This Thursday night at 7:00 (014 Demerest, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY) come hear the gadfly sent to torment conservatives, Corey Robin, author of "The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sara Palin."
With responses by Professors Iva Deutchman and Stephen Frug.
From the January 18, 2012 "New York Times":
“The Reactionary Mind” certainly cuts hard against the common view that the radical populist conservatism epitomized by Sarah Palin represents a sharp break with the cautious, reasonable, moderate, pragmatic conservatism inaugurated by the 18th-century British statesman Edmund Burke. For Mr. Robin even Burke, that great critic of the French Revolution, wasn’t a Burkean moderate, but a reactionary who celebrated the sublimity of violence and denounced the inability of flabby traditional elites to defend the existing order.
This counterrevolutionary spirit, Mr. Robin argues, animates every conservative, from the Southern slaveholders to Ayn Rand to Antonin Scalia, to name just a few of the figures he pulls into his often slashing analysis. Commitment to a limited government, devotion to the free market, or a wariness of change, Mr. Robin writes, are not the essence of conservatism but mere “byproducts” of one essential idea — “that some are fit, and thus ought, to rule others.”
Hundreds of police officers were involved, some of them wearing riot helmets. The overnight hours of Monday into Tuesday were chosen because Zuccotti Park would be at its emptiest. The operation was kept secret from all but a few high-ranking officers, with others initially being told that they were embarking on an exercise.
Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly was at the center, his presence underscoring how the operation was fraught with challenges for the Police Department. There could be no repeat of episodes in recent weeks, like the pepper-spraying of protesters, that violated department rules and created a firestorm of public sympathy for the squatters.
And so the police operation to clear Zuccotti Park of protesters unfolded after two weeks of planning and training. Officials had prepared by watching how occupations in other cities played out. A major disaster drill was held on Randalls Island, with an eye toward Zuccotti. Officials increased so-called disorder training — counterterrorism measures that involve moving large numbers of police officers quickly — to focus on Lower Manhattan.
The last training session was on Monday night, on the Manhattan side of the East River. The orders to move into the park came down at the “last minute,” said someone familiar with the orders, which referred to the assignment only as “an exercise.”
“The few cops that I know that were called into this thing, they were not told it was for going into Zuccotti Park,” said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The only people who were aware of them going into Zuccotti Park were at the very highest levels of the department.”
One reason for the secrecy was a lesson learned by the city. On Oct. 14, officials wanted to clear the park, but then backed off as hundreds of protesters streamed in ahead of time after hearing of the plans.
The operation on Tuesday involved officers from various police units, including boroughwide task forces — scores of mobile officers who are usually used to flood high-crime neighborhoods.
Mr. Kelly said many people, almost like commuters, had been coming and going from the park during the day, making 1 a.m. a good time to move in. “It was appropriate to do it when the smallest number of people were in the park,” he said.
Emergency Service Unit trucks with klieg lights and loudspeakers gathered at Pike Slip and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive, near the Manhattan Bridge, before moving out. The lights and prerecorded messages booming from the loudspeakers seemed to cow many protesters. As the community affairs officers moved into the park in their light-blue windbreakers, many protesters simply gathered their belongings and left.
Last week I had lunch with friend, Dominic. We talked about Steve Jobs and Apple. I tried to express the ambivalence of love for the beautiful gadgets, the fantastic design, the total pleasure of engaging with the machines. Dominic, rarely one to play at out-Bolshevization, was having none of it. Not only does good design a pathetic compensation for the atrocities of the Fox-Conn factories, but the design itself is part of the problem. Dominic sent me this link from Ballard's High Rise:
‘Reluctantly, he knew that he despised his fellow residents for the way in which they fitted so willingly into their appointed slots in the apartment building, for their over-developed sense of responsibility, and lack of flamboyance.
Above all, he looked down on them for their good taste. The building was a monument to good taste, to the well-designed kitchen, to sophisticated utensils and fabrics, to elegant and never ostentatious furnishings – in short, to that whole aesthetic sensibility which these well-educated professional people had inherited from all the schools of industrial design, all the award-winning schemes of interior decoration institutionalized by the last quarter of the twentieth century. Royal detested this orthodoxy of the intelligent. Visiting his neighbors’ apartments, he would find himself physically repelled by the contours of an award-winning coffee-pot, by the well-modulated color schemes, by the good taste and intelligence that, Midas-like, had transformed everything in these apartments into an ideal marriage of function and design. In a sense, these people were the vanguard of a well-to-do and well-educated proletariat of the future.’ (80-81)
(excerpts from a post at Michaelmoore.com)
Meanwhile, we – me, included – get lost in the weeds of how this one madman was killed. The official story from the Pentagon changed four times in the first four days! It went from OBL firing on the troops with one hand and using his wife as a human shield with the other, to, by the fourth day, not single person in the main house, including bin Laden, being armed when killed. Instantly, this created a lot of suspicion about what really happened, which itself was a distraction.
Here's my take: I know a number of Navy SEALs. In fact (and this is something I don't like to talk about publicly, for all the obvious reasons), I hire only ex-SEALs and ex-Special Forces guys to handle my own security (I'll let you pause a moment to appreciate that irony). These SEALs are trained to follow orders. I don't know what their orders were that night in Abbottabad, but it certainly looks like a job (and this is backed up in a piece in the Atlantic) where they were told to not bring bin Laden back alive. The SEALs are pros at what they do and they instantly took out every adult male (every potential threat) within a few minutes – but they also took care to not harm a single one of the nine children who were present. Pretty amazing. This wasn't some Rambo-style operation where they just went in guns blazing, spraying bullets. They acted swiftly and with expert precision. I'm telling you, these guys are so smart and so lethal, they could take you out with a piece of dental floss. (And in fact, one of my ex-SEAL guys showed me how to do that one night. Whoa.)
In a perfect world (yes, I would like to reside there someday, or at least next door to it, in Slightly Imperfect World), I would like the evildoers to be forced to stand trial in front of that world. I know a lot of people see no need for a trial for these bad guys (just hang 'em from the nearest tree!), and think trials are for sissies. "They're guilty, off with their heads!" Well, you see, that is the exact description of the Taliban/al Qaeda/Nazi justice system. I don't like their system. I like ours. And I don't want to be like them. In fact, the reason I like a good trial is that I like to show these bastards this is how it's done in a free country that believes in civilized justice. It's good for the rest of the world to see that, too. Sets a good example.
The other thing a trial does is, it establishes a very public and permanent historic record of the crimes against humanity. This is why we put the Nazis on trial in Nuremberg. We didn't do it for them. We did it for ourselves and for our grandchildren so that they would never forget these horrors and how they were committed. And we did it for the German people so they could see the evidence of what their elected leaders had done. Very helpful. Very necessary. Very powerful.
And for those who wanted blood back then – well, the majority of the Nazis all hanged in the end. So, it doesn't mean the bad guys get away – they still swing from the highest tree.
...Yet, we began to fear Muslims and round them up. We profiled people from Muslim nations at airports. We didn't profile multi-millionaires (in fact, they now have their own fast-track line to easily get through security, an oddity considering every murderer on 9/11 flew in first class). We didn't run headlines that said "Multi-Millionaire Behind the Mass Murder of 3,000" (although every word in that headline is true). You can say his wealth had nothing to do with 9/11, but the truth is, there is no way he could have kept Al Qaeda in business without having the millions he had.
Some believe that this was a "war" we were in with al Qaeda – and you don't do trials during war. It's thinking like this that makes me fear that, while bin Laden may be dead, he may have "won" the bigger battle. Let's be clear: There is no "war with al Qaeda." Wars are between nations. Al Qaeda was an organization of fanatics who committed crimes. That we elevated them to nation status – they loved it! It was great for their recruiting drive.
We did exactly what bin Laden said he wanted us to do: Give up our freedoms (like the freedom to be assumed innocent until proven guilty), engage our military in Muslim countries so that we will be hated by Muslims, and wipe ourselves out financially in doing so. Done, done and done, Osama. You had our number. You somehow knew we would eagerly give up our constitutional rights and become more like the authoritarian state you dreamed of. You knew we would exhaust our military and willingly go into more debt in eight years than we had accumulated in the previous 200 years combined.
Maybe you knew us so well because you were once one of our mercenaries, funded and armed by us via our friends in Pakistan to fight the other Evil Empire in the last battle of the Cold War. Only, when the killing stopped, the trained killer, our "Frankenstein," couldn't. The monster, you, would soon turn on us.
If we really want to send bin Laden not just to his death, but also to his defeat, may I suggest that we reverse all of that right now. End the wars, bring the troops home, make the rich pay for this mess, and restore our privacy and due process rights that used to distinguish us from any other country. Right now, our democracy looks like Singapore and our economy has gone desperately Greek.
I know it will be hard to turn the clock back to before 9/11 when all we had to worry about were candidates stealing elections. A multi-billion dollar industry has grown up around "homeland security" and the terror wars. These war profiteers will not want to give up their booty so easily. They will want to keep us in fear so they can keep raking it in. We will have to stop them. But first we must stop believing them.
Hideki Tojo killed my uncle and millions of Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos and a hundred thousand other Americans. He was the head of Japan, the Emperor's henchman, the man who was the architect of Pearl Harbor. When the American soldiers went to arrest him, he tried to commit suicide by shooting himself in the chest. The soldiers immediately worked on stopping his bleeding and rushed him to an army hospital where he was saved by our army doctors. He then had his day in court. It was a powerful exercise for the world to see. And on December 23, 1948, after he was found guilty, we hanged him. A killer of millions was forced to stand trial. A killer of 4,000 (counting the African embassies and USS Cole bombings) got double-tapped in his pajamas. Assuming it was possible to take him alive, I think his victims, the future, and the restoration of the American Way deserved better. That's all I'm saying.
At the risk of repeating myself, I want to note where I think Eric Alterman, writing in the Nation, is wrong. I am tempted to mark this as a difference between the commmunist left and left liberals, but maybe that is too reductive. One could even say that this is a difference between rule of law liberals and the bizarre sort of contemporary American liberals who have never been modern. Alterman writes:
The killing of Osama bin Laden was a just and necessary undertaking; just because he had the blood of thousands of innocents on his hands, and necessary because his continued escape from justice was an inspiration to others to try to follow in his footsteps. But it should not be occasion for joy. The Talmud tells the story of angels dancing and singing as the waters of the Red Sea close over the heads of the Egyptian troops after the Israelites have safely crossed over, only to be rebuked by their God: “How dare you dance and sing as my children drown in the sea?”
Who determines justice? The Talmud? Angels? God? What sort of justice can Alterman possibly have in mind? He presumes that vengenance is just and right. He presumes that assassination can be necessary. As long as we operate with such suppositions we remain incapable of justice.
Paul (Passavant) published an article a few years ago, "We Should Be Liberals (at least)." His primary text was Locke's Second Treatise--which would remind us all arbitrary power is a condition of the state of war. I wonder, then, if Alternman and others think that the justice they invoke is a kind of military justice or a justice that holds in a time of war. But military justice does not authorize assassination--does it? or execution?
Cheerleaders, chants, and beach balls are barbaric responses to the announcement of a political assassination.
Political assassination is not an act of justice. It does not bring about justice in some kind of cosmic tit for tat. It is not the doing of justice. Justice is not done when another is killed in retaliation.
Retaliation, retribution, revenge--are these now the common terms through which justice is understood in the US? Do we think that victims are avenged when their assailant is killed? The victims are still dead, still gone, still mourned. Are they brought back in the acts of terror, torture, and imprisonment enacted in their name? Are they memorialized daily in airports as we take off our belts and shoes, as we put our hand behind are heads, spread-eagled, and searched, as we are x-rayed and scanned?
For a moment, the twenty minutes or so when the intertubes were alive with the news and before the president spoke, I felt something--something like relief, the sense of an end, perhaps even hope. It was, I think, the anticipation of an end to the disaster of the last ten years of ritualized humiliation, electronically stimulated fear, widespread surveillance, and the enjoyment of camps and torture.
The television media quickly made it clear that this sort of anticipation has no place: the war on terrorism is endless, total. It won't stop. We are not the same people. We have been reconfigured in a massive psycho-political experiment in transforming democracy into fascism, or a new barbarous variant of fascism, capitalist anarcho-fascism.
We are now the sort of people who cheer for death and murder, who repeat mindless lies, who glory in inequality--not bread and circuses but cheetos and reality tv. Everything is a game, yet we don't even recognize the levels on which it is played, the levels on which we aren't players at all but the targets captured or shot as the real players, hot shots, move on up.
Can we glimpse post-terrorism? Can we use it as an opening to something else, a focus not on war but on global capitalist exploitation? Can it be a chance to remake the decade's choice for barbarism into a new choice for socialism?
The piece below is an excerpt. Two of the reasons I like it are that it counters Jon Stewart's tepid, inacurate, misleading response on Monday night (the current political situation is not one balanced between left and right but one dominated by an extreme right that gets away with murder and that considers most disagreement with it to be treason) and that it moves away from the specificity of that event to focus on the larger economic and political context.
The Democratic Party and the liberal left, in a perpetual state of political demoralization, console themselves with the thought that America would be a far happier place if only a more civilized and polite form of discourse could be encouraged. The task before reasonable people, they argue, in accordance with the gospel of Jon Stewart, is to persuade everyone, on the "left" as well as the right, to "tone down" the rhetoric, to argue less and listen more, and to find a common ground.
This sickly spirit of universal conciliation has found a distinctly reactionary expression in the aftermath of the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Giffords. Richard Kim of the Nation proposes, as an antidote to the violence of the right, that the American people "cherish more dearly the practice of politics and citizenship as something noble in its intent, something to expand and celebrate--instead of something to denigrate as the enemy of the people."
These words are a devastating self-exposure of the political bankruptcy of what passes for the "left" in the United States, and show why it is possible for the extreme right (despite being funded to the hilt by corporate money) to exploit popular grievances and monopolize the rhetoric of social discontent.
The United States is entering the fourth year of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The official unemployment rate has been in the area of 10 percent (a figure which does not count those who have given up looking for a job), the collapse in housing prices has slashed the net worth of tens of millions of American families, and several million families have lost their homes due to foreclosures. Social inequality is at a level not seen since the 1920s. During the past 40 years, the income of American workers has stagnated. Virtually all of the growth in income since the 1970s has gone into the pockets of the richest one percent of the population.
After the eruption of the financial crisis in September 2008, the administrations of Bush and Obama devoted all their energies to protecting the wealth and interests of the financial and corporate elite, whose reckless speculations led directly to the disaster. Under Obama, the grip of the fin ancial interests over the state has grown even tighter. Not only has no one in the finance industry been held accountable for the disaster, the political power and wealth of the economic parasites have risen to new heights. Indeed, under Obama, the White House has come to serve as something of a combined branch office of Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase.
Millions of American workers feel instinctively and correctly that the politicians of both the Republican and Democratic parties are for sale, and that all the important decisions made by the government are for the rich. And yet it is this political system that the Nation wants the people to "cherish," "expand" and "celebrate." How can such a message appeal to masses of people in the midst of a terrible social crisis? Can it come as a surprise that the tributes of the Nation and like-minded "progressive" publications to the glories of American politics in general and the Obama administration in partic ular fall on deaf ears?
The frustration and anger of an ever-growing portion of the people increase month by month. They look and listen for a way out of the deepening crisis. But who is telling them what to do, who to fight, and, the most important question of all, how to fight? There is an immortal moment in director John Ford's cinematic rendition of Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath when a dirt-poor farmer, facing dispossession from the land he worked his entire life, asks in desperation, "Who should I shoot?" Unable to get a straight answer, he sinks to the ground in despair.
Millions of people today are in a similar situation. They are threatened with disaster. No, they do not want to shoot or kill anyone. But they do want change, and they are prepared to fight for it. But the entire social structure, and the political system erected upon it, seems to allow no possibility for protest and progressive change. An overwhelming majority of American working p eople has never had the opportunity to participate in a single act of organized social protest.