Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Reconstructing Authority; Ideology and Political Culture in Empire

“An imperial democracy, ain’t no democracy at all”.
Mumia Abu-Jamal


For the past few months, a heated debate has been going on within Western academic and intellectual circles, concerning the new realities which have emerged in the international environment in the post-Sept.11 period. At the heart of the controversy lay themes such as the overwhelming military might of the US, the implications that this historically unprecedented military supremacy has for international conventions and for the evolution of the post-War, hegemonic international system as a whole. A new sense of urgency has been attached to the resolution of these conflicts of opinion in view of the decision of the Bush administration to invade and occupy Iraq militarily. On the one hand, there has been a contingent of intellectuals who have made their opposition to the war public on the grounds that it would disrupt the balanced function of the international system of hegemony by virtue of undermining the rule of law in the international sphere, marginalize consultative mechanisms as an effective instrument of collective decision-making and would set a precedent legitimizing preemptive military actions on the part of the US, or any other state for that matter. The response to these criticisms comes from a group of neo-conservative thinkers with close ties to the Bush regime, who have enthusiastically endorsed the necessity for military intervention in Iraq, not only due the pragmatic requirement for implementing the ‘disarmament’ of a pariah state (both questionable in its truthfulness and attainable through the use of peaceful means) but also relating the military campaign in question to a broader strategic shift in the formulation of US foreign policy. Drawing on the theoretical premises of American political mythology, these scholars have developed a defense of Empire, as a new state of affairs in international relations. Not only do they uphold the, largely given, right of the US to make use of its military capabilities in whichever way the US government might see fit, but they advocate its disengagement from conventional legal restrictions regulating the use of force in the international arena.
At the root of this assault on international legal norms lies a historical rehabilitation of the concept of violence as a reliable and efficacious instrument for the resolution of conflict. Neo-conservative ideologues such as Richard Perle, propose that the application of technological innovation to standing military techniques and procedures, has brought about such a revolutionary transformation of warfare so as to rehabilitate it as a viable method for the future conduct of US foreign policy.[i] In short, what has happened is, according to Perry Anderson, the creation of “a low-risk power-vacuum around American planning, in which the ordinary calculus of the risks or gains of war is diluted or suspended”.[ii] However, the rationalization of the conduct of war through the use of means provided by technology of military operations and the partial elimination thereof of its destructive aspects, represent for neo-conservatives only a means to an end. In fact, the new coercive potentialities made available by military-technological advances owe their importance to the overriding political objective which they may be used to serve, namely, the aggressive promotion of representative democracy worldwide. It is in relation to this end that the new technological systems of warfare were praised during the Iraqi campaign. Insofar as the US was able to come up with a circumspect selection of targets based on intelligence obtained through the use of satellite communication and surveillance systems, and neutralize those targets precisely and effectively by means of surgical, yet devastating, long-range missile attacks, war in Iraq resulted simply in the systematic undermining of the enemy’s defensive capabilities and not in the complete and irreparable destruction of the country’s infrastructure, which in the end, would be incompatible with the professed political objective of promoting democracy and the process of nation-building which the latter involves. For neoconservative hawks, this new type of war is indeed the extension of politics by other means. What is of importance here, is to note that the novel infatuation of the US government with violent methods (novel not in that it constitutes a significant break with past tactics, but in the overt and public espousal of its virtues) and the corresponding contempt it has shown for international legal norms, are justified by US officials not by arguing that war is ethical in-itself, but by stipulating its instrumental role in a political strategy for the worldwide advancement of democracy.
The most influential argument of the critics of this ideological, imperial approach contends that military preemption and the compromising of the foundational principles of international law do not conform to the pattern of moral international behavior with which a democratic state is expected to comply in its external relations. Some mild detractors of the war have denounced military intervention in Iraq as alien to the traditional American disposition of aversion towards imperialism and as a blemish on the impeccable international record of their peace-loving, democratic country. In this connection, the full ideological force of the imperial position is revealed since it becomes quite obvious that both the defenders and opponents of the war in Iraq, and, by implication, of the theoretical and practical conclusions drawn from it regarding the hegemonic status of the US within the community of states, are in agreement at least on one point, namely on the fundamentally democratic nature of the US regime. This is an a priori assumption and is as much the source of the support expressed for the Iraqi enterprise, as it is for the harsh denunciations issued against it.
It is the principal concern of this essay to put this commonly accepted truth under contestation, thereby transforming the ideological context in which the ongoing debate on the constitution of Empire is being carried out. For as Edward Said once wrote, “…there is no such thing as a merely given, or simply available, starting point: beginnings have to be made for each project in such a way as to enable what follows from them”.[iii] It is my firm belief that the domestic dimension of the Imperial project has hitherto been neglected by academic observers of the process.[iv] Yet, engaging in an analysis of internal developments may serve a dual function: a) it will help us develop a critique of the basic ideological narratives on which the Imperial project rests for its legitimation and which opposition discourses have hitherto either merely touched upon or largely left intact. Indeed, if one is to take President Bush’s public claims on the reasons that propelled him to launch the Iraqi invasion at face value, one is almost left with the impression that he is dealing with an administration comprised by Jacobin democrats with the President performing the role of a belated equivalent of Napoleon Bonaparte in his fervent desire to spread the values and ideals of American democracy beyond US borders. By taking issue with the systematic and organized assault on democratic rights and freedoms that is currently under way at home, we will be able to arrive at a better understanding of what Bush means when he talks about democracy and also we will acquire a more immediate awareness of the inherent incompatibility which exists between the defense and preservation of democratic institutions at home, and a policy of systematic imperial expansion abroad. b) it will enable us to comprehend the full extent of the civic transformation that is currently under way in the US, of the illiberal permutations in the political, administrative and legal structures brought about by the terrorist attacks of Sept.11th and the corresponding modifications made necessary by the above transformations as regards the formulation of strategy and the adoption of individual tactics of struggle of an aspiring movement of opposition. An obvious political implication ensuing from our analysis would be the radicalization of the movement, by way of demonstrating the necessity for a strategic shift of the forces of resistance away from the institutional political terrain and the concentration of their energies on an effort to construct autonomous forms of expression and political activity. It would also lead to a reevaluation of the movement’s existing network of political alliances as well as of the moral principles and practical requirements on which such affiliations are based. For instance, by exposing the fundamentally conservative character of the Democratic party movement activists would cease to regard it as a reliable institutional focus of opposition and would be encouraged to embrace more radical, anti-systemic practices as the movement’s principal method of political action.

1. War on Terrorism; the Enemy Within

It has often been stated that the single most important ramification of the Sept.11 attacks has been the shattering of the collective sense of security that has hitherto underpinned American theories of governance and popular common sense alike. The active refutation of isolationism by that very same political party which traditionally espoused it (Republicans), it in the form of the doctrine of preemptive strike can be understood in such terms, as the practical expression of the realization that the much vaunted American invulnerability, has lost its currency among US statesmen. In fact, the doctrine of preemptive attack can be viewed partly as a response to the violent exposition of this convenient illusion. If Americans cannot quietly inhabit their own international universe, safe in their physical solitude and protected by vast oceans on both sides, they must become actively involved in the conduct of international relations in a way that will allow them to shape global conditions so as to eliminate any potential threats to its security and interests. Given the natural preeminence of the US in the international realm deriving from a geographical position that has so far served to shield it from the ravages normally associated with relations among states (invasion, occupation, bombings) can no longer be sustained, then a new paradigm of dominance must be constructed, one based on unilateral tactics and military might. While the community of states before Sept.11 was organized around a de facto American hegemony with a semblance of pluralism and consultation, we now have at hand the construction of a de jure supremacy of the US, along with the concomitant reappraisal of the authority of transnational institutions reflecting the old balance of power.
To be sure, this new policy is two-pronged, and incorporates a domestic dimension along with the international one. In fact, it is quite impossible to arrive at a clear understanding of the one, without taking the other under account.[v] On the home front, two major developments have transpired that have served to define the post-Sept.11 political and intellectual environment. From the outset, the Bush administration has sought to promote a view of internal security that falsely identifies its attainment with the systematic erosion of democratic freedoms and the infringement of civil rights. Needless to say, this reductionist equation of ‘less freedom-more security’ begs the question, in so far as it negates what should be the principal function of the ‘War on Terrorism’, namely, to protect the democratic life-style and safeguard the foundations of democratic culture and the essential openness of American society. Bearing in mind that respect for civil rights is a fundamental principle to which all workable anti-terrorist strategies should adhere, we may begin to understand that Bush’s anti-terrorist campaign rather represents more an effort to consolidate elite political power within the US, than it does a comprehensive strategy for combating terror.[vi] The above claim finds unwelcome support in, a) the undemocratic nature of this administration, embodied in the manner by which Bush rose to power (Supreme Court appointment), b) the unprecedented unpopularity of the administration and of the President himself, in the period that preceded the Sept.11 attacks, owing to the latter’s inability to give effective articulation to the needs and interests of the vast majority of the American laboring masses, c) the almost complete absence of a positive, constructive approach to the problem of international terrorism (i.e., improving relations with Arab states, winning the battle for Muslim public opinion), to supplement the strategy of violent repression put into effect in Afghanistan and now promoted against Iraq. The immersion of Bush’s administration in upper-class politics and its steadfast loyalty to the pursuit of economic interests and goals set by the elite, are painfully demonstrated both by its economic policies and by the generic disdain it shows for the democratic process. One can think of no better indication of the government’s authoritarian tendencies, than the introduction of court-martials for the trial of suspected terrorists, or the abject conditions, contravening any notion of human rights, under which POWs from the Afghan war are held in Guantanamo prison camp. A shift towards an authoritarian frame of mind, can also be detected in the relationship, or rather the absence of one, between an ever spreading popular opposition to war and the political establishment, along with the biased and hostile treatment the anti-war movement has received by the US media.
By inaugurating a ‘War against Terrorism’, President Bush has effectively declared the US in a state of siege. We should not view this as a temporary measure introduced by the government in order to curb an imminent terrorist threat, for to launch ‘war on terrorism’ is to involve oneself in an abstract conflict against an illusive enemy, without a tangible definition of what a successful practical outcome should resemble. Under this light, the ‘War on Terrorism’ is not unlike similar public relations feats such as the ‘War on Smoking’, or the ‘War on Drugs’. It might last indefinitely, as the administration’s professed objective, namely the complete eradication of terrorism, is unrealistic enough so as to warrant a continuous engagement at all levels of American society. I therefore consider the War on Terrorism to represent much more than a concerted effort to improve homeland security. To the extent that it cannot be brought to a visible conclusion, and insofar as it postulates the restriction of liberty by means of profound legislative and governmental reforms as a precondition for attaining immunity from danger, I regard it as a stratagem pushed forward by the elites that will allow them to solidify their power over a potentially restless multitude, through the introduction of a new, despotic social contract. This new paradigm of sovereignty is congruent with the type of social contract advocated by Thomas Hobbes in his classic work Leviathan, which entails a conception of legitimate authority that rests solely on the latter’s capacity to protect its citizens from the evils inflicted upon them in the state of nature. However, no set of individual rights vis-à-vis the sovereign are recognized in Hobbes’ ideal state, the monarch’s sole obligation consisting in the protection of the citizenry from external enemies and from one another.

a) Whatever Happened to the American Left?

Internal unity is an essential precondition for the normal functioning of such absolute and supreme an authority and it does not seem out of place to suggest that such a power has slowly start to emerge in the post-Sept11 political landscape in the US. The bipartisan political establishment which has dominated American political life for decades now increasingly resembles an ideological monolith, as the Democratic Party has shed its past connections to the labor movement and has tacitly consented to a view on the limits of democracy and the political process as seen from the Republican-conservative point of view. To be sure, the current cooptation of the Democrats is not a recent phenomenon. What we are now witnessing is merely the culmination of an ideological retreat of the official American Left that can be traced back to the turbulent sixties and the formation of the radical student Left. As was the case in many industrialized societies at the time (France, Italy and so on), the dynamic eruption of new social forces and the spread of a novel culture of dissent among various social sectors, brought about an implosion of the political system, unable, or unwilling, as it was to broaden its scope and ensure that a constitutional method for empowering the masses and guaranteeing effective popular participation in democratic politics, could be implemented by virtue of democratic reforms.[vii] While Republicans assumed a hostile and overly-critical position towards the new social movements, perfectly in keeping with the Party’s conservative values and traditional focus on ‘law and order’ (i.e. Nixon’s electoral platform), the liberal credentials of the Democratic Party were severely compromised by the latter’s failure to endorse dissent on prominent issues of the time which formed the basis of grass-roots opposition to the establishment (Vietnam war). Not only did the Democratic Party refuse to incorporate such concerns into its electoral program, it also perceived such a radical critique of society as a threat to its position as a political power in the bipolar status quo. This attitude led to the abolition of the MFDP (Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party) from the Democratic National Congress in Atlantic City, as well as to providing Congressional approval for the Tonkin incident, a decision which effectively amounted to a declaration of war against communist North Vietnam.[viii] Through this reevaluation of the party’s political priorities, a message was sent both to movement activists that the Democratic Party was not a force for change, and to the White, conservative quota of the US electorate that Democrats could play the part of a reliable ally in the war against internal subversion. This sounds all too familiar in view of the current campaign of brutal repression the Bush administration claims to have unleashed against external and internal enemies. In this respect, Richard Rorty is completely mistaken in his assessment that the radical student Left of the sixties should somehow assume responsibility for the demise of the reformist left and the latter’s inability to play an active part in the ongoing political process. In connection with the ‘War on Terrorism’ and the impending invasion of Iraq, the Democratic Party has once more revealed its essentially conservative nature and has proved unable to provide an institutional focal point for the convergence of popular opposition to Bush’s imperialist policies. Instead, it subscribes to the official line of a besieged US, surrounded by internal and external foes bent on its destruction, without offering even a semblance of a rational evaluation of such claims. In the absence of an opposition current within the realm of constitutional politics, civil society has again emerged as the sole democratic outlet, through the mobilization of which the articulation of an alternative political vision is made possible.

b) Combating The Existential Foe

An additional insight to the changes that are currently reshaping the ideology of the US ruling elite might be found in a cursory examination of the paradigm of state power, expounded in the radical conservative theories of Carl Schmitt. Schmitt regarded liberal democracy as an ineffective form of rule, suffering from the debilitating effect of the doctrine of the formal separation of powers and from a sociopolitical disequilibrium, ensuing from the entrance of the multitude into politics through the introduction of universal suffrage. His contemptuous view of debate (the expression of democracy par excellance) as the art of avoiding harsh decisions, along with an outright rejection of social pacifism and mediation as the appropriate response to the Red menace of the inter-war period, drew Schmitt towards the irrationalism and heavy-handedness of the fascist doctrine of the state. In his analysis of the reasons which led to the fascist rise to power, Schmitt argued that fascism ultimately predominated not because of the compelling quality of its argumentation, but due to the plasticity of the images it employed, so as to whip up fear among the masses and foment their passions. Characteristically he writes, “Italian Fascism depicted its communist enemy through an abhorrent image, through the Mongolic countenance of Bolshevism; this image generated a greater impression and passions more intense, than did the socialist image of the bourgeois”.[ix] The Foe, who in Schmitt’s philosophy is conceived as the constitutive theoretical counterpart of any organized political authority, is attached with a transfixed, antithetical meaning. Political power is in this sense inherently confrontational and obtains its meaning and raison d’etre by virtue of a decision to oppose the designated Foe. A political battle waged along such absolute existential lines cannot be settled through processes of mediation and negotiation. In this context, conflict appears as the only authentic manifestation of politics and a sort of blind activism becomes the necessary modus operandi of the regime.[x] Under such circumstances animosity is in need of no prior justification and rationalization. The formative elements of an ontological distinction are located in the nature of the differing parts themselves, and not in the relationship that binds them together, or the manner through which they interact with one another. The cause of conflict is inherent in the agents who promote it and its shape and circumstances can only be revealed in the course of struggle.
Needless to say that such a genus of political practice, with its emphasis on battle as the only genuine form of political activity, can only be made to function in the context of an underlying repressive and illiberal intellectual milieu. The sense of polar opposition informing current American dogmas on foreign policy, alongside with the way in which the US has come to perceive the manner by which it interacts with the rest of the world after Sept.11, have led to a neoconservative resurgence in the field of synthesis and dissemination of culture. Relying on the support offered to them in a tacit or straightforward manner by the political establishment, at present almost exclusively under the control of the Republican Party, these intellectual trends have sought to consolidate a virtual monopoly over the interpretation and analysis of ongoing developments at the expense of academic freedom and open, democratic debate. In a partisan cultural environment defined by the struggle against the Schmittian ‘Foe’, in our case international terrorism, dissent is viewed as an unlawful, even treacherous occupation. The government expects the unconditional loyalty and full hearted support of all sectors of American society in its avowed struggle against the terrorist specter. Indeed such uncritical acceptance of official policy is posited as necessary if the US is to emerge triumphant from its struggle against the great ‘evil’ that threatens it. But before we go on to examine the cultural devices and the corporeal institutions set up to encourage the spread of this new brand of McCarthyism, we should first inquire into the essential aspects of the dominant neoconservative discourse, the fundamental assumptions upon which it rests, and the type of political culture it seeks to bring about.

c) Orientalism Revamped

The revival of the old Orientalist patterns of thought has been most instrumental with regard for the formulation of imperial ideology. Orientalist platitudes concerning the radical, ontological distinction between East and West which were once an integral part of Western European scholarly thought are now being reaffirmed both in the context of official foreign policy and that of conventional academic discourse. Such an intellectual enterprise is entirely congruent with the political project of establishing US hegemony on a global scale to which the American government seems committed, the latest strategic phase of which is the impending invasion of Iraq.[xi] In the monumental work of Edward Said, Orientalism emerges neither as a mere propagandistic abstraction, nor a set of purposefully constructed myths completely dissociated from the realities of Eastern colonial societies. It rather represents a piece of false consciousness inextricably bound to the close relationship of power and exploitation uniting the imperial powers to their subjects. It is a mental and psychological state of affairs internalized by Westerners for the dual purpose of dealing with the unknown and offering justification for European coercion of Arabs and the Biblical people in general. The current conjunction in foreign affairs finds the US confronted by a similar predicament. Conceptions of the Orient cannot be understood in isolation from the contemporary power relations that are beginning to take shape as a result of the US drive towards imperial rule. America is attempting to obtain a foothold in the Middle-Eastern region and the resurgence of Orientalism has its roots in precisely this process. As a system of knowledge, the principal function of which is to domesticate the image of Islam in accordance to American cognitive norms, Orientalism becomes an indispensable theoretical tool, laying out the conceptual framework for the independent manufacture and unqualified projection of a negative image that might serve as the focus of opposition against which the US government can direct its energies in the international arena. In short, it becomes identified as the official Foe.[xii]
The ‘Axis of Evil’ doctrine provides a most useful illustration of our argument. Those countries who are seen as partaking in this spurious league of rogue states have few elements in common amongst themselves, either in terms of their ruling ideologies and forms of government, the degree to which they constitute homogenous national units, or their geopolitical position and interests. The ‘axis’ which purportedly joins them together, exists only by virtue of their anomalous relations vis-à-vis Empire. Their resistance to American omnipotence is the lowest common denominator linking them to one another. It follows, that the prevalent views of these entities in the US, are formulated irrespective of their inherent political and ethnic characteristics, and solely through the prism of the perception Empire has of them.[xiii] This is what we mean by the independent manufacture and unqualified projection of the Foe. Furthermore, it becomes apparent that such an arbitrary notion of the enemy can be stretched indefinitely and abused at will, so as to incorporate the most heterogeneous of political entities and movements. So long as opposition to entrenched authority remains the sole negative criterion informing the official perspective of the US administration, such categorizations might provide the ideological pretext for the indiscriminate use of repression against virtually any political or social movement or state which, either impairs the social peace at home, or destabilizes the normal functioning of the new international, imperial order.

2. The Rise of the New McCarthyism

The fundamental character of American political culture is being increasingly subjected to change and is transformed from a field operating by virtue of the free circulation and contestation of ideas, into a closed system for the ideological construction of formal and absolute truths. These core concepts, namely the existential dichotomy between Friend and Foe, the role of unmediated global hegemon attributed to the US by hawkish factions of the internal political spectrum, along with the aspiration, demonstrated in action, for imposing an enlightened Imperial order over the international community of states, are ideas which combine to render us with the theoretical substratum of neoconservative political theology. Such self-referential ideological narratives are impervious to the force of criticism and rational argumentation. In fact, it might be suggested that the defining feature of all theological discourses is the latter’s ability to defend their core beliefs not by way of completely overruling the validity of arguments arrived at through the process of reasoning, but by allowing for the restricted use of logic so as to more effectively demonstrate the truthfulness of the central tenets of their faith.[xiv] However, in this context, the operations of reason are not left unimpaired to determine the final outcome and content of theory. In theological systems faith provides a yardstick by which to assess the value of a given argument. This is essentially a coercive practice insofar as conformity with the exigencies of faith is posited as the necessary prerequisite for the acceptance, or exclusion, of a rational proposition.[xv] Unconventional views are thereby expelled from the totality of ideas that constitute the official dogma and the independent reasoning which produced them is cast in the mould not of the politically neutral category of ignorance or intellectual ineptitude, but that of heresy, which is heavily laden with political meanings and connotations.
Our inquiry into the ideological forms and mechanisms through which established truths are produced, while competing doctrines are marginalized, might help us to reach at an understanding of the ties linking the generation of formal knowledge to the interplay and arrangement of power relations in society. The unearthing of such a nexus is particularly useful in connection to our examination of the ongoing transformative shifts taking place within the political culture of post-Sept.11 America. It seems quite clear that under Bush’s neoconservative rule, the artificial liberal space available for the exchange and diffusion of concepts related to government authority and policy has been severely restricted. By studying the theological aspects of neoconservative political discourse, we aim to show that under Bush, access to forums of legitimate political discussion is limited to those thinkers and commentators who vocally and unconditionally espouse the fundamental myths of neoconservative ideology referred to above. This marks a qualitative shift towards a more despotic, undemocratic model of cultural hegemony. Political problematique is exhausted in a superficial preoccupation with form, while being prohibited from getting involved with matters of substance. Of course, such an intellectual community exists by virtue of a clear-cut demarcation of its boundaries and trajectory of themes and cannot but perform the role of an official spokesman for the regime. A recurring recourse to stereotypes and the rise of conformism is bound to occur in the context of this illiberal intellectual environment. Yet, we should point out that the generalization of conformist attitudes was a development which predated Sept.11th.[xvi] We would go so far as to suggest that the systematic effort to curtail intellectual rights and freedoms in the US could not have been carried through, if the basic faculties of men as rational, self-governing human beings had been safeguarded from the debilitating effect of postmodern theory, with its attack on the meaning and originality of human action. The qualitative leap of which we have spoken should thereby be sought elsewhere. Namely in the promotion of a McCarthyist mentality which willingly extends the limits of action that can be taken to counter dissent, so as to include the bludgeoning and intimidation of dissidents, as well as taking up legal action against them.[xvii]
The legal persecution of dissidents finds legitimation in the practical and ideological exigencies associated with the outstanding conditions of military conflict. It should come as no surprise then, that President Bush has openly proclaimed his commitment to waging a ‘war on terrorism’ which, while giving rise to a state of emergency at home, does not incorporate a definite chronological or practical purview beyond which this campaign might be thought to have been brought to a successful conclusion. Legal coercion is the institutional dimension of authority, complementing the exercise of coercion on the ideological level in times of war.
I feel that a cursory examination of the methodology employed by entrenched academic opinion in their effort to maintain their state-affiliated monopoly in the production of knowledge is in order here. A habitual practice reserved for the disciplinary treatment of deviant political attitudes is to divert the focus of discussion away from the actual substance of an argument, emphasizing instead the ‘hidden’ political motives that impelled one to adopt a critical or unorthodox position. If we wed ourselves to the belief that cultural hegemony constitutes a basic institutional mechanism by which the maintenance of internal political order is facilitated, it becomes evident that no sooner is dissent expressed, than it is immediately invested with a political meaning. It follows that in a situation when war is upon a society, ideological identities and statements assume a characteristic sharpness that makes ideology an active factor in the conduct of conflict (maintaining morale, providing intellectual safeguards against internal subversion), and criticism will become marginalized and even criminalized.
This marks a qualitative shift in the methods and mechanisms by which the dominant culture cultivates and maintains its position of ascendancy vis-à-vis alternative cultural movements. In the consensual environment of representative democracy, cultural hegemony rests on the power to determine the boundaries and framework within which legitimate intellectual and political debate takes place. Yet, coercive as it may be, this model of hegemony relies for its operation on internalized obedience. By contrast, the repressive cultural paradigm denies even the legitimacy of this intellectual debate. While the consensual model conceives of the qualified exchange of ideas as its basis of authority, the repressive paradigm views it as a threat for the foundations of its power which rests on unconditional support and ‘organic’ identification with the objectives promoted by the elite. While the former is willing to ascribe even a limited amount of value to popular perceptions as a guide for the formulation of policy at the elite level, the latter reveals a fundamental mistrust of public opinion and of democratic procedure on the part of the elites.
Dissidents were previously treated with what we might call discrete opprobrium; they were dismissed as merely eccentric thinkers keen on instigating controversy, as respected colleagues upholding a required level of professionalism who are nonetheless simply in error, or vehemently denounced as outright opportunists whose work violates the principle of disinterested scientific research, which liberal science professes to uphold.[xviii] In fact, the limited appeal of their ideas was perceived as a type of token opposition, affirming the enduring power of established beliefs and discourses. Under the novel intellectual norm, deviations from the official interpretations of events are not viewed paternalistically as simple manifestations of scholarly naiveté or exhibitions of immature peevishness on the part of critics, but rather as an open threat to public order and the enforced conformity of views upon which the latter rests. This distinction is a material one since it points directly at the heart of the new paradigm of sovereignty. A pattern of legalized oppression emerges when the free exposition and exchange of ideas becomes an object for judicial inquiry. The USA Patriotic Act represents a significant step towards this trend of stifling democratic debate in the US and outlawing criticism. Official, legal incursions upon the formerly limited autonomy enjoyed by academics in the pursuit and exercise of their profession have become habitual to such an extent, that academics were led to publicly air their apprehensions through the newsletter of their official organ, the American Studies Association (ASA).[xix]
What does this tell us then about the character of the new regime in-the-making? If one looks at those scholars who have as of late become the objects of smear campaigns or legal persecution in the US, he would most likely opine that such brutish counter-measures are completely disproportionate to the real nature of the alleged threat.[xx] Such intolerance towards any instance of autonomous thought that might contradict the official line is indicative of a more profound transformation of the American political system. It shows that elite opinion has come to the understanding that no longer has the establishment the ability to withstand alternative points of view and absorb independent criticism. The neoconservative project currently underway does not rest on popular consent in order to obtain legitimation for its exertions, either domestically or internationally. Akin to totalitarian states of the past, its authority emanates from, a) its unlimited capacity for coercion. The project for homeland security commands an inexhaustible array of agencies and organizations, the scope of which aims inwardly at the protection and preservation of order and national security. The FBI, CIA, NSA are only the cream of an apparatus for domestic repression that would put even Stalinist Russia to shame, b) the systematic cultivation of fear among its citizenry on the pretext of ever-impending terrorist attacks and of omnipresent surrogate terrorists, whose evil dexterity allows them not only to endlessly escape the net cast upon them by US security services, but also to sustain a miraculous - under the circumstances - level of operational capability that might permit them to engage in offensive actions on US soil.[xxi] The intended effect to be induced from this regime of terror at home is most eloquently described in the words of the political prisoner / scholar Mumia Abu-Jamal, referring to the Bush administration’s efforts to convince the American public about the pressing need to invade Iraq militarily: “Yet, for millions of Americans, who gather their news from the common corporate basket of the major networks, their fear leads them to accept what their reason could not. And more than anything else, fear is driving the common people of this nation to endorse what Dr. Nelson Mandela has called ‘a holocaust’ in that region of the world”,[xxii] c) the sheer power of Image. In a 1976 theoretical statement issued by the leading revolutionary organization of the Black underground, we read: “One such factor that sets our struggle [for black liberation] apart from other struggles is the profound influence of organized technology on our consciousness, social relationships, and behavior. […] We are told what to buy, what to eat, whom to hate, and what to love, by rulers and controllers of an exploitative system”.[xxiii] It is this immense power of organized information technology that can even determine consciousness that has been put to use by the elites. The unqualified reiteration of government propaganda has increasingly become the main occupation of what was once principled investigative journalism. A forced jingoistic consensus is being imposed on all sectors of society through the treatment of the Sept.11 events as a taboo subject, thus reserving for the government a virtual monopoly on the interpretation of the latter and the exclusive right to devise policies on the basis of this official interpretation.[xxiv] The reproduction of Orwellian political vernacular by the media creates the space where a virtual inversion of established definitions is being carried out that serves as a justification for aggression. Hence, we are pounded with such absurd premises as ‘peace depends upon a stalwart resolve to go to war’, ‘we may bomb a people’s homeland, but we have no quarrel with the people itself’, ‘our enemies do not hate us; they love us’ and so on. As we have already seen, alternative conceptions are either discredited in McCarthyist fashion, suppressed (as in the underreporting of the activities of the anti-war movement), or openly persecuted as ‘suspect’ and unpatriotic. This collusion of the major information networks with the government, is accomplished either through the individual commitment of journalists not to neglect their ‘patriotic duty’ at times of war, or by means of executive coercion exercised by corporate headquarters from top to bottom.
We thus begin to comprehend why it is that the mere exercise of one’s rational faculties on matters of the intellect might be deemed a threat for the totalitarian order. Totalitarian regimes rest primarily on theological bases. The predominant body of knowledge is transmitted to society directly from the source of official authority, by means of vertical, hierarchical structures of dissemination and mediation. In this manner the production and reproduction of knowledge is inextricably bound to the political authority that gave rise to it and any attempt to approach this body of revealed truth with a critical disposition, automatically translates into an attempt to question the source of authority from which official truths emanate. In the absence of the artificial intellectual sphere within which the exchange of differing opinions assumes a regular and orderly character, namely civil society, a scholar’s occupation with alternative explanatory models becomes a manifestation of disorder, an irregularity that needs to be remedied.
To be sure, what is required of the intellectual is not simply to refrain from criticism. ‘Apolitical’, disinterested scientific research is also out of the question, since totalitarianism has no use for positivistic research claiming to maintain a veneer of objectivity. The essence of totalitarian rule lays in the gradual subordination of all fields of human endeavor to the ‘Great Cause’ the regime purportedly espouses, whether it be the battle for the revival of a past heroic ethic, the regeneration of forsaken national magnitude or the global struggle against imperialism. Indeed, it is involvement in such grandiose political projects, which supplies the very raison d’etre of a totalitarian regime.[xxv] Furthermore, concepts that are ostensibly neutral or value-free can provide the theoretical framework for the development of alternative systems of thought. Having said that the monopoly on the production of knowledge constitutes the ideological underpinning of any totalitarian apparatus, we realize that an active espousal and propagation of conventional wisdom is postulated as the one necessary prerequisite for embarking upon legitimate intellectual activity. This amounts to the application of the Friend / Foe antithesis on the spiritual level. Truths imparted by the regime must either be accepted unconditionally, or analyzed within a certain orthodox framework. As in the inquiries of medieval theology, independent reasoning is to be encouraged only insofar as it does not overstep the boundaries of faith and does not undermine confidence in the transcendental, inner truth of the belief-system.

3. Carl Schmitt and the Legal Revolution

Here I wish to take repose for a moment and proceed with a clarification of argument that might avert the possibility of my position being misconstrued in any way. A line of reasoning appears throughout this essay that could be perceived as basing its evaluation of the oppressive aspects of the current condition on a contradistinction with the attributes of the liberal democratic paradigm, thereby implying that a past democratic order guaranteeing a certain degree of freedom has been superseded by a totalitarian one. Yet, I feel I have went to great pains so as to demonstrate clearly that such a distinction is untenable. In fact, at the heart of my argument lays the identification of a direct line of continuation between the consensual paradigm that emerged at the wake of the Cold War and the model of authority that is currently on the ascendant. To speak of qualitative shifts in the methods by which governmental power is being exercised in the US is not to speak of a shift similar to the demolition of the Weimar Republic by the dictatorship of the Nazi party. We are rather trying to point at changes that pertain to the internal dynamic of a particular system of government and which are transforming the very nature of the system itself. The material difference here being that whereas the imposition of the Nazi despotic form of rule presupposed the effective abolition of the Weimar constitutional order, the imperial paradigm of authority does not call for the immediate suspension of the US constitution. There is no rupture, no radical break. Only the gradual evolution and crystallization of processes that have been long set in motion.[xxvi]
Indeed, the constitutional myth will be perpetuated if only for the purpose of providing an ideological veneer for the systematic accumulation of real political power among elite economic and political circles. It is this use of the Constitution as a theoretical tool mystifying the real source of political power which constitutes the ideological underpinning of the American system of government, past and present. Quite apart from acknowledging the disturbing array of obstacles hindering the implementation of rights ingrained in the US Constitution deriving from a capitalist society which operates on the basis of enormous social inequalities and an amazing concentration of wealth, one can also reason that constitutions are subject to amendment according to circumstance and with the full cover of legality.
Such a process of radical Constitutional reform constitutes the central pillar of the domestic political strategy of the Bush administration.
This strategy can be better understood and its implications for American democracy appreciated in their full extent, if viewed with regard for Carl Schmitt’s formulations on the classical political subject of Sovereignty. To be sure, one is so struck by the consistent similarities between the theoretical schema drawn by Schmitt and the evolving political trends inside the US that we may hypothesize about the extent to which policy makers in the white House are not only familiar with Schmitt’s writings but have also espoused, even unconsciously, the main thrust of his ultra-conservative ideas. In his treatise on Sovereignty, Schmitt attempts to resolve the question of the sovereign authority in a democracy through reference to the state of emergency. Rather than discussing a concrete historical situation in which the constitutional order is being abolished in favor of a form of emergency government by decree, Schmitt treats the state of emergency as a general notion, which refers not to exceptional situations of sociopolitical unrest but embodies the founding principle of the edifice of constitutional legality.[xxvii] According to Schmitt, the attribute par excellance of the sovereign is his ability to make decisions and invest those decisions with the binding force of law. Whereas in the framework of the rule of law the ability to arrive at such decisions is significantly inhibited by the compulsory search for systemic equilibrium owing to the effective division of powers, the extraordinary political circumstances which are typical of any state of emergency, indeed, without them a state of emergency would be little more than an irrelevance, constitute the appropriate backdrop against which the problem of sovereignty appears in its true colors. The state of emergency comes about as the necessary outcome of the breakdown of the status of orderliness. It amounts to the essential admission that new sociopolitical forces have made their appearance that cannot be controlled and marshaled into the institutional devices which guarantee regularity and the smooth functioning of the political system. What is required from the Schmittian sovereign is to restore this regularity, to reinvent a new political order that shall replace the old, defective one.[xxviii] Hence, it is understood that at the basis of any organized form of political life lays the sovereign decision by virtue of which the rules and limits of government are created. That all political systems are created ex nihilo is demonstrated by the fact that virtually all democratic Constitutions incorporate legal provisions which attempt to set out as clearly as possible the exact circumstances under which recourse to the original source of sovereignty is taken so that some semblance of order may be restored that will allow for the application anew of some sort of legal administrative canon. This the regime does in self-defense and in so doing, it implicitly asserts its right to existence beyond the scope of its legal personality.
Schmitt thus arrives at a positive definition of sovereignty as opposed to the negative conceptions of the sovereign which we find in the work of such liberal thinkers as Kelsen and Krabbe. While the preoccupation of positivist legal science with the criterion of normality allows only for conceiving the state of emergency as the negation of the constitutional status quo and for this reason designates the latter as an improper object of knowledge (the very criteria for regular observation resulting to knowledge are by definition absent from the exception), Schmitt identifies the state of emergency as the exceptional situation par excellance where the essentially positive character of sovereignty manifests itself in the emergency project for reconstructing authority. It must be noted that neither this process of radical reorganization of the basis of authority, nor the actual institutional forms through which power is exercised can come about as a result of activity that takes place outside the given political framework. The ancestry of the new regime will not be traced in any sort of violent takeover of the state, nor will it fashion its position in the annals of history through referring back to its glorious victory against the old order. Schmitt writes that the absolute sovereign exists “outside the normally extant legal order yet at the same time belongs to it, insofar as the responsibility falls to him for deciding on whether the force of the Constitution can be suspended in toto”.[xxix] The chief ideological myth of the oppressive model of authority is in fact this; that the new order is no more than a continuation of the democratic status quo. That it represents a modification of sorts, a necessary measure of self-defense, democracy’s vigilant response to the dangers that encircle it. Without this linear connection Empire is revealed for what it really is, namely a parasitic apparatus of coercion that has severed its links with the social organism, its only relationship to it being one of brutal domination.
It evinces from the above that the transformations of the forms and networks of power that are currently under way should not be regarded as simply an internal problem of the US, a strategy the scope of which extends no further than the physical borders of the latter. The superpower status of the US along with the predatory, imperial designs it has shown to entertain with respect for Iraq, do not allow us to remain indifferent to the domestic manifestations of ‘Bushism’. On the contrary, the fundamental interdependence between the articulations of domestic and foreign domination should be recognized. Both strategies form part of a broader, large-scale political project aimed at the effective reorganization of the structures of national and supranational authority so as to bring it more in tune with the exigencies and aspirations of global capital. It represents the elite solution to the problem of hybrid authority which arises as a logical consequence of the contradiction between a globally integrated economy and a political environment still fragmented into individual national states. Such a fusion bringing the national and international aspects together in a unified structure of command can only be accomplished through the adoption of increasingly authoritarian methods at home, and will obtain imperial connotations abroad for it is an enterprise essentially lacking in both legitimacy and popular support. Indeed, its purpose and rationale derive solely from the voracious appetites of the transnational elite who have found in US military capacity, with its awesome firepower and its unprecedented capabilities for swift deployment on a global scale, the apparatus of coercion necessary for global governance.[xxx]
How then should we respond to this colossal enterprise for the reorganization and extension of imperial command? Should we join the ranks of those liberals or ‘worthy progressives’ who continue to take issue with individual policies implemented by the Bush administration while at the same time overlooking the ‘objective’, systemic causes which have paved the way for the rise of this peculiar brand of reactionary neo-conservatism. To no avail do dissenters concentrate the main thrust of their criticisms against the tactics and initiatives undertaken by shadowy White House lobbyists and advisors. The crux of the matter is not the occasional lack of resolve or political will on the part of this administration or the next.
One of the principal faults in the strategic outlook of the anti-war movement has been precisely this; namely that its attacks have been largely directed against the reactionary nature of this administration and not of the political system as a whole.[xxxi] Proof of this assertion need not be merely argumentative. They can be empirically validated in the way in which Bush rose to power in spite of being a minority president, as well as in the tenuous resistance he encountered by Congress and Senate alike, in prosecuting his bellicose plan of a military invasion of Iraq. Were the New American Century a strategic vision confined to the minds of merely a handful of fanatics situated at the extreme right-wing fringe of the political spectrum, one would expect that the proper institutional mechanisms would have been put in operation to oppose such imperialist propensities. Yet we have seen no such power struggle to take place with regard to the Iraqi crisis. In my view there can be only two explanations for this fact. Either the ideal of Empire has seeped into the mainstream of political thought in the US, although one should not expect to find any overt recognition of it in the electoral platforms of the two parties, and an effective, albeit implicit bipartisan consensus has been reached concerning its practical feasibility and desirability as an end. Or we should treat Congressional inaction in the face of the mounting threat of war as an indication that the democratic control and accountability of governmental power can no longer be attained through the operation of institutional mediums. No matter which claim one chooses to endorse I think that my position can still be made to hold. The fact remains that the internal dynamics of the regime are the problem at hand, not the individuals that man it.

4. A Return to Legality?

Should we then assign ourselves the task of safeguarding bourgeois legality and providing a defense for the institutions of representation? Should we align ourselves politically with those civil society pressure groups, such as ATTAC, and lend our support to the reformist platform which they advocate? Not exactly. In my view, no purpose can be served by reproaching Bush for his transgressions on singular issues; his insensitivity to racial injustice (assault on diversity, color-blind policies on education, opposition to affirmative action), the ‘arrogant’ manner in which he conducts himself in his transactions with other nations, including friends and allies.[xxxii] There can be no talk of recapturing the forsaken democratic ideal of our institutions, or of reviving the post-war social contract by propping up the defunct welfare state. The new model of capitalist development under the aegis of globalization allows for no such digressions. The causes for this are structural, rather than political. Commendable as the efforts to fight neo-liberalism may be, they represent an attempt to constrain the internal dynamics of the economy, instead of harnessing its potential for the people’s benefit.[xxxiii] More importantly, they fail to offer recognition to the fact that globalization has spawned a novel capitalist class, a transnational elite with which real political power presently resides. The leaders of ATTAC insist on looking at globalization as a neo-liberal conspiracy. They view it as a process which can be reversed and therefore mistakenly stress the need for a reform of transnational economic institutions, instead of their complete abolition.
A similar point holds equally true for our analysis of representative government. For it was the bankruptcy of parliamentary democracy owing to the intrinsic practical flaws of the principle of the delegation and representation of interest, that have brought this impasse upon us to begin with. Three tendencies in particular can be distinguished which are indicative of the latent authoritarianism of the liberal creed and can be said to have paved the way for the advent of reaction, in the form of Bushism:
a) the traditional liberal distrust of the cognitive abilities of the masses and of their ability to engage into creative political action.[xxxiv] The depreciation of the potential which resides in collective political praxis, has given rise to the notion of the professional politician. According to elitist liberal theory, the practice of government in a modern, industrialized society is a complex task which requires a high level of technical sophistication and training on the part of government functionaries. It is better that the masses do not interfere with this process, except from the periodical casting of votes through which they may indicate their preference of one group of elite functionaries over another. Schumpeter may consider this as sufficient safeguard against the possibility of government by the technocratic elite turning into tyranny, yet his theoretical schema is replete with philosophical justifications and practical guidelines for the imposition of precisely that. Not only is the scope for democratic participation severely limited in the context of Schumpeter’s elitist system, but he goes even further by asserting that this is indeed a desirable state of affairs, for he states that the ignorance and immaturity of the populace prevents them from making informed, rational choices on political matters. The obvious implication of his position is that since the masses have neither the intellectual depth, nor the capacity to decide on what is in their interest, they should concede this right to rulers who are better equipped in this respect. What is more, the people are divested from even the most rudimentary means of acquiring some knowledge of the political process and, in consequence, of measuring the choices being made on their behalf, since the issues involved in technocratic government are placed irredeemably beyond the reach of their primitive intellect. In this manner the initial raison d’etre of Schumpeter’s system becomes the sine qua non condition for its existence. A thorough refutation of Schumpeter’s claims falls outside the scope of this essay. Suffice it to say that one cannot reproach the people about their ineptitude and ignorance of political affairs, without affording them the opportunity for a direct involvement in the process of government, which would enable them to acquire immediate experience and knowledge of the methods and practices of administration. Conversely, I hope to have shown that the elitism of the liberal model restricts the scope for popular participation in politics and fosters the growth of paternalistic attitudes, which, if taken to their logical extreme, ineluctably lead to Fascism.
b) the myth of civil society. According to orthodox liberal theory, civil society represents the domain in which the individual can exercise his will and pursue his economic interests, independently and without interference from the government. In this respect, liberalism is deemed to afford the individual with a greater degree of autonomy vis-à-vis the government than any other political system. Yet, certain legitimate objections might be raised concerning both the quality of freedom enjoyed by the individual in this seemingly apolitical sphere of activity and the trajectory of aims and purposes that this notion of freedom encapsulates. Firstly, the apolitical character of civil society is in my view, largely a chimera. In fact, I maintain that insofar as civil society relies on the legal structures and political power of the liberal state to support and vouchsafe its existence and not on any form of autonomous popular power, its relationship to the power structure cannot but be one of dependency and domination. This raises the question of the trajectory of freedom. Our interpretation of the meaning of the ‘apolitical’ should go further than any conventional liberal definition dare take us. In other words, we should not understand the apolitical civil society simply to mean a sphere of activity which has no direct bearing upon the political process as such and exists independently of and in a relationship of total neutrality to competing political factions and interests. An extended definition should include the necessity that any form of activity which takes place in civil society must remain indifferent and apathetic towards political affairs, or, at best, should engage in political activity which does not deviate from the norm of the liberal status quo and does not pose a credible challenge against its authority. The autonomous character of civil society is annulled, and the fact of its total dependency upon state power thereby forcefully asserted, the moment that one of the above terms is violated. The historical example of the Nation of Islam (N.O.I.) is particularly instructive in this respect. Being as it is a religious formation, the N.O.I.’s trajectory of aims and activities are confined to the sphere of civil society and should therefore normally fall under the protection of the constitutional provisions on matters of faith that apply for other groupings of religious worship in the US.[xxxv] However, its emphasis on programs aiming at the economic self-help of Afro-American communities and its role as a grass-roots movement acting as a focal point for Black Nationalism in the US, has brought to bear upon it the full force of the repressive apparatus of the state.[xxxvi] Under this light, a general principle can be stated according to which the formative criterion determining the degree of freedom conferred upon the agents of civil society, is the attitude the latter adopt towards the political establishment. In short, not only is the claim disproved that civil society is a free, apolitical sphere of individual activity, but, on the contrary, it appears to be one of the main disciplinary institutions of liberal democracy, under the direct rule and control of government. The implication of this assumption is that such an artificial construct, relying exclusively on governmental power for its survival, can be revoked at will by the elites, if the need arises.
c) the spread of a culture of conformism. I think it safe to assume that the main focus of opposition against which the poststructuralist discourses of the 1970s developed was that vision of emancipation projected by that genus of radical, social theory which based itself on the traditional Enlightenment ideas of progress, rationality and so on. In their effort to develop a critique of traditional, mostly Marxist, projects of liberation, poststructuralist thinkers such as Foucault, Lyotard and Derrida attacked the very possibility of constructing ‘grand narratives’; that is to say, large-scale political programs aimed at completely abolishing or reforming the existing institutional framework with a view for eliminating all forms of oppression and exploitation from the social realm.[xxxvii] As a result of the predominance of poststructuralist discourses in the years following the turbulent 1960s, the popular appeal of revolutionary politics has been severely undermined in post-industrial society and a strong sense of impotence against institutionalized power has been inexorably impressed upon the collective psyche of the masses.[xxxviii] What is more, the progressive project has fallen into disrepute due to the theme which consistently runs through all aspects of poststructuralist discourse that all theoretical systems which postulate human liberation to be their ultimate objective are prone to some form of totalitarian tendency which their professed aim serves to conceal. Hence, if all possibility for the articulation of meaningful political criticism is thus dismissed, the rise of conformism and the reproduction of stereotypical patterns of thought and action is all that necessarily remains.[xxxix]
It follows then from the aforementioned observations that liberal democracy in its post-industrial, historical manifestation is an elitist form of government with hardly any links to the historical democratic traditions of ancient Greece and the Enlightenment. The evolution of American democracy into its contemporary oppressive variant offers empirical evidence for our claim. Not only has the American system of government proved unable to evolve towards the direction of even greater democratization by grasping the positive potentialities latent within the crisis that it underwent during the 1960s and 1970s, but it has failed even in the task of safeguarding those democratic rights and liberties that were enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, considered by the Founding Fathers of the American nation as the moral foundation from which the rationale and legitimacy of the anti-colonial struggle and their quest for an independent United States were drawn.
Insofar as representative government serves to obstruct the multitude form gaining any substantial access to the power process, so long as it restricts political participation and promotes the self-interested, private individual as the ideal type of citizen, insofar as it cultivates a notion of politics as craft, demanding specialized skills possessed only by professional politicians, it can have but the following outcome; first, the virtual disappearance of the public sphere and the spread of a culture of passivity, which having reached immense proportions, has now undermined the very foundations upon which the legitimacy of the democratic form of rule rests.[xl] Second, the growth of a relationship of excessive reliance and dependency of the masses upon the given institutional framework, accentuated by the ahistorical perception of the state as something external to society, and therefore permanent and immutable. Incapable of generating conceptual frameworks and value-systems of its own, the multitude increasingly identifies its values, hopes and aspirations with those upheld and dictated by the system. Such an inability to distinguish between the interests of the community in a broader sense on the one hand, and that of the oligarchic state apparatus on the other, marks a radical departure from classical democratic ideas on government while bringing us closer to the ‘organic’ conception of the State advocated by Fascism.[xli] And third, the gradual loss of the intellectual instruments by which the multitude may exercise effective control over the designs and actions of its rulers. The consequence of this tendency is twofold. First, questions of how we are to achieve the greater degree of autonomy and freedom are viewed as falling outside the scope of the vocation of politics. Indeed, the very meaning of those terms escapes the vast majority of citizens who conceive of freedom in purely negative terms. Furthermore, the modern state has accomplished not only to wrest political power from the hands of the people but it has attached to the political process so unfavorable a connotation that it has become a source of personal dignity and satisfaction for the average man not to associate himself in any way with politics.[xlii]

5. Bush ‘Leads’

One recurring theme has received considerable emphasis in official statements and remarks made by members of the Bush administration and by scholarly apologists of its policies, from Sept.11th onwards. Neoconservative theoreticians have focused on the theme of leadership in an effort to provide an alternative basis of legitimacy for a regime in crisis. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that in want of a strong democratic mandate and in the absence of a clear expression of solid popular support, the Bush administration has relied exclusively on the management of the post-Sept.11th crisis in order to gain a degree of approval from the population. It must be noted that this tacit approval is in fact a democratic oxymoron, insofar as it has less to do with a genuine popular sentiment on which the Bush government based its electoral victory and more with a subsequent endorsement of Bush’s methods and tactics in the course of the terror crisis. This becomes all the more evident given the almost exclusive attention that has been given in the agenda of the Bush administration to matters of national security and foreign policy, largely at the expense of urgent domestic issues such as the economic recession or the question of racial equality.
The shift away from the institutional resources embedded in the democratic system which guarantee its responsiveness to the needs of the social body and provide it with a certain degree of legitimacy has brought about a corresponding modification of governmental practices away from the democratic principle of collective responsibility and a novel emphasis on the merits of strong patriarchic models of leadership. It is safe to argue that in the aftermath of Sept.11th, the US have evolved towards an increasingly centralized model of presidential democracy which not only stresses the role of the Head of State as political authority supreme in the system, but also operates on the assumption that such concentration of power is indeed preferable to its dispersion throughout the sociopolitical spectrum. Such notions on government are particularly appealing in times of turmoil and crisis, when they have the effect of providing psychological comfort and a false sense of security to a distressed, frightened population.
The attacks of Sept.11th provided Bush with an opportunity to remake his image and obtain a following among a population who had initially rejected him, personally as a candidate and had disapproved of his proposals for an investment boost through an extensive program of tax-cuts. It has been suggested by some, albeit implicitly, that the government was aware of the threat of the attacks on the WTO even before they occurred. On my part, I do not wish to argue that State officials had any previous knowledge of the atrocities or that they allowed them to take place with a view for gaining some political advantage from the turmoil that would ensue. However, I am fairly confident of the fact that the strategic response of the Bush government to the terrorist challenge was designed less to mitigate and contain the consequences which terrorism had on American society and more as a means to perpetuate and stabilize its pernicious impact upon the function of American institutions.
There can be no doubt that the decision to take the US to war was in essence a political decision. That is, it represents a conscious strategic choice made by policy-makers, imposed upon the American people not by the force of events, but through a carefully calculated selection of the option of war over an alternative set of appropriate strategic responses to the threat of international terrorism. Involving the US in a seemingly unending conflict made it possible for Bush not simply to invert the largely negative impressions of him created in the course of numerous public relations blunders that he committed during his electoral campaign. The effect of the War on Terrorism is far more serious than a mere public relations stunt. What Bush and his team of advisors have accomplished since Sept.11th is to have situated the Presidency at the center of the networks of power that comprise the US state apparatus, by altering the institutional balance of power in favor of the executive branch of government. In short, Bush did not embark on the war on terrorism so as to increase his popularity or divert attention from the subservience of his government to the vested interests of big capital. He did so in order that he won’t have to do these things.
Our claim will be illuminated further by briefly examining the President’s role with respect to the recent Iraqi war. The institutional power struggle that took place between the Presidency and the legislative instruments of the US democratic system ended with the defeat of Congress and the “serial surrender of the constitutional power to declare war, [which] has passed wholly into the President’s hands”.[xliii] The pragmatic nature of this strategic shift is reflected on the neoconservative articulations that have been produced to account for the necessity of such a change. In the context of the war on terrorism the relationship between the American people and its President has been redefined on the basis of Bush’s role as war-time leader. The conduct of battle does not rest on the practices of debate, mediation and consultation so central to the democratic creed. Instead, it requires a great amount of resolve on the part of the leader to make decisions and embark on policies not necessarily well received by others. He does not debate these policies. He proceeds to enforce them even in the face of opposition, for he possesses the spherical perception of events, the overall strategic pattern which his critics lack. This monopoly of knowledge makes his claim to leadership legitimate and his authority unquestionable.
In connection to the Iraqi war such notions on leadership were employed by neoconservative apologists of this neo-imperialist venture to respond to the overwhelming anti-war sentiment among the population. Under this prism, any expression of popular opposition to government policy is interpreted not as an indication of the misconstrued or reactionary nature of the latter. On the contrary, it is taken as revealing the intrinsic burdens of leadership, as confirmation of the fact that certain decisions might be necessary, albeit unpopular. Consequently, it becomes an attribute of the great statesman to withstand public pressure and carry on with a predetermined course of action even when faced with dissent from his peers and opposition from his people. In this manner, popular attitudes articulated in mass movements and pressure groups are denied their value as a criterion according to which the success of a government’s performance can be measured. I am not suggesting here that the old Marxist fiction should be revived which held that there was such a moral entity as ‘the people’ which could be relied upon to determine through its professed preference which political strategy or political party was truly working-class or progressive.[xliv] What I am trying to show is that this ideal and pure image of the people has been inverted in neoconservative mythology to render us with the traditional conservative conception of the people as mob, as an ignorant, irrational mass, indeed a threat which needs to be managed and contained.
As of necessity, the President and the extent of his authority becomes subject to ideological mystification, his image as an elected occupant of public office bound by clearly defined legal restrictions on his power, is distorted by attaching to it a mythical dimension deriving from his role as chief strategist in the struggle against terrorism. Insofar as established power has developed a form of rule which in many ways departs from classical democratic practices, it follows that it cannot but function on the basis of a system of self-legitimation, a power-paradigm that finds its ethical justification in itself. It could not be otherwise since the people have ceased to be the agent of political power and have been assigned with the role of its passive subject instead. The President becomes a moral entity, not merely a devoted servant of society but the exponent of some notion of the ‘greater good’, the obvious difference being that while in the first instance a generally accepted definition of the greater good is already at work, in the second the President takes it upon himself to advance his own conception of what constitutes common good in accordance with his own personal vision. He thereby becomes the setter of the political norm, which can by definition aim solely at enabling him to accumulate further powers, given that such is the prerequisite for carrying out his appointed task.
Such an Imperial Presidency cannot be occupied by a man of modest but respectable virtues, a conventional statesman of distinguishable yet mortal talents. This President may not admit to defects neither of character, nor of political foresight. The gigantic public relations operation presently carried out by the US mainstream corporate media, with all of their despotic power of persuasion has as ultimate objective to create an artificial image of Bush as the man of steel, the untiring persecutor of the enemies America, the fearless cowboy who does not shriek in the face of sacrifice. In short, a transformation from elected President to spiritual Leader of the Nation is slowly being completed. Other candidates can compete for winning the Presidency but none to acquire a similar ethical mandate from the American people. There exists as much difference between the two, as existed in the distinction between Adolf Hitler’s official title of Reich’s Chancellor and that of Furher of the German Volk. The former referred to the formal position of a state functionary, one of power but legally codified power nonetheless. The latter describes a spiritual connection between the German people and its leader, an oath of allegiance more powerful than any display of approval manifested in electoral results.
Even within the monolith of Nazi Germany the daily affairs of state were conducted under a semblance of normality, of cooperation between individual sectors of government and Hitler, the Chancellor. As Rector in the University of Heidelberg, Heidegger could debate and consult with Hitler on matters of academic policy, on the nature and quality of National Socialist education and so on. Hitler’s military chiefs could always object to one of his ambitious military plans or another, albeit it was due to their failure to do so on occasions that mattered most, that humanity was made to pay the terrible toll of lives lost in World War II. Yet, when Hitler the Fuhrer spoke, all kept their quiet. The fuhrerprinzip was the real source of Hitler’s power. It is no accident that one of the first actions of Hitler as Fuhrer was to replace the old oath of allegiance that every officer in the German Reichswehr was obliged to take on appointment, with an oath pledging unconditional loyalty to Hitler personally. Seventy years after Hitler rose to power in Germany, a similar tactic was employed by US army commanders in Iraq. A pamphlet circulated among troops stationed in the Middle East awaiting to march on Baghdad, specifying the soldiers’ “Christian Duty in Time of War”. In it, GIs were urged to “Pray that the President and his advisers will be strong and courageous to do what is right regardless of critics”. Other suggestions for prayer included that, “the President and his advisers will be safe, healthy, well-vested and free from fear” and that they “will recognize their divine appointment”![xlv] Alas, even now it seems that Hitler is not without his admirers.

6. The Political Sociology of Bushism

a) Evangelical Christians

“War produces many terrible things. But amazingly, it also produces good things. It points out the difference between good and evil. It underscores the fact that nothing in this world can be counted on to produce peace and love, aside from the gracious hand of a loving God. It reminds us that life in this world is precarious at best. God allows war to drive men to their knees and acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior”.

Dr. Edward Hindson, ‘God, Satan and War’

There are two important misconceptions we first ought to dispel before we begin to understand the phenomenon of the American religious right. In the first place we should refrain from making comparisons between the post-war model of European Christian Democracy and that of American religious conservatism. The Christian Democratic parties which dominated political life after World War II in Germany, Italy and elsewhere were the products of a political compromise reached between antagonistic social forces and reflected a basic agreement concerning the general rules and framework within which political activity would be carried out. In addition, the fact that Christian Democratic parties emerged as the hegemonic force in post-war European politics meant that they were entrusted with the responsibility of preserving the political consensus which enabled the newly-founded democratic system to operate effectively. By implication Christian Democrats assumed the role of a responsible party of government, as was the case in Italy and Germany, defending thereby the secular political order to which the post-war settlement had given rise. An internal ideological transformation took place that enabled Christian Democratic parties to adapt their politics to the requirements of the democratic system. A moderate political line was introduced so as to allow Christian Democrats to forge alliances with other parties, execute political maneuvers as well as to keep the more extreme religious elements within the party under control.[xlvi] Indeed, the very fact that the Catholic Church saw in the emergence of a distinct Christian Democratic political tendency the only institutional vehicle available for the defense of its economic and social interests, is proof that the Vatican could no longer exercise its influence upon society directly within an essentially secular framework, where the separation of Church and State had become an institutional reality.
On the other hand, no such occasions of experimentation of organized religion with forms and models of democratic representation are encountered in the history of American Protestantism. Religious conservatism, a tendency representing some 46% of the overall US population,[xlvii] has not sought to establish any independent political formations taking part in the political process and interacting regularly with other political parties. This development was not without repercussions for both the two dominant parties in the US and for the internal constitution of pressure-groups of a religious denomination. In want of an alternative political outlet, the religious concerns of the Christian electoral constituency have been incorporated in the electoral platforms of Democrats and Republicans alike. Both parties have purported to draw inspiration from Christian principles in formulating their visions for society, while individual party leaders have declared themselves devout Christians in an effort to identify themselves politically with this vast religious-oriented segment of the US electorate. Former president Jimmy Carter had publicly affirmed his strong religious commitment by declaring himself a born-again Christian, while George W. Bush in pursuing the Republican presidential nomination of 2000, stated that “Jesus was his favorite political philosopher”.[xlviii]
One might be tempted to suggest that such declarations are purely nominal professions of faith aimed at advancing the potential for electoral success of one candidate or the other, but at the same time we cannot imagine that the support of Christian groups has no impact whatsoever on the formulation of official party programs as well as actual government policy. A fact that is all the more accentuated by the nature of evangelical interest groups in the US, the considerable economic and political power which they possess and the extremist, medieval theology which they embrace. By acting as a powerful pressure group external to the US political system, religious conservatism has maintained an indirect degree of involvement in party politics and has tried not to adjust its pursuits and ideology to the requirements of democratic pragmatism, but in an historical inversion of the European model, has sought to adjust the system to its own conception of what the latter should be. In short, evangelist leaders are engaged in a continuous attempt to ‘convert’ the American political system along with American society as a whole.
The very notion of a pressure group’s mode of operation brings us closer to an understanding of why this has come about. It is only natural for an interest group, far from pursuing any kind of compromise regarding its interests and its dominant set of values, to remain rigorously attached to the central ideological tenets that comprise its distinct worldview and try to achieve the most comprehensive application possible of these values on the social sphere. In other words, whereas active participation in democratic politics has fostered a rather tolerant, modernized version of religiously-oriented politics in the Continent, the pressure-group system in the US has given rise to a precisely opposite politico religious trend, marked by intolerance, a strong sense of exclusivism and fundamentalist ideological beliefs.
Characteristically we may refer to the remarks made by prominent leaders of the Christian Right at the wake of the attacks of Sept.11th. In a TV show hosted by fellow-evangelist Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, leader of the Moral Majority coalition, “blamed the attacks on, among others, ‘the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians’”.[xlix] Such comments are illustrative of the obscurantist beliefs which inform the fundamentalist worldview of evangelical Christian leaders. A further indication comes from the positions they have voiced on actual matters of public policy. As far as education is concerned, the Christian Right has gone further than most Christian political movements in its definition of what constitutes a proper Christian, public education, by lashing out fanatical attacks against the secular educational curriculum. Darwin’s theory of evolution has come repeatedly under fire from Christian coalition leaders who have demanded, and in some States got, its exemption from official educational courses.
Many formal positions of the Christian Right vis-à-vis important issues of both domestic and foreign policy derive their ideological legitimation from literary, fundamentalist interpretations of the Scriptures and the Holly Bible. Apart from the political reasons discussed above, an additional explanation for this tendency can be found in the theological nature of American Protestantism. The brand of religion which the original settlers brought with them from Europe into the New World was Puritanism, an extreme, purist theological creed embodying the individualist concept of divine predestination for all human beings and calling for the application of a rigid and absolute moral code of human conduct so that the good, ‘clean’ life could be achieved.[l]
This was a religious movement that had openly questioned the legitimacy of the King of England on religious grounds and was persecuted by the established Church on account of such criticisms. By arrival on the New World the Puritans proclaimed America their ‘Promised Land’, a place where they would be free to practice their fundamentalist religious beliefs and build the City of God upon earth. I am not suggesting here that the Puritan dogma has managed to withstand the corrosive effect of time and has somehow retained its original spiritual élan that animated its 16th century adherents and its potency as a social force among the American Protestants of today. Yet, it must be understood that for all its individualism, Puritanism conceived of religion in much broader terms than as a mere private profession of faith. It taught that the fulfillment of the word of God was as much a matter of the morally correct ordering of the community, as it was a matter of private exertion, thereby seeking to extend religious control over all spheres of human activity.[li] And albeit religious influence has weakened in the sense that present-day believers do not necessarily uphold the principle of ascetic conduct in their daily lives, the historical impact of Puritanism in shaping the major intellectual trends that dominate mainstream political culture in America should not be underestimated. For instance, the doctrine of Manifest Destiny by virtue of which 19th century, American expansionism was endowed with a higher, providential dimension and was presented almost as a moral responsibility imposed upon the US by a superior external will working in accordance with some divine plan, is merely the translation into the field of international relations of the Puritan doctrine of predestination of the individual. Similarly, military victory and conquest became for US statesmen the ultimate criterion by which the correct moral character of an imperialist, expansionist venture could be affirmed, in the same manner as material wealth and individual prosperity was interpreted by the Puritans as a sign of one enjoying the favor of divine providence.[lii]
The residual effect of Puritan religious concepts upon mainstream political discourse may be explained in terms of the differences between the mode of historical development of modern European society on the one hand, and that of the US on the other. Whereas in Europe the movement for modernity evolved against the background of a constant and relentless struggle against the archaic forms of social and ideological domination sustaining the power of the Old Regime, a conflict adequately captured by the historical formula of ‘capitalism versus feudalism’, the US did not experience such historical convulsions. The work ethic incorporated in the brand of religion preached by the Puritans was in perfect harmony with the aims of capitalist accumulation and development espoused by the young, enterprising and assertive US bourgeoisie. It follows that while the rise and consolidation of European modernity presupposed the abolishment of religious authoritarianism and the limitation of the role of the Church within the narrow boundaries of the private sphere of the individual, in the States the two projects, capitalist development and religious instruction were complementary and indeed supported one another. Hence religion occupied a position of central importance in the social construct of American modernity and was able to insert its ideological input into various intellectual, political and social manifestations of the newly-founded American republic.
The strong Protestant upbringing of individual political leaders along with the critical electoral weight of the religious conservative group of voters, owing to the objective class and racial divisions affecting the social composition of the US electorate with the implication of dividing the latter into an active and an inactive segment, are additional factors contributing in the maintenance and perpetuation of a strong religious presence into the milieu of mainstream political culture.[liii] Depending on their electoral clout, Evangelical Christians have always been able to exercise their influence upon the formation of elite political opinion. Their related interests and conservative values always found adequate representation in the positions expressed in party electoral platforms, particularly those propounded by the Republican Party. Yet, the contemporary level of direct involvement of Evangelicals in elite politics is virtually without historical precedent. A recent convention of the Christian Coalition of America began with a “videotaped benediction straight from the Oval office”.[liv] Pat Robertson, the coalition’s founder, is a one-time presidential candidate, while one of the main Republican speakers in the convention, Tom DeLay, has recently assumed the influential office of majority leader of the House of Representatives. The institutionalized power of Evangelical Christians is far greater now than it ever was in the past. This fact cannot but be reflected in the regressive political tendencies exhibited by the Bush administration in relation with its treatment of domestic issues and in the aggressive, imperial stance it has adopted in the field of international relations.

[i] Characteristically, Perle writes that the newly-acquired capability of the US to collect intelligence regarding the accurate location of legitimate targets and destroy those targets with detailed precision and devastating effectiveness, “means that politically we can use force in a way that would not have been possible if we had to create a Dresden [in terms of the levels of destruction and the rate of human casualties]”. In R.Perle, Lessons of Operation Iraqi Freedom
[ii] In P.Anderson, Force and Consent, p.6, New Left Review, Sept.-Oct. 2002.
[iii] In Ed.Said, Orientalism; Western Conceptions of the Orient (Penguin; London, 1995), p.16.
[iv] The Nation
[v] For instance, one cannot examine American insistence on a military intervention in Iraq, irrespective from the financial ties connecting the Bush administration to the powerful business-oil sector which supported the latter’s rise to power and, arguably, exerts a considerable amount of influence on the formulation and implementation of policy. As Adam Zagorin wrote in Time magazine, “[Oil] Industry resources tell TIME that oil-service companies like Schlumberger, Baker Hughes and Halliburton as well as construction giant Bechtel Group could split contracts worth up to 2$ billion for getting Iraq’s infrastructure back in shape. US and European oil conglomerates will scramble for rights to exploit Iraq’s oil deposits. But the Europeans are worried that the US might see the postwar period as payback time for their governments’ foot dragging on the war”. In A.Zagorin, The Spoils of War, p.26, Time (Feb. 17, 2003).
[vi] In his outline for a “principled response” of liberal democratic states when confronted with the terrorist menace, Paul Wilkinson writes: “no surrender to the terrorists and an absolute determination to defeat terrorism within the framework of the rule of law and the democratic process”. In P.Wilkinson, The Strategic Implications of Terrorism, p.13 (
[vii] In his analysis of this trend towards participatory democracy, Richard Rorty derides the demand for greater participation as by and large utopian. He concedes that the old reformist Left is presently bankrupt, yet his professed solution towards the revival of a left-wing alternative in American politics is the espousal of a legalistic strategy of piecemeal reforms, in accordance with the norms of constitutional order. Not surprisingly he calls for abandoning any notion of ‘power to the people’ that gave the student radical left its revolutionary impetus during the 1960s, and for a renewed trust in benevolent initiatives coming ‘from the top’. However, Rorty’s appeal to pragmatism is in the face of current events, utterly misconstrued. His law-abiding stance in relation with constitutional order, begs the question since it is by constitutional means that Bush’s repressive strategy is put into effect. To rely on the constitution and the prescribed framework of political activity, entirely misses the point, for it is constitutional liberties that are under severe attack and it is us who need to protect them. The constitution shall amount to little more than a dead document, if its spirit fails to animate all aspects of American society and of the American way of life in general. Only at the event that a powerful and vibrant cult of ‘civic virtue’, in the Machiavellian sense, is at work in society and only if the idea is firmly embedded in the people’s minds, that the defense of freedom is a responsibility which rests solely with them rather than any judicial authority, and requires their ever-present vigilance, can Constitutional gains be safeguarded from attempts to neutralize them or render them devoid of meaning. Once we adopt this perspective on things, Rorty’s exhortations to put our trust in the elites, seems ill-thought and even naïve. It is the increase of elite power that the masses should guard against, particularly so when it comes to the US where gigantic corporations seem to be firmly in control of the political process. How one can expect the elites to guard the interests of the masses, if pressure is not brought to bear on the establishment by way of organizing the masses into a movement for the purpose of protecting these very same interests? For my part, I consider this line of thought as the finest specimen of political pragmatism, relieved from the defeatist connotations of Rorty’s position. For further reading of Rorty see, R.Rorty, Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (Polis; Athens, 2000), pp.53-131.

[viii] For an interesting analysis of the conservatism displayed by the Democratic party on the question of racial discrimination in the US see the monumental work by S.Carmichael & Ch.Hamilton, Black Power; The Politics of Liberation in America (Cape LTD; London, 1968).
[ix] In C.Schmitt, The Meaning of the Political (Critical Editions; Athens, 1988), p.17.
[x] It is no accident that according to Brady Kissling, a former US diplomat who resigned in protest of the unilateral tactics followed by the current US administration, the inner presidential circle in Washington is dominated by hardliners, whom Kissling, rather euphemistically calls ‘doers’. Namely, men of action, driven by a warlike mentality that dismisses consultation and negotiation as a waste of time and effort. In Eleftherotypia, pp.18-9, 08/03/03.
[xi] It should be noted here that the connection between the new imperial doctrine and traditional Orientalist discourse, extends further than incidental ideological affinity. One of the chief ideologues of President Bush’s heavy-handed treatment of Arabs in general is Bernard Lewis a leading Orientalist thinker and a pro-Israeli advocate. Lewis is a member of the President’s inner circle and his influence in the inception and formulation of the basic principles of Bush’s foreign policy, particularly as regards the Middle East, has been tremendous. Lewis has also taken up the role of a fervent apologist for a US military intervention in Iraq, since he feels that there can be no reasoning with Arabs. They will only respond to “resolute will and force” and due to their backwardness are incapable of achieving a regime of self-government on their own. For Lewis, external intervention by a progressive Western power is the only means available for the modernization of the Arab world to be accomplished. For further details about Lewis see L.Andoni, In the Service of Empire, Al-Ahram Weekly (No. 616, 12-18 Dec. 2002).
[xii] As Edward Said writes in connection to late 18th century Orientalism, “Taking the late eighteenth century as a very roughly defined starting point Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient­-dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as s Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient”. In Ed.Said, Orientalism (Penguin Books; London, 1995), p.3.
[xiii] The ongoing ‘war on terrorism’ is underlined by a similar negative notion of what constitutes terrorist activity or not. How can one claim that the prevailing view of ‘terrorism’ as such, is a useful analytical category when it lumps together radical Islamists with Basque separatists, Italian Marxists with Palestinian freedom-fighters? Particularly so, when such an identification is used by the US government as a guiding principle for the formulation of internal and external policy. Again, opposition to the status quo is the sole arbitrary criterion in accordance with which this campaign of global repression has been inaugurated. Evidence for our assertion can be found in the fact that under the official perspective there is slim possibility for a guerrilla movement to be recognized as legitimate. Indeed one might go so far as to claim that within the formal doctrine the conceptual equipment for arriving at such a justification and legitimation of a popular movement of armed resistance does not exist. Under this light, the logic behind the ‘war on terrorism’ is oppressive and monolithic.
[xiv] A similar claim is equally valid as regards the method applied in the synthesis and compilation of Nazi historiography. E.H.Dance has observed that national socialist historians did not rely upon the crude manufacture of lies in order to arrive at a partisan version of historical events. They rather engaged in a circumspect and selective recording of events that could be employed in support of the official historical point of view, simultaneously suppressing those facts that might militate against Nazi claims. For a useful discussion see, E.H.Dance, History the Betrayer: A Study in Bias (London; Hutchinson, 1960), pp.55-6.
[xv] As G.Leff writes in his examination of the constraints upon reason which are inherent in the structures of theological thought, “Clearly an outlook which is founded upon a guiding set of assumptions cannot claim to be unconcerned with where the argument leads or uncommitted to certain fundamental propositions”. In G.Leff, Medieval Thought, St. Augustine to Ockham (London; Penguin Books, 1978), p.11.
[xvi] Arran Gare views the spread of conformism as a byproduct of the prevalent status obtained by the postmodern cultural paradigm in post-industrial Western societies. For an exposition see A.Gare, Post-Modernism as the Decadence of the Social Democratic State, in Democracy & Nature, vol.7, p.91 (March 2001).
[xvii] Reactionary circles employ a variety of forms of action in order to silence opposition forces. Their repertoire includes the setting up of informal, ostensibly private organizations charged with the task of effectively policing the academic community and defining the limits of legitimate intellectual debate. Such organizations are Daniel Pipes’ Campus Watch, a pro-Zionist, anti-Arab association with clear ties to the Republican ruling elite. His aim is to ensure the conformity of the debate that takes place in academia, with the official line adopted by the government in relation to the Palestinian question. Professors whose views might conflict with official claims are singled out by Campus Watch, their names aggregated in ‘black’ lists, charges of anti-Semitism leveled against them. All types of activity are encouraged in an effort to suppress their opposing views, ranging from their ousting from academia to e-bombing and threats of physical violence. The Anti-Defamation League performs a similar function with respect for the so-called revisionist historians who seek to offer an alternative historical account of the Jewish Holocaust and of the conventional assumptions underlying the formal presentation of this tragedy by mainstream historians. At this point, we should call attention to the fact that these oppressive projects find their common denominator in their defense of established views concerning the real historical role of Jews, which in turn, forms an integral part of the mythology of the Zionist movement. Thus the political nexus is revealed between the interests of Zionist political circles and the articulations of US ruling ideology. This is a question to which we intend to come back later in this essay.
[xviii] David Irving, the best known of all revisionist historians, has been repeatedly in the receiving end of such high-handed attitudes on the part of the intellectual establishment. Radical historians, particularly ‘holocaust deniers’, have continually suffered the scorn of mainstream intellectuals and a refusal to engage in discussion with them, to contest and evaluate their unconventional positions. This is in all actuality a totalitarian practice since it aims at the total annihilation of the dissident thinker, the complete negation of the ontological status of the controversial writer as an intellectual. At the same time, it reinforces the standing definition of ‘intellectual’ and galvanizes its cohesion against those who aim at undermining the conventions on which this definition rests. Such tacit attitudes are complemented by the banishment of the dissident from elite literary clubs and societies and by organized boycotts aimed at preventing the contested writer from finding publishing outlets for his work. The following extract from a David Irving speech is quite instructive in this respect: “You see, even on the Adolf Hitler biography I took a very independent line, a line which had my agent Max Becker very alarmed when I published that book. He said: You realize you are going to lose a lot of money by claiming that Adolf Hitler didn’t know what was going on, in short, that Adolf Hitler didn’t know about Auschwitz and so on. He said, well, the first thing is that you’re going to lose the Book-of-the-Month Club, the Readers Digest, the Sunday Times in England is going to cancel, you’ll lose the Military History Club, and so on. And he was right: all the way down the line, we lost every single one of those contracts, every single one of those publishers cancelled the deal”. These remarks were delivered at the 1983 International Revisionist Conference and can be found at
[xix] See US Scholars Attack Campus ‘Intimidation’, P.Curtis, in The Guardian, 17/02/03.
[xx] Characteristically we may refer to those academics whose only crime has been to adopt an independent train of thought on questions such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Their names are usually found in the ‘black lists’ issued by Campus Watch, which has gone so far as to suggest that many of those commentators are either implicitly pro-terrorist, by virtue of the position they are assuming, or active foot-soldiers, directly in the service of terrorist organizations. Another instance of the spread of the repressive norm throughout the cultural-intellectual spectrum is the price paid by actor Martin Sheen for his vocal and intransigent opposition to war in Iraq. Sheen has emerged as one of the emblematic figures of the swelling anti-war movement in the US with his active participation in demonstrations and his fiery speeches directed against the Bush administration. However, it seems that his independent political stance could not be tolerated by the corporate mass media, who, from the outset of the Iraqi crisis, have thrown their full weight behind Bush’s machinations of war. Sheen lost his protagonistic part in the awarded series where he played the President of the US. The most recent casualty of this undeclared domestic war was Peter Arnett, ousted by a major American television network because of declaring ongoing US military operations in Iraq a failure so far. The loss of the sense of an intellectual ‘middle ground’ in which a non-partisan comment on unfolding events might be articulated is a typical trait of the non-democratic, illiberal society. Totalitarian states have no use for independent researchers. They need propagandists.
[xxi] Of course, anyone who is even remotely familiar with the operational history of underground armed groups and with the dialectic between armed struggle and resistance, would be in a position to affirm that when the full force of the repressive apparatus is applied to them, offensive campaigns are little more than leisure for such groups. The military confrontation becomes the dominant element dictating the terrorists’ agenda and armed groups are left to play a purely responsive role to the initiatives of the state apparatus. In short, they are to busy trying to regroup and survive the onslaught.
[xxii] Making ‘Reasons’ For War, Mumia Abu-Jamal, p.2 [at].
[xxiii] Message to the Black Movement, Coordinating Committee Black Liberation Army, [at].
[xxiv] The government has refused to grant access to information concerning the Sept.11events even to the judicial sector. It has escaped many commentators that an independent judicial investigation is yet to be carried out in relation to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The only version of what transpired in that fateful day still remains that provided to us by governmental quarters.
[xxv] Having received the rectorship of Heidelberg University by the Nazis, Martin Heidegger went on to elaborate his views on the role and educative mission that the university was expected to take on under the National Socialist order in a speech delivered at Heidelberg in 1933. He told his audience that, “A fierce battle must be fought against this situation in the National Socialist spirit and this spirit cannot be allowed to be suffocated by humanizing, Christian ideas that suppress its originality […] University study must again become a risk, not a refuge for the cowardly. Whoever does not survive the battle lies where he falls. The new courage must accustom itself to steadfastness, for the battle for the institutions where our leaders are educated will continue for a long time. It will be fought out of the strengths of the new Reich that Chancellor Hitler will bring to reality. A hard race with no thought of self must fight this battle, a race that lives from constant testing and that remains directed toward the goal to which it has committed itself. It is a battle to determine who shall be the teachers and leaders at the university” [at]. I should point out here that while I am trying to indicate the commonalities between the archetypal totalitarian regime of Nazism and the developments that are currently taking place in the US, I am nevertheless by no means suggesting that the slightest resemblance exists between the sheer power and originality of the philosophy that drove the Nazis forward to their crusade and the intellectual degradation and stagnation imposed on academics and the populace by Bush’s brand of reactionary republicanism.
[xxvi] In an article that appeared in the British newspaper The Observer, Will Hutton argues that the surge of neo-conservatism we are currently witnessing in US politics is but the acceleration of trends “in America that had been crystallizing since the 1970s” (In W.Hutton, The Tragedy of this Unequal Partnership, The Observer, 30/03/03). Hutton is quite right in suggesting that the rise of conservatism has been a gradual process rather than an abrupt development. However, the flaws in his perspective become evident once he identifies the Democratic Party as an alternative center of power that may challenge contemporary Republican supremacy. It is my firm belief that were bipartisanship a workable scheme for power sharing, Bush would have had come across far greater resistance in the realm of institutionalized politics in his effort to push his agenda for war. We should then either infer that a monolithic uniformity of views exists among the ranks of the US political class which allows Bush to pursue his neocolonialist policies unchallenged, or that the traditional administrative mechanisms that offer a set of institutional constraints and checks on the otherwise unlimited power of government no longer function properly. Either way, the Democratic Party should be viewed not as part of the solution but rather as part of the problem.
[xxvii] “From the following it will be inferred that by speaking here of a ‘state of emergency’ we must refer to a general notion of statecraft, not to any particular obligatory decree or the occasional state of siege”. In C.Schmitt, Political Theology, ch.I, p.17 (Athens; Leviathan, 1994).
[xxviii] “In its absolute form, the state of emergency can be said to have arisen at the event, and only then, when that situation needs to be created anew in which legal prescriptions can be once again applicable”. Ibid. p.28.
[xxix] Ibid., p.18.
[xxx] Recently an article has appeared in The Nation stressing the conflict which is sure to arise between the interests of global capital and US imperial ambitions. It is argued that the normal function of the global economy is bound to be destabilized by “one nation’s overwhelming military power”. I feel that such a view rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of two important elements of the situation we are presently confronted with. First, the writer seems to take at face value the liberal claim that the free market operates as an autonomous instrument regulating human affairs in its own accord and irrespective of man’s deliberate mediation. This claim is patently false as it has been shown by critics who point out that the market relies on political power in order for the social conditions necessary for its smooth operation to be created. For instance, contractual agreement which is the normal form of association in the context of the free market would be superfluous if the political power did not exist that would actively intervene to oversee its fulfillment. Secondly, I hope to have demonstrated already that US imperialism has little in common with traditional 19th century forms of colonial expansion and exploitation. US nationalism in my opinion is but a political rallying-cry, an ideological tool employed for the purpose of creating cohesion in a society otherwise torn apart by centrifugal economic forces and by the atrophy of its political institutions. It is not an end-in-itself, nor has it produced a worldview where the direct exercise of domination of foreign peoples through some form of military rule is posited as the manifest destiny of the US. The rationale behind the military occupation of Iraq is, I think, far more complex than that. It has to do more with opening up new vistas for multinational corporations to extend their activities, than it does with imposing US military rule in the region of the Middle East. Let us not forget that according to neo-liberal millenarianism, to secure the conditions for the expansion of the global market, is to be carrying out God’s will upon this earth. For an exposition of the contrary point of view see, Military Globalism, W.Greider, The Nation, 13/03/03.
[xxxi] Not surprisingly, this opportunist perspective does not differ in substance from the one voiced by Robin Cook in the dramatic speech he gave in the House of Commons in the course of a stormy debate concerning Britain’s involvement in the illegal war against Iraq. Having announced the reasons which had led to his resignation from his position as leader of the House of Commons, Cook concluded with an all too emotional appeal to fate, exclaiming that things might have turned out different if Al Gore had been the victor of the 2000 US election. Of course, such an exhortation overlooks the fact that the Clinton administration prosecuted its ‘humanitarian’ war against Yugoslavia, showing little respect for international institutions and the rule of law. In fact, the case of Yugoslavia is frequently cited by Republican ideologues in defense of their boss’s aggressive policy towards Iraq.
[xxxii] Critics should rather call attention to the inescapable realities of US power and the systemic complications it presents before us. I believe Mumia Abu-Jamal said it better when he wrote that, “An Empire has, nor needs, allies. It is sufficient to Itself. It has subject powers. It has vassals. It does not have, nor tolerates equals. The Bush doctrine is replete with threats for the rest of the world, to keep that way” [MAJ, Analysis of Empire, at]. It should follow from this that the effective way of countering the imperial pretensions of the Bush regime is by offering a realistic strategic analysis of the overwhelming military strength of the US, the repercussions which it poses for the function of the international system of states and the political strategies through which such power can be mitigated and contained by other nations. Instead of complaining about the unilateralism of the Bush administration and trying to appeal to the magnanimous quality in the characters of Bush and his aides by pleading with them to take an interest in the inalienable rights of states and the integrity of international law, we should come to terms with the fact that American arrogance is intimately related to the perception Americans have of their position in today’s world, as the de facto, ‘benevolent’ leaders of the community of states. Under this light, unilateralism is revealed to be not a tactical, but a strategic choice. Only then shall we be able to construct a viable alternative to Empire, when a practical demonstration of resolve is made on the part of the international community to show that US imperialism will not be tolerated and will be met with energetic resistance. Perhaps, this alone would offer a more convincing illustration against the pitfalls of unilateralism, than any theoretical analysis could ever deliver.
[xxxiii] The anachronistic nature of the reformist critique of globalization appears more forcefully when it gives in to parochial impulses which call for the renewal of the powers of the nation state, thus failing to grasp, and effectively positioning itself against the potential for the development of a new internationalism, emanating from global tendencies towards a greater amount of economic integration and interdependence. See, for example, the debate which took place in the first national conference of the German section of the anti-globalization movement ATTAC, as covered by the World Socialist Web Site [at].
[xxxiv] Making little effort to conceal his disdain for the political talents of the multitude, Joseph Schumpeter, a leading theoretician of elitist democracy, described the masses as “generally weak, prone to strong emotional impulses, intellectually unable to do anything decisive on their own and susceptible to outside forces”, in D.Held, Models of Democracy, p.167 (Cambridge; Polity Press, 1987). Suffice it to say that what Schumpeter identifies as the inherent and eternal defects of human nature, in fact amount to the paralyzing effects of an undemocratic, elitist system of government upon the mental condition of the masses. Rather than being the presupposition of Schumpeter’s elitist political process, they are its product.
[xxxv] To be sure, there is a good deal of Muslim religious organizations in the US which have been allowed to exist in harmony both with the US government and other religious formations. The American Muslim Mission (AMM) is one such group the historical course of which might provide us with useful insights into what has been required of the group so that it may achieve its present rehabilitated status in the American community of worship as a respectable religious association. An offshoot of the radical, black-nationalist Nation of Islam of the 1960s, the AMM has had to shed its ties with its radical past and root out all aggressive, black-nationalist ideological tenets from its official theological doctrine, so that it could finally be “accepted by orthodox Muslims as legitimately Islamic and one with the fold of Islam”, in J.P.Gudel & L.Duckworth, Hate Begotten of Hate, p.4 (Christian Research Institute Journal, 27/01/03). The importance of the historical path trodden by the AMM is twofold; first, it illustrates the ideological transformation that were deemed necessary by the group’s leader, Wallace Deen Muhammad, if his group was to escape the campaigns of state repression (COINTELPRO) directed against the AMM’s precursor, the NOI. Second, it offers a demonstration of the ideological and political pressures that are active within civil society and ensure that the forces which operate in this seemingly apolitical sphere will not overstep the boundaries delineated for their activities by the state. The NOI has hitherto retained its orientation on black-nationalism and the struggle for black self-determination and for this reason it has been marginalized both in religious terms, labeled as ‘heretic’ by orthodox Muslims, and in terms of its political perspective, dismissed as ‘extremist’ by the US government. The nexus between political power and the function of mainstream religious organizations as defenders and guarantors of the status quo is on this count exposed to its full extent.
[xxxvi] For a well-documented history of the NOI’s encounter with vicious state repression see the Nation of Islam & US Government Counterintelligence [at].
[xxxvii] For an exposition see A.Garre, op.cit., pp.91-9.
[xxxviii] The abstract definition which Foucault gave to power, locating it in the totality of a diffuse and multilayered web of disciplinary and coercive relations, the physical center of which is impossible to pinpoint within the social realm, inescapably generates a concept of emancipation as a private affair, namely, liberation on the micro-level from mental forms of oppression and assigns only secondary, if any importance whatsoever, to the collective struggle against the coercive and exploitative institutions of capitalist society [see M.Foucault, The Microphysics of Authority (Ypsilon; Athens, 1991)]. For Foucault, relations of oppression come first, the material conditions of oppression follow. The impossibility of constructing a comprehensive political strategy of liberation along the lines proposed by Foucault’s conception of power appears here in its full force.
[xxxix] The rise of political correctness in US political parlance is the culmination of this exact trend. It does not represent, as Richard Rorty presumes, a political victory against bias of left-wing literary circles in the US. Its wooden language rather symbolizes the stifling of the internal evolution of concepts within the intellectual environment of the American Left and its compromise on the level of practical politics.
[xl] Suffice it to say that numerically speaking, the current President of the US was in fact defeated by his Democratic rival in the 2001 presidential election, as the sum total of votes which Bush received was less than that of Al Gore. The paradox becomes even greater when one calculates the percentage of the votes not cast due to trends of widespread abstention from the electoral process. Virtually fifty-sixty percent of the population refused to offer legitimation to the bipartisan system through their participation in elections. That limits Bush’s popular mandate to a mere 20-30%, leaving the overwhelming majority of the population (70%) without even any sort of formal representation in government!
[xli] “And for the only liberty which can be a real thing, the liberty of the State and of the individual within the State. Therefore, for the Fascist, everything is in the State, and nothing human or spiritual exists, much less has value, outside the State. In this sense Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State, the synthesis and unity of all values, interprets, develops and gives strength to the whole life of the people”. B.Mussolini, The Doctrine of Fascism, p.2 [at].
[xlii] Scarcely will one find a complementary view of politics and of those involved in it among common folks in liberal democracies. As a rule people tend to attribute to politicians adverse qualities such as self-centeredness, dishonesty, corruption and so on. The reason why such discontent has hitherto not ensued in an open rebellion against the system and a demand for its replacement by another, can be found in the common conviction alluded to above that the conquest of freedom is not a goal to be fulfilled by means of collective action carried out in the realm of politics, but it is largely a personal matter (i.e. freedom from bias, dogmatism, sexual liberation) pertaining to the private domain where the individual is the main actor. To this we should add the notion systematically cultivated by the official ideology that liberal democracy, in spite of being far from perfect, is the best political system ever-invented and that the future of humanity is bound to the development of democracy world wide insofar as no rational alternative model of government exists. After all, wasn’t this the crass rationale behind Thatcher’s neoconservative ideology of T.I.N.A. (There Is No Alternative)? It goes without saying that such a definitive ideological premise is open to a number of criticisms. It is sufficient to mention two of them in passing. In the first place it does not follow logically from the fact that capitalism has outlasted the system of existing socialism, that all efforts to construct a viable socialist alternative to market economy should be abandoned. On the contrary, the era of Soviet communism could be seen as merely an episode, a historically bound experience, albeit a disappointing one, in the ongoing struggle to liberate mankind from suffering and exploitation. Instead of rejecting socialism altogether, we should rather try and draw lessons from the Soviet collapse, by evaluating the historical conditions in which it emerged and examining the distortions on socialist content and form that appeared therewith. And even if we were prepared to concede, which indeed we are, that Soviet communism failed, it by no means follows that the failures of communism amount to capitalism’s success. Instead, we should rather adopt a perspective which deals with two failed sociopolitical systems, the capitalist and the socialist. The fact that capitalism is still with us can be interpreted either as an indication of its vivacity and dynamism as a social model, or, in view of the amount of social discontent it generates, as proof of the effective and intelligent use it makes of techniques of social control and domination.
[xliii] In American Tragedy, J.Schell, The Nation, 20/03/03.
[xliv] The traditional leftist notion of the People as incorruptible and inherently virtuous emanates from the philosophical humanist position of the Enlightenment which held that man is innately good, capable of applying reason for the acquisition of desirable ends and naturally disposed towards the society of others. Politically speaking, the idea of the People is rooted in Rousseau’s classical democratic concept of the General Will. Yet history tells us that the working class did not always fulfill those romantic expectations. Contrary to the claims of leftist historiography Nazi Germany was not merely a regime exclusively founded upon a ruthless and efficient system of state terror. It enjoyed genuine popularity among the masses of German workers as well as among the ranks of the ‘decadent bourgeoisie’. Also the story of the rise of Italian Fascism shows most convincingly that the instinct of the masses is far from unmistakable in selecting the political force behind which it decides to throw its weight.
[xlv] [at].
[xlvi] The most obvious historical example that comes to mind is of course that of the ‘Historical Compromise’ between the Italian Christian right and the Communist Party of Italy, concocted as a power-sharing scheme between the two dominant forces of Italian politics at the time. Its aim was the diffusion of the multidimensional social crisis that had infested Italian capitalism in the period from the late 1960s to the early 1970s. During these turbulent times it became evident to the Italian ruling class, largely comprised by members of the Christian Democratic party, that social peace could not be attained without working out some sort of compromise with the communists that would allow them to enter the governmental coalition for the first time after World War II. Other seemingly external political strategies of the DC, which purportedly aimed at expanding the boundaries of DC hegemony while enabling the latter to remain at the center of its system of political alliances, served also an internal disciplinary purpose by allowing the Christian Democratic leadership to stem the more extremist, clerico-fascist or Catholic-populist currents within the party. See D.Sassoon, Contemporary Italy, ch.14, p.238 (London; Longman, 1997).
[xlvii] In Bush and God, R.Balmer, The Nation, 27/03/03.
[xlviii] Ibid., p.1.
[xlix] In M.Engel, Meet the New Zionists, p.4, The Guardian, 28/10/03.
[l] For a classical exposition see M.Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (London; Ruskin, 1962).
[li] Max Weber informs us of “the Puritan aversion to sport”, or of the fact that the “theater was obnoxious to the Puritans”, and notes that the Puritan would always decide “in favor of sober utility as against any artistic tendencies” (Ibid., p.167, 169).
[lii] “Our aggression was implicitly defined as compulsory – the product not of our own wills but of objective necessity (or the will of God)”. In N. von Kreitor, American Political Theology, p.2 [at].
[liii] There are obvious economic constraints and class limitations at work within the seemingly universal community of US voters which condition the behavior of the latter and determine the level of participation of each segment of the electorate in the political process. White Anglo-Saxon Protestants are among the most committed and politically-conscious electoral groups comprising, along with American Jews, the conservative bloc of the US political establishment. By contrast, the capacity of disenfranchised racial minorities, such as the Afro-American community, to bring their pressure to bear upon the electoral system is severely hampered by virtue of social and economic obstacles which prevents US Negroes from exercising their electoral duty with systematic frequency and the appropriate degree of political awareness. Consequently, the vast majority of Afro-Americans either consciously choose to abstain from the electoral process in want of any notion of meaningful representation of their interests, or remain indifferent to elections, caught up in their economic problems and their daily struggle for survival. Under such conditions it is only logical that the electoral weight of Afro-Americans steadily diminishes while at the same time the ability of religious conservatives and Jews to influence and shape the formation of policy increases.
[liv] M.Engel, op.cit. p.3.

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