These foreign policy essays appeared on the History News Network's Liberty and Power Group Blog

By Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Dick Cheneys Words of Wisdom, Circa 1992 (27 December 2003)
Ayn Rand's "Objectivism" is Dead! Long Live the Randians (27 December 2003)
Flames and Oxygen (27 December 2003)

Consequences: Intended and Unintended (11 April 2004)
Drugs and Terror (15 April 2004)
Academic Curricula: At War with Radical Thinking (2 June 2004)
The Birth of a Narcostate (13 June 2004)
US-Saudi Chickens Coming Home to Roost (1 July 2004)
Weighing in on a Foreign Policy Debate, Again (29 July 2004)
Education and Nation-Building in Iraq (15 August 2004)
Unintended Consequences Not Unforeseeable (12 September 2004)
Freedom and 'Islamofascism' (6 October 2004)
Fascism: Clarifying a Political Concept (8 October 2004)
America First (10 October 2004)

Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy (December 2004)



December 2003)

Vice President Cheney is in the news today. First, Paul Krugman, in Patriots and Profits, mentions Cheney in connection with Halliburton and crony capitalism. No surprises there. Even the liberal Krugman admits that"worries about profiteering aren't a left-right issue. Conservatives have long warned that regulatory agencies tend to be 'captured' by the industries they regulate; the same must be true of agencies that hand out contracts." I talked about this phenomenon in"Mixed Economy 101."

But the best Cheney reference today, by far, is this one, in Todd S. Purdum's NY Times article,"After 12 Years, Sweet Victory: The Bushes' Pursuit of Hussein." Purdum writes:

There were ample reasons for the first President Bush not to go after Mr. Hussein. The current vice president and then the secretary of defense, Dick Cheney, outlined some of them in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1992, when he said:"If we'd gone to Baghdad and got rid of Saddam Hussein --- assuming we could have found him --- we'd have had to put a lot of forces in and run him to ground someplace. He would not have been easy to capture. Then you've got to put a new government in his place, and then you're faced with the question of what kind of government are you going to establish in Iraq?"

"Is it going to be a Kurdish government, or a Shia government or a Sunni government?" Mr. Cheney continued."How many forces are you going to have to leave there to keep it propped up, how many casualties are you going to take through the course of this operation?"

Purdum adds:"Most of those questions remain as relevant today as they were a decade ago..."



(27 December 2003) [Written at a time when I thought there was a battle worth fighting...]

That's the profoundly provocative message of L&P colleague Arthur Silber in his essay "Please Do Not Call Me an 'Objectivist'," at the Light of Reason blog. And it's a message with which I find myself largely in agreement.

I say "largely" because I know, deep down, that, in terms of the fundamentals of Ayn Rand's framework, both Arthur and I are certainly in sync with "Objectivism," the name that Rand chose for her philosophy. It is an integrated system of thought---of realism, egoism, individualism, and capitalism---and it irks me that those of us who embrace it may end up forfeiting the"Objectivist" label to those who undermine its essential radicalism. Given the fact that I've been calling myself a "dialectical libertarian" now for about ten years, I suppose I forfeited that label some time ago.

But it is hard to disguise one's disenchantment with what has become of "Objectivism" in an era of increasing US government intervention at home and abroad. Too many of its most visible spokespeople have become apologists for neoconservatism, at war with Rand's radical legacy, which I discuss above.

I, myself, have suggested that there might be a developing distinction between "Objectivism" and "Randianism." As I argue, it is conceivable that future generations will distinguish between "Objectivist" and"Randian" schools of thought, where the "Objectivist" label would designate strict adherence to every detail of Rand's philosophic framework, and "Randian" might designate "of, relating to, or resembling" Rand's philosophic framework. In this instance, one can say that "Randian" is the broader designation, within which "Objectivist" is one possibility.

Rand herself was a bit uncomfortable with those who would have called themselves "Randians" or"Randists"; she wrote that she was "much too conceited to allow such a use of [her] name." On this point, she expressed "sympathy for Karl Marx who, on being told about some outrageous statements made by some Marxists, answered: 'But I am not a Marxist.'" So, she cautioned: "If you agree with some tenets of Objectivism, but disagree with others, do not call yourself an Objectivist; give proper authorship credit for the parts you agree with---and then indulge in any flights of fancy you wish, on your own."

With that advice in mind, I once entertained writing an article entitled "Why I No Longer Consider Myself an Objectivist." I long suspected that if I'd authored such a piece, my critics would have simply retorted:"Whoever said that you ever were an Objectivist?" Indeed, given my self-conscious absorption of lessons from Aristotle, Carl Menger, Herbert Spencer, Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, F. A. Hayek, Karl Marx, and Bertell Ollman, among others, I've long been accused of engaging in eclectic "flights of fancy" by the official, orthodox "guardians" of "Objectivism." But since these guardians themselves have become veritable performance artists in their selective re-creation of Rand's philosophy, bracketing out anything of any lasting radical political value that Rand ever uttered, I'd say "Objectivism" is dead. Long dead. We are all Randians now... even if I'm still convinced, on some level, that some of us are better "Objectivists" than others.

Paraphrasing Ayn Rand's conclusion from her essay,"For the New Intellectual," we might say: "There is an ancient slogan that applies to our present position: 'The king is dead---long live the king!' We can say, with the same dedication to the future: 'The Objectivists are dead---long live the Objectivists!'---and then proceed to fulfill the responsibility which that honorable title had once implied."

Reading Arthur's post reminds me of the heavy burden of such a responsibility, especially in an era when human authenticity, dignity, and freedom are at stake, demanding the integrated, radical response that Ayn Rand pioneered.


(27 December 2003)

My debate on Atlantis II continues. I'd like to reproduce here some points of interest.

Does anyone honestly believe that World War II would have happened anyway without World War I and the events that transpired in its aftermath? Ayn Rand often said that World War I --- the war "to make the world safe for democracy" --- led to the birth of Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and Soviet Russia, and that World War II led to the surrender of three-quarters of a billion people into communist slavery. These were"unintended consequences" writ large, on a scale that was previously unimaginable.

With Rand, I would agree that ideas, especially philosophical ideas, are the driving force of history. If human beings accept a virulent strain of philosophy, it is no less lethal than being exposed to a deadly strain of virus. But there are all sorts of inoculations and vaccines that one can take to prevent a virus. And there are all sorts of things that one can do, once a virus has hit, to shorten its course, making certain, for instance, that it doesn't spread.

Thus, if one looks strictly and only at the philosophy of Nazism, outside of any historical context, one could certainly conclude that this was a militant, racist, anti-Semitic creed that had to lead, by its very nature, to death and destruction. But just because the logical implementation of an idea can lead to death and destruction does not mean that it must. When Rand endorsed the view that ideas have efficacy, she didn't endorse the view of philosophic determinism: that ideas must result in certain outcomes, regardless of context or circumstance. There is nothing inevitable or inexorable about it. Nazism, the flame, needed oxygen to flourish. The loss of Germany in World War I, the Treaty of Versailles, and the Great Depression were all its sources of oxygen. [...]

Everything about Islamic fundamentalism reeks of death and destruction. But there is nothing inexorable about this. Such ideas do not exist or flourish in a historical vacuum. They can only become lethal in the context of a certain constellation of historical conditions. That is why Rand emphasized the political conditions of tribalism's rebirth (which I mentioned in an earlier post). That is why I've emphasized that so much of what is happening today is a product of the collision of fundamentalism with a particularly short-sighted, "pragmatic," interventionist US foreign policy, which created the conditions for the empowerment of autocrats, despots, and fundamentalists. You cannot abstract virulent ideologies from the conditions that allow them to rear their ugly heads. If such things are deadly flames, past US foreign interventions have been their oxygen. (And, furthermore, you cannot abstract US foreign policies from the system of interventionism that Rand characterized as the"New Fascism," since such policies emerge from, and perpetuate, that system.)

So too, we can't abstract the current situation from the history of US foreign policy: from US enrichment of the Saudis --- who export fanatical Wahhabism to the rest of the world; from US involvement with the Shah of Iran --- which led to the rise of the Khomeini theocracy; from US encouragement of Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war --- which bolstered the Hussein regime; from US encouragement of the mujahideen in Afghanistan --- which empowered the Taliban.

Granted: We can play the game of "what if" forever. So, let me play that game, briefly, by quoting from Thomas Fleming's book The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I (Basic Books, 2003). Fleming is worth quoting at length:

If the United States had refused to intervene in 1917, would a German victory in 1918 have been a better historical alternative? The answer is debatable. By 1918, the Germans, exasperated by the Allied refusal to settle for anything less than a knockout blow, were contemplating peace terms as harsh and vindictive as those the French and British imposed, with Wilson's weary consent, in the Treaty of Versailles.

There is another possibility in this newly popular game of what-if. What would have happened if Wilson had taken William Jennings Bryan's advice and practiced real rather than sham neutrality? Without the backing of American weaponry, munitions, and loans, the Allies would have been forced to abandon their goal of the knockout blow. The war might have ended in 1916 with a negotiated peace based on the mutual admission that the conflict had become a stalemate. As a genuine neutral, Wilson might even have persuaded both sides to let him be a mediator. Lloyd George's argument --- that unless the United States intervened, Wilson would have no place at the peace table --- was specious at best. Both sides would have needed America's wealth and industrial resources to rebuild their shattered economies.

Germany's aims before the war began were relatively modest. Basically, Berlin sought an acknowledgment that it was Europe's dominant power. It wanted an independent Poland and nationhood for the Baltic states to keep Russia a safe distance from its eastern border. Also on the wish list was a free trade zone in which German goods could circulate without crippling tariffs in France, Italy, Scandinavia and Austria-Hungary. It is not terribly different from the role Germany plays today in the European Economic Union. But the British Tories could not tolerate such a commercial rival in 1914 and chose war.

Some people whose minds still vibrate to the historic echoes of Wellington House's propaganda argue that by defeating Germany in 1918, the United States saved itself from imminent conquest by the Hun. The idea grows more fatuous with every passing decade. A nation that had suffered more than 5 million casualties, including almost 2 million dead, was not likely to attack the strongest nation on the globe without pausing for perhaps a half century to rethink its policies. One can just as easily argue that the awful cost of the war would have enabled Germany's liberals to seize control of the country from the conservatives and force the kaiser to become a constitutional monarch like his English cousin.

A victorious Germany would have had no need of political adventurers such as Adolf Hitler. Nor would this counterfactual Germany have inserted the Bolsheviks into Russia and supported them with secret-service money. Lenin and Trotsky might have agitated in a political vacuum in Switzerland unto a crabbed old age. Or ventured a revolution in their homeland that would have come to a swift and violent end. On the eve of the war, Russia had the fastest-growing economy in Europe. The country was being transformed by the dynamics of capitalism into a free society. The war created the collapse that gave Bolshevism its seventy-year reign of blood and terror.

Let me conclude by reiterating a Hayekian point: All human action --- by its nature --- leads to unintended consequences. But war especially leads to far-reaching unintended consequences, and most of these are negative. The reason for this is that it creates a dynamic that feeds on destruction: destruction of life, liberty, and property. It creates a host of institutions geared toward such destruction, and these institutions --- no matter how important they might be to a relatively free society's defense of life, liberty, and property --- have had long-lasting effects on their diminution over time. That's because the institutions left in place after the war are almost always consolidated in the peace, and used to further erode the very values that they were put in place to"defend."

If war is necessary against those who have attacked innocent American lives, then it is all the more necessary to pay careful attention to the kinds of strategies and institutions that are created to forge this battle. The Iraq war was unnecessary, in my view, to the defense of American security --- but it has now extended the dynamics of unintended consequences in ways that we have yet to understand fully. We have not learned the lesson of the complications that result from"pragmatic" US intervention abroad. We don't wish to concern ourselves with the new oxygen that we may be providing for future flames --- that will consume more American cities and lives.

Karl Marx said it best when he declared that history repeats itself: first as tragedy, then as farce.

And the joke, I fear, is on us.


(11 April 2004)

There is a very good article, written by James Traub, with accompanying decorative illustrations by Peter Max, in today's NY Times. Traub's "Making Sense of the Mission" raises some very important questions --- even if I don't agree with many of his answers --- about the nature and complexity of nation-building in Iraq. Pointing to the failures of nation-building in such places as Haiti, Traub argues that the task is not impossible, but it "is very hard, and ... it demands a great deal of both patience and modesty --- qualities that do not come naturally to American policymakers or, for that matter, to Americans."

It is ironic, of course, that "[d]uring the 2000 Presidential debates, George W. Bush mocked the idea of nation-building as a dangerous Democratic folly. The function of the American military, he often repeated, was 'to fight and win wars.' Bush gave the impression that nation-building was something Bill Clinton and his team of woolly-headed multilateralists had dreamed up. But the truth is that while the term is new, the endeavor is not ..."

Traub discusses a bit of the history of nation-building. He writes that Maj. Gen. William Nash, who first commanded the American division in Bosnia, had discovered that he couldn't separate peacekeeping from nation-building. "'The first rule of nation-building is that everything is related to everything,' Nash said, 'and it's all political.' Everything, that is, impinges on somebody's power, and in order to establish stable democratic institutions you have to deal with, and often confront, the political structures that provoked the conflict in the first place."

Ah, yes, that ol' dialectical insight, that in any given context, everything is related to everything. The problem is, of course, that we don't exactly know how things relate in any social order, and, in fact, much of what constitutes social relations is tacit and habitual, having never been formally articulated or even understood by the social actors themselves. A fundamental epistemological weakness of central planning, as F. A. Hayek has shown, is that planners cannot grasp the tacit dimension, which relates to knowledge possessed by individual actors who pursue their own purposes while situated in a particular time and place.

The same principle is just as relevant when considering foreign intervention into a country in which the locals have their own customs and habits. Unintended consequences, which are a normal part of what it means to live in society, are a particularly insidious effect of such intervention. (What we're seeing in Iraq, of course, was not necessarily intended, but many of us have been predicting the chaos for over a year. "Unintended" does not mean "unpredictable".)

There is no greater or more forceful form of political intervention than military action. Indeed, "war," observed the 19th century military strategist Carl von Clausewitz, "is the continuation of politics by other means." And like all forms of political intervention, it too generates unintended consequences. In the aftermath of the Iraq war, those who remain to keep the peace are now arguing that there is a need for "about 20 soldiers per 1,000 inhabitants to stabilize an unsettled population.'' This could translate, in Iraq, "to almost half a million troops. And yet," says Traub, "this overwhelming military force must be coupled with a nuanced awareness of local conditions. 'These places tend to be chaotic, dynamic,' said Frederick Barton, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a veteran of many peacekeeping operations. 'Our own institutions tend to be static. You have to head things in the right direction rather than controlling them.' One cannot easily find a peacekeeping mission that exemplifies this peculiar mix of characteristics."

While candidate Bush argued that "nation-building represented the triumph of the nanny state on an international scale," it's pretty clear that the neocon nannies have exerted a strong influence on the stated policy-making goals of his administration, which now aims to foster "political transformation, first in Iraq, then throughout the Middle East. This is, of course, a call to the most ambitious kind of nation-building." It is a call, in other words, to a formal knowledge of conditions of a complex foreign society that central planners of whatever sort will never fully possess.

And so let's not be too surprised by the unintended ripple effects that are now on display in the wake of such folly.


(15 April 2004)

It's reported by the NY Times that the"Islamic terrorists responsible for the Madrid train bombings financed their plot with sales of hashish and Ecstasy ..." This article, by Dale Fuchs, tells us that the terrorists used"traffickers as intermediaries," swapping"the drugs for the 440 pounds of dynamite used in the blasts ... Money from the drug trafficking paid for an apartment hide-out, a car and the cellphones used to detonate the bombs, an Interior Ministry spokesman said."

There is also this article about Afghanistan's opium poppy crop, which is skyrocketing to levels"twice as large as last year's near-record crop." The country is responsible for three-quarters of the world's opium production. The US has talked routinely about"eradication" of the crop, because the profits are used to prop up"an undemocratic narco terrorist-controlled state," benefiting warlords and a resurgent Taliban. But it is under the US watch that opium production has become the chief means to stabilize the hand-picked"Northern Alliance" regime. That profits from the sale of narcotics are now making their way into Al Qaeda coffers is therefore no surprise.

Remember those anti-drug commercials that drew a direct connection between drugs and terror, laying the blame for the funding of terrorism squarely on the plate of drug users? Those commercials told users: Stop using! Terrorism is your fault (driving many of them to drink, no doubt)!

Of course, few are suggesting that the criminalization of drug use has created a world-wide network of illicit drug producers, whose profits are derived from the very fact of government drug prohibitionism. The original Mafia itself was born in the days of alcohol prohibition. Why should current developments be any surprise?

Instead of decriminalization, we are offered, year after year, a new front in the"war on drugs," which only continues to destroy civil liberties at home, while doing nothing to diminish the profits abroad that are funneled to terrorists. Indeed, Attorney General John Ashcroft was so obsessed with prioritizing the drug war (and various" civil rights" issues) in the first seven months of his tenure, that terrorism barely registered on his radar. Now, of course, with the powers bestowed on him through the Patriot Act, he gets to use his office to eradicate drugs and civil rights all in one fell swoop.

As Nebraska attorney Don Fiedler, former director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, has put it:"This fanning the flames of narco-terrorism is something that has some merit. ... Narcotics are one of the tools that terrorists use to fund their operations, but the other question that should come out of it, other than increasing the penalties for use, is to go and re-examine the policies in the first place."

Amen. Perhaps drug legalization should be proposed as a means of combatting terrorism, taking the profits out of the industries that fund terrorists. But this would require an extraordinary act of mental integration: Politicians would have to start thinking about the interconnections among the various aspects of a system that they continue to support. Terrorists emerge from the context of US intervention overseas; they are recruited en masse because of increasing intervention overseas; they get funding from various current (and former) US allies and from industries whose profits are derived partially from prohibitionist controls. The whole system of interventionism, from top to bottom, domestically and abroad, is reinforcing cause and effect.

Boy, it is very difficult to be a political radical. Radicals, by their nature, seek to go to the root of social problems; they trace the connections among social problems, and think in terms of fundamentals and principles. The system that they oppose is one that has been built piecemeal, brick by brick, over decades of political machinations. But the system itself blocks comprehensive reform; it promotes political tinkering as surely as it promotes atomistic thinking.

It is time to start thinking comprehensively, dialectically, as I would say; it is time to start thinking about all the things that must be done to change this system fundamentally.


(13 June 2004)

A provocative article entitled "Colleges Must Reconstruct the Unity of Knowledge," written by Vartan Gregorian, appears in the June 5 edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education. In this essay, Gregorian gives voice to problems of compartmentalization and fragmentation in the academy that I have long emphasized.

Gregorian is president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and a former president of Brown University and the New York Public Library.

He writes:


Today's students fulfill general-education requirements, take specialized courses in their majors, and fill out their schedule with some electives, but while college catalogs euphemistically describe this as a" curriculum," it is rarely more than a collection of courses, devoid of planning, context, and coherence. In fact, mass higher education is heading toward what I call the Home Depot approach to education, where there is no differentiation between consumption and digestion, or between information and learning, and no guidance—or even questioning—about what it means to be an educated and cultured person. Colleges are becoming academic superstores, vast collections of courses, stacked up like sinks and lumber for do-it-yourselfers to try to assemble on their own into a meaningful whole.


The fundamental problem underlying the disjointed curriculum is the fragmentation of knowledge itself. Higher education has atomized knowledge by dividing it into disciplines, subdisciplines, and sub-subdisciplines—breaking it up into smaller and smaller unconnected fragments of academic specialization, even as the world looks to colleges for help in integrating and synthesizing the exponential increases in information brought about by technological advances. The trend has serious ramifications. Understanding the nature of knowledge, its unity, its varieties, its limitations, and its uses and abuses is necessary for the success of our democracy. ...


We must reform higher education to reconstruct the unity and value of knowledge. While that may sound esoteric, especially to some outside the academy, it is really just shorthand for saying that the complexity of the world requires us to have a better understanding of the relationships and connections between all fields that intersect and overlap—economics and sociology, law and psychology, business and history, physics and medicine, anthropology and political science.


Gregorian is particularly concerned about the tendency toward "simplistic solutions" for complex problems, because each problem is often constituted by a cluster of problems, and"none ... can be tackled using linear or sequential methods." He goes on:


Yet such systemic thinking has been slow to catch on, even though the pitfalls of specialization have long been acknowledged and discussed. One reason is that, although the process of both growth and fragmentation of knowledge has been under way since the 17th century, it has snowballed in the last century. The scope and the intensity of specialization are such that scholars and scientists have great difficulty in keeping up with the important yet overwhelming amount of scholarly literature related to their subspecialties, not to mention their general disciplines. The triumph of the "monograph" or "scientific investigation" over synthesis has fractured the commonwealth of learning and undermined our sense of commitment to general understanding and integration of knowledge.


None of this is meant to disparage specialization; but specialization without "synthesis and systemic thinking" is a prescription for disaster." Information—of all varieties, all levels of priority, and all without much context—is bombarding us from all directions all the time," Gregorian states. Indeed, those of us familiar with the liberal tradition have long appreciated F. A. Hayek's insight that the increasing complexity of society leads to an ever-increasing dispersal of information and knowledge; this knowledge is essentially dispersed, and reflected in the division and specialization of labor. But, as Gregorian insists,"the same information technologies that have been the driving force behind the explosion of information and its fragmentation also present us with profoundly integrative tools." We can see these tools at work in artificial intelligence, automated information-management systems, and electronic communications networks. Nevertheless, our computers will help us to integrate the data, but they are only as good as their human programmers. Gregorian quotes author and media critic Neil Postman: "The computer cannot provide an organizing moral framework. It cannot tell us what questions are worth asking."


This is one of the important tasks of higher education, according to Gregorian. To not guide students toward synthesizing the disparate bits of knowledge is a colossal failure, "for history shows that humanity has a craving for wholeness." It's actually far more than a simple craving, however; "wholeness" or integration is a requirement of human cognition. And it is, in my view, a virtual requirement for radical social theorizing. More on that in a moment.


The lack of coherence and integration, claims Gregorian, leads some students to "esoteric ideas, cults, and extremist programs," which seem to provide the systematization that such students lack. This is rule not only by the collective, but also by the "expert," who becomes the leader. In a world of specialized knowledge, too many students defer to such "experts" and "abdicate judgment in favor of others' opinions. Unless we help our students acquire their own identity," Gregorian warns, "they will end up at the mercy of experts—or worse, at the mercy of charlatans posing as experts." Is it any wonder that some will be attracted to militant leaders, who adopt militant ideologies and theologies?

Gregorian urges educators to develop" coherence and integrity in our curricula," and the re-affirmation of a "liberal education ... to integrate learning and provide balance..." He urges multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary learning, where the "interconnectedness" of disciplines is stressed. He suggests the development of teacher training and "the joint appointment of faculty members to several departments." He emphasizes also the connections between "learning" and "doing"—between thought and action: the importance of field study; the integration of theory, application, and experience; the exploration of topics or problems"over a sustained period of time, using multiple approaches to explore and develop responses..."


In recognizing the division and specialization of labor and knowledge as central to the advancement of "the cause of civilization," Gregorian stresses "the creation of a balance between specialists and generalists." Such generalists, "trained in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences ... can help create a common discourse, a common vocabulary among the various disciplines." Ironically,"[s]ince our society respects specialists and suspects generalists," Gregorian cautions, "perhaps the way to solve the shortage of generalists is by creating a new specialty in synthesis and systems." Gregorian cites the words of noted philosopher and essayist José Ortega y Gasset:


The need to create sound synthesis and systemization of knowledge ... will call out a kind of scientific genius which hitherto has existed only as an aberration: the genius of integration. Of necessity, this means specialization, as all creative effort does, but this time, the [person] will be specializing in the construction of the whole.


Gregorian also reminds us of T.S. Eliot's comments on Dante's Inferno, where he suggests "that hell is a place where nothing connects with nothing." That is precisely the kind of hell that the modern curriculum is creating. In the end,


we need to understand where we were, where we are, and where we are going. The challenge for higher education, then, is not the choice between pure research and practical application but, rather, the integration and synthesis of compartmentalized knowledge. On our campuses, we must create an intellectual climate that encourages faculty members and students to make connections among seemingly disparate disciplines, discoveries, events, and trends—and to build bridges among them that benefit the understanding of us all.


What lessons can we draw from Gregorian's essay? Well, it's a lesson I've been teaching for more than twenty years and it is one that speaks to the essence of radical thinking.


It has long been said that to be radical is to grasp things by the root. And yet, those who are characterized as political radicals have been criticized by some for raising "serious questions about basic purpose and meaning in society," as political theorist Harlan Wilson puts it, that seem to lend themselves to "relatively simplistic and highly controlled" answers. For Wilson, those who attempt to go to the "root" assume there are roots and that it is possible to clearly identify "malignant" and "vicious" fundamentals that gloss over "interdependence and overlapping pluralities."


But an appreciation of social complexity must be fundamental to radical social theorizing. To be radical is not to offer canned solutions for context-less problems. It is the ability to examine the roots of social problems from different perspectives and on different levels of generality. It is the ability to situate each social problem within a larger system, across time. In seeking to change a society, we can never do one thing; we need to attack that society's problems across several dimensions. This "art of context-keeping," which is the essence of what I have called "dialectical thinking," is indispensable to radical analysis. As I write in Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism:


A new radicalism is first and foremost a new way of thinking. It demands that we explore the integrated principles, meaning, and promise of liberty. It demands that we ask, and answer, crucial questions about the context of liberty—those complex forces that generate, sustain, and nourish human freedom.


Some of my critics have argued that I've trivialized the nature of dialectics by identifying it with good, critical thinking. But Gregorian's article suggests that the modern curriculum militates against such "good, critical thinking," insofar as "good critical thinking" requires an awareness of context, of systematization and integration. When people are not trained to think systematically—worse: when they are trained to dis-integrate, to fragment, to atomize—they will not be apt to think of problems in their interconnections.


This has implications especially for a political process that institutionalizes ad hoc policy-making. Every piece of legislation is crafted by ad hoc considerations of pork-barreling privilege and interest-group pressure. It is as prevalent in the construction of foreign policy as it is in domestic policy. It is even etched into illusory dreams of "democratic nation-building," which focus on the external imposition of institutions or procedural rules without any appreciation of the complex personal and cultural forces that nourish and sustain them.


Let us be clear: The need for comprehensiveness in political thinking, just like the need for integration in the curriculum, is not a call for that equally illusory "synoptic" perspective that Hayek criticized as a vestige of rationalism. None of us stands like Archimedes from a synoptic vantage point to reconstruct the world in toto. All the more reason to investigate every problem from as many different perspectives and levels of generality as is humanly possible. That is the nature of radical thinking. Human survival depends on it.


Andre Zantonavitch - 6/4/2004


This lengthy meditation on specialization and integration in today's Groves of Academe is essentially a clarion call by Gregorian and Sciabarra for more of the later. And it's hard to disagree with this -- enough already with this "deconstructionism" and "literary theory" crap of the past 40 years! Indeed, Chris's piece reminds me of Rand and her observation that humans intellectually and spiritually desperately need philosophy in their life because it gives them a comprehensive and integrated view of the universe and their existence -- and thus of how best to live. Personally, I agree with all of this.

The above monograph also provides an interesting gloss on Chris's specialty: his dialectic approach to truth-seeking, and guide to comprehensive, integrated, fully-contextual knowledge.

My own reading of history tells me that during the first Age Of Reason (especially from Socrates/Democritus to Epicurus/Zeno-the-Stoic) the ancient Greeks tended to regard all of knowledge as one (i.e. as "the word" or logos): they thought each piece led to and flowed into the next. Interestingly, they also regarded all virtues as essentially one -- as also leading and flowing into each other. Hence, anything which was "right" in their language [and ours] (anything true or virtuous) very quickly suggested and implied, and directed one toward, everything else which was "right" (factually correct or morally good).

Aristotle's whole university -- like his whole quietly stunning approach to knowledge -- was a marvel of integration and dialectic balance, in my judgment (Am I right here, folks?). The worlds's first Age of Reason was truly impressive.

So was the second. The Renaissance Man was almost by definition comprehensive and well-integrated in his approach to, and possession of, knowledge. He was well-rounded and fully-educated. Even more so was the Enlightenment liberal with his "encyclopedic" approach to knowledge and education. The aristocrats and well-educated elite of 1700s England, Holland, France, and America put today's over-specialized, out-of-context academics to shame. They even put today's fragmented over-Randized Objectivists and over-Austrianized libertarians to shame(!).

It seems clear to me that the world of the future will feature many rational philosophies and related, derivative rational cultures -- not just the one highly-familiar belief-system which was so fully developed by Ayn Rand. The world of the future will be led by many and diverse well-educated, well-integrated Western liberal thinkers -- not just or primarily Objectivists. It will very much resemble the highly mature and Reasonist societies of Greece in the 200s BC, Rome in the 00s BC, and Western Europe in the 1700s. These near-future folks will have a comprehensive, systematic, balanced, well-integrated, fully-contextual approach to education i.e. to gaining and using (rational) knowledge. The result will be an intensely-rational but diverse collection of educational approaches, individual life-styles, and collective world mini-cultures.



(13 June 2004)

I've discussed the role of Drugs and Terror and the fact that even with the best of intentions, a US invasion of Afghanistan (which I supported) can lead to unintended consequences of monumental significance. In the aftermath of that invasion, Taliban elements still exist, Bin Laden is still at large, and Afghanistan itself is inching ever closer to becoming a major Middle East Narcostate.

This morning, on "Meet the Press", Tim Russert interviewed Afghanistan President Karzai on the reality of opium production in that country. Russert quotes from the US General Accounting Office.

MR. RUSSERT: "Opium production threatened stability. The illicit international trade in Afghan opiates threatened Afghan's stability during fiscal years 2002-2003. The drug trade provided income for terrorists and warlords fueling the factions that worked against stability and national unity. In 2002, Afghan farmers produced 3,442 metric tons of opium, providing $2.5 billion in trafficking revenue. In 2003 opium production in the country increased to 3,600 metric tons, the second largest harvest in the country's history. Further, heroin laboratories have proliferated in Afghanistan in recent years. As a result of the increased poppy production and in-country heroin production, greater resources were available to Afghan criminal networks and others at odds with the central government. The International Monetary Fund and Afghanistan's minister of Finance have stated that the potential exists for Afghanistan to become a 'narcostate' in which all legitimate institutions are infiltrated by the power and wealth of drug traffickers.'"

PRES. KARZAI: That is quite possible. We have a serious problem because of drugs on our hands. We began to work against drug production three years ago, as soon as we came into government, but the first year of passing the government, we made the mistake. The mistake was that we went and paid farmers in return for destruction. This encouraged everybody else to grow poppies, thinking that if they grow poppies, we will go to destroy it and pay them for it. And if we don't go to destroy it, they will have the poppies. So we made that mistake. And last year we recognized it, and we began to destroy poppies. This year, again, we have gone and destroyed poppies.

But this is not a simple problem. We are talking of a country in which there was 30 years of war, in which there were six years of horrible drought. When I moved into Afghanistan three years ago, I saw with my own eyes an orchard of pomegranates that was turned into poppy fields; that's how serious the problem is. But we recognize and so do the Afghan people that this is a problem that can cause Afghanistan to go into serious danger. This production of poppies supports terrorism. It trivializes the economy. It undermines institution building in Afghanistan. Afghanistan will have to destroy it for the sake of the Afghan people and, also, because of the world.

But we cannot do this alone. We will destroy the poppies, but next year they will come again; therefore there has to be a plan together with the international community to provide alternative livelihood, alternative economy and better reconstruction in Afghanistan on a sustainable manner so that we over time get rid of the problem. The Afghan people don't want it. They know it is illegitimate. Our clergy, our religious community, our tribal chiefs, the government, the institutions are working against it on a daily basis, and we will succeed because we have to succeed.

MR. RUSSERT: But if 80 percent of the 27 million people in Afghanistan live in poverty and the warlords want to maintain their power, why won't the warlords allow opium to be raised because it provides money to the farmers and keeps them in power?

PRES. KARZAI: We began two and a half years ago where there was no government. The institutions were completely destroyed. In two and a half years' time, we have had the bond process. We've had the grand council, the Loya Jirga, to elect a government. We've had the grand council to create a constitution, which we did. We are now going to the next stage, which is elections. This country is moving forward. But this country has problems, too, to overcome, and we will continue to have many, many problems as we keep building ourselves.

Drugs is one of the most serious problems that occur in Afghanistan. Warlordism, as you said, is another serious problem that we have in Afghanistan. We, the Afghan people, want to get rid of them. The common Afghan man and woman that come to see me every day in my office, they ask me to get rid of these difficulties for them, especially the drugs and warlordism. And I hope the international community will stand stronger with us on both these problems.

MR. RUSSERT: But with the warlords and the drug traffickers, but for the United States' government, could you possibly stay in power?

PRES. KARZAI: Without the presence of the United States forces in Afghanistan, without the presence of the international community in Afghanistan, without the presence of the ISAF in Afghanistan, Afghanistan will not be in good shape. That is why the Afghan people keep asking for more of the International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan. That is why the Afghan people are asking for the deployment of NATO coalitions. That's why the Afghan people have embraced the arrival of the United States of America in Afghanistan for its liberation, because they know that we need international assistance in order to build our institutions over time, in order to build a national army, in order to build a national police. And before Afghanistan can stand on its own feet, it will be many years from now.

Whatever the validity of taking out the Taliban, because of its ties to Al Qaeda, it is clear that no thought was given to the long-term consequences of US intervention. The complicity of the US in the emergence of a warlord-dominated Narcostate in Afghanistan to "stabilize" that regime is a sobering lesson. The lessons yet to come from "nation building" in Iraq might make the Afghanistan experience pale in comparison.


Keith Halderman - 6/14/2004

Also, I think that we need to take claims that all of this new opium money is supporting Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and terrorism in general with a large dose of salt. Before 9-11 it was areas controled by the Northen Alliance where the poppies were grown. The Taliban cracked down on the trade in the areas they controled. Why all of a sudden would the money be going to them?

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 6/14/2004

Classic, classic Long. LOL Just classic. 

And you're right, Sheldon... exactly what I said in my "Drugs and Terror" post---nothing could do more damage to Narcostates, the world over, than to decriminalize drugs across the board.

Sheldon Richman - 6/14/2004

No doubt about it, it's time for some aggressive action against the Afghani poppy growers: full decriminalization of all drugs in the United States.

Roderick T. Long - 6/13/2004

The Birth of Anarcho-State? Sounds like a contradiction to me. We always knew where this dialectical stuff would lead ....


(1 J
uly 2004)

As the winds of change batter the regimes of the Middle East, from Iraq to Iran --- Saddam Hussein himself being arraigned today on charges for "crimes against humanity" --- fundamental questions are being raised about the state of Arab culture and politics. Fareed Zakaria has written a thought-provoking article, "Islam, Democracy, and Constitutional Liberalism," in the Spring 2004 issue of Political Science Quarterly. (Zakaria, who initially favored the war in Iraq, has been doing a lot of interesting writing of late; see especially his essay, "Reach Out to the Insurgents," which Justin Raimondo discusses here.)

In the PSQ essay, Zakaria is still wedded to the unfortunate idea that the US has a role to play in the folly that he dubs "a serious long-term project of nation building" in Iraq. But Zakaria puts his finger on the significant obstacles to this project. He writes:

The Arab rulers of the Middle East are autocratic, corrupt, and heavy-handed. But they are still more liberal, tolerant, and pluralistic than those who would likely replace them. Elections in many Arab countries would produce politicians who espouse views that are closer to those of Osama bin Laden than those of Jordan's liberal monarch, King Abdullah. Last year, the emir of Kuwait, with American encouragement, proposed giving women the vote. But the democratically elected Kuwaiti parliament --- filled with Islamic fundamentalists --- roundly rejected the initiative. Saudi crown prince Abdullah tried something much less dramatic when he proposed that women in Saudi Arabia be allowed to drive. (They are currently forbidden to do so, which means that Saudi Arabia has had to import half a million chauffeurs from places like India and the Philippines.) But the religious conservatives mobilized popular opposition and forced him to back down.

These tendencies, says Zakaria, illustrate the fact that

[t]he Arab world today is trapped between autocratic states and illiberal societies, neither of them fertile ground for liberal democracy. The dangerous dynamic between these two forces has produced a political climate filled with religious extremism and violence. As the state becomes more repressive, opposition within society grows more pernicious, goading the state into further repression. It is the reverse of the historical process in the Western world, where liberalism produced democracy and democracy fueled liberalism. The Arab path has instead produced dictatorship, which has bred terrorism. But terrorism is only the most noted manifestation of this dysfunction, social stagnation, and intellectual bankruptcy.

One could certainly take issue with Zakaria's maxim, especially the belief that"democracy fueled liberalism" --- unless one identifies"liberalism" with today's corrupt version of interest-group politics, rather than with yesteryear's classical, laissez-faire ideal. But Zakaria asks a legitimate question: "Why is [the Middle East] region the political basket case of the world?" Railing against those who would use "Islamic," "Middle Eastern," and "Arab" interchangeably, Zakaria argues that the "Arab social structure is deeply authoritarian" across religious, political, social, economic, and even educational-pedagogical spheres. Politically, many regimes in the Arab world embraced a "coarser ideology of military republicanism, state socialism, and Arab nationalism." Zakaria rejects unequivocally the view that poverty breeds terrorism, since too many terrorists emerge from such wealthy oil-rich countries as Saudi Arabia, "the world's largest petroleum exporter." Bin Laden himself "was born into a family worth more than $5 billion."

If anything, the problem is not poverty, but wealth, specifically wealth achieved by what Franz Oppenheimer used to call the "political means." It is wealth achieved by coercive, statist, monopolistic control, in this instance, of "natural resources," whereby the regimes that exercise control over them "tend never to develop, modernize, or gain legitimacy," as Zakaria puts it." Easy money means little economic or political modernization," observes Zakaria. With "no real political parties, no free press and few pathways for dissent," authoritarian Arab societies have fomented the development of dissident Islamic fundamentalist movements, spearheaded by thinkers such as Sayyid Qutb, who used religion as "the language of opposition ... This combination of religion and politics has proven to be combustible." (Not only in the Middle East, I might add, but in the USA as well; I discuss this combustible American constellation in my forthcoming Free Radical essay,"Caught up in the Rapture," which I'll excerpt here in due course.)

The fundamentalists got their biggest break when the Ayatollah Khomeini toppled the pro-US regime of the Shah of Iran. But the most "dangerous game," says Zakaria, is being played by the Saudis. For those of us who have never been fond of the House of Sa'ud, Zakaria reminds us that "the likely alternative to the regime is not Jeffersonian democracy but a Taliban-style theocracy." He explains:

The Saudi regime ... has tried to deflect attention away from its spotty economic and political record by allowing free reign to its most extreme clerics, hoping to gain legitimacy by association. Saudi Arabia's educational system is run by medieval-minded religious bureaucrats. Over the past three decades, the Saudis --- mostly through private trusts --- have funded religious schools (madrasas) and centers that spread Wahhabism (a rigid, desert variant Islam that is the template for most Islamic fundamentalists) around the world. Saudi-funded madrasas have churned out tens of thousands of half-educated, fanatical Muslims who view the modern world and non-Muslims with great suspicion. America in this world-view is almost always uniquely evil. This exported fundamentalism has infected not just other Arab societies but countries outside the Arab world.

In this sense, the Saudis have emboldened the very forces that are now clamoring to undermine their power. Their "financiers and functionaries" were responsible for bolstering fundamentalist forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Indeed,"[w]ithout Saudi money and men, the Taliban would not have existed, nor would Pakistan have become the hotbed of fundamentalism that it is today." Until or unless the Saudis "do more to end ... governmental and nongovernmental support for extreme Islam, which is now the kingdom's second largest export to the rest of the world," this situation is not likely to change.

Thus, ideological corruptions are mirrored by economic corruptions. Indeed, the Saudi business elites owe their "positions to oil or to connections to the ruling families." Their wealth is derived from "feudalism, not capitalism," and the "political effects remain feudal as well." Zakaria argues persuasively that "[a] genuinely entrepreneurial business class would be the single most important force for change in the Middle East." This is the kind of social institution that is, thankfully, not foreign to Arab culture, which has, "for thousands of years ... been full of traders, merchants, and businessmen." Indeed, observes Zakaria, "[t]he bazaar is probably the oldest institution in the Middle East."

Unfortunately, the Saudi's quasi-feudal, neo-mercantilist regime has been fully encouraged, sanctioned, and legitimated by US foreign policy. Whatever the specific connections between the Bush family and the Saudis --- and Michael MooreCraig Unger, and Kevin Phillips have had a field day speculating about these connections --- the truth remains that the United States has had an incestuous relationship with the House of Sa'ud for nearly sixty years. As I wrote in my essay, "A Question of Loyalty":

US corporations engage in joint business ventures with the Saudi government --- from petroleum to arms deals --- utilizing a whole panoply of statist mechanisms, including the Export-Import Bank. The US is Saudi Arabia's largest investor and trading partner. Historically, the House of Sa'ud's alliance with --- and exportation of --- intolerant, fanatical Wahhabism has been strengthened by the US-Saudi government partnership with Western oil companies, especially the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO), a merger of Esso, Texaco, and Mobil. This is precisely the kind of"pull-peddling" that [Ayn] Rand condemned as "the New Fascism" --- a US-Saudi-Big Oil Unholy Trinity that sustains the undemocratic Saudi regime. ...

[That] regime ... depends upon a barbaric network of secret police and sub-human prisons, using the kinds of torture tactics that would have made Saddam proud: routine floggings, rotisserie hangings, amputations, penis blocking, and anal molestations. Such is the "pragmatic" nature of official US government policy, which goes to war for "human rights" in Iraq, while tacitly sanctioning their eradication in Saudi Arabia.

It's this kind of pragmatism that has been the midwife to anti-American terrorism --- from US support of the Shah of Iran that led to the establishment of an anti-American Islamic theocracy to US support of the Afghani mujahideen that led to the establishment of an anti-American Taliban.

Eric Margolis extends these points further in his recent discussion of the inner machinery of the US-Saudi relationship. He writes:

Saudi Arabia is a feudal monarchy owned and run by 6,000-7,000 royal princes. ... Saudi Arabia has been a U.S. oil protectorate since the late 1940s under the following arrangement: The royal family supplies cheap oil to the U.S. and its allies Europe and Japan. The billions earned by the Saudis are recycled into U.S. and western financial institutions and commercial projects, or spent on huge amounts of advanced weapons ($9 billion in recent years) the Saudis cannot operate. Saudi arms purchases are used to support friendly American and European politicians in politically sensitive states or regions.

In return, the U.S. supplies the royal family with protection against its own increasingly restive people and covetous neighbours, like Iraq. The small Saudi Army is denied ammunition to prevent it staging the kind of coup that overthrew Iraq's British-run puppet monarch in 1958. A parallel "White Army," composed of loyal Bedouin tribesmen led by U.S. "advisers," watches the army. ... [F]ar from being an enemy of the U.S., Saudi Arabia is almost an overseas American state. One-third of the population of 24 million is foreign. Saudi defences, internal security, finance and the oil industry are still run by some 70,000 U.S. and British expatriates. Some eight million Asian workers do the middle management and donkey work. The royal family is intimately linked to Washington's political and money power elite through a network of business and personal connections. The Bush family, and its entourage of Republican military-industrial complex deal makers, has been joined at the hip for two decades with Saudi power princes and their financial frontmen.

Margolis maintains correctly, however, that the Saudi state, as such, "did not finance or abet Osama bin Laden --- it tried repeatedly to kill him. Bin Laden's modest funds came from donations by individual Saudis, wealthy and poor alike, who supported his jihad against western domination." What Margolis does not recognize, however, is that the fundamentalist ideology that the House of Sa'ud has long funded and exported is now undermining its very rule. While the failure of the Saudi state at this point in time would be an utter catastrophe, those who would take power --- the fanatical fundamentalists among them ---are, to borrow a Randian phrase, "the distilled essence of the [Saudi] Establishment's culture ... the embodiment of its soul" and its "personified ideal."

I have long argued that radical social change in the United States depends upon the uprooting of both the politico-economic system and the ideas that nourish it and sustain it. This dynamic is global in its implications, and no less operative in the context of the Saudi monarchy, one of the United States' prime "allies" in the Middle East. Fundamental change is not likely to come through further military intervention, which will only destabilize the region and further empower the fanatics. Ultimately, this is a philosophical and cultural war that must be fought at home and abroad.



(29 July 2004)

I've been following the debate over libertarianism and foreign policy and applaud the many points made by my colleagues here.

I was struck particularly by this exchange between Matt Hill and Gene Healy. Matt agrees with the principles that Gene enunciates, but asks: "what do you say to the argument that the government is taking the money anyway, so it is just a question of how it is allocated --- and perhaps, one could argue, allocating it to wars in defense of other people's rights is a more worthy use of the money than funneling it into subsidies or some other government bureaucracy. This argument would seem to hold as long as taxes aren't raised to cover the cost of war."

Gene responds: "It's not like the deal on offer is 'we'll abolish HUD if you let us use the proceeds to fund wars of liberation.' If that was the deal, I'd still oppose it, for a number of reasons, not least of which is at least HUD doesn't kill thousands upon thousands of people (at least not directly)."

But this speaks to a fundamental problem with too much libertarian analysis. That analysis becomes an almost thoroughly detached rationalistic discussion of floating abstractions with no bearing on the concrete context within which we live. This is a context that can only be understood as a system of state interventionism, one that Ayn Rand and others have called"the New Fascism." This is a system that has evolved over time; I have discussed the implications of that system over and over again, in essays here and here and in countless L&P posts.

What Gene says about HUD is precisely the point, therefore. And what the pro-Iraq war libertarians seem to sidestep completely is this: There is an "organic link" between "HUD," between the forms of domestic interventionism and the forms of foreign interventionism. That is: these forms of intervention are all part of one system of interventionism, where the "domestic" and the "foreign" policies become reciprocal reflections and mutual implications of one another.

And if one traces the ways in which domestic and foreign interventions have been conjoined throughout the history of the United States, one begins to understand why war can never be taken lightly. Indeed, it becomes "politics" by other means ---nay, politics incarnate, if one understands that modern politics is founded, as such, on initiatory violence.

I and many others have continued to point out how 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.

Of course, we don't live in a perfect libertarian world. Waiting for everything to change radically before one can do anything to combat threats to life, liberty, and property is a lethal prescription for disaster... for national suicide.

Given that interventionist states are the only game in town, therefore, I can understand why such political units must be used ---in this context, under the current conditions that exist --- to defeat imminent threats (or even "grave and gathering threats" as President Bush once claimed) to the rights of the citizens who reside within a state's territorial boundaries. This puts aside, for the moment, the fact that most states, even within "minarchist" Nozickian guidelines, are illegitimate. But it does require that one carefully weigh the costs and benefits of acting in response to, or in preemption of, clear threats. And because this often entails an epistemic issue, the problem of having sufficient knowledge, it is essential to acquire accurate intelligence, something I've addressed here and here.

I opposed the war in Iraq because I didn't believe that the Hussein regime was that kind of threat. That doesn't mean that I saw Hussein as a benevolent despot; he was a murderous thug, one whom the United States once emboldened in the Iran-Iraq war. And while I didn't believe the US or any nation should have taken any of his denials on faith, concerning the possession of WMDs, I did believe that it was possible to contain his actions by threat of the use of overwhelming military force. Be that as it may: the US is in Iraq and debating the same points over and over again is, I think, counterproductive at this juncture. Those who wanted the war, got it. Those who didn't are saddled with its unintended consequences, whether we like it or not.

By contrast, however, I was for "taking out" the Taliban in Afghanistan because Al Qaeda was clearly in bed with that regime ("collaborative operational relationship" indeed), and it was responsible for the devastation of 9/11. But I could have easily predicted how poorly the US would have functioned even in that sphere, and I did, in fact, foresee many, if not most, of the problems that US military intervention would generate by extending itself into Iraq. Note, I'm not talking about the purely "military" campaign, which was a" cakewalk" --- considering that neither Afghanistan nor Iraq was militarily formidable. I'm talking more about the course of events thereafter, and the overall problems inherent in democratic "nation-building." I'm talking about the fact that my own analysis was conditioned by my understanding of the system within which we are all embedded.

All the more reason for right-thinking, principled libertarians to advocate ruthlessly delimited military actions that focus on destroying specific terrorist targets, while crushing financial and other networks of terrorist support.

In the long run, in my view, a substantially redefined US role in the Middle East will be necessary --- but I sincerely doubt that this will happen in any fundamental way, until or unless we achieve a substantially redefined role for the US government at home. At base, the 9/11 commission is correct: this is an ideological and cultural war. And it can only be won, ultimately, by ideological and cultural means. It is a victory that must come both at home, within our borders, and abroad --- within the borders, hearts, and minds of those who live in the Islamic world.


Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 7/31/2004

Jason... my heart is all a flutter. I don't think it's palpitations... just... shock. :)

Thanks for your comments, as always.

Jason Pappas - 7/30/2004

I'm surprised there has yet to be a response to this post (in this comments section). Chris' summary of his position is superlative in scope, balance, and above all, respect for context. In regard to the last, Sciabarra shows respect for both absolute principles and temporal contextual constraints. It's a masterful synthesis.


(15 August 2004)

While commentators continue to wonder if there is any hope of avoiding catastrophe in Iraq, others, such as Christina Asquith, focus on the important story of trying to rebuild education in that war-torn country. Asquith's essay, "With Little More Than Hope, Iraqi Colleges Try to Rebuild," which appears in last week's edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education, focuses on the fact that"after 35 years of Saddam, educators contend with too much violence and too little money from the U.S. and its allies." The first issue for the universities, indeed, for all of Iraq, is the issue of security."University presidents, who already have personal bodyguards, were concerned about radical Islamic groups, looters, death threats, and angry students," writes Asquith."After a tumultuous academic year under U.S. guidance, the true test of whether Iraqi universities will emerge from 35 years of dictatorship and war as an independent and free-thinking system is about to begin."

The effort has been spearheaded by John Argesto, who, as leader of the American team, advised Iraqi higher education authorities, leaving them"structures for a self-governing system, including a democratic procedure for hiring and firing administrators, and a 'declaration of academic freedom and responsibilities' that forbids religious and political intimidation. Those steps were hailed as major changes after 35 years of centralized control and intimidation by Mr. Hussein's Baath Party."

But with little money forthcoming, and the omnipresence of violence, many higher educators live under a cloud of fear. In fact, Asquith observes,

dozens of intellectuals --- including the former president of Baghdad University; the deputy dean of the Medical College at Basra University; and Abdul Latif al-Mayah, a political-science professor at Al-Mustansiriya University ---have been assassinated by unknown assailants. Student demonstrations and Islamic militias have shut down campuses. The university presidents voted to postpone student elections in the spring, the first open voting scheduled on campuses in three decades, out of fear of student-on-student violence. In this climate of terror, few feel safe to speak freely. ...

All Iraqi universities and colleges reopened after the war, but attempting to carry on has often seemed to students and staff members like an exercise in futility. Some students and professors lost theses, lectures, and years of research in the looting. Heavy traffic, bomb threats, and U.S. roadblocks have made attendance spotty on campuses in Baghdad. With no electricity, students had no fans, air-conditioning, or lights to study at night. They were often asked to phone their professors the night before an exam to see if it was still scheduled. Professors, many of whom have received anonymous death threats and seen their colleagues assassinated, were sometimes reluctant to show up for work. Protests by students and staff members against the U.S. attack on Falluja shut down most universities in April. The University of Karbala was taken over by supporters of Moktada al-Sadr, a radical Islamic cleric, in the same month, and not even Mr. al-Bakaa, the minister, is certain of its current status. Westerners and some Iraqis traveling on highways outside Baghdad have been kidnapped or ambushed. As a result information about life on campuses in Karbala, Mosul, or Basra is hard to obtain."It was a very difficult school year," says Hussain Ali, who graduated in June from the College of Engineering at the University of Baghdad."The university was closed three times for more than a week. Many of us couldn't get to college because of the traffic. Professors were killed by students. The students say, 'If you don't pass me, I'll kill you.'" Worst of all, professors and students say, is that after 35 years of intellectual repression and 14 years of U.N. sanctions, the intellectual renaissance that Iraqi academics had hoped would follow Mr. Hussein's fall has not come about.

Worse still, even those American professors who have attempted to help stabilize the situation have maintained that

the issue of safety has discouraged them from pursuing projects in Iraq. ..."The security situation deteriorated so quickly it was difficult to get people's attention --- and it seemed there were more pressing needs than exchanges," says Richard Couto, a professor of leadership and change at Antioch University. He visited Baghdad twice last year and proposed taking Iraqi professors to the United States for training in the latest research techniques. But over time he lost motivation, he says: "I also despaired of the hopeless mess that we seem to have made in Iraq and that there was any solid ground on which to stand and work for change."

There are goals: marketizing the structure of the universities, wiring them for the Internet, encouraging debate and inquiry. But there is still no money to bring these goals to fruition.

Of Iraq's two dozen ministries, the one for higher education was the last to receive funds, and it got the least. The Ministry of Education, which runs the country's elementary and secondary schools, has benefited from a $65-million contract won from the U.S. government by an American company for rebuilding efforts, as well as $103-million from the World Bank and $100-million expected from other donor nations. The Ministry of Higher Education, however, received less than $20-million in benefits from contracts between the United States and American universities early on, along with about $20-million from donor nations, and so far nothing from the World Bank.

Crony corporate arrangements aside, the fact is that

Iraqi higher education was in a shambles after the war. An estimated 80 percent of the country's 22 universities and 43 vocational colleges had been damaged, some beyond repair. One campus of Iraq's third-largest institution, Basra University, was a collection of empty hulks and piles of rubble. The higher-education ministry estimated a nationwide rebuilding cost of $1.2-billion."We're not talking about libraries and labs; we need chairs," Salman D. Salman, Basra's president, said in December as he stood in a classroom with no windows or door. "We need 15,000 chairs."

Agresto had hoped to create a decentralized university system "free from religious influences," while the new Iraqi Minister of Higher Education, Ziad Abdel Razzaq Aswad, "a member of a radical Sunni Islamist group," has fought for greater centralization of the universities. "He expected professors to ask the government for permission to travel, as they had under Mr. Hussein's regime. He wanted the ministry to again control the hiring and firing of deans."

One thing Argesto aimed for was the bolstering of liberal arts to assist in the building of a democracy. But Argesto is frank: "I worry about a country where history and heritage and literature aren't prized, where philosophy and political philosophy and normative studies aren't basic parts of the curriculum. For a country to produce leaders, it has to be a country where people can think clearly and write persuasively and understand more than just their specialty."

Indeed, compartmentalization and a lack of integration are not characteristics only of American universities. Nation-building of the kind sought by the Bush administration requires the building of an integrated understanding of the free society (something the neocons know nothing of), as well as the nourishment of democratic "know-how," precisely the kind of tacit traditions and customs that Iraq has never really had.

Still, as "professors and students are struggling with a new academic discipline: democracy," they introduce such courses as "Human Rights and Public Liberties" and even Ph.D. programs on "Democracy and Human Rights," neither of which were possible under the Hussein regime. These courses are the ideological replacements for the "Baath Party indoctrination course" that was so prevalent under Hussein." In most cases, however, students say they have been presented with no new books or ideas; they just share photocopies of lecture notes by professors who haven't left Iraq in decades."

Other troubling cultural changes are underway, however. Whereas Iraq was among the most"secular" of states in the Islamic Middle East, now, the power of radical Islam is being felt like never before.

Changing the curriculum depends first on maintaining security on the campuses and persuading students not to turn to radical Islamic groups for stability. ... Some students say the slowness of reform efforts allows fundamentalist religious groups to gain a foothold at the universities and misrepresent democracy to students who have little understanding of it. Students on many campuses say the groups have been pressuring young women to wear the Islamic head scarf and breaking up boy-girl couples strolling on the campus. Some students believe that the religious groups are behind the assassinations of professors.

"The uncertainty is fatal to freedom of speech," Asquith writes."In April members of Mr. al-Sadr's militia descended on dozens of campuses in black clothing and armbands, holding rallies and threatening students. Even administrators were hesitant to oppose them. Many women covered their heads just to be safe." As one ministry official puts it: "Every student who has an idea thinks he also must have a machine gun. They think this is democracy. We must show them what democracy is and how to respect it."

Liberal democratic ideas and machine guns are opposites. The former cannot be instituted by the latter. But it can be readily destroyed by the latter. A free society can only flourish upon a delicate cultural latticework that will take generations to weave. What were the neocon nation-builders thinking when they embarked on this crusade?


(12 September 2004)

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.


Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 9/14/2004

John Arthur Shaffer writes: "Does anyone really argue that these states can be transformed without a major reformation in Islam? The separation of church and state is a necessary condition for freedom and pluralism. This will take centuries to occur. The war in Iraq has been a huge recruiting tool for radical Islam."

I agree that there will need to be a major reformation in Islam (though it is clear that more "secular" variants are possible among Islamic-inspired states). It took centuries to secularize the Western mind, and I can't imagine it not taking a very long time for this process to take hold in the Islamic world.

But in the age of WMDs, humankind doesn't have time to wait centuries for this process to occur. The best that can be done is to neutralize any "direct," "imminent" or "grave and gathering" threats to US security, and to seek ways to increase points of cultural exchange in the long-run. Today's technology should facilitate this process to a certain degree, but it's no substitute for short-run strikes against known Al Qaeda operatives seeking to inflict further harm on US targets. 

I've also maintained, however, that the US will have to affect a major shift in its political and military involvement in the Middle East; alas, that is not likely to occur any time soon for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is economic. See here for further thoughts on this subject.

John Arthur Shaffer - 9/13/2004

Does anyone really argue that these states can be transformed without a major reformation in Islam? The separation of church and state is a necessary condition for freedom and pluralism.

This will take centuries to occur. The war in Iraq has been a huge recruiting tool for radical Islam.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 9/13/2004

I think that the essential point here is correct; this is a long-term cultural and political trend, but I don't think it is inexorable, and I do believe that there are potentially powerful movements afoot that could act as an internal bulwark against those trends. The young generation's turn against the mullahs in Iran is a case in point. It remains to be seen if that internally generated movement bears fruit.

To answer Andre: I don't know of anybody here who advocated doing nothing in response to the terrorist attack on 9/11. I advocated military action in Afghanistan, even if I've been less enthused by the ways in which warlordism has returned, along with a re-empowered Taliban and a Narcostate. The Iraq invasion and occupation, in my view, has emboldened the very fundamentalist elements that Jonathan points to above.

The point, however, is that from the very beginning, the Bush administration acted on the neoconservative premise that the cultures in the Middle East had to be changed if the US was to affect a permanent alteration in the terrorist dynamic. Now, superficially, that's true. But as Jason suggests above, there is an arrogant self-centeredness, a potentially fatal hubris, at work: Cultural transformation is not something that can be imposed from without. Politics can influence culture, but new political institutions cannot simply be grafted onto indigenous cultures.

I fear that the chickens being hatched in Iraq will eventually come home to roost in ways that will significantly affect "the timing and form of the Islamist problem."

Jason Pappas - 9/13/2004

You are right in your characterization of Iraq. However, the "secular socialist" nature of the state hides the underlying cultural reality. It is in these "secular socialist" states that Islamism grows unseen. Often, Islam is the only institution that is exempt from total repression. The Mosque becomes an organizing point against the dictatorship. On the surface it seems like the dictator has the country under control but he is feeding the Islamist beast. Let's remember how this movement started in "secular socialist" Egypt. Let's also remember that even a dictator like Saddam had to start paying lip-service to Islam. 

Let me make sure my point isn't missed. Islamism is an indigenous movement that arises from internal forces and it is growing regardless of what we do or don't do. Let's shed our arrogant self-centered analysis and realized that we are not the subject matter here. We are a scapegoat necessitated by internal cultural developments that will exist and continue to exist. 

I'll grant you that our involvement affects the timing and form of the Islamist problem. A detailed analysis will show the effects on which particular fraction advances, how the Islamists rally their core base, and other logistics. But the long-term trend is not altered by how we divert the cultural gusher.

This suggests a policy of avoiding futile nation-building --- but not because of our importance and the potent effect of our actions (intended or unintended) --- just the opposite. 

Jonathan Dresner - 9/13/2004

Mr. Zantonavitch,

I'd be more inclined to take the rest of your comments seriously if you hadn't grossly mischaracterized Iraq as an 'islamic' state on a par with Afghanistan. For its myriad other flaws, Iraq was a socialist despotism, not an Islamic one, with some of the commensurate social differences (like the legal sale of alcohol, practice of diverse religions and, oh yes, relatively social equality for women, not to mention a unity which transcended tribal and sectarian identities), but that is indeed the direction in which Iraq is now heading. Shall we invade again?

Andre Zantonavitch - 9/13/2004

I might also add that because of the two wars, and our forced enrollment at The School Of Hard Knocks -- closely affiliated with Whatssammatta U! ;-) -- libertarian and Objectivist thinkers have also been ~galvanized.~ Mankind is advancing theoretically and this is paving the way toward a terrific future which will now probably come about ~sooner~.

Andre Zantonavitch - 9/13/2004

At times, in the game of life, the simple and obvious answer is actually the ~correct~ answer. Over-analysis of a situtation or problem can lead to vast and even ~hopeless~ confusion. If we spend weeks on end discussing whether or not cirles are round, grass is green, and fire is hot, at the end of those (almost certainly wasted) days we may seriously ~not know~ the answer(!). As Aristotle said repeatedly: "Don't seek more certainty than the subject itself admits of."

Radical islamic vermin did something terrible on 9/11 and most "moderate" islamic vermin openly or quietly cheered. America ~had~ to do something in response. And it did -- in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now the evil ones have more respect for us, we have more respect for ourselves, and the world is in much better cosmic balance. 

The unintended consequences of ~not~ taking down those two dirtbag islamic states (that richly deserved it, and about which no-one is seriously complaining) would have probably been ~much~ worse. America and the West would have looked weak and scared, with freedom-fighters and civilization-lovers everywhere losing vast hope -- both in the current situation and in mankind in general.

Ultimately those two fairly easy, low-cost wars (and hopefully two or so ~more~) taught the West a great deal -- knowledge not obtainable any other way (certainly not via lame conservo-progressive theorizing). The fact that the Western liberal states today are VERY far from pure liberalism (as I define it) and ~hilariously~ inept at freedom-fighting is actually a trivial fairly point. We're learning about ~everything~ -- and the ~next~ time there's need for a war, we'll do much better. This includes a better post-victory plan, less looting, less toleration for insurection, quicker elections, less drug tyranny possibly, etc.

However ham-handed the Forces Of Good and freedom in the current "war on terrorism" the West and America -- on net balance -- have done fairly good. Our seemingly-hopeless, pathetic, moronic, sleezeball conservative and progressive friends in America and the West are ~learning~. Because of the war, Western liberalism is ~ascending~. 


(6 October 2004)


Columnist Zev Chafets has been a strong supporter of the war in Iraq, but in a recent NY Daily Newscolumn, 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.



Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 10/8/2004

I actually address just this issue in a new essay, "Fascism: Clarifying a Political Concept," but I'm having some difficulties posting to HNN... something having to do with the links. Trying to fix it... and hope to post soon.

David Bernstein - 10/8/2004

Much of the ideology of radical Islamic groups comes from the Muslim Brotherhood, which in turn developed its ideology under the influence of the "fascist" movements of the 1930s. So, while I originally objected to the term for reasons similar to Chris's, now that I know more about the Brotherhood, I think the term is largely apt.

mark safranski - 10/7/2004


Adding " theocratic" to " Islamofascism" would be redundant as Islam is a religion and simply saying "theocratic fascism" is generic, removing the Islamic context - though that term probably applies well enough to Iran, dominated as it is by the Expediency and Guardian councils, the Pasdaran and Ansar Hezbollah thugs. 

Fascist economies varied. 

Nazi Germany retained private property in theory but in addition to the state taking a leading role in planning ( for rearmament purposes)agricultural land could not be alienated for debt, strict currency and specie controls were enacted and Hjalmar Schacht's trade policies were based on barter agreements to preserve gold reserves and further the Nazi quest for autarky. And of course the property rights of Jews were violated systematically In Imperial Japan the zaibatsu were state were actually under relatively less overt government control than postwar Japanese kereitsu.

Gus diZerega - 10/7/2004

I really like Chris's post, but suggest an additional perspective. The Christian West was once a pretty poor place for the emergence of liberal, or even particularly decent, values. The 30 Years War was in part - large part - based on religious rivalries within the Christian community, and resulted in a vast and debilitating slaughter. 

It also helped turn a lot of people off to theocratic claims of superiority on the part of clerics. Toleration slowly arose not because of the Biblical reinterpretation, but because of mutual exhaustion. Reinterpretation came later. The Enlightenment's hostility to religious authority was also rooted in this conflict. Stephen Toulmin's Cosmopolis is an excellent study of this and other fascinating related issues.

My point in bringing this up is that even sacred scriptures can be interpretetd and reinterpreted in many different ways. Some interpretations make them safe for free societies, and these dominate today in the West (except for Fundamentalists). The same can happen with the Koran.

Iran is ruled by theocrats, and by all I have read, their corruption, arrogance, and ignorance is doing a good job inoculating many Iranians to the claims that religious leaders should rule. As they lose legitimacy they undermine their longevity in power. We do not know when, but as with the Soviets and the Christian West , loss of legitimacy leads in time to loss of power. At that point Iran will be amenable to liberal insights. Islam will be reinterpreted, as the Bible was.

I suspect 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.

From a Hayekian perspective, I am saying we should allow cultural learning, and then stay out of the way while the people of that culture work out their own response to their problems.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 10/7/2004

Yes, of course, there are Muslims who live in democracies and there are even a few democracies with predominantly Muslim populations, outside the Arab League, and you are right to note that we're talking about a specifically Arab civic culture. 

I do think, however, that there is something about the way in which Islam has been integrated with Arab culture that speaks to its current incarnations in the Middle East. In other words, in philosophical parlance, there is a kind of "internal relation" here between Islamic ideology and Arab cultural formations, wherein each is partially constituted by its relationship to the other. So, while authoritarian civic culture may not be inextricably intertwined with Islam, solely, its current incarnation does seem to be a function of the ways in which Islam and Arab cultural formations have coalesced in this particular historical moment and in this particular geopolitical context. 

I suspect, therefore, that there is influence coming from both sides of that equation.

And this is not unusual; certain ideological strands when transplanted to entirely different ethnic and geopolitical contexts are distinct in both their preconditions and effects. That is precisely why I believe the use of a word like "fascism" requires a lot more historical specificity, that is, a lot more attention paid to context.

Thanks for the comments, Jonathan!

Jonathan Dresner - 10/7/2004

As much as I appreciate your analysis, there's a shorter route to critiquing this argument. He is conflating "Arab" with "Islam", a very common but nonetheless profound error. There are Muslims who live in democracies, even Muslim-majority democracies. 

The civic culture he is talking about is Arab, but it is pre-Islamic in origin and not inextricably entwined with Islam, even in its more radical forms.



(8 October 2004)


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.


(10 October 2004)

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.

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