Hannah Arendt’s 1951 Contribution to Liberal Theory
In 2015, political theorist Corey Robin contextualized Hannah Arendt’s seminal postwar philosophical contribution to the intellectual development and diffusion of a capitalist policing concept, socialism as totalitarianism. Robin argues that Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) contributed the now-familiar state population-management framing of the Holocaust thats extreme abstraction set up problems of accountability when Israel moved into prosecutions of captured Nazis. In Totalitarianism‘s ultra-abstract philosophical account, the socio-political problem occurs when states manage populations, unnaturally herding their dehumanized, modern masses to catch up with history in motion. While it complemented the Atlantic ruling class’ geopolitical and recognition politics, Totalitarianism’s broad, misanthropic post-Holocaust framework worked against attribution of blame when it came time for Nazi trials.
Arendt’s Totalitarianism is obviously part of the rebuke to socialism, reduced in antisocialist thought to an unjust religious teleology. But its innovative (for the time) contribution was to hitch antisocialism to opposition to fascism…but unlike socialism, not fascism broadly conceived. Rather, bad fascism in the liberal view is identified very specifically with early 20th century German fascism (initially the toast of the Atlantic ruling class, so betrayal fascism) that like Russian communism organized the nation to overcome the constraints that capitalist world-system primacy imposes upon hinterlands development, in so doing violently clashing with the Atlantic ruling class’ countries and their capitalist requirements for expropriation and monopolization. It is improper, upstart anticolonial organization, in defiance and betrayal of the Atlantic ruling class’ global order, that is the target of liberal condemnation. This condemnation has been encapsulated in the 20th century replacement of the Enlightenment egaliberte v. inequality struggle with the political dichotomy totalitarianism v. liberty. In Totalitarianism, Arendt took the imperial Atlantic’s police perspective and encased it in the gold of philosophy.
“Eichmann, however, was more than an empirical report about one man on trial. It was also a work of political theory. To understand Arendt’s approach, it helps to set her account of Jewish cooperation in Eichmann against her account of total terror in The Origins of Totalitarianism, which appeared in 1951. In this earlier work, Arendt had argued that totalitarian ideologies conjured a world of perpetual motion: the movement of history, in the case of Soviet communism; the rhythms of nature, in the case of Nazism. The purpose of terror was to liberate that motion, to eliminate all friction from the human machine. Men and women were reduced to a Pavlovian minimum, offering no resistance to the forces of nature or the wheels of history. Whether hunter or hunted, predator or prey, they were repurposed to serve as the pliant materials of these ideologies. Even at the highest rungs of the regime, even at the cost of their lives: ‘The process may decide that those who today eliminate races and individuals or the members of dying classes and decadent peoples are tomorrow those who must be sacrificed. What totalitarian rule needs to guide the behavior of its subjects is a preparation to fit each of them equally well for the role of executioner and the role of victim.’
But as Arendt came to realize, if everyone, including the regime’s top leaders, was perfectly outfitted for his own murder, how could anyone be criticized for not opposing the regime? If perpetrators were mere implements of an ideology—and ultimately its victims—how could they be condemned for executing its verdicts? “There exists a widespread theory,” Arendt would write later in a letter, “to which I also contributed [in Origins], that these crimes defy the possibility of human judgment.”
With Eichmann (1963), Arendt retreated from this view, extracting from a blurred silhouette of mass ruin detailed sketches of discrete men, making discrete choices, taking discrete actions. There was room for maneuver under the Nazis—indeed, the regime depended upon it—and how one maneuvered made a moral difference.
That difference was most evident in Arendt’s five chapters on the regional patterns and variations of the Holocaust, from Denmark to Bulgaria. These chapters focus not on the Jewish leadership but on non-Jews. Where local non-Jewish officials and cadres opposed, evaded, delayed, or sabotaged the Nazis’ plans, they saved Jews; where they cooperated, collaborated, or stood by, they made a catastrophe. Geography mattered for Arendt: not the physical terrain of a country, but its institutions, leadership, and personnel, the particular decisions they made, the actions they took, the support they offered or withheld.” –Corey Robin, 2015, “The Trials of Hannah Arendt,” The Nation, May 12.
Where the postwar Totalitarianism gilded the imperial Atlantic’s ruling class interests with an extreme philosophical abstraction unreconciled to scientific validity, Robin respects Arendt as an intellectual for having pivoted by the early 1960s to a Jewish philosopher’s version of Political Sociology: Contra Totalitarianism, “Eichmann” recognized and theorized agential responsibility. In “Eichmann,” collective agency can make a society in which people are responsible for humane substantive rationality; and when we don’t, we shirk our moral responsibility. Particularly leaders are culpable in Arendt’s “Eichmann” account. This shift, while informed by a closer empirical observation of the making of the Holocaust, is constructed as philosophical abstraction rather than Political Sociology. Its abstraction therefore accommodates subsequent interrogation of antihuman population management anywhere, including in the forms of fascism beyond the early 20th century German fascist organization that lulled, and with organization and brute force, betrayed and contested the imperial Atlantic ruling class’ global order.
The question for intellectuals at the latter half of the 20th century was who was culpable for inhumane social organization. Much to the collaborationist Israeli leadership’s outrage, in “Eichmann” Arendt suggested that the leaders of a targeted community were culpable for their response, within the degrees of freedom afforded within their regional context. What Arendt “was calling attention to was not the failure of all Jews to resist, but the failure of Jewish leaders to refuse the role that had been thrust upon them” (Robin 2015).
American mechanist-positivists and poststructuralist and postmodernist discursive philosophy stuck by the Totalitarianism-liberty dichotomy, demurring: Everyone in a linguistic community is equally responsible for inhumane state population management. Through this approach, answers to the problem of inhumanity were identified in elite cosmopolitanism; apolitical cultural play; policy based on economic-rationalist, positivist methdological individualism; and dismantling the welfare state and social, political, and civic citizenship (presumed to be the depersonalized mass instiutions enabling totalitarianism).
By the 21st century, ahistorical “New” TM materialists were suggesting that the critical 20th century had prattled on beyond its utility (to capital). The answer to injustice (rather than the passe’ problem of inhumanity) was to recognize the personhood of capitalists’ non-human capital inventory. And then ecological catastrophes, including pandemic, deflated ahistorical materialism as a capitalist ideological successor to discursive philosophy.
Arendt’s empirically-informed “Eichmann” specifications–variable context and social hierarchy–persisted on the margins of thought about inhumanity/injustice, agency, and responsibility. Political-economic elitesdominate and distort institutionalized incentives and consequently dispositions, countered the remnant, historical-materialist Enlightenment science knowledge that somehow survived the purges, assassinations, and political genocides committed by expropriative capitalists’ police, militias, and militaries.
“America is the world’s most prolific sponsor of armed proxies…it is the US–not Russia or Iran–that has done the most to develop the proxy war doctrine” (Stevenson, Tom. 2020. “In the Grey Zone.” London Review of Books, October 22: 41-43).
Between 1950 and 1953 the US “burned down just about every city in North and South Korea” (Curtis LeMay), killing one million civilians. “The Cold War that followed the age of firebombing is the source of common conceptions of proxy war” (Stevenson 2020).
In the 20th century, the primary postwar function of the US’s elite domestic police state, in particular the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), was to methodically remove democrats from the supervisory, decision-making, and institutional design positions they had worked into, and replace them with a network of anti-democrats. Famously, J Edgar Hoover was a top supervisory organizer in the grand antidemocratic postwar cleansing and replacement campaign within the US.
Among the most thoroughly-documented police-state campaigns was the FBI’s decimation of the egalitarian California post-secondary research and education system. The case provides specification of the institutional organizing and disorganizing work behind the post-Civil War reconstruction of slavers’ antidemocratic institutions across the US, as they extended and cemented with the 20th century US assumption of global capitalist leadership.
In particular, it specifies the leading role of the police state and political parties as institutions working to dismantle democratic networks, institutions, policy, and work, rebuilding the US as a home for global conservatives and capital–As we see today, much to half of Americans’ surprise or ongoing dismay. While the country has selected for right-wing immigrants by policy since WWII, its semi-democratic founding has nonetheless left it with a legacy of democratic ideals and an internal war. Bereft of international solidarity, American democrats have no comparable disorganizing and disorganizing institutions, but rather occasional, individual heroes who are generally targeted for the full brunt of the terror state.
The liberal Quaker Clark Kerr was a prominent leader in the globally-influential design and implementation of the wealthy, up-and-coming state of California’s egalitarian, regional and community-serving university system, the Master Plan for Higher Education. His life work on behalf of education and research for democratic development resulted in Kerr being appointed as the President of the University of California-Berkeley. Hoover’s FBI targeted Kerr for removal in 1959.
The proximate method of Kerr’s removal ultimately relied on a conservative political party, the Republican Party, incorporating and promoting a labor-disorganizing FBI operative in the culture industry, Ronald Reagan. In 1967, one of the most eventful years of the American police state’s global interventions, together the American police state and conservative party hoisted the FBI’s labor disorganizer to the Governorship of California, leadership over one of the largest economies in the world, whereupon he immediately fired Kerr.
For the impactful destruction of education for democratic development in California, the conservative network cohered around reliable antidemocrat Reagan and promoted him to the Presidency of the Exorbitant Privilege (the US, protector of the global capitalist currency). The highly-visible defeat of a productive democratic leader, Kerr, has been celebrated and memorialized throughout the Anglo-American conservative network as a keystone tactic in regional conservatizing political strategy; and conservatives everywhere to this day target universities as a fundamental step in disorganizing regional democrats and rebuilding slaver institutional landscapes over the carcass of democratic institutions. In ruining education for democratic development, the economy that the antidemocrat coalition rebuilt, which attracted global capitalist investment and speculative support after Nixon floated the dollar, was one-fifth of the population policing, incarcerating, and killing most of the rest of the domestic population and people abroad. That was the heart of rentier (slaver) capitalism in 1776 and it remains so today.
Here we analyze the conservative institution’s disorganization methods on the way to the ultimate, political coup against Kerr. According to FOIA’d FBI documents acquired by an investigative journalist over thirty years, and reviewed by historians,
The police state targeted the Board of Regents, the university board of governors. Pro-democratic board members were constantly beseiged by the FBI (via its COINTELPRO methods) with “counterintelligence” disinformation and orchestrated leaks–messages that students were out of control and had to be disciplined, and democratic faculty were communists, constructed as poisoners who had to be fired. Anti-democratic board members were tasked by the FBI with amping up the disinformation and encouraging Kerr to quit.
The primary target of the police state was Kerr. The FBI beseiged the university President with disinformation and orchestrated leaks, messages that students were out of control and needed to be disciplined. Destabilizing the university president allowed the FBI to insert a terrible, affective wedge between the President and faculty and students, ramping up confrontation between administration and students, and, after Reagan fired Kerr, culminating in the university administrative management permitting the military onto campus to attack students.
The police state targeted media. The FBI flooded the media with disinformation and orchestrated leaks, spin portraying the university students, faculty, and administration as out of control and requiring policing and military intervention.
The police state targeted romantic, youthful extrapolity political activists. While the FBI worked to destabilize the local, democratic Black Panther social movement organization by supplying arms through movement activist and police informant Richard Aoki, Berkeley philosophy student and Free Speech orator Mario Savio was led to obsess upon Kerr as his enemy, allowing the FBI to stoke the student attack on Kerr, and orchestrate increasingly-destabilizing, disorganizing clashes between administration and students.
The police state, the FBI working with Oakland police, colluded with right-wing militias, such the Hell’s Angels mafia, to attack student demonstrations and represent student democratic politics as anti-American violence. The collusion between the police state and armed, extralegal militias is a well-embedded conservative institution in the US, from the murderous attacks on African-American voters and other democrats in slavers’ states to present-day militarized police collusion with armed extralegal conservative militias. The antidemocratic relationship between American police and militias is reinforced by military networks.
With the help of retired military agents and other conservative organizers, the police state targeted democratic faculty. Aided by media, and California anticommunist bureaucrat Richard E. Combs and anticommunist organizer Major General Ralph H. VanDeman, the FBI’s flood of counterintelligence messaging at the Board of Regents portrayed democratic university faculty as deviant, disruptive, and polluting enemies of America, encouraging the Board to fire the university’s democratic faculty.
The police state victory was sealed with the election of their operative Ronald Reagan to the California governorship. One of his first actions was to fire Kerr, builder of the democratic university. Conservatives under the FBI operative’s leadership then defunded the university systemin order that the majority of nonelite students would not be able to develop democratic ideas or organizing capacity.
Comparison to France: In France, dismantling egaliberte institutions and replacing them with authoritarian technocrats and exploitative market institutions was simultaneously (in the late 1960s) accomplished through the education institutions ENA and the Ecole Polytechnique (Bourdieu 2005). Hypothesis to be investigated: Unlike the new California universities built after the Depression, FDR institutional intervention, and WWII, the elite French universities were always under conservative supervision.
Result: The neoliberlization of theoryand scholarship
Arts scholarship was constrained by two conservative-liberatory movements against democratic theory: 1) Post-war political-Romanticist philosophy, including structural Marxism, and especially culturalist-discursive poststructuralism and postmodernism, while the American police state was confident in its control over culture, see the CIA on the French Left; and 2) neoliberalizing bourgeois ahistorical materialism, including conservative neoclassical economics, Foucauldian body philosophy, and New Materialism (ANT, etc.) (See Noys on Latour as an exemplary bourgeois theorist). The physical sciences were constrained throughout the 20th century by politicized mechanism (See Peterson 2017; Grene 2000).
After the capacious democrats were culled, to the extent that any of these Romanticists and mechanists were democrats, they were the remnant “democrats” who went home every night to share the bed with militarized slaver conservatism. But while lives were ruined and genocides were unleashed, in a historical sense, it doesn’t matter. Rentier capitalism, no matter how militarized, is so awful, it creates its own gravediggers over and over again. On the other hand, this also means centuries of paid jobs and plantation cocktail parties for conservative sociopaths and ecocidaires.
Fortification strategy: Professors need to teach the transhistorical difference between Right and Left paradigms: assumption and justice teloi, including their implications for mass education and science.
Result: The decapacitation and dismantling of labor and democratic extra-polity politics
Labor and Alinskyan social movement withdrawal from organizing the “whole worker,” the workers’ networks into the community (see MacAlevey).
Fortification strategy: To decrease their vulnerability to determined conservative opposition, university faculty need to organize in unions and producer cooperatives, and engage whole-worker network organizing.
US democratic handicap: One important structural reason why the US is controlled decisively (if not totally) by antidemocratic police, and thus is attractive to international rentier capital (feeding the policing economy and political tyranny, including meritocratic “protectors”), is because the country is too large for people other than police and political parties to form trust and work in coalitions. The size of the US is a strategic handicap to democratic organization, and the state federation structure does not reduce this handicap. States Rights can be invoked only strictly to support conservative policy.
Dewey, John. 1916. Democracy and Education.
Feldman, Jay. 2011. Manufacturing Hysteria: A History of Scapegoating, Surveillance, and Secrecy in Modern America. Pantheon.
Kerr, Clark. 2003. “Reagan and the Regents,” pp. 283-302 in The Gold and the Blue, V. II.
Marginson, Simon. 2014. “Clark Kerr and the California Model of Higher Education.” UC Berkeley Research and Occasional Papers Series.
Pittman, Scott. 2014. “Lifting the Veil: Public-Private Surveillance Networks and the Red Scare in California Higher Education.” California History Vol. 91, No. 4 (Winter 2014), pp. 43-55.
Rosenfeld, Seth. 2013. Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals and Reagan’s Rise to Power.
CIA. 1985. “France: Defection of the Leftist Intellectuals, A Research Paper.” EUR 85-10199, December. Sanitized copy approved for release in 2011.
In the 1985 CIA (US Central Intelligence Agency) Research Paper, “France: Defection of the Leftist Intellectuals,” released under the US’s toothy Freedom of Information Act in 2011, CIA researchers report on the success of the 20th century US-centric interventions in the highly politically-integrated French intelligentsia, inclusive of media agents and the venerable Philosophy establishment.
This intelligence report is assigned as supplementary material to assist advanced theory students in recognizing the crucial role of “theory” in coordinating national and international consensus (hegemony, knowledge), and political possibility (orienting and constraining degrees of political and policy freedom). Because today, out here in the provinces, we are deep in the bowels of the 20th century “pragmatic” neoliberal theoretical movement to reduce states’ accountability to the working class (which Bourdieu’s later work documents in France), there is a popular and political tendency to lose sight of the power of theory to fuel social change. In an advanced theory class, we correct that misperception with the historical view.
One of my central questions as a social scientist is how societies can permit more stable movement toward democracy. In particular, how can elite entitlement to monopolize power be diverted, diffused, defused, reduced?
France offers a part of the answer: If philosophers/intellectuals’ interests can be separated from elite interests, then philosophers will divert from manufacturing elitist ideas (recall the elitist conceptual contributions of Hobbes, Burke, Nietzsche), and instead develop an interest in expanding recognition of human development and advancing democratic knowledge, organicist science, such as can support egalitarian institutions and dispositions alternative to elite entitlement. Republican France has since the 18th century recognized the profound role that philosophers played in dismantling elite intra-class solidarity and proliferating opportunities for the diverse working classes (or the Motley Crew, as Linebaugh & Rediker call it), as in Haiti and Sweden, to organize socially and politically to distribute power. You will recall from Pagden that over the Enlightenment period, European philosophers played a central role in shifting European elite and public opinion, permitting via punctuated revolution the hard-won and globally-influential development of republican democracy in France. For example, when Haitians took up the revolutionary idea, slavery as a main capitalist expropriation institution lost economic viability and rationale, reducing legitimate and integrated expropriation to natural resource extraction and reproductive labour. Reducing the viability and legitimacy of slavery as a form of expropriation was a profound shift toward making democratization more viable.
However, slavery is a great case in point that elite entitlement is horribly difficult to dislodge. The work of economic and other historians suggests strongly that slavery’s institutionalization has played a fundamental and enduring role in orienting US dispositions toward conservatism, including through the Southernification of the US military, one of the dominant institutions in the US. This CIA intelligence report will in its conclusion indicate how the conservative domination of neoliberalization that is viable within the US, with its enduring slaver institutions and disposition, was considered by the CIA to be threatening to the neoliberalization of France in the context of France’s Republican Revolutionary identity.
Fridell’s trans-regional definition of neoliberalization is the conservatization of liberalism–liberalism’s reorientation away from the democratic Enlightenment justice telos and back to the conservative wheelhouse of Hobbes, Burke, Nietzsche, etc., supporting enhanced expropriation-based accumulation (The global hegemony of the City of London and Wall Street, for example. Billionaires increasing their wealth by a third during COVID, for example. The restoration of patrimonial capitalism that the Piketty economist group documents. The runaway capitalist legal system that Pistor and the Law & Political Economy collective analyze). Neoliberalization is a pragmatic political project that to succeed has to be tuned to regional conditions, so its implementation varies in its particulars. In 1985, we can see that the US’s CIA was keen to support a version of neoliberalization that would work in France, with its Republican Revolution-rooted identity.
In this CIA intelligence report, we see that in the 20th century, the US recognized the globally-consequential role French intellectuals were playing in their opposition to fascism, as conditioned by their bruising experience of the French Right’s early 20th century embrace of fascism, xenophobic nationalism, and antiegalitarianism, and the consequent near-dissolution of the French Republic. This CIA intelligence report recounts how, despite the persistence of conservative political rule, the French intellectuals’ socialism, and the antifascist legitimacy of their communist organizers, were globally influential—including within the decolonizing countries (11), while the US had newly taken on from England the spearhead Atlantic ruling class role of folding as many societies as possible into the capitalist global bloc. In effect, US elite strategists felt constrained in their postwar role as the capitalist global lead while French intellectuals influenced the French polity to support the communist countries, including Vietnam and the Soviet Union. The CIA needed to get France out of its old habit as the dancing partner lead; it needed France to learn to dance backwards in heels. This was a formidable challenge. It required relinquishing the conservative government of de Gaulle and working with anticommunist intellectual Raymond Aron and his New Philosopher successors through ENA to advance the ideology of anticommunism, pragmatic neoliberalization, and Political Romanticism.
But the US was pretty efficient at dialing in France’s intellectuals. In particular, philosophers have had a handle that has been apparent since Kant and the French Revolution: Contrary to scientists’ habitus, philosophers not only do not expect the world to resist their agency when they go to the lengths to muster it, they readily feel betrayed by the world’s complex resistance. Philosophers expect the world to open like a text, yielding an expected, underlying rationality upon their expert intervention. Philosophers’ impatient and sensitive reaction to the down and dirty difficulty of opposed democratic advancements is a repeated pattern, called Romanticism, or Political Romanticism. Political Sociologists have tried to counter romantic philosophical reaction, to ground and gird democratic adherents with studies of elites and their power play.
While we are looking at a sanitized intelligence report, which contains no mention of the CIA’s interventionary work, yet in its celebratory tone and preoccupations, we can deduce CIA and close allies’ strategies and assets in the neoliberalization of France. They targeted the intellectuals, both media owners and ENA (Ecole National Superieure) students. This is confirmed by separate studies, including Saunder’s. Working “long years to discredit” Sartre and French Marxism, Raymond Aron’s anticommunist innovation in the 1950s was to psychologize Leftists, reducing their motivation to desire for political power combined with a compulsion to complain. Aron was not being original, nor why should he be when he was only one among many culture workers supported by the CIA (Saunders 1999; Said 1999). The psychological pathologization of Leftists was a hallmark of 1950s American social science, as in the conservative Chicago School’s construction of the Conflict-Consensus dichotomy, institutionalized in Sociology and Criminology introductory textbooks.
Andre Glucksmann and Bernard-Henri Levy were the CIA’s elite ENA New Philosophers in the French student movement. In the famous 1968 student and worker demonstrations throughout Paris, Glucksmann & Levy led a push on the French Communist Party to stage a coup d’etat; and when the French Communist Party did the calculations and refused to stage that coup for them, Glucksmann & Levy went on the hard attack against the communist “betrayal,” piling “relentless polemics” against the communists and the Soviet Union. According to the CIA, New Philosophers Glucksmann & Levy were influencers, providing ideas, passion, intellectual leadership, and dogged media work in the multi-decade political campaign to break apart the French Socialist and Communist parties’ political alliance and break down Left ideas and institutions in France.
The Political Opportunity Structure (POS) of the 20th Century favored Glucksmann and Levy’s anticommunist intervention. The Dreyfus Affair had been an important 19th century moment of French Republican soul searching, which, together with the Holocaust devastation, was to provide extraordinary manoeuvering and leverage to Glucksmann and Levy in France throughout the 20th century. Reviewing Frances Stonor-Saunders’ 1999 study of the WASP Ivy League-staffed CIA’s broad Cold War cultivation of denatured cultural and academic Leftism, Edward Said observes the avid Cold War political work executed by Israel’s post-1967 supporters (Said 1999). Essentially, Anglo-American elites sponsored the Atlantic integration of a Jewish elite as a political conversion from Leftism to neoliberalism and, often, quickly on to hard-core Zionist neoconservatism.
Even while other Leftists and communists were being purged from careers and criminalized, the meritocratic bien pensant network ensconced in elite universities, media, and politics was facilitative of this rather…er…totalitarian integration and purging work, going to heroic lengths to cover it up and lie for it (Saunders 1999; Said 1999). As well, agents of the US government heavily infiltrated whole US social sciences, Area Studies, and languages departments (Said 1999). As the son of Jewish immigrants, always claiming for himself the mantle of human rights, Glucksmann ultimately joined the conservative neo-Crusades campaign against Muslims, and anti-Russian politics, as well as supporting neoliberal politicians before his death in 2015. Having grown up in one of the wealthy Algerian business families that supplied their sons to ENA, Bernard-Henri Levy (BHL) wrote journalistic accounts, a reenactment account of the conservative Tocqueville’s trip through the US, and a story of the “Genius of the Jewish Peoples,” as he ultimately focused his Totalitarianism critique on the Muslim peoples. Like the US, France had no boundaries for such citizens. The French world was their oyster.
The cross-national capitalist bloc strategy was to expel democratic Enlightenment ideas, institutions, and dispositions. The reconceptualization prerequisite to the expulsion, and the political restoration consequent to the expulsion, were accomplished efficiently, within not more than one generation of the actual experience of communists battling fascists. What were the pragmatic and idealist strategies that advanced the expulsion of democratic Enlightenment from France?
Strategic 20th Century Interventions in French Intellectual Life
The CIA cites the 1975 publication of Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago,” portraying the Soviet Union as all about imprisonment, as an important contributor to neoliberalization. Notice the cascading causal impact attributed to a piece of literature conveying an idea. Europeans in the modern period have normatively reserved imprisonment for extreme cases. But fiction was required to convert the US into a hero of freedom in this narrative. Even in the 20th century, the Soviet Union was a distant third behind the capitalist US and South Africa in imprisoning its population. After the demise of the Soviet Union, the US became the greatest carceral state the world has ever known, while English, Australian, and South African investment in private prisons incentivized their carceral rates to balloon. In the CIA account, Solzhenitsyn’s novel served as a touchstone congealing broad support for the anticommunist, pro-American intellectual and political movement. It helped anticommunists innovate a new political dichotomy to reorganize capitalist societies.
The Political Romanticist conceptual dichotomy of Totalitarianism v. Liberty was constructed by the New Philosophers (1960s-70s, see p. 4, 5, 7, 10) to replace the historical Right-Left distinction, and it was further advanced by the New Right (1970s-1980s, see p. 13). By reconceptualizing communism as identical to fascism, and expelling historical-organicist/developmentalist democratic Enlightenment from the French political-philosophical tradition—just as it was being expelled from US science, the Totalitarianism concept introduced an historic conceptual innovation that for the first time ever broke the historical conservative v. democratic Enlightenment opposition, and permitted the restoration of the classic conservative-liberal alliance that had led up to the Depression and the 20th c. Great Wars. By redirecting liberals to cohere with conservatives against socialists, the Totalitarianism-Liberty dichotomy provided the intellectual foundation for neoliberalization.
First the New Philosophers reconceptualized capitalism as a Lesser Evil; then the New Right advanced the ideology of capitalism as Liberty.
ENA polemics punished Jean-Paul Sartre and the US’ other elderly postwar French socialist and communist enemies in Philosophy. Already depressed by their life experience of fascism and the Holocaust, they put up no fight (6). Some had already offered invalid attacks on Marx, such as the mad Catholic, Althusser’s reduction of Marx’s work to religious teleology, “ideology.”
Conservative elite ENA youth were conceptualized romantically as “Renegades.” Bourdieu (2005) calls them Young Turks.
The New Philosophers took to the French media to prosecute their war against the French Left and the Soviet Union, and for the US. The French media was owned by conservatives, including Hersant (4, 5). Notice the US CIA’s confidence in its relationship with the organs of culture. There is a research literature on this relationship, see bibliography below and especially the research by Frances Stonor Saunders, including published in the London Review of Books.
Historians and Anthropologists including the Annales School, Claude Levi-Strauss, and Michel Foucault “performed the mission” of cartoonizing, diminishing, and refuting the concept of scientific advancement and Marxism’s connection to the justice telos of the democratic Enlightenment (6).
Political job market strategies included blackballing Leftists from jobs and diverting them to non-intellectual work (9), while slipping publishing house chief editor positions “with easy access to the public” to conservatives like Levy (5).
The New Right redefined liberalism to fit within the conservative wheelhouse and justice telos. It was defined abstractly to valorize “forcing people to be more self-sufficient,” stripped of state citizenship supports and left to compete for access to recognition, representation, and goods and services upon an increasingly-unequal market (4).
Outcomes of 20th Century Intellectual Interventions
By the 1980s, French socialist intellectuals were “silenced,” “lethargic,” and “immobilized,” the CIA was reported in satisfaction. The French intellectual tradition since the French Revolution had been largely if incompletely neutralized as a challenge to US hegemony (8, 9).
By the 1980s, anti-Marxism and anti-Sovietism were French intellectual “mental fixtures” (10), “orthodoxies” on autopilot (8).
According to the CIA, the spectacularly-successful interventions of the New Philosophers prevented the Left from cohering politically, kept French Socialists and French Communists “bickering,” balkanized, and incapable of forming independent policy or forming effective electoral strategy, forcing Socialist politicians to form governments with Center-right parties and move policy to the Right (11), as where Mitterand introduced conservative education reform (9). It destroyed the capacity of any political version of the French state—Left or Right–from working with the Soviet Union (10). Was this key to the end of the Soviet Union and the inauguration of the monopolar US hegemony we have since been enjoying?
The CIA cites 1980s opinion polls showing the effectiveness of the anticommunist work. The French public looked favorably on the US as the competitive victor in advancing “economic development, workers’ rights, individual liberties, antiracism, reducing social inequalities, raising the standard of living, access to health care, and aid to the Third World” (7). From this point in history, it looks like the 1980s French were buried deep in their cocaine lines.
Thanks to the work of the New Philosophers, space was created to assert neoliberalization by the 1980s. The French youth were no longer an impediment to neoliberalization. The CIA reports that intellectual silencing and decline combined with 10 years of bipartisan Education Reform channeling French youth away from curricular intellectualism (as required by the democratic Enlightenment polity) toward conservatism, technical courses, science and business (9, 10). Students had stopped organizing, and lapsed into what seem to be CIA-organized (only occasionally “short-circuited” by the French government) episodic protests against Soviet leaders’ visits (10). The Soviet Union was reduced in 1980s students’ minds to the gulag meme (10), while young intellectuals expressed “genuinely pro-American sentiment” fortified by American culture (11). (The CIA report seems to be convinced that culture is an American-pwnd asset.) By 1980, criticism of the US was seen as a suspicious effort to divert from the orthodox collective project of targeting the Soviet Union (11).
The New Philosophers-led 20th century French defection from its historical democratic Enlightenment leadership role, in the CIA view, allowed the US to maintain and grow its military machine, leaving Scandinavia and West Germany intellectually and politically isolated in their opposition to US military build-up, and to belligerent and destructive US interventions in Southeast Asia and Central America (11).
By the end of the 20th century, Glucksmann and Levy, products of French license and Anglo-American imperial machinations, saturated in the comforts of the affluent West, assisted in reducing the French (and the Quebecois as well) into neo-Crusades warriors, hounding Muslim immigrants and Russians to prove their loyalty to the conservative end of Western civilization.
The 1984 CIA Analyzes Persistent Challenges & an Opportunity
The CIA intelligence report indicates the persistence of occasional intellectual skirmishes in France. The notion of American cultural imperialism was introduced by the remnant French Left intelligentsia in 1981, though it was quickly rechanneled into French self-criticism (9).
The CIA recommended going forward, channeling the French Left into “emotional” cultural identity issues, including immigration and racism (10).
Where the CIA was pleased with the work of the French New Philosophers, the CIA was concerned about the new liberation of the French New Right, a conservative-liberal marriage of Nietzschean elitism and the neoliberal liquidation of citizenship rights, justified by the conservative-liberal ideology that egalitarianism is artificial and requires a “heavy-handed” state (14). This kind of ideological partnership works fine in the US, where slavery has indelibly imprinted institutions and dispositions. But other French intellectuals were not impressed at the obvious restoration of the classic European conservatism that had fought so viciously against the birth of the French Republic. The CIA was fearful that the New Right’s fascist revival threatened the very useful Totalitarianism meme. By the 1980s, Glucksmann as a CIA asset was drifting into this New Right and had become unreliable; and the CIA expressed doubts that a more reliable asset Annie Kriegel had the media presence and influence to take Glucksmann’s place (14). Moreover, the New Right’s classic-conservative reification of culture created a theme that socialist intellectuals could use to lever their way out of the coffin they’d been buried alive in: The French New Right’s critique of cultural decay could be used by socialist intellectuals to denounce the New Philosopher media cyborg (14).
The intelligence report concludes with the promising note that Michel Foucault had innovated a form of Nietzschean inegalitarianism distanced from fascism (14), thereby preserving the valuable Totalitarianism-Liberty construct that had served the US so well to bring France to heel, to neutralize Scandinavia, and to crack the Soviet Union. In 1984, the CIA was cautiously optimistic that Foucault’s non-fascist inegalitarianism could cohere a viable conservative-neoliberal coalition for France going forward. In fact, we may suggest that “non-fascist inegalitarianism” (or core fascism) is the Anglo-American comfort zone, and in the space left by the exclusion of the democratic Enlightenment, Foucault made the French theoretical link to it.
The Need for Regional Theoretical Independence
I haven’t covered for you my study of the roots of settler countries’ provincial flagship universities, but just based on this CIA report, can you think of a reason or two why a discrete polity might like or need to have the capacity to develop and maintain its own theoretical traditions?
Comparator Case: The CIA “Left Shepherd” Tactic in the US
A Canadian Globe & Mail cultural reviewer recently directed the public to watch “The Trial of the Chicago Seven” by Aaron Sorkin on Netflix. I watched it. One of my comps was in Political Sociology, and one of my foci was Social Movements, so I’ve read a lot of both critiques of the New Left (eg. Barbara Epstein, Paul Lichterman) and Social Movements scholarship championing cultural politics (eg. Snow & Benford, Iglehart, Jasper & Poulsen). As an undergrad, I read all the Frankfurt School and deconstruction philosophy I could get my grubby hands on, so I am quite familiar with early-to-late 20th century cultural politics and the arguments for the aesthetics and ethics of play and jouissance. But I knew about the Chicago Seven event only passingly, and in watching Sorkin’s movie, I was surprised to recognize that the Chicago Seven were constituted by a version of the CIA’s Glucksmann & Levy Left youth cultural-political “shepherding” module.
In the US, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin filled the Glucksmann & Levy role. At the exact same historical moment across the pond, the Yippies also pursued a charismatic media and cultural intervention strategy, targeting American youth disaffected by the Vietnam War and institutionalized racism. The Yippie leadership modeled and led that youth toward creative, cheeky “rebel” public performance-art demonstrations. Sorkin’s movie is full of heavy emphasis on a “revolution” discourse that was both culturalist and para-polity electoral politics. It takes a while to recognize that in throwing around the term “revolution” constantly, the Yippie protagonists are never talking about revolution. Only on the court stand at the end do you realize that Hoffman is making it perfectly clear to the court, and the audience, that his irreverent sense of humor was never deployed in the revolution business. Not at all.
In Sorkin’s movie, repeatedly, the hero, Abbie Hoffman (played by Sacha Baron Cohen) establishes that his instrumental goal is to use cultural and media tools to affirm the American institutional framework and promote a change of office occupants from bad guys to meritocrats–a theme that continues not only to resonate with liberals but dominates their political analytical framework today, where the bad guys are misleadingly called “Populists.” (After Nixon, it seems that the Ultra-right bloc learned to gather to itself a protective base of smallholders. But I’m getting ahead of myself.) Hoffman’s character greets his prosecutor, hailing him as on the same team; in the end, the conservative but politically-savvy prosecutor Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon Levitt) recognizes the truth of this. As Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) fails to clue into Hoffman’s political role for most of the movie, toward the end Hoffman must masterfully demonstrate to Hayden that Hoffman’s cultural crowd-wrangling role is complementary to the polity governance role aspired to by a less-informed (portrayed as less competent) Hayden. Obviously, Sorkin’s indulging in the usual Hollywood self-promotion: The hero is always the court jester, the Actor, Hollywood reminds our politicos and us all the time. Yeah, great, propaganda.
The outgoing US attorney general Ramsey Clark (Michael Keaton)–strongly on the Chicago 7’s team, once they had begun to figure out the political landscape that had wound them up in court–had at the end of the Johnson administration concluded that the Chicago riot was started by the Chicago police. Later it is revealed that this was a political choice, as the new Nixon administration could plausibly suggest that a heated, bumbling Hayden speech started the youthful, if heavily police-interpellated, crowd marching toward the Democrat Party convention and into Daley’s Chicago police batons and teargas, while the Chicago Seven meet the police spectacularly in front of a bar filled with convention political top brass. As in all liberal representations, left mostly off camera is that the Chicago 1968 convention was an elite conflict with a cast of thousands of highly-managed extras.
The CIA’s relationship with Hoffman & Rubin’s French counterparts Glucksmann & Levy suggests strongly that looking at Hoffman & Rubin, we are looking at one efficient tactic within a police-state governance strategy, the Left youth-targeting Cultural-political Shepherd tactic, whereby youths’ emancipatory or progress-oriented political energy is channeled by flattery, indignation, and amusement.
Jacobin has forwarded arguments that Sorkin has castrated Hoffman and Rubin. It’s hard to say. Hoffman seems to have committed suicide; and after a career trading on Wall Street, Rubin was run over. Certainly the movie expresses the grotesquerie of contemporary Democrat Party ideology. But has that bloc’s ideology changed since the 1960s? Let’s give Jacobin this: In the US, it seems a little more plausible that the Cultural-political Shepherds were less malevolent, if not less harmful, than in the French case. The US cultural-political Shepherds seemed to serve as babysitters protecting–not so much American youth, but rather more importantly–the world watching (as Sorkin emphasizes) from confronting the profound, pervasive, and terrifying institutionalization of civil war violence in the US.
Although factions like Humphrey-Mondale-Freeman were sensitive to racism as a Cold War black eye for the US, the American ruling class understood that just like themselves, the world tolerated institutionalized violence against African-Americans as a special case. Even today, talk with any right-thinking Canadian or European and you don’t get far without them volunteering sour condemnation of Black social movement. It’s disruptive, dontchaknow. Have you heard the latest?: It’s sexist. Like the Conservative-liberal bloc, the Ultra-right bloc exceeds the US borders. Global racism imagines hopefully that violence in the US is the exceptional product of Black deviance. Never was there a more outrageous–and globally destructive– case of blaming the victim.
The Cold War and US hegemony could be threatened if the world understood that the US–containing in one nation both capitalism and its primitive accumulation slaver/expropriator base–was a dumptruck on fire through and through. As it almost does now.
Nonelite Americans Hate the State, But Elites Stay Cohesive
Thomas Lemke (1997) summarizing Foucault’s late work alludes in a footnote to the strong impression European observers had of Americans’ universal distrust of “the state,” as Europeans undertheorized it. The theorization of this exceptional, seeming “universal” American state-hate has been weak– or rather clouded, because the US has needed to present a solid front in order to efficiently manage the Marshall Plan, secure global investment on Wall Street, and maintain the key to its cohesion, the “exorbitant privilege”–the global currency that allows the US to dominate global debt and other countries’ budgets, policies, and priorities. The insufficient theorization of Americans’ state fear has likely been helped very much by the successful post-1967/68 (The years of the Six Day War, and of the Paris uprising.) subordination of the French intellectuals.
I suggest that universal American distrust of the state is not only rooted in elite culture–traditional liberal state financier culture, as in Mark Blyth’s perceptive genealogy. Rather, the US state has long been divided into two internally-sparring blocs that involve but transcend the Democrat and Republican Parties, the CIA and the FBI and regional police. These two warring blocs or networks span institutions, importantly anchored in the political parties and the various policing institutions. They operate as hierarchical protection rackets. Working-class African-Americans have traditionally been excluded from both, and subject to chattel and carceral slavery, methodical state terrorism, property expropriation, and war conscription. The 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, Hubert Humphrey’s assumption of party formal leadership, in fact was about bringing African-Americans in from the cold and incorporating them, particularly then as an electoral supplement, into the hierarchical bloc associated with the Democrat Party (See Jennifer Delton’s 2002 Making Minnesota Liberal).
1) This suggests further FOIA research into the role Fred Hampton played in designing and managing African-American incorporation before he was assassinated by the Chicago Police, managed by the FBI, the main policing institutions of the Ultra-right bloc then.
Hampton’s assassination could indicate the political convergence between the FBI and the CIA, the Ultra-right’s and Meritocrats’ police and military united in prosecuting a global genocide upon effective, peaceful, polity-oriented socialists (see Bevins 2020). While police must have thought themselves clever, and we know their affect was righteousness, we should not lose sight of the fact thatthe people whom the American political-policing blocs targeted for annihilation were the globe’s constructive democratic Enlightenment political organizersand their adherents. This silent but epic and epically-consequential atrocity is why it is imperative that Leftists strategize how to defuse entitled elites.
America’s antidemocratic spooks made the conservative Conflict-Consensus Theory dichotomy real, by mass murdering the global Left into conflict strategy. If that 20th century global genocide brought together American elites despite their differences, then the successful conclusion of that genocide may have contributed to revealing American elites’ ongoing bloc conflicts (attributed to the unwashed, “populist” masses, in standard managerial liberalese that both overlooks the active participation of bourgeois, policy-selected conservative immigrants of color in the ongoing reconstruction of American racism and reveals the elite understanding of state-subsidized small business as a working-class diversion).
2) Examine when the Ultra-right bloc assumed 20th-21st century CIA leadership. 1976, with the Bush oil family’s ascent to CIA leadership?
The CIA has long been recruited from the Ivy League institution(s), but certainly these incorporated elites from not only the Meritocratic Conservative-Liberal bloc, but also the Ultra-right’s slaver/oil/real estaterentier coalition. Was the Bush oil family’s 1976 assumption of CIA leadership the transition?
We know that the CIA’s counterpart and colleagues, the British secret police derived in the early part of the 20th century from the British upper class, and that they included anti-Cold War socialists. These would have supported the softer cultural policing CIA approach of the 1950s-60s, as opposed to the hard-core state terrorism of the Hoover FBI (1924-1972), interlaced with regional American paramilitary policing and torture squads such as the Chicago police. Yet the CIA’s James Jesus Angleton targeted British elite socialist secret police as enemies of the Cold War. The loss of anti-Cold War British counterparts could have shifted the CIA into Ultra-right bloc control.
Does today’s Meritocratic Conservative-Liberal bloc–governed by Ivy League Biden-Clinton DNC Dems and accountable to global financial capital–still have a police wing–Perhaps the CIA (see Petreus’ political conflicts)?Or is it more accurate to say that all American policing organizations have either aligned with the Ultra-right bloc (for example the DHS), or aligned across the blocs? If the police are variously aligned with the Meritocrats v. the Ultra-right, does that institutionally cohere elite solidarity?
3) Not just African-Americans, but also other lower tiers in the institutionalized, warring hierarchies get a pathetic choice of either receiving the pointy end of the policing stick, or of holding the policing stick.
Perhaps Political-Cultural Left Shepherding was a solution tailored to reincorporating the Ivy League bourgeoisie into the American elite, as where Jerry Rubin’s golden parachute was a stockbroker job.
Today, with the rise of rise of democratic socialism and Black Lives Matters, we can clearly see the assertion of state terror and surveillance. Is Political-Cultural Left Shepherding also in operation today with the rise of democratic socialism and Black Lives Matters? If so, which police branches conduct it?
We know from Saunders’ work that Political-Cultural Shepherds were terrific (if not perfect) secret keepers and resolute liars. The justification for their secret police Left cultural-political shepherding work was it connected them to the Meritorious Conservative-Liberal bloc. Within an ideology of fighting for good old American institutions occupied by bad people (the Ultra-right bloc), they seem to have considered their shepherding function harmless, inevitable (TINA), and even playful and joyous expressions of all possible human freedom–per the Yippies Hoffman & Rubin (until Hoffman’s suicide), as well as the French deconstructionists.
From this pathetically rosy assessment of Political-Cultural Left Shepherding’s impact–most clearly a grotesque diminishment of the terrible harm to France and in turn the Atlantic of losing a semi-autonomous intellectual community oriented to the Enlightenment–we have inherited the tendency to wait nobly and righteously upon the materialization of change out of some True Workingclass or Peasantry, imagined pristinely excluded from the American political-policing blocs. But not even African-Americans are excluded any more. They’re just the more vulnerable target of the Ultra-right bloc.
Hypothesis: Cultural-political Shepherding, including the theory it has innovated, has been a key deterrent to democratic development since the 1950s. It was key to the limitation of the post-Gilded Age, post-war US democratic experiment to three decades.
Cultural-political Shepherding concepts asserting historical break along with conservative restoration posed as radicalism:
Historical break: Totalitarianism v. Liberty as a replacement for Right-Left paradigms (assumptions and justice teloi);
Restoration: Liberation as the abstracted liberation of domination;
Restoration: A justice telos centering the margins, problematizing rule by the popular classes;
Historical break: Deconstructive play as the liberty of the dominated;
Revolution as cultural expression;
Media/messaging in lieu of salon and organizing to institute democratic social change.
The Institutionalization of the American Civil War & Dollar-based Elite Cohesion
Other liberal countries may tut-tut American belligerence, but its contentious socio-politics–and widespread fear of “the state(s)”–are a symptom of the US’s extremely liberal resolution of the conflicts between conservatism and liberalism: The US has massively institutionalized the 19th century Civil War. It is not correct to speak of the “the US state.” Rather, the US is two elaborately-institutionalized warring networks whose elites are cohered by the US dollar, the “exorbitant privilege.”
If the world’s Atlantic-Middle East capitalist/rentier class–or those with the most effective demand–could be broken from the US dollar as its currency, then wouldn’t US elites lose their cohesion? Wouldn’t the US see its civil war through? Wouldn’t the US finally break into human sizes?
Once, even after I had to immerse myself in the US East Coast, I tried to imagine myself in political relation to that Atlantic capitol, New York. It’s all trolls and no bridge between here and there. The US has to break apart to move on, to figure out or even imagine what to do with the expendable “hinterlands” population other than pulping and policing them. We need solidarity and coalition. It’s never been good v. bad people. We’ve all rotted in unification under domination. In Spinozan terms, our potentia has been coopted by a monopolized potestas.
But with financial deregulation and every attendant crisis, the capitalist class that Wall Street and the City of London service becomes more cemented in dollar wealth. They continue to disorganize and decapacitate the rest of us. The only destabilizing factor I can see from out here is the decline of oil, the wealth particularly fueling the Ultra-right bloc. Certainly, Anglo-American countries like Canada are gripping onto oil with all their might.
The American population is destabilizing under the civil war blocs’ ever-expropriative rule, but there’s so much police (a main employer of the American working class, incorporating them into the hierarchical civil war blocs) and so little precedent for the American working class’ effective, semi-autonomous political organization across borders. As you see when you read Viking history, a classic way of securing a big, stable supply of vulnerable thralls is by uprooting them and hauling them in from afar. This is also the Settler Countries Playbook.
The CIA Destroys the Democratic Enlightenment
In the 1960s, the CIA was an organization led by the insular, capitalist class graduates of the American Ivy League universities. This class was charged with running the globe.
1968 was the year that the CIA unleashed its assets on the American and French youth democracy movements, focusing them on narcissistic cultural-political expression, demanding the unarmed French communist party fight the French military, delegitimizing Humphrey’s plan to incorporate African-Americans in the Democratic wing of the bifurcated US protection racket system. With its Left Youth Cultural Shepherding strategy, the CIA succeeded in killing off the democratic Enlightenment in French philosophy, a long-time fuel for democratic organizers, and elite disorganization, globally.
1967 was the year that the UK’s Israel set about to destroy their non-Jewish cousins, the Palestinians. The consequence was that partisans of Israel converted en masse to the authoritarian right. They became neocons.
1965 was the year that the CIA satraps in the Indonesian military began to inflict a horrific political genocide on the millions of peaceful, polity-oriented members of the communist party and the unionists. The consequence was of course genocide, but as well, the replication of “The Jakarta Method” of US-backed political assassination and genocide globally. The American CIA weeded out non-authoritarian communism and socialism.
Half-slaver, half-financier Ivy League frat douches, interpellated with hinterlands, socially-subsidized Chamber of Commerce and slaver thugs, hand-in-hand have been allowed to run the world for 80 years after the world wars. They inflicted untold suffering on humanity. With the excess capacity inequality bestows, they destroyed all capacity for democracy, Enlightenment, human improvement. The horror is epic. As those insentient douches grab all past and future wealth and turn into sick-fuck feudal lords, no one will mourn the passing of US hegemony, which both proliferated tyranny and birthed a rancid world of tyranny and torture. A slaver’s country should have never been allowed to run the global economy on top of the global military. They made garbage.
Rehmann’s Democratic Take-down of Neoliberal Nietzscheanism
I’ll save this for my offline notes.
Sidecar: 21st Century Left Shepherding
Last night I listened to a historian interview Vincent Bevins. I was fishing through the podcasts tonight while doing dishes, and my standby Lewis Lapham is just not interviewing people much. I mean, I’m grateful Lewis Lapham is still alive. I found Jacobin in my podcast inventory. I don’t listen to it much. One time in spring, some California lady I think was ranting on in outrage about Sweden, as they would intermittently… and on heavy rotation in the spring of 2020. (Then when Sweden’s coronavirus transmission dropped to amongst the lowest in the world after June, it was all radio silence from the AngloAmerican authoritarian technocracy, until Sweden’s COVID-19 cases rose with the fall European COVID swell, at which point the authoritarian technocrat army began to pound against Sweden again.) Daniel Denvir’s interview roster is amazing. But his voice is dog nails scraping away on glass. I find it very curious that he doesn’t get voice lessons. My sister was a radio journalist and documentarian. The station was community funded and had little budget (Her consignment, given she is a social democrat stranded in America. Or at least that’s what the Dem-bloc Columbia J-Commz MPR guy told her–and her Jewish friends continue to remind her). And still, she got voice lessons. Her voice was a little bad, a little rural MN. Daniel Denvir’s voice is horrible all the time. That’s not a colorful regional dialect. It’s pure audio torture. Why is Daniel Denvir not getting voice lessons? So, even though I know something is seriously wrong with Doug Henwood, I decide to check in to his show and see which young female academic or journalist he is ostentatiously interviewing to pinkwash himself to the Dem bloc aesthetic.
It’s a Chicago School lady. Doug Henwood is interviewing an Chicago School. She’s produced a book that purports to give a history of the Proud Boys. Intriguing! Chicago School pronounces gravely that we Just Can’t Understand Until We Know History. Check. She proceeds to give an astonishingly reifying inventory of White Power belief, which she relates to us, hath festered from all the way back in American Time Immemorial, before the Neoliberal Era. You know what most people call “historians” whose spicy “origin” stories start within most living peoples’ lives and never leave the flexible realm of discourse? Subpar sociologists.
The American Nazis don’t have an organization, Chicago School says. Just a magical confluence of savage belief. A culture, born like Athena, fully formed, from the skull of hush now… Yeah, that’s how things work, particularly in a country loaded to the gills with hoi poloi-herding police, from rural Texas torturers to Yalie strategic specialists in assassinating constitutionalist military commanders and unleashing political genocide. Nowhere in this Chicago School account are any of those thronging battalions of various forms of police. Nowhere in this account is political economy. Nowhere in this account are American elites… You know, the men and women who command a very unequal society, including the police. No, just somewhere out there in the dark woods, piles of rags spontaneously generated White Supremacist ideas. It’s amazing how exceptionally pristine that manifestation is, considering what a fundamental role paid American and British elites have played in orchestrating down and dirty support for Right-wing cults the world over. It’s almost as if Chicago School believes that Proud Boys are God’s blessing. Come now, let’s fixate on their forever ideology and insist upon precious conceptual innovations (but not scholarly theory) in which to frame it. Henwood denounces environmental “catastrophism”–Whoops! Such timing.–but hoses us down with the time-honored horror movie trope, fear of the rural. Why, there’s only one thing to do: Vote for Joe Biden. Let us praise Kleio!
So, Left Cultural-political Shepherds working in conjunction with the DNC.
We didn’t get a Left out of the New York Intellectuals back in the Trilling day. We got the neocons. But the podcasts today are a little better than the ’50s artists the CIA gave us. It’s fine if they get a handful of AOCs in the Dem Party too. That’s fine. I’m fine. It’s all fine. The US is a dumptruck on fire. Great work, tremendous job, guys.
Bevins, Vincent. 2020. The Jakarta Method. Public Affairs.
Bourdieu, P. 2005. Social Structures of the Economy. Polity.
CIA. 2011(1985). “France: Defection of the Leftist Intellectuals.” EUR 85-10199, December.
Davis, Mike. 1981. “The New Right’s Road to Power.” The New Left Review 1/128.
Deresiewicz, William. 2008. “The Hypothesis,” pp. 23-26 in Lapham’s Quarterly: Ways of Learning, 1(4) Fall.
I watched a liberal Swedish soap opera. First, I would like to thank my colleague for directing me to the soap opera. I loved seeing Stockholm and hearing Swedish. I liked the little fake politician cameos. I was so happy.
Second, even at their most conservative, Swedes are light years to the left of everyone else. It’s a relief, until it’s not. And this TV show was really conservative…for Swedes. “The Restaurant” is a 2.5-season TV show made in Sweden, available on Sundance Now. Its Swedish name is “Var Tid Ar Nu,” Our Time is Now. I’d be interested in hearing why the title was abandoned. The show is a nationalist myth. Maybe the Sundance folks thought they’d give it a bland title and sell it to American consumers for the soap opera it is.
The Restaurant’s innovation is that the soap opera spans 30 years of symbolic, fictional history in only 2.5 seasons, which is refreshing storytelling. The downside is that this fast and loose approach to history is not simply about prioritizing storytelling, as as one of its creators claimed. Historical irresponsibility also allows the creators to manufacture an antisocialist story of developing social democratic culture that lops off the actual, strategic socialist organizing behind social democracy, and substitutes in micro conflicts repeatedly melting into resolutions of liberal toleration and indefatigable work ethic. This historical-fiction storytelling approach even allows the producers to portray socialists as psycho killers, rather than the intrepid founders of all those institutionalized Swedish virtues, and conservatives as identarian heroes. How very postmodern. Too bad it’s no longer 1992 when that was last plausible spin.
The Restaurant version of Swedish adulterated conservatism features as one of its main protagonists a lesbian single mom working class woman (Maggan) who is a political natural, working her way not strategically but through sheer merit, from restaurant servatrix to union steward to union boss to Social Democratic Party (SAP) star and Mother of Secret Police. We know we’re in the conservative wheelhouse because one of the most reliably sympathetic characters leans in, steadies her gaze, and assures Maggan that she deserves social mobility because she is special.
One of the two most consistently-evil characters (the other is Peter’s second partner, the small-time ruthless economist/accountant Ester), Ragnarsson the restaurant supplier, is the didactic embodiment of antisocial selfishness. The pure embodiments of evil in The Restaurant are mafioso business gamers working on the margins of the respectable business. Possibly this construction of the archetypical antagonist is the legacy of one of the show creator’s time spent in the restaurant business. As well, in the first season, The Restaurant portrays German-allied elites as military has-beens, their drunken wives, and their enabling bourgeois servants (Gustaf Lowander).
In the first and second season, oppressed minority migrants play important supporting plot roles, from the elegant, talented, and tragic Jewish refugee to the determined Italian labor migrant. As an essentially cooperative and constructive bourgeois woman, the second main protagonist, Nina, struggles mightily with the postwar feminine bourgeois-class ideal. In the first season, her storyline dramatizes the dangerous misery of illegal abortion. The third main protagonist, Calle Svensson (the name is the Swedish equivalent of Joe Blow) is another super working class kid who has such an amazing work ethic and devotion to his art that bullying is water off his duck back. He is rewarded by working his way to head chef, a relationship with the hottest bourgeois girl in town (Nina), and ultimately his own restaurant, co-owned with an immigrant colleague. Calle is a real model for kids suffering the restoration of patrimonial feudalism today. : |
So we see that socialism-backed social democracy forces the Right, such as the show’s creators Ulf Kvensler, Malin Nevander, and Johan Rosenlind, to make cultural concessions and incorporate left themes, although reduced as much as possible to identarian diversity, a left derivation that neoliberal political parties can manipulate handily.
But the Right is not so easily defeated. The soap opera also features straight-up conservative narratives, told with all the sympathy we can muster. Season three is an orgasm of conservative ideology, relieved only by soap opera, which for me is not a relief. I had to mete it out to not suffer too hard in the viewing. Apparently socialists are psychopaths who exist only to divert the impressionable daughters of the bourgeoisie, flinging their heroine mothers back into the arms of heroin and poor/unlucky business decisions; while the children of working-class Social Democrats are brave secret police.
Ultimately, conservative, Nazi-sympathizing, worker-abusing, colonial missionary Gustaf is rehabilitated by the love of a good fundamentalist Christian woman to his true calling, gayness. We embrace him for this, and because he is a good dad, which we find out at the end by telling not showing. The other brother, Peter Lowander, played by a tall version of Elijah Wood as a gay man’s idea of a handsome, robotic, ruthless straight-ish lawyer (Which stereotype is not wrong.), is at the end rehabilitated when he learns from sage Gustaf that your woman confers upon you your morality. Uuuggghhh. Clint Eastwoodian right-wing actor ideology. See, there’s a place for the ladies in conservative society, as subconscious, a fake psychology concept. So, yeah, the place for women in conservatism is, as with Peter’s ghost girlfriend, mostly off-camera, or as with Gustaf’s wife, dead.
Nina Lowander, protagonist 2, is alive and kicking though, even if as the producers’ afterthought. She is played by a beautiful, terribly vivacious and charismatic actress with a really posh name, Hedda Steirnstadt, terrific red lipstick, and a fantastic, effective acting convention of lowering her eyelids and dimming her eyes when she is disappointed in her interlocutor, a piece of acting repertoire you will never see outside of Sweden. Being constantly disappointed in your family and friends is Swedish, and Swedish only. Nina is plucky. She has great artistic-business instincts, but also a weakness for drugs. Her mom betrays her, then is her rock. Nina suffers, and she prevails. Like her mom, she is Swedish-stubborn; and she is Swedish-relenting. The Nina character is 100% soap opera. As a 1950s icon of Swedishness, Nina is no Pippi Longstocking, and I don’t say that with approbation. We could use a horse on the porch amidst all this bathos. The show’s creators added the Nina character instrumentally because they were inspired to present a rags-to-riches restaurateur’s story (fictionalized as Calle Svensson), but when it started becoming a real TV project, they felt compelled to add in gender balance, counting out the lines to achieve gender equity. Fuck it. Quotas work.
The pre-neoliberal period may belong to the young, but the best characters are the acting eminence grises’: Complex Swedish Mom Helga Lowander (Suzanne Reuter), gold-hearted baker Ethel (Anna Bjelkerud), rough but high-integrity chef Stickan (Peter Dallan), the gleefully-evil embodiment of antisocial corruption, Ragnarsson. They brought the viewing pleasure.
The one politically-neutral, repeated, didactic theme of The Restaurant is that when families break up, kids will be pissed and alienated, and what the parent has to do is tough out the rejection and insist on their love. The kid will come around. That’s an okay theme. You have to pay for it with annoying Swedish-conservative politics that pile on to your COVID despair for the future. If this show is representative of current Swedish ideology, it is stuck in late 20th century high-neoliberal fantasy. France, please help Swedes and us all by revving back up the Enlightenment philosophy.
But the carrot is getting to look at good-looking, talented people acting it in front of quality cinematographers. If that’s good for you, skol!
Today the North Atlantic working class (broadly conceived, to include anyone dependent upon the monthly wage for survival, as well as that part of the working class that Anglo-American states subsidize to be small business owners), particularly in the English-speaking world, is split by subscription to two opposing strategies for securing comfort from affluence.
Part of that working class, natives and ambitious immigrants together recognize that affluence in capitalism comes from expropriation and exploitation. But they have also been engineered since the end of WWII to believe the financial capital hype: They believe that expropriation, exploitation and its means, exclusion and warfare, are the alpha and omega of capitalism, the accumulation and growth of wealth. Reinforcing this belief, the only leadership on the table is warlords and their top retainers. In the warlord ideology, only through ongoing exclusion, expropriation and exploitation can comfort be squeezed out of wealth. The working-class strategy for this faction is thus to align with, work hard for, and enable warlords, to receive benefactions. The capitalist warlords employ managers to incentivize this behaviour and institutionalize it as a culture: desperate, unctuous pandering to the powerful, viciousness toward the less powerful. This culture and behaviour splits the warlord supplicants off hard from the other part of the working class. To the second, opposing working-class faction this first warlord-supplicant faction appear as raw thugs, hooligans, a stupid horde of toadies and pillagers capable only of unmaking, spreading misery.
The other part of the Anglo-American working class believes that with local, paid and volunteer poverty advocacy mobilizations, responsible, conscientious members of the community can extract project funding from the state to fund some services to the very poorest and most marginalized. This faction denies that capitalist wealth is founded in expropriation. They feel that if most comfortable members of the working class fall into disruptive, disorganizing, uncomfortable poverty while a meritorious, exceptional few claw their way into the elite, it’s only fair and natural. To the thug faction, this second faction of the working class look like naive twits, incapable of organizing and leading a collective strategy toward comfort within a society of riches.
But these working class factions are united in their conviction in rival patrons: One clings to the skirts of warlord patrons. The other dreams of meritocrats–the civilized, cosmopolitan (slaver) philosopher-kings of Ancient Greece or 19th century Europe, patron to the arts and the margins.
The main effect of this split is to divide and incapacitate the working class. It is the product of 80 years of elite Anglo-American Atlantic organizing and policing. This split results in the engrossment of inequality and inegalitarianism, and economic, social, health, and environmental crises.
One of the fundamental myths contributing to the great, manipulable working-class ideological and strategic split is the cross-political conceptualization of social liberalism and social democracy as fundamentally the co-optation and detour of the working class.
As conservatives, the thug faction has its finger on a partial truth: Affluence is scoured and gathered up in capitalism via exclusion, expropriation, and exploitation.
But then it is the world-historical mission of working-class people to collectively strategize and fight to not only secure that wealth as comfort, but to distribute the wealth as comfort. This leadership demands working-class solidarity.
Comfort requires not endless warlordism. For the broad working class, including the warlords’ retainers and hordes, unharnessed warlordism simply devolves into unfreedom, discomfort, and progressive disorganization, incapacitation by a variety of means, as the protectors of the marginal recognize, though they tend to focus their blame for the decline on rival members of the working class.
To secure and distribute wealth as comfort requires great, ceaseless, determined, strategy and organizing on the part of a working class to build working-class solidarity and capacity, to limit and redirect warlords,to harness the wealth amassed in warlordism,and to distribute the wealth as comfort.
We have seen in the 20th century that the Atlantic and global capitalist class, the warlords expend huge resources on breaking down this human capacity in their class enemy. Splitting their class enemy into a thug faction and a protector-of-the-margins faction is the strategy for maintaining warlords’ interested monopoly control over wealth, comfort, credit, cooperation, and development. By splitting and reducing the Atlantic Anglo-American working class into subordinates, incapable of forming an independent agenda and incapable of leadership, the global elite has created an era of epic crisis and decline, with no end in sight.
To secure and distribute wealth as comfort requires the capacity to optimize distribution by individual development, where distributed individual development is the justice telos. The “organicist” knowledge work of social epidemiologists, developmental biologists, and comparative researchers would be invaluable to promoting this capacity.
Margaryan et al (2020, see citation at end) I would categorize as a salvo, a genetic contribution to the Danish case within the long nationalist contest between Denmark and Sweden for territorial sovereignty.
However, in Canada it’s been publicized as a man-bites-dog story of Viking diversity: A lot of Vikings did not look like Australian Chris Hemsworth (although a bunch of Danish-based Vikings did share Hemsworth’s Anglo-Saxon genes).
Is a Viking? Is not a Viking?
It turns out this is actually a dog-bites-man story. As the Margaryan et al 2020 genetic study of Viking skeletal remains repeatedly states, it is principally confirming the archeological record, thescientific consensus on Scandinavian cosmopolitanism and population diversity extending from the Viking period, 750-1050 AD (the warming period at the beginning of the Medieval Warm Period (MWP); post Bronze age, pre-Middle Ages), and prior.
Why then can the long, if punctuated history of Scandinavian boating globalism be marketed as a man-bites-dog story, against the solid, not-new, and repeatedly-confirmed scientific consensus? According to Dr. Eske Willerslev, one of the principal Danish genetic investigators in the ancient populations genetic study, because folks like their myths.
As Willerslev indicates, Danes enjoy the Blonde Beast marketing hook. However I suggest that the myth does not gain traction only from nationalist formation, or even regional political coalition. There are three dominant myths about Scandinavians in the imperial Anglo-American tradition that I suggest can be traced directly to uneven Anglo-American global rivalry with parts of Scandinavia and Continental Europe.
The most shockingly-persistent myth among educated English speakers is the utterly false Myth of Scandinavian Homogeneity. The researchers establish Bronze Age base populations living throughout Scandinavia, distinguished as roughly 3 genotypes: Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian. (Keep in mind that this is distinguishing genetic markers within the 1% of the human genome that varies across humans. Splitting hairs you might say.) The convention of establishing those Bronze era base populations allows scientists to show the ensuing intensive and extensive genetic and cultural diversification.
The early Viking period was kicked off with an influx of Southern Europeans (dark-haired people from southern Italy) to the southern coastal regions of Scandinavia: Denmark and southern Sweden. I say dark hair, because along with lactose tolerance, hair color is a phenotype that can be traced via the genes left in bones. Most phenotypes cannot be traced via the biological resource bank we know as genes. Instead, they are epigenetic, environmentally-activated and mostly ephemeral (or if transgenerational, usually requiring repeated environmental reinforcement).
Scandinavians engaged extensive trade and intercultural exchange over the millennia, and it predated and postdated the Viking era. With the influx of southern Europeans, Viking becomes a “job” so to speak. (“Vik” means sea bay. To go a-viking is to lurk in a bay, maybe for ambushing purposes.) Other contributing factors to the switch to raiding & trading included the 80-year winter imposed on Scandinavia by global volcanic activity; polygyny, leaving too many young men without “prospects,” so to speak; and the Roman withdrawal from the British isles, leaving in its wake aggressively-antipagan Christians, ocean-accessible, unguarded coastal monasteries with interiors dripping in gold, and new Anglo royal rivalries which used Viking mercenaries (Price 2020). It was the increasingly genetically-diverse coastal people of Scandinavia who embarked for 300 years on the economic strategy of Viking. This started in immigration, and Vikings, Nordic coastal regions, and the far-flung communities they penetrated quickly became quite a diverse, interwoven crowd. Some of the Viking-era population infusion was free, some of it was slaves, but it all went into the Scandinavian hopper.
Over 300 years of their vast riverine and maritime excursions, trade, raid, and settlement, the only populations that the Vikings did encounter and even temporarily live alongside, but did not significantly, genetically “integrate” with (interbreed with, incorporate in Viking groups, incorporate in communities in Scandinavia, incorporate into communities abroad) were at the far-flung limits of their maritime exploration: the Inuit and Indigenous peoples of Greenland and North America. Europeans and Asians were Vikingized, so to speak; and Vikings and home coastal communities and growing cities were reciprocally genetically and culturally globalized. (While trade and exploration were also part of the Viking economy, this is of course not to deny violence in the Viking economy, just as one would not want to deny the world-epic violence in modern UK or US global penetration and resulting migration. However, much less evidence remains of Viking violence.)
This cross-fertilization was maybe “chunky” or diverse, not only genetically but geographically, under the Viking economic strategy. The Danish geneticist authors distinguish an English and south-western Europe orientation to the Danish Viking, an eastern orientation to the Swedish Viking, and Roald Amundsen did not fall far from the tree– the Norwegian Vikings lit out for the far reaches: Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, North America. However, the archeologists demur. Their evidence rather leads them to assert that Viking forays conformed less with current nationalities; rather the trips involved the whole meld of Scandinavians, irrespective of current national identities (Per Price 2020).
(As far as credibility goes, I have to say that first, Price is a super sympathetic authorial voice, and second, it does seem like the geneticists both mostly just a) confirm what the archeologists have already found, and b) add their own Danish nationalist spice, which is no big thang to me, as a) I am not Danish, and b) aren’t the Danes just a little too German for their own good? Those German Junkers really wagged the Danish dog for quite a while back in the day. Among the many facets of their lame neoliberal nationalist politics, do you know that the Danes elected a government that liquidated their main university’s Sociology department in the 1990s? I don’t want to say Danes are villains. Streunsee, that absolute unit, did die for their sins, and that goes a long way. But some of them certainly are motherfuckers. They’re not world-class motherfuckers. And then, if half of England are just degraded Danes, that doesn’t add to Danish credibility. Just trolling.)
A Danish view of Viking era geography
CONTEXT: SCANDINAVIAN REGIONS, FROM THE 15TH CENTURY TO PRESENT
Let us situate Scandinavia a bit more, by recognizing modern political emergence. We should clarify that the Scandinavian nations emerged after the Viking era. In 1523 Sweden broke out of (“secceded”: Why is there no verb for that action?) the Kalmar Union (est. 1397), leaving Denmark-Norway. Norway was a semi-colony of Denmark until Denmark got on the wrong side of a war with Napoleon, and Norway was given to Sweden in 1814. Norway immediately declared independence, but didn’t really get it until 1905. Finland gained independence from Sweden in 1917 via the Bolshevik revolution in the Soviet Union. Iceland became a country in 1944. Greenland, while settled by Inuit in the 13th century, has been an outpost of Denmark-Norway for a millennium, and still remains an Autonomous Territory within Denmark. Today, while something like a “Kalmar” coalition remains, the countries are distinguished by their other main alliances. Norway supplied the strategic raw materials and food to Dutch capitalist expansion (Moore 2010); but today the oil country is closely aligned with the US. Denmark remains closely allied with Germany and the UK.
“Splitter” Sweden has long been the most independent of the post-“Kalmar” countries, by traditionally maintaining a close relationship with France, and maintaining close relations with Finland, in longtime tension with Russia. Sweden was the staunchest holdout against Christianity in Scandinavia, and while it did give in to Christianity, in the Revolutionary Era, Sweden provided the armies that ended the Holy Roman Empire. In Britain’s capitalist expansion, Sweden provided timber to the British navy until the Canadian colony was up and running. This was a commercial relation of tension; through the 18th-19th centuries, Sweden was able to expand its economy a bit like a bellows, by taking advantage of increased seafaring commerical opportunities whenever the British military was diverted. Sweden has occasionally tried to encourage the other Scandinavian countries to form a closer strategic bloc under its leadership, but without success. Sweden’s longtime hot and cold conflicts with conservative-imperial Russia (which derives from the Persian to literally mean land of the Swedes broadly, while Sweden itself literally means the land of the Svea, the geographical and political core of Sweden) helped pro-capitalists forge a Cold War bond between Sweden and the UK and then the US, which is seen in scientific, legal, political, and economic exchange. Conflicting with that Anglo-American alliance, Sweden has with few exceptions (the neoliberal Persson government) stayed on Israel’s (s)hit list since 1967. Today Sweden invests in and exercises development influence over the Baltic states. As well, it has continued its long globalist history with a notably internationalist policy in its modern social democratic era. Varieties of Scandinavian Diversity: DANISH V. SWEDISH
Basically, the ancient genetic record cannot easily tell Danes apart from the English. In the first place, Saxons, Jutes, and Angles moved from Denmark and adjacent NW coastal Germany into Romanicized England in the preceding 5th-6th centuries–prior to the Viking era. In the second place, there was much re-fusion in the Viking era. Even Picts join the Vikings. A lot of western-oriented Viking activity appears to have been carried out by Vikings with Danish genetic markers, and these soak the genetic stock of many regions to this day.
The Danish researchers seem to be obliquely suggesting a transhistorical genetic case for the legitimacy of Danish sovereignty in Northern Europe, particularly in contrast to Sweden, which is depicted as having today a very watered-down (Did you catch that?) genetic claim to the territory.
While they are the most persistent, Danes are not the only trollers of Swedes. In the mid 20th century, confronted with Sweden’s social democratic success as a refutation of Anglo-American neoliberal mobilization, conservative economist Milton Friedman explained away that Swedish success by arguing that it was simply based in Swedish “homogeneity.” To Friedman, only by languishing in their doomed, single-cell protoplasmic state could Swedes defy the laws of economics and achieve a simple “cooperation” impossible in more cosmopolitan, complex societies. Uncle Milty’s rather cheap argumentation, an ahistorical, low-brow reconfiguration and displacement of the Nazi cartoon, was dismayingly convincing to English speakers, who have encouraged economists to present themselves as universal experts. To this day Friedman’s Myth retains staying power even among educated North Americans, despite the addition of concurrent migration to Sweden (18% of the Swedish population is foreign born), on top of early 20th century mass migration to Sweden, and then of course the long-range population mobility and diversification this essay visits.
I suggest that the Friedman Myth’s resonance is due to the other two preexisting Anglo-American myths about Scandinavians: 1) The Crazy Swede literary figure that emerged both from British commercial tensions with Sweden and from late 19th- early 20th century Scandinavian immigration in the US. (Note that this trope becomes quite interesting in the 21st century, in the form of Swedes represented as threatening interstellar aliens who provide plot twist and resolution when it is revealed that they are surprisingly helpful to the protagonist.) 2) The related Dumb Swede literary and cultural character, based in Anglo-American resentment toward Scandinavian immigrants and their accent.
The genetic and archeological records show that Scandinavia has for at least a millennium been among the most diversified of human populations. In the Viking era, the population of coastal Sweden significantly diversified, and not only in the southern interchange with Danish diversification. While the Danish researchers are not so keen to establish the Swedish record, they report that Swedish genetic markers are associated with those Vikings, and coastal Swedish towns, oriented toward eastern integration, from Finland and the Baltics all the way through to the Asian steppe.
From this improved understanding, on TV and in the recent Canadian pop-science interpretation of the genetic research, Vikings are now portrayed as sometimes having Asian features. As well, combined archeological and genetic evidence has found that Vikings were sometimes female. Moreover, as in other northern socio-materialist societies, gender benders often took on a community role associated with magic, as Neil Price recounts in his often-lively 2020 magnum opus, Children of Ash and Elm (Which has a good review by Tom Shippey at the LRB). The moral is: You need to do the comparative Enlightenment science to get past the spin of neophiliac capitalist marketeering.
There was a diversity of diversity in Scandinavia during the Viking era. Northern-interior Sweden (Sweden stretches from 55 – 70 degrees north in latitude, and extends from the low mountains adjacent to the higher Norwegian mountains in the west to the Baltic sea in the east.) was not part of the Viking economic strategy. Essentially, in the Viking era, Scandinavians in Norway and Sweden split into two economic strategies: coastal Viking hall “football jock homecoming king” thug culture, which traded with a contemporaneous, sustainable, inland Sami culture we might think of as the cross-country team in this high school metaphor. This was a bifurcation of lifestyle, culture, and political-economy. There was enough separation, however, that the north-interior population’s global diversification was delayed from the Bronze-era baseline until the post-Viking early Middle Ages.
So the validity of the common claim wittingly or unwittingly rehearsing Milton Friedman’s dismissal of social democratic possibility is limited to the 7th-10th century Scandinavian interior (see white areas on Viking Era map above), which had, however, already been blessed by previous Sami, Norwegian, and Finnish interpolation (The Bronze Era baseline was a research convention to capture ensuing genetic diversification). But this sub-region’s moment of slower globalization was more due to economic difference and population distribution across politicized geographic barriers. Today only 15% of the Swedish population carries the unique genetic code of the people who lived in Sweden at the end of the Bronze Age. 85% of Swedes are the pure result of 1300 years of intense and extensive global exchange. (And no, capitalist-era exchange is not free of betrayal and violence either. Yet exchange is still our word.) OK, at 15%, Sweden has more long-term, place-based genetic continuity than US East Coast, where only 5% of elite East Coast students have genetic heritage extending back into the pre-colonization population (per the Cornell University Genetic Ancestry Project). But do we really want to celebrate, as a model of “cosmopolitanism,” a genocide? Take your +10% Genocide Diversity Bonus TM and fuck right off, New York.
Right now I can hear the wheels whirring inside the heads of the Universal Experts known as economists. Gathering all their motes of rationality, they object: “Mara, that’s 1300 years that Swedes have been in samboer relationships with humans. Those 1300-year- old elves are used to it! Americans have only been having sex and living with humans for 250 years. America is, for all intents and purposes, an abandoned warehouse filled with homeless, glue-sniffing teenagers. Thus, we just have to lay back and vicariously thrill to the ‘economic opportunities’ afforded by ersatz speciation!”
Characterizing Scandinavians as genetically and culturally homogeneous is one of the many mammoth lies that conservatives must deploy to sell the disruptive, traumatizing, stunting grind that is inequality. How did Swedes build social democracy? By making solidarity. They picked up the idea of humanity from their own experience as well as the democratic Enlightenment, and at the turn of the 20th century, they ran with it. By strategizing and organizing, they made themselves a people who recognize each other, share resources and a civic life, and develop. It’s possible anywhere that people reject slavery and undisciplined capitalism, and its ideology, conservatized liberalism.
But we all enjoy our myths. And maybe we need them especially if we live in a land of self-satisfied, lying, conspiring sacks of shit.
Barton, H. Arnold. 1986. Scandinavia in the Revolutionary Era, 1760-1815. Minnesota.
A. Margaryan et al. 2020. “Population genomics of the Viking world.” Nature 585, September 17: 390-412.
Price, Neil. 2020. Children of Ash and Elm: a History of the Vikings. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 9780465096985.
M16 and the CIA have infiltrated the marketing departments of publishers of sociology books. They purposefully design repulsive jacket covers to discourage bookstores from stocking the books and readers from checking them out.
This has been longstanding policy, and it is ongoing.
Look at the shit they did to William Robinson’s recent book. Repulsive.
You could maybe excuse this repulsive cover because “Into the Tempest” is published by a small publisher. You could imagine that the editor, a word person with a complete lack of artistic education or any mote of visual interest or proclivity at all, just recovered from the waste bin a sketch she had made absentmindedly on her lunch napkin for no related reason, scanned it and ran it through a digitizing filter, hit the yellow background button, and called it a day.
But the repulsiveness of sociology book covers is an industry standard, not limited to small presses. My husband just published a book with Polity. After receiving from my partner and his coauthor a flurry of 12 emails begging them not to do this visual damage to the book, their marketing department insisted–insisted! As if they believed they knew what they were doing…like M16.— on slapping on an image in the same visually repulsive style as slapped on Robinson’s book. They claimed their “team” Had Decided. Team of what? Blindered mules?
In the early 1990s, I worked in publishing and in computer graphic art and animation. I can only recall one fellow employee who was hired for the graphic artist position with the paucity of artistic capacity that is standardly inflicted on soc book jacket covers. She was hired not for artistic ability, but because, a single mom, she accepted the low pay, and had recieved a certificate at a vo-tech in the crude graphic art and animation software of the day. All the rest of us in those crap jobs had some kind of artistic capacity. Friends, that was 30 years ago. I cannot believe that that one girl has been hired to make all the sociology book covers ever since, and I cannot believe she is still using the 1993 computer paint program. What is going on?
Let’s call it the M16 style. Its repulsiveness is maximized via four techniques:
1) It is color-theory retarded. The colors are selected and combined to repel the eye.
The Robinson color is just a line drawing on flat yellow, so even though the line drawing is visually stupid and pathetically rendered, at least the bright yellow may startle passersby. For a prime illustration of the color theory refutation inflicted on soc books, I will post the horrifying Polity cover when it comes out. Color scheme: Vomit congealed circa the 1950s. And definitely NOT in anything approaching an adorable Wes Anderson aesthetic. I would call the visual style, “The editor’s roundly-untalented nephew needs to pay rent in London. LONDON.”
2) It is compositionally stupid, to visually repel bookstores and would-be readers. Though I’m curious about Robinson’s work, I had to ask my husband to shelve the Robinson book, simply because left lying around, it is such an absolute eyesore. The poverty of compositional intelligence would earn a visually-brain dead high-school wrestler taking a filler art course a charity ‘C’.
Look at the size and orientation of aspects of the illustration. Its relationship to the text. The text chosen. Look at the white space. Jesus. It’s senseless.
I am an academic, not an artist. As you can see from this blog, I am as likely as anyone to minimize time spent on visuals. (Though to be fair to me, this blog is strictly designed to be a vault for my convenience, including as a safe outlet for the delightful and fully-justified rants that are verboten to middle-aged White lady universal caretakers.) But I’ve gone to art school, and back in the day I worked as an artist before going back to grad school, and I can tell you that I have forgotten truckloads, oceans more about art and design than any marketeer or graphic art stooge who has worked on a soc book cover has ever learned or deployed. When I was a small child and even into junior high, I would on occasion make one or two of the stream of gross composition errors that soc book covers are systematically inflicted with. But I tried to get better, as one would if one did something for either personal enjoyment or as a job. By contrast, Soc book covers are not improving. These marketeers are visually insensate. Or malevolent. It’s not cute that publishers make Soc books so repulsive.
3) It is rendered in a flat, “naive” (read: ugly, talent-free, intelligence-free) style, either block or line, on an ancient computer graphic software program from the early 1990s, with the only possible goal being to visually repel bookstores and would-be readers.
4) The “idea” that the hideous and basic rendering expresses bears no (0) relationship to the content of the book. The image is designed to convey nothing about the content of the book. Indeed, it is designed for one goal: simply to repulse a bookseller or potential reader.
Look at the Robinson book cover monstrosity. What the hell does that Popeye goon peering under a Canadarussia rug at a little man-shaped table placeholder have to do with tempestuous global capitalism? Absofuckinglutely nothing. Anyone with a frontal lobe and a little ganglia of photoreceptors could have come up with a more appropriate and dynamic image. A less weird and creepy image. Even sketching it, no need for royalties. Concerted effort is being made to create visual repulsion. Look at all the books outside of Sociology. They all get visually-inviting covers that do not scream STUPIDNOTHINGTOSEEHERESTUPIDRUNAWAAAAYYY!!!
On the Polity book, the Mule Team has inflicted a little, feminine-ish, poorly-rendered, flat, Pepto-Bismol-colored, disembodied beak or hand, its broken neck/wrist connected by black wires to a vomitously-colored fan of, possibly but not conclusively, 4 or 5 paper airplanes or old-school department store shopping bags in profile.
Why stick that image on that book? Because the image says, “1950s Ladies Shopped!” and will certainly visually repel potential readers. Who cares if broken 1950s Pepto-Bismol-colored hand-beaks shopped? No one in their right mind. And, sensibly, my partner did not write that book. But the only people who will ever know what he did labor to write are the visually-numb Sociology students who are required to forge on past the M16 Polity marketeers’ visual assault.
When I lived there for a year at the beginning of this century, Sweden stood out for its social democratic citizenship. Among the many distinct things that means, I was impressed by the benefits I didn’t expect, including the fact that I had access to no-nonsense, constructive (not policing) state assistance immediately, and that I could vote after a couple of months. I had political citizenship rights within weeks of living in Sweden. How democratic is that?! Lots of African Americans and other expropriated Americans never get political citizenship rights in the US. Who couldn’t vote in Sweden were expats. That kind of right to vote is what today’s Leftish No Borders advocates call “domicile citizenship,” though it’s not clear they know under what conditions it exists.
When I moved to Canada, that darling, that sweetheart of immigration advocates everywhere, I was struck by its opposite citizenship: I was not able to exercise citizenship rights for a decade, while I went through the residency and citizenship process. But people with a lot of money can readily buy citizenship rights in Canada. Expats enjoy citizenship. If you aren’t rich, residency is only a supplemental, contributing criterion for Canadian citizenship. It’s either Jus Sanguinis or money (Jus Divitiae) that efficiently makes the Canadian. And if you don’t believe me, well then let me tell you what a young, female African immigrant said at our surveillance-rich, monarchical swearing-in ceremony. New citizens were invited to give a speech about What Canadian Citizenship Means to Me. Her speech theme was: Canadian citizenship means, finally, I won’t be forced to submit to exploitation by Canadians so hard anymore. We could all relate, and she got a standing-O for it.
DHS and ICE are abominations, crimes against humanity. For sure, the brutal US approach to immigrants is enough to drive anyone crazy. In fact, I’ve seen that happen. It seems to me though that the problem is clear enough: Divest from policing and carceralism; impose borders and limits on your capitalist class, and tax them; and distribute wealth to support social reproduction and other productive economic contributions. And do like the Swedes: Make citizenship about living and contributing in a place, within communities, not about payoff.
In all the miserable time I was steered around by malevolent algorithms on Facebook, eventually the No Borders Left arose within social media. What frustrated me about them at the time was the stance they took: Borders are what cause capitalist inequality. Evidence? ICE and Global inequality.
Baffling. Would they explain their theory, flesh it out?
They would not. It was a moral principle dividing Good from Evil.
Most capitalists want the removal of all barriers to uprooting people, so that capitalists can mobilize and immoblize populations at whim, monopolize the human capacity for coordination, and substitute inputs (factors of production) without friction. Could a No Borders politics just be easily subsumed by that hegemonic force? Ruled irrelevant.
What struck me as distinctive about the Leftish No Borders mobilization is the “coalitional” involvement of Dem Party wonks (ever beating the two Dem Party electoral strategy dead horses: the sure support of 1) Suburban Moms and 2) geographic flushes of racialized people will permit peak Dem Party politicos to marry off their daughters to genuine Wall Street hedge fund managers), as well as the total lack of explanation or practical strategy. I am not alone. According to David Feldman, the No-Borders “principle has come to stand for migrant and immigrant justice;” but whereas promising Left movements are engaging practical politics and thinking strategically across many fields, Leftish No Borders advocates uniquely have not engaged practical politics and thinking strategically about immigration and citizenship at all (Catalyst 4(10): 148-9).
Given the obvious, capitalist No-Borders bedfellows, such an unusual dearth of Left theory and strategy in the 21st century should ring alarm bells. But apparently the Democratic Socialists voted thumbs up on the cosmopolitan, content-free, wonderfully-philosophical Open Borders principle. Somebody in there is killer at taking the group out for late-nite cigarettes and beer bonding. I think we can expect better than co-optable romantic idealism from the Left kids.
Feldman is trying to operationalize Leftish Open Borders politics as “domicile citizenship.” Perhaps related to the fact that these folks don’t recognize that such a thing exists within a certain, specific framework, the concept still is not as rigorous as normal Left thought. How is domicile citizenship going to get rid of global inequality, particularly if you recognize that people are not inputs or factors of production to be frictionlessly swapped around? A sociologist would know that empirically, most people (Understandably, this does not include young, educated Brits.) hate leaving home, and most displaced people just want to get back home. A sociologist would also know why: It takes a lot of communal work for individual people to adapt to a complex place and society. We can call that cultural and social capital for short, so that we can understand that these are a kind of asset, resources that people, a social species, require to live. If you don’t get assets with money, they require work. The No Borders Leftish vision is so conservative- economistic, so anti-sociological, it really makes you wonder why the Left is dicking around with it.
How can you make migration just when the propulsion for migration–not just capitalist inequality (as if that were an effect of geography, rather than the cause of geographically-distributed life chances; as if capital is immobile), but also imperial war and climate crisis–remains utterly unjust? What is the Border-free vision? Billions of poor people–that is to say, people without assets, stripped of even socio-cultural resources–chasing capital all around the globe? Domicile (Swedish) citizenship is better than “national” citizenship or (Canadian) citizenship-by-effective demand, but you don’t get there through romantic idealism. And while it can contribute to working-class strength (potentia and potestas) within a polity, domicile citizenship will not in and of itself do much about global monopoly capitalist inequality. And nor will stripping away political, civil, and social citizenship rights.
Occam’s Razor: Just fight against population managment in its disrupt and mobilize (war) and isolation and immobilization (policing and carceralism) modes. If all you want is a tite slogan:Defund Police > No Borders. Fight for people to live peacefully where they want to, which, except for capitalists, is usually home. Fight for making citizenship rights based on where you live, not what’s in your Cayman Islands vault. And fight for democratic citizenship rights, because those have been under enormous assault, and they’re all that protect us from the powerful in a world gone inequality- and inegalitarianism-mad. There’s something really fishy, really rotten about No Borders, kill-citizenship-off politics. Their goal seems to be an Abu Dhabi planet. That’s not democratic socialism. That’s not even Mexico.
We should always strive for internationalism, for the democratic motley crew, and that’s a tough row to hoe (See Erica Benner’s Actually Existing Nationalisms). But the sacred Borderless world will come after and not before the bloody, global Communist (or at least social democratic) revolution.
Lion’s Not Gonna Lie Down with the Lamb, Fremds.
In response to my friend’s responses below, I would like to first agree that seizing the means of production is crucial. That’s why I’m interested in the great real estate buy-up by billionaires, particularly in the North American West, and in the work of Katharina Pistor, author of The Code of Capital.
I would like to second acknowledge that, yes, I wrote this blog as if my ideas emerged from mere personal experience. Allow me to clarify my meaning by situating this blog narrative choice within the context of my scholarly expertise: I study the differences between societies founded on egaliberte socialist ideas and organization (including Swedish social democratic society) and societies that have gone to extreme lengths to exclude egaliberte socialist organization with dedicated, massive policing, violence, institutionalized slavery, and political and economic exclusion (some of which may be targeted to racialized egaliberte organization that would otherwise build toward egaliberte, socialist policy and institutions). My operating hypothesis is that including (rather than excluding) socialist ideas and organization permits egaliberte path dependency, or the persistence of egaliberte policy, ideas, culture, and institutions through “abeyance” historical periods of international and domestic, expropriative-capitalist, conservative-liberal movement. Methodologically, while “ideal types” are never pure in the real world, they do indicate tendencies, and we can recognize differences and similarities in proportion. I find that there can be significant differences between socialist-inclusive v. socialist-exclusive polities.
The reason why I am interested in the “marginal” long-term impact of socialism is because I am a big believer in politically-conscious and entitled capitalists/expropriators and their many, vast layers of police/military and other enforcements not called police per se. I don’t believe in them like, “they’re good.” I believe that they are normally extremely-formidable constraints upon, for example, seizing the means of production. So that, knowing this, socialism has to be pursued where we can; and I don’t have much respect for the sport of complaining about the socialism that people have managed to squeak through, with all their blood, sweat, and tears. Jacobin-style aesthetics are great, but socialism is not the pretty baby of any true-hearted, blood-brother tree fort gang. I hope we can agree that socialism is the punctuated, nonlinear project of millennia.
And to my mind, the nice thing about Sweden is, though it is yet another society of flawed humans, and they do maintain a corrupting class compromise, nonetheless it’s also a society including a lot of philosophical materialists who understand, and have long understood, democratic Enlightenment and egaliberte, so in effect, run things like they were Sociologists who comprehend both procedural and substantive rationality and have a valid theory of scientific epistemology. I recognize, and regret, that not everyone sees that approach as optimal. Most Anglo-Americans prefer things to be run by gamers and enforced by procedural rationalists, with dashes of morality provided by irrationalists. You know, where everyone specializes and maxes-out their one thing. They can be paid/whipped to produce that effect, to embody it. Let’s just say, while I don’t romanticize it, I do prefer the Swedish.
While the findings of significant social difference between socialist-path and socialist-excluding polities may remind the casual observer of jejeune or (very specific, not universal) German Soc-Dem “idealization” or dehistoricization/fetishization of social democracy–eg. idealization in relation to a strategic agenda that disavows socialism–it is nonetheless distinct from such particular reduction. Perhaps the common dismissal of difference is an echo of the West European 20th century turn against the Soviet Union toward a postmodern aesthetics and “hermeneutic innocence,” as discussed by Yasha Levine, Nancy Fraser, Daniel Zamora, Staf Callewaert, Jan Rehmann, Domenico Losurdo, and on. My research agenda nonetheless reflects a reasonable temporal and passion distance from the 20th century Atlantic elite intellectual subclass. That era’s preoccupations have proven limited, and we can now identify how. Unlike 19th-century political opposition to German social democracy, and 20th-century structural-marxist, romantic, anarchist, and Atlantic ruling class opposition to both theory literacy and Swedish social democracy, my model can acknowledge and explain real policy, institutional, and cultural differences without jumping to the unwarranted, invalid conclusion that social democracy obviates and invalidates socialism.
1) The belief that social democracy is the antithesis of socialism does not distinguish Marxism, and can be very unhelpful to Marxism. It is an invalid, anachronistic, and parochial belief, in no way integral to Marxism as a living Enlightenment social science. It smacks of Jakarta Method.
I indicate above that domicile citizenship can itself not reduce global income or wealth inequality much. Because however domicile citizenship is earned as a result of working-class organization culminating in political power and state accountability to the domestic working class, it further permits the domestic working-class capacity to direct the state toward internationalist working-class solidarity policy. This is superior to the full, expropriative-capitalist-coalition No Borders agenda, which provides support to Atlantic ruling class potentas effecting such policy as bombing out homes in strategic parts of the world, mobilizing vulnerable labour, and continuing to remove all working-class accountable citizenship remnants in capitalist-core states, as well as removing state border regulation (eg. passports, though other biometric surveillance and credit-accounting techniques are now possible so we shouldn’t get stuck on passports) and removing state regulation from employers.
No Borders erodes the potentia of the multitude. In neither case–losing sight of the mechanisms of migration propulsion, dismantling social and political citizenship–is class (and related social status) policing or carceralism challenged. The immigrant prisons emerged from the surplus-labour prison model; they remain interchangeable. COVID-19 biosecurity instructed us that there is plenty of capacity to expand policing and detention further, as policing and detention was universalized across the non-police working-class and smallholders, particularly women and people of color.
Nor do working-class and smallholding people, who must rely on both dangerous mass-commodity production and some state support within highly-commodified (consumer) expropriative-capitalist contexts or fail to thrive, retain any capacity in the No Borders ideal to prevent their own disorganization by the amassed policing forces where citizenship rights are tenuous or withdrawn. (The difference within less-commodified contexts is that working-class and smallholding people must rely on uncommodified supports from nature, or fail to thrive…or hit the road, emigrate. This is the capitalist motivational system. Working-class and smallholding people are united around the world by their incapacity to thrive “independently” in capitalism. Only capitalists, in either exploiting or expropriating mode, can independently thrive and secure homes–means of reproduction—from which to organize society in capitalism.)
So when I’m saying, critically, that domicile citizenship does not solve global income or economic inequality, I’m including Swedish domicile citizenship. I am saying it’s better at securing working-class communication and organizational capacity than Jus Divitiae; but in making the contrast, I’m not idealizing it, you follow? The additional thing I’m saying is that the absolute No Borders agenda really does not solve global income or economic inequality.
I am also saying read Erica Benner’s Actually-Existing Nationalisms to see how the strategic contest over how to relate through and across borders played out in Marx’s time, and how Marx changed his positions on the issues. That history indicates that Marxists probably can’t solve borders in the expropriative-capitalist world. But instead of sinking into idealistic-romantic discourse, they can be internationalist in other ways involving organizing, Abolition, and relationship- and institution-building.
Any iteration of No Borders policy perpetuates the peculiar, Western- imperial core, 20th century post-war misapplication Nietzsche, via the invalid theory that the absolute suppression of the social, human capacities (semi-autonomous communication and coordination) of the working-class (eg. by the withdrawal of citizenship rights on top of unequal and inegalitarian capitalist economic relations) will leave communism by default (Because, per Nietzsche, distress leads to power. Which can be true if you’re an entitled aristocrat “wounded” by democracy. Otherwise, not so much. The assumptions tend to be invalid when liberal and anarchist philosophers reimagine Nietzsche as a democrat). You know, it’s true that chattel slavery gave the world beautiful music, I guess.
But there is not a good defense of the empirically-invalid hypothesis that communism is a bare-life default, rather than the product of communication and organizing. Social movements scholars have put the deprivation -leads-to-political-power hypothesis to bed. The bare-life = communism idea is not only inappropriately transplanted from theory about aristocratic political power, it is also rooted in the old night soil of financial metropole working-class subordination (ignoring zones of capitalist expropriation and reimagining capitalism as a simple relation of exploitation, leaving plenty of room for working-class human capacity expression), intersecting with post-war Weltschmerz and antihumanism, puerile impatience at the post-war American working class for being reorganized–principally by finance, commanding other business and marketers, political parties, military and police, and religious leaders–into consumers, and excitement at the at-the-time-fresh postcolonialism, also since crushed by imperial state violence (See Bevins’ The Jakarta Method). We need to move on from conservatizing 20th century romanticism. We need to move toward Erica Benner, Domenico Losurdo, and Jan Rehmann’s deciphering (as opposed to hermeneutic innocence) intellectual work, and toward Jane McAlevey’s tactical and strategic organizing.
2) A Marxist does not need to accept the dated, invalid, and peculiar assumption of bare life as the father of communism, nor its products. The assumption fits within aristocratic Nietzschean philosophy, but can be very unhelpful to Marxism. This is not agreeing that effective Marxism is confined to Salon/Authoritarian Marxism. Quite the opposite, the assertion is that effective Marxism is an egaliberte praxis.
Elected representatives shovel billions of dollars at police to support their slavery calling of assaulting, harassing, destroying, and mass-murdering working-class people, mostly of color.
English Common Law.
We cannot distinguish between a union that contributes to public value and a police fraternity because English Common Law.
That is because most of us do not have the concept public value anymore. The neoliberals killed it over the 20th century.
Other assassinated, crucial concepts that we cannot use today in public: inhumane; democratic Enlightenment; egaliberte; the motley crew; commodification; mystification; exploited; expropriated; slavery.
Meritocratic technocrats manage populations: They masterfully practice the techniques of efficiently dehumanizing, isolating, immobilizing, exploiting and expropriating, crippling, and stunting people, as with the stepwise expansion of the carceral market-state, the imprisonment of immigrants, and the near-universal pandemic confinement of productive female workers to home cells while the public sphere is reserved for masculine policing.
The Silence of the Geographers: COVID-19-justified policy does not reflect regional COVID-19 conditions.
Technocratic autism: Leaders–politicians and public health officials–block mobilization toward increasing virus testing capacity, because they want to protect resources for hospitals and doctors and the commercial vaccine market. They do not care what happens to people’s health when they are dehumanized, isolated, immobilized, and impoverished as the solution to epidemics and pandemics.
Anglo-Americans are proud of having leadership that never imagines policy that avoids the cardinal Anglo-American virtues of dehumanizing, isolating, immobilizing, expropriating, and stunting humans.