Recent Items

Obama’s SOTU, authoritarian followership, and civil society: Part II

Posted on by

lambert strether is an old school blogger from Corrente.

Last week in Part I of this piece, I argued that Obama’s recent State of The Union speech endorsed a particular model of military organization named the “warrior ethos” by its DOD developers, and that this ethos and American soldier’s oath of enlistment (10 U.S.C. § 502) were in contradiction. That is, one can treat the “mission” and the “team” as primary, or the Constitution and the UCMJ as primary, but not both. Ethos is one thing; the rule of law another, and in the SOTU Obama, by focusing exclusively on the first, rejected the second — and not merely for the military, but for civil society also, since the SOTU posits that the warrior ethos should apply to all citizens, not only soldiers.

Obama’s rejection of the rule of law should surprise nobody who has been following his administration’s failure to prosecute bank executives for accounting control fraud, his abolition of due process when assassinating U.S. citizens, or his vote, while still a candidate, to grant retroactive immunity to the telcos for felonies committed during the program of warrantless surveillance initiated by the Bush administration.

Thus with this post I find myself in much the same position that Stoller did when he trangressed the unwritten law by pointing out that He Who Shall Not Be Legitimized By Naming Him, unlike any other legacy party candidate in the race, “staunchly opposed” the empire, causing a collective intracranial splatterfest among “liberal” Obama apologists. Strange bedfellows! Indeed, Jonah Goldberg, proving definitively the proposition that even a blind pig finds a truffle every so often, seems to have gotten it more right than wrong with “liberal fascism”, assuming that by this point — and why would we not? — that the only thing that distinguishes “liberals” from any other tribe in DC is that big O they wear on their jerseys while shaking their team pom poms. (Both Will and Goldberg, who have contrasting jerseys and pom poms, veer off into blaming Obama. However, here, as elsewhere, the continuities between this administration and its predecessor are far greater than the differences.)

What would civil society look like if it didn’t have the unit cohesion that Obama advocates? Well, it might look much like it once did. De Toqueville, Democracy in America:

It is not impossible to conceive the surpassing liberty which the Americans enjoy; some idea may likewise be formed of the extreme equality which subsists amongst them, but the political activity which pervades the United States must be seen in order to be understood. No sooner do you set foot upon the American soil than you are stunned by a kind of tumult; a confused clamor is heard on every side; and a thousand simultaneous voices demand the immediate satisfaction of their social wants. Everything is in motion around you; here, the people of one quarter of a town are met to decide upon the building of a church; there, the election of a representative is going on; a little further the delegates of a district are posting to the town in order to consult upon some local improvements; or in another place the laborers of a village quit their ploughs to deliberate upon the project of a road or a public school. Meetings are called for the sole purpose of declaring their disapprobation of the line of conduct pursued by the Government; whilst in other assemblies the citizens salute the authorities of the day as the fathers of their country. Societies are formed which regard drunkenness as the principal cause of the evils under which the State labors, and which solemnly bind themselves to give a constant example of temperance.

(Fascinatingly, De Tocqueville’s final example prefigures not only the temperance movement but AA, the paradigmatic American example of successful horizontal scaling on a continental scale.) It is perhaps needless to say that this picture of how citizens act is diametrically opposed to Obama’s: De Tocqueville shows Americans acting from the bottom up; but “the mission” is top down, not merely because the concept is informed by the command and control structures of the military, but by definition: See Joint Publication 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms [PDF], for the definition: “… a duty assigned.” The mission is top down, imposed by a higher authority; Obama, at least visibly, being the highest. “Meeting,” “deciding,” and “electing,” let alone “forming societies” are completely antithetical to the mission-based system of command and control that Obama advocates. Whoever heard of any army where any soldier could decide what the mission was, and try to persuade others to follow them? De Tocqueville’s “thousand simultaneous voices” would drive the officers nuts! (I should say that there are other concepts of citizenship besides the two opposed here, and that Occupy is exploring some of them.)

Why would Obama adopt such an anti-democratic concept of citizenship? We can’t know, but it would be irresponsible not to speculate. Sure, “Kings. What a good idea!” but perhaps Obama’s thinking was more pragmatic: Do what has worked in the past. After all, the training at the Camp Obamas in 2008, despite or perhaps because of its kinship to religiosity and celebrity worship, shared characteristics with military training processes designed to encourage unit cohesion, and especially their greatest danger: In the absence of the rule of law and regulations — the analogy in the political world would be concrete policy proposals and accountability (“No one thought about politics,” SOTU) — “the mission” becomes whatever the “team leader” defines as the mission; for example, His election. “He looked at me, and the look in his eyes was worth 1,000 words” (see also). Bug? Or feature? (Occupy, with its hitherto resolute rejection of leaders — or, more precisely, its encouragement of “leaderfulness” — has been encouraging in this regard.)

Anyhow, speculation! I’m not making the claim that Obama For America was in any sense militarized. What I am claiming is that OFA and Obama’s militarized vision of civil society-as-unit share a common characteristic: They encourage authoritarian followership. (The concept of authoritarian followership was developed and refined by Canadian psychologist Robert Altemeyer with statistical studies based on a questionaire he devised. Here is a review of his methodology [PDF]. Here is a dissenting view which, at our 30,000 foot view, amounts to the same result with different sourcing. This post is not an exhaustive treatment of the subject; for that, read Altemeyer or, to see it in action, Dean.) Ironically, “liberals” like John Dean in Conservatives Without Conscience have characterized authoritarian followership as a “right wing” phenomenon, but with Obama’s SOTU we see that it’s thoroughly bipartisan! Read this impressionistic portrait from Altemeyer and you’ll see how closely Obama’s militarized vision of civil society speaks to the authorarian follower. Quotes from SOTU in brackets:

Authoritarian followers want to belong ["On it are each of their names"], and being part of their in-group ["you rise or fall as one unit"] means a lot to them ["These achievements are a testament"]. Loyalty to that group ranks among the highest virtues, and members of the group who question its leaders or beliefs can quickly be seen as traitors. Can you also sense from these items the energy, the commitment, the submission, and the zeal — “He looked at me…” supra — that authoritarian followers are ready to give to their in-groups, and the satisfaction ["they exceed all expectations"] they would get from being a part of a vast, powerful movement in which everyone thought the same way? ["All that mattered that day was the mission."]

I think that Godwin would prefer that I stop now; I’ll leave you with Matt Taibbi’s invocation of what a civil society should and could be:

now, I get it. People want to go someplace for at least five minutes where no one is trying to bleed you or sell you something. It may not be a real model for anything, but it’s at least a place where people are free to dream of some other way for human beings to get along, beyond auctioned “democracy,” tyrannical commerce and the bottom line.

We’re a nation that was built on a thousand different utopian ideas [like de Tocqueville's "thousand simultaneous voices"], from the Shakers to the Mormons to New Harmony, Indiana. It was possible, once, for communities to experiment with everything from free love to an end to private property. But nowadays even the palest federalism is swiftly crushed. ….

People want out of this fiendish system, rigged to inexorably circumvent every hope we have for a more balanced world. They want major changes. I think I understand now that this is what the Occupy movement is all about. It’s about dropping out, if only for a moment, and trying something new, the same way that the civil rights movement of the 1960s strived to create a “beloved community” free of racial segregation.

Which vision is closer to Taibbi’s? Obama’s? Or De Tocqueville’s? What is your vision?

NOTE FWIW, and I’m not a theorist, I don’t see Occupations as abolishing the rule of law (though others will certainly differ) but rather fulfilling it. You can’t organize a kitchen or a library with the political equivalent of Brownian motion or reflexive reaction. But you can, as it were, open-source the law and make it a good deal more amenable to the needs of people on the ground, and that provide concrete material benefits. These experiments are especially important, even humane, when the law is brittle, and the nature of the State is in flux.

Print Friendly
Twitter8DiggReddit0StumbleUpon0Facebook15LinkedIn0Google+0bufferEmail

105 comments

  1. jsmith

    In keeping with Lambert’s theme:

    You all are going to just LOVE this military surveillance apparatus that has been constructed throughout Manhattan.

    It appears that not only did NYC take $150 million from the taxpayers and build this system without any import from the citizens but…wait for it…the NYPD deputized the largest Walll Street firms as collaborators.

    That’s right, at the not so secret surveillance center in the heart of Manhattan the likes of JPM and Goldman Sachs have access to all of the surveillance data with reserved seats for their “security” personnel.

    See link for full disgusting story:

    http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/02/06/wall-streets-secret-spy-center-run-for-the-1-by-nypd/

      1. jsmith

        The reason I posted the link was because it clearly shows what the alternatives are to not accepting Obama’s and the elite’s vision for the society they envision:

        One in which rampantly lawless corporations fully cooperate with rampantly lawless law enforcement officials and – with the passage of the most recent NDAA – with a rampantly lawless military to control all of society.

        Obama’s SOTU was the carrot, trying to romanticize either becoming a paid contract killer for the elite or a fawning admirer of said paid killers.

        If one doesn’t go along with the “program”, we now see to what extents the elite will go.

        Not content with stealing trillions of dollars from the average American citizen, the elite will now openly employ the criminal organizations to suppress any righteous dissent.

        Really wasn’t trying to hijack your thread but I read this article right before I came to NC and feel that it’s appropriate and pertinent to what you are saying.

  2. ronbon

    As with most of the gutless whores who call themselves “politicians”, Obama has NEVER actually served his country.

    Come to think of it, military service (or a peaceful alternative) should be a prime requisite for election to public office.

    Some of my proudest moments were as a U.S. Navy veteran in WWII.

    1. dLambert Strether Post author

      As I’ve said many times, I resist the trope that equates politicians and whores. It’s insulting to whores.

      UPDATE Also, you write “Some of my proudest moments were as a U.S. Navy veteran in WWII.” I’m not saying that’s wrong at all. What I am saying is that the military is not the proper model for civil society as a whole. There are societies that have gone down that road, and the story ends badly.

      1. JamesW

        I thoroughly agree with your sentiment, dLambert Strether, and while I don’t disagree with anything stated in this blog post, my personal opinion on President Obama’s SOTU was that he sounded as if he was channeling Chevey Chase in that movie where he played the arms dealer:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deal_of_the_Century

        Obama sounded like he was pushing “security export” — something we heard a colonel explaining to corporate types in a presentation awhile back, as if that is — probably is — the major export of America (no doubt after junk paper and jobs?).

        http://space4peace.blogspot.com/2006/01/security-export-to-be-job-1.html

        That’s about the only thing which made any sense in the worst SOTU I’ve yet heard (on the same level as Bush’s, etc.).

        Speaking of jobs and Obama’s SOTU, didn’t he just sign three “free trade” agreements…..

      2. Max424

        I understand the sentiment, Lambert, but that’s a tough sell. Let’s face it, our current crop of politicians are whores, by definition:

        Free Online Dicionary: whore; n

        3. A person considered as having compromised principles for personal gain.

        Personally, I haven’t associated the word whore with promiscuity or prostitution; ever. To do so is, well, it’s goofy, is what it is.

        A whore is someone who has sold out. Period.

        Note: The person who should be upset over insulting tropisms is me! I’m a liberal (and a proud one!), and I get called all sorts of terrible/nasty things on this blog (especially by you, Yves!).

        The definition of a liberal, in my book, is a person who never sells out; is in fact incapable of selling out.

        So to say that liberals in the Capitol City are committing all sorts of wicked deeds is preposterous, because there ARE no liberals in Washington, pretty much by definition.

        (There ARE plenty of whores, though, great multitudes of them, in fact ;)

    2. TK421

      I get what you’re saying, and I appreciate the service of people like you (my grandfather was in the Navy in WWII, stationed in Alaska–too bad he isn’t around so I could ask him if he could see Russia from his base) but I don’t think military service is bound to make someone a good political leader. Some of our best presidents had no real military experience (Lincoln, FDR) and some of our most ineffective presidents were war heroes (Grant, Jackson).

      When we choose a president, there are a lot of factors to consider. Military service is an important one, but it’s still just one.

  3. PPP

    Please get a grip. The Obama administration can rightly be condemned for many policy and military actions it has taken and for many poor legal justifications it has given. My sense is that I’m fully aligned with your politics and what makes you unsettled about this political rhetoric. But please, this post reads as overly alarmist.

    The SOTU wasn’t a treatise in political theory published as a precise blueprint for the executive’s model of governance. It was an occasional speech trying out some rhetorical/oratorical nuggets in the interests of garnering political support or at least sympathetic feelings from low-information voters. My point isn’t that the military analogies don’t have their darker sides, but just that I think you’ve worked yourself into a lather by giving the SOTU the most pernicious possible interpretive reading, which it may be important to entertain, but which you don’t really balance in any intellectually honest and context-based way.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Every time I think I’m cynical enough… I’m not. I’d be very pleased to be wrong; but there are plenty of ways to write a speech, which I grant is not the same as writing a thesis in political science, that don’t reek of the “tells” this speech reeks of. Also, too, the examples of really gross violations of the rule of law.

      1. JamesW

        Naaaah, you are hardly cynical.

        The Bush “Iraqi WMD intel fabrication team” is alive and well and Obama has reappointed a bunch of them, beginning with the DNI, Gen. Clapper, who appears to be following the same script he followed in the Bush administration.

        Likewise, Hillary Clinton reappointed a member of Bush’s inner circle and his number three guy at State, Marc Grossman (also the treasonous clown who outed Valerie Plame Wilson and thusly shut down that counterproliferation op of the CIA’s (Brewster Jennings).

        The Bush bunch fabricated that Iraqi WMD intel, and the Obama bunch has now manipulated the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Iran Nuclear Assessment Report.

        Nothing ever changes, and the financial-intelligence-complex is still in control…..

    2. ambrit

      Dear PPP;
      Well and all, the SOTU speech wasn’t a balanced affair either. In point of fact, it was, and always has been, designed to further a political agenda. I imagine that Mr. Strether is highlighting the underlying thrust of the speech, an appeal to our less than angelic natures. In-group thinking has been a perennial tool for political control. The mere invocation of Godwin is the tell; the trend is clear.
      The major lesson to be drawn from Mr. Strethers analysis of the SOTU speech is how this pseudo-Democratic president says one thing while sending an entirely different, almost subliminal, message. The gentleman from Hawaii has pulled off the remarkable feat of making Bill Clinton look like a New Deal Pinko.
      Mr. Obama has voluntarily shifted Overtons Window so far to the Right, we Centrists are left trying to talk to a wall.
      The part of the in-group analysis Mr. Strether has omitted to include today is the one describing the savage and uncompromising nature of the in-groups relationships to outsiders. In militarized regimes, tolerance and fair play are positively demonized; so is dissent, so is democracy, so is difference. There is a clear and clean reason that US Army officers take a pledge to “uphold the Constitution.” The President of the United States takes a similar pledge. Someone should, indeed Mr. Strether does, remind him of that fact.

    3. LeonovaBalletRusse

      PPP, the Authoritarian propaganda is appalling, as Obama and his handlers run out of ideas about how to *compete* against the Ultraconservative Bloc on the *Republican* camp that crave the religious mission and militant Strong Man to go with it (look at our *Christian Militant* military and contractors, who crave a *Crusade* to justify their dismemberment or death to come in a Christian Jihad abroad). And really, it is a quandary.

      “MORAL POLITICS” shows why *independent* liberals/progressives, who resist being *herded* together like cattle or Chamber of Commerce *Boosters*, are at a disadvantage in politics, because they are disinclined to worship Big Daddy in the Sky or at the pulpit, disinclined to be told what to do by the Power; and more inclined to argue among themselves before casting their PRIVATE BALLOT.

      This is why Obama is following Karl Rove’s playbook for his twin, George W. Bush. And doesn’t this work for the Absolute Dictatorship he has in mind for himself? His speech was just a dry run for the Acceptance Speech he has in mind before the crown shouting “Sieg, Heil!” in adoration of the “Black” President NOT, as he feels the glory of his exaltation. He hears it now: “Hail Caesar!” Oreobama and whatever uber-religious shill opposes him are alike:

      “They don’t give a F%#K about you. They don’t care about you at ALL, at all, at all. … And now they’re after your PENSION, your Social Security.” George Carlin knew them inside out. Barack Obama would be *Dictator*–bet on it.

      OCCUPY Charlotte 2012.

      BILL BLACK/SUSAN WEBBER 2012: NO MORE LIES!
      Chris Hedges: Secretary of State

  4. Jill

    Lambert,

    Thank you for writing about this. It’s very important because the left wing tends to think authoritarianism is the sole province of right wing, evil doing conservatives. The left looks at itself as the virtuous Unitarian–fearing god(dess), loving their fellow man, tolerant, hating violence and anger of any sort. Strangely, I seemed to notice this left wing vision of itself is not playing out in the reality based community!

    Here are two observations. First, in leftist circles people are easily riled to extreme hatred with only the mention of the words, “tea party”. While I sometimes find this Pavlovian response amusing, I often find it frightening. Turning people against each other is one of the power brokers most effective strategies to hold on to their power. While I do not think liberals are likely to agree with most tea party thinking, it is possible to make common cause on some ideas. It is, more importantly, necessary to make common cause with members of the tea party as human beings. These are our friends and neighbors. Calling them vermin and cancer cells, as I hear in “liberal” circles, is really dangerous mental territory.

    Under the Bush regime I regularly attended lectures on international law at the U. of Michigan. There I would hear Bush’s policies blasted as the unlawful, war mongering, strip down of rights at home and abroad that they were. On Oct. 11 of 2010 I went to hear Harold Koh speak on American Exceptionalism. During this talk, Koh laid out the permanent war of the world battlefield that Obama felt entitled him to kill American citizens or anyone else, on his own say so. Koh kindly assured the audience that he personally had looked at the files of those marked for death and they were indeed bad guys. Well, I certainly felt much better!!

    Koh received a standing ovation from all but a few of us. Among those lauding his achievements and standing to deliver were those same professors who had regularly launched scathing criticism of much less sweeping claims under Bush. This creeped me out and it was scary.

    Clearly there is left wing authoritarianism. The cure for it is to foster a population which has a deep ethical sensibility. Authoritarianism can’t work on people who care about others who are outside their group. It also can’t work on those who have spent time thinking and feeling out their ideas about the world, trying to be informed and trying to be an ethical person in the process of coming to those ideas.

    1. TK421

      “The left looks at itself as the virtuous”

      Ironically, one of my primary takeaways from the above-mentioned Robert Altemeyer book was the lesson that some of the most dangerous people in the world are those who are convinced of their own supreme righteousness. Thus the people who say “I don’t mind if Obama claims the right to kill Americans, I trust him to use it the right way” and so on.

      It’s kind of a cliche, but if you read one book about politics this year, read Altemeyer’s book.

    2. JamesW

      Ms. Jill, I agree with the overall gist of what you said, but take issue with calling Obama, the two Clintons, nor any of their neocon appointees to their administration as “leftists” or democrats, which they are most definitely not.

      No true democrat has ever come out of the University of Chicago’s law faculty or econ faculty, and the last guy before Obama from their law school was Antonin Scalia on SCOTUS — certainly no leftie.

      Too many people today, especially a bunch who claim to be long-time dems, but whose voting records show they were republicon just prior to going on their radio shows (Stephanie Miller, Ed Schultz, Thom Hartmann, etc.) have made things very, very murky.

      And speaking of the media, there was once a local radio show in D.C., during the ’80s, featuring Pat Buchanan on the right, and some complete fraudster (and ultra-conservative) on “the left” who had never been a dem in his life!

      Whether the conservative is Diane Rehm on NPR (rightwing Lebanese-American) or George Noury on CoasttocoastAM (rightwing Lebanese-American) they really sound rightwing to this lifelong progressive, and former intern to I.F. Stone.

      1. Jill

        James W,

        I feel your pain!!! I don’t know what words to use anymore. (I guess Obama’s economic policy would be called neo-liberal and his war policy, neo-con?)

        Up until recently, Obama and friends would have be called far right wingers by just about everyone. Now, to their followers they have become: decent, upstanding, good people who have evil Republicans thwarting them from doing right at every turn! (Obama is so decent he has a dog AND an organic garden–thanks to posters here for pointing that out!)

        To me, neither the term Democratic or Republican mean anything close to what they meant, even in the 80′s. So I have taken to just describing behavior, no matter who engages in it.

      2. LeonovaBalletRusse

        JamesW, the benefits of your internship with I.F. Stone have lasted: you have keen insight, analytical acumen, and the skill to make your points and argument succinctly. Please do carry on.

        1. LeonovaBalletRusse

          JamesW, do you recall the high symbolism in styrofoam onstage on Obama’s election night? Check out the following, and ask: What would I.F. Stone do?

          http://www.youtube.com — “Do You Believe in Magick? (4 of 6)” [1-6] (pq92k2 on Sep 7, 2011). LINK:
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTT9rj0mJAc&feature=related

          Then, look very closely at what structures are falling and rising in:
          http://www.youtube.com — “The 10th Kingdom Intro” (coastiemom 205 on Jun 20, 2007.

          We are but pawns in a Global Grand Chess *Experiment*. A world gone mad.

    3. Klassy!

      I share your frustration:
      Here are two observations. First, in leftist circles people are easily riled to extreme hatred with only the mention of the words, “tea party”. While I sometimes find this Pavlovian response amusing, I often find it frightening. Turning people against each other is one of the power brokers most effective strategies to hold on to their power. While I do not think liberals are likely to agree with most tea party thinking, it is possible to make common cause on some ideas. It is, more importantly, necessary to make common cause with members of the tea party as human beings. These are our friends and neighbors. Calling them vermin and cancer cells, as I hear in “liberal” circles, is really dangerous mental territory.
      I especially like your last statement. I would say practice some tolerance and maybe try to see things from another persons perspective. Perhaps, for instance, a resistance to the idea of immigration reform is not motivated solely by racial animus.

    4. LeonovaBalletRusse

      Jill, it is scary, and intentional. The Power has traumatized the population quite effectively, so that the hearts of the People are filled with the bitter hatred of mutual impotence and despair. “Divide and conquer* is working.

      http://www.youtube.com — “The Tavistock Agenda”

      The Oligopoly despises the People. They want us dead, the sooner the better.

      1. Jill

        LeonovaBalletRusse,

        First I agree with you comments about James W. I also agree this is intentional. I have seen this govt. use distinct methods to inflame people against each other. I see them direct certain buzz phrases/issues to inflame the right and others to inflame the left. I am very worried about this because each time they have done this, it has been successful. Thus the govt. now has proof of concept. They can turn people on each other and they know it.

        For this reason I think it is essential to reach towards those who are very different from us. Just doing something kind goes a long way. I am not saying people should pretend there is no difference in what they think, that we should never disagree with others, etc. I just mean that when possible, if we engage in ordinary activities together and show real caring to people with whom we disagree, it makes turning on them less possible. A whole Dutch village refused to turn on their Jewish population. I want to understand why that is. I think part of the reason is there was a friendship connection that kept the social fabric from breaking. I’m not certain. Thanks for the link to the youtube video.

    5. bluntobj

      Violent and angry responses to code words such as “conservative” and “tea party” are indeed well represented in authoritarian followers.

      Strether is quite correct that authoritarian followers esteem loyalty above any other value; this penalizes independent thought, analysis, judgment, and any divergence from the party norm. Those who respond to the liberal/progressive appellation are (usually) AF types. AF norms demand that independent analysis and thinking are suspended in favor of the party norms. Therefore, it follows that violence and hate toward anything that challenges AF norms will be endemic within the “official” lib/progressive community.

      The stereotype of right wingers being the physically violent ones is much like a stereotype of hispanics as being lazy, etc.

      Right winger violence is found in words and arguments, rather than in deeds. Much as Tocqville pointed out with the thousand arguments, so much of conservatism is today; doing battle with ideas, providing red meat of thought and ideas. Oh yes, I do see the Ad Hominem come from the “right”, but it’s ALL I see from the “left.” AF types have typically only the violence of the physical and name calling to turn to when their ideas are challenged.

      Lest you think this is some new turn of history, we can look back to the October Revolution and the rise of the Third Reich, along with fascism in Italy and Spain, as clear examples of AF norms in action.

      I have not seen anyone here commenting that AF applies to conservatives. The repub party elites have a devil of a time with all those pesky other voices in the tent that cannot be silenced, such as the religious right, or the tea-partiers. Not so with the dems. Lock step votes, public positions, statements, and behaviors are what is broadcast.

      AF fits in far better with political views that the state or the elite are better deciders on the use of state or world resources. The result of which has historically resulted in bodycounts in the millions.

      If you are an independent thinker, voting R or D in bewilderment at the lack of any choice other than helping your team win, then perhaps the only choice left is to turn to that community of diverging voices around you, and get to know them. Let your belief in the system fade, stop participating in the hamster wheel that keeps the elite in power, and vote in the only way you can: Opt-out.

    6. Joe

      I pretty much agree with you. However, like others have pointed out, problems arise when we call people like Obama, and Clinton and the Democrats in general “left-wing”. This is why among anarchists and otherwise anti-authoritarian socialists there is a tendency of (1) criticizing liberalism and (2) referring to American libertarianism as a right-wing phenomena (much to the consternation of those used to referring to themselves as “libertarian socialists”, like Chomsky). Many would point back to the Bolshevik revolution and the emergence of the Soviet State as a prime example of “left-wing authoritarianism”, but it’s telling that one of Lenin’s earlier essays was a criticism of what he and others have called “left-wing communism”. It almost sounds like an over-statement, and doesn’t exactly mean that Lenin embraced the idea of right-wing socialism (though that’s probably not a bad way of putting it), but does help make sense of the real political/ideological stakes that have consistently been involved with the Left/Right political designations. Namely, whether the people (as they’ve been individuated under hundreds of years of capitalism) or largely unquestionable command-structures direct the lives of individuals and wider society.

      William Morris’ 1890 classic “News From Nowhere” is also sensitive to this struggle and was written in response to a more authoritarian vision of socialism in Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward”. To be fair to how complicated this is though, Friedrich Engels wrote a disgusting little piece that you can find online or in the Marx-Engels Reader called “On Authority”, in which he makes a naturalistic argument for social authority, which as far as I’m concerned is at odds with Marx’s own, though less explicitly stated views on the matter.

      At any rate, thank you for raising this point!

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        I would say that Clinton was on the left end of the Overton Window that defines acceptable discourse in Washington, and Obama is to his right. However, the Overton window as a whole has been shifting rightward for a long time. Some of us use to call this process The Ratchet Effect, in which the Rs would do something nutso and the Ds would then consolidate and rationalize it, and then the Rs would do something even more nutso… But this stopped with Obama, who if anything intensified much of what Bush did.

  5. Jill

    I made a mistake–it was Veterans Day. More importantly, Koh used a religious metaphor to explain Obama’s law doctrine. He spoke of it being like molecules that line up in perfect order-that was an excellent model of the authoritarianism you are writing about.

  6. Walter Wit Man

    Re: Occupy as alternative social experiment

    Alternative experiments can also be fascist or authoritative, even while claiming to be the opposite.

    See the acid fascists and communes of previous generations or the new age cults that borrow from these traditions, etc. (see e.g. http://www.amazon.com/Mindfuckers-Fascism-Including-Material-Followers/dp/0879320389 )

    For instance, I saw some cults use the “one no vote” rule as a mind control tactic and I see how similar it is to the consensus approach used by Occupy. Many of these alternatives seem to be controlled by the same interests that currently control things.

    1. Walter Wit Man

      And not that it’s not good to feed hungry people, or to provide a community for homeless people, but this has been a common tactic of cults before. It’s a way to attract vulnerable people or as a way to hide money, etc.

      The pseudo cults investigated in this thread all used a charity that provided food or shelter to the homeless:

      http://forum.rickross.com/read.php?12,62400,page=1

      tl,dr: material benefits are good, but some times people (authoritarians) prey on the vulnerable.

    2. Walter Wit Man

      Jumping to page 6 of that awesome and detailed thread (worthy of a book itself) at Rick Ross:

      “Also, the (Victor Baranco tactic) One-NO-Vote idea, is literally a cultic scam. Its absurd. Any even lowest level cultish group leader knows that even MINIMAL social pressure to conform will make people want to BELONG to the group.

      So a so-called On-NO-Vote idea, is literally a tactic, used by Victor Baranco, and its quite clever.

      You see, if they allowed a SECRET BALLOT democracy, then people could actually vote their conscience on issues, without fear of being ostracized.
      But since there is some silly one-NO-vote scam, then each person who wants to belong to the group and get accepted, is going to go along to get along.
      Those that don’t, get pushed out.

      That is very very basic stuff.
      The ultimate punishment in any sect is what?
      Being ostracized, kicked-out, ex-communicated.

      So the Victor Baranco One-NO-vote idea, is a cultic scam designed to lock people into Groupthink by social pressure. Its very clever. “

    3. LeonovaBalletRusse

      And now they are being invaded by Black Blocs, the *agent provocateur* thugs and hooligans sent to kill the Occupy movement in every quarter, through false association. See the latest blog from Chris Hedges at http://www.truthdig.com

      Jack London — “The Iron Heel” — reminds us of this time-honored practice.

      1. Walter Wit Man

        I don’t know. Maybe.

        I think it’s the “violence” concern trolls that are actually being more divisive than the ‘Black Bloc’ protesters. Of course the government and others have used agents provocateurs in the past, but from what I see the property destruction and confrontations with police seems more organic. And minimal. Just look to Greece or Spain or Egypt to see that when angry people protest and fascist police forces are involved “violence” is almost inevitable.

        I just don’t see much violence being committed by the protesters to warrant such an internal rooting out of subversives. I mean in the face of 1000 acts of violence and suppression by the police for every 1 act that vaguely resembles violence by protesters, ‘violence’ concern trolls accept that the police get to engage in outright fascism and real violence while they snitch on their fellow protesters (for activities the government has already said could be ‘terrorist’ activities)!

        It’s like trying to eradicate drug use by the protesters. It will never happen, and by focusing on this “problem” (that isn’t even a problem and is part of human existence), it’s really setting the protesters up to fail.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          Ah, the snitch frame. But since the police are filming literally everything anyhow with high definition professional equipment, why do black bloc types have a problem with a few random guys with cellphones and cams? One can’t know, but I’d speculate because independent news sources they can’t control are a problem for them. Agitprop, to some sensibilities, is far more attractive.

    4. LeonovaBalletRusse

      WWM, history shows it is a seductive mistake to seek *perfection* except in the arts. Unhappy and confused humans are avid followers of whoever *guarantees* to lead them to bliss/nirvana/oblivion where all conflict is *gone*. America has a very high number of cultists, craving transcendence and *ecstasy*–flight from reality–by any means. For many, it is *bred in the bone* (W.H. Auden). This is why there will always be Kings, Emperors, Dictators, Popes, High Priests War Heroes ready to satisfy them.

      “ESCAPE FROM FREEDOM” by Erich Fromm;

      “Flight From Reality” by Norman Taylor;

      “SACRED MATTERS: Celebrity Worship, Sexual Ecstasies, The Living Dead, and Other Signs of Religious Life in the United States” by Gary Laderman;

      “THE OCCULT ROOTS OF NAZISM: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology” by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke;

      “METAPOLITICS: The Roots of the Nazi Mind” by Peter Viereck;

      “PURSUIT OF THE MILLENIUM” by Norman Cohn;

      “BABYLON’S BANKSTERS: The Alchemy of Deep Physics, High Finance, and Ancient Religion” by Joseph P. Farrell;

      “NOBILITY and Analogous Traditional Elites in the Allocutions of Pius XII: A Theme Illuminating American Social History;

      RACING TOWARD ARMAGEDDON” by Michael Baigent.

      Take your pick.

      1. Walter Wit Man

        Wow LBR. Those seem interesting.

        Just what I need, another area to do more “research” in.

      2. JamesW

        I would humbly add a little known (because he was right?) ace journalist and sociology prof, Ferdinand Lundberg’s Treason of the People, and The Rich and the Super-Rich (these two should be mandatory reading for everyone).

    1. ambrit

      “You are a traitor to our beloved leader Kang! Self medicate with Craazyman Cocktail in pennance!”

  7. ltr

    Terrific, but I really wish the article were written more clearly and carefully in keeping with the seriousness of subject. Glenn Greenwald has been writing much the same, and I too am finding President Obama increasingly more of a militarist and the same for Obama supporters.

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse

      Itr – “militarist” – that’s our chief export, by fiat. See JamesW link above re Security as our contribution to global *peace, democracy, and MFCapitalism*.

      1. ltr

        I have read both essays carefully again, and with added understanding I think the essays quite clearly and carefully written. Reading again was well worth the while. The essays are awfully important, however saddening.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          Thanks; posting at NC is nice for me because it forces me to elevate my game ;-) I think you can tell a lot about a political economy by looking at the ways that its language is corrupt; this is a different slant for the NC readership, I agree. Also, I come from the political blogging tradition, where snark is second or even first nature…. So I’m glad you gave both pieces a second read.

          1. ambrit

            Mr. Strether;
            I agree about the Snark factor in blogging in general. Too often we assume a certain insular fact and capabilities set in the readership of ‘home’ blogs. In jokes abound, and commenters, like myself, resort all too often to obscurantism. Thank you for writing clearly and concisely.
            As for the tendency for posters here and on the Left in general to write in ellipses and ‘code’; it strikes me as an artifact of the creeping Police State here in America. Given the nature of surveillance algorithyms on the internet today, speaking in ‘code’ is a natural result of an entirely understandable desire to stay out of the attention of the Police State aparatus. As the book, “IBM and the Holocaust” showed, the National Socialists could only carry out their “Final Solution” with the help of IBMs Hollrath data organization system. As the book shows clearly, if top IBM management had refused to deal with the Reich government, a lot fewer Jews would have died between 1937 to 1945, not to mention Gypsies, Gays, Jehovahs Witnesses, Socialists, Lutherans, Catholics, you name them. But I digress.
            Keep up the good work Mr. Strether.

  8. ltr

    I made a grave mistake supporting Obama in the last Presidential election, but I will not make the mistake again no matter the opposing choice.

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse

      ltr – OCCUPY Charlotte 2012. Dethrone Oreobama and Heirs Apparent

      BILL BLACK/SUSAN WEBBER 2012: JUSTICE NOW OR NEVER
      Chris Hedges: Secretary of State

      1. Walter Wit Man

        Chris Hedges is now on my watch list. I uncritically admired his work heretofore, at least the little I saw of it.

        Now I’m wondering if Hedges isn’t a gatekeeper. He’s a respected establishment journalist, formerly of the New York Times after all . . .

        And after he’s established his bona fides as a “leader” in the Occupy movement by giving speeches (like Michael Moore) and getting arrested, he then turns around and demands that the “cancer” within the movement be eradicated.

        It just seems so out of character and illogical. And it’s hard to discern what his line is. He’s not making a consistant argument.

        After all, isn’t Hedges calling for physical resistance to the violence committed by the police in this instance? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tOde31QYbI0

        Why is it noble when he calls for protesters to “physically defy the violence of the state”, and to confront these violent state forces, but when other people hide their faces or use shields to protect themselves from the violence of the state, they are a “cancer”? It doesn’t make sense. This is an act of someone that is intentionally dividing a community. [and what's with the quasi-religious language and the "hope"?]

        It’s *odd* that the liberal gatekeepers like Hedges or Taibbi kill skepticism or push back right at critical moments—Taibbi just did it with his nonchalant stance on the mortgage settlement and now Hedges are doing it with the non-violence meme–rooting out a nonexistent problem.

        1. James

          Hedges is deeply conflicted (although a VERY deep thinker as well, nonetheless!). VERY deep into the whole Roman Catholic religious hierarchy mindset thing. I followed him to a similar precipice and then looked back in horror. Organized religious alternatives are NEVER good ones in my opinion.

          1. LeonovaBalletRusse

            Hedges is serving in his own way. He gives his religious history in “WAR IS A FORCE THAT GIVES US MEANING”– the son of a minister, he grew up a Presbyterian, and went to the Seminary at Harvard, planning to become a minister himself and do good works. He became deeply disillusioned with the separation between *Christian* creed and practice, within the frame of futility represented by his *ministerial* presence in the ghetto where he lived while studying at Harvard. He was appalled by Christian hypocrisy. His book, “Losing Moses On the Freeway,” addresses it.

            He became a war correspondent as a photographer, from the belly of the beast. He became a fierce proponent of social justice and radical change, railing against Imperial aggression and hypocrisy, and the morphing of the Christian Right into a de facto Fascist Bloc, which he condemns in his book, “AMERICAN FASCISTS: The Christian Right and the War on America”, which includes Umberto Eco’s “Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Brownshirt.” This book is a searing indictment against such “Christianity.”

            In the “THE EMPIRE OF ILLUSION: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle,” Hedges asserts his authority as Just Critic of our shallow, depraved society at large, expressing moral indignation of a high quality second to none. In his “DEATH OF THE LIBERAL CLASS” he reveals his despair, disgust, and contempt at what can only be called the moral turpitude of the cowardly Left, and he seems to give up any hope for correction of our nation’s decline unto ignominious death.

            In his books, Chris Hedges demonstrates his development as a man who first aspired to to live as a Just Man for a holy cause on earth, preaching and doing the deeds of which the original *Jesus* would have approved. I refer to *Yeshua*, likely the time-honored *Nazarite* holy man (e.g. Samson) of faith, power, and skill, who said he came to save the children of Israel, and who declared that he was NOT god, but the *Son of the Father*. Little did Chris Hedges realize, before he went to Harvard in *innocence*, how little prepared “Christians” were to serve humanity in reality.

            After suffering the trauma of Wars and those trapped within them, seeing and hearing it all up close and personal, Hedges came to comprehend the complete transformation of the *Christianity* created by Saul/Paul of Tarsus, which became The “Holy” Roman Empire, the Reformed Church of Luther and Calvin, and the arrival of the Presbyterians (“Dissenters”) on American soil, unto *Christianity’s* tragic metamorphosis into the American Imperial Mega-Church Evangelical Empire, Chris Hedges became one of the leading MORAL CRITICS of our time, in company with Toni Morrison, who both feel the tragic pain of the American Pilgrim’s Progress into the very gates of hell.

            Chris Hedges remains this *original Christian*, by all indications. He is far from naive, he is perhaps too complex, in his comprehension of the ungodly tragedy/farce that is USA!USA! It was only the OCCUPY Wall Street that gave him a glimmer of hope that radical change might be possible, and that we might leave our Imperial role as *Babylon the Great*. Obviously, the suffering of Chris Hedges is intense, as he attempts to deal now with the threat of the “Black Blocs” to kill the Occupy Movement in Embryo, a hopeless tragedy if achieved.

            Through this lens of compassion must you see the tortured Chris Hedges, a man who suffers the living death of the Prophets of Israel, as they see the nation fall prey to the worst of men. For full comprehension, please read: “THE PROPHETS” by Abraham Joshua Heschel. Am I mistaken?

      2. Walter Wit Man

        Notice also that fellow protesters at that anti war protest in front of the White House where Hedges spoke (in youtube clip above), were wearing WHITE masks.

        Since I’ve been looking at ‘conspiracy’ stuff a lot lately, I’m tempted to read a lot into this :) ya know, black masks vs. white masks . . .

        But, on a basic level, why the hypocrisy Hedges? Did you snitch on the guy wearing the white mask or try to expel him from your group? Why does he get to stay but the black masked people have to be kicked out?

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          Walter, I’ll just say that I think your posting on this is a little schematic and you should consider doing more research.

          For myself, I’m a strong believer that “all walks of life” must participate; if you accept Chenoweth’s data, they show that the more participants, the greater chance of success.

          A corollary here is that we are all part of “all walks of life.” That’s not to privilege people who aren’t on the ground, which is why I use the phrase “From the Barcalounger” a lot, but everybody does get to comment…

          1. Walter Wit Man

            The “all walks of life” argument sounds more like a way to exclude and control people rather than include people.

            No matter how much the protesters clean themselves up, no matter how polite and docile they act, the state and media propaganda will portray them as dirty [violent] losers.

            Why apologize for being who they are and for demanding their rights as citizens?

            I consider the homeless, the addicted, the dirty, the jobless, and even the petty ‘criminals’ to be my brothers and sisters. In the face of massive police brutality I’m not going to waste my time snitching on a tiny number of people wearing black who may be committing small time property misdemeanors (or infractions!). Or trying to excommunicate people who don’t match utopian views of non violent protest. In fact, I’m going to defend these protesters non violent civil disobedience meets with massive police brutality!

            It also sounds like setting the protesters up for disaster when there is no way they can meet your admittedly provincial view of what a protester in Oakland should look and act like. This happens, for instance, when liberals post pictures of a protester wearing black on their blog and ask why normal people should support weird looking people like they have in Oakland.

          2. Walter Wit Man

            And you avoided my main point.

            I’m disagreeing with your assumptions. I’m not talking about whether violence is a better strategy then non violence. I’m saying there is almost no violence by Occupy! It’s so incidental that it’s literally not worth worrying about. So I’m highly suspicious when people start throwing around the “violent” and “violence advocate” labels.

            Hedges’s definitions are as wobbly as the study you pointed to the other day. His own “action” in the clip above involved civil disobedience (breaking the law), physically resisting the police, and confronting them. In fact, he seems to be provoking the crowd to physicaly resist!!!!! There were people in masks at his event.

            The reason he didn’t get a billy club to the noggin is he’s an important person, along with the other protesters that day, so they won’t get beaten up like a powerless Oakland protester wearing black will. The police beat the black block people and other undesirables first not because they did anthing worse than the white collar D.C. professional protesters, but because they can get away with it easier.

          3. Lambert Strether Post author

            “The “all walks of life” argument sounds more like a way to exclude and control people rather than include people.”

            Why? If you want as many people as possible to be excluded, you might have to make decisions about who not to include. (That’s why “walks of life” — that is, types and classes — as opposed to “all people.”

  9. rotter

    “Why would Obama adopt such an anti-democratic concept of citizenship? We can’t know, but it would be irresponsible not to speculate.”

    I have come to believe that outside of the narrow perspective of his own experience, and colored by the even more narrow angle of his singular ruthless ambition, he neither knows, nor cares, what American civil society does, or did, or should look like. He is no different than any other modern American in that sense, except that it should be unacceptable for a President of the US to have so small a field of vision. Obama is merely another self seeking opportunist, in an ocean of others like him. However, since he is president, we can assume that he is exceptionally unpricipled and short sighted, or why else why they(motu) have picked him for the honor?

  10. Susan the other

    What should civil society look like? I never realized what an impossible question this is. I do not know how to do anything but complain. I guess I think it would be liberating to be able to run government leaders out of town with sticks and clubs… but that isn’t very civil. So I guess I think we do need good laws because we are just so damned uncivil. I’ll go with laws. Civil society can only run on good laws. And a sufficient number of them to address the level of complexity we face. So hard to do.

    1. ambrit

      Dear Sto;
      “Run government leaders out of town with sticks and clubs..” Just like those blessed Aussies did recently to their own ‘Maximum Leader.’
      We should stop here and realize that laws and rules of conduct are integral to any functioning society. The very concept of society presupposes rules of some sort. The power strugle is over who sets these rules. That’s why politics is vital to the struggle. Politics is the art of managing human interactions. Running someone out of town, whether by ostrakon or at the head of an angry mob, is politics in action.
      As the actions of the Reactionary Right over the last thirty years have clearly shown, this is yet another fight where anything goes. The radical wing has taken control of the Right. Events following from that fact may indeed push the Left into radicalism merely to survive. Many well meaning ‘activists,’ and a few agents provocateuers I’m sure, are conjuring the Shade of Mohandas Ghandi just now to buttress their non-violence position. This is an effective tactic only in situations where the ruling elites are amenable to moral arguements. Put Ghandiism up against National Socialism, and you get Holocaust.
      The trick here, as I see it, is to investigate what is going on in the West and ask yourself; “How ruthless and murderous are our opponents?” The rest follows organically.
      Thanks again for letting me rant.

  11. diptherio

    I’ve been telling people to read the Altemeyer book forever (it’s free for crisesake!), glad to see his insights are getting some play here.

    I would suggest that Obama, Bush, Clinton, other Bush, etc. are likely all what Altemeyer refers to as Power MAD individuals (the MAD is an acronym, but I forget what for). These are people whose sole concern is gaining power over others and they often end up leading groups of authoritarian followers. They are more than willing to lie about their beliefs, claiming to be a Christian or a Liberal, if they think it will help them in their quest for control. In reality, on anonymous surveys, they will tell you that “rules are for suckers” and “there’s no such thing as right and wrong.” I think Altemeyer pegs them at about 5% of the population. My guess would be that most of our power elite are self-selected from this 5%.

    We need to realize that, at least on the national level, the political sphere has become what criminologists call a “criminogenic environment.” As Bill Black never tires of pointing out, “bad ethics drive out good ethics,” since they’re more profitable. This has happened in finance and it has happened in politics. Only the unscrupulous survive to have any chance at gaining the upper rungs of social control (or, at any rate, they enjoy a distinct advantage).

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse

      re: “Only the unscrupulous survive”– In Louisiana, they say of *politicians*:

      1. First, they try to corrupt you with promises and temptation. If this fails, then:

      2. They will try to buy you off. If this fails, then:

      3. They will ruin you. If this fails, then:

      4. They will kill you.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      If you think that pre-figuration is a valid tactic, then probably emulating the criminogenic environment created by the elite is not appropriate. The kossacks work for the politburo, and all that.

  12. James

    Great post. I downloaded and read much of Altemeyer’s book off of another website a few months back. Although I immediately found almost all of it to be true to my experience, it seemed almost too good to be true. It’s written in a very informal and conversational style that’s totally at odds with most academic tomes, and although I could find nothing to disagree with technically, it all seemed a bit too obvious and conclusive at first blush. In short, it was the kind of thing I would ordinarily desperately want to jump on board with whole-heartedly (as it definitely had an unkind word or two for knee-jerk conservative right wingers, who IMO are surely BENEATH contempt), but which the reasoned skeptic in me has learned the hard way many times to think twice about first.

    That said, if you accept the basic premises regarding authoritarian followers (my take: the classic tattle-tales of grade school lore), then the apparent mass defection of the Obama camp into that mindset over the last 3 years has a lot to say about the power of (cult of) personality as well. My take on Altemeyer’s research, which was pretty damn explicit in my opinion, but which was certainly heavily influenced by my own sympathetic opinion at the time, was that Authoritarian Followers were largely a far-right conservative political phenomenon. If the “O.co” political phenomenon continues its current meteoric trajectory, perhaps that whole line of thinking will need to be revisited.

    Secondly, an observation on the current Presidential horse race. It struck me today that any hysteria regarding Mitt (certainly) or any other GOP candidate is almost CERTAINLY a waste of time and totally misplaced. A very simple question answers all others regarding the money flow (follow the money always!) and thus who will “win” the privilege of selling us into indentured servitude (hint: learn the spelling of those last two words, you’ll be using them often from here on out).

    Who’s serves “the lie” (aka “the truth”) best? The lie being that the government/plutocracy still serves “we the people” in any shape manner or form. A black (minority), Democrat (liberal), conventional Christian (well, OK, alleged Muslim connections aside) man of “modest means,” vs. a prototypical white, Republican/Conservative, MORMON caricature of a plutocrat.

    In short: Romney’s a strawman, nothing more. O.co’s been anointed. The rest is a fait accompli. Who better to sell out our interests and deflect all blame in the process?

    1. diptherio

      “My take on Altemeyer’s research…was that Authoritarian Followers were largely a far-right conservative political phenomenon.”

      Altemeyer is, in fact, explicit that authoritarianism has nothing to do with political leanings. In the US today, most end up on the Conservative Christian side of things, but in Russia they tend to be hard-core socialists. Altemeyer calls the personality type “Right-Wing Authoritarian” but specifies that Right is used in the sense of “correct, prescribed by the leader,” not in the sense of politically conservative. I think what we’ve seen with Obama’s liberal supporters is that there is a fair amount of Right-Wing Authoritarianism on the Left as well.

      A few of the characteristics of the RWA personality are their ability to compartmentalize their thinking to avoid cognitive dissonance, and their willingness to forgive their leaders for impropriety, accepting any excuse offered. You shouldn’t have to think very hard to find your own examples of Lib’s doing both these things with regards to the O Admin.

  13. Hugh

    It was really under Bush that the military designation Commander in Chief took precedence over President. This was largely a result of the Bush/Cheney embrace of what was called the “unitary” but was more accurately termed the “unilateral” nature of the Imperial Presidency. It was essentially the notion of a Presidential dictatorship. As in virtually every other aspect of his Administration, Obama adopted and expanded upon the Bush model.

    Militarism as it manifests itself in the American Empire is an important project of our kleptocratic elites. The Empire is an instrument of coercion, a distraction for the rubes, an elite monument to themselves, and a wonderful pretext for both domestic and international looting.

    I would say that Obama’s increased militarist rhetoric is in part an election year pose but also something we have come to see in Presidents when after a certain time they see themselves less as elected and more as anointed.

  14. Peripheral Visionary

    I appreciate the point of Occupy Wall Street being a modern attempt at an experimental society on idealistic principles. As Matt Taibbi adeptly points out, we have been trying this for a long time as Americans; usually with disappointing results in the short time, but significant impact in the long term. (Little known fact: Marriner S. Eccles, who headed the Federal Reserve under FDR and worked directly on many of the Great Deal policies intended to boost employment, was raised in a community in Utah that had previously experimented with Mormon collectivist programs.)

    I still have my doubts about the OWS experiment, but this one insight has given me a slightly more favorable view. That we are still trying to create new experimental societies is encouraging; that such experiments cannot go long without government interference disrupting them is troubling.

  15. Jim

    Culture and the Will to Power

    The New Left of the 1960s failed, in part, because it could not envision, a concept of cultural authority separate from its own drive for power.

    It is important that OWS not repeat this mistake.

    If one assumes that culture is primarily a set of moral demands then, to a large extent, the role of culture is to narrow our range of choices–to force us to focus on the importance of limits.

    Culturally speaking, the New Left of the 1960s endorsed the idea that it is forbidden to forbid, particulary in relationship to its own behavior.

    This “absence of forbidding” led, I would argue, to a type of self-delusion which centered around the erroneous assumption that their personal impulses and desires (towards, for example, power) were different, in kind, from the impulses and desires for power of the players in what was then called “the establishment.”

    But I would also argue that a surprising cultural commonality between the New Left and the Establishment of the 1960s was their equal desire for political power– gaining it or keeping it– and this was seen, by both groupings, as the only game in town.

    By 2012 an even stronger sense of moral collapse has now spread through the institutions of Big Capital, Big State, Big Bank and Big Culture.

    A political movement which truly challenges this morally bankrupt structure, politically and economically, must now offer a moral vision, separate from its drive for power, a moral vision which encases that drive in a code of what is not to be done–a self-critical democracy of the guilt-ridden–without any sanctimonious airs.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      This is an important comment. One would hope that such a moral vision would go beyond the Mosaic Law, even if that was an improvement on perpetual blood feuds (“for an eye, and eye, and the child’s eye, and the children of that child’s eyes….”).

    2. aet

      The protesters of the 1960s did NOT want power – other than to get “the Man” off their backs and out of their faces – contrary to your assertion, they were NOT saying what they said, and doing what they did, because they, themselves, secretly (or otherwise) wanted to be, or to replace, “the Man”.

      IMHO, your analysis is full of zealous revisionist bull**it.

      Anyhow, the “New Left” was full of bull**it in the 1960s, too – always trying to “get in front of the revolution” by “being cool and hip with today’s youth”. They were nowheresville.

      “Do your own thing” – that’s what the sixties said – along with “Be free, don’t you listen to me!”

      Here’s an accurate statement of yet another of “the opposition’s” political slogans of the 1960s: “Tune in, turn on, drop out!”

      And guess what? Those statements weren’t given as orders to be followed!

      But for you, those statements, and the like, were apparently made by people who were simply “mirror-image opposites” of authoritarians (in self-ignorance, even)…hahahahaha…yeah, sure, what they really wanted (you say) was the same old song in a different key! With them as the new bosses!…And thus, you would imply that there was NOTHING new about politics in the 1960s in the USA – yeah, you keep on believing that…hahahahaha!

      1. ambrit

        Dear aet;
        Well now, getting ‘The Man’ off of your back does indeed require ‘Power,’ and quite a lot of it. From this jaundiced observers viewpoint, the ’60s call to “Do Your Own Thing” was a full frontal attack on the extant elites demand for conformity. A demand backed up with laws and the forces to enforce those laws. Forces that always held the implicit threat of violence. In ’68 and ’72 that violence became explicit at the parties nominating conventions. I know from personal experience that some of that violence in ’72 was instigated by the police, and started by uniformed officers; and that the method of instigation demonstrated prior planning and preparation.
        Well, guess what, those laws and forces have only gotten worse over time. Now we have the apparatus, if not the name, of a police state in America. The internal police forces have been militarized, without domestic provocation. The Constitution has been degraded. The pattern is clear to anyone who has done any critical reading of history. God save us all.

      2. Lambert Strether Post author

        Weather didn’t want power? Pull the other one, it’s got bells on. I grant that much of the 60s culture wasn’t about replacing “the man,” but some of it most definitely was. We also know how that movie ended, so it seems especially odd the violence advocates wish to repeat it.

        1. ambrit

          Mr. Strether;
          Your observation about how we all know how that movie ended leads one to seriously suspect agents provocateurs instigating the ‘calls to violence.’ Smart people don’t want to repeat previous failures. Fools and scoundrels on the other hand…

  16. Joe Firestone (LetsGetitDone)

    “NOTE FWIW, and I’m not a theorist . . .”

    Actually, I think this piece is pretty good political theory. Also, even though liberals these days seem to not to want to look their own authoritarianism in the face, it was not always thus. The original empirical studies of authoritarianism by Adorno et al published in the post-war period also emphasized rightist authoritarianism. But this work quickly came under attack and for awhile social psychologists did a lot of research on different forms of authoritarianism across the spectrum.

    That work slowed down in the 70s and 80s because it was associated with personality theory which became much less popular as theories of attitude change became more and more popular. With the fall of the Eastern bloc, the concern about totalitarianism seemed to die on “the dustbin of history,” and people seemed to have forgotten about the earlier work, some of it very good.

    Altemeyer picked up on the earlier work and has kept the study of authoritarianism alive. But I have the impression that the number of people and the amount of resources devoted to the subject is very small and that we haven’t really advanced our knowledge in this area beyond Milton Rokeach’s work on the Open and Closed Mind. in the 50s and 60s.

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse

      For how and why Authoritarianism works: “MORAL POLITICS” by George Lakoff.

      Authoritarians want the feeling of moral rectitude, security, and certainty that they seek to embody in social structures from the top-down governance/control in the Conservative to Ultraconservative:

      1. nuclear family
      2. church
      3. school
      4. university
      5. corporation
      7. government as a corporation with despotic, paternal CEO
      6. military entity
      7. Father Deity

      It’s completely consistent, from start to finish.

      1. Lil'D

        Coming out soon is Jonathan Haidt’s take,
        http://www.amazon.com/Righteous-Mind-Divided-Politics-Religion/dp/0307377903/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1328640982&sr=1-1

        I’ve read some of his essays along the way.
        I’m not sure I fully buy the parallels with religion.
        But I do like the model that identifies 5 core value axes and correlates liberal/conservative with attributes.

        I’m paraphrasing since it’s not in front of me, but I recall
        fairness
        caring
        sanctity
        obediance
        loyalty

        (the latter two might be the same & there might be a 5th I’ve forgotten)
        People who identify as more liberal tend to value fairness and caring above the others, whereas people who identify as conservative tend to value obediance & loyalty & sanctity together. In fact, from the thing I am recalling from (!) I think the top two were correlated with each other & the bottom three, suggesting perhaps that only two factors are at work wrt political leaning on this spectrum

  17. Jack Straw

    Based upon ONE JOBS REPORT, the economy has turned the corner and we are on our way to permanent peace and prosperity. The right is in despair. The left is stuck with the President.

    We’ll see what the good weather brings with OWS.

    1. aet

      The system is NOT broken, but mendacious – and possibly malicious – and incompetent fools have been at the controls.

      Much in fact could be done – IF the controls were in the hands of compassionate people who actually cared enough to use the machinery for the benefit of far more people.

      But NOTHING to further justice or fairness can be done if the system, itself, gets dismantled or destroyed. Nothing!

      Or if people don’t trust each other, and cease to work together in good faith to peacefully overcome those differences amongst them, which could otherwise in the absence of trust serve as the basis for violent divisions between them.

      Now who is it that says I should not trust my fellow citizens? Who?

  18. rps

    I look at American citizens vast resources stolen to blow shit up in foreign countries. The taxpayers hard earned labor that aught have been spent on our communities, infrastructure, children, and elderly is wildly spent on violence and destruction. The onerous politicians kneeled before the banks, corporations, and MIC and enslaved generations of citizens.

    Our public servants stole our prosperity and put us on the slave traders auction block

  19. b.

    “Why would Obama adopt such an anti-democratic concept of citizenship?”

    Because it’s an American tradition? I still have no use for Stoller’s (and Will’s) fraudulent claim that the conduct of establishment Democrats (such as himself) indicates a fundamental flaw in liberalism. But the observation that there is an unholy marriage of Big Government technocrats and the pseudo-liberal pimps that deliver our half of the 49% is correct and important. You want anti-democratic concept of citizenship and militarized solutions to political and policy issues? Try War On Poverty.

    Maybe pragmatism at the expense of principle and policy is not the right lens to re-evaluate FDR and the New Deal – maybe the real issue is that US society since WW1 at the least has been near-unable to reform itself unless reform was prosecuted as emergency measure?

    Big O certainly has no interest in reform whatsoever, and he seems completely untethered from economic reality and outlook, but there might be nothing more to his authoritarian appeals than empty posturing. He is not trying to be The Leader, he is just going through the motions. If you want authoritarian acts, SOTU drivel does not even register against his other deeds.

    I used to scoff at the “Make Him Do It” blather of the rank and file that are tasked with organizing The Votes into obedient bucket brigades, but there is a point that FDR did not exactly set out to do what he did, and that extraordinary circumstances provided both the pressing needs and the opportunity. Maybe the post-WW2 Bloomer society was just an accident after all, a case of oversteering on the part of the elite’s elite retainers.

    1. aet

      “Maybe pragmatism at the expense of principle and policy is not the right lens….”

      Hold it right there.

      Pragmatism is policy, in any state with 300 million plus citizens – especially if they are free citizens.

      George W. bush, who once famously advised that one must “catapult the propaganda”, was equally accurate is his statement as ti o his decision while president to “bail out” GM and Chrysler,despite his “conservative” principles:

      “If you make a bad decision in business, you ought to pay,” [Bush] said. “The problem is, sometimes circumstances get in the way of philosophy.”

      Quoted in:

      http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-02-07/bush-tells-dealers-he-avoided-gamble-in-bailing-out-automakers.html

      I say again: Pragmatism is NEVER contrary to policy – on the contrary, pragmatism IS ALWAYS the policy.

      Any other approach would simply be – bad governance!
      What else could a non-pragmatic policy be?

  20. Aquifer

    It appears the “unwritten law” continues to be honored more in the breach than the observance for reasons which continue to escape me. The myopic insistence in refusing to quote outside the “legacy parties” for cogent critiques of the dear leader is not only short sighted – but counterproductive as well, IMO …

    So in the spirit of transgressing unwritten laws, in this case one which, though currently more honored in the observance, SHOULD be transgressed much more often, I suggest, again, that if one wants cogent critiques from the “right” side of the aisle, one is much better off with

    http://www.jillstein.org/

Comments are closed.