The Consequences of Reckless Rhetoric
1 hour ago
[M]y teenage daughter had a slumber party recently, and my wife (who is unaware of Game concepts) overheard the girls talking about the boys in their school. What struck me about the conversation that she relayed to me was that the girls were categorizing the boys into two groups: “Hot & Mean” and “Not-hot & Nice.” There couldn’t be a better example of the Alpha/Beta theory, as interpreted by 13 year old girls.Vox comments on some blogger's confessional.
It is, therefore, the wisdom and virtue of the people rather than mere self-interest that is to be the ultimate check upon the government. Yet, Fabius also recognizes the fallibility of human nature. For, history shows that "the liberty of single republics has generally been destroyed by some of the citizens, and of confederated republics, by some of the associated states." The solution is to be found in ensuring that the government is sufficiently strong to protect "the worthy against the licentious."16 This leads to a discussion of the nature and purpose of political society as well as that of confederations of states:Did he overestimate the cultural unity of the original 13 states? Or, was he too optimistic that this cultural unity could be maintained?
As in forming a political society, each individual contributes some of his rights, in order that he may, from a common stock of rights, derive greater benefits, than he could from merely his own; so, in forming a confederation, each political society should contribute some share of their rights, as will, from a common stock, of these rights, produce the largest quantity of benefits for them.17The influence of Locke’s social compact theory of the foundations of society is evident here. Yet, Dickinson appeals beyond Locke to an idea of community far richer than Locke’s mere aggregate of atomized individuals. His thought, in fact, reflects both Aristotle’s idea of political society as based on friendship and the Christian doctrine of charity (love of neighbor). He writes: Humility and benevolence must take place of pride and overweening selfishness. Reason, rising above these mists, will then discover to us, that we cannot be true to ourselves, without being true to others—that to love our neighbors as ourselves, is to love ourselves in the best manner—that to give, is to gain—and, that we never consult our own happiness more effectually, than when we most endeavour to correspond with the divine designs, by communicating happiness, as much as we can, to our fellow-creatures.18
He makes it clear that this confederation is not to be merely an aggregate of self-interested individuals, each contending for their own ends. For the people, he says, are "drawn together by religion, blood, language, manners and customs," and he likens the proposed confederation to a family, in which each son rules his own household, and in other matters the whole family is directed by the common ancestor. Fabius describes the nation that will result from such a confederation as a model of moderation, justice, and happiness. He writes:
Delightful are the prospects that will open to the view of United America—her sons well prepared to defend their own happiness, and ready to relieve the misery of others—her fleets formidable, but only to the unjust—her revenue sufficient, yet unoppressive—her commerce affluent, but not debasing—peace and plenty within her borders—and the glory that arises from a proper use of power, encircling them.22Dickinson’s view of society is thus closer to that of Vattel and Blackstone than to that of Locke. Vattel declared that rights were "nothing more than the power of doing what is morally possible, that is to say, what is proper and consistent with duty."23 Russell Kirk has stated of Blackstone that, The natural law described by Blackstone was rooted in Christian ethics; and it declared "the absolute rights of man"—the natural liberty of mankind, consisting of three articles, "the right of personal security, the right of personal liberty, and the right of private property." Yet, these rights were not absolute in the sense of having no limits: as Blackstone put it, "but every man, when he enters into society, gives up a part of his natural liberty, as the price of so valuable a purchase; and, in consideration of receiving the advantages of mutual commerce, obliges himself to conform to these laws which the community has thought proper to establish." There, more clearly expressed than by Locke, is a fundamental doctrine of American politics.24Perhaps closest of all to Dickinson’s view of man and society, however, is that of Edmund Burke. For, both viewed civil society as a partnership which includes man’s relationship to God and which is directed toward the development of man’s higher nature. As Burke would write in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, [T]he state ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, callico or tobacco, or some other such low concern, to be taken up for a little temporary interest and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties. It is to be looked on with other reverence; because it is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. . . . [Without] civil society man could not by any possibility arrive at the perfection of which his nature is capable, nor even make a remote and faint approach to it. . . . He who gave our nature to be perfected by our virtue, willed also the necessary means of its perfection—He willed therefore the state—He willed its connexion with the source and original archetype of all perfection. . . . [For] His will . . . is the law of laws and the sovereign of sovereigns.25For Dickinson, as for Burke, civil society is the necessary means by which human beings are connected with the divine, by which human nature is held in its appointed place in conformity to the higher moral law.26
Hang on, you’re thinking. The industrial revolution? With its belching smokestacks, dirty industry and steam engines? You thought we left that behind long ago, right? You look at your smart phone, robots on Mars, the rise of Facebook and Google and think ‘we’re well past all that’. Isn’t this the age of knowledge, when we’re all hyper-connected in a 24/7 information rich economy? Think again.Too bad Danny Boyle didn't include this in his opening ceremony show - no 20th century socialism/welfare programs if there is nothing to support them.
Hiding behind those entertaining devices, information overload and exciting new companies, the real bulk of the economy is still being driven by those dirty belching smokestacks and is still being shaped by those who inherited the economic momentum of 19th century England – the coal, oil and gas industries. Look at any list of the world’s 20 largest companies by turnover and you’ll see around three quarters are either producing fossil fuels, trading them or converting them into transport or energy. So I’m afraid the proverbial belching smokestacks still underpin our economy. But they are now in terminal decline. Yes, after 250 years, their time is coming to an end – and faster than you, or they, think.
It was at Counterpunch that I first encountered the pungent military analysis of William Lind. When I once showed one of Lind’s articles to an acquaintance, he denounced Lind as an ignorant leftist, only to be shocked when I explained that Lind had had an illustrious career as a congressional staffer specializing in military reform and was also the longtime closest collaborator of Paul Weyrich, one of D.C.’s most prominent movement-conservative leaders.
I appreciated the thoughtful commentary on our Middle East policy by Kathleen and Bill Christison, former CIA analysts specializing in that region, and later discovered the same last name on articles of the same subject in back issues of National Review from the mid-1980s. NR’s loss was Counterpunch’s gain.
Similarly, Paul Craig Roberts had for decades been one of the leading conservative intellectual figures at the intersection of academics and policy, playing a major role in crafting the economic policies of the Reagan administration and holding a variety of top-ranking appointments in the conservative firmament, while being one of the most widely distributed national columnists. But after he refused to toe the line following 9/11, he was ruthlessly purged, and his important voice might have been lost if Counterpunch and a few other websites had not provided him a venue.
Add the names Ray McGovern, Winslow Wheeler, Franklin Spinney, Pierre Sprey, and a few others to this list, and it sometimes seemed like half the Counterpunch articles I read were by authors with unassailable national-intelligence, military-affairs, or even movement-conservative credentials. Purged, blacklisted, or simply ignored by Conservativism, Inc., they often relied upon Alex’s webzine as the primary distributor of their well-informed writings. Once or twice I joked with Alex that perhaps he was actually Bill Buckley’s truest heir.
Civil society has been described as an “immune system against cultural disease.” But much of it has been infected by the same virus that produces the disease—a loss of moral integrity and purpose. What is required, then, is not only the revitalization of civil society but its reform and remoralization—the reform of those institutions that parody government agencies, and the remoralization of those that have lost their moral focus.The distinction between civil society and the "state" seems to be a recent one, coupled to the development of the modern nation-state. Is it at all a useful tool in the analysis of polities? Or does the science of politics need to start at, well, with the principles, rather than with the assumption of the nation-state as an ideal form? The classical distinction would be between the community and the ruler(s), no? How are they united into one body? Why should we accept Lockaen liberal political theory as the basis for our analysis of what ails us? Reading Locke should be on my list of things to do, but I can't muster the enthusiasm for it.
This is a formidable challenge, inspiring us to recall those to whom we are indebted for the idea of civil society and whom we now cite in support of it. It is to Locke, of course, that we owe the distinctively modern concept of a civil society that mediates between the individual and the state. But it is not quite the individual and the state that figure in Locke’s trinity. It is the “state of nature” and “political society” that are on either side of “civil society.” This is not a trivial semantic point. The “state of nature,” as Locke describes it, is more fearsome than the “individual,” and “political society” less formidable than the “state.” Moreover, in Locke’s account, civil society has a close relationship to political society, almost overlapping with it, as opposed to the state of nature, which is always in sharp contrast to civil society: “Those who are united into one body and have a common established law and judicature to appeal to, with authority to decide controversies between them and punish offenders, are in civil society one with another; but those who have no such common appeal, I mean on earth, are still in the state of nature.”
Similarly, Tocqueville’s “voluntary associations,” which we sometimes equate with civil society, are not as exclusively within the domain of civil society as we might suppose. Tocqueville has the highest regard for these associations which are unique to America—but not unique to civil society. On the contrary, the genius of American democracy is the proliferation of “political associations” as well as “civil associations,” and, more important, the intimate relationship between them, the civil being dependent upon the vitality of the political. “In all countries where political associations are forbidden, civil associations are rare. . . . Thus civil associations pave the way for political ones, but on the other hand, the art of political association singularly develops and improves this technique for civil purposes.”Tocqueville may be admired by some American "conservatives," but was he not also a liberal? (Just as they are, I suppose.) Can his observations of American society be said to be from the viewpoint of a liberal? In his native Europe was he already born into the loss of true, rooted communities formed through shared history and life? That is to say, does he recognize that a polity must be exist in accordance with the proper scale?
Today, in our anxiety about the excesses of individualism and statism, we may find ourselves looking upon civil society not merely as a corrective to those excesses but as a be-all and end-all, a sanctuary in itself, a sufficient habitat for the human spirit. What our forefathers impress upon us is a more elevated as well as a more dynamic view of civil society, one that exists in a continuum with “political society”—that is, government—just as “civil associations” do with “political associations,” “private affections” with “public affections,” and, most memorably, the “little platoon” with “a love to our country and to mankind.” This is civil society properly understood (as Tocqueville would say), a civil society rooted in all that is most natural and admirable—family, community, religion—and that is also intimately related to those other natural and admirable aspects of life, country and humanity.Civil society refers to families, communities, churches, workplaces, formal and informal associations, in distinction from the state. But is there one sort of community which is superior to the rest? Himmelfarb wants to say that some problems cannot be solved by civil society but must be addressed by the state, and that "civil society itself has turned out to be a more complicated and ambiguous entity than might be supposed. Indeed, it is sometimes complicit in the problems it purports to solve." Are these problems not due to "civil society" but because of the loss of community and any power that it might have within the modern nation-state?
The bipolar world of the Cold War is history. The new world order, however, is not the One World dreamed of by Wilsonian idealists. It is a Balkanizing world where race, tribe, culture and creed matter most, and democracy is seen not as an end in itself but as a means to an end–the accretion of power by one’s own kind to achieve one’s own dreams. As Abraham Lincoln said in another time, when an old world was dying and a new world was being born, “As our situation is new, let us think and act anew.”I still haven't gotten his latest book, Suicide of a Superpower. Remainder books will probably be available with a huge discount next year, if not sooner, at various companies, like Edward R. Hamilton.
In Bottleneck Catton explains that the late 19th century French sociologist Emile Durkheim believed that the division of labor in society which resulted in heightened interdependence among humans also led inevitably to greater solidarity. Catton counters with the views of American sociologist E. A. Ross who believed that that same interdependence was leading to far more vulnerability among humans to predatory behavior from other humans. Catton leans toward Ross's view for a very important reason: Humans now labor in narrow occupational niches within our highly complex society in the same way that species occupy ecological niches in nature. This specialization leads to competition within each niche for the limited number of positions available.
Consequently, the harder the economic times, the more intense the competition for the reduced number of positions within each niche. This leads to anxiety among those already holding a job since they are often not skilled enough to find work in other niches. The employee often asks himself or herself, "What could I possibly do if I were no longer able to do this kind of work?" Naturally, this concern also creates anxiety among those who are unemployed and seeking jobs within a particular niche.
Without explicitly saying so, Porter has provided us a case study on how the entire strategic decision process has folded inward on itself, and in so doing, has disconnected the flow of decisions from the unfolding reality. But there is more. Porter describes how that disconnect has flowed out of the White House, the CIA, and Pentagon into the Orientation of the think tanks and the mass media, and by implication, into the collective mind of the population at large.