When Florence crushed the neighboring city-state of Siena in the fifteenth century — that is, when one Renaissance Italian hilltown attacked another — there was on staff, you might say, a so-called humanist scholar, one of the few who could manage impeccable antique Latin diction, to limn the squalid little affair as a repetition of some heroic ancient Greek drama, Seven Against Thebes, let us say.
Machiavelli, for example, praised the thug Cesare Borgia to the skies. Leonardo da Vinci, for another, promised invincible weapons of war to the Visconti of Milan.
So, today, with the United States bombing Syria, we have The New York Review of Books, the closest thing we have to the descendants of those Renaissance apologists of tyranny, telling us of the “New World Disorder” — telling us of the newly emergent political structure of the world.
Of the author, Michael Ignatieff, Wikipedia tells us that
His 2003 book Empire Lite attracted considerable attention for suggesting that America, the world’s last remaining superpower, should create a “humanitarian empire”. This book continued his criticism of the limited-risk approach practiced by NATO in conflicts like the Kosovo War and the Rwandan Genocide. Ignatieff became an advocate for more active involvement and larger scale deployment of land forces by Western nations in future conflicts in the developing world. Ignatieff was originally a prominent supporter of the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.
Ignatieff was originally a prominent supporter of [George W. Bush’s] Invasion of Iraq. That tells us, in my book, that this author, academic and Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada is one of the War Party, as Justin Raimondo of Antiwar.com calls them. In other words, that tells us that the NY Review publicizes, with a headline above their own name on the cover, complete with a little caricature of Vladimir Putin holding a missile, the views of the War Party.
So if you continue reading, you have to know at this point that my inspection of Mr Ignatieff’s thesis will not be uncritical. I promise to quote extensively, though, so my judgement will not be imposed without the full context.
So, what does he have to say this week, the Canadian with a Russian name? Ah with what panache he begins.
When the bodies and belongings of 298 people tumbled out of the sky on July 17 . . . clarity seemed to follow in the silence. John Ashberry’s lines in “Soonest Mended” came to mind:
Did they? How nice to be reminded of the lines from a poem by, according to The Poetry Foundation,
John Ashbery is recognized as one of the greatest twentieth-century American poets. He has won nearly every major American award for poetry, including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Yale Younger Poets Prize, the Bollingen Prize, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Griffin International Award, and a MacArthur “Genius” Grant.
Our author begins right away with his being reminded of a poem by the great, but not well-known (at least, to me), John Ashberry; that’s pretty classy, wouldn’t you say?
Continuing to quote directly, the lines of which Mr Ignatieff was reminded upon the crash of the Dutch airliner downed over rebel Ukrainian territory are:
It was still a shock when, almost a quarter of a century later,
The clarity of the rules dawned on you for the first time.
They were the players, and we who had struggled at the game
Were merely spectators . . .
That’s rather opaque, actually. Who is “they” and “we” and what are the “rules” he speaks of? Let’s see what Mr Ignatieff offers in that regard. His next words are
It no longer matters whether the charge against President Putin is direct incitement of those who shot down the plane or reckless endangerment by supplying them with the weaponry.
And why does it no longer matter?
By reaffirming his support for secession, he has made his choices, and it is up to Western leaders to make theirs.
But Putin has never affirmed, let alone “reaffirmed,” his “support for secession.” In the interim, since this account dated 27 August 2014, Putin has met with and reached agreement with the President of Ukraine in person, in Minsk, Byelorussia, and arrived at a cease-fire agreement. And this agreement came under the auspices of the OSCE, the Organization for the Security and Co-operation in Europe, the broadest possible regional impartial forum.
Oh well. The next sentence,
It no longer matters whether the West brought this new Russia upon itself by expanding NATO aggressively to its borders.
begins to reveal the slant we are to be given. I do not think there is any “new Russia” in play here, and I’d suggest how we got to this point matters quite a bit. That is ever the way with War propaganda. Mr Ignatieff refers eight separate times to the downing of the Dutch airliner in an article three (admittedly big) pages in length. We have to “Remember the Maine!” — even though in actual fact the evidence dredged up from Havana Harbor showed that its bulwarks were blown outwards, indicating an accidental explosion in the warship’s boilers, accidents that struck other sister ships of the Maine.
It doesn’t matter what caused this confrontation. Hmm. The very next sentence continues in this war-mongering line.
What matters now is to be very clear, so that . . . security guarantees are given to the vulnerable allies on Russia’s borders . . .
Brrr. After that prologue, after that dismissal of any concern for actual evaluation of degree of responsibility, after that fancy quotation from a prominent living poet which, in this situation, could mean anything at all, we have
What matters is to understand, without illusions but without alarm, the new world that the annexation of Crimea and the downing of MH17 have pitched us into.
Do you remember, dear reader, the refrain after 9/11, “This Changes Everything”? That’s what we have here. This is the War Party propagandist ginning up the masses for the New Cold War. He just wants to present it as involving “the tectonic plates of a world order being pushed apart by the volcanic upward pressure of violence and hatred.”
Ah yes. Support the Iraq Invasion, an aggressive war launched on a cataract of lies, and lament the impact of violence.
The downing of MH17
–that is, the tragic end of the Dutch airliner —
and the rise of the caliphate
— that is, the declaration of ISIS that it had founded a new Islamic state —
make us think again about what held those templates together.
As an editor of English prose, I have to note that Mr Ignatieff used the word “template” incorrectly here, as if it were synonymous with tectonic plate. A template is just a model from which copies are made, not the base upon which a piece of a continent is sliding about the surface of the mantle of the earth.
That’s being picky, though. Let us continue with Mr Ignatieff, directly:
Until the hopes of the Arab Spring were dashed, the moderate, globalized middle classes in the region believed they had the power to marginalize the forces of sectarian fury.
And here you thought the Arab Spring was about the populations of region actually deciding the fate of their countries, not the corrupt pro-US dictators! It was about something no one had mentioned at the time. Going on,
We must have imagined, what with the Internet, global air travel, Gucci in Shanghai [etc], that the world was becoming one. We fell prey to an illusion dear to the generation of 1914, that economics would prove stronger than politics and that global commerce would soften the rivalries of empire.
Marxism quite explicitly teaches that economics is stronger than politics. It was quite popular prior to 1914, at least among the literati, and it predicted quite the opposite of commerce softening rivalries of empire. Alas, I keep thinking that historical facts matter. Excuse me. Let Mr Ignatieff lay out his vision of the new structure of world politics without me nagging at his manifold manifest errors. After “. . . soften the rivalries of empire.” he says
At first, it seemed so. In the phase of globalization inaugurated after 1989, Russia supplied Germany its gas. Germany supplied Russia its core industrial and manufactured goods, China bought US treasury debt, and Apple made its gadgets in China. With the coming of the Internet, we thought, at least for a time, that a shared global commons of information would consign the encamped ideological hostility of the cold war to history
In the words of Francis Fukuyama, we were witnessing “The End of History“.
In reality, the third phase of globalization produced no more political convergence than the first one destroyed in 1914 or second one that ended in 1989. Capitalism turned out to be politically promiscuous. Instead of marrying itself to freedom, capitalism was just as happy to bed down with authoritarian rule. Economic integration actually sharpened the conflict between open and closed societies.
My mouth is twitching from the effort to refrain from comment on that paragraph. Mr Ignatieff quotes Larry Summers on the appearance of something new on the world-political scene in the next paragraph.
From the Polish border to the Pacific, from the Arctic Circle to the Afghan border, a new political competitor to liberal democracy began to take shape: authoritarian in political form, capitalist in economics, and nationalist in ideology. Lawrence Summers has called this new regime “authoritarian mercantilism” [footnote: Lawrence Summers, “Put American Foreign Policy Back on the Pitch,” Financial Times 6 July 2014]. This captures the central role of the state and state enterprises in the Russian and Chinese economies, but it underplays the crude element of cronyism that is central to Moscow’s and Beijing’s rule.
And then Mr Ignatieff summarizes his thesis. His next paragraph begins
Authoritarian capitalism — let me call it that — has become liberal democracy’s chief competitor, thanks to globalization itself.
That’s the thesis, surely presented in context. Instead of complaining that our author cites (shiver) Larry Summers for insight into world economic structure (and then “corrects” him), let me merely observe that Benito Mussolini explicitly asserted in 1935 that he had fashioned a Corporate State in Fascist Italy.
The corporate State considers that private enterprise in the sphere of production is the most effective and usefu [sic] [typo-should be: useful] instrument in the interest of the nation. In view of the fact that private organisation of production is a function of national concern, the organiser of the enterprise is responsible to the State for the direction given to production.
In order for the reader to give assent to Mr Ignatieff’s thesis, he has to forget the many voices predicting the approach of war in 1914. He has to believe that the second phase of globalization came to an end in 1989, despite George H.W. Bush’s welcoming of a “New World Order” — globalization — just before 1989 and Bill Clinton’s passionate embrace of globalization shortly afterward. And he has to believe, despite the entire history of European fascism, that authoritarian capitalism is something new under the sun.
To paraphrase Immanuel Kant, out of such crooked timber no straight thing can be made. It does not stand up to the slightest analysis. Besides, we already have, those of us who read English, a thorough analysis of the present world order requiring none of these easily controverted beliefs.
The splitting-up of the world into three great super-states was an event which could be and indeed was foreseen before the middle of the twentieth century. . . . The frontiers between the three super-states are in some places arbitrary, and in others they fluctuate according to the fortunes of war, but in general they follow geographical lines. Eurasia comprises the whole of the northern part of the European and Asiatic land-mass . . . Oceania comprises the Americas, the Atlantic islands including the British Isles, Australasia . . . Eastasia . . . comprises China and the countries south of it, the Japanese islands and a large but fluctuating portion of Manchuria, Mongolia, and Tibet.
In one combination or another, these three super-states are permanently at war, and have been so for the past twenty-five years. It is a warfare of limited aims between combatants who are unable to destroy one another, have no material cause for fighting and are not divided by any genuine ideological difference. . . .
None of the three super-states could be definitively conquered even by the other two in combination. They are too evenly matched, and their natural defenses are too formidable. Eurasia is protected by its vast land spaces, Oceania by the width of the Atlantic and the Pacific, Eastasia by the fecundity and industriousness of its inhabitants.
Secondly, there is no longer, in a material sense, anything to fight about. With the establishment of self-contained economies, in which production and consumption are geared to one another, the scramble for markets which was a main cause of previous wars has come to an end. . . In any case each of the three super-states is so vast that it can obtain almost all the materials that it needs within its own boundaries. . . .
It should be noted that the fighting never really moves beyond the edges of the disputed areas. The frontiers of Eurasia flow back and forth between the basin of the Congo and the northern shore of the Mediterranean; the islands of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific are constantly being captured and recaptured by Oceania or by Eastasia; in Mongolia the dividing line between Eurasia and Eastasia is never stable. . . . but the balance of power always remains roughly even, and the territory which forms the heartland of each super-state always remains inviolate.
. . . .
The primary aim of modern warfare (in accordance with the principles of doublethink, this aim is simultaneously recognized and not recognized by the directing brains of the Inner Party) is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living.
. . . .
From the moment when the machine first made its appearance it was clear to all thinking people that the need for human drudgery, and therefore to a great extent for human inequality, had disappeared. . .
But it was also clear that an all-round increase in wealth threatened the destruction — indeed, in some sense was the destruction — of a hierarchical society. In a world in which everyone worked short hours, had enough to eat, lived in a house with a bathroom and a refrigerator, and possessed a motor car or even an airplane, the most obvious and perhaps the most important form of inequality would already have disappeared. . . .
[I]f leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance.
. . . .
The problem was how to keep the wheels of industry turning without increasing the real wealth of the world. Goods must be produced, but they must not be distributed. And in practice the only way of achieving this was by continuous warfare.
War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking into the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence in the long run too intelligent. Even when weapons of war are not actually destroyed, their manufacture is still a convenient way of expending labor power without producing anything that can be consumed. . . . In principle the war effort is always so planned as to eat up any surplus that might exist after meeting the bare needs of the population. In practice the needs of the population are always underestimated, with the result that there is a chronic shortage of half the necessities of life; but this is looked on as an advantage. . . .
And at the same time the consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival.
War, it will be seen, not only accomplishes the necessary destruction, but accomplishes it in a psychologically acceptable way. In principle it would be quite simple to waste the surplus labor of the world by building temples and pyramids, by digging holes and filling them up again, or even by producing vast quantities of goods and then setting fire to them. But this would provide only the economic and not the emotional basis for a hierarchical society. What is concerned here is not the morale of the masses, whose attitude is unimportant so long as they are kept steadily at work, but the morale of the Party itself. Even the humblest Party member is expected to be competent, industrious and even intelligent within narrow limits, but it is also necessary that he should be a credulous and ignorant fanatic whose prevailing moods are fear, hatred, adulation and orgiastic triumph. In other words it is necessary that he should have the mentality appropriate to a state of war. It does not matter whether or not the war is actually happening
— for a September 2014 example of this, see the details of the very-likely nonexistent Khorasan Group
and, since no decisive victory is possible, it does not matter whether the war is going well or badly. All that is needed is that a state of war should exist.
Long ago — in 1948 — George Orwell explained quite accurately the present state of affairs and its causes. Mr Ignatieff’s purpose appears to be to have you forget about it, and substitute a factually false one. Welcome to the Two Minute Hate, folks. If the distinguished Leader of the Canadian Liberal Party had his way,
. . we would have obtained what so many blinded pacifists today hope to gain by begging, whining and whimpering: a peace, supported not by the palm branches of tearful, pacifist female mourners, but based on the victorious sword of a master people, putting the world into the service of a higher culture.
— Adolf, son of Alois Schickelgruber, Mein Kampf, Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1999 [1st German ed 1927], p. 396. Emphasis in original