Guest entry: David from Michigan

30 Aug

Make sure you read the comments!

This arrived as a comment, but is so important that I have promoted it to entry status. David is referring to point 5 in yesterday’s entry Vital Reading.

Anyone who thinks that America is “full of” the likes of Philip Atkinson [a British expatriate, I see. — N] obviously doesn’t live here and is, I would suggest, a little dangerous themselves (it’s like the left-wing version of “all Arabs are terrorists” and it could be used to justify anything.) You can find some useful background to this article from the right-wing antiwar activist Justin Raimondo. Raimondo, who sees Neocons as a “pestilential sect” arising from the cold war (a small minority, but a highly influential and dangerous one in Washington) describes Atkinson and the Family Security Foundation as “at the outer limits of neocon kookery” — in other words, a minority of a minority. However, some of the tropes in the Atkinson article (particularly the half-based classicism) are common ones in Neocon fantasy, and Raimondo fears that this may be revealing of what “lies behind the mask” of Neoconservatism.

Nonetheless, very few Americans ever bought into the intellectual apparatus of the Neocons (a sort of right-wing version of Trotskyist permanent revolution), believing that the Iraq war really was about American security. Support has fallen as that has become more implausible — the 2006 rout of the Republicans was essentially about the fact that conservatives are increasingly sick of the war and see no point to it. Atkinson represents a dwindling band of intellectuals who were long ago shunned from most universities and are increasingly out in the cold in Washington. Not that they’ll ever go away completely.

By the way,, despite occasionally carrying pieces from the left, is usually a fascinating collection of thought from the “Old Right,” that is, the isolationist, anti-government, pro-market strand of American thought to which probably 10-15% of Americans subscribe — a lot more than anything Atkinson represents. Their only office-holding representative is Congressman Ron Paul, aka “Dr No.” Probably their best-known intellectual representative is H L Mencken. They are remarkably consistent in their anti-war opposition, much more so than the left — not only were they against Iraq and Vietnam, they were also against interventions in Kosovo and Bosnia, both World Wars and the American Civil War (they see Lincoln as a near-psychopathic dictator who cared little about emancipation but a lot about expanding presidential power — a view they share with Gore Vidal). Raimondo himself cut his teeth on an anarchist brand of gay activism in the sixties.

Who David is, and why I would take his opinion very seriously, may be seen here.

Harper’s writer Lewis H Lapham is another distinguished representative of the tradition of H L Mencken, if not as hard-boiled as some David mentions. A more ferocious yet urbane critic of George W Bush and the whole “imperial” mission of the neocons is hard to imagine. I commend Lapham’s essays. I rather like his patrician style. See for example “The Case for Impeachment: Why we can no longer afford George W. Bush”. As I wrote in July 2005, “The US form of ‘patriotism’ is alien to most Australians I know, and was considered quite bizarre even by my parents and grandparents, none of whom were known to be leftwingers either. Mind you, the more Americans there were like Harpers Magazine’s Lewis H Lapham, the better would be the US and the safer the rest of us.” [I see the Lapham articles are now limited to subscribers to Harper’s. See instead Lewis Lapham Interview on The Progressive and Conversation with Lewis H Lapham from Conversations with History: Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley.]

Discussions of US fundamentalism or evangelicalism too often resort to overgeneralisation. For all the drivel emanating from Ken Ham and his fans there are also others in that world far less kooky, as perusal of Sojourners or even Christianity Today quickly shows. David’s point that we must avoid “the left-wing version of ‘all Arabs are terrorists’ [which] could be used to justify anything” is well made.

There are such significant cultural differences between the USA and Australia, despite the many similarities, that the discourse “over there” is a minefield for us Aussies. At the same time, unreflectively projecting their assumptions and values onto the rest of the world has often been a trap for Americans, which can have — I would argue has had — disastrous results at times, perhaps now more than ever.

David, feel free to respond. 🙂

1 September UPDATE

Ninglun from here on, not David…

Given the direction the comment section has taken, here are some more resources for you. The first is a Rolling Stones song some may find offensive, “My Sweet Neocon”, but it is part of the discourse.

Here is The Power of Nightmares on Leo Strauss, a godfather of neoconservatism.

For all that some mutter about Wikipedia, its account of neoconservatism in the USA — because the term has become something of a generic term of abuse such careful distinction is necessary — is actually quite a good starting point.

I am afraid many of us, and I count myself, though I do try more than I did to avoid doing this, rabbit on in our blogs about things we really do not understand. That’s fine, up to a point; the blog is not written in stone for all time, after all. I think this current post is a bit of a contribution to more careful thought. I hope that is the case. I do know I have been learning something from it all.

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19 responses to “Guest entry: David from Michigan

  1. ninglun

    September 1, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    Thanks for your continuing input, Daniel, but I don’t think people with PhDs who are the stupidest people I’ve ever met (I have also had that experience) proves very much, as the opposite may also be true. I find a smart George Bush far more sinister than a dumb one, so I am prepared to listen to David on that point.

    I have added some resources on neoconservatism to the main entry. It is neither a secular nor a religious group, but both, depending on who you look at. Christopher Hitchens, for example, is an atheist neocon. The categories US evangelical and neocon are by no means synonymous, though there may be overlap between them. Those neocons with Jewish background are not necessarily representative of Judaism as a whole, nor are they uniformly religious.

    I have found an interesting blog on these issues: Philip Weiss: (tag “neocons”). Who is he? He explains in a July 2007 entry.

    …I speak here as a member of the Jewish community. No, I’m not religious, as Walzer is. I can’t read Hebrew, I’m assimilating, etc etc. It doesn’t matter. I’m a Jew, and my challenge to my Jewish community has a long pedigree. 100 years ago, many leading American Jews were opposed to Zionism on just these grounds, that it would create a conflict between American citizenship and some new binational citizenship, this anomalous citizenship Walzer so extolled. Back then, there was criticism, ultimately stifled. Today there is almost none…

    One other point. The Hillel House at Columbia has a cafeteria called Nana, with a giant photographic mural of the Israeli desert along one wall and the slogan, “A Taste of Home.” The cafeteria is in the Arthur H. and Iphigene Sulzberger Lounge. That German-Jewish couple was anti-Zionist for the reason that I am, that our home is the United States, not Israel. Consider how their legacy has been insulted. Again, I say, let the soul-searching begin…

    There are many Jewish voices in America…

  2. Daniel

    September 1, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    And the negative attitude to the Palestinians by America is, in part, a reflection of the majority of those Jewish voices.

    And I disagree that my experience proves nothing. I was enrolled in a Masters Doctorate program at one stage so my comment stands.

    Or would you prefer to argue that your experience in life proves nothing too?

  3. ninglun

    September 1, 2007 at 2:43 pm

    All I am saying, Daniel, is that there are dumb PhDs and bright PhDs. The fact you focus on some PhDs you happen to have met tells us very little about all PhDs. I am not doubting the people you are thinking of may have been worse than useless. But you are generalising from that experience, and there we always need to be tentative at least.

    American governments of all kinds have a bad record when it comes to Palestine, though Clinton did try. Some of that is a result of what is called the “Israel lobby”. I have met some (yes) Israelis when I worked in a Jewish school who would agree with you 100%. I deplore what has happened in that part of the world probably as much as you do. I also would not like to see the blood bath that would result if we all just washed our hands of the State of Israel, whose West Bank settlements and so on I oppose.

    There are no simple answers to this one. I know you have strong views on this, and I agree — as perhaps everyone does — that Israel/Palestine is the problem in the Middle East, but I do not share all your views on this matter, or on what to do about it. That is not a crime, after all. I am not saying you should change your mind. Better heads than ours have differed on these matters after all. Do I have the answer? No. Do I think there will be an answer? I hope so, and I support all those, religious of not, Jewish or not, who are really trying to find one.

    However, arguments that tend to “international Jewish conspiracy” make me want to throw up.

  4. Daniel

    September 1, 2007 at 7:20 pm

    Of course there is a solution, Neil! Get the Israelis out of the Palestinian Territories, push them back to the 1967 borders where they belong, give the Palestinians an independent sovereign State, take all nuclear weapons off Israel, stop America using Israel as an imperialist proxy in the region, clip America’s wings by force if necessary or via detente, make the U.N. the supreme body that runs world affairs independent of the manipulation of major nations like America, etc, etc.

    There are solutions to all the world’s problems. To set them in motion we have to change the world order, get rid of the bullies, the imperialists, the capitalists, the procrastinators, etc.

    I’m sick of the excuses, those who always suggest why it can’t be done, who always make things appear more complex than they really are!

    If we don’t change the world order there’ll be no bloody world!

  5. ninglun

    September 1, 2007 at 7:29 pm

    So we agree on the existence of a State of Israel then. There are those still for whom that is quite unthinkable. And getting rid of the bullies, the imperialists, the capitalists sounds good. But only a full-on World War would bring that about, and they may well win. I’m afraid your solution is no solution at all, Daniel, sadly. Not without a bloodbath greater even than the ones we have seen so far. I am afraid compromise of some kind will be the only way to get even close to peace, short of Armageddon (I do not use the word in its religious sense.)

    It is possible that pressure from Europe and/or China, India, the Muslim World, and so on might peacefully (or more or less peacefully, more likely) accomplish some of your aims. Or, entirely possible, some kind of internal meltdown in the US. Or the return of America to isolationism. But even these scenarios are not without their down side.

    Of course if people all around the world suddenly took it into their heads that they would not fight any more, would use their military only for bona fide policing or for things like public works or natural disasters… (At such times we do need the scale and kind of organisation and equipment the military has traditionally provided.) We can all hope…

    But revolutionary changes usually grow out of the barrel of a gun, as Mao observed. Will that ever change?

    We have rival schemes for solving the world’s problems, ranging from a return to the Bible/Quran to see what God says we should do, to going back to Marx or Lenin or Mao, to Letting the Free Market Fix It — a bloody silly one that, to making the world American, to reviving the idea of Empire… Trouble is, all of these have had a history of increasing rather than reducing the world’s problems. Oh yes, their enthusiasts cry, They Haven’t Been Tried! Just let us crush the capitalists/Islamists/liberals/secularists/imperialists/communists/abortionists/evolutionists and all will be well… Not much hope in the way such thinking has played out so far, is there?

    Mind you, we have come a long way from simply discussing whether David’s views on neocons and Bush have merit. I am sure this will not become The Thread That Solved The World’s Problems.

    But I respect your 10 Principles, except that in #7 and possibly #2 you have excluded Muslims for starters. And they will let you know too. Hamas would certainly let you know. Muslims, and this includes very unthreatening Muslims, have already found the Universal Declaration of Human Rights problematic, though some good work has been done by positive Islamic scholars on creating an Islamic version. That would guarantee much that we would want, and we will have to learn to live with and respect variations like that, don’t you think? Me, I rather like Thich Nhat Hanh’s 14 precepts. I suspect you do too. NOTE: I had the wrong link there; it’s OK now.

    I also recommend Amin Maalouf’s On Identity to people, and have many times. Now you can read chunks of it — enough to get his drift — on Google Books: In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong.

  6. Daniel

    September 2, 2007 at 8:33 am

    If people had feared a bloodbath, the French Revolution would never have occurred, Neil. The vested interests will not give up their privileged position without a fight and we, the people, will never have true freedom and equality and peace unless we fight for it!

    Religion is a divisive influence which must be diminished. Let people do what they like in their own homes but all religious institutions must be broken up, their mind-numbing influence neutered. Cheers!

  7. ninglun

    September 2, 2007 at 8:56 am

    Daniel, the Reign of Terror in France led ultimately to Napoleon. The abolition of religious institutions has cheered the hearts of the likes of Stalin and Pol Pot. Peace is war? And yet I agree that the divisiveness of religion must be neutered; I just prefer Amin Maalouf or Thich Nhat Hanh, or indeed the Dalai Lama, or Gandhi, to the gulag.

    Be careful when you say we, the people, will never have true freedom and equality and peace unless we fight for it, which I agree with by the way except there is fighting and fighting, that you are not really saying we, the people, will never have true freedom and equality and peace unless we kill for it. Such is the dilemma of utopianism, and such has it always been. “After the sadly necessary slaughter all will be well” is one of humanity’s worst illusions, and we have fallen for it every time, time out of mind.

    Al Qaeda are utopians. That is a very large part of the problem. We would all be far better off with modest ambition, pragmatism and compromise.

  8. Daniel

    September 2, 2007 at 10:37 am

    Neil, I am an admirer of Gandhi and a peace advocate. I never used the word ‘kill’ once. If you notice in my 10 principles I talk of respect for all life. To fight for something does not necessarily involve violence although it may.

    I certainly agree with your final sentence!

  9. James Russell

    September 2, 2007 at 6:59 pm

    I am afraid many of us, and I count myself, though I do try more than I did to avoid doing this, rabbit on in our blogs about things we really do not understand.

    But Neil, if bloggers limited themselves to posting only about things they actually understood, do you know what would happen? Blogging would grind to a halt.

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