Conservatives in Liberals’ Clothing

An opinion published Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal argues that there is nothing surprising about Trump era populism. It is a natural consequence of liberal democracy. This is a strange argument considering the fact that the same article portrays conservatives and their populist supporters as representatives of the liberal tradition. The argument goes something like this: In liberal democracies an ‘imperious ruling elite’ imposes laws, norms and practices that radiate disdain for the people’s beliefs and endanger their way of life. These ‘elites’ conspire across party lines against the less educated and the less wealthy. Their efforts are fostered by the mainstream press, social media, the entertainment industry and universities. Furthermore, all of these institutions are dominated by progressive elites and so they have contempt for conservatism. As a consequence, “…conservative elites and many regular voters find themselves bound together by a common political opponent.”

The solution, according to this article, is a ‘restoration’ of liberal education—by conservatives. The author actually states that the task of a liberal education is to furnish a lively appreciation for the origins of modern conservatism! How have they been able to pull this off, you ask? Are Americans completely crazy? Well, no. Americans are in a maze constructed by some very clever people. One of their tactics in the building of this maze has been pseudo-historical. They ignore everything that happened before the French Revolution. The author of this article traces conservatism back to 1790 when Anglo-Irish statesman Edmund Burke mounted a campaign against the influence of French revolutionaries, who he accused of trying to perfect politics by eradicating tradition and transforming humanity.

“Burke replied that the British people were fine. Their traditions and communities nurtured political freedom, which gave tradition and community room to develop and flourish.”

And the story moves resolutely forward from there. More than 150 years later, William F. Buckley ‘renewed’ this relationship between the Right and the people. He was a classical liberal who favored free markets and limited government; he was also a traditionalist dedication to Christian morality.

At this point we begin to suspect that this alliance between the Right and the people is a top-down arrangement, with conservative elites persuading the people that liberty and limited government advance their long-term interests. This is not propaganda invented by the writer of the Wall Street Journal article. It is a true-to-life snapshot of America’s history through the eyes of conservatives. However, the conservative timeline the article describes is revealing.

The political foundations of classical liberalism go back much further than those of conservatism. The Encyclopedia Britannica article that I cited in the previous article traces liberalism to events that took place in the 16th century.

Due to a slow process of commercialization and industrialization, the feudal stratification of society began to dissolve. This process, together with the influence of the Renaissance and the spread of Protestantism, led to social instability. A remedy was needed and that remedy was monarchical absolutism. Under this system, each ruler tried to unify his realm by enforcing conformity to Roman Catholicism or some form of Protestantism. This worked for a while, but it eventually it culminated in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48), which destroyed much of Europe.

In countries where neither faction was victorious, there was the gradual acceptance of toleration as the lesser of two evils. In countries where one creed dominated it was widely accepted that prosperity and order were more important than the citizens’ beliefs. In this way order was reestablished. But because the economy remained highly centralized and hierarchical, prosperity was limited to the princes.

Under absolutism the economic system was controlled by the ambitions of national rulers who based their policies on mercantilism. Mercantilism was a school of thought that advocated government intervention in a country’s economy to increase state wealth and power. Because this intervention served established interests and inhibited everyone else, it led to a challenge by members of the new middle class. This challenge was a significant factor in the great revolutions that took place in the 17th and 18th centuries in both England and France, including the English Civil Wars (1642-51), the Glorious Revolution (1688), the American Revolution (1775-83), and the French Revolution (1789). Classical liberalism is a result of those revolutions.

So you see, revolutions had already transpired in Burke’s England. There were differences in the French Revolution, but they can be explained by the differences in French and English history, mainly regarding the Reformation. The point is that the English did experience violent revolutions.

In the English Civil Wars, the forces of Parliament defeated and executed Charles I. Subsequently, the Glorious Revolution led to the abdication and exile of James II and the division of power between the King, his ministers, and Parliament. Over time, this new structure of the English government became the model for liberal political movements in other countries.

The political ideas behind these revolutions were given formal expression in the work of the English philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Locke in particular believed that revolution is justified when the sovereign fails to protect the person and property of individuals and to guarantee their natural rights to freedom of thought, speech and worship. It is likely that he began writing his major political work, Two Treatises of Government (1690), to justify the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

By 1690, the year Locke published his Treatises, politics in England had become a contest between two loosely related parties, the Whigs and the Tories. These parties were the ancestors of Britain’s modern Liberal Party and Conservative Party, respectively. (Locke was a Whig.) Locke and the early liberals worked to free individuals from two forms of social constraint—religious conformity and aristocratic privilege—which had been maintained and enforced through the powers of government.

“The aim of the early liberals was thus to limit the power of government over the individual while holding it accountable to the governed.”

This is not quite the liberty of which American conservatives speak so fondly. Their version belongs to a political ideology called liberal conservatism.

“Liberal conservatism (represented in the United States by the Republican Party) incorporates the classical liberal view of minimal government intervention in the economy, according to which individuals should be free to participate in the market and generate wealth without government interference. However, individuals cannot be thoroughly depended on to act responsibly in other spheres of life, therefore liberal conservatives believe that a strong state is necessary to ensure law and order and social institutions are needed to nurture a sense of duty and responsibility to the nation.”

This mistrust of the average individual is justified within the corresponding political philosophy. Liberal conservatives hold to the idea of natural inequality. This differs from aristocratic conservatism only in its justification. Aristocratic conservatism rejects the principle of equality as something inconsistent with human nature.

In Western Europe liberal conservatism is usually regarded as center-right, and is the dominant form of conservatism, especially in Northern Europe. It can support civil liberties along with some socially conservative positions. This took a slightly different form in the United States, where the founding fathers were among the most dramatic proponents of the liberal assault against authoritarian rule. The result of this extreme opposition to authoritarian rule seems rather counterintuitive.

“In the United States conservatives often combine the economic individualism of classical liberals with a Burkean form of conservatism that emphasizes the natural inequalities between men and the irrationality of human behavior as the basis for the human drive for order and stability, and the rejection of natural rights as the basis for government.”

Note the contradiction in the claim that natural inequalities and the irrationality of human behavior are the basis for the human drive for order and stability. It seems to refer to two classes of people—those who are naturally unequal, and those with a drive for order and stability. Perhaps it would make more sense if the second mention of the word ‘human’ was changed to ‘elite’: ‘the elite drive for order and stability’.

Progressives often wonder why conservatives vote against their own interests, but now we can see that it isn’t really that surprising. First, there is the confusion of the term ‘liberal’, enabled by the fact that conservative history ignores the events that inspired liberalism. Then there is the conservative program of convincing people that if they vote against their own interests it will be good for them in the long-term.

And there is a third tactic not yet mentioned. If all else fails fear has been proven useful, and the list of enemies is endless: liberals, immigrants, people of color, Jews….

What Are We Fighting For and What Are We Fighting Against?

It appears to be true that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. According to Anton Shekhovtsov, Russia is also responsible for the rise of far-right fringe politicians and ideologues in Europe. In his book, Russia and the Western Far Right: Tango Noir, Shekhovtsov explains how this came to be and how the coalition of Russian politicians with fringe far-right characters, has given each of them influence that they could never have achieved alone.

Before I go on, I should mention a problem I have with this book. This problem can be summed up by the fact that Shekhovtsov supports Ukraine’s entry into NATO. In other words, he tends to interpret the phenomenon from a neocon’s perspective. However he provides copious citations for each chapter and, if that is not enough for progressive readers, please consider the election of Donald Trump and his far-right echo chamber in Europe and South America.

Progressives were correct to reject the expansion of NATO in Ukraine—it was the favorite project of trigger-happy warmongers at the helm of the US government. However, in my view this book demonstrates the futility of a military response. It also makes the case that the return of the arms race has as much to do with far-right ideology as it does with neocon hubris. Neo-fascists have dreamed of a third world war since the 1940s. And now they have a man in the White House.

The most important thing I got from this book, and the best reason for voting today in the midterm election, is that the ultimate goal of this coalition is the destruction of Western liberal democracy. Given his obvious bias in this matter it’s not surprising that Shekhovtsov ignores the part neoliberalism has played in the destruction of liberal democracy, but his approach has had a positive effect on me. It helped me realize that both of our major political parties have lost the true meaning of ‘liberalism’.

It can be argued that in the 2016 election Bernie Sanders was the sole representative of the liberal tradition. This would explain why both the corporate Democrats and the right-wing Republicans were so desperate to keep him down. In fact, they appeared to conspire with each other in this goal. Liberal democracy truly is under attack, but it is no longer embodied by the US government. For example, look at the conservative pundits who actually think the word ‘liberal’ is a bad word. In reality, liberalism is the cornerstone of our republic.

A frightening conclusion that can be drawn from this book is that Donald Trump never intended to make America great, whatever that means. His affinity with the global far right can be seen in his infatuation with nuclear rearmament, his encouragement of white nationalism, his stance toward China, his tariffs, his desire to abolish NATO, and many other policies. It therefore follows that he shares the far right’s central precept, which is hatred of liberal democracy.

Please see Encyclopedia Britannica’s article on liberalism.. It reveals that our government once had the ability to respond to economic conditions, whereas the current global regime has no intention of responding to conditions of any kind. This may be explained—at least in part—by the influence of non-American and/or un-American actors in our electoral system and in our media.

Kavanaugh’s Hearing and the Incivility of a Conquered People

I would not say the same things about Orin Hatch that I have said about Jeff Flake, but only because I firmly believe he would fly over here and zap me, and he wouldn’t need a plane to do it. As I write, I’m listening to him talk about poor, pitiful Brett Kavanaugh and like everything else that has happened since Bernie’s beautiful campaign it makes my heart hurt.

As I said in the last post, I know that what I am going to say will make no difference in the behavior of our Congress, nor will it undo what has been done to the Supreme Court. Nor will it head off the inevitable terrors that await the human race as a result. Only Divine Providence can do that. I’m writing this because unless someone challenges the reality suggested by this hearing, and by the gloating of the committee members who controlled its course and outcome, it has the potential to destroy the sanity of the American people and the world.

When I began this conversation I assumed the Great Recession and the chaos in the Middle East would inspire contrition. I assumed policymakers would be willing to change course. Clearly I was wrong, but I didn’t fully realize just how wrong until the 2016 election. This election and its aftermath have demonstrated that what we see around us today is preferable in their minds to order and cooperation. Chaos is a choice.

We have been told that the important thing in the Kavanaugh process was civility. We have heard at least one Senator lament that it was tearing us apart. But what we actually see is that rudeness and adolescent hilarity is preferable to civility, as long as it leads them to so-called victory.

We don’t have to re-litigate the Kavanaugh hearing to test this premise. There is plenty of evidence in our elections, in both the political processes and the policies of each successive administration. But of course, the most abundant evidence is in the Supreme Court itself. Corruption in the judiciary of a great republic is the height of incivility.

Civility is not a veneer. It has deep roots, as does incivility. But the grandfatherly men who defended the honor of Brett Kavanaugh today seemed completely unaware that their actions caused this upraor.

Atta Boy Republicans

Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing is the cherry atop Congress’s infernal sundae. We the people don’t dare ask what’s inside those lumpy scoops of ice cream and that oily chocolate sauce, but there is no doubt that the cherry is the most loathsome part of it.

Unfortunately, no one in Congress will bat an eye at my analysis. Anything I might say will roll off their backs just as long as they’re getting what they want. And if they are somehow forced to respond they’ll just look demurely at the floor like Jeff Flake, who recently pulled out all the stops with his long-suffering, hang-dog look. Hey, it’s the best he could do at short notice. He thought he could escape into the elevator but when the door failed to block his constituents he was forced to listen to their outrage. Still, that is a small price to pay for the freedom to ignore voters’ demands while living on a government salary. Now he claims to be in favor of an FBI investigation but I’m not holding my breath. The Republicans probably hope an investigation will improve their chances in the midterm election, but the Kavanaugh appointment will go through just the same.

Flake reminds me of my black Lab. She has a trick of acting like she wants to go outside, and then half-way to the door she gets a sly look on her face and goes back to her kennel. She does this because I taught her to expect a biscuit when she goes to her kennel. To state the obvious, Flake’s pre-vote soul-searching is the fake-out and his vote is the kennel.

More on the Progressive International with Yanis Varoufakis and Jeremy Corbyn

The world’s bankers are already united, and now Steve Bannon is busy building a neofascist international. In this conversation, Yanis Varoufakis invites Jeremy Corbyn to join Bernie Sanders in creating a Progressive International and sending a hopeful message to people all over the world.

More on the Spider’s Web Documentary

At first I thought the previous post contradicted my other articles on monetary policy in which I emphasized the connection between the value of a currency and capital flight, with deindustrialization resulting from differences in foreign exchange rates. However, I don’t think it’s a contradiction. It answers some questions that I had about those other articles.

Analyses of the disintegration of Bretton Woods mention briefly that at some point it became impossible to control the flow of capital. My question was, how did this happen? The mystery is solved when the City of London is included in the analysis. Basically, the Eurodollar market, or offshore banking, provided a way for capital to escape the limits of regulation.

Another part of this seeming contradiction has to do with the relationship between financialization and deregulation. Do policymakers choose between the two, or does one naturally follow the other? Is it a response to the market or is it a conspiracy? Since posting the first article about this documentary I have found that these questions are still under debate. The most extreme interpretation, and in my view the least interesting, is the assumption that economic crises are the result of class warfare. However, this documentary illustrates that without an awareness of the class interests represented by the City of London it would be impossible to understand current economics.

In this interview about The Spider’s Web more detail is provided on the underlying theories and debates.

The Siege of the Tax Havens

The following information is from a new documentary, The Spider’s Web: Britain’s Second Empire.

As the British Empire’s 300-year reign was coming to an end, the British elites saw their wealth evaporating as countries began to declare their independence. Bankers, lawyers and accountants responded by setting up a financial spider’s web to capture the world’s capital. This led to a restoration of revenue for the elite. This is Britain’s second empire.

Beginning in the 1960s there was an unintended consequence of this spider’s web. Great Britain and its partner in crime, the United States were de-industrialized (financialized). However, the developing countries suffer from this system more than wealthy countries. Today, Africa is wrongly said to be a net debtor. Africa’s foreign debt is $177 billion, but the wealth that has been moved offshore is $944 billion. Africa is actually a net creditor. Britain’s second empire starves developing nations of their wealth and tax revenues.

With each new revelation about offshore tax havens, politicians announce a crackdown on corruption, but they have no intention of following through. Today the offshore market is the world’s dominant financial market and it has penetrated the state’s apparatus to the point where politicians are its spokespersons. They are either lobbying congress or parliament to protect their racket, or they’re thinking of new ways to deny social programs to the public.

This video recommends five steps for addressing this problem:

Stop public councils from issuing public contracts to companies operating out of tax havens

Create public registers of beneficial owners of companies, trusts, and foundations

Introduce full transparency of deals and secret agreements between companies and governments

Introduce public country-by-country reporting by multinational companies

Introduce automatic information exchange between all countries

Here is an interview from this documentary:

Silence on the Progressive Front

In the past it would have been risky for an American politician to propose an international progressive front, but today it seems like a logical response to big money aggression.  It is a measure of the seriousness of our present circumstances that someone like Bernie would propose it, yet an eerie silence reigns on both the Left and the Right. September 15, 2018:  I missed this article published on September 13 by Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister and cofounder of DiEM25, whose New Deal for Europe will be put to European voters in the May 2019 European Parliament elections.  

A Proposal From Senator Sanders

Today the Guardian published a new proposal from Bernie Sanders.  Sanders’ basic argument is summed up in the title: A new authoritarian axis demands an interntional progressive front.   The most surprising part of this article, in my opinion, is his statement that it is not enough to defend the post-second world war global order as it exists now.
“We must look honestly at how that order has failed to deliver on many of its promises, and how authoritarians have adeptly exploited those failures in order to build support for their agenda.  We must take the opportunity to reconceptualize a genuinely progressive global order based on human solidarity, an order that recognizes that every person on this planet shares a common humanity, that we all want our children to grow up healthy, to have a good education, have decent jobs, drink clean water, breathe clean air and live in peace. Our job is to reach out to those in every corner of the world who share these values, and who are fighting for a better world. In a time of exploding wealth and technology, we have the potential to create a decent life for all people.  Our job is to build on our common humanity and do everything that we can to oppose all of the forces, whether unaccountable government power or unaccountable corporate power, who try to divide us up and set us against each other.  We know that those forces work together across borders.  We must do the same.”
I agree, and look forward to the ensuing discussion and debate.

UN Report Accuses Assad of War Crimes

Fox News has reported that a United Nations commission has accused the Assad regime and affiliated militias of war crimes.  A mountain of evidence is claimed as the basis for these accusations, but sources are not provided.
“The 24-page document by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic focuses on happenings inside Syria between January and July of this year. It is based on hundreds of interviews, satellite images, videos, medical records and government communications during that time period, among other sources.”
All of the incidents are said to have happened between January and July of this year, including an alleged chlorine payload delivered by helicopter on April 7.  Strangely, the report also cites the presence of Syrian government forces on the edge of Idlib and acknowledges it is in preparation for an offensive on the last major terrorist stronghold in Syria. It doesn’t mention that  the Syrians and Russians informed the United States of their  plans and warned its personnel to get out of the area.  The U.S. responded by sending in 500 additional troops. The article ends with the standard warning to the Syrians about using chemical weapons.
The White House warned Assad last week that if he chooses to use chemical weapons in the offensive against Idlib, the U.S. and its allies “will respond swiftly and appropriately.”
It is common knowledge that the Syrian government has no chemical weapons.  If the United States and its allies attack the Syrians, they will be committing a criminal act.