Benedict in Turkey

Pope Benedict XVI is visiting Turkey, a visit scheduled long ago to help patch up the ancient dispute between the Latin and the Greek church. Turks are, as a result of Benedict’s fairly foolish speech earlier this year about faith and reason in which he cited one of the last Byzantine emperors describing Islam as a violent and inhuman faith. I won’t critique the speech here, because I’ve already done that.

What I didn’t not in my essay, because it wasn’t something I considered until after I’d written the essay, is that it was not sufficiently pastoral. As Cardinal Ratzinger, the pope was an enforcer of orthodoxy — his job was to make sure people toed the line and didn’t stray too far from the established views of the Church. As a German academic, Ratzinger never really had to worry about the effects of his speeches and writings, because they were intended for a much narrower audience.

But he doesn’t have that luxury anymore. The Roman Catholic Pope is one of a tiny handful of people in the world — the Dalai Lama is the only other person I can think of — who have near-universal recognition as a kind-of pastor to the world. His flock is not only the world’s Roman Catholics, not merely its Christians, but everyone. There are things he could do as both a German academic and maintainer of orthodoxy that he can no longer do as pope, and one of those things is to bad mouth other faiths (or even quote those who bad mouth other faiths).

I suspect some Roman Catholics — and others — will express concern at this. How can one of the few universally recognized titular leaders of Christendom speak truth to power if he cannot properly critize religions that are grounded in falsehood? That misses the point. His job is now pastoral, that is, to care for the souls of all the world, and you don’t preach the Gospel — or live the Gospel — by bad mouthing others. His congregation is not merely Europe (a place he spends much to much time worrying about), and not merely Catholicism, and not merely even divided Christendom, but the whole world. And if the pastor cannot preach the Gospel, call men and women to repentence and bring them to a better understanding of their thoughts and behaviors in love — and implying people are “evil and inhuman” is not loving — then he ought not be a pastor.

The first encyclical on love was very pastoral, so Benedict is quite up to this task. He needs to remember he’s no longer an academic, no longer an enforcer, but a preacher, a pastor, a shepherd who must care for all his flock. Christian and not. Benedict, I think, is learning this.

The Evil of John McCain

LA Times columnist Matt Welch reflects today (Sunday) on John McCain and his underlying political philosophy. Having read the man’s four books (so none of the rest of us have to — something I think both Rush Limbaugh and James Wollcott have alternately said), Welch writes:

Liberals and conservatives alike fail to truly reflect his views, McCain writes, because “neither emphasizes the obligations of a free people to the nation.” His main governmental inspiration is Teddy Roosevelt, the “Eastern swell who became a man of the people,” whose great accomplishment was “to summon the American people to greatness.” In Roosevelt’s code, McCain writes approvingly, it was “absolutely required that every loyal citizen take risks for the country’s sake.” This is an essentially militaristic view of citizenship, one that explains many of McCain’s departures from partisan orthodoxy. Unlike traditional Republicans, he will gladly butt into the affairs of private industry if he perceives them to be undermining Americans’ faith in government; unlike Democrats, he thinks the executive branch generally needs more power, not less.

Yes, I think many of us sensed this from McCain, his attraction to presidential power. And his desire to boost “national greatness,” which can be built on nothing but slave labor and sculls. For McCain, the state, and not the individual human being, comes first. Human communities (and nations) are not willeed into being by free and autonomous human souls working together, but in fact the community exists outside and separate from those individuals and it is the community (or nation) that wills the individual into existence. The individual, then, owes all to the greater community, and simply has no choice in the matter.

It is in moments like this I am reminded of what Murray Rothbard said in Man, Economy and State: Only individuals have ends, and can act to attain them. There are no such things as ends or actions by “groups,” “collectives,” or “States,” which do not take place as actions by various specific individuals. “Societies” or “groups” have no independent existence aside from the actions of their individual members.

Oh, but let’s let Welch continue his essay on John McCain, aspiring tyrant, totalitarian, and theologian of state worship:

“Our greatness,” he wrote in “Worth the Fighting For,” “depends upon our patriotism, and our patriotism is hardly encouraged when we cannot take pride in the highest public institutions.” So, because steroids might be damaging the faith of young baseball fans, drug testing becomes a “transcendent issue,” requiring threats of federal intervention unless pro sports leagues shape up. Hollywood’s voluntary movie-rating system? A “smoke screen to provide cover for immoral and unconscionable business practices.” Ultimate Fighting on Indian reservations? “Barbaric” and worthy of government pressure on cable TV companies. Negative political ads by citizen groups? They “do little to further beneficial debate and healthy political dialogue” and so must be banned for 60 days before an election if they mention a candidate by name.

If his issues line up with yours, and if you’re not overly concerned by an activist federal government, McCain can be a great and sympathetic ally. But chances are he will eventually see a grave national threat in what you consider harmless, or he’ll prescribe a remedy that you consider unconscionable.

And then there’s Welch’s conclusion:

One of the many charming confessions in “Worth the Fighting For” is McCain’s complaint that the man he replaced in the Senate — Republican icon Barry Goldwater — was “never as affectionate as I would have liked.” Small wonder.

Goldwater, a man who seemed to emanate from Arizona’s dust, was the paragon of limited government, believing to his core that the feds shouldn’t tell you how to run a business or whom you can sleep with. McCain, on the other hand, is a third-generation D.C. insider who carpetbagged his way into office, believing to his core that “national pride will not survive the people’s contempt for government.”

God, I hope not. National pride is simply not worth the price in tears, theft, suffering and death.

Happy Saturday

It’s another late autumn day on the southside of Chicago, and today I must wander over to LSTC to do some school work (for a presentation — I’m looking up meanings of the Hebrew word goy) and then turn in some books to the University of Chicago Library. And study Greek for a quiz on Monday. And write a paper for another class. And finish my Clinical Pastoral Education essay. Stuff I should have done earlier in the week but just didn’t get around to doing. Hard to stay terribly motivated right now. I’m too old for this. Oh well…

The Futures of American Foreign Policy

NOTE: An improved version of this piece should appear at on Monday.

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius gets it again. He may not get much, but he is beginning to understand the limits of American state power and the wisdom of its elites. In a piece that verges on the silly in some places, he concludes his Friday essay, “The Politics of Murder,” with the following:

The idea that America is going to save the Arab world from itself is seductive, but it’s wrong. We have watched in Iraq an excruciating demonstration of our inability to stop the killers. We aren’t tough enough for it or smart enough — and in the end it isn’t our problem. The hard work of building a new Middle East will be done by the Arabs, or it won’t happen. What would be unforgivable would be to assume that, in this part of the world, the rule of law is inherently impossible.

As a friend wrote me today, the faster this idea catches on, the sooner the United States government will pull the plug on the Iraq venture and the quicker American soldiers (and Marines, and sailors, and airmen) will be withdrawn.

Even if this idea catches on, the fight is not over. For as much I would like to see an honest conversation about future U.S. foreign policy include isolationism, it won’t. At least not yet. Instead, the conversation will boil down to whether the invasion and occupation of Iraq (and, eventually, Afghanistan) failed because Rumsfeld and the entire Bush administration were incompetant and mismanaged it or because remaking those parts of the Muslim world (or any other part of the world) was never achievable to begin with.

This is not mere hairsplitting. The former question suggests that under the right leadership, the invasion was actually doable, that the goals of democratizing Iraq and Afghanistan through force was not just a good idea, but something force could have actually accomplished if done right. The latter claims exactly what it says — many things could have been accomplished through the use of force, but a substantial remake of Iraqi politics, and thus creating a shining beacon along the Tigris and Euphrates to inspire the entire Islamic world as to the benefits of social democracy was not any of them.

I fully expect some Democrats — especially “serious” ones — and some Republicans to take the first stance, and thus focus on Team Bush’s alleged incompetance. (They are incompetant, but that is mainly because they are stupid and deluded themselves into believing the Middle East could be remade, and remade on the cheap as part of a show of forcel, and not because they are bad managers of war — even though they are that too.) The American policy elite, the New York-Washington think tank axis which centers around the Council on Foreign Relations, will probably take some version of this stance as well. And the reason for this is simple — those who craft the country’s interventionist foreign policy want to save American state power and global influence. They fear a world run by someone other than Americans. Or they fear a world in which the United States is something less than a first-among-equals. They hope that with better management, the international power, prestige and authority held by the United States government to influence or even determine world events will return to what it was in the Clinton and Bush Il Sung regimes, in which Washington led the “global community” but did not quite dictate to it. First-among-equals sums it up, I believe.

But there are some — and maybe Ignatius is one of them — who have concluded, or will eventually conclude, that better management will not return Washington to the status quo ante of 1999, that the loss of power, prestige and influence that has marked the six years of the Bush Jong Il regime is permanent and cannot be regained. They won’t necessarily argue for isolationism, but will, instead, argue for a truer international order. The U.S. will not necessarily be a “first-among-equals” in this system, at least not in all things and not all the time.

This will be the fight, at least for the next few years. Because I believe that hard power is finite, costly and difficult to actually deploy, and is becoming increasingly moreso, I believe the latter argument will eventually prove itself to be the better argument (and better understanding of the world as it actually is). But I suspect few real policy makers will want to embrace a real decline of American power — both hard and soft.

As I understand it, state power, at least at this point in history, works more on the basis of consent and cooperation rather than coerscion. (I actually believe this is a general rule of state power in all times and in all places, and it means that all governments rule with some type of consent from at least some plurality of the people they rule over, including dictatorships and tyrannies — there is an internal legitimacy to nearly all indigenous tyrannies that makes them acceptable. If there is an outcry about this theory, I develop it later in more depth…) Drawing on some of the ideas of William Lind and Martin van Creveld, right now, hard state power is costly to deploy and gets very little in return on the investment. Non-state groups, such as Al-Qaeda, Hizbullah, Hamas, and others, get far more bang for their warmaking buck than do states, and thus are much more effective at it. Every dollar the U.S. spends on warmaking buys less — a lot less — than every dollar a non-state actor spends of warmaking.

Team Bush, however, put all of its faith in hard power — warmaking. It’s the only kind of power movement conservatives and most Republicans either respect or understand (and thus they think it’s the only power anyone else understands too). The problem is, hard power doesn’t work, especially when you are stuck and your opponent cannot be compelled to quit or there is simply no incentive to quit (Israel in the Gaza or southern Lebanon, the U.S. in Iraq). And the Bush Administration’s attachment to hard power is part and parcel of the Conservative kulturkampf, the belief that the specific struggle against bad guys abroad using bombs and sojers is part of a greater cultural struggle against degenerates, liberals, leftists, athiests, Europeans, homosexuals and other non-conformists. Team Bush has lost two struggles — the military struggle for Iraq (and Afghanistan) and the political struggle to lead the world and use force to dictate what its “correct culture” ought to be. Hollywood and Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province are, ridiculously and mysteriously, intertwined.

For all their faults (I don’t like Rockefeller World Empire as articulated by the CFR or any of its minions, affiliates, franchisees and subcontractors), the American policy elite understands , in their guts if no place else, that the Conservative kulturkampf is a no-win proposition because, for the most part, American (and European) values already rule the world. They are triumphant, largely because they are (and have been made to be) so apealling. This is epecially true for the very wealthy and well-connected — the global policy elite, the people who work for and run Rockfeller World Empire — as the places they hang out look that same no matter where in the world they are. M Street in Washington, Tahyliyyah Street in Jeddah (especially toward the Cornische), the Upper East Side of New York City, parts of Amsterdam, Dubai, Mumbai, Tokyo, Rio di Janero, or wherever, all look the same, and are populated by the same people who are at ease managing the world’s global institutions — the IMF, the World Trade Organization, global corporations and so-called non-governmental organizations — and consuming the world’s products. Globalization works, and works very well, for them. It is a world of social democratic values, of managed states, of managed state-capitalist economies, of consmerism with a human and environmental face, it is a world in which one can be at home just about anywhere. And these, not revolutionary Islam or Bolivarianism or whatever, are the values most of the world’s people aspire to.

And this highlights Team Bush’s greatest failure. For not only did it make war on Al-Qaeda, Iraq, the Taliban, and indeed, terrorism wherever it existed, but it more or less made war on the very world community the United States had spent so much time and effort trying to breathe into existence after the Second World War. I would not be surprised if the policy elites, as they consider the efforts they need to make to salvage American power, have concluded that a good internationalist Democrat, a la Al Gore, would be a much better fit given the global effects of alleged American leadership. (What shall I call Hillary Clinton should she be elevated to the presidency?) They let Bush win in 2000 (or rather, they accepted the Bush “victory”) and then supported both the Iraq and Afghanistan operations because they will support anything they see as possibly advancing American power. And I suspect many bought the idea that American hard power would accomplish what many neoconservatives and Republicans believed it would. They were as much invested in it as anyone between Westchester and Alexandria. That it has failed has left them worried (the signs of this worry were clear by the spring of this year) and wondering what will become of them? It isn’t that they’d sell out the United States of America (I’m no nationalist, and don’t really care), but that they would very happily believe that American interests are best served — and American goals most effectively accomplished — by an “international order” that is much more “multilateral” and copperative than the Bush Team’s current disaster.

And while I shed no tears for the “realists” of ages past (who gave us such wonderful and enlightened actions as the 1973 coup in Chile) nor the multi-lateralists of more recent eras (I became a libertarian/anarchist because of the war on Serbia), the wreckage of Bush’s world does spark a perverse and quite unexpected fondness in me for those happier days (sic) of Clintonian “multilaterism.”

The problem is not, however, that some conspiratorial cabal of either CFR men (and gals) on the one hand or a group of deluded and stupid neoconservatives on the other are plotting to hijack the country’s foreign policy. The problem is the very concept of “American national interest” when there clearly is no such thing. No, better, the real problem is the whole existence of foreign policy itself. And as long as people, even well-meaning rightists with isolation in their hearts, argue that the government can somehow articulate a “national interest” abroad, that a government can somehow speak for 300 million people, and then devote resources to furthering that notion, then there will always be something just inviting to be hijacked.

Ivan Illich

I have finally found a website hosting a number of the writings of Ivan Illich — the Roman Catholic priest who died in 2004 — and have just about finished reading Illich’s Deschooling Society. I have wanted to read Illich ever since a piece profiled his work and ideas and since I read (and re-read) John Taylor Gatto.

(I don’t know what to make of the Preservation Institute, which hosts the online Ivan Illich archive.)

Deschooling isn’t as good a read as Gatto’s The Underground History of American Education, but Illich does a better job of presenting his ideas than Gatto does. The problem of mass industrial society, for Illich, is that we human beings have created systems (school is the example he uses because it is upon school that all other institutions and systems of mass society rest) that are fundamentally anti-human. That is, the logic of the system triumphs over the logic of the individual human being. For Illich (if I understand him correctly), the mass society, brought about by industrialism, needs to manage individual human wants, to ensure that there is enough demand for the goods and services produced by industries and mass government. The health of the economy, and continued economic growth, as well the position and power of the state, all depend on the management of demand. That management takes the form of both coerscion (law) and persuasion (advertising as one example), but the goal is to make sure that human beings are incapable of managing themselves (either as individuals or as voluntary collectives) and must rely on professionals to manage their needs and wants. School fits in becuase it creates demand for “instruction” and substitutes teaching for actual education, and is also the template by which human beings are made a part of the “system” of mass society and taught to learn their place and function — mainly as consumers of services and products — within it.

I have a lot of problems with Illich’s recommendations for how to solve this problem (aside from dismantling school, which is a good idea) — he uses words like “must” and “new” too much, forgetting that human beings have thousands of years of experience learning to do things without the benefit of public education. In short, his webs and networks are a description not of what must be done, but of what men and women actually do when the social democratic corporate-state is now busy compelling them to work in factories and study in factory schools. The book is also a clear product of 1960s thinking. Not only does he give far too much credit to the 1960s “counterculture,” but also spends too much effort “immanentizing the eschaton” (to borrow from Eric Voegelin) and thinking that his age is the moment most pregnant for revolution.

But my biggest problem with his recommendations is that they appear to have actually gotten traction among reformers and communitarians, people who did these things on top of school, not instead of school. That’s not Illich’s fault, of course. But I’m having a hard time finishing the book because it has stopped reading like a revolutionary tome and has become just another piece of silly futurism gone awry. (Think Toffler’s — or was it Naisbitt’s? — much heralded and very silly paperless office.)

All that said, Illich (and Gatto’s) understandings of mass society and the systems that have been created to oversee the management of demand in this society have helped me considerbly. The economy Illich describes is essentially the one Aldous Huxley imagines in Brave New World, one in which consumption and production are carefully managed by the state, down to the creation of busy work, to make sure that the economy continues to both “prosper” and “grow.”

Even though I write (occasionally) for, an anarcho-capitalist website that spends much of its time reveling in the untrammeled consumer economy, I’ve long felt a little unsettled with that very economy. Ever since my stint covering energy firms on Wall Street, I’ve had a sense that the expectation of continued economic growth — as expressed in government-mandated quarertly earnings, which is as false an environment as a putting green — isn’t the way a natural economy would work if we had one. There’s something, well, not right, not natural, about the expectation that a business enterprise will always (or should always) sell more or earn more in set period after set period. That people should always earn more. There’s something very artificial about the whole modern, mass-consumption economy. In this, Illich helped me, and I can see I will have to go back to the earlier portions of Deschooling to re-examine those statements about engineering and managing production and demand. (Also, his statements on the manufacturing of poverty, and the state’s role in doing just that, are impressive.)

For me, mass industrial society is a fundamentally unhuman and inhuman creation. The management of human beings as resources is fundamentally unhuman and inhuman. And there is no solution to either of the problems from the standpoint of reform — there is no reforming mass industrial or mass consumption society, no making social democracy (the chosen form of governing mass consumer societies) anything more than the simple oligarchical collectivism that Emmanual Goldstein allegedly wrote about in George Orwell’s 1984. At the same time, there can be no revolution to topple mass consumer society, because revolution still thinks in terms of managing human beings, of abstracting resources to the benefit of those who rule a society. (This project of managing the world has long been an aspiration of rulers and ruling elites, as James Scott writes in Seeing Like a State.)

I’ve long considered what it means to be free, because we live with a lot of definitions of freedom in the world, most of which maintain some tie or are rooted in notions of political liberty, particularly the ability to participate in social democratic politics. (The choosing of leaders, for example, is long offered as the main example of political example.) This vision of political freedom spans right and left worldwide.

But I find that unsatisfying, in part because politics is such a zero-sum game, and gives no freedom to the losers to say “no” to the schemes and machinations of the winners. Politics is, therefore, the right to manage others against their will. The only kind of freedom I find that satsifies the idea of being free is the freedom from professional management. Here’s the three things I believe a human being needs to say, believe and live in order to be free (I have spent some time thinking of these three things but have not worked this out yet to my satisfactio):

  1. “I am not a human resource.” I do not exist for the benefit of others. The meaning and purpose of my life is my own, I write them myself. My goals are my own. I am neither input nor output in a supply-demand graph. I am not an abstraction to be dealt with or handled. I am a human being made in the image of God. When I think of the term “human resource,” the image that appears in my mind is that of a lump of coal, something that can be ground into poweder and burned away.
  2. “I am not a citizen.” I do not belong to the state nor do I have any obligations to the state, which chooses to rule me against my will, to conscript my labor (through taxes) and my life for purposes that are not my own. Again, the citizen is merely an abstract resource to be commanded at will by the managers, a thing to be ground to powder and used up.
  3. “I am not a consumer.” I do not exist to have my every wish and whim met, to have desires created against my will. I do not exist merely to buy things and use things up made by others. While consumers are not so obviously ground to powder, I dislike the fact that whole legions of people exist to try and stimulate whims and desires that I didn’t know I had and would not have otherwise.

There is no way to change the world in which we live — no revolution, no reform, nothing will alter mass industrial consumer society. Only collapse, if it comes, will change it, and that collapse may never come (that thought saddens me greatly, even though the collapse of mass industrial society would cause such suffering and misery as the world has never seen), since this society has managed to prop itself up for the better part of 150 years. It has traction, as has the logic of the system over the human. But I believe, and I place my hope in, the ability of the individual to say “no,” to actively un-participate in that society, to mentally and spiritually secceed from mass civilization. To become the human beings that God created us to be, I believe, requires it.

A Right & Proper Result

Well, I did not expect the Democrats to do as well as they did on Tuesday. From the standpoint of merely having a check on the executive. I hope there are some serious hearings about the war, with hard questions asked. And there may be. But I won’t be disappointed if there isn’t.

I have no love for the Democrats. But I cannot say, right now, that they are much worse than Republicans. Statists are statists, and Theodore Roosevelt was a bad as Woodrow Wilson (or George Bush as bad as Bill Clinton) from the standpoint of what he believed the president — and the state — ought to do. There is no non-state party, and hasn’t been for some time. Now, as long as politics is all about using state power, coerscion, to accomplish things, then there may never be a non-state party. Which is just one more reason for not voting…

One more thing. I cannot think of two people who deserve each other more than George W. Bush and Nancy Pelosi.

Election Day

Today is Election Day across the United States of America. I am not voting for two reasons, one practical and one principled:

1) Until I get the opportunity to cast a paper ballot, marked with an indelible ink pen, that will be counted by hand, I will not vote. Voting machines of all kinds — scan sheets, touch screens — are overkill. And over-engineered. And too easy rigged. Nope. Not gonna do it.

2) Voting is a useless exercise in so far as actually determining state policy. What it is, essentially, is the sacrament of an idolatrous religion called “democracy,” the goal of voting being to legitimate the state and the oligarchy who rule. I do not consider the process legitimate, nor do I subscribe to the values that oligarchy, particularly the notion that mass society must be professionally managed. (Politically, I am an anarchist, but have come to the same conclusion that Hans Hermann Hoppe did, that if people must be ruled — meaning that if there is no choice but the creation of human political government — then limited monarchy is the only good way to do it.) As long as there are no real choices, meaning as long as one can only choose which flavor of welfare-warfare state you will live in, then I will not give my active consent to its existence.

That said, it would be nice if Democrats managed to gain control of both houses of Congress, largely because there needs to be some kind of brake or at least attempt to restrain the Bush Jong Il regime. Not that the Democrats are any better — as a party, they are just as committed to the welfare-warfare state as Republicans are, just as committed to economic and military interventionism at home and abroad.

So, I hope the Dems gain control of both the House and the Senate. That is unlikely. What is likely is that they will gain control of the House. But, since one misunderestimates Bush Jong Il and Karl Rove at their own risk during election time (Bush knows how to campaign, and he is very, very good at it), I am not ruling out the very likely possibility that Republicans will maintain control of both houses of Congress.

Gonna be a lot of unhappy people in Hyde Park if that happens.