It is remarkable to think that in two days this seminal world event – the fall of the Berlin Wall marking the collapse of Soviet communism, arguably the greatest event of the last half of the 20th century – will have occurred 32 years ago, though it is now significantly forgotten.
Even more remarkable to me is the fact that a rising generation of Americans led by intellectual nonentities such as Ocasio-Cortez now embrace socialism with opeb arms, despite its being seemingly consigned to the ash bin of history three decades ago.
I recall that day so very long ago as it it were yesterday: As a Cooperative Extension professional I was returning from a visit to South Alabama and stopped off in Montgomery to visit my favorite used bookstore.
NPR was being broadcast on on the store’s sound system. There was talk of some opening of the Berlin Wall, though likely one that would not occur for several weeks. After purchasing a couple of books, I jumped into my little red Nissan truck and sped north up Interstate 85. When I entered the living room my wife was glued to the TV as ecstatic East and West Berliners danced arm in arm atop the Berlin Wall. My jaw dropped. It is a memory I will take to my grave.
Within a year or so of that event, one who emerged as one of the decades most fashionable and preeminent thinkers of the 1990’s, a neoconservative policy wonk named Francis Fukayama, even went to far to argue that the fall of Eastern European socialism served as a confirmation of Hegel’s dialectic – that supple, pro-market liberal democracy represented the end of history, the working out of humanity’s historical contradictions.
To many around the world, the United States, most notably its costly two-generational struggle against global communism, seemed entirely vindicated.
Thirty-plus years later, all this headiness seems so dated. And even more remarkable to me is how American life has come in many respects to closely resemble facets of the old Soviet Union and its Eastern European straps, replete with a nomenklatura that not only brazenly enriches itself but also its sons and daughters – one that even calls out a class of despised Kukaks (i.e., working class whites) as the direst threat to enlightened thought and and what our rulers now blandly describe as “our democratic values.”
In true Soviet fashion, dissidents not only are spied on but even consigned to prisons for months without being served habeas corpus, while a compliant media, on the elites’ behalf, sweep all of this incipient tolitarianism under the rug. And amidst all of this is a disenfranched population of tens of millions of ordinary, fed-up, put-upon people who, much like the Soviet masses decades ago, invent mordant jokes not only about the corruption of their ruling class but also how all of this is covered over by Legacy Media pixie dust
Millions yearn for the day when these corrupt nabobs finally will be served their long-awaited comeuppance – and, quite frankly, why shouldn’t they?
As memory serves, I’ve mentioned French philosopher Etienne de la Boetie a time or two in this forum.
His observations about how the fortunes of government, any government, no matter how democratic or authoritarian, ultimately rest on the sentiments of its subjects, invariably remind me of the tumultuous events culminating in the overthrow of Shah Mohammad Reza during Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The ways that tbe Shah’s besieged caretaker government under Shapour Baktiar desperately clung to power following the Shah’s hasty departure, issuing edict after edict, proclamation after proclamation, in the forlorn hope of reining in revolutionary discontent would have resounded with de la Boetie. He even coined a succinct phrase, which has been employed by paleo-libertarian writers time and again to describe those rare inflection points in history when a large segment of a society’s population simply has had enough, writing off governmental authority as utterly debased, illegitimate and unentitled to obedience, despite the potentially deadly consequences this behavior often invites. I have racked my brain for years and still can’t recall the phrase, though it brilliantly conveyed the essence of this historical inflection point, which invariably portends a abrupt, irrevocable break with the old order.
As de la Boetie would have anticipated, Bakhtiar’s efforts amounted to nothing, as millions of rank-and-file Iranians, obstinately ignoring all of them, pushed ahead with insurrection. Iran had reached an inflection point of popular discontent, one that bore close parallels to the descriptions of popular disillusionment that de la Boetie supplied in his own writings.
I was a high school student way back in 1979, too intellectually unsophisticated at the time to grasp the full implications of what was unfolding in Iran. But I possessed at least enough insight to discern that some sort of line had been crossed. And I also suspected that it marked not only a significant historical departure for ordinary Iranians but also a monumental shift in the geopolitical balance – namely, the ways the United States subsequently ordered its affairs in this tumultuous region.
Granted, most Americans of the time held no sympathy for radical Islam and knew that what followed would impose significant hardship for the Iranian people. But based on all the facts that we were able to garner at that time through broadcast and print media – this, after all, was almost a full generation before the advent of digital media – many of us knew that longstanding American support for the hated Pahlavi regime was a significant driving factor behind this uprising.
Empires, especially global ones, require client states, and the Shah’s regime served American interests in a variety of ways, despite their running counter to the aspirations of millions of ordinary Iranians, especially those in rural locales, far removed from the material prosperity unfolding in Iranian cities.
To be sure, “dark forces,” notably the Soviet Union, may have been working behind the scenes to exacerbate the these social, cultural and political cleavages, but I, for one, still believed that the raging anger of the Iranians was rooted in genuine grievance. Yet, who could ever had imagined that this conflagration ultimately would lead months later to the storming of the American Embassy in Teheran?
By that time I had graduated high school and enrolled in college to earn a political science degree. I can still recall almost verbatim how one professor described the embassy occupation as an event of profound geopolitical significance, one that likely would be remembered many years later as one of the watershed events of the post-war of the 20th century. He was right: Iran’s Islamic Revolution marked a significant reformulation of American strategy in the Middle East, one that would be followed by an immense expenditure of American blood and wealth.
The Pahlavi regime’s collapse not only foreshadowed the erosion of American influence in that region but also of the decline of the comparatively short-lived American Empire, which had been hastily improvised little more than a quarter century earlier to fill the breach left by a beleaguered British Empire in the aftermath of World War II.
Americans were in store for a long and arduous journey, though one punctuated by the assurances of U.S. governing elites that all setbacks were only temporary and that the expenditure of American blood, wealth and geopolitical capital to contain and ultimately to reverse the viral eruption of Islamic radicalism ultimately would tip the scales, drawing us finally toward a new flourishing of the American-fostered liberal-democratic imperium, in which democracy and secularism finally would would take root and thrive in previous inhospitable Mideastern soil.
We know better now – at least, growing numbers of us do. And we also perceive how this vast expenditure of blood and treasure in this region of the world has sapped American strength not only abroad but also at home, embodied in the decaying infrastructure and boarded store fronts as well as in the social pathology and breakdown evident on so may small cities and towns across the vast American heartland. Tens of millions also perceive how our elites, increasingly exposed, cornered and threatened as a result of the wind they sowed decades ago, have turned to the same desperate tactics to which previous ruling classes have resorted in the face of imperial decline and rising levels of discontent.
Our rulers and their media enablers characterize the occupation of the U.S. Capitol in January essentially Qanon conspiracy fearmongering run amuck. Millions of us aren’t buying it. We even suspect that decades from now, this event very well may be recalled as an turning point, perhaps even as the harbinger of a de la Boetiean-style watershed event in America not that far removed from what transpired in Iran more than two generations ago. Indeed, for tens of millions of us, this event only served to shine a light on the perfervid anger of millions of rank-and-file Americans, not only over the rot that has set into many, if not most, of this country’s political and cultural institutions but also over the ways that our governing class and their enablers (e.g., academia, media and Silicon Valley) have contributed immensely to it.
One of the greatest intellectual odysseys of my lifetime was reading most of the so-called “prophets of the Old Right,” who, in the years leading up to the Second World War, offered a searing critique of American interventionist intentions and all the risks to constitutional liberty that these entailed. (Incidentally, one of the best surveys of this all but forgotten circle of talented men is the late Justin Raimondo’s “Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the American Conservative Movement,” written roughly a quarter century ago and still, fortunately, available in electronic form.)
As this splendid column, which appeared recently in antiwar.com, observes, the American Republic, at least, key elements of it, always was predisposed toward imperial ambitions, though these aspirations, thankfully, have have always garnered substantial opposition, which seems to have reached a fever pitch as we near the end of the first quarter of the 21st century.
Honestly, given the last twenty years of U.S. geostrategic setback, is it any wonder that this union finds itself in its currently politically and economically depleted state? For that matter, is it any wonder that secessionist sentiment is on the rise in the country’s largest blue state (California) as well as red state (Texas)?
There are so many ways that 21st century America resembles the declining imperialist powers of the past, not only in the way it deals with its client states but also the way it administers domestic policy.
As self-described “radical-centrist” political commentator Michael Lind has argued, this nation’s northeastern mercantilist class, which harbored imperialist aspirations from the very beginning, has regarded most of the rest of the country as an economic outsourcing zone since this union’s inception. And today these elites retain their increasingly tenuous grasp on power by stoking tribal animosities of ordinary citizens, much as the British elites were accused of exacerbating religious division in 19th century Ireland to stave off Irish secessionist sentiment.
Meanwhile, the decline in the vast American heartland is painfully evident. For the past five years, I’ve seen it firsthand as I’ve returned to my native corner of northwest Alabama to care for ailing parents and then to close our their estate following their passing. Recently, my brother, preparing our parents’ home for sale, discussed the state of the current economy with a local man who was undertaking pest treatment on the house. He expressed surprise that neither of us had been confronted with meth addicts who typically occupy vacant homes, even in fairly upscale middle-class homes.
For now and despite the growing chorus of discontent, the empire lumbers along, but for how long? The demonstration that ultimatley resulted in temporary occupation of the U.S. Capitol,which our oligarchic class and its agit/prop predictably have portrayed as full-scale insurrection comparable to the 9/11 attacks, likely serve only as a portent of what is to come. But for now, the very classes denigrated as deplorable and irredeemable by our Mandarin class and characterized and surveilled by our national security apparatus as budding insurrectionists, in come cases, even enthusiastically, supply a vastly disproportionate share of the country’s enlisted ranks. And this raises the question: In this increasingly class-ridden juncture in history, how long will these decent young men and women continue to play along with this charade?
The American people got treated to some Dubyah ruminations recently after a rather extended hiatus.
I apologize in advance for what I am about to say. No offense to my evangelical and other orthodox Christian friends, but I think that Dubya is an empty shirt who exchanged a drug addiction for a Jesus addiction in the 1990’s. He spent a decade furiously digging out of a deep pit of his own making – and partly succeeded only because he was the son of an ex-president.
I’ve had an extended dialogue with someone who has overcome drug and alcohol addiction. He contends that Dubya is a classic example of the millions of addicts who struggle furiously to overcome years of wasted time and deep-seated guilt. I hope that Dubya has acquired some measure of peace from his struggle, but it is a travesty that he acted out this psychological drama on a national and world stage and on our time and tax dollars. And, yes, I’m to blame along with millions of other Americans because I voted for him and drank generously of his rhetorical Kool-aid.
In my humble opinion, Bush is responsible for a lot of this country’s current fiscal woes, which stem from his ill-conceived guns and butter policies. He acutely lacks any sort of intellectual curiosity. He thinks in absolutes. He would be far better off keeping his mouth shut and concentrating on his newfound affinity for portrait painting.
As for his discussion of American culture and nationalism – yes, many people of many different ethnic and racial backgrounds have contributed to American culture and civilization. Even so, American culture is discernibly Western and when it ceases to be Western – well, we will be in a helluva lot of trouble, because the freedoms we take for granted in this country are inextricably bound up in our Western cultural inheritance.
Frankly, anybody contends that we can continue to enjoy our current material and cultural advantages in a society that is no longer grounded in the cultural values of the West is selling you a bill of goods.
In the meantime, Dubya, just stick to your portrait painting and leave the lofty thoughts to someone else.
A Demonstration of Catalan Nationalists. Photo: Courtesy of Sergil.
Identity Awakening. I like that term.
It’s a term that geopolitical analysts and commentators have improvised to account for how globalization has produced a sort of paradoxical effect.
“Everywhere we see regionalism, nationalism as well as religious devotion growing in intensity, sometimes morphing into intolerance. It’s the great paradox of globalization: Far from erasing the peoples’ identitarian and cultural claims, it reinforces them,” writesLi Figaro’s Renaud Giraud.
Technology in the form of digitalization has played a role, too. This takes me back to the writings of the recently deceased Alvin Toffler, a futurist who wrote extensively about the the implications of digital technology, especially in terms of how it would transform society, culture, politics and the economy.
Toffler perceived demassification as one very palpable effect of digital technology. Mass media would no longer be, well, a mass phenomenon. There would be no more news anchormen of the stature, not to mention, with the temerity, of Walter Cronkite ending newscasts with the hyper-confident pronouncement: “That’s the way it is…”
As bandwidth expanded, Toffler predicted that media would scale down to accommodate smaller, more defined audiences.
Remarkably, though, this demassification is not only affecting media but also entire nations.
Demassification seems to have played a major role in the “identity awakenings” occurring throughout the world, particularly in Europe. It even appears that identity awakenings soon will be playing out in America. Judging from what’s occurring in California, Texas, Vermont,and Cascadia, they already are.
And why shouldn’t they? If the Toffler’s musings drove home one realization to me, it’s that national identities based on strong, highly centralized governments are a relic associated with 20th century industrialism, just as mass media are – were.
While I am a great sympathizer with and proponent of identity awakenings, I’m no rigid ideologue. We are urgently in need of decentrism in America, but we also depend on a common American market and a common defense, much as Europeans require a common continental market and defense apparatus. But to demand that continents as culturally diverse as America and Europe march in cultural and even political lockstep? It’s madness, as more and more people are coming to realize.
Sooner or later, our institutions will reflect that new reality. Let’s hope that this occurs as a result of peaceful evolution.
Whether or not Russia hackers influenced the presidential election, I, a mere layman in geopolitical terms, will venture out on a limb and assert my genuine doubts that Russia poses a dire threat to American liberty or geopolitical security.
Russia is a basket case, a shell of its former self. And that speaks volumes about the current state of the Russian Federation because even in its earlier guise as the Soviet Union and the seat of global socialist revolution it was little more than “painted rust,” to borrow a phrase from the Cold War movie classic “The Good Shepherd.” With 35-year hindsight, the late West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt’s characterization of the old Soviet Union as “Upper Volta with missles” was really spot on. Uruguay with computer hacks is arguably an apt description of 21st century Russia.
Russia arguably doesn’t even match the old Soviet Union in its soft-power capacity, ranking below tiny Finland in at least one international survey. Appealing to a universal egalitarian ideology, the Soviet Union at least posed a serious threat to the United States and the West within much of the developing world. The present hidebound, counterrevolutionary doctrine of Putin’s Russia has little, if any, appeal outside its borders.
Russia possesses a GDP smaller than that of New York State, but its population is in a deep downward spiral. Demographers predicta further steep population decline from the present 144 million to 120 million by mid-century.
To complicate matters, in a few more decades, ethnic Russians will be outnumbered by other ethnic groups. Moreover, Russia already is dealing with a serious illegal immigration problem from China. Some 2 million Chinese currently reside illegally in Russia, mostly in the vastly underpopulated region of Siberia. Some geopolitical experts have even speculated that China, which already deeply invested economically in Siberia, ultimately may attempt to annex large swaths of the region, to which it has maintained longstanding territorial claims.
Under the circumstances, there’s every reason to speculate that the Russia Federation will implode much as its Soviet predecessor did in 1991.
Aside from its nuclear arsenal, Russia’s antiquated military sector poses little threat to the United States. Indeed, in geopolitical terms, the United States holds virtually all the cards. In the event of an international showdown, we have to the capacity to inflict all manner of misery on this beleaguered country, including seizing the assets of Putin and his cronies, interdicting Russia’s trade – roughly 40 percent of its food supply is imported – and wreaking havoc within its communications sector.
With Putin, we are dealing with a desperate man whose only hope is to hold a fraying,if not terminally ill, society together by struggling to maintain the illusion among his people that Russia remains a significant global power.
Yes, there is some evidence, albeit still speculative at this stage, that Russia hacking influenced the 2016 presidential election. And if this is true, the United States has every right to retaliate through economic sanctions and other measured responses.
I wonder, though: Given Russia’s desperate condition, is it possible that this 21st century paper tiger deliberately being inflated into something bigger, actually much bigger than it really is? Is it possible that sick, pathetic Russia is serving, however unwittingly, as the basis for a new form of McCathyism, one cooked up as an act of desperation by U.S. elites who perceive an even bigger threat to their vital interests: a Donald Trump presidency?
Perhaps all will be revealed over time – but then, perhaps not.