War

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On Foreign Policy, Joe Biden is Worse Than Trump

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/07/2020 - 3:04am in

Joe Biden Addresses Iraq War Vote

            Trump is terrible. Biden is just as bad. In some ways the Democrat is worse.

            You shouldn’t vote for either one.

            Trump is erratic and unpredictable, which is dangerous. Even so, Biden is worse than Trump on international relations.

At the center of the president’s worldview is a deep, admirable and prescient skepticism about foreign interventionism. Trump began criticizing the Iraq War soon after it began, when the U.S. invasion was still popular. His critiques continued during the 2016 primaries—have you known of another Republican to campaign against militarism? As president-elect Trump told a room full of service members: “We will stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about, that we shouldn’t be involved with.”

Trump signed the first peace agreement with the Taliban; he plans to bring home the last American troops in Afghanistan before Election Day—even sooner than required under the deal. He refuses to be goaded into a new Cold War against Russia, has met with the leader of North Korea and has offered direct talks with Iran—positions far to the left of hawkish pro-war Democrats like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Because most Americans are self-centered and unconcerned about brown people in other nations, it’s ridiculous yet necessary to remind you that the Afghans we bomb are real people like you and me, that Iraqis are scarred for life when their children are hobbled by American bullets, that Yemenis cry for their dead blown to bits by American missiles, that our insane decision to turn Libya from the most prosperous country in Africa into a failed state with 21st century slave auctions is an atrocity, that we have murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the last couple of decades for no reason that can be justified under common sense or international law.

The United States is the greatest exporter of death, oppression and exploitation on the planet. Every human being has the duty to oppose it. We who pour our taxes into the U.S. government have the biggest duty of all to fight the war machine. That begins with holding the murderers and their enablers accountable for their—there is no better word—evil.

Wars of choice are not horrors of happenstance, like a tornado. Political leaders vote to slaughter and maim men, women and children and ruin economies around the globe, leading to still more death. Some politicians are especially nefarious, convincing other politicians to vote for mass murder.

Politicians like Joe Biden.

Most recently, after Trump signaled his willingness to dump U.S.-backed rightist Juan Guaidó and meet with Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro, a socialist, Biden called Maduro a “dictator” and pledged fealty to right-wing Venezuelan exiles in South Florida. It was the latest in a long line of foreign policy calls that we have come to expect from a right-wing Republican like George W. Bush—yet Biden plays a “Democrat” on TV.

“He’s registered some antiwar positions from time to time, as when he voted against the first Gulf War or opposed the funding of the Nicaraguan contras in the 1980s. But overall, he’s racked up a track record of supporting overseas adventures,” observed Branko Marcetic, writing for Jacobin.

Biden, notes Marcetic, pushed for “the 1999 bombing of Serbia, which actually dissolved the local pro-democracy movement and rallied popular support around the country’s dictator.” Biden voted for the U.S. wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. “I voted to go into Iraq, and I’d vote to do it again,” Biden said in August 2003. Now he defends himself by saying he was so stupid that he fell for Bush’s lies about WMDs.

Biden was the guy who convinced Obama to ramp up Bush’s drone assassination program, which kills 50 innocent bystanders for every 1 targeted “militant”—who often gets away and is rarely a threat to the United States, just to our authoritarian allies. Someday soon Biden’s drone killings abroad will be used to justify killing Americans here at home.

Elsewhere Marcetic writes: “When Reagan invaded Grenada in 1983, bombing a hospital in the process, Biden said he ‘did the right thing.’ When he bombed Libya three years later, killing 36 civilians and dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s 15-month-old daughter, Biden said, ‘There can be no question that Gaddafi has asked for and deserves a strong response like this.’ And when George H. W. Bush invaded Panama three years after that, an outrageous war to depose a leader who had been a CIA asset and that saw dead civilians ‘buried like dogs,’ as one witness put it, Biden called it ‘appropriate and necessary.’”

A vote for Biden isn’t just a vote against Trump. It’s a vote in favor of Biden’s vote to kill one million Iraqis. If we elect Joe Biden, we will send a message to the world: America hates you, we’re glad we killed all those people and we plan to kill more.

It will also send a message to Biden: Heckuva job, Joe!

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Spinoza & Rousseau, On European Federation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/07/2020 - 9:22pm in

Let us admit then that the Powers of Europe stand to each other strictly in a state of war, and that all the separate treaties between them are in the nature rather of a temporary truce than a real peace: whether because such treaties are seldom guaranteed by any except the contracting parties; or because the respective rights of those parties are never thoroughly determined and are therefore bound—they, or the claims, which pass for rights in the eyes of Powers who recognise no earthly superior—to give rise to fresh wars as soon as a change of circumstances shall have given fresh strength to the claimants.--Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1761) "Statement of St. Pierre's Project" [here's the French]

The passage is from a text that purports to be a summary of Abbé St. Pierre's proposal of European federation tied together by a permanent peace treaty, free trade, a standing army and what we may anachronistically call a European Council with a rotating presidency. The nineteen major European powers would be represented in this Council. As Rousseau presents it, the proposal would freeze boundaries and constitutional forms in place. The argument in favor of the proposal distinguishes itself from utopian projects by claiming to present the true (as opposed to apparent) interests of rulers and subject in peace which produces the conditions for (to quote Hobbes) commodious living and virtuous cycles of economic and population growth.

The key obstacle, and this is the main point of Rousseau's critical remarks in his "judgment" on St. Pierre's project, published separately (and posthumously), but written more or less simultaneously,* is that the transition from here to there is blocked by the way sovereigns and their chief advisors understand their interests. They recognize that war is a source of possible profit for them personally and that it is a pretext and mechanism to oppress their own citizens. One understands why Rousseau waited to publish this. Although anybody familiar with the first few books of Livy's Discourses and Machiavelli, or the way of the world, could have guessed that this is Rousseau's criticism.

And this gets me to Spinoza, and in particular his Political Treatise, published posthumously alongside Ethics (etc.) For, despite the many allusions and references to Machiavelli, one way to understand the unity among the various proposals of the best constitutional orders in Spinoza's Political Treatise, is (recall my treatment of (6:12 and 7:8)) to find institutional arrangements and incentives that make war unattractive to rulers and their advisors and, as Yitzhak Melamed has recently emphasized, to make states not threatening to their neighbors (7.28); on the significance of institutional arrangements to promote peace as an end, see also 3.10; 4.2; 5.2; 8.7; 8:31; and even 11.4 the last two sentences.

The reason I mention Spinoza in the context of Rousseau's European federalism, is three-fold (and connected). First, and less interesting by itself, the quoted passage above reminded me of Spinoza (and makes me suspect that this passage is one of the places that is more Rousseau than St. Pierre [whom I have  not read yet]). For, it is a doctrine notoriously associated with Spinoza:+ "every commonwealth has the right to dissolve its contract, [proinde unicuique civitati ius integrum est solvendi foedus], whenever it chooses ,and cannot be said to act treacherously or perfidiously in breaking its word, as soon as the motive of hope or fear is removed."(3.14; see also 4.6)** And, indeed, for Spinoza (and here he echoes Hobbes), the commonwealth is, relative to other states, still in the state of nature (7:22; 4.6, and especially 3:11.)).

But, second, and more interesting, in the Political Treatise, Spinoza, too, proposes a federation as a guarantee for peace in the very context in which he describes that treaties may be broken when they outlast their utility.++ 

To commonwealths, which have contracted a treaty of peace, it belongs to decide the questions, which may be mooted about the terms or rules of peace, whereby they have mutually bound themselves, inasmuch as laws of [308] peace regard not one commonwealth, but the commonwealths which contract taken together (Sec. 13). But if they cannot agree together about the conditions, they by that very fact return to a state of war.

The more commonwealths there are, that have contracted a joint treaty of peace, the less each of them by itself is an object of fear to the remainder, or the less it has the authority to make war. But it is so much the more bound to observe the conditions of peace; that is (Sec. 13), the less independent, and the more bound to accommodate itself to the joint will of the contracting parties. [Quo plures civitates simul pacem contrahunt, eo unaquaeque reliquis minus timenda, sive unicuique minor est potestas bellum inferendi; sed eo magis pacis tenetur conditiones servare, hoc est (per art. 13. huius cap.) eo minus sui iuris est, sed eo magis communi foederatorum voluntati sese accommodare tenetur.] Political Treatise 3.15-16,

Spinoza describes here the outlines of a federation of peace (more fully developed in Adam Smith and Kant). And the underlying insight is that if the state of nature of the international arena can be transformed into a state of peace when and only when the grounds of mutual fear among states are reduced. Strikingly, for Spinoza this does not require a common enemy (as nearly all the famous federations in history presupposed). Rather what's required is a transformation of their own internal dynamic or of their joint (state) system. That is to say, that once mutual accommodation can become the norm (without foolishness), in virtue of the expectation that the whole will try to maintain/impose conditions of peace, joint peace has a chance. And, looking ahead to Kant, the very growth of such a system (as more states join), the more pacific it can become. 

So, to sum up, Rousseau and Spinoza both draw on Machiavellian premises to develop institutional design for perpetual peace. Both explicitly deny, and this is my third reason, their approach is utopian in character (and this ties them to Hume and Adam Smith), and takes man as he is not as he ought to be (here in Rousseau; and here, more famously, in Spinoza), that is, they model humans as rational devils. I also believe, but have provided no evidence yet, that their ideas about how to solve the transition from here to peace are roughly similar. But about that some other time.

 

*I am linking to Pauline Kleingeld's wonderful book also to celebrate her Spinozaprize.

+I leave aside here to what degree Spinoza deploys the social contract in PT. But unlike some, I don't think he abandons it in the Political Treatise.

**See also: "Contracts or laws...should without doubt be broken, when it is expedient for the general welfare to do so." (4.6)**This is the contract between the multitude and leaders.

++I am not the first to notice this, see, especially, the relatively neglected, George M. Gross (1996) "Spinoza and the Federal Polity." But Gross relies primarily on Spinoza's treatment of Aristocratic confederation (which are clearly modelled on United Provinces) in order to connect it with the American founding. I don't think that irrelevant because Kant also draws inspiration of the founding.

Spinoza's Qualified Limitarianism in context of Monarchic political economy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/07/2020 - 11:30pm in

The fields, and the whole soil, and, if it can be managed, the houses should be public property [publici iuris sint], that is, the property of him, who holds public authority [literally the right of the commonwealth ius civitatis habet]: and let him let them at a yearly rent [annuo pretio] to the citizens, whether townsmen or countrymen, and with this exception let them all be free or exempt from every kind of taxation [exactione] in time of peace. And of this rent a part is to be applied to the defences of the state, a part to the king’s private use. For  it is necessary in time of peace to fortify cities against war, and also to have ready ships and other munitions of war.--Spinoza, Political Treatise, Chapter 6, par. 12, translated  Robert Harvey Monro Elwes

The quoted passage is from a paragraph of Spinoza's treatment of a well-ordered or optimal, monarchy.* Such a monarchy is characterized, initially, by elected kingship (6.5); where the king is subject to  the rule of law. And where, in peacetime, the king's relationship to the people is mediated by a rotating assembly of elders (6.15-16). In many respects, the best form of monarchy described by Spinoza is best characterized as a constitutional monarchy. The major political difference with modern constitutional, hereditary monarchies (7.25) is that the assembly, which has agenda-setting and information power (6.19) over the monarch, is not elected by the citizens, but by the monarch itself (6.16). 

There is much to be said about the  themes of liberty, explicitly introduced with a nod to Machiavelli, (5.7; 7.2) and corruption (e.g., 7.9-10); and the many ways in which the passions are managed through the careful use of incentives and institutional design (see 1.3-4, and the anticipations of Kant and Buchanan's public choice]. I would be amazed if Hume did not have the Political Treatise open when he was writing his political essays, not least Of Perfect Commonwealth.** That's for another time; let's turn to the quoted passage above.

It turns out that there is no private property in land and real estate in a well ordered monarchy. Instead citizens lease it annually from the government.+ Before I discuss the effects of this on income and wealth (and war & peace), it is worth noting the tax significance. This is, simultaneously, the main source of income for the government which pays, thereby, for public works, especially public defense and spying, and the king's expenses. This suggests that the king has no royal estates either (as noted by Noordman 2016: 17). In addition, this also entails is that the government does not raise any tolls, excise taxes, or tariffs (all of them familiar to Spinoza's readers).

The predictable effect and so function of this is clear: the governors' interests are aligned with the people's interest. For, income from taxes can grow only in two ways: first, by population growth. Spinoza is explicit that "means should be devised for more easily increasing the number of citizens, and producing a large confluence of men." (6.32) In addition, to the fact that a growing citizenry can pay more tax (at least over homes), this is useful to have a larger army, in times of war, and to a class of non-citizens who pay a fee "for their exemption from service" or are required to perform "some forced labour." As an aside, his emphasis on population growth, Spinoza anticipates here Locke's "art of government" and he resonates with ideas of the De La Court brothers in the (1662) Interest of Holland.

Second, taxes can grow if land-values and property values grow. I am assuming that the annual renewal of the leases means that there are regular re-evaluations of the assessment. This requires, behind the scenes, as it were, a professional class of land surveyors which had grown in significance in early modern England and the Dutch provinces. At the end of the sixteenth century, Dutch academies were founded and started to churn out, in addition to engineers, such trained surveyors [see Van Bunge for background]. (To be sure, I don't mean to suggest that Spinoza takes either Holland, which he treats as an aristocracy, or England as a nearby example for the best kind of monarchy; strikingly, it seems he takes the early Kingdom of Aragon as the (undoubtedly partial) exemplar (7:30).

A predictable side-effect of annual leases, is that it prevents too much long-term investment in the productive capacity of land. These required (recall) the longer leases pioneered in fifteenth and sixteenth century England. That is not a bug in Spinoza's design, but a feature. For, in referring back to the quoted passage, Spinoza suggests that "all will be obliged, for the sake of gain, to practise trade, or lend money to one another, if, as formerly by the Athenians, a law be passed, forbidding to lend money at interest to any but inhabitants; and thus they will be engaged in business, which either is mutually involved, one man’s with another’s, or needs the same means for its furtherance." (7.8) Because Spinoza assumes that citizens are self-interested (and have relatively few opportunities to gain glory/renown), and, in virtue of lack of property in land and real estate, citizens will be encouraged to become a trading nation domestically and (recall  the lack of tariffs) internationally.

This nudging toward the trades and commerce is reinforced by the fact that banking is limited to domestic banking. That is to say, excess capital accumulation can neither be much invested in land and property nor be loaned out abroad, so this leaves it to be used as capital for domestic investment in trades, commerce, and manufacture. So, while there is some room for accumulation in gold and silver (and jewelry/plate), major landholdings are prevented. And the way Spinoza conceives of trade, this is involves mutual gain (even mutual assistance (2.15; 3:12; 7.8 ([see also, especially, TTP 5]). 

The intended political effect is clear (and explicit): to prevent the rise of a powerful nobility, and to maintain significant wealth equality so that there will be a near equal "risk in war" [ par propemodum periculum est.] (7.8; emphasis added; this, and other remarks clearly anticipates Kant's treatment in Perpetual Peace). With a lack of property in land and real estate, this will not just maintain rough equality, but people's interests and their representatives in the council of state will be pretty much identical (7.8).  While people still can grow somewhat wealthy, they will be doing so in virtue of providing each other in their needs. As population will keep growing, it is clear that this supposed to engender a virtuous cycle of moderate and egalitarian growth. So, when theorizing the best form of monarchy, Spinoza is clearly a qualified limitarian in the sense of (recall) Kramm & Robeyns.

Okay, I could stop here. But it is worth noting something. It turns out that the best form of monarchy in Spinoza's Political Treatise is a variation on Utopia in More's Utopia. That is easy to miss because Spinoza makes a disparaging comment about Utopia at the start of his book (1.1), where it is treated (recall) as useless philosophy. Utopian society is characterized by a lack of liberty, and constant surveillance. But in both places people are incentivized to work hard and provide each other needs, despite the precautions against accumulation of private property. (If anything Utopians are more encouraged to invest in their homes and communal gardens than Spinoza's monarchic citizens.) If anything, we might say that Spinoza's monarchy is, compared to Utopia, less focused on conquest and more on peace. 

For, in Spinoza's monarchy, where the citizens live by trade, and have no landed property and real estate to fall back, and are not paid for soldiering, they will lack war-spiritedness [animus gerendi bellum]. In fact, "war will always cause them fear of losing their possessions and liberty, it is to be added, that war requires fresh expenditure, which they must meet, and also that their own children and relatives, though intent on their domestic cares, will be forced to turn their attention to war and go a-soldiering, whence they will never bring back anything but unpaid-for scars." (7.7)

What we may call the laboring class [quotidiano opere vitam] gets stipends for wartime soldiering, but, by implication, the capitalists (and domestic banker) or entrepreneurs not (6.31). This suggests that Spinoza thinks that ultimate a monarchic state will be divided modestly, by those who live on wages and those who live by credit, trade, or enterprise.

*What follows is somewhat indebted to Dirk Noordman's (2016) "Spinoza as an Economist."

**About this some other time more. There are also striking anticipations of Rousseau's Social Contract.

+I resist using 'sovereign' because sovereignty rests, I think, with the people.

 

We Used to Run This Country

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 23/06/2020 - 5:33am in


The likeliest outcome of war with Iran is a hellish regional power vacuum, one that countries like Russia and China would be better positioned to exploit than the United States. The drumbeat goes on anyway: the insistence that Iran cannot be “tolerated,” that the solution to its malign influence must be military, that “the mullahs” must pay. The persistence of this fantasy reveals something irrational in the practice of American foreign policy, some impulse that asserts itself independent of the usual questions of proportionality and geopolitical strategy.

On the Epistemology of the Political; On Carl Schmitt, Disunity of the Virtues and Standpoint Epistemology (I)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 01/06/2020 - 5:39pm in

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War

The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy.'*' This provides a definition in the sense of a criterion and not as an exhaustive definition or one indicative of substantial content. Insofar as it is not derived from other criteria, the antithesis of friend and enemy corresponds to the relatively independent criteria of other antitheses: good and evil in the moral sphere, beautiful and ugly in the aesthetic sphere, and so on. In any event it is independent, not in the sense of a distinct new domain, but in that it can neither be based on anyone antithesis or any combination of other antitheses, nor can it be traced to these. If the antithesis of good and evil is not simply identical with that of beautiful and ugly, profitable and unprofitable, and cannot be directly reduced to the others, then the antithesis of friend and enemy must even less be confused with or mistaken for the others. The distinction of friend and enemy denotes the utmost degree of intensity of a union or separation, of an association or dissociation. It can exist theoretically and practically, without having simultaneously to draw upon all those moral, aesthetic, economic, or other distinctions. The political enemy need not be morally evil or aesthetically ugly; he need not appear as an economic competitor, and it may even be advantageous to engage with him in business transactions. But he is, nevertheless, the other, the stranger; and it is sufficient for his nature that he is, in a specially intense way, existentially something different and alien, so that in the extreme case conflicts with him are possible. These can neither be decided by a previously determined general norm nor by the judgment of a disinterested and therefore neutral third party.
Only the actual participants can correctly recognize, understand, and judge the concrete situation and settle the extreme case of conflict. Each participant is in a position to judge whether the adversary intends to negate his opponent's way of life and therefore must be repulsed or fought in order to preserve one's own form of existence. Emotionally the enemy is easily treated as being evil and ugly, because every distinction, most of all the political, as the strongest and most intense of the distinctions and categorizations, draws upon other distinctions for support. This does not alter the autonomy of such distinctions. Consequently, the reverse is also true: the morally evil, aesthetically ugly or economically damaging need not necessarily be the enemy; the morally good, aesthetically beautiful, and economically profitable need not necessarily become the friend in the specifically political sense of the word. Thereby the inherently objective nature and autonomy of the political becomes evident by virtue of its being able to treat, distinguish, and comprehend the friend-enemy antithesis independently of other antitheses. Carl Schmitt (1932) The Concept of the Political : Expanded Edition. Translated by George Schwab, 2007, 26-27

Today's post is part of a larger series in which I confront illiberal thought. Let's stipulate, for the sake of argument, that the collective friend-enemy distinction helps carves out a specific and objective sphere of action.* In this sphere  "conflicts" -- in which one can kill and be killed -- with the enemy "are possible." The symmetry is important. An ethno-nationalist police state that terrorizes a minority (and here) is not engaged in politics so understood. Challenging and changing its practice through non-violent, collective action would also not count as Schmittian politics. In fact,  most of what we might commonly treat as 'political' is not part of the Schmittian conception of politics. 

As Leo Strauss persuasively shows (104) for Schmitt this sphere is conceptually prior to and in an evaluative sense "authoritative" (44) or more fundamental than other spheres.* The quoted passage above focuses on the distinctiveness of the political which is taken to be an objective feature of it. But strikingly, this objectivity is affirmed by way of an existentialist denial of the unity of the virtues (recall here and here). It's part of the intelligibility of the political that it can fail to instantiate other virtues, including not the least (moral) virtue. 

That two collectives treat each other as enemies (or friends) is an objective fact available to and known by outsiders. But, (a) the reciprocal decision to treat another collective as an enemy can only be taken by the parties themselves, and (b) they alone can understand it. I have split (a) and (b) for the purposes of analysis (although it is not clear Schmitt would do so). Let me discuss them in turn.

It is pretty clear why Schmitt thinks (a) is true. On his view one can't farm out "kill and be killed" (48) to others. (Of course, once the mutual killing starts outsiders can tell that enmity exists.) It presupposes a form of autonomy or independence--one is not, for example, a vassal or protectorate (which depoliticized forms of life). It is notable -- especially in light of his quiet polemic against Kant throughout The Concept of the Political -- that he tacitly accepts here the Kantian injunction (contra Machiavelli) against the use of mercenaries. The political is co-extensive with a willingness to bear (collective) mortal uncertainty.** The summum malum is not death, but an unwillingness to face (such) existential choice.

I don't wish to disguise Schmitt's polemic against Kantian ideals: (i) as Strauss notes, Schmitt rejects Kant's federative ideal of perpetual peace of a striving toward the abolition of war ("in a realm which embraces the globe" (53)); for that is to affirm the abolition of the political in favor of (inter alia) a life of mere "entertainment." (53 And (ii) one way he does so -- and Strauss is silent on this -- is to quietly reject the Kantian argument that how we conduct ourselves in war can signalsour desire for peace, and thereby escape the state of nature. And the reason for this is that, to put it in Hobbesian terms, the Schmittian thinks the state of nature (that is that conflicts are always "possible") is inevitable and inescapable (if one dares it) from the perspective of political life. That is to say, Schmitt leaves the door wide open to wars of extermination. There is, for him, no possible limitation on the intensity of enmity. 

It is pretty clear why Schmitt wishes to adopt (b). For this rules out the possibility of subsuming and, as it were, domesticating the political under the rule of law or (global) public opinion ("norm nor by the judgment of a disinterested and therefore neutral third party.") And, in particular, (b) entails one need not justify one's enmity to outsiders because there is a sense in which they won't be able to evaluate why one is enemies (or friends) with one's enemies or friends.

For, what grounds (b) is the claim that "Only the actual participants can correctly recognize, understand, and judge the concrete situation and settle the extreme case of conflict." That is to say, there are features of concrete political life that are epistemically inaccessible to outsiders. And one of these features is to the directedness of enmity, that is, the perception that an '"adversary intends to negate" one's "way of life."

So, on this view, outsiders are in a bad position to grasp that one's way of life is threatened. I think both parts are crucial: outsiders are in a bad position to grasp what is essential or intrinsic to one's way of life, one's identity (as a collectivity), and in virtue of that they are in a bad position to perceive the existential threats against it. (I return to this below.)

Schmitt's position has unmistakeable affinity with standpoint epistemology, which ordinarily is traced to marxists roots. I understand that comparison can be thought in poor taste. I want to pursue this affinity in order to clarify something about Schmitt's position (and perhaps the standpoint epistemologist). I don't mean to suggest Schmitt's position is identical to standpoint epistemology, which privileges the lived experience of marginalized groups within society. (Schmitt has no interest in that.) Nor do I mean to disqualify standpoint epistemology by noting the affinity with Schmitt's thought; or suggest that standpoint epistemology is irreconcilable with liberal values or must lead to open-ended conflict.++

But standpoint epistemology asserts that marginalized groups have special epistemic standing when it comes to topics that pertain to  their subordination (and so including threats to their identity and survival of the group). Often outsiders simply can't understand because their vantage-points are impoverished in the relevant sense.

Now, if you are an empiricist standpoint epistemologist, you will think that the special epistemic standing of the subordinated is a matter of degree, an "advantage," in Liam Kofi Bright's terms, to "be overcome in certain cases." And clearly Schmitt's position is not like such an empiricist. He thinks that when it comes to political decisions the outsider can never understand.

Schmitt need not appeal to something mysterious for why this is so. The outsider ipse facto does not face the question whether a circumstance or situation threatens one's identity and, crucially, so is worth dying for and risk killing another. In the parlance of the contemporary epistemologist, the outsider never faces the very high stakes of the insider. For, if she did face such existential stakes, she would de facto stop being an outsider. (There is nothing in Schmitt's treatment of the political that makes it impossible to join a collectivity as such. It is compatible with Schmitt's account that collective identity is porous even fluid.) For a willingness to experiencing killing and be killed with a collectivity just is to participate in its political life and so to have become an insider.+ So, for Schmitt the epistemic situation is not a matter of degree because killing and being killed is all or nothing. 

Now, one may claim that outsiders can know what it's like to make political decisions in Schmitt's sense because they themselves may have friends and enemies in the political sense. And Schmitt can grant this and still claim that outsiders can't judge the "extreme case" of this particular conflict because it is not theirs.

Clearly outsiders may well be tempted to judge by moral and legal norms. But this is precisely what Schmitt wishes to prevent conceptually. And one way he does this - in addition to claiming that the political is distinct from and prior to other spheres -- is by resting his case on the threat to "one's way of life." What counts as a way of life may well be, from the vantage point of the cosmos or equity/law, something accidental like birth or heritage/history or custom. Crucially, these essential features to one's identity will be precisely those things that from the perspective of reason are (even when functional in maintaining a way of life) irrational or without ground, or, in Schmitt's terms, a "profession of faith." (58)  That is to say, the development of mutual enmity may, while directed, be partially opaque to outsiders and, perhaps, even ultimately, the two collectivities until the fateful decision.

 

 

*Schmittian friends and enemies always involve collectives: "collectivity of people confronts a similar collectivity." (28) Schmitt leaves unclear how large a group must be for it to count as a collectivity or 'totality;' a private or lonely enemy is strictly speaking not a political enemy.  Schmitt insists that Christianity recognizes the distinction between a political/public enemy and a private enemy, and that it only commands love for the private kind! (28-29)

**"If a people is afraid of the trials and risks implied by existing in the sphere of politics, then another people will appear which will assume these
trials by protecting it against foreign enemies and thereby taking over political rule. The protector then decides who the enemy is by virtue of the eternal relation of protection and obedience." (52; I use 'uncertainty' because I don't think Schmitt intends to take the political with reference to probability.)

+There are complex questions lurking here if this is also the case with participating in the experiences of subordinated groups. Some subordinated groups have barriers (recall) to entry to prevent this. 

++There is nothing intrinsic to standpoint epistemology that leads to open ended conflict; if the dominant groups are willing to learn from the subordinated and end their dominion this outcome can be avoided.

American Exceptionalism: Pandemic Edition

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/05/2020 - 4:40pm in

Many Americans bemoan the normalcy before the lockdown prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Until we can get back to normalcy, however, we can do all the things that make America America by using technology.

Memento Mori

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 23/05/2020 - 6:43am in

"I never expected that I would be writing about the needless deaths of almost 100,000 of our countrymen, rapidly approaching the number who died in wars from Korea to Afghanistan combined. It is bitterly appropriate that we should reach that grim milestone on this particular weekend." (Robert Edwards was formerly an infantry and intelligence officer in the US Army and a captain in the 82nd Airborne in Iraq during the first Gulf War.) Continue reading

The post Memento Mori appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

Highlights of the Biden Presidency

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/05/2020 - 4:56pm in

What will a Joe Biden presidency look like? We should probably assume that it will look a lot like his campaign: virtual, online, filed in remotely from his basement.

US Military Planners Advise Expanded Online Psychological Warfare against China

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/05/2020 - 2:32am in

As the U.S. military turns its attention from the Middle East to conflict with Russia and China, American war planners are advising that the United States greatly expand its own online “psychological operations” against Beijing.

A new report from the Financial Times details how top brass in Washington are strategizing a new Cold War with China, describing it less as World War III and more as “kicking each other under the table.” Last week, General Richard Clarke, head of Special Operations Command, said that the “kill-capture missions” the military conducted in Afghanistan were inappropriate for this new conflict, and Special Operations must move towards cyber influence campaigns instead.

Military analyst David Maxwell, a former Special Ops soldier himself, advocated for a widespread culture war, which would include the Pentagon commissioning what he called “Taiwanese Tom Clancy” novels, intended to demonize China and demoralize its citizens, arguing that Washington should “weaponize” China’s one-child policy by bombarding Chinese people with stories of the wartime deaths of their only children, and therefore, their bloodline.

A not dissimilar tactic was used during the first Cold War against the Soviet Union, where the CIA sponsored a huge network of artists, writers and thinkers to promote liberal and social-democratic critiques of the U.S.S.R., unbeknownst to the public, and, sometimes, even the artists themselves.

 

Manufacturing consent

In the space of only a few months, the Trump administration has gone from praising China’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to blaming them for the outbreak, even suggesting they pay reparations for their alleged negligence. Just three years ago, Americans had a neutral view of China (and nine years ago it was strongly favorable). Today, the same polls show that 66 percent of Americans dislike China, with only 26 percent holding a positive opinion of the country. Over four-in-five people essentially support a full-scale economic war with Beijing, something the president threatened to enact last week.

The corporate press is certainly doing their part as well, constantly framing China as an authoritarian threat to the United States, rather than a neutral force or even a potential ally, leading to a surge in anti-Chinese racist attacks at home.

 

Retooling for an intercontinental war

Although analysts have long warned that the United States gets its “ass handed to it” in hot war simulations with China or even Russia, it is not clear whether this is a sober assessment or a self-serving attempt to increase military spending. In 2002, the U.S. conducted a war game trial invasion of Iraq, where it was catastrophically defeated by Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, commanding Iraqi forces, leading to the whole experiment being nixed halfway through. Yet the subsequent invasion was carried out without massive loss of American lives.

The recently published Pentagon budget request for 2021 makes clear that the United States is retooling for a potential intercontinental war with China and/or Russia. It asks for $705 billion to “shift focus from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a greater emphasis on the types of weapons that could be used to confront nuclear giants like Russia and China,” noting that it requires “more advanced high-end weapon systems, which provide increased standoff, enhanced lethality and autonomous targeting for employment against near-peer threats in a more contested environment.” The military has recently received the first batch of low-yield nuclear warheads that experts agree blurs the line between conventional and nuclear conflict, making an all out example of the latter far more likely.

 

A bipartisan affair

There has been no meaningful pushback from the Democrats. Indeed, Joe Biden’s team has suggested that the United States’ entire industrial policy should revolve around “competing with China” and that their “top priority” is dealing with the supposed threat Beijing poses. The former vice-president has also attacked Trump from the right on China, trying to present him as a tool of Beijing, bringing to mind how Clinton portrayed him in 2016 as a Kremlin asset. (Green Party presidential frontrunner Howie Hawkins has promised to cut the military budget by 75 percent and to unilaterally disarm).

Nevertheless, voices raising concern about a new arms race are few and far between. Veteran deproliferation activist Andrew Feinstein is one exception, saying:

“Our governments spend over 1.75 trillion dollars every year on wars, on weapons, on conflict…If we could deploy that sort of resource to address the coronavirus crisis that we’re currently living through, imagine what else we could be doing. Imagine how we could be fighting the climate crisis, how we could be addressing global poverty, inequality. Our priority should never be war; our priorities need to be public health, the environment, and human well being.”

However, if the government is going to launch a new psychological war against China, it is unlikely antiwar voices like Feinstein’s will feature much in the mainstream press.

Feature photo | Pictures of U.S. national flag and Chinese President Xi Jinping with mask, made by protestors are displayed in central district of Hong Kong’s business district, Oct. 14, 2019. Kin Cheung | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post US Military Planners Advise Expanded Online Psychological Warfare against China appeared first on MintPress News.

Stopping work to stop the war—the Vietnam Moratorium fifty years on

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/05/2020 - 10:34am in

On 8 May 1970, fifty years ago this month, 200,000 people joined the first national Moratorium march against the Vietnam War. These were most than just street marches. The main protests were held on a Friday, with tens of thousands of workers striking or leaving work to attend.

They
were the culmination of years of anti-war organising, and showed that
large numbers were prepared to take disruptive action to bring the
war to an end.

The
largest demonstration was in Melbourne, where 100,000 marched down
Bourke St, intending to hold a sit down on the road when they reached
Elizabeth St. The crowd was so big that many had to sit down before
they got there.

“I
remember it being the most enormous thing I’d ever seen, it stretched
all the way up Bourke St, you couldn’t move, the rally was just so
vast,” socialist and historian Phil Griffiths told Solidarity.

In
Sydney 30,000 joined the Moratorium, along with 8000 in Brisbane and
thousands more in other cities.

Greens activist Hall Greenland spoke at the Sydney Moratorium

Hall
Greenland, who spoke at the Sydney rally, told Solidarity,
“I was at Sydney University at the time and was part of
organising essentially a general strike on the day at the university,
there was a huge mass rally on the front lawn and then we marched
down to the Town Hall.

“The
day itself was basically young people and militant workers. The
building sites and the wharves,
and a lot of schools as well,
closed and thousands of them marched.”

Phil
Griffiths explained, “The reason Melbourne’s rally was so much
bigger was because the trade union movement said, we are out on
strike against the war. There were massive union contingents. I
remember some of them marching from Trades Hall to the rally.”

The
27 “rebel unions” who had split from the Victorian Trades Hall
Council appointed a full-time organiser who set up workplace meetings
to build support. Another six unions still affiliated to Trades Hall
also backed the mobilisation.

Unions
paid for an ad in Melbourne’s Sun
newspaper that encouraged unionists to stop work on the day to
attend.

Across
the country strikes to join the Moratorium included a, “national
24-hour stopwork by seamen on ships in ports around
the
Australian coast, and
shorter
stops by watersiders
in
Sydney, Brisbane and various other ports and by big
numbers
of building, metal
and
other workers,” Tribune,
the newspaper of the Communist Party, wrote at the time.

“Between
half and two-thirds of people at the weekday rallies were workers,”
according to Phil Griffiths.

“They
drew everyone in. I was working at a conservative high school at the
time of the second Moratorium in 1970. Around half the teachers
struck.”

Anti-war movement

The
Moratoriums are remembered as the high point of the movement against
the Vietnam War. But they could not have happened without the
previous five years of organising, led at first by small numbers of
student radicals and left-wing unions.

In
the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, Australia was still a
very conservative society. In 1965 Robert Menzies’ Liberal government
introduced conscription for young
men
turning 20 years old each year through a ballot. Initially there was
overwhelmingly public support for sending troops to Vietnam.

Student
activists and others began to campaign against conscription. Some of
the first protests came from left-wing unions. In Melbourne 2500 dock
workers walked off the job against the decision to send troops and in
Brisbane 500 demonstrated outside the US consulate.

In
May 1966 seafarers refused to work on the Boonaroo, which the
government had chartered to carry military supplies to Vietnam. But
they were forced to back down, when other unions were unwilling to
support their stand.

Labor
opposed both the war and conscription at the 1966 election but was
soundly defeated. In response, sections of the anti-war movement
turned to more radical tactics in an effort to force change.

Students
at Monash University
caused
uproar in 1967 by declaring their support for the resistance
fighters, collecting money on campus for the Vietnamese National
Liberation Front.

A Draft Resisters Movement was formed, to explicitly go beyond “conscientious objection” and organise for 20-year-olds eligible for conscription to refuse to register, and instead go underground to defy the draft.

There
was a significant divide in the movement between the new radical left
that had exploded amongst students and young people, and the older
left including the Communist Party and the Labor Left.

The
new revolutionary left, including currents such as the Maoists,
Trotskyists and anarchists, spearheaded the revolt on the university
campuses and militant, civil disobedience actions against the war.

Initially
the more moderate sections of the movement argued for vague slogans
such as “peace now” or “stop the war, negotiate”, claiming
this was the way to attract wider support for the movement, while the
radicals demanded “Troops out now” and “Smash
US imperialism.”

But,
“by 1970 nobody opposed the demand for withdrawal of the troops,
that became the central demand of the Moratorium,” according to
Hall Greenland. This was, “at the level of demands, a victory
for the more radical wing of the movement in Sydney… whereas the
Communist Party and Labour Left had focused on abstract calls for
peace in Vietnam or stop the bombing”.

Civil disobedience

Phil Griffiths

“The
first demo I went on as a 17-year-old student was a protest against
[Melbourne City Council] bylaw 418, which prohibited handing out
leaflets in the city. It was an attack on free speech,”
explained Phil Griffiths.

The
campaign began when students started handing out leaflets that
advocated refusing to register for the draft, which was itself a
criminal offence. There were regular protests over several months,
with hundreds arrested and some jailed for refusing to pay fines.

“It was a civil disobedience action, we went down to the GPO and handed out leaflets.

“Jim
Cairns, the Deputy Leader of the Federal Labor Party, turned up,
handed out leaflets and got arrested. It was a deliberate action by
Cairns. No Labor leader today would do that. You would never see
anyone, even on the left, doing anything as radical as that,”
he said.

“The
response from Trades Hall was immediate. The Lord Mayor, Sir Maurice
Nathan, was also the head of the Victorian Racing Committee. Trades
Hall Council basically said, if you don’t drop the charges there
won’t be a racing carnival. And they backed down.

“The
council repealed the bylaw, which was a huge victory for organising
and free speech.”

This
showed the importance of “the combination of civil disobedience
action, the involvement of significant figures in the political
labour movement, and the trade union leadership”. The students’
radical action pushed others to take a stand and shifted the movement
to the left.

Civil
disobedience actions also helped to shift the mood in society and
built wider opposition to the war. The movement radicalised as larger
numbers of people were drawn into action against a government and
political establishment determined to continue the war.

The
impact of the students’ militancy coloured the Moratorium marches and
the whole
period.

“The
atmosphere was absolutely one of confrontation in the lead up to the
protest in May”, said Phil Griffiths. “There was clearly an
attempt by government to intimidate people from going.

“Billy Snedden [who was the Federal Minister for National Service in charge of
conscription at the time] described the protesters as ‘political bikies pack-raping democracy’ and the Victoria Police said that they expected violence on the demo.

“There
had been a lot of police violence against demonstrations in the
previous period.”

On
4 July 1968 a rally of 4000 people tried to storm the US embassy in
Melbourne in Commercial Road, South Yarra. There were pitched battles
with police, who rode horses into the crowd at a full canter.

“The
Maoists had organised to physically attack the building,” Phil
remembers, “I don’t know if they actually smashed every window
in the building, but that was the legend.”

“The
year later I went on the 4 July protest. Police had barricaded
Commercial Road, and had horses dispersing the demonstrators.”

“To
add to the sense of menace [a few] days before the Moratorium rallies
you had protesters shot down dead at Kent State University. So when
the police said they expected violence, this is in the context of the
National Guard shooting demonstrators at a university in America and
killing four.”

But the scale of the turnout showed how far the public mood had shifted against the war—and the growing mood of radicalism and defiance.

The
Vietnamese “Tet Offensive” in 1968 had also proven that the
US was losing the war—despite
continual lies from the US and Australian governments that everything
was going well.

By
1969 a majority supported withdrawing troops.

The
new radicalism against the war also began to feed into the trade
union movement, leading to an increase in strikes and class struggle.

In
1969 one million workers went on strike in response to the jailing of
union official Clarrie O’Shea. The strikes won his release and
smashed the anti-union laws of the time, the penal powers, which had
imposed large fines against industrial action.

This
encouraged union leaders to throw their support further behind the
anti-war movement.

The
idea of the Moratoriums was to hold “a moratorium against business
as usual”, halting work to shut down society and force an end to
the war.

The
term was borrowed from the US, where an enormous national Moratorium
protest on 15 October 1969 drew 250,000 in New York and 100,000 in
Washington.

The
campaign for the Moratoriums in Australia began at the end of 1969
when an invite-only meeting of representatives from around the
country was held.

At
the federal election that year there had been a large swing towards
the Labor Party, but the Liberals narrowly retained government. This
gave a boost to opponents of the war, as it showed public opinion was
turning against the government.

But
it also meant the prospect of electoral change was closed over for
the immediate future. So
the Labor Party, trade union leaders and the Communist Party were
more open to mobilising against the war on the streets.

There
were sharp debates over the shape that the Moratorium protests would
take between the radicals and the more moderate parts of the
movement.

The
student radicals pushed for mass meetings of activists to set the
overall direction of the Moratorium campaign.

The
most famous was held in February at the Richmond Town Hall in
Melbourne where 500 activists met to discuss the Moratorium. There
were similar mass meetings in other states.

Jim
Cairns, the Federal Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, was elected
chair of the Victorian Moratorium Committee and helped lead the
march.

There
were two further Moratorium marches, in September 1970 and June 1971.
In December 1971 Liberal Prime Minister John Gorton announced the
complete withdrawal of troops.

The
US was also beginning to pull out its troops, but continued bombing
Vietnam until 1975 when the US was finally defeated. The heroic
resistance of the Vietnamese people combined with mass opposition to
the war in the US had driven the superpower out of Vietnam. It was a
massive blow to US imperialism.

The
movement in Australia also succeeded in turning public opinion
against the war and building political pressure to the point where
the government was forced to give in.

The
Moratoriums were a high point not just because of their size, but
because they drew in the social power of organised workers. They
showed how strike action was capable of paralysing society through
stopping business as usual and disrupting the flow of profits.

Today, as we face the challenge of turning the student Climate Strikes into serious workers’ strikes, and of fighting the unemployment and wage cuts triggered by the coronavirus, there are rich lessons to learn.

By James Supple

The post Stopping work to stop the war—the Vietnam Moratorium fifty years on appeared first on Solidarity Online.

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