Some Desperate Glory

by John Holbo on January 5, 2014

Amazing. Bill Kristol is hoping that, after a full century of unwillingness to go to war, because Wilfred Owen, this might be the year we consider – maybe! – going to some war. For the glory of it! Wouldn’t a war be glorious? If we could only have one? “Play up, play up, and play the game!” For the game is glorious!

Why have we been so unthinkingly unwilling to consider going to war for an entire century? Doesn’t that seem like a long time to go without a war?

Couldn’t we have just one?

{ 460 comments }

1

someguy 01.05.14 at 3:07 pm

“And where is the band who so vauntingly swore,
‘Mid the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country they’d leave us no more?
Their blood hath washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution;
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave! “

Hireling and slave? Slavery section – http://starspangled200.org/History/Pages/1814ChesapeakeCampaign.aspx Ohhhhh.

Perhaps a bit of bitterness and cynicism towards pointless bloody conflicts doesn’t indicate the irretrievable decline of Western Civilization.

2

LFC 01.05.14 at 3:24 pm

He’s not explicitly calling for going to (another) war, though I guess one cd infer that from his quoting the last stanza of Star Spangled Banner, which is never sung and which I don’t think I was aware of.

That said, Kristol is quite nauseating.

3

Main Street Muse 01.05.14 at 3:44 pm

I thought we were still in a war… http://ti.me/JUFxbF

Did Bill Kristol ever serve his country in a military capacity?

Here’s FS Fitzgerald, a man who never saw war, on the devastation of WWI:

“This western front business couldn’t be done again, not for a long time. The young men think they could do it but they couldn’t. They could fight the first Marne again but not this. This took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation that existed between the classes. The Russians and the Italians weren’t any good on this front. You had to have a whole solid sentimental equipment going back further than you could remember. You had to remember Christmas and postcards of the Crown Prince and his fiancee, and little cafes in Valence and beer gardens in Unterden Linden and weddings at the Mairie, and going to the Derby, and your grandfather’s whiskers…” (Tender is the Night)

Kristol seems not to understand WWI very well. Robert Graves wrote a brilliant memoir about fighting in WWI that Kristol should consider reading. (http://amzn.to/19WLhsg)

4

P O'Neill 01.05.14 at 4:10 pm

Billy Kristol missed an obvious allusion which is that there were a lot of “froth corrupted lungs” in Damascus 5 months ago that didn’t lead to war. Clearly that wasn’t the war the neocons were looking for.

5

bt 01.05.14 at 4:22 pm

I love the part where Bill Kristol links Civilizational Decline with our regrettable lack of enthusiasm for a glorious War.

This kind of casual assertion is the essence of how these folks tie it all together.

6

LFC 01.05.14 at 4:30 pm

This, by a sort of Kristol-the-Younger, is prob something someone at CT (Robin? Holbo?) should be all over, as in ripping it to shreds.

7

phosphorious 01.05.14 at 4:31 pm

The best line:

“No sensitive person can fail to be moved by Owen’s powerful lament, and no intelligent person can ignore his chastening rebuke”

But, goshdarnit, Bill Kristol will do his best!

8

Substance McGravitas 01.05.14 at 4:35 pm

Wilfred Owen proved that the pen was mightier than the sword by halting war.

9

jake the snake 01.05.14 at 4:36 pm

There is one dictum about war that Mr. Krystal hugs close to his breast.
“War is fought by the children of the poor and working class for the advantage of
the wealthy and the powerful.”
Unlike most of the rest of us, Mr. Krystal and the neo-conservatives see this as a good thing.

10

LFC 01.05.14 at 4:42 pm

@Substance
“halting” is an overstatement; rather, helping to delegitimize at least a certain kind of war

11

Billikin 01.05.14 at 4:43 pm

We are not unwilling to go to war. We are unwilling to declare it.

12

JML 01.05.14 at 4:52 pm

“War is fought by the children of the poor and working class for the advantage of
the wealthy and the powerful.”

War? That’s what it’s good for? Huh? Say it again?

13

Donald A. Coffin 01.05.14 at 4:58 pm

Or, as Phil Ochs put it:

“It’s always the old who lead us to the wars
It’s always the young who fall.
Now look at all we’ve won with the sabre and the gun
Tell me is it worth it all.”

(“The War Is Over”)

But, unfortunately, Billikin (@10) is right.

14

Straightwood 01.05.14 at 5:02 pm

No less a figure than the literary giant, Thomas Mann, was once selling the elixir of noble war. The disappointingly incongruous ending of the Magic Mountain shows Hans Kastorp finally fully alive as he crosses a WWI battlefield under fire. Mann eventually said goodbye to all that, but it caused his estrangement from his brother for a decade.

War is so deeply encoded in our nature that it animates our language and haunts our dreams. Huge numbers of young males spend countless hours on virtual battlefields, endlessly killing and destroying. The problem isn’t Bill Kristol; it is us.

15

max 01.05.14 at 5:11 pm

bt @4: “I love the part where Bill Kristol links Civilizational Decline with our regrettable lack of enthusiasm for a glorious War. “

That’s the whole (not really an) argument.

This year, a century later, the commemorations of 1914 will tend to take that rejection of piety and patriotism for granted. Or could this year mark a moment of questioning, even of reversal? Today, after all, we see the full consequences of that rejection in a way Owen and his contemporaries could not. Can’t we acknowledge the meaning, recognize the power, and learn the lessons of 1914 without succumbing to an apparently inexorable gravitational pull toward a posture of ironic passivity or fatalistic regret in the face of civilizational decline? No sensitive person can fail to be moved by Owen’s powerful lament, and no intelligent person can ignore his chastening rebuke. But perhaps a century of increasingly unthinking bitter disgust with our heritage is enough.

He’s deploring the existence of events (rejection of piety & patriotism, civilizational decline, unthinking bitter disgust) that basically haven’t happened. (Now, rejection of particular forms of piety & patriotism and bitter disgust with certain aspects of recent history in the United States have certainly happened. But they still sing the Star Bangled Banner at ballgames, last I checked.)

I guess it’s easier to claim success in reversing social trends when those trends never actually happened.

max
['Enjoy the Empty.']

16

riffle 01.05.14 at 5:17 pm

According to Wikipedia, Kristol has 3 children.

After he talks all of them to signing up and fighting, I’ll listen to him try to convince the rest of us.

His son-in-law, Matthew Continetti, also somehow managed to go from Columbia University to The Weekly Standard without ever hitting boot camp.

17

Lee A. Arnold 01.05.14 at 5:28 pm

Will somebody please ask Kristol whether he thinks the U.S. should go back into Iraq, now that Iraq is falling back into mayhem. I predict that his answer will be to blame the liberals for the failure of his war.

18

mattski 01.05.14 at 5:50 pm

Kristol: It’s perhaps fitting and proper that the national anthem of a nation dedicated to the question of whether societies of men can govern themselves by reflection and choice ends not in a boast but in a question.

Just not fitting and proper enough to outweigh, “Then conquer we must!”

Francis Scott Key’s poem, composed within hours of the American victory and set the next day to a popular melody, was within days a popular song and within weeks “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Because we wouldn’t want to form our vision from rash impulses.

19

mattski 01.05.14 at 5:55 pm

@ 14

The problem isn’t Bill Kristol; it is us.

Sure. It’s just that Kristol is a particularly egregious instantiation of ‘us.’

20

Substance McGravitas 01.05.14 at 5:55 pm

“halting” is an overstatement

Quite right LFC.

21

LFC 01.05.14 at 5:56 pm

of course it’s not just the Star Spangled Banner

Allons enfants de la patrie
Le jour de gloire est arrivé

etc

22

Jim Buck 01.05.14 at 5:59 pm

The UK Education Secretary, Michael Gove, is also worried that the WW1 centenary will re-ignite old passions:

http://www.politics.co.uk/news/2014/01/03/michael-gove-blasts-blackadder-for-spreading-left-wing-myths

23

Jay 01.05.14 at 6:27 pm

That’s an astonishing piece of amorality. Or actually, not.
Dulce bellum inexpertis.

24

Jay 01.05.14 at 6:28 pm

Not astonishing, that is, given the source.

25

Mao Cheng Ji 01.05.14 at 6:59 pm

“After he talks all of them to signing up and fighting, I’ll listen to him try to convince the rest of us.”

I don’t think this is a very good comeback. Not a lot of actual fighting and physical sacrifice is required for conquering these days.

26

Bernard Yomtov 01.05.14 at 7:29 pm

phosphorious at #7:

Good work. Hilarious.

27

john c. halasz 01.05.14 at 7:37 pm

It’s the bicentennial of the defeat of Napoleon as well, after which Europe sank into a hundred year long era of peace, darkness, degeneracy and decline…

28

MPAVictoria 01.05.14 at 7:40 pm

@22
Who doesn’t like black adder?!?

29

Layman 01.05.14 at 7:44 pm

“Not a lot of actual fighting and physical sacrifice is required for conquering these days.”

That’s what the neocons are selling. It turns out not to be the case.

30

LFC 01.05.14 at 7:47 pm

@25
re Napoleon’s defeat: not to be picky but off by a year — Waterloo was 1815.

31

bianca steele 01.05.14 at 7:55 pm

So this Gove person thinks academic leftists are insufficiently opposed not only to social darwinism but also to Hitler?

32

Heliopause 01.05.14 at 8:13 pm

Somebody will have to help me out; Kristol says that WWI led to the “demoralization” of the West. Did WWII really happen or was it something I just saw in a movie? Did the US fight major ground wars in east Asia over a period of decades? Was there another major ground war in the middle east about a decade ago? Age and alcohol are taking their toll so someone please fill me in on these questions or, barring that, explain what Kristol meant.

33

Plume 01.05.14 at 8:16 pm

@Straightwood 14,

War is so deeply encoded in our nature that it animates our language and haunts our dreams. Huge numbers of young males spend countless hours on virtual battlefields, endlessly killing and destroying. The problem isn’t Bill Kristol; it is us.

Actually, there is no evidence that war or serious aggression or selfishness or any other social malady is actually “encoded in our nature,” if by our nature you mean all humans. It is a truism and CW to say so. But there is no evidence to support that.

There is far more evidence to suggest that a tiny minority of humans may have an unusual amount of aggression, anger, selfishness and indifference to the pain and misery of others — alphas, sociopaths and ultras of one kind or another. They, through time, have managed to either force or persuade the rest of us to follow them into the ditch and over the cliff. But it is that tiny percentage with the “innate” drive to conquer, fight, attack, own, control, compete against, etc. etc. . . . not “humanity” in general.

(There is also evidence to suggest that lead, especially, our food and our environment overall also act to increase violent aggression, but that’s not “innate” or “natural,” either)

One of the greatest PR victories in history has been to convince the average Joe and Jane that they share pathologies with that tiny percentage, that they are, indeed, as selfish, self-centered, aggressive, angry, acquisitive and so on as sociopaths. This leads us to fall back on truisms that support systems like capitalism that work for those sociopaths and against the vast majority. It also makes it easy for wars, which are fought to benefit the rich and powerful, at the expense of everyone else, to be talked up as “natural” to the human condition. No. War is natural to that tiny fraction of humanity, and they manage to sucker us or force us to join in with their depravity.

The vast majority of us just want to live in peace, and, yes, cooperate with one another. That’s what comes “naturally” to that vast majority.

34

Ben 01.05.14 at 8:30 pm

Plume,

To be fair, another thing that comes “naturally” to the vast majority is following authority, rationalizing it to themselves, and ostracizing people who don’t accept that rationalization.

Better verbs than “sucker” or “force” in your antepenultimate sentence might be “seduce” or “satisfy”.

35

dn 01.05.14 at 8:33 pm

Heliopause: Ah, but nowadays we take up the white man’s burden only after much soul-searching and self-flagellation. Kristol appears to believe we suffer from a scrupulous conscience.

36

Plume 01.05.14 at 8:51 pm

@Ben 32,

To be fair, another thing that comes “naturally” to the vast majority is following authority, rationalizing it to themselves, and ostracizing people who don’t accept that rationalization.

I would argue that this isn’t “natural” to most humans in the slightest. It’s beaten into them, socialized, through thousands of years. We’ve been disciplined and punished enough to accept this. We’ve been told for century upon century to obey and ask for more abuse. And in recent years, we’ve been taught that we’re not only supposed to obey, but do so happily.

Again, this is all about socialization. It can just as easily be reversed through alternative socialization, being taught to think critically. The facts are on the side of such a reversal. As in, it’s more than obvious that we all do better when we cooperate with one another (and not the alphas and sociopaths), ignore the words of the Napoleons and the Alexanders, tell them to F off, and live in peace and harmony instead.

There is just no logical counterargument against peace and harmony. Warfare gets you killed. That, alone, is enough to shred it as argument. And all the evidence points to another aspect of warfare totally failing for the vast majority of us:

Economic. There is simply no valid argument that giving massive power to a few financial/political elites helps the vast majority. Following them, doing as they say, letting them wage war on behalf of their own wallets, accepting their vision over us, results in their massive gain and our massive loss. And the planet’s.

We lived for our first 200,000 years on this planet in communal relationships. If anything can be said to be “natural” to humans, it’s that. Cooperation, not competition. Not warfare through traditional or other means, though that warfare happened all too often. But warfare is what the sociopaths get us to do, so they gain power, against our best interests . . .

37

UserGoogol 01.05.14 at 8:58 pm

Plume: I really don’t see much of a difference in the quality of arguments between Bill Kristol and random asshole conservatives on the Internet. So Occam’s razor would suggest that it’s just dumb assholes all the way down. Obviously class plays some sort of role too, but I don’t think it’s that the rich are innately sociopaths (what sort of epidemiological cause could there be for that?), but indeed that all people innately driven towards getting along with people, but that also manifests in going along with whatever role in society they find themselves occupying. So if a “basically decent person” finds themselves in a position where exploiting the poor and acting like a sociopath is just what people do, then they’ll do that rather than make a fuss about it. People get along with their immediate peer group more than the world as a whole, so if their immediate peer group thinks that bombing the fuck out of a country is a good idea then they’ll roll with that.

38

Ronan(rf) 01.05.14 at 9:04 pm

“Who doesn’t like black adder?!?”

*raises hand* and Monty Phyton

39

Plume 01.05.14 at 9:15 pm

usergoogol,

I never said all rich people were sociopaths — though I would argue that if you get rich via business, with employees, you can’t help but do so by screwing over workers. As in, it’s mathematically impossible to make a fortune with a workforce and not screw them over.

Now, if that person is just kinda doing what everyone else does, given their circumstance, and it becomes some kind of “banality of evil” sort of thingy, then, perhaps, you don’t have to be a sociopath per se. But if one even takes a moment of time to think about it, and stretches their moral compass just a wee bit, they couldn’t help but see that it’s immoral to pay oneself tens of millions, while paying some poor working stiff 70 cents an hour in China. The executives at Apple, for instance.

Now, how can anyone justify 41 billion in profits in 2012, along with a cash reserve of 160 billion, while paying 70 cents an hour? To me, any person with at least an ounce of morality takes that profit and divides it among stakeholders (workers), rather than hoarding it at the very top of the pyramid — or sending it out to shareholders, who are primarily short-timers with zero sweat equity in the company.

It’s not rocket science.

Also, many recent studies point to the fact that rich people tend to cheat and lie more than the rest of us. Now, of course, you have a chicken and egg thing happening there, so it’s not “conclusive.” Did they lie and cheat their way into getting rich? Or did they just start lying and cheating once they got there? etc. etc. At the very least, it really helps someone gain power and wealth if they lack a moral compass of decent proportions.

40

Ben 01.05.14 at 9:33 pm

Plume,

I mean . . . what we’re saying isn’t incompatible. Stuff like Hierarchy in the Forest points out that, while there might be innate tendencies to dominate and to submit to domination, egalitarian societies can (and have, for the majority of humans’ time on Earth) exist by, in effect, dominating those who would do the dominating.

But this also means that authoritarian or despotic social structures use the same tendencies to perpetuate themselves.

Anyway this is pretty far afield from the OP. Kristol’s a mealy-mouthed dick.

And Ronan(rf) needs to be slapped in the face with a fish.

41

Plume 01.05.14 at 9:41 pm

Oh, definitely agree about Kristol.

And the worst kind, cuz he’s a chickenhawk. To me, there are few things more repugnant in this world than a warhawk who does everything under the sun to avoid war.

The Bushies were loaded with them. Pretty much the entire gang at PNAC were chickenhawks. Sheeesh, Lynne Cheney actually wanted us to attack China!!!

42

Mao Cheng Ji 01.05.14 at 9:50 pm

“Kristol’s a mealy-mouthed dick”

Maybe so, but he is consistent, and he represents a certain point of view. The clash of civilizations. This point of view is always present, in one form in another. Dangerous stuff.

43

David 01.05.14 at 9:56 pm

All he is saying is “Give war a chance.”

44

Plume 01.05.14 at 10:04 pm

Of course, Cheney is the real dick. Mealy-mouthed and otherwise.

45

Harold 01.05.14 at 10:06 pm

It begins with scoffing at war, and the next thing you know it leads to scoffing at the plutocracy, the Ivy League universities, and everything.

46

Jim Buck 01.05.14 at 10:07 pm

Gove is upset because teachers in British schools have been showing students the Black Adder WW1 series. The Tories may see an opportunity to jingo their way through this anniversary year–concurrent, as it is, with the run-up to the 2015 election; however, left-wing discourse has shaped public sentiment about the Great War, during the past 5 decades. It’s going to be a difficult job for the Tories to renegotiate it, I suspect. We’re likely to be hearing a lot from Niall Ferguson, this year.

47

ajay 01.05.14 at 10:11 pm

Here’s FS Fitzgerald, a man who never saw war, on the devastation of WWI:

“This western front business couldn’t be done again, not for a long time. The young men think they could do it but they couldn’t. They could fight the first Marne again but not this.

“No, there’s no way there could be another massive war in Europe, certainly not involving Germany, they just don’t have it in them any more” has to be one of the stupidest things ever written in the 20th century.

48

Ronan(rf) 01.05.14 at 10:16 pm

My (limited non expert) understanding is that Gove is more right than wrong on this, at least pushing back against the Lions led by Donkeys narrative. My (limited non expert) understanding is that there really weren’t many alternatives to the way the war was fought (initially) that the learning curve to *this new type of war* was too steep and that alot of the hosility towards the ‘elites’ has largely covered over how much support the war had, at thte time, among the general popualtion.
As I said though, i dont know so Im more than open to being wrong (of course)

49

Plume 01.05.14 at 10:22 pm

Have never seen Black Adder. Is it worth a Netflix viewing?

It’s amazing how “hip” WWI has become the last few years. Downton Abbey is the main reason, no doubt, but much else has come out to add to the momentum.

Recently read Peter Englund’s excellent The Beauty and the Sorrow. I highly recommend it. Gets to the participants themselves, directly. Shows the war from the ground up (and the air), etc.

Also was happy and very surprised to see HBO film Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End, among the greatest tetralogies in English language literature. Ford’s prose is near the pinnacle of English Lit and sadly neglected.

50

MPAVictoria 01.05.14 at 10:22 pm

Oh Ronan… :-(

51

Ben Alpers 01.05.14 at 10:53 pm

“…quoting the last stanza of Star Spangled Banner, which is never sung…”

Actually, Bay Area sports fans of a certain age will recognize that last verse of the Star Spangled Banner because it was — for reasons that were unclear to me at the time and even less clear to me today — always sung before Golden State Warriors games in the mid-’70s, in lieu of the usual, first verse.

52

Katherine 01.05.14 at 11:19 pm

Have never seen Black Adder. Is it worth a Netflix viewing?

Yes. I’d say start with Blackadder II first though. The first series is very different from the following three and, whilst it has its own merits, would give a misleading impression of the others.

53

Straightwood 01.05.14 at 11:21 pm

The archeol0gical evidence is not very supportive of the advocates of man’s peaceful nature. The presence of fortifications, such as palisades and ditches, in many early settlements indicates a serious concern for security. (See “War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage” by Lawrence Keeley.) European settlers in North America lived for 75 years under threat of attack by indigenous peoples. Prior to the arrival of the settlers, the indigenous tribes of North America had practiced sporadic internecine warfare for centuries.

Many of us may wish for peace, but warfare has been a constant presence in human history. It would be appealing to divide mankind in to innocents and warmongers, but I am afraid that the savage lurks in all of us.

54

Hector_St_Clare 01.05.14 at 11:23 pm

Re: egalitarian societies can (and have, for the majority of humans’ time on Earth) exist by, in effect, dominating those who would do the dominating.

This is quite correct. The only way you can keep sociopathic capitalists from getting in charge and dominating everyone else, is by having some other power stronger than them, to beat them down when they try it. Either the vanguard party, or the army, or some other force. You don’t overthrow greed and sociopathic economics by holding hands and singing Kum-ba-yah, you overthrow it using men with guns.

This is precisely why the ‘no gods, no masters’ stuff is so silly. In order to resist the power of monied interests, you need a State, and a State much powerful than any liberals are willing to countenance.

55

fs 01.05.14 at 11:30 pm

It should be remembered that it was Alan Clarke, a violent right -winger, who wrote the Donkeys. But then he always seem to flirt with bring pro-Hitler in his justifiably famous diaries. It’s easier to make fun of those you oppose for other reasons.

To me, Germany, at least the dominant forces, more dominant as the war went on (Ludendorff) seems like a milder and therefore more sustainable vrrsion of what came to power in 1933. Ithadtp bedefeated or submitted to.

56

LFC 01.05.14 at 11:38 pm

@Ben Alpers
I stand corrected. Shd have said that I’d never heard it sung, prob b/c i didn’t grow up in the Bay Area (and don’t know who the Golden State Warriors were/are and am too lazy to look it up).

57

Bruce Wilder 01.05.14 at 11:47 pm

Gove: – a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite

is actually a pretty good summary of the operational character of World War I.

The general disillusionment with elites was one of the most profound social and institutional consequences of the war. That the war received mass patriotic support at its instigation, and required mass participation in the carnage that followed, only made that disillusionment more far-reaching. It should be understood that the history of the decades leading up to the war prepared the ground for that disillusionment with reactionary intransigence, incompetence and negligence.

Someone, who cannot recognize the Battle of the Somme as a British catastrophe, should be kept away government and sharp objects.

58

bt 01.05.14 at 11:49 pm

There are some ideas running here the remind me of one of my favorite books:

Lord of the Flies.

A true classic, one that calls out the civilizing nature of civilization and the brutality that lurks just below the surface, in its absence.

Civilization and government can and does shave off the rough edges of human nature. It is foolish of little-government types and libertarians to want to do away with it. I always say, those folks ought to vacation in Somalia. With no government and lots of guns and ammo, it must be paradise!

59

LFC 01.05.14 at 11:50 pm

I’m going to guess that Golden State Warriors are a basketball team.

60

Plume 01.06.14 at 12:14 am

@Straightwood 53,

The archeol0gical evidence is not very supportive of the advocates of man’s peaceful nature. The presence of fortifications, such as palisades and ditches, in many early settlements indicates a serious concern for security.

The evidence of wars, fortifications, etc. etc. proves nothing about “man” in general. Who ordered the attacks? Who started the wars? Who created the need for defensive fortifications? All of humankind? No. Not hardly. Again, sociopaths, alphas and ultras attempting to seize power and wealth for themselves. A tiny percentage of humankind with oversized impact to the nth degree.

No one is trying to say there haven’t been umpteen wars, genocides and other atrocities galore, or that this isn’t an essential part of the human story. What I’m saying is that there was never any consensus about this. It’s never been driven by all of humankind. Far, far from it. People were ordered, forced or persuaded to do these unconscionable things by a few, at the top, for their benefit. They were socialized into doing this and falsely accepted the notion that it’s “natural,” so just shut up and clap louder.

The powers that be in the south, for instance, the slaveholders, held local populations in their thrall for all too long using the notion that their way was “natural” and the “natural order of things.” That is, of course, until the Civil War and abolition, in which case we had a new “natural order of things.” Jim Crow, another form of slavery, which was called the natural order of things, too. And then that was abolished and so on.

It’s pretty obvious, at least to me, that we’d have few (if any) wars if we had true democracy, within an egalitarian structure across the globe. And by “true” I mean including the economy. If the people most directly in the line of fire had a choice in the matter, for once, we’d see a massive reduction in violence all across the planet. And if the .01% and the upper classes in general didn’t hoard like they do, we wouldn’t have a scarcity issue, either. Scarcity then ceases to be a rationale (or excuse).

The richest 20% of the world consumed 85% of the earth’s resources. We don’t have a scarcity problem. We have an economic apartheid problem.

In short, you can’t deduce anything about “humanity” overall from things like wars and our long, disgusting history of genocide and oppression, etc. etc. In pretty much every case, orders for this were top down.

61

Jacob McM 01.06.14 at 12:22 am

Kristol is echoing the words of John Ruskin:

All the pure and noble arts of peace are founded on war; no great art ever yet rose on Earth, but among a nation of soldiers. There is no art among a shepherd people if it remains at peace. There is no art among an agricultural people if it remains at peace. Commerce is barely consistent with fine art, but cannot produce it. Manufacture not only is unable to produce it, but invariably destroys whatever seeds of it exist. There is no great art possible to a nation but that which is based on battle.

Now, though I hope you love fighting for its own sake, you must, I imagine, be surprised at my assertion that there is any such good fruit of fighting. You supposed, probably, that your office was to defend the works of peace, but certainly not to found them; nay, the common course of war, you may have thought, was only to destroy them. And truly I, who tell you this of the use of war, should have been the last of men to tell you so, had I trusted my own experience only.

Yet the conclusion is inevitable, from any careful comparison of the states of great historic races at different periods. The first dawn of it is in Egypt; and the power of it is founded on the perpetual contemplation of death, and of future judgment, by the mind of a nation of which the ruling caste were priests, and the second, soldiers. The greatest works produced by them are sculptures of their kings going out to battle or receiving the homage of conquered armies.

All the rudiments of art, then, and much more than the rudiments of all science, are laid first by this great warrior-nation, which held in contempt all mechanical trades, and in absolute hatred the peaceful life of shepherds. From Egypt art passes directly into Greece, where all poetry, and all painting, are nothing else than the description, praise, or dramatic representation of war, or of the exercises which prepare for it, in their connection with offices of religion. All Greek institutions had first respect to war, and their conception of it, as one necessary office of all human and divine life, is expressed simply by the images of their guiding gods. Apollo is the god of all wisdom of the intellect; he bears the arrow and the bow before he bears the lyre. Athena is the goddess of all wisdom in conduct. It is by the helmet and the shield, oftener than by the shuttle, that she is distinguished from other deities.

There were, however, two great differences in principle between the Greek and the Egyptian theories of policy. In Greece there was no soldier caste; every citizen was necessarily a soldier. And, again, while the Greeks rightly despised mechanical arts as much as the Egyptians, they did not make the fatal mistake of despising agricultural and pastoral life, but perfectly honored both. These two conditions of truer thought raise them quite into the highest rank of wise manhood that has yet been reached, for all our great arts, and nearly all our great thoughts, have been borrowed or derived from them. Take away from us what they have given, and I hardly can imagine how low the modern European would stand.

Now, you are to remember, in passing to the next phase of history, that though you must have war to produce art, you must also have much more than war—namely, an art-instinct or genius in the people; and that, though all the talent for painting in the world won’t make painters of you, unless you have a gift for fighting as well, you may have the gift for fighting, and none for painting. Now, in the next great dynasty of soldiers, the art-instinct is wholly wanting. I have not yet investigated the Roman character enough to tell you the causes of this, but I believe, paradoxical as it may seem to you, that, however truly the Roman might say of himself that he was born of Mars, and suckled by the wolf, he was nevertheless, at heart, more of a farmer than a soldier. The exercises of war were with him practical, not poetical; his poetry was in domestic life only, and the object of battle, pacis imponere morem. And the arts are extinguished in his hands, and do not rise again, until, with Gothic chivalry, there comes back into the mind of Europe a passionate delight in war itself, for the sake of war. And then, with the romantic knighthood which can imagine no other noble employment—under the fighting kings of France, England, and Spain—and under the fighting dukeships and citizenships of Italy, art is born again, and rises to her height in the great valleys of Lombardy and Tuscany, through which there flows not a single stream, from all their Alps or Apennines, that did not once run dark red from battle, and it reaches its culminating glory in the city which gave to history the most intense type of soldiership yet seen among men—the city whose armies were led in their assault by their king, led through it to victory by their king, and so led, though that king of theirs was blind, and in the extremity of his age.

And from this time forward, as peace is established or extended in Europe, the arts decline. They reach an unparalleled pitch of costliness, but lose their life, enlist themselves at last on the side of luxury and various corruption, and, among wholly tranquil nations, wither utterly away, remaining only in partial practice among races who, like the French and us, have still the minds, though we cannot all live the lives, of soldiers.

“It may be so,” I can suppose that a philanthropist might exclaim. “Perish then the arts, if they can flourish only at such a cost. What worth is there in toys of canvas and stone, if compared to the joy and peace of artless domestic life?” And the answer is—truly, in themselves, none. But as expressions of the highest state of the human spirit, their worth is infinite. As results they may be worthless, but, as signs, they are above price. For it is an assured truth that, whenever the faculties of men are at their fullness, they must express themselves by art; and to say that a state is without such expression, is to say that it is sunk from its proper level of manly nature. So that, when I tell you that war is the foundation of all the arts, I mean also that it is the foundation of all the high virtues and faculties of men.

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Alex 01.06.14 at 12:44 am

Wow: that Ruskin quote is more evidence for my belief that Britain and Germany are sisters under the skin, and we missed out on fascism with arts & crafts stylings by fifty or so sailors at Jutland actually following the explosives handling procedures.

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Plume 01.06.14 at 12:45 am

Ruskin never went to battle, and lived a very privileged life overall. It is all too often the case that the people who glory in war the most have been impacted by it the least. They have managed to escape its horrors.

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mattski 01.06.14 at 12:47 am

In short, you can’t deduce anything about “humanity” overall from things like wars and our long, disgusting history of genocide and oppression, etc. etc. In pretty much every case, orders for this were top down.

This is dangerously delusional. That is all.

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Plume 01.06.14 at 1:03 am

@mattski 63,

No. What is dangerous and delusional is to believe that we are all somehow wired to kill one another, to lust for war and violence, to lust for gold and power.

It’s time we understood that there is nothing “natural” about violence, aggression, war, raping and pillaging, etc. etc.

It’s just “natural” for a tiny fraction of the population, who manage all too often to take us with them on their ride to hell and back again.

In short, we might as well just give up, call it a day, and accept our miserable lot if we do, indeed, need (as a species) to kill, rape, steal, slaughter and the rest. You better hope that’s not the true “nature” of humankind.

The historical record tells us it’s clearly not. As the vast majority of the world’s population doesn’t go into battle and fight even when we have world wars, and when they’re smaller and more localized, the vast majority of the population doesn’t engage in the fighting, slaughtering, raping, pillaging, etc. etc. They are acted upon, they don’t do the acting.

Again, even in the midst of war, soldiers and their leaders are a minority. Amongst the soldiers, until recently, most didn’t even kill their opposing number. Those who did kill “the enemy” were a minority within a minority. It wasn’t until the Vietnam War that U.S. psychological training increased the kill rate to 90%. During WWI, for instance, it was 15-20% — among soldiers!!

66

Omega Centauri 01.06.14 at 1:32 am

Maybe we should turn it around. The only wars we should deem to fight are glorious ones. Glorious wars in the old fashioned sense, were primarily fought for the glory of the participants -particularly of the generals/kings, and were not fought for territory or plunder so much, as to prove the worthiness of the fighters. In a “glorious” war, once it is determined that both sides have fought well, the battle ends, and both sides can celebrate each others manly qualities together. Today we have strategic wars, and wars fought because of the incompatibilities of different cultures/religions/commercial or colonial-endeavours Or even pre-emptive wars, fought because we think total war with oponent X is inevitable, and we’d rather control the time and place of the inception of hostilities. In these “nonGlorious” war, there is no prospect as quitting as soon as your opponent demonstrates his worthiness.

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Jacob McM 01.06.14 at 1:39 am

Forgot this part of the above Ruskin quote:

It was very strange to me to discover this; and very dreadful — but I saw it to be quite an undeniable fact. The common notion that peace and the virtues of civil life flourished together, I found, to be wholly untenable. Peace and the vices of civil life only flourish together. We talk of peace and learning, and of peace and plenty, and of peace and civilisation; but I found that those were not the words which the Muse of History coupled together: that on her lips, the words were — peace and sensuality, peace and selfishness, peace and corruption, peace and death. I found, in brief, that all great nations learned their truth of word, and strength of thought, in war; that they were nourished in war, and wasted by peace; taught by war, and deceived by peace; trained by war, and betrayed by peace; — in a word, that they were born in war, and expired in peace.

You can compare these words to Heinrich von Treitschke’s:

One must say with the greatest determination: War is for an afflicted people the only remedy. When the State exclaims: My very existence is at stake! then social self-seeking must disappear and all party hatred be silent. The individual must forget his own ego and feel himself a member of the whole, he must recognize how negligible is his life compared with the good of the whole. Therein lies the greatness of war that the little man completely vanishes before the great thought of the State. The sacrifice of nationalities for one another is nowhere invested with such beauty as in war. At such a time the corn is separated from the chaff. All who lived through 1870 will understand the saying of Niebuhr with regard to the year 1813, that he then experienced the “bliss of sharing with all his fellow citizens, with the scholar and the ignorant, the one common feeling—no man who enjoyed this experience will to his dying day forget how loving, friendly and strong he felt.”
It is indeed political idealism which fosters war, whereas materialism rejects it. What a perversion of morality to want to banish heroism from human life. The heroes of a people are the personalities who fill the youthful souls with delight and enthusiasm, and amongst authors we as boys and youths admire most those whose words sound like a flourish of trumpets. He who cannot take pleasure therein, is too cowardly to take up arms himself for his fatherland. All appeal to Christianity in this matter is perverted. The Bible states expressly that the man in authority shall wield the sword; it states likewise that: “Greater love hath no man than this that he giveth his life for his friend.” Those who preach the nonsense about everlasting peace do not understand the life of the Aryan race, the Aryans are before all brave. They have always been men enough to protect by the sword what they had won by the intellect….

To the historian who lives in the realms of the Will, it is quite clear that the furtherance of an everlasting peace is fundamentally reactionary. He sees that to banish war from history would be to banish all progress and becoming. It is only the periods of exhaustion, weariness and mental stagnation that have dallied with the dream of everlasting peace…. The living God will see to it that war returns again and again as a terrible medicine for humanity.

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Plume 01.06.14 at 1:41 am

The biggest reason for wars today is to protect or expand markets. Capitalism is the core reason why we fight so often. Threats to capitalism are invented, so we can go to war and take over markets. Or real threats arise, like other nations refusing to allow our capitalists in, so we go to war in the name of “freedom.” And since capitalists in America managed to forever link our economic system with the idea of “freedom,” it’s a lethal package.

Outside of religion, no combination is more lethal. Americans are led to believe they go to war to “protect their way of life” which actually means protecting the bottom line of capitalists. What a truly amazing triumph for PR and propaganda!

Glorious indeed.

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Omega Centauri 01.06.14 at 1:43 am

I think the claim that wars are fought ONLY for the benefit of the upper class is overbroad. Sometimes they are fought because of perceived irreconcilable differences between two cultures. One or more jurisdiction percieves the other as wanting to impose, culture and/or religion that is totally unacceptable to those who’ve drunk their own cultures mythos. In these sorts of wars, often the instigators aren’t acting out of selfishness, but out of a sense of selfless sacrifice for the preceived greater good of their people. I think most terrorists and suicide bombers fit this profile. They’ve drunk strongly of ultra-nationalist ideology, and are prepared to make any sacrifice for the cause. Usually we have a mix of selfishness, and selflessness, oftentimes one exploiting the other.

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Andrew F. 01.06.14 at 1:55 am

I appreciate the point of John’s sarcasm, but it’s actually off target. Kristol’s point isn’t that we should glorify war, but that the further conclusion from the damage of WW1 – that civilization, government, country, something along those lines (according to Kristol) – isn’t worth believing in or fighting for. Whether that actually was a conclusion widely drawn from WW1 is open to question, of course.

Plume – that 15-20% number is SLA Marshall’s claim about units in WW2, no? That most soldiers in combat either did not fire their weapons or purposefully aimed to miss when they did fire? My understanding is that his research has been discredited. And since we’re discussing WW1, let’s remember that crowds cheered the announcement of war in cities across Europe, though certainly they had no better insight than the key generals into what the next few years would hold. I think that violence in human societies is strongly influenced by norms, but that pacifism is very rarely one of them.

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Plume 01.06.14 at 2:05 am

Omega Centauri,

Given America’s total military dominance, it never has to fear any other culture doing any imposing. And we start most of the wars in this world.

I think the idea of “irreconcilable differences” between cultures is just another form of the lie peddled by Huntington and other Neocons or affiliates. It’s yet one more way to goose up the fervor for war, scaring people into thinking “our way of life” is threatened. Far from it.

In reality, the biggest threat we face to “our way of life” is from within: the right’s insatiable desire to create a Social Darwinist udopia, no matter the cost. Underneath that threat (grounding it, supporting it) lies the one to the planet, which is driven by capitalism itself and its insatiable desire for more and more and more consumption and the resultant waste, pollution and destruction.

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Collin Street 01.06.14 at 2:16 am

In reality, the biggest threat we face to “our way of life” is from within: the right’s insatiable desire to create a Social Darwinist udopia, no matter the cost.

That’s the irreconcilable difference they’re talking about. They want to be as god-kings over all humanity, and I’d really rather they didn’t.

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Heliopause 01.06.14 at 2:20 am

Andrew F: “the further conclusion from the damage of WW1 – that civilization, government, country, something along those lines (according to Kristol) – isn’t worth believing in or fighting for. Whether that actually was a conclusion widely drawn from WW1 is open to question, of course.”

I repeat my questions from 32 above.

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Bruce Wilder 01.06.14 at 2:38 am

I’m not sure what Kristol’s point is, because I don’t know what he denotes by “demoralization of the West” or “civilizational decline”. John Ruskin may express the gist, but there’s precious little textual evidence. Probably, Kristol knows his intended audience better than I, and his piece’s very emptiness will provoke grunts of pleasurable projection from many of his readers. It is not about evidence, because it is not about anything, but vague sentiment.

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geo 01.06.14 at 2:58 am

Jacob @61 & 67: Where is that Ruskin quote from?

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Peter T 01.06.14 at 3:04 am

Kristol is too easy a target.

War is not just violence – it’s organised violence. Apart from manufacturing, it’s the most organised thing people do. The capacity for war goes hand in hand with the capacity for organisation. As such, it always remains a choice for any organised group of people, just as resort to violence is always a possibility for any person. Some will take that choice more readily, but most will take it in some circumstance.

Some misconceptions: war is the elites sending the masses to die. In fact, in most functioning armies, officers have higher casualty rates then enlisted men (around 50% higher in World War I). And officers are mostly the sons/brothers of the elite.

Wars are about capitalism: check the wars in Afghanistan and Syria (neither the Taliban nor the Syrian combatants are motivated by anything resembling capitalism). Ditto Bosnia, Chechnya and so on. Ordinary people will fight if they see that as the only road to some large goal. When they will not, wars mostly don’t happen (as in, the elites check the mood, discover that if they give a party no-one will come, and cancel). Ordinary peoples’ involvement is negotiated, often with propaganda, sometimes bought, rarely coerced.

The Somme is now counted as a solid allied victory – albeit one bought at high cost. A battle that had to be fought to keep the Germans from concentrating on the exhausted French. It consumed the German strategic reserve, set back their plans for at least a year and gave the French a desperately needed respite. Sort of like Stalingrad in the second war – it had to be fought if the Germans were to be defeated. Before John Quiggin again accuses me of war-mongering, I’ll add that this is not to defend the war as such, or even the Somme.

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Omega Centauri 01.06.14 at 3:10 am

I think Colin answers Plume’s rebuttal. The “enemy” is not necessarily extra-national, the enemy could be a domestic subculture. Many external threats are indeed tied up with a feared local subculture, the hated threatening subculture is favord by some external nationality…. Many of the hot conflicts today (South Sudan is the most recent) are between local subcultures or tribes. I happen to agree with your assessment about the lack of credible existential threats to the USA. Yet it was possible to paint the global war on terror in just those terms. I suspect many/most of those doing the painting drank their own coolaide.

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nick s 01.06.14 at 3:32 am

I see that Andrew F. Uckwit, perpetual war apologiser, has shown up all dulce et decorum est, while neglecting to note that Bloody Bill’s status as a dodger of both military service and an electoral mandate suggests there ain’t much pro patria about him.

We’re likely to be hearing a lot from Niall Ferguson, this year.

Other Great War historians are available, as the cliché goes. Sorry, make that: other actual Great War historians are available.

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TGGP 01.06.14 at 3:36 am

#42, with you reference to “clash of civilizations” you may be referring to Samuel Huntington, who should not be tarred with the same brush as Kristol. Huntington was reacting to the neoconservative book “The End of History and the Last Man” by Fukuyama. He thought that many intellectuals of the West did not understand how particular their civilization was and how unwanted it would be if foisted on others. He sketches out a hypothetical scenario in which our ignorance of other civilizations leads us into bungling intervention.

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Hector_St_Clare 01.06.14 at 3:37 am

Peter T ,

Getting rid of capitalism, historically, didn’t get rid of war. As the conflicts between the Soviet Union and Hungary , the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, Vietnam and China, Ethiopia and Somalia, and the innumerable civil conflicts *within* socialist countries prove.

I’m all for abolishing capitalism , but while that might somewhat suppress the frequency and intensity of wars , there will be war as long as there is a human species. Plume’s anarchist utopia merely replaces the authority of the ruling class with the authority of the mob, which has the potential to be even worse, as we saw in Spain (the last time his ideas were put into practice on a large scale).

The only thing worse than organized violence is utterly disorganized violence.

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Omega Centauri 01.06.14 at 3:46 am

Now let us imagine a quite plausible future scenario, which I would label global environmental war 2030. It is determined that if carbon emissions aren’t virtually halted the resultant climate change will be so severe it could destroy civilization. Now imagine one or more of the following countries run by rightwing ideologues, and simply says no, those fuels were given to us by god, we are going to burn it all. Any of the following countries probably contain enougn burnable carbon, and their politics are troubled/corrupt enough to render the refusenik scenario plausible (USA, Canada, Australia, Russia, China). What would the rest of the world do, given that they have nothing to lose?

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CharleyCarp 01.06.14 at 3:57 am

83

Ben 01.06.14 at 4:03 am

Shorter Ruskin:

“In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love; they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

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Jacob McM 01.06.14 at 4:08 am

@75

The Crown of Wild Olive. Entire text here:

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/r/ruskin/john/crown/lecture3.html

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Bruce Wilder 01.06.14 at 4:14 am

Peter T: The Somme is now counted as a solid allied victory . . .

Utter rubbish, I think. It was one of the largest battles in human history, lasting four and a half months, and costing on the order of a million casualties, and, really, it accomplished nothing for the Allies; the front was moved six miles, and the British and French armies were at least as worn out by it, as the German. Haig didn’t have a real strategic objective or plan — just some vague notions of distracting the Germans — and no tactical understanding. Like so much of WWI operations on the Western Front, it was failure followed by many repetitions of the same failure, at an horrendous cost in lives.

If you can rationalize the Battle of the Somme as anything other than a catastrophic mistake, you are really eliminating the concept of mistake from your vocabulary.

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Jacob McM 01.06.14 at 4:35 am

Italian nationalist and later fascist author Giovanni Papini, writing on October 1, 1914:

Finally the day of wrath has arrived after a long twilight of fear. Finally we are paying the tithe of souls necessary to cleanse the world.

What was needed in the end was a warm bath of black blood after all the humid and lukewarm showers of mother’s milk and fraternal tears … The long sleep of cowardice, diplomacy, hypocrisy, and peacefulness is over. Brothers are always prepared to kill brothers, and the civilized to turn back to savagery; men do not renounce the wild beasts who gave birth to them …

We are too many. The war is a Malthusian operation. There is one too many here and one too many there who jostle each other. War equalizes all parties. It makes room so that we can breathe more easily. It leaves less mouths to feed around the same table …

After the passage of the barbarians a new art will be born from the ruins and all wars of extermination lead to a new fashion. There will always be much to do for everyone if the will to create is, as always, excited and emboldened by destruction.

We love war and imbibe it like a gourmet as long as it lasts. War is frightening — and precisely because it is frightening and tremendous and terrible and destructive, we ought to love it with every bit of our masculine hearts.

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oldster 01.06.14 at 4:56 am

You know who needed to watch a lot more Blackadder?

That bastard Ruskin, is who.

And if Rowan and Hugh and co. could not arrange to make it back by time-machine, Ruskin could have talked to his contemporaries W.T. Sherman or U.S. Grant to find out just how full of shit he was. I think maybe Sherman’s March to Brantwood, laying waste to the entire Lake District, might have given Ruskin some very pertinent insights into the advantages of war.

And the intellectual shoddiness of his argument, too. “All great martial nations are truly artistic! Oh. The Romans. Yeah, they were crap for art. Okay, here’s what I’ll say: they weren’t really soldiers. Nope; nothing military about the Romans.” God, it’s just appalling, how bad the quality of argument is.

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Jacob McM 01.06.14 at 5:47 am

To put Kristol’s comments in further context…

Max Scheler’s Der Genius des Krieges und der Deutsche Krieg (The Genius of War and the German War), written in a frenzy of enthusiasm immediately after the outbreak of the war and dedicated to “my friends in the field”[26], was published in the early days of 1915. It is a significant tome of almost 450 pages. In the “passionate activity of the heart” that enraptured him, Scheler admits, more than once did he have to set aside the pen; so much was he given over to this ecstatic mood in the early days of the war.[27] Although Scheler’s book is composed in a passionate and high-spirited style, it is nevertheless intended as a philosophical work and heavily draws from elements of his philosophy laid out in publications prior to 1914, most importantly his efforts to establish a material value ethics. Before I go on to discuss Scheler’s views on war, I will briefly summarize Scheler’s philosophical standpoint.[28]

Scheler was a phenomenologist. As such, he utilized the defining trait of phenomenology, namely, its method. The phenomenological method as it was presented first by Husserl in his ground-breaking Logical Investigations (1900/01) can be characterized as a methodology of “seeing essences.” Scheler in principle took over this method but applied it to regions beyond the scope that Husserl had envisioned, most importantly moral philosophy. Husserl’s basic idea was that with the method of “eidetic intuition” one could “see” the essence of a specific object, and phenomenology’s task is to describe this essence thoroughly and in an unprejudiced way. The specific exemplar which one sees before one’s (material or mental) eyes is merely an exemplar of this essence. Although Husserl denied this, his phenomenology was oftentimes identified as a modern form of Platonism.[29] Phenomenology is hence an eidetic science of how things appear to human beings when we experience the world. It is a descriptive doctrine of essences, hence a method of description.[30] Scheler took this method to the realm of moral behavior and ethics, utilizing the methodological tools of phenomenology to describe the essences of morality, i.e., values. Scheler’s material ethics of value strived to describe values as those essences that govern moral life. Moral actions are exemplary instantiations of values as the essences of certain acts (e.g., “goodness”). The goal of his ethics is to furnish a compendium of these values and describe their essence and their respective hierarchies.[31] For Scheler, opposed to Kant’s ethics, only describing values in their actual validity for us can be a just rendering of how we actually make moral decisions and judge actions in our daily life. The philosopher is not himself supposed to make value judgments; rather, his stance must remain distanced and unprejudiced, thereby remaining, in a basic manner, committed to phenomenology’s method of description.

Judging from this background, it is natural that Scheler’s “obsession” with essences becomes utilized in his discussion of war as an element of life. War is not itself an issue of moral philosophy, yet it is “an event in the moral world,”[32] that is, it is an event, not of nature’s brute force, but of human life. In order to arrive at the essence of things warlike, thus, one needs to apply the phenomenological method to war as well. To treat the war and the issues belonging to it philosophically, then, means describing the essence of war as well as the essence of concomitant phenomena, such as peace, honor, life, spirit, nation, death, etc.[33] The main target of these discussions is at all times the “British Mind” that dissolves these essences into empirical phenomena. Only a “metaphysics of war”[34] can grasp the war’s essence. The “British Mind,” by contrast, since it is entirely grounded on empirical explanations, does not see the difference between facts and essences. This is why the British can preposterously declare facts for essences. The “British Mind” is entirely given over to its “cant” to which Scheler devotes a whole concluding “appendix”[35] and he tops it off with a list of concepts that show how the British equivocate certain “essential” terms with its degenerate factical (British) versions thereof: When the Englishman says “culture” he means “comfort”; he confounds “truths” with “facts,” “the good” with “the useful,” “loyalty” with “exactitude in keeping one’s contracts,” “morality” with “right,” “person” with “gentleman,” “love” with “solidarity in interests,” and, most revealingly: “human nature” with “Englishman.”[36] Tersely put, since the Englishman cannot transcend his nationalistic boundaries he generalizes that which goes for themselves for everyone. The British commit, hence, a classical category mistake. Obviously now, Scheler cannot be so foolish as to simply lapse into the same chauvinism with regard to the German mind. And yet, his discussions are drenched in nationalistic rhetoric. So how does he go about squaring the generality of war, its essence, with “the German war”?

As mentioned, Scheler is non-judgmental with regard to the goodness or badness of the war; any such value judgment would be un-phenomenological. Instead, a just description of the war reveals the fact that the war is a metaphysical event in the life of Western civilization.[37] Contrary to Kant’s famous vision of “eternal peace” as a hopeful state of mankind’s future, war is a “natural occurrence in the world [Welteinrichtung]”[38] and as such a “miracle”[39] in that one cannot explain it empirically. Rather, it must be embraced by those, “who experience this war, not as a bad dream or nightmare, but as an almost metaphysical awakening from the dull state of a heavy slumber.”[40] Scheler’s alleged irrationalism comes most clearly to the fore in his celebration of the “genius of the war” and in his vigorous attacks on naïve Enlightenment thought which he sees most clearly represented in Kant.[41] War is an unquenchable element of life itself. Moreover, truly experiencing the presence of war calls us forth to awake and finally come into our own—as a nation. War first of all molds peoples into nations and calls on them to make a decision as to who they really are or want to be. War is a moment of decision. Yet, although the war is part of human life, Scheler goes through pains to emphasize that it is not part of organic life. Life can only truly be explained metaphysically, not physically (or positivistically, vitalistically or economically). Life is a spiritual category[42]; it can neither be good nor bad, this would be applying inadequate categories to a basic phenomenon of life. War is, a fortiori, part of the essence of life. Any explanation that applies empirical or value judgments to this phenomenon would be skewed from the very start.

As part of life itself—life in the spiritual sense—war is “the dynamic principle kat’exochen of history [...]. Every war is a return to the creative origin from which the state as such arose”[43]. Life itself has the trait of living itself out according to the law of its own inner nature, but the motor of this movement is war. Heraclitus’ famous fragment and Nietzsche’s “will to power” loom large, although neither is mentioned.[44] War as life’s motor expands nations and peoples according to their inner law of development. As such, neighboring peoples, cultures, nations etc., if they have an active life with its own distinct character, by necessity must clash, for life’s essence is to assert itself, to bring itself to fullest fruition, not sparing the weaker. “Indeed, the state waging war is the state in the highest actuality of its existence.”[45] War is thus the necessary result of different nations’ lives. Peace is nothing but a lazy compromise, an insulting ignorance of the other’s and one’s own essence. War is asserting oneself and one’s unique identity. That is to say, nobody can nor ought to be blamed for going to war. Waging war is merely a nation’s healthy way of letting its inner truth roam free. “The true root of the war lies therein that in all life—independent of all its specific and changing surroundings and its sensations—inheres a tendency towards increase, towards growth and towards an unfolding of its manifold types.”[46] The more a country or nation let their inner life roam freely, and not merely follow empirical (military, economical etc.) interests, the more it can be said to be acting according to its own essence. “Meaning and existence of nations and national states thus rest entirely on supra-utilitaristic concepts, it rests on the values of life and culture, power, honor, spirit.”[47] These latter concepts adumbrate essences that do not belong to any specific nation; yet there are countries that instantiate these essences better than others—and there are nations that do not even care for these essences, like the British.

Concerning the victory in the war, it relies entirely upon the power of the nations at war. The stronger nation will by necessity win, and what makes it stronger than others is the power of its inner life, its adhering to the true essences of greatness, spirit, power, etc. In other words, it is not nations per se that win, it is their truthfulness to the spirit of life to which they owe their victory. In the end, all wars are spiritual battles, and that country wins by necessity which is the most spiritual. Although the war might bring factual and material suffering to individual peoples, it also has a spiritual side: “War always carries within itself these two opposite traits: the character of a basic, spiritual-vital event of nature [...] and a conscious purposeful activity of the statesperson with more or less clearly defined ‘demands’ upon an alien state.”[48] Thus, the war is a useful thing in that it sorts out better from worse nations (worse, that is, in adhering to essences). War is the final arbiter over superior spiritual systems and a form of God’s judgment day on earth: “The more valuable ‘state’ ‘ought to’ reign and war makes decisions according to the ‘higher justice’ of a divine council in active deeds [...]. Precisely in this way is the ‘just war’ the vehicle through which expand in the maximally optimal way the respective higher justice and the mediating systems of its instantiation, i.e., the higher-valued and ‘more just’ systems of rights and laws on earth.”[49] By severing the just from the unjust, the war is also the “most powerful creator of unity,”[50] insofar as it firstly has the capacity to give unity to a people in its becoming of a nation, a culture, instead of merely a federal union or a civilization. War frees people from their unhealthy self-centeredness and egotism[51] and creates the new unity of a genuine “we.” If this unity is achieved in the waging of the war itself, then war is “just”[52]: “In the ‘just war’ even the bloodiest defeat will not lead to permanent hatred but solely to the spiritual-moral inwardness [Einkehr] of a given people [...].”[53] War is not an act of hatred but of love.[54] In war, one can risk one’s life and only in war can one truly gain it, even in death. Only in dying does one have the opportunity to become a hero in gaining the essence of one’s life (even in losing one’s existence!). In war, “everyone becomes a metaphysician.”[55] War brings us before the threshold of transcendence, the “threshold of religious immortality”[56] and “tears down the masks that have been furnished by peace”[57]. As such, war has the capacity of a metaphysical “critique” in that it reduces the existence of people to its “essential content.”[58] It is clear what Scheler alludes to with the term “critique”; only the war can provide, not a critique of pure, but of “metaphysical reason.” The war is thus beneficial for philosophy itself, it motivates philosophers to step back from “splitting hairs” in purely academic questions to again attempt to gain an “autonomous, original intuition of the world”[59].

To summarize Scheler’s overall argument: War as an essential element of life ought to be embraced, not shunned. It brings out the best in any nation. Thus, one ought to seek it out, experience it to the fullest, in order to purify one’s essence and be unified into a nation that knows what it wants because it has made the effort to rise above national, individual particularities. When a nation does this, it is no longer German, French or English. What one reaches in this “metaphysical move” is the realm of “absolute realities.”[60] Thus, one needs these extreme circumstances to have the disposition in the first place to experience these absolute realities. Thus, Scheler asserts, whoever thinks that only an aloof, unparticipating stance will enable one to reach philosophical heights is tragically mislead; he rhetorically asks: “What does reality care about the conditions of knowledge that the scholars want to impose upon reality? … Such a meaning that enables cognition to experience absolute realities only belongs to war, only belongs to the peculiar upward soaring of the spirit that is called for by war to an extraordinary degree.”[61] In simpler terms: Insofar as other nations, such as the British, ignore and disregard the importance of these “absolute realities” they do not even qualify to be a “chosen nation.” The Germans, on the other hand, due to their inborn metaphysical propensity, embrace these absolute realities. This is why this war is decidedly a “German war,” as the title of Scheler’s book asserts.

Thus, Scheler’s philosophical “trick” is this: It is not because they are Germans that they are a chosen people, but it is because they, more than all others, embrace the metaphysical dimension of the war. War produces special dispositions that enable a nation to become true to absolute realities. It is, hence, up to the respective nations to open themselves up to these higher spheres. The Germans, as a profoundly philosophy-friendly nation, do this quasi-automatically as they are a metaphysical nation already. This is why “this great mission” of establishing true greatness and “universal love” is Germany’s alone.[62] Plainly put: Germany’s war is great, not because it is Germany’s but because the Germans better than any other nation have the capacity to comprehend and realize the war’s essence, an essence which lies above any particular nation or culture.

http://epublications.marquette.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1037&context=phil_fac

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LFC 01.06.14 at 5:48 am

@Omega Centauri (and some others)
Before discussing ‘the causes of war’ (about which, btw, there exists an enormous scholarly literature, or literatures (plural)), it wd help to distinguish among different types of wars (interstate, civil, civil-with-third-party-intervention, etc.). Traditional interstate war is rare nowadays. Civil wars fueled or propelled by a variety of factors (incl but not limited to ethnic/religious divisions, economic grievances, religious extremism, or more ‘old-fashioned’ secessionism) are the main sort of contemporary wars. Viz. the current civil war in Syria, which has spilled over into Iraq and Lebanon (and is complicated by, inter alia, the involvement of a rejuvenated affiliate of al-Qaeda); the ‘low-level’ civil wars in e.g. South Sudan and Nigeria and Yemen. Also Central African Rep., where almost 1 million people have been internally displaced. Also Somalia, which has been in a condition of civil war (with ebbs and flows) for years. (The preceding is a non-exhaustive list.)

Kristol’s column is not only stupid (and vague to boot, as B. Wilder points out), but it harks back to referents that, while historically significant, have rather little to do with the main sources of armed conflict and insecurity in the world today.

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Plume 01.06.14 at 5:48 am

Peter T,

Your description of military officers coming from the upper classes is about a century dead. At least. It reminds me of some of the great novels by Joseph Roth, who wrote largely about the Austro-Hungarian Empire, WWI and its aftermath. Yes, for a few centuries in Europe, the aristocracy provided a good bit of the officer corp, but in America, that never really caught on to any great degree. And with each new war there was less and less of anything resembling noblesse oblige.

In short, our military is made up of the sons and daughters of the poor, working class and middle class, with most of it coming from the working class. There is no evidence that the children of the rich are choosing the military over, say, Wall Street. And when we discuss who is sending whom to war, we’re not talking about military officers anyway. We are talking about politicians, and the people who pull their strings. The average net worth for Congress is roughly 5 million now. Congress is almost exclusively filled with One percenters and above, and our presidents have been traditionally very wealthy.

Here’s a list of the 50 richest:

http://www.rollcall.com/50richest/the-50-richest-members-of-congress-112th.html

As for the war in Afghanistan. The Taliban were not all about religious fundamentalism. They also wanted full control over opium production, distribution and sales. But that was and is an internal conflict, and none of our business. We went to war there because of oil and proximity to oil. Future oil pipelines and present control of oil in neighboring states. It was our chance to secure present and future markets by attempting to prevent disruptions for whatever reasons — nationalist, religious, ethnic, whatever.

Do you really think our powers that be cared who ruled in Afghanistan? Or Korea? Cuba? Or Vietnam? Other than its impact on the wealthy? Not to mention all of those covert wars started by Reagan to make sure Central and South America remained completely open to our capitalists.

If the new rulers would guarantee open markets, we never would have gone to war in any of those countries. It was all about threats to the continued expansion of global capitalism, with America’s stamp of approval and at least indirect control.

Right now, if you’re some crazed James Bond villain, and you want to see America start another war, find a way to spook its billionaires into believing X country is cutting off those billionaires, nationalizing this or that.

War is guaranteed.

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LFC 01.06.14 at 5:51 am

(have one in moderation)

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Harold 01.06.14 at 5:55 am

Pace Orson Wells, Italy was attacked by the French and Spanish because it was rich. Not because of the Borgias.

Not war but banking produced the artistic treasures of the Renaissance, and they were largely produced in Florence, which was nominally a republic and not part of the papal states. Venice, which took the cultural lead after the decline of Florence was also a republic, albeit an oligarchical one.

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LFC 01.06.14 at 6:04 am

@Plume
The line about war-and-capitalism/war-for-oil is reductive and doesn’t hold up as a monocausal argument. If 9/11 had not happened, there would have been no invasion of Afghanistan in Oct. 2001. It was not primarily about “future oil pipelines and present control of oil in neighboring states.” With the ISAF operation in Afghanistan now in its 12th year, it’s a prolonged counterinsurgency war, which is not what militaries do if the objective is to secure oil pipelines.

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Harold 01.06.14 at 6:08 am

Pace Orson Wells, Italy was attacked by the French and Spanish because it was rich. Not because of the Borgias.

Not war but banking produced the artistic treasures of the Renaissance, and they were largely produced in Florence, which was nominally an independent republic (like Switzerland) and not part of the Papal states. Venice, which took the cultural lead after the decline of Florence, was also a republic, albeit an oligarchical one. Interestingly, the Swiss also took up banking later on. But I think the cuckoo clock was a product of Bavaria, no?

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Adrian Kelleher 01.06.14 at 6:30 am

@30

Not to be picky, but France was defeated in 1814. Certainly the varied Russian Uhlans and Austrian Grenadiers lolling around Paris thought that. Even Napoleon on Elba briefly received ambassadors from his former enemies just like if it was a real country.

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Plume 01.06.14 at 6:48 am

LFC,

America is nominally a democracy. It needs excuses and PR victories to go to war. It has always attempted to justify its invasions and win public support before going overseas and into battle. Even dictators do that. Hitler, for example, pretty much invented the modern PR blitz to justify his attempt to conquer the world — and he was absolute ruler of Germany. One would think he didn’t need to win public support, but he continuously tried to and tried to keep it.

9-11 was just such a pretext.

Of course, I’m not limiting Afghanistan to just oil or just capitalism, at least as far as the political decision went. I think Bush also had family dramas to attend to that influenced his attack on Iraq, especially. But oil and capitalism and markets were certainly the biggest provocations and the “subtext” as it were. The chance to demonstrate power and help out military contractors and oil magnates at the same time. A twofer. More than a twofer. And not just power per se. Power to keep the shipping lanes open — especially for oil. But also for the idea of American supremacy and hegemony, which really means the hegemony of global capitalism.

(The people keeping those shipping lanes open, our military, is part of the global capitalist nexus)

And the way it looks now, Afghanistan was just the opening gambit for Iraq. The appetizer, not the main course. That we remain there is no real counter to the argument about oil and contractors and the defense of the shipping lanes. It actually makes my point for me. Trillions of dollars spent on these indefensible, unconscionable wars. Trillions going into the pockets of capitalists in the MIC and in the oil industry which has seen much higher prices because of the wars.

When you look closely, it’s not “reductive.” It’s appalling, but it’s not reductive.

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Plume 01.06.14 at 6:50 am

Grammar check. The military is a part of that capitalist nexus. The people are, etc. etc.

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Mao Cheng Ji 01.06.14 at 8:24 am

Wars, they seem to be mostly about power. To grab power, to hold on to it, to expand it, to weaken and destroy potential contenders. Power over people, markets, land, and other resources. In a tribal, feudal, capitalist, or any other kind of environment where individuals or groups have a possibility to control something.

That’s why Kristol&Co. talk about the New American Century: dominating the world, shaping it according to “American principles and interests”, whatever the hell that is. At least on the surface, it seems to pertain more to nationalism than capitalism, although of course capitalism is probably one of the most (if not the most) important principles there.

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ajay 01.06.14 at 10:09 am

Peter T, Your description of military officers coming from the upper classes is about a century dead. At least.

Or, more charitably, it’s just not applicable to the US. It’s certainly true in the UK, as anyone with an ear for accents will tell you (at least in the army – less so in the other services).

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ajay 01.06.14 at 10:15 am

Given America’s total military dominance, it never has to fear any other culture doing any imposing. And we start most of the wars in this world.

This isn’t really the case. 40 wars started in the last decade. The US started, generously, two of them (Iraq and NW Pakistan) and you can add in Afghanistan, though really that started in 1978 or so, with the US joining in the civil war in 2001.

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Katherine 01.06.14 at 11:18 am

It’s sadly predictable that after people like Steven Pinker point out how much less violent we are than we used to be, some dipshit will turn up to declare that Something Must Be Done. If Civilisation Decline means more peace and less horrible death, then count me in. Decline away.

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Ken Brown 01.06.14 at 11:25 am

ajay, its Britain that starts most wars. Or at least gets involved early on. By quite a long way I think, many times as many as the USA, orders of magnitude more if you look at the whole century since the Great War. France is probably second, but I’d think a distant second. (They are in at least two wars in Africa right now)

As for Fitzgerald, I don’t think he was saying there could not be another European war, with or without Germany, but that if there was it could not take the peculiar form that the Western Front had between 1915 and 1917. Armies would be incapable of fighting such a war. He was right. The Germans didn’t fight that kind of war when they invaded Poland and France, they did it differently. The Poles and French avoided that kind of war by losing quickly – had they not lost in 39 and 40 could they have sustained three or four or five years of continual trench warfare? Would their armies or their politics or their economies have stood it? The British avoided that kind of war by going back to their roots and relying on the old Royal Navy and the new RAF to keep them out of major land fighting till they were ready. They did commit armies to North Africa and the Middle East, and later to Burma and Italy, but these were sideshows compared to what was going on on the Eastern Front, or what had happened in 1915/16, or what came later after D-day. Huge sideshows, especially the Italian campaign which was bigger than most previous wars Britain had ever fought, but still sideshows.

And talking about sideshows, from Britains point of view the war in America in 1812-14 was a sideshow of a sideshow, and a minor victory. All war aims achieved. The main ones were allowing the Royal Navy to operate unhindered in the Atlantic and Caribbean, and keeping the US out of Canada. Secondary ones might include allowing Americans to volunteer for British service (the initial cause of the war) and suppressing the slave trade. 100% success. Burning the White House and freeing those 4000 slaves were icing on the cake. The real war was against Napoleon. America was a mildly irrelevant distraction, and one that was dealt with quite successfully given the tiny fraction of the Royal Navy that was sent to it. They posted stronger fleets to Madagascar and Mozambique.

They had no desire to fight America and no wish to reconquer it. As far as I can tell by 1812 no-0ne in Britain really worried about US independence at all. Everyone accepted it as given, most people were probably in favour of it. But then that seems to have been the case as soon as the Brits recognised the USA back in 178-whenever. You could hardly find a politician who would own up to having opposed independence. “America? Of course it should be independent. Said so all along. I never voted for the war! Must have been the Tories. Or the Whigs. Or the Jacobites. Or someone. Not me guv. Honest.”

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Phil 01.06.14 at 11:31 am

The line between officers and men runs very deep in the British Army, and I’d be surprised if the same wasn’t true of the Senior Service; things might be different in the RAF, which has always needed people who can work the kit rather than strength in numbers. Simply put, you don’t (by and large) work your way up to an officer rank; you’re recruited (commissioned) as an officer, or you’re recruited (enlisted) as a soldier. Officers have the habit of command from the age of 21 or so – they need to; there has to be somebody giving orders and expecting them to be obeyed – and if raw recruits already have the habit of command, so much the better (give or take a bit of breaking-in). I’m wary of functionalist explanations for phenomena with deep historical roots, but once you’ve built in a hierarchical firebreak between those who give orders and those who follow them, it does make a kind of sense to recruit the two groups from different pools.

I grew up in a Forces town (the main (and my father’s) employer was a missile-testing establishment, to be precise); my parents were honorary officer class but socially much more comfortable in the Sergeants’ Mess, and caused a bit of a scandal one year by personally inviting some of their non-com friends to an officers’ do. (And this was rural Wales FFS – it’s not as if there were high levels of class and sophistication anywhere around.) Someone asked me once, is there much difference between being an officer and being in the ranks? I said that being an officer was a bit like being a student at Oxbridge; being in the ranks was a bit like being in prison.

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BenSix 01.06.14 at 11:40 am

No sensitive person can fail to be moved by Owen’s powerful lament, and no intelligent person can ignore his chastening rebuke.

Standards that by no means preclude Mr Kristol from being ignorant and unmoved.

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Ronan(rf) 01.06.14 at 1:14 pm

WW1 as intra german blood feud is still the most compelling conspiracy theory, imho

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John 01.06.14 at 1:36 pm

@ ajay, 10:09 am. It’s a relic of the feudal system, isn’t it? You’ll find it in the Navy too. I’ve read that there’s less of a class divide between officers and other ranks in the RAF. One explanation being that when the RAF was formed in 1918 it was much more technically demanding than the other services, and the need for talent rather than the right sort of schooling and pedigree led to a more egalitarian service.

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Agog 01.06.14 at 1:39 pm

All this talk about sabre-rattling and still no-one’s brought Harry Potter into the discussion yet?

In case anyone missed it – check this out – an op-ed from the Chinese Ambassador in London, last week:

In the Harry Potter story, the dark wizard Voldemort dies hard because the seven horcruxes, which contain parts of his soul, have been destroyed. If militarism is like the haunting Voldemort of Japan, the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo is a kind of horcrux, representing the darkest parts of that nation’s soul.

:-o

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William Timberman 01.06.14 at 2:18 pm

Thanatos tarted up as Eros has never lacked for pimps. Kristol isn’t the first, and won’t be the last, to see a business opportunity where less intrepid souls see folly.

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LFC 01.06.14 at 2:30 pm

@A.Kelleher
Even Napoleon on Elba briefly received ambassadors from his former enemies just like if it was a real country.
But then he escaped so his final defeat was in 1815.
(Plus Halasz referred to a century of European peace preceding 1914. Which is often done but isn’t quite right, since there was the Crimean War. It’s true there was no continent-wide war betw. 1815 and 1914.)

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ajay 01.06.14 at 2:45 pm

The line between officers and men runs very deep in the British Army, and I’d be surprised if the same wasn’t true of the Senior Service;

It may well be for all I know – I haven’t had much contact with the Navy.

its Britain that starts most wars. Or at least gets involved early on. By quite a long way I think, many times as many as the USA, orders of magnitude more if you look at the whole century since the Great War.

I very much doubt it. Orders of magnitude? You realise that means “at least ten or a hundred times as many”, don’t you? There’s a list here of wars since WW2
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_1945%E2%80%9389
and you notice that most of those don’t even involve the UK at all.

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ajay 01.06.14 at 2:51 pm

Halasz referred to a century of European peace preceding 1914. Which is often done but isn’t quite right, since there was the Crimean War.

And the Franco-Prussian war, and the Italian wars of unification, and the Greek war of independence, and all the Edwardian-era business subsumed under the uncomfortable heading of Friction in the Balkans.

If anything, it’s not so much that Europe in 1914 had had decades of peace and the Great War came out of a blue sky; more that Europe in 1914 had had lots of small wars and crises, all of which had been successfully restrained by good diplomacy from developing into a general conflict, so it was understandable to assume that Sarajevo would be the same. No one really remembers the 1912 First Balkan War because it was small and relatively short (less than a year) and had relatively few casualties – why shouldn’t the 1914 Austro-Serbian War be the same? A bit of scuffling, some border changes, a treaty signed in London, and carry on normal jogging.

112

Hector_St_Clare 01.06.14 at 3:03 pm

Katherine ,

Some of us actually give a **** about civilizational decline, and don’t share your airy dismissiveness. Civilisation is generally at its best when passions are raised against some common enemy, whether internal or external. Only the threat of an enemy can get people to think out of their selfish little boxes and sacrifice for the common good. This is what Ruskin was getting at, and I don’t see where you’ve disproved him.

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jake the snake 01.06.14 at 3:07 pm

From a person who likely knew as much about waging war as anyone ever on our planet.

http://www.ratical.org/ratville/CAH/warisaracket.html

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LFC 01.06.14 at 3:13 pm

To repeat what I said @89 (a comment which had been caught in moderation for a while), the sorts of discussions prompted by a column like Kristol’s are not likely to address the most prevalent forms of contemp. armed conflict.

@Ken Brown 102
its Britain that starts most wars. Or at least gets involved early on… France is probably second, but I’d think a distant second. (They are in at least two wars in Africa right now)
France has soldiers now in Central African Rep., a war it did not start. It may also still have some soldiers in Mali, again a war it did not start. At least in the latter case, it’s probably a good thing that France intervened. Unless you like the idea of half or three-quarters of Mali being under the control of people who, inter alia, go into the national archives, dismiss the staff, and start scattering and/or ripping up and burning the old manuscripts, while imposing some form of sharia law.

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Ronan(rf) 01.06.14 at 3:16 pm

Mr St Clare
The historical record, conventional norms and common sense would dispute everything you claim @112

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LFC 01.06.14 at 3:19 pm

@ajay 111: I agree w some of that, but I don’t want to get into a causes-of-WW1 discussion. Others can, obvs., but I’m not going to.

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Katherine 01.06.14 at 3:42 pm

Oh Hector, I can’t even be bothered.

118

Ronan(rf) 01.06.14 at 3:43 pm

This is a nice link in terms of layout, and Margaret Macmillan is always interesting, even if it’s a little overdetermined and hyperbolic, though that’s built into the essay’s premise I guess

http://www.brookings.edu/research/essays/2013/rhyme-of-history?rssid=global+development

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Hector_St_Clare 01.06.14 at 3:50 pm

Re: I can’t even be bothered.

Yes, because if you actually bothered to think about what I have to say, you might end up being convinced, urging the men in your philosophy seminars to get off the couch and drop the Pringles and actually do something meaningful with their lives, and that would make you quite unpopular in your department. Much easier to just sing Kum-ba-yah and nod sagely along with the lyrics.

120

MPAVictoria 01.06.14 at 3:57 pm

“…. and actually do something meaningful with their lives,”

Like dying in Iraq? Or in whatever the next godawful, stupid, pointless war are idiot governments get us involved in?

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Katherine 01.06.14 at 3:59 pm

WTF are you talking about Hector? I’m not an academic, nor a philosopher, no matter what your fevered view of my degenerate, pointless life is.

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AcademicLurker 01.06.14 at 4:11 pm

MPAVictoria @120:

Everyone knows that a truly meaningful life can only be achieved through heroic sacrifice for the Fuhrer.

123

MPAVictoria 01.06.14 at 4:18 pm

Please replace are with our in 120.

“Everyone knows that a truly meaningful life can only be achieved through heroic sacrifice for the Fuhrer.”
Apparently.

124

Trader Joe 01.06.14 at 4:29 pm

No doubt Hector is just waiting for the Pope to call the next crusade – there could scarcely be anything more heroic than that.

Perhaps the Templar Knights will bring home the Grail this time – They’ve learned the run-and-shoot from the NFL gladiators.

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Ronan(rf) 01.06.14 at 4:30 pm

FFS Hector, I’m not really responding in a meaningful way here as I assume you’re just trolling, but it really isnt reasonable to offer a proposition that isnt only counterintuitive but completly contrary to conventional wisdom in *all circles except a fringe, insane minority*, and then expect people to just agree with you b/c .. ? you certainly havent offered any reasons.

Though yes, you might have a point – if we mindlessly accept an idiotic and contrarian definition of ‘civilisational successes’ which replaces the common conception of what that would be (increased lifespan, better living standards, increased wealth, more leisure time, declining childhood mortality etc) with a new standard that puts all those measurements into reverse and adds mass death. In that case we are indeed living through a period of civilisational decline.

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Lee A. Arnold 01.06.14 at 4:38 pm

There are 7 billion people on the planet and less than a million are directly involved in combat, perhaps a few millions more in support capacities. Much of that is about foreign policy issues and resources. So war and violence are not ingrained in the human condition, far from it.

If you want to step outside your selfish little box and sacrifice for the common good, you could fall in love, improve a science, or look for spiritual enlightenment. The rest of us will send our congratulations. We will be happy you awoke.

127

LFC 01.06.14 at 4:50 pm

I think Jacob McM @61 is wrong to say that Kristol is “echoing” (Jacob McM’s word) Ruskin. Kristol is not “echoing” Ruskin, because “echoing” implies straightforward repetition; rather, Kristol is tiptoeing around and saying indirectly what Ruskin (and even more Treitschke in one of the other quotes above) said directly. That Kristol or some other neocon type cannot directly echo Ruskin in glorifying war is one of the consequences, it could be argued, of the experience of the world wars of the 20th century and prob. of WW1 in particular.

To put the same pt in other words, to see Kristol as simply repeating, as opposed to tiptoeing around, the war-glorifying discourse of a Ruskin or a Treitschke is inaccurate and misses an important development in the history of thinking about war and peace, namely that it has become unacceptable for any ‘respectable’ writer or opinionator, no matter how right-wing, to straightforwardly glorify war. (I am talking mainly though not exclusively about the so-called ‘developed’ world and its circles of ‘respectable’ intellectual opinion. Obvs. e.g. an Ayman al-Zawahiri straightforwardly glorifies a form of war, but that’s a different matter.)

128

Hector_St_Clare 01.06.14 at 5:01 pm

Ronan,

Look at the facts. When the Cubans set about to build Socialism and cultivate a New Man, they were able to get people to overcome selfishness and sacrifice for the common good largely by building up fear of the great colossus to the north (and also, to some extent, domestic subversion).

129

Hector_St_Clare 01.06.14 at 5:02 pm

If you want to get people to think about the common good, rather than how to get a nicer pair of sneakers and a high-class bottle of brandy, you need to convince them they’re under threat.

130

Jacob McM 01.06.14 at 5:21 pm

What would discussion of civilizational decline be without Oswald Spengler, author of the Untergang? Here are some choice quotes:

The common man wants nothing of life but health, longevity, amusement, comfort — “happiness.” He who does not despise this should turn his eyes from world history, for it contains nothing of the sort. The best that history has created is great suffering.

The animal of prey is the highest form of mobile life. It implies a maximum of freedom for self against others, of responsibility to self, of singleness of self, an extreme of necessity where that self can hold its own only by fighting and winning and destroying. It imparts a high dignity to Man, as a type, that he is a beast of prey.

What is the opposite of the soul of a lion? The soul of a cow. For strength of individual soul the herbivores
substitute numbers, the herd, the common feeling and doing of masses. But the less one needs others, the more powerful one is. A beast of prey is everyone’s foe. Never does he tolerate an equal in his den. Here we are at the root of the truly royal idea of property. Property is the domain in which one exercises unlimited power, the power that one has gained in battling, defended against one’s peers, victoriously upheld. It is not a right to mere having, but the sovereign right to do as one will with one’s own.

All the would-be moralists and social-ethics people who claim or hope to be “beyond all that” are only beasts of prey with their teeth broken, who hate others on account of the attacks which they themselves are wise enough to avoid. Only look at them. They are too weak to read a book on war, but they herd together in the street to see an accident, letting the blood and the screams play on their nerves. And if even that is too much for them, they enjoy it on the film and in the illustrated papers. If I call man a beast of prey, which do I insult: man or beast? For remember, the larger beasts of prey are noble creatures, perfect of their kind, and without the hypocrisy of human moral due to weakness.

They shout: “No more war” – but they desire class war. They are indignant when a murderer is executed for a crime of passion, but they feel a secret pleasure in hearing of the murder of a political opponent. What objection have they ever raised to the Bolshevist slaughters? There is no getting away from it: conflict is the original fact of life, is life itself, and not the most pitiful pacifist is able entirely to uproot the pleasure it gives his inmost soul. Theoretically, at least, he would like to fight and destroy all opponents of pacifism.

We are born into this time and must bravely follow the path to the destined end. There is no other way. Our duty is to hold on to the lost position, without hope, without rescue, like that Roman soldier whose bones were found in front of a door in Pompeii, who, during the eruption of Vesuvius, died at his post because they forgot to relieve him. That is greatness. That is what it means to be a thoroughbred. The honorable end is the one thing that cannot be taken from a man.

131

AcademicLurker 01.06.14 at 5:30 pm

We are born into this time and must bravely follow the path to the destined end. There is no other way. Our duty is to hold on to the lost position, without hope, without rescue…

Apologies for repeatedly Godwining the thread, but I was just reading something about the battle of Stalingrad last week and I can’t help being reminded of it reading this.

Too bad old Oswald wasn’t around to see it, he would no doubt have been pleased. “Without rescue” indeed…

132

Peter Hovde 01.06.14 at 5:36 pm

The fucking Star Spangled Banner? Please, Bill, if you’re gonna say this kind of stuff, do it with some class-e.g., Rupert Brooke’s “Peace,” written in celebration of the outbreak of WWI:

Now, God be thanked Who has watched us with His hour,
And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping,
With hand made sure, clear eye, and sharpened power,
To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping,
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary,
Leave the sick hearts that honour could not move,
And half-men, and their dirty songs and dreary,
And all the little emptiness of love!

Oh! we, who have known shame, we have found release there,
Where there’s no ill, no grief, but sleep has mending,
Naught broken save this body, lost but breath;
Nothing to shake the laughing heart’s long peace there
But only agony, and that has ending;
And the worst friend and enemy is but Death.

Now as it turned out, he died of dysentery before he could get into combat, but anyway.

133

Stillcenter 01.06.14 at 5:36 pm

Lost in this discussion is the non-linear development of the tools of war. Today, a few missile submarines can destroy most of the world’s cities in 30 minutes. This is very far from the glorious charge of the Light Brigade. The undersea “warriors” key in some computer codes, push a few buttons, and half a billion people die.

The cultural momentum of warfare is powerful, but even more powerful are the weapons technologies that render world wars pointless.

134

Peter Hovde 01.06.14 at 5:48 pm

Couple errors there-serves me right for copy-and-pasting from a site without a thorough check.

135

ajay 01.06.14 at 5:57 pm

If you want to get people to think about the common good, rather than how to get a nicer pair of sneakers and a high-class bottle of brandy, you need to convince them they’re under threat.

That’s almost tautologically true. If you want to get people to think about protecting the common good, you have to get them to think that the common good is under threat. If you want people to do something about climate change, then you need to convince them that climate change is something they should do something about. (Or water depletion, or racial prejudice, or antibiotic resistance, or terrorism or whatever.)

136

dn 01.06.14 at 5:58 pm

Hector sez: “If you want to get people to think about the common good, rather than how to get a nicer pair of sneakers and a high-class bottle of brandy, you need to convince them they’re under threat.”

In other words, you need to convince them that someone is trying to take away the decent pair of sneakers and the mid-priced bottle of brandy they already have. You’ll forgive me if I find this unconvincing.

137

dn 01.06.14 at 6:15 pm

What LFC said above is basically right. Kristol thinks our problem is that we are too timid to believe in our own superiority. As one living in the aftermath of the world wars, he has absorbed enough conventional wisdom to recognize that it would be somehow inappropriate for him to come out and openly proclaim the Glory of Western Civilization, but he pines for the days when we were not so self-conscious. He targets WWI specifically because 1) the anniversary makes it convenient, and 2) because it’s unavoidable; it was a war so obviously, horrendously pointless that even he and his culture-warring ilk can’t rehabilitate it, so all that’s left is to blame it for messing up the antediluvian dream of the Babel-builders.

138

Plume 01.06.14 at 6:15 pm

It’s amazing that anyone could even, for a second, believe that war can renew civilization.

War destroys civilization. It’s a sign that civilization is gasping for air and believes it has nowhere else to go but down.

If you think “art” is the highest expression of civilization — as I do — then you’d have to say war is its greatest enemy. Think of all of the great paintings destroyed in WWII bombing campaigns. Think of the museums blown up, the priceless treasures destroyed.

Our invasion of Iraq resulted in the destruction of countless treasures from the Sumerian civilization — the first — going back roughly 6000 years.

Not to mention the artists themselves. Countless poets, novelists, painters, sculptors, composers, etc. etc. In every war. And from the 20th century onward, when technology brought war “home” to millions of civilians that once could have escaped it, even if artists managed to avoid fighting, they couldn’t avoid capture, execution or “collateral damage.”

If we just look at WWII and just the Nazis: Bruno Schulz, Robert Desnos, Ann Frank, Max Jacob, Walter Benjamin (suicide, to escape the Nazis) and on and on. An incomplete list here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_victims_of_Nazism

Dozens of books have been written about the horrific loss of genius due to war. This, of course, includes great scientists, doctors, mathematicians, social workers, teachers, etc. etc. Tens of millions of non-combatants were slaughtered in the wars of the 20th century, including those who added priceless and profound things to our “civilization.” Wars of the 21st century will inflict even more damage. The tech for death and destruction has gotten so much better.

War doesn’t re-energize “declining civilization.” It’s proof of that decline.

139

Plume 01.06.14 at 6:17 pm

dn,

That belief is the basis for racism, obviously, and for slavery in the form practiced by the west. Belief in superiority sets the stage for genocide and atrocities uncounted. Kristol is tip-toeing up to that line, whether he knows it or not.

140

marcel 01.06.14 at 6:40 pm

The talk about glory, and especially the poem that Peter Hovde cut and pasted reminded me of this ditty, which I recall from my late 1960s childhood, and which I had forgotten, if I ever knew, was a wobbly standard from the WW1 era:

I Love My Flag
I love my flag, I do, I do,
Which floats upon the breeze.
I also love my arms and legs,
And neck and nose and knees.
One little shell might spoil them all
Or give them such a twist,
They would be of no use to me;
I guess I won’t enlist.

I love my country, yes, I do,
I hope her folks do well.
Without our arms and legs and things,
I think we’d look like hell.
Young men with faces half shot off
Are unfit to be kissed,
I’ve read in books it spoils their look;
I guess I won’t enlist.

141

MPAVictoria 01.06.14 at 7:01 pm

God Damn I love Phil Ochs.

“I hate Chou En Lai, and I hope he dies
But I think you gotta see
That if someone’s gotta go over there
That someone isn’t me

So, have a ball, Sarge, watch ‘em fall
Yeah, kill me a thousand or so
And if you ever get a war without any gore
Well, I’ll be the first to go

Sarge, I’m only eighteen, I got a ruptured spleen
And I always carry a purse
I got eyes like a bat, and my feet are flat
My asthma’s getting worse

Consider my career, my sweetheart dear
I got to water my rubber tree plant
Besides, I ain’t no fool, I’m a goin’ to school
And I’m workin’ in a defense plant”

142

Consumatopia 01.06.14 at 7:11 pm

Kristol thinks our problem is that we are too timid to believe in our own superiority.

That’s what he says, but what he’s thinking is worse than that. He’s not proclaiming the virtues of science, rationality, liberty, democracy or progress. He’s calling for “patriotism”, “piety”, “heritage”, “schools”. “And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’”.

He pretends to ask for courage, but, like Hector, what he’s really demanding is faith, trust, and obedience. He wants students to trust their schools, and he wants schools that tell students to trust our leaders, and he wants leaders that trust our past. It’s not selfishness that’s his problem, it’s the fact that my higher public goals are basically the exact opposite of his higher public goals, and what I call progress he calls decline.

I’m definitely not too timid to believe in my superiority to scumbags like them. They, themselves, represent the best argument against foreign intervention: so long as we have so many influential people working to reverse everything that is good about our own civilization, we have no business interfering with anyone else’s.

143

dn 01.06.14 at 7:14 pm

Plume – Of course. Notice that although Kristol is careful to point out that we should learn from the mistakes that gave us WWI, he nowhere mentions what he thinks the mistakes were.

144

Barry 01.06.14 at 7:16 pm

dn 01.06.14 at 7:14 pm

“Plume – Of course. Notice that although Kristol is careful to point out that we should learn from the mistakes that gave us WWI, he nowhere mentions what he thinks the mistakes were.”

Demanding that even the sons of the elites fight and die would probably be #1 on his (secret) list.

.

145

Plume 01.06.14 at 7:22 pm

Consumatopia,

That accusation of “selfishness” is passive-aggressive code for:

“You won’t accept our leadership and bow to our wishes, so that makes you selfish.”

It’s very similar to the kinds of things said about the “peasants” by classical political economists back in the 18th and early 19th centuries, as mentioned earlier. They are “selfish” and “lazy” for having the gall to live their lives as they see fit, instead of as the owners of dirty, slave wage factories see fit. They are selfish and lazy because they won’t pitch in any help the nation by helping a few capitalist piggies get filthy rich off their sweat and blood.

Kristol and others like him want others to go to war to protect his private property. He is frightened that some terrorist might reduce his stock values, so he wants us all to get all pumped and primed to march off and die to protect Wall Street.

They keep trying for newer and shinier rationales for this, but it all boils down to the same thing:

Hoodwink the masses into getting shot up, blown up, maimed and disfigured so the financial elite can kick back, smoke their cigars on their yachts as they complain about the decline of civilization.

“It’s tough to get good help these days. Hmmmph!!”

And the waiter, limping in barely contained agony, a victim of a roadside bomb in Iraq, says under his breathe:

“That’s because you sent them off to war to protect your yachts and your Kristol champagne.”

146

Plume 01.06.14 at 7:25 pm

breath.

147

dn 01.06.14 at 7:26 pm

Consumatopia: the operative word there is “our”. I think Kristol is perfectly happy to preach the virtues of science, rationality, liberty, democracy and progress right next to patriotism, piety and heritage – so long as they’re our virtues. But Muslim piety? Palestinian patriotism? Persian heritage? Those are right out.

148

Mao Cheng Ji 01.06.14 at 7:32 pm

Well, what Hector seems to be trying to convey is that people need to feel like they are a part of some big cause. One may or may not agree, but if you accept it, I don’t think this cause needs to center around a common threat or enemy necessarily.

149

Plume 01.06.14 at 7:43 pm

@Mao Cheng Ji 147,

Agreed. But it’s a charade and a redirection. That “great cause” results in more power, privilege and security for the ultra rich.

Our “great cause” instead should be an egalitarian, democratic, peaceful and harmonious nation and world. Our great cause should be protecting the planet and each other, all of us, all seven billion, as opposed to protecting Wall Street and its affiliates.

It’s long past time that “the masses” start looking out for the masses, instead of the masters. Which is why all of the talk about “collectivism versus individualism” is so much bunk.

There is no escaping “collectivism” in a modern, complex world. Capitalism can’t function without collectivism. It collectivizes the workforce, consumers and resources. The difference between left and right collectivism is what counts. The left’s version means the collective works on behalf of the collective, not masters. The right’s version means the collective works for the masters only.

We evolve only to the degree that we learn to do what is best for the largest possible number of humans and our one and only home. Part of that evolution entails telling the PNAC crowd to F off.

150

bianca steele 01.06.14 at 7:53 pm

Since Brooke has been mentioned too: Pat Barker’s Regeneration has something about officer/NCO class issues, though it’s a long time since I read it. It’s a bit hard on Bertrand Russell.

151

bianca steele 01.06.14 at 7:54 pm

Bertrand Russell is kind of the Dumbledore of the novel, I suppose, if I got that right, and it’s not giving away too much.

152

Jacob McM 01.06.14 at 7:59 pm

@148

“The difference between left and right collectivism is what counts. The left’s version means the collective works on behalf of the collective, not masters. The right’s version means the collective works for the masters only.”

I agree that there is a difference between left and right collectivism; however, a purely economic analysis misses it. I think the real divide emerging in the next century is between those who wish to transcend and overcome our biological hard-wiring and tribal instincts (universalists/cosmopolitans) and those who wish to embrace and strengthen them (ethno-nationalists/racialists). People in the latter camp can have as little use for their economic “masters” as those in the former, but their concern for the “collective” doesn’t extend beyond their own clearly demarcated tribe.

153

Hector_St_Clare 01.06.14 at 8:29 pm

Re: It’s long past time that “the masses” start looking out for the masses, instead of the masters.

The masses can never and look out for themselves. That’s why you need a vanguard party to look out for them. If you don’t want rule by the rich, then you need rule by a powerful, authoritative State.

154

geo 01.06.14 at 8:36 pm

I thought there might be more to Ruskin’s address than appeared in Jacob’s excerpt, since Ruskin is one of the finest writers and noblest spirits in modern history. There is indeed, a great deal more. The Crown of Wild Olives>/I> is a passionate, supremely eloquent (naturally, being Ruskin) protest against modern war, on behalf of his own version of the chivalric ideal. It is echoed in two later, also highly idiosyncratic and very great works: D.H. Lawrence’s long essay “Education of the People” and Ernest Callenbach’s marvelous utopian novel Ecotopia.

Do read The Crown of Wild Olives if you’d like to savor incomparable prose and exquisitely subtle argument: http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/r/ruskin/john/crown/lecture3.html.
And thanks to Jacob for this and all his other fascinating citations.

155

Plume 01.06.14 at 8:46 pm

@Hector,

Not true. In fact, that powerful, vanguard party makes it all but impossible to replace a ruling class with no classes. It basically just changes rotten management to rotten management.

A true democratic revolution means no classes. It means setting up a system that makes consensus, democracy, equality, horizontal structures and cooperation the norm. Our system is set up to make severe hierarchies the norm, inequality the norm, autocracy the norm. Our system, capitalism, is by nature anti-democratic, authoritarian and requires obedience and subservience. A true democratic revolution means no one is subservient to anyone else. We all have equal value, equal voice, equal say. We share power, equally.

Now, what people do within that framework of equality is a different story. A true democratic revolution would not force total equality of results. It would not try to force conformity or cookie cutter effects. Capitalism does its best to create that. The Mass Man, etc. etc. But humans have different talents, goals, dreams, capacities. These will make for a diversity of results. But the results can be valued equally and given equal treatment under the law. The trouble comes in when we value, oh, say, a hedge fund manager tens of thousands of times more than we value a teacher, a nurse, a social worker, etc.

So we create a society of great diversity, a great diversity of results. But we do away with the massive difference in treatment, in remuneration, in power.

All citizens would have the same power and autonomy. It would be weighted the same.

No need to a vanguard party. Just common sense.

156

Plume 01.06.14 at 8:49 pm

No need for a vanguard party.

157

Bruce Wilder 01.06.14 at 9:08 pm

Consumatopia @ 141

He pretends to ask for courage, but, like Hector, what he’s really demanding is faith, trust, and obedience. He wants students to trust their schools, and he wants schools that tell students to trust our leaders, and he wants leaders that trust our past.

Quite accurate, I think. It is nostalgia for an imaginary ancien regime, where and when hierarchy resting on a faithful political solidarity experienced no questioning of its legitimacy or value — it’s what conservatives fantasize about: a society where people know and embrace their place, where the great and good are admired for being great and good, without question, and there’s no complaining about the material sacrifices (or ‘bad luck’) required of their subordinates. No conflict of interest, in other words, between leader and led, or at least none the led are conscious of, or the leaders are compelled to acknowledge; no exposure of corruption or hypocrisy or incompetence.

The flood of plutocratic propaganda, which is the contemporary American political consciousness, has a character that contrasts with the Kristol piece. Kristol’s essay is definitely not libertarian in its outlook. It is not about fear of the Al Qaeda boogeyman. I am wondering if it is not possible to read some weariness with his own tropes into this essay.

In many ways, the model for the Project for a New American Century types was the Wilsonian internationalism of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal types, who ran the Second World War from the American side, and who eventually set the terms for Japanese and German recovery and a global liberal trade regime. Great political solidarity was achieved in the U.S. during the Second World War, at the price of social conformity and a great compression in the distribution of income and commitment in principle to personal freedom, and great prestige, power and trust was achieved internationally, by embracing high-minded principles extending the ideals of the Enlightenment.

The corruption and debasement of Wilsonian idealism by Junior Bush & company was remarkable in its fidelity to rhetoric and its betrayal of substance. And, Kristol moans that no one believes anymore. In King and Country, I guess, or “freedom”. Is this how Straussians end their days?

158

Hector_St_Clare 01.06.14 at 9:11 pm

Re: It means setting up a system that makes consensus, democracy, equality, horizontal structures and cooperation the norm.

Then you’re going to get rolled over by your enemies who believe in order, discipline, regimentation, and authority. Just like your anarchist buddies in Spain got rolled over by the Communists. And good riddance. Your anarchist dystopia is remarkably unappealing.

159

Bruce Wilder 01.06.14 at 9:25 pm

Funny, I thought it was the fascist Falangists, who did the anarchists in. Talk about unappealing.

160

Trader Joe 01.06.14 at 9:28 pm

Pkume @154
You were doing fine until this post. The happy-happy-joy-joy utopianism of equality and brotherhood for all is nice to think about and even to aspire to in ones general actions, but the likelihood of it emerging from the global systems of government in place is vanishingly close to nil and as such doesn’t really provide much prescription for what a nation or a society ought to do when faced with encroachment by less enlightened neighbors.

I don’t regard every transgression as the seeds of war, but as every kid learns on some playground, at some point a person has to stand up for themselves. If the utopia described in 154 is really your solution for “just say no to war” its as far off the reservation (albeit a nicer reservation) than Hector’s survival of the fittest.

161

Plume 01.06.14 at 9:34 pm

Trader Joe,

I realize that it’s next to impossible to achieve. But if we don’t dream, if we don’t shoot for the moon, we don’t get anywhere close to it. Obviously, our current situation, in which we don’t even question capitalism, in which we assume that no other alternatives are possible, has led to diminishing returns with each vanishing year. Saying, “Oh, it will never, ever work” serves far less purpose than calling for a greater world.

Both have the distinction of being less than in accord with reality. One makes it hardly worth getting out of bed in the morning. The other at least gives us some reason to care.

I choose the latter.

162

Substance McGravitas 01.06.14 at 9:36 pm

but the likelihood of it emerging from the global systems of government in place is vanishingly close to nil

So are we closer to barbarism than barbarians?

163

Ronan(rf) 01.06.14 at 9:40 pm

apropos of nothing I guess, but I was watching the documentary the Act of Killing recently about the mass killings in Indonesia in the mid 60s. It seems to have gotten a good bit of pushback from people who know the topic, and is undoubtedly manipulative, but it’s worth watching to complicate the war/peace is in our nature dichotomy that these topics sometimes become reduced to.

164

Bruce Wilder 01.06.14 at 9:41 pm

Plume, we’ve had too many revolutions already go to ground, because idealists were too busy masturbating to their fantasies to be bothered figuring out how anything works.

165

Plume 01.06.14 at 9:42 pm

btw,

I’m a fighter, grew up a fighter, believe in standing up for yourself. And standing up for ourselves means trying to achieve a world of peace, harmony and cooperation, instead of the one we have now which means we’re fodder for the whims of masters we never elected or consented to let govern us.

Fighting for oneself and the planet doesn’t mean acceptance of the status quo. Quite the opposite. For centuries, abolitionists received similar advice to that proffered here. “It’s just the way things are. Trying to change it will never work. Forgedaboudid.”

From my days on the playground being the smallest kid, and physically fighting back (successfully) against the bullies, helping other little kids fight back, etc. . . . I learned never to heed conventional wisdom. “You can’t do that. You can’t stand up to that kid, he’ll kill you.” I learned that bullies aren’t that tough, if you fight back and punch them in the nose.

Literally and metaphorically.

This is another one of those times.

166

Ronan(rf) 01.06.14 at 9:42 pm

“I realize that it’s next to impossible to achieve.”

That ‘next to’ is doing a lot of work ; )

167

Plume 01.06.14 at 9:52 pm

@Bruce Wilder 163,

That’s absurd. To blame the failure of revolutions on idealists and their starry eyes. Come on. That’s not what happens or happened.

The failure is far more with the people who say it will never, ever work and therefore remain on the sidelines, letting bullies win the field, letting the ideals of those starry-eyed few die in the fires. The “realists” are the folks who, with their “cool guy” cynicism, allow revolutions to be hijacked by alphas and assorted sociopaths. And then those “realists” go to work for the folks who crush the revolution, instigate civil wars, embargo and squeeze the nascent revolt to death.

Btw, it’s not the job of those “idealists” to get all the logistics right. That’s for engineers, scientists, mathematicians and, if needed, military experts to figure out. The idealists are there to change our minds, to refocus our attention on new possibilities. To ask them to point to new horizons and to create detailed plans is like asking Van Gogh to inspire us with his art and manage our business affairs.

And you think idealists expect too much.

168

Trader Joe 01.06.14 at 10:00 pm

@160 plume
I understand your perspective.

The difficulty is when some hypothetical Japan bombs your hypothetical Pearl Harbor one has to make an actual decision about whether the correct response is to answer force with force with all the Guns of Navarone glory you can muster (as per the OP) or whether these little islands really aren’t all that imporant afterall and wait for some more eggregious assult.

As you noted from your own experience, some times the bullies need a pop in the nose but its dang hard to tell which bullies deserve a pop and which can be talked down with threats. The stereotypical Southern Republican Hawk professes the need to deliver a stout pop to every guy that looks at him sideways, your stereotypical berkenstok liberal won’t lift a finger to the bully that steals his lunch money – reality lives between these two poles and its hard to know a priori which causes merit a ‘warlike’ response and which should be dealt with in the spirit of equality and brotherhood to all.

169

Substance McGravitas 01.06.14 at 10:03 pm

That spans the gamut of war causes I guess. Lunch-money theft and dirty looks.

170

MPAVictoria 01.06.14 at 10:03 pm

“Plume, we’ve had too many revolutions already go to ground, because idealists were too busy masturbating to their fantasies to be bothered figuring out how anything works.”

I amazed that the above was posted by Bruce Wilder. I mean many people would say that you are an idealist Bruce.

171

dn 01.06.14 at 10:06 pm

Bruce @156: While I agree with most of what you say, I really do think that Kristol is actually asking for what he thinks of as “courage”. The error is in his assumed audience. The people from whom he desires “faith, trust, and obedience” are not the readers of his essay; those are the plebs, who couldn’t care less about WWI and will greet his moans about the demoralization of the West with a bemused “huh?” No, what Kristol is doing is begging the elites to take courage and claim the glory that is rightfully theirs. It’s the patricians, the natural aristocracy, the “best and brightest”, who must dare to do great deeds and carry on the flame of civilization. You can’t have subjects if there are no lords.

172

Hector_St_Clare 01.06.14 at 10:17 pm

Plume,

Don’t flatter yourself. You aren’t just seeking to do away with capitalism (a goal which I endorse) you’re seeking to do away with all authority structures, and usher in an anarchist dystopia. If we ever have a revolution in this country, I would fight to my last breath to exclude you and your buddies from any part in it.

173

Trader Joe 01.06.14 at 10:19 pm

@168
Some of them haven’t been much better…and I’m sure there’d be plenty of nominations for some that were worse

174

Ronan(rf) 01.06.14 at 10:23 pm

Well I guess Hector’s waging a revolution in opposition to sneakers and brandy, so causes come in all shapes and sizes

175

Plume 01.06.14 at 10:28 pm

Trader Joe,

Good criteria for standing up against bullies is always going to be relative power. America has developed this strange cognitive dissonance in which it thinks of itself as the underdog while glorying in its massive power. It’s rather schizoid.

So, when 19 people attack us with box cutters, we, the world’s lone super power, think that empowers us to fight with absolute force against anyone who even looks like those 19 guys.

Our “standing up” to the bullies is a rather twisted look at the actual situation. When we invaded Iraq, for instance, we were clearly the bullies, not the Iraqis, and we had already blown that country to bits once before. Too many Americans believed the Iraqis had it coming to them, and that we were just standing up for ourselves.

Another aspect at play here is “proportional response.” In another thread, I argued that our bible teaches us to say to hell with that. Throughout the OT, the god of the bible is forever wiping out millions of people for doing next to nothing. He destroys 99.9% of life on the planet because he got pissed off and suddenly saw his creation as wicked. He kicks Adam and Eve out of paradise, and burdens women with extreme pain forever in giving birth cuz they ate an apple. He murders Lots wife for looking back on the genocide he had just committed on the cities of the plain. He orders Joshua to slaughter every man, woman and child in Jericho because they failed to worship his lord and master. He has Moses slaughter three thousand Jews because they built and worshiped a golden calf, etc. etc.

And the pièce de résistance, the End Times will result in the slaughter and eternal torment of billions of humans, just for not worshiping the god of the NT.

(If one takes the bible literally, of course. Which I do not)

Proportional response. The incredible lack thereof. We’re conditioned to believe it’s just not necessary, as all too much of our culture identifies, consciously or subconsciously, with the volcano god of the bible.

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Tyrone Slothrop 01.06.14 at 10:35 pm

I blame the capitalists for God.

177

Plume 01.06.14 at 10:36 pm

No, Hector, 171

If you want to get a good idea of what I’m talking about, watch this video. It’s a talk given by Noam Chomsky, recently:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oB9rp_SAp2U

I’m non-orthodox and non-doctrinaire in my politics, and belong to no school, so I don’t follow Chomsky across the board. But he and I sync up a lot, with regard to this video. I also like the work of David Harvey, John Bellamy Foster, Gar Alperovitz and Richard Woolf, to name just a few contemporary authors of note.

“Anarchism” is among the most misunderstood terms in our language, even moreso than “socialism” or “communism.” It sounds to me like you’ve accepted the conventional view of that term, and are grossly mistaken about its meaning or possible effects.

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Hector_St_Clare 01.06.14 at 10:45 pm

Ronan,

No, I’m waging a revolution against capitalism (or rather, hoping that someday one will be waged). Just like him. The difference is, I’m thinking about revolutions based off a prototype that has already happened. (Something close to Tito’s Yugoslavia, ideally: regulated market economy with mostly public or cooperatively owned, worker-managed enterprises). Plume’s ideas are based off a prototype that exists nowhere but in the fever-dreams of some 19th century Russian and early 20th century Spanish thinkers, and never existed as facts on the ground.

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Hector_St_Clare 01.06.14 at 10:47 pm

Re: “Anarchism” is among the most misunderstood terms in our language,

Um, if you’re not an anarchist, they why did you quote the founding slogan of anarchism on the other comment thread? (‘No gods, no kings, no masters’, or something like that.)

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Hector_St_Clare 01.06.14 at 10:49 pm

Re: And the pièce de résistance, the End Times will result in the slaughter and eternal torment of billions of humans, just for not worshiping the god of the NT.

Christians have (and always have had) a wide range of opinion on how eternal the torments are, and what sorts of things merit them, Plume. As for the slaughter, when the earth gets destroyed, people die, that’s sort of the nature of the beast.

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Plume 01.06.14 at 10:58 pm

Hector 178,

I said anarchism is widely misunderstood, and that you obviously misunderstand it. Whether or not I, personally, am an anarchist is beside the point. As mentioned, I follow no school or crowd.

Anarchism, as Chomsky and others have described it, generates a lot of appeal for me as an aspirational movement and ideal. But I don’t limit myself to any one set. I’m also heavily influenced by ecosocialism, again, while being non-orthodox and non-doctrinaire. Questioning all authority also means questioning alternative solutions.

It’s an ongoing process.

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Ronan(rf) 01.06.14 at 11:07 pm

Hector, fair enough I was just being a but smart.
But more seriously, there’sa huge gulf here, afaict, between the revolutionary rhetoric, the pronouncements that we need ‘hard men with guns’, the idealism of self sacrifice etc and the aspired to end point, which is to be Tito’s Yugoslavia. I don’t see why such rhetoric and action is needed to achieve such a middling outcome?

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Laurens Dorsey 01.06.14 at 11:12 pm

Pound, I thought, struck the right note. That war called the whole. business into question. Which is why, I suppose, Gove and Kristol et al. (was this a topic at davos, btw) might want to contradict it:

There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization.

Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
Quick eyes gone under earth’s lid,

For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.

184

bob mcmanus 01.06.14 at 11:19 pm

The only war is class war.

I’m for it.

185

Plume 01.06.14 at 11:19 pm

@Ronan,

It sounds like Hector is calling for yet another dictatorship of the self-chosen ones. It will replace the dictatorship of capital already in place.

I see no reason to replace one dictatorship with another, even one ostensibly “socialist.” Given that real socialism must — must — be democratic, Hector is calling for a bastard wolf in sheep’s clothing. We need to replace autocracy with legitimate, popular, democratic rule, rather than with more autocracy.

Chomsky is good here as well on the misuse of the word “socialism.”

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Plume 01.06.14 at 11:21 pm

Odd. I posted two youtube links, but in one it’s embedded, in one it’s not.

Oh, well.

Might be SSL or lack thereof.

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mattski 01.07.14 at 12:22 am

Plume, we’ve had too many revolutions already go to ground, because idealists were too busy masturbating to their fantasies to be bothered figuring out how anything works.

Amen, brother.

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Bruce Wilder 01.07.14 at 12:32 am

dn @ 170

You make a good point, about the audience.

The neoliberal — libertarian axis rotates at an angle, which is oddly uncomfortable for the neo-cons, I think. Neo-cons like Kristol provide a rhetoric of grand and noble purpose for wars, which have been conducted for corrupt profit by commercial rent-seekers. The neoliberals and some (but not all) of the libertarians are perfectly at home with that conduct — fostering it is their common politics: privatize war, social welfare, prisons, everything. And, the neoliberal – libertarian axis has little real use for the communitarianism, nationalism or racism — take your pick — which in previous eras animated public purpose in peace as well as wars of grand ambition. There’s got to be dissonance for the neo-cons, there. The one element of the neoliberal – conservative libertarian program, which pleases the fading ghost of liberalism — the decline of nationalism, racialisms, hostility to homosexuality, etc — is also the element that deprives the neo-cons of the foundation for the society dedicated to ideals of blood culture.

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Bruce Wilder 01.07.14 at 12:35 am

MPAVictoria: I am an idealist. I just don’t think I’m justified by my ideals. Faith without works is dead.

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mattski 01.07.14 at 1:03 am

@ 188

Fwiw, I’m as much of an idealist as anyone (well, if you ask me!) I just don’t see the utility of indulging in wishful thinking. It doesn’t lead anywhere we’d want to go. Plume is the antithesis of a rational observer.

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mattski 01.07.14 at 1:04 am

Tag frack.

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Jacob McM 01.07.14 at 1:10 am

I must confess that I think it was WWII that really discredited militarism and the Party of War among the educated rather than WWI. While anti-war sentiment certainly received a strong boost after WWI, there were still many intellectuals, artists, and mandarins championing the virtues of war, heroism, and sacrifice for the fatherland during the interbellum period. Those fascist movements didn’t just appear in a vacuum. After WWII, even people like Ernst Jünger realized that militarism and nationalism were dead ends.

So why does WWI receive so much attention from people like Kristol? My guess is that both the quality and quantity of the anti-war art and writing which appeared in the wake of WWI far surpasses that which followed WWII. Despite all the drama and fascination surrounding the Nazis, WWII just didn’t inspire the same cultural output that the Great War did. Perhaps people were just burnt out by then?

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Bruce Wilder 01.07.14 at 1:16 am

Plume: That’s absurd. To blame the failure of revolutions on idealists and their starry eyes. Come on. That’s not what happens or happened.

Sometimes, it has been exactly what happened. It is what happened in the French Revolution, that iconic precedent. Simple practical matters could never be tended to, effectively. Paris needed bread to eat. France needed a monetary system. The French State needed a credible fiscal system. France needed a legal code and rational administration of justice. France needed a modern relationship with its Catholic faith and the Catholic Church. These problems were recognized universally by the time Louis XVI called the états généraux. In 10 years, the Revolution could not resolve any of it, producing instead upheaval, civil war, rampant corruption, famine, the Reign of Terror, the conquest and pillage of its neighbors, persecution of the religious. Robespierre was an idealist and a moderate of unimpeachable rectitude, but there he was cutting off people’s heads, until his own paranoia motivated his fearful colleagues to cut off his. It took Napoleon to settle matters — to institute a Code, to institute a Concordat, to institute a Bank of France, etc — and his Man-on-Horseback authoritarianism would cast a shadow over French politics for the next 80 years, and exhaust Europe in wars.

You can blame the counter-revolutionaries and the hostile monarchies of Europe, and there’s truth in that, but the forces of counter-revolution, though persistent, were weak, and France could have had allies in some of its neighbors, if it could have refrained from pillage and extraction.

Now for something completely different is an introduction for sketch comedy, not a political programme.

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Plume 01.07.14 at 1:39 am

Bruce,

Is it your contention that idealists not only failed to think up and enact the practical, but they also prevented others from doing so?

I agree with the first part, but the second part is absurd. And I also think you’re throwing the word around with some reckless abandon. Robbespierre, the lawyer? He seems to have acted quite pragmatically throughout most of his life, and it might even be argued that it was “pragmatics” not idealism that drove the reign of terror and the loss of heads. Killing your enemies before they kill you is much closer to “realpolitik” than to any sort of “idealism” I’ve ever heard of. In fact, when he did speak in idealistic terms, it was all about direct democracy, human rights, protecting the poor, the fight against oppression and the like. Steeped in the Enlightenment, his ideals were in direct opposition to his “practice.” Note how close that word is to “practical.”

There is nothing “idealistic” about chopping off heads. It is far more likely to be seen as the “practical” thing to do in the heat of battle, in the heat of existential crisis, while being appalling at the same time. The true “idealist” would be the person who condemns such things and refuses to “practice” such abhorrent acts.

No “ideals” outside those of Sade, perhaps, come into play.

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Ronan(rf) 01.07.14 at 1:48 am

Plume, thanks for the link above. I cant watch it at the minute due to a bad connection but will definitely have a look later

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Plume 01.07.14 at 1:54 am

@Ronan,

No problem. If you can find them, I’d also recommend youtube videos of the others I mentioned:

Gar Alperovitz, David Harvey, John Bellamy Foster and Richard Woolf.

Along with their websites and books, etc. etc.

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bianca steele 01.07.14 at 2:03 am

Bruce Wilder @ 193
Your posts on neoconservatism here are very clarifying. But granted that Robesepierre, arguably, was an idealist and that this was in some way or other related to his eventual bloodymindedness: at what points in the narrative you describe does idealism come into play? In the decision to take power away from a single authoritarian ruler (it isn’t clear whether Napoleon is counting as an idealist in your argument, either)? In the wish for a rationalized relationship between the state and religion? Just in the idea of “revolution”?

What do you suppose France might have done? Waited for state collapse and invasion by England, the Netherlands, or Prussia?

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LFC 01.07.14 at 2:06 am

A propos of Ruskin, there’s a brief discussion in Daniel Pick’s War Machine (1993, pb. 1996), ch.7, “Ruskin and the Degradation of True War”.

In a subsequent chapter, “1914: ‘The Deep Sources,’” there is this passage (p.153):

It would be difficult to overestimate the centrality of the notion of ‘civilisation’ in the language of the First World War. A broad distinction between ‘civilisation’ and ‘barbarism’ was used to distinguish the European imperial powers from their colonies; at other times to differentiate sections of the domestic population within a specific state; alternatively ‘civilisation’ was deployed to contrast the behaviour and genealogy of one European nation with another. But the differentiation of the civilised and the uncivilised so often turned specifically on nineteenth-century conceptions of evolutionary advance and backwardness.

Pick observes that some anti-war writers, though deploring “racial posturing” and “crude appeals to bellicosity as ‘human nature,’” sometimes used the “same racial anthropological and evolutionist language” (p.151) as their opponents. For instance Bertrand Russell, in an undated pamphlet “War: The Offspring of Fear,” referred to “[Germany's] attempt to preserve Central Europe for a type of civilization indubitably higher and of more value to mankind than that of any Slav State” (quoted, pp.151-52). Of course Russell opposed Britain’s involvement in the war and courageously went to jail for it, so he might have been trying to use any argument that lay to hand in an effort to reach a wide audience; I don’t know. Anyway, Pick’s book, of which I’ve only read parts, is full of revealing quotations.

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Bruce Wilder 01.07.14 at 2:20 am

Jacob McM @ 192: why does WWI receive so much attention from people like Kristol? . . . the quality and quantity of the anti-war art and writing . . .

Also, at 100 years, no one is alive to testify from experience. So, despite the legacy of art and writing, revisionism has a clear field. A lot of resources have already been pored into re-writing history, so that the idiocy of a Gove will appear as an expression of conventional wisdom. See my exchange of comments with Peter T about the Battle of the Somme. In the immediate aftermath of WWI, the war was attributed to the folly of anachronistic, aristocratic empires. The self-determination of nations, expressed in liberal democracy and international community was prescribed. That did not always work out as planned, and in the shortcomings, entailed horrors of its own. WWII occasioned a do-over on dismantling Empire, reconfiguring some nation-states and international community; the do-over was wildly more successful. The very different world before 1914 was forgotten, or recalled in a fog of romantic nostalgia, the memory of the imperialist reactionaries eclipsed by their more familiar fascist heirs; WWI, as well as its peace, was categorized as a failure of liberalism. In the minds of liberals, corrected after WWII, to be sure, but in the minds of conservatives, giving rise to the totalitarian horrors that followed.

Liberals and socialists in the 21st century have lost their feel for the national community as a political foundation for the state, and lost their control of the institutions of international community to forces determined to subvert the nation-state. In the run-up to WWI, socialists liked to preach an international class solidarity against the wars practiced by aristocrats, and liberals warned against war interfering with globalized commerce and middle-class prosperity, and these peaceful, idealistic hopes were trampled in the first hours of war. Does anyone remember the death of Jaurès? It was that prologue — that betrayal of prior hope and commitment, as well as its bitter results — which made the pacifism of the interwar years as passionate as it was.

For someone like Kristol, it is important to recall the passionate patriotism, but not the sense of betrayal, when the butcher’s bill came due. It was that sense of betrayal, which weighed down contemporaries. Betrayal by elites, betrayal by the sentiments Owen cited. Dolchstoß, the stab-in-the-back, (a narrative that led the Allies in WWII to pursue unconditional surrender and reconstruction under occupation).

Refuting pacifism, as if it arose from cynicism hides that passionate sense of betrayal and disillusion that pervaded the interwar years, and not just among pacifists or among the highly educated.

200

TGGP 01.07.14 at 2:21 am

It occurs to me the word which Kristol might be reaching for, but is unaware of, is “asabiya”.

201

dn 01.07.14 at 2:28 am

Jacob McM says: “Despite all the drama and fascination surrounding the Nazis, WWII just didn’t inspire the same cultural output that the Great War did. Perhaps people were just burnt out by then?”

WWI was truly a war without purpose, a war in which there were no good guys, nothing more than a monument to the stupidity of man. WWII, on the other hand, was a war which, so to speak, pitted those who had at least begun to learn the lessons of 1914-18 against those who hadn’t. So in one sense, it was a retread of the same old story. No new lesson to learn (except “racism sucks”), just the same old one reiterated even more harshly for those who hadn’t gotten it the first time. In another sense, WWII doesn’t really lend itself to antiwar sentiment so readily, at least on the Allied side, for the same reason as the US Civil War: because the moral obscenity of the Third Reich is so easy to recognize, and opposing it so easy to regard as a just cause.

Indeed, to bring it back to Kristol: he can’t make WWII his target, because fighting the Nazis and the Japanese was just the sort of glorious cause he wishes we could have again today. Moreover, for Americans WWII didn’t discredit militarism at all – on the contrary, WWII was what finally crushed the previously-strong strain of anti-militarism in the US, as we turned into a nuclear superpower and spent the next half-century at the Russians’ throats. For Kristol, this is what WWII means; I doubt he understands at all that WWII was not such a shining triumph for most of the world. Kristol not only failed to learn the lesson of WWI, he ultimately ended up learning precisely the opposite lesson from its successor.

202

Laurens Dorsey 01.07.14 at 2:50 am

@LFC

Yes, thanks — ‘Civilization’ was seen to have failed. And that we can hardly say word now without irony is an indication that something more than imperial hubris was affected. And continues to be. So that Cormac McCsrthy can still touch the same exposed nerve:

If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?

203

max 01.07.14 at 2:51 am

So. Given the urgency of the Kristol’s invocation of civilizational decline, has civilization collapsed yet? Dogs and cats having gay sex in the streets while wearing turbans, that sort of thing? Is this the last high-brow blog on the earth?

max
['Asking for a friend.']

204

Ronan(rf) 01.07.14 at 2:54 am

“Liberals and socialists in the 21st century have lost their feel for the national community as a political foundation for the state”

I dont know how this is true in any meaningful sense, at least for any significant number of people. Perhaps some ‘cosmopolitan minded liberals’ are more aware of global inequality, and perhaps less willing to object to policies that might begin to eleviate it. But that’s a personal moral decision and these aren’t exactley ideas that animate anything but a tiny minority. And perhaps that brings it’s own negative consequences domestically (though exaggerated) or further enriches those at the top(likely), but that’s a tradeoff specific people (rather than broad homogenous ideological groups) have decided is justified.
The nation state hasn’t withered, it still overwhelmingly forms the impetus for the majority of political action, and the ‘national community’ hasn’t been forgotten. Things change, historical forces upset old systems, and identities, norms and preferences etc evolve. That’s life, it’s never been a reasonable expectation that everything stay forever frozen in a treasured past, and that’s good, imo.
My own take would be that sections of the left need to stop living in the past and romanticising a set of circumstances which were very specific to a particular time and place – which were positive in some respects but not in many many more. The social changes so much derided by *certain* factions of the left, (which allowed people to live their own lives, have relationships with who they choose, become financially independent etc) are not minor irrelevant changes. They are every bit as important as the right to organise at work, and far more important than marginal changes in the domestic rate of inequality, or whatever.
Life continues by its own, some things are better, some things are worse. This is not the stuff of dystopia.

205

Omega Centauri 01.07.14 at 4:01 am

Contrasting WW1 and WW2. As stated WW1 was largely pointless, blocks of countries whose internal cultures and principles were broadly similar, following the dynamic of alliances and the dynamic of the spiral of increasing violence to its logical conclusion. Its easy to imagine if the system had survived Sarejevo without going into state of general war, that if the big bustup had been delayed five or ten years , that the composition of the antagonistic blocks might have been different -or even that general war might have been avoided altogether. The tragedy is seen as the inability to break out of the spiral of violence dynamic. Whereas for WW2 -at least from the standpoint of the victors, who largely wrote the history, several nations had gone so severely off the rails, that nothing short of the near total destruction of their governing systems/elites seemed sufficient to save the world. So WW1 takes of the aire of tragic pointlesness, whereas WW2 is seen as a war it would have been too awful for the future of the world to lose.

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Meredith 01.07.14 at 6:50 am

Coming to all this way late (in every sense — I need to bed), but I am so tired of that pro patria mori bit. I wonder what Horace would have thought (that’s his design — he’s always at least ten steps ahead of anyone and everyone, but in a way that is way beyond cute and clever, however much he invites the cute and clever acolytes). Let’s just say that Horace only speaks assuming that the Iliad and Odyssey and even Aeneid (before it actually is fully written) are there, too. Tears for things.

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Mao Cheng Ji 01.07.14 at 7:11 am

“So WW1 takes of the aire of tragic pointlesness, whereas WW2 is seen…”

I have the impression that WW1 was all about colonies, dividing the world. More or less the same as WW2. And like any other war, I suppose. States (or coalition of states) want to take control over some other states. That’s what war is.

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Bruce Wilder 01.07.14 at 7:12 am

Omega Centauri WW1 was largely pointless, blocks of countries whose internal cultures and principles were broadly similar, following the dynamic of alliances and the dynamic of the spiral of increasing violence to its logical conclusion.

The Hapsburg Empire was broadly similar to Republican France? The Ottoman Sultan was just King George in a funnier hat and more interesting marital relations (– a harem would make great reality teevee)? The Autocrat of the All the Russias and his Duma were direct parallels to Woodrow Wilson and the U.S. Congress?

209

Plume 01.07.14 at 7:33 am

Bruce Wilder 208,

Good points. Perhaps the only unifier was the old European aristocracy in its last gasp. But even within the old dynasties, there was incredible diversity. The Austro-Hungarian empire being the most diverse. But it did seem the most pointless of wars — not that 99% of our wars really ever had a point. I can’t see how it even benefited the rich or the aristocracy, due to its mutually assured destruction. They must have known it would spell the old guard’s doom.

Doom. In order to make sense for the ruling class, it (war) must butter the bread of aristocrat and capitalist, and the sniveling politicians they control.

We got some good literature out of it, and that’s about all.

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Bruce Wilder 01.07.14 at 8:25 am

I’m not sure how to penetrate the alleged “pointlessness” of World War I. Was it distinctly more or less “pointless” than most wars? What information, if any, about the specific character of WWI is being conveyed? What is the meaning of the implied, or explicit contrast with WWII? How does that contrast interact with the thesis that the two wars form a continuum — two phases of the same war?

For Americans, Woodrow Wilson made ideological claims about America’s purpose in entering the war, an entry that was decisive in ending the war, and those ideological claims had a major, though not decisive influence in shaping the peace. Those ideological claims were recast for WWII, and largely accepted by Britain and its half-American Prime Minister. The Soviets, of course, had their own ideological claims, and own realpolitik. (The role of the Russian Empire / Soviet Union in the two world wars presents significant challenges to western interpretations of allied purposes.)

Is the pointlessness of the First World War compared to the Second World War related to those ideological claims of Wilson (and Roosevelt)?

I’m suspicious of accounts that wish to exonerate Germany of its aggressive militarism, remake Kaiser Willy into a jolly constitutional monarch and Imperial Germany into just another normal country doing what countries do — no one to blame here, nothing to see, move on, please.

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Bruce Wilder 01.07.14 at 8:28 am

Plume, I’m sure No True Scotsman would ever fight any other than an English Bully, and then, only for peace, always peace.

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Nabakov 01.07.14 at 8:56 am

Re #99,103 and 106, I’m reminded of that old saying “The British Army is full of gentlemen trying to be officers, the RN full of officers trying to be gentlemen and the FAF full of neither trying to be both.”

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Nabakov 01.07.14 at 8:57 am

Um RAF. Not sure what the FAF is but I’m sure it’s a fine body of men and women.

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Tim Chambers 01.07.14 at 9:07 am

To say nothing of his taste in poetry. Without the melody, it’s doggerel.

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ajay 01.07.14 at 12:17 pm

Despite all the drama and fascination surrounding the Nazis, WWII just didn’t inspire the same cultural output that the Great War did.

I really don’t think this is true, and suspect it may be resting quite heavily on the reputations of a few high-profile British writers and (especially) poets from the trenches, and a general neglect of literature that is written in tricky foreign languages and doesn’t get taught in high schools.

Admittedly I’m not aware of WW2 English-language poets who come up to the level of Sassoon and Kipling and Owen (Keith Douglas, possibly), but the cultural output of WW2 overall has been vast. Hemingway, Churchill, Steinbeck, Solzhenitsyn, Golding, Singer, Milosz, Grass all wrote about the Second World War, and that’s just a few of the ones who got Nobel Prizes for Literature.

In other areas it’s even more obvious that WW2 inspired as much great work than WW1 – cinema, for example. For every “Lawrence of Arabia” or “Paths of Glory” there’s a “Bridge over the River Kwai” or a “Patton”. (The sheer volume of WW2 films should count for something as well here. Maybe “In Which We Serve” wasn’t up to the mark of “All Quiet on the Western Front” but it’s still cultural output.)

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ajay 01.07.14 at 12:19 pm

The Ottoman Sultan was just King George in a funnier hat

I resent the implication that King George was inadequately supplied with funny hats. A quick Google Image search will show you the late King-Emperor wearing some absolute stinkers.

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Phil 01.07.14 at 1:47 pm

Let’s just say that Horace only speaks assuming that the Iliad and Odyssey and even Aeneid (before it actually is fully written) are there, too. Tears for things.

Owen developed as a poet incredibly quickly (and under obvious pressure); his earlier work is really pretty poor. Dulce Et Decorum Est is a transitional poem, and I think the punchline is one of the bits that hark back to earlier Owen; it’s punchy but horribly trite. Apart from anything else Horace was pretty much there already – what he does in Odes 3.2 is to chew over the alternatives of dying when you don’t deserve to and dying when you do deserve to, finding them on balance equally horrible. But Horace is one of those authors – like George Eliot – who should never be taught to undergraduates, unless they’re mature students. (Give ‘em Seneca.)

Even Virgil’s trickier than he looks. I read a poem once (or a short story?) about a teacher reading the line “sunt lacrimae rerum” to her class and stopping dead, choked up, while the class looked on in several forms of incomprehension. Ironically enough I didn’t understand the poem at the time. Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt… just shut up, Virgil, will you?

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Phil 01.07.14 at 1:55 pm

Of course Russell opposed Britain’s involvement in the war and courageously went to jail for it, so he might have been trying to use any argument that lay to hand in an effort to reach a wide audience; I don’t know.

Or ‘race’ might just have been one of the frames within which just about everyone from Marx to Mill to Russell to Rosa Luxemburg saw the world – so deploring bellicose appeals to race but using a racialised vocabulary of civilisation would be about as contradictory as deploring bellicose appeals to the national interest (say) but maintaining that the national interest was better served by demonstrative adherence to international law.

Anyway, Pick’s book, of which I’ve only read parts, is full of revealing quotations.

I haven’t read any of his mature work, but I do remember Danny Pick (as he then was) from college. He was very good at finding revealing quotations and putting them together in persuasive ways, even then.

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LFC 01.07.14 at 2:31 pm

@Phil
Or ‘race’ might just have been one of the frames within which just about everyone from Marx to Mill to Russell to Rosa Luxemburg saw the world
probably, albeit with variations of emphasis (etc)

I haven’t read any of his mature work, but I do remember Danny Pick (as he then was) from college…
His books deal with interesting subjects, judging from the titles (War Machine is the only one I’ve read), and he seems to have a particular interest in the history of psychiatry/psychoanalysis. The one review of War Machine up at Amazon (U.S.) is so unfair that I’m tempted to post a review there myself to counter it. The review, which is along the lines of “so he discusses all these writers; so what?,” faults him for not addressing/explaining the causes of war, which is not the point of the book; it’s intellectual/cultural history, not political science.

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Barry 01.07.14 at 2:38 pm

“Despite all the drama and fascination surrounding the Nazis, WWII just didn’t inspire the same cultural output that the Great War did.”

In the USA at least, this is simply not true. And culturally it permanently altered the USA.

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Omega Centauri 01.07.14 at 3:01 pm

Bruce @208. If you were to score the various belligerents in terms of the quality of liberal government, you won’t find much correlation with which side of WW1 they were on. I wasn’t including the Ottomans as a major belligerent (by the time they enetered, the blocks had been largely formed). They were less belliegerant, than the victim the taking of whose parts was incentive for many of the participants.

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Andrew F. 01.07.14 at 3:19 pm

The only way to really understand Kristol is to, for a moment, imagine that the narrative context embraced by himself and his intended audience is true. Otherwise the column is a mysterious mix of hints and half-stated assumptions that reveal themselves only partially in vague conclusions.

That is, imagine that since WW1 caustic critics of the cause of civilization (liberal bastards, more colloquially, in that narrative) have habitually invoked the despairing, bitter irony of Owen in their repudiation of everything – good or bad – involving community, tradition, or government.

Now imagine that Kristol and his intended audience – the community embracing this narrative – noting the arrival of the centennial of the start of WW1, and grimacing at the thought of the many “liberal pieties” that will be invoked by way of reference to Owen and other poets of that time.

And so Kristol pens off a little column to say, “yes, WW1 was terrible, and war for war’s sake shouldn’t be glorified, but patriotism is still good and we shouldn’t forget that! Here’s the Star Spangled Banner as an answer to Dulce et Decorum est,” where the latter poem stands not for the repudiation of war but of a rejection of one’s government as a legitimate vehicle of community. And his audience cheers.

In some ways it’s actually a less harmful message once you understand the narrative which the column imagines and assumes to exist. But in other ways, like so much partisan writing, the lack of balance in the piece only muddles matters, transforming any reference to the vast butchery of WW1 into a coded endorsement for Kristol’s view of “the liberal narrative.” Doing so makes it cognitively difficult for Kristol, or his audience, to fully understand and process the meaning and importance of such references.

That said, this type of thing is done by partisans on other sides as well. Some of the essays and articles published on the occasion of November 11, and Memorial Day, come to mind, where for those partisans any reference to sacrifice and honor comes to be understood as code for the simple glorification of war. Their access to a realm of important information becomes more difficult much in the way that it does for Kristol and his audience.

Sidenote: This is why reading charitably is not merely a tactical exercise in bad faith. Reading charitably is the only way to overcome the obstacle to understanding posed, possibly, by one’s instinctive opposition to another’s argument, and to imaginatively enter the argument and narrative being put forth. Doing so moves one beyond caricaturing the other’s arguments, and is what truly enables one to engage with those arguments and to find out their real flaws and strengths. Everything else is a noise of words fired from distant ships in a twilight battle.

As to WW1… John Keegan, among others, wrote that in 1914 war came (paraphrasing here at best) “out of a cloudless sky, to populations which knew almost nothing of it and had come to doubt that it could never again trouble their continent.” Or something along those lines.

To me though, it always seemed firmly in the tradition of European war, with the disastrous strategies (from a vantage of efficacy) largely the product of a still inchoate grasp of the implications of technology available for viable tactics and strategy. Perceptive students of the American Civil War, and of the Russo-Japanese War, knew what awaited Europe.

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bob mcmanus 01.07.14 at 3:50 pm

All the poet can do to-day is to warn.
That is why the true Poets must be truthful.
If I thought the letter of this book would last,
I might have used proper names; but if the spirit of it survives Prussia, –
my ambition and those names will be content; for they will have
achieved themselves fresher fields than Flanders.

I don’t consider Owen entirely an anti-war poet, I think part of what he was doing was saying the war was being fought for the wrong reasons and would change British society in a pernicious way. “Prussia” was not just a concrete but also an ideological enemy, and Owen was, IMO, not a modernist liberal pacifist like Shaw or Russell but someone closer to Tolkien.

What “Prussia,” and Meiji-Taisho Japan and “Progressive” US were about, in comparison to the better parts of what they replaced in the ancien agricultural regimes is complicated and understudied, because to a large degree…Prussia won. See Polanyi.

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Vance Maverick 01.07.14 at 4:05 pm

Andrew F @222 — I don’t see the value of charitable reading in this case. True, you’ve made Kristol seem less insane. But the nicer sentiment you’ve extracted is still a bad one, in that it recognizes community, tradition, government, patriotism, sacrifice, honor, etc., only in the context of mutual mass slaughter.

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ajay 01.07.14 at 4:05 pm

If you were to score the various belligerents in terms of the quality of liberal government, you won’t find much correlation with which side of WW1 they were on.

Questionable, and I’d like to see your working on this. One side of the war had the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the French Republic (admittedly, and also Russia and Japan). The other side had Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire.

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lurker 01.07.14 at 4:10 pm

‘what he’s really demanding is faith, trust, and obedience’ (Consumatopia, 142)
Credere, obbedire, combattere!

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Chris Williams 01.07.14 at 4:13 pm

I think that Belgium also belongs in your ‘admittedly’ parenthesis, Ajay, given its colonial record. I’ll leave you the US, Oz, Canada and NZ, but the proportion of French and British subjects who had the vote was definitely lower than in Germany and A-H, and may even have been lower than Russia.

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Random Lurker 01.07.14 at 4:23 pm

@lurker 226

Credere, obbedire, combattere!

But unfortunately, post-WW1 wimpy liberals blamed war so much, that nobody in the interwar period could have tought of such a wise motto.

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Ronan(rf) 01.07.14 at 4:34 pm

Well, when looking at the causes of WW1 is there also a case of the dog that didnt bark, so to speak, ie why did the 1914 crisis expand into large scale war but the two earlier Balkan wars didn’t? Or are they just very different situations?
Would a Europe wide expansion from either of the first Balkan wars also have been, more than likely, the result of aggressive German militarism?

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Hector_St_Clare 01.07.14 at 4:44 pm

Re: Questionable, and I’d like to see your working on this

Russia was less ‘liberal’ than Germany or Austria were.

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Hector_St_Clare 01.07.14 at 4:54 pm

Re: Doom. In order to make sense for the ruling class, it (war) must butter the bread of aristocrat and capitalist, and the sniveling politicians they control.

The Marxist economist Paul Sweezy argued in the 1960s that that’s an oversimplistic way to look at (modern) war in capitalist societies. War does benefit the ruling class, but not in any direct way. Rather, he believed that war is a way of deliberately destroying the surplus generated by the capitalist system, in such a way that 1) it doesn’t back up and cause crises of underconsumption, and 2) it doesn’t trickle down to the working classes, thus challenging the power monopoly of the capitalists. For Sweezy, that war is wasteful and destructive wasn’t a bug, it was *the whole point*. He saw the purpose of (many or most) modern wars as burning up the excess generated by modern industry while keeping the working class immiserated.

Sweezy also believed this was only a feature of oligarchic capitalism (i.e. the modern American kind) and not necessarily competitive capitalism (which he believed had been typical of the 19th century), so I don’t know whether he would have included WWI in his thesis.

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Hector_St_Clare 01.07.14 at 4:58 pm

Though Plume, I’d like to see how you respond to my remark above that 1) war predates capitalism by a long shot, and 2) war postdates capitalism as well (i.e. twentieth century communist states continued fighting wars, both international wars and civil ones).

You can, of course, take the line that 20th and 21st century socialist states aren’t or weren’t really socialist, or you can take the Trotskyist line that the era of socialist peace only begins after socialism has conquered most of the world, but I’m interested to see how you’d respond.

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Alex 01.07.14 at 4:58 pm

the proportion of French and British subjects who had the vote was definitely lower than in Germany and A-H, and may even have been lower than Russia.

What was there to vote *for* in Russia? (actually also a good point about Germany, as the universal-suffrage-if-you-have-a-cock Reichstag didn’t have much power compared to the three-times-as-many-votes-if-you’re-rich Prussian legislature or just the entirely unelected Powers That Be like the General Staff)

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Plume 01.07.14 at 5:54 pm

Hector,

I have Baran and Sweezy’s Monopoly Capitalism at home, but have not gotten around to it, yet. I also frequent the site carrying on their torch, among a great many other things.

http://monthlyreview.org/

As for war predating capitalism. Of course. Wars are primarily fought to enrich the ruling classes — or some mad members of them. There is seldom any other reason. And wars have obviously been going on for thousands of years, long before capitalism was even a twinkle in Adam Smith’s eye.

I said that today we fight because of capitalism. Not that we have always done so throughout history. We do so today because capitalism creates our current ruling classes, so we go to war to sustain it, expand it, defend it and jam it down the throats of everyone, whether they like it or not.

As for “post-capitalism.” We aren’t there yet. I view all the so-called “socialist” or “communist” countries as State Capitalism, and follow the thinking of Chomsky along those the lines in the video I posted. There have actually never been “socialist” countries, and one can’t have a “communist state.” That is an oxmoron, as communism is the absence of the state.

In short, pre- or post-, capitalist or not, wars are fought to enrich the ruling classes, and whatever economic system is at hand will always be central. What makes capitalism unique historically, however, is that it is the first economic system to be completely severed from the land, “use-value” and local production relations. It is the first economic system to float (virtually) free of all of that, thereby making it the perfect vehicle for global war, and the perfect rationale for said war. And, because it is the first to be based primarily on employer/employee relations, it has a unique incentive to get rid of that surplus you speak of. No other system before it necessitated the increase of surplus workers to drive wages down and increase profit margins. So the destruction of someone else’s economy, markets, infrastructure or system aids in the overall profitability of the ruling classes. And the twofer is always there:

The trillions spent to rebuild what was destroyed during those wars — along with the trillions spent to wreak the destruction in the first place.

Prior to capitalism, there was no global economic benefit (at the top) to massive destruction via war in one area. When Alexander or Genghis Khan waged war and left a trail of misery, death and destruction across their various zones of conquest, there was no glee from non-existent corporations thinking about “shock doctrine” or “disaster capitalism” profits. None were there to be had. Aristocrats could control their own domains. But they didn’t have global pull or global stock investments to make profits off the misery and death or others. They had to content themselves with creating misery in their own domain, etc. etc.

We fight wars today because of capitalism.

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ajay 01.07.14 at 6:02 pm

I’ll leave you the US, Oz, Canada and NZ, but the proportion of French and British subjects who had the vote was definitely lower than in Germany and A-H, and may even have been lower than Russia.

The only measure of how liberal a country is is what proportion of its subjects can vote for something?
Well, in that case, you’re absolutely right. Germany was more liberal than Britain in 1914. In fact, Nazi Germany was more liberal than Britain.

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Barry Freed 01.07.14 at 6:07 pm

You forgot about Belgium.

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ajay 01.07.14 at 6:08 pm

Well, when looking at the causes of WW1 is there also a case of the dog that didnt bark, so to speak, ie why did the 1914 crisis expand into large scale war but the two earlier Balkan wars didn’t?

Exactly. And not only that, but all the previous international crises – the Pagoda incident, the Agadoo Crisis and so on – all ended up not causing general European war. The answer, I suppose, is that they were lucky, until they weren’t. And the implication might be that looking at the last sixty years – with lots of crises that almost but not quite led to nuclear war – shouldn’t give you a sense of security that nuclear deterrence will inevitably mean peace.

In the words of one great strategist:

–The real reason for the whole thing was that it was too much effort not to have a war. You see, in order to prevent war in Europe, two superblocs developed: us, the French and the Russians on one side, and the Germans and Austro-Hungary on the other. The idea was to have two vast opposing armies, each acting as the other’s deterrent. That way there could never be a war.

– But, this is a sort of a war, isn’t it, sir?

– Yes, that’s right. You see, there was a tiny flaw in the plan.

– What was that, sir?

– It was bollocks.

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bob mcmanus 01.07.14 at 6:19 pm

235: When we can (again) separate “liberalism” and democracy, we may start getting somewhere. Maybe even understanding the causes of the World Wars.

Plume has Sweezy (and umm the co-author) to read and so do I. But some more Jonathan Israel before, I think.

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Jacob McM 01.07.14 at 7:12 pm

@215

“Admittedly I’m not aware of WW2 English-language poets who come up to the level of Sassoon and Kipling and Owen (Keith Douglas, possibly), but the cultural output of WW2 overall has been vast. Hemingway, Churchill, Steinbeck, Solzhenitsyn, Golding, Singer, Milosz, Grass all wrote about the Second World War, and that’s just a few of the ones who got Nobel Prizes for Literature.”

No offense, but this sounds like the kind of weak argument one might concoct from scanning Wikipedia rather than familiarity with the actual literature. Would any literate person seriously argue that Hemingway (!), Solzhenitsyn, Golding, Singer, et al. are primarily known for their writings on WWII or that those works rank among their best? Note that I referred to both quantity AND quality. Hemingway is particularly puzzling because his name is almost always associated with Lost Generation that came of age during WWI and wrote about that experience. Keep in mind that even writers who didn’t see combat, like Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, were profoundly affected by the war’s aftermath and this is reflected in their art.

I’ll admit that films are more evenly matched, but most of the great WWII films — Closely Watched Trains, Cross of Iron, Come and See, The Thin Red Line — didn’t get made until decades after the war was over, so they can hardly be said to follow in its wake.

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LFC 01.07.14 at 7:19 pm

@ajay
The only measure of how liberal a country is is what proportion of its subjects can vote for something? Well, in that case, you’re absolutely right. Germany was more liberal than Britain in 1914. In fact, Nazi Germany was more liberal than Britain.

According to this, the act of 1928 resulted in universal 21-and-over suffrage in Britain. So your last sentence must refer to a lower voting age in Germany (?). (Otherwise I don’t get it.)

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LFC 01.07.14 at 7:21 pm

p.s. and even then it wd be questionable given the groups excluded from the vote in Nazi Germany

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Plume 01.07.14 at 7:22 pm

Hemingway wrote novels about WWI and the Spanish Civil War. Not WWII. He did reporting on WWII.

“Closely Watched Trains” is based on a novel by Bohumil Hrabal, one of my favorite authors, especially for his I Served the King of England, which was also made into a movie.

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LFC 01.07.14 at 7:32 pm

@Jacob McM
As others have already pointed out, the situation re literature coming out of the wars is different in Britain and the U.S. (not surprisingly, really, when you consider that the U.S. entered WW1 late in the day).

Thus there are major WW2 novels by Mailer, Heller, James Jones, Vonnegut, Pynchon, Wouk, and others (btw, The Thin Red Line was a novel [c. '62] long before it was a movie), as well as a lot of memoirs, many of them prob. of high literary quality.

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Plume 01.07.14 at 7:36 pm

Nazi Germany had no actual elections. Once in power, Hitler made all other political parties illegal, wiped out, jailed or exiled all of his political opponents, and instituted a totalitarian state.

Now, it is true that nations generally put “democracy” on hold during war, or at least key parts of it. So, if you’re comparing relative liberalism among combatants, and only during the period of war, then you might have a case — to a degree. But liberal democracies outside war time and a totalitarian regime such as Hitler’s are not comparable when it comes to degrees of “liberalism,” if that’s the measure, etc.

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Andrew F. 01.07.14 at 8:10 pm

Plume – We agree that most companies are not heavily involved in the selling of military goods and services, right? For the vast majority of companies that are not, I fail to see how a massively destructive war, raising the costs of capital and labor and reducing demand, can be viewed as a good thing. As far as I am aware, business in general views war as a negative, not positive, development. For comparison, ask yourself whether most businesses would view the outbreak of a deadly plague as a positive or a negative development.

As to why wars became more destructive and in some instances more broad, that has everything to do with the technology used to fight, the connection between that technology and the existence of industry to produce it, and the extent to which such technology can be wielded effectively by large portions of a population. It doesn’t have anything to do with capitalism as such (a Communist munitions factory has the same military significance as a Capitalist munitions factory).

I don’t think WW1 has much to offer on the question of whether liberal democracies are more or less likely to go to war with one another, frankly. But it has much to offer to those who become complacent about the possibility of a great power war in the future and who fail to plan and prepare well for the contingency.

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novakant 01.07.14 at 8:25 pm

most of the great WWII films — Closely Watched Trains, Cross of Iron, Come and See, The Thin Red Line — didn’t get made until decades after the war was over, so they can hardly be said to follow in its wake.

This is simply not true: Roberto Rossellini filmed “Rome, Open City” (1945), Paisà (1946) and “Germania Anno Zero” (1948) in the ruins of Italy and Germany – they are classics, as is Wolfgang Staudte’s “Murderers Among Us” (1946) among others. There is actually a mini-genre called “Trümmerfilm” describing films made in the immediate wake of WW2. The rubble is till very present in “The Third Man” (1949) And there are tons of classics made in the 50s: “Kanal”, “Cranes are Flying”, “Ashes and Diamonds”, “Hiroshima mon Amour”, “River Kwai”, “The Bridge”.

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Plume 01.07.14 at 8:32 pm

Andrew F 245,

No. We don’t agree. War touches so many parts of the economy. The MIC has its tentacles all over the world. And if we just talk about America — the leading exponent, protector and expander of global capitalism — the military is the biggest buyer of oil and a host of other goods and services.

The tech you speak of? Again, capitalism. War provides trillions of dollars in new investment for high tech. The Internet itself is the result primarily of Defense department initiatives, side by side with University R and D.

As for “communist” munitions factories. State Capitalism. We have never had anything approaching an actual “communist” nation, nor a truly “socialist” one. Capitalism has been the global economic system for more than a century, regardless of alternative nomenclature.

The economic goals for the Soviet Union, for example, were nearly identical with our own. They competed with us (and the West in general), which was probably their downfall. Had they actually listened to Marx and other leftist thinkers, they would have done all they could to go back to the soil, to use-value, teach self-provisioning and real independence, creating as much leisure time as possible away from the daily grind. Working enough to live, not living to work, etc. Instead, as Red Plenty showed this reader so well, they joined the race with us for maximum production (and purchase) of commodities and the substitution of material goods for actual freedom and liberty.

There being no true freedom or liberty when one is an employee, a wage slave, dependent upon an employer, the volatility of the markets, etc.

There was never a drop of communism in Russia, nor socialism. Both require full, direct, actual democracy, including the economy. And Marx’s end goal was to maximize free time and minimize work time to the nth degree. Fishing in the morning, talking philosophy in the evening, etc. etc.

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Harold 01.07.14 at 9:37 pm

To add to those film mentioned above, the American “A Walk in the Sun” was made in 1945. And there were several others about the war in Italy made in the 1950s.

The Soviet movie, “The Fall of Berlin” was made in 1949
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fall_of_Berlin_(film)

as was
Battle for Stalingrad 1949 (released in 1950)
See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_World_War_II_films

Both of these Soviet films were rather adulatory (to understate) of Stalin

See for a fuller list of film dealing with the fighting see:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_World_War_II_films#1945

Some great films of the period were about the war but somewhat indirectly, such as Forbidden Games (1952).

Night and Fog, the first film about the Holocaust, came out in 1955.

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mattski 01.07.14 at 11:17 pm

@ 247

Had they actually listened to Marx and other leftist thinkers, they would have done all they could to go back to the soil, to use-value, teach self-provisioning and real independence, creating as much leisure time as possible away from the daily grind.

Fishing in the morning and talking philosophy in the afternoon doesn’t sound too bad. Except in another thread you were blaming “capitalism” for stifling innovation.

If only we had been fishing in the morning and speculating about morality and metaphysics in the afternoon, cancer would be cured by now.

Whereas if the “public good” were the goal and criteria, we’d have solved a host of maladies by now, many times over, including cancer.

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Hector_St_Clare 01.07.14 at 11:36 pm

Re: Had they actually listened to Marx and other leftist thinkers, they would have done all they could to go back to the soil, to use-value, teach self-provisioning and real independence, creating as much leisure time as possible away from the daily grind. Working enough to live, not living to work, etc

If Soviet Russia had focused on providing as much leisure time as possible away from the daily grind, they would promptly have gotten rolled over by the Nazis. (Or, twenty years earlier, by Kolchak and his boys, which would have been much less terrible, but still pretty bad). And they would never have become a modern, industrialized society with great universities, hospitals, factories, academic achievements, etc. I have no desire to defend the actual way in which Soviet Russia industrialized, in the event. We all know that they achieved rapid industrialization by turning the country into a horrific charnel house and starving the peasantry into submission. But the problem they faced was a real one, and you can’t brush it under the rug by quoting Marx.

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Plume 01.07.14 at 11:43 pm

@mattski 248,

One problem with trying to play “gotcha” all the time, especially when you use narrow, priggish, cherry picking, is that it highlights just how much passes you by.

Marx was referring to the freedom for individuals to pursue their dreams, on their own time, in their own way — and they’d have a ton of that time. If they wanted to fish and talk philosophy, cool. If they wanted to spend their day in the lab, coming up with great cures for this and that, cool. With the wide diversity of human interests, talents and abilities, his dream world would have more than enough people pursuing innovations and antidotes. But, unlike our current system, they wouldn’t have to wait to get funding, and that funding wouldn’t be allocated based upon likely profits for a few. It would be there for all of us, just for being human and a citizen of that land.

And his end goal? He assumed it would happen, if it happened at all, well into the future. Real socialism first (which he also thought would be well into the future), then, after many generations, the withering away of the state and his final dream world. And in the socialist stage, we’d finally have the “public good” as criterion, which would greatly accelerate innovation, cures for cancers, etc. etc. It might well be that the vast majority of important leg work is already done by a truly socialist future, so that with the advent of no state, we actually can fish in the morning and talk philosophy in the evening, without worrying too much about other things.

But folks could still worry if they chose to. And they could still go into the lab.

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Ed Herdman 01.07.14 at 11:45 pm

My problem with Plume’s comments here, as in that other thread (I assume you mean The Great Oil Fallacy) is that it doesn’t pay any attention to the comfortable routine chosen and reinforced by the people, because the explanation is apparently that the appearance of any vote by the people is actually an illusion based on manipulations by the owning classes. That seems not only anti-democratic but begs the question of whether technocrats would be able to identify a markedly different new way of doing things without forcing people to give up things they have taken for granted.

To be sure there is an element where I think the comfortable routine is a problem – but the style of analysis being offered here doesn’t seem to sufficiently separate the important from the phantasmagorical.

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Ed Herdman 01.07.14 at 11:47 pm

Plume: Since when is asking for some kind of visionary consistency “playing gotcha?” If anything the whole project of trying to turn everything towards an anti-capitalist discussion seems to be the very definition of playing “gotcha,” using hook phrases to turn the discussion away from anything you don’t like and towards what you think is best.

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Plume 01.07.14 at 11:55 pm

Hector,

Industrialization isn’t necessary, at all, to achieve cultural greatness. It’s not necessary before having great universities, hospitals, the arts, etc. It is necessary in order to build a war machine in the modern world. But, given the fact that Russia’s arming itself cost tens of millions of its citizens their lives, I see nothing to recommend it.

And it’s not the case that you can’t build a strong economy unless you go through a shock and awe campaign of industrialization. Russia could have been the bread basket for the world, for example, with high exports and low imports, thus enriching itself enough to build the great culture in question. By creating an environment wherein “consumption” isn’t the goal, the norm, the dream, by instead inculcating the importance of having “enough” to live instead of enough to blow a consumer’s gasket, they could have grown their culture, their economy, their society in the right way.

Work to live. Produce to order. Produce what is needed, not enough to make sure all the shelves appear overflowing with wonder — with most of that ending up unsold and thrown into landfills, as is the case with capitalism.

Use-value, not exchange-value. Russia failed because it tried to keep up with the Joneses, when it should have tried to flow with the Tao.

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Hector_St_Clare 01.07.14 at 11:58 pm

Re: Russia failed because it tried to keep up with the Joneses, when it should have tried to flow with the Tao.

This is a satire of California hipsterism, right?

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Plume 01.08.14 at 12:05 am

Ed Herdman,

Mattski has never attempted to have a good faith conversation with me here. Instead, he likes to pounce when he thinks he’s found those inconsistencies you speak of. If he really wanted to engage in adult conversation, he wouldn’t pounce. He’d ask serious questions, seek further explanations and attempt to understand his discussant.

Even Hector, who clearly doesn’t agree with me, asks questions and seeks elaboration and clarification. Mattski? He doesn’t bother, because he already knows what he knows.

But I’m used to this. Whenever someone even questions our capitalist system, it seems to really piss people off. Even supposed liberals.

Oh, well.

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Lee A. Arnold 01.08.14 at 12:05 am

Plume #247: “Had they actually listened to Marx and other leftist thinkers, they would have done all they could to go back to the soil, to use-value, teach self-provisioning and real independence, creating as much leisure time as possible away from the daily grind. Working enough to live, not living to work, etc. Instead, as Red Plenty showed this reader so well, they joined the race with us for maximum production (and purchase) of commodities and the substitution of material goods for actual freedom and liberty.”

Had the Soviets done so, would they have been listening to Marx? Many Marxists appear to believe that Marx welcomed technological advance and industry, and thought that civilization had to go through very advanced capitalism, in order to get to socialism.

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Plume 01.08.14 at 12:08 am

Hector, well, in a way. I was being flippant.

That said, I have practiced Zen Buddhism though am lapsed at present. Zen takes a lot from Taoism, which I also like.

I was basically trying to come up with a way to express back to basics, living in harmony with the environment, living “naturally” to the degree possible, instead of artificially, stoked up on marketing campaigns and too much sugar.

Again, producing enough for a decent life, not enough for a pasha. etc.

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Plume 01.08.14 at 12:11 am

Lee,

There is an ecosocialist reading of Marx that has been overlooked. That’s what I’m going after, basically. Plus it’s my own sense of what we should do, independent of Marx.

We also have the benefit of more than a century of seeing the damage industrialism has done to the planet. Marx died in 1883. I think the sight of smog over LA, etc. etc. would have changed a lot of his thinking.

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Plume 01.08.14 at 12:12 am

Meaning “more than a century” after Marx died.

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Plume 01.08.14 at 12:14 am

G’night, all.

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TGGP 01.08.14 at 12:50 am

Mao Cheng Ji:
“I have the impression that WW1 was all about colonies, dividing the world”
I don’t think I’d heard that theory before. Hitler on the other hand that he wanted Germany to be a “great” country, and since Britain & France had already gobbled up the third world as colonies (in addition to dangers of racial mixing raised by overseas colonialism) that left the east as his manifest destiny.

Phil:
“Or ‘race’ might just have been one of the frames within which just about everyone from Marx to Mill to Russell to Rosa Luxemburg saw the world”
I made a similar point about Charles Lindbergh. His thinking was indisputably racialist, but despite his fears of the Japanese race he was disgusted by the hatred toward them displayed by many of his comrades.

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Alex 01.08.14 at 12:52 am

Produce to order

I thought we needed to kill the monster Just In Time and keep huge inventory?

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Niall McAuley 01.08.14 at 12:54 am

Plume writes: Industrialization isn’t necessary, at all, to achieve cultural greatness.

Indeed, the Ancient Romans and Greeks clearly achieved cultural greatness without industrialization. Slavery is cool.

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Ed Herdman 01.08.14 at 1:26 am

@ Plume:

First off, my sincere thanks for not getting super pissed-off at my response.

I realize that issuing capitalist critique automatically puts one in a minority position, so that being more vociferous and even pushing back against arguments of irrelevance seems natural enough.

But I have also noticed that sometimes the tendency is to really pay no attention to context, and try to interject a critique of capitalism in ways that doesn’t make sense or appears opportunistic. Doing things this way doesn’t acknowledge the reality that other people are using a more traditional framework to discuss topics, and this problem is only compounded when your views seem inconsistent.

So at the very least I would hope you can find some way of accommodating others’ differing viewpoints here, especially when easy rebuttals abound (#262-263 immediately above my post are great ones).

266

LFC 01.08.14 at 1:44 am

@Mao Cheng Ji 207
States (or coalition of states) want to take control over some other states. That’s what war is.
That’s not “what war is.” Better to define war broadly, as organized lethal violence among groups (of one kind or another), and observe that it takes different forms in different times and places. Most wars today are not about states wanting “to take control over some other states.” (As for what MCJ says in the same comment about WW1 and WW2, that’s not worth responding to, imo.)

267

Watson Ladd 01.08.14 at 1:53 am

Right now Afghanistan is being crushed under the resurgent Taliban. Al-Qaeda militants are imposing Sharia law on large sections of Iraq, fascists are running Hungary, a low-level war between Russian nationalists and Islamists is consuming Chechnya, and the national prison camp of North Korea is acting up again. Forgive me for thinking that pacifism has some limitations around now.

268

LFC 01.08.14 at 2:25 am

ajay @237
the implication might be that looking at the last sixty years – with lots of crises that almost but not quite led to nuclear war – shouldn’t give you a sense of security that nuclear deterrence will inevitably mean peace

I don’t think there were lots of crises over the last sixty years that “almost but not quite led to nuclear war.” There was, of course, the Cuban missile crisis, and there may have been a couple of others that presented the possibility in the early part of the Cold War, and I’m under the impression there were one or two close-call cases of mistakes, e.g. when the U.S. thought the Soviets had launched when they hadn’t. And that’s it. More than zero, but not “a lot.”

More broadly, the they-were-lucky-until-they-weren’t theme doesn’t seem to me to be very compelling as a guide to contemp. int’l politics. But don’t have time to elaborate now.

269

dn 01.08.14 at 2:34 am

Plume sez: “Marx died in 1883. I think the sight of smog over LA, etc. etc. would have changed a lot of his thinking.”

Really? You think so? We’re talking about a guy who lived in London. The smog capital of the 19th-century world.

270

LFC 01.08.14 at 2:36 am

@Watson Ladd
Forgive me for thinking that pacifism has some limitations around now.

Since virtually no one on this thread is advocating pacifism (maybe one or two commenters, at most?), I’m not sure what the point of this remark is.

Pacifism is “opposition to the use of force under any circumstances.” It has basically no bearing whatsoever on discussion of: (1) Kristol’s column, (2) the merits or lack thereof of particular wars, (3) nuclear weapons, (4) the nature of contemporary conflicts, or on eighty/ninety percent of the other matters that have come up here.

271

MPAVictoria 01.08.14 at 2:36 am

“More than zero, but not “a lot.””

Well okay but what exactly constitutes “alot” when we are talking about world ending destruction? 3 or 4 times in sixty years is more than often enough to pucker my arse…

272

LFC 01.08.14 at 2:48 am

@MPAV
Well, yes, but I was responding — and I shd have been clearer on this — to ajay’s implicit suggestion that the absence of a nuclear war during the Cold War was mostly a matter of luck, and that nuclear deterrence often came close to breaking down. My impression is that, despite a few close calls, nuclear deterrence betw the superpowers worked pretty well. More fundamentally the US and the USSR did not want to fight a nuclear war, w the exception of a few nuts in the US and maybe on their side, b/c: (a) they knew it wd prob be suicidal and (b) they were OK for a long time w the arrangement in which the Soviets had their sphere of influence, the US and the NATO countries had theirs, and they wd compete in the 3rd world and engage in ideological blustering but the whole set-up actually suited some powerful interests on both sides, so there was little incentive to blow it up. Repubs in the US routinely criticized containment — Nixon in the ’52 campaign called it “cowardly” — but once in office they pursued it. Exception to that generalization might be Reagan, but that’s another story.

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MPAVictoria 01.08.14 at 2:58 am

@271

Ah. That makes sense, though I cannot claim to be an expert in Cold War realpolitik.

274

Plume 01.08.14 at 3:37 am

@Ed Herdman 264:

Oh, I definitely “accommodate” the views of others. If I didn’t, I couldn’t hold any discussions in places like this, because, as you noted, my viewpoint is a minority viewpoint, and one you seldom will ever find in any mainstream publication.

As for those rebuttals:

Did you mean this one, from Niall?

Indeed, the Ancient Romans and Greeks clearly achieved cultural greatness without industrialization. Slavery is cool.

A few things here. First of all, if I read it correctly, Niall is presenting an either/or when no such limit is logical. Either industrialization or slavery, if one wants to achieve cultural greatness? Who knew? Who knew we only had those two choices in the past, present or future, over the course of roughly 6000 years since the dawn of the first “higher civilization”? Especially when “industrialization” takes up just two hundred of those years, give or take. And, given the fact that capitalism itself was the first economic system in history to use both.

In fact, industrialization gave slavery in America its second wind, especially with the invention of the cotton gin. Some historians argue that without the industrial revolution, slavery would have collapsed under the weight of its internal contradictions, if not its unconscionable immorality. As in, some historians believe it was too costly and did not yield enough return for plantation owners in its later phase. King Cotton changed all of that.

As for 262, I honestly haven’t the faintest idea what the poster means.

. . . .

@dn 268,

Perhaps LA smog is a poor example. How about two hundreds years’ destruction of the rain forests, coral reefs, fish stocks, species life, ecosystems galore, the ozone layer, climate change, the melting of the ice caps, etc. etc. ? Rivers catching on fire? Trash heaped to the heavens in slums across the globe? Kids literally playing in human waste? And smog in LA.

Is it your belief that Marx, if he lived today, wouldn’t have been tremendously impacted by all of that, by the massive pollution and poisoning of our land, oceans, waterways and air? No difference between 1883 and today? Not even a cumulative effect?

. . .

G’night to all, one more time.

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Peter T 01.08.14 at 3:55 am

Maybe Kristol is channelling a regret that the wrong side won the World Wars? With all the caveats due to expediency and the usual mixtures of people and motives, a good case can be made that both wars resulted from the inability of the non-liberal powers to accommodate the industrial working class into their politics (something France, Britain and the US also had great – but not insuperable – difficulty doing). The Kaiser was fond of scribbling marginal notes along the lines of “first the French, then the Social Democrats!” on state papers (characteristically, sometimes he substituted the Russians for the French, and sometimes he reversed the order, but the social democrats were always in the frame).

The pathological madness of the Nazis and their association with the fascist right tends to obscure the degree to which they – and more obviously the Italian, French, Hungarian, Rumanian and other right-wing movements between the wars were a continuation of the pre-1914 class struggle, and that 1945 ended in a victory for social democracy. With the fruits of this victory now eroding fast, Kristol may feel it a real pity that his side had to fight so hard and for so long.

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Harold 01.08.14 at 4:27 am

Florence achieved cultural greatness because the Church considered money-lending a sin, which the bankers felt they had to expiate by sponsoring artworks and cultural activity.

277

Tim Chambers 01.08.14 at 7:29 am

My correspondence with the author following my comment.

———- Forwarded message ———-
From:
Date: Tue, Jan 7, 2014 at 4:02 AM
Subject: William Kristol – Pro Patria
To: webeditor@weeklystandard.com

Comment from: tsc@bonalibro.us

The greater poem? Without the pop tune it’s doggerel.

“The bombardment of the American fort near Baltimore produced a poem. “Defence of Fort McHenry” is far less likely to appear in anthologies of the greatest poems of the English language than “Dulce Et Decorum Est.” But the greater work of art is not always the better guide to life.”

I think you misread me–we’re in agreement that Owen’s is the greater work or art…

wk

On Jan 7, 2014, at 5:10 PM, Tim Chambers wrote:

> Dear Mr. Kristol,
>
> From Collegiate School to Harvard to Pat Moynihan’s staff, you’ve been a notable chickenhawk your entire life.
>
> I served. Don’t try and tell anyone which is the better guide to life until you’ve done your own time in battle.
>
> I did not misread your intent.
>
> Tim Chambers

Thanks for your service.

Sent from my iPhone

On Jan 8, 2014, at 4:10 PM, Tim Chambers wrote:

Such sentiments are cheap and demeaning, sir. Not to say dismissive.

If you think war is glorious, read Achilles in Vietnam, and Odysseus at Home. Or read Nick Turse’s book, Kill Everything that Moves. The men who had to follow those order have never recovered.

War is never glorious, especially when its cause is unjust and the conduct of it is criminal. We were as bad as the Nazis, who we castigated in our propagandist popular culture when you and I were young.

I am not accustomed to using Anglo Saxon language, even though, with you, I should.

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ajay 01.08.14 at 10:51 am

Would any literate person seriously argue that Hemingway (!), Solzhenitsyn, Golding, Singer, et al. are primarily known for their writings on WWII or that those works rank among their best?

Shifting the goalposts slightly there. The original question was not “did all great authors produce their best work when dealing with WW2?” It was “does WW2 compare with WW1 in cultural output?”
And you also shift the goalposts a bit more by selectively editing my list. No, Hemingway’s best novels weren’t about WW2. (Though his journalism might be a different story.) But Churchill’s best work was! Singer’s surely best known for his writing about the Holocaust and its aftermath. Gunther Grass? “The Tin Drum”. etc, etc.
(Come to that, Robert Graves’ best work wasn’t his WW1 writing. We should take him out of the list too.)

According to this, the act of 1928 resulted in universal 21-and-over suffrage in Britain. So your last sentence must refer to a lower voting age in Germany (?). (Otherwise I don’t get it.)

The voting age in Germany was indeed lower – 20, not 21. And don’t forget that the vast majority of British subjects in the 1930s didn’t live in Britain. Only seven million British subjects in India had the vote in 1933, out of a population of over 300 million. (Even post 1937 it was only about 30 million.)

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ajay 01.08.14 at 10:56 am

My impression is that, despite a few close calls, nuclear deterrence betw the superpowers worked pretty well.

True. But my point is that you could have thought something pretty similar in summer 1914. “Yes, we’ve had a few close calls, but ultimately no one really wants a general European war – it would be tremendously costly and destructive, as Norman Angell points out [hyperlink to the Great Illusion blog] and all the mechanisms of diplomacy and alliances have worked very well as designed to prevent one from happening.”

Close calls: I’d go for the Korean War, the Yom Kippur war (which got to the point of weapons actually being hung on pylons), Kargil, the Cuban missile crisis, the Mumbai attacks, the 1993 rocket, Able Archer… I suppose it’s a matter of personal taste how close something has to be to qualify as a close call, but those all qualify in my book.

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Random Lurker 01.08.14 at 11:09 am

@LFC 268

“Better to define war broadly, as organized lethal violence among groups (of one kind or another), and observe that it takes different forms in different times and places.”

I think that this is an excessively broad definition of “war”; I don’t think that, for example, mafia wars, or piracy, or terrorism, should really be counted as wars.

I think the concept of “war” implies either a conflict between two state-like entities, or a conflict to control one state-like entity (as a revolution or a civil war), or the deliberate aggression from a state-like entity.

The problem is that if you define war as “violence between groups”, the definition is so broad that almost everything falls into it, and as a consequence “war” defined as such is as old as humanity itself, but then you can say nothing interesting about the more circumscribed concept of “war” we use commonly (or, if you do, you commit a fallacy when you attribute the same arguments to the broader concept of “war”).

281

Andrew F. 01.08.14 at 11:43 am

Plume @247: No. We don’t agree. War touches so many parts of the economy. The MIC has its tentacles all over the world. And if we just talk about America — the leading exponent, protector and expander of global capitalism — the military is the biggest buyer of oil and a host of other goods and services.

I think you’re missing my point. Whether the military is the biggest buyer of product X doesn’t answer the question of whether most businesses would view war as a positive event. The loss of a huge amount of demand, pervasive uncertainty and fear, higher costs of capital, and more scarce labor, are hardly the things of which business dreams are made.

Ask yourself how the S&P500 would react if tomorrow a massive plague broke out across Europe. Or if 60% of Europe’s bridges, roads, and factories collapsed. Then imagine that instead of announcing investment programs to rebuild things that would produce revenue in the future, the government announced a spending program to destroy even more things. I’d tentatively wager that the reaction might be a little to the downside.

The tech you speak of? Again, capitalism. War provides trillions of dollars in new investment for high tech. The Internet itself is the result primarily of Defense department initiatives, side by side with University R and D.

The tech I’m thinking of is more low tech than the tech you’re thinking of. Unless you think that rifled firearms and artillery wouldn’t exist but for capitalism. Wars in the feudal period in Europe (we’d agree pre-capitalism, or no?) were much more limited in many ways, but the writing was on the wall so far as the effect of technology was concerned and the direction was set.

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Mao Cheng Ji 01.08.14 at 12:44 pm

281 “Or if 60% of Europe’s bridges, roads, and factories collapsed.”

Hmm, I suspect it would make business (in aggregate) very-very happy. Excess of capacity is what makes it sad. At least some bridges and factories will need to be rebuilt, and that’s a great opportunity, good times. In contrast: an excess of bridges and factories means recession.

283

Ronan(rf) 01.08.14 at 12:59 pm

Watson your examples arent doing your point much good. Two situations of instability exacerbated by two decade long wars. A war that Russia hasnt been able to stop decisively in how long (perhaps centuries? or at least decades in its current manifestation?) even after fighting brutally. You want to wage war against the people Hungary for electing a political party you disagree with ideologically? NK Ill give you, not for any practical reasons but why not..
So if its between pacifism as a general rule and your boneheaded militarism Ill take the former.

284

LFC 01.08.14 at 3:13 pm

@ajay 279
my list of close calls would be shorter; as you say, there is a subjective element here.

@Random Lurker 280
Disputes over definitions are perhaps not that productive, but one can have a broad definition and still make arguments that apply only to a narrower category w/in that broad definition. (In the interests of time, I’ll leave it at that.)

285

Harold 01.08.14 at 3:36 pm

ajay, Singer did not write directly about the holocaust, though it is arguably in the background. He wrote about Poland before the Holocaust, and New York after. Many people consider “Goodbye to All That” among Graves’ best work, if not his best work. Churchill?

I think I agree with you (if I understand your point) that World War I coincided with a golden age of poetry and novel writing (and readership). Whether it caused such an age is more debatable.

286

LFC 01.08.14 at 3:40 pm

p.s. @ajay
Anyway I assume you’d agree that in the — quite unlikely, IMO — event of a direct great-power ‘militarized dispute’/war in the foreseeable future, the venue would be Asia, not Europe.

287

Random Lurker 01.08.14 at 3:48 pm

@LFC
Yes sorry I wasn’t implying that you indulged on that kind of error, I only meant that I don’t like your definition as it is too broad for me.
Mao’s definition at 207 is closer to what I mean for war, though it is too strict (as it leaves out revolutions, civil wars, and other situations where one of the side is a state, but the other is not).

288

ajay 01.08.14 at 3:53 pm

Churchill?

Prominent English author and politician. Wrote quite a lot about the Second World War, both while it was going on and afterwards; won the Nobel Prize for Literature for it.

I think I agree with you (if I understand your point) that World War I coincided with a golden age of poetry and novel writing (and readership). Whether it caused such an age is more debatable.

That’s not actually my point – my point is that the cultural output of WW2 is not obviously inferior to that of WW1.

if 60% of Europe’s bridges, roads, and factories collapsed.”
Hmm, I suspect it would make business (in aggregate) very-very happy

Good news, Mr Businessman! 60% of your suppliers no longer exist. Most of the rest are now unable to function, because they can’t get to you because the bridges and roads have disappeared; or because their suppliers no longer exist. Your employees can’t drive to work for the same reason. You won’t be able to ship your goods to your customers because, see above, lots of roads and bridges have disappeared. The industrial output of your entire continent has just dropped by an unprecedented amount; you’re now in the middle of the biggest economic downturn in history.

You must be very happy…

289

Random Lurker 01.08.14 at 4:10 pm

@ajay

However, if you can wage war on someone’s else territory (say, bombing Iraq), the business class only reaps the advantages of wars.

Most people who start wars believe that they are going to win and that the war will mostly happen in their enemy’s home.

290

Mao Cheng Ji 01.08.14 at 4:41 pm

Yes, but even on your own territory destruction is good for the general business climate, for obvious reasons. Window-glass replacement company owner dreams about a hurricane.

And if the issue is something like GE losing its factories, it’s not too clear if that would be bad for them either, provided they still have their government connections. They might spring right back quickly, and more dominant than ever.

291

Plume 01.08.14 at 4:59 pm

@Andrew F 281,

Yes, we agree. Feudalism came before capitalism. Well, to refine that. Capitalism took shape along side of Feudalism and then pretty much crushed it over time and became the dominant economic system. But, I understand what you’re saying.

You’re also throwing in something here that has little place in our economics:

Logic.

Logically, peace, love and understanding would be far more beneficial overall to the economy and economies of the world. But our capitalists don’t act logically or rationally for the good of the whole. They generally act logically and rationally for their own little fiefdom, which almost always puts them at odds with the whole, their workers, consumers and the planet. If, for example, they acted logically and rationally for the whole, they’d raise the salaries of the working poor, the rank and file and lower them for the top. They would never pay themselves or their class peers hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of times more than the rank and file, because that kills demand for their own products and hurts the overall economy.

They
don’t
act
rationally — in a broad, holistic sense.

And they certainly don’t act rationally for the future, or they’d stop polluting the hell out of the planet.

If we are to actually get a grip on why people do what they do, and what that means broadly speaking, we have got to stop assuming that our leaders, the ruling class, the great capitalists, act in any way, shape or form that would appear “rational” or “logical” from the standpoint of present or future health for the planet and its inhabitants. There is zero track record of them doing so.

We need to proceed from there.

292

Bruce Wilder 01.08.14 at 4:59 pm

I really start to worry, when people start imagining that massive destruction of life and property is “good for the economy”.

I like paradox as much as the next guy, but, unless you can explicate the paradox, you are selling stupid.

293

Plume 01.08.14 at 5:11 pm

The above said, I do think that the shift away from blowing up other white guys (wars concentrated in Europe, for example) to blowing up black and brown people instead is a perverse attempt at thinking (conscious or not) beyond one’s little fiefdom. In a very sick way, it appears to be a kind of morbid realization that they (the ruling class) can’t keep destroying itself, even in the pursuit of riches and power for parts of that ruling class. If at all possible, the ruling class needs to focus on blowing up anything but the ruling class, while reaping the benefits of that creative destruction.

Oil companies polluting/destroying water systems in Africa? Well, it’s only Africa, after all. The ruling class doesn’t live there. Bombing Iraq and Afghanistan into the stone age? Again, the ruling class doesn’t live there.

Caveat for the first paragraph:

Even when European rulers were sending soldiers off to die in Europe, fighting other Europeans, they thought themselves safe. I doubt any ruling classer imagines, at the start of a war, that he or she will be endangered at some time. They no doubt feel safely removed from the carnage, even if it’s on their own continent.

Regardless, war is both irrational and rational, done to expand capitalism’s reach and to concentrate its power in fewer hands. In a broad, holistic sense, it almost always hurts the system itself. But in the heat of battle, in the little minds of capitalists and their puppets, there is the belief that they will benefit wildly from the carnage — and big parts of the system always will.

294

Bruce Wilder 01.08.14 at 5:18 pm

Plume, you jumped the shark in this manic series of posts quite a while back. You didn’t make a lot of sense to begin with, and now . . . it is just embarrassing to read.

295

Plume 01.08.14 at 5:21 pm

@Bruce Wilder 292,

The problem with your statement is that there is no such thing as “the economy.” It’s merely the sum total of acts by millions of players, primarily owners of the means of production. They often work at odds with each other, and are pretty much guaranteed to be at odds with workers, consumers and the earth. None of them works on behalf of the whole. Capitalism isn’t set up that way, despite the cheerleading from Adam Smith and his children.

So, while it is a fact that war is horrific for the earth and for all systems within it, and that it has no upside for our planet or its species. It is also a fact that capitalists can and do expand their wealth and power through war, and the system itself seems to go on regardless, primarily because governments step in, bail everyone (the owners of the means of production) out, repair, replace, spend trillions to do so. Public money for private profit. And then those same capitalists who are bailed out take full credit and condemn government for being in the way, etc. etc. Rinse and repeat. And on to the next war, funded and often promoted by public monies.

In short, war, under capitalism, has a sinecure and is fully subsidized. Why wouldn’t capitalists jump to?

296

Plume 01.08.14 at 5:23 pm

Bruce Wilder 294,

You, of course, can’t demonstrate that I’m wrong. Which is why you don’t try. Little, unfounded insults is all you have. It’s what you do best.

As the young used to say, whatever.

297

Ronan(rf) 01.08.14 at 5:28 pm

Of course business interests *at times* influence policy, and of course business interests can *at times* be enriched by war, but it has to be a good bit more complicated than ‘war is good for business.’ It might be good for some business, it might not for others, it might enrich some elites, it might not others..it might be against pretty much all elite interests,
and be driven by circumstances, public opinion, policy makers, political pressures etc.
One thing that does some to hold though is that the ‘financial industry’ generally opposses war, as a collective. Peace is good for business, as far as bankers are concerned.

298

Plume 01.08.14 at 5:30 pm

@Ajay 288,

Good news, Mr Businessman! 60% of your suppliers no longer exist. Most of the rest are now unable to function, because they can’t get to you because the bridges and roads have disappeared; or because their suppliers no longer exist. Your employees can’t drive to work for the same reason. You won’t be able to ship your goods to your customers because, see above, lots of roads and bridges have disappeared. The industrial output of your entire continent has just dropped by an unprecedented amount; you’re now in the middle of the biggest economic downturn in history.

You must be very happy…

I think their is a bit of confusion between the wants and needs of “businessmen” and the wants and needs of major capitalists who make up the ruling class.

That massive destruction obviously hurts your average Joe or Jane business owner. But those with a surfeit of capital can weather such storms, and they can swoop in, corner markets, use government money to rebuild, and consolidate their power and wealth even more. And if the destruction hits their few remaining competitors, so much the better. If, as mentioned above, this happens in the so-called “third world” as most of our recent wars are located . . . . they’re going to say, “Who cares? No shirt off my back.”

Again, there is no such thing as “the economy.” And capitalists have never done their thing to benefit the system, their workers, consumers or the planet overall. They’ve done it to make themselves rich, which capitalism is set up to do. It plods on, primarily because governments keep bailing it out, thinking there is no other alternative.

Unfortunately, liberals agree. They agree with putting filters on those cigarettes (cigarettes as capitalism), instead of getting rid of cigarettes altogether.

299

Ronan(rf) 01.08.14 at 5:30 pm

On the role of business interests in US foreign policy, a new book by Noel Maurer The Empire Trap is meant to be good – his blog is here

http://noelmaurer.typepad.com/

300

Ronan(rf) 01.08.14 at 5:34 pm

Plume – if you’re living under a specific socio-economic system then of course *everything* can on some level be reduced to being caused by that system (in this case capitalism, or what have you) For your argument to hold even at this level of generality then it has to be the case that under different systems (pre capitalists societies, communism etc) war ceases to exist. But of course it doesnt, as has been laid out consistently above

301

Plume 01.08.14 at 5:39 pm

@Ronan 297,

In both cases, war and peace, it will benefit some and hurt others. But all it takes is one strong voice, really, to influence policy and start a war.

The MIC, for instance, makes trillions whether we start the war or someone else does. America is the number one exporter of arms in the world.

Oil companies made vast amounts of money because of the invasion of Iraq, not only because prices spiked, but because they gained access to oil which Hussein had previously locked down. And while we can’t play “cry wolf” too often before the effects wear thin, even the talk of some new invasion of the Middle East causes oil prices to spike. They have a vested interest in this, obviously.

OTOH, insurance companies, logically, would hate and despise war and pretty much all catastrophes. Their liabilities skyrocket. I have no first hand knowledge of this, but I would imagine they consistently lobby against it, unless the target is beyond their markets.

Lobbyists compete, too. Obviously. And after the Powell memo, Washington DC has been overflowing with them. Corporate lobbyists overwhelm all other kinds, in war and peace.

302

Plume 01.08.14 at 5:45 pm

@Ronan 300,

See #234.

303

Ronan(rf) 01.08.14 at 5:46 pm

Plume – a spike in oil prices isn’t necessarily good for the oil industry , in the long run, as it incentivises moves to alternative sources of energy. US oil companies *did not* do particularly well post Iraq 2003. You then have to differentiate between access to oil for geopolitical reasons (as in Iraq 1, when it wasn’t driven by oil interests so much as policy makers wanting to protect system wide oil supplies, and circumstances) and when it is driven specifically by industry interests (perhaps in Iran in 53, although that was – iirc – primarily driven by British oil interests)

304

dn 01.08.14 at 5:46 pm

Plume @274 –

It may be the case that Marx would be more deeply affected by our environmental plight if he lived today, but that’s ultimately speculation and besides the point. My secondhand understanding is that Marx thought about the environment mainly as “the soil”, i.e. in direct relation to production. Obviously we need a more comprehensive foundation today, but I don’t think we’re going to find it by trying to guess what the socialist heroes of yore would have thought.

305

Plume 01.08.14 at 5:53 pm

dn 304,

Again, ecosocialists can cite chapter and verse to show Marx as an early supporter of environmentalism. And they do. Not just the soil as home to production. But a deep love of the earth and desire to protect it for reasons well beyond its ability to produce for us.

Of course, even a “cold-eyed” seemingly selfish view of the earth can make for good stewardship. If some see it only for what it can bring us, it’s still logical and rational to take extra special care to see it isn’t damaged.

As to speculation regarding what Marx would think if he were alive today? If you’ve actually bothered to read what I’ve written, that is far, far from my main concern.

306

Ronan(rf) 01.08.14 at 5:57 pm

Plume – I still think your 234 (with geunine respect) is so general to be meaningless. We have always fought because of elites, our elites are now capitalist so we fight because of capitalist elites, but there will come a time when we dont fight. b/c…..?
Anyway the idea that we always fight because of elites’ isn’t correct – even if you’re willing to have a very, very complicated definition of elites that accepts the fact that not all elites are driven by profit margins.

307

bob mcmanus 01.08.14 at 6:01 pm

292: I really start to worry, when people start imagining that massive destruction of life and property is “good for the economy”.>

Top entry on a google of “marxism overaccumulation and war”

What is a crisis of Overproduction Patrick Bond and Doug Henwood

Marxist differ from Keynesians in believing that an increase in Effective Demand cannot in itself relieve the pressures of overaccumulation. If one wonders why I personally emphasize taxes over deficit spending or printing it is because I believe the level of capital accumulated has to be reduced.

David Harvey Limits to Capital is a classic and innovative spatial approach to crisis of overaccumulation.

And I am loving Giovanni Arrighi’s last work, Adam Smith in Beijing, which is Marxist world-system stuff, and uses the Harvey above to prove China!! It was written in 2004, and I am so very sad he wasn’t around for 2008. Trying to work with Panitch & Gindin, and Arrighi, and Varoufakis. I don’t quite buy, yet, the China!! The Evil Empire struck Back.

308

Plume 01.08.14 at 6:17 pm

@Ronan 306,

Never said “all elites are driven by profit margins.” But, again, in order to start wars, promote them, keep them going, you don’t need all elites on board. In order to do so to protect, defend, expand markets, you don’t need all elites on board. You can even have elites pushing for peace.

I think, in a sense, the critique of what I’m saying as being too general and sweeping is too general and sweeping. It assumes a far more inclusive (and all or nothing) stance than I’ve ever presented. As in, “all X do this.” Or “this happens only because of X, which must mean every X possible.”

No. That’s a poor assumption, based on anything I’ve written. It’s just not there. It’s not even between the lines.

309

roy belmont 01.08.14 at 6:17 pm

“””I really start to worry, when people start imagining that massive destruction of life and property is “good for the economy””””

Lots of botanicals and no few insects will create around themselves a kind of dead zone, so their progeny get a leg up in the survivo-thon.
Some thing that people might become may do that as well.
Wars have always had this spooky benefit of removing a surplus of Phase 1 breeding males from the crowded local scene. Beneficial for the Phase 3 males anyway.
Emotional responses to the extinction of charismatic species – oh no! not the elephants! – and broad swathes of “natural” land- and seascape being reduced to petri-dish sterility, isn’t enough.
Greatest-good-for-greatest-number yada still operates after the artificial plague, the artificial war, the fake famine. Or the real, spontaneous ones.
We need a tighter definition of the culprit.
Forget mistake, look for intent and the cui bono.

310

Plume 01.08.14 at 6:18 pm

@bob mcmanus,

Thanks for the link.

311

Luke 01.08.14 at 6:22 pm

I hate to interrupt, but I feel I should mention Brian Ferguson’s work on early warfare, e.g. http://www.ncas.rutgers.edu/sites/fasn/files/Birth%20of%20War_0.pdf.

The short version is that human societies have not always been warlike, not by any stretch of the imagination. The evidence has been demonstrating this fact this for years, but it often seems to be lost amid blustering assertions that humans have been fighting wars ‘since the stone age’ (pffffff, usually late neolithic, as if that means anything).

Also: I seem to recall that one of the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition was ‘war is good for business’, and another ‘peace is good for business’. I always liked that.

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Plume 01.08.14 at 6:40 pm

A very interesting set of suggestions here.

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/five-economic-reforms-millennials-should-be-fighting-for-20140103

The hatred and invective against these ideas is illuminating. Take a look at the comments.

In a way, the comments here, at CT, by supposed liberals, aren’t that far afield when it comes to attacking alternative visions. They aren’t as crude and are sometimes even subtle. But they amount to the same thing, basically:

A defense of capitalism, and mostly through the tearing down of alternatives, not through an actual defense of what capitalist itself does. Defense through a strong offense — a deflection, IOW.

Liberals probably know they can’t really defend their chosen economic system. They, in fact, often seem to realize why it’s so immoral. But they just can’t bring themselves to follow the logic of their own critique. So, they lash out at people to their left and attempt to mock or trash alternatives.

So, just for once, please mount am honest defense of capitalism. That would mean a defense, not a deflection. Actually demonstrate why this system is legitimate and should continue. Tell us how it is the best at allocating resources in the fairest manner, while proving this via the historic record. Defend its waste, its pollution, its massive inequality.

Given the fact that capitalism has absolutely no history of allocating resources even remotely well, this ought to be quite entertaining. Given the fact that it, as a system, creates economic apartheid naturally, I can’t wait to see the liberal defense.

313

MPAVictoria 01.08.14 at 6:46 pm

“So, just for once, please mount am honest defense of capitalism.”
Asking a bit much of a comment on a blog don’t you think?

“Given the fact that capitalism has absolutely no history of allocating resources even remotely well”
Can anyone name a system that does have a history of allocating resources well? And what do we mean by well? In my opinion/perspective the mixed economies of the European Social Democracies do the best job of optimally allocating resources but I am sure some disagree.

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Plume 01.08.14 at 6:53 pm

MPAV,

My request isn’t any bigger an “ask” than the one expected of me.

As for allocation of resources, etc.

The richest 20% of the world consumes 85% of its resources. It’s even worse if you look at the percentage of control and consumption at the very top.

The richest 400 Americans hold as much wealth as the bottom 60% of the country combined. The top 1% grabs up 20-25% of all income and holds 42% of all wealth. Just the Walton heirs alone hold more wealth than the bottom 40% of the nation.

For starters.

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MPAVictoria 01.08.14 at 6:56 pm

“My request isn’t any bigger an “ask” than the one expected of me. “

Not really sure about that but okay.

“The richest 20% of the world consumes 85% of its resources. It’s even worse if you look at the percentage of control and consumption at the very top.

The richest 400 Americans hold as much wealth as the bottom 60% of the country combined. The top 1% grabs up 20-25% of all income and holds 42% of all wealth. Just the Walton heirs alone hold more wealth than the bottom 40% of the nation. “

Sure given, but my comment was about the European Social Democracies not America.

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mattski 01.08.14 at 7:13 pm

Plume,

Are you living off disability? What gives?

I have limited time & energy. I choose to poke fun at what I see as instances of egregious inconsistency in your delivery. I readily confess that your brand of phantasmagoria really pushes my buttons. Your feet are nowhere in the vicinity of the ground.

In my mind it is NOT absurd to contemplate utopian societies. But those thoughts need to be tempered by a fact-based attempt to visualize the path leading to those lovely places. If you ask me, that path probably has much more to do with self-realization and inner development and much less to do with pointing ones finger at other people for failing to live up to principles which you espouse but–in point of fact–do not demonstrate.

(Nor would I deny that there needs to be a political element on the road to utopia. That is important, but it could take many forms, and it is perhaps less important than the quest for inner development and the cultural shifts induced by such.)

317

Donald Johnson 01.08.14 at 7:21 pm

What’s the quest for inner development? I have an idea, but in my experience (well, one other occasion), the person who said we all need to be kinder to each other and ourselves was sort of snarky and sarcastic towards people who were less developed. Not that I’m any better.

I do think that Plume and others should be pushed to “visualize the path leading to those lovely places”, but actually, that applies to all of us, unless we’re satisfied with what we’ve got now. Speaking for myself, I’ve got nothing.

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Ronan(rf) 01.08.14 at 7:27 pm

Plume – ok, reading back on your (first batch) of comments apologies for simplifying your initial argument.
I take your point to be something along the lines of, and correct me if I’m wrong – War is not natural to our species or human societies (Luke mentions Fergusons work but my impression is that it has been pushed back against and is still subject to debate) but is rather the result of a small group of alphas, sociopaths and ultras of one kind or another’ who push ‘selfishness and indifference to the pain and misery of others.’ The problem with our current economic order is that it rewards these alphas, with the rest of the population having been ‘beaten .. socialized, through thousands of years. .disciplined and punished enough to accept this’ state of affairs.
So there is some ideal point in the past where society was built to a greater extent around cooperation and you want to return to that place, or recreate it, by isolating the alphas and creating structures that bring out the majorities desire for cooperation rather than conflict.
I’m not saying anything one way or the other on that, but is that the argument, more or less?

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Plume 01.08.14 at 7:28 pm

@mattski 316,

My current situation is my business, not yours, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the discussion.

As for those supposed “instances of egregious inconsistency.” I’m still waiting for you to prove that any exist. You’ve just said they do. That’s not enough.

And, again, why is it the case that visualizing a goal need always require a detailed plan to get there? Who made you king to set such a rule? That said, I have pointed out, via facts, why we need to dump our current system, and have linked to authors who have developed detailed pathways beyond it. Again, people like Gar Alperovitz, Richard Wolff, David Harvey and Noam Chomsky.

To make it easier for ya, here are few links:

http://www.garalperovitz.com/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guSdjsctrUQ
A Richard Wolff lecture

http://davidharvey.org/2011/07/free-chapter-of-the-enigma-of-capital/
Near the end of the book, Harvey lays out solutions.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oB9rp_SAp2U
Noam Chomsky on anarchism

. . .

And, above, I link to the Rolling Stone article that has the right outraged. He lists some “practical” solutions which go toward that pathway you call for.

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Plume 01.08.14 at 7:30 pm

@Ronan 318,

That’s the ticket. Yes. A very good and fair summation.

321

Bruce Wilder 01.08.14 at 7:36 pm

bob mcmanus the level of capital accumulated has to be reduced

I just don’t seem to be able to figure out what this is supposed to mean. I looked at the Patrick Bond and Doug Henwood webpage you linked to, and it is just annoying. Near as I can tell, their idea (Bond’s first paragraphs particularly) is a kind of morality play, and you have to learn a special code to understand the plot and dialogue. It’s worse than opera, and I hate opera (with some exceptions).

Doug Henwood tells me the Great Depression was a crisis of overproduction. OK, if that’s an example, I do understand a lot about the Great Depression. I would call it a crisis of the concentration of income and wealth — the distribution of income and wealth became too concentrated at the top. If that’s what we’re talking about, how does a term, like “overproduction” suggest the nature of the problem or plausible remedies?

I agree with you completely that the Keynesian analysis doesn’t help either. The analysis of aggregate demand in the General Theory seems like an attempt to sidestep the political problems posed by the struggle over the distribution of income, to suggest a technocratic intervention, that would pass over that problem in silence. It’s indicative of something that Keynes was wrong about the course of wages over the business cycle, and wrong about the marginal propensity to consume falling with general increases in national income. Krugman, today’s reincarnation of Keynes, can write stuff like this (which I ran across in this morning’s reading)

the key to understanding poverty arguments is that the main cause of persistent poverty now is high inequality of market income

Could anyone be more abstract and indirect?

If too much power and wealth is concentrated in too few hands, the economy’s performance will be harmed. But, that doesn’t suggest that we can solve problems by burning down factories; it suggests we can solve problems by transferring ownership and control and political power or re-channelling savings and economic rents and public investment.

In the aftermath of WWII, in the U.S. the income distribution was significantly compressed compared to the 1920s, and wealth was more widely distributed, investment in public goods like education and roads surged. The U.S. occupation authorities changed the distribution of wealth in Japan rather forcibly, but it was a good thing for the industrial efficiency of the zaibatsu.

In the present day U.S., the capital stock is shrinking. The wealthy are maintaining “high rates of return” by disinvesting. Jobs are disappearing because there’s insufficient capital — literally not enough tools, factories, organization, infrastructure to enable everyone to have a productive place in the economy’s shrinking productive structure. Does the “level” of capital have to be reduced still further to solve these problems?

322

mattski 01.08.14 at 7:49 pm

Donald,

What’s the quest for inner development?

Try this for example.

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Plume 01.08.14 at 7:51 pm

Bruce Wilder 321,

I would call it a crisis of the concentration of income and wealth — the distribution of income and wealth became too concentrated at the top.

I agree. Most recessions and depressions are the result of the concentration of wealth and power reaching a tipping point. It’s logical. Wealthy people simply don’t spend enough in this economy to keep it going, and are the least “efficient” generators of economic activity. The poor and the working class being the most efficient. They spend 100% of their money in this economy, now, today. The more money is uploaded to the top, the less there is for everyone else, and the overall economy drags.

Nick Hanauer does a very good job of explaining the above, here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBx2Y5HhplI

. . . .

And why does that concentration happen? Because the system is built for it to happen. It is natural to the system itself. If we do not check and balance what is natural for that system — hopefully through democratic means — then it will naturally concentrate wealth and power at the top.

The historical cycle has always been this:

The closer we go toward laissez-faire, the more concentration of wealth and power occurs. The further we go toward those checks and balances, the less concentration occurs.

As in, we have a system that requires massive amounts of vigilance, maintenance and bailouts. Logically, we should want a system that doesn’t, one that has “social justice” built in. In our current system, we constantly have to fight against this economic system’s natural tendencies and impulses — to prevent disaster.

This, to me, is insane.

324

Harold 01.08.14 at 8:04 pm

My previous comment applied to comment 172 by Jacob McM — it is a bit hard to keep track — which I basically agree with, though I think the phenomenon may not have been due to solely to the impact of the war. But really, ajay, Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize for his oratory and for his History of the English Speaking People, which was neither a war novel nor about World War 2. I read this (in high school) and recall it as more a period piece than a contribution to culture, but I suppose that is a matter of opinion. His history of WW 2 was not finished until long after the prize had been awarded.

In any case, some historians view the two wars as one big war separated by a 20-year pause.

325

Plume 01.08.14 at 8:36 pm

I’ve got a coupla responses waiting in moderation limbo. One is to mattski, the other to Bruce Wilder. Neither seem problematic to me. Unless having a few links in a post is a problem. The links are important as a response to mattski’s call for a path of sorts, and the link in the Wilder response echoes his own take.

Am heading off for the day. May check back later this evening. Thanks to all for the generally good conversation . . . and, stay warm.

326

Layman 01.08.14 at 8:39 pm

@Harold

“But really, ajay, Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize for his oratory and for his History of the English Speaking People, which was neither a war novel nor about World War 2.”

I’m not sure how you can single out just one Churchill historical work given the citation:

Prize motivation: “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values”

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1953/churchill-facts.html

327

Sherparick 01.08.14 at 8:42 pm

Just a couple of comments.

1. Wilfred Owen returned to combat after treatment for what we would PTSD and actual wounds (he was evacuated after being recovered from a shell hole in no man’s land that he shared bits of his best friend who had been blown up). It appears he returned not so much because of patriotism or belief in Great Britain’s war aims as his sense of comradeship those still in the fight, probably the warmest feeling expressed in his poetry (see “Greater Love.”) Owen was killed in an assault one week before the Great War ended.

2. Horace himself a veteran (on the losing side) the Roman Republic’s last Civil War, which in the end resulted in Augustus imposing despotism, was himself being ironic this ode.

3. Meanwhile, what unconscious irony Bill Kristol demonstrates, he who avoided service in Vietnam (like so many well off conservatives, “he had other priorities), in his constantly willingness for other to go kill and be killed for his dreams of establishing a “Pax Americana” that would surpass Rome’s “Pax Romania” (which actually when you look at the history was involved in war, at least on a low level on its frontiers, with frequent civil wars, from the late Republic to the Fall of Constantinople in 1453).

4. It is amazing how our discussion on the left so often degenerate into circular firing squads. What is unique about the Great War, as Paul Fussell discusses in “The Great War and Modern Memory” is how the application of the industrial revolution and mass armies made a difference in degree to a difference in quality and made all wars going forward highly ironic in that means and costs so far exceeded possible ends.

5. German historians of the last sixty years have been very critical Wilhelm and his Government and military and do view that they had decided in 1912 they had entered a window where their superiority vis-a-vis France and Russia was narrowing and that they had about a two year window to launch a preventative war. Again, how ironic for Mr. Preventative War Kristol to cite to the the Great War.

328

Mao Cheng Ji 01.08.14 at 9:27 pm

@320 “But, that doesn’t suggest that we can solve problems by burning down factories; it suggests we can solve problems by transferring ownership and control and political power”

Who said anything about ‘solving problems’? Andrew 281 said that businesses don’t like destruction (to be fair, he qualified it). But they might.

Here, for example:
http://theadvocate.com/news/business/4726082-123/new-orleans-stays-no-1
“Unlike most other U.S. metros, which bottomed out during the recession in 2009, the low point for the Crescent City economy came after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The massive ongoing hurricane recovery and rebuilding efforts provided a boost to the city during the national recession.”

This is rather trivial, innit?

329

Harold 01.08.14 at 9:36 pm

Thank you, Sherparick, especially for pointing out that Horace himself was being ironic (am not surprised).

Even irony, however, requires a certain amount of seriousness — which Bill Kristol totally lacks. He is playing with his readers à la Leo Strauss and doesn’t care if he misrepresents Horace or not.

I agree with the other posters that what Kristol is bemoaning is the lack of submissiveness he perceives in the public. If the public no longer trusts their leaders (of whom he fancifully aspires to be a member) perhaps it is because those leaders (real and self proclaimed) squandered the people’s trust long ago through their incessant lying and self-dealing. That is the paradox of the “mandate of heaven” theory of the elites — otherwise known as neo-conism.

330

bob mcmanus 01.08.14 at 9:37 pm

320:In the present day U.S., the capital stock is shrinking.

Excuse me while I go massively short the equity indexes. Dow under 500 yet?

Last paragraph of the piece linked at 307 (You apparently didn’t get that far. Try it again.)

The argument, simply, is that as overaccumulation begins to set in, as structural bottlenecks emerge, and as profit rates fall in the productive sectors of an economy, capitalists begin to shift their investable funds out of reinvestment in plant, equipment and labour power, and instead seek refuge in financial assets. To fulfil their new role as not only store of value but as investment outlet for overaccumulated capital, those financial assets must be increasingly capable of generating their own self-expansion, and also be protected (at least temporarily) against devaluation in the form of both financial crashes and inflation. Such emerging needs mean that financiers, who are after all competing against other profit-seeking capitalists for resources, induce a shift in the function of finance away from merely accommodating the circulation of capital through production, and increasingly towards both speculative and control functions. The speculative function attracts further flows of productive capital, and the control function expands to ensure the protection and the reproduction of financial markets. Where inflation may be a threat, the control functions of finance often result in high real interest rates and a reduction in the value of labour- power (and hence lower effective demand). Where bankruptcies threaten to spread as a result of overenthusiastic speculation, the control functions attempt to shift those costs elsewhere. In sum, what we have sketched out above is a story of how crises are generated through the logical internal functioning of modern market economies, whether in national or global settings. A good amount of the world’s systematic unevenness and inequality–not to mention its various geopolitical tensions– follows directly from the ebb and flow of capital, both geographically and from productive to financial circuits.

I suspect you are being deliberately obtuse and tendentious, but if not, I can’t teach you economics (classical, Marxist, neo-Kaleckian, or Schumpeterian) in a blog comment section. The Varoufakis Modern Political Economics is a decent if challenging introduction to Marxian thought, and there is always the encyclopedia at Marxist.org. Also highly recommended is Competing Economic Theories by Resnick and Wolff.

331

Harold 01.08.14 at 9:39 pm

It’s not even hypocrisy paying tribute to virtue, it’s all just jive.

332

Bruce Wilder 01.08.14 at 10:59 pm

bob mcmanus @ 328

I don’t think I am being obtuse or tendentious at all. I’d just like analysis to make some sort of mechanical or logical sense and to refer to things I can observe. If I pretend I’m in a Far Side cartoon as a dog, and only listen to the parts that make some sort of sense, I can filter out a fairly persuasive narrative. (Reading the paragraph you quoted) I certainly think that U.S. economy is suffering from an excess of finance and financial assets funded from disinvestment, rent-extraction, predation, etc. There’s not much you can do with money wealth, but sell insurance, and no better way to sell insurance at a premium than frighten people and make them desperate. But, that’s a story of usury, not “overproduction”. Where’s this excess production? What is meant by “bottleneck” in that paragraph?

My problem is that the mechanics are not there as mechanics.

Capital accumulation refers to the generation of wealth in the form of “capital.” It is capital because it is employed by capitalists not to produce with specific social uses in mind, but instead to produce commodities for the purpose of exchange, for profit, and hence for the self-expansion of capital. Such an emphasis by individual capitalists on continually expanding the “exchange-value” of output, with secondary concern for the social and physical limits of expansion (size of the market, environmental, political and labour problems, etc.), gives rise to enormous contradictions. These are built into the very laws of motion of the system.

This is the lead, the definition of terms, for christ’s sake, and it’s gibberish held together by the glue of glib moral judgments.

333

bob mcmanus 01.08.14 at 11:35 pm

330:and it’s gibberish held together by the glue of glib moral judgments.

It’s a specialized language you don’t understand, and there isn’t a single moral judgement there.

For instance, the “social and physical limits” are objective and material, such that disregarding them will inevitably lead to contradiction and crisis. And the last sentence even says that capitalists have little choice but to follow the laws of motion.

Terry Eagleton wrote an introductory book.

334

Plume 01.09.14 at 1:14 am

Well, it looks like my two posts are still being held up in moderation limbo, and ooooh the loss to the board! Matchless, deathless prose and profound ideas, too.

;>)

Bob McManus, 331

The paragraph cited seems unassailable to me. A concise statement of capitalist mechanics and the limits of that particular system.

All systems have limits, of course. Apparently, all too many Americans believe capitalism doesn’t. It stands alone and above all of that, supposedly, having worked everything out with its invisible hand. It’s always some other reason for our endless crises — the routine repetition of which didn’t occur under previous economic systems. It just couldn’t be the system itself!!!

Eagleton’s intro. Is that Why Marx was Right? Own it, read it. It’s quite good. My only quibble is that I wish Eagleton did more citations throughout the book. That would help arm those of us who wish to debunk false things said about old Karl and his progeny.

335

Seth 01.09.14 at 4:44 am

john c. halasz @27:

“It’s the bicentennial of the defeat of Napoleon as well, after which Europe sank into a hundred year long era of peace, darkness, degeneracy and decline…”

So Kristol is hoping that “Our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is over“?

336

TGGP 01.09.14 at 5:25 am

“a good case can be made that both wars resulted from the inability of the non-liberal powers to accommodate the industrial working class into their politics”
I’d like to hear that case, since I have not heard a detailed version of it. My view of the world wars is implicitly more “realist” (in the international relations sense), since there was a radical change in regime types after the first, yet war nevertheless recurred.

337

Peter T 01.09.14 at 6:02 am

TGGP

Two good books: on the broader thesis, see eg Sandra Halperin War and Social Change in Modern Europe. For a good study of how this worked in the case of Germany, see V R Berghahn Germany and the Approach of War in 1914. It’s true that regime types changed radically after the war, but the social base of the successor regimes across a broad swath of Europe was much the same. Hence they faced the same social problem. And, as in the breakdown of the European religious consensus in the 1500s, national and international issues were so closely entwined that any analysis that makes a sharp distinction between the two does not really get very far.

338

Harold 01.09.14 at 7:29 am

I don’t know about Kristol but his mentor Leo Strauss definitely seems to have been among those who felt the wrong side won WW1. Academics had it pretty good under the Kaiser.

339

LFC 01.09.14 at 2:31 pm

@B Wilder 330
“it’s gibberish”
It may be wrong/irrelevant/misguided/whatever and it could be more clearly stated, but it’s not really gibberish. It’s pretty much boilerplate Marx out of e.g. Capital vol.1., istm.

340

LFC 01.09.14 at 3:18 pm

@Peter T 335
national and international issues were so closely entwined that any analysis that makes a sharp distinction between the two does not really get very far.

Yes. For example Mearsheimer’s argument that one can explain Germany’s going to war in 1914 without much (or any) reference to its domestic politics is very unconvincing. If the working class had had more political power in Wilhelmine Germany, the Weltpolitik/big navy/high tariffs program would have been more contested. But that alternative may well presuppose a different kind of regime and different structural conditions (e.g., earlier industrialization, less cartelized industry: cf. that J. Snyder quote that we had some discussion of on my blog several months ago).

I did say upthread that I wasn’t going to get into WW1. So much for that resolve.

341

Bruce Wilder 01.09.14 at 5:58 pm

TGGP & Peter T

Glance at a map of 2014 eastern Europe and the Brest-Litovsk line is easy to see in the current borders. The fracture points haven’t changed that much.

342

Plume 01.09.14 at 6:03 pm

Looks like my posts made it out of moderation.

Mattski, a response for you @319

343

Bruce Wilder 01.09.14 at 6:06 pm

LFC: it’s not really gibberish. It’s pretty much boilerplate Marx

!

344

LFC 01.09.14 at 6:15 pm

@343
I guess is this is the cryptic telegram hour on CT

345

LFC 01.09.14 at 6:16 pm

correction:
“I guess this is”

346

Plume 01.09.14 at 6:25 pm

Bruce Wilder 343,

“Basic” Marxian analysis would be more like it. And basic, when it comes to Marxian thought, is head and shoulders above pretty much any other economic analysis currently. In rigor, depth, logic, etc. No other “school” tackles the internal contradictions of capitalism like Marxian analysis. None comes close to its accuracy.

If for no other reason than it doesn’t feel the need to cheer lead, excuse, obfuscate for, deflect. And there are many reasons beyond that to look for its take on things.

Analogy: An NFL scandal breaks out. We hear reports from people in the league office, and we hear from excellent reporters with no ties whatsoever to that office, or to any team in the league, or to any source of revenue coming from that league or its teams. Those independent reporters also cover other sports and other topics beyond sports. No axe to grind, or golden goose to kill, etc.

The latter is what you get from the Marxians.

P.S. Personally, I think Marx might have admired capitalism a bit more than it deserved. To me, there is nothing to admire at all about it. No reason to be even ambivalent, which Marx was, though he leaned toward scorching critique. Many of his intellectual descendents don’t seem to have that ambivalence, which is a good thing. And they see where Marx got things wrong, like his belief that primitive accumulation all but ended once capitalism finally took command. It didn’t. It was and still is ongoing, especially in so-called third world countries.

347

Hector_St_Clare 01.09.14 at 6:38 pm

Re: P.S. Personally, I think Marx might have admired capitalism a bit more than it deserved. To me, there is nothing to admire at all about it

Seriously?

I agree that Marx admired capitalism a bit more than it deserved, but there’s certainly plenty to admire about it. For its capacity to generate innovation and economic growth, for its catalyzing industrialization and rises in standards of living, and for its destruction of backward traditional societies in much of Asia and Africa. Capitalism helps to lay the ground on which socialism is supposed to build. (I agree with the 20th century communists that it’s possible to bypass capitalism through state-guided or cooperative-led industrialization, for what it’s worth, but capitalism certainly accomplished some good things for the world, even if socialism could have done it better).

348

Ed Herdman 01.09.14 at 6:39 pm

I like how you go from “no axe to grind” to “Marx might have admired capitalism a bit more than it deserved.”

349

LFC 01.09.14 at 6:50 pm

@plume
“boilerplate” was my word, and in this context it means the same as “basic” (though the words may have slightly different overtones).

I still don’t know what BW’s exclamation mark at 343 means.

350

Plume 01.09.14 at 6:51 pm

@Hector 347,

I think it’s clear that capitalism actually retards innovation and “growth” beyond growth for the top of the pyramid. Capitalism sets up a dynamic wherein investment is allocated on the basis of potential profit, not on the basis of the public good. That delays or destroys innovation. And with its tendency to create monopoly and cartels, the big companies often swallow up the smaller, more “innovative” businesses, building up even more layers between profit and public good.

The vast majority of innovations in the last two centuries, in fact, came about because of public sector investment and R and D, not via capitalism. There is, in fact, no major tech development in the past two centuries that got its start without public funding and/or R and D.

The computer, GPS, satellite tech, the Internet, touch screens, etc. etc. all were public sector inventions. And in the medical sector? NIH and its peers around the world have come up with the vast majority of medical discoveries, innovations and even pharma. But in the American system, we, criminally, turn over public sector patents, discoveries and research to the private sector for their profits and our loss. The human genome project, for instance, was entirely the brainchild of the public sector, but already private companies have stepped in and are trying to actually patent human biology.

If they get their way, we may have to pay royalties to procreate. etc.

In short, people tend to give sole credit to capitalism and forget all about the public sector without which is would be dead in the water.

351

LFC 01.09.14 at 6:55 pm

@Hector St Clare
“for its destruction of backward [sic] traditional societies”

I guess this is not only the encrypted-telegram hour, but the let’s-revive-1950s-modernization-theory hour.

352

Plume 01.09.14 at 6:56 pm

LFC,

Point taken.

I guess I’m too used to it being used in a political manner, as a way to completely dismiss one’s opponent in a political discussion:

“Your defense of food stamp cuts was pure Republican boilerplate.”

etc.

I use it in that way when it seems apt.

353

LFC 01.09.14 at 6:59 pm

Plume @350
actually, talking about ‘public-private partnerships’ is all the rage these days, isn’t it?

Also, don’t forget there are diff. varieties of capitalism in the contemp. world. There’s a whole scholarly literature on that.

354

Plume 01.09.14 at 7:03 pm

I missed that part about Africa and Asia.

Yes, that’s what Perelman and others talk about when they discuss primitive accumulation and how Marx was wrong to say it had run its course.

Capitalists destroyed traditional societies. Definitely. But we have no right to call them backwards. That terminology was used to excuse disgusting, deeply immoral practices such as slavery and near slavery. See Vargas Llosa’s Dream of the Celt, about Roger Casement and his attempts to fight the obscenely brutal destruction of native peoples in Africa and South America — for profit. In this case, primarily by the rubber (and robber) barons.

Or, of course, non-fiction books, essays and studies of that subject.

355

William Timberman 01.09.14 at 7:09 pm

To Marx, or not to Marx. Even in 2014, not a silly or irrelevant question, I think. Issues that set off fireworks between bob mcmanus and Bruce Wilder are in any event worth careful scrutiny.

My quandary is this: it’s easy to see in the displacement of an Andrew Carnegie or Henry Ford by a Jamie Dimon or Sheldon Adelson in the high pulpit of capitalism the disinvestment that Bruce Wilder complains about; what isn’t so easy to see is why that has nothing at all to do with a crisis of overproduction, or at least a crisis of over-investment in the wrong things — commercial real estate instead of smart electric grids, hideously expensive and only marginally useful defense and homeland security crap instead of education, health care, or material recycling, etc. Isn’t it a bit more than a coincidence that casino capitalism, or the refined wonkery of international capital flows, if you will, has coincided with increasingly uncertain (i.e. low) returns on capital investment in the production of basic commodities, or even very refined commodities with very long supply chains, like, for example, server farms or photovoltaic installations? If you can make more money with less risk trading derivatives than you can building new iPad production facilities, even in China, doesn’t it make at least a twisted kind of sense to prefer a career as Jamie Dimon to one as Steve Jobs or Bill Gates? (Of course, there’s the alternative of the Walmart family and Jeff Bezos, who are a bit more reminiscent of Andrew Carnegie, but only insofar as they’re geniuses at exploiting domestic labor.)

In short, I don’t see the contradiction between bob and Bruce here that I’m apprently supposed to be seeing. Would anybody care to take pity on me and explain? Bruce, bob?

356

Hector_St_Clare 01.09.14 at 7:11 pm

Re: I think it’s clear that capitalism actually retards innovation and “growth” beyond growth for the top of the pyramid. Capitalism sets up a dynamic wherein investment is allocated on the basis of potential profit, not on the basis of the public good

I’m not saying capitalism is more innovative than socialism, Plume. I’m saying it’s more innovative than feudalism. (Some feudalist societies were, actually, probably less *oppressive* than capitalism, e.g. in Latin America. I’m not arguing capitalism is *better* than feudalism. I’m saying that it is more innovative, and more productive, and that the increased innovation and productivity were things Marx admired. They came at a big human cost, of course, the same way that socialist industrialization in Russia exacted a big human cost).

You’re failing to get this because of what you mention up thread, that you don’t see why industrialization is a good thing. And then you go on to talk about cancer drugs. Which society do you think had a better chance of making progress on the oncological front? Socialist Russia, or socialist Tanzania? How about semi-industrialized socialist Cuba, compared to socialist Tanzania?

Without industrialization, socialism just amounts to evenly distributing misery.

357

Hector_St_Clare 01.09.14 at 7:14 pm

Evenly distributed misery is, of course, still better than unequally distributed misery. Because Rawls, sermon on the mount, etc.. But I think industrialized socialism is still a whole lot better than preindustrial socialism.

358

Plume 01.09.14 at 7:15 pm

@LFC 353,

Different forms, same obscene mechanics and core.

There is no way around the fact that it rests on a permanent conflict between worker and owner, between owner and consumer, and between owner and the health of the planet.

An owner’s profit is directly tied to getting the most out of his or her workers for the least amount of cost. He or she makes more when they pay workers less. He or she makes more when they reduce costs for production in other ways, too, which means they have an incentive to make low quality products and lie about it. He or she makes more when they produce products that must be replaced, often. And they make more when they can offload (externalize) costs onto the public sector — wage subsidies, pollution clean up, waste disposal, retirement support, R and D, infrastructure, etc. etc.

I see the entire thing as monstrous, and I am baffled that anyone outside the 1% would even remotely defend it. It is set up to maximize wealth and power at the very top, among a tiny fraction of the population, and maximizing that wealth and power requires stripping everyone else of their share of production. As in, math. As in, math tells us they can not accumulate capital without subtracting it from others. The more they seek, the greater the subtraction. There is no other way around it. Not to mention no other economic system in the history of the world produces even a fraction of its waste or pollution, and no other economic system in world history has actually depended on endless growth to survive.

It is a ecological train wreck, speeding down the track, taking us to our destruction.

359

Plume 01.09.14 at 7:19 pm

Hector 355,

I guess it depends upon what you mean by “industrialization.”

I’m seeing smog, towering smoke stacks, miserable working conditions, filth, deadly low wages, poorhouses, child labor, Dickens, etc. I’m seeing that old commercial with the Native American and the tear in his eye.

Are you seeing Google instead? Working conditions there?

Can you define what you mean by “industrialization”?

360

William Timberman 01.09.14 at 7:21 pm

To the watchers: I too now have a comment stuck in moderation. Although the thread may be nearing an end, it’d be nice to get it pried loose while it’s still somewhere in the vicinity of the other comments that prompted it….

361

Bruce Wilder 01.09.14 at 7:40 pm

bianca steele @ 197 What do you suppose France might have done? Waited for state collapse and invasion by England, the Netherlands, or Prussia?

I think that’s what did happen. I was suggesting that there might have been practical alternatives, if the revolutionaries had had some capacity to enact a practical program of reforms, in addition to declaring the Rights of Man and the Citizen. Which is not to denigrate the latter, which was wonderful and important.

362

William Timberman 01.09.14 at 7:49 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 361

Well, they can’t say that Burke didn’t warn them. Revolutionaries do tend to get ahead of themselves, or at least ahead of the rest of us. It’s part of their charm, but as you so often point out, not at all part of the competence that, in a better world, we might have a right to expect of them.

363

Andrew F. 01.09.14 at 7:56 pm

Plume, you sometimes write as though war were a collective decision by the elites to engage in a military exercise for the sake of profit and power.

Would you agree that all classes of France and Britain would have preferred that Germany not have invaded? That a war, of any sort, was not preferable by France and Britain?

If so, would you agree that decisions to go to war are sometimes made for reasons other than enriching the wealthiest at the expense of everyone else?

364

MPAVictoria 01.09.14 at 7:56 pm

Yikes this thread has gone to some weird places.

I for one like living in a developed 21st century country. I like having access to advanced health care, clean water, plentiful inexpensive food, amazing travel opportunities, endless entertainment/educational opportunities, functioning legal system, protective services like fire/police/ambulances etc., etc.

I have no urge to go and make my living as a medieval peasant, scratching in the dirt and one bad harvest away from starving to death.

Now can we do better than we are? Of course! Let us look to the Scandinavian social democracies and build from there.

365

Plume 01.09.14 at 7:57 pm

@Bruce Wilder 360,

Can you post a list of what those practical reforms might be? What would you have suggested then? And now?

366

Bruce Wilder 01.09.14 at 7:59 pm

Plume @ 323: we have a system that requires massive amounts of vigilance, maintenance and bailouts. Logically, we should want a system that doesn’t, one that has “social justice” built in. In our current system, we constantly have to fight against this economic system’s natural tendencies and impulses — to prevent disaster. This, to me, is insane.

So, do you have any idea how to build “social justice” into a system, any system? Because it is not simple to achieve anything like “social justice” even for a moment, let alone “build it into The System”. What do you even imagine constitutes a social system, other than mortal, fallible people that we could have such automaticity, such magic?

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guardians? It is the age-old problem of government. A conundrum.

You haven’t begun to think about it.

367

Plume 01.09.14 at 8:07 pm

@Andrew F 362,

Clearly, the main reason for war throughout history has been to enrich elites. Hopefully, you understand that I’m talking about those who initiate wars, and not those who must defend themselves from attack.

I never even remotely implied that defense against attack was done to enrich elites, though it may, in fact, be a side benefit down the road. When a nation is under direct threat, I don’t see a gathering of elites happening, with cigar-chomping men in backrooms, trying to figure out how they can make a ton of money and gain more power by rushing out to stop the invading hordes.

I would have thought all of that was a given throughout this thread.

368

Plume 01.09.14 at 8:19 pm

@Bruce Wilder 365,

I see you ran from offering your own set of practical reforms, which you’ve demanded from others.

Hmmm.

As for not even beginning to think about. Well, I have. I’ve thought about it in detail, and have come up with my own system, which has some similarities to Parecon, but is quite different in other ways.

To begin with, the capitalist system puts power into the hands of the few, over the many. Again, there is no way around this. First off, businesses themselves, if privately held, will start out as ownership by a tiny minority over the vast majority. Most people do not choose to start or run a business. They have other goals and dreams. And within that subset of business owners, the system itself will select for triumph and defeat, thus narrowing ownership (along with wealth and power) even more. The growth of the population, meanwhile, increases, while viable ownership at the top decreases as a percentage of the whole. Thus is the nature of “competition” within the capitalist system. And, as mentioned already, ownership makes more as workers make less, thus increasing that gap of wealth and power again and again through time.

So, we can never have “social justice” as long as we have private ownership of the means of production. The only way to make it even possible is to transfer ownership to the people and start fresh with new production commonly held. And by that I don’t mean representatives of the people, a political party, a junta, a group of any kind. I mean, literally everyone. All production would be held in common.

To prevent an overlong post, will end this as Part One and continue the explication of this new society later.

369

Plume 01.09.14 at 8:49 pm

Quick preview and caveat for Part Two:

Asking for “reforms” from “revolutionaries” doesn’t really make sense. Reforms mean tweaking the existing system. Revolutionaries generally want to replace the system in question entirely.

My proposal exists in that context. It’s not capitalism, at all, anymore. Not remotely. None of the same rules apply. At all. Money is gone. Profit is gone. The markets and market relationships are gone — except when other nations are involved, which we try to keep to a minimum, as far as trade goes. Since not everyone would embrace the new system, we would have to still work with other nations. I use a router with NAT as an analogy there. Within our own network, we use one set of protocols, which no one else uses. To communicate and trade with other nations, we use the router as gateway.

Again, more later . . .

370

bianca steele 01.09.14 at 8:54 pm

You really think these problems– France needed a legal code and rational administration of justice. France needed a modern relationship with its Catholic faith and the Catholic Church. These problems were recognized universally by the time Louis XVI called the états généraux.–were not addressed by the Revolution, and that their “idealism” is what prevented them from fixing them? (I’m assuming you’re not including under “idealism” people who thought Paris needed bread and France needed rational administration, or Napoleon’s voluntaristic strong-arm-ism, because this would not make sense.)

What you’ve said so far was compatible with the idea that the only possibility that would make sense in 1789 would be for the members of the Estates General to quietly work for reform without disrupting the system; and the idea that nobody had any ideas before the revolution but “let’s declare Rights of Man” and “let’s overthrow the monarchy,” which IIRC is not the case. Rather there were ideas building up that nobody in power could act on. Those people were presumably “idealists” to, to the extent they were writing and not acting.

371

bianca steele 01.09.14 at 9:00 pm

That should have been addressed “Bruce Wilder @ 360″.

372

bob mcmanus 01.09.14 at 9:00 pm

Meta, on housestyle

I was just about to paste a couple thousand words from Giovanni Arrighi in Adam Smith in Beijing discussing William McNeill, The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000 (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1982) basically on “military Keynesianism” through the ages. I though it relevant and on point to at least part of the thread.

Argument from authority?

Well, sorry I don’t quite yet have my own unique complete comprehensive analysis of Everything and the benign solutions to all problems including institutional structures along with the painless and victimless process of getting to Utopia. Still got work to on that. Awaiting Plume’s breathlessly.

But you know, I hesitated on pasting the Arrighi/McNeil because this place as Henry said is all abouts original insights and argument and anyway since Professor Arrighi in his book quotes constantly so much Harvey and McNeil and Brenner how good can he be anyway? How good can any of these authors and thinkers be with all their cites and quotes and references and footnotes? Jeez, can’t they think for themselves like the Crooked Timber geniuses?

Y’all are just way too good for me. Wilder demolished Marx and two centuries of Marxian academics with an exclamation mark. I am rendered speechless.

373

Bruce Wilder 01.09.14 at 9:13 pm

Plume: Can you post a list of what those practical reforms might be?

In relation to the problems facing the French Revolution, I did enumerate, in my comment @ 193, some of the problem areas, and the corresponding resolutions put in place by Napoleon, when he brought the Revolution to a close.

374

Bruce Wilder 01.09.14 at 9:17 pm

bob mcmanus: Wilder demolished Marx and two centuries of Marxian academics with an exclamation mark.

When you are good, you’re good. What can I say? ;-)

(Not quite two centuries, yet, I think, and it’s a bit of an overripe target, unfortunately.)

375

Plume 01.09.14 at 9:36 pm

Bruce Wilder 372.

You and others have faulted me for being too “general.” I just now reread your 193 and your “reforms” seem nothing but general and generally stated. Beyond that, I asked for your reforms, not Napoleon’s. You asked for mine. What would you have done then? But, more importantly, at least to me, what would you do now? Again, yours. Not someone else’s.

Something I’ve noticed in many forums. People like to sit on the sidelines and take pot shots at others. I imagine it makes them feel “cool.” But these same people tend to never risk detailing their own positions, while they demand that from others — those who risk mockery by actually putting forth their opinions. Not saying this is precisely what you’re doing, Bruce, but it’s not too far afield.

I’m fine with risking that mockery. Whatever. But I grow tired of people taking pot shots while sitting safely in their bunkers, never putting forth a single idea themselves.

Being a sniper is much easier than being a philosopher, whether dime store, dollar store, big box store or serious public intellectual. I make no claims to the last of those listed, and my ideas may well be of the dime store variety, or worse. But at least I make the attempt.

Heading off now. Will come back to post Part Two. I don’t want to keep Bob “breathless” too long. That wouldn’t be right.

;>)

376

Niall McAuley 01.09.14 at 9:45 pm

Plume: here’s my idea. Do nothing. No revolution. Put up with the current system, and work to have wealth and inheritance taxes level the field a bit within it.

Your turn.

377

LFC 01.09.14 at 10:28 pm

bob mcmanus:
this place as Henry said is all about original insights and argument
Henry said it’s about argument, but I don’t recall that he made any reference to “original insights.”

The real question, esp at this pt in the thread, is: is anyone going to read a 2,000-word-long excerpt of Arrighi quoting McNeill? Is anyone going to read a 2000-word post, period, at this point?

378

Bruce Wilder 01.09.14 at 10:42 pm

bianca steele @ 369

Honestly, I don’t know how to account for your reading of my remarks. You are finding views I don’t have.

bs: the only possibility that would make sense in 1789 would be for the members of the Estates General to quietly work for reform without disrupting the system

I don’t know how you got that out of what I said. It is not what I think.

There was nothing to reform in 1789 France. The old regime had collapsed, in many parts.

bs: I’m assuming you’re not including under “idealism” people who thought Paris needed bread

I’m including the great many people, including majorities in the National Assembly subscribing to the consensus of Enlightened Opinion, who thought that the people of Paris would be best served bread by removing all controls on the grain trade and prices. The laissez faire of Turgot et alia was an idea “building up” as you put it, long before the Revolution. It had gotten nodding approval from the philosophes in the previous generation, and it was “rational” — definitely a kind of idealism. A corporatist attempt to administer a system to marshal grain and of public rationing would have made more practical sense, imo, in a time of continuing famine or near-famine. That the sansculottes were deeply afraid of starving, and for good reason, was an important dynamic, interacting with the idealism of the lawyers (aka bourgeois revolutionaries) in the Assembly, whose idealism seemed to require a practical indifference to their fate. In the event, the Law of the Maximum and similar were poorly thought out and often less than effective programs, and enacted only under threat of bodily harm.

I’m an economist, and so I notice the problem of a currency and payments system, which troubled the economy of Revolutionary France. The ancien regime did not borrow in its own currency, as the MMT folks would say, because the ancien regime did not have its own currency or central bank; in a sense, that’s among the reasons (not the only reason) the government of Louis XVI could find itself near bankruptcy, unable to pay its bills and facing high rates of interest. The Revolutionaries invented assignats, but it was very badly done, and inflation would be terrible. They also discovered plunder, and the need for coins drove some early adventures in Italy.

Again, the idealism of Enlightened thinking shaped and limited monetary policy. There were the usual of hard money types, who feared the establishment of the Central Bank, for example, and the stories of Law and the Mississippi Bubble early in the reign of Louis XV formed a kind of instructive mythology, unfortunately the wrong instruction.

I could go on about the problems in the administration of justice. A plurality if not most of the revolutionaries in the Assembly and the Convention were lawyers. Ancien regime France was lousy with lawyers trying to navigate the medieval system of Parlements and feudal courts, where the grants of particular rights in charters, etc. governed everything — it was a nightmare rooted in the lack of a uniform law code, based on rational principles. The Code Napoleon would eventually resolve the problem, and brilliantly, but it took Napoleon to do it.

The story of the Revolution and the Catholic faith in France is among the most horrific sequences. I won’t repeat the story.

The job of a Revolution is to bring a revolution to an end, by creating new, and hopefully better institutions. The French Revolution wasn’t good enough at this job, and, consequently, deliberative and democratic institutions were a long time getting firmly established in France, though, eventually, with the Third Republic they managed.

It is easy to say, we are going to have a revolution and simply abolish “the system” — we won’t have money and its evils, or religion and its evils, or hierarchy and its evils, and don’t ask what we will have, because it will just be better, so shut up. Observing such ease, and looking upon historical examples of its consequences in action, is not an argument against revolution; it is an argument against immoderate and empty-headed revolutionaries.

379

Anderson 01.09.14 at 10:43 pm

Yep, Nietzsche was right: the French Revolution *has* disappeared under its interpretations.

380

William Timberman 01.09.14 at 11:37 pm

Thanks to the moderators for freeing my comment, now debuting at number 355. Since we’re now at 379 by my count, maybe it isn’t worth the backtrack, but thanks anyway.

381

Ronan(rf) 01.09.14 at 11:56 pm

I like all that ‘let me sum up the history of the world in 400 pages with coherency’ Marxism.Though if I was looking for someone to help me change a tyre I wouldnt get a Marxist. I would get Bruce Wilder. (Or a mechanic)

382

William Timberman 01.10.14 at 12:40 am

Bruce Wilder is a mechanic; one with a very old soul and a very young mind. More like him, please….

383

bianca steele 01.10.14 at 12:50 am

@378
You could have spared yourself the embarrassment of having someone ask you, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think you mean this, could you tell me whether you do,” by answering my question “what do you mean” the first time.

384

mattski 01.10.14 at 2:51 am

Plume,

Thanks for responding. I will have more in the next 24 hrs or so. You’re a gamer, I respect and admire that. As is probably pretty clear I’m closely aligned with Bruce Wilder in this thread.

Oh! I have one little thought experiment before crashing for the night:

Three schooners are set to sail across the Atlantic. On the first the crew shall be made up entirely of professional sailors, with a duly credentialed captain. On the second the crew shall be made up entirely of social democrats, “liberals” if you will. On the third the crew shall be composed entirely of bob mcmanus clones- that is to say, doctrinaire Leftists reeking of disdain for hierarchy.

What odds do you give each ship of reaching the other shore?

385

Bruce Wilder 01.10.14 at 3:12 am

Never mind reaching shore — the greater cause for puzzlement would be something along the lines of who is really likely to share the good liquor?

386

Bruce Wilder 01.10.14 at 3:18 am

bianca steele @ 383

I’m sorry, but I honestly did not understand

at what points in the narrative you describe does idealism come into play? In the decision to take power away from a single authoritarian ruler (it isn’t clear whether Napoleon is counting as an idealist in your argument, either)? In the wish for a rationalized relationship between the state and religion? Just in the idea of “revolution”?

and that confusion about where you were coming from carried down further in the thread.

387

Plume 01.10.14 at 3:29 am

@Mattski 384,

Sounds good. I’ll wait, then, for your post before adding Part Two of my system. An egalitarian system, nearly all worked out, complete with Constitution, participatory democracy, reps via lottery, public service terms for everyone (similar to the idea of the Peace Corps), no taxes, no debt, no borrowing. We produce to order, and just what we need to live. All farming is organic, sustainable. All energy and transport green and sustainable. Again, will wait for your posts first.

As for your thought experiment. Logically, the group of professional sailors would seem to have the best chance. But the last two groups, well, it depends. It would be a mistake to assume, as Bruce seems to, that people who envision a better world don’t know how to tie knots and such. It’s a stereotype and pretty far out of date. I was a Boy Scout, a camp counselor, certified in life-saving, know how to sail, etc . . . did carpentry and mason work, worked in warehouses, boxed and was a bouncer when young. A lot of the leftists I know also can handle themselves very well in rough circumstances.

Methinks Bruce may be guilty of projection. Your thought experiment suggests at least a wee bit of that as well.

Until mañana, then . . .

388

LFC 01.10.14 at 5:32 am

My view on Marx (fwiw) is that even if one doesn’t esp. like his economics (and I am far from competent to judge or pronounce on a lot of the intricacies there), much of his work (e.g. the Eighteenth Brumaire, the Communist Manifesto, and Capital v.1 to name three) has lasting importance as literature, social theory, polemic, critique of 19th-cent. pol. economy, and historical sociology. So while I might be in the social-democratic rather than the Mcmanus boat, I’m definitely not in the Bruce Wilder dismiss-Marx-with-an-exclamation-mark boat. (Btw @385, Scotch on the rocks pls. Thks.)

389

mclaren 01.10.14 at 6:48 am

He’s channeling Rupert Brooke:

Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour
And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping,
With hand made sure, clear eye, and sharpened power,
To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping,
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary,
Leave the sick hearts that honour could not move,
And half-men, and their dirty songs and dreary,
And all the little emptiness of love!

390

Random Lurker 01.10.14 at 11:33 am

@Hector
Hey Hector when you’re not speaking of feminism I like your point of view a lot.

Regarding capitalism and the war (WW1):
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1916), Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism – reduced in soundbites by RL!!!

The enormous growth of industry and the remarkably rapid concentration of production in ever-larger enterprises are one of the most characteristic features of capitalism.
[...]
Competition becomes transformed into monopoly. The result is immense progress in the socialisation of production.[...]Production becomes social, but appropriation remains private.
[...]
the concentration of capital and the growth of bank turnover are radically changing the significance of the banks.
[...]
the result is that the industrial capitalist becomes more completely dependent on the bank.
[...]
The German economist, Heymann, probably the first to call attention to this matter, describes the essence of it in this way: “The head of the concern controls the principal company (literally: the “mother company”); the latter reigns over the subsidiary companies (“daughter companies”) which in their turn control still other subsidiaries (“grandchild companies”), etc. In this way, it is possible with a comparatively small capital to dominate immense spheres of production. Indeed, if holding 50 per cent of the capital is always sufficient to control a company, the head of the concern needs only one million to control eight million in the second subsidiaries. And if this ‘interlocking’ is extended, it is possible with one million to control sixteen million, thirty-two million, etc.”
[goes on discussing the "chinese boxes" system ant the "head I win, tail you lose" dynamic]
[...]
Finance capital, concentrated in a few hands and exercising a virtual monopoly, exacts enormous and ever-increasing profits from the floating of companies, issue of stock, state loans, etc., strengthens the domination of the financial oligarchy and levies tribute upon the whole of society for the benefit of monopolists.
[...]
During periods of industrial boom, the profits of finance capital are immense, but during periods of depression, small and unsound businesses go out of existence, and the big banks acquire “holdings” in them by buying them up for a mere song, or participate in profitable schemes for their “reconstruction” and “reorganisation”.
[...]
Speculation in land situated in the suburbs of rapidly growing big towns is a particularly profitable operation for finance capital.
[...]
It is particularly important to examine the part which the export of capital plays in creating the international network of dependence on and connections of finance capital.
[...]
As long as capitalism remains what it is, surplus capital will be utilised not for the purpose of raising the standard of living of the masses in a given country, for this would mean a decline in profits for the capitalists, but for the purpose of increasing profits by exporting capital abroad to the backward countries. In these backward countries profits are usually high, for capital is scarce, the price of land is relatively low, wages are low, raw materials are cheap.
…]
As the export of capital increased, and as the foreign and colonial connections and “spheres of influence” of the big monopolist associations expanded in all ways, things “naturally” gravitated towards an international agreement among these associations, and towards the formation of international cartels.
[...]
The epoch of the latest stage of capitalism shows us that certain relations between capitalist associations grow up, based on the economic division of the world; while parallel to and in connection with it, certain relations grow up between political alliances, between states, on the basis of the territorial division of the world, of the struggle for colonies, of the “struggle for spheres of influence”.
[...]
“The characteristic feature of this period,” he concludes, “is, therefore, the division of Africa and Polynesia.” As there are no unoccupied territories—that is, territories that do not belong to any state in Asia and America, it is necessary to amplify Supan’s conclusion and say that the characteristic feature of the period under review [end of the 19th century] is the final partitioning of the globe
[...]
We saw above that the development of premonopoly capitalism, of capitalism in which free competition was predominant, reached its limit in the 1860s and 1870s. We now see that it is precisely after that period that the tremendous “boom” in colonial conquests begins, and that the struggle for the territorial division of the world becomes extraordinarily sharp. It is beyond doubt, therefore, that capitalism’s transition to the stage of monopoly capitalism, to finance capital, is connected with the intensification of the struggle for the partitioning of the world.
[...]
“The Empire, as I have always said, is a bread and butter question. If you want to avoid civil war, you must become imperialists” [cit. from Cecil Rhodes]
[...]
Colonial policy and imperialism existed before the latest stage of capitalism, and even before capitalism. Rome, founded on slavery, pursued a colonial policy and practised imperialism. But “general” disquisitions on imperialism, which ignore, or put into the background, the fundamental difference between socio-economic formations, inevitably turn into the most vapid banality or bragging, like the comparison: “Greater Rome and Greater Britain.” Even the capitalist colonial policy of previous stages of capitalism is essentially different from the colonial policy of finance capital. [now it is Rome vs. USA]
[...]
The principal feature of the latest stage of capitalism is the domination of monopolist associations of big employers. These monopolies are most firmly established when all the sources of raw materials are captured by one group, and we have seen with what zeal the international capitalist associations exert every effort to deprive their rivals of all opportunity of competing, to buy up, for example, ironfields, oilfields, etc. Colonial possession alone gives the monopolies complete guarantee against all contingencies in the struggle against competitors, including the case of the adversary wanting to be protected by a law establishing a state monopoly. The more capitalism is developed, the more strongly the shortage of raw materials is felt, the more intense the competition and the hunt for sources of raw materials throughout the whole world, the more desperate the struggle for the acquisition of colonies.
[...]
The interests pursued in exporting capital also give an impetus to the conquest of colonies, for in the colonial market it is easier to employ monopoly methods (and sometimes they are the only methods that can be employed) to eliminate competition, to ensure supplies, to secure the necessary “connections”, etc.
[...]
Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.
[...]
Further, imperialism is an immense accumulation of money capital in a few countries, amounting, as we have seen, to 100,000-50,000 million francs in securities. Hence the extraordinary growth of a class, or rather, of a stratum of rentiers, i.e., people who live by “clipping coupons”, who take no part in any enterprise whatever, whose profession is idleness. The export of capital, one of the most essential economic bases of imperialism, still more completely isolates the rentiers from production and sets the seal of parasitism on the whole country that lives by exploiting the labour of several overseas countries and colonies. [the superclass!]
[...]
We have seen that in its economic essence imperialism is monopoly capitalism.
[...]
But when nine-tenths of Africa had been seized (by 1900), when the whole world had been divided up,there was inevitably ushered in the era of monopoly possession of colonies and, consequently, of particularly intense struggle for the division and the redivision of the world.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/imp-hsc/ch01.htm

391

mattski 01.10.14 at 12:46 pm

I’m definitely not in the Bruce Wilder dismiss-Marx-with-an-exclamation-mark boat.

It is possible to see many valuable insights in Marx’s work without taking the work as a whole as gospel. I believe (?!) this is where Bruce is coming from.

392

Katherine 01.10.14 at 1:12 pm

It’s frustrating to see yet another flame break out between idealists and pragmatists. You need each other and we all need both.

393

Katherine 01.10.14 at 1:12 pm

… flame *war* I mean.

394

MPAVictoria 01.10.14 at 2:10 pm

“It’s frustrating to see yet another flame break out between idealists and pragmatists. You need each other and we all need both.”

I agree. Aren’t we all a little of both anyway?

395

LFC 01.10.14 at 3:15 pm

@mcclaren
He’s [Kristol's] channeling Rupert Brooke

Peter Hovde @132 beat you to it.

396

Plume 01.10.14 at 3:25 pm

It is easy to say, we are going to have a revolution and simply abolish “the system” — we won’t have money and its evils, or religion and its evils, or hierarchy and its evils, and don’t ask what we will have, because it will just be better, so shut up. Observing such ease, and looking upon historical examples of its consequences in action, is not an argument against revolution; it is an argument against immoderate and empty-headed revolutionaries.

Actually, when you completely leave out the forces arrayed against “successful” revolution, yes, you are arguing against them. But I think it’s even worse than that. Because you concentrate so much on “idealism” you seem to be arguing against even thinking out loud about changing the status quo. Oh, because, it will all end up like the French Revolution, or something.

Again, that leaves all the people who fought against those ideals and idealists off the hook.

For instance: America has waged a series of bloody wars and skirmishes to prevent or overturn revolutions overseas — for several decades now. The results make the French “Reign of terror” look like a Sunday picnic in contrast. In South and Central America, in Korea, in *Iran, in Vietnam, to name just a few locales. And its wars and skirmishes have resulted in at least 8 million civilian deaths, if we just talk about the above cases. Practical men, pragmatic Americans, judged it best to make sure those “empty-headed” idealists, with their silly thoughts about ending poverty, creating real democracy, keeping and controlling their own natural resources, demanding autonomy for themselves and their nation, could never achieve their goals.

*The peaceful, democratic revolution in Iran, which elected Mosaddegh, violently overturned by those practical Americans and Brits, because Iran had the absolute nerve to want control over its own natural resources — in this case, oil.

And even when those practical Americans aren’t directly involved in coup attempts, like the one that ousted Allende in Chile, they make it much easier for right-wing forces, friendly to American goals and capitalists, to crush those “empty-headed” idealists.

Clearly, the problem isn’t too much idealism. It’s too much force going up against that idealism, or the loss of it by those who once held ideals. On both sides. On all sides. Take away that force, and you likely gain a great benefit:

No more need for closing ranks, circling the wagons, going full on autocratic, dumping democracy in the name of survival, etc. As in, ironically, so-called “practical” forces, when arrayed against so-called “empty-headed” idealists, often provoke them into being “practical.” To treat existential threats in bloody practical terms. A great example of this was the Russian Revolution, which likely would have sustained real democracy without western attempts to crush it, instigate civil wars, embargo it for decades, etc. etc.

Imagine, just imagine, if the west had embraced that revolution, instead of trying to crush it. Same with Cuba. What if the west had welcomed them into the family of nations, aided them, if asked, left them alone, otherwise? I think it’s safe to say you’d have far better results than we ended up with, due to all of those eminently practical men in Washington.

397

Plume 01.10.14 at 3:40 pm

Quick follow up. And it includes a bit of Mattski’s thought experiment.

Dumping democracy. See, real democracy is hard. Autocracy and authoritarianism is easy, and very, very “practical.” It makes decision making and implementation very easy. No imagination needed. No discussion, debate, hashing this and that out among peers. No need for input from the people most impacted. Just order this and that and it’s done.

Which is why in pretty much every single war ever fought, even so-called “liberal democracies” put democracy on hold for the duration. In America’s case, since our bosses want us to believe that the “war on terror” is forever, they have a ready excuse for at least the shrinking of it.

Getting that boat across the ocean is much easier with a tyrant in command. Equal voices, hashing things out, well, it’s easy to imagine that a storm could topple it all while that conversation is going on. So, yeah, it’s often “practical” to have tyrants in charge.

But is that what we really want? Honestly?

Seems to me that liberals and moderates are okay with a kind of splitting the difference. They’re fine with tyrants in business, and they don’t seem to mind that they’ve gained major control over our supposed democracy. Their answer is to leave all of that intact, and tinker around the edges without upsetting the tyrants in the private sector. Which is better, of course, than the right-wingers who don’t even want to tinker. They want their own “revolution” that just gives carte blanche to those tyrants.

Me? I think it’s better to get rid of the tyrants altogether, and replace the system that makes their existence much easier and far more likely. Replace the system built to enable, empower and prop up tyrants in the private sector:

capitalism.

Yeah, it’s tough. It’s much harder to have real democracy. Much, much harder and takes much, much more work. It’s much harder to bring in all voices, and give them equal weight. That increases the difficulty score to the nth degree. But I think it’s worth it, and eventually, people get used to it. We are incredibly adaptive people, and just as we adapted to massive hierarchies and private sector tyrants, we can get used to horizontal consensus building and the absence of those hierarchies and tyrants.

We’re not “naturally” capitalists. Far from it. We’re naturally communalists. It’s just that capitalists have brainwashed us into believing we’re all just like them.

398

MPAVictoria 01.10.14 at 4:03 pm

“In South and Central America, in Korea, in *Iran, in Vietnam, to name just a few locales.”
I agree with you on most of those but Korea turned out pretty well in the end. At least for South Korea.

399

Plume 01.10.14 at 4:25 pm

It turned out horribly for North Korea, and millions of Koreans overall.

Again, what if we hadn’t gone in? Estimates say 2-4 million civilians died due to our war. And why was there a civil war in the first place? Because “practical” and oh so wise men divided the peninsula after WWII, creating two zones of influence. A right-wing government took control in the south; a communist government in the north. Practical men backed both and set up a major conflict, waiting to happen.

And since, by 1950, we couldn’t roll back time and change the mistakes made by those practical men after WWII . . . . what if we had worked toward reunification, instead? No invasion. We work for peace and autonomy with the Soviets and the Chinese to make sure the Koreans got to choose for themselves. If a majority wanted a communist system, then we say, fine. And we help them through humanitarian aid only. Just that. No military. etc.

Time and time again, we chose invasion over democracy. We chose capitalism over democracy. We chose “realpolitik” over letting other nations choose for themselves.

Those pragmatic Americans . . .

400

MPAVictoria 01.10.14 at 4:37 pm

“It turned out horribly for North Korea, and millions of Koreans overall.”

Sure but it is hard to blame the US for that.

401

Ronan(rf) 01.10.14 at 4:49 pm

Plume, you (and bob mc) might be interested in thomas picketty’s new book when it comes out

http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674430006

402

Tyrone Slothrop 01.10.14 at 4:58 pm

No, MPAVictoria, you are wrong, because capitalism.

403

Plume 01.10.14 at 5:00 pm

MPAV,

Sure but it is hard to blame the US for that.

It is? We bombed Korea into hell and back again. Our invasion and war caused the deaths of 2-4 million civilians. And, again, we could have worked with the Soviets and Chinese to ensure that Koreans got to decide for themselves the direction of their own nation — instead of going to war. And then go back another step to the aftermath of WWII. We were largely responsible — along with other great powers — for carving up Korea in the first place. As in, we set the table for future conflict, then we invaded and bombed it to smithereens.

And we have a long history of that sort of thing.

404

Plume 01.10.14 at 5:01 pm

Ronan, thanks. Will take a look. Picketty’s done great work on inequality, especially.

405

MPAVictoria 01.10.14 at 6:06 pm

“It is? We bombed Korea into hell and back again. Our invasion and war caused the deaths of 2-4 million civilians.”

Didn’t North Korea invade South Korea first?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_War#The_Korean_War_begins_.28June_1950.29

406

Ronan(rf) 01.10.14 at 6:19 pm

Plume – a lot of these were domestic conflicts that the US inserted themselves into, though, not ones they manafactued. Not that Im excusing what the US did, but they would have existed without US intervention (dont know enough about Korea but thats my impression of Vietnam and Central America – certainly there was enough domestic opposition to Mosaddegh that his position wasn’t tenable in the long term, and so the US response was dependant on domestic circumstances, which were becoming more hostile – in terms of protests etc – to him iirc)

407

Plume 01.10.14 at 6:32 pm

Ronan 406,

Actually, Mossaddegh was quite popular in Iran among the people. They loved him. They loved what he did, what he tried to do, the reforms he launched.

Wikipedia, of course, is not the be all and end all, but it’s a good general start for Mossaddegh and the coup:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammad_Mosaddegh

408

Plume 01.10.14 at 6:34 pm

In short, his long-term prospects were fine, if we hadn’t butted in, using the CIA, etc. etc. And our butting in set the stage for the Iranian revolution of 1979.

Pretty much everything we do, when we stick our noses in the business of others, results in terrible blowback.

409

Plume 01.10.14 at 6:45 pm

MPAV,

The North Koreans believe they had reason to invade. Regardless, it was none of our business. The right thing to have done was to have prevented civil war in the first place, by not dividing up that country after WWII . . . or, after that mistake had gone through, by working for peace and reunification, even if it meant a leftist government in charge, instead of the unpopular right-wing government we supported.

(The south had a rebellion on its hands with south Koreans, too.)

410

MPAVictoria 01.10.14 at 7:05 pm

“The North Koreans believe they had reason to invade. Regardless, it was none of our business. The right thing to have done was to have prevented civil war in the first place, by not dividing up that country after WWII . . . or, after that mistake had gone through, by working for peace and reunification, even if it meant a leftist government in charge, instead of the unpopular right-wing government we support”

Okay sure a given that a referendum should have been held after WW2 but it wasn’t for a variety of reasons. And it seems to me that South Korean’s are probably very happy that they didn’t end up being controlled by the crazy Kim family. So maybe it worked out for the best.

411

Katherine 01.10.14 at 7:10 pm

Yes, but who says they’d have ended up being ruled by the Kim family. No one can know the possible alternate history.

412

Substance McGravitas 01.10.14 at 7:16 pm

Kim Il Sung was president of North Korea before the war started with a strong grip on the apparatus of power in politics, military affairs, and propaganda.

413

MPAVictoria 01.10.14 at 7:23 pm

“Yes, but who says they’d have ended up being ruled by the Kim family. No one can know the possible alternate history.”

Okay true but…

“Kim Il Sung was president of North Korea before the war started with a strong grip on the apparatus of power in politics, military affairs, and propaganda.”

The above seems pretty accurate. I am pretty much will to agree with Plume that western military actions/wars over the last 60 years have pretty much been mistakes but there are a couple exceptions and I think the Korean war may have been one of them.

414

Ronan(rf) 01.10.14 at 7:27 pm

Plume, afaicr the US intervention itself was reactive ie there were protests already forming and opposition to Mossadegh domestically, independently of the US/British position.
I agree that the intervention was wrongheaded, and my sympathies would be with supporting democracy rather than oil interests – but the US and Britain arent the only actors here and the assumption that everything would be substantially better in Iran if x didnt happen I think is arguable

415

mattski 01.10.14 at 7:36 pm

Pretty much everything we do, when we stick our noses in the business of others, results in terrible blowback.

I have severe time constraints today, so I regret this isn’t the response to Plume I had hoped for.

How about the Marshall Plan?

You are practicing selective observation because you are starting with a conclusion and looking only for support for your thesis.

You are essentially using the word “capitalism” as an omnibus explanation for all that is wrong with society. Work days too long? Capitalism! Insufficient innovation? Capitalism! In another thread you said it is wrong to draw divisions between people. Yet you want to blame the suffering of the world on the “alphas.”

My thought experiment was merely meant to quickly show that there are times & places in this world where authority and hierarchy are necessary and good. (Good!) I also want to emphasize that your average person is not going to be impressed if told that Joe Utopian’s political program with foreclose on the freedom to start and own a business. And–this is important–if you concede that private ownership of business is a societal good, then you have conceded capitalism. Keeping the obvious (to me) societal good of small business enterprise and limiting the societal evils of large business enterprise is a job for legislation.

Banging on about Capitalism is sandlot radicalism, juvenile and cartoonish.

416

MPAVictoria 01.10.14 at 7:40 pm

“The above seems pretty accurate. I am pretty much will to agree with Plume that western military actions/wars over the last 60 years have pretty much been mistakes but there are a couple exceptions and I think the Korean war may have been one of them.”

Yikes. I am embarrassed by the number of mistakes in that. Please don’t judge me too harshly.

417

mattski 01.10.14 at 7:41 pm

will foreclose

418

Layman 01.10.14 at 7:59 pm

“Banging on about Capitalism is sandlot radicalism, juvenile and cartoonish.”

…as is proposing false dichotomies in which people can either be liberal or practical.

419

Substance McGravitas 01.10.14 at 8:01 pm

The US effort in Korea is an accidental good though. It’s hard to believe that fond feelings for the people of Korea were a motivator and nobody at that time understood how insane NK would get. Such a tragic disaster.

Kind of a mistake to listen to my boss’s audio version of Escape from Camp 14 when I work late. Gist here.

420

MPAVictoria 01.10.14 at 8:05 pm

“The US effort in Korea is an accidental good though. It’s hard to believe that fond feelings for the people of Korea were a motivator and nobody at that time understood how insane NK would get. Such a tragic disaster.”

Totally agree.

421

MPAVictoria 01.10.14 at 8:08 pm

“Kind of a mistake to listen to my boss’s audio version of Escape from Camp 14 when I work late. Gist here.”

My god.

422

Plume 01.10.14 at 8:25 pm

@mattski 415,

What is “juvenile and cartoonish” is your rendering of what I’ve written.

And I don’t concede that private ownership of business is a societal good. Not at all. Far, far from it. In fact, it’s the basis for the ills that follow. In miniature, it’s the basis for the tyranny of the markets in general. And it is the model for top down, “do as I say or you’re fired” tyranny overall. Add up all of those private dictatorships, and you have capitalism as a system of dictatorships. The few over the many.

The “cartoonish and juvenile” thing is to expect that private ownership of business, with its motivations for self-accumulation, for the enrichment of the business owner him or herself, could possibly, ever coincide with societal good. That has been one of the wonders of the ages, that adults would think such a thing in the face of all the logic and evidence against it.

Again, the purpose of a business is to enrich the business owner. If he or she has a workforce, that immediately pits the interests of ownership against the interests of workers. The more the owner wishes to make for him or herself, the less they can pay their workers as a share of what those workers produce. As mentioned, this also pits the interests of ownership and consumer against one another. In order for the owner to make a profit, the buyer must receive less in value than they pay for — every time. Plus, in order for the owner to continue to sell their wares, there must be demand, obviously. If the product is built to last, then that demand will fade away over time (or quickly) so they can not build something that is one and done. They must build in “obsolescence.”

And the environment? To reduce costs, to enhance profit and ownership pay, they can’t spend too much on harmonizing with that environment, and they have no incentive to be good stewards. Now, they need resources now! Think about where industrialists set up shop. Primarily next to rivers. Yes, this was to utilize the transportation aspects of said waterways, but it was also for the convenience of dumping their waste — and they produced a ton of it.

Waste. Our system also creates more waste than any previous economic system and to the nth degree. We don’t produce to order, or what we need. We produce to fill shelves with the look of endless plenty and create the illusion of need through marketing. What is not sold is tossed and fills up landfills and slums across the globe. And the cost of those unsold goods is added on to our purchases, so we pay for something we did not want and did not buy.

In short, mattski, the people defending this system, especially on the basis that it somehow is good for society — they are the real dreamers and idealists. Those who actually take Adam Smith at his word and believe in his fairy tale — they are the wide-eyed true believers in utopias. Rather, udopias.

Those of us who understand the system and how it screws people over? We’re the realists, the people grounded in reality and we want a better reality, a more rational, just, fair and logical system to shape that reality.

423

Ed Herdman 01.10.14 at 8:27 pm

@ Layman:

Good grief, the context for that sentence is right in the preceding sentences.

424

Plume 01.10.14 at 8:33 pm

Of course, there are exceptions. There are “good” owners, who do right by their employees. So I’m speaking in the aggregate there.

And, I’m not including the sole proprietor in the above. If I build, say, custom chairs, and I sell them directly, and they are the work of my own hands, my own sweat, then that’s a world apart from the business owner who hires people to build those chairs, but makes his/her money off of them, not his own sweat, etc.

A world apart.

In that case, obviously, there is not pitting ownership against worker, and I make the chair to last. I don’t make it with the expectation that you’ll be back in a few months to buy another. I make it so that you can hand it down generations, with my good name on it, etc. etc.

Exceptions. But the system isn’t based on those exceptions. Capitalism is based on employer/employee production relations, and capital going toward buying labor, and then capital making more capital.

We’ve always had what some historians call “petty commodity” production. That’s not what I’m talking about . . . Capitalism, in fact, through the process of primitive accumulation, did its best to crush that, and that continues on to this day with the Walmarts of this world, et al.

Anyway, gotta run.

425

mattski 01.11.14 at 9:58 am

…as is proposing false dichotomies in which people can either be liberal or practical.

I don’t think you paid much attention to what I wrote because I certainly did no such thing.

426

Andrew F. 01.11.14 at 8:10 pm

Plume at 396, it’s curious to read about the many evils of the United States during the Cold War, without once reading about the role played by the Soviet Union in starting the Cold War and perpetuating it. It’s curious to read condemnations of the US role in the Korean War without any acknowledgement that perhaps sending hugs and food drops would have been insufficient to stop a North Korean invasion. It’s curious to read about inevitable blowback of US involvement in foreign affairs when considering the nations of Germany, Japan, and South Korea. It’s curious to read about the horrors of capitalism when considering the relative well-being of West and East Germany, South and North Korea.

It’s impossible to understand the military and political decisions you reference without an understanding of how the Soviet Union, and the threat it was believed to pose, shaped American concerns and interests. The US didn’t lack for an understanding of the horror of war when the Cold War began, and when it was quite aggressive in its use of covert operations. Indeed it was its (internally contested) conception of the Soviet Union, and its understanding of war, that led to its very active, costly, but overall perhaps successful, foreign policy. Yet reading your comments here, I would almost suppose that the US simply wanted to crush indigenous governments because capitalism.

427

Layman 01.11.14 at 8:56 pm

@ Ed Herdman, @ mattski

I’m talking about the thought experiment, which either assumes a professional sailor cant be a liberal, or is meaningless without that assumption. Silly, isn’t it?

428

Random Lurker 01.11.14 at 9:23 pm

@Andrew F.

“without once reading about the role played by the Soviet Union in starting the Cold War and perpetuating it.”

While I have to agree that the discussion here is ignoring all the faults of the soviet union,
(a) Plume isn’t saying that the soviet union was better than capitalism, since he is in the utopist/hippie camp (sorry Plume), so I don’t see your point;
(b) It seems to me that it was the USA to start the cold war, not the USSR.

429

Mao Cheng Ji 01.11.14 at 10:02 pm

How isn’t the Korean war just another garden-variety imperial conflict, between the US and the Sino-Soviet bloc? And how is it possible to have two global empires without a conflict between them? Look at all the Roman-Persian wars, century after century.

430

mattski 01.11.14 at 10:15 pm

Layman,

No, it’s not meaningless without that assumption. Not at all. The professional sailors are just that, their politics are irrelevant. In my mind, the cleavage in the thought experiment is between the 2nd & 3rd boats. IOW, a boat full of professionals is not terribly dissimilar from a boat full of liberals (social democrats). Because liberals–as we commonly use the term–tend to be practical sorts. It is the “doctrinaire leftists” who stand out from the other two for their adherence to dogma at the expense of practical knowledge.

431

Layman 01.11.14 at 10:27 pm

@ mattski

In which case, the boatload of liberals are irrelevant to the experiment, and the doctrinaire leftists could be doctrinaire anything – since your definition of ‘doctrinaire’ in this case encompasses ‘impractical’. Unless you’re claiming that it is only leftists who are impractical when dogmatic. So, silly, as I said.

432

Ronan(rf) 01.11.14 at 10:33 pm

This is quite interesting for anyone interested though completely irrelevant to anything above (more or less)

http://www.thestraddler.com/201412/piece9.php

433

Plume 01.11.14 at 10:37 pm

Andrew F, 426,

As Random Lurker points out, I’m not in the Soviet camp, either. I despise their form of state capitalism, as I despise ours. I posted a good video earlier by Chomsky which talks about the misuse and abuse of the word “socialism”, which the Soviets never came close to implementing, much less “communism,” which comes after and means the withering away of the state.

As for “relative well-being.” Imagine the relative advantages and disadvantages of having a system which is embraced by pretty much the entire world, versus one which is ostracized, embargoed, sabotaged, etc. Tell me, in a modern, complex world, which one is likely to come out on top? The one with all the backing of umpteen world trade organizations, the one that already controls the vast majority of wealth in the world? Or the one blocked from the club?

But, again, no one has yet made real socialism happen, which would require full on democracy and the people owning the means of production. The people. Not a political party, or a dictator, or a junta, or private forces. The closest to that was not the Soviet Union, or Cuba, or Vietnam, but the Scandinavian countries, and they aren’t that close to the real deal, other than relatively speaking.

Also, when you bring up a few examples of our foreign policy not sucking, it doesn’t cancel out when it has. It’s not an argument, at all, against my statement. Not even slightly. I don’t have to prove 100% suckiness of our system or its effects in order to prove it sucks. Hell, even dictators can make the trains run on time, etc. etc.

So, yes, our history is one of starting wars, coups, skirmishes, overt and covert, if our capitalists feel their markets are threatened. Those are facts. That doesn’t mean 100% of what we do is destroy indigenous peoples. But, again, I don’t have to show 100% compliance to demonstrate a despicable history.

Beyond that, prior to our dominance, the west engaged in mass destruction of indigenous peoples from the so-called “Age of Discovery” onward. It’s strange that one would think that America somehow remained above all of that, given the fact of what we did to the Native Americans here, etc. etc.

Sheeesh.

434

Plume 01.11.14 at 10:43 pm

Mattski, 430,

“Doctrinaire” is not something that just goes along with Leftists, anymore than it just goes along with being a “liberal.” You sound like one of those “centrists” who thinks they avoid the crazy on both the left and the right, and “keep it real” all the time.

Thing is, “centrists” have their own orthodoxy, as do you and your fellow liberals. I should know. I used to be one.

It’s probably safe to say that most people, regardless of their place on the political spectrum, view their own beliefs as logical, rational, even practical, and might just see everyone else as crazy. Unlike you, I see that, I realize that, I even admit to my own biased position. It seems you haven’t worked your way clear of that delusion yet. The one that says, “I’m the real center here. My views, unlike everyone else, are practical, normal, natural. The practical, normal, natural starting point for all things!! Everything else is just a deviation from my brilliance and god’s eye view!!”

435

Donald Johnson 01.11.14 at 10:53 pm

“And it seems to me that South Korean’s are probably very happy that they didn’t end up being controlled by the crazy Kim family. So maybe it worked out for the best.”

I agree that South Korea is far far better off than North Korea. NK is arguably the worst-governed country on the planet. All the same, when you read about what the US did in the Korean War, (all the bombing of civilian areas), along with the civil war in South Korea before the Korean War began and the massive number of people massacred by the South Koreans, I don’t think I’d talk about it “working out for the best”.

436

Ronan(rf) 01.11.14 at 10:56 pm

SK wasn’t much better than the north until the last few decades though, was it ? wasnt it a pretty brutal dictatorship?

437

Plume 01.11.14 at 10:57 pm

Again, Mattski, there is nothing more “doctrinaire” than a believer in capitalism, IMO. It takes being doctrinaire to ignore what it really does to people and the earth and to blithely go along with that. It takes wild-eyed idealists to believe, like Adam Smith, in the fairy tales of its supposed benign impact on all, on its incredible ability to make winners out of everyone, and how it started all voluntary, etc.

There was never any coercion, right? Everyone just got together and decided to go work for Mr. Potter for crumbs. Everyone just got together and said, “Gee, I love the thought of less than 5% of the population owning all the means of production, with the 1% controlling most of that and the markets and prices and wages and the 0.01% pulling their strings!!”

Yes, we all voted that in.

Everyone was just fine with being kicked off their land, blocked from hunting and fishing and fending for themselves so they would be forced into the factories. Everyone was fine with owners making thousands of times more than their workers, even though those owners generally never lifted a finger to produce anything.

Yep. Everyone just rushed to join up with that system!!

I betcha the people in West Virginia right now, the ones who can’t drink the water because of the massive chemical spill, are sure glad they signed up for this capitalism thing. They’re no doubt damn happy that capitalists have their state so locked up, especially owners of coal companies, that no one will hold them accountable for that destruction, either. The poorer the land, the less likely any accountability ever takes place. And overseas? In Africa, Bangladesh, Foxconn in China?

No one’s going to make capitalists do a damn thing they don’t want to do. They own the joint.

Me? I don’t like the idea of a tiny ruling class owning pretty much the entire world. You? Well, since you’re so “practical” I guess it’s cool with ya.

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Donald Johnson 01.11.14 at 11:04 pm

“On the first the crew shall be made up entirely of professional sailors, with a duly credentialed captain. On the second the crew shall be made up entirely of social democrats, “liberals” if you will. On the third the crew shall be composed entirely of bob mcmanus clones- that is to say, doctrinaire Leftists reeking of disdain for hierarchy.”

What an obviously biased thought experiment. It makes no sense at all. People with strong ideological beliefs can be competent or incompetent at sailing ships and there could be a wide range of political beliefs among the crew of the professional sailors. The competent sailors on the sea could be utterly incompetent at managing their lives on land (that’s one of the sub-themes of the Aubrey-Maturin books–Jack is a genius at sea and a moron on land).

I agree with Katherine upthread–a flame war between idealists and pragmatists is a huge waste of time.

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Plume 01.11.14 at 11:04 pm

Donald Johnson 435,

Well said. I despise the NK government too. One doesn’t have to choose between the two, when offering condemnation. It’s not as if when we condemn the US for what it’s done, we’re praising NK now. We can multitask and do “both/and.” And we’re citizens of the US, not NK. We can’t impact one iota of policy in NK. But, we’re supposed to be able to here. Supposedly.

The US invasion and war led to 2-4 MILLION Korean civilians dying. That war certainly wasn’t better for them. That kind of rationale reminds me of those who backed the Iraq war, because Hussein was such a despicable thug, it was the right thing to do to overthrow him, even though a million or more civilians died in the process.

Right thing for them? Not hardly. War isn’t the only option. It’s not the only way to reduce or end oppression — if we accept that ending oppression was the goal, which I think involves a bit of a starry-eyed, pie in the skyness to begin with.

There are always other options.

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Donald Johnson 01.11.14 at 11:07 pm

I have to admit, though, Plume, that I’m a social democrat, because I’d like to see a functioning obviously humane and successful example of pure socialism before I’d sign up.
Not that I’m not sympathetic to what you say about the flaws of capitalism.

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Plume 01.11.14 at 11:18 pm

@Donald Johnson 440,

That’s cool. No problem with me. I think Social Democracy should be a step toward the horizon of real socialism. At this moment in time, any attempt at a revolution, at least in America, I fear will end up with a right-wing dictatorship, not the leftist, egalitarian, fully democratic system we need. But America is moving in the opposite direction already, away from even American liberalism, and has for the last thirty to forty years.

It may be a matter of semantics only, but I see “Social Democracy” as much further to the left than American liberalism. Not as far left as Socialism, but to the left of our version of liberalism. Again, we’re moving in the opposite direction, tragically.

Ironically, those who call for even Social Democracy here are “idealists” in that sense. The “practical, pragmatic” Dems are in the DLC camp, which is basically conservative on economics, liberal on social issues. They’re well to the right of Social Democrats. And then you have the Republicans who seem to be moving swiftly further and further hard right, which means Fascism, eventually. Not there yet. But I can see them developing their own brand, toned down, less overtly militant, less overtly racist. Kinder and gentler, perhaps. But edging closer and closer.

I don’t like the direction of this country at all right now. More irony: this argument between the center-left and the “far left” is well outside the centers of power. Those are primarily center-right. They love these “flame wars” on the left.

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Plume 01.11.14 at 11:21 pm

G’day, all. Heading out and about. Of course, it’s going to be tough for me to find my way, being a leftist, and all. We’re not practical enough to tie our own shoes, etc.

;>)

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godoggo 01.12.14 at 12:05 am

Reminds me how surprising it is that we were able to have a discussion of reggae without any serious people showing up to sneer at Rastafarianism.

444

LFC 01.12.14 at 12:06 am

@Mao Cheng Ji
How isn’t the Korean war just another garden-variety imperial conflict, between the US and the Sino-Soviet bloc? And how is it possible to have two global empires without a conflict between them? Look at all the Roman-Persian wars, century after century.

Because, of course, nothing varies with historical context. The Korean war is “just another garden-variety imperial conflict,” just like, according to Mao upthread, WW1 and WW2. Ye gods. The stupid.

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Substance McGravitas 01.12.14 at 1:32 am

I agree that South Korea is far far better off than North Korea. NK is arguably the worst-governed country on the planet. All the same, when you read about what the US did in the Korean War, (all the bombing of civilian areas), along with the civil war in South Korea before the Korean War began and the massive number of people massacred by the South Koreans, I don’t think I’d talk about it “working out for the best”.

I would, but the US effort doesn’t seem like anything I would have supported had I been alive and aware at the time. I think the body count currently favours NK as the greater monster if you put them on one side and SK/US on the other, and their population is half the South’s. Please don’t construe that as justification for military adventurism as I don’t mean it to be.

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mattski 01.12.14 at 3:13 am

Layman,

and the doctrinaire leftists could be doctrinaire anything – since your definition of ‘doctrinaire’ in this case encompasses ‘impractical’.

So, from my perspective you’re determined to make a hostile reading of my words. But what I am talking about is not definitions of words, OK? That’s you. I’m looking at the ideas & arguments put forth by various commenters at this site, I’m seeing what I regard as dogmatic positions that–in my opinion–undermine progressive politics precisely because of their impracticality. I’m not interested in tautologies. I’m interested in getting the boat to its destination.

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MPAVictoria 01.12.14 at 5:01 am

” I don’t think I’d talk about it “working out for the best”

When the alternative is being ruled by the Kim’s I would. You are of course free to disagree.

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GiT 01.12.14 at 5:13 am

” In my mind, the cleavage in the thought experiment is between the 2nd & 3rd boats. IOW, a boat full of professionals is not terribly dissimilar from a boat full of liberals (social democrats). Because liberals–as we commonly use the term–tend to be practical sorts. It is the “doctrinaire leftists” who stand out from the other two for their adherence to dogma at the expense of practical knowledge.”

This says quite a bit about your mind and very little about “liberals” and “leftists.”

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js. 01.12.14 at 5:31 am

doctrinaire Leftists reeking of disdain for hierarchy

So I’m thinking you should go meet some doctrinaire leftists. If you seek out people under that description, chances are you’ll soon run into some Leninists, and then you can find out about their rather quite surprising (to you) attitudes towards hierarchy. (This is of course a count against the Leninists, but that’s orthogonal to the point.)

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js. 01.12.14 at 5:34 am

And what Katherine said at 392/393.

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Plume 01.12.14 at 5:41 am

@Mattski 446,

I have yet to see you post anything that would help get that boat ashore. I asked Bruce Wilder for some of those “practical” ideas and methods, and he failed to respond, though he expected them of me.

What do you have along those lines? Don’t ask others for something you’re unwilling to do.

Beyond that, I think you have a real problem in need of further reflection. There is nothing about having a goal for a better society in mind, one that builds social justice right into the economic system, which would preclude working to get the boat to shore. Nothing. Shooting for the moon is not an impediment to reaching Europe.

An analogy:

Two runners. Both are beginners with high hopes for serious improvement. They both currently run the mile in the seven minute range. Runner X, the “practical” one, sets his goal at six minutes and does everything he can to reach that goal. Runner Y, the “idealist,” sets her goal at four minutes and does everything she can to reach her mark. They both run every day, exercise religiously, weight train, eat all the right foods, study tape, technique and receive coaching.

Runner Y’s goal of a four minute mile is no obstacle for her when it comes to working hard, being smart and working tenaciously to reduce her times, whether or not she ever reaches that four minute mile. If anything, for her, the lofty goal is a driving force, pushes her onward, provokes more effort, more thought, more innovation in her quest to break existing records.

Runner X? He set a very modest goal and is on his way to reaching it. But no more than that.

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js. 01.12.14 at 5:47 am

IOW, a boat full of professionals is not terribly dissimilar from a boat full of liberals (social democrats)

The what, now? Look, if you want to defend liberalism along technocratic lines (which is what the liberalism/professionalism equivalence suggests), there’s just no way that you can reasonably predict that the policies enacted by technocratic liberals will in any way be recognizably social-democratic. I mean you’re US based, right? You know something about the history of American liberalism (nominally speaking) in the last 30 years? Yeah, that pretty much settles it. On the other hand, if you want to defend social democracy as such, you have to do it on ideological grounds just as much as someone wanting to defend true socialism/a classless society or whatever (ok, maybe not just as much, but structurally, you’ll still have to provide an ideological justification). There’s no conceivable way in which you’ll get a backdoor defense of social democracy out of “professionalism”. To state the claim is to refute it.

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Plume 01.12.14 at 5:54 am

Reading Mattski, I see complicity with the status quo where he sees “practicality.” Where he sees “pragmatics,” I see someone who has been co-opted by the mainstream.

And it makes me think of something Twain said about certain activists during the late stages of slavery. They were righteously involved with “practical” ways to improve the conditions for slaves. Twain thought, my god, men!! Get rid of slavery, period!!

So, you have your “practical” liberal — who, by the way, in America, is to the right of a European Social Democrat — you have your liberal who wants to make life better for those slaves, to ease their misery at least a little . . . and you have your “practical” conservative, who says “Freedom!! States’ rights!! Property Rights!!” and thinks the Feds should stay out of the affairs of the slave states. In reality, that “practical” liberal is just providing cover for the slaveholder, when the whole damn thing needs to be abolished.

When something is obscenely wrong, it’s time to stop thinking in terms of tweaking it around the edges. It’s time to stop being complicit with its obscenity. Chuck the whole damn thing!!!

Oh, and if someone says “We can’t change the system, so it’s really, really silly to talk about alternatives.” Think about slavery again, cuz that’s what “practical” people said at the time, too. “It’s just the way it is.”

Even Lincoln, until his last two years, thought it just wasn’t practical to try to completely do away with all of it. And he also thought, until his last two years, that even with emancipation, the freed slaves should not remain here.

Being “practical” is highly overrated.

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Plume 01.12.14 at 6:08 am

js. 452,

Good points.

Under America’s current power structure, as the world’s most powerful reactionary society, it’s no more of a stretch to shoot for the moon and socialism than it is to go for Social Democracy. Which is to the left of American liberalism, and even slightly to the left of FDR’s New Deal.

Right now, we can’t even get unemployment comp extended, and five billion was recently lopped off of food stamps in the middle of increasing poverty and hunger. The House wants to cut 40 billion more from food stamps, and it won’t make any adjustments to any of this if it means one dollar of extra revenue. Even closing corporate tax loopholes, which could net the Treasury hundreds of billions a year, are out of bounds. Nothing that could even remotely appear as a tax increase can get to the floor.

All of this back-slapping and self-congratulations from people like Mattski and Bruce Wilder would make it seem like their oh so practical liberalism is doing the job. In reality, for thirty to forty years, liberals have lost ground steadily in America, throwing the New Deal overboard, bit by bit, year by year, hoping the marauding right-wing pirates will finally be satisfied with the sacrifices to date and at least leave the ship itself intact.

It’s not working. Inequality has never been higher. Corporate profits have never been higher. The rich have steadily gotten richer and richer while the rank and file falls. Corporate control over government has never been greater. Wealth hasn’t bought elections like this since the days of Tammany Hall.

What, exactly, have liberals done to stop this decimation?

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Mao Cheng Ji 01.12.14 at 7:16 am

LFC 444, could you explain what you mean by “Because, of course, nothing varies with historical context”?

Because it seems to me “imperial conflict” is exactly the context. Two global empires fighting over spheres of influence. Other things mentioned: capitalism, cold war, etc. are the details, specific circumstances.

The discussion was centered on war as a general phenomenon, whether it’s caused by capitalism or something else. So, should I interpret your sarcasm as the sign that you believe that every war is unique, and no common thread, no pattern can be found? Or do you have your own answer (sorry it was already stated, I didn’t read all the comments)?

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Ed Herdman 01.12.14 at 9:00 am

I would like a bit more specificity in exactly what people are supposed to be doing, for the sake of observers at least.

For example, Plume (sorry for pulling you out of the bunch, my friend, I think my comment probably actually trawls deep waters, and I don’t think that you are a ringleader or anything): At one point you make an analogy about training for a 4 minute mile and a 6 minute mile (a good analogy for the importance of not selling oneself short) – but elsewhere you have shifted gears to talking more like a “politics is the art of the possible” insider pol, when you say “it’s no more of a stretch to shoot for the moon and socialism than it is to go for Social Democracy.” And then stranger still you attempt to invert the argument – it’s practically impossible, but it is only incrementally more impossible – yet still (therefore? Surely not!) a more desirable program. I think this is a clear sign something has gone horribly wrong.

The difference is subtle but important: In your runners analogy, you’re talking about a program set with complete acceptance by 100% of the “electorate,” i.e., the one person training for their own benefit. The simple goal is “run as fast as possible.” (The more complex goal, of course, is “as much as possible in the context of other factors like not injuring yourself in training, and pursuing other good aims concurrently – like holding down gainful employment if you are starting as an amateur runner” – it seems tedious to list such competing goals but realizing their importance makes the analogy closer to what is real.) Contrast that with the argument that apparently the chances of European-style social democracy are about equivalent to some stronger form of socialism, so both are therefore just as desirable – and it seems to me that what’s actually happened is that the focus shifts to present a false image of a group with totally similar aims, while ignoring the shifting landscape and shifting set of issues.

The goal for modern leftists / progressives / socialists / moderates is not “be as left as possible,” but we can say that the current system suggests and provokes specific issues to be interested in. And a boilerplate, ultimately doctrinaire “let’s go as far left as possible” argument seems to ignore the real method of change (both in terms of small pressure groups which actually can focus profitably on issues of impact, without the larger consensus – and also in terms of trying to find a broad consensus for those cases where you want as large a bloc of like-minded individuals (voters) as possible.

When you disentangle these things, you see that the group of dedicated socialists (or members of any group) will have no problem setting and pursuing an ambitious goal, as a matter of internal discipline – but neither do the more centrist-leaning leftists. The problem isn’t commitment, it’s policy details; not a story about how other people really need to work harder for goals they ultimately don’t and won’t share. The problem is, from the stance of somebody who is quite far to the left of the mainstream, in trying to organize those groups to exert outsize influence.

External and internal conditions are not solved by being more serious about being more willing to be radical (i.e., flattening the issues down to an overly simple model). That aspect of the discussion is what I think has been picked out by the back-and-forth with mattski; just as important is the possibility that many on the left simply do not want to go “further left” (because the utility of the left-center-right continuum as a model breaks down).

If you feel that you have been goaded into these arguments (I have tried to follow along a little, but this comment thread has gotten far too bloated) then I would just suggest ignoring that and iterating (or reiterating) in what cases you think that the moderate left-leaning program preferences aren’t good, as a thing itself – in the appropriate places, of course. Then you should surely discover, and we also, whether your prescriptions really seem feasible, palatable, and topical to other liberals. Of course, that seems outside the scope of this comment thread, so perhaps the only wise course of action is to shut down the argument that impracticality can be construed in any way as a virtue or that the spectrum of commitments stands as a proxy for individual thoughtful consideration of the issues, where the better belief is always the more left one.

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Andrew F. 01.12.14 at 12:37 pm

Plume, on the one hand you write: As for “relative well-being.” Imagine the relative advantages and disadvantages of having a system which is embraced by pretty much the entire world, versus one which is ostracized, embargoed, sabotaged, etc. Tell me, in a modern, complex world, which one is likely to come out on top? The one with all the backing of umpteen world trade organizations, the one that already controls the vast majority of wealth in the world? Or the one blocked from the club?

Which implies to me that you think that without embargoes East Germany and North Korea would have been standing up quite well relative to their more democratic brethren. No?

You also write:

The US invasion and war led to 2-4 MILLION Korean civilians dying. That war certainly wasn’t better for them. [...] Not hardly. War isn’t the only option. It’s not the only way to reduce or end oppression — if we accept that ending oppression was the goal, which I think involves a bit of a starry-eyed, pie in the skyness to begin with.

Which implies that the Korean War was started with a US invasion and that there were ways of stopping North Korea’s invasion other than war.

Just to be clear, the Korean War began when North Korea invaded South Korea, and the United States, along with other active members of the UNSC, decided that such an act of aggression could not be allowed to pass unopposed.

You note, But, again, no one has yet made real socialism happen, which would require full on democracy and the people owning the means of production. The people. Not a political party, or a dictator, or a junta, or private forces. The closest to that was not the Soviet Union, or Cuba, or Vietnam, but the Scandinavian countries, and they aren’t that close to the real deal, other than relatively speaking.

Yet so far as I can tell no one has discussed invading Scandinavian countries to shift them towards capitalism. It almost implies that there are other causes of war afoot when we look at cases where war did occur.

Also, when you bring up a few examples of our foreign policy not sucking, it doesn’t cancel out when it has. It’s not an argument, at all, against my statement. Not even slightly. I don’t have to prove 100% suckiness of our system or its effects in order to prove it sucks. Hell, even dictators can make the trains run on time, etc. etc.

Plume, this is you at 408 Pretty much everything we do, when we stick our noses in the business of others, results in terrible blowback.

So when I’m able to pick three major industrialized countries, all of which are liberal democracies, two of which were America’s enemies in a brutal war, two of which committed war crimes that I literally cannot read about at any length (and my stomach can stand a lot), all of which represented far greater investments of American time, casualties, attention, energy, and occupation than Iran or Chile, then I think that’s a problem for your argument.

Incidentally, when Bruce earlier spoke of the problems that idealism can cause, my first thought was not of Leninist-Communism, but Neoconservatives, the folks who believed that by removing the oppression of Hussein a liberty loving democracy would spring forth from Iraq, and thence roll like a mighty wave over the Middle East, sweeping repressive fundamentalism and dictatorship alike in its path. Absolute fantasy, yet one (unbelievably) believed by some key architects of the Iraq War. And for that fantasy, dreams that could be realized died in dust and fire, in deafening agony.

The stakes are no less high when you speak of returning us to a time when chairs were a luxury, produced by hand by individuals at significant time and expense (a contention, by the way, I find difficult to square with your views on Scandinavia, home to one of the champions of mass-produced furniture).

While the present system has faults, and has very serious issues to overcome (issues as difficult to define precisely as they are to solve practically), it reduces starvation, it encourages medical research and treatment, it protects and allows free expression, it ensures a government responsive to the people (though a people able to be manipulated), and it allows most individuals within the system a good chance at living a happy life. If you want to radically change that system, then you’ll need something more than mere idealism to convince me, because the road is strewn with the bones of those who perished in the wake of well-intentioned social experiments. Complex systems built with good intentions and optimism, and nothing more, end as cautionary tales for those fortunate enough to live in systems more cautiously and modestly constructed.

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LFC 01.12.14 at 12:56 pm

@Mao Cheng Ji
So, should I interpret your sarcasm as the sign that you believe that every war is unique, and no common thread, no pattern can be found?

Short answer: no (although of course every war is unique in some respects).

Longer answer:
Some patterns or common threads prob. can be found but wars do have specific features and I wd push back against claims that war X is “just another garden-variety [emph. added] imperial conflict” or that war Y “was all about colonies, dividing the world. More or less the same as [war Z]. And like any other war, I suppose” (quoting MCJ upthread).

You want to homogenize, to say that all wars are basically the same. To do that requires operating at a level of generality so high it doesn’t get v. far in terms of explanation. I don’t have an answer to the general question “what causes war?” partly b/c I’m skeptical that analyzing war at that level of generality is going to produce a v. useful answer. I do not find Plume’s “wars occur because of capitalism” view esp. useful or accurate (though of course I acknowledge the existence of the mil/ind complex); your (Mao’s) “all wars are the same” line is equally if not more provoking (partly b.c it is delivered in somewhat dismissive comments which implicitly consign to the dustbin enormous amts of research on the ’causes of war’ in general and specific).

Traditional interstate wars, which don’t exist much any more though they still occur from time to time, are quite different, as a rule, from civil wars or internationalized civil wars. The latter also come in different varieties. One answer will almost certainly not fit them all, unless it’s couched at too high a level of abstraction to mean a whole lot. Research suggests that, for example, in the past states have gone to war more often over territorial disputes than over other kinds of disputes and that countries closer to one another are more likely to fight than those farther away. Neither of these generalizations is surprising and neither is all that useful currently given that traditional interstate wars have become rare (though the decline in extant ‘live’ territorial disputes, except over some now well-known islands and a rel. few land borders, is one reason such wars have become rare).

As to this:
Because it seems to me “imperial conflict” is exactly the context. Two global empires fighting over spheres of influence. Other things mentioned: capitalism, cold war, etc. are the details, specific circumstances.
The Cold War is not “a detail” but a label applied to indicate among other things that the conflict betw the US and USSR was marked by a tacit mutual agreement that the principals themselves wd not come to *direct* blows. Unlike, say, Athens and Sparta the US and USSR did not directly fight.

Part of what makes the Korean War not “garden-variety” is that it is a case of an arguable great power — namely China c. 1950 — directly fighting with another great power, the US. Great-power war as a distinct category or phenomenon is either dormant or effectively extinct, depending on one’s view. The Korean War was the last time two great powers directly fought each other, unless you count e.g. the Chinese-Russian border clash on the Ussuri River in 1969 (which certainly didn’t rise to the level of a sustained armed conflict). “Two global empires” if you want to use that terminology can contest over spheres of influence in various ways. During the CW the principals did it mainly by way of so-called proxy wars in the third world. In Vietnam the US was directly involved, of course, but that was a departure from the more usu. situation.

(Btw I don’t know why I’m here this late in the thread. I think this will be my last comment. I know some people will disagree with some or all of what I’ve just said. That’s fine.)

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Layman 01.12.14 at 1:48 pm

mattski,

“So, from my perspective you’re determined to make a hostile reading of my words.”

Each explanation you offer repeats the hostility. It’s there, in your words, not in my determination.

“I’m looking at the ideas & arguments put forth by various commenters at this site, I’m seeing what I regard as dogmatic positions that–in my opinion–undermine progressive politics precisely because of their impracticality. I’m not interested in tautologies.”

Yet your entire point seems to be a tautology – you equate dogmatic with impractical, label someone dogmatic, and then say their ideas are impractical because dogma.

Are you blind to the obvious counter, that liberals often countenance and defend awful things because they want to be ‘practical’ about their progress? Why not construct a thought experiment about that?

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Donald Johnson 01.12.14 at 2:10 pm

“Which implies that the Korean War was started with a US invasion and that there were ways of stopping North Korea’s invasion other than war.”

War to repel the invasion was justified–an aerial campaign that flattened North Korean cities wasn’t and it might have been nice to know that South Korean forces were massacring tens of thousands of people (possibly over 100,000, which is still smaller than the number killed by the bombing). link on South Korean investigation

I think I’m somewhere in-between Plume and those who say the Korean War was justified. Repelling the North Korean invasion was justified–it was a vicious communist dictatorship attacking a vicious fascist dictatorship, but it was an invasion and therefore illegal– and yes, decades later South Korea became a democracy, though still (like the US) a democracy that is currently unwilling to investigate its own war crimes. But the brutality of America and its ally went far beyond what was necessary or justified and its interesting how much of that brutality went down the memory hole for several decades. After reading Bruce Cumings, I went to a couple of local libraries and examined the books on the Korean War and most of the American ones said nothing about US bombing of cities or South Korean massacres. I found a couple of British authors (forgot one name, but the other was Phillip Knightley, who wrote a book on war correspondents) who were honest about the war.

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