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'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, February 28, 2008

UPDATE: Reflections on the Death of William F. Buckley 

From the obituary published in the New York Times yesterday:

In 1955, Mr. Buckley started National Review as a voice for “the disciples of truth, who defend the organic moral order,” with a $100,000 gift from his father and $290,000 from outside donors. The first issue, which came out in November, claimed the publication “stands athwart history yelling Stop.”

It proved it by lining up squarely behind Southern segregationists, saying that Southern whites had the right to impose their ideas on blacks who were as yet culturally and politically inferior to them. After some conservatives objected, Mr. Buckley suggested instead that both uneducated whites and blacks should be denied the vote.

Could it be possible that Buckley and the National Review initially expanded its number of subscribers by exploiting racist opposition to desegregation? A question that seems to have eluded the author of the Times obituary.

For completists, here is the direct quote from Buckley in 1957:

The central question that emerges…is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes—the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.

Of course, as you might have guessed, neither Buckley nor the Review developed any insight with the passage of time, as both vigorously defended the apartheid regime in South Africa during the 1980s as sufficient global pressure emerged to ensure its demise. Buckley was a classic example of the extent to which racism has been an enduring feature of the Anglo-American political and philosophical tradition, and he was skilled, as were others before him, in clothing that racism in the garb of respectable elite discourse.

As another blogger said bluntly: Racism and power-worship—and, from first to last, uncompromising defense of the idea that society should be structured into orders and classes. Can't say it much more concisely than that.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Reflections on the Death of William F. Buckley 

Cruising around, I've seen very little comment that places William F. Buckley, Jr. within the proper social context, although Jane Hamsher of firedoglake came close when she posted the video of his acrimonious 1968 television confrontation with Gore Vidal.

Buckley was a representative of a unique species, the postwar political intellectual, much in the same way as Vidal, Satre, Debord and Mailer, just to name a few. And, like Debord and the situationists, he created his own social scene, defined through its stark contrast with the liberal world around it and an alternative ideological perspective. Indeed, his whimsical 1965 run for mayor of New York can be seen as a uniquely American variant of a situationist public display, a a dialetical unification of art and life for the purpose of exposing the contradictions within the purportedly tolerant, liberal society of the 1960s. Mailer, of course, did something similar in his own combative way, when he ran for mayor in 1969.

Intellectuals like Buckley attained a public notoriety in the postwar modernist period, a notoriety based upon the notion that their opinions about most anything, but especially politics and social life, possessed an importance beyond those of anyone else. Education was a priority and the workers of that time emphasized a college education for their children, almost to the point of obsession, so there was, I think, a naive deference that people exhibited toward figures like Buckley and Vidal. The feud between the two was ignited when they were invited to comment upon events at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago by a major television network, something that would be incomprehensible today.

With the passing of that era, and the entry into the postmodern one in which we now live, intellectuals are no longer considered essential arbiters and moral voices on the critical issues of our time. Buckley and and Mailer lived through it, and the diminishment in public attention associated with it. Buckley's opinions were no longer taken seriously, even as they became more urgent and compelling, such as his support for the legalization of drugs and his contention that Bush's invasion of Iraq was inconsistent with conservative values because it involved a willful flight from engaging reality, and he was increasingly isolated from the movement that he had contributed so much to create.

In this postmodern era, US conservatism is, as implicitly recognized by Buckley in his criticism of war in Iraq, more populist, evangelical, and hence, more idealistic, more utopian, and nothing aroused Buckley's ire more than utopian visions. He considered them inherently corrupt, if not prone towards the emergence of authoritarism. In other words, he was not a neoconservative, and may have privately shared Justin Raimondo's belief that neonconservatism is an offspring of Trotskyism. Buckley was a product of his time, as is Vidal (and it might serve Vidal well to graciously recognize their kinship, even in virulent opposition), and no suitable replacements can be seen on the horizon.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Yes, I'm Still Alive 

UPDATE: Turns out that there is dissent among feminists upon the question of supporting Hillary Clinton despite her support for the war in Iraq, and her efforts to instigate a future conflict with Iran:

More than 1,000 feminists have signed a statement criticizing Hillary Clinton and supporting Obama for president - evidence that Clinton's support among women activists continues to decline. The group, "Feminists for Peace", started out with 100 signers before the super-Tuesday primaries, and has 1,200 signers two weeks later.

Clinton's support for the war in Iraq was the leading reason she lost the support of the feminists, along with the fact that "until quite recently [she] opposed all legislative efforts to bring the war and occupation to an end." The group added, "We urgently need a presidential candidate whose first priority is to address domestic needs."

Those endorsing Obama include writer Barbara Ehrenreich; longtime peace activist Cora Weiss; Katha Pollitt, columnist for The Nation; Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times writer Margo Jefferson; women's rights historians Alice Kessler Harris and Linda Gordon; political scientist Frances Fox Piven and actor/activist Susan Sarandon.

"Choosing to support Senator Obama was not an easy decision for us," the group stated, "because electing a woman president would be a cause for celebration in itself." They "deplored" the "sexist attacks against Senator Clinton that have circulated in the media." But, they stated, they nevertheless supported Obama because his election "would be another historic achievement" and because "his support for gender equality has been unwavering."

This group joins other prominent feminists who have turned against Hillary and endorsed Obama, including Kate Michelman, president for 20 years of NARAL Pro-Choice America, the country's leading reproductive rights group, and Ellen Bravo, former director of 9to5, the National Association of Working Women.

Meanwhile an opposing group of 250 feminists has responded with a statement supporting Clinton. Led by historians Ellen Carol DuBois from UCLA and Christine Stansell from the University of Chicago, the group includes writers Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan, CUNY Women's Studies professor Michele Wallace, Blanche Wiesen Cook, biographer of Eleanor Roosevelt, and Peg Yorkin of the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Their statement says that, in supporting the war, Clinton "made a major mistake." While acknowledging that Obama opposed the war from the start, the group declared that his opposition "carried no risks and indeed, promised to pay big dividends in his liberal Democratic district."

Pollitt's decision to endorse Obama on this basis is significant, she has been sympathetic to Hillary over the years as reflected in her columns in The Nation. Obama has, however, voted to continue to fund the war upon entering the Senate. Is his initial opposition a sufficient reason for antiwar activists of any kind to support him? A challenging question, to be sure.

Meanwhile, it is noteworthy that Hillary's supporters in this instance acknowledge her "mistake" in regard to Iraq (thereby typically diminishing the significance of the violence inflicted upon the Iraqi people, but, hey, they can't do anything to facilitate the election of a woman president, can they?), but fail to recognize that she just made the same mistake in regard to Iran. Could it possibly be (gasp!) that she really is a neoconservative hawk? And, if so, are American feminists willing to walk into the cul-de-sac of American militarism in order to witness the inauguration of the first female president?

But an equally important question is the willingness of feminists to accept the confines of the two party system in the US. After all, if leftists globally can reject both Bush and Bin Laden, and insist upon a different social vision, why can't some feminists say, neither Hillary nor Obama? Or, are American feminists imprisoned within the two party system by their social experience, incapable of recognizing a world beyond it, incapable of believing that people can shape this world outside the mainstream political system?

INITIAL POST: The last couple of weeks have been quite hectic, family related concerns and work, but, I'm still here. I hope to post something more substantively soon, but, in the meantime, you might find this interesting. Turns out the some of Hillary's feminist supporters are frustrated with her lack of success in the Democratic presidential campaign.

Clinton's struggle vexes feminists, declares the Boston Globe. The article is enlightening, not only for what it reveals about the legitimate aspirations of women to participate in the shattering of the ultimate glass ceiling by Hillary, but even more so for what it doesn't say.

One goes through the article in vain for any reference to Iraq and Hillary's vote to grant Bush the authority to launch the war. A vote that she has admitted that she made without reading the National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq and its purported weapons of mass destruction program. Another Senator, a conservative Democrat from Florida, Bob Graham, did read the estimate, and was so alarmed by what he encountered that he, unlike Hillary, voted against the authorization resolution, stating his reasons for doing so during the floor debate.

Likewise, one also scrutinizes the article in vain for any reference to Iran, and her recent hawkish vote in support of a Senate resolution declaring the Republican Guard to be a terror organization. Some have interpreted this resolution in light of past ones related to the war on terror, as granting Bush the ability to attack the Republican Guard, and by extension, Iran, without having to go to Congress for approval. Unfortunately for Hillary, a National Intelligence Estimate was subsequently made public that revealed that Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Some, like Eli over at Left I on the News, believe that there was never any such program.

But, apparently, that's not an issue for American feminists, even though rumor has it that a lot of women and children have been killed by US forces in Iraq, and that an attack upon Iran would have similar consequences. Rest assured, however, as Hillary informed us while speaking in Youngstown, Ohio last night, she has been speaking for the rights of women all over the world.

Perhaps, after this campaign is over, American feminists, at least those who have supported Hillary unequivocally, will reflect upon a philosophy of gender empowerment that requires people in other countries to pay such a terrible price so that a woman can be elected President of the United States. Is this a reflection of a kind of Marxist-Leninist vanguardism that has come to dominant groups like the National Organization for Women, Emily's List and others that have historically supported the Clintons?

If so, one hopes that they are able to remove their blinders, and abandon such a myopic perspective that renders many people around the world, including women and children, many of them of color, into mere sacrificial foils for the advancement of their cause. For now, we can only express satisfaction that some voters have rejected the notion that a woman should be elevated into the White House upon the bodies of dead Iraqis.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

State of the AmLeft Union: I'm not dead yet -- (but I do frequently accidently refer to Puget Sound as "the river") 

Hey, this is Joe, the guy who founded this blog.

Obviously I haven't been around much lately. I even missed posting a bloggiversary message on December 8th (FOUR YEARS, BABY! -- I think this blog has lasted longer than George magazine). So, first off, to new readers who don't know who the hell I am, I'd like to say, "Hello and thank you! How's it going!? -- I like Richard too!"

Okay, now that were all introduced ... here's the deal with me. I'm not dead; I just had a slightly early midlife crisis and have moved to Seattle. I'm writing software for a bigshot tech company and am trying "to be successful" or something.

Seattle is my new home. Seattle is lots of things. Seattle is this: the people in the fictional universe of J.Crew catalogs get together and found a city; that's Seattle. Yes, I keep on saying this, but I keep on saying it because it is true: the girls wear puffy down-filled vest things indoors like the entire city is a gigantic ski lodge! And maybe it is ... maybe it's the skiing thing that makes these people so uptight about jaywalking because, lord knows, they are. One would imagine it would be a really big faux pas to jaywalk on a ski slope. I don't really know, but I do know that everyone here is very seriously concerned about the crime of jaywalking -- one has to wait at the Don't Walk signs or risk being ostracized socially.

The North and the West are just somehow more gigantic than the East. The East is about the indoors and playing Scrabble and this place is about the outdoors and taking your golden retriever to the dog park. The sun is tiny here. The sun appears as small and distant as one imagines it would appear on Mars or in Vancouver; it doesn't climb up high enough in the sky. It doesn't know that it is supposed to go all the way up. It's like the sun in that Ray Bradbury short story, "All Summer in a Day" At noon it will be in front of you, not above you -- one always has a shadow in Seattle. The Ray Bradbury story is set on a future Venus colonized by "rocket men and women who [have] come to a raining world to set up civilization and live out their lives" and, you know, I can kind of relate.

Also every single person in the entire city apparently writes software which makes conversations in bars easy but boring -- and there's something odd about the bars. I can't put my finger on it, but it's like each bar doesn't realize that it is supposed to pretend to be menacing at first -- the bartenders are friendly and chatty right off the bat, which ruins the sport of being a stranger getting drunk in a strange town.

Also, these people apparently don't know how to make bagels correctly -- which is rather sad given all the salmon.

Anyway, if there are American Leftist readers in the area please leave a comment or send me an email. I'm going to be living in a loft near Pioneer Square and, like Dr. Zoidberg, am always up for whatever.

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