I had been talking about the ‘migration of concepts’ in recent Posts: that a concept or idea or technique from one area of activity could be picked up and applied in a completely different area of activity, with more or less (or much less) applicability or with entirely different results and – a word that We should start carving in stone – consequences.
In a recent article, the military writer William S. Lind discusses an axiom of military affairs: the illegitimacy of power. This is a concept, he notes, noted by another significant modern military affairs thinker, Martin van Creveld, who calls it “the power of weakness”.
Both thinkers discuss this concept in its relation to Fourth Generation War (4GW): the type of asymmetric conflict where large conventional armies, deploying great quantities of advanced military force in all its manifestations, are opposed by small, dedicated groups – not ‘military forces’ as such. This is the type of military challenge We face in Iraq and Afghanistan now (and which the Israeli military faces in Gaza, not irrelevantly).
He observes, rightly, that “in a Fourth Generation world, legitimacy is the coin of the realm”. The overwhelming power of advanced military force is perceived to be ‘illegitimate’ and that perception then assigns ‘legitimacy’ to those ‘unorganized’ and ‘non-military’ forces that arise to oppose it. This happened in France under the German occupation, where the Resistance had the triple advantage of first, opposing a national invader and occupier, that was (second) cruel and oppressive, and thirdly, assumed the proportions of a Goliath in relation to the Resistance agents who arose to combat the occupiers. The population, even if not adventurous enough to actively participate in ‘resistance’ held the resisters in relatively high-esteem.
This created a significant problem for the German occupation forces, one that only got worse as time went on. Indeed, every ‘success’ they achieved against the Resistance served, perversely, to increase the people’s esteem for the Resistance (and it also increased the Resistance’s dedication and intensified their activity).
This principle also worked wonders in Mao’s struggle against the Chinese Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai Shek (or however it’s spelled nowadays). Even though the Nationalists were also Chinese, they were seen by the people as allies of foreign meddling as well as representatives, somehow, of an old, imperial order.
Whenever resisters stand up against an overwhelming military power, they become ‘heroes’ in the eyes of the majority of the people. There’s something almost primal, certainly fundamental, in this: a human respect for the plucky underdog. It is “the power of weakness”. There is no advanced technology or amount of boots-on-the-ground that can beat it; the more advanced and powerful the aggressive occupier, the higher the burnish of the stalwart resister.
Certainly, the Israelis got along for decades passing themselves off as just such plucky (and righteous) underdogs, defending themselves against the Goliath of the assorted Arab national forces around them. It hasn’t worked so well of late, and the Israelis have found themselves starting to lose that ‘legitimacy’ in the eyes of the world’s peoples and governments (with one well-remunerated exception being the officialdom and elites residing in the Beltway neighborhood of Washington City).
When this dynamic takes hold, the occupier determined to remain becomes mired in a downward spiral that cannot be broken. For the occupier, things will not turn out well. For the resister, secure in the inevitability of this military and strategic principle (as well as in the rightness of the Resistance cause), need only keep on keeping on.
In terms of ‘migration of the concept’, it occurs to me that this principle (not ‘new’, although newly empowered) had been adopted by the government here in domestic affairs.
And the manner of it is on this wise.
After the stunning newsreel footage of Southern police beating up on Civil Rights demonstrators in the mid-‘50s to mid-‘60s, the country largely shifted its attitude to police authority. The World War Two generations, used to a certain amount of regimentation and recognizing their own peers among the returned vets who joined police forces, generally accepted and trusted the use of police power. But for them, and for their Boomer children, watching that footage shifted attitudes.
Granted, when the Southern Civil Rights movement entered its ‘second’ phase, the revolution-minded agitations that arose in the non-Southern cities, a significant fraction of the populace became more concerned for law-and-order against urban crimes feeding synergistically off of the agitation-spirit. But the overall sympathy of the public shifted away from the ‘police’, and the police power; it had become ‘delegitimized’.
This explains, I believe, what happened next – over the course of a decade or two. The government became frustrated and perhaps alarmed by the popular predisposition to see any persons caught up in the criminal justice system as ‘victims’, if not also as ‘good’, or even ‘heroes’. The aura of ‘liberal’ concern for the individual, clearly and rightly deployed in the service of protecting the Civil Rights marchers in that watershed Southern phase, now had extended to ‘cover’ all manner of other activity, even as the Civil Rights activity shifted in the mid-‘60s from the South to the urbanized cultures of the cities.
But ‘liberal’ policy – under the Democrats – also then extended to ‘women’, especially as ‘women’ were defined in the ‘vision’ of gender-feminism: helpless victims of an abiding, primitive, inbred ‘male’ aggressiveness and violence. In this vision, the police and the police power of the government were cast as ‘good’, riding in like the cavalry to rescue the settlers in their wagon-trains and homesteads. (Although, in yet more complication, this image would never have been used, since it was – under the aegis of multicultural ‘respect’ – insensitive and, marvelously, itself too ‘John Wayne’ and too ‘masculine’.)
The fire of a genuine conservative concern for law-and-order and the fire of a gender-feminist near-hysteria for ‘protection’ and ‘vengeance’ and ‘justice’ began to burn toward each other in the national forest.
The fires linked up in the later-1980s in ‘victimism’: the assumption that the police power of the government (and I say this with all respect for hard-working individual police officers) was the ‘good’ and that those persons caught in the toils of the police-power were the ‘bad’. Now it was ‘decent’ folks against ‘criminals’. Although again, since the gender-feminists sought to delegitimize ‘decency’ as an instrument of social stasis and ‘oppression’, the actual term ‘decent’ was rarely used; ‘victims’ were simply that, and their status seemed to exist independent of any characterizing descriptors or any other dynamics. A victim was a victim, thus good and the ‘victimizer’ evil, and that was all that needed to be said.
Let the games begin.
All of this exploded into a firestorm as the Democrats took the White House in the very early 1990s. Almost immediately there was an explosion of laws, changes to long-standing legal principles, and entire new categories of ‘offenders’. Within short order there were divorce-law changes and special courts, ‘domestic violence’ laws and registries, quickly followed by ‘sex offenders’ and the still-burgeoning laws and registries.
Government police-power began to expand, with elite support and an initially high level of popular acceptance; it expanded to levels not seen in a modern democracy. The civil-liberties and jurisprudential consequences of such hastily-enacted initiatives were unremarked and – in the popular media – mostly ignored, though the professional literature was rife with alarms and deep concerns.
With its whole-hog embrace of ‘the victim’, the government police-power had found a way to ‘legitimize’ itself. Although it had expanded hugely and ominously, that power gained ‘legitimacy’ by its almost total ‘dedication’ to helping the ‘little guy’ (although that ‘guy’ was now almost always a female).
With both Democrats and Republicans ‘on board’, the entire process swept the country, its institutions, its laws, its ethos.
And when the Soviet Union collapsed, also in those early 1990s, it did not take long for this concept to ‘migrate’ from domestic to foreign affairs. Foreign policy, especially as defined by the larger and more developed nations, began to speak of a ‘humanitarian responsibility’ to over-ride other nations’ national sovereignty in the interests of bringing ‘justice’ and ‘reform’ to backward, 'oppressed', 'victimized peoples.
This was, clearly, an utter reversal of the Wilsonian principle of ‘national self-determination’; if a government did ‘bad’ things – and what government doesn’t? – in the eyes of a larger and more powerful nation, then its sovereign rights were forfeit and the larger nations, if they chose, would invade or assault, in order to essentially rescue the ‘victims. By 1995 the US was in Bosnia, where – ominously – it still remains, with the UK under the personally sincere and totally convinced Tony Blair bringing up the rear.
The possibilities for grave mischief were rife. Especially in a world where essential resources – oil, grains, even fresh water – are dwindling, the larger and more developed nations have given themselves carte blanche to invade wherever they choose to perceive ‘victimization’ that needs redress, 'oppression' that needs 'liberating'.
And then came 9-11, and then Afghanistan, which was ‘won’ and yet was then ‘lost’ as the government's schemes shifted to Iraq.
‘Victimization’ – and there is enough of it in this Vale of Tears, as God knoweth full well – became a perfect ‘cover’ of ‘legitimacy’ for foreign interventions, invasions and occupations, wherever and whenever the US chose.
Nor, certainly under Bush, did the US choose well.
And here We are.
Nor is Obama going to be able to easily reverse this entire national mind-set and heart-set. ‘Victimism’ and all that supports it, including the manipulative stoking of fear and anxiety and mistrust and vengeance; and the disrespect for established principles of Western and Constitutional justice; and the even more deeply buried disrespect for national sovereignty, is now a well-anchored dynamic in both US domestic affairs (and politics) and in US foreign affairs.
But especially in foreign affairs this game is becoming harder and harder to sustain. Those invaded and occupied do not see themselves as receiving ‘rescue’, and though they most certainly see themselves as being victimized (if not as helpless victims) they ‘see’ clearly that their victimizer is the US.
Nor can their opposition to such a gambit be easily written off as ‘backlash’, as had happened in US domestic affairs.
They are getting shafted, they know it, and they aren’t going to stand still for it.
And the principle of ‘the power of weakness’ will serve to wear down whatever aggressive and advanced military force the US chooses to deploy in the quintessentially American delusion that enough know-how and well-funded weapons research will yield a quick ‘victory’ with minimal (American) casualties and no lasting negative consequences.
It was a lot easier (though hardly more justifiable) for the US government and elites to corrode America’s own Constitutional ethos domestically.
So History is not dead. Although the Constitution is not at all well, and the hostility of both Leftist (not liberal) and Rightist (not conservative) factions in American politics and government does not make for a bright prognosis. Dr. Obama faces a ‘patient’ rapidly enroute to becoming an ER ‘trainwreck’, wounded and injured so complexly and profoundly that any effort to ‘fix’ any one serious problem is going to aggravate several others.
We are cursed with “interesting times” indeed. This is Our rendezvous with destiny. Let Us rise up to meet it.
Lind also notes that "Americans, driven by sensation-seeking media, will panic". Yes. Having somehow lost any working sense of Divine Providence or any help from Beyond that helps put up with the slings and arrows of outrageous Life and Fortune, Americans are far more easily spooked, stampeding toward any 'reform' that promises to eradicate pain and suffering in any form from human life.
And having been told for decades (and taught, at 50K a year for college) that 'maturity' and self-mastery and 'seriousness' are all 'male', 'patriarchal', 'oppressive' modes of 'vertical' thinking and must be eradicated ... I can't really see how that has helped.
Additionally, it's not just the sensationalist media. The government and legislators themselves find it a quick and reliable way to garner 'legitimacy', pushing through all sorts of 'reforms' to stop 'pain'. And the national government uses its purse-strings to induce police agencies and cash-strapped State governments to go along.
We are increasingly becoming helpless and panicky - and I don't mean as a nation here, but as a 'people'. And that bodes very ill for The People. And for democracy. And for the Constitution.
Obama has stated that the citizenry needs to start putting more responsibility on itself. One of the primary ways that good advice must be given shape and form is for individual adults to get a grip and not simply panic on cue like the crowds in some mass-disaster movie.