December 07, 2006
Some Recent Reading
Greg Grandin on Milton Friedman and Chile:
Where Friedman made allusions to the superiority of economic freedom over political freedom in his defense of Pinochet, the Chicago group institutionalized such a hierarchy in a 1980 constitution named after Hayek's 1960 treatise The Constitution of Liberty. The new charter enshrined economic liberty and political authoritarianism as complementary qualities. They justified the need of a strong executive such as Pinochet not only to bring about a profound transformation of society but to maintain it until there was a "change in Chilean mentality." Chileans had long been "educated in weakness," said the president of the Central Bank, and a strong hand was needed in order to "educate them in strength." The market itself would provide tutoring: When asked about the social consequences of the high bankruptcy rate that resulted from the shock therapy, Admiral José Toribio Merino replied that "such is the jungle of ... economic life. A jungle of savage beasts, where he who can kill the one next to him, kills him. That is reality."Richard "len" Seymour writes about Sudan and Rwanda (in a post I apparently missed at the time):
But before such a savage nirvana of pure competition and risk could be attained, a dictatorship was needed to force Chileans to accept the values of consumerism, individualism, and passive rather than participatory democracy. "Democracy is not an end in itself," said Pinochet in a 1979 speech written by two of Friedman's disciples, but a conduit to a truly "free society" that protected absolute economic freedom. Friedman hedged on the relationship between capitalism and dictatorship, but his former students were consistent: "A person's actual freedom," said Finance Minister de Castro, "can only be ensured through an authoritarian regime that exercises power by implementing equal rules for everyone." "Public opinion," he admitted, "was very much against [us], so we needed a strong personality to maintain the policy."
Take Rwanda. If you politicised sometime after that massacre as I did, you would have come to the topic bewildered by a blizzard of ethnic designations - Hutus, Tutsis and Twa - as if that explained what happened. As if it was a mere recrudescence of some ancient caste hatred or, well, often nothing even as specific as that. I even heard it referred to as "black-on-black violence". Indeed, according to Mahmood Mamdani (in Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, The Cold War, and the Roots of Terror) the use of that phrase goes back as far as the 1970s when it was used alongside "tribalism" to summarise the violence of the far right Renamo in Mozambique or the insurgency of the Inkatha Freedom Party in South Africa. There were and are Hutus, Tutsis and Twa in both Rwanda and Burundi... [b]ut how distinct the Hutus and Tutsis really are or were is a matter of considerable debate. For all the talk of physical differences that one has heard, the years of intermarriage between the groups would have effaced that - it is a telling point that no one was killed in that genocide because of their 'willowy' physique or height or nose length: rather the genocidaires relied on the possession of ID cards or on information supplied by others in any particular village. Some argue that the Tutsis were an extraneous group that moved into Rwanda several hundred years ago, while others think these are fairly recent developments. But of what significance are these distinctions at any rate? It was certainly true that one Tutsi clan appears to have attained hegemony within a semi-feudal state before the arrival of colonial powers. But there were poor Tutsis and Hutus were involved in the ruling elite: what is more, one could be born a Hutu and die a Tutsi. The anthropologist Richard Robbins in Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism put it like this:This is also interesting.
If we examine cases of purported ethnic conflict we generally find that it involves more than ancient hatred; even the ‘hatreds’ we find are relatively recent, and constructed by those ethnic entrepreneurs taking advantage of situations rooted deep in colonial domination and fed by neocolonial exploitation.
In the London Review of Books, John Barrell cheerfully carves up Christopher Hitchen's latest attempt to cut a caper or two while draped in the flayed hide of a great man:
Hitchens’s casual attitude to facts is not compensated for by a corresponding precision with ideas, or any concern for the range, the richness, the complexity of Paine’s thinking. For example, we will not learn from Hitchens anything much about what Paine thought the rights of man actually were. ‘The great achievement of Paine,’ he tells us, ‘was to have introduced the discussion of human rights ... Prior to this, discussion about “rights” had been limited to “natural” or “civil” rights.’ I have no idea what this means. For Paine, the rights we have by virtue of being human – the rights of man – take the form of ‘natural’ rights, ‘civil’ rights, ‘political’ rights, and he discriminates between them with increasing care; but he would surely have been puzzled by the notion of human rights as something beyond, something different from, not ‘limited’ to, natural, civil or political rights. Hitchens seems similarly at sea in his brief discussion of Paine’s theory of revolution which he understands entirely in terms of ‘the sudden return or restoration’ of a lost golden age, holding Paine responsible (among others) ‘for the “heaven on earth” propaganda ... that disordered the radical tradition thereafter’. This is entirely to ignore the trajectory in Paine’s thought from a ‘full-circle’ theory of revolution as a return to the founding contract of society, to one in which ... revolution is represented as a new stage of social organisation made necessary by social, economic and intellectual progress.Matt Taibbi looks at some of the theories about the motives behind the murder of Alexander Litvinenko:
There is little sign over the course of the book that Hitchens has paid enough attention to Paine’s ideas to notice how they develop. This above all is why it seems so inert. He asks us to admire Paine simply for the sake of the positions he takes on one issue or another, as these can be summarised in a sentence or two, but no political philosopher can excite us simply by his conclusions, skimmed from the top of the arguments they develop from, any more than we can admire poems on the basis of a one-sentence summary of what they ‘say’, in isolation from the process of saying it. Sometimes Hitchens is obviously impatient with Paine’s arguments: too dependent, in the early days, on the Bible, too preoccupied with supposedly out-of-date questions like the origin of government, to help us in the present. More often there is no sign that he has even noticed them. His brief pages on Common Sense, Paine’s justification of the American Revolution, do not notice how that book is tugged in two directions by the need to argue for the revolution in terms both of the rights of the colonists and of their greater political virtue as compared with the British. Thus he does not recognise in Paine’s later development how his attempt to build a theory of government on natural rights involves (almost) freeing himself from the classical republican tradition in which he had educated himself. Hitchens treats the distinction Paine makes so much of, between ‘society’ and ‘government’, as insignificant, and thus has nothing to say about Paine’s faith in civil society: in sociable economic exchange, and in the simple pleasures of sociability, as much more efficacious than government in preserving social order.
Which brings us to the "Sechin theory" -- that Sechin and his hardliner cronies, a group of generally anti-democratic, generally anti-Western, and generally low-foreheaded brutes known collectively as the "Siloviki," are trying to force Putin to remain by their side, in government, by binding him to them in blood. The idea here is that whatever thoughts Putin might have had about retiring to a leisurely life of giving speeches in Munich and sipping cappuccinos in Venice with Silvio Berlusconi will very shortly be off the table once he is tied, internationally, to a series of Stalin-like assassinations.Incidentally, when I recently linked to the collection of attacks on 9/11 conspiracy theories in Counterpunch (they've since added an engineer's reports on the structural collapses to their website, previously published in the subscribers' newsletter), I neglected to mention Taibbi's own savage take-down of this nonsense:
You remove Putin's options for a Western-focused dismount to his political career and you make it very attractive for him to consider a way around his term limit problem -- particularly when the alternative is remaining in Russia while one of his political enemies, perhaps a more "liberal" type like Dmitri Medvedev, comes to power. If a disgraced Putin stays in Russia that case, he risks becoming the target of future prosecutions and intrigues. Each killing along the lines of the Litvinenko business backs Putin further and further into that corner.
So the theory is that Sechin, who until now has always been known as a creature of Putin, acted independently in this case and ordered the Litvinenko hit as a pre-emptive strike against such possible 2008 presidential candidates as Medvedev and defense minister Sergei Ivanov, blocking their rise with Putin's presumed refusal to step down. He made it as messy as possible, causing maximum embarrassment to Putin, in order to apply pressure on his own political benefactor.
I don't have the space here to address every single reason why 9/11 conspiracy theory is so shamefully stupid, so I'll have to be content with just one point: 9/11 Truth is the lowest form of conspiracy theory, because it doesn't offer an affirmative theory of the crime.And you really should read the recent article by Robert Dreyfuss on Bush's meeting with Abdel Aziz al-Hakim:
Forget for a minute all those internet tales about inexplicable skyscraper fires, strange holes in the ground at Shanksville, and mysterious flight manifestoes. What is the theory of the crime, according to the 9/11 Truth movement?
Strikingly, there is no obvious answer to that question, since for all the many articles about "Able Danger" and the witnesses who heard explosions at Ground Zero, there is not -- at least not that I could find -- a single document anywhere that lays out a single, concrete theory of what happened, who ordered what and when they ordered it, and why. There obviously is such a theory, but it has to be pieced together by implication, by paying attention to the various assertions of 9/11 lore (the towers were mined, the Pentagon was really hit by a cruise missile, etc.) and then assembling them later on into one single story. But the funny thing is, when you put together all of those disparate theories, you get the dumbest story since Roman Polanski's Pirates.
RUMSFELD: But if we're just making up the whole thing, why not just put Saddam's fingerprints on the attack?
CHENEY: (sighing) It just has to be this way, Don. Ups the ante, as it were. This way, we're not insulated if things go wrong in Iraq. Gives us incentive to get the invasion right the first time around.
BUSH: I'm a total idiot who can barely read, so I'll buy that.
What’s stunning about Bush’s encounter with al-Hakim is that it occurs precisely at the moment when critically important bridges are being built across Iraq’s Sunni-Shiite divide — bridges that al-Hakim is trying to blow up.So there you go. I should probably mention that the only real purpose of this post was to bump that damned electoral map off the front page, because it was stuffing up the formatting. Enjoy!
Hakim’s wrecking-ball effort is taking place in the context of unprecedented efforts by leaders of Iraq’s factions to create what many Iraqi leaders are calling a “government of national salvation.”
Such a government would topple and replace the ineffectual, clownish Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Supporters of the idea, who are getting ready to announce a National Salvation Front in Iraq, include rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, many of Iraq’s Sunni leaders in and out of government, representatives of the Iraqi resistance and perhaps even some important Kurdish leaders.
Even as the National Salvation Front takes shape, there is strong evidence that Sunni and Shiite clerics are reaching out to each other.
Two weeks ago, Muqtada al-Sadr demanded that Sunni clerics issue a fatwa, or religious order, condemning killings of Iraqi civilians by al-Qaida types and offering Sunni help to rebuild the domed mosque in Samarra that was destroyed in a bombing in February. It was that bombing that touched over the most severe phase of Iraq’s civil war, setting of a wave of reprisal killings among Shiites and Sunnis.
Since Sadr’s call, several leading Sunni clerics have done as Sadr asked, according to the Los Angeles Times, including top Sunni religious leaders in Basra, Nasariyah, Amarah and Samaweh. All four were associated with the Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), the leading Sunni religious group in Iraq, which has close ties to the Sunni insurgency.