American Samizdat

Sunday, March 25, 2007. *
Introduction. For several years in these pages, in the initial iteration of P!, and in its predecessor ddjangoWIrE, I've concentrated on just a few fundamental themes. Within these themes, I've drawn even fewer nearly ontological conclusions concerning this nation, its people, and its likely future.

This has not been easy work. In spite of raging against the policies and actions of a government run by obvious war criminals and fascist multi-national corporations intent on destroying our nation and others in the name of "open borders", "democracy", and "free trade" by means of total, endless war, it is abundantly clear that radical voices in favor of fundamental paradigm change are still a woeful minority, distinctly disconnected and marginalized. In short, it's pretty damn lonely out here. The best it seems we've been able to do is get some Democrats elected (to carry on the same program as Republicans) and encourage Kucinich and maybe Nader to run again.

Thus, the conclusions I've drawn are very simple:

  • The United States of America is rumbling blindly and headlong on a closed course which is likely, in a relatively short time, to end not only in its own ruin, but also in the destruction of the very foundation of modern western civilization. I am no longer sure that this is a bad thing - the survival of our planet and the majority of its inhabitants, human and otherwise, may depend on it.

    Any possibility that we might be saved by the political and economic emergence of a counter-force, such as China or India, is doomed by the fact that those countries, as well as China, are depending on the same growth models that are the foundation of our own demise. We can hope for no better than disastrous political, economic, and, ultimately, military confrontation from this process.

    There is a glimmer of hope found in the revolutionary movements and governments in Central and South America. But it will be offset by our deadly adventurism, fueled by oil-greed and insane cultural/religious conflict in the East and in western Asia.

  • The citizens of this country, even those who espouse what is named and proclaimed as "progressive" or "radical leftist" politics, are essentially clueless - not just in figuring out how to change things, but in just what the hell needs to change.

  • Finally, Americans of all political and cultural proclivities are locked in a "deer in the headlights" catatonia that relentlessly resists unification and preparation for a bleak future

The "prefect storm convergence" I spoke of above has several ingredients:

  1. An overwhelming realization that the liberal assumptions and clinical narcissism so ubiquitous in our cultural and social foundations afflict even the most studied and articulate radical leftists.

  2. The conviction that our political system is not so much "broken" as simply, finally obsolete. That system, emerging from the Enlightenment roar of the eighteenth century has evolved into a phase of post-liberal and post capitalist malaise that cannot further evolve without violence. Liberalism and capitalism have had their day. The price for the improvements in technology from which (some) humans have derived wealth and comfort and power is now self-evident in environmental collapse, fascist ascendancy, and a planet engulfed in war and genocide. In short, the problem cannot, of course, be its own solution. Violence certainly must be abhored; but even with widespread violent revolution, the outcome would not be so much apocalyptic as just one, bloody, stinking mess of a future existence.

  3. The appearance in these pages just now of three outstanding interviews (Jason Miller's conversations with Joel Hirschhorn and Mike Palecek, and mine with Dan Smith) at the same time I've been reading Robert Kagan's "Dangerous Nation.

  4. My depressing frustration and disappointment in the almost non-existent response I've gotten during the past three months to (a) my attempt to generate discussion and action toward unifying the myriad leftist third parties into a movement; (b) my attempt to recruit an African-American editor to join us at P!; (c) my entreaties to my own readership to not just read, but to respond actively to the issues.

If it sounds like I'm whining, so be it. There may be good reason. If you want good news, I encourage you to watch Fox, rather than read P! The reality is that we are in deep, deep kim-chee and the way out requires unrelenting, honest, critical self-analysis from the individual, through the community, to the national and international level.

We began with a creed that the individual and his rights are the highest ideal. Freedom from the tyranny of autocratic kings and empires was a glowing, driving sun. That revolutionary foundation carried over to a suspicion of government. Although we had some sense of community and cooperation as essential to the survival of a unified Republic and protection against incursion both domestic and foreign, this sense was weak and obscure due to the opportunity based in individual initiative and self-reliance. We were immediately, necessarily a Nation of One, "a Beacon on a Hill."

First, let me bring up "Dangerous Nation", Robert Kagan's seminal history of American liberalism, capitalism, and militarism from the late seventeenth through the early twentieth centuries. I will not quote Kagan's book here, because I'm determined that you should read it. If you have formed a political stance without reading Zinn's history and Kagan's, you are sadly undereducated as to what this country has always been and done.

I will, however, summarize Kagan's main themes.

Toward the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth centuries, the notion of liberalism began to emerge and take hold. As an inevitable outcome of the Age of Enlightenment, liberalism posited that each individual had rights that in essence were surpressed by tyrannical monarchies. Tyranny held that the purpose and duty of its subjects were to support the goals of the crown. Christianity, especially Catholicism, supported, even promoted this idea for centuries.

Although there were rumblings of liberal ascendancy throughout Europe at the time, it was The American Revolution, The Declaration of Independence, and the US Constitution that best articulated and codified the liberal ideal. Across Europe, popular uprisings began to take their lead from what was happening in the New World. It was a powerful idea, this notion that individuals were actually worth something.

But with this power came a conceit: many of the leading American liberal revolutionaries envisioned the American revolution as not only a beacon, but as an absolute necessity for the rest of the world. It is easy to see where the roots of the neoliberal push to "export democracy" began. With the rise of the liberal ideal and the attachment of the democratic system of government to it, in the American (and by extension over time, European) view, all other political, and even cultural, systems were to be overrun and assimilated.

Americans had a distinct advantage. The rise of capitalism was concurrent and fully compatible with liberal thinking. Capitalism is based in and enabled by property ownership. This imperative drove the population hungrily west and south in search of freedom from restrictive government, space, raw materials, and land, land, land.

Having wrested property rights from the crown, available property was seemingly unlimited. At the same time, the population was exploding. Many in the new Republic felt a need to protect it from outside threat by occupying adjacent lands, especially to the south and west. So the push was on.

The critical factor in the American liberal revolution was its total integration with capitalism. We began as a nation if farmers and merchants. We needed markets to survive. The philosophical and democratic ideals would be a non-starter without them. Although feudalism was on its way out and western settlers could flourish with subsistence farming, trapping, professionalism (practicing law, education, medicine, etc.), the rich land owners in the east produced a significant surplus and needed somewhere to sell it. The onslaught of industrialism and manufacturing applied increasing pressure to this situation. It would be awhile before the Nation itself could absorb its own products. Unfortunately, markets often didn't open magically as the need for them arose. Reluctantly, the young country found itself in conflict with other nations who were competing for the same markets.

Early attempts to sympathize with and accommodate the indigenous population of Turtle Island quickly fell to an insidious feature of the liberal/capitalist/Christian philosophical matrix: to leave land "undeveloped" was simply unacceptable. The neoEuropean mind simply could not grasp the concept of living with the earth, rather than conquering it and molding it. Since most native Americans were hunter/gatherers, they found conversion to an agricultural way of life very difficult. Genocide was inevitable.

There was much discussion in the early Republic over what extent the country should become involved in "foreign entanglements." Indeed, we have cycled through many periods of "isolationism" and "interventionism." Mainly due to the need to expand commerce and defend American commercial interests, as well as to respond to foreign threats, the cycles of isolationism tended to be short-lived. We emerged quickly as a global power and were destined to expand and constantly change international alliances.

Kagan's "Dangerous Nation" covers America's history from just before the nation's birth to the end of the 19th century. By that time, the integration and solidification of the liberal/capitalist ideal insured that the United States would become a political, economic, and military force without precedence in the world.

Stephen Kinzer's "Overthrow" picks up where Kagan leaves off. At the dawn of the 20th century and the emergence of the multinational corporation, military intervention was about to become very acceptable as a means to grow the American ideal.

What had begun as a celebration of the rights and potential of the individual human in two hundred years grew into an imperative to change the whole world in America's image. As individual incentive was overtaken by the multinational corporation as the primary way the individual could exercise his right to wealth, we had indeed become, intentionally or not, one very dangerous nation.

(The next part of this series, "Dangerous Nation, Part 2: We Wage War Because We Can't Not", will appear in the near future.)

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