Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Invisible Civil War Within: Part VI

Justifying the Power to Determine Our Lives

At this point there shouldn't be much doubt that private groups of powerful people exist and their membership includes those in the top echelons of our American government and industries. The extent of their power can be debated, but those who wield derisive terms like "tin-foil hat wearer" etc. for those of us who acknowledge this reality are deluding themselves and have no right to their sense of self-superiority.

The question is, how do these people justify messing with anyone's lives but their own? What gives them the right? Let's take a look.

Using dialectics and the Hegelian dialectical philosophy to control people doesn't make much sense. That presumes Hegel was correct and that his philosophy is how reality works. If that is the case, we shouldn't be fighting it but capitalizing on it. Rather, philosophy is how the powerful justify their ability to exploit cultural norms, religious belief, and human nature to achieve their own ends. We would like to think that monsters of history like Hitler, Stalin, Hussein, and others sat there devising ways to hurt and kill people because they "are evil," but the truth is that they had a personal philosophy that they felt justified what they did as the good, right thing. Well, the same mechanism holds for the heroes of history as well as the 99.99% who were somewhere in the middle. They felt justified in wielding their power over others to achieve their ends based on their personal philosophy. Let's look at a couple of modern philosophies attributed to some of the groups we are looking at. In them, you can see the machinery of dialectics and Hegel taken to a new level.

Meet the Communitarians

I heard about Communitarian philosophy just a few weeks ago, but it seems to explain a few things to me. Let's start with a Wikipedia definition:

Communitarianism, as a group of related but distinct philosophies, began in the late 20th century, opposing individualism while advocating phenomena such as civil society. Not necessarily hostile to social liberalism or even social democracy, communitarianism emphasizes the interest of communities and societies over those of the individual.


Communitarianism is a term used in two senses (according to Wikipedia, underlining is mine):

Philosophical communitarianism considers classical liberalism to be ontologically and epistemologically incoherent, and opposes it on those grounds. Unlike classical liberalism, which construes communities as originating from the voluntary acts of pre-community individuals, it emphasizes the role of the community in defining and shaping individuals. Communitarians believe that the value of community is not sufficiently recognized in liberal theories of justice.

Ideological communitarianism is characterized as a radical centrist ideology that is sometimes marked by leftism on economic issues and conservatism on social issues. This usage was coined recently. When the term is capitalized, it usually refers to the Responsive Communitarian movement of Amitai Etzioni and other philosophers.


The first time I saw this term used was while reading an RSS feed at Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo website. An entry there by Amitai Etzioni called "A Communitarian in the White House?" pondered whether Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton could be considered Communitarians. It so happens that Etzioni, an Israeli-American sociologist, was a founder of the communitarian movement and established the Communitarian Network.

Lest you think this is a left-wing or liberal phenomenon, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote an article in 2001 on President George W Bush and his communitarian credentials called "Needed: Catchword For Bush Ideology; 'Communitarianism' Finds Favor."

Notice how individualism as enumerated in our Bill of Rights is relegated to a second tier behind so-called community rights. This could be the "synthesis" or 3rd way contrived from the Hegelian tension between conservatism or liberalism, but it could also be the method chosen by those on the power track in this country to rule us. A philosophy such as communitarianism is a justification that the community, or America in the case of Presidents, has precedence over the desires of its individuals (no pun intended). Presidents are in charge of the country; they become the mind of the community. If they are members of the Bilderberg group, Trilaterals, or less infamous groups such as Chamber of Commerce, defense contractors, or oil companies, all of a sudden one or more of these groups have a power "We, the People" didn't necessarily grant them. Instead of serving the people who elected them, the groups are now served not just by Presidents but by anyone who has power over others in government or business.

The Straussians

From Wikipedia (is there anyone they can't do?):

Leo Strauss (September 20, 1899 – October 18, 1973), was a German-born Jewish-American political philosopher who specialized in the study of classical political philosophy. He spent most of his career as a Political Science Professor at the University of Chicago, where he taught several generations of devoted students and published fifteen books. Since his death, he has come to be regarded as one of the intellectual fathers of neoconservatism in the United States.


Strauss derives his philosophical thought from the breadth of Western philosophy all the way to the 20th century. There are a couple of salient Wikipedia quotes worth looking at here:

For Strauss, politics and philosophy were necessarily intertwined at their roots. He regarded the trial and death of Socrates as the moment in which political philosophy (as understood by Strauss) came to light. Until Socrates' life and death in Athens, philosophers were relatively free to pursue the study of nature and politics.

...

Strauss considered one of the most important moments in the history of philosophy to be the argument by Socrates and his students that philosophers or scientists could not study nature without considering their own human nature, which, in the famous phrase of Aristotle, is "political."

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Ultimately, Strauss believed that philosophers offered both an "exoteric" or salutary teaching and an "esoteric" or true teaching, which was concealed from the general reader.

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While modern liberalism had stressed the pursuit of individual liberty as its highest goal, Strauss felt that there should be a greater interest in the problem of human excellence and political virtue. Through his writings, Strauss constantly raised the question of how, and to what extent, freedom and excellence can coexist. Without deciding this issue, Strauss refused to make do with any simplistic or one-sided resolutions of the Socratic question: What is the good for the city and man?

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Strauss noted that thinkers of the first rank, going back to Plato, had raised the problem of whether good and effective politicians could be completely truthful and still achieve the necessary ends of their society. By implication, Strauss asks his readers to consider whether it is true that noble lies have no role at all to play in uniting and guiding the polis. Are myths needed to give people meaning and purpose and to ensure a stable society?

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Critics of Strauss accuse him of mendacious populism (while actually being elitist), radical illiberalism and anti-democratic sentiment. Shadia Drury, in Leo Strauss and the American Right (1999), argues that Strauss taught different things to different students and inculcated an elitist strain in American political leaders that is linked to imperialist militarism and Christian fundamentalism.


Students and adherents of Strauss pepper the Bush administration's highest posts, most notably Paul Wolfowitz and Abram Shulsky. The People for a New American Century paper I quoted from earlier can be considered the "esoteric" goals of this projection of power "for our own good." The fear mongering and lying about Iraq to tie it to Saudi Arabian radical religious groups is the "exoteric" line we were fed. Cheney's esoteric "shadow government" and the rise of the Unitary Executive seem to fit into the Strauss way of justifying the Noble Cause over the nihilistic, value-free masses.

As with Communitarianism, we see another instance of powerful people using a communal organ along with a philosophical doctrine to justify exerting an ungranted influence over a population.

The real problem here is not so much that people have power over us, but that the power is used for ends that are only intended to benefit a few people instead of all who live here. To illustrate, let's say global warming disasters are going to radically undermine the quality of life of my children and grandchildren, I grant the government the ability to carefully change the nature of our lives to reduce its future effects. It comes down to a matter of trust. I can grant them that power, but will the power yield consequences that are unacceptable such as over-the-top penalties for minor or accidental violations or transportation curfews? Or will it be more like the Apollo space project where individuals, businesses, and government worked together to successfully achieve a goal?

Individuals and groups within our government have betrayed us in the past. Our government has lied to us in the past. We also depend on our government and trust them for accurate census information, geological and environmental information that helps decide when and where to build things. When we take a trip, we expect the aircraft to function, the road to be in good shape, etc. We take them as matter of course.

If we truly can't trust our government at all, we are as extinct as the Soviet Union. Also, if we let our political rifts determine our future, we run the risks of letting our infighting make our decisions for us. If we do that, we will lose our economic and social power as a nation to someone who is not as stupid as we are.

In the next section, I will look into why I even bother to write about any of this.

14 comments:

Dean Wormer said...

I would mention again that I think Straussian thinking is ultimately self-defeating in that the proletariat cannot be held down for long by the upper classes. Only a growing/ thriving middle class would fill that role.

continually good reading here snab!

The Moody Minstrel said...

Then again, Dean, if you talk to people who grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution (Why does China keep entering this discussion?) they'll tell you that life was hard, and they were subjected to brutal oppression, but they were still happy and trusted their leaders because they'd come to believe there was no better way to live.

If a large enough percentage of the proletariat believes the government is acting in their best interest (as we've seen recently in the U.S.), they'll not only swallow whatever said government dishes out while summarily dismissing any opposing arguments but will also rush to the government's aid if anyone challenges it. That's why, historically, ambitious political extremists have tended to have some sort of "demon" to use to frighten the population into rallying to their cause. In this regard, we've seen Straussian political thinking throughout history.

Dave said...

Conservatism as it was known with Ronald Reagan is slipping into the past. Note the rise of John McCain as the republican nominee.

It is an indicator that the nation of the UNited States is slowly moving towards the left.

Many reasons for it. One, liberal media bias. Two, the war is unpopular. Three, lack of education in public schools. Four, an overall level of ignorance about politics and geography.

You can call it the dumbing down of America. One might ask, if conservatism is as popular as it is, why is it only popular in alternative media such as World Net Daily? Why do we not have a large conservative media?

Is it because the media is under the control of corrupting influences?

Yes, I think that is the problem all along. Those who seek money and power and control will manipulate public opinion. It is a war of words. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

On the other hand, look at what happened when congress tried to pass imigration reform. Despite the media, there was a major uprising as people became aware of the issue.

So, if an issue is serious enough, people will act. Otherwise, it is laise fair.

Don Snabulus said...

DW,

True. In the larger sense, I think you are right about the class war essentially being unnecessary with a healthy middle class.

In the short-term sense though, as we saw during prior to the Iraq war, sadly, the damage by Straussian adherents was already done by the time enough people wised up. I prefer the terms "working class" or "economically vulnerable" to "proletariat" but I see what you mean.

MM,

China has an Aristotelian Monolectic. Do what you are told and don't complain or you will be sanctioned or imprisoned. A is A.

I agree that one needn't need to be a Straussian in order to bamboozle people while working against their interests as history shows that such behavior predates Strauss by millennia.

Dave,

Not trying to be rude, but your thread hijacking for topics that have little or nothing to do with my blog posts is getting a bit old. Eugenics and liberal media bias have no direct relation to what I am talking about and very little indirect relation if any.

Let's all please try to stay on topic.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Would you prefer I hold my tongue in response to that comment that only the undereducated and stupid don't support right-wing politics?

Okay, I won't say a word. I guess there's not much point.

I'd have to disagree with your view on China, at least to an extent. The reason the Cultural Revolution happened in the first place was that Chairman Mao and his closest followers were concerned local officials had strayed too far off his ideal path and were exercising too much power on their own. That's why ideologically extreme youth groups were formed and mobilized to police the country, kind of like what we're now seeing in Russia under Putin only on a much grander scale. The result was a disaster that China is not eager to repeat. Of course, now that China is driven by market forces and free enterprise things have gone very far in the other direction...one might say too far as accountability among local leaders has become suspect.

Then again, accountability of any kind in (supposedly) communist countries has never been as extensive as you might think. Consider the case of a Japanese surgeon who went to work at a hospital in Vietnam recently. The Vietnamese doctors and nurses assisting him in surgery suddenly walked out of the operating room in the middle of an operation. When he demanded an explanation, they informed him flatly that it was lunchtime, and they didn't work during lunchtime. In fact, they pretty much only worked when they felt like it, and didn't when they didn't, even if someone's life was at stake. Political activity or public expression that runs counter to the party line will land you in jail in Vietnam (Cambodia, Laos, etc.), but being criminally negligent at your profession is more or less considered a basic right.

Hardly a brainwashed utopia...

(Many apologies if you feel that this is threadjacking.)

As far as Straussian thinking, though, as you said, it is nothing new. I think it has existed as long as people have formed into communities that had leaders.

Don Snabulus said...

MM,

Perhaps I need to clear up a misunderstanding. My writing about Western philosophy is in regards to the power structure within the United States of America and whether private entities hold an ungranted power of the public citizenry here in this country.

I don't deny that the Chinese or Russian system is different than ours and that it does not operate from the same premises as ours; similarities to Western dialectics, rhetoric, and even sophistry notwithstanding. I am also sure that your understanding of the conjunction between Eastern and Western thought and culture far exceeds mine.

However, the ONLY reason China was even brought up is because of Dave's totally left field comment on eugenics proceeded into how China had nothing to do with eugenics.

I am happy you were able to steer the Chinese issue back to towards Straussian thought and your posts on this thread have at least tried to compare and contrast the difference. Believe me, I appreciate that.

However, I've gotten complaints from more than one person that my comments have so little to do with my posts that people don't want to comment themselves.

I really don't know what to do when Dave goes off into left field and you try to set the record straight and all my other readers just decide to move on.

I don't want my current commenters to all leave, but I would like to invite a little diversity from my group of readers who lie outside the standard right-left spectrum.

I will also concede that I've been sometimes aggressive in my own defense based on some rude and nasty trolling that I was subject to in the earlier days of my blogging, but I've mellowed significantly in recent years and I believe my posts and responses reflect that fact.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Points taken. Sorry if I've inadvertently contributed to the problem.

I guess I'll refrain from trying to set irrelevant records straight. It would be easier if Dave were some unknown troll we could simply ignore instead of someone we know well and respect. Of course, it would be even better if he would participate in the discussion at hand instead of jumping on his own soapbox.

I guess we're dealing with a sort of "Which came first, the chicken or the egg" debate, except that the chicken is the individual and the egg is society, or vice versa.

Dean Wormer said...

I'm going tos skip what came after and jump right to Moody-

Yeah, I guess I'm focusing on U.S. politics in my comments even though I dropped the term "proletariat" into the discussion.

I guess what I was trying to do was put another variation of my FDR saved capitalism meme. It was a very U.S. politics-centric argument.

I'm effectively arguing that the New Deal kept the United States from falling into a Soviet or Chinese style socialist dystopia.

We could argue what a growing/ thriving middle class means under that argument (focusing on the what are truly material needs) but I would say that even in this time of almost total information monopoly the middle class can only be squeezed so much before they will react.

As for the Chinese system of governance I can only say that I do think that totalatarian states collapse on their own. Sometimes it takes hundreds of years but it's an inevitable as old age.

Dave said...

Don, I believe you mentioned the Strauss was a NeoConservative. That makes my comment relevant. Likewise, eugenics is relevent to the Bildebergs and so on. I don't waste my time venting my feelings about your blog because I wish to be irrelevent.

ladybug said...

Ok, this is my take on this whole rig-a-ma-role...

Communtarians in action seem to behave much like a tribe...whatever is best for the "group" must be the best good for all. However, it's important to note history has become more "civil" the more that individual rights are respected/brought to the fore. Case in point, many Quakers, Amish, and others were imprisoned, and tortured for refusing to join up in WWI. Due to their efforts, one can now be an "concientious objector" and refuse to participate in a draft/war.

On a more mundane level, marketing groups attempt to encourage modern "tribalism" through branding ads for products like Saturns, Apple Ipods, even Starbucks.

As to the Straussians...they have it backwards; Myths are created by people's meaning and understanding of life. It's the Straussians (and politicans from all walks of history) who make underhanded use of their innate human appeal. “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” Seneca

This quote also alludes to the obvious use of propaganda in the name of the state-the Nazi party "Volk" campaign being one of the most famous...which has curious parallels to the xian-right's "family" focus agit-prop (couched in "culture war" language in which individual rights are in opposition to, rather than supporting families).

However in the final analysis, the most important determination of one's life is one's own daily actions-hopefully informed by a healthy mixture of regard for self, friends/family and
community.

Don Snabulus said...

Thanks to all for getting back on track.

MM,

I appreciate that comment. Now I am off to hear your tunes!

DW,

Interesting comments. As it regards China, they seem adept at playing the game of easing the totalitarian thing on the local level (as Moody mentioned) to make the overall national organ more elastic to the traditional vulnerabilities of totalitarian states. It doesn't help that the USA serves as their economic whipping boy and abets their ability to sustain their form of government.

LB,

Your Seneca comment from the Roman days harkens back to Moody's comments about the exploitation of people's beliefs which far predates the Straussian mechanisms.

Dave,

eugenics is relevent to the Bildebergs and so on

Maybe it is. But how would the rest of us know about that without ESP and what relevance does that have to the current post as it stands? It seems like you are using the comments as a substitute blog for your own ideas.

Why not just create another blog and I promise I will be among the first to link to it? That way you can expound on your opinions in your own way and my visitors can hone in on the actual text that I write about.

Swinebread said...

Communitarians seem to me to be the real polar opposite of Libertarians whether either group is liberal or conservative in bent.

The needs of the one will be met by preserving the rights of the many.

Or the needs of the many will me meet by preserving the rights of the one.

Libertarians are more in line with the constitution while Communitarians adhere to a newer philosophy that supersedes the Constitution. But both are harmful if taken to their extreme in the modern world

The Moody Minstrel said...

This discussion is definitely becoming more interesting.

I definitely agree with Dean as far as FDR's New Deal preventing leftism from taking hold in the U.S.. That's why I've always argued for a "minimum standard of living" (i.e. a safety net) as opposed to either totally free capitalism or bona fide socialism. I'd also have to say he's right as far as the common people not putting up with exploitation by an elite for long, as the recent cases in South America show all too clearly.

Swinebread's comment about how communitarianism and libertarianism relate to the Constitution really makes me wonder about where our traditional parties have always stood on that issue...not to mention whether they have had any real respect for the Constitution.

My father, a die-hard conservative Republican, once said to me, "Society sets the standards, and it's the responsibility of each and every one of us to conform to those standards! If we don't, we have no business even trying to live as part of society!" He said this to defend his view that chronic non-conformists such as punk rockers or goths should be banned from neighborhoods if not preemptively arrested and subjected to psychiatric treatment.

My retort of, "Gee, whatever happened to liberty and justice for all," got no response.

Swinebread said...

Standards always the problem because whose standards are we to adhere to?