|Contents||Bulletin||Scripting in shell and Perl||Network troubleshooting||History||Humor|
|News||Sociology of organizations||Corporatism||Best books about bureaucracy||Recommended Links||Bureaucracy as a Political Coalition||The Deep State|
|Big Fukushima Debate||Bureaucratic alienation||Bureaucratic ritualism||Military Bureaucracy||Bureaucratic inertia||Bureaucratic avoidance of responsibility||The Lifecycle of Bureaucracy|
|The Fiefdom Syndrome||Audacious Oligarchy and "Democracy for Winners"||The Iron Law of Oligarchy||The Pareto Law||The Peter Principle||Parkinson Law||Military Incompetence|
|Groupthink||Lysenkoism||Mayberry Machiavellians||Obama Bait and Switch||The authoritarian personality|
|Does the Government Bureaucracy Stifle Innovation?||Bosos or Empty Suits (Aggressive Incompetent Managers)||Office Stockholm Syndrom||Two Party System as Polyarchy||Pluralism as a myth||Myth about intelligent voter||Double High Authoritarians|
|Principal-agent problem||Elite Theory||The psychopath in the corner office||Analogy between corporate and psychopathic behavior||Meetings mania||Humor||Etc|
Bureaucracy is an organizational model rationally designed to perform complex tasks efficiently. Bureaucratic organizations are typically large organizations, and they are characterized by formalized rules and regulations, systematic record-keeping and archiving of past decisions, formalized planning for the future, hierarchies of status, defined career paths (within the organization and across organizations), a concern for organizational identity, and other features.
Many of these features considerably vary across organizations, but government, military and international corporations as well as international organizations (UN, UNESCO, World Bank, IMF) are more or less typified forms. The army and most churches also belong to this category. The fact that bureaucracies are governed by rules make them something like staffed with human robots, where rules serve as a program governing the robot behavior. And as in sci-fi such robots very soon start to demonstrate behavior that was not designed by the programmers ;-).
For example, scholars and specialists often lament that once the bureaucracy commits itself to a course of action, it rarely adjusts its path. Bureaucracies prize continuity over innovation and cling to the prevailing orthodoxy even if that means moving strait till everybody start to fall from the cliff. With the notable exception of the top layer of hierarchy ;-).
While each bureaucracy is created with particular mandate, like Frankenstein it very soon it escape the control of its creators and start living the life of its own, pursuing goals that might nothing to do, or worse completely opposite to those to achieve which it was created. At some point a new phenomenon called organizational culture emerge. the latter comprises an interlocking set of goals, roles, processes, values, communications practices, attitudes and assumptions. The elements fit together as a self-reinforcing system and are resistant to any attempt to change it. Hierarchy, with its attendant multiple layers of goals, roles, accountabilities, values and communication channels became entrenched.
Any bureaucracy is a political coalition that is designed to protect and enrich its members (see Bureaucracy as a Political Coalition). And that goal explicitly conflict with the goal of efficient and dispassionate service that they theoretically should provide. That means that there is inherent contradiction within any large bureaucratic organization. that also means that one of the most central problem of bureaucracies is Principal-agent problem which is essentially another side of The Iron Law of Oligarchy. This problem recently (in 2008) get some attention in respect to financial sector:
In political science and economics, the principal-agent problem or agency dilemma treats the difficulties that arise under conditions of incomplete and asymmetric information when a principal hires an agent, such as the problem that the two may not have the same interests, while the principal is, presumably, hiring the agent to pursue the interests of the former. The “agency problem” is an inherent dysfunction in all principal/agent relationships, a dysfunction so powerful that such relationships can never fully achieve their stated objectives.. Here is how Wikipedia defines this relationship
The principal–agent problem or agency dilemma occurs when one person or entity (the "agent") is able to make decisions that impact, or on behalf of, another person or entity: the "principal". The dilemma exists because sometimes the agent is motivated to act in his own best interests rather than those of the principal. The agent-principal relationships is a useful analytic tool in political science and economics, but may also apply to other areas.
Common examples of this relationship include corporate management (agent) and shareholders (principal), or politicians (agent) and voters (principal). For another example, consider a dental patient (the principal) wondering whether his dentist (the agent) is recommending expensive treatment because it is truly necessary for the patient's dental health, or because it will generate income for the dentist. In fact the problem potentially arises in almost any context where one party is being paid by another to do something, whether in formal employment or a negotiated deal such as paying for household jobs or car repairs.
The problem arises where the two parties have different interests and asymmetric information (the agent having more information), such that the principal cannot directly ensure that the agent is always acting in its (the principal's) best interests, particularly when activities that are useful to the principal are costly to the agent, and where elements of what the agent does are costly for the principal to observe. Moral hazard and conflict of interest may arise. Indeed, the principal may be sufficiently concerned at the possibility of being exploited by the agent that he chooses not to enter into a transaction at all, when that deal would have actually been in both parties' best interests: a suboptimal outcome that lowers welfare overall. The deviation from the principal's interest by the agent is called "agency costs".
“Looting” is a reasonably violent word that conveys with some degree of accuracy the essence of principal-agent problem in financial sector. Perverse incentives is more politically correct work meaning essentially the same. Attempts to constrain financial looting using laws and regulation, or at the individual level, by a sufficiently powerful moral conscience proved inefficient.
Criminal prosecution is difficult as top officers amass considerable wealth and can afford the best defense money can buy. At the same time Stalinism-style purges, while definitely effective contradict norms of the modern societies. Changing situation via regulation is difficult as financial oligarchy controls lawmakers and, as Obama election had shown, also might well controls the nomination of presidential candidates from both parties.
There are three laws that govern this process of corruption:
A former Pentagon official says the history of the Veterans Administration is littered with stunning examples of waste and incompetence, and the latest allegations of delayed care, secret wait lists and multiple sets of books at VA institutions only takes it to a new level.
In any case within any large organization there are powerful mechanisms (filters) which prevent promotion of competent people into higher levels of hierarchy, selection of loyalty dominates selection based on competence and there are well established mechanisms of degradation of previously competent members as they climb up the hierarchical ladder.
Even in cases of indoctrination with ideology which inhibits those impulses, corruption of the organizational elite is a serious problem as collapse of the USSR demonstrated to the surprised world. Only an idiot (or PR prostitute ;-) would say that it was angry Russians who overthrow the Communist regime; in reality it was Communist elite, including KGB elite which changed flags and privatized the state resources.
This is the key to understanding complex dynamics in large organization, where bureaucracies that often engage in actions that look close to absurd (or are absurd) to the uninitiated, but are always directed on preservation and enhancement of power of top bureaucrats. One of the most important features of bureaucracies is that along with "functional side" it also necessarily becomes a political coalition which relentless, consistently and skillfully fights for self-preservation and growth of its influence, often sacrificing "functional" part like pawns in the chess game. As soon as self-preservation become the paramount concern, the original purpose of the bureaucracy to provide efficient and dispassionate service ("functional part") is subverted and buried beneath the higher priority activities of providing benefits, increasing staffing, and, the most importantly, increasing budgets ("political part").
|As soon as self-preservation become the paramount concern, the original purpose of the bureaucracy to provide efficient and dispassionate service ("functional part") is subverted and buried beneath the higher priority activities of providing benefits, increasing staffing, and, the most importantly, increasing budgets ("political part").|
Tendency of mature bureaucracies to pervert their organizational, functional goals necessitates periodic purges and reorganizations. One of the first political party which understood this complex dynamic were Bolsheviks, who under Stalin instituted periodic purges of State-employed bureaucrats ("apparatchiks"), so that the fear for their well-being (and often life) served as a powerful countervailing force to the natural tendency of bureaucracy to pervert its goals. Which of course have had only temporary effect.
In the USA similar mechanisms of appointing as head of government agencies by political appointees (who are often, unfortunately, are completely incompetent in the area of activity they were made responsible for) is much less effective, but also has its positive sides. The US Congress looks more stagnant then the USSR Politburo with the average serving term of senators probably exceeding twice of more the term of a typical Politburo member.
Limitation of term of the President along with natural change of political objectives serves as a periodic, but very mild reorganizing force. This effect is watered down by the short term assigned to the presidency as in such short period it is impossible to institute substantial changes in top departments such as Department of State and Department of Defense (which actually has budget larger then GDP of the USSR and is probably less efficient in spending those money that the socialist economy of the USSR).
Intelligence community is another part that tend quickly escape the control and pervert the goal for which particular organization was created. Here natural tendency of any large bureaucracy to try to enlarge their sphere of influence and minimize the control from above looks really menacing to the very existence of democratic government in the country as Church Committee discovered long ago. To members of the commission CIA looked more like a tail which wags the dog, then as a regular part of the government, and as Assassination of President Kennedy had shown this is really the case. And it was the chief of FBI J. Edgar Hoover who convincingly proved that that idea of rotation of high level executives in the US government has well defined exceptions. None of presidents dared to touch him until he died in the office occupying it for almost 40 years (1935-1972).
In large corporation the role similar to Stalin purges can play periodic changing of location of headquarters, as election of president of the corporation and its board are typically formal and are run by the same clique that runs the organization.
Another negative side of bureaucracies is that they serve as perfect environment for Authoritarians (especially Double High Authoritarians) as well as sociopaths. See The psychopath in the corner office and Analogy between corporate and psychopathic behavior
So it is interesting that the term psychopathic is applicable to bureaucracies too, not only to individuals. Bureaucracies can demonstrate several of typical psychopathic traits. Like psychopathic managers, bureaucracies often prevent subordinates doing their jobs and prevent employees fulfilling their duties. The term Psychopathic corporation is often used to highlight the connection between corporate psychopaths and modern government organizations and mega-corporations. Here is a short but very useful list from Our Church Administration is Critically Infected « Another Voice
1.Illogical Thinking: The lack of independent, critical thinking.
2. Highly Compartmentalized Minds: Authoritarians’ ideas are poorly integrated with one another.
3. Double Standards : When your ideas live independent lives from one another it is pretty easy to use double standards in your judgments. You simply call up the idea that will justify (afterwards) what you’ve decided to do.
4. Hypocrisy: The leaders of authoritarian movements sometimes accuse their opponents of being anti-democratic and anti-free speech when the latter protest against various books, movies, speakers, teachers and so on.
5. Blindness To Themselves: self-righteousness.
6. A Profound Ethnocentrism: Ethnocentrism means dividing the world up into in-groups and out-groups…….in-groups are holy and good…out-groups are evil and Satanic.
7. Dogmatism: the Authoritarian’s Last Ditch Defense: By dogmatism I mean relatively unchangeable, unjustified certainty. Loyal followers obey without questions…..
The key feature of such companies is that do not treat employees as humans, they treat them as animals to be culled when appropriate.
"The psychopathic company has no allegiance to the employees within, just
to top management,"....
Although multiple vices and tendency to convert rules into absurd of large bureaucracies are self-evident and huge volume of literature exists about perversions of bureaucracies, especially military bureaucracies (The Good Soldier Švejk ), this form of organization is not totally bad. At the same time progressive degradation of bureaucracies with age, perversion of goals and tendency for unwarranted extension of its influence and size are well established.
In other words, benefits to the proverbial “red tape” associated with bureaucracy do exist, but as its amount increase at some point all benefits dissipate and organization became totally parasitic. Quantity just turns into quality. At the same time strong mechanisms of self-defense and survival ensure that such a bureaucracy can last a long time past this point. And as Parkinson aptly stated perversion of use of resources is a rule not an anomaly.
Also level of competency of top bureaucrats are open to review as strong mechanisms within organization exist that put loyalty to higher brass first and prevent promotion of competent people into higher levels of hierarchy as well as mechanisms of degradation of skills (and often IQ -- acquired idiocy) of previously competent members as they change roles during climbing up the hierarchical ladder (The Peter Principle).
There is also a strong tendency of top layers of any large bureaucracy to form a oligarchy and cut oxygen for newcomers, and possibility of change. In other words forming permanent organizational elite, much like aristocracies in the part. That's what Iron law of oligarchy is about. So there can't be a democratic established bureaucracy, even in principle. Any established bureaucracy is by definition an oligarchy that often acts in concert and reflect interests of other oligarchic groups in society no matter what is the formal charter of the organization.
For example, bureaucratic regulations and rules help ensure that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) takes appropriate precautions to safeguard the health of Americans when it is in the process of approving a new medication. It does not work perfectly as it is often perverted by special interests, but it is better then nothing and might be even better then alternatives. The proverbial "red tape" associated with truckload of useless documents actually also serves positive role documenting pretty complex things, so that multiple players have common vision and if problems arise again, data exists for analysis and correction. Here how John Kenneth Galbright viewed the phenomena:
John Kenneth Galbraith, who took the analysis well beyond the manufacture of pins. According to Galbraith, much of the dynamism of the modern world could be attributed to the advance of science and technology, which in turn resulted from “taking ordinary men, informing them narrowly and deeply and then, through appropriate organization, arranging to have their knowledge combined with that of other specialized but equally ordinary men.”12
As Galbraith implied, specialization creates the need for coordination. Bureaucracies bring order out of potential chaos in two ways. The first of these is what people tend to think of when they hear the word bureaucracy: rules, regulations, and strict procedures. All bureaucracies make abundant use of explicit and implicit Standard Operating Procedures to guide and control the activities of their employees. This, of course, can be another source of frustration when dealing with a bureaucracy because there may be situations not covered by existing rules, or the rules may be of dubious appropriateness. But even more frustrations, as well as endless opportunities for corruption and abuse, would ensue if the members of an organization simply made decisions on the basis of personal connections or individual whims.
Along with the use of formal roles and rules, bureaucratic organizations coordinate the work of their members through another property that is distasteful to many: hierarchical authority. The structures of most bureaucratic organizations can be (and usually are) depicted in an organization chart that puts every position at a hierarchical level that clearly indicates who is subordinate or superordinate to whom. In addition to aiding in the coordination of work, organizational hierarchies serve a number of other functions, such as delineating responsibilities and motivating workers by holding out the prospect of promotion. Organizational hierarchies are especially prominent in military and paramilitary organizations such as police forces, where observing rules and obeying orders issued by superiors are of paramount importance. Other kinds of organizations can get by with more egalitarian structures, but some degree of hierarchical ranking will be found in all bureaucratic organizations.
A final characteristic of bureaucratic organizations is their extensive use of, and reliance on, written records. It is no coincidence that the first extensive government bureaucracies emerged in Egypt, Babylonia, and China, places where written languages were first created and developed. As a practical matter, written records are essential for the preservation and dissemination of rules, regulations, and operating procedures, along with essential documents such as contracts, tax records, and voter registrations. What began thousands of years ago with the first scratching on clay tablets continues to a greatly magnified degree today, as modern information and communications technologies such as computerized databases and e-mail have extended the reach and potency of the written word
At this point, many readers are probably thinking that this discussion of bureaucracy is seriously divorced from reality as they have experienced it. And they are right—not only do bureaucracies in the real world often depart from the above principles, but the imputation that they are the embodiment of rationality seems quite a stretch. Here we will again simply note that an ideal type presentation of bureaucracy is only a starting point for further analysis, just as a mathematical description of the acceleration of a falling body has to first set aside the effects of air resistance in order to derive the formula for determining the rate at which the body gains speed. There will be numerous places in this book where real-world organizational structures and procedures and their consequences for the way work is done will be presented, along with the reasons for their departure from ideal-type bureaucracies. As a starting point, we need to consider which kinds of work environments are well suited to bureaucratic modes of organization and which are not.
Likewise, the impersonality of bureaucracies can have benefits. For example, an applicant must submit a great deal of paperwork to obtain a government student loan. However, this lengthy—and often frustrating—process promotes equal treatment of all applicants, meaning that everyone has a fair chance to gain access to funding. Formally bureaucracy discourages favoritism, meaning that on the surface friendships and political clout should have no effect on access to funding. Reality is totally different.
The concept of bureaucracy is closely linked with the concept of oligarchy. Any large corporate bureaucracy is an oligarchy. Corporate oligarchy is a form of power, governmental or operational, where such power effectively rests with a small, elite group of inside individuals, sometimes from a small group of educational institutions, or influential economic entities or devices, such as banks, commercial entities that act in complicity with, or at the whim of the oligarchy, often with little or no regard for society or environment at large.
Bureaucracies may have positive effects on employees. Whereas the stereotype of bureaucracies is one of suppressed creativity and extinguished imagination, this is not the case. Social research shows that many employees intellectually thrive in bureaucratic environments. According to this research, bureaucrats have higher levels of education, intellectual activity, personal responsibility, self-direction, and open-mindedness, when compared to non-bureaucrats.
Another benefit of bureaucracies for employees is job security, such as a steady salary, and other perks, like insurance, medical and disability coverage, and a retirement pension.
Programmers and system administrators rarely have anything good to say about bureaucracies, and their complaints may hold some truth. As noted previously, bureaucratic regulations and rules are not very helpful when unexpected situations arise. Bureaucratic authority is notoriously undemocratic, and blind adherence to rules may inhibit the exact actions necessary to achieve organizational goals.
Concerning this last point, one of bureaucracy's least-appreciated features is its proneness to creating “paper trails” and piles of rules. Governmental bureaucracies are especially known for this. Critics of bureaucracy argue that mountains of paper and rules only slow an organization's capacity to achieve stated goals. They also note that governmental red tape costs taxpayers both time and money. Parkinson's Law and the Peter Principle have been formulated to explain how bureaucracies become dysfunctional. They are pretty fascinating findings:
In a sense, weakness of explanatory part of Peter Principle ignores the nature of bureaucracies as political coalitions. It only suggests that there are hidden but powerful mechanisms which prevent appointing competent members into positions of power. Moreover at higher levels of hierarchy successful candidates are often intentionally mediocre as they were selected as a compromise reached between two groups which fight for power. Paradoxically 'faking mediocrity" is a successful policy for getting some politically savvy and competent managers to the top. As somebody suggested “In the republic of mediocrity, genius is dangerous.” Another aspect is that mediocre but power hungry managers are wee aware about this weakness and try to mask it by corresponding selection of less competent but more loyal candidates. This tendency is related to Steve Jobs well known observation that "bozos tend to select bozos" (“the bozo explosion.”). See Why Every Company Needs A No Bozos Policy - Forbes:
What is a bozo? It’s a little like pornography, you know it when you see it. However, let me try to more precisely define one.
A bozo is someone who thinks they are much smarter and capable than they actually are. They constantly over-estimate their abilities and under-estimate the risks and threats around them. They typically don’t keep an open-mind. They look instead for data that confirms a previously held bias. They also don’t handle details well. They expect other people to clean up their messes when they happen, and so don’t feel the need to obsess over the little things. Because they don’t have a keen sense for the competitive market in which they operate, they typically don’t have good judgment in key strategic decisions or when hiring top talent. Instead of hiring the smartest folks around them, bozos prefer to hire people who blow smoke, telling them how great they are, or for some non-obvious business reason such as sharing the same college or frat.
In this sense we can talk about Institutalized perversion of "competence based promotion" and
resulting incompetence at top layers. The accent here is on servility as substitution for
competence for loyalty and "politically correctness" as the key values which determine promotion
in large bureaucracies. This is most common for military bureaucracies. See also
Although the extent of bureaucratization should reflect the kind of work being done, the decision to organize things along bureaucratic lines may also reflect existing economic and social cleavages. As several critics have argued, a key element of bureaucratic organization, the division of labor, may represent an effort by management to simplify workers’ tasks to the point where no skill is required to get the job done. From the perspective of management, this has two advantages. First, it lowers labor costs by allowing the use of unskilled, low-paid workers. Second, “de-skilling” removes an important source of potential power within the workforce. Employees with special skills are hard to replace, and this significantly improves their bargaining power when it comes to wages, benefits, and working conditions.15 In similar fashion, bureaucratic hierarchies may be established and maintained not because they contribute to the effective functioning of an organization but because they confer authority and prestige to some of its members at the expense of others. These points have been emphasized by Marxist critics of capitalist organizations, who have argued that both division of labor and hierarchy are organizational devices used to control workers and accumulate capitalist profits.16
Marxists have not been the only ones to take a critical stance toward bureaucracy. Other critics have been particularly concerned with the effects of bureaucratic organization on employees and the way they go about their work. One of the most trenchant criticisms of the effects of bureaucracy on individual workers came from Max Weber himself. For Weber, the formal rationality embodied in bureaucratic structures and procedures was itself problematic. After all, what Weber saw as the cultural basis of rationality, the “disenchantment of the world,” carries a double meaning. Especially in everyday use, disenchantment connotes a sense of disillusionment to the point of cynicism. As Weber fully realized, a totally disenchanted world is flat and gray, containing little to elevate the spirits of men and women. As Weber noted in a famous passage in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, a totally disenchanted culture produced “narrow specialists without mind, pleasure seekers without heart; in its conceit this nothingness imagines it has climbed to a level of humanity never before attained.”17
A more sharply focused insight into the effects of bureaucratic organization on individual workers has been provided by Robert Merton through his description of the “bureaucratic personality” and the circumstances that give rise to it.18 For Merton, bureaucratic structures and procedures are established to get certain things done, but sometimes they become ends in themselves. When this happens, we may see the emergence of the “bureaucratic virtuoso,” a functionary who closely adheres to all the rules and procedures but hardly accomplishes anything of significance. Organizations and their personnel can succumb to this malady for both organizational and personal reasons. In the case of the former, “bureaucratic ritualism” may be used by organizations as a defense mechanism in a hostile political climate. For the individual bureaucrat, job insecurity may provoke a need to do everything “by the books” so no blame can be assigned when things go badly.
A more recent description and analysis of contemporary bureaucracy and its consequences for working life comes from George Ritzer, who has invoked the McDonald’s chain of fast-food restaurants as the archetypical early 21st-century organization.19 Echoing Weber, Ritzer describes four key features of McDonald’s operations: efficiency, calculability, predictability, and the control of people through the use of nonhuman technologies. There is nothing dramatically new here; “McDonaldization” has a lot in common with Taylor’s scientific management and Ford’s assembly line. But while Taylor’s ideas were never fully implemented, and the use of assembly lines was largely confined to the manufacturing sector, McDonaldization has gone well beyond the fast-food industry. The procedures, technologies, and managerial values that have made McDonald’s the world’s largest hamburger chain are now being applied to a great variety of organizational settings: retail establishments, schools, and even the sex industry.20
Although critics have assumed that McDonaldization necessarily results in a thoroughly unpleasant and alienating work environment, careful research into the actual experiences and feelings of McDonald’s workers has presented a more complex picture. The most intensive effort at assaying the effects on employees of McDonald’s organizational structure and operating procedures was conducted in the mid-1990s by Robin Leidner.21 In some ways, her research supports the conception of McDonald’s as a stereotypical impersonal, bureaucratic organization. Although dealing with individual customers, one of the central activities in any fast-food establishment, is difficult to routinize, this is accomplished through the use of numerous formal rules and procedures, as well as prepared scripts that workers use when interacting with customers.
Food preparation is highly routinized through the technologies that require little or no judgment on the part of the cooks, such as dispensers that always supply an exact quantity of ketchup and cash registers that tell cashiers how much change to give customers. For managers and owners of individual restaurants, McDonald’s provides “the Bible,” an exhaustive manual covering all the procedures and standards to be employed.22
In addition, the firm requires that prospective owners of franchises attend “Hamburger University” in Oak Brook, Illinois, where they are taught operational procedures and, more generally, are imbued with McDonald’s corporate philosophy.23
These key elements of “McDonaldization” have served the firm well, although they have been criticized for making work at McDonald’s a routinized, poorly paid job that requires little in the way of worker skills. At the same time, however, these organizational rules and routines can work to the advantage of McDonald’s employees. The well-defined routines reduce uncertainty and conflict over who is supposed to do what. Routinization also shields employees from clashes with customers because the workers can defend and justify their actions by noting that they are simply doing what they were required to do. In Leidner’s summation, “Depending on the context, service routines can help workers do their job, can boost their confidence, can limit the demands made upon them, can give them leverage over service-recipients, and can offer psychic protection from demeaning aspects of the job.”24
Of course, it is precisely this ability to invoke bureaucratically established rules that has allowed some individuals to justify unethical or even criminal behavior by claiming “I was just following orders.” Several classic experiments in social psychology have demonstrated the willingness of people to inflict harm when they are ordered to do so.25 We therefore also have to take into account the moral dimension when assessing the advantages and disadvantages of bureaucratic organization. Rules and regulations are an essential part of bureaucratic administration, but they also may allow, and even encourage, actions that individuals would not do on their own volition.
Bureaucracies breed special type of careerists, for whom the sole , dominant orientation is not the well being of the organization, but personal climbing up the corporate layer (upj santoro sociology bureaucratic organizations)
Bureaucratic OrganizationsIn this course we will explore the nature of formal or bureaucratic organizations. We will look at bureaucracy and bureaucratic processes in five interrelated areas (see Hummel's Preface): socially, culturally, psychologically, linguistically, and most importantly, as a political system -- a system of power. Let's very briefly develop some working assumptions from these five areas.
"Red tape" ... "You can't fight city hall" ... "climbing the corporate ladder" ... "suits" ... "clients" ... "the bottom line is the bottom line" .... We live in bureaucracies which penetrate every aspect of our existences. We are citizens, employees, unemployed, students, teachers, clerks, patients, customers, drivers, subscribers, debtors, prisoners, etc. All of these terms can be said to describe social roles that connect us to formal organizations.
In one of his earlier writings, Karl Marx described bureaucracy like this:
- A bureaucracy imposes, and is characterized by, certain types of social relationships -- typically a hierarchical system of authority -- as well as horizontal coordination of tasks.
- Bureaucracies imply "bureaucratic culture" -- that is, norms, values, beliefs, knowledge, and even morality that are typically bureaucratic.
- Psychologically, bureaucracies promote a bureaucratic way of thinking or an "organizational mind."
- Bureaucracies produce their own language or linguistic categories for defining the world. In popular jargon, this bureaucratic language is known as "company speak."
- Bureaucracies are systems of power -- social organizations whose purpose is to control material, informational, and especially human resources.
"The principle of its knowledge is...authority, and its mentality is the idolatry of authority. But within bureaucracy the spiritualism turns into crass materialism, the materialism of passive obedience, faith in authority, the mechanism of fixed and formal behavior, fixed principles, attitudes, traditions. As far as the individual bureaucrat is concerned, the aim of the state becomes his private aim, in the form of the race for higher posts, of careerism."
But the real pioneer of the sociology of bureaucracy was Max Weber. Weber understood bureaucracy in much the same way as Marx. He understood bureaucracy as a principle of social organization which historically only comes into being with the modern state and as he said, with "the most advanced institutions of capitalism." Weber understood the growth of command by large-scale, alienating, and impersonal bureaucracies to be a historical principle of development in Western society, in a process that he called "rationalization."
Social organization would, to Weber, become progressively more machinelike. People would, as a result, lose more and more of their freedom and community control over everyday life. This would impose upon us the "iron cage of organization."
An important question addressed in this course is whether or not the bureaucratic form of organization itself and this progressive loss of freedom which Weber described as our fate, are inevitable? Are more human and humane forms of organization and society possible?
In emphasizing the study of bureaucracies as political systems we must look not just at the "intra-organizational" distribution of power and authority, but at bureaucratic organizations in the context of larger, even global political and economic contexts like the state, class, and market. Bureaucracies or formal organizations, which are for us the contexts in which we live our lives, are themselves contained in larger and more inclusive contexts of power.
Bureaucracies are inherently antidemocratic and promote authoritarian style of leadership, which focuses on instrumental concerns. This type of leader makes decisions independently and demands strict compliance from subordinates (Society the Basics, 6-e Chapter 5 -- Overview_
- To be able to identify the differences between primary groups, secondary groups, aggregates, and categories
- To be able to identify the various types of leaders associated with social groups
- To be able to compare and contrast the research of several different social scientists on group conformity
- To be able to recognize the importance of reference groups to group dynamics
- To be able to distinguish between ingroups and outgroups
- To understand the relevance of group size to the dynamics of social groups
- To be able to identify the types of formal organizations
- To be able to identify and describe the basic characteristics of bureaucracy
- To become aware of both the limitations of and informal side of bureaucracy
- To be able to consider ways of humanizing bureaucracy
- To consider the issue of the McDonaldization of society
- A social group is defined as two or more people who identify and interact with one another. Not all collections of individuals are social groups; some are categories, and others are crowds.
- Primary and Secondary Groups Charles Horton Cooley (1864-1929) studied the extent to which people have personal concern for each other in social interaction settings. A primary group is a small social group whose members share personal and enduring relationships. Relationships in such groups have a personal orientation. Secondary groups are large and impersonal social groups whose members pursue a specific goal or activity. The distinction between these types of groups is not always clear in real life.
Group Leadership Some research reveals that there are usually two types of leaders in social groups.
- Two Leadership Roles
- Instrumental leadership refers to group direction that emphasizes the completion of tasks. If successful, such leaders gain a distant respect.
- Expressive leadership focuses on collective well-being. If successful, such leaders enjoy more personal affection. This differentiation is also linked to gender.
- Leadership Styles
Leaders also vary in the ways in which they include others in the decision-making process. Three decision-making styles are identified.
- One is authoritarian leadership, which focuses on instrumental concerns. This type of leader makes decisions independently and demands strict compliance from subordinates.
- Another type is the democratic leader who takes a more expressive approach and seeks to include all members in the decision-making process.
- A third type is labeled laissez-faire. Leaders using this approach tend to downplay their power and allow the group to function on its own.
- Group Conformity Three research projects illustrate the importance of group conformity to the sociological understanding of group processes.
- Asch’s Research Solomon Asch conducted an experiment in which "naive" subjects were asked to answer questions concerning the length of lines. Five to seven secret accomplices of the experimenter comprised the rest of the group. They purposely gave incorrect answers. Often the naive subject would give a "wrong" answer in order to conform. Figure 5-1 (p. 111) illustrates an example of the lines used in this experiment.
- Milgram’s Research Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment that naive subjects believed was about learning and memory. The experiment was actually measuring obedience to authority. Naive subjects played the part of "teachers" and thought they were giving electric shock to "learners" when wrong answers were given.
- Janis’s Research Irving Janis studied factors that he believed affected decision-making processes and created groupthink, the tendency of group members to conform, resulting in a narrow view of some issue. The Kennedy administration's decision to invade Cuba is used as an example of this phenomenon.
- Reference Groups The term reference group signifies a social group that serves as a point of reference in making evaluations and decisions. These groups can be primary or secondary. They are also important in anticipatory socialization processes.
- Stouffer’s Research Samuel Stouffer conducted research on morale and attitudes of soldiers in World War II in order to investigate the dynamics of reference groups. Stouffer found what appeared to be a paradox: Soldiers in branches with higher promotion rates were more pessimistic about their own chances of being promoted than soldiers in branches with lower rates of promotion. In relative terms, those soldiers in branches with higher rates felt deprived. This research suggests specific social groups are used as standards in developing individual attitudes.
- Ingroups and Outgroups An ingroup is a social group commanding a member’s esteem and loyalty. This group exists in relation to outgroups, or a social group toward which one feels competition or opposition. This dichotomy allows us to sharpen boundaries between groups and to highlight their distinctive qualities.
- Group Size Group size significantly influences how members socially interact. As a group's membership is added to arithmetically, the number of possible relationships increases in a geometric progression. Figure 5-2 (p.113) provides an illustration. George Simmel studied social dynamics in the smallest social groups. He termed a dyad as a social group with two members. What makes this type of group special is the intensity of the relationship. The triad is a social group with three members. Dyads and triads have certain unique qualities resulting in particular patterns of stability, intensity, and other socially significant variables.
- Social Diversity Race, ethnicity, and gender also affect group dynamics.
- A network is a web of weak social ties. Little sense of membership is felt by individuals in the network and only occasionally do they come into contact. Most networks are secondary in nature. Demographic characteristics such as age, education, and residence influence the likelihood of a person's involvement in networks.
Today our lives seem focused around formal organizations, or large, secondary groups that are organized to achieve their goals efficiently.
Types of Formal Organizations Amitai Etzioni uses the variable of how members relate to the organization as a criterion for distinguishing three types of formal organizations. The first is termed a normative organization.
People join this type of organization to pursue some goal they consider morally worthwhile. These are sometimes also called voluntary associations. The second type is referred to as a coercive organization. These serve as a form of punishment (prisons) and treatment (mental hospitals). The third type identified are utilitarian organizations. These organizations provide material benefits in exchange for labor.
Origins of Bureaucracy Formal organizations date back thousands of years. Max Weber suggested that tradition, referring to sentiments and beliefs about the world passed from generation to generation, dominated the world view in preindustrialized societies. Focus was on the past, and so organizational efficiency was not of great concern.
Characteristics of Bureaucracies
PROBLEMS OF BUREAUCRACY
The Evolution of Formal Organizations
May 15, 2015 | Foreign Policy Journal
Kinzer's The Brothers is an excellent source of information concerning the development of U.S. foreign policy during the Twentieth Century.The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret War Stephen Kinzer. St. Martin's Griffin, New York, 2013.
Stephen Kinzer is a masterful storyteller, creating an historical record that is readily accessible to all levels of readers. Besides writing history—or more importantly, rewriting history correctly—he is able to draw out the personal characteristics of the people involved, creating lively anecdotal stories that carry the reader through the overall narrative.
His book, The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret War, delves into the personal beliefs and perspectives of the Dulles brothers and those associated with them. From that he creates a picture of the nature of U.S. foreign policy as shaped by and being embodied by the brothers and the various Presidents and other corporate and political wheeler and dealers they interacted with over a span of fifty years:
"If they were shortsighted, open to violence, and blind to the subtle realities of the world, it was because these qualities help define American foreign policy and the United States itself…..they embodied the national ethos….They were pure products of the United States."
The historical narrative is clearly presented, the ties to corporations, their employment with powerful law firms, the power they gained within the political system such that after the Second World War they became the two most powerful figures in U.S. politics and foreign affairs. Apart from the basic historical record, the most intriguing aspect is the different natures of the brothers, and the basic similarity that few people gave very much credence to their abilities for deep thought.
They came from a relatively rigid Christian upbringing. John Foster retained the dourness of that upbringing through his life, while his younger brother Allen proved to be a dilettante and womanizer. Their concept of freedom
"was above all economic: a country whose leaders respected private enterprise and welcomed multinational business was a free country."
The other component of freedom was religion,
"Countries that encouraged religious devotion, and that were led by men on good terms with Christian clerics, were to them free countries….These two criteria…they conjured an explanation of why they condemned some dictatorships but not others."
This doctrinaire system of thought did not allow for much in the way of critical thinking skills. Sir Alexander Cadogan, Britain's undersecretary to the Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, "wrote in his diary, "J.F.D. the wooliest type of useless pontificating American….Heaven help us!" Eden himself "considered Foster a narrow minded ideologue…always ready to go on a rampage….Churchill agreed. After one of their meetings he remarked,
"Foster Dulles is the only case I know of a bull who carries his own china shop around with him."
It was not just the British. American political scientist Ole Holsti found that Foster dealt with "discrepant information" by "discrediting the source" and "reinterpreting the new information so as to be consistent with his belief system; searching for other information. The advice of subordinates was neither actively sought nor, when tendered, was it often of great weight." Arthur Schlesinger Jr. said that Allen "was a frivolous man" who would "make these decisions which involved people's lives, and never would really think them through."
From a privileged upbringing with many family contacts in both the political and corporate world, the brothers had little trouble maneuvering through the intricacies of the global power structures they encountered. They were steeped in the ethos of pioneers and missionaries," and
"spent decades promoting the business and strategic interests of the United States….they were vessels of American history."
That history spans half a century. It starts with the Versailles peace talks and ends only with the death of Foster in 1959 and the senescence and increasing senility of Allen during that same time period. Its major impact occurred after World War II, with John Foster becoming Secretary of State with President Eisenhower, while Allen worked himself into founding leader of the FBI.
From both these positions, one of great public power (wielded with much secrecy) and the other with great covert power, they steered the course of U.S. history through the early days of the Cold War. Their rabid anti-communism, combining their religious and corporate beliefs, shaped the world as we know it today.
Kinzer leads the reader through the "Six Monsters", the foreign leaders who became the most public targets of the Eisenhower/Dulles administration: Mossadegh (Iran), Jacabo Arbenz (Guatemala), Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam), Sukarno (Indonesia ), Patrice Lumumba (Congo), and Castro (Cuba). The ongoing repercussions and blowback from these actions continue to shape our world today.
The last three of these had other impacts. UN Secretary Dag Hammarskjold was involved with Sukarno and Lumumba, and was killed by CIA backed covert action in the Congo. The assassination of John F. Kennedy has several possible claimants, of which his interactions with Sukarno and Castro are the most telling. Significantly, Allen Dulles was appointed to the Warren Commission by President Johnson as it had "some foreign complications, CIA, and other things." Allen "systematically used his influence to keep the commission safely within bounds, the importance of which only he could appreciate."
Kinzer's The Brothers is an excellent source of information concerning the development of U.S. foreign policy during the Twentieth Century. A reader will develop a much stronger understanding of our current geopolitical crisis with this as a background source. It provides not just the historical data behind the events, but more importantly it examines the mindset of the U.S. administration and the people who are both shaped by it and are shaping it:
"The story of the Dulles brothers is the story of America. It illuminates and helps explain the modern history of the United States and the world."
(1) See The Incubus of Intervention—Conflicting Indonesian Strategies of John F. Kennedy and Allen Dulles. Greg Poulgrain. Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, Selangor, Malaysia. (Click here to read Jim Miles' review of Incubus of Intervention.)
First in a three-part series.
Hillary Clinton has always been an old-style Midwestern Republican in the Illinois style; one severely infected with Methodism, unlike the more populist variants from Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa.
Her first known political enterprise was in the 1960 presidential election, the squeaker where the state of Illinois notoriously put Kennedy over the top, courtesy of Mayor Daley, Sam Giancana and Judith Exner. Hillary was a Nixon supporter. She took it on herself to probe allegations of vote fraud. From the leafy middle-class suburbs of Chicago's west side, she journeyed to the tenements of the south side, a voter list in her hand. She went to an address recorded as the domicile of hundreds of Democratic voters and duly found an empty lot. She rushed back to campaign headquarters, agog with her discovery, only to be told that Nixon was throwing in the towel.
The way Hillary Clinton tells it in her Living History (an autobiography convincingly demolished by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta in their Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, an interesting and well researched account ) she went straight from the Nixon camp to the cause of Martin Luther King Jr., and never swerved from that commitment. Not so. Like many Illinois Republicans, she did have a fascination for the Civil Rights movement and spent some time on the south side, mainly in African Methodist churches under the guidance of Don Jones, a teacher at her high school. It was Jones who took her to hear King speak at Chicago's Orchestra Hall and later introduced her to the Civil Rights leader.
Gerth and Van Natta eschew psychological theorizing, but it seems clear that the dominant influence in Hillary life was her father, a fairly successful, albeit tightwad Welsh draper, supplying Hilton hotels and other chains. From this irritable patriarch Hillary kept secret a marked penchant throughout her life her outings with Jones and her encounter with King. Her public persona was that of a Goldwater Girl. She battled for Goldwater through the 1964 debacle and arrived at Wellesley in the fall of 1965 with enough Goldwaterite ambition to become president of the Young Republicans as a freshman.
The setting of Hillary's political compass came in the late Sixties. The fraught year of 1968 saw the Goldwater girl getting a high-level internship in the House Republican Conference with Gerald Ford and Melvin Laird, without an ounce of the Goldwater libertarian pizzazz. Hillary says the assassinations of King and Robert Kennedy, plus the war in Vietnam, hit her hard. The impact was not of the intensity that prompted many of her generation to become radicals. She left the suburb of Park Ridge and rushed to Miami to the Republican Convention where she fulfilled a lifelong dream of meeting Frank Sinatra and John Wayne and devoted her energies to saving the Party from her former icon, Nixon, by working for Nelson Rockefeller.
Nixon triumphed, and Hillary returned to Chicago in time for the Democratic Convention where she paid an afternoon's visit to Grant Park. By now a proclaimed supporter of Gene McCarthy, she was appalled, not by the spectacle of McCarthy's young supporters being beaten senseless by Daley's cops, but by the protesters' tactics, which she concluded were not viable. Like her future husband, Hillary was always concerned with maintaining viability within the system.
After the convention Hillary embarked on her yearlong senior thesis, on the topic of the Chicago community organizer Saul Alinsky. She has successfully persuaded Wellesley to keep this under lock and key, but Gerth and Van Natta got hold of a copy. So far from being an exaltation of radical organizing, Hillary's assessment of Alinsky was hostile, charging him with excessive radicalism. Her preferential option was to
seek minor advances within the terms of the system. She did not share these conclusions with Alinsky who had given her generous access during the preparation of her thesis and a job offer thereafter, which she declined.
What first set Hillary in the national spotlight was her commencement address at Wellesley, the first time any student had been given this opportunity. Dean Acheson's granddaughter insisted to the president of Wellesley that youth be given its say, and the president picked Hillary as youth's tribune. Her somewhat incoherent speech included some flicks at the official commencement speaker, Senator Edward Brooke, the black Massachusetts senator, for failing to mention the Civil Rights movement or the war. Wellesley's president, still fuming at this discourtesy, saw Hillary skinny-dipping in Lake Waban that evening and told a security guard to steal her clothes.
The militant summer of 1969 saw Hillary cleaning fish in Valdez, Alaska, and in the fall she was at Yale being stalked by Bill Clinton in the library. The first real anti-war protests at Yale came with the shooting of the students at Kent State. Hillary saw the ensuing national student upheaval as, once again, a culpable failure to work within the system. "I advocated engagement, not disruption."
She finally consented to go on a date with Bill Clinton, and they agreed to visit a Rothko exhibit at the Yale art gallery. At the time of their scheduled rendez-vous with art, the gallery was closed because the museum's workers were on strike. The two had no inhibitions about crossing a picket line. Bill worked as a scab in the museum, doing janitorial work for the morning, getting as reward a free tour with Hillary in the afternoon.
In the meantime, Hillary was forging long-term alliances with such future stars of the Clinton age as Marian Wright Edelman and her husband Peter, and also with one of the prime political fixers of the Nineties, Vernon Jordan. It was Hillary who introduced Bill to these people, as well as to Senator Fritz Mondale and his staffers.
If any one person gave Hillary her start in liberal Democratic politics, it was Marian Wright Edelman who took Hillary with her when she started the Children's Defense Fund. The two were inseparable for the next twenty-five years. In her autobiography, published in 2003, Hillary lists the 400 people who have most influenced her. Marion Wright Edelman doesn't make the cut. Neither to forget nor to forgive. Peter Edelman was one of three Clinton appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services who quit when Clinton signed the Welfare reform bill, which was about as far from any "defense" of children as one could possibly imagine.
Hillary was on Mondale's staff for the summer of '71, investigating worker abuses in the sugarcane plantations of southern Florida, as close to slavery as anywhere in the U.S.A. Life's ironies: Hillary raised not a cheep of protest when one of the prime plantation families, the Fanjuls, called in their chips (laid down in the form of big campaign contributions to Clinton) and insisted that Clinton tell Vice President Gore to abandon his calls for the Everglades to be restored, thus taking water Fanjul was appropriating for his operation.
From 1971 on, Bill and Hillary were a political couple. In 1972, they went down to Texas and spent some months working for the McGovern campaign, swiftly becoming disillusioned with what they regarded as an exercise in futile ultraliberalism. They planned to rescue the Democratic Party from this fate by the strategy they have followed ever since: the pro-corporate, hawkish neoliberal recipes that have become institutionalized in the Democratic Leadership Council, of which Bill Clinton and Al Gore were founding members.
In 1973, Bill and Hillary went off on a European vacation, during which they laid out their 20-year project designed to culminate with Bill's election as president. Inflamed with this vision, Bill proposed marriage in front of Wordsworth's cottage in the Lake District. Hillary declined, the first of twelve similar refusals over the next year. Bill went off to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to seek political office. Hillary, for whom Arkansas remained an unappetizing prospect, eagerly accepted, in December '73, majority counsel John Doar's invitation to work for the House committee preparing the impeachment of Richard Nixon. She spent the next months listening to Nixon's tapes. Her main assignment was to prepare an organizational chart of the Nixon White House. It bore an eerie resemblance to the twilit labyrinth of the Clinton White House 18 years later.
Hillary had an offer to become the in-house counsel of the Children's Defense Fund and seemed set to become a high-flying public interest Washington lawyer. There was one impediment. She failed the D.C. bar exam. She passed the Arkansas bar exam. In August of 1974, she finally moved to Little Rock and married Bill in 1975 at a ceremony presided over by the Rev. Vic Nixon. They honeymooned in Acapulco with her entire family, including her two brothers' girlfriends, all staying in the same suite.
After Bill was elected governor of Arkansas in 1976, Hillary joined the Rose Law Firm, the first woman partner in an outfit almost as old as the Republic. It was all corporate business, and the firm's prime clients were the state's business heavyweights Tyson Foods, Wal-Mart, Jackson Stevens Investments, Worthen Bank and the timber company Weyerhaeuser, the state's largest landowner.
Two early cases (of a total of five that Hillary actually tried) charted her course. The first concerned the successful effort of Acorn a public interest group doing community organizing to force the utilities to lower electric rates on residential consumers and raise on industrial users. Hillary represented the utilities in a challenge to this progressive law, the classic right-wing claim, arguing that the measure represented an unconstitutional "taking" of property rights. She carried the day for the utilities.
The second case found Hillary representing the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Arkansas in a lawsuit filed by a disabled former employee who had been denied full retirement benefits by the company. In earlier years, Hillary had worked at the Children's Defense Fund on behalf of abused employees and disabled children. Only months earlier, while still a member of the Washington, D.C., public interest community, she had publicly ripped Joseph Califano for becoming the Coca Cola company's public counsel. "You sold us out, you, you sold us out!" she screamed publicly at Califano. Working now for Coca Cola, Hillary prevailed
July 7, 2005 | Amazon.com
Luc REYNAERT on July 7, 2005
In the US and Great-Britain top officers of large corporations formed in the 1970s a semi-autonomous network which Michael Useem calls the 'Inner Circle'. It is a sort of institutionalized capitalism with a classwide alongside a corporate logic and permits a centralized mobilization of corporate resources.
This select group of business leaders assume a leading role in the support of political candidates, in consultations with the highest levels of the national administrations, in public defense of the free enterprise system and in the governance of foundations and universities.
One of its main goals is the promotion of a better political climate for big business through philanthropy (image building via generous support of cultural programs), issue (not product) advertising and political financing.
The reasons behind the constitution of this 'Inner Circle' were the declining power of the individual companies and declining profitability together with, more specifically in GB, the threat of labor socialism (nationalizations and worker participation in corporate governance) and in the US, government intervention.
A main issue was also the desire to control the power of the media, which in the US were considered far too liberal.
The interventions of this 'Inner Circle' were (and are) extremely successful. President R. Reagan and Prime Minister M. Thatcher were partly products of business mobilizations. They lowered taxation, reduced government (except military) spending, lifted controls on business and installed cutbacks on unemployment benefits and welfare.
On the media front, the influence of corporate America is highly enhanced, directly through media mergers, and indirectly through the high corporate advertising budgets.
This is an eminent study based on excellent research.
March 27, 2015 | Consortiumnews
Exclusive: The "f-word" for "fascist" keeps cropping up in discussing aggressive U.S. and Israeli "exceptionalism," but there's a distinction from the "n-word" for "Nazi." This new form of ignoring international law fits more with an older form of German authoritarianism favored by neocon icon Leo Strauss, says retired JAG Major Todd E. Pierce.
With the Likud Party electoral victory in Israel, the Republican Party is on a roll, having won two major elections in a row. The first was winning control of the U.S. Congress last fall. The second is the victory by the Republicans' de facto party leader Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel's recent election. As the Israeli Prime Minister puts together a coalition with other parties "in the national camp," as he describes them, meaning the ultra-nationalist parties of Israel, it will be a coalition that today's Republicans would feel right at home in.
The common thread linking Republicans and Netanyahu's "national camp" is a belief of each in their own country's "exceptionalism," with a consequent right of military intervention wherever and whenever their "Commander in Chief" orders it, as well as the need for oppressive laws to suppress dissent.
Leo Strauss, an intellectual bridge between Germany's inter-war Conservative Revolutionaries and today's American neoconservatives.
William Kristol, neoconservative editor of the Weekly Standard, would agree. Celebrating Netanyahu's victory, Kristol told the New York Times, "It will strengthen the hawkish types in the Republican Party." Kristol added that Netanyahu would win the GOP's nomination, if he could run, because "Republican primary voters are at least as hawkish as the Israeli public."
The loser in both the Israeli and U.S. elections was the rule of law and real democracy, not the sham democracy presented for public relations purposes in both counties. In both countries today, money controls elections, and as Michael Glennon has written in National Security and Double Government, real power is in the hands of the national security apparatus.
Benjamin Netanyahu's leadership role in the U.S. Congress was on full display to the world when he accepted House Speaker John Boehner's invitation to address Congress. Showing their eagerness to be part of any political coalition being formed under Netanyahu's leadership, many Congressional Democrats also showed their support by attending the speech.
It was left to Israeli Uri Avnery to best capture the spirit of Netanyahu's enthusiastic ideological supporters in Congress. Avnery wrote that he was reminded of something when seeing "Row upon row of men in suits (and the occasional woman), jumping up and down, up and down, applauding wildly, shouting approval."
Where had he heard that type of shouting before? Then it came to him: "It was another parliament in the mid-1930s. The Leader was speaking. Rows upon rows of Reichstag members were listening raptly. Every few minutes they jumped up and shouted their approval."
He added, "the Congress of the United States of America is no Reichstag. Members wear dark suits, not brown shirts. They do not shout 'Heil' but something unintelligible." Nevertheless, "the sound of the shouting had the same effect. Rather shocking."
Right-wing Politics in Pre-Nazi Germany
While Avnery's analogy of how Congress responded to its de facto leader was apt, it isn't necessary to go to the extreme example that he uses to analogize today's right-wing U.S. and Israeli parties and policy to an earlier German precedent. Instead, it is sufficient to note how similar the right-wing parties of Israel and the U.S. of today are to what was known in 1920s Weimar Germany as the Conservative Revolutionary Movement.
This "movement" did not include the Nazis but instead the Nazis were political competitors with the party which largely represented Conservative Revolutionary ideas: the German National People's Party (DNVP).
The institution to which the Conservative Revolutionaries saw as best representing German "values," the Reichswehr, the German Army, was also opposed by the Nazis as "competitors" to Ernst Rohm's Brownshirts. But the Conservative Revolutionary Movement, the DNVP, and the German Army could all be characterized as "proto-fascist," if not Fascist. In fact, when the Nazis took over Germany, it was with the support of many of the proto-fascists making up the Conservative Revolutionary Movement, as well as those with the DNVP and the Reichswehr.
Consequently, many of the Reichstag members that Uri Avnery refers to above as listening raptly and jumping up and shouting their approval of "The Leader" were not Nazis. The Nazis had failed to obtain an absolute majority on their own and needed the votes of the "national camp," primarily the German National People's Party (DNVP), for a Reichstag majority.
The DNVP members would have been cheering The Leader right alongside Nazi members of the Reichstag. DNVP members also voted along with Nazi members in passing the Enabling Act of 1933, which abolished constitutional liberties and dissolved the Reichstag.
Not enough has been written on the German Conservative Revolutionary Movement , the DNVP and the Reichswehr because they have too often been seen as victims of the Nazis themselves or, at worst, mere precursors.
The DNVP was the political party which best represented the viewpoint of the German Conservative Revolutionary Movement. The Reichswehr itself, as described in The Nemesis of Power by John W. Wheeler-Bennett, has been called a "state within a state," much like the intelligence and security services of the U.S. and Israel are today, wielding extraordinary powers.
The Reichswehr was militaristic and anti-democratic in its purest form and indeed was "fascist" in the term's classic definition of "an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization." Mussolini merely modeled much of his hyper-militaristic political movement on the martial values of the Reichswehr.
German Army officers even had authority to punish civilians for failing to show "proper respect." In its essence, the viewpoint of the DNVP and the Conservative Revolutionaries was virtually identical to today's Republican Party along with those Democrats who align with them on national security issues.
These groups have in common a worshipful attitude toward the military as best embodying those martial virtues that are central to fascism. Sister parties, though they may all prefer to be seen as "brothers in arms," would be Netanyahu's "national camp" parties.
German Conservative Revolutionary Movement
The Conservative Revolutionary Movement began within the German Right after World War I with a number of writers advocating a nationalist ideology but one in keeping with modern times and not restricted by traditional Prussian conservatism.
It must be noted that Prussian conservatism, standing for militaristic ideas traditional to Prussia, was the antithesis of traditional American conservatism, which professed to stand for upholding the classical liberal ideas of government embedded in the U.S. Constitution.
Inherent to those U.S. constitutional ideas was antipathy toward militarism and militaristic rule of any sort, though Native Americans have good cause to disagree. (In fact, stories of the American conquest of Native Americans with its solution of placing them on reservations were particularly popular in Germany early in the Twentieth Century including with Adolf Hitler).
Historians have noted that when the German Army went to war in World War I, the soldiers and officers carried with them "a shared sense of German superiority and the imagined bestiality of the enemy." This was manifested particularly harshly upon the citizens of Belgium in 1914 with the German occupation. Later, after their experience in the trenches, the Reichswehr was nearly as harsh in suppressing domestic dissent in Germany after the war.
According to Richard Wolin, in The Seduction of Unreason, Ernst Troeltsch, a German Protestant theologian, "realized that in the course of World War I the ethos of Germanocentrism, as embodied in the 'ideas of 1914,' had assumed a heightened stridency." Under the peace of the Versailles Treaty, "instead of muting the idiom of German exceptionalism that Troeltsch viewed with such mistrust, it seemed only to fan its flames."
This belief in German "exceptionalism" was the common belief of German Conservative Revolutionaries, the DNVP and the Reichswehr. For Republicans of today and those who share their ideological belief, substitute "American" for "German" Exceptionalism and you have the identical ideology.
"Exceptionalism" in the sense of a nation can be understood in two ways. One is a belief in the nation's superiority to others. The other way is the belief that the "exceptional" nation stands above the law, similar to the claim made by dictators in declaring martial law or a state of emergency. The U.S. and Israel exhibit both forms of this belief.
The belief in German Exceptionalism was the starting point, not the ending point, for the Conservative Revolutionaries just as it is with today's Republicans such as Sen. Tom Cotton or Sen. Lindsey Graham. This Exceptionalist ideology gives the nation the right to interfere in other country's internal affairs for whatever reason the "exceptional" country deems necessary, such as desiring more living space for their population, fearing the potential of some future security threat, or even just by denying the "exceptional" country access within its borders — or a "denial of access threat" as the U.S. government terms it.
The fundamental ideas of the Conservative Revolutionaries have been described as vehement opposition to the Weimar Republic (identifying it with the lost war and the Versailles Treaty) and political "liberalism" (as opposed to Prussia's traditional authoritarianism).
This "liberalism," which offended the Conservative Revolutionaries, was democracy and individual rights against state power. Instead, the Conservative Revolutionaries envisaged a new reich of enormous strength and unity. They rejected the view that political action should be guided by rational criteria. They idealized violence for its own sake.
That idealization of violence would have meant "state" violence in the form of military expansionism and suppression of "enemies," domestic and foreign, by right-thinking Germans.
The Conservative Revolutionaries called for a "primacy of politics" which was to be "a reassertion of an expansion in foreign policy and repression against the trade unions at home." This "primacy of politics" for the Conservative Revolutionaries meant the erasure of a distinction between war and politics.
Citing Hannah Arendt, Jeffrey Herf, a professor of modern European history, wrote: "The explicit implications of the primacy of politics in the conservative revolution were totalitarian. From now on there were to be no limits to ideological politics. The utilitarian and humanistic considerations of nineteenth-century liberalism were to be abandoned in order to establish a state of constant dynamism and movement." That sounds a lot like the "creative destruction" that neoconservative theorist Michael Ledeen is so fond of.
Herf wrote in 1984 that Conservative Revolutionaries were characterized as "the intellectual advance guard of the rightist revolution that was to be effected in 1933," which, although contemptuous of Hitler, "did much to pave his road to power."
Unlike the Nazis, their belief in German superiority was based in historical traditions and ideas, not biological racism. Nevertheless, some saw German Jews as the "enemy" of Germany for being "incompatible with a united nation."
It is one of the bitterest of ironies that Israel as a "Jewish nation" has adopted similar attitudes toward its Arab citizens. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently proclaimed: "Those who are with us deserve everything, but those who are against us deserve to have their heads chopped off with an axe."
Within Israel, these "Conservative Revolutionary" ideas were manifested in one of their founding political parties, Herut, whose founders came out of the same central European political milieu of interwar Europe and from which Netanyahu's Likud party is descended.
Author Ernst Junger was the most important contributor to the celebration of war by the Conservative Revolutionaries and was an influence and an enabler of the Nazis coming to power. He serialized his celebration of war and his belief in its "redeeming" qualities in a number of popular books with "war porn" titles such as, in English, The Storm of Steel, The Battle as an Inner Experience, and Fire and Blood.
The title of a collection of Junger essays in 1930, Krieg und Krieger (War and the Warriors) captures the spirit of America in the Twenty-first Century as much as it did the German spirit in 1930. While members of the U.S. military once went by terms such as soldier, sailor and marine, now they are routinely generically called "Warriors," especially by the highest ranks, a term never before used to describe what were once "citizen soldiers."
Putting a book with a "Warrior" title out on the shelf in a Barnes and Noble would almost guarantee a best-seller, even when competing with all the U.S. SEALS' reminiscences and American sniper stories. But German philosopher Walter Benjamin understood the meaning of Junger's Krieg und Krieger, explaining it in the appropriately titled Theories of German Fascism.
Fundamental to Junger's celebration of war was a metaphysical belief in "totale Mobilmachung" or total mobilization to describe the functioning of a society that fully grasps the meaning of war. With World War I, Junger saw the battlefield as the scene of struggle "for life and death," pushing all historical and political considerations aside. But he saw in the war the fact that "in it the genius of war permeated the spirit of progress."
According to Jeffrey Herf in Reactionary Modernism, Junger saw total mobilization as "a worldwide trend toward state-directed mobilization in which individual freedom would be sacrificed to the demands of authoritarian planning." Welcoming this, Junger believed "that different currents of energy were coalescing into one powerful torrent. The era of total mobilization would bring about an 'unleashing' (Entfesselung) of a nevertheless disciplined life."
In practical terms, Junger's metaphysical view of war meant that Germany had lost World War I because its economic and technological mobilization had only been partial and not total. He lamented that Germany had been unable to place the "spirit of the age" in the service of nationalism. Consequently, he believed that "bourgeois legality," which placed restrictions on the powers of the authoritarian state, "must be abolished in order to liberate technological advance."
Today, total mobilization for the U.S. begins with the Republicans' budgeting efforts to strip away funding for domestic civilian uses and shifting it to military and intelligence spending. Army veteran, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, exemplifies this belief in "total mobilization" of society with his calls for dramatically increased military spending and his belief that "We must again show the U.S. is willing and prepared to [get into] a war in the first place" by making clear that potential "aggressors will pay an unspeakable price if they challenge the United States."
That is the true purpose of Twenty-first Century Republican economics: total mobilization of the economy for war. Just as defeated German generals and the Conservative Revolutionaries believed that Germany lost World War I because their economy and nation was only "partially mobilized," so too did many American Vietnam War-era generals and right-wing politicians believe the same of the Vietnam War. Retired Gen. David Petraeus and today's neoconservatives have made similar arguments about President Barack Obama's failure to sustain the Iraq War. [See, for instance, this fawning Washington Post interview with Petraeus.]
What all these militarists failed to understand is that, according to Clausewitz, when a war's costs exceed its benefits, the sound strategy is to end the costly war. The Germans failed to understand this in World War II and the Soviet Union in their Afghan War.
Paradoxically in the Vietnam War, it was the anti-war movement that enhanced U.S. strength by bringing that wasteful war to an end, not the American militarists who would have continued it to a bitter end of economic collapse. We are now seeing a similar debate about whether to continue and expand U.S. military operations across the Middle East.
While Ernst Junger was the celebrant and the publicist for total mobilization of society for endless war, including the need for authoritarian government, Carl Schmitt was the ideological theoretician, both legally and politically, who helped bring about the totalitarian and militaristic society. Except when it happened, it came under different ownership than what they had hoped and planned for.
Contrary to Schmitt's latter-day apologists and/or advocates, who include prominent law professors teaching at Harvard and the University of Chicago, his legal writings weren't about preserving the Weimar Republic against its totalitarian enemies, the Communists and Nazis. Rather, he worked on behalf of a rival fascist faction, members of the German Army General Staff. He acted as a legal adviser to General Kurt von Schleicher, who in turn advised President Paul von Hindenburg, former Chief of the German General Staff during World War I.
German historian Eberhard Kolb observed, "from the mid-1920s onwards the Army leaders had developed and propagated new social conceptions of a militarist kind, tending towards a fusion of the military and civilian sectors and ultimately a totalitarian military state (Wehrstaat)."
When General Schleicher helped bring about the political fall of Reichswehr Commander in Chief, General von Seekt, it was a "triumph of the 'modern' faction within the Reichswehr who favored a total war ideology and wanted Germany to become a dictatorship that would wage total war upon the other nations of Europe," according to Kolb.
When Hitler and the Nazis outmaneuvered the Army politically, Schmitt, as well as most other Conservative Revolutionaries, went over to the Nazis.
Reading Schmitt gives one a greater understanding of the Conservative Revolutionary's call for a "primacy of politics," explained previously as "a reassertion of an expansion in foreign policy."
Schmitt said: "A world in which the possibility of war is utterly eliminated, a completely pacified globe, would be a world without the distinction of friend and enemy and hence a world without politics. It is conceivable that such a world might contain many very interesting antitheses and contrasts, competitions and intrigues of every kind, but there would not be a meaningful antithesis whereby men could be required to sacrifice life, authorized to shed blood, and kill other human beings. For the definition of the political, it is here even irrelevant whether such a world without politics is desirable as an ideal situation."
As evident in this statement, to Schmitt, the norm isn't peace, nor is peace even desirable, but rather perpetual war is the natural and preferable condition.
This dream of a Martial State is not isolated to German history. A Republican aligned neoconservative, Thomas Sowell, expressed the same longing in 2007 in a National Review article, "Don't Get Weak." Sowell wrote; "When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can't help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup."
Leo Strauss, Conservative Revolutionaries and Republicans
Political philosopher Leo Strauss had yearned for the glorious German Conservative Revolution but was despondent when it took the form of the Nazi Third Reich, from which he was excluded because he was Jewish regardless of his fascist ideology.
He wrote to a German Jewish friend, Karl Loewith: "the fact that the new right-wing Germany does not tolerate us says nothing against the principles of the right. To the contrary: only from the principles of the right, that is from fascist, authoritarian and imperial principles, is it possible with seemliness, that is, without resort to the ludicrous and despicable appeal to the droits imprescriptibles de l'homme [inalienable rights of man] to protest against the shabby abomination."
Strauss was in agreement politically with Schmitt, and they were close friends.
Professor Alan Gilbert of Denver University has written: "As a Jew, Strauss was forbidden from following Schmitt and [German philosopher Martin] Heidegger into the Nazi party. 'But he was a man of the Right. Like some other Zionists, those who admired Mussolini for instance, Strauss' principles, as the 1933 letter relates, were 'fascist, authoritarian, imperial.'"
Strauss was intelligent enough when he arrived in the U.S. to disguise and channel his fascist thought by going back to like-minded "ancient" philosophers and thereby presenting fascism as part of our "western heritage," just as the current neocon classicist Victor Davis Hanson does.
Needless to say, fascism is built on the belief in a dictator, as was Sparta and the Roman Empire and as propounded by Socrates and Plato, so turning to the thought of ancient philosophers and historians makes a good "cover" for fascist thought.
Leo Strauss must be seen as the Godfather of the modern Republican Party's political ideology. His legacy continues now through the innumerable "Neoconservative Revolutionary" front groups with cover names frequently invoking "democracy" or "security," such as Sen. Lindsey Graham's "Security Through Strength."
Typifying the Straussian neoconservative revolutionary whose hunger for military aggression can never be satiated would be former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams of Iran-Contra fame and practitioner of the "big lie," who returned to government under President George W. Bush to push the Iraq War and is currently promoting a U.S. war against Iran.
In a classic example of "projection," Abrams writes that "Ideology is the raison d'etre of Iran's regime, legitimating its rule and inspiring its leaders and their supporters. In this sense, it is akin to communist, fascist and Nazi regimes that set out to transform the world." That can as truthfully be said of his own Neoconservative Revolutionary ideology and its adherents.
That ideology explains Bill Kristol's crowing over Netanyahu's victory and claiming Netanyahu as the Republicans' de facto leader. For years, the U.S. and Israel under Netanyahu have had nearly identical foreign policy approaches though they are at the moment in some disagreement because President Obama has resisted war with Iran while Netanyahu is essentially demanding it.
But at a deeper level the two countries share a common outlook, calling for continuous military interventionism outside each country's borders with increased exercise of authority by the military and other security services within their borders. This is no accident. It can be traced back to joint right-wing extremist efforts in both countries with American neoconservatives playing key roles.
The best example of this joint effort was when U.S. neocons joined with the right-wing, Likud-connected Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies in 1996 to publish their joint plan for continuous military interventionism in the Mideast in "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," which envisioned "regime change" instead of negotiations. [See Consortiumnews.com's "How Israel Outfoxed U.S. Presidents."]
While ostensibly written for Netanyahu's political campaign, "A Clean Break" became the blueprint for subsequent war policies advocated by the Project for the New American Century, founded by neocons William Kristol and Robert Kagan. The chief contribution of the American neocons in this strategy was to marshal U.S. military resources to do the heavy lifting in attacking Israel's neighbors beginning with Iraq.
With these policy preferences goes a belief inside each country's political parties, across the spectrum but particularly on the Right, that Israel and the United States each stand apart from all other nations as "Exceptional." This is continuously repeated to ensure imprinting it in the population's consciousness in the tradition of fascist states through history.
It is believed today in both the U.S. and Israel, just as the German Conservative Revolutionaries believed it in the 1920s and 1930s of their homeland, Germany, and then carried on by the Nazis until 1945.
Israeli Herut Party
The Knesset website describes the original Herut party (1948-1988) as the main opposition party (against the early domination by the Labor Party). Herut was the most right-wing party in the years before the Likud party came into being and absorbed Herut into a coalition. Its expansionist slogan was "To the banks to the Jordan River" and it refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Kingdom of Jordan. Economically, Herut supported private enterprise and a reduction of government intervention.
In "A Clean Break," the authors were advising Netanyahu to reclaim the belligerent and expansionist principles of the Herut party.
Herut was founded in 1948 by Menachem Begin, the leader of the right-wing militant group Irgun, which was widely regarded as a terrorist organization responsible for killing Palestinians and cleansing them from land claimed by Israel, including the infamous Deir Yassin massacre.
Herut's nature as a party and movement was best explained in a critical letter to the New York Times on Dec. 4, 1948, signed by over two dozen prominent Jewish intellectuals including Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt.
The letter read: "Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the 'Freedom Party' (Tnuat Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties.
"It was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine. (…) It is inconceivable that those who oppose fascism throughout the world, if correctly informed as to Mr. Begin's political record and perspectives, could add their names and support to the movement he represents. …
"Today they speak of freedom, democracy and anti-imperialism, whereas until recently they openly preached the doctrine of the Fascist state. It is in its actions that the terrorist party betrays its real character; from its past actions we can judge what it may be expected to do in the future."
According to author Joseph Heller, Herut was a one-issue party intent on expanding Israel's borders. That Netanyahu has never set aside Herut's ideology can be gleaned from his book last revised in 2000, A Durable Peace. There, Netanyahu praises Herut's predecessors – the Irgun paramilitary and Lehi, also known as the Stern Gang, a self-declared "terrorist" group. He also marginalizes their Israeli adversary of the time, the Hagana under Israel's primary founder and first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.
Regardless of methods used, the Stern Gang was indisputably "fascist," even receiving military training from Fascist Italy. One does not need to speculate as to its ideological influences.
According to Colin Shindler, writing in Triumph of Military Zionism: Nationalism and the Origins of the Israeli Right, "Stern devotedly believed that 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' so he approached Nazi Germany. With German armies at the gates of Palestine, he offered co-operation and an alliance with a new totalitarian Hebrew republic."
Netanyahu in his recent election campaign would seem to have re-embraced his fascist origins, both with its racism and his declaration that as long as he was prime minister he would block a Palestinian state and would continue building Jewish settlements on what international law recognizes as Palestinian land.
In other words, maintaining a state of war on the Palestinian people with a military occupation and governing by military rule, while continuing to make further territorial gains with the IDF acting as shock troops for the settlers.
Why Does This Matter?
Sun-Tzu famously wrote "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."
When we allow our "Conservative Revolutionaries" (or neoconservative militarists or proto-fascists or whatever term best describes them) to make foreign policy, the United States loses legitimacy in the world as a "rule of law" state. Instead, we present a "fascist" justification for our wars which is blatantly illicit.
As the American political establishment has become so enamored with war and the "warriors" who fight them, it has become child's play for our militarists to manipulate the U.S. into wars or foreign aggression through promiscuous economic sanctions or inciting and arming foreign groups to destabilize the countries that we target.
No better example for this can be shown than the role that America's First Family of Militarism, the Kagans, plays in pushing total war mobilization of the U.S. economy and inciting war, at the expense of civilian and domestic needs, as Robert Parry wrote.
This can be seen with Robert Kagan invoking the martial virtue of "courage" in demanding greater military spending by our elected officials and a greater wealth transfer to the Military Industrial Complex which funds the various war advocacy projects that he and his family are involved with.
Kagan recently wrote: "Those who propose to lead the United States in the coming years, Republicans and Democrats, need to show what kind of political courage they have, right now, when the crucial budget decisions are being made."
But as Parry pointed out, showing "courage," "in Kagan's view – is to ladle ever more billions into the Military-Industrial Complex, thus putting money where the Republican mouths are regarding the need to 'defend Ukraine' and resist 'a bad nuclear deal with Iran.'" But Parry noted that if it weren't for Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, Kagan's spouse, the Ukraine crisis might not exist.
What must certainly be seen as neo-fascist under any system of government but especially under a nominal "constitutional republic" as the U.S. claims to be, is Sen. Lindsey Graham's threat that the first thing he would do if elected President of the United States would be to use the military to detain members of Congress, keeping them in session in Washington, until all so-called "defense cuts" are restored to the budget.
In Graham's words, "I wouldn't let Congress leave town until we fix this. I would literally use the military to keep them in if I had to. We're not leaving town until we restore these defense cuts."
And he would have that power according to former Vice President Dick Cheney's "unitary executive theory" of Presidential power, originally formulated by Carl Schmitt and adopted by Republican attorneys and incorporated into government under the Bush-Cheney administration. Sen. Tom Cotton and other Republicans would no doubt support such an abuse of power if it meant increasing military spending.
But even more dangerous for the U.S. as well as other nations in the world is that one day, our militarists' constant incitement and provocation to war is going to "payoff," and the U.S. will be in a real war with an enemy with nuclear weapons, like the one Victoria Nuland is creating on Russia's border.
Today's American "Conservative Revolutionary" lust for war was summed up by prominent neoconservative Richard Perle, a co-author of "A Clean Break." Echoing the views on war from Ernst Junger and Carl Schmitt, Perle once explained U.S. strategy in the neoconservative view, according to John Pilger:
"There will be no stages," he said. "This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there . . . If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely, and we don't try to piece together clever diplomacy but just wage a total war, our children will sing great songs about us years from now."
That goal was the same fantasy professed by German Conservative Revolutionaries and it led directly to a wartime defeat never imagined by Germany before, with all the "collateral damage" along the way that always results from "total war."
Rather than continuing with this "strategy," driven by our own modern Conservative Revolutionaries and entailing the eventual bankrupting or destruction of the nation, it might be more prudent for Americans to demand that we go back to the original national security strategy of the United States, as expressed by early presidents as avoiding "foreign entanglements" and start abiding by the republican goals expressed by the Preamble to the Constitution:
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
Todd E. Pierce retired as a Major in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps in November 2012. His most recent assignment was defense counsel in the Office of Chief Defense Counsel, Office of Military Commissions. In the course of that assignment, he researched and reviewed the complete records of military commissions held during the Civil War and stored at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
45 comments for "Neocons: the Echo of German Fascism"
tateishiMarch 27, 2015 at 12:38 pm
Good article. Often people forget that Germany is a very aggressive war mongers, sending soldiers to many areas, and actually it started Yugoslavian war together with the US. It also has many people who believe that they are Aryans, Hitler's imaginary race, though there are real Aryans peaceful one in the mountains of Iran, etc.
Lutz BarzMarch 28, 2015 at 5:23 am
The Brits and French were far more militarily aggressive than the late comers Germany. The sun never set in British bayonets imposed on peaceful people globally. Over 3 million died in Bengal in the early 40s thanks to British indifference on feeding her own first [though she could source wheat from Canada and Bengal from Australia-this was not done]. Post WW1 into 1919 600+ Germans esp the young and old were dying of starvation courtesy of a British blockade still in place after the armistice. As for terrible Germany invading Belgium the Kaiser never protested about the British occupation of Ireland and it's bloody suppression. Then there is/was Palestine. One could go on. Every country has it's neanderthal conservatives. And Prussia was far more progressive during the early 19th century schooling its citizens and being part of the German Enlightenment. But as we know history is written by those who dominate militarily.
Lutz BarzMarch 28, 2015 at 5:24 am
The Brits and French were far more militarily aggressive than the late comers Germany. The sun never set in British bayonets imposed on peaceful people globally. Over 3 million died in Bengal in the early 40s thanks to British indifference on feeding her own first [though she could source wheat from Canada and Bengal from Australia-this was not done]. Post WW1 into 1919 600+ Germans esp the young and old were dying of starvation courtesy of a British blockade still in place after the armistice. As for terrible Germany invading Belgium the Kaiser never protested about the British occupation of Ireland and it's bloody suppression. Then there is/was Palestine. One could go on. Every country has it's neanderthal conservatives. And Prussia was far more progressive during the early 19th century schooling its citizens and being part of the German Enlightenment. But as we know history is written by those who dominate militarily.
Lutz BarzMarch 28, 2015 at 5:24 am
The Brits and French were far more militarily aggressive than the late comers Germany. The sun never set in British bayonets imposed on peaceful people globally. Over 3 million died in Bengal in the early 40s thanks to British indifference on feeding her own first [though she could source wheat from Canada and Bengal from Australia-this was not done]. Post WW1 into 1919 600+ Germans esp the young and old were dying of starvation courtesy of a British blockade still in place after the armistice. As for terrible Germany invading Belgium the Kaiser never protested about the British occupation of Ireland and it's bloody suppression. Then there is/was Palestine. One could go on. Every country has it's neanderthal conservatives. And Prussia was far more progressive during the early 19th century schooling its citizens and being part of the German Enlightenment. But as we know history is written by those who dominate militarily.
Lutz BarzMarch 28, 2015 at 5:25 am
Lutz BarzMarch 28, 2015 at 5:25 am
SteveMarch 29, 2015 at 11:07 am
A very strange comment from a presumed Iranian especially. Germany is not aggressive at all since WW2, which was a result of much aggression by several nations starting with Japan and Italy. German soldiers have gone almost nowhere since then, a limited deployment in Afghanistan being the main case. Germany did not start the "Yugoslavian war" at all, which was begun by Serbia attacking Slovenia and Croatia after they voted and declared independence. Aryanism is very rare in Germany today, and far more belligerent language comes out of Iran than Germany, Iran having swapped Aryanism for Islamism to little if any benefit.
As for the article itself, it makes the common error of imputing excessive influence to a limited era of German militarism, whilst ignoring the far more globally influential records of Western colonial and Communist militaristic imperialism, as well as Italian Fascism which was the more influential model for many amenable to such ideas, with its aggressive colonial and corporatist notions, and successful attainment of power a decade before Hitler's.
firstname.lastname@example.orgMarch 29, 2015 at 12:14 pm
Yea, but lesson is that USA is the continuation and revival of nazi ideology carrying its propound ideology of "exceptionalism". The neo conservative hawkish holding the belief that USA has the right to interfere in others countries internal affairs, that USA is above the law, that USA is predestinated by providence to spread its civilization and more others imperialists beliefs.
F. G. SanfordMarch 27, 2015 at 1:20 pm
Concur. A common slogan of the political opposition in the 1930's was, "Fascism Means War!" It was true then, and it's still true today. The Major speaks the truth. I hope someone is listening.
bobzzMarch 27, 2015 at 1:42 pm
This piece tracks well with Charles Derber's, Morality Wars: How Empires, the Born Again, and the Politically Correct Do Evil in the Name of Good. Hitler was rabid on the subject of morality (i.e., favored it). He was well received by many professional theologians, and the church generally swung in line. Not enough of the Barmen's Confession. This is another parallel with America and Israel and a major contributor to exceptionalism.
JohnMarch 27, 2015 at 2:12 pm
Very true. The relationship of fascism and warmongering was described by Aristotle as the tactics of the tyrant over a democracy: fascist leaders must promote war and internal policing because it is the sole basis of their demand for power: they must create, provoke, or invent foreign enemies to demand power as "protectors" and accuse their opponents of disloyalty. They must appeal to the bully-boys as their militant wing, so they produce pseudo-philosophies of dominance.
Fascism must at times be clarified in meaning to avoid limitation to specific historical instances, and it should be understood in those instances, but in is actually a very simple and universal attitude. It is nothing but the behavior and propaganda of bully boys. They are selfish, ignorant, hypocritical and malicious youths and abusive husbands and fathers, who glory in their small circle of the intimidated and push everyone around as a principal life skill. Those who extend that circle by operating small businesses, or as military or police officers, create and approve rationalizations of special rights. There is no real "exceptionalism" belief or philosophy of national/religious/ethnic superiority, it is just outright propaganda for bullying. They are quite stupid, and yet quickly pick up the methods of fascism, so it is not worth much analysis.
JohnMarch 27, 2015 at 2:33 pm
I should add that the resurgence of fascism and its strength in the US and Israel is due to its association with economic concentrations. In business, the spoils go not to the inventor or ingenious professional as claimed in business propaganda: the spoils go to the bully-boy. Those who rise to the top in the corporate world are not the brilliant professionals or the effective managers who shine at lower levels. The path upwards is limited to those who come out on top wars between groups in collusion, who are without exception scheming bully-boys. There is no other way to the top. Only the methods are different from politics. So only bully-boys have great economic power.
In the US, economic concentrations did not exist when the Constitution was written, so it provides no protection at all for the institutions of democracy from economic power. Economic powers controlled elections and the press in the 19th century, so there has been no way to even debate the issue, and now that control is almost absolute. Those are the powers obtainable only by bully-boys, the predominant fascists of Nazi Germany and the US, and no doubt Israel. So the US has been loosely controlled by fascism for a long time, and that control is nearly total now. Only the propaganda to rationalize this changes to sell the policies to the intimidated.
RandyMarch 27, 2015 at 2:50 pm
War is inevitable.. You simply cannot deny this and anyone who does is just dreaming… The world cannot live in some perpetual peace forever, what will happen when oil, water, and even living space runs out? Will you watch your family starve to death while the people over in the next town are eating to their hearts content?
As much as you want to deny it, Hitler had it right. Peace is only attainable through war, and can only be won for your own people. There cannot be world peace, and the events of today proves it. Hitler and Japan was defeated more than 50 years ago, where is the peace? There will come a day where money will be worthless, the only currency will be strength, only those rich in this currency will survive. How nature intended it to be.
Hitler knew this, and was preparing his own country, the rest of the world took the Banker path, and look where that led us.
Zachary SmithMarch 27, 2015 at 3:08 pm
The world cannot live in some perpetual peace forever, what will happen when oil, water, and even living space runs out?
Has it occurred to you that oil is only one of the many energy sources, and that the amount of water on Earth is basically a fixed quantity? Living space? Consider contraception combined with incentives, and disincentives for having babies galore.
Can't help but notice you didn't mention Global Warming as a gnawing problem. Why?
Finally, WHY is this site a magnet for the Hitler Fan Club?
RandyMarch 27, 2015 at 3:52 pm
The idea is that resources run out, right? I wasn't going to list everything. There is not a infinite amount of resources in this world, you can continue living in your fairy tale world if you'd like but I will not.
Even the soil that we grow food in will one day become unusable if it is abused like it is today. Global warming is a result of your delusion of world peace. Nature hits back when you delay and ignore up its rule for to long.. There would be no Global Warming problem i
Zachary SmithMarch 27, 2015 at 4:00 pm
Global warming is a result of your delusion of world peace.
As I suspected.
No doubt wind turbines kill the cute birdies.
And contraception is some sort of sin.
JohnMarch 27, 2015 at 3:36 pm
Randy, be careful to avoid traps here:
1. Wars will continue in history, but that is not a justification for doing wrong.
2. When groups are in conflict, good leadership avoids war because it causes great wrongs. Sometimes it cannot be avoided, usually due to bad leadership. But of course that does not justify unnecessary war.
3. Peace is not obtained by war. Sometimes it results from a successful defense against wrongful war, sometimes it is only the peace after a wrongful war succeeds. Those who prefer peace want to avoid unnecessary war. They are not afraid of necessary defense.
4. Those who want to keep the US from unnecessary wars know more about the world's cultures and problems and solutions than those who always think of war as a solution. They know that our security depends upon making friends among a wild variety of cultures at different stages of development. That is done by helping the unfortunate even when we disagree with them, and we can't expect much from them in return. Wars mainly make us enemies, and those who promote wars conceal those failures. That's what this site is about.
holycowimeanzebraMarch 27, 2015 at 10:53 pm
Gee, we couldn't just talk like adults about the importance of having fewer children? War and killing is the only method of human population control?
holycowimeanzebraMarch 27, 2015 at 10:54 pm
Gee, we couldn't just talk like adults about the importance of having fewer children? War and killing is the only method of human population control?
zhu bajieMarch 30, 2015 at 1:03 am
Nonsense. War is caused by fighting.
war, slavery and general ignorance are "inevitable" so long as people are mentally enslaved enough to tolerate them…the only thing inevitable about life is death…the rest is all subject to at least some measure of control, whether those are called political, religious or scientific..belief in such nonsense as above guarantees the continued master race-self chosen people-ism the article's writer is trying to contend with, call attention to and end..hitler was right about some things and wrong about most, like obama, bush, clinton, reagan and all other "leaders" of the status quo.
frank scottMarch 30, 2015 at 11:17 pm
death is inevitable but the rest of life is subject to control by concerned, thoughtful and informed humans..war is inevitable only if the opposite type of humans continue and if they do it may be that all of us will lose continuity, fulfilling their dreadfully negative religious belief..the article seems to be at least trying to locate sources for some of the diseased madness that prevails but talk of "inevitable" war is an example of the disease.
Gregory KruseMarch 27, 2015 at 5:17 pm
Mr. Pierce appears to be a good example of a person who "knows himself, and knows his enemy", for indeed the Kagans and Cheneys of these times are enemies of the people. Unfortunately, most of the people don't know it yet, and in fact don't know themselves. It is absolutely dumbfounding to hear strains of Fox News coming from the mouths of otherwise seemingly decent and intelligent people who have the facility to think for themselves, but find it easier to parrot a TV station. I rue the fact that history and what served for political education in my youth led me to believe that there were no real enemies of democracy anymore. Reading back now through the history of Europe after the War of 1812 in Russia until WWI, I have come to appreciate the strength of fascist sentiment and passion, and I fairly tremble at the thought of the possible rise of another Otto von Bismark or Adolph Hitler in what we think of as "modern" times. There is only one ray of hope for me and that is the writing of such as Pierce, Parry, and some others scattered about the internet. It isn't clear to me that people will wake up and perceive the path we are on and in dreadful fear force a change of direction, but if not, we will learn again what it is to suffer unimaginable horror.
Zachary SmithMarch 27, 2015 at 7:21 pm
It is absolutely dumbfounding to hear strains of Fox News coming from the mouths of otherwise seemingly decent and intelligent people who have the facility to think for themselves, but find it easier to parrot a TV station.
Dumbfounding is right!
Sometime back I was astonished to hear a relative at least as bright as myself (and educated at the same University) tell me that Fox was the ONLY news source which could be trusted. She'd moved from Indiana to the deep South years ago and sort-of "gone native". It was an ordeal to remain calm and use lip-glue.
Theodora CrawfordMarch 27, 2015 at 6:56 pm
Excellent discussion and worth the challenge of a thought-provoking and complex argument about governance and war. Today's environment is frightening with so much negative opinion, an absurd sense of US "exceptionalism" and unthinking faith in the power of war (clinched by a nuclear option as last resort).
Alas, we have the government we deserve.
AbeMarch 27, 2015 at 7:33 pm
In 1926, German political theorist Carl Schmitt wrote his most famous paper, "Der Begriff des Politischen" ("The Concept of the Political"), in which he developed his theory of "the political".
For Schmitt, "the political" is not equal to any other domain, such as the economic, but instead is the most essential to identity. As the essence of politics, "the political" is distinct from party politics.
According to Schmitt, while churches are predominant in religion or society is predominant in economics, the state is predominant in politics. Yet for Schmitt the political was not an autonomous domain equivalent to the other domains, but rather the existential basis that would determine any other domain should it reach the point of politics (e.g. religion ceases to be merely theological when it makes a clear distinction between the "friend" and the "enemy").
Schmitt, in perhaps his best-known formulation, bases his conceptual realm of state sovereignty and autonomy upon the distinction between friend and enemy. This distinction is to be determined "existentially," which is to say that the enemy is whoever is "in a specially intense way, existentially something different and alien, so that in the extreme case conflicts with him are possible." (Schmitt, 1996, p. 27)
For Schmitt, such an enemy need not even be based on nationality: so long as the conflict is potentially intense enough to become a violent one between political entities, the actual substance of enmity may be anything.
Although there have been divergent interpretations concerning Schmitt's work, there is broad agreement that "The Concept of the Political" is an attempt to achieve state unity by defining the content of politics as opposition to the "other" (that is to say, an enemy, a stranger. This applies to any person or entity that represents a serious threat or conflict to one's own interests.) In addition, the prominence of the state stands as a neutral force over potentially fractious civil society, whose various antagonisms must not be allowed to reach the level of the political, lest civil war result.
Leo Strauss, a political Zionist and follower of Vladimir Jabotinsky, had a position at the Academy of Jewish Research in Berlin. Strauss wrote to Schmitt in 1932 and summarized Schmitt's political theology thus: "[B]ecause man is by nature evil, he therefore needs dominion. But dominion can be established, that is, men can be unified only in a unity against – against other men. Every association of men is necessarily a separation from other men… the political thus understood is not the constitutive principle of the state, of order, but a condition of the state."
With a letter of recommendation from Schmitt, Strauss received a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation to begin work, in France, on a study of Hobbes. Schmitt went on to become a figure of influence in the new Nazi government of Adolf Hitler.
On 30 January 1933, Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany. The SA and SS led torchlight parades throughout Berlin. Germans who opposed Nazism failed to unite against it, and Hitler soon moved to consolidate absolute power.
Following the 27 February Reichstag fire, the Nazis began to suspend civil liberties and eliminate political opposition. The Communists were excluded from the Reichstag. At the March 1933 elections, again no single party secured a majority. Hitler required the vote of the Centre Party and Conservatives in the Reichstag to obtain the powers he desired. He called on Reichstag members to vote for the Enabling Act on 24 March 1933.
Hitler was granted plenary powers "temporarily" by the passage of the Enabling Act. The law gave him the freedom to act without parliamentary consent and even without constitutional limitations.
Schmitt joined the Nazi Party on 1 May 1933. Within days of joining the party, Schmitt was party to the burning of books by Jewish authors, rejoicing in the burning of "un-German" and "anti-German" material, and calling for a much more extensive purge, to include works by authors influenced by Jewish ideas.[
In July 1933, Schmitt was appointed State Councillor for Prussia (Preußischer Staatsrat) by Hermann Göring and became the president of the Vereinigung nationalsozialistischer Juristen ("Union of National-Socialist Jurists") in November. He also replaced Hermann Heller as professor at the University of Berlin (a position he held until the end of World War II).
Schmitt presented his theories as an ideological foundation of the Nazi dictatorship, and a justification of the Führer state with regard to legal philosophy, in particular through the concept of auctoritas. Half a year later, in June 1934, Schmitt was appointed editor-in-chief of the Nazi news organ for lawyers, the Deutsche Juristen-Zeitung ("German Jurists' Journal").
In July 1934, he published "The Leader Protects the Law (Der Führer schützt das Recht)", a justification of the political murders of the Night of the Long Knives with the authority of Hitler as the "highest form of administrative justice (höchste Form administrativer Justiz)".
Schmitt presented himself as a radical anti-semite and also was the chairman of a law teachers' convention in Berlin in October 1936, where he demanded that German law be cleansed of the "Jewish spirit (jüdischem Geist)", going so far as to demand that all publications by Jewish scientists should henceforth be marked with a small symbol.
Nevertheless, in December 1936, the SS publication Das schwarze Korps accused Schmitt of being an opportunist, and called his anti-semitism a mere pretense, citing earlier statements in which he criticized the Nazis' racial theories. After this, Schmitt resigned from his position as "Reichsfachgruppenleiter" (Reich Professional Group Leader), although he retained his post as a professor in Berlin, and his post as "Preußischer Staatsrat".
After World War II, Schmitt refused every attempt at de-nazification, which effectively barred him from positions in academia. Despite being isolated from the mainstream of the scholarly and political community, he continued his studies especially of international law from the 1950s on.
In 1962, Schmitt gave lectures in Francoist Spain, two of them giving rise to the publication, the following year, of Theory of the Partisan, in which he qualified the Spanish civil war as a "war of national liberation" against "international Communism."
Schmitt regarded the partisan as a specific and significant phenomenon that, in the latter half of the twentieth century, indicated the emergence of a new theory of warfare.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the most simple formulation of Schmitt's friend-enemy distinction was enunciated by this intellectual giant: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sfNROmn7bc
In that Schmittian fulmination known as the Bush Doctrine, the "partisan" is transformed into the "terrorist," no longer "internal" but a truly "global" enemy to be destroyed wherever found.
As further codified by the Obama Doctrine: the decider has the right.
The world-ordering, planet-appropriating doctrine of American exceptionalism has no space in its Grossraum (great space) concept for a "Eurasia."
The very enunciation of a "Eurasian" political sphere is a "terrorist" act, and all those associated with such "lunacy" are "enemies" to be annihilated.
JohnMarch 28, 2015 at 12:50 am
Junger was not so pro-war when he lost his son in WW11.
JohnMarch 28, 2015 at 12:50 am
Junger was not so pro-war when he lost his son in WW11.
DatoMarch 28, 2015 at 6:28 am
Just as defeated German generals and the Conservative Revolutionaries believed that Germany lost World War I because their economy and nation was only "partially mobilized
One would like to know wherein lay the premises of such a belief. Indeed, the general staff of the Reich laid out plans and performed actions for a "total war", and the effects, once the war ended, were hard to oversee: Not only were there scant resources and only barely functioning capital infrastructure left after the war, people were actually dying of hunger in the streets (made worse by the entente's continuing blockade even into 1915). Maybe all the information was hard to come back then.
From "Hindenburg: Icon of German Militarism" by Astore and Showalter, p 40ff:
The war, Hindenburg noted, had become a colossal Materialschlacht, or material struggle, waged by modern industrial juggernauts. The western front in particular witnessed organized destruction on a scale theretofore thought impossible. Staggered by the sheer wastage of modern war, all combatants sought with varying degrees of success to mobilize their economies. The so-called Hindenburg Program was Germany's concerted attempt to mobilize fully, if somewhat belatedly, for total war. Improving the efficiency of economic mobilization was certainly a worthwhile goal. Hindenburg's, and especially Ludendorff's, key mistake was to presume that an economy could be commanded like an army. The end result was a conflict of effciencies. What was best for the army in the short term was not necessarily best for the long-term health of the economy. Furthermore, as economic means were mobilized to the fullest, the sacrifices required and incurred by modern warfare's destructive industrialism drove Germany, as well as the Entente powers, to inflate strategic goals to justify national sacrifice. Extreme economic mobilization encouraged grandiose political and territorial demands, ruling out opportunities for a compromise peace, which Hindenburg and Ludendorff rejected anyway. Under their leadership, imperial Germany became a machine for waging war and little else. And Hindenburg and Ludendorff emerged as Germany's most committed merchants of death.
Nothing in Hindenburg's background prepared him for the task of overseeing an economic mobilization. Thus, he left details to the technocrat Ludendorff. Aided by Lieutenant Colonel Max Bauer, Ludendorff embarked on a crash program to centralize and streamline the economy. Fifteen separate district commands in Germany needed centralizing if economic mobilization was to be rationalized; rivalries among federal, state, and local agencies needed to be curtailed. As enacted, the Hindenburg Program sought to maximize war-related production by transforming Germany into a garrison state with a command economy. Coordinating the massive effort was the Kriegsamt, or War Office, headed by General Wilhelm Groener.
Yet, Ludendorff's insistence on setting unachievable production goals led to serious dislocations in the national economy. Shell production was to be doubled, artillery and machine gun production trebled, all in a matter of months. The German economy, relying largely on its own internal resources, could not bear the strain of striving for production goals unconstrained by economic, material, and manpower realities. The release of hundreds of thousands of skilled workers from military duty back to the factories, which led to short-term increases in the production of armaments, did not solve critical and systemic shortages of labor. Large-scale deportation and impressment of Belgian workers was a stopgap that only further alienated world opinion, notably in the United States. In the aggregate, the high level of autonomy enjoyed by the military contributed to wasteful duplications of effort and patterns of bureaucratization that eventually defied even the Germans' gift for paperwork.
Brad OwenMarch 28, 2015 at 6:36 am
Excellent article. I still think the Financial Oligarchy, which currently holds the "Imperium" in City-of-London/Wall Street jointly, are the financial enablers of these "Conservative Revolutionaries". One of the main tasks of an Empire is to PREVENT any rival power structure (such as a legitimate Republic taking root within a colony, becoming a powerful nation-state, and becoming most attractive to the other subjugated colonies…the ONLY basis for U.S. "exceptionalism", and our one unforgivable "sin" in the, now covert, British Empire) from arising within its' Realm. The witless conservative revolutionaries are enabled by the Financier/Emperors (think of Grand daddy Prescott; bagman for the NAZIs) PRECISELY because they will lead to "the eventual bankrupting and destruction of the Nation", as Major Pierce says, thus being rid of a dangerous Republic within their Empire. These policies and wars are meant to destroy US, here, in America, and lead us, and the World, FAR AWAY from the wisdom of our Preamble. BTW, Kaiser's Germany, and Dr. Sun Yat Sen, were influenced by "Lincoln's economists" Henry Carey and Friedrich Liszt…the "republican infection" was spread far and wide, after Lincoln's victory in his proxy war with the British and French empires (The Russian Empire, as always, was USA's quiet ally in that war).
Peter LoebMarch 28, 2015 at 6:45 am
The history of fascism is helpful, It remains that it is a common tendency of liberals/
progressives to believe in the illusion that one person, one party exchanged for another
will transform a society (any society).
As Naseer Aruri documents in his incisive book, DISHONEST BROKER, that the US has collaborated with Zionism for decades, Both US political parties have been complicit. This
has been the case for 35 years prior to the current Administration and certainly was the
case going back as far as Harry Truman.(Aruri's brief book was written just prior to
the election of Obama.)
Netanyahu's supposed "shock" to Washington is that his blatant racism and opposition to
the "peaceful negotiations" of two so-called "sovereign" nations made such good PR. One commenter observed that it was like asking the lamb to "negotiate" with the wolf. Aruri
repeats that the US, which has always supported the oppressor(Israel), could act as"mediator" thus excluding international law altogether. (Aruri blames in equal measure PLO's Arafat who agreed to "occupation by consent" (Aruri).
Netanyahu blew the US "cover" for just a second. The next Democratic leadership if it is
Hillary Clinton as President or Chuck Schumer as Democratic leader has never been
noted for any sympathy for Palestinians aka "the inferior race" (Israelis). Both Clinton and
Schumer have represented New York State in the US Senate. Both want to elect more members of their party (Democratic) and to use the dollars of wealthy US Jews in accomplishing this.
The voices of the hundreds of thousands who lose their jobs as disposeable (except in
campaign rehetoric) have less and less meaning. The very rich are the beneficiaries and they lay off thousands of workers and managers to move to low wage and more compliant
location with high tech ease.
From my perspective, the only means to delay this is economic. On the one hand it is
BDS but on a larger field it is the weakness of the US economy and others of the West.
Recalling that it was WW II that "solved" the Great Depression and not the ineffective programs of FDR's "New Deal" (See Gabriel Kolko, MAIN CURRENTS IN MODERN AMERICAN
HISTORY). Todd E. Pierce does not mention the so-called global "revolution" but as the
French have phrased it "La revolution se mange" (" The revolution eats itself") Everyone
wants someone else to fight their battles for them at no cost to themselves.
Pierce does not evaluate the power relationships weakening virtually all governments
today. Inequality has eaten us up (we have eaten ouselves!).
—Peter Loeb, Boston, MA USA
mugglesMarch 28, 2015 at 1:41 pm
Extremely good essay today by Todd Pierce. Very impressive scholarship and insight, particularly in the light of his impressive military career.
Many good comments posted also, despite the inevitable odor of anti Semitism found in some, always the case when "Germany" is part of the topic. "Bankers", etc. Much easier to stereotype than to think.
Yes, France and Britain were also hyper militaristic in the 19th century, far more than Germany, which of course wasn't united until the very end of that century, which meant that while some German states were quite active militarily in the period (Prussia) it didn't act as a "nation" as it did later in the 20th century.
France lost most of the militarist ideology after two crushing defeats in the World Wars and post colonial failures. Britain maintained that outlook despite the World Wars but the wars devastated the economic ability and imperial reach which had sustained that view, despite the persistent Churchill worship. Thatcher's defense of the tiny Falklands was merely an almost comic echo of times past. Still, today in many British intellectual circles (if not in actually participating in the armed forces) military worship continues.
Germany today has now lost most of its taste for war. Instead it leads Europe economically. Butter rather than guns.
Pierce's essay highlights the sinister influence of Leo Strauss, something that libertarian historian-economist Murray Rothbard warned about several decades ago as well. As Godfather of the neocons, Strauss is the intellectual architect of today's bloodlust American political establishment. His being Jewish was the only thing which kept him from being a full fledged Hitlerite.
So neocons, many themselves Jewish (though many not) are mere slightly less crazy fascists as were the interwar German nationalists who easily jumped into the Nazi bed when the cult of personality overwhelmed the German rightwing.
There has long been a cult of war worship, going back to ancient times. The fact that warfare brings death and disease and horrible injury doesn't matter. The fact that it destroys wealth and human prosperity and harmony is ignored. Individuals are crushed to the greater "good" of arms against whatever enemy can be found. Sociopaths and psychopaths use militarism as the path to "greatness."
That much of the American "right" is in the thrall of the pseudo fascist neocon ideology of Straussian war worship as the path to "security" and "national greatness" should be the red blinking "danger-danger!" light for every thinking American.
Thanks Mr. Pierce.
Steve NaidamastMarch 28, 2015 at 3:07 pm
I have not thoroughly read this article but will do so after I print it out.
However I would like to add that though there were quite a few people in 190s Germany that were proponents of warfare there is a slow but increasing amount of research that is beginning to show that Adolph Hitler was not the war-monger western historians have made him out to be. In addition, after the advent of war in 1939, up through 1941, Hitler was making peace overtures to the west, which Britain continuously ignored and rejected.
This too was done up through 1915 by Germany in World War I, which Britain also
As recent research is beginning to show, it was not Germany who was itching for
war in 1939 but in fact Britain and Poland. And war is what they eventually got and
very much to Britain's and Poland's demise as the former lost her empire and the latter was
swallowed up by Soviet Russia.
Coleen RowleyMarch 28, 2015 at 6:26 pm
Great article showing how history repeats! But most of your points, with the exception of Boehner's invitation to Netanyahu to speak to Congress and more Democrats than Republicans backing Obama's negotiation strategy with Iran, apply as much to the Democrat as Republican Party leadership. I think I even read where Robert Kagan may back Hillary Clinton whilst his fellow PNAC founder William Kristol will back Bush or whatever Republican wins the nomination. The neocon ideology seems to be fully in control of both parties.
Thank you Coleen for your comment. I share your concern that a Clinton/Bush race will be one in the same. I'm desperately hoping we get neither as candidates because it will mean "business as usual".
hisoricusMarch 28, 2015 at 8:29 pm
One of the most startling things I've found in reading "Nazi propaganda" is their dead-on accurate prediction of America's coming role as a primary threat to world peace, in its rulers' quest for total global domination. The United States was routinely mocked in the German press as the phony "democracy of dollars" controlled by the plutocrats of Wall Street – gosh, how'd they ever get a wacky idea like that, huh?
Hitler clearly stated in Mein Kampf "we are enemies of today's capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are all determined to destroy this system under all conditions."
Hitler attempted to rapidly build Germany into a global power that would be capable of fending off the twin threats of capitalist imperialism from the west and totalitarian communism from the east – but these forces were too strong: the "new Germany" never had a chance of survival. Eighty million Germans faced a billion-strong British empire that was determined to destroy all economic rivals, and had centuries of experience in mass murder and destruction in the Third World. Add to this the 320 million people of a communist USSR and a capitalist USA whose elites could agree on only one thing, that Germany's astoundingly successful experiment in national socialism must first be annihilated and then its true character erased from history.
Today the German government's cruel treatment of Jews – who made up one half of one percent of Germany's population, by the way – is all that most people know of National Socialism, which is rather like remembering America's Founders only as the brutal slaveholders and Indian killers that they were.
Ask yourself: how is it evenly remotely possible that the second German war could be the only time in our history that our leaders did not lie to us about why we were supposed to hate and butcher a people who had done us no harm?
Monster from the IdMarch 28, 2015 at 9:44 pm
Hoooo boy, the delusion is strong in this one…
richard vajsMarch 29, 2015 at 8:54 am
One good thing about the "coming together" of the fascist Republican Party and the fascist Israeli Likud Party – it will make for a unified target. As I've heard military drill instructors advise, "You people need to spread out – one hand grenade would get you all!". I look forward to no separation between the two and the tossing of that grenade.
Coleen RowleyMarch 29, 2015 at 10:34 am
First I need to make clear I'm against bombing. Anyone. I'm in the "war is not the answer; war is a crime; war is waste; war is a lie; war is hell camp. I think individuals are justified in valid "self defense" but not the nation-state or ethnic-religious type tribalism that Carl Schmitt apparently referred to as the "political" groupings that justify and benefit from "pre-emptive" wars of aggression. It IS a slippery slope but still we must stick to principles.
But with that said, the Likud-inspired AIPAC and other Israeli fronts were very much aware of your drill sergeant's advice, Richard. The Israel lobbyists were highly effective in the past, in contrast to other political lobbies (who generally favored one party or the other), simply because they did "spread out" and were able to infiltrate both Republican and Democratic parties (as well as their corresponding "think tanks") so as to better control the whole US government.
The Boehner invite of Netanyahu, Republican Militarist Senator Cotton's letter and the exposing of AIPAC's forcing of Democratic congresspersons to now oppose their own Party Leader, Obama, in order to launch war on Iran, could be significant in ending that control of both parties by splitting the parties. Bush's former UN Ambassador and top neocon John Bolton's outright and explicit call for bombing Iran in the NYT helps pull off the mask and expose what the neocons are after. Middle of the road Democratic congresspeople, almost all of whom are normally are hard-pressed to not vote and give AIPAC anything it wants, may find it easier to publically explain how they cannot in good conscience vote this one time, for the Israel Lobby and what the terrible new war it wants.
And my guess is the reason Kristol and Kagan would be splitting their support, if that does materialize, Kristol for Bush and Kagan for Clinton, would be exactly in line with your old drill sergeant's advice.
SolonMarch 29, 2015 at 10:26 pm
re: "Avnery's analogy of how Congress responded to its de facto leader was apt"
The analogy could not be less apt.
The German leaders were in their own nation, addressing the concerns of their own people, concerns including the debasement of their culture, the debasement of their money, high unemployment, challenges in finding food, riots and mob violence incited by Communist and Bolshevic subversives, and chaos in their political system. Promises were made to the German people by their leaders to solve their problems, a plan was laid out and most of the promises were kept: within 4 years, Germans were employed, the economy was revitalized with public works spending, and the people's morale was unified around German cultural values. Several of their international problems were settled without violence, as the people demanded and the NSDAP government promised.
On the other hand, the leader of a foreign state stood before a representative body in which only 16% of the people have any confidence. He told this body that their leader should not be trusted, and they cheered.
The representatives of the people pledged their fealty to this leader of a foreign state and promised to send him more taxpayer money to kill more of the people whose lands and homes the foreign state is stealing. None of the concerns of the American people — for jobs, for relief from high food prices, for adequate treatment of 50,000 military persons wounded in wars fought at the behest of the same foreign leader — none of those concerns were addressed by the cheering crowd.
This author suffers from Hitler Derangement Syndrome: his thinking is so suffused with the relentlessly propagandized notion that Hitler and NSDAP are the embodiment of evil that his analysis is forced and his judgments flawed.
An assessment of the full panoply of facts and evidence will reveal that it was not Hitler and NSDAP but the forebears of the same man who sought to — and came pretty close to succeeding in subverting the US political system.
The German people under NSDAP leadership were reclaiming their government and culture, and for that they cheered.
Their resistance to the ideology that Strauss and his cohort sought to impose on Germans was an affront to the pro to-neocons, and so they organized with warmongering British and manipulative American leaders to destroy Germany and incinerate the German people in what C E Hughes called the first use of weapons of mass destruction as a means of terror against a civilian population.
zhu bajieMarch 30, 2015 at 1:23 am
The comparison is interesting, but it a comparison between Japanese Militarism and the US permanent war regime would also be enlightening. Neither the US nor Japan have or had a charismatic orator, a Mussolini or a Hitler.
zhu bajieMarch 30, 2015 at 1:58 am
Re "exceptiohnalism," Lewis' _The American Adam_ should be read. The idea that Americans can do no wrong has been around since the early days of the Republic.
Paul E. "Marbux" Merrell, J.D.March 30, 2015 at 12:06 pm
Re: "It was left to Israeli Uri Avnery to best capture the spirit of Netanyahu's enthusiastic ideological supporters in Congress."
I disagree with that sentence, albeit it's a judgment call. But I don't think Avnery is even in the running. The best capture of that I've seen is Noy Alooshe's masterful video remix of the event itself. .
hbmMarch 31, 2015 at 3:06 am
You don't get Nazis without Ashkenazis.
Why should Neocons be at all surprising?
RobApril 2, 2015 at 10:58 am
I enjoyed the article, but I cannot agree that Netanyahu is the de facto leader of the Republican Party. Rather, he is a prop in the ongoing drama known as "Republicans doing everything in their power to oppose and embarrass President Obama and the Democrats."
I have long advocated that those public figures who agitate for war should be sent into the battlefield along with all able bodied members of their families. That would quickly put an end to chicken hawk warmongers. The exception would be Charles Krauthammer, who is paralyzed in his lower extremities. That man should be sent into battle in his wheelchair.
October 28, 2014 | Tufts Now
Elected officials are no longer in charge of our national security—and that is undermining our democracy, says the Fletcher School's Michael Glennon
"We are clearly on the path to autocracy," says Michael Glennon. "There's no question that if we continue on that path, [the] Congress, the courts and the presidency will ultimately end up . . . as institutional museum pieces." Photo: Kelvin Ma
Michael Glennon knew of the book, and had cited it in his classes many times, but he had never gotten around to reading the thing from cover to cover. Last year he did, jolted page after page with its illuminating message for our time.
The book was The English Constitution, an analysis by 19th-century journalist Walter Bagehot that laid bare the dual nature of British governance. It suggested that one part of government was for popular consumption, and another more hidden part was for real, consumed with getting things done in the world. As he read, Glennon, a professor of international law at the Fletcher School, where he also teaches constitutional law, saw distinct parallels with the current American political scene.
He decided to explore the similarities in a 30-page paper that he sent around to a number of his friends, asking them to validate or refute his argument. As it happens, Glennon's friends were an extraordinarily well-informed bunch, mostly seasoned operatives in the CIA, the U.S. State Department and the military. "Look," he told them. "I'm thinking of writing a book. Tell me if this is wrong." Every single one responded, "What you have here is exactly right."
Expanded from that original brief paper, Glennon's book National Security and Double Government (Oxford University Press) takes our political system to task, arguing that the people running our government are not our visible elected officials but high-level—and unaccountable—bureaucrats nestled atop government agencies.
Glennon's informed critique of the American political system comes from a place of deep regard. Glennon says he can remember driving into Washington, D.C., in the late spring of 1973, at the time of the Senate Watergate hearings, straight from law school at the University of Minnesota, to take his first job as assistant legislative counsel to the U.S. Senate. Throughout his 20s, he worked in government, culminating in his position as legal counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under Sen. Frank Church from 1977 to 1980. Since entering academic life in the early 1980s, Glennon has been a frequent consultant to government agencies of all stripes, as well as a regular commentator on media outlets such as NPR's All Things Considered, the Today show and Nightline.
In his new book, an inescapable sadness underlies the narrative. "I feel a great sense of loss," Glennon admits. "I devoted my life to these [democratic] institutions, and it's not easy to see how to throw the current trends into reverse." Tufts Now spoke with Glennon recently to learn more of his perspective.
Tufts Now: You've been both an insider and an outsider with regard to government affairs. What led you to write this book?
Michael Glennon: I was struck by the strange continuity in national security policy between the Bush administration and the Obama administration. Obama, as a candidate, had been eloquent and forceful in criticizing many aspects of the Bush administration's national security policies, from drone strikes to Guantanamo to surveillance by the National Security Agency—the NSA—to covert operations. Yet as president, it turned out that he made very, very few changes in these policies. So I thought it was useful to explain the reason for that.
Were you surprised by the continuity?
I was surprised by the extent of it. I knew fundamentally from my own experience that changing national policies is like trying to change the course of an aircraft carrier. These policies in many ways were set long ago, and the national security bureaucracy tends to favor the status quo. Still, I thought that a president like Obama would, with the political wind in his sails and with so much public and congressional support for what he was criticizing, be more successful in fulfilling his promises.
You use the phrase "double government," coined by Walter Bagehot in the 1860s. What did he mean by that?
Walter Bagehot was one of the founders of the Economist magazine. He developed the theory of "double government," which in a nutshell is this. He said Britain had developed two sets of institutions. First came "dignified" institutions, the monarchy and the House of Lords, which were for show and which the public believed ran the government. But in fact, he suggested, this was an illusion.
These dignified institutions generate legitimacy, but it was a second set of institutions, which he called Britain's "efficient" institutions, that actually ran the government behind the scenes. These institutions were the House of Commons, the Cabinet and the prime minister. This split allowed Britain to move quietly from a monarchy to what Bagehot called a "concealed republic."
The thesis of my book is that the United States has also drifted into a form of double government, and that we have our own set of "dignified" institutions—Congress, the presidency and the courts. But when it comes to national security policy, these entities have become largely for show. National security policy is now formulated primarily by a second group of officials, namely the several hundred individuals who manage the agencies of the military, intelligence and law enforcement bureaucracy responsible for protecting the nation's security.
What are some components of this arrangement?
The NSA, the FBI, the Pentagon and elements of the State Department, certainly; generally speaking, law enforcement, intelligence and the military entities of the government. It's a diverse group, an amorphous group, with no leader and no formal structure, that has come to dominate the formation of American national security policy to the point that Congress, the presidency and the courts all defer to it.
You call this group the "Trumanite network" in your book. What's the link to Harry Truman?
It was in Truman's administration that the National Security Act of 1947 was enacted. This established the CIA and the National Security Council and centralized the command of the U.S. military. It was during the Truman administration as well that the National Security Agency [NSA] was set up, in 1952, although that was a secret and didn't come to light for many years thereafter.
In contrast to the Trumanites you set the "Madisonians." How would you describe them?
The Madisonian institutions are the three constitutionally established branches of the federal government: Congress, the judiciary and the president. They are perceived by the public as the entities responsible for the formulation of national security policy, but that belief is largely mistaken.
The idea is driven by regular exceptions. You can always point to specific instances in which, say, the president personally ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden or Congress enacted the War Powers Resolution. But these are exceptions. The norm is that as a general matter, these three branches defer to the Trumanite network, and that's truer all the time.
So the trend is toward increased power on the Trumanite side of the ledger.
If that's true, why has there not been a greater outcry from the public, the media—all the observers we have?
I think the principal reason is that even sophisticated students of government operate under a very serious misunderstanding. They believe that the political system is self-correcting. They believe the framers set up a system of government setting power against power, and ambition against ambition, and that an equilibrium would be reached, and that any abuse of power would be checked, and arbitrary power would be prevented.
That is correct as far as it goes, but the reality is that's only half the picture. The other half is that Madison and his colleagues believed that for equilibrium to occur, we would have an informed and engaged citizenry. Lacking that, the entire system corrupts, because individuals are elected to office who do not resist encroachments on the power of their branches of government, and the whole equilibrium breaks down.
What role, if any, have the media played?
The media have pretty much been enablers. Although there are a handful of investigative journalists who have done a heroic job of uncovering many of the abuses, they are the exception, for a number of reasons. Number one, the media are a business and have a bottom line. It takes a huge amount of money to fund an investigative journalist who goes about finding sources over a period of years. Very few newspapers or television concerns have those sorts of deep pockets.
Second, access for the press is everything. There is huge incentive to pull punches, and you don't get interviews with top-ranking officials at the NSA or CIA if you're going to offer hard-hitting questions. Look, for example, at the infamous 60 Minutes puff piece on the NSA, a really tragic example of how an otherwise respectable institution can sell its soul and act like an annex of the NSA in order to get some people it wants on the TV screen.
What is the role of terror in this environment?
The whole transfer of power from the Madisonian institutions to the Trumanite network has been fueled by a sense of emergency deriving from crisis, deriving from fear. It's fear of terrorism more than anything else that causes the American people to increasingly be willing to dispense with constitutional safeguards to ensure their safety.
Madison believed that government has two great objects. One object of a constitution is to enable the government to protect the people, specifically from external attacks. The other great object of a constitution is to protect the people from the government. The better able the government is to protect the people from external threats, the greater the threat posed by the government to the people.
You've been involved with the U.S. government for 40 years. How has your view of government changed?
Double government was certainly a factor in the 1970s, but it was challenged for the first time thanks to the activism stemming from the civil rights movement, Vietnam and Watergate. As a result, there were individuals in Congress—Democrats and Republicans like William Fulbright, Frank Church, Jacob Javits, Charles Mathias and many others—who were willing to stand up and insist upon adherence to constitutionally ordained principles. That led to a wave of activism and to the enactment of a number of pieces of reform legislation.
But there is no final victory in Washington. Those reforms have gradually been eaten away and turned aside. I think today we are in many ways right back where we were in the early 1970s. NSA surveillance is an example of that. The Church Committee uncovered something called Operation Shamrock, in which the NSA had assembled a watch list of antiwar and civil rights activists based upon domestic surveillance. Church warned at the time that NSA capabilities were so awesome that if they were ever turned inward on the American people, this nation would cross an abyss from which there is no return. The question is whether we have recently crossed that abyss.
To what degree are we still a functioning democracy? I'm sure you know that President Jimmy Carter told a German reporter last year that he thought we no longer qualified as a democracy because of our domestic surveillance.
We are clearly on the path to autocracy, and you can argue about how far we are down that path. But there's no question that if we continue on that path, America's constitutionally established institutions—Congress, the courts and the presidency—will ultimately end up like Britain's House of Lords and monarchy, namely as institutional museum pieces.
Bruce Morgan can be reached at email@example.com.
Dec 2, 2014 | anduskyregister.com
My favorite nonfiction book this year is "National Security and Double Government" by Michael J. Glennon, which argues that the president and Congress are largely figureheads in setting U.S. national security policy.
Glennon's book suggests that U.S. foreign and security policy is formed by "Trumanites," a network of several hundred top bureaucrats. They're named after Harry S. Truman, whose administration saw the passage of the National Security Act of 1947 and the creation of the National Security Agency. The elected officials who are supposed to make the decisions are dubbed "Madisonians," after President James Madison.
The Madisonians do have power, and they make important decisions. President Barack Obama made the decision to carry out the raid that killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, Glennon notes. No one will know whether Al Gore would have invaded Iraq. But Glennon argues that very little in American foreign policy actually changed when Barack Obama replaced George W. Bush at the White House.
As an example, Glennon's book is quite devastating in describing how prominent Madisonians reacted when James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, was caught lying to Congress about whether it collects data on "millions" of Americans. (Leaks from Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency in fact attempts to collect the phone records of all Americans.) Sen. Dianne Feinstein knew the statement was false and said nothing, Glennon writes. Obama knew or should have known the statement was false and also was silent, "allowing the falsehood to stand for months until leaks publicly revealed the testimony to be false," he writes. "Obama, finally caught by surprise, insisted that he 'welcomed' the debate that ensued, and his administration commenced active efforts to arrest the NSA employee whose disclosures had triggered it." Glennon's heavily-footnoted book then documents the misleading statements Obama made about the matter.
Glennon is not a campus radical or a conspiracy theorist blogging in his parents' basement. He's professor of international law at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. Before he entered academia, he had a legal career that included a stint as legal counsel for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has written several books, and his opinion pieces have appeared in "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post," among other newspapers. He kindly agreed to take our questions about his new book:Sandusky Register: Did the election of President Barack Obama, and the subsequent disappointment of many who thought he would change U.S. national security policy, spur your book, or had you already had it in mind for years?
Glennon: Both. I had noticed for years that U.S. national security changed little from one administration to the next, but the continuity was so striking mid-way into the Obama administration that I thought it was time to address the question directly. Hence the book.
Sandusky Register: Your book suggests that elections in the U.S. have little effect on national security policy — most of the decisions are made by a network of several hundred national security bureaucrats, regardless of who occupies the Oval Office or the seats in Congress. Do politicians in Washington privately admit that this is true?
Glennon: I've spoken with many members of what I call the "Trumanite network" who do acknowledge that reality — it's hard to deny, really, though few will say so publicly — but members of Congress and federal judges have too much at stake to pull back the curtains. As I describe in the book, public deference depends upon the illusion that the public institutions of our government are actually in charge, and their legitimacy would suffer if they were brutally honest about how much power they have transferred to the Trumanites.
Sandusky Register: Drawing upon "The English Constitution" by Walter Bagehot, you refer to the politicians who are supposed to be in charge as "the Madisonians" (after James Madison) and the national security bureaucrats who actually govern as "the Trumanites" (after Harry Truman's National Security Act of 1947). Is it a misnomer to refer to the Trumanites as a "secret government," as some do?
Glennon: The Trumanites surely operate in secrecy; most of their work is highly classified because the security threats have to be addressed out of the public eye, for the most part. But the Trumanite network itself exists in plain view, and has been readily visible for some time. So it's a mistake to think of it as a "deep state" or "shadow government" to the extent that those terms imply some nefarious conspiracy. There has been no such thing.
Sandusky Register: The U.S. Senate just defeated an NSA reform bill, and even supporters admitted it would not have brought major change. Does this fit your book's suggestion that reform from the "Madisonians" is going to be a difficult enterprise?
Glennon: The bill was mostly cosmetic and would not have addressed the deeper sources of double government. Its defeat can be attributed to a number of factors, one of which surely is the power of the Trumanite network. But in the interest of complete accuracy, it's useful to think of the phenomenon of double government as something like climate change: not every bad storm or hot day is caused directly and exclusively by the dynamic of global warming. The theory of double government merely predicts that, over time, national security policy as a whole will be largely continuous. Individual elements of that policy could change.
Sandusky Register: I've noticed you haven't been invited to appear on national TV yet, or on NPR's "Fresh Air," although your thesis would seem to be controversial and interesting. Are there institutional reasons why your book isn't getting a huge amount of publicity, or is it just hard to get an academic press book out there?
Glennon: Some good books never get reviewed and some bad books do. Lots of it just seems to be luck and happenstance. I tried to write it for informed lay readers; time will tell whether they pick it up.
My other author interviews are archived. Professor Glennon also was interviewed by the Boston Globe. He also appeared on the Scott Horton Show.
Sandusky Register reporter Tom Jackson reviews and recommends local and national reading opportunities. You can read the other blog posts and follow this blog on Twitter.
Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tue, 12/02/2014 - 12:40pm
Tom, thanks. That will go on my reading list - right now I'm into "Why We Lost (in Iraq and Afghanistan)" by Gen. Dan Bolger.
And for influence on security policy, don't forget the Neo-cons and their Israeli partners.
We're spending trillions on the military and becoming ever less secure - they are bankrupting the country.
November 7, 2014 | fletcherforum.org
Professor Michael Glennon on the Rise of the American System of Double Government
In his latest book, National Security and Double Government, Professor Michael Glennon challenges common understandings of American government institutions and provides daunting insights into the nature of the U.S. national security apparatus. Glennon claims that the "Trumanite network," consisting of managers of the military, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies, guides and often makes key decisions on U.S. national security policy. He highlights the lack of oversight, accountability, and the mutually beneficial relationship between the public-facing "Madisonian" actors, such as the President and Congress, and this classified "Trumanite" network. The Fletcher Forum Editorial team sat down with Michael Glennon, Professor of International Law at the Fletcher School, to talk about his book and discuss the future of American democracy.
FLETCHER FORUM: How did your experience on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and your continued work with the government inform your book?
GLENNON: When I worked for the Committee I was struck by the large number of Ford administration officials who continued on into the Carter administration. Many of these officials held significant policy-making roles in the realm of national security. I was also struck by the many programs and policies that also carried over from the earlier administration. Most of these related to classified intelligence and law enforcement activities. As a result the public believed that in many areas, things had changed much more than they actually had. What I was observing in closed meetings and in classified documents was not the civics-book model that the public had internalized. The courts, Congress, and even presidential appointees exercised much less influence over national security policy-making than people commonly believed. And the 1976 presidential election had had much less impact than people had expected. So it was pretty clear the data didn't fit the conventional tri-partite, separation-of-powers paradigm, but I wasn't sure what a more accurate paradigm would look like, or even whether there was one.
FLETCHER FORUM: When did you start thinking about this topic? How did you formulate this thesis and how did we get to this point?
GLENNON: Two years ago, I was struck again by the strange inalterability of U.S. national security policy. Before winning the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama had campaigned forcefully and eloquently against many elements of the Bush administration's national security policy. Yet rendition, military detention without trial or counsel, drone strikes, NSA surveillance, whistleblower prosecutions, non-prosecution of water-boarders, reliance on the state secrets privilege, covert operations, Guantanamo—you name it, virtually nothing changed. Obviously something more was going on than what the defenders of those policies claimed—which was that all those policies somehow happened to be the most rational response among all competing alternatives. The fact is that each of these policies presents questions on which reasonable people can differ—as indeed Obama himself had, as a Senator and as a candidate for the presidency. The epiphany occurred when I pulled a little book off the shelf and read it in amazement one rainy Sunday afternoon—Walter Bagehot's The English Constitution.
FLETCHER FORUM: What are some components of this double government in the U.S. today? What are the key institutions and players?
GLENNON: Bagehot's objective was to explain how the British government operated in the 1860s. He suggested that it had in effect split into two separate sets of institutions. The "dignified" institutions consisted of the monarchy and House of Lords. The British people believed that the dignified institutions ran the government. This belief was essential to foster the legitimacy needed for public deference and obedience. But that belief was an illusion. In fact, the government was run by the "efficient" institutions—the House of Commons, the prime minister, and the cabinet—which operated behind-the-scenes, largely removed from public view. Gradually and quietly, these efficient institutions had moved Britain away from a monarchy to become what Bagehot described as a "concealed republic." My book's thesis is that in the realm of national security, the United States also has unwittingly drifted into a system of double government—but that it is moving in the opposite direction, away from democracy, toward autocracy. With occasional exceptions, the dignified institutions of the judiciary, Congress, and the presidency are all on the road to becoming hollowed-out museum pieces, while the managers of the military, law enforcement, and intelligence community more and more come to dominate national security policy-making.
FLETCHER FORUM: You identify the pervasive political ignorance on the part of the American public as the root problem, and argue that reform must come from the people. How can this actually work in practice? Is there any hope that change is possible?
GLENNON: It's a bit simplistic to focus exclusively upon the public's "pervasive civic ignorance" (a term used by former Supreme Court Justice David Souter). As I point out in the book, the American people are anything but stupid. And while it's true that they're not terribly engaged or informed on national security policy, their ignorance is in many ways rational. Americans are very busy people and it doesn't make much sense to expend a lot of effort learning about policies you can't change. So we're in a dilemma: because the dignified institutions can't empower themselves by drawing upon powers that they lack, energy must come from the outside, from the people—yet as the electorate becomes increasingly uninformed and disengaged, the efficient institutions have all the more incentive to go off on their own. It's telling and rather sad that the American public has become so reliant upon the government to come up with solutions to its problems that the public is utterly at loose ends to know where or how to begin to devise its own remedy. Learned Hand was right: liberty "lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it."
FLETCHER FORUM: Does a lame duck President have a different relationship with the Trumanite Network? If President Obama were to read your book and ask for advice on changing the system, what would you tell him?
GLENNON: I'd suggest that he demonstrate to the American people that the book's thesis is wrong. He could do that by changing the national security policies that he led the American people to believe would be changed. Among other things: (1) fire officials who lie to Congress and the American people, beginning with John Brennan and James Clapper, (2) appoint a special prosecutor to deal with the CIA's spying on the Senate intelligence committee and Clapper's false statements to it, (3) stop blocking publication of the Senate intelligence committee's torture report, (4) stop invoking the state secrets privilege to obstruct judicial challenges to abusive counter-terrorism activities, (5) halt the bombing of Syria until Congress authorizes it, and (6) stop prosecuting and humiliating whistleblowers who spark public debates he claims to welcome.
FLETCHER FORUM: Are there any potential 2016 Presidential candidates that could challenge the Trumanite Network?
FLETCHER FORUM: Do you have any other recommended reading on this subject?
GLENNON: The English Constitution, by Walter Bagehot; President Eisenhower's farewell address; The Power Elite, by C. Wright Mills; Why Leaders Lie, by John J. Mearsheimer; The Arrogance of Power, by J. William Fulbright; Top Secret America, by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin; the final report of the Church committee (S. Rep. No. 94-755, 1976); On Democracy, by Robert A. Dahl; The New American Militarism, by Andrew Bacevich; Groupthink, by Irving Janus
Zero Hedge/The Web of Debt blog
"The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don't. . . . You have owners."
- George Carlin, The American Dream
According to a new study from Princeton University, American democracy no longer exists. Using data from over 1,800 policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page concluded that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of – or even against – the will of the majority of voters. America's political system has transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where power is wielded by wealthy elites.
"Making the world safe for democracy" was President Woodrow Wilson's rationale for World War I, and it has been used to justify American military intervention ever since. Can we justify sending troops into other countries to spread a political system we cannot maintain at home?
The Magna Carta, considered the first Bill of Rights in the Western world, established the rights of nobles as against the king. But the doctrine that "all men are created equal" – that all people have "certain inalienable rights," including "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" – is an American original. And those rights, supposedly insured by the Bill of Rights, have the right to vote at their core. We have the right to vote but the voters' collective will no longer prevails.
In Greece, the left-wing populist Syriza Party came out of nowhere to take the presidential election by storm; and in Spain, the populist Podemos Party appears poised to do the same. But for over a century, no third-party candidate has had any chance of winning a US presidential election. We have a two-party winner-take-all system, in which our choice is between two candidates, both of whom necessarily cater to big money. It takes big money just to put on the mass media campaigns required to win an election involving 240 million people of voting age.
In state and local elections, third party candidates have sometimes won. In a modest-sized city, candidates can actually influence the vote by going door to door, passing out flyers and bumper stickers, giving local presentations, and getting on local radio and TV. But in a national election, those efforts are easily trumped by the mass media. And local governments too are beholden to big money.
When governments of any size need to borrow money, the megabanks in a position to supply it can generally dictate the terms. Even in Greece, where the populist Syriza Party managed to prevail in January, the anti-austerity platform of the new government is being throttled by the moneylenders who have the government in a chokehold.
How did we lose our democracy? Were the Founding Fathers remiss in leaving something out of the Constitution? Or have we simply gotten too big to be governed by majority vote?
Democracy's Rise and Fall
The stages of the capture of democracy by big money are traced in a paper called "The Collapse of Democratic Nation States" by theologian and environmentalist Dr. John Cobb. Going back several centuries, he points to the rise of private banking, which usurped the power to create money from governments:
The influence of money was greatly enhanced by the emergence of private banking. The banks are able to create money and so to lend amounts far in excess of their actual wealth. This control of money-creation . . . has given banks overwhelming control over human affairs. In the United States, Wall Street makes most of the truly important decisions that are directly attributed to Washington.
Today the vast majority of the money supply in Western countries is created by private bankers. That tradition goes back to the 17th century, when the privately-owned Bank of England, the mother of all central banks, negotiated the right to print England's money after Parliament stripped that power from the Crown. When King William needed money to fight a war, he had to borrow. The government as borrower then became servant of the lender.
In America, however, the colonists defied the Bank of England and issued their own paper scrip; and they thrived. When King George forbade that practice, the colonists rebelled.
They won the Revolution but lost the power to create their own money supply, when they opted for gold rather than paper money as their official means of exchange. Gold was in limited supply and was controlled by the bankers, who surreptitiously expanded the money supply by issuing multiple banknotes against a limited supply of gold.
This was the system euphemistically called "fractional reserve" banking, meaning only a fraction of the gold necessary to back the banks' privately-issued notes was actually held in their vaults. These notes were lent at interest, putting citizens and the government in debt to bankers who created the notes with a printing press. It was something the government could have done itself debt-free, and the American colonies had done with great success until England went to war to stop them.
President Abraham Lincoln revived the colonists' paper money system when he issued the Treasury notes called "Greenbacks" that helped the Union win the Civil War. But Lincoln was assassinated, and the Greenback issues were discontinued.
In every presidential election between 1872 and 1896, there was a third national party running on a platform of financial reform. Typically organized under the auspices of labor or farmer organizations, these were parties of the people rather than the banks. They included the Populist Party, the Greenback and Greenback Labor Parties, the Labor Reform Party, the Antimonopolist Party, and the Union Labor Party. They advocated expanding the national currency to meet the needs of trade, reform of the banking system, and democratic control of the financial system.
The Populist movement of the 1890s represented the last serious challenge to the bankers' monopoly over the right to create the nation's money. According to monetary historian Murray Rothbard, politics after the turn of the century became a struggle between two competing banking giants, the Morgans and the Rockefellers. The parties sometimes changed hands, but the puppeteers pulling the strings were always one of these two big-money players.
In All the Presidents' Bankers, Nomi Prins names six banking giants and associated banking families that have dominated politics for over a century. No popular third party candidates have a real chance of prevailing, because they have to compete with two entrenched parties funded by these massively powerful Wall Street banks.
Democracy Succumbs to Globalization
In an earlier era, notes Dr. Cobb, wealthy landowners were able to control democracies by restricting government participation to the propertied class. When those restrictions were removed, big money controlled elections by other means:First, running for office became expensive, so that those who seek office require wealthy sponsors to whom they are then beholden. Second, the great majority of voters have little independent knowledge of those for whom they vote or of the issues to be dealt with. Their judgments are, accordingly, dependent on what they learn from the mass media. These media, in turn, are controlled by moneyed interests.
Control of the media and financial leverage over elected officials then enabled those other curbs on democracy we know today, including high barriers to ballot placement for third parties and their elimination from presidential debates, vote suppression, registration restrictions, identification laws, voter roll purges, gerrymandering, computer voting, and secrecy in government.
The final blow to democracy, says Dr. Cobb, was "globalization" – an expanding global market that overrides national interests:[T]oday's global economy is fully transnational. The money power is not much interested in boundaries between states and generally works to reduce their influence on markets and investments. . . . Thus transnational corporations inherently work to undermine nation states, whether they are democratic or not.
The most glaring example today is the secret twelve-country trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If it goes through, the TPP will dramatically expand the power of multinational corporations to use closed-door tribunals to challenge and supersede domestic laws, including environmental, labor, health and other protections.
Looking at Alternatives
Some critics ask whether our system of making decisions by a mass popular vote easily manipulated by the paid-for media is the most effective way of governing on behalf of the people. In an interesting Ted Talk, political scientist Eric Li makes a compelling case for the system of "meritocracy" that has been quite successful in China.
In America Beyond Capitalism, Prof. Gar Alperovitz argues that the US is simply too big to operate as a democracy at the national level. Excluding Canada and Australia, which have large empty landmasses, the United States is larger geographically than all the other advanced industrial countries of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) combined. He proposes what he calls "The Pluralist Commonwealth": a system anchored in the reconstruction of communities and the democratization of wealth. It involves plural forms of cooperative and common ownership beginning with decentralization and moving to higher levels of regional and national coordination when necessary. He is co-chair along with James Gustav Speth of an initiative called The Next System Project, which seeks to help open a far-ranging discussion of how to move beyond the failing traditional political-economic systems of both left and Right..
Dr. Alperovitz quotes Prof. Donald Livingston, who asked in 2002:
What value is there in continuing to prop up a union of this monstrous size? . . . [T]here are ample resources in the American federal tradition to justify states' and local communities' recalling, out of their own sovereignty, powers they have allowed the central government to usurp.
Taking Back Our Power
If governments are recalling their sovereign powers, they might start with the power to create money, which was usurped by private interests while the people were asleep at the wheel. State and local governments are not allowed to print their own currencies; but they can own banks, and all depository banks create money when they make loans, as the Bank of England recently acknowledged.
The federal government could take back the power to create the national money supply by issuing its own Treasury notes as Abraham Lincoln did. Alternatively, it could issue some very large denomination coins as authorized in the Constitution; or it could nationalize the central bank and use quantitative easing to fund infrastructure, education, job creation, and social services, responding to the needs of the people rather than the banks.
The freedom to vote carries little weight without economic freedom – the freedom to work and to have food, shelter, education, medical care and a decent retirement. President Franklin Roosevelt maintained that we need an Economic Bill of Rights. If our elected representatives were not beholden to the moneylenders, they might be able both to pass such a bill and to come up with the money to fund it.
Mal Warwick on December 22, 2014Who makes national security decisions? Not who you think!
Why does Barack Obama's performance on national security issues in the White House contrast so strongly with his announced intentions as a candidate in 2008? After all, not only has Obama continued most of the Bush policies he decried when he ran for the presidency, he has doubled down on government surveillance, drone strikes, and other critical programs.
Michael J. Glennon set out to answer this question in his unsettling new book, National Security and Double Government. And he clearly dislikes what he found.
The answer, Glennon discovered, is that the US government is divided between the three official branches of the government, on the one hand — the "Madisonian" institutions incorporated into the Constitution — and the several hundred unelected officials who do the real work of a constellation of military and intelligence agencies, on the other hand. These officials, called "Trumanites" in Glennon's parlance for having grown out of the national security infrastructure established under Harry Truman, make the real decisions in the area of national security. (To wage the Cold War, Truman created the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Department of Defense, the CIA, the NSA, and the National Security Council.) "The United States has, in short," Glennon writes, "moved beyond a mere imperial presidency to a bifurcated system — a structure of double government — in which even the President now exercises little substantive control over the overall direction of U.S. national security policy. . . . The perception of threat, crisis, and emergency has been the seminal phenomenon that has created and nurtures America's double government." If Al Qaeda hadn't existed, the Trumanite network would have had to create it — and, Glennon seems to imply, might well have done so.
The Trumanites wield their power with practiced efficiency, using secrecy, exaggerated threats, peer pressure to conform, and the ability to mask the identity of the key decision-maker as their principal tools.
Michael J. Glennon comes to this task with unexcelled credentials. A professor of international law at Tufts and former legal counsel for the Senate Armed Services Committee, he came face to face on a daily basis with the "Trumanites" he writes about. National Security and Double Government is exhaustively researched and documented: notes constitute two-thirds of this deeply disturbing little book.
The more I learn about how politics and government actually work — and I've learned a fair amount in my 73 years — the more pessimistic I become about the prospects for democracy in America. In some ways, this book is the most worrisome I've read over the years, because it implies that there is no reason whatsoever to think that things can ever get better. In other words, to borrow a phrase from the Borg on Star Trek, "resistance is futile." That's a helluva takeaway, isn't it?
On reflection, what comes most vividly to mind is a comment from the late Chalmers Johnson on a conference call in which I participated several years ago. Johnson, formerly a consultant to the CIA and a professor at two campuses of the University of California (Berkeley and later San Diego), was the author of many books, including three that awakened me to many of the issues Michael Glennon examines: Blowback, The Sorrows of Empire, and Nemesis. Johnson, who was then nearly 80 and in declining health, was asked by a student what he would recommend for young Americans who want to combat the menace of the military-industrial complex. "Move to Vancouver," he said.
The mounting evidence notwithstanding, I just hope it hasn't come to that.
Tom Hunter on November 22, 2014Incredible Rosetta Stone book that Explains Why the US Government is Impervious to Change
This work is of huge importance. It explains the phenomenon that myself and many other informed voters have seen--namely--how the policies of the United States government seem impervious to change no matter the flavor of administration. I found myself baffled and chagrined that President Obama, who I cheerfully voted for twice (and still would prefer over the alternatives) failed to end many of the practices that I abhor, such as the free reign of the NSA, the continual increase in defense budgets and the willingness to keep laws that are clearly against the wishes of the vast majority of Americans, be they Progressives or otherwise.
This incredible book acts as a Rosetta Stone that explains why nothing ever changes. Highly recommended.
Mar 15, 2015 | The Guardian
robertinjapan 14 Mar 2015 00:52
A man came to Russia's Spy Agency and said: - I'm a spy and I want to surrender. - Who's spy are you? - I'm an American/British spy. - Well, then you ought to go to room #5.
So he went to room #5 and said: - I'm an American/British spy and I want to surrender. - Do you have any firearms? - Yes, I do. -
Then you have to go to room #7. He came to room #7 and said: - I'm an American/British spy, I want to surrender and I have a weapon. -
Go to room #10. He came to room #10 and said: - I'm a spy, I want to surrender and I have a weapon. - Do you have a communication device? - Yes, I do. -
Then go to room #20. He comes to room #20 and says: - I'm a spy, I want to surrender, I have a weapon and a communication device. - Do you have an assignment? - Yes. - Well, then go and do it - don't interrupt people's work!
corstopitum musubi 13 Mar 2015 23:18
But if MI6 is recruiting Russian speakers they probably envisage sending them to Yemen. It's the Arabists who'll end up in Moscow. It's tradition you know. Like sending troops trained in mountain warfare to invade Walcheren island which is below sea level.
Writing in the same iconoclastic spirit he brought to Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, Canadian writer Saul offers a damning indictment of what he terms corporatism, today's dominant ideology. While the corporatist state maintains a veneer of democracy, it squelches opposition to dominant corporate interests by controlling elected officials through lobbying and by using propaganda and rhetoric to obscure facts and deter communication among citizens.
Corporatism, asserts Saul, creates conformists who behave like cogs in organizational hierarchies, not responsible citizens. Moreover, today's managerial-technocratic elite, while glorifying free markets, technology, computers and globalization, is, in Saul's opinion, narrowly self-serving and unable to cope with economic stagnation.
His prescriptions include eliminating private-sector financing from electoral politics, renewing citizen participation in public affairs, massive creation of public-service jobs and a humanist education to replace narrow specialization. His erudite, often profound analysis challenges conservatives and liberals alike with its sweeping critique of Western culture, society and economic organization.
LeeBoy (Pine Bluff, Arkansas)
A coup d'etat in slow motion?, August 12, 2005
A key premise of the book is that a life worth living, the so-called examined life, the fully aware life cannot take place without individuals in the society being fully conscious - or without seeking the kind of self-knowledge that readily can be translated into action.
Saul maintains that we have a "new religion," the blind pursuit of self-interest. It is led by an ideology of "corporatism," which has deformed the American ideal of a life worth living into one devoid of a concept of the common public good. Through it, one of America's most noble ideas, that of "rugged individualism" has been sullied, distorted and transformed into an ideology of selfishness; an ideology that has so manipulated our reality that our the language and knowledge, usually placed in the service of actions and designed to improve our way of life, has become useless.
The corporate compartmentalization of, and distortion of public knowledge, and the accompanying enforced conformity has so confused us and has so muted our voices that knowledge no longer has any effect on our consciousness nor on our actions. Individual selfishness as "modeled" by corporate self-interest has hi-jacked Western civilization as we have come to know it.
The book describes how corporatism has accomplished this feat: It has used its own ideology of self-interest (and the promise of certainty that all ideologies promote) to render us passive and conformist in areas that matter and non-conformist in those that do not. This new pseudo or false individualism has the effect of immobilizing and disarming our civilization intellectually and thus renders it unconscious.
The most important way it does this is by denying and undermining the legitimacy of the individual as the primary unit and defender of, as well as the center of gravity of the public good. The public good becomes deformed by, and subordinate to, and equated with the narrow pursuit of corporate self-interests, as most often defined by the pursuit of profits and associated corporate perks. The hedonistic model of the corporate life is projected on to society writ large as the only life worth living.
The impetus for placing corporate interests (and the corporate model of our humanity) at center stage in the drama of Western Civilization, seems to have come about through the misconception that rugged individualism, democracy and our current understanding of the public good were once defined by, depend on, and proceed directly from, the pursuit of economic interests. This is a misconception because in actual fact exactly the reverse is true: It was notions of the public good as defined by democracy and individualism that gave rise to economic interests, and not the other way around.
Moreover, economic models have been so spectacularly wrong and unsuccessful, that they could not have survived without an ideology that renders the public unconscious. Saul suggests that even the best economic models amount to little more than passive tinkering. The fact that we have come to rely on them -- even though we know they are seriously flawed and have little or no basis in reality -- is compelling evidence of our lack of memory and thus, of our lack of collective consciousness.
According to the author, it is the proper use of knowledge and memory that renders us conscious (and thus by extension, also renders us human). The misuse of knowledge and memory through corporate and technological, manipulation, specialization and compartmentalization is just a deeper form of collective denial.
Said differently, (corporate generated) specialization creates its own illusions. When knowledge actually becomes confused and is sufficiently narrowed, compartmentalization promotes the illusion that knowledge is multiplied when in fact it has shrunken. It leaves the impression that more rather than less knowledge is being created. It promotes the illusion that truth is only what the specialist can measure; that "managing is doing," (and more importantly that a managerial class is important and necessary). Finally, it creates the illusion that the ideology, which promotes corporatism, produces certainty (the main job of any ideology).
These illusions all have facilitated the corporate takeover of what would otherwise be seen as, the public interest. By doing so, the legitimacy of the individual as the center of gravity of the public good is crowded out, undermined and denied.
Thus the management elite, (with their suitcases full of money to buy off our elected representatives) like a cancer, is let loose on society. It lives within its own insulated cocoon creating an artificially interiorized sense of its own importance, wellbeing and its own distorted vision of civilization as a whole. Insulated from within, the management elite is free to grow without bounds, without accountability, and in complete disregard for the reality "out there," and always only to satisfy and service its own selfish needs. Truth is not in the world "out there" but is in what the professionals can measure and whatever is reported to these insulated elites. The deeper the insulated managerial class retreats into its own interiorized illusions of reality, the more confused language becomes and the less likely knowledge can be translated into actions that will effect the wider reality, and thus the public good.
In its pursuit to deny the legitimacy of the public good and to replace it with corporate econometric models of reality, Saul has traced the history of this process and gives many examples of how it works: through media propaganda, films, ads, music, sports and style-and always through insinuations of what is considered proper thought and ways of behaving.
One of the better examples he gives is how unemployment keeps getting redefined downward with no relation to the reality of the labor market but mostly to suit the needs of the neo-cons (the courtiers of the corporate elites). Or how, even as companies are losing money and are laying-off large numbers of ordinary workers, the salaries and incentive packages of the managerial elites continue to rise - often even until the very day the companies actually go bust.
Another example given is how through the process of globalization, that by the year 2020 the U.S. will be fully reduced to a Third World country. We are told that our future standard of living will depend entirely on globalization. Here globalization (like its companion concept, productivity) is a synonym for pegging workers' wage rates to the lowest wages available worldwide. It is never mentioned in such discussions that the salaries and incentive packages of the managerial elites will actually rise significantly as this "mother of all least common denominators economic formulas" is being applied to the lower end of the economic class scale. Taken to its logical conclusion, the salary of U.S. workers will equal those of Chinese peasants by 2020; and the corporate elites all will be filthy rich like Sam Walton. This "Wal-Martization" of America is already well in train.
Why are we so susceptible to being manipulated by corporate generated ideology and power? Saul gives an answer: We have an addictive weakness for large illusions that are tied to power and that can simplify our worldview by promising emotional certainty. The examples he gives are none other than the great religions themselves, and their spin-offs of Marxism, fascism and most of the autocratic governments of the past, including Hitler's Third Reich.
The roads to serfdom, or to fascism or communism (or pick your own ism) all intersect at the same ideology reference points: they begin as enforced social and political orthodoxy and conformity: first fashion and style; then the social enforcement of ways of thinking; and then patriotism is made into a religious-like requirement; after which rights and free speech are suppressed in the name of national security or loyalty to the state. One-by-one laws are suspended and then arbitrary arrests and disappearances begin; and finally the country is rendered completely passive and unconscious - compressed into a pseudo-patriotic religious trance.
In the modern era, this progression is by now all too familiar: It leads directly to the de-legitimatization of the citizen as the primary defender of the public good. This just as inevitably leads to handing over power to those whose self-interests are larger than their dedication to the preservation of the public good or even to the preservation and defense of the state itself.
The citizen then ceases to be able to determine what is, and is not real. He becomes immobilized like a child, unable to judge what is in his own best interests -- let alone what is in the best interest of the public good or the state. He is then forced to sing for his dinner and to dance to the corporate tune for any sense of wellbeing or self-worth. The "public good" becomes completely subordinate to the "corporate good."
What Saul admonishes us about is already imminently clear: that the kind of society we have is determined by where the true source of legitimacy lies. Today legitimacy in America -- that is its power, organization, and influence -- lies not in the vote and in stylized but impotent public citizen participation, but in the hands of the lobbyists, the technocrats, and the anti-democratic and anti-patriotic corporate vampires.
Saul did not need to tell us that all the serious decisions are now made in the back rooms without consulting the people. The best "the people" can hope for (and indeed what they yearn for) is that the decisions made over their heads will at least retain a semblance of emotional ideological purity.
While the corporate robber barons sneak out the back door to their off-shore tax havens (with the nations valuables in tow), the public good has been distorted and transformed into little more than "What I have" or into bumper sticker sized emotionalisms: the advancement of creative design and the right to post the Ten Commandments on the court house steps, abortion and gun rights, anti-Affirmative Action, states rights, etc. Because of its lack of consciousness, Americans have lost the ability to conceptualize a common good larger than their own immediate individual narrowly defined self-interests.
How do we get out of this coup d'etat in slow motion? Saul's answer is that we must change the dynamics of the process but he gives few specifics on how this can be done. This a great and very sobering read. Five stars.
Joyce (Bonham, Texas)
Makes the complex understandable, November 29, 2012
Saul has unusual skill in making complex entanglements understandable, colorful, and often humorous. His satire is biting. His irony is satisfying. His writing is dense with fresh insights about difficult subjects, so reading him is challenging at times but worth the effort. In this book, Saul explores how the dictatorship of reason unbalanced by other human qualities (common sense, ethics, intuition, creativity, memory) leads to the rational but antidemocratic structures of corporatism. He lays out the historical roots of corporatist doctrines (going back to Plato) and how they are so woven into our social fabric that they threaten the practice of democracy. He notes how our civilization is blinded to its true character by sentiment and ideology and argues that while Fascism was defeated in World War II, its corporatist doctrines are powerfully influencing our society today.
For Saul, one central aspect of the corporatist doctrine is its hijacking of the term "individualism," defining it as self-absorption or selfishness. Both Left and Right positions are based upon that definition. The Left agrees with the Right that individualism is selfishness, only it wants individual rights to be equally distributed and more fair. Whereas Saul talks about individualism thus:
"Rights are a protection from society. But only by fulfilling their obligations to society can the individual give meaning to that protection. . . Real individualism then is the obligation to act as a citizen."
"The very essence of corporatism is minding your own business. And the very essence of individualism is the refusal to mind your own business. This is not a particularly pleasant or easy style of life. It is not profitable, efficient, competitive or rewarded. It often consists of being persistently annoying to others as well as being stubborn and repetitive."
And further still:
"Criticism is perhaps the citizen's primary weapon in the exercise of her legitimacy. That is why, in this corporatist society, conformism, loyalty, and silence are so admired and rewarded."
Saul discusses the role that four economic pillars play in either accentuating or reducing our unconscious state as citizens: (1) the marketplace, (2) technology, (3) globalization, and (4) money markets.
Here is my summary of his lessons on these four.
- The danger of using the marketplace as our guide is that we are limiting ourselves to the narrow and short-term interests of exclusion. If we wish to lead society we must calculate inclusive costs.
- Business schools (following the "scientific management" Frederick Taylor brought to Harvard) treat men and women as mechanisms to be managed along with machines. And we are lining up students behind machines, educating them in isolation when what is really needed is to show them how they can function together in society.
- Trade cannot in and of itself solve societal problems. The main effect of globalization has been to shift the tax burden from large corporations onto the middle class. Adam Smith's repeated admonition has been ignored. It is: high wages are essential to growth and prosperity.
- Money is not a value in itself. Money in money markets is not available for taxation, and it doesn't really exist. It is pure speculation. We must see what is truly of value to society and reward those things.
This is only a bit of the clarity Saul's book gives us as citizens about what we are dealing with, empowering us with weaponry to overcome the Fascistic creation of corporatism.
Christopher (Seattle, Washington, USA)
A roundhouse shot at corporatist, group-think American life, March 19, 2002
"Are we truly living in a corporatist society that uses democracy as little more than a pressure release valve?"
Not satisfied with hurtling the literary hand-grenade of the 1990's, "Voltaire's Bastards", into the midst of our oblivious Western society, John Ralston Saul has now equipped his metaphorical sniper rifle, and in his crosshairs is the 'deviant class' which has destabilized our American dream. In "The Unconscious Civilization", Saul targets `corporatist' groups, the special interests (both economic and social) which have lulled citizens into replacing their own thoughts with those of factions who magically (and absurdly) claim to represent their beliefs and dreams.
"One of the difficulties faced by citizens today is making sense of what is presented as material for public debate, but is actually no more than the formalized propaganda of interest groups. It is very rare now in public debate to hear from someone who is not the official voice of an organization."
Characteristic of Saul's previous work, "The Unconscious Civilization" is a firm, wind-knocking shot to the gut. But luckily for you, your opponent is also teaching you how to fight. Hear him shout: `Stand up, slothful citizen. Your constitution is failing.'
"The statistics of our crisis are clear and unforgiving. Yet they pass us by--in newspapers, on television, in conversations--as if they were not reality. Or rather, as if we were unable to convert knowledge into action."
Do you feel protected by the Internet, by the millions of voices which you feel will conglomerate to represent you? So how's it working for you so far? Sure we have information, but what the hell good is it doing for the spirit of our nation?
"Knowledge is more effectively used today to justify wrong being done than to prevent it. This raises an important question about the role of freedom of speech. We have a great deal of it. But if it has little practical effect on reality, then it is not really freedom of speech. Without utility, speech is just decorative."
In this work, Saul scopes out the corporatist mindset, the coalescence of many minds into one body with only one voice (corpus from Latin, meaning body), which has invaded business, politics, and civil society alike. The result is chilling, for when we rise to speak, we find our individual words have different meanings to each of these bodies. As a consequence, we are learning to speak less.
"In a corporatist society there is no serious need for traditional censorship or burning, although there are regular cases. It is as if our language itself is responsible for our inability to identify and act upon reality."
We may be blind to the corporatist processes, but we should be able to fairly see their results. In politics: 38% voter turnout rates, lowest political convention viewership, the quashing of third-party voices; in business: the plastering of disclaimers, sloganeering, and that opaque wall of business-speak between every salesman and their customer; in civil society: the inability to progress in conversation without soundbites, and the number of people who flat-out don't want to talk to you.
This partition of words has not obstructed John Ralston Saul, though. An advocate of "aggressive common sense", Saul portrays himself correctly as a classic liberal, defender and klaxon for the citizen, neither champion nor foe of the marketplace.
"The market does not lead, balance, or encourage democracy. However, properly regulated it is the most effective way to conduct business."
"Every important characteristic of both individualism and democracy has preceded the key economic events of our millennium. What's more, it was these characteristics that made most of the economic events possible, not vice-versa."
John Ralston Saul's work consists of five chapters loosely based off a series of 1995 lectures at the University of Toronto. Like "Voltaire's Bastards", Saul here is discursive and entertaining; each chapter is a new dive into an invigorating Arctic lake of realization. Chapter One, "The Great Leap Backwards" launches the assault. The remaining chapters focus on reconstruction... their titles: "From Propaganda to Language", "From Corporatism to Democracy", "From Managers and Speculators to Growth", "From Ideology Towards Equilibrium".
Moderately mistitled (resulting in a one-point demerit in the overall review score), a more appropriate title for this book would have been "The Corporatist Civilization". A true attack on the `unconscious' among us would have been welcome, though Saul does meander briefly into this realm, with a few sections that fit cozily into the overall thesis:
"Perhaps the difficulty with the psychoanalytic movement is that from the beginning it has sent out a contradictory message: Learn to know yourself--your unconscious, the greater unconscious. This will help you to deal with reality. On the other hand, you are in the grip of great primeval forces--unknown and unseen--and even if you do know and see them, it is they who must dominate."
One-quarter the size of "Voltaire's Bastards", Saul this time out initiates a concise attack: on utopias, ideology, technocracy, demagoguery, and group mentality... all of which direct the individual to replace their view of the world with that of an `official spokesman', eerily reversing the vector of our society towards a fascist state. An insightful read; terse, but somewhat condensed and abstract at places. The trade-offs are more than acceptable, though. Steel yourself for a barrage of Truth.
Lacks The Big Picture, July 3, 2000
John Ralston Saul is considered one of the great humanist essayists of this time. That is true but he is also very much a man of our times, with both the advantages and disadvantages of the current Weltanschauung. I bought this book after having read some rather rave reviews and had high expectations. I can't say that I have got anything from this book that I didn't already have or suspect. He's reinforced some of my opinions without adding to my empherical knowledge to back them. The concept of the individual, individualism if you will, is dominant today, representing a narrow and superficial deformation of the Western idea. Market Capitalism does not guarantee democracy; you can have poor democracies and prosperous dictatorships. Today we are in an unconscious process of masochistic suicide destroying the very substance of our public institutions, institutions which were the products of decades of thought and democratic debate, all in the pursuit of making things more `effective', more `business-like'. . . So according to Saul, and on target IMHO, but what does this all mean? What can we draw from these intermediate conclusions?
He then goes on to describe the crisis that grips the West, which he dates from 1973. Bureaucratic thinking and rationalization continue to manipulate our perceptions, dominate and drive our existence, controlled by what he describes as `Corporatism'. He states,
"the corporatist movement was born in the nineteenth century as an alternative to democracy. It proposed the legitimacy of groups over that of the individual citizen." Pp16-17
Napoleon, Hegel and Bismarck helped the process along by emphasizing rule by elites and adherence to the state. This was all only a lead up to the great
"new all-powerful clockmaker god - the marketplace - and his archangel, technology. Trade is the marketplace's miraculous cure for all that ails us. . . I would suggest that Marxism, fascism and the marketplace strongly resemble each other. They are all corporatist, managerial and hooked on technology as their own particular golden calf." Pp19-20
...Weber warned of the dangers of bureaucracy, of how capitalism mated with ever increasing rationalization and technological innovation would become a very difficult beast to control. He also warned against the subversion of democratic institutions by powerful non-democratic groups with oligarchic tendencies. Saul's view on the triumph of rationalism is also, by the way, influenced by Weber. So instead of damning Weber he should be thanking him. Here we see the tendency so common among US (and Canadian) intellectuals today of putting the blame for their perceived crisis on foreign thinkers (usually German or French) who have some how lead the well-intentioned, but all too trusting North Americans astray. Alan Bloom, on the right, was guilty of the same thing in his The Closing of the American Mind. In all, this tendency represents a mixing up of cause and effect. If you want to look for a foreign culpret, how about the English Utilitarians who put morally accepted self-interest and quest for profit in the service of individual gain above anything else? An attitude that has since then been enthusisatically and uncritically accepted by the mass of American intellectuals.
What is Saul's solution? Persistent public commitment by the citizenry can turn the tables on corporatism. But how, given the power that Saul says the elites have to manipulate and control all the spheres of our existence? What of their ability to define "freedom" in wholly consumerist terms, making it a mere matter of material choice? As long as the US Constitution allows for majority rule, the public will have the last say, but how to mobilize the public, how to educate them as to defending their best interests when the reigns of mass communication are in the hands of the corporatists? How do we make the interests of society take priority over the interests of profit? The moral dilemma in all this is ignored by Saul who distrusts anyone who even mentions it. Unable to follow Nietzsche's lead he stumbles. Nietzsche, alas a foreigner, was also primarily a moralist. Morals are important since they shape the way that we adjust to the struggle for our very existence in an ever more competitive world. While a sense of the spiritual is necessary, the vast bulk of our actions, the reality we must deal with in our every day lives, is economic due to the pervasive market system which is the very air we breathe. It is therefore very much man-made, synthetic, something that has been grafted onto society, not a component of it. Morals are as necessary now as when we lived in small farming communities, since it is by working together, by accepting each others' strengths and weaknesses, by learning to control our own impulses and irrational drives and by accepting the inate worth of each person that we insure not only our own but the survival of our species in the coming hard winter. A, "myth-building" exercise you say, but is it any more a myth than that of "the Market corrects itself and all we need do is trust in it"?
Since the end of the 18th Century we in the West have lost almost every remnant of our pre-Capitalist past. We have forgotten our entire community or social or human-to-human history, we are unable to recall when an action did not infer some sort of self-benefit. We fail to see that the so-called Third World is as we were two hundred years ago. It is not a question of scientific or technological or commercial progress, in the most human sense, but of the maturing and decay of an ideological-based social system.
Saul's main drawback is that he lacks the indepth knowledge of the numerous disciplines necessary for this very complex subject. That and `distance' since he approaches the problem with far too many preconceptions. A much better book in a related subject is Karl Polanyi's The Great Transformation. His history of the market economy provides much of the background necessary to illuminate our current situation. Few if any thinkers today have the breadth of knowledge to provide the big picture of our current post-modern situation. Men like Max Weber, who had a encyclopedic knowledge of several wide fields of study no longer walk the earth. Still a much more refined, yet wide view which would include a fuller understanding of social economics, history, political science, sociology, theology and philosophy is necessary in order to get a grip on the tendencies which are slowly eating away our society and threaten to turn us all into what Max Weber described as "a culture of specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart".
Herbert L Calhoun
Wake up and Smell the Oil Wal-Mart Shoppers, August 10, 2005
If the doubling, in less than a year, of the price of oil for no discernable reason (with no end in sight), and with absolutely no reaction from us or our government is not evidence that something is terribly wrong with our collective mind. Then surely an order of magnitude increase in the cost of medical care and prescription drugs, and the quintupling of our health insurance (for those of us who have any), should be.
Or, one might have imagined that the juxtaposition of soaring corporate profits (in these very same areas) with an effective reduction in "actual wages" everywhere else, would also have shaken us from our deep collective slumber?
Or maybe the fact that we have been led into yet another war for no defensible reasons and without either an exit strategy or a fighting plan -- a war whose justifications and rationale keeps changing with each increased attack from the terrorists as our national debt continues to soar -- would have shaken us out of our passivity.
While our government's response to the needs of the "rank-and-file" is increasingly non-existent, or completely ineffectual, and the "managerial class" continues to rob us blind as they laugh all the way to the bank; we are obsessed with the risk of breast implants, abortion rights, hanging the Ten Commandments in the public square, reality shows (that are anything but real), Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction, and how to continue to win at the game of "Democrats and Republicans (or liberals and conservatives, or Blacks versus Whites, or males versus females, or pick your own senseless emotional dichotomy)."
But the very best evidence yet of our lack of consciousness and proof that our society is being thrown under the bus while we watch in horror with our eyes wide open, is when the most devastating critique of our own slothfulness is also the sanest, most compassionate and most eloquent.
Saul in this trenchant sanity check of the society that leads the Western World realizes that the time for vitriol and shouting has long since passed. That is why with eloquence, understated passion and with measured but devastating logic and reason (that quality he so distrusts), he has issued a broadside at the foundation stone of what ails our society most: Rampant and immoral Corporatism.
And even though in the end, his prescription for how we are to extricate ourselves from this dilemma is unconvincing, he has laid the necessary groundwork for serious thinking to begin. If "the people" in Western Democracies are ever to regain control of their minds, and then eventually their societies; Saul's ideas in this small volume must inevitably be contended with.
Saul is a modern secular prophet!, March 28, 1999
You can add the name John Ralston Saul to those of Noam Chomsky, Ivan Illich, Franz Fanon (and who else?) on your list of the key late 20th century 'global conspiracy theorists' - people who are visionary seers/prophets who have unorthodox views and make outrageous pronouncements on this and that, but with whom you have to broadly agree. Because they operate outside the conventions of fixed ideologies, they're able to see the broader picture, and see more deeply into the nature of things.
The Unconscious Civilization - the 1995 Massey Lectures - was written in an oral style by Canadian freelance intellectual, essayist and novelist John Ralston Saul.
His thesis is disarmingly simple: in the long line of history's totalitarianisms, we can now add undemocratic 'corporatism'.
Our society, he argues, is only superficially based on the individual and democracy.
The American Conservative
Off and on for about 20 years, I had the honor of working with the greatest military theorist America ever produced, Col. John Boyd, USAF. As a junior officer, Boyd developed the energy-management tactics now used by every fighter pilot in the world. Later, he influenced the designs of the F-15 and F-16, saving the former from becoming the turkey we are now buying in the F-35 and making the latter the best fighter aircraft on the planet. His magnum opus, a 12-hour briefing titled “Patterns of Conflict,” remains a vast mine of military wisdom, one unlikely to be exhausted in this century.
Boyd is best known for coming up with the OODA Loop or Boyd Cycle. He posited that all conflict is composed of repeated, time-competitive cycles of observing, orienting, deciding, and acting. The most important element is orientation: whoever can orient more quickly to a rapidly changing situation acquires a decisive advantage because his slower opponent’s actions are too late and therefore irrelevant—as he desperately seeks convergence, he gets ever increasing divergence. At some point, he realizes he can do nothing that works. That usually leads him either to panic or to give up, often while still physically largely intact.
The OODA Loop explains how and why Third Generation maneuver warfare, such as the German Blitzkrieg method, works. It describes exactly what happened to the French in 1940, when Germany defeated what was considered the strongest army on earth in six weeks with only about 27,000 German dead, trifling casualties by World War I standards. The French actually had more and better tanks than the Germans.
It is also a partial explanation for our repeated defeats by Fourth Generation non-state entities. Our many layers of headquarters, large staffs, and centralized decision-making give us a slow OODA Loop compared to opponents whose small size and decentralized command enable a fast one. A Marine officer stationed with our counter-drug traffic effort in Bolivia told me the traffickers went through the Loop 12 times in the time it took us to go through it once. I mentioned that to Colonel Boyd, and he replied, “Then we’re not even in the game.”
Another of Boyd’s contributions to military theory explains more of our failure in recent conflicts. To the traditional levels of war—tactical, operational, and strategic—Boyd added three new ones: physical, mental, and moral. It is useful to think of these as forming a nine-box grid, with tactical, operational, and strategic on one axis and physical, mental, and moral on the other. Our armed forces focus on the single box defined by tactical and physical, where we are vastly superior. But non-state forces focus on the strategic and the moral, where they are often stronger, in part because they represent David confronting Goliath. In war, a higher level trumps a lower, so our repeated victories at the tactical, physical level are negated by our enemies’ successes on the strategic and moral levels, and we lose.
Boyd had a reservoir of comments he repeated regularly, one of which was, “A lot of people in Washington talk about strategy. Most of them can spell the word, but that’s all they know of it.” The establishment’s insistence on an offensive grand strategy, where we attempt to force secular liberal democracy down the throats of every people on earth, is a major reason for our involvement and defeat in Fourth Generation conflicts. A defensive grand strategy, which is what this country followed successfully through most of its history, would permit us to fold our enemies back on themselves, something Boyd recommended. With us out of the picture, their internal fissures, such as those between Sunni and Shiites in the Islamic world, would become their focus. But as usual, Boyd was right: virtually no one in Washington can understand the advantages of a defensive grand strategy.
Being involved in every conflict on earth is useful if the real game is boosting the Pentagon’s budget rather than serving our national interests. Here too Boyd had a favorite line. He often said, “It is not true the Pentagon has no strategy. It has a strategy, and once you understand what that strategy is, everything the Pentagon does makes sense. The strategy is, don’t interrupt the money flow, add to it.”
Perhaps Boyd’s most frequently uttered warning was, “All closed systems collapse.” Both our military and our policy-making civilian elite live in closed systems. Because Second Generation war reduces everything to putting firepower on targets, when we fail against Fourth Generation opponents, the military’s only answer is to put more firepower on more targets. Ideas about other ways of waging war are ignored because they do not fit the closed Second Generation paradigm. Meanwhile, Washington cannot consider alternatives to our current foreign policy or grand strategy because anyone who proposes one is immediately exiled from the establishment, as was Boyd himself. It says something about our current condition that the greatest military theorist we ever produced retired as a colonel. At John’s funeral in Arlington, which I attended, most of the people in uniform were junior Marine officers. His own service, the Air Force, was barely represented.
John’s work was often elegant, but in person he was always the direct, and sometimes crude, fighter pilot. Boyd’s favorite, inelegant phrase for defeating one of his many opponents in the Pentagon was “giving him the whole enchilada right up the poop chute.” That is what history will shortly give this country if we continue to allow closed systems to lead us. Boyd’s work, which is best summarized in Frans Osinga’s book Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd, could put us on a different course. But learning from Boyd would require open systems in Washington. Perhaps after the establishment collapses, Boyd can help us pick up the pieces.
William S. Lind is author of the Maneuver Warfare Handbook and director of the American Conservative Center for Public Transportation.