of gas through the roof, none of that was as important as a flag pin?

“Well, they can’t do nothing about those things.” Aha. The Frank theory, of course. Well, I responded, what about health care, are you happy with your health care? She lit up, “I know no one who is happy with their health care!” and then segued into a rant about the disgraceful state of the health care system. Well, I responded, Democrats are working for universal healthcare, but Republicans have gotten in the way. But we’ll be able to do it next year.

“Ain’t no one who can fix that stuff,” she sighed, slumping. That brief expression of fire and brimstone snuffed out in an instant. She was adamant that it was all hopeless. Fair enough. She didn’t look like someone who’d had an easy life. Health care had touched a nerve, so who knows what sad story or stories she had to tell on that front. But Republicans had convinced her that government was powerless to do anything about it, so … flag pins!

I had one last argument up my sleeve. Look, I get it, I told her, government hasn’t given us many reasons to be confident of late. I can certainly empathize. But can we make a deal? If Democrats push through universal health care in the next four years, will you vote for Barack Obama in 2012?

She looked initially uncomfortable at the thought, but after a pause and a brief internal struggle, she softened and said, “Yeah, I will.”

That, in a nutshell, is what Kristol and Ponnuru and Lowry and every conservative in this country fears the most.

The way forward is not achieved by brow beating, ridicule and belittling our opponents. Give them a stake in success. Let them believe that it is actually possible for a better world to exist. Give them a reason to let go of their despair.

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George 07.23.08 at 7:13 pm

@113

Jonah Goldberg was right!

As far as I can determine, he [Faurisson] is a relatively apolitical liberal of some sort.

http://www.chomsky.info/articles/19801011.htm

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Katherine 07.23.08 at 7:17 pm

So, put the world to rights yet?

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engels 07.23.08 at 7:19 pm

Seth, please accept my humblest apologies for any ‘righteous anger’ you may have detected in my comments here. In future I shall endeavour to live up to your standards of cool-headed reasonableness…

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Mark 07.23.08 at 8:17 pm

“As for “findings,” you know very well that it conveys an impression of objective validity. One is unlikely to say or write: “As a result of his schizophrenia, he made findings [or: he found] that the Virgin Mary had been to see him about renting an apartment.” If your dictionary hasn’t alerted you to this fact, get a new one.”

Has my dictionary alerted me to the fact? Perhaps schizophrenia afflicts not only the subject of the example but its author too. Speaking for myself, I “find” that my dictionary has no agency of its own and so alerts me to nothing. I will say that, whatever its connotations in Aaron’s (apparently wild) mind, the word findings refers literally to something ascertained. So Ptolemy “found” that the sun circled the earth. Alas, he was wrong.

The only question here is whether this is a valid principle: a person ought to have the right to utter non-violent speech without fear of prosecution. Aaron Bakers says no. Ok great!

Other than that, I agree, as always, with Seth.

120

geo 07.23.08 at 8:34 pm

Thank you, Aaron (113), for your friendly advice.

American Heritage Dictionary: “finding: A conclusion reached after investigation or examination.”

Webster’s New World Dictionary: “finding: Conclusion reached after an examination or consideration of facts.”

As I said, I agree that the quotation marks do not belong around “Holocaust.” This may indeed signal to readers (like you) familiar with the denialist literature a lurking sympathy with it. To ordinary readers, the petition simply says that Faurisson did research on the Holocaust, published his conclusions, and was unfairly punished as a result. To suggest that anyone signing the petition thereby committed himself to denying the Holocaust is absurd.

George @116:

I don’t know why Chomsky said that, or whether it’s true, but what is so implausible about it? Is it next to impossible that a Holocaust denier could be a relatively apolitical liberal? Relatively apolitical liberals can be as balmy as the rest of us.

121

George 07.23.08 at 8:54 pm

Not next to impossible, Geo…

I don’t know any modern definition of the word (save, perhaps, Jonah G’s) that could include Holocaust denial.

122

abb1 07.23.08 at 9:20 pm

The problem with the world ‘the Holocaust’ (capital H) is that it’s an ideological and political concept, as opposed to the Nazi holocaust, historical event. Norman Finkelstein wrote a whole book about it. IMO, there was no good reason to use this word with capital H in the petition, but if they absolutely had to, I can see how one could argue that the quotation marks are justified in this context (as a research subject): “The War on Terror”, “McCarthyism”.

123

Aaron Baker 07.23.08 at 10:11 pm

Mark wrote:

“The only question here is whether this is a valid principle: a person ought to have the right to utter non-violent speech without fear of prosecution. Aaron Bakers says no. Ok great!”

How you can extract that from anything I’ve posted here is a profound mystery–but not a very interesting one.

As for findings: well, mistaken as they were, Ptolemy’s findings were certainly “conclusion[s] reached after an examination or consideration of facts.” Just what facts do you think led Faurisson to believe the Holocaust never happened?

geo:

I would agree that “to suggest that anyone signing the petition thereby committed himself to denying the Holocaust is absurd.” But it isn’t absurd to criticize someone for signing such a thing. That’s what I’ve done, and will continue to do.

124

George 07.23.08 at 10:49 pm

It may be ‘the Holocaust’ for you, Abb1; for me (and my father who liberated a camp in Zutphen) it’ll simply be the Holocaust.

125

Mark 07.23.08 at 11:09 pm

“But it isn’t absurd to criticize someone for signing such a thing. That’s what I’ve done, and will continue to do.”

You’re a courageous man, Aaron. And not at all sententious.

“Ptolemy’s findings were certainly “conclusion[s] reached after an examination or consideration of facts.” Just what facts do you think led Faurisson to believe the Holocaust never happened?”

I don’t know. I’m not as versed in the ten-thousand year old Faurisson incident as you seem to be (nor, really, do I desire to be). But Faurisson undoubtedly looked at facts–surely he read at least a monograph–and then drew ridiculous conclusions, which were his findings, literally speaking.

As for your opinion on the validity of the principle (and fer chrissake, please cut the sniffy “not very interesting” shit–it’s like the fifth time it’s been used)–you seem to regard as far more problematic the wording of a petition than the prosecution of speech. And when a person puts his name forth in opposition to the prosecution and in defense of the principle, you think its a “disgrace” because in the defense the word “findings” was used correctly. Or perhaps you really do regard the prosecution of Faurisson as wrong but you have a stick up your ass for Chimpsky (wouldn’t be the first person). I could speculate endlessly, but in the end, you’re right, you aren’t very interesting.

Like seth says “I’m out”

126

Roy Belmont 07.23.08 at 11:16 pm

#76-we’re all academics, would-be academics, or former academics here
Not me baby, in case it doesn’t show.
Year and a half of community college, semester and a half of state university. And I’ve made more than 10K in annual wages in exactly three years of my adult wage-earning majority. And those years widely separated.

“Working class” when it was coined and fielded meant something pretty distinct and a lot removed from what it signifies now. At its origin I doubt it included domestic servants, boot blacks, tavern help etc. Calling big box employees working class, while grammatically correct, isn’t real accurate.
It seems like a big chunk of what was “working class” has reproduced itself as “service help”. White collar, blue collar, nylon company logo uniform shirt collar.

Extending “working class” to cover everybody who has to do things they otherwise wouldn’t want to in order to survive would mean the great majority of Americans belong there. Of course if you could get them to realize that, and realize how vast the numbers of their fellows, and how easily that demographic mass could be translated to momentum…

Aaron Baker:
Mark will have to answer for himself but I think the idea, whether it interests you or not, is you castigate Chomsky for signing a document which you describe as“e.g. the disgraceful petition on behalf of Faurisson”. Castigation being a form of punishment.

You might want to look at how you set that up. So that Chomsky’s motives in defense of freedom of speech, extended even toward voices which could well impinge on his well-being, are misrepresented as being in defense of the individual making that speech, which is pretty much saying that he agrees with the speech. Which is not the case, and is therefore dishonest. That phrase should read “e.g. the disgraceful petition on behalf of Faurisson‘s right to free speech”.

There are those who use the actual historical events toward which the terms “Holocaust” and Holocaust and “Shoah” and Shoah point as justification for their own immoral acts, or as a bulwark in defense and exculpation for the immoral acts of others toward whom they’re sympathetic. Some of the parenthesizing is a response to that dishonesty, while some is certainly pathology. I’m sure you know this already, but maybe being reminded of it will help you get off Chomsky’s case, or at least refine your criticism of him so it doesn’t seem quite so irrational.

Speaking for myself personally I just wish there was something in whatever noun gets officially designated that would give appropriate recognition to the mad, the queer, the infirm, the Roma, and the socialists and communists whose experience of that time and place was itself unspeakably horrific.

127

Aaron Baker 07.24.08 at 1:00 am

Ho hum, Mark, sticks and stones. At least I attach my full (and real) name to what I write.

128

Western Dave 07.24.08 at 1:28 am

126 comments in and no one is questioning the credibility of somebody who gets all Pat Buchanan about FDR and World War II? Incdientally while you all were talking about leadership, false conciousness etc. couldn’t you have grounded it in a historical example? Like WWII? If FDR was so hot and bothered to bring the country into the war, why couldn’t he do it sooner by manufacturing some consent?

129

engels 07.24.08 at 2:40 am

Also Seth I might add that if the best chance the American proletariat has to attain class consciousness, social democracy and/or Hope really does consist in downardly mobile bourgeois misanthropes like you delivering interminable obscurantist po-mo critiques of ‘the logic of rationalist formalism,’ etc leavened with liberal truisms (Man is a conflicted being who is torn between his natural greed and more noble motives? Gosh, how subversive…) then the American left is indeed well and truly fucked.

130

seth edenbaum 07.24.08 at 4:29 am

Chomsky didn’t pay attention to the details, and then in high-minded tone said they didn’t matter anyway. And he was right, except for the tone. But the tone for a public intellectual is the most important thing. His manner was ridiculously pompous. His claims to have made any attempt at all to examine Faurisson’s record were absurd, he was too busy to bother and too full of himself to admit it. [I’ll say again he reminds me of DeLong.]
From that point he made no attempt to educate or explain why an asshole should have to right to be an asshole, to explain the logic and the morality behind the principle, he simply lectured from it.
His public response was woefully inadequate. It was stupid.
Chomsky has acolytes among those too lazy to do the real work of paying attention. He’s a hero to those stupid or lost enough to want one. He works hard, but so do others, less prone to high toned arrogance. And other than his perennially adolescent fan base, who proudly claims Chomsky as their own? The most arrogant and elite among the critics of democracy; those who claim to represent reason, order and science against the ignorance and barbarism of the peasants, who they argue should not even be allowed to vote without the guidance of wiser men. Chomsky even at his best represents the worst of hectoring self-righteous Modernity, but he seems totally unaware. And Chomsky’s ignorance of politics now feeds those whose politics is now absolutely reactionary.

Chomsky is a good but not flawless reporter of fact. As a moral philosopher he’s a joke. As a linguist his day is done. Fighting over Chomsky misses the point. Even he would agree with that.

And Engels, grow up.

131

noen 07.24.08 at 6:39 am

Critiquing of ‘the logic of rationalist formalism’ seems entirely appropriate for Crooked Timber. The single best thing that can be done for the American proletariat however is universal healthcare. If we can accomplish that I think we could turn this country around.Getting Obama to accept that won’t be easy though.

132

abb1 07.24.08 at 7:09 am

His claims to have made any attempt at all to examine Faurisson’s record were absurd, he was too busy to bother and too full of himself to admit it.

And how do you know that. You’re thinking of what you would’ve done in that situation, but he is an extremely busy fella compare to you, he probably signs a dozen petitions in an average week. Doesn’t strike me as absurd at all.

133

ROYT 07.24.08 at 8:06 am

[name-calling, evidence-free rant]

Thank you Seth Edenbaum our guest lecturer on “tone.”

134

seth edenbaum 07.24.08 at 1:19 pm

Thank you noen, for the Kos link.
I should have added that earlier.
abb, read the link at #116

135

deliasmith 07.24.08 at 1:21 pm

On Chomsky: as far as I can see he’s said or written nothing on Faurisson for ten years or so. My motivation for posting the original link to his defence [dated ‘Circa 1989-1991’] was just to make sure that Aaron Baker’s use of the word ‘disgraceful’ did not pass unchallenged.

Otherwise.one thing to add: to Rich Puchalsky (07.23.08 at 4:54 am), who said: No, please, not another Faurisson-go-round …

It’s always worth putting in a bit of time to nail a lie, particularly so in support of someone, like Chomsky, whose opponents seem to rely almost exclusively on misrepresentation, the drawing of false ‘logical’ conclusions and, when all else fails, bitter, name-calling, evidence-free rants.

On false consciousness: Western Dave @ 128 If FDR was so hot and bothered to bring the country into the war, why couldn’t he do it sooner by manufacturing some consent? ‘Do it sooner’ implies he did it eventually. Whenever the opportunity arises I like to point out that he didn’t really do it at all: Both Japan and Germany initiated hostilities against the USA.

136

4jkb4ia 07.24.08 at 3:26 pm

Meta, very late

Not discussing I/P in detail simply means that you do not want your blog to become Fight Club every day, in the words of Jane Hamsher. CT stayed out of Clinton vs. Obama because it did not want to be Fight Club, and it was greatly appreciated in this corner. A blogger such as emptywheel can be skeptical about Israel’s behavior but still discourage two-person I/P shouting matches, as she did, and give 90% of her time to work against the neocon mentality that protects Israel as a feudal dependency of the US and Saudi Arabia as a feudal interdependency. IMHO someone like Livni would be happy to operate in a more cooperative international environment and does not have to pitch Israel against the entire world.

If Chomsky signed the petition about Faurisson that is as much as I know.

137

geo 07.24.08 at 4:01 pm

Seth,

I seem to have more sympathy than most other commenters for your general views and rhetorical style, so let me try to explain where your view of Chomsky and the Faurisson business is amiss. I agree, to some extent, about his tone. But the reaction to his signing the petition was so voluminous, dishonest and/or obtuse that I think you ought to cut him considerable slack in this regard. As for not bothering to explain why an asshole should have a right to be an asshole — again, it might have been nice if he had, but since virtually every one of his readers accepts this basic tenet of the Enlightenment (Voltaire: “I disagree with what you say … “), or claims to, it is understandable that he didn’t re-argue the case for free speech from first principles. He *is* awfully busy.

As for your overall judgment, I could hardly disagree more. His critique of American foreign policy is peerless: detailed, accurate, and deep — purely as an intellectual construction, it’s a masterwork; and also, since American foreign policy has been a life-or-death matter for the rest of the world for the last sixty-plus years, a matter of real moral urgency. His and Edward Herman’s theory about “the manufacture of consent” is another intellectual masterwork. Chomsky is of course not responsible for all the attitudes of his admirers, but to associate him with “those who claim to represent reason, order, and science against the ignorance and barbarism of the peasants” gets the matter exactly backwards. He has written enough about the function and responsibility of intellectuals to make this an inexcusable — and really, incomprehensible — misreading. And your impression that he is arrogant and full of himself is a little hard to reconcile with the almost inexhaustible support he has given tiny activist groups, without prestige or resources, or with the fact that, despite being perhaps the most famous intellectual in the world, he replies, patiently and courteously, to every single email he is sent.

I may be lost and am certainly stupid sometimes, but I’m not ashamed to acknowledge that Chomsky is a hero of mine and to assert that he is one of history’s truly great men.

138

seth edenbaum 07.24.08 at 4:03 pm

Israel-Palestine = Clinton- Obama?

“Livni would be happy to operate in a more cooperative international environment and does not have to pitch Israel against the entire world.”
So if Israel is pitched against the entire world, is it Clinton or Obama that’s in the similar position?

The political issues of Israel and Palestine are not synonymous with the simply logical and moral ones. But understanding the emotions behind Zionist policy [cf. “What’s the Matter with Haifa?”] is not the same as condoning that policy. Chomsky is better at logic than at understanding.

What’s offensive, to Chomsky, to me, and others, is the mapping of simple facts to moral truths by those who claim with great certainty to know the difference. The discussion of arabs solely by non-arabs is a problem, just as the discussion of women’s issues would be if no women were invited to speak.. We used to have that problem is this country.

The relation of the US to Zionism is as emotionally complex as it is logically simple. One would like to think that the intellectual elite would consider it its job to describe the ambiguities of negotiating that complexity. Chomsky does a piss-poor job at that and so do I. But then again I’m an obscurantist and irrationalist.

139

abb1 07.24.08 at 4:25 pm

The relation of the US to Zionism is as emotionally complex as it is logically simple.

I don’t think it’s that complex. Of course one can find unfathomable depths of complexity in pretty much anything; me deciding if I should take a dump at work or hold it till I get home is an incredibly complex emotional exercise, but why make a Greek tragedy out of it. What is simple logically shouldn’t be too complex.

140

abb1 07.24.08 at 4:28 pm

I seem to have more sympathy than most other commenters for your general views and rhetorical style

Hey, I like Seth too. I am a big fan.

141

seth edenbaum 07.24.08 at 4:43 pm

geo,
Brian Leiter, Simon Blackburn, Richard Posner, Colin McGinn, the “New Atheists, ” all share Chomsky’s rationalism and his idealism. All more and more express contempt for democracy and the “illiterate” “irrational” majority. Chomsky is on record for his contempt for empiricism as a methodology, but empiricism, as a journalist, is what’s made him as famous as he is. Put that list of names above alongside the link to Kos above [Kos the hack political operative]. Perhaps Chomsky’s a good reporter because he thinks it’s just banality, so he shrugs and does his Joe Friday act. It’s a better model for the press then we have now: he doesn’t take himself seriously.
But Chomsky is a defender of democracy because of what he assumes about people and their behavior Those assumptions are ridiculously simple-minded, in fact self-serving, but he sticks with them, while those who share his modernist rationalism have replaced that naive hope with arch cynicism. But he seems oblivious.

Intellectually Chomsky is in a time warp; his idealism concerning humanity as such is as dated as his linguistics, but he’s still a hero to the young. Yet when he’s caught being sloppy or indulgent he never admits it. He tries to argue his way out of anything, even if it would he easier to just own up and move on. It’s the same with his philosophical arguments. His brilliant imagination is also thin and brittle. You can contextualize him, as a post war rationalist, and still value his insights. But you’ll always have to pick and choose what to keep and what to throw away. True with anybody actually. But context, history and ambiguity, empiricism, are not things he takes seriously. However good a reporter he is, his intellectual model as a thinker and a philosopher, and his model of the world, is deeply deeply flawed.

142

Donald Johnson 07.24.08 at 6:22 pm

Seth at 141–

I actually agree with most of that.

143

4jkb4ia 07.24.08 at 7:16 pm

The Israel/Palestine vs. Clinton/Obama analogy was fairly poor, I agree. You cannot say that the non-US citizens at CT have an obligation to speak out about the Democratic primary. But you can say that both topics have a good record of degrading very quickly.

“The rest of the world” means every other country in the world including the EU, Iran, and Syria. I suppose that Obama is closer to consulting with these nations generally. I am sure that Seth has noticed that there is a schizoid tendency in right-wing Zionism. Right-wing Zionists want the US to continue to support Israel wholeheartedly but are almost proud of the scorn of the rest of the world. If you are an Israeli politician you need the help of the US and whoever is in power there. But it is obvious that the Israeli politician might think that this was not what Zionism was supposed to be about. A truly independent country can survive without alliances.

144

seth edenbaum 07.24.08 at 8:05 pm

I’m grown so used to having my arguments or even my right to make them dismissed out of hand (and this goes back 25 years) that now even when I’m trying to be polite I come off abrupt. Twice this year I’m been pulled up short… by being agreed with.

sincere thanks

145

Roy Belmont 07.24.08 at 8:11 pm

Maybe if #53 had started “Ignore Seth Edenbaum at your peril”…

146

abb1 07.24.08 at 8:24 pm

Interesting (re: Chomsky); myself I never noticed any wild idealism there, and that’s exactly what I like. Read his responses when he is asked about his idea of an ideal or just good socio-economic system – he never offers any vision, any solution, any model. His standard response is: impossible to tell, it’s something that will have emerge over time by experimentation, trial and error. Some idealism.

Criticizing US political system for the lack of democracy is a different matter; his main shtick is exposing hypocrisy of the powerful, that’s where it fits, I think.

147

ROYT 07.24.08 at 8:45 pm

At the risk or being labeled an acolyte, I’d observe that most of the content is slowly disappearing from the disagreement over Chomsky and that what remains is trivial, unsupported or juvenile.

“you’ll always have to pick and choose what to keep and what to throw away. True with anybody actually”

How could one disagree?

But “he never admits [being sloppy or indulgent.]” — You can’t support that statement.

So side from your dislike of the attitudes of some of those who “share Chomsky’s rationalism and his idealism” (something for which it is at the very best unclear how Chomsky is responsible), and your contempt for his assumptions about humanity (which you don’t give us any way to verify or examine), there’s nothing left but such rants as “context, history and ambiguity, empiricism, are not things he takes seriously.”

You were on to something back at #69.

148

Aaron Baker 07.24.08 at 10:54 pm

“On Chomsky: as far as I can see he’s said or written nothing on Faurisson for ten years or so. My motivation for posting the original link to his defence [dated ‘Circa 1989-1991’] was just to make sure that Aaron Baker’s use of the word ‘disgraceful’ did not pass unchallenged.

Otherwise.one thing to add: to Rich Puchalsky (07.23.08 at 4:54 am), who said: No, please, not another Faurisson-go-round …

It’s always worth putting in a bit of time to nail a lie, particularly so in support of someone, like Chomsky, whose opponents seem to rely almost exclusively on misrepresentation, the drawing of false ‘logical’ conclusions and, when all else fails, bitter, name-calling, evidence-free rants.”

I made no misrepresentations; I didn’t lie. I quoted exactly the words that the great man signed his name to. They stand on their own feet, so to speak. They were, and are, disgraceful.

149

Dan Coyle 07.25.08 at 12:10 am

I’m thoroughly disappointed that no one’s engaging Perrin’s arguments.

150

engels 07.25.08 at 2:51 pm

Ignore Seth Edenbaum long enough and he might go away

Now that’s what I call naive utopian idealism…

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seth edenbaum 07.25.08 at 3:49 pm

Perrin’s an angry clown, and a moralist. I’ve read him enough to understand his points, and I’ve made clear why it makes sense that DD would be the one to bring him up. And yes, serious earnest liberals are godawful, and Kos is on the tank for the democrats. But the best comment here still comes from Kos, though posted by someone else. And no one has mentioned that.

And while we’re discussing angry moralists, the fact remains that while up in heaven or The Aether or the land of The Forms, where truth is Truth and nothing else exists, John Brown is wrapped in silk and drinking tea with Moses while Abe Lincoln is washing their feet, in the real world Lincoln, the politician, the negotiator, the half-in/half-out guy, is the more important figure. Moralists have their place, they serve a purpose too in our Nada’s Nonexistent Plan, but what interests me is why I trust Markos Moulitsas, political player, intellectual middleweight and vulgar empiricist a hell of a lot more more than I trust John Quiggin and theories of creative capitalism.
The thing about moralists is they’re not really vulgar, they only use vulgarity to mock vulgarity. Deep down the hate it. The thing about rationalists is that they found their logics on their own imagined a priori orders. And those orders are never vulgar.
But politics is vulgar. Life is vulgar. The ideal world doesn’t exist and never will. I prefer angry idealism to idealistic optimism, Anti-Pangloss to Pangloss, but still with the Devil’s eye.
And Quiggin does not understand that in trying to reform the market as the market, all he’s doing is expanding it, and the role of instrumentalism in communiation and social life. The end of his logic is to say “Art is Commerce” and he’s too unobservant to realize it.
Art and commerce need each other as antagonists. Duty to oneself and duty to others are conflicting obligations. The conflict is what gives resilience. Quiggin et al offer reasoned reasonable mush:
Posner for pussies.
I propose a moratorium on the use of the term “creative.” Try replacing it with “observant” and see where it takes you. People these days are far too creative, and not nearly observant enough.
That’s what’s disappointing.

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e julius drivingstorm 07.26.08 at 8:01 am

Dead center of “Savage Mules”, this skinny double-spaced 118-paged tome, there seems to be a tipping point with a chapter on Iran-Contra (pages 55-61). Suddenly, I don’t know where Mr. Perrin is headed with this. Heck, it would take me thirty minutes to read the rest. I wish he would weigh in here.

In fairness to Dsquared, I haven’t read the back half either.

153

littlehorn 07.26.08 at 3:03 pm

“But I prefer to use my very limited supply of political $$ to help genuinely progressive Congressional candidates rather than send them to Obama- who is certainly managing more than fine without me. Trying to make the Democratic Party incrementally better is the best we can do under current conditions.”

No you’re not. These are tags that politicians choose, they mean nothing. You will elect someone who convinced you he was a progressive, and then he will cave in. Remember Feinstein, remember Dodd, remember Obama himself.

Also, there are pressures that makes incremental change within the Democratic Party impossible or unrealistic.

It may be time to remember that the Democratic Party has been existing for more than a hundred years, and this country has always had progressive people like you.

It’s not time for gradualism. It’s time for radicalism.

154

littlehorn 07.26.08 at 3:22 pm

“The problem with Dennis’ view of Kos is that if the people who are sympathetic to that view stopped being Democratic loyalist, we’d just end up being more screwed because we’d be electing more Republicans.

So yeah, the crazy Democratic party loyalists, who I think act like a bunch of idiots sometimes, are still critical to preventing further movement towards the Right in this country. “

You couldn’t be more wrong.

Democrats take the Republicans’ complaints and vocabulary, only to offer half-rightish solutions. Solutions that look less extreme to be sure, but the point is the Opposition endows the Republicans’ imperial and racist complaints with justifications for later action.

Take the Iran case. The Democrats voted FOR the Lieberman bill defining the Revolution Guards as terrorists. But they want to negotiate they say.

Well maybe that’s what they want, but the Republicans will say “What ? Negotiate with terrorists ? You pussies !” And they will win.

True opposition in this case would mean opposing the bill and saying the Guards are not terrorists.

This is only one example. This happens all the time. This is how there is a movement to the right in the USA.

BECAUSE THE DEMOCRATS DO NOT OPPOSE THE IDEOLOGICAL GROUNDS OF THE RIGHT. THEY AGREE WITH THEM. THEY SUPPORT THEM.

And when Republicans come around to the offices of Power, they are absolutely free to unleash whatever they want.

Stop voting for Democrats, else you render yourselves guilty of the next war of aggression. Already more than a million dead in Iraq. After 8 years of Clinton, more than a million people died at the hands of a Republican president.

WHAT KIND OF OPPOSITION IS THIS ?

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