Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Waffle Waffle.. Marx Chomsky the Greeks Lafontaine

The writer here wants to show off his education, but
it is difficult to get the point.

A mediocre read, but what the hell..

Who.s left? What.s right?

Wednesday, 05 August 2009 12:49

It goes back to the French revolution of
1789. At the Revolutionary Convention the
most radical of the insurgents decided to
seat themselves on the left side.

"Why not on the other side, the right side,
the place of rectitude, where law and the
higher right resided, when man.s best hand
could be raised in righteous honour?" wrote
Melvin Lasky in Encounter. "Anyway they went
left, and man.s political passions have never
been the same."

When Oskar Lafontaine, the
West German finance minister, broke with
Chancellor Gerhard Schroder in the early days
of the last Social Democratic government, he
explained it was "because my heart beats on
the left." The right could never say that,
even David Cameron. When Humpty-Dumpty
insisted on his own "master-meanings" he
reassured Alice, "When I make a word do a lot
of work like that, I always pay it
extra......." British Leftists sometimes
stretch their minds to work out if Prospect
is left or right. I tell them that it is hard
to tell most of the time which is how an
intellectual magazine should be. They
shouldn.t be asking the question. Perhaps if
they want to study the ambiguities and
contradictions of intellectual leftists they
should be informed that once upon a time- a
hundred and sixty years ago - there was a
writer, a philosopher, who spent most of his
time in the British Museum and who moved his
family from Soho to Primrose Hill. He wanted
his maturing daughters to have the chance of
meeting a better class of men. His wife too
was pleased because she could now invite
ladies to tea. A suitor of one his daughters
was given the door as he seemed unstable with
his revolutionary opinions. He wrote soon
after that he thought the "historical"
process had already started to undermine
"bourgeois society". One of the most
important disciples of the above lived in
1916 as an émigré in Zurich. According to
acquaintances he lived an exemplary bourgeois
life. Each morning he would clean his room in
the fastidious Swiss way. In the evening, his
writing finished, he refused to listen to
classical music, which he enjoyed, because it
might excite his emotions. He would complain
about the noisy behaviour of fellow émigrés
who lived down the hall, especially one who
constantly smoked and spent much of his time
going to the cinema, which our bourgeois
character refused to do. In fact friends
called them the cineastes and the
non-cineastes, and some of the sly among them
sometimes translated this as the Semites and
anti-Semites. Our three characters were all
ardent leftists, the first Karl Marx, the
second V.I. Lenin and the third Julius Martov
(the Menshevik leader). Are political views,
whether left or right, influenced by
different personality constellations? Marx
and Lenin were natural authoritarians. Martov
(and we could have added Frederick Engels)
were not. So this effort at political
classification doesn.t work. Who.s left?
Who.s right? Mao tse Tung thought he had
solved the problem by unmasking in the
Communist Party what he called
"capitalist-roaders". They were people like
fellow Long Marchers and apparent backbones
of the party - Liu Shao Chi, the head of
state, Lin Pao, the minister of defence, Deng
Xiaoping, at that time a convinced Marxist,
but later a capitalist convert who became the
supreme boss of China, and the Shanghai Four
How does one describe the political leanings
of Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of
India or his predecessor Mrs India Gandhi, or
the former president of Pakistan, Pervez
Musharraf or President Umaru Yar.Adua of
Nigeria or Mohammed Ghaddafi, president of
Libya? Or, reaching backwards a couple of
decades, southern Democrats in the U.S.
Senate, Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt, Mrs Sirimavo
Bandaranaike, prime minister of Sri Lanka
(the first female prime minister to be
elected in the world) or, come to that,
Charles de Gaulle. Maybe we can even add
Nicolas Sarkozy who often steals the clothes
of the left and recently called himself a
socialist, and Barack Obama, who is left in
his books and a sometimes confusing and
ambiguous mixture of left and right as
president. Thinkers can also have their
problems of identity. As Daniel Bell once
pointed out, Noam Chomsky has been hoisted by
the Marxist petard. "Some years ago he was
accused by a Canadian Maoist revolutionary
periodical of being an "agent of American
imperialism". It stood to reason. Chomsky.s
theories that language capacities are innate,
and that mankind generates rules through the
properties of mind, were characterised, quite
correctly, as philosophical idealism. As
every Marxist knows, idealism is the
reactionary philosophy of the bourgeoisie, as
opposed to revolutionary materialism. More
than that Chomsky had mentioned, in the
publication of his early work, that his
research had been financed by the Office of
Naval Research. Why should the American
military finance such research if it did not
realize that idealistic philosophy would
serve to confuse the masses?" Who.s left?
What.s right?

The confused situation in Honduras where an
elected president, Manuel Belaya, has been
shown the door by the army and the supreme
court is not so easy to solve

- as the Western and the Latin American
countries seem to think with their shout:
"Obey the rules of democracy!" To many, not
of the West.s persuasion, it seems that the
West once again is being holier than thou.
Anyway, is democracy such an intrinsic wonder
or sacred belief? "Democracy", wrote
historian Norman Davies, in his monumental
study "Europe", "has few values of its own:
it is as good or bad as the principles of the
people who operate it. In the hands of
liberal and tolerant people, it will produce
a liberal and tolerant government; in the
hands of cannibals, a government of
cannibals. In Germany in 1933-4 it produced a
Nazi government because the prevailing
culture of Germany.s voters did not give
priority to the exclusion of gangsters." The
Nazis in three out of the five elections they
contested increased both their popular vote
and their election of deputies. In time they
became the largest party in the Reichstag.
Despite the party.s street violence and
murders of opponents the chancellor, Franz
von Papen, decided to make Hitler chancellor
and himself his deputy. Two years later
Hitler called a plebiscite to approve his
elevation to the new position of Fuhrer and
Reich Chancellor. He gained 90% of the vote.
Maybe Berthold Brecht was right. We have to
change the people. Democracy was a Greek
idea. It did not last even there and it was
forgotten for two thousand years. Some of the
thinkers of the Enlightement resurrected the
idea, blending their classical knowledge with
a romantised idea of ancient Athens. Not all
of them were so taken by these new thoughts.
De Tocqueville wrote about "the tyranny of
the majority". Edmund Burke called the
democracy of the French Revolution, "the most
shameless thing in the world". Democracy
returned to the world stage during the
struggle for American independence and the
founding of the American republic, although
at first the Greek idea was anathema to its
leaders. Next it appeared in France, born
amid the struggles of the French Revolution
and its turbulent aftermath. At the end of
the Second World War, there were only six
practising democracies in the whole world.
Before the war democracy was never the norm
and only became more widespread in Europe
because of the resurgence of liberal values
that tried to make sense out of the carnage
of two horrific world wars, and because of
the creation of the precursor of the European
Union. Later, in the 1960s, there was the
birth of the human rights movement, led by
the founding of Amnesty International, now
one of the world.s most influential lobbies.
The presidency of Jimmy Carter pushed the
idea of democracy to the fore, especially in
Latin America and Africa. Modern day
democracy is in many ways a poor shadow of
the Greeks.. The Greeks made everyone equal
before the law and enacted a meritocracy. As
Pericles, Greece.s greatest orator, said,
democracy is also about taste, responsiveness
to beauty, sobriety of judgement and respect
for wisdom, discretion and generosity. The
Greeks. code of ethics, as the philosopher
Bernard Williams has argued, was enforced not
by the sense of sin but of shame, and often
shame at not living up to these high values.
Plato, who didn.t approve of democracy.s
commitment to the transfer of wealth from the
rich to the poor, strongly disapproved of
democracy. He believed that in the best form
of government philosophers would rule. In
newly liberated America democracy had its
detractors too. The most influential was
James Madison who believed that America was
too big for effective democracy. Over the
centuries, democracy has continued on its
onward path giving America a strong sense of
self-esteem. But in France the early ideas
on democracy - supported strongly by
Robespierre - ended with the dictatorship of
Napoleon and before too long the restoration
of the dynastic monarchy. Only later did
democracy slowly emerge in practice. Today,
there are many examples of the weaknesses of
democracy. In Asia, Africa, Latin America and
Russia where democracy has advanced in recent
years, there are side by side in the same
country horrific abuses of human rights and
widespread corruption. In the U.S. of
President George W. Bush Jr. torture was
carried out in secret and even now President
Barack Obama prevaricates about bringing its
initiators to justice. Recently in Britain a
good part of the legislators has been shown
to have been corrupted by over-claiming on
expenses. How the U.S. and Britain can
believe they can persuade the non-democratic
world to be more democratic sometimes beggars
belief. No one who has studied the course of
democracy can dare claim it is here to stay.
Like in France not very long ago, in a time
of a crisis yet to be faced by most of the
democracies, a Charles de Gaulle figure,
wise, just and incorruptible, may take power
in his own hands, and the people will welcome
it. If we want democracy to continue we will
have to fight for its integrity - we always
have to remember Churchill.s argument that
democracy is the worst system, apart from all
the others.

Read it for yourself, and don.t dismiss it,
as most western commentators have.

The Pan-European Security Treaty, proposed by
Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, is worth
a read. Doubtless it can be modified,
improved and ambiguities removed. But it
makes a lot of sense, and it would be another
step forwards to what the last Soviet
president, Mikhail Gorbachev, urged - the
creation of a "European house", that contains
Russia as one of its inhabitants. Only those
"with one foot in the Cold War", to quote
President Barack Obama on the eve of his
recent visit to Moscow, should find it
objectionable. Indeed, play down Bolshevism
and the Cold War - a period of only 70 years
in Russia.s long history - it is a thousand
years since Prince Vladimir, its ruler,
accepted Orthodox Christianity for himself
and for his people. The moment Communism, the
Cold War and its entire works were over it
quickly revived. It is 500 years since
Byzantium Orthodoxy handed over the torch of
the Church.s leadership to Russia. When
Constantine in AD 326 moved the throne of the
Roman emperor to Constantinople and took his
newly adopted Church with him the city became
the headquarters of the Christian faith and
its patriarch. When it was overrun by the
Ottomans in 1453 the only place for both the
spirit and the headquarters of the Church to
move to was Orthodox Russia and the Slavic
lands. The "legitimate Church" was now the
heritage of Russia. 1453 was also the end of
the Roman Empire. The consequences for Europe
have been immense. The cushion of Orthodoxy
in Russia saved Europe from the full impact
of the eastern nomads and of Islam. A Muslim
Russia would have meant a very different
history for the West. In 1767, the Empress
Catherine categorically stated that "Russia
is a European state". In his ambitious study
of Europe, Norman Davies wrote that "Fears of
the .Bear. did not prevent the growth of a
general consensus regarding Russia.s
membership of Europe. This was greatly
strengthened in the nineteenth century by
Russia.s role in the defeat of Napoleon, and
by the magnificent flowering of Russian
culture in the age of Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky
and Chekov." Indeed it is clear that when it
comes to the proficiency in all the arts
Russia has no peer in Europe. Even in the
worst of times under Soviet totalitarian rule
many individual Russians, not only Gorbachev,
in their heart wanted a European identity-
not difficult to believe among those who were
conscious of the natural links of their
country.s artistic talents and their
(repressed) Church . When the communist
dictatorship ended it enabled Russians and
many of the other peoples of the ex Soviet
Union to greet, in Vaclav Havel.s phrase, the
"Return to Europe". When two years ago I
interviewed Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Russian
scholar, former National Security advisor and
now an unofficial adviser to Hillary Clinton,
the U.S. Secretary of State, he told me that
"I have given speeches about a Europe that
extends from Portugal on the Atlantic to
Vladivostok on the Pacific". But he also
added the important caveat, "But when that
will happen I don.t know. However, I do know
if Ukraine doesn.t move to the West, is
prevented from moving, or is excluded from
the West, Russia.s involvement with the West
will be much more delayed." I would add to
that point if President Bill Clinton hadn.t
pushed through the expansion of NATO and if
President George W. Bush junior hadn.t
continued the process by breaking a solemn
American promise made to Gorbachev not to
install NATO military infrastructure in
eastern Europe Moscow would not be so
unnerved by Europe and America.s courting of
Ukraine. Ukraine would be permitted to enter
the EU without much of a serious fuss and
Russia itself would have been a big step
nearer being considered for entry itself. At
the moment the question of Russia as part of
Europe is off the agenda. The issues
discussed at the recent Moscow summit are the
short term ones- nuclear disarmament,
Afghanistan, Iran and Georgia, although we do
not know what Obama discussed with Medvedev
and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in private.
But one not too far off day it must be.
Brzezinski is prepared to say that in 20
years. time Russia might be considered for EU
membership. There is much to put right before
then, not just on the Western side but on
Russia.s too. Nevertheless, Russia wants a
peaceful and productive relationship with
Europe and the U.S.. That is why we must read
and work on Medvedev.s Pan-European Security
Treaty. It is a good place to start if one
concludes, as I do, that one day Russia must
be part of the European Union.

by Jonathan Power

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posted by u2r2h at 7:11 AM

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