Political thought and political instinct prove themselves theoretically and practically in the ability to distinguish friend and enemy. The high points of politics are simultaneously the moments in which the enemy is, in concrete clarity, recognized as the enemy." Carl Schmitt
Certain political philosophers believe that it is necessary to deceive people in order to manipulate and lead crowds and to get them moving in a particular direction; for instance, towards a preemptive strike on the sovereign state of Iraq with the purpose of destroying it.
Moreover, they say that people at large are so divided in their interests that leaders must necessarily be hypocrites in order to persuade at least the majority to behave in a certain manner. Furthermore, although they give lip-service to democracy, they say that real democracy is impossible, that people need to be moved by concentrated power. The cause may or may not be righteous, yet, since what is right in the abstract sense is subject to misunderstanding, criticism, and debate, it is necessary to prevaricate, to quibble, to lie, to practice hypocrisy, to generate pretexts and so on in order to get the herd moving. The best way to provoke a stampede to war is to raise the specter of some imminent threat, a clear and present danger to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness: all the better if there is some immediate reference such as a Pearl Harbor or a September Eleven.
Many of us knew that the second Bush war on Iraq was in the works long before the presidential candidacy of George Bush, Jr. was announced. And we believed that it was highly likely that every reason given for the rush to war was a pretext. We were called traitors and terrorists and lovers of Saddam Hussein for saying so. The pretexts were diversions, including the final pretext raised to appease the objectors - that "we" loved the Iraqis so much that we wanted to free them for our kind of democracy. Many people are still stumbling over the three initial pretexts: 9/11, WMD, AL-Quad link. The political leaders admitted that the pretexts were pretexts, they admitted they had no evidence that any one of them was true, then they went right back to the pretexts, and nobody seemed to notice: the casual admissions barely impeded the mass momentum already acquired.
That is not to say that the president and his father and those whom they represent do not have a noble cause beneath the pretexts whatever they are. No doubt we could pause here to quibble over the definition of 'noble', and go so far as to say that, even if the objective were to implement a form of the plan adumbrated under Eisenhower to seize the oil fields, the cause of the United States was noble because this great nation of ours cannot survive the centuries in prosperity without the oil fields. And what is more "virtuous" or manly than fighting for survival? In the case of a nation, a noble or "known" man should lead the cause. And according to some codes, vengeance is a noble thing as well, say, the son wreaking vengeance for the father not only because "he (Saddam Hussein) tried to kill my daddy," but because his daddy was double-crossed and that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Kurds and Shias.
Nonetheless, despite the apparent nobility of such motives for making a preemptive attack on Iraq to destroy its sovereign state against the will of the civilized world, if those causes had been confessed, the bourgeois sort of U.S. consumer, whose religion is feel-good faith, who likes to buy now and pay later, who has due cause to be critical of traditional nobility, would not have hastened to war over such professions of noble causes with all their long-term advantages.
I appreciate most of all the truth served straight up. Politics has its ugly truths. One might be that a great deal of evil has to be done to accomplish some ultimate good, but I refuse to buy tainted goods. Maybe the president had noble causes for having so many people killed. I would not be so angry with him and those who deserve him for a leader if he had put them forward in the first place. Those who do deserve him for a leader do not like to hear that their president is a liar and that hypocrisy is the unstated yet underlying political philosophy of his administration. They are insulted by my references to the 'real politick' , 'world power politick', 'might is right', 'anglo-american-saxon' school of thought they should study if they want a better understanding of the present government of the United States in order to determine whether they and their leaders are as ethical and righteous as they believe.
The reading list should include Martin Luther, Thomas Hobbes, Nicolo Machiavelli, Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Heinrich von Treitzschke, Max Weber, General von Bernhardi, Friedrich Meinecke, Carl Schmidt, Wilhelm II, Adolf Hitler, Leo Strauss, Newt Gingrich, Paul Wolfowitz, Condaleezza Rice. In addition there are many pseudo-conservative - 'neoconservative' authors whose conservatism is alien to the traditional understanding of human liberty - who might be studied for a better understanding of contemporary U.S. politics. Mind you, I do not claim that any or all of the authors named are evil or are fiends and the like; they are often misunderstood. For example, my favorite is Hobbes, whom the Catholics claim was the father of the Enlightenment. Hobbes was admired by Weber, who eventually gave lip-service to democracy publicly yet joked about it privately; Weber inspired the youth movement to two world wars; he maintained the world-power-state, might is right ideology to the bitter end. Methinks Weber mistook Hobbes. However that might be, once the works of the aforementioned thinkers are perused, perhaps the current predilection for right-wing authoritarian government (OED: 'fascism') will be tempered by a return to liberal conservatism; that is, to the conservation of liberty. Many more words on that subject should be said lest we forget.
Absolute liberty or freedom from everything external to our essential will to omnipotence is as inconceivable as chaos. We can conceive of power concentrated in a small number of persons, and our race has experienced virtual absolutism from time to time at the hand of despots, tyrants, aristocracies, and the like. Still, absolute freedom for all is impossible. But we do enjoy liberties relative to certain objects, say, government. Our liberties are capacities to resist the imposition of one thing or another against our wills. We limit government that it may not have absolute power over any of us. To that end we divide the government into separate powers. The powers overlap here and there, hence are confused, yet our continuous attempt to keep them separate and balanced retards any advance to absolutism.
For instance, we may divide the government by and for the people into three functional branches: executive, judicial, and legislative; the legislature may be separated into two houses, vestiges of the king's court or house of lords, or senate, and the house of the rest of the people who are suffered by king and court. The division of parliament or the congress into two houses rests on what may be a superstition, that the worst tyranny of all is that of a single house of lawmakers, who, as members of a single corporate body, hold no individual office; that is, they submerge themselves like Narcissus in the corporate pool, where they enjoy personal irresponsibility. Yet, at least in my opinion, given the authoritarian type of personality which is the mode in our fearful society, the greatest danger to the United States and the world lies in the abuse of the presidential power, the power of our temporary king, especially when the president has the cooperation of more than one-third of the old king's court, the senate; notwithstanding revolution or assassination, together they can run roughshod over the entire world with all the might of the United States.
Civil liberty hinders political attacks on the development of personality. The state is not an individual or the father of the pater-land to whom one should in all events be patriotic. The unethical or amoral national socialist and fascist ideology held forth the state as an individual or epitome of individuality, under the crude, barbaric doctrine that might makes it naturally right to do as it will, a policy which in effect resulted in the worst sort of horrors known to humankind.
It is the man or woman of conscience, it is the person with a soul who chooses, who is the real source of political power, a power that may be exercised morally if all persons have the same, protected liberties. That is not to say that everyone with equal civil rights will agree; indeed, the right to dissent is an essential liberty, and continual dissent is the prerequisite of a legitimate consensus - beware of those who would stifle dissent in the spurious name of bipartisan or nonpartisan consensus.
Again, people are multiple; experience can not be reduced to a unity: no single absolute political power exists. People have multiple interests, not a single political interest in some abstract state imagined to be a person or an apotheosis of persons with a natural right to use any and all means to preserve itself according to the "law of the jungle." The state must be judged by its citizens, for, if it is not judged, if its citizens are uncritical, the state is bound to be immoral and most dangerous to liberty. The state does not stand above its citizens as a god whose ways are mysterious hence justifiable regardless of their ethical and moral content: the state has no inherent right, for example, to murder innocent babies or to incarcerate them because they are not baptized.
Ultimately, right is superior to might; ethic is superior to force: the ethical application of force is superior to brute force. Winning is not everything; surviving is not everything, for with men and women of conscience there is a greater end than survival. It might be better to perish than to win; that is, "To perish is a solution." It might be better to perish than to win. That does not necessarily mean, "A life not worth killing other men for is not worth living." A few conscientiously object to that perspective, and cleave to the belief that killing is wrong in any case, wherefore they say, "A life one must kill for is not worth living."
Of course it seems unnatural that a human being would not kill in self defense or would not defend his family, tribe, clan, nation; yet some martyrs, presumably for love over hate, have suffered an agonizing death for their cause, which they profess is the highest cause of all, wherefore they have been known to repudiate their family in advance, as an institutional impediment to salvation. On the other hand, it is said that "He who loves everybody loves nobody," which is to imply that love is wed to its opposite, or is hate-based inasmuch as some must be loved to the exclusion of others; indeed, some neoconservatives, followers of Carl Schmidtt, claim that the purpose of politics is to find out who your friends and enemies are and to get rid of your enemies.
No doubt these dry remarks on liberty are cliches if not platitudes, yet they bear repeating more often in my opinion, perhaps in better ways than I have repeated them, for I believe there is something very wrong with the people of the United States of America. I sense that higher education has become a sort of dumbing down or cultivation of stupidity because of what it ignores. I believe that Americans are being misled by themselves and by the "great men" who represent them. I do not believe that Americans have to be lied to or be distracted by pretexts to get them to do the right thing.
Friday, March 19, 2004
Downtown Kansas City Journal