blogorrhoea
Friday, January 09, 2004
 
OF NEOCONS AND THINK-TANKS

Professor Juan Cole, history professor at Michigan University, observed recently that, "I see a parade of people from these institutes coming through as talking heads [on cable TV]. I very seldom see a professor from a university on those shows … Academics [at universities] are involved in analysing what's going on but they're not advocates, so they don't have the same impetus … The expertise on the Middle East that exists in the universities is not being utilised, even for basic information."

Alex Carey and Richard Cockett have been two authors to attribute this sort of thing to the rise of the private think-tank, an institution typically and ever more sophisticatedly committed to advocacy, one that might put historians of communication studies in mind of the 1939 Rockerfeller Seminar and its offshoots, and one that might put historians of economics in mind of the Mt Pelerin group and its offshoots.

The story of the rise of the think-tank links to the topic at issue via erstwhile social democrat intellectual and now holder of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Irving Kristol, and the neoconservative sect of which he is widely considered founder, if not entirely intellectual guiding light.

According to Shadia Drury, the role of guiding light must go to one Leo Strauss, whose political philosophy grounded itself in a Platonic faith in an autonomous class of philosopher kings, capable of leading the masses to heights fickle messy democratic formations like the Weimar Republic or, for that matter, modern America, could never reach. Michael Ledeen, current occupant of The Freedom Chair at the singularly influential American Enterprise Institute (of which, more later), perhaps expresses the core of the this philosophy most honestly, as we shall see presently.

Drury went on to name the prominent Straussians then in Washington's higher echelons. Among them were neo-con propagandist, editor of local Murdoch organ The Weekly Standard and former Dan Quayle chief of staff, William Kristol (Irving's son); former Secretary of Education, White House bio-ethics advisor and author of The End of History Francis Fukuyama; and Clash of Civilisations author Samuel Huntington. But more of them later.

As is the case with many salient neoconservatives, Kristol had been a lefty until the mid- to late- sixties, at which time a sense of impending crisis and alienation from what was happening in America's streets (Noam Chomsky had called this 'democracy'; whereas Samuel Huntington had seen in it evidence that democracy might be too great a burden for a nation-state to bear) moved him to instigate a political philosophy he called 'neoconservatism' – incorporating enough top-down reformist zeal to please erstwhile statist lefties and enough commitment to military primacy and supply-side economics to please The Big End of Town.

Fareed Zakaria, has pointed out that Kristol and his fellow travellers "articulated their ideas in serious small-circulation magazines that became the path to power and fame - *The New Republic* for bemused progressives, *Commentary* and (Kristol's own) *The Public Interest*, for the self-identified conservatives."

Through these organs, Kristol effectively addressed the red-neck image of the American right, lending the gravitas of articulate theory to articles of conservative faith. From a melange of thinktanks, corporations, media, lawmakers and academics, he fashioned networks of mutual support and constitution. The consequent synergies allowed what Carey identified as something decisively new - something he dubbed 'grass-roots and tree-tops' activism. Sympathetic politicians on Capitol Hill were afforded well crafted position papers on a host of issues, the media afforded all the talking heads their rapacious schedules could take, and a billion-dollar advertising campaign embarked upon.

The Heritage Foundation, Huntington’s Olin Institute and the American Enterprise Institute are but three think-tanks that enter our story. The Heritage Foundation was born in and because of the sense of crisis that pervaded US elites in 1973. Heritage’s Vice President, Stuart Butler, makes clear that Heritage was a new kind of think-tank, substantiating Carey’s ‘grassroots/treetops’ thesis thusly: ‘The unique thing we have done is combine the serious, high-quality research of a ‘traditional think tank’ like the Hoover Institution or Brookings Institution with the intense marketing and ‘issue management’ capabilities of an activist organisation.’ Heritage delivers via four marketing divisions: Public Relations markets ideas to the media and the public; Government Relations to Congress, the Executive Branch, and government agencies; Academic Relations to the university community, Resource Bank institutions (including state think tanks), and the international conservative network, and Corporate Relations to business and trades. Division marketing is coordinated at twice-weekly meetings of the senior management.

Money was never a problem. The Bradley Foundation and a host of corporate interests annually pump tens of millions into organisations like Heritage, Sam Huntington’s Olin Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute (the latter described by Ronald Reagan as the single most influential of all at every level). By the time of Reagan's accession in 1980, the once marginalised Mt Pelerin fraternity of neo-Austrian-school economists (boasting fresh Nobel laureates Hayek and Friedman) and a hawkishly integrated foreign policy programme were in place and raring to go.

A short decade later, the Cold War was over and Supply Side economics ruled the world. Opined triumphant neocon Norman Podhhoretz: ''Neoconservatism has had a trickle-down effect on the political culture, and its influence on both major parties is evident even today''. Journalist David Brooks put it even more succinctly: ''We're all neoconservatives now.'' (I believe he now denies there's any such thing, btw).

But the neoconservative project was, Kristol told us, far from complete: " It is not, then, the economics of capitalism that is our fundamental, unmanageable problem. That problem today is located in the culture of our society, which is in the process of outflanking our relatively successful economy. While the society is bourgeois, the culture is increasingly, and belligerently, not."

For Kristol, American culture has never recovered from the excesses that so upset him in the sixties - a nihilistic degeneracy which, among other consequences "pretty much forced us to withdraw from Vietnam." For Kristol, "Secular rationalism has been unable to produce a compelling, self-justifying moral code … with this failure, the whole enterprise of secular humanism - the idea that man can define his humanity and shape the human future by reason and will alone-begins to lose its legitimacy … Bourgeois capitalism began with … a firm commitment to Judaeo-Christian morality."

This morality first fell victim to a 'crisis of faith' in the nineteenth century and has been dissolving ever since - first Nietszche, then Heidegger, and now those pesky post-modernists - all chipping away at "bourgeois society and the Judaeo-Christian tradition, but also of secular humanism, secular rationalism, bourgeois morality-and, in the end, of Western Civilization itself."

I mention all this because one of the weapons with which neoconservatism intends to combat the dissolution of bourgeois civilsation is war. In 1993, Irving Kristol told the Philadelphia Society that "a country needs a war now and then to maintain its proper spirit, to acclimate its young to the requirements of national unity and loyalty." Arch neocon at the American Enterprise Institute Michael Ledeen recently and notoriously went one step further: " it may sound like an odd thing to say, but all the great scholars who have studied American character have come to the conclusion that we are a warlike people and that we love war . . . What we hate is not casualties, but losing." Huntington’s *Clash of Civilisations* exhorts ‘the West’ to rearm, too: ‘Almost without exception,’ he wrote in his original essay in 1993, ‘Western countries are reducing their military power ... China, North Korea and several Middle Eastern states, however are significantly expanding their military capabilities ... one result is the emergence of what Charles Krauthammer has called ‘Weapon States’, and (claims Huntington) the weapon states are not the Western States.’ In his equally famous *The End Of History*, Francis Fukuyama waxes quasi-Hegelian,claiming that we now know where humankind is going, that ‘the West’ has arrived there in thought and deed, and that to the extent we may still be said to be living in history, it is because those who have yet to catch up war against the inevitable march of Reason. Just as Hegel thought his time and place had finally got it right, so does Fukuyama think his is the time and place of absolute freedom.

All these institutionally and personally connected individuals may be said to share a conviction that America’s power has been unduly constrained, whether by a public culture spoiled-unto-decadence and in need of a good war, a popular reluctance to pay the military price of protecting their gains, the inhibitions of multilateral dealings and institutions, or the failure to realise that the West has attained the single historical endpoint of the self-recognising Absolute.

Two recurring points come out of this cornucopia of theories, I think. Firstly, as even Fareed Zakaria has noted ('The Arrogant Empire'. Newsweek March 24 2003)., the two defining truths of the nineties – unrivalled US power and the spread of multilateral institutions and laws – had been synthesised by the neoconservatives into the single idea that America was being most constrained precisely when most it needed to act. As neocon Robert Kagan has said of the months leading up to S11, ‘The picture [the Bush administration] painted in its early months was of a behemoth thrashing about against constraints that only it could see’. The initial response had been to withdraw from or refuse international treaties as a matter of policy to replace multilateral arrangements with more congenial bilateral ones. Tragedy though it was, S11 afforded the neocons the flexibility their combined theorising and publicity had been aiming at for years.

Secondly, we may infer also a shared and definitive grasp of history as linear, its highest point residing in the west and belligerent opponents of the inevitable residing in the east. The recalcitrant oriental is not just the enemy of the west, he is an enemy to himself. All poignantly reminiscent of Lerner and Pye’s modernisation theory of the fifties (in *The Passing Of Traditional Society*). All remiscent of a view of development that saw other cultures as hurdles-to-be-removed rather than media within which to inquire, negotiate and educate. All just the sort of thinking Everett Rogers so famously resiled from in 1976 (in the Winter edition of the ‘Journal of Communication’). All just the sort of thinking Edward Said would dub ‘Orientalism’. And all combining with the above to make sensible a potent call to arms after S11.

Herbert Lasswell, foremost of all students of propaganda in World War One, had identified three components to successful publicity in times of war: the tweaking of emotions, the demonisation of the foe, and the spectre of the perfect world to come. If we place S11 into the context of neocon discourse up to that moment, the setting for all three claims can, I submit, be said to have been well and truly constructed. Fear of a gathering tide of evil, demonisation of anyone who might be made to fit the orientalist template, and the promise to rid the world of the associated evil once and for all.

In a sense, then, we are now living through a reality the material conditions for which came into being in the 1970s. Crisis produced an effective demand for a new type of public intellectual. A new institutional setting came into being to give him the required prominence at every level of society. The profundity of the crisis was such that only resolute seers of a brave new world needed apply.

It may be argued that none of the individual neocon ideas are new in themselves, but as a whole they they are radically new. As a whole, they amount to few but significant propositions.

Whether other cultures are to be guarded against or prodded unto inevitable transcendance, they are not to be valued or utilised in and as themselves. Even mass culture at home is not to be trusted – its tendency to value peace and pleasure has made it soft and unworthy of its material privilege. It needs to be returned to a muscular Christianity to revive its dynamism, resolve and cohesion.

This must necessarily be done from above and, where necessary, with the aid of a war or two.

This is the task of the new philosopher king.

This is the task of The Neoconservative.

 
Thursday, January 08, 2004
 
OF VAGIES AND PENIES
or
FEAR AND LOATHING IN THE SELF

I've felt moved to discourse on 'the market' and matters sexual before. Usually because no-one gives a blurt what I think about capitalism, and I'm not above garnishing the meat and two veg with a bit of what it takes.

Obviously.

Anyway, sex has never been easy for humans. For rabbits, it's easy. For creatures who produce and endure culture, it's not.

Even West Yorkshire has culture. Indeed, it already had it thirty odd years back. And here's how sex was not easy back then.

It was the duty of the Bradford lass of the day to come to each and every assignation in the manner of a virgin, swept from the path of prim virtue only by the very special allure of her (discreetly) intended conquest. It was no less the duty of each and every Bradford lad to swagger towards the (desperately anticipated) tryst as if sex were something he'd always and expertly done whenever the beer money ran out.

Girls typically grow up a tad faster than boys, and of course probabilty dictated that whatever sexual experience really went into the episode would not have been carried there by the boy. I do not doubt this was a profound problem for the girls. I merely say it was even worse for the boys, whose gratitude and gratification began and ended in the time it would take for Tony Blackburn to spin Sylvia's Mother, and whose frantic self-doubt and mortal fear at having to face the (doubtlessly disgruntled) girl (and Her Friends) at school would likely see the year out.

Or, at least, that's how it was for A Friend Of Mine.

I like to think this nonsense has had its day.

That said, I fear unalloyed patriarchy represents but a discomfiting breeze when set alongside the destructive gales of unadulterated market forces. The market forces vendors to force us to worry about ourselves in some very silly ways. I'm bombarded every morning, for poignant instance, with spam that assures me my ageing todger isn't big enough, isn't hard enough and doesn't stay that way long enough. Even if it were, it wouldn't compare well by the time my competitors for female affection had girded their loins with bought-and-paid-for inches of unyielding relentlessness.

How often have I yearned to jettison that problematic appendage - exacting so great an emotional and financial toll for so few and fleeting provisions of joy - and nestle in its place a nice, neat, undemanding vagina. How fortunate women are!

But no more, dear readers!

Just as market forces have democratised sexual objectification simply by doing it to men, too - so have they democratised genital-loathing. Women no longer own A vagina. Now they're stuck with THEIR vagina. Just as men must worry about their lack of girth, so must women now worry about their cavernous vagina's inability to grasp visitors with sufficient earnestness. No worries, though - you can always cough up for a vaginal rejuvenation.

Unlike men, women are also invited to despair at the appearance of their Particular Bit. How could it not have occurred to them before? All those years of going to the office, waltzing through Woolworths ... Christ! making love to people ... and all the while with what May Very Well Be an Ugly Vagina! Pausing only to find out what distinguishes a pretty one from an ugly one (and it's no good asking your man; what would men know of such things? And anyway, if he hasn't had the guts to tell you your vagina's a dog yet, he's not worth keeping, never mind consulting), the well-heeled (if poorly vaginaed) woman can now opt for a quick labiaplasty. A quick nip here and there, and you'll have labia to die for. Once you get rid of your current gutless twerp, you'll be able to disport yourself as lewdly as you like at whomever you like. Worth every penny. Well, every grand.

Sex may no longer feel like - or even quite as much as - it used to, but you'd feel better where it counts, eh?

Wherever that is.

Of course, for those of you intent on disclosing your vagina to someone any time soon, it's important to remember they might also catch a glimpse of your anus. It is given to few of us to possess knowledge of our anal hue, but the horrible possibility persists it might not be pristinely white. The market (as exemplified by the content of the spam I get) has not yet deemed this important. But the logic of capital is such that it must soon be. The benefits that accrue to the first to bleach their fundament when inevitability has transpired has the drop on all comers, so why not have a nice professional in a white coat bathe your shame in Hydroquinine, Kojic Acid, Mandelic Acid or Bearberry extract? Be very still during the treatment, though. Apparently it can be murder on the genitals. Especially if you've just limped in from that labiaplasty ...

This unfolding tragedy (and it's gone some way already; breast and bum surgery is already such common fare no-one would read a blogpost committed to it, and in Japan young women are queuing up to have their eyelids replaced, ferchrissakes) has GOT to stop. Our self-confidence - crucial dimension of our personal and social being as it is - is being dissolved in an acid-bath of nonsensical advertising pushing ridiculous ideals and outrageous reasoning. Once we might have had the confidence to resist claims that 90% of us don't eat normally, walk normally or have sex normally. The abstract arithmeticians amongst us might have idly noted that whatever 90% are doing is precisely normal. Others might simply have asked, so what?

This should matter to old-fashioned lefties and so-called libertarian righties alike. Lefties discern in all this a desperate but hitherto successful attempt by capital to make new markets where mature ones have lost their capacity to proffer accumulation - yet another degrading invasion of Human Life by Capital (I am my consumption) and yet another way of reproducing class (you are your incapacity to consume). And surely the libertarian can have no truck with a system predicated on the production of false preferences; for where is their reality if it not be peopled by autonomous individuals, all of whose preferences are generated exclusively from within? To entertain the very idea that our preferences depend on the social setting we're in, that we're materially constituted (and, on occasion, enticed to mutilate ourselves) by a phenomenon we might call 'society' - 'capitalism' even - well, whole edifices could crumble.

Although, I dare say they won't.


 
political economic and cultural observations in the register of dismal dilettantism

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