Monday, March 19, 2007

PERETZ LIBERALIS

They’ve had some change over at “The New Republic” and Martin (now ‘Marty’) Peretz, who purchased and presided over the magazine for over 30 years is no longer the owner, for any practical purposes. He writes about “Liberal Values” in the March 19 issue (http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=20070319&s=peretz031907).

We are informed that purchasing the magazine was “broached” to him “at a dinner party hosted by Senator Eugene McCarthy … and his wife, Abigail, at their house across the street from the National Cathedral.” These little seasonings appear necessary to certain types in order to spice up the (bland?) meat of the Republic. Perhaps it is also meant to establish – or reinforce – credibility, which purpose seems not an impossibility.

We are inveigled by his candid admission that without wider search for qualified applicants he appointed himself editor-in-chief “after almost a year of arduous self-restraint”. It would seem that his laudable self-restraint was not reinforced by any concomitant humility or further search for excellence.

By that time, he notes, “the Democratic Party and American liberals had slipped into a deep and disturbing trauma, of which George McGovern’s campaign was itself less a cause than a reflection – a pathetic reflection, to be sure”. To be sure. It has been the position of this site that such a trauma was caused by the desperate Democrats’ embrace of revolutionary process – and surely of hugely debatable content – to raise up out of the earth fresh legions of voters to replace those lost in the victory of Civil Rights in The Glorious ’65 and the further effort to cast the new strategy as simply a continuation of the New Deal’s vigorous engagement on behalf of ‘the ordinary citizen’. That such was not completely the case became ominously clear when it soon became necessary to suppress wide public deliberation as well as dissent with the stifling imposition of what eventually came to be identified as “political correctness’ (that old Soviet revolutionary gambit).

It was obvious then as it is coming to be now that a lot of that stifled ‘public’ wasn’t amused. But not to Peretz, who observes as if in baffled wonder at Nixon’s election : “That the ‘demos’ should have chosen someone as demonized as Richard Nixon in the midst of a hated war and after Watergate had begun unravelling told us something stark”. As Ulysses Grant would have said, “It’s too too true”.

But Peretz is playing a careful game here. He does not say how it came to be that Nixon was “demonized”; by whom, in his estimation, Nixon was “demonized”. No use upsetting either ‘liberals’ – or at least Democrats – with whom the magazine is trying to re-connect, and whose standard it seeks once again to bear (the war in the East not going altogether well) or Republicans with whom – de facto, if we may – the magazine had gotten into bed in the matter of invading the East in the first place.

The only “evident truth” he chooses to name is that “the American people were offended by haughty elitists, self-styled revolutionaries and tribunes of the pretty soul”. Just who those elitists were (and still are) is left unspoken, as are the identities of those “self-styled revolutionaries” – although he’s come about as close as anyone in the MSM has come to admitting that the Democrats embraced ‘revolution’ back there in the late-1960s and throughout the 1970s. His phrase “tribunes of the pretty soul” seems weirdly abstract, although some reflection might induce the reader to associate it with self-help gurus of the type one now sees on PBS during fund-raising drives, thus surely not the manly men (and the occasional woman) of the Neocon brigade, recently caught striking striking poses for “Vanity Fair” photographers, channeling their historic ‘great guys’ of choice.

Come to think of it, the current crop of Neocons would probably qualify as “haughty elites”, but that’s surely not a road Peretz will choose in this darkling wood that is now the American present. They have surely channeled LBJ and the crop of left-over JFK whiz-kids who brought us the Vietnam War; but they’d prefer something in the Churchillian line, or some wild-eyed condottieri from the Civil War era (the particular ‘side’ politely left vague, as is proper usage in modern Washington City). Thus the spirits of both Grant and Stonewall Jackson might be evoked not only to rescue the present military situation but also – are we breaking new theological ground here? – to buy and read the magazine.

But then Peretz gets down to cases. Modern liberalism, he asserts, is “synonomous with Hamiltonian statism rather than laissez-faire” and “originated in these pages”. Now in this era of the Patriot Acts, the knee-capping of Posse Comitatus and Habeas, the ongoing “Gleichschaltung” of all police agencies through the various phases of Operation Falcon, and the assorted other gambits of the Unitarium, “Hamiltonian statism” may seem less well-advised than heretofore.

And the deployment of “laissez faire” is too clever by half. Both Roosevelts and Wilson saw a need to expand government in order to protect the individual – and under FDR, the working man and the middle class, especially – from the depredations of corporate interests inflated far beyond the ability of the average citizen to understand or parry. Surely Peretz is not going to actually evoke – with an eye to reassembling – that popular coalition against “the interests” that stewed and brewed from the 1870s to the 1930s; it is his Neocons and the Republicans who have gutted so much of what the aforementioned Chief Executives stood for. And he doesn’t.

Instead he segues without further elucidation into his self-serving coda: “I’ve viewed my historic mission as the safeguarding of that sacred legacy from moral decrepitude”. Mercy sakes. Who died and appointed Peretz Guardian of the (old) Republic? What divinity authorized him to bring “sacred” into this? And which legacy? Shrewdly, substance and content are left unspoken, the better to allow both harps and brassy trumps to fill the aethery air.

And of what cognitive value is the ascription of “moral decrepitude” in this context? What (who, more properly) has become or is in danger of becoming morally decrepit? It’s a catchy phrase, especially in the culture-warring, ‘the personal is the political’, ‘politics is all’, anti-political miasm that befogs the citizenry and the nation at this point. Is this a Republican decrepitude? A Democratic decrepitude? A decrepitude of the Republic? A decrepitude of Democracy? Of values? Of Constitutional balance and praxis? Of the economic grounding of the middle and the working classes? All of the above? In domestic affairs We are urged by the Unitarium to ignore economic matters and wage cultural war on each other (a phenomenon begun and long-sustained, alas, by those desperate Democrats decades ago). We can still make time for shopping by not thinking about foreign policy – which itself has now come to mean pre-emptive wars.

We are then graced with an apology – sort of: “Unfortunately, this magazine has not always been a good steward to the ideology that it helped invent”. He refers to Hamiltonian statism, it seems, which presumably would have been ‘invented’ (an inapt choice of word, and sorta hubristic) by Hamilton. And is he apologizing for the magazine’s betraying the citizens in their on-going struggle against the sleepless undertow of corporate greed? Or for the magazine’s betrayal of the country’s historic abstention from such monstrosities as pre-emptive war? He doesn’t say. But apparently it is now a matter of record that he – and/or the magazine – has ‘apologized’.

There is a lengthy digression against one of the earlier honchos at the magazine who – it turned out – was some sort of Soviet agent; the fellow also went to Cambridge and was a member of “The Apostles”, just so we know (apparently not all things British are good).

And he thinks that it is a poser: how do we in this country allow people to expand their lives by acquiring lotsa money, while yet 'fleeing the greed' that allows a family of four to live on $20,000.00 a year? This country “could do with a new immersion in egalitarianism”, he asserts with an impossibly vague grandiosity. He’s covered the base, without actually having said anything we might use; but that base has been touched.

The runner proceeds to the next one: It is not at all clear to him, he admits with a becoming humility, how much “this idea” (egalitarianism, presumably) “really does animate liberalism’s high priests and priestesses, especially those from Hollywood”. Slam, bang, thank you! He’s positioned himself as somehow not being part of the hierarchy of liberalism; one wonders what would happen if he weren’t invited to the next Democratic fund-raiser, self-congratulatory dinner, or convention. And a great two-fer: he’s taken a shot at “Hollywood”, without actually trying to hit anything – or anyone – in particular (they might, after all, return fire). You have to respect the man’s virtuosity in this type of operation.

But then suddenly he changes front and starts to move quickly along a more specific line of advance: “What is dogma to many of them [the Hollywood-ites?] is simply the historical and psychological assault on the United States”. There were unnamed parties who, in the Cold War, “did not want the Soviet Union to lose”. Are we to associate the Hollywoodies with same? To what end?

The next sentence: “And that France has now become a heroic nation simply for resisting the invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is preposterous”. Say what? Who says France is heroic? Although you might make a case for ‘moral’, and you could certainly make a case for ‘intelligent’ if not also ‘wise’ in its abstention from opening what to any half-mature pair of eyes was clearly labeled as Pandora’s Box. How did we jump from Hollywood to the Soviets to France in three sentences? Bases are being furiously touched here, to complete a circuit. Some circuit.

But he – and it appears seriously – isn’t going to just keep ticking off buzzwords. In the matter of France the Harvard man will formally explicate: “After all, France is a closed-minded, prissy, rigidly class-bound, economically retarded, and nostalgic country.” Ah. That explains it. Imitating Churchillian speech, mannerisms, and World-War Two in general, however, is apparently not nostalgic. Of course not: such imitation has a purpose – to cloak current military adventures (far beyond anything Hamilton would have stomached) with an aura of glory and righteousness and the assurance of victory. But of course. And if we are fighting great battles, we must be Great Men, right? Ach.

And he goes on immediately to assure us: “During my time at TNR, we’ve tried to guide liberalism away from such intellectual mush. To my regret we haven’t always prevailed.” Intellectual mush? Apparently he hasn’t really familiarized himself with the Neocon rationales for the war in the East and just how it came to be taken as assured that it would all be a slam-dunk and we would be greeted as liberators. Nor has he informed himself as to the current excuses the Neocons are giving out as to how the project got so screwed up – excuses that wouldn’t pass in a 5th-grade classroom or a municipal traffic-court. But Peretz, dahlings, is shattered. Well, he has his regrets, at least.

Some kudos is distributed liberally to a coupla more recent enablers at the magazine, and then suddenly: foreign policy, and specifically the magazine’s official take on it. “That foreign policy is still relevant today. Its guiding philosophy is that democratic societies are of philosophical and practical interest to our country, and those who are struggling against tyranny deserve our aid and fraternity.” Hmmm. Accents of Neville Chamberlain as the inevitability of things became unavoidable to him in 1939. But they had Hitler. Who is facing a Hitlerian onslaught nowadays? [No, ‘the Iraqis’ is not an acceptable answer.] And what about that “sacred legacy” saying America would be a beacon and a model, but not an agent of Democracy? That America would be the well-wisher of all nascent democracies but the mistress only of her own?

He then suddenly goes after the United Nations as “a failing, bloated, corrupt and unprincipled institution whose very principles compel it not to act justly”. It might just be a Freudian slip, but that could be a pretty workable description of the Unitarium. But to what purpose go after the U.N.? Is this a rant? Is the man altogether well?

We are quickly, and finally, enlightened: Israel. “For my part, I believe that Israel, which was a gleam in the eyes of the earliest editors of TNR, is a test case that the United Nations is failing”. It’s of great historical interest that men of the very early 20th century would have ‘imagined’ the State of Israel as it exists today. They may have had a sympathy for Zionism’s desire to gather the Jewish people together – even though not all Jewish people were in agreement with the idea.

But it remains to be answered whether that desire, however fondly and deeply it might have been entertained, overrode an awareness of the profound dangers and complexities – moral and strategic – that would be required to turn such a desire into working and workable national and international policy. And that was in an age when ‘natives’ such as the inhabitants of then-Palestine would have been seen as mere pawns on a chessboard, to be swept away if the Great Powers wished to. But, exhausted by war and hemmed in by their own recognizance of the self-determination of peoples, those Powers did not see fit to sweep the inhabitants of Palestine off the board – it would not be until after a second exhausting war that another generation of Zionists decided to damn the torpedoes, “create facts on the ground” and – come hell or high water – go from there.

It’s more than a little dissonant, cognitively: having gone to Palestine and pretty much pushed the resident eggs out of the nest, certain parties are now complaining that they are treated rather churlishly by the half-broken survivors and by the neighboring nesters. The term “rightful” in relation to the State of Israel’s existence in its present form and boundaries is certainly open to deliberation by all parties concerned. The Holocaust – and all the smaller pogroms and indecencies visited upon Jewish folk in Europe over the centuries – certainly counts as a factor. But so does one observation made in the early days after World War 2, that if the United States was so concerned, it might give ‘them’ Utah or some other piece of mostly vacant American real estate, rather than claim that the Bible was an instrument of international law and property and had to be enforced by all means necessary.

This is not to make light of anybody’s situation. The Israeli people are now in an awful position, and the Unitarium’s gamble to expand their security has actually wound up doubly degrading it: the Unitarium has failed in its military adventure and at the same time greatly weakened itself in all respects. Worse, the current close examination of the Unitarium by the American people (not to be simply equated with American political elements) may result in an appreciation of the complexities and uncertainties surrounding the State of Israel’s existence. Such awareness would not lead to the politically correct ‘simplicity’ and ‘clarity’ which has for decades governed American public opinion in the matters Israeli.

This is an awful situation all around. Israeli citizens are trying to lead lives and raise families, as are non-Jewish denizens of the area. I cannot look into the eyes of any of them and not feel deep sympathy and also anxiety.

And the United States has played no small role in creating this situation, from the get-go.

We have yet another wolf by the ears. The ‘wolf’ is not any particular State or people or individual, but the whole aggregated tangle of just causes and palpable injustices stretching back more than half-a-century. The ‘wolf’ is the situation itself.

It is currently fashionable to call the situation ‘existential’. Anyone trying to figure the connection with Camus and Sartre would be somewhat misled. ‘Existential’ in this context means life-or-death, and in such a situation those who feel ‘existentially’ threatened announce without further distasteful or unpleasant explication that they will do ‘whatever it takes’, and no ‘abstractions’ like Justice or Virtue or Charity or anything else will be allowed to stand in the way.

It is ‘Marty’s’ position that this is a good thing and quintessentially an American thing. This is also the position of the Unitarium and the Unitary Deciderer himself. The tortured role of middle-man and honest-broker, of – what they hey? – peacemaker which for quite some time had been the position and policy of the United States, was abandoned, and the Unitarium openly declared that it had taken sides. Was this wise? Can’t this country do better for all parties concerned by reverting to its long-standing role of assisting in finding some solution to the Problem that -–from its very outset – promised almost no possible solution?

It’s not something ‘Marty’ is going to get into. He has made his big point and plumped himself in the process, and is already into his peroration: “Deep into its ninth decade, “The New Republic” is still embarked on its original mission: to shape a just and prosperous society and to build a tolerable world”. Something for everyone! And is it me or does Marty hear the brassy lead-in of the ‘Star Trek’ (‘Next Generation’) theme song in his head as he’s writing?

But in the mirror he sees Lincoln. Almost. Lincoln said “To build a just and lasting peace, among ourselves and with all nations”. That won’t quite work, since there is the thorny problem of the fundamental injustice that effected the Zionist project in Palestine to begin with; such a problem is still not insoluble, but not without taking risks of wide and open deliberation that have never been acceptable in certain quarters. Some things are too important for wide and deep and open and mature public deliberation.

And that is most surely a truly unsettling premise. One that has wracked Our own country at least since those Democrats of forty years ago, and since 9/11 the Unitarium. We appear bound to Israel as a student to a master. And there are hard, terrible lessons to be learned.

We must pray. And People this nation. And strive “To build a just and lasting peace, among ourselves and with all nations” … it cannot be said better.

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