Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Monday, February 20th, 2006.


Don’t Miss TV

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Bush Administration, News Media

Some Mahablog commenters and other bloggers are saying the CSPAN town hall broadcast on on separation of powers issues dealing with the NSA domestic spying was first rate. It will be rebroadcast tonight on CSPAN1 at 9:00 EST. Panelists include Mary DeRosa, Lawrence Tribe, John Dean, Jim Harper, Anthony Romero, and Marvin Kalb. I plan to watch.

Also, the Olympic ice dancing final competition on NBC will be fun to watch (I know who got medals — wink, nudge).

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Dueling Snark

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Democratic Party, Republican Party

Compare/contrast: “What it means to be a Republican” and “Seventeen Ways to Define a Good Democrat.” I say we win.

Update: See also Mary Pitt, “Talking With a Bush Republican” at Scoop.

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Patriotism v. Francis Fukuyama

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big picture stuff, conservatism, liberalism and progressivism

This is only tangential to the “patriotism v. nationalism” series I seem to have embarked on, but I’d like to toss it in to the mix now before it gets stale.

Some years ago I read the original “The End of History?” article that Francis Fukuyama wrote in 1989, and out of which grew a book by the same name. This essay persuaded me that, just as youth is wasted on the young, graduate school is wasted on the stupid. I expressed more dismay at Fukuyama and explained why I think he’s an idiot here.

Anyway, Fukuyama wrote a long essay for yesterday’s New York Times Sunday magazine called “After Neoconservatism.” I haven’t read it all the way through yet and will refrain from criticising it directly until I do. But links to the essay took me to this post by Andrew Seal of The Little Green Blog (“All things petty and profound at Dartmouth College – and beyond…”) that’s a gem. Note this paragraph in particular

I would add that neoconservatism is also a reaction to modernization, that the idea, pseudo-Nietzschean as it is, that we can shape history by our will to power (veiled as a will to democracy) is a reaction to a globalized world where awareness of things beyond our power has grown to frightening proportions. It is not that we have less power over our situation than ever before, but that we are more aware of how little power we have always had. I guess Nietzsche himself identified this phenomenon–or symptom, if you prefer–as ressentiment.

This nicely supports what I said of neoconism in the last post, “Patriotism v. Paranoia,” which was a follow up to “Patriotism v. Nationalism“: “I see neoconservatism as proactive isolationism. Foreigners scare us, so we’ll make them be more like us so they’re not so scary.”

Mr. Seal of Dartmouth says it a bit better, though.

Here Mr. Seal quotes Fukuyama and makes a comment —

    The [Iraq] war’s supporters seemed to think that democracy was a kind of default condition to which societies reverted once the heavy lifting of coercive regime change occurred, rather than a long-term process of institution-building and reform.

In other words, we’ve all clearly been taking things like Locke’s “state of nature” and Rawls’s “original position” a little too literally. Democracy is not, in fact, at the heart of humanity.

This represents some progress on Fukuyama’s part, because in “The End of History?” he assumes that something called “liberal democracy” (which I infer from the essay is neither liberal nor democratic as most of us understand those words) is humanity’s natural state and the final destination of mankind’s political evolution. Once mankind has universally achieved this state, history (meaning wars and other political upheavals) will end, Fukuyama concluded.

I think righties generally have this same view of “democracy”; that whatever it is, it’s immutable, and once you have it you don’t have to be concerned about damaging it or losing it. Subvert it, break it, bend it out of shape, and it’ll just snap back, good as new. Further, once a people have elections, they have democracy, because people will always choose to freedom over totalitarianism. Numerous real-world examples to the contrary will not dissuade righties from this notion.

Also, Mr. Seals says,

Fukuyama is asserting the existence of what Richard Hofstadter called “the illusion of American omnipotence”—that anything seriously bad happening in the world had to be the result of American mismanagement of global affairs. He used the example of the Chinese fall to Communism—many believed that democratic China’s collapse was due to insufficient American involvement and support or even “betrayal.” However, the illusion of American omnipotence has another side as well—we tend to believe that anything good happening in the world is a fruit of beneficial American policies–the embrace of democracy by many of the former Warsaw Pact countries was “due” to our shining example, for instance. (City on the Hill, etc.) Neocons are simply the most ardent believers in the illusion of American omnipotence.

Exactly so. And now I want to treat you to my favorite rightie, Orrin Judd. He remains my favorite even over Michelle Malkin and Captain Ed (and even Confederate Yankee, who loves me but won’t admit it), because he’s such a pure example of the walking delusional state that is rightiness. Others may occasionally be contaminated by momentary bursts of clarity or reason, but not our Orrin. In reaction to Fukuyama’s essay, he writes,

The problem for Mr. Fukuyama and others counseling a return to Realism is that the neocons aren’t the driving force behind the policy of humanitarian interventionism. It is instead a function of the Judeo-Christian remoralization of Anglo-American foreign policy that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan began and that continued unabated under Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, reaching its current heights under our most openly evangelical president, George W, Bush. With Australia, India, Japan, and perhaps now Canada joining the Axis of Good, which requires that regimes be democratic in order to be considered legitimate, there’s not much chance danger of the kind of retreat he’s fretting about. And with John McCain the odds on favorite to be our next president we’re more likely to be increasingly interventionist rather than less.

What can one say to that, but … holy shit.

And be sure to read the comments. As Mary Matalin might say, they are delicious. I think my favorites are “We stepped in and imposed peace. It’s who we are”; and “It’s our fault we’ve let them all depend on us. Democratization is like global welfare reform–get on with your own lives.” The “illusion of American omnipotence” indeed.

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Patriotism v. Paranoia

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big picture stuff, conservatism, liberalism and progressivism

This post is a followup to the last post on Patriotism v. Nationalism, in which I argue that the hard-core Right is not patriotic, but nationalistic.

Saturday at Huffington Post, EJ Eskow posted “Shot Through the Heart and You’re to Blame: Conservatism as Psychopathology.” Eskow disagrees with Glenn Greenwald that our current “conservatism” is a Bush personality cult.

I think the truth is simpler and sicker than that. People don’t slavishly obey and follow every whim of Messrs. Bush (and now Cheney) because they revere them. They do it for a more basic reason: They’ve got the candy.

Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld … they’re Mafia bosses doling out the largesse in return for unquestioned fealty. And today’s so-called “conservatives” respond in kind. Will Roger Ailes get more exclusive interviews if he peddles the daily GOP lies and spins? As you wish, Godfather. Will Arnold Schwarzenegger become Governor if he pumps for Bush at the convention? Thank you, Don Karl. Will “Straight Talkin'” John McCain be rewarded with a chance to run in 2008 if he forgets what they did to his wife and kid? It’ good to kiss the ring again, Mr. President. Let me hug you.

Everything conservatism used to stand for, from fiscal restraint to obeying the law to good manners, is being turned on its head by the Bush Regime. And the faithful love them for it. Eskow writes,

Wrecking the country’s finances. Trashing civil discourse. Law breaking. Ruining the earth itself for our grandchildren. That’s some sick s**t. Now, we have the sight of Mr. Whittington — by all accounts a good and decent man — being forced to crawl on broken glass to stay in the club. Hey, too bad about Harry — but business is business.

But now to the psychopathology — Eskow points out that the recent shooting incident (“Get loaded, shoot a guy in the face, tell the world it’s his fault, then make him crawl.”) is illustrative of antisocial personality disorder as defined by the DSM psychiatric manual. Well, yes; Bush, Cheney, and the rest of the top officials of the Bush Administration could fill the Personality Disorder Hall of Fame. But does “they’ve got the candy” really account for Bush’s following among the people of the U.S.? It might explain why other Republican politicians kowtow to the Bushies, but it doesn’t explain Bush devotion among the hoi polloi.

According to some guys at Berkeley, 50 years of research literature reveal these common psychological factors linked to political conservatism:

* Fear and aggression
* Dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity
* Uncertainty avoidance
* Need for cognitive closure
* Terror management

Fear, aggression, avoidance, terror. As Glenn Greenwald wrote,

When all else fails, what we end up hearing from Bush supporters, usually in quite strained and urgent tones, is that we have no real choice but to consent to the latest item of controversy on the Bush agenda (which now even includes allowing the President to break the law when he decides that our protection requires that), because if we do not, we will all die violent and horrible deaths at the hands of the powerful Islamic terrorists. Our very survival is at risk — the people who want to kill us all are coming — and given our dire state, anything and everything is justified to stop them.

I think righties are genuinely baffled when they find others who aren’t as afraid as they are and who aren’t being driven by fear. Like, for example, lefties. They assume we are innocents who don’t understand how dangerous the world is. And I think they’re unhinged. Yes, terrorism is frightening. Terrorists can knock down buildings and kill people. But terrorists can’t destroy America. There aren’t enough terrorists with enough weapons in the world to invade and occupy America. Terrorists can’t destroy the Constitution or cancel our civil liberties. Only we can do that. And fear is driving the more unhinged elements of the Right into doing exactly that.

In “Bush and the Cultivation of Fear” I argued that support for George W. Bush is built on fear. Even neocon-ism, which on the surface appears to be all about self-confidence and dominance and spreading American hegemony, is an ideology born of fear. I see neoconservatism as proactive isolationism. Foreigners scare us, so we’ll make them be more like us so they’re not so scary.

Relating this to the last post on nationalism — I see nationalism and fundamentalism and most other right-wing isms as essentially driven by fear. In the past century or so our species, worldwide, has undergone some seismic social shifts. People no longer remain neatly sorted by skin color, language, and cultural history. All over the globe people of diverse ethnic and social backgrounds are having to learn to live together. Once upon a time “foreign” places were far, far away. But air travel has brought them closer in terms of travel time; now every foreign place on the globe is just over the horizon. Soon foreigners will be sitting in our laps.

I think nationalism arose and became dominant in the 20th century largely because of these seismic social shifts. People who can’t handle the shifts retreat into nationalism as a defense.

This is from something I wrote in December 2003:

I’ve observed my whole life how Americans can be frightened into stampeding off cliffs. Fear of Communism gave birth to McCarthyism, the House Un-American Activities Committee, and the War in Vietnam. Today the Republicans are using fears of terrorism, foreigners, ethnic minorities, and various aspects of sexuality to keep the serfs in line.

Consider also the Religious Right. In her magnificent book The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism, Karen Armstrong demonstrates that fundamentalism arose in response to modernity, especially to scientific rationalism. “Fear is at the heart of fundamentalism,” she writes. “The fear of losing yourself.” This is true of Islamic fundamentalists like Osama bin Laden as well as our homegrown types. Liberals cherish tolerance, democracy, pluralism, and civil liberties; fundamentalists fear these values as weapons of (their) annihilation.

    It is important to recognize that these theologies and ideologies are rooted in fear. The desire to define doctrines, erect barriers, establish borders, and segregate the faithful in a sacred enclave where the law is stringently observed springs from that terror of extinction which has made all fundamentalists, at once time or another, believe that the secularists were about to wipe them out. The modern world, which seems so exciting to a liberal, seems Godless, drained of meaning and even satanic to a fundamentalist. [Armstrong, The Battle for God (Ballantine, 2000), p. 368]

I postulate that existential fear is at the heart of most “isms.” And although there’s no objective measure of angst that I know of, the world may seem scarier to We, the People, than it used to, and not just because of terrorism. Collectively, our props are falling away. Compared to fifty years ago (as far back as I can remember), communities are fragmented, families are scattered, jobs are ephemeral. Across rural and small-town America, communities that were once homogeneous are becoming multiracial and multiethnic. “Givens” about God and Man and Sex and other big issues are being openly challenged.

Thus, fearful voters can be incited into voting against their own self-interests by the terrifying specter of gay people getting married.

If you understand the fear issue, then what I call Erin’s Paradox (named for my daughter because she noticed it, not because she has it) becomes more understandable. Erin’s Paradox says that the further away Americans live from any likely terrorist target, the more fearful they are of terrorism. “Likely terrorist targets” are urban, and city dwellers learn to be comfortable with multiculturalism. If you live in some homogeneous little town out on the prairie, however, it’s more likely you are not comfortable with multiculturalism at all. Thus, dusky Islamic terrorists from unfathomable foreign places scare the stuffing out of them, much more so than the potential Timothy McVeigh wannabee next door.

Bottom line: When you are looking at a rightie you are looking at a nationalist; and when you are looking at a nationalist you are looking at someone who has already surrendered to fear. The terrorists have got ’em right where they want ’em — terrorized.

Later I want to tie this in to hate speech from the Right, but I think I’ve gone on long enough for now.

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