A very interesting article by Franklin Foer appears in today's NY Times:"Once Again, America First." Foer talks about how conservatives, with their typical distrust of government power, have begun to turn against the Bush administration's neo-Wilsonian desires to"democratize the Middle East." The critics include George Will, Patrick Buchanan,"the libertarian Cato Institute and the traditionalist Chronicles magazine," as well as congressman Henry Hyde and conservative commentator Tucker Carlson. More importantly, Foer rediscovers the almost-forgotten anti-interventionist tradition of the Old Right, and he includes a number of modern-day heroes of contemporary libertarianism:
One of conservatism's early and now largely forgotten folk heroes was Albert Jay Nock, the flamboyant author of ''Memoirs of a Superfluous Man,'' who wore a cape and celebrated Belgium as his ideal society. In 1933, Nock wrote about ''the Remnant,'' borrowing the term from Matthew Arnold and the Book of Isaiah. By the Remnant he meant an enlightened elite that rejected the phoniness of mass society. A few historians have used Remnant as a synonym for the pre-National Review right -- a group that included the economic journalists Garet Garrett and Frank Chodorov, Ayn Rand, Rose Wilder Lane (Laura Ingalls Wilder's daughter) and, to an extent, H. L. Mencken. Nock's allusion to Isaiah works nicely for these polemicists, who issued thunderous, Old Testament-like warnings about American decline. Finding themselves at the forefront of opposition to World War II, they turned to the America First movement. Their hatred for war followed from their radical individualism. As the essayist Randolph Bourne (not a conservative) famously put it about World War I, ''War is the health of the state.'' Since these writers disliked the state, they came to dislike war, too. ...
Conservatism emerged out of the McCarthyite moment with a new enemy: that small band of conservatives who continued clinging to isolationism. National Review, for one, didn't have any place for them in its pages. ... Upon the death of the libertarian isolationist Murray Rothbard in 1995, Buckley quipped, ''We extend condolences to his family, but not to the movement he inspired.'' ... Without a home in the conservative movement, the isolationists had no choice but to search for allies in unlikely quarters. During the late 60's, they often teamed up with the New Left, becoming stalwarts of the antiwar movement. ... And a few on the New Left returned the favor, heartily embracing the apostates. In 1975, the historian Ronald Radosh (then a man of the left) published ''Prophets on the Right,'' a book championing the prescience of Robert A. Taft and other ''conservative critics of American globalism.'' ...
Buchananite foreign policy has an intellectual wing, paleoconservatism. Long before French protesters and liberal bloggers had even heard of the neoconservatives, the paleoconservatives were locked in mortal combat with them. Paleocons fought neocons over whom Ronald Reagan should appoint to head the National Endowment for the Humanities, angrily denouncing them as closet liberals -- or worse, crypto-Trotskyists. Even their self-selected name, paleocon, suggests disdain for the neocons and their muscular interventionism. ... The paleocons explicitly hark back to Garrett, Nock and the Remnant, what they lovingly call the ''Old Right.'' ...
George W. Bush entered office implicitly promising agnosticism in the long-running debate between neocons and paleocons. On the 2000 campaign trail, he promised a ''distinctly American internationalism'' that would provide ''idealism, without illusions; confidence, without conceit; realism, in the service of American ideals.'' Of course, after 9/11, Bush dispensed with this doctrinal neutrality. And in adopting a neocon foreign policy, he rallied most conservatives behind his ambitious agenda, a dramatic turnabout in opinion from the 90's.
Will this consensus hold? Already, many conservative writers seem primed to abandon it. Even when they haven't gone as far as Will or Carlson in their criticisms of the war, they have flashed their discomfort with Bush's goal of planting democracy in Iraq. National Review has called this policy ''largely, if not entirely, a Wilsonian mistake.'' With these signs of restlessness, it's easy to imagine that a Bush loss in November, coupled with further failures in Iraq, could trigger a large-scale revolt against neoconservative foreign policy within the Republican Party. A Bush victory, on the other hand, will be interpreted by many Republicans as a vindication of the current course, and that could spur a revolt too. If the party tilts farther toward an activist foreign policy, antiwar conservatives might begin searching for a new political home.
I recommend the whole article to your attention.
Cross-posted at the Mises Economics Blog.
The headline on the front of the Boston Herald announced this morning :"GO YANKS! We want to kick your butts on our way to the Series!" One of the few times any Boston periodical called for a Yankee victory. And the Sox fans have been salivating at the thought of avenging the beating they got in last year's historic 7-game American League Championship Series.
Well. Here we go again. The Yanks beat the Minnesota Twins, 6-5, in extra innings, and advance to the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox. Last year, the Red Sox fans took to calling their team" cowboys" (as in"Cowboy Up"). This year, Bosox star outfielder Johnny Damon said their new nickname is"idiots."
He said it. I didn't.
May the best team win.
As a follow-up to yesterday's discussion of fascism as a species of statism, I had a nice offlist exchange with Robert Higgs. Higgs' work, Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government, published in 1987 by Oxford University Press, includes a crucially important chapter on the subject of the mixed economy. Higgs asks in Chapter 10 if the mixed economy is on a march toward Socialism or Fascism. He concludes that the best descriptive term for the present political economy of the United States is"participatory fascism." Higgs reminds me that it's a term he borrowed from his friend and former Ph.D. student Charlotte Twight, who first used it in her 1975 book America's Emerging Fascist Economy.
There is an interesting myopia at work in the acceptance of this phrase,"participatory fascism," even among the friends of liberty. As Higgs explains, many seem incapable of accepting the current system as a fascist derivative, equating fascism with Nazism and the practice of genocide. In his just-published book, Against Leviathan: Government Power and a Free Society, Higgs characterizes the system as"quasi-corporatism," but, as he expresses in his correspondence with me, the system"still walks and quacks like a participatory-fascist duck."
Higgs has done a lot of important thinking about this subject, and I think his notion of"participatory fascism" captures an essential aspect of what actually goes on in American political economy.
In light of my recent post on Islamofascism, which has generated some good comments, I thought it important enough to discuss this topic in much greater detail.
Ironically, I've just discovered this morning an Adrian Lyttleton essay appearing in the October 21 issue of the NY Review of Books. Lyttleton's review of Robert O. Paxton's new book, The Anatomy of Fascism, asks the question"What Was Fascism?"
For years, the left asserted that fascism was simply capitalism with the gloves off. It was Leon Trotsky who first argued that fascism was a degenerative form of capitalism. Likewise, Nicos Poulantzas claimed that it was an authoritarian response to the contradictions of capitalism, when democratic institutions are no longer capable of patching up the"broken barrel" that is the free market.
But the free market, as such, has never existed in countries that fully embraced the fascist model of political economy. In Nazi Germany, for example, there was a Bismarkian history of heavy state involvement in the market. Far behind in the capitalist competitive"race," Bismark attempted to usher in modernity with policies of subsidization and tariff protectionism that benefited quasi-feudal landowners and industrialists. These trends continued through the first world war and led to glaring dislocations in the structure of production. In the post-World War I era, following an almost classic Hayekian"road to serfdom," the Weimar Republic responded to escalating chaos by embracing more stringent tariff and tax policies, public works, and rigid restrictions on foreign exchange. The"free market" was never the means by which German industry attempted to recoup. Instead, German industrialists embraced the statist policies of the Nazis, who merely cashed-in on the long Prussian tradition of political interventionism.
The suppression of a competitive price structure was achieved by the Nazis through laws that blocked market entry, setting up cartel arrangements based on compulsory prices that thwarted deflationary tendencies and froze the status quo of the corporate elite. (The Nazis, of course, also used the state to freeze out Jewish businessmen and landowners, who were simultaneously blamed for the decadence of both capitalism and Bolshevism.) Economic control became a technique of mass domination as a quasi-dictatorship of industrialists laid bare the class bias of fascist" corporatism." This" compulsory order" guaranteed profits, socialized losses and enriched capital-intensive industry.
Such production controls veil and dissemble economic facts, and the capital structure is mangled in the process. Moreover, state control over banks enabled the Nazis to embark on a huge military build-up, which funneled monetary expansion into a growing military-industrial complex. An autarkic philosophy of economics, as Franz Neumann called it, led to the collapse of German purchasing power, the crowding out of capital investment for consumer goods production and a dwindling domestic market for the very bourgeoisie that gave Hitler his mass support. Workers' wages plummeted, labor unions were crushed, and German business became a parasitic class. A similar process ensued in Mussolini's Italy.
Lyttleton emphasizes correctly, in the Paxton book review,"[t]hat fascists believed in the primacy of politics and had only an instrumental interest in economics."
Hitler put it succinctly: economics was there to serve the Volk, not the other way around. Fascist regimes were not afraid to use political methods and propaganda to achieve economic results. They announced clear targets and made their successes highly visible through intensive propaganda, framed in the language of struggle. ... [A]t a time when orthodox laissez-faire economics seemed to have no solutions to offer, the activism of the fascist regimes had great appeal. It is understandable that a number of the architects of the New Deal were impressed.
Of course, laissez-faire economics had both a solution and an explanation: it was government intervention that engendered the boom-bust cycle, and it was only government intervention that could make that cycle worse. But Lyttleton is absolutely correct to claim that “it was just this emphasis” on the politico-economic aims of fascism that
makes it possible to speak of a distinctive fascist political economy, which can best be summarized as the creation of a wartime economy in peacetime. Many of fascism’s institutions were direct recreations of the ad hoc structures created to manage the economy during World War I, such as the committees or consortia run by businessmen, but sanctioned by the state, which allocated raw materials and foreign exchange. This was the reality behind the pompous facade of Mussolini’s corporate state. The “consortialist state” would be a more accurate name for it. The ideal of autarky or economic self-sufficiency was distinctly fascist, and plainly linked to the creation of a war economy. But it was also a logical choice for fascist ideology.
These very same dynamics, it should be noted, were at work in the American political context. Murray Rothbard and others have written well of “War Collectivism in World War I” (see the essay by that name in the Radosh-Rothbard collection, A New History of Leviathan). I’ve written about these dynamics in an early article on the railroads during the first world war, but these same patterns were repeated in virtually every major industry in the United States. It is utterly fitting that the Wilsonian crusade to"make the world safe for democracy" entailed, necessarily, interventionism abroad and interventionism at home. That reality is no different today, when neoconservatives embrace the same Wilsonian mission in the hopes of transforming the Middle East. It is in the march toward war that the organic unity of the warfare state and the welfare state is built, with each aspect mutually reinforcing the other. And it is in this constituted nexus, as Lyttleton suggests, that fascism overturns the essence of economic freedom:
Fascist “anti-capitalism” was not just pseudo-revolutionary rhetoric, or a nostalgic vision of a pre-industrial craft and rural economy. Fascism expressed a consistent preference for “national production” over international finance, and for an organized and politically mobilized economy over the free market. ... In the developed fascist economy, industrialists lost much of their freedom to make decisions, although ... they were not too unhappy about this, since they kept their profits and were assured of a docile labor force whose wages stayed low. Only the small businessmen who had been conspicuous among fascism’s early supporters were radically disappointed. The hierarchical organization of cartels and producers’ associations under state supervision tended to favor larger firms.
This disappointment of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois was interesting, sociologically. Barrington Moore once asked about the Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, the title of his famous book. And John Weiss in his book, The Fascist Tradition, agreed fundamentally with Moore, that classical fascism was fueled by the peculiarly twentieth-century mass response of middle-class conservative groups"threatened by rapid liberalization of the social system in which they enjoyed a privileged place." Paradoxically, these middle-class groups provided the mass support necessary for the creation of fascist states, while ceding much control to the industrialists who benefited most from fascist political economy. Moore argued further that fascism has not developed in its classical form in traditionally democratic societies because these societies were able to affect a more complete break with the feudal past and its social order of static mediocrity.
Lyttleton's review discusses some of these issues as well. Fascist movements were very much shaped by the countries in which they emerged. Different manifestations were often a by-product of a different mix of leader, party, bureaucracy, traditional institutions, and cultural heritage. In almost all cases, however, fascists"acknowledged no theoretical limits to the invasion of private life." (Lyttleton warns that, actually,"[t]he increasing intrusion of fascism into private life threatened to undermine the consensus in favor of fascism among the middle classes.") This private-public fusion is, perhaps, one reason why some commentators talk in terms of"Islamofascism," which seeks an equally comprehensive public absorption of private life. As I write here, with regard to one of fundamentalist Islam's founding fathers, Sayyid Qutb:
Pining for a theocratic Islamic caliphate, Qutb's influential"theological criticism of modern life" lamented the dualistic"schizophrenia" of the secular and the sacred, science and religion. But as is typical with religious monists, Qutb sought to collapse secular life into religion. His"deepest quarrel was not with America's failure to uphold its principles," [Paul] Berman explains."His quarrel was with the principles. He opposed the United States because it was a liberal society" (emphasis added). The most"dangerous element" of that society was, in Qutb's view, the"separation of church and state." His version of liberation entailed an adherence to strict Islamic law ("Shariah") in defense of"freedom of conscience." But such liberation"meant freedom from false doctrines that failed to recognize God, freedom from the modern schizophrenia." It is no great leap to realize the dictatorial implications of this utopian vision, whose enforcement would echo the totalitarian projects of fascism, Nazism, and communism.
But, clearly, whatever totalitarian echoes one sees in the Qutbian vision, there are distinctions that disqualify the usage of the word"Islamofascism" to describe it, or to describe Islamic fundamentalism in general. This takes a bit more explanation, and Lyttleton's article helps.
As Lyttleton observes,"fascism was something else, something new and disquieting in its ability to mobilize positive enthusiasm and dedication, a form of modern mass politics." One of the keys to understanding fascism is its identification as"national socialism," or"national syndicalism," or more precisely,"nationalist socialism." And therein lies some of the parallels, not with theocratic Islamic fundamentalist dictatorships, but with quasi-fascist military dictatorships in the Arab world. There is a key difference between these military dictatorships and the regimes that neocons criticize typically as “Islamofascist.” The military dictatorships in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq took power in comparatively “secular” Arab countries. The whole Pan-Arab nationalist-socialist movement was opposed to the fundamentalists; in fact, as a member of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, Qutb himself was executed in 1966, under the Egyptian dictatorship of Gamal Abdel Nasser.
As Lyttleton points out, “[a] degree of secularization would ... seem to be a prerequisite for the emergence of fascist movements, which may appeal to religious values but use them in the service of nationalist or racist political goals.” Lyttleton continues:
In the Middle East, perhaps because Italy and Germany were seen as natural and influential allies against Britain and France, the dominant imperial powers, sympathy with historic fascism seems to have been particularly widespread. Nor can one put this down exclusively to the influence of anti-Semitism on Arab Muslims; one can find an interest in the fascist model among both the Christian Lebanese Phalange and the Israeli extreme right. [Lyttleton cites Heller’s essay, “The Failure of Fascism in Jewish Palestine, 1925-1948" from Larsen’s book, Fascism Outside Europe.] ... A more sinister long-term significance can be found in the ideological affiliations of the Baath Party of Syria and Iraq. Its founding father, Michel Aflaq, echoed fascist denunciations of “materialism” and soulless democracy. ... The two-front battle which the Baath fought against communism and movements based on the Shia majority is somewhat reminiscent of the situation in which the historic fascist movements found themselves. The Baath party-state was made possible by the secular nature of Iraqi society and by the growth of an urban middle class, financed by oil revenues. There seem to be few reasons not to call Saddam Hussein’s regime, “fascist.”
As Fitzgerald once pointed out (in a John Waterbury edited collection, The Egypt of Nasser and Sadat: The Political Economy of Two Regimes), in Latin America, as in Egypt, quasi-fascism was enhanced through the creation of industrial oligopolies that depended"upon privileges and concessions obtained by access to government so that a 'proprietary' rather than 'entrepreneurial' business ethos obtains based on control over a limited market and exclusive licenses instead of mass sales and price competition."
But all of these developments in the Middle East were a quite distinct phenomenon from “Islamofascism.” Additionally, these developments demonstrate the fact that the Muslim-Arab world is not a monolith, but a cauldron of shifting tribes. And none of the tribes—be they Pan-Arabist or fundamentalist, be they led by military dictators, monarchs, or warlords—will accept the Western imposition of the"rule of law" (which law? Shariah?) without the cultural, philosophical, or socio-psychological preconditions upon which such a Western conception can be built and nourished.
In many ways, this situation embodies what Ayn Rand once said about World War II Europe, which was consumed by the struggles of competing forms of collectivism and statism. As the evil character Ellsworth Toohey states in The Fountainhead:
Watch the pincer movement. If you're sick of one version, we push you into the other. We get you coming and going. We've closed the doors. We've fixed the coin. Heads—collectivism, and tails—collectivism. Fight the doctrine which slaughters the individual with a doctrine which slaughters the individual. Give up your soul to a council—or give it up to a leader. But give it up, give it up, give it up. ... Offer poison as food and poison as antidote. Go fancy on the trimmings, but hang on to the main objective. Give the fools a choice, let them have their fun—but don't forget the only purpose you have to accomplish. Kill the individual. Kill man's soul. The rest will follow automatically.
There is an underlying socio-psychological dynamic at work in the universe of collectivist statism. Collectivism of any sort has a deadening effect on the individual's freedom to order his own conduct, and on the sense of self-responsibility that such freedom entails. Hayek warned of this effect back in the 1940s, when he examined the"socialist roots" of Nazism and fascism:
Responsibility, not to a superior, but to one's conscience, the awareness of a duty not exacted by compulsion, the necessity to decide which of the things one values are to be sacrificed to others, and to bear the consequences of one's own decision, are the very essence of any morals which deserve the name. That in this sphere of individual conduct the effect of collectivism has been almost entirely destructive is both inevitable and undeniable. A movement whose main promise is the relief from responsibility cannot but be antimoral in its effects, however lofty the ideals to which it owes its birth.
The root of this"revolt against self-responsibility in action," as psychologist Nathaniel Branden once said,"is the revolt against self-direction in thought." When a social system emerges that is inimical to this self-direction—a system that forbids individuals the capacity to function as rational, independent beings—"psychological and physical disaster is the result."
It is thus no coincidence that the triumph of fascism in Germany and Italy was so dependent on the molding of youthful minds. Lyttleton writes:
The cult of youth was one of fascism's most successful forms of propaganda; fascist supporters were distinguished from those of other parties more by their age than their class. But the cult of youth was not just useful to the Fascists. It was a logical consequence of fascism's martial ethic and ideology of permanent struggle. It was by the molding of the new generations through the youth movement that the creation of the"new man" [the similarities to"New Communist Man" are not coincidental either—CS] devoted to the Leader and the Movement and free from all social attachments was to be finally achieved.
If we are to draw any positive signs anywhere in the Middle East for a veritable freedom revolution, it is this: Emerging youth movements in Iran may very well become a bulwark against the theocratic authoritarianism that the mullahs represent in that country. Potentially, this internally generated movement in Iran would be far more effective in the long run in establishing indigenous democratic cultural patterns, than any externally generated U.S. molding of Iraq. On this, I am in agreement with Gus diZerega and have written extensively about the Iranian context.
I also agree fundamentally with Gus that
the best way to eliminate theocratic fantasies from the Arab world is to allow them to have theocracies in power if that is what a majority wants or is willing to accept—and best, by election. That legitimates the idea that the people should decide, and while they will initially decide poorly, the misrule thugs like that will institute will in time wither the ferocity of their theology and their commitment to mindless interpretations of scripture.
In clarifying a political concept such as fascism, we can only be strengthened; understanding what the threat is, and what the threat is not, we can redouble our efforts against those forces at home and abroad that would undermine our liberty.
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I find it interesting that no matter what information comes out with regard to the status of WMDs in Iraq, people on both sides of the divide of this war use that information to bolster their already established positions. I know of maybe one or two people in toto who have changed their positions on the Iraq war; one went from pro to con, the other went from con to pro. That's two people in God-knows-how-many commentators I've read on this war. No doubt there are much deeper concerns that motivate many in this dialogue. I have voiced my own concerns umpteen times. I don't think people's different positions necessarily reveal any inherent intellectual dishonesty; but it does speak to the tenacity of viewpoints on this subject.
And so, it is no surprise that when I picked up the paper yesterday and read that a CIA report agrees in essence with earlier reports from David Kay and the US Senate that there were no WMDs in Iraq, few commentators had changed their positions. The nuclear program was in disarray, post-1991, even if Hussein still had nuclear ambitions. All chemical weapons stockpiles were destroyed in 1991, and no chemical weapons production had been resumed in the years since. The regime may have had the wherewithal to restart a biological weapons program, but its existing stockpiles of such weapons were destroyed in 1991-92.
The Hussein regime was being contained. Sure, there were loopholes in the containment policy: we know all about the cash nexus of the UN"Oil for Food" program; it is quite possible that those who opposed US military action in Iraq would have lobbied for the removal of sanctions, thus freeing Hussein to develop weapons. But in the post-9/11 world, this was not likely to happen. In my view, containment was working, and whatever Hussein's intentions, an increased post-9/11 US military presence in the Persian Gulf, and in Afghanistan, provided an adequate countervailing force.
Yes, Hussein sponsored terrorists (so have US"allies" like the Saudis, but the US never invaded or occupied Saudi Arabia). In any event, how many times do we have to hear that there was no operational relationship between the Hussein regime and Al Qaeda?
The Bush administration is unpersuaded. Big surprise there. And the critics of the administration have only used the most recent report to bolster their case (as I have done).
So what of the people whose positions have shifted, over time? One recent discussion of such an intellectual evolution focuses on Christopher Hitchens, who went from leftist to neocon fan. But that shift long predated the Iraq war. It's interesting, of course, in itself, because the Hitchens switcheroo speaks volumes about the nature of neoconservatism.
Within a year after the 9/11 attacks, Johann Hari explains,"Hitchens was damning his former comrades as 'soft on Islamic fascism', [there's that irritating phrase again!] giving speeches at the Bush White House, and describing himself publicly as 'a recovering ex-Trotskyite.' What happened?"
Well, for one, this"recovering ex-Trotskyite" aims his disgust at the"theocratic fascists" of the Arab world who are among"the most reactionary elements on earth. They stand for liquidating everything the left has fought for: women's rights, democracy?" Even though he's fast and loose with that word"fascism," which he equates simply with"submission and servility," he recognizes that the worst elements in the Arab-Islamic world wish to recreate the Caliphate through a"Grand Muslim Super State," as Juan Cole puts it.
Hitchens now fully opposes the antiwar left and he is equally opposed to"the Barry Goldwater-Pat Buchanan isolationist right." For Hitchens,"neoconservatism is a distinctively new strain of thought, preached by ex-leftists, who believed in using US power to spread democracy." Neoconservatives"were saying - we can't carry on with the approach to the Middle East we have had for the past fifty years. We cannot go on with this proxy rule racket, where we back tyranny in the region for the sake of stability. So we have to take the risk of uncorking it and hoping the more progressive side wins." In other words, Hitchens"has replaced a belief in Marxist revolution with a belief in spreading the American revolution. Thomas Jefferson has displaced Karl Marx."
In this sense, of course, Hitchens is perhaps among the purest of neocons, because he encapsulates the deeply constructivist impulse that unites neoconservative and socialist. Many of the neocons were former leftists and social democrats who shifted rightward; as former leftists, they embraced central planning on behalf of Marxist ideals. As new rightists, they embrace the same kind of planning, applied to global phenomena, on behalf of"liberal" ideals. In the former instance, there are enough Misesian and Hayekian reasons to reject the means and the ends. In the latter instance, Iibertarians might accept the ends... but most of us still reject the means. I'm afraid that, in both instances, the issue of"means" is what concerns me, because serious questions about how to create social change are being swept under the rug. As I have argued over and over again, the neocons, as leftist progeny, are sweeping under the rug the pernicious influence of tribal, religious, and ethnic conflict in indigenous cultures. There was always a tension in left-wing thought between analysis and prescription. Many leftists have offered crucially important analyses of historically specific circumstances. But they prescribe the same old constructivist rationalist solutions: that of imposing constructed designs on such circumstances as if from a position of omniscience. They stand like Archimedes outside the circumstances they seek to alter. Economically, their impositions created calculational chaos. But in a new age of leftist-turned-neocon, there is no limit to the global chaos that such state-guided planning will engender, especially when it is imposed on alien cultures that have never shown any appreciation for the liberal ideals being prescribed.
Interestingly, there is little substantive difference between the means of this imposition and those means preached by traditional fascists. Of course, there is a distinction between those who would destroy individual rights and those who seek to institute the rule of law. But neither regime can be"imposed" without supporting cultural preconditions. Even the Nazis understood this; it's the kind of cultural sociology that informs such studies as Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen. I have a lot more to say about the nature of fascism in the next post.
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Columnist Zev Chafets has been a strong supporter of the war in Iraq, but in a recent NY Daily News column, he argued that President Bush is suffering from delusions if he sincerely believes that freedom can grow in Iraqi soil."W's Wrong," Chafets asserts.
During [last] Thursday's presidential debate, President Bush told the American people his goal in Iraq is to spread liberty and freedom. The President believes the majority of Iraqis yearn for democracy and will express this by taking part in free elections and defending a representative government. This idea is Bush's main justification for the invasion of Iraq. It is the heart of his broader Middle Eastern policy. And regrettably, it is entirely wrong.
Chafets argues persuasively that, in general,"Arab civic culture ... is authoritarian, repressive and rooted in Islam." The member states of the Arab League understand that Islam is"more than just a religion; it is the focal point of Arab society, for Muslims and non-Muslims alike, permeating [Arab] culture at every level political, social and economic." As such, Islam"instructs its followers 'in all fields of life, whether they be social, economic or political,' and 'provides the Muslim with all he or she needs to know to live a good and pious life.'"
Key to this Muslim instruction is the unquestionable acceptance of authority."Islam, after all," explains Chafets,
means"submission." Father knows best. Tribal loyalty is prized. God's laws (and those who interpret them) must be honored. Blasphemy is a life-threatening offense. In this conformist world, democracy is both unknown and unnatural. Individual choice offends the divine order of society. Gender equality is an invitation to moral madness. Infidels are obviously inferior to believers. Locating ultimate sovereignty in"the people" instead of the Koran is a mockery of God.
The Bush administration presupposes that the Iraqi electorate's march to the polls will signify"a love of liberty or Iraqi democracy. On the contrary," Chafets observes,"they will vote to further the fortunes of their own narrow tribes and sects." (Alas, there is more similarity here between Iraqi tribalism and America's"democratic" interest-group liberalism than Chafets realizes.) For Chafets, the"national security" goal should simply be to implant"pro-American rulers." Considering the US track record of empowering such authoritarian"pro-American rulers" in the past (e.g., the Shah of Iran, the mujihadeen in Afghanistan, the Hussein regime itself in its war with post-Shah Iran), I'm not as confident as Chafets of the long-term wisdom of this approach. It is responsible, at least partially, for the growth of anti-American fervor in the Middle East.
Chafets is right when he suggests that not one of the member states of the Arab League is"remotely democratic." He's not quite correct, however, to keep using the preferred neoconservative phrase"Islamofascism" to describe the Arab world. (Victor Hanson uses this word regularly; see here, for example.) On one level, the very use of the word"fascism" to describe societies that draw their inspiration from pre-enlightenment patriarchal caliphate ideology is an anachronism. But there are other usage problems here. Let me explain.
An argument can be made that US political economy is a kind of neofascism or neomercantilism or"liberal corporatism" (take your pick) insofar as it embraces the same kind of symbiotic relationship between government and business that one has always found in historically fascist systems. I argue here, for example, that Ayn Rand and other libertarians have been correct to characterize the current US politico-economic context as the"new fascism," with broad statist implications for domestic and foreign policy. I have explained further that the economic essence of fascism is the union of business and government. Clearly, however, I am careful to draw a distinction between the old “fascism” and the “New Fascism”:
What unites them is the business-government “partnership.” What distinguishes them is that the first is authoritarian, while the second is more akin to “liberal corporatism.” It retains liberal institutions and democratic procedures, while keeping much of the business-government politico-economic alliance outside the sphere of democratic control. The whole panoply of regulatory agencies, central bank manipulations, and pressure group pork-barreling has been the result of an incremental process over many years, creating a whole complex structure of privilege that cannot be altered by simply changing the political party in power. The “New Fascism” may or may not entail nationalism and extreme regimentation, though in war time (both world wars come to mind), the U.S. fully embraced “War Collectivism” in the regimentation of industry, commerce, and finance, as well as the suppression of civil liberties. All the more reason to take very seriously the consequences of a long-term policy of perpetual war.
Fascism does not entail broad economy-wide central planning, like state socialism. But cartelized banking is a key component in the nexus of"ultimate decision-making."
The system has varying degrees of centralization in different sectors and industries, but this is usually the product of ad hoc, patchwork regulation that, over time, blocks market entry and creates various monopolistic rigidities. I’m certainly open to using a different label for what I’m seeking to describe, given how “loaded” the term fascism actually is. But whether we call it the “new fascism” or “neofascism” or “liberal corporatism” or “corporate welfare statism,” the result is the same: a politico-economic structure that has evolved to benefit certain groups at the expense of others.
Now, what of the Arab world? It is authoritarian. But it is a mongrel mixture of theocratic fundamentalism, quasi-socialist command economies dominated by state-monopoly control of key resources (such as oil), and hereditary monarchy. It's simply wrong to characterize this mongrel mixture in toto as"Islamofascism." Call it theocratic statism or theocratic authoritarianism or, for its more"secular" forms, monarchical-military dictatorship, but please don't call it"fascism." Not unless you mean something historically specific, as in the"guild socialist" arrangements of Benito Mussolini.
It must be emphasized that historically specific fascism does not necessarily entail institutionalized racism and anti-Semitism as in Hitler's Germany, but it certainly entails collectivism, tribal or otherwise. (I sometimes wonder if right-wing writers shy away from using the word"theocratic" to describe the fundamentalist Arab states because the word hits a little too close to home for some of them.)
Either way, every way, no matter which way you characterize it ... I think the essential argument that Chafets makes is unimpeachable, in my view:
What is too much is to expect an ancient society to embrace values and practices it neither understands nor approves of. If success in Iraq means enticing people to renounce a civic culture that flows from their deepest Islamic beliefs, then failure is guaranteed.
I have to agree with William Safire in his NY Times essay today,"Kerry, Newest Neocon" (and, by implication, with Jason Pappas as well). Safire tells us that Kerry's statements during last week's foreign policy debate with President Bush were the essence of"hawkish" neoconservatism. This isn't just about wiping out"terrorist strongholds" in Falluja, or changing"the dynamics on the ground," or endorsing the concept of preemptive strikes against perceived threats. It's about"embracing Wilsonian idealism," which would enable Commander-in-Chief Kerry to spread"humanitarian" wars of"liberation" from the Middle East to Africa."His abandoned antiwar supporters celebrate the Kerry personality makeover," writes Safire."They shut their eyes to Kerry's hard-line, right-wing, unilateral, pre-election policy epiphany."
Alas, it is sometimes the case that people long identified with certain political propensities will embrace their opposite upon achieving political power. It has long been said that only a life-long anticommunist like Richard Nixon could travel to Russia and China. If Kerry bests my six-month old prediction of a Bush re-election, I think we should all be prepared for a similar transformation in the new JFK. Whatever Kerry's most recent criticisms of Bush's Iraqi adventure (criticisms with which I am in large agreement), I stand by my observations in that article:
A President Kerry would further institutionalize the Iraq War. He might be positively Nixonian in his approach: Before Nixon committed to the"Vietnamization" of the war in southeast Asia, to troop reductions and the elimination of conscription, his quest for"Peace with Honor" actually entailed a widening of the war. Likewise, Kerry himself might actually increase the number of troops in Iraq. He will do everything in his power not to go down as the President who"lost Iraq."
In the end, I don't see any fundamental change in the direction of American foreign, or domestic, policy.
Check out the refurbished"Not a Blog."
I watched last night's HBO showing of"Nine Innings from Ground Zero." It's got some problems as a documentary, but for this Yankee fan, it had many moments of poignancy. It told the story of how baseball helped to heal many of the gaping wounds in the souls of New Yorkers in the days after the 9/11 attack.
The film mentioned that a Yankee game had been rained out the night before the tragedy. I remember it well. As I reminisce here:
I was scheduled to go to Yankee Stadium on Monday, September 10th 2001, to see the Yanks play their long-time rivals: the Boston Red Sox. But the game was rained out. I would have driven past the WTC that night. So, when I awoke on the morning of September 11th, I was convinced that Murphy's Law was second only to the Law of Identity in significance."Sure, it's a beautiful day today," I said."Why wasn't the sun shining yesterday?"
That sun quickly lost its shine. But those New Yorkers who found solace in sports were treated to some remarkable games when Major League Baseball resumed play some time after the attack.
The film recounts how President Bush came to Yankee Stadium to throw out the first pitch. Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter told him to throw the ball from the mound, and"don't bounce it," he warned,"they'll boo ya." Bush didn't disappoint. Nor did the Yanks, who eventually took their three home games in a World Series face-off with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Arizona may have won the series, but those three"miracle" wins at The Stadium lifted the hearts of many. This Yankee fan included. (Heck, even Boston Red Sox fans were singing"New York, New York" in tribute ... that, perhaps, was among the greatest post-9/11 miracles...)
It's a worthwhile film.
While the Kerry and Bush campaigns trade charges of who is the ultimate flip-flopper, one thing these two gents agree on is to stay the course in Iraq. Today, James Dao in the NY Times asks:"How Many Deaths Are Too Many?." Dao recalls:
In the fall of 1965, the death toll for American troops in Vietnam quietly passed 1,000. The escalation in the number of American forces was just underway, the antiwar movement was still in its infancy and the word"quagmire" was not yet in common usage. At the time, the Gallup Poll found that just one in four Americans thought sending troops to southeast Asia had been a mistake. It would be three years before public opinion turned decisively, and permanently, against the war.
Four decades later, the passing of the 1,000-death benchmark in another war against insurgents has been accompanied by considerably more public unease. Polls registered a steady increase in the number of Americans who believe the war in Iraq was not worth it, peaking at over 50 percent in June. Americans, it seems, are more skeptical about this conflict than about Vietnam at roughly the same moment, as measured in body counts.
The difference, historians and experts agree, is that the"stark experience of Sept. 11 and the belief among many Americans that the fighting in Iraq is part of a global conflict against terrorism have made this war seem much more crucial to the nation's security than Vietnam ..." Death and destruction on continental American soil, coupled with the fact that there is no military conscription, have made Americans much more patient with the Iraq situation. There are other differences too. Dao writes:
In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson began a huge escalation of the Vietnam War that eventually brought American troop levels to over half a million. By 1968, the weekly death toll was over 500. No such escalation is envisioned in Iraq, where the deadliest month was last April, when 134 troops were killed. And though the 1,000-dead milestone was reached faster in Iraq, it seems unlikely the toll will keep pace with Vietnam, where it exploded after 1965, reaching over 58,000 by the war's end.
But the death tolls don't tell us the whole story. As I was reminded by the McLaughlin Report and other Sunday morning talk shows today, in addition to the 1000+ Americans killed in Iraq, and the 20,000+ US medical evacuations from that country, the possibilities for civil war are real. Tikrit, Fallujah, Karbala, Ramadi, and Najaf are effectively under the control of insurgent forces. Kurds in the North, who have had de facto"self-rule" since the 1990s, are now battling for control of oil-rich Kirkuk, outside Kurdish territory. The Shi'ite majority, which suffered under the Sunnis during the reign of Saddam Hussein, will not stand by if the Sunnis try to reassert power. The Sunnis, however, remain the predominating influence in the central and northwestern regions of the country. Baghdad, of course, is in a class by itself.
A civil war in Iraq could be a devastating blow to US"nation-building" efforts. (On the various scenarios of"Iraq in Transition," see this periodical put out by Chatham House, formerly the Royal Institute of International Affairs.) It is for this reason that presidential historian Robert Dallek suggests,"the crucial point" in Iraq will come when the US"feels it is not going to achieve its goals." But pursuit of those goals does not take place in a historical vacuum; this is a post-Vietnam generation, after all. Should the feeling become widespread that the situation is unwinnable, leading to less patience among the American electorate, and fewer military re-enlistments, a dramatic shift in the US approach will be forthcoming.
Dao reminds us, however, that
there has been significant public opposition to virtually every war America has waged, except World War II. One-third of the nation did not back the American Revolution, historians say. Congress chastised President James Polk in 1848 for starting an"unnecessary and unconstitutional" war with Mexico. New Yorkers rioted against the draft during the Civil War. The Socialist Eugene Debs went to prison, and ran for president while there, for opposing the draft in World War I. A plurality of Americans thought the Korean War was a mistake during much of that conflict. But in virtually all those cases, dissent did relatively little to prevent bloodshed. Only in Vietnam, which caused the nation's largest and most sustained protests, can it be argued that an antiwar movement hastened the end of a war.
This has had an effect on both sides of the divide:
The government has sought to sustain public support for war by encouraging positive coverage of American soldiers while prohibiting photographs of returning caskets. And antiwar groups have treated returning soldiers with immense dignity - hoping to avoid the kinds of reports about abusive demonstrators that once embittered Vietnam veterans. But one lesson neither side could have gleaned from Vietnam was the impact of 24-hour cable television and the Internet, which have brought death in Iraq closer to home than network television did in Vietnam. In the process, they have amplified the horrors of war and, perhaps, speeded up reaction to it ...
All this points to the issue of those pesky"unintended consequences" that I alluded to here. But"unintended consequences" are not always unforeseeable ones. Many of us on the antiwar side of the divide warned of these very real effects for months prior to the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. For me, at least, it was never a question of Hussein's moral legitimacy. His regime, which had benefited from US support and sanction back in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war, was immoral. But as the winds of war were gathering strength in the lead-up to the US invasion of Iraq, I thought then, as I do now, that it would have been possible to contain any Hussein terrorist or weapons threat. That the threat was not as"grave" as the administration proclaimed makes containment, in my view, all the more preferable.
But that is now a moot point. The US invasion and occupation of Iraq now threatens to unleash unruly antidemocratic cultural and political forces that might yet make the Hussein regime a picnic by comparison.
The lives of over a thousand U.S. troops have been consumed in the Iraq war, and this week marks the three-year anniversary of the attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., which led to the deaths of nearly 3000 civilians.
Some organizations have a weird way of marking the anniversary. Here comes a story of a rather tasteless WTC toy, depicting a plane ramming into the Twin Towers. The toy showed up in 14,000 bags of candy produced by the Lisy Corporation, which issued a recall from small grocery stores around the United States. Seeing is believing, so take a look at the link above ...
Much has been said about the politics and history of the current state of the world. In my Brooklyn neighborhood, however, one maxim remains true:"Never Forget." Whatever one's opinions about the causes or the consequences of 9/11, this exercise in historical memory is a cathartic one for those of us who survived that tragic day and continue to bear witness.
Just saw John McCain on This Week with George Stephanopoulos. I was astonished by how the arguments he uses, and those offered by many in the Bush administration, parallel the welfare liberal sociology that we heard for several generations as an explanation for why kids go into a life of crime: that when people have no hope and no opportunity, they are prime candidates for becoming criminals. McCain simply uses that as a rationale for why young people in the Middle East become terrorists. No hope, no opportunity. So the US must simply go in there and provide them with hope and opportunity. The Great Society Goes Global! Bring in HUD!
Something else I found curious: McCain has long understood that brutal Russian policies toward Chechnya are fueling the spread of lethal terrorism there, resulting this past week in the horrific deaths of over 300 people, many of them children. Indeed, Chechen terrorists are not at war with the Russian"way of life"; they are at war, McCain understands, with Russian policies,"blowback" leading to terrible tragedies like the one at Middle School No. 1 in Beslan.
Likewise, as I have argued, here and elsewhere:
the history of US policy in the Middle East has provided, at least partially, the context for the current problems with Islamic terrorists. That is not a justification for Islamic terrorism against innocent American civilians; but it does provide, at least partially, an understanding of the context within which such terrorism has taken root and flourished. There is a difference between explanation and justification. I say"partially" because the vast array of problems in that region cannot simply be reduced to a pure product of US intervention. There are tribal, ethnic, and religious conflicts fomenting in the Middle East, which long predate US intervention—and which have now become deeply intertwined with the US presence. The US has stepped into a minefield of historical complexities, which can only generate explosive unintended consequences over the long-term.
The phenomenon of unintended consequences is equally applicable to the current Russian-Chechen situation. As George Will observed on"This Week," the current context represents a collision of nationalism, ethnicity, and religion, complicated now by the fact that the long nationalist war for Chechen independence is drawing power from Muslim separatists. But none of these factors can be abstracted from the context of policies pursued. In the long run, different policies will be necessary. In Chechnya. And in the Middle East.
So, after discussing the rise of fundamentalist conservatism as a social, cultural, and economic force to be reckoned with, after dispensing with"progressive conservatism" as a viable option, I've now read George F. Will's take on the"return" of"libertarian conservatism" to the Republican Party. Will believes that if this past week's GOP convention proves anything, it is that there is a renaissance among Goldwater-type conservatives who apply the limited government philosophy to both economic and social spheres of life. Will admits that this wing of the party is"not fully ascendant." You can say that again! But Will thinks that by showcasing people like Rudy Giuliani (a complex case for this New Yorker to evaluate), Arnold Schwarzenegger, and other"moderate" voices, the GOP is sending out a message that it can be the"Big Tent" it has long advertised. (Goldwater, after all, in his later years, was an advocate of abortion rights and gay rights.)
If you'd watched some of the coverage of this convention, however, you would have heard from a lot of delegates who, quite simply, were none too thrilled by the fact that the advocates of"abortion" and"gay rights" were getting so much prime-time. It seems that ever since the Patrick Buchanan debacle of 1992, the GOP learned that it could keep its fundamentalist base intact (who are they gonna vote for? The Democrats???), while trying its best to appeal to those independent young and suburban swing voters who are more likely to be a bit more socially liberal. Clearly, this strategy is not really designed to win"big states" on the West and East coasts. The"libertarians" are, for the most part, coming out of California or places like New York, two states that will probably figure in the Kerry Electoral Vote column. But it's still a strategy that might pay off in some hard-to-call states.
Still. When, curiously, on the eve of the convention, Vice President Dick Cheney tells us how proud he is of his gay daughter Mary, while backing off from the administration's call for a heterosexual marriage constitutional amendment, the right-wing slams back. Perhaps the controversy cost poor Mary and her significant other a place on the podium, while the rest of Cheney's family joined him after his acceptance speech on Wednesday night. Whatever the reason for her lack of participation, it was a true Hegelian moment for those of us who notice such things: the absence spoke much louder than the presence.
Sorry, Mr. Will: This spoonful of"libertarian" sugar may influence some voters who would rather not take the fundamentalist and/or neocon medicine that the GOP wants to shove down the throats of the American electorate. But this prescription is not for me. I'm still voting for None of the Above.
On the eve of the Republican National Convention, in today's NY Times Magazine, David Brooks gives us a lesson on"How to Reinvent the G.O.P.." In short: The Grand Old Party should simply become the Grand Much Older Party, and embrace the genuinely interventionist roots of Republicanism.
Brooks thinks President George W. Bush is well on his way to this romantic embrace; after all, the current President is the"guy who would create a huge new cabinet department for homeland security, who would not try to cut even a single government agency, who would be the first president in a generation to create a new entitlement program, the prescription drug benefit, projected to cost $534 billion over the next 10 years." Bush is the guy who"would spend federal dollars with an alacrity that Clinton never dreamed of, would create large deficits, would significantly increase the federal role in education, would increase farm subsidies, would pass campaign-finance reform and would temporarily impose tariffs on steel."
Brooks thinks this is"the death of small-government conservatism," buying into the cliche that Republicans have finally turned away from their"old anti-statist governing philosophy." But for all the small-government rhetoric of the Reagan years, the GOP has never been a"small-government" party. And deep down, Brooks knows this.
Drawing inspiration from David Frum, Brooks argues that it was"the death of socialism" that"transformed the Republican Party just as much as it has transformed the parties of the left." In their former attempts to curtail the growth of"Big Government," the GOP resurrected Jeffersonian rhetorical themes of decentralization."Conservatives and libertarians defeated socialism," Brooks asserts,"intellectually and then practically." But"[j]ust as socialism will no longer be the guiding goal for the left, reducing the size of government cannot be the governing philosophy for the next generation of conservatives, as the Republican Party is only now beginning to understand."
And it is Bush who has helped the current GOP generation"to come up with a governing philosophy that applies to the times," one that rejects the"obsolete" and"simple government-is-the-problem philosophy of the older Republicans." Bush's" compassionate conservative" agenda advocated"effective and energetic government." But it is only in war that Bush has begun to solidify the"progressive conservative tradition," rooted in the neomercantilist politics of Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. This is the politics that forged government-sponsored"internal improvements" (today, we'd call it"building infrastructure"), the government socialization of risk, government subsidies for business, government land grants for railroads, and national bank cartelization and centralization. Brooks thinks these policies facilitated trade by"open[ing] fields of enterprise," but, in reality, they have only eventuated in the 21st century"spending binge" and feeding frenzy of privilege-seeking that even Brooks sees as"a cancer on modern conservatism":
The money is appropriated in increments large and small -- a $180 billion corporate tax bill one week, a steady stream of pork projects all the rest. In 1994, there were 4,126 ''earmarks'' -- special spending provisions -- attached to the 13 annual appropriations bills. In 2004, there were around 14,000. Real federal spending on the Departments of Education, Commerce and Health and Human Services has roughly doubled since the Republicans took control of the House in 1994. This is a governing majority without shape, coherence or discipline.
Reinventing the GOP doesn't mean an end to this privilege-dispensing; it just means providing that dispensation with more"discipline." Yes, Brooks realizes,"any solution begins with culture." But genuinely"progressive conservatives understand that while culture matters most, government can alter culture." That's why we should applaud those"[g]overnment agencies [that] are now trying to design programs to encourage and strengthen marriage." That's why we should embrace"wage subsidies" and greater federal control of education to wrestle the system from"local monopolies," like unions. That's why we can use"the strong-government tradition" to improve market" competition." And finally, that's why we need"National service," to"encourage people ... to serve a cause larger than self-interest, fuse their own efforts with those from other regions and other walks of life and cultivate a spirit of citizenship."
And it doesn't end there. Brooks advocates the full internationalization of this"progressive conservative tradition" by embracing a comprehensive global nation-building enterprise."We need to strengthen nation-states," he writes."We are going to have to construct a multilateral nation-building apparatus so that each time a nation-building moment comes along, we don't have to patch one together ad hoc."
Somehow, Brooks thinks that this"progressive conservatism" will"rebuild the bonds among free-market conservatives, who dream of liberty; social conservatives, who dream of decency; middle-class suburbanites, who dream of opportunity; and foreign-policy hawks, who dream of security and democracy."
Keep dreaming, Mr. Brooks. The Bush administration's movement toward"progressive conservatism" or neoconservatism or theocratic fundamentalism or any other neologism we can coin has resulted in a near-irreparable conservative crack-up, which has fractured the uneasy consensus that once existed among these groups.
Nevertheless, I do believe that Brooks'"progressive conservatism" is more honest than the alleged"small-government conservatism" that dominated the GOP some 20 years ago. At least this time, the pretense of small-government ideology has been replaced by an ideology much more in keeping with the welfare-warfare statist reality that both Democrats and Republicans have sworn to preserve, protect, and defend. It's why there will be no fundamental difference whether Bush wins or Kerry wins.
It's also why I can agree with Brooks from a profoundly libertarian perspective:"It's time for one party or another to invent ... some new governing philosophy that will ... transform the partisan divide." How about one that is consistent in its understanding and application of the freedom-loving principles upon which this country was founded?
Just a quick note to interested readers: You might want to tune-in to ABC's"Nightline" tonight, which will center on the issues I discussed in my recent article,"Caught Up in the Rapture." This program,"Selling the Faith," which comes on the eve of the DVD release of"The Passion of The Christ," deals with the explosion in Christian marketing.
NYC has already had more protest-oriented arrests in the past couple of days than Boston had during the entire Democratic convention last month. Yesterday, ACT UP activists stripped on Eighth Avenue to protest the Bush administration's AIDS policy, among other things, and were promptly carted away by the cops. Mayor Bloomberg didn't flinch:"This is New York. Of course, we had seven naked people on Eighth Ave. What's the question?"
But NYC isn't the only place trying to remain vigilant in the face of anarchy. Take the Home of the Braves. Atlanta, Georgia. Please. School administrators tried to ban some kid for wearing a T-shirt that said"Hempstead, NY 516." Apparently, the Gwinnett County's Grayson High School thought the"hemp" referred to some illicit substance."It's important to remember that the vigilance of our administrators is important. The administrator saw a phrase on the T-shirt that raised a red flag," said the school's spokeswoman, Sloan Roach (the irony is just too obvious).
Well, the kid's family moved from, uh, Hempstead, Long Island, area code"516," to this suburb of Atlanta, and he was just wearing a keepsake from his old home town.
NBC's coverage of the Olympics has included a few touching human interest stories, allowing us to glimpse a spiritual subtext to the physically demanding competitions on the field. Some of these stories are of an historical nature. In one feature, Tom Brokaw detailed the Olympic games of 1944. 1944? History records that there were no games during World War II. But these games were unique.
On the 60th anniversary of a very special Olympiad, Brokaw told us of Polish officers who, after valiantly fighting the Nazis, were captured and detained at a prison camp in Woldenberg. Four of these officers are still alive, in their 80s and 90s, and testified to their remarkable experiences.
The Poles had been captured in 1939, many of their comrades slaughtered. Understanding the intimate tie between mind and body, the survivors focused on their physical fitness as a means of bolstering the mental strength they required to deal with the nightmarish conditions of Nazi internment. By July 1944, with Germany in internal turmoil, these men were granted permission, miraculously, to stage a prisoner Olympics. (Interestingly, other POWs staged Olympic games in camps close to Nuremberg in 1940.) Some 6000 individuals assembled in the camps and raised a makeshift Olympic flag, one made from bed sheets and other cloth. Even the German prison guards saluted the flag, treating it with solemnity. Men on both sides of this lethal divide, were moved to tears. Brokaw explains:
The games continued for 22 days, including soccer, track & field, and volleyball. There were tickets issued, a detailed program, commemorative stamps, diplomas for the winners. Some concessions were necessary. Boxing was reduced to 2-minute rounds, and due to repeated injuries, soon canceled. Not surprisingly, the Germans would not permit the javelin or the pole vault.
The survivors testified to the psychological value of participating in these games within the confines of their prison. They reveled in their individual achievements as athletes, gaining a respite from the horrors of a war that had consumed tens of millions of people throughout the world.
Eventually, the Germans were driven out of Poland; many of the Woldenberg prisoners were marched 300 miles back into Germany in the winter of 1945, resettled in camps there, where they were saved from liquidation by the advancing US 12th armored division. Some of the prisoners, however, remained behind, where they soon found themselves in a new prison of Stalin's making.
Those Woldenberg Olympians who outlasted the Nazis and the Communists built monuments to the"the Olympic idea transcending war." As Brokaw concludes:"They are the last ones left, men who survived on will and imagination, and a determination that the day would come when the world would not be at war, but together in peace. The Olympic flame may never have burned brighter than it did in a prison camp in 1944."
Some Republicans are not very happy campers over Dick Cheney's words of support for his lesbian daughter, which come, curiously, a few days before the GOP convention in NYC. Apparently, the federalist idea that marriage regulations should be decided on a state-by-state basis is just not appealing to those who seek a national, constitutional amendment defining the institution in strictly heterosexual terms.
Now comes word that the organizers of the Republican National Convention have nixed the discounts offered to delegates by NYC's tourist bureau to a popular, gay-friendly, off-Broadway play called Naked Boys Singing, a riotous, hilarious production I saw a few years back.
The organizers said 'thanks, but no thanks'; the play just does not"best suit our audience," exclaimed Leonardo Alcivar, GOP convention press secretary. Apparently, though, as a testament to the Big Tent that the GOP constitutes,"about a dozen people had bought tickets" to the play. These people used"the special code offered on the Web site," and the producers of the show said that these"tickets will [still] be honored."
Not sure if these dozen people constitute the wholeLog Cabin Republican contingent, but I'm glad to see that the Big Tent remains a Republican ideal.
I just wish the tourist bureau would have given theater discounts to all New Yorkers; as it is, we have to wait for the GOP to invade Madison Square Garden next week just to get a sales tax break!
I've been thoroughly enjoying watching a number of events at the Athens Summer Olympics, everything from gymnastics to the adventures of 19-year old American swimming phenom Michael Phelps and awesome Aussie swimmer Ian Thorpe (who has fins for feet: size 17!!). Thorpe won gold over Phelps the other night, but the Aussie team lost to the US team last night.
Meanwhile, today, the Olympics return to the ancient city of Olympia... for the very first time in 16 centuries. Things are not quite the same as they were back then; the word"gymnasium," after all, comes from the Greek"gymnos," which means naked, and unlike the ancient competitors, the modern ones don't perform in the nude. But, like it was back then, the Olympia venue still has no seats for spectators (the Greek"stadion," from which"stadium" is derived, means"a place to stand"). So, the spectators will stand or sit on the ground while watching such events as the shot put
This return to Olympia has some personal meaning for me as well; though I've never visited the city, it is the birthplace of my maternal grandparents, who came to America early in the 20th century. (My grandfather was actually the founding pastor of the first Greek Orthodox Church in Brooklyn, the Three Hierarchs Church, where I was baptized.) By contrast: my paternal grandparents came from Porto Empedocle, Sicily (named after the Agrigentine philosopher and poet Empedocles, whom Aristotle called the inventor of rhetoric and whose own grandfather was victorious in horse racing at the Olympics in 496 BCE). I often joke that my"heritage" is of gods... and godfathers. Still, like many, I'm one of those Greek-Sicilians with no ties to either the diner business or the mob...