Thursday, March 23, 2006

belated quotes on the war

Some of you have heard or read these before (via email or in my intro at the DCAC reading on sunday) but I put these up to belatedly mark the beginning of a fourth year (of course it's been much loner than that) of this nation's military involvement in Iraq.

As matters stand now, it appears unlikely that Iraqi resistance will collapse. The United States seems unable to muster the military force to crush this resistance and to guarantee the dominance of government and social institutions that we have determined to be appropriate. There is, therefore, some hope that American troops will be withdrawn and the Iraqis left to try to reconstruct something from the wreckage. The course of history may be determined, to a very significant degree, by what the people of the United States will have learned from this catastrophe.[...]

Someday the war in Iraq will end, and with it the renewed impulse it has given to self-analysis and the search for cures and alternatives. Those who were opposed to the war merely because of its costs or its atrocities will fall away. It is possible that an American defeat that cannot be disguised, or a "victory" that opens the way to new savagery, will be accompanied by a serious domestic repression that will leave little energy or will for the task of re-evaluation and reconstruction of ideology and social life. But there are also encouraging signs. There is a growing realization that it is an illusion to believe that all will be well if only today's liberal hero can be placed in the White House, and a growing awareness that isolated, competing individuals can rarely confront repressive institutions alone. At best, a few may be tolerated as intellectual gadflies. The mass, even under formal democracy, will accept "the values that have been inculcated, often accidentally and often deliberately by vested interests," values that have the status of "unconsciously acquired habits rather than choices." In a fragmented, competitive society, individuals can neither discover their true interests nor act to defend them, as they cannot do so when prevented from free association by totalitarian controls.

These are passages from Noam Chomsky's American Power and the New Mandarins (1967), only I have substituted "Iraq" and "Iraqi/s" where he has written "Vietnam" and "Vietnamese."

The second passage quotes The Sociological Imagination (1959) by C. Wright Mills, whose Power, Politics and People: Collected Essays I just picked up for $2.50 at Second Story Books yesterday. Mills was something of a renegade sociologist and liberal critic of the postwar politics of the liberal consensus. His ideas are often said to have inspired the SDS and the New Left, but I'm quite certain that the neocons learned a few lessons from him as well.

Hope to have more to say about him in the future, but so far I can offer a few things. His 1952 essay "Liberal Values in the Modern World" reiterates, among other things, something I've believed for a while, namely that part of liberalism's current difficulties are essentially that it has won the day rhetorically: conservatives in this country speak of rights, equality, etc even though these things are in fact subordinate to core conservative values of authority, social hierarchy, etc.

Mills severely underestimated conservatives though in an essay (PDF 900K; this is from a chapter by the same name in CWM's subsequent book The Power Elite) called "The Conservative Mood" (1955), on some level a review of Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind. Mills belittles conservatives much in the manner of Lionel Trilling who in The Liberal Imagination (1950) claimed that there were "no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation" and that whatever impulse there was to such things "express[ed] themselves [as] iritiable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas." (Likewise Richard Hofstader did in 1964, the year of the Goldwater "defeat," when he referred to conservatism as the "paranoid style" of American politics.) I mean, Trilling and Mills were essentially correct at the time. Mills is right that Kirk has no American conservative tradition because there is no constituency (or voting block) for who such a tradition would appeal. Conservatives in the 1950s knew this and so thus created a constituency (eventually to be called the "Southern Strategy").

I'd be curious to have folks read the PDF from Michael Webber's USF website and comment.

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