Mosses from The Old Manse


While Montaigne initiated the literary form of the personal essay, and did it so well that millions of writers since then have followed his lead, I confess that I’m no Montaigne.

I find inspiration for setting out my ideas, half-finished as they are, in an essay from one of my older sister’s hand-me-down Spanish literature textbooks. In The Generation of 1898 and after, according to the anthology editors the easiest-to-read selection (and one which I only read the first few pages, the author “Azorín” addressed his reader in the first paragraph:

Reader — I am a minor philosopher; I have a silver box of fine shredded tobacco, a tall silk hat, and a silk umbrella with strong whalebone struts.

He continues, talking about his country house with a fine starlit night sky, and his small library, with works by Cervantes, Gracian, Montaigne, Loepardi, Vives, and Taine. My own cottage has a view of the large Fred Meyer parking lot across the street, and my cloth caps and umbrellas cannot match his for quality, but my books are considerably advanced in scope and depth. The New Testament in the original, Dostoevsky and his contemporaries in Russian, the first four writers he just mentioned, and at least four shelves full of mathematical physics of the last half of the twentieth century.

So I am a minor philosopher as well; I just have a very modest ability to express myself gracefully. I am, as Nathaniel Hawthorne, the most famous writer from my birth town of Salem, Massachusetts once styled himself, “the obscurest man of letters in America.”

I picked up, dear reader, the December 2018 issue of the Journal of Modern History this afternoon, and found a review near the back of a book recounting the founding of the Weimar Republic, almost exactly 100 years ago this winter of 2018/2019. The reviewer, a fellow at Cambridge, praises [vol. 90, pp. 976-977] the historian Mark Jones’s balanced presentation of the mixture of resentment by military officials at the defeat Germany suffered during the World War, the reluctance of the civilian revolutionaries who had accomplished the overthrow of the Hohenzollern dynasty of Imperial Germany to establish firm civilian control, and the panic that threw the two groups together to crush, and crush brutally, the left-wing socialists who demanded a worker-controlled, democratic regime.

So where did it all go wrong for Weimar?

That is, a book about the founding of the first democratic regime of a unified Germany has to address the problem of the very weak elite support for a government which relied upon the support of an undemocratic military, which had rejected and suppressed the demands of extremists of their own party, and which to a large extent as a consequence fell victim to fascist action in 1933, only fourteen years later.

Jones strikes a balance in addressing this morally and politically (still!) fraught question. He is unequivocally critical of Noske et al.

That is, he condemns the capture and assassination of left-wing socialists who demanded the resignation of the socialist government of which Gustav Noske was Defense Minister.

The upshot of his study of the rumors and rhetoric of fear surrounding “Russian conditions” is how unfounded and fantastical, how disconnected from reality this central motivation impelling moderates to compromise with the Freikorps Right truly was.

That is, faced with the rumors of a Russian-supported revolution, the socialist government called upon the support of right-wing soldiers’ groups which had little in common with them, politically.

Yet he is also at pains to stress how prevalent and real such fears were — and how instrumental Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were in promoting the myth of the Soviet reach in Germany (in retrospect both pernicious and fanciful). [Jones] also shows just how incendiary Luxemburg’s rhetoric became after the Spartacus uprising, which she had initially opposed . . .

That carefully-selected library, dear reader, in which your minor philosopher wanders as he savors the ideas of the past includes a volume of the works of Rosa Luxemburg, leader of the left wing of the German Socialist party and founder of the Communist Party of Germany. The most striking thing about her account of the Russian Revolution of 1905, which she wrote in the summer of 1906 for delivery to the German Social Democratic Party Congress at Mannheim, it is that she believed that the workers’ revolution had already begun to overthrow capitalism. If she is now famous for her criticism of V.I. Lenin, if she, as the historian of the Weimar revolution indicates, opposed the uprising that led to her assassination, her soaring praise of the revolution is superb; her optimism conquers her doubts.

Any history of the unsuccessful Spartacus Uprising of January 1919 has resonance today, in January 2019, to a great extent because of the belief by large numbers of anti-fascist agitators, in my city of Portland, Oregon, as well as many others across this country, that we are now in a political situation analogous to that of the Weimar Republic, and that action against overt and covert Nazi activists is necessary and proper.

What close analysis (according to a review of an extended treatment which gained praise from specialists) reveals is, that exaggerated reports of Russian influence precipitated a brutal reaction, a reaction which continued, for more than a decade, and produced exactly that result against which our “antifa” groups of today wish to avert. I see from my four-room cottage in Sullivan’s Gulch (no kidding: that is the name of my neighborhood) one more reason to decline to march in solidarity with the delusionary, violence-promoting extremists of the hour.

Posted in Elections, Empire, Fascism, Global, Police | Leave a comment

Muddle about the Covington Affair

This post contains my conclusion regarding the highly publicized encounter between Nathan Phillips, a Native American activist, and a group of Covington High School students at the Lincoln Memorial a week or so ago.

The incident has the same format, in my opinion, as the trial of the football star and actor O.J. Simpson, for murder of his wife and her lover in 1994. At that trial, the evidence of Simpson’s guilt was overwhelming; the arresting officer, however, was shown by the defense attorneys to be a racist, and Simpson was adjudged innocent by the jury.

Of course, whether or not the arresting officer was a racist, Simpson was indeed guilty of murder.

Here, in the Covington Affair, there was what might well be called an assault by Nathan Phillips of a group of high school kids. Mr Phillips was — to be charitable — untruthful about the circumstances and upshot of his confrontation with the teenagers, and he immediately won the sympathy of the press and the chattering classes for his action. Since he was untruthful, however, the subsequent videotape evidence produced an outpouring of condemnation of the distortion of the incident by the mainstream news media.

The subsequent response by left-leaning sources has demonstrated a good bit of sexist and racist behavior by Covington High School students. But, just as in the O.J. Simpson trial, the fact of the racism of one party in an affair does not negate the fact of the egregious behavior of the other. Despite Mr Phillips statements, the students did not “surround” Mr Phillips and they never “threatened” him. They did not understand his confrontation of them, and his behavior was, arguably, tending to incite them.

I can grant the sexism and racism of the students, but I reserve blame and condemnation for the incident on Nathan Phillips.

Posted in Education, Free Speech, Global, Spiritual life | 2 Comments

Feminist Contradictions

Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas is an old chestnut, from the days of Scholastic disputation in medieval universities. “I am a friend to Plato, but a greater friend to truth.” It has relevance for the Green Party which has as one of its basic principles the fair treatment of women in society.

The contradictions of feminist teaching in the U.S. cannot be overlooked, in truth, by the Green Party.

Sexual radicalism adopts irreconcilably contradictory positions as needed: all gender differences are social constructions, but women have special “needs.” Women are oppressed by artificial gender roles, but those same roles make women more “caring” and “compassionate.” Men and women must be treated identically, except when men must be excluded from certain competitions so that women can win. Fathers should assume equal responsibility for rearing children, but custody (along with the power and money that accompany it) must go to mothers.

This doesn’t mean that Green Party voters will no longer support efforts to correct injustices, but it does mean that we cannot sign on to every feminist cause which asks for Green Party support. It is similar to the point that Islamic radicals have conducted an extraordinary number of homicidal attacks in the last twenty years, and this fact, along with the virtually universal discrimination toward, if not oppression of, women and homosexual individuals in Islamic countries, must affect our attitude toward Muslim refugees.

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Reason to Doubt the Received Narrative

Celebration of the successful intervention by U.S. intelligence agents in the 1996 election in Russia

Scott Ritter was the head of the United Nations team of weapons inspectors in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, and, prior to the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003, he loudly and repeatedly asserted that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. For his accurate and timely warning, he has been an unperson in polite discourse within the United States political community ever since.

He wrote this yesterday.

“A cursory comparison of the leaked NSA document [“Spear-Phishing Campaign TTPs Used Against U.S. And Foreign Government Political Entities”] and the indictment presented by Rosenstein suggests that the events described in Count 11 of the indictment pertaining to an effort to penetrate state and county election offices responsible for administering the 2016 U.S. presidential election are precisely the events captured in the NSA document. While the indictment links the identity of a named Russian intelligence officer, Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev, to specific actions detailed therein, the NSA document is much more circumspect. In a diagram supporting the text report, the NSA document specifically states that the organizational ties between the unnamed operators involved in the actions described and an organizational entity, Unit 74455, affiliated with Russian military intelligence is a product of the judgment of an analyst and not fact.

“If we take this piece of information to its logical conclusion, then the Mueller indictment has taken detailed data related to hacking operations directed against various American political entities and shoehorned it into what amounts to little more than the organizational chart of a military intelligence unit assessed —- but not known -— to have overseen the operations described. This is a far cry from the kind of incontrovertible proof that Mueller’s team suggests exists to support its indictment of the 12 named Russian intelligence officers.

A good aspect to keep in mind when evaluating any political agent’s activity is, to look for patterns. Hillary Clinton’s pattern, for example, was to parrot whatever boilerplate rhetoric she thought her audience would like. If her audience wanted, in her judgement to hear her condemn “superpredators”, then she was perfectly willing; if she felt they wanted to condemn “implicit racism”, she was quite ready to do that, too, even though the two are contradictory, and encompass completely opposing public policies.

Scott Ritter accurately and intelligently assessed the evidence for surreptitious activity by a foreign government, and was displaced from public discourse, in part because of his Internet sexual activity; here is the wikipedia account:

Ritter was arrested again in November 2009[47] over communications with a police decoy he met on an Internet chat site. Police said that he exposed himself via a web camera after the officer said she was a 15-year-old girl; Ritter said he was not made aware of the ostensible age of his correspondent until after the act. The next month, Ritter waived his right to a preliminary hearing and was released on a $25,000 unsecured bail. Charges included “unlawful contact with a minor, criminal use of a communications facility, corruption of minors, indecent exposure, possessing instruments of crime, criminal attempt and criminal solicitation”.[48] Ritter rejected a plea bargain, testified in his trial and was found guilty of all but the criminal attempt count in a Monroe County, Pennsylvania courtroom on April 14, 2011.[49][50] In October 2011 he received a sentence of one and a half to five and a half years in prison.

No one comes out faultless — Ritter no more than I, who twice went to the Multnomah County Jail for periods of more than a month, on judge’s decisions regarding my behavior towards my neighbors. That experience has led me to refrain — who wants to listen to a twice-jailed neighborhood nuisance? — from posting for a long time. But this surge of accusations, based on our national conviction that Russia is evil and the United States a bastion of democracy and goodness, has led me to comment here.

Ritter was right about what was important when the United States invaded Iraq. He may well have a problem with his attraction to teenaged girls. He correctly assessed intelligence information, however. Robert Mueller, whose political timing, if not artful compilation, of charges of Russian spying has been used to discount Trump’s effort at détente, was one of the architects of the invasion of Iraq.

It seems to me we have very strong reasons to doubt the validity of the campaign to discredit Donald Trump’s efforts to reduce tension with the Russian republic.

Posted in Empire, Global, War | Leave a comment

Course of Terror Attacks of 2017

The end of the year 2017 approaches. Here is an accessible listing, performed by a close relative, of the incidents of politically motivated attacks, specifically of Islamic perpetrators against Western targets, during the last year.

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Internal Exile

This record of political commentary, this statement by the Secretary of the Cascadia Chapter of the Pacific Green Party, will not be the first to note, in this post, the intolerable contradiction of present-day activists who uphold human dignity by, on the one hand, encouraging and supporting the free expression of homosexual, transexual, or gender-denying personal behaviors and public statements while, on the other hand, attacking in an endless flood of intolerance, behavior and public statements of people who do not share that viewpoint.

We are as progressives enjoined to support the rights of people who wish to identify as neither male nor female, and in order to do that we are supposed to enlist ourselves in the fight to abolish bathrooms which are divided by sex. Expecting the people who are transgender to adapt to a world where bathrooms are designed to accommodate the 99.7% of the population which acknowledges its division into two sexes has become quite rapidly an “oppressive” act.

When the public pools in the South were integrated, it led to the abandonment by local governments of public pools. Private country clubs opened up instead. Does that mean I believe the public pools should not have been integrated? Not at all. But I think it’s what were going to see here too.

If people can’t sex segregate public toilets, a lot of them won’t maintain public toilets. Instead there will be pay toilets. They probably won’t discriminate; they will be nice, single-use facilities that anyone can feel comfortable in. But they won’t be free.

So the question becomes, does the entire public want to give up free public toilets so that a tiny sliver of that public does not feel discriminated against in their choice of bathroom?

[8 July 2016 Atlantic Monthly]

I’m not saying that the progressives of the country cannot sustain this intolerable contradiction in its advocacy — expand without limit the support for individual exotica, while enjoining using the force of law restriction on the conventional behaviors of the majority. The evangelical churches in the 2016 election went from hostility to Russia to support for Russia within months, given that their nominee was regarded as friendly to Russia; this hypocrisy among many others has not led, and may not in the forseeable future, to the abandonment of the evangelical churches by reason of offensively high levels of hypocrisy.

People have a capacity to believe contradictory things: I taught high school with a biology teacher who professed, as a Christian of conservative stripe, not to believe in Darwinian evolution. (I found her to be evasive on the topic, and not forthcoming about how she reconciled the entire structure of the topic, for the last century or so, but it is not unfair to speak of contradiction held more or less permanently, and in public.) Leftists, such as those who supported Stalin, are no strangers to Doublethink.

For the contradiction goes a lot broader and deeper than the hot-button issue of gender identity. We on the side of greater human dignity regale our audiences endlessly about the evils of capitalism, and how the movement in which we participate (not to exclude the Green Party — of which this blog is a representative outlet) opposes such an evil institution. Explicitly communist states have led to mass slaughter of enormous proportions; Russia collapsed as a Communist regime as soon as people had a choice, and the Chinese version has survived only by jettisoning any pretense to the abolition of corporate enterprise. Even more damaging, the roots of capitalism go back into the early Middle Ages, and not only in Europe, where even after the collapse of the Roman Empire there remained a significant long-distance trade network.

The networks of Jewish merchants also stretched all over the world. Their success story was even more ancient than that of the Armenians: from Roman antiquity, the Syri, whether Jewish or Gentile, were present everywhere: in the nineth century AD, using the communications opened up by the Muslim conquest, Jews from Narbonne “were traveling to Canton by way of the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf “; the Geniza documents [explanatory footnote omitted –MM] show an overwhelming preponderance of trading links operating for the benefit of Jewish merchants from “Ifriqya”: from Kairwan to Egypt, Ethiopia and the Indian sub-continent. In the tenth to twelfth centuries, in Egypt (and in Iran and Iraq) certain very rich Jewish families were engaged in long-distance trade, banking, tax-collecting — sometimes for entire provinces.

[Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism, 1982 English translation, volume II, p. 157.]

It seems to me that not only the practical experience of recent history — take the country of Venezuela as a currently topical example — but also the global historical roots of the practice of capitalist enterprise argue that the effort to extirpate capitalism has always been and still remains, a fool’s errand. Admittedly, despite the efforts put forward, the Green Party has not subscribed (yet!) to the war against capitalism, but there exists a sort of armed truce between the environmental, communitarian aims of the Party and the profit-focused aims of corporate enterprises. We are subversive of capitalism practices, if not the entire institution.

Moving on to other aspects of the contradictory mind-set of my political allies, how can we advocate for greater democracy, yet have so little respect for the democratic result of the 2016 election? Since Trump, since Clinton, were both of them toxic, and yet our own Party got significantly less than one percent of the vote in an election in which we articulated quite reasonably the hypocritical, brutal worship of just that capitalist ethic which is bringing our country, and the world, an endless stream of war and bloodshed, how could we speak of “Not My President” on the day after the election? Ninety-nine percent of the voters rejected rational political policies, for Heaven’s sake! More like, Not My Electorate. Insofar as we honor democratic rule, the Green Party, after half a dozen elections in which we are ignored by the electorate, are failing to treat the results as the will of the people. Indeed, we are now engaged in expensive, apparently pointless, efforts at recount. How that effort is going to change a 99-to-1 vote against us is unclear to me.

Peace, economic sustainability, inclusion of everyone into the public sphere — these are goals worth fighting for. At the moment, although I am reluctant to admit it, I doubt any of the efforts of the Left, including those of my Party, are bringing any of them closer to realization. The pronouncements by Jill Stein’s campaign director and 2004 Party nominee for President Cobb, that we may engage in forceful (not to say violent) suppression of speech by “fascists” does nothing to reassure my misgivings.

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Will We Address Asian Privilege?

The figures from the United States Census appear to show that the Asian population has a mean income some 25 % above that of the so-called “white” population. That threatens, on the face of it, the category of Asian folk as “People of Color” who, just because of the color of their skin, are eligible for victim status. It may well be the case that the system discriminates against certain people, and in favor of others. It does not appear to do so to favor whites, particularly.
Update 20 September 2017: Here is a link to a resumé of the household income of Native Americans.  Although my source doesn’t allow me to add it in graphic form, the link provided shows you that the Native American household income is about the same as African-Americans, at the 40,000-dollar/year level.

One of the consequences of envisioning the United States as an empire provides a perspective on the obvious disparity of outcomes available here.  Different population groups are successful or not, depending upon the elite attitude toward their culture and mores, an attitude that will change constantly, since the elite has to adapt to changing circumstances and the balance of internal forces within a heterogeneous distribution of population groups.

The effort to provide a greater degree of equity would involve the reduction of the commitment by the United States to pretentions toward world domination.  That’s a strong reason to put the anti-war movement in the top priority for the progressive movement: we can never, given the imperial structure of the polity, move toward fairness of opportunity until we surrender the mobilization for endless war; the historical example of the War on Poverty conducted at the same time as the Vietnam War ought to be enough to show that.  Great efforts were mobilized to conduct both; neither succeeded.

We would also, as I hope the reader realizes, be well advised to regard different outcomes as to some degree inherent in our society.  Putting aside the self-serving rhetorical commitment of our national culture to equal treatment, we progressives not only have not made a lot of progress toward that aim but have begun to acknowledge the complications facing our efforts.

Posted in Brian Willson, Cameron Whitten, Economics, Empire, Global, Inequality, Marxism, Pacific Green Party, Permaculture, Uncategorized, War | Leave a comment

We Can Try Our Best and Still Fail

If we take the idea seriously, that the United States has not become an empire, but always, since its founding, has been an empire, we could be situated, I believe, better to evaluate its present position.

If ever there is a political arrangement which distorts actual facts in service of an imagined ideological view, it is that of an empire. The German Empire, for example, was always an affair that corresponded very badly with the actual political facts, whether you are talking about the Holy Roman Empire of the 14th century or the Wilhelmenian Empire of the late 19th century; the first of these spoke (without admitting it) of a force which rested on Papal tolerance of a sort of subordinate in Europe north of the Alps, the second unified a state in Central Europe which rested upon the (assumed) hostility of the states, France and Russia, to either side. Once France and Russia became allies, the German Empire was unable to go to war — either in the First World War or the Second. Hitler succeeded so long as he could count on French (and English) estrangement from Russia. The wonderful accomplishments of the magnificent German People counted for very little, in the end.

A little more reflective of our present circumstances is the Soviet Union. The ideological blinders are even more evident in that history than in that of the German empire. Here, in what really was, both before and after the 1917 revolutions, a Russian empire, there was (before the revolutions) an imagined special destiny which ruled out any change from an autocratic state totally inappropriate for an industrialized society, followed by (after them) a magnificent belief system, with virtually no basis in reality, proclaiming an economic system run by and for the working class. From total denial to proclamation of utopia, with no acknowledgement of reality, even as an intermediate between the two. Wow.

The American Empire rests, I think it fair to say, upon a belief in ineluctable progress. I’m not saying things have always gotten better — certainly not for the Native Americans — but that the imperial ideology rests upon that belief. The most searching examination of this, to my knowledge, was Christopher Lasch’s most penetrating and ambitious work, The True and Only Heaven, the 1991 work which showed the erasure we have applied throughout the history of the country, to those who opposed the various “progressive” economic, social, and political changes which destroyed groups hitherto enjoying autonomy and self-reliance.

Not the Enlightenment thinkers, but the Calvinist theologians, appreciated the costs of the establishment of industrial factories; not the unions, but the rural populists, imagined a radical future of equal dignity for all. And, in the twentieth century, Lasch argues, the Civil Rights movement succeeded in the South because of a supposedly “backward” community of religiously-connected poor blacks, and failed in the North because of the very lack of that ethic of responsibility. It wasn’t “white racism” in the North that defeated Martin Luther King, since it was if anything stronger in the South, where he succeeded. It was a shared community with white people in the South that informed the common struggle and which had been lost by the dominance of secular individualism in the North.

In those circumstances (setting aside the reasons and arguments Lasch advances in favor of his thesis), the construction of an “identity politics” within the imagined realm of the American Empire is fatal to its existence. To insist that we must divide the resources and wealth according to population groups — a tactic, that, to be fair, has worked in many other circumstances and situations — undercuts radically the ideology which supports the imperial enterprise.

Personally I consider the American Empire a brutal installation of exploitation by violent means of global hegemony. Its dissolution is not something I consider an unmitigated evil. But speaking from an impersonal viewpoint, it is interesting that just that attitude which will destroy the cohesive myth that holds the country together, as an empire with a raft of competing populations and groups, is the one most popular with current educated opinion.

Posted in Brian Willson, Dan Handelman, Don Gavitte, Economics, Education, Empire, Fascism, Global, Inequality, Permaculture, Ronald Reagan, Spiritual life, U.S. Constitution, War | Leave a comment

Deir ez-Zor Has Been Relieved

The Syrian armed forces control the area in pink; ISIS in grey.

The Syrian Army, with assistance from Russian and Iranian armed forces, today broke the two-year siege of the last substantial city controlled by ISIS in Syria, Deir ez-Zor on the Euphrates.

Update 5 September 2017:  You heard it here first.  As illustrated by this selfie, the forces of besieged and relieving units fraternized and celebrated the event.

Syrian, Russian, and Iranian troops join Brigade 137 at the gates of Deir ez-Zor.

Update 7 September 2017: Robert Fisk sees this victory of the Syrian army as putting the end of the war in Syria within reach.

Update 22 September 2017: Russian television takes a victory lap.

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American Empire

Jean-Baptiste Belley, the elected representative of St. Domingue in the French Revolutionary Convention, 1797. He leans on the statue of the Abbé Raynal, a white advocate of the rights of slaves.

The recent textbook of world history — winner of the 2011 World History Association prize — by Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper, Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference, provides a well-researched, thoroughly-documented, balanced interpretation of the history of humanity without nation-states at the center.  Burbank and Cooper’s thesis is that through most of the recorded history of humanity most people lived in empires, right down to the present day.

One reason to pay attention to this presentation is the insight it offers into the history of the, as it were, empire of the United States.  For a start, empires have been ever since Rome, rather fantastic in their self-image: the reader may recall Augustus Caesar’s insistence that he was merely a distinguished member of the Senate.

Augustus restored the outward façade of the free Republic, with governmental power vested in the Roman Senate, the executive magistrates, and the legislative assemblies. In reality, however, he retained his autocratic power over the Republic as a military dictator. By law, Augustus held a collection of powers granted to him for life by the Senate, including supreme military command, and those of tribune and censor. It took several years for Augustus to develop the framework within which a formally republican state could be led under his sole rule. He rejected monarchical titles, and instead called himself Princeps Civitatis (“First Citizen of the State”). The resulting constitutional framework became known as the Principate, the first phase of the Roman Empire.

From the point of view of early U.S. history then, the hypocrisy of the first words of the Declaration of Independence appear no worse than that of an emperor of Rome who claims to be no more than the First Citizen.  (Note, incidentally, how close that title is to the one Napoleon Bonaparte assumed as he ruled France following a military coup d’état — “First Consul”.  In his case he soon dropped the pretense and took the title of Emperor of the French within a decade.)

France was an empire at the time of the French Revolution, and, as Burbank and Cooper explain (pp. 226-228), French planters in St. Domingue [what is now Haiti] demanded a measure of self-rule. That is, they wanted just what the British subjects of the United States had won not a decade before from King George III. However,

[T]he revolutionary assemblies in Paris also heard from gens de couleur, property-owning, slave-owning inhabitants of Caribbean islands, usually born of  French fathers and enslaved or ex-slave mothers.

Notice that it was unique to the Southern states of the United States, the conception that the child of a master and a slave was born without the freedom of his father, and was perpetually a slave.  These free people of mixed heritage owned one-third of the land of St. Domingue and one-quarter of its slaves.

Citizenship, they insisted, should not be restricted by color. The Paris assemblies temporized.

It was only under the pressure of a slave revolt that the metropolitan authorities gave citizenship to free gens de couleur and then, when that appeared to be insufficient to stop the outbreak of resistance to French authority, liberated all of St. Domingue’s slaves as well, granting all adult male residents citizenship in the French Republic.

The concession worked.

Toussaint L’Ouverture . . . contemplated for a time allying with the Spanish, but when France, not Spain, moved toward abolishing slavery, he went over to the French side, becoming an officer of the republic and by 1797 the de facto ruler of French St. Domingue, fighting against royalists and rival empires and in defense of ex-slaves’ newly claimed liberty.

Five years later Napoleon imprisoned L’Ouverture under offer of safe-conduct and re-instituted slavery.  Burbank and Cooper place this sordid episode of imperial rule in context by showing, throughout their 500-page discussion, how various empires employed a variety of tactics, varying with the times, to rule over inhomogeneous populations with differing sorts of methods, professing consistency while practicing discrimination.

The United States of America satisfies the usual criteria of empire, from its very inception.  The territory had a variety of ethnic groups, treated its inhabitants with pragmatic brutality, and rested ultimately on force to establish its writ.  Just as Rome had its elections, so did — does — the United States.  Now, admittedly, the most recent Presidential election, in which the candidate who spent the lesser amount of money won despite the opposition of the entire gamut of leading elites, does indicate a certain remaining degree of democracy in our country.  But the actions of the new government betray the futility of even that victory.

Interpreted as the history of an empire, the purported horrific racism of this country is recognizable as the analogue of strategies adopted by other empires, throughout the history of humanity, to establish and maintain central control over distant provinces and populations.  The British means of ruling the Irish, for example, involved the granting of a Parliament in 1782 and its revocation in 1801.  The French, of course, condemned Perfidious Albion, but the historically informed has to regard the English elites as similar to, if not indistinguishable from, the writers of treaties with the Native American Indians.  The arrival of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 echoes the liberation of the slaves of St. Domingue, and the 1877 end of Reconstruction the re-imposition of slavery by the successor to the French Directorate.

From the perspective of the history of the world as a history of empires, George Orwell’s prescient picture of 1984 loses some of its originality; the world has always had a number of competing empires, and the empires have always been run hierarchically, concentrating power at the center as much as possible.  We have at present, just as Orwell wrote, the empires of Russia, China, and the United States.  The interaction among them, and their relations with the smaller, less powerful states of Europe, Africa, Latin America, and South Asia constitute international politics.

Just as Winston Smith does, so we put our hopes in the majority of the population, but the efforts of the imperial propagandizers are devoted to avoiding the threat of overthrow of the elites currently in power in each of the three empires.

We have always been an empire.

Posted in Afghanistan, Brian Willson, Elections, Empire, Global, Inequality, Ronald Reagan, U.S. Constitution, War | Leave a comment