Monday, March 30, 2009


In ‘The Times Literary Supplement’ (subscription required) of March 20, 2009, the philosophers Joshua Cohen and Thomas Nagel have an article (“Faith in the Community”, pp. 12-4) about how religious and spiritual the thought of John Rawls was. The article is a shorter form of an Introduction to a book about Rawls – “A Brief Inquiry Into the Meaning of Sin and Faith” – soon to be published by Harvard University Press.

Rawls, as I’ve said in previous Posts, came up with a philosophical ‘system’ in 1971 that became the underpinning of much of the ‘justification’ or at least intellectual ‘cover’ that was deployed to convince those eager-to-please Democrats (the Republicans still not an established ‘power Party’) to start seriously knocking down walls in the national Edifice. Much of that ‘creative destruction’ bore consequences that are still with Us (to put it nicely) today – and, I would say, are in no small part responsible for much of the train-wreck.*

Rawls was talking of becoming a priest in the late 1930s before he started college. He wrote an under- graduate paper in 1942 at the age of 21 that is the subject of the book and the Cohen-Nagel review. He went off to war and came back in June ’45 having lost his belief in Christianity “because of his experiences in the war and his reflections on the moral significance of the Holocaust” (a nice touch to connect with the waxing ‘Holocaust’ concern in America of the early 1970s as LBJ’s 1967 decision to weld Us to the State of Israel was starting to take hold).

Yet the reviewers assert that the paper demonstrates “the intellectual force and moral and spiritual motivation” which “made Rawls what he is”.

You wonder right off what the significance of a paper about his beliefs in 1942 could ultimately be, since he recounts that he had lost his belief by the time he came back from the war in June 1945.

Worse, I think, is that you start to think of ‘disillusioned’ believers who then take up politics. Stalin was a former seminary student, and the infamous Nazi judge Roland Freisler was a diehard Communist until one day he met the Nazis and suddenly became a diehard Nazi (and diehard enemy of Communism). There is a whiff of a disillusioned but molten mind and personality. There is also the strong potential for the ex-believer to abandon only his beliefs, while retaining the intensity and heat of his characteristic ‘need’ to be a ‘true and ultimate and heroic believer’ … in whatever it is that he adopts as his belief system. None of which bodes well for participation in a democratic politics (about which more below).

That uneasiness isn’t allayed when he says that philosophy can ground a “reasonable faith in the possibility of a just constitutional democracy” (nice enough, and inspiring) but that if such a society is not possible then it leads one to wonder whether “it is worthwhile for human beings to live on earth” at all. This feels wayyy to ‘hot’ to me, molten, liquid; sort of the kind of Ultimate Stakes that leads to ‘emergency thinking’, where the ‘emergency’ is so great that it will justify just about anything. Which, in an ominous irony, is precisely the type of thinking that led Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler to ‘do whatever it took’ in order to get control of a strong government so that they might respond to the ‘emergency’ by imposing their vision of the ‘good’ society upon everybody … or else.

Rawls seeks to get people to look at look at their social world and their place in it sub specie aeternitatis, which is an old Catholic theological concept that means ‘from the point of view of God’ (or ‘eternity’). It’s always a good mental exercise for the individual soul seeking deeper understanding of life-in-God’s-world, but that isn’t at all to say that it’s the basis for a philosophy of government, especially in a pluralistic democracy where lots of folks have different illuminations about God and the world. And it starts to feel like Rawls is going to be bringing his ‘religious method’ into what is supposed to be a governing philosophy of politics, and specifically American politics in the later 20th century. Are We going to wind up here with a “Christendom without Christ”? (You could imagine both Communism and Nazism as just such an undertaking, although with ‘The Leader’ substituting for Christ – and didn’t they used to call George Bush ‘The Leader’ in hushed and respectful tones?)

So if different folks have different visions of aeternitas, what then? You will have to impose some baseline ‘view’, whether you call it that or not. And Rawls winds up doing just that: he develops the “original stance”, which turns out to be essentially what Rawls thinks any right-thinking person in God’s place would think about life and politics. So Rawls will spin an entire ‘philosophy’ if you give him the benefit of the doubt. Those who do so will be the ones who ‘get him’ and ‘get it’, and those who don’t … well, there’s always the outer darkness for them, as Scripture (and ‘the Leaders’ hath often said). No wonder his philosophy quickly attracted numerous “disciples”, who had that certain look in their eye.

He’s concerned with “how political legitimacy can be achieved despite religious conflict (I imagine this means ‘conflicting moral values based on conflicting religious beliefs’) and how, among citizens holding distinct religious views, political justification can proceed without reference to religious conviction”. Well, it can’t be. You’re going to have to introduce some sort of ‘religious’ dynamic, dressed up as something else.

Yet, remarkably, Rawls will claim that it is tremendously important to “separate religion and politics”. But of course, he means ‘religion’ only in the sense of formal belief in a particular religious belief system (Catholic, Jewish, Baptist, and so on); the religious approach itself – this is what I believe and you are with me or you are not – will remain beneath the surface, hidden but verrrry active.

For he does insist that religious beliefs are “non-negotiable” and “binding absolutely” – which is precisely why the Framers, while presupposing that most citizens would believe, did not at all want the utterly unresolvable conflicts about which ‘belief’ is ‘true’ and therefore ‘must’ be allowed to define policy and law to gum up the works of constitutional machinery and fundamentally derange democratic politics.

Indeed, in his 1971 marquis book, ‘A Theory of Justice’, he is precisely looking to start from “a moral outlook”. But of course, what constituted ‘moral’ poses a huge question of definition, and that’s going to require an awful lot of deliberation to forge – if at all possible – a working consensus (there can never be an absolute and total ‘consensus’ in this world on such an non-material, ‘abstract’ concept) suitable to a democratic politics and polity. But then, if you’re addressing a ‘moral emergency’, you don’t really have the time to do all that deliberating. And if, on top of that, hot-eyed folks are using your ‘philosophy’ to justify large agendas of political and societal change that they want imposed right now, then ‘deliberation leading to consensus’ is not going to be the way they’ll go. Again, that spells serious trouble for a democratic politics and polity.

His main assumptions are: First, “a morality defined by interpersonal relations rather than by the pursuit of the highest good”. Sounds sorta nice, but that’s not enough. So human beings are not going to try to shape their lives on a quest to conform to the highest good (as best they can grasp it)? Instead, they are going to shape their morality on something of this-world: interpersonal relations. This is a Flattening of the remarkably sophisticated Western vision of existence that stipulates a higher dimension toward which humans could strive, in their personal self-development and in their societal development. You can’t ignore the activities and tasks of ‘this world’ (this dimension), but you can’t imagine that ‘this world’ is all there is – if you do, you are trapping yourself while at the same time denying that spiritual element of yourself that participates in a higher world, or a better world from whence human ideals originate. This is a lethal, a fatal, Flattening; to revert to it after the long struggles of humankind in the past millennia is not progress, but a massive regression.

Second, “an “insistence on the importance of the separateness of persons, so that the moral community or community of faith is a relationship among distinct individuals”. Each person is indeed separate, but each is also a member of a species (speaking in purely biological terms) and also shares a human ‘nature’; and in the Christian tradition (which helped shape the Western tradition) that ‘nature’ is dignified by its highest potential excellence and is also a reflection of the nature of the God who created it. You reduce people to such a profound ‘separateness’ as Rawls requires and they have nothing to connect them but ‘the things of this world’, again a Flattening and a desiccation and constriction of the horizon of human possibility in all its complex and mysterious possibility. But it’s convenient for ideologues looking to cut the rug out from under human communities and individuals; shorn of the strengths and hopes that Flatness has taken away, left only among ‘the things of this world’ human beings will be almost helpless before ‘the powers of this world’, which – come to think of it – is precisely what every revolutionary of the Left or Right has sought once the government has been taken over by ‘the revolution’. It’s also why the Framers very much did not want to squash citizens into a purely this-worldly definition of human activity and potential – it would give the ever-this-worldly ‘government power’ wayyyy too much room for “mischief”.

Third, “a rejection of the concept of society as a contract or bargain among egoistic individuals”. So there goes the “social compact” (kiss the Mayflower Compact goodbye). Individuals cannot come together and make their arrangements after mutual consensus, to the best of their abilities and according to their lights. No – so that would leave … government to do that for them, set the terms of the social structure? Well, if it’s a government that ‘gets it’, then Rawls would be quite happy. You can’t trust ‘people’; which was indeed a fear of the Framers – the ‘people’ might not reliably be up to being The People. But it’s also the view of Lenin and others, that most folks ‘just don’t get it’ and need to be led by enlightened ‘elites’ or cadres of the revolution. And while the Framers had their misgivings that people would always be up to the task, the great (so to speak) revolutionaries made it an article of faith and belief that ‘the masses’ were lumps and would never get it (and so would always need that elite vanguard to govern them as it saw fit). Oy.

Fourth, “condemnation of inequality based on exclusion and hierarchy ”. But the Framers realized that given the state of human nature as it had manifested itself throughout recorded history, there would always be ‘hierarchy’ of some sort. All the animal world separated itself into some sort of hierarchy, so some sort of hierarchy seemed built into the nature of things. But human beings were more than animals, and surely had potential that no human power could foresee or determine, so the Framers built in the concept of ‘equality of opportunity’, allowing space for humans to achieve what they might, to aspire. Greed and the lust for power would always lead some to take from others, and by Teddy Roosevelt’s time it was clear that ‘corporate’ wealth and the power it bought required the government to do something to ensure that the economic balance was not seriously deranged; he sought to regulate corporations and their wealth, as did his distant cousin Franklin 30 years later.

At the same time, across the pond, Lenin was taking Marx to an awful but ‘practical’ conclusion by making it an article of faith and belief, a historical ‘law’, that only government could ensure the distribution of material goods and wealth – but that didn’t work out so well, in the end, after stupefying blood and death were imposed upon entire populations. The Framers of the American approach, Lenin was sure, did not go far enough – and they didn’t, because they knew that they weren’t gods, nor would any human government ever reliably function as a benevolent deity. And they also knew that if you tried to squeeze humans into such a scheme, they would – it was part of their nature – eventually ‘push back’. So the Framers settled for a machinery to conduct an ongoing ‘balancing act’ and hoped (and prayed) that subsequent generations would be up to the task of handling the machinery well enough.

Fifthly, “the rejection of the idea of merit”. Well, if you can’t aspire to achieve and – yes, acquire stuff – then why get up in the morning? Stalin solved the ‘motivation’ problem by erecting a police state where ‘malingerers’ got a one-way ticket to Siberia; Hitler and Imperial Japan had ‘block wardens’ and spies and employers who were required to make sure that everybody worked hard on what they were told to work on, and all citizens were encouraged to report on anybody who didn’t. And children were ‘heroes’ if they reported on their parents. Lovely. “O brave new world, to have such people in it!”

And ‘excellence’? To strive to be all you can be? Why? Monks can do it, sometimes, simply out of love of God and humanity, or out of a desire to perfect the soul and the self – but the Framers rather shrewdly figured that most people weren’t up to being monks (they’d seen what happened when the Puritans tried it, and didn’t intend to go back to a Bible-police state). Rawls, I think, is heading toward a ‘Theory of Justice’-police state. I don’t see the progress here. I’m not feeling the progress.

Stunningly, Cohen and Nagel admit that “ideas about rights, law, constitutions and democracy play no role” in Rawls’s thesis. Lord, is this a man whose thought should be erected into a Plan by the national government of these United States? When ‘the vision’ takes precedence over law, constitutions, and democracy itself … isn’t this exactly what the Communist, Fascist, and other government-heavy visions demanded? And isn’t this the ‘religious’ dynamic that underlies all totalitarian visions: that ‘this’ vision (whatever it may be for the particular governing elite) must be accepted as absolute truth and you’ll get if in the neck if you disagree? Is it any wonder that We have seen so much ‘constitutional’ dysfunction in the past few decades? The Beltway is in thrall to this sort of thinking. And the law schools. And the universities. Go in hock so that you can pay 50 large a year so that your kids can ‘learn’ this?

Then they go on about Rawls saying that “the chief problem of politics is to work out some scheme of social arrangements which can so harness human sin as to make the natural correlates of community and personality possible”. Which is nice, but it’s pretty much what the Framers thought too. And they still made room for – fundamentally depended on – ‘rights, law, constitutions and democracy’. Which Rawls doesn’t. Indeed, he imagines that his ‘disciples’, suitably ‘educated’ and full of righteous zeal, will constitute an elite cadre that is ‘justified’ in doing an end-run around all that slow, inefficient, clunky machinery and just going for the ‘vision’ – imposing it, actually. Uncle Sam might be forgiven for ejaculating with Edward G. Robinson: Mother of Mercy, is this the end of little Rico? And at this point, so might We all.

“Ethics and religion should be concerned not with the pursuit of the good but with establishing the proper form of interpersonal relations: community”. Ach. So in the service of the Volksgemeinschaft religion and ethics should be willing to abandon anything not-of-this-world and just go with the approved flow. This frakking idea has been tried before. No wonder organized religion has been taking such a hit – as it has many times before, especially in the blood-soaked, very this-worldly 20th century.

And who will do the ‘approving’? Funny you should mention that.

Proceeding in a theological vein, the reviewers note that the theology of Anders Nygren decried the “infection of Christianity, through Augustine and Aquinas, by the ethical conceptions of Plato and Aristotle, according to which ethics is concerned not with interpersonal relations but with the pursuit of the good by each individual”. But Christianity has never held that seeking God was a zero-sum game: either God or interpersonal relations. Indeed, if God created all human beings, then to genuinely participate in the life of God is to participate automatically in the life of God’s children. It’s a tripolar circuit: Self-God-Others.

Rawls has followed Nygren down the inadequate path of bipolarity and feels that the zero-sum approach of an ‘infected’ Christianity misses “the spiritual and personal element which forms the deep inner core of the universe”. But it’s Nygren’s inadequate reading of Christianity that does that, not genuine Christian doctrine itself.**

“Christianity treats God as the supreme object of desire”. This, to Rawls, is wrong. Desire, in Rawls’s Flattened universe, is only appropriately aimed at the things of this-world. But the Framers accepted that they were only trying to put together a machinery for a workable human government in this life, and nothing more. They weren’t trying to build an alternative Church (blasphemy, that would have seemed to them) that would comprehensively encompass all of human desire. And if humans beings participate in some beyond-this-worldly ‘life’, then how can such desire be thwarted or refused? To do so would be a monstrous deprivation of the human birth-right.

And if God (however defined or conceived) is not present as a pole-star to illuminate the fogs and mists and dusts of this-worldly existence, then human beings have been knocked back further than even the cavemen. This is progress? This is Liberal? This will constitute grounds for hope and confidence?

Again, Rawls apparently believes that “appropriate relations of community can only emerge, and will emerge, if egotism is brought under control”. Well, that sounds right, and a fine theological and religious principle it is. But how does a government go about ensuring such a desirable state of affairs? Not without becoming a theocratic police state, I think. (And isn’t that what all the fuss with ‘Islamofascists’ is about?)

Achieving such a state of affairs “requires God’s grace and efforts by the elect to bring others into the community”. So far so Christian, and it’s nice to see a modern intellectual assert a positive and vital role for God’s grace. But it’s that “elect” that bothers: are We back to the Puritan polity here? And “elect” evokes “elite”, as in the elite Party cadres that ‘get it’. And is that wise? To combine the Puritan theocratic and virtuous police-state with the Flattened, materialist, secular totalitarian states of the Communist ‘left’ and the Fascist ‘right’? And, Rawls being Rawls, it also evokes the disciples who prove their elite-ness and elect-hood by having the wisdom to agree with him and accept his teaching. Ach. Oy.

“The thesis suggests that the problems of society could be overcome by controlling human sin”. Well, that’s hardly a new insight. Of course things would go better in this vale of tears if ‘sin’ were controlled. But how do you go about doing that? How does a government do that?

Marx suggested in effect that the greatest sin, and only sin, is economic and that a government should control the economy in the name of the whole people. Lenin took it further and said that only a vanguard elite can administer the government which rules the people toward the glorious end of economic fulfillment. Stalin simply defined sin as opposing the Party and the State and proved very adept at controlling that form of ‘sin’. Hitler went Stalin’s route, defining ‘sin’ as any opposition to the State that governed in the name of das Volk, and the marvelous Leader who governed that State (if he did say so himself). None of these illuminations offer much of value to a democratic politics grounded upon the transcendent dignity of its citizens as human beings created by God.

So I’m saying that Rawls is simply giving Us a Christianity without Christ, but with himself as His prophet. A secular Christendom.

Worse, he is saying that in the service of his great vision, the clunky and slow machinery of deliberative democratic politics and governance are merely obstructions to be gotten around.

No wonder We are where We are these days.


*In emergency room lingo, a ‘train-wreck’ is a patient with numerous injuries or problems, all of them serious and potentially lethal, that are so interlocked that if you try to solve one you will exacerbate one or several of the others. At that point, the doctors have no easy, perhaps no ‘good’, choices.

**Of course now, the Protestant Reformation went and removed the conductor from the orchestra and since then various of the instrument groups have tried to play the entire symphony at the beat and tempo they think best – so when you go after “Christianity” you have to do some clarifying right off the bat. Otherwise your simply blaming Beethoven because of the way the Podunk High School Band is playing his Fifth at the graduation ceremonies.

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Why would We keep this up? The whole thing begins to look like what Gladstone called the British occupation of Cyprus in 1878: “this insane covenant” (which might also describe Our welding Ourselves to the State of Israel, but that’s for another Post).

Some thoughts come to mind, as to why Obama might have to keep this up.

One, the American position in the world: We have made a hash of Iraq. And on top of that, We will be staying there because the plan now is to simply rename the ‘combat’ troops ‘training and administrative units’. This is a perfect example of how the verrry bad and crazy-making habits of postmodern academic ‘discourse’ can ‘creep’ into areas beyond the ivy walls into the ‘real world’ where very serious consequences must be dealt with effectively. The old Political Correctness approach was grounded in the idea that ‘nothing is really ‘real’; it’s all a matter of how you ‘think’ or ‘feel’ about it'; this bit of pop psychology bumper-sticker stuff may work for the occasional person having a bad day, but it’s no basis for a system of national policy, foreign and domestic.

And you have to ask yourself from a military point of view: if you re-title ‘Brigade Combat Teams’ as ‘training and administrative teams’ then you are going to do serious damage to your military capability. Either you actually are going to force those units to get used to pencils and PowerPoint presentations, or you are going to ‘keep a secret’ from the American people: namely, that the troops are actually combat troops and they’re still there doing what they do best. Of course, as the Beltway is starting to find out, you can hide something from the American people through ‘secrecy’ or ‘spin’, especially with the help of an indentured media, but you can’t hide it from the rest of the world’s governments, militaries, and peoples … and you can’t hide it from the troops themselves.

But I digress.

If Obama pulls out now, the rest of the world – it may be imagined – is going to see the US as what Mao always said it was, a “paper tiger”. But then, this was part of the ‘reasoning’ that led LBJ and Us into Vietnam bigtime. Oh my.

And if the rest of the world starts to see that We no longer have any clothes on, then We are going to have a lot more trouble. Militarily, but also in terms of everything else. The days of the 1950s and 1960s, when an American could go to Japan or any of the defeated Axis countries of Western Europe and be treated with a certain awe because of the ‘superiority of American culture’ … those days are gone, baby, gone. Those countries have been getting stronger while We have been declining: relatively, in the sense that those other countries are now ‘catching up’. But also absolutely, in the sense that a) We have no more industrial chops and We have no more financial chops, and b) the ‘deconstruction’ that has been the main thrust of ideological feminism and its cohorts has served to announce to the world that American culture is (fill in the blank) but in any case baaaad and eeeeevilll.

So if We pull out of Southwest Asia now, then We look weak and that will invite more ‘assaults’, on Our pride if not also on Our ‘national interests’ – however those might be defined.
But that brings Us to the second consideration: We need the chance to stay in the Game and recoup Our losses. I had previously Posted that the whole Bush scheme of invasions (there were to be five countries earmarked, if memory serves, with Iraq being the first) was to get Us a ‘land-based aircraft carrier’ right smack in the middle of, even on top of, the last and largest oilfields on the planet, which happen to be situated in the heart of the Eurasian landmass. Iraq, you might say, would be another ‘Israel’, Our ‘faithful ally’ in the middle of a huge and important piece of real estate. Hell, instead of Israel pulling Us around by the shorthairs, We would ‘own’ Iraq for all practical purposes. What was not to like?

And We needed the oil, but also the cash value that the oil would represent – it was one of America’s ‘last’ and ‘final’ assets (so much having been ‘offshored and outsourced’ since Clinton’s first Administration). And it would give Us that ‘seat’ at the ‘Table of the Great Game’. The world’s new economic honchos weren’t going to leave Us behind, by jingo! Our troops would be all over the center of the board.

Without that ‘asset’, folks might get to thinking that the US had spent itself flat and was – Mao again – that ‘paper tiger’.

And if you think it’s embarrassing being an emperor seen to have no clothes on, imagine what it’s like to be that emperor after you’ve gone and made a whole bunch of enemies for yourself while everybody thought you were dressed in Cloth of Gold. They’d soon graduate or escalate from laughing at you to tossing stuff at you – and maybe worse.

And thirdly, the military adventuring is one of the last things American still ‘has’. The Pentagon is the funnel for huge amounts of tax dollars to corporations, the corporations of that military-industrial complex that is one of the last functioning elements of the ‘economy’ (as it were). And the military provides employment opportunities for bunches of young folks, as well as being ideological feminism’s showpiece ‘victory’ for its extraordinary insistence that ‘women’ are ‘just the same as men’ when it comes to combat and military stuff. And for decades now the pols on both sides of the Beltway Party divide have been holding things together by pandering to the ideological feminists while also collecting cash from the military-industrial corporate PACs. Not many ‘Honorables’ in the Beltway are going to have the chops to let go of all that.

But also, fourthly, America is not a Western movie: Obama can’t just ride into town and on the strength of his own personal power and his skill with a gun make all the town honchos do what he wants them to do, even if he wanted to. JFK’s untimely end can’t be far from his thoughts. And since – with some genuine shrewdness – he’s surrounded himself with the ‘old boy’ (no genderism intended) network, then if he were suddenly ‘no longer around’ the business-as-usual Beltway could move right in and continue doing all the stuff that has gotten Us into this present catastrophic train-wreck of a mess in the first place. It will be as if the command staff of the Titanic decided that the best thing to do would be to turn around and ram that iceberg a few more times; and don’t ask why - because trying to think like that would be ‘abstract’ and ‘elitist’ and sooo ‘male’, and it would lack ‘optimism’. Oy. Oy gevalt.

Obama is a man on a hugely delicate and downright dangerous tight-rope now. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt – that maybe he’s taking just the right half-step in a new direction even if he has to take a couple of full-steps in the old (and wrong) direction.

But even if that’s what he’s up to, and even if he might have the chops to pull it off given enough time, there may not be that much time left.

We are cursed with living in interesting times indeed. But it has to be admitted, and We have to admit it: We Ourselves have made the times so ‘interesting’.

So, fellow (and sister) Citizens, We are going to have to buckle down to giving some serious thought and deliberation as to what We might do to help him.

America is no longer in the position of being soooo big that no matter how the Beltway screws up, We the little folks can just get on with Our individual lives and day-to-day problems, adventures, and amusements. We, even more than Churchill’s Britons of that storied bygone era, are all in this together.

We’d better have the chops of a second ‘Greatest Generation’ (maybe ‘third’ – that Civil War generation put up with a hell of a lot).

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Sunday, March 29, 2009


Robert Dallek has a piece in ‘The New York Times’, entitled "How Not to End Another Preisdent's War (LBJ Edition)". He’ talking about the “fears” that drove LBJ into Vietnam.

LBJ was afraid of looking ‘weak’. After all, the Democrats 15 years before had ‘lost’ China to Mao (did America ever ‘own’ China?); and LBJ didn’t want the Democrats to ‘lose’ again. Nor did he want to look weaker than the recently-assassinated JFK, especially with RFK (arguably the last competent Kennedy) waiting grumpily in the wings.

Nor did LBJ want the Commies to get the idea that if they ‘won’ in Vietnam they could presume to continue subverting other nations, especially those that had in the past 20 years been ‘liberated’ from their assorted European colonial governors; such a sustained and broad-front subversion would not only spell unending trouble for the United States, but would intensify the risk of nuclear war with the Soviets and the Chinese (who had just ‘gotten’ their own Bomb in 1964).

And lastly, Dallek notes, LBJ didn’t want his great domestic reform program to get sidetracked by all that foreign-affairs skullduggery. He wanted to be known as a great reforming President, “one who changed the domestic life of the nation”.

Dallek leaves that last point rather delicately hanging.

I’d add a bit to it.

LBJ did what neither JFK nor Ike had managed to do: in July of 1965 he institutionalized on a federal and national level the end of racial discrimination against American blacks, an objective that had not been fully grounded after the Civil War ended a century before.

But he was completely taken aback, and his effectiveness hugely undermined, by what happened immediately afterwards. The great, genuinely patriotic and spiritual program shaped by Martin Luther King, was undermined almost instantly, and LBJ with it, as the focus of ‘civil rights’ shifted to the urbanized Northeastern and Upper Midwestern cities (and the equally urbanized Southern California cities, especially Los Angeles). ‘Revolution’, black ‘separatism’, ‘rage’, and ‘victimization’ suddenly replaced the politically and morally unifying trajectory and content of the ‘first’ civil-rights movement; the second ‘phase’ was hell and gone from that.

Not only LBJ but the Democratic leadership were stunned. And terrified for their very existence as a politically viable Party.

And not only ‘blacks’ seemed to ‘turn against’ them. Northern industrial workers, frightened by the sudden eruption of ‘second-phase’ black agitation, but also starting to feel a little queasy about the economic security of their jobs (America was just starting to lose its unchallenged economic and industrial dominance that had been honed and perfected in World War 2).

The Democratic ‘solution’ was to find new voting-blocs.

I’ve mentioned all this before, but I’d like to just limn that ‘new voting-blocs’ a bit more.
The Party, still pretty much the only political Party in the country, still riding the huge crest of FDR’s New Deal, used its immense ‘soft’ power to raise-up and ‘support’ a large passel of such voting-blocs, which I will call Identities.

First, the American blacks*. Latching onto the intellectual argument that what had been achieved in the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts was only a ‘beginning’, the Party governmentalized ‘racial discrimination’. In essence, it rejected ‘fairness’ in any palpable sense in order to favor blacks in various ways, using the regulatory and legislative authority of the government, supported by the still-powerful media, and draping it all in the unquestionable moral stature and popularity of the New Deal.

The wisdom of involving the government in such a massive and ‘deep’ effort not only to change laws but to change ‘minds and hearts’ (as American forces were occasionally trying to do in the hamlets of South Vietnam) was not the most ominous problem, though huge and ominous a problem it was.

Even greater was the problem created when the clear preferences and plans of the nation’s largest and most powerful political Party were telegraphed to large numbers of more or less well-intentioned Americans of an activist bent (nothing wrong with that) who were still wondering how all the awesome political efficiency of the Maoist and Nazi era might be usefully deployed ‘over here’. After all, King’s great moral crusade, when looked at through a Marxist or Leninist or Maoist lens, could easily be seen, and – it was thought – more ‘relevantly’, as a great moral and political ‘emergency’ (the Dems wouldn’t argue with that last bit) for which the techniques of ‘revolution’ – suitably ‘baptized’ – would be a more efficient and effective response, producing a greater ‘good’ a hell of a lot faster than the clunky mechanisms of a Constitutional and democratic politics. And anyway , the bright young things of the late-Sixties figured, ‘democracy’ and ‘capitalism’ had resulted by 1968 in a conformist, spiritless, and truly boring bunch of citizens, and adults … and there had to be a better way to go about being ‘America’ than that.

The institutionalization of government racial discrimination – albeit in what the times saw as a ‘good’ cause – came back before it ever really went away. Worse, the enculturation of it: any citizen even doubting the wisdom of this huge change (or non-change, if you want to look at it that way) was shouted down in the media and preemptively made to stifle himself (or herself), and to either ‘get it’ or shut up. ‘Go along to get along’ – that lethal infection of the Soviet citizenry – or frenzied, unthinking, and even violent support of the latest government initiative – that lethal infection of the Maoist citizenry – did not seep in; they were poured in.

Second, the Party (and willy-nilly, the government) turned its generous light on feminism.** The demographic the Party was going for was ‘women’ (and in 1972 McGovern even burbled that the Party was now “the Party of women”) but when push came to shove that meant the feminists – and particularly, their ideological ‘base’, the radical (and far too often anti-male) feminists that I’ll call Ideological Feminists (or IFs).

Many of the early feminists were the late-Sixties radical SDS members who were repelled by the chauvinism of the mostly male-dominated ‘movements’ of the era, and went off to form new groups and to do it around a new cause, feminism. They were shrewd enough to take – whther they knew it or not – a page from Hitler, and realized that the way to succeed in their ‘revolution’ was not to have a ‘revolution’ at all, in the sense of guns and bombs and riots in the streets. Rather, they – like him – would ‘grab power legally’; in this they also took a page – probably intentionally – from Mao and his “Little Red Book”: they would start a ‘Long March through the institutions’, as Mao advised.

But where Mao faced a hostile and entrenched government authority, the feminists and the IFs faced a Democratic Party desperately eager to please (including a Teddy Kennedy rather desperately in need of re-establishing his political viability after his stunning and repugnant problems stemming from Chappaquiddick). Imagine Mao facing a Chiang Kai-Shek (sorry, I haven’t mastered the memos on the new forms of writing Chinese proper nouns and names) who invited him to the capital and eagerly placed the government at his disposal.

The media were happy to help; Democrats and ‘good’ causes were a lot more fun than simply ‘reporting’ those stupid old facts; once again, Citizens were not required and the media started to lose interest in providing the public service of factual reporting to them.

(Of course, History being hugely complex and dynamic, the Republicans were actively watching all this, looking for an opening; the unease, even wider than the purposeful objections, catalyzed in much of the citizenry by all this created the initial ‘opening’ which throughout the 1970s the Republicans were to build upon, until Atwater brought Reagan and … you may know the rest.)

By 1972, the philosopher John Rawls had used his Harvard perch to provide a suitably ‘baptized’ version of the revolutionary concept that in a ‘good’ cause, no existing ‘government’ or Constitution must be allowed to stand in the way. He also improved upon the Hitler-Mao game-plan by specifically urging that those who ‘believed’ should seek to effect change through the courts and the law rather than through legislation. By the Clinton era, two decades later, the legislatures had proven themselves sufficiently corrupted so as to be as reliable as, or even more reliable than, the courts.

The price paid was huge and not completely obvious. Most notoriously, the ‘abortion’ issue – jump-started by the Supreme Court in Roe v Wade, became not a marvelous shock-and-awe, lightning-quick decisive strategic victory but rather the catalyst of a decades-long, bitter, divisive public argument that has lasted to this day, despite the massed authority of the Branches and the ‘elites’ and much of the media to suppress and otherwise ‘make go away’ the deep public unease that it has caused. For the purposes of this Post, let it simply be noted as a striking irony that the same sort of thing happened in the invasion of Iraq 30 years later. For those who ‘hope’ that Our misadventures in the Middle East and Southwest Asia will be over any time soon, let it be noted that in four years Roe will be forty years old.

More deeply and even more lethally, law was now construed as ‘fungible’, such that no long-standing hallmark elements of Western law and justice were to be allowed to stand in the way of ‘addressing’ needs and bringing ‘closure’. But of course, even Western Civilization was considered an enemy of the revolution and, as Jesse Jackson sagely opined, “Ho, Ho, Western Civ has got to go” – which it indeed may.

Most lethally, the Democrats, and by the mid-1980s the Republicans as well, had gotten used to the fact that the government in all its Branches had allowed itself to be co-opted into a ‘war’ of one gender against another, effectively taking sides in a vision that cast half the population as a ‘class’ enemy of the revolution. I am not here saying that all ‘feminism’ is anti-male, but that the Ideological Feminism which does indeed hold that position was the ‘wing’ or ‘base’ of feminist thinking and doing that most clearly effected the initial breakthroughs into government policy and behavior. It is hardly improbable that had not the economy so brutally and egregiously failed in the Fall of 2008, then the profoundly disturbing McCain-Palin ticket would have been elected, so deep and pervasive is the powerful subterranean public displeasure and unease with the consequences of the ‘revolution’. Our politics, even more than Our law, is now profoundly deranged. In addition to the economy, by what cannot be a coincidence.

Thirdly, the opening to the Israeli government, originally embraced by LBJ both for foreign policy (a bulwark in the Middle East against the Soviets) and desperate domestic political (the need for voting-blocs among American Jewish voters) reasons. Not only does this country now find itself voluntarily welded to a government whose very existence from the beginning was a guarantee of incredibly sustained political and military strife. But as well, this country finds itself infected by the very worst elements of the Israeli mindset and heartset that ‘justifies’ its behavior: we are the ‘victims’ and thus cannot be aggressors; we cannot be ‘wrong’ because our cause is so ‘good’; those who doubt that must be our ‘enemies’; and as to any who oppose us in our efforts to get what we feel we need then (in T. H. White’s marvelous phrasing) ‘they’ are attacking us by defending themselves. It cannot be a coincidence that much the same line of ‘justification’ was used by the Bushist Imperium in spinning its own invasion into the Middle East.

The Israeli adoption of Goebbelsian propaganda techniques, especially in conjunction with the ideological Feminist adoption of the same sinister play-book, has vitally deranged Our public discourse and even Our consciousness.

Fourthly, the desperate Democrats raised up ‘Youth’ as a new demographic. Anybody who watched TV during the later 1950s and the 1960s could sense how a skewing toward ‘youth’ was deranging a serious, adult-centered American attitude, dragging the national mind and heart down into the molten and un-solid rhythms and content of those parts of the human brain that, in youth, dominate in a brain whose most advanced and human elements – the prefrontal lobes and cortices – are not yet fully formed.

If anything, the voting age – especially in national elections – should have been raised to 25. Instead, national political discourse was set on the course already taken by TV, and in 1972 the voting age was lowered to 18. You couldn’t be trusted with alcohol, but you could be trusted with the power to help determine who would be elected to Executive and Legislative Branches of a hugely complex nation bethump’t by grave and vast challenges, foreign and domestic.

But precisely those undeveloped brain-parts that render ‘youth’ simultaneously so emotional and so impatient and so unable to conduct sustained critical reflection were actually – as Hitler had seen – hugely useful to a government that no longer sought for its Citizens to understand, but rather needed merely a reliably pliant herd that would settle into its own distractions unless needed to stampede in the service of this or that ‘good’ thing.

I'd add a fifth as well: immigration on a massive scale. This would serve two darker purposes not usually discussed. From the Left, the massive influx would help 'water down' the 'white, male, industrial' culture of the country, in the service of a multicultural and deconstructive 'change'. From the Right, the massive influx of workers willing to work for lower wages and grateful for the chance would undermine the American unions; it's almost like 'outsourcing' without the 'out'.

Draped in the legitimate American openness to immigration, this massive influx would actually hugely expand the demand for jobs (on top of the theoretical 'doubling' of the worker-pool created by the feminist agenda) precisely at a time when the economy was shedding the jobs that were available to begin with. An adult flipping burgers or gardening is not going to be making the money that a unionized industrial worker would make, of course; the solution to that was to wildly expand credit so that even those adults stuck flipping burgers could buy lots of stuff and 'feel' good about it all - which was a non-solution that the short-sighted Beltway biggies figured was good enough for government work.

But We see now what happens when government plans like a teenager, simply kicking the can down the road for a later day and living 'for the moment' - there hasn't been a lot of adult supervision, or much of the mature and serious discharge of their sworn duty to deliberate in the common interest, from the Branches in quite some time.

The economy now has to provide a decent living for over 300 million people, when it has less decent jobs than it did when there were 175 million people. Do the math.

Nor will the reigning Rawlsian approach work for much longer: if there isn't much money to 'redistribute' (for purposes of his idea of 'justice' or for any other reason) then We will face a situation where a whole lot of folks are going to be without the means of support.*** And that is going to make them verrrrry unhappy.

So the ‘bases’ developed, several of them. And in consequence not only a centrist politics, but even an adult and truly ‘human’ politics, grounded in truly ‘mature’ adults – adults, that is, effectively committed both to an awareness of their limitations and to their potentials and to their responsibilities – became ‘quaint’. Like a huge armored vehicle with an impaired driver, the nation began lurching down History’s highway, careening from side to side and smashing over anything not nimble enough to escape its awful trajectory. This ain’t pretty. And it will not end well.

Given the monstrousness of the economic catastrophe, it could be said that all of this is, even if relevant, a bit abstract. But I say that the economic catastrophe is directly a result of the failure of Our politics and Our failures as a Citizenry, as a collective of Citizens empowered in ways ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ by the Constitution to ground this government.


*As always, when I refer to any matters referring to any Identity, I am not looking to turn back the clock nor am I 'against' the improved life of any members of the citizenry. In all of this I'm simply trying to point out the consequences - unrecognized or ignored, somewhat unintended - of policy developments that have had and continue to have a very serious affectr on Our life, polity, and common weal. We will have to recognize those consequences and then consider whether something must - or can - be done to counter the negative effects.

**When I say ‘feminism’ I am not speaking of all females, or all ‘women’, or all conceptual and political efforts to improve the life of women within American life and society. I am specifically referring to ‘ideological feminism’, a loose but broad synergy of dogmatic assertions about women (and about the evil of ‘men’ and ‘males’), deeply shaped by the revolutionary and propaganda praxis of Soviet and Maoist examples and also by the adoption of Goebbelsian propaganda techniques, all of which was marshaled to do an end-run around an inefficient democratic politics in the heady emergency of imposing the ‘good’ result of whatever it was that ideological feminism determined was ‘good for’ and ‘owed to’ the ‘women’ it claimed to represent.

***If the world's nations decide, as they are contemplating even now, to abandon the US dollar as the world's 'reserve currency', then We are going to be in profound financial trouble almost overnight. We can never pay off the amount of debt the country and government now owes. We could inflate the dollar - print money - but then no other nation is going to trust Us enough to buy Our Treasury bonds. We could default on the debts, but that would reduce Us to a third-world economy in a heartbeat.

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Over on Salon, Gary Kamiya notes accurately that the current economic catastrophe has lifted up hopes of “the peasants storming the Bastille”; he figures this would be somewhat of a good thing. Over on Alternet, Robert Freeman wonders “Does America Face the Risk of a Fascist Backlash?”, which he thinks – who can disagree? – would not be a good thing.

It comes down, I think, to the distinction between ‘people’ and ‘The People’. That mass of ‘people’ who are alive and buzzing or booming around are simply individual wrapped up in their own matters, connecting with other similar types who are ‘near’ them by virtue of relationship in family, friendship, business, or the myriad connections of daily life.

‘The People’ is composed of those who have gone to the trouble of developing their capacity to function as Citizens. This is no easy task: it requires civic involvement – active participation in the political developments of the day; but it also requires civic awareness – alertness to what’s going in and – especially – what ‘government’ is up to . But even before that, it requires that one school oneself in how to think and assess the events and doings affecting the common weal – which is an act of mind. And even more deeply than that, it requires that one purposely and consciously seek to develop a character appropriate to the Citizen: a willingness to face the shimmery brights and swirling darks of the political goings-on.

This last point is especially important. We expect that Our fire departments do not simply sit in the stations waiting for a call, but rather keep themselves and their equipment in a continuous state of competent readiness. We expect that Our armed forces do the same. In this sense being a Citizen is a ‘discipline’, an ‘askesis’, a responsibility to achieve competence in a certain project or mission, that is ongoing and around which one may – and in a democracy must – build a life and, to no small extent, a self.

The unthinking assumption that folks can allow themselves to sink into the mire and boombuzz of a modern, consumerist economy, to allow themselves to focus solely on making ends meet, raising a family or conducting worthwhile human relationships, and only on election days rush out to ‘cast a vote’, and that by some magic or alchemy the Republic will be preserved and the common weal will be ensured … that’s a Bubble from Hell itself.

And one that was foreseen by the Framers. It was no small challenge for them: to declare freedom from the tyranny of monarchy (today’s ‘unitary executive’ but also today’s ‘Beltway complex’) while at the same time worrying that a whole bunch of ‘people’ , rushing and shouting together, would create an equally lethal threat to democracy in a Republic. Throughout Our history, this has been one of the great engines of political thought and action: can you trust ‘people’ to be The People? If not, then what does a government do?

This never-solved and never-fully-answered question assumed even more ominous proportions in the 20th century. The Age of industrialized, urban, ‘mass society’ was upon Us, linked and yet also divided by increasingly efficient yet also increasingly intrusive means of ‘mass communication’. Learning how to work all these developments, and perhaps turn a profit from them, and then deal with all the ‘possibilities’ that these developments brought, on top of raising a family and keeping a job and building a life … who could have a lot of time and energy left over for maintaining the capacity to be a Citizen?

As with the old bucket-brigades of citizens and with the militia, We left it to ‘professionals’ so that We could get on with the tasks and excitements and conveniences of ‘the modern age’.
And with the end of World War 2, America’s tremendously complex national life was intensified monstrously with the added roles of ‘leader of the Free World’ as well as with the perks and benefits of being the only developed nation whose economy and infrastructure was unscathed by the ravages of war.

We left it to ‘politicians’ to sort of ‘run’ the government, which increasingly meant running the country as corporations and ‘national security’ began to infiltrate and take root in all areas of American experience.

But the developments of the early 20th century had left a mark far beyond their initial historical context. From Soviet Russia came the idea of ‘revolution’, which in a ‘good cause’ was justified in inflicting huge levels of violence on its own people, because in order to bring that ‘good’ into reality in the shortest possible time then large numbers of individual lives would have to be immediately changed; and those lives that ‘just didn’t get it’ had to be eliminated by the dedicated cadres of the revolution who did indeed ‘get it’, and the whole bloody thing justified in the name of the revolution’s ‘good’ intentions and its ‘good’ objectives.

Compared to the complex machinery constructed by the Framers precisely to prevent such revolutionary ‘waves’ from building up, steps of procedure and consensus-building designed to ‘baffle’ both calculating wealthy power and the unchecked emotions of vast numbers of the citizenry … compared to that, the ‘efficiency’ of a well-guided revolution and its relatively few but dedicated cadres stood out as a political ‘improvement’ as great as Henry Ford’s awesome assembly lines and Taylor’s ‘efficiency’ methods. Just as no ordinary citizen could build his own car, so – the unconscious assumption of the age figured – no ordinary citizen could keep a ‘country’ running at peak efficiency for the common weal.

And then, based in part on what had been learned from American advertising (designed to motivate ‘consumers’ to buy whatever the company that hired the advertiser was trying to sell), the Nazis – embodied in the dark brilliance of Josef Goebbels – mastered the technique of manipulating public opinion for their Party’s purposes. ‘Truth’ as a stand-alone went away; “truth is what the Party thinks is good for the German people” as the Nazis boasted.

Manipulation in the service of economic advantage shaded over into manipulation for political support – and later, for political control.

It was a poisonous century, the 20th, and although America didn’t get bombed, it got poisoned. And so deeply, in the mind, that nobody noticed it. If there was poison, it was from atomic fallout that the Russkies would deliver, or from space aliens who showed up as pods or reptilian creatures or imperial adventurers from Hollywood’s idea of ancient Rome. But ‘we ourselves’ weren’t poisoned. And neither were all those biggies – those ‘professionals’ – to whom We had left the running of the country.

As Lenin and Stalin and the Nazis saw, there was no requirement in their visions and schemes for Citizens. The citizenry would be the great patient beast, flattered and amused and excited by spectacles or distracted and worked up into a frenzy by ‘emergencies’, and the job of the great lumbering thing would be – like the oxen and the buffalo – simply to provide the wherewithal which the real ‘elites’ needed to run their game-plans in economy, politics, foreign affairs, and general societal restructuring. A ‘Citizen’ would only be in the way.

A ‘Citizen’ would ask questions, ask to see information, and generally look under the hood, test-drive, kick tires. A ‘Citizen’ would talk with other ‘Citizens’ and share the fruits of deliberation with everyone (ideally, ‘everyone else’ was also a ‘Citizen’, but it’s not an ideal world).

The government modus operandi came to be based on the idea that you could fool most of the citizenry most of the time, and cow or co-opt a lot of the rest, and that was usually good enough. ‘Good enough’, as they say in the Beltway and the military-industrial complex, ‘for government work’.

And in the Sixties of the 20th century, not only ‘government’ but also ‘concerned’ folks of a theoretically Liberal bent and purpose decided that this would work for a genuinely ‘good’ cause (as if anybody had ever gotten up in the morning dedicated to a ‘bad’ cause). A whole bunch of ‘good’ causes, as it turned out. And thus Liberals abandoned the vision of 19th century Liberalism and also the vision of the Framers: they would themselves organize as the Soviets and – ummmm – the post-Weimar German government had organized, only this time in a ‘good’ cause. Secular modern America would adopt – without acknowledgement – a Catholic idea: you could ‘baptize’ something out of sin and into ‘good’. Not ‘souls’ – which was the key to the Catholic vision – but techniques. After all, if Lincoln could say with bemused pride after the Civil War that ‘we’ owned the song ‘Dixie’ now, then Americans could say after they had beaten the Nazis and supplied the Soviets, that they ‘owned’ all those techniques and handbooks from the various Propaganda Ministries of the defeated enemy.

And so, in best Saturday matinee style, the alien substance was eagerly brought ‘back to town’; the vampire wasn’t invited into the house, it was dragged in eagerly.

So here We are.

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Friday, March 20, 2009


Professor Henry Giroux writes in Counterpunch about “Academic Labor in Dark Times”. He refers to the present as ‘dark times’, and there’s a lot to that.

It’s always going to be a job of work, truly ‘educating’ a human mind. The frontal lobes – those indispensable engines of human consciousness and awareness – don’t fully develop until the early or mid-twenties. The later years of high school and the college years offer far more ‘freedom’ to make your own schedule as well as your own priorities, and a ‘world’ of alternatives to study and thought provide stiff competition to the tasks of getting ‘educated’; sex and the pursuit (however fumbling) of it, relationships, and just plain ‘hanging out’ (which once used to be called, more aptly, ‘killing time’) are only a few of the more familiar. And those are just the perennial problems, the one that have always been around and are sort of guaranteed by the nature of human growth and the way society had structured the timelines of ‘education’.

You can toss in the challenges that modern students bring to a campus and a classroom: distractions, sometimes misclassified as ‘necessities’ offered by the ‘virtual’ world of portable electronics, the mistake of thinking that ‘googling’ is a quick and sufficient substitute for ‘reading’ and ‘thinking’ and assessing the ‘documents’ that one can so easily access or download. And all of this “booming, buzzing confusion” confronts students who have not often been raised to ‘think critically’, except within the rather limited range of figuring out who is somehow trying to ‘victimize’ you or who is in disagreement with you (and can thus be safely ignored or hooted-down).

Temptations, temptations. Although that’s a situation that humans have faced for quite a long time.

At the outset Giroux quotes Zygmunt Bauman: “I do not believe that a student of human reality may be ethically neutral”. It sounds good, and it is a good point.

But like an automobile, a gun, or a bunch of chemicals on a lab bench, it has to be deployed and handled properly or it can get you into a world of troublesome consequences. Sex, actually, will do the same thing too, though most kids nowadays seem to regard that awesome capability with as little seriousness as they will let several tons of steel go racing along while their mind, impaired or not, is occupied with something else. Why the results are still called ‘accidents’ constitutes a book in itself.

Bauman goes on nicely to explain a bit what he means: “The sole choice we face is one between loyalty to the humiliated and to beauty, and indifference to both”. And there’s a good point here. There is indeed an ethical urgency to ‘getting an education’: you as a human being are responsible for doing everything you can to move yourself into the higher levels of your personal spectrum of capabilities; it is a responsibility to yourself and to others. As such, it can be called a ‘moral’ responsibility (though modern academia has put that concept up on blocks for the indefinite future). If you sense that there is some Higher Power or Being in the cosmos that seeks to assist in this, then it’s a ‘spiritual’ responsibility as well.

Bauman, again nicely: “it is like any other choice a moral being confronts: between taking and refusing to take responsibility for one’s responsibility”. Just so. If a human being’s great first task is to Master & Command the remarkable but complex and dynamically multivalent vessel that is the human self, then like any commanding officer, you first-off have to accept your responsibility for the vessel; if you haven’t done that, then your motivation for Mastering and Commanding your self is going to be intermittent bordering on unsustainable. And then the consequences for your own life, the lives of everyone with whom you come into contact, and the species in general will be ‘unhelpful’ at the very least.

The trouble is that as an educator you don’t want to get ahead of the process. And the manner of it, I think, is on this wise.

As John Patrick Diggins (just recently passed on) points out in his excellent “The Rise and Fall of the American Left”, written in 1973 and updated in 1992: each of the several incarnations of the American Left in the 20th century all sought to bring education quickly into conformity with ‘programs’ and ‘agendas’ for actualizing its own ‘vision’ of what ‘good’ must be achieved in America. Education was quickly enlisted in the grand purpose of achieving social hopes and dreams and goals.

The goals may have been ‘good’, the intentions certainly were, but they wound up ‘abusing’ Education by ignoring its first purpose: to provide the individual student with the best possible chance to actualize his or her best possibilities, especially by exposing the student to the great thought and discourse of humanity of its several civilizations, and getting the student to develop the ability to critically understand and then analyze and then draw conclusions from that remarkable interplay between prior thought, the student’s own developing thought, and the current situation of the world and of humanity in the student’s own era.

That dance between student and the corpus of prior human thought and experience cannot be ignored in the ‘urgency’ to set the student marching towards some predetermined agenda as quickly as possible. (which is, I would say, the worst form of ‘abuse’ that can be inflicted on a student).

Too much of the Marxist ‘revolutionary’ sensibility has always informed the American Left , and it has seeped increasingly (not decreasingly) into the methodology and ideology of American education, especially in its upper levels. This is not to say that the conformist demands of a rightist nationalism or a religious fundamentalism are not also lethal in their effort to indoctrinate students. It is simply to point out that ‘revolutionism’ – its assumptions and methodology – demands as much unthinking conformity and ‘loyalty’ (under the guise of the ‘liberation’ always and decently espoused by the Left) as anything that the Right seeks to impose. And, as it happens, it’s the Left (and that toxic ‘revolutionism’) that has taken over university-level education here now. While you may snicker ruefully if you read the cant-ridden writings left by the hives of Communist apparatchiks, it is deeply disturbing to encounter the same levels of mindless ‘correct’ cant in current university ‘discourse’.

So when Giroux urges that students be trained for “democracy”, I can support that statement fully. The goal of forming a competent democratic Citizen constitutes the highest fulfillment of the University’s responsibility.

The ‘skills set’ – and it’s actually a lot more than simply ‘skills’ – required for a student to discharge the responsibilities of Citizen in this Republic include a solid grounding in the conceptual treasures of human and especially Western civilization, a capacity to analyze and critically evaluate events and ideas in the past and the present, and the confidence and the courage and independence of mind and the courage (both character skills, if you wish) and the sense of obligation to ‘identify truth and speak truth to power on behalf of the common weal. And that ‘common weal’, complex as it may be, includes the well-being of the nation but also of other people and peoples.

The goals of what might be called a Liberal education and the goals of forming graduates capable of discharging the task of Citizen are not at all incompatible. In fact, as the Framers and generations of educators after them understood, the two goals are interdependent.

This, of course, is not at all the current ‘doctrine’ of American Academia, by and large. And surely no small contribution to Our present mess has been made by the actual incompetence and even anti-intellectual ‘indoctrination’ that has been substituted for genuine formative education of Citizens by far too many of the faculty members around the country.

‘Revolutions’, let it be recalled, do not take kindly to ‘independence of mind’, however much lip-service they officially pay to a more grandiose and abstract ‘liberation’. The ‘revolutionism’ of the American variety by which We are now lethally bethump’t is not, and cannot be, as overt as Bolshevik or Fascist manipulation of education. But that has actually worked to a disadvantage: since We don’t see ‘guns’ and ‘street-fighting’ We assume there is no ‘revolution’ and no ‘revolutionism’ in the land. And that ain’t necessarily so. Not hardly.

Stalin, even more than Lenin or Marx, required a ‘proletariat’ – uncomprehending, docile lumps. Hitler required ‘good Germans’. None of them required Citizens. Indeed, as he demonstrated in the Katyn Forest, Stalin’s method was to eradicate anybody who might think independently and ‘obstruct’ his plans: throughout Poland and wherever else his power extended Stalin, and Hitler, sought to eradicate those who could think, those who might ‘speak up’ – educators, priests, decent politicians, anybody of intelligence and integrity. The ‘people’ who were left would thus be robbed of any inspiration and would be far more pliable, more docile under the imposition of whatever laws and ‘visions’ were laid upon them. They could be ‘aligned’ to the already lethal alignment of the revolution-birthed State, the corporation, and the unsleeping power of cash.

This, We must always assert, is not the American way. Hitler, more than Stalin, had to effect his fatal revolution ‘legally’ – although as the 1930s went on, ‘legality’ came to mean less and less since Hitler brought under the Party’s control the executive, legislative, judicial agencies of the government. And the police and the military. All with the help of the brilliantly ruthless propaganda methods of Goebbels; that Poison Dwarf could take any new imposition and make it seem not only like ‘a good thing’ but like ‘the only thing that could work in the emergency’.

And life in the Third Reich was one ‘emergency’ after the other, domestic and then foreign. Until after Stalingrad there was the permanent emergency of ‘totaller Krieg’. But by then, the forces unleashed were now entering their ‘recoil’ phase and Germany found itself not behind the omnipotent trigger but rather in the center of everybody else’s bullseye. And the end came.

When Giroux says that “it is the responsibility of faculty who inhabit the university can no longer downplay or abandon the idea that life’s most important questions are an appropriate subject for the classroom” he is spot-on. But those “most important questions” cannot be arbitrarily reduced to questions of how to achieve this or that agenda of this or that revolutionary menu.

Students must be grounded in the Great Questions in their entirety, as human civilizations, and especially that of the West, have wrestled with them through the few millennia during which our species has made such a spectacular splash in the ocean of Time.

A student must be familiar with all that, because a Citizen has to be familiar with all that, in order to judge wisely what might be the best course that he/she can support in the forum of a democratic politics.

If you don’t have Citizens, you don’t really need a Republic or a democracy, no?

See the problem?

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There’s an editorial in ‘The Los Angeles Times’ going through the pros and cons of the US participating in the International Criminal Court. It’s well worth a look.

After Nuremberg, the nations of the world largely saw a value in erecting an international tribunal to handle cases of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Especially when committed by nations or by individuals whose national governments were unable – or unwilling – to prosecute them. A Treaty containing the plan was finally circulated to the nations by the UN in 1998.

Nicely, the piece notes that Clinton wasn’t all that happy with the idea. He waited until the very last days of his Administration before signing the treaty, but then never sent it to the Senate for ratification. Cute. Bush the Egregious, of course, “unsigned” the Treaty in 2002, and then went so far as to get a supine Congress to pass a frakking law authorizing the Executive to invade any country that dared to hold a US citizen on any such charge, and rescue same.

You’d think that any American aware of what went on in World War Two would approve of the whole idea of an International Criminal Court for war crimes and genocide. And whether ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’. The ‘liberal’ would want one more arrow in the quiver of ‘justice’ for the afflicted, and the ‘conservative’ would want one more arrow in the quiver of law and order.

But no. After all, apparently, in World War Two the world-powers who perpetrated aggressive war and torture for their own enrichment and expansion were the Third Reich and Imperial Japan. But nowadays the world-power is (fill in the blank). Nor do the revolutionistas of the American Left nor the God-authorized invaders of the American Right care to acknowledge any earthly power above their own.

Usually, in the popular American police procedural, when somebody opposes ‘going to court’ the cops and the viewer can conclude with assurance that said person is guilty as sin. Why that is not true in the ongoing soap-opera that national news has become is a subject Rod Serling would no doubt have wanted to present for your consideration.

Saving itself from saying too much, the editorial firmly states that in the matter of countries whose politics preclude prosecution or whose courts are in thrall to the controlling regime, “the notion that this could apply to the United States is laughable”. I would say that “the notion” is certainly open to discussion, but – alas – far too serious for it to be a laughing matter.

And of course, what exposure would it create for Our Israeli ‘ally’ – the one that refuses to sign a treaty of alliance with Us ? The one that killed Our sailors in cold-blood on that bright June day forty-two years ago? The one whose senior military guidance to the troops currently dealing with Gaza is to “take a page from the Warsaw Ghetto”? You recall the Warsaw Ghetto: where the Germans walled up an entire population of Jewish men, women, and children in a very small urban neighborhood , and then attacked it with troops, artillery, planes – and destroyed them like fish shot in a barrel. The most senior German generals were hung – by the Allies – with the memory of that ‘operation’ fresh in everybody’s mind.

The idea of an International Court along the lines of Nuremberg seems to be making a lot of self-proclaimed ‘good guys’ verrrry uncomfortable. In standard police procedure, when apparently ‘innocent’ folk suddenly get verrrry nervous in the mere presence of a police officer, you want to look more carefully at them and what they might be up to. The claim is that the Court might be used improperly, but I’m sure Al Capone would have liked to have voiced the same misgivings about courts and law enforcement in general as his reason for avoiding the subject. If memory serves, several of the defendants at Nuremberg did raise the point – but their prior actions had spoken louder than any words they might have come up with to escape the consequences of their spree.

Like a resourceful vampire, the military JAG Corps keep turning up in these things, trying to find a way in for itself – getting an invitation over the doorstep. A former Navy lawyer-admiral, John Hutson , proposes with sly innocence that perhaps American participation could be vetted by a panel of legal experts “from outside the government”. Say – oh, ummmmmmm – a panel of retired military lawyers. Yah. Oh yeah!

“Outside the government”? These are so-called lawyers who have made a career out of subordinating their responsibilities to truth and justice to their responsibilities as military officers with promotions and careers to keep up. Outside the government? These are the worst form of apparatchiks – at least the outright political appointee is a hack who makes no pretentions about it. The JAGs insist on the respect due to their ‘professional character’ as attorneys committed to ‘justice’, all the while taking their pay and promotions and medals and ribbons and perk-bloated retirement from the hand of their master.

But of course, it would be a great two-fer: JAGs in such a position could protect their official masters while also protecting their own kind. After all* it was only after quite a few years that the JAGs noticed – as if by inadvertence – that baaad things were going on justice-wise and all that; they are in this mess up to their ears. And if you think the depths of JAG participation have now been plumbed, hold that thought – as Stephen Lendman notes, there are a number of Navy ships that serve as “floating prisons”, at sea and in international waters, in whose dark bellies assorted ‘detainees’, ‘enemy combatants’ and other such flotsam and jetsam have been held and mistreated. Lendman mentions USS Bataan, a ship large enough to have its own military lawyer (and doctor and chaplain). But then, Gitmo had its own military lawyer (and doctors and chaplains) too. And We didn’t hear much from them, did We?

Their plan now will be an extension of their plan that has worked so well in the military justice system: in exchange for protecting the bosses (almost no general or admiral has ever been court-martialled) they themselves are protected from courtmartial (the proportion of JAGs courtmartialled is only a bit higher than that of the flag officers).

And not only do they have a mole in the system from the Right - the execrable Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) who is a JAG Reserve general and former military appellate judge - but also from the Left - Joe Biden's kid, whose day job is Attorney General of Delaware where the banks and credit card companies have found a home, is a Reserve JAG, currently facing the rigors of military lawyer life on 'active' duty.

Let Us not be deceived: In this whole 'opening' to the idea of an ICC there is a something-else in sheep's clothing. At this point, just as in so many of the domestic messes (the economy and the consequences of decades of ideological feminism come quickly to mind), there are now numerous Beltway biggies in the Legislative as well as Executive Branches, Democrats as well as Republicans, military officers as well as high officials, who formally qualify for 'war crimes' prosecution (and - hardly improbably - conviction). Yoo, Cheney, Rumsfeld ... they're only the tippy-tip of the huge iceberg of filth that has formed under Our very noses. So, a shrewd and pre-emptive two-fer for the Beltway is to a) agree to participation in the ICC while b) placing upon Our participation the rider that a screening group of 'disinterested' professional worthies will vette every potential prosecution of any American 'citizen' (and that doesn't really mean Joe Six-Pack). And what better bunch for the Beltway to rely on than those bemedalled, sleazy-shrewd, 'loyal' professional ho's of fake-Justice and Empire, the JAGs?

Neat. It's another replay of the JAGs' tried and true Military Justice modus operandi: bray loud and proud that you have an open and honest system, while behind the scenes pulling all the strings and controlling all the outcomes, in the service of your friends and benefactors and bosses.

To the Treaty regarding the International Criminal Court I’d say (as does the editorial): let the President sign it and send it along to the Senate – those PAC-pawed worthies can then show Us how they handle a real hot potato.

To the insidious offer that retired JAGs be the gatekeepers of international justice for war crimes I can suggest no better response than that of the late Brigadier General McAulliffe at Bastogne: “Nuts”.


*There are those few JAGs who, now that the pressure is on, have been suffered to vigorously represent their clients at Guantanamo. But they are allowed to do so by the bosses simply to ‘keep up appearances’ and after the heat dies down these hardy, decent and courageous souls will be dealt with in the same spirit as Stalin dealt with returning Red Army ‘heroes’ who had spent too much time near the West and the Allies.

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Marjorie Cohn, always worth the read, discusses the stream of Bush-era Memoranda now coming to light. From a legal point of view, she observes, their contents form what is effectively “the definition of a police state”.

Yes, they do. And she is right as rain when she asserts, with refreshing candor, that the attorneys who produced them – one still on the faculty of a law school, another a Federal judge – should be “investigated, prosecuted, and disbarred” and the Federal judge “impeached”. From her lips to God’s ear.

But in that same pile of reading I came across a review of a book by the aged public intellectual, John Lukacs. In his book Lukacs complains – with justification – of “the rise of a militaristic political conservatism in the United States”.

And they both get me to thinking.

First, no genuine American conservative can be militaristic. Nobody who is seeking to ‘conserve’ the spirit and fundament of the Constitution can at the same time embrace militarism. The present American Right is indeed militaristic. But then again the present American Right is not in any useful sense of the word ‘conservative’. It is a Rightist nationalist politics more aptly described as akin to the early-20th century European Rightist parties.

But then again too, the American Left cannot be described with any accuracy as ‘Liberal’. Especially as it indentured itself to the revolutionary, Marx-tinged, ideological feminism of the day and to the Rawlsian approval of “elites” who would be justified in doing an end-run around a democratic politics, then the American Left ceased to be ‘Liberal’ and became ‘revolutionary’ – and ‘revolution’ is not in any way, shape, or form ‘Liberal’.

Chris Floyd courageously enough points out that Bill Clinton’s “triage” strategy consisted of “adopting a slew of right-wing policies and simply calling them ‘progressive’”. And he’s accurate in that, as far as he goes.

But again: Clinton – the toxicity of whose Administration to Law and Constitution has yet to be fully plumbed – was seeking not only to placate the Right. He was also politically in thrall to that ideological feminism whose revolutionary agenda and methods, shrewdly draped in the home-grown ‘philosophy’ of John Rawls, sought quick and unquestioned imposition of its demands upon the whole of American society and culture. Law and Constitution – so tainted by patriarchy – could take the hindmost.

So then the question again: what are they teaching in American law schools now? And for the past twenty or even thirty years?

Communitarianism? The assertion that the rights of the individual must always give way to the rights of the community, or to the demands of the community? How well will that prepare an attorney to appreciate the Constitution?

Critical Legal Studies? This general approach that holds a) that there is no Law to which all laws must conform; b) that all laws are merely the expression of a power-play in which those with power institutionalize their oppression of those without power; c) that the sole aim of all laws is to empower those without power; d) that this empowerment is an overriding goal of law; e) that in any situation where there are powerless elements in a citizenry, such lack constitutes sufficient ‘emergency’ so as to override any other legal or philosophical or prudential consideration, and thus also such ‘emergency’ precludes the dubious and time-consuming procedures of a deliberative, democratic politics.

Social Constructionism? That there are no lasting or essential actual differences in any categories that a society or culture employs when making its laws, and thus that no such non-existent ‘differences’ can be used as a justification (or really ‘pretext’ and ‘excuse’) for laws that result in different (read: unequal) outcomes for anybody. Thus ‘race’ and ‘age’ and ‘gender’ are all the same: merely mental constructs embraced by a citizenry, and which may be ‘changed’ – and quickly, through the impositions of those elites who ‘get it’ and can ‘see’ beyond such illusions.

Victimism? The general approach holds a) that persons who believe themselves victimized in any way are therefore incontestably victims and that therefore their claims cannot be doubted; b) that victims by definition cannot lie or be mistaken about their victimization; c) that victims by definition cannot victimize anybody else by not-telling the truth; d) that the role of legislation is to give such persons the greatest relief possible without the delay of deliberation, which – because of the ‘illusions’ of social construction (see immediately above) – would be tainted and useless anyway; e) that the role of the courts is simply to provide a conduit for such legislation as required in (d) to bestow its gifts upon the victims, with no regard for ‘quaint’ concerns about established procedures, legal tradition, or any other pretexts for delay in providing the relief prescribed; f) that the role of the government through the court is not to be a ‘trier of fact’ but rather to be merely a referee according to the assumptions (a) through (d) above; g) that the ‘job’ of the victim is to ‘get even’, and that this is a right the fulfillment of which no court has the right to obstruct on any pretext whatsoever.

Rawlsianism? The essence of the approach is a) that certain types of ‘justice’ cannot be delayed even by democratic or constitutional principles and procedures; b) that because of the importance of the need, it is justifiable that those ‘elites’ who do see the need may dispense with ‘usual’ democratic and constitutional practices, principles, and procedures in order to meet the need; c) that in order to achieve (b) the use of the court system rather than the legislative system or any appeal to public deliberation is not only justifiable but necessary; d) that the most effective deployment of this ‘philosophy’ would be in law schools where not only future attorneys – defense or prosecutor or civil litigator – but also future judges and government appointees receive their training and education in the practice of law.

If this is what’s been going on in law schools for the past decades, then a couple of things follow.

First, it’s no surprise that the Bushist Imperium figured that the Constitution was now ‘quaint’ and that such developments opened up whole new ‘vistas’ in government power (which alas, have yielded so much government mischief and misadventure).

Second, that the spate of baddish law which now cumulatively bethumps Us has not been the result of a particularly sustained negative alignment of the planets but is rather the perfectly predictable consequence of generations of attorneys, judges, government advisers, and even legislators being trained in some form of the above ‘legal thought’.

Third, that the enhanced power of the Unitary Executive amassed by the Bushist Imperium in order to realize its own goals has not so much upset or surprised the purportedly ‘liberal’ elements of the political spectrum (as it did not upset or surprise the purportedly ‘conservative’ elements of the political spectrum). Rather, such a powerball lump of amassed authority has simply whetted the appetite of the purported ‘liberals’ to get their hands on it in order to wield it for their own purposes. So We shouldn’t expect the Democratic power-establishment to be seriously disassembling the Bushist bomb any time soon. They didn’t want to get elected in order to destroy it; they wanted to get elected in order to use it themselves.

If only a fraction of these ideas – or all of them though not fully (yet) realized – are in serious play in the syllabus of the nation’s law schools, and have been for a dozen or two dozen years, then there are an awful lot of very important public officials and officers of courts who are working on a verrrry different game-plan from what most citizens imagine and assume. It’s like the town invaded by the pods in the 1950s movie, with increasing numbers of folks being replaced by their reprogrammed alien replicas.

Boy, are We in trouble now.

But it’s pretty much what ‘the revolution’ was going for all along. Hey, they’re revolutionaries … and that’s how they roll.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009


Ruth Bader Ginsburg is photographed in the ‘Boston Globe’. She recently visited the New England School of Law and gave what appears to be – the ‘Globe’ would never put it thus – the standard PC ‘How I Did It’ speech.

Well, good on her.

However, a few thoughts.

I’ve recently Posted on her Dissent in Gonzales v. Carhart (“Ginsburg and Carhart”, 13 Feb., 2009). As I noted there, she deploys many of the new standard illogicalities, incoherences, and too-shrewd sleights-of-mind in that Dissent.

What got me thinking today? First, the venue: the New England School of Law is not your ivy-league law school (not that of itself that proves anything). It has on its faculty a lawyer by the name of Wendy Murphy, whose opinions are consistently and vividly ‘pro-woman’ and ‘pro-victim’ (and I have nothing against ‘women’ as such or persons victimized (and who isn’t, these days?).

I have been thinking recently that We have not paid enough attention to what is being taught in law schools these days. After all, Murphy is loud, but she’s not particularly original – and she is a faculty member. And Ginsburg is certainly not a ground-breaking – let alone compelling – legal thinker. So they’re getting this stuff from somewhere.

In my Ginsburg Post I had mentioned what I’ll say here again: the terrible and not coincidental synergy between a) Second Wave feminism (especially its “ideological” variant) and b) the judicial ‘philosophy’ of the late John Rawls.

The gravamen of Second Wave legal ‘vision’ (not to say ‘thought’) seems to be this: Whatever has to be done to make it easier for ‘women’ (which by definition means making it harder for ‘men’) is ‘justice’, and neither the Constitution (contaminated by patriarchy, perhaps irretrievably) nor any long-standing justicial practices of Western justice (rules of evidence, statutes of limitations, etc.; all equally contaminated by patriarchy) can be allowed to stand in the way of the ‘revolution’.

This, as you can see, is the old “Law at War” or “Combat Justice” concept of both Soviet and Nazi jurisprudence, utterly antithetical both to Western concepts of Justice and to the very core of democracy and a democratic society. It was later deployed by the Bushist Imperium, as sooo many of the commentariat will (quite accurately) point out nowadays. BUT decades before Bush, Cheney, and the Children of Darkness picked it up, this concept had been inhaled and thoroughly metabolized by the sistern of the Second Wave.

And it was Rawls* who made a career for himself by providing – in the early 1970s – just the legal ‘cover’ that would ‘baptize’ the spawn of Stalin’s and Hitler’s legal ‘vision’ for the use over here of those who did ‘get it’ and wanted very much to share (read: impose) their vision upon everybody else (read: the lumps who ‘just didn’t get it’).

Essentially, Rawls cobbled together a legal ‘philosophy’ that in its time was all the rage: in the interests of ‘justice’ (as Rawls meant it, though he never clearly defined it) it was OK for the “elites” (read: those who agreed with him) to disregard Constitutional principles and practice in order to get that ‘justice’ going. He was especially interested in his approach being taught in law schools, where the genuine ‘elites’ (read: those who agreed with him and with each other) could train for the Bar and the Bench and then go on to put his strategy of imposition into practice in the courtrooms of the nation, and the higher the court the better.

But he was realistic. Naturally, many of the law-school grads would go on instead into a career as a ‘legislator’; they could serve the cause there by passing laws based on his views, whether such laws conformed to the Constitution and established judicial practice or not. (This was in the very early 1970s.)

Can it be a coincidence that We have seen not only the Bushist disregard for the Constitution and judicial practice and authority, but also – long before Bush – the spate of laws that for decades have posed grave Constitutional corrosions? Why Congress now passes laws that it apparently doesn’t even read (the Patriot Act was hardly the first) ?

In the photo of Ginsburg’s talk I have seen, she is framed at a classroom podium in one of those ‘arena’ classrooms you find in colleges; rising behind her are several rows of female students – and one lone male.

I see absolutely no reason why females cannot be attorneys, judges, or legislators and pols. But I most certainly do see a problem if generations of students are being trained to work in the courts or legislatures, having been trained in the legal ‘visions’ of ideological feminism and Rawlsian strategy.

Forget the general university classes and the ‘tenured radicals’ and Theory and deconstruction and all of that. I think the Law Schools have been the key to the corrosion of the Constitution for quite some time. What are they teaching in there? What do its graduates believe?

As I have also said, I do not agree that judicial candidates should be interrogated as to how they would vote on this or that particular type of case. If the candidate is intelligent, competent in Law, and upright, then confirm him or her, and come what may. That’s how the system is designed to work.

But if a candidate is actually ‘trained in’ and ‘committed to’ a philosophy whereby ‘elites’ impose their vision on the country, regardless of what the Constitution or the common weal indicate, then I think such a person is per se and prima facie and in radice and ab initio unqualified to hold judicial office in the American system. And, hell, I’d advise voters to ask their legislative candidates too, because the same point applies to the Congressional as to the Judicial.

We can see where the Executive recently decided – no doubt having watched the lethal whackery of the previous few decades – that the Constitution was ‘quaint’ and that legal restrictions, even the most stringent and clear, were ‘fungible’ and could be ignored with impunity ‘in a good cause’.

The only difference between Left and Right now lies in the definition of just what constitutes that ‘good’ that automatically justifies overriding the Constitution and democratic process and politics.

We are in a frakking heap o’ trouble.


*The book to read is David Lewis Schaefer’s “Illiberal Justice: John Rawls and the American Political Tradition”, Columbia (MO), University of Missouri Press, 2007. It should be noted that Professor Schaefer had detected the lethal dangers to the American political tradition hidden in Rawls’s ‘philosophy’ as early as the late 1970s and published on it. This book is an expansion prompted by the extent –ominously ‘bipartisan’ – of the corrosion so brutally evident by the mid-2000s.

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Paul Vitello, in ‘The New York Times’, reports on a pending bill before the New York State legislature that clearly demonstrates a great deal of what I also mention in the immediately subsequent Post about the corrosion of Constitutional principles and jurisprudence.

The legislature is considering a bill that would mostly do away with the statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases. It sounds like such a nice and good idea. But things aren’t often what they seem nowadays, and no bill should ever be passed simply on ‘appearances’ or how it would make folks ‘feel’. Back in Salem, a couple-three centuries ago, hanging other townsfolk as witches on the basis of ‘spectral evidence’ that only a bunch of adolescents could ‘see’ seemed like the thing to do, because ‘everybody knows’ that witches are among us.

Shrewdly, the bill applies only to civil cases – not criminal ones. This sidesteps the looming question of the far more stringent Constitutional safeguards that are still somewhat holding up in regard to criminal process. But it’s strange, because if you’re afraid to bring a case to criminal trial to see if the alleged crime was actually committed, then why are you letting folks sue on the basis of that alleged crime actually having been committed? A pol who supports the bill bleats that it comes down to a matter of ‘justice’, but surely the first ‘justice’ must be to ascertain with some degree of careful examination whether the crime was committed at all – otherwise the accused is getting no ‘justice’ at all.

But of course, as in all ‘offense manias’ – the witchcraft trials being a classic American example – the ‘justice’ in question is not for the accused – they’re guilty anyway; ‘everybody knows that’ – but for the ‘victims’. Although until you know if a crime has been committed at all, just how do you know you are dealing with an actual victim in the first place? This is a question that ‘victim law’ refuses to answer; worse, it seeks constantly to prevent the question being asked, let alone deliberated. You can’t run a country like this – not a Western democracy, anyway.

The statute of limitations is a long-established principle of Western justice. It is based not on ‘patriarchy’ or ‘male oppression’ or any ‘oppression’ at all, but simply on the fact that after a certain amount of time the chances of discovering what actually happened in a particular case decrease exponentially: evidence is lost so that simple accusations cannot be corroborated or – much worse – the already shaky reliability of ‘eyewitness testimony’ and memory is hugely degraded.

In that regard, Lesley Stahl of the CBS reporting show “60 Minutes” has recently filed a long piece and done a show on the reliability of ‘eyewitness’ testimony and identification.

Stahl considers the case of a woman who in her early 20s was raped by an intruder into her apartment in 1984. She picked her rapist (one Mr. Cotton) out of a line-up and he was convicted after the jury deliberated just over half an hour and sent to prison. In prison, he encountered another prisoner (one Mr. Poole) who looked so much like him that not even the prison staff and other inmates could always tell them apart. After a while, he was told that this guy had bragged about committing precisely the rape that he had been convicted of.

He got a new trial: in the courtroom, with Mr. Poole in the courtroom, the woman once again pointed out Mr. Cotton and said she was absolutely sure. Back to prison Mr. Cotton went, carrying two life sentences. The eyewitness reported herself outraged that she would be victimized all over again by having her identification questioned, as if she wouldn’t know her own rapist.

Seven years passed and DNA testing became established. Mr. Cotton contacted his lawyer (upon whom be much peace for staying faithful to the man’s case) and insisted on a DNA test. The test proved decisively that it was not this Mr. Cotton, but rather Mr. Poole, who had indeed committed the rape.

The eyewitness was shocked; there had been “no question in my mind”. She still had bad dreams where she saw Mr. Cotton’s face. The detective who shepherded her through the initial investigations was also shocked and – come to think of it – “so sad for [Mr. Cotton] and his family”.

Stahl interviewed several experts in ‘memory’ and they explained how tremendously fragile and inaccurate human memory can often be – even shortly after an event. The mind, apparently, is not exactly a camera or a tape-recorder. Who woulda thunk?

In his own behalf, the detective echoed what is apparently a fixed and conveniently comforting delusion of the law enforcement community: “innocent people aren’t convicted of crimes they didn’t commit”. Of course. Whatever floats your boat, officer. It was a fixed certainty among the SS that ‘Jews’ weren’t human and exterminating them wasn’t really murder any more than killing a diseased farm animal was murder. Closer to home, it was for quite some time held as a certainty, upheld by the Supreme Court as well as Congress, that black folks were a species of property and not really human at all. In some parts of this country you could actually get yourself locked up – even beaten up, or strung up – for suggesting otherwise. ‘Everybody knows’.

But supporters of the bill are joined in the Correct hymn: sometimes your memory can be ‘repressed’. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, in that regard, is set to hear an Appeal by a priest convicted of child sexual abuse on the basis of ‘repressed memory’. Summaries of that situation are here and here.

Apparently, the way the prosecution had explained it, a young man in his 20s, against all the testimony of others who would have had to know, claimed that several times in his childhood the priest took him out of catechism class for the purpose of fondling and other acts. Each time, as the theory of ‘repressed memory’ holds, the child repressed the memory, thus enabling him to approach subsequent occasions with no memory of the trauma caused by the previous experience on the previous occasion(s). In Hollywood a plot-device like that would get you laughed out of the studio, unless you were going for a Saturday matinee second-feature.

Again shrewdly, supporters of the New York bill have also added a new twist that covers just that problem: “guilt, shame, and fear of the emotional toll on family members have often deterred victims from reporting sexual abuse until well into adulthood”. But that’s not a matter of remembering or not-remembering; that’s a matter of choosing whether or not to report such an experience. Something else altogether.

Well, the supporters say, it’s like toxic environmental pollution: you don’t know until maybe years afterwards that the toxic pollution has had toxic effects. But it’s not quite a useful or accurate analogy. Toxic pollution can be established according to replicable scientific investigation, specifically chemistry. There’s no way of knowing for certain just what the long-lasting effects of a childhood sexual encounter are, whether in general or in a specific case. (This is not a subtle support for adult-child sex, mind you; it’s a question raised as to how certain ‘everybody knows’ assumptions can be usefully and justly deployed in court cases, criminal or civil – or not).

And, far more profoundly, it raises a legal question that ‘victim law’, especially in its sex-offense variant, is loathe to deal with: even if such category of injury were – somehow – to be scientifically established sufficiently to be reasonably evidentiary, if the ‘report’ is purposely not made until years, even decades, later, then is it still within the capability of Law to address the issue? If there is no longer any reliable way to get the ‘facts’ which must be adjudged, then how judge? How deploy the awesome police power and judicial power of the state against an accused, perhaps to that accused’s great and lasting detriment, if the state has no reliable way of establishing the basis for determining innocence or guilt?

‘Victim law’ would apparently respond that if there’s ‘pain’ then there must be a legal redress; but if the evidence is now beyond human discovery, what then? Resort to the old medieval methods (they tried this in Salem) of ‘spectral evidence’, of accepting as ‘evidence’ assertions and claims that only the accuser could ‘see’? That, of course, is precisely what the theory of ‘repressed memory’ does. But is going back to medieval practice ‘progress’? Can a polity based on Western, Enlightenment principles of law and justice and evidence survive if it reintroduces medievalisms into its jurisprudence?

The industrial-pollution analogy is made by one Marci Hamilton, “a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University”. Which brings me to the question: what are they teaching in law schools these days? Can anyone schooled in Western jurisprudence go along with this? A professor who supposedly teaches Law?

I’m thinking that what they’re teaching in laws schools nowadays isn’t Western law at all. It’s medieval law dressed up in ‘modern, scientific’ gobbledy-gook. This is progress? This is ‘progressive’? This is Liberal?

And let’s not forget that a whole bunch of those New York legislators must be lawyers. What the frak do they think?

And then, moving beyond the legal and psychological issues, there is a more sinister socio-cultural and political issue: public employees, including school-teachers in public schools, are largely shielded by existing New York law from such lawsuits. So in effect this law targets only Catholic and religious and private schools. The mind swims: it could appear to a reasonable observer that the Democrats in the legislature have found a way to do nice things for two of their classic constituencies: this law would give alleged ‘victims’ huge new scope to go after more settlements in the now-fading Church-sex-abuse matter, while financially and culturally weakening private schools, those formidable rivals to parlous public education.

The Republicans, of course, can claim to be ‘tough on crime’ and concerned for ‘children’. And who isn’t concerned for children – under-parented, often hungry, dosed with Ritalin, under-educated, and increasingly presented with career options ranging from burger-flipping to functioning as imperial gendarmes in lethal, endless Third World frakfests?

And what of all the world's other children (i.e., not American) whose lives have been 'abused' by American foreign or economic policy recently? Surely there must be some concern about them too.

And the Church … I hold no brief for anybody who makes sexual advances on a child, especially persons who by oath and vow are commissioned to foster their growth. Nor am I particularly impressed with the quality of American Catholic bishops as a group; the 90% who are not much more than precious apparatchiks and showboats make the other 10% look bad.

But it cannot be a coincidence that the Church – standing firmly for commitment and for ideals, for marriage and against abortion – is a constant obstruction to the realization of ideological feminism’s damp-dreams for a “full equality” for females that somehow includes sex-without-consequences (pretty much aping irresponsible male sex, as practiced by far too many gentlemen). And the Democrats are about as solidly welded to ideological feminism as they are to any other ‘interest demographic’.

Worse, there is the age-old antagonism of a controlling State against the Church. Bismarck invented culture-war (Kulturkampf in the original) in order to reduce the Catholic Church’s influence and increase the budding German Empire’s influence over its citizenry. The Nazis even tried to prosecute an entire monastery-full of monks on ‘child sex’ charges until the popular resistance made them back off. Mussolini asserted with a pithy but ominous clarity: “nothing outside the State, nothing above the State, nothing against the State”, and he knew what that meant in Catholic Italy. And Stalin, following Lenin, simply did away with the Orthodox Church forthwith (at least until the Nazi invasion scared him so badly that he took up organized religion again – for the duration, as they say).

One legislator, from Brooklyn – admitting that he hadn’t actually been aware of the discrepancies when he had previously voted for it in earlier unsuccessful efforts to get it passed (how can you vote for something you haven’t looked at closely?) - asked outright “How is it fair if the law only penalizes religious and private schools?”. But the Manhattan delegation which is behind the bill (might one be permitted an 'Aha!' … ?) says that such problems “might be addressed in future legislation”. ‘Might be’? Why pass a flawed bill at all if you can fix it before you pass it the first time? Something smells here.

Says another Manhattan Senator: “It’s about giving people the right to seek justice”. But as noted above, that 'justice' is not going to be reasonably possible. Not in any democratic and Constitutionally-informed judicial system; the 'evidence' is gone and it would take some form of magic - however dolled up in 'scientific' costume - to provide any 'evidence' at all. And are We going to go down that road? Again?

But there’s something else in what this Senator is saying: Who cares if it’s a good law; we’ll pass it, look good for our constituents, and let the courts sort it out. Which echoes the bald assertion of Joe Biden in 1994 when the same sort of objections were raised about his Violence Against Women Act: “It may be a bad law but it sends a great message”. (Parts of that law were later found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, not that it has hurt Joe’s career.)

The ACLU in New York is with-holding comment and has voiced no opposition. Can you imagine the danger of the ACLU going up against the Manhattan elites? Politics, politics.

Well, things are rolling on. I can’t see how anybody can claim that “Bush” invented most of his crapulous ‘vision’ of American law. He saw a national jurisprudence as weakened as Weimar, and figured how to make that ‘work’ for him.

It will not work for Us. The sooner We realize that, the sooner We can try to get things back on course.

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