The State Must be Saved

Part II of Divided About the War. It was a socialist government in Germany that in January of 1919 had to suppress to Spartacist uprising in Berlin. How did that work?

The insurrection of the radicals had to be met with all the force the government could organize. What forces were there, however, that the government could muster? The tragedy of the German revolution lay in the fact that when the democratic elements of the revolution required the necessary force and power to give stability to their rule, they found no such source of military power among their own worker supporters. The pacifist and anti-militarist tradition of the Socialist movement stood in the way of creating a strong republican military force to protect the new regime. After the resignation of the Independent Socialists from the cabinet, the three Majority Socialist ministers published the following plea to their supporters: “If you burden us with responsibility you must do more: You must create power for us! There can be no government without power! Without power we cannot carry out your mandate! … Do you want the German Socialist Republic? … Then help us create a people’s force for the government that will enable it to protect its dignity, its freedom of decision and its activity against assaults and putsches. … A government … that cannot assert itself has also no right to existence.”

The response from the followers of the Majority Socialists and from the democratic bourgeoisie was weak and ineffectual. When military force was needed, the Majority Socialist government had to seek allies among the militarist circles of the old officer caste and the old army. The government decided to entrust [Defense Minister Gustav] Noske with the obligation to restore order. Noske, fully aware of the ominous character of his task, declared: “Someone must become the bloodhound! I cannot evade the responsibility.” He became governor general of Berlin, and established his headquarters in Dahlem, a suburb of Berlin. He secured the cooperation of several old-regime generals … and recruited and drilled several thousand soldiers and officers. On the night of January 10 he marched on the center of the city. The buildings held by the rebels were stormed in several days of bitter fighting. The troops that rallied to the government were full of bitterness and scorn for the rebels and did not bother too often to discriminate between the different political tendencies. Indiscriminate shooting, brutality, and terrorization were practiced upon the prisoners. (p.383-384)

This, progressives and liberals, is what you get when you want and exercise power. This is why there can be no “progressive” state power that does not end up shooting people. (Because state power is all about shooting people.) And since liberals and progressives themselves are unlikely to want to do the shooting (and the torturing), they have to rely on those most willing to do that work — sadists (who don’t care who they work for), militarists and conservative statists. And you wonder why your progressive welfare state doesn’t exist yet? And will never exist? Because it’s wedded to warfare and police power. That power takes its pound of flesh in exchange for its loyalty. And then some.

Ancient Debates

I realize the time of intense theological disputes between Marxists has long gone (the only Marxists who retain any influence in the world are critical theorists, whose work permeates academia but doesn’t allow people to think clearly about much of anything), but I’ve always been at a loss to understand what Marxists mean (or meant) by the term “dictatorship of the proletariat.” (What they really mean…) I find this from Pinson’s book on Germany to be, well, interesting. Pinson is describing Socialist attitudes in 1919 toward revolution and the Soviet state in Russia:

Hugo Haase, respected by his political opponents as well as by his followers as a man of indisputable integrity and of statesmanlike qualities, retained his adherence to the Marxist goal of world revolution and world socialism. Like left-wing Social Democrats throughout the world at that time, he viewed the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia as a positive step forward toward the goal of international socialism. But he, like [Rudolf] Hilferding, [Karl] Kautsky, and [Wilhelm] Dittmann, was repelled morally by the brutality and terror of the Russian regime. These Independent Socialists were not opposed to dictatorship per se, but they wanted a dictatorship resting not upon a minority, as in the case of Russia, but upon the will of the majority of the people. The Independent Socialists were objective and honest enough to admit the great bulk of the German workers were in the ranks of the Majority Socialists. All that the Independents could do under the circumstances, therefore, was to pursue a program of educational propaganda in order to develop revolutionary clarity and revolutionary energy among the masses and to hope thereby to win them over to their side eventually. The U.S.D.P. [the Independent Socialists], declared [Arthur] Crispien, wants a soviet system based on the free will of the masses and not on a militarily disciplined obedience, as in Russia. “By dictatorship of the proletariat,” he maintained, “we understand … not the setting up of a reign of terror, but the exercise of political power by a working class led by scientifically schooled Socialists with a considered and conscious planning and organization imbued with the highest form of socialist ethics.” (p.376-377)

Not a reign of terror. But sweet, gentle democratic socialism? The bureaucratic, managerial welfare state? I am I reading this right? Is that the “dictatorship” Marxists had in mind, or were they thinking of something else entirely?

Divided About the War…

… But not about war.

As per previous posts, I have been reading Koppel Pinson’s Modern Germany: Its History and Civilization, which I picked up from the discard shelves at the LSTC library. I have commented on the book before, both here and in one of my columns at

I am in the middle of the chapter on the German Revolution of 1918-19, and Pinson is describing how German socialists — who made up Germany’s new Republican government — fared and ruled. They were divided, in part because the largest socialist group in the German parliament, the Majority Socialists, had voted for war credits in August, 1914, and had enthusiastically supported the war until sometime in early 1918:

The Majority Socialists were never able to free themselves from this association with the pro-war policy. Politically and psychologically there could not bring themselves to admit that their policy of the Burgfrieden [the policy of peace and cooperation with the government of Wilhelm II during the war] had been a mistake. And the deep and profound nationalism which prompted their stand on August 4, 1914, remained equally strong in 1918-1919. It never occurred to them that a complete break with the past was either desirable or feasible. It was not only that they were reformist Socialists and opposed to violent revolution because of possible bloodshed and chaos. It was that both the strength and continuity of national tradition were matters of profound conviction for them. [Italics mine.] It was not utilitarian or pragmatic design when [Socialist leader Philipp] Scheidemann referred to Marshal von Hindenburg as a man “before whom the entire nation can only have the greatest reverence.” … Despite the long anti-militarist tradition of the party, the Majority Socialists could never get themselves to eliminate the glories of German arms from the memory of their nationalist past. (p.372-373)

Does this seem familiar? If anyone wonders why Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic Party establishment, have not more openly regretted the invasion of Iraq, or formally apologized for approving it, it is because Democrats are still nationalists (militarism and nationalism are just as at home in the Democratic Party, even if Democrats don’t idolize them as much as Republicans do) and still committed to war and empire.

The Problem of (and with) Democracy

I’m no fan of democratic governance. By “democratic,” I mean the parliamentary nation-state in which sovereignty allegedly rests with “the people.” This form of governance, combined with some form of republicanism (the election of “representatives” by the people to exercise that sovereignty), is the primary form of governance in the world today, and has been the idea of good, progressive, popular, effective and moral government since at least the middle of the 19th century (it is what the revolutionaries of 1848 were clamoring for). Jacques Ellul in Anarchy and Christianity notes:

We have to ask whether things became any different under democratic systems [than it had been under monarchy in Europe]. Much less than one might think! The central thought is still that power is from God. Hence the democratic state is also from God. The odd thing is that this was an old idea. From the 9th century some theologians had stated that all power is from God through the people. Plainly, however, this did not lead directly to democracy. In “Christian” democracies we find a similar alliance to that already described, except that the church now has fewer advantages. In lay democracies there is theoretically a complete separation, but that is in fact not the case. The church has shown much theological uncertainty in this area. (p.29)

Ellul goes on to describe the various arrangements between churches and government in France (of the two Napoleons as well as the republic), acceptance and support of the Nazi government by German Lutherans and Roman Catholics, and especially the decision by the Orthodox Church to serve the Soviet state following the Nazi invasion of the USSR in June, 1941. 
This is not the concern here. What I’m interested in is the statement that “the democratic state is also from God.” Or, better, “that all power is from God through the people.” This, as I understand it, is the point of Defensor Pacis, the late medieval treatise on secular authority. 
It’s funny that when monarchs assume the divine right to rule, this is called “tyranny.” But when “the people” assume the divine right to rule, this is called freedom. It also, I think, prompts some questions:
  • Who are “the people?” What defines “the people?” 
  • Is there some place “the people” aren’t? Are there some people who are not “the people?”
  • If “the people” are all people everywhere, what limits could possibly exist on their power?
  • If “the people” are the expression of the will of God politically and socially, does that make opposing the will of the people — which is, after all, the will of God — a kind-of heresy? Is it possible to oppose the will of “the people?” Can one say “no” to “the people?”
  • How do “the people” effectively exercise their sovereignty? If it is through agents, then what moral cause allows those agents to use that delegated power on “the people” themselves?
  • Or, if “the people” is an amorphous collective, can agents of sovereignty use their delegated power on individuals who are members of “the people” (or not) but who do not, as individuals, constitute “the people?”
  • Are “the people” empowered by God to make laws or exercise power without limit, or are there limits to the power of “the people?” If there are, how can you possibly defend limits binding the will or power of God?
Modern democratic political theory as applied in the late 18th and 19th century gave human beings real tyranny and totalitarianism, forms of government impossible with monarchy because enough people (as Ellul notes in the pages prior to the above quote) understood that the personal government of the monarch worked against them. That they were not their government and they knew that. Democracy annihilates this intellectual and moral distinction between ruler and ruled (while keeping it in practice, because it is impossible to do away with), thus giving the state one more tool to subdue those most likely to object. Democracy also subjects to the state, the instrument by which the will of God is realized in the world, all things, thus cracking the door open for totalitarianism — that of the revolutionary socialist state or the social democratic welfare/warfare state.

Multiculturalism and Empire (With Update)

I tried sometime last fall to read radical orthodox theologian John Millbank’s Theology and Social Theory. I appreciated the central claim he was making or trying to make in the book: that the endeavor by religious thinkers to answer the Enlightenment on the Enlightenment’s terms was a failure because the Enlightenment itself is religious (a conclusion I had come to some time before reading Millbank). I really liked that he was trying to end the “conversation” between sociology and religion, and the social sciences and religion in general.

But it was a tough read. Tough because Milbank writes like a critical social theorist. For every pithy paragraph (worth three or four excited readings) describing that the capitalism of the modern world reflects Scottish economist James Stewart’s Steuart’s ideas more than it those of moral philosopher Adam Smith, or that the very concept of “society” is an invention of the Enlightenment, there were pages and pages of ponderous drivel dealing more with high theory, aesthetics and even mythology. It was not as difficult a read as Horkhheimer and Adorno’s The Dialectic of Enlightenment, which was itself so steeped in the aesthetic and mythic as to think one can tell the story of human ideas and human history that way. This approach is similar to that of Oswald Spengler in The Decline of the West, or James Frazier in The Golden Bough, or Toynbee, grand theories of everything which make human history as much the story of the artistic and aesthetic as it is economics and events. In which myth is authentic history, more authentic than recorded history, and thus the stringing together of myths can effectively tell the human story. This approach, which may make sense to others, make utterly no sense to me, and I can get little or nothing out of such history telling. (This may or may not be a subject for a later time.)

At any rate, at one of the Christian Anarchist websites I’ve begun frequenting, I found an essay by John Milbank, “Sovereignty, Empire, Capital and Terror,” from a 2002 issue of South Atlantic Quarterly, and it is refreshing to see the man can actually write and communicate clearly. I have not read the entire essay, yet, but I came across an interesting description Milbank uses for the difference between American and European approaches to empire:

Because of its history of expanding frontiers—its internal wars against native Americans, African Americans, British loyalists, Spaniards in the South and West, the dissenting Confederate states, southern and Central America, dealers in alcohol and drugs, and Communists in the 1950s, the United States has in a sense been long preparing for this new sort of global conflict. As Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have argued in their Empire, American neo-Roman imperialism works by a constant subsumption and inclusion of “others,” such that difference is apparently welcomed, yet actually subordinated to an unremitting uniformity. This subsumption coincides with an obliteration of the older distinction between colonies as the extracapitalist sources of “primary accumulation” and the fully capitalized home markets. Now all comes to be within the unrestricted one world market. …

This contrasts with older European imperialism, which held the other at a subordinated distance, permitting its otherness, even while subordinating it for the sake of an exploitation of natural and human resources. And one should I think add to Hardt and Negri that, in the case of Britain and France, there were also many utopian imperialist schemes that went beyond even this subordination and tended to deploy the peripheries and “savage” to mock the center and “civilized” (see for example Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines). Such nuances are often overlooked in pseudo-left-wing American “postcolonial” discourses, which actually assist the ideology of the American Right by implying the original “innocence” of the United States as a once-colonized nation, and it’s natural solidarity with all the colonized.

Now, what I find most interesting about this is the implication that the American empire is one of forced inclusion, of forced assimilation. Annoying New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has been the most forceful advocate of forced assimilation and inclusion as the solution to the problems of globalization — that those left out or choosing to be left out must be forcibly included in the emerging “global” economy and society as a way to protect those who have chosen or at least accepted that globalization. This has been the Bush Regime’s reigning justification for war in the Middle East, or at least was in the beginning when things seemed to be going well.

The response to assimilation as a ruling ideology of empire has been the creation of multiculturalism as an alternative to assimilation. Multiculuralism appears to assume that cultures are organic wholes, are based largely on ethnicity/race, language and religion, and that assimilation demands the abandonment of one’s own “culture” in order to assimilate, to accept the values and assumptions of the ruling culture. Rather than impose one specific “culture” as normative for an entire society, multiculturalism seeks a process by which all “cultures” can retain integrity and influence (and be influenced) by other cultures in a given society. Individual members of a “culture” need not abandon whatever culture they bring in order to be part of the larger society.

I take issue with multiculturalism’s sense of itself as an alternative to assimilation because it is assimilation. It assumes many of the same things that assimilation does — the moral legitimacy of the nation-state and of the community bounded by the nation-state (“society”) and defined by shared citizenship. It assumes that all social relationships between individuals and communities (“cultures”) within “society” must be governed by one set of values, values imposed by the state through the catechetical process of compulsory public education (the greatest evil perpetuated by the state) and backed up by state violence (law and law enforcement). The multiculturalist, like the assimilationist, cannot abide the desire by individuals to live in self-defined communities or enclaves that refuse to participate in “society.” The autonomous enclave is as unacceptable to the multiculturalist as it is to the assimilationist. Now, multiculturalism may make some sense as an idea created by people who viewed deliberate and purposeful segregation and exclusion from “society” as the problem. But it still seeks the same answer as assimilation — forcible inclusion and participation of all in “society.” Whether they want to be included or not.

And because of this, multiculturalism is just another ideology of empire, just another very American ideology of “unremitting uniformity.”
Pluralism, and not assimilation/multiculturalism, is how people really live. It is how they choose to live when state and parastatal actors are not trying to compel assimilationist ideologies upon them. This is why I love great big cities. I myself do not care if I live surrounded by people who “look” like me. I do not assume that I hold anything in common with such people. In fact, my most passionate prejudices tend to be be against working-class and poor white people, especially those with tribal and communal outlooks. But I accept there are people who want to live surrounded by folks who “look” or speak (and thus, they hope, think) like they do. And there are lots of people for whom ethnicity, language, religion and kinship are very, very important. So I say let them make the neighborhoods and communities they want, so long as no one is compelled to participate or (more importantly) prevented from leaving. There are plenty of places where such communities intersect, especially in big cities, where one can be properly cosmopolitan and meet and form communities with other cosmopolitans. And you can always pick up and move to someplace suitable cosmopolitan.
There’s actually something I admire in the anti-globalization movement, and that is the desire to secede, to drop out, to not accept what one is handed and instead create an alternative. As near as I can tell, the anti-globalization movement is protesting not the creation of a global economy and something akin to a global society, but the fact that most folks have no say in how they are forced to participate in that global society and economy. Where I disagree with the anti-globalization movement is in the desire to create a formal global polity that will achieve one of the longest cherished dreams of social democracy — an economy subject to political, and allegedly “democratic,” control. Like the multiculturalists, most anti-globalization activists aren’t opposed to globalization, nor are they opposed to force and coercion. They merely want to create institutional structures that would privilege their idea of what globalization is and should be. They claim that capital currently does what it does in an unregulated fashion. This is a lie. Capital can only exist with state support, and the right-wing social democrat believe just as much in the political control of the economy as the left-wing social democrat. Anti-globalization forces would not abolish the World Bank or the IMF; they would merely use them, and all their tools, “differently.” But they would still use them.

Multiculturalism, like the assimilationism it claims to oppose, does not accept “no” for an answer. It will not allow self-definition, voluntarism or secession. It is inherently statist in nature, and intervention and violence are by necessity the way it does business. The state defines what a “culture” is and how individuals within those “cultures” must interact with other human beings. The state is the main determinant of all social values. And where “no” cannot be spoken, heard and listened to, where it is not an acceptable answer to the state, there can be no real freedom for individuals or communities.

UPDATE: I finished the Milbank essay. Meh. It was intriguing in places, but as a whole it was not that interesting.

Not Even 3/5s

In a fairly complex case about law, a U.S. appeals court in the District of Columbia appears to have handed down a rather stunning ruling:

The four British men also brought constitutional claims and claims under the Geneva Conventions and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Rejecting all of the men’s allegations, the appeals court overturned the only part of a lower court decision that hadn’t already been dismissed. That was the alleged violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“Because the plaintiffs are aliens and were located outside sovereign United States territory at the time their alleged RFRA claim arose, they do not fall with the definition of ‘person,'” the court ruled. The law provides that the “government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.”

What the court seems to be saying is that anyone outside the territory of the United States is not legally a person when it comes to dealing with or responding to state action. Not that they weren’t subject to the sovereignty of the United States government — clearly they were. But by not being on U.S. territory, they weren’t legally people, and thus had no rights. The U.S. government can claim extra-territorial jurisdiction and act extra-territorially, but then maintains a convenient double standard by making sure that those on the business end of its actions, of the exercise of its sovereignty, can do nothing in response. Nifty trick.

But at least it’s good to have a court confirm what we’ve always known — that those who aren’t Americans aren’t people in the eyes of the U.S. government. To quote a certain U.S. Supreme Court chief justice, they also don’t have any rights that same government is bound to respect.

For Melissa, Wherever She Is

This is an apology in a bottle, scrawled on a piece of paper, crumpled and stuffed and corked and tossed onto the waves. I don’t expect it to get to the person who needs to hear it. Who I’d like to hear it. There are things we break, people we hurt, and we cannot undo them. The most we can do is give those things to God and let God do whatever fixing needs to be done. I’ve broken a few such things in my life. But this, for Melissa, this is something I’ve needed and wanted to say for a long, long time.

Melissa, I’m sorry I was not the person you needed and wanted. I’m sorry I treated you so badly, that I was so cruel and heartless. That I used you. I was 19, and incapable of being the kind of person who could have loved you the way that you needed to be loved. I was not the person who could have accepted who and what you were and were willing to give me.
I think about you a lot. I pray about you often. I hope you found the love and comfort and belonging you were looking for. You were a sweet, cheerful and persistent woman, and I hope that has carried you through your dark places. It is not that I wish things between us could have been different — it took encountering Jennifer to truly become someone better than I was, but you and Jennifer had much in common, and it was her that made me remember you, your life, your struggles, and how I did not contribute much (or any) joy — but I do wish I could have been someone different than the person you met.  
I hope that the electrons, the ether, the spirit, carry this message, if to no other place than your soul. I hope you have found joy, had a good life, have loved and been loved. I cannot, and will not, ask you to forgive me. If you even remember me. I remember you. I will always remember you.