GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

August 16, 2006

Chronicle 338 – The Final Conflict

Filed under: GA — ericgans @ 11:24 am

The latest Chronicle of Love & Resentment, entitled “The Final Conflict,” is now available.

-eric gans


  1. This is a sobering wake-up call for all of us as moderns. Although Professor’s Gans language may sound alarmist and apocalyptic, I believe he describes the conflict in terms that our foes would largely accept, as the recent pronouncements by Iran’s president demonstrate. If anything, Gans’ langauge is not strong enough, since the political system advocated by our foes is perhaps more accurately described as fascist and totalitarian, not just “traditional.” Unfortunately, the American public seems to have already forgotten the lesson of 9/11: our enemies seek nothing less than our death and total destruction, and they are willing to make any and every sacrifice to achieve that goal. Thank goodness our president and a few of his advisors recognize the conflict for what it is.

    Comment by Q — August 16, 2006 @ 2:55 pm

  2. Still, there is a difference between the language used by our foes and the language we should be using; in fact, as Gans’ sense of the paradoxical nature of declaring this the “Final Conflict” shows, we can’t really use quite the same language as them, even if we wanted to. And the difference between “traditional” and “totalitarian” is more consequential than how strong our language should be. A war between those who believe (or wish others to believe) they are championing tradition and modernity is rather different than one between modernity and tradition–if it’s the former, and Islamic whatever-we-want-to-call-it is ultimately parasitic on modernity, then less “apocalyptic” (but not necessarily “weaker”) language would be called for.

    What if we were to actually sharpen the terms a bit–“modernity vs. tradition” still sounds like it comes out of a sociology textbook–our enemies, in fact, wouldn’t recognize themselves in that binary. Why not “Christiandom vs. Islam” or “western civilization vs. barbarism”? Why not call ourselves “crusaders”? Such are the terms that we would use if we believed this was the final conflict. Paradoxically, they are also terms we might use, in a modified fashion, to defer the finality of the conflict. Let Muslims decide whether they want to be part of Western civilization; let us level the playing field by taking an interest in the fate of Christians in the Islamic world. In other words, introducing a more traditional frame ourselves might enable us to draw lines more intelligibly between friend and foe–or, rather, force those still waiting to see who will be the stronger horse sort themselves out into those categories. And it will remind us more effectively of what we are defending, not just who we are defending it from.

    The problem is, what do you say next? Once we concede that the terrorists speak authentically for the resentment of those who have failed to make the transition to modernity, what would it mean to win the battle? With an enemy like this, it seems that only killing every last one will suffice. But if the enemy includes all those who have not sufficiently distinguished themselves from the enemy, what will suffice? To be fair to the Israelis, perhaps this is the paradox they just found themselves confronted with.

    According to Gans, Iran is about to provoke a decisive confrontation–indeed, that’s a necessary assumption, if we are to see this as the “final conflict.” But I don’t see how that fits with the creeping demographic scenario that threatens Europe–surely, the time needed for Muslims to conquer Europe must be measured in decades. (I also don’t see why, if Muslims are adhering to tradition so insistently, we couldn’t simply posit that they will be an exception to the tendency toward lower birth rates, even among Third World peoples.) Assuming Iran plans to be around to help advance that conquest, the threat is less that of a decisive confrontation right now (which we would win decisively–if Iran does its worst, our present inhibitions would be, to say the least, drastically lowered) than of a long term corrosion of our will and surrender of institutional positions, bit by bit. Meanwhile, large scale terror attacks would “punctuate” that process, making us feel ever more helpless, all the more willing to sell off another piece of our heritage that has become too costly to defend. In that case, Iran’s present bluster is certainly to be taken seriously–anything is possible, after all–but more, ultimately, as a bid for long term leadership of the resurgent “Caliphate.” (And, thinking long term, we’d have to keep in mind that one bid calls forth others–Iran and al-Qaeda are probably already both cooperating and trying to out-bid each other)

    Part of my purpose in nibbling around the edges of Gans’ scenario is to direct some attention to our own simmering “civil war”–calling for civilizational mobilization might unite us sufficiently so as to marginalize White Guilt, but it might also be that we will have to take on both enemies at the same time, in which case strategies devised to confront one will have to be designed so as to simultaneously subvert the other. And “post-millenial” rather than “apocalyptic” rhetoric might be better at that.

    Comment by adam — August 16, 2006 @ 4:04 pm

  3. A few words in defense of my “apocalyptic” rhetoric:

    “Decisive confrontation” doesn’t mean a frontal attack on the USA. But if Iran does get the bomb (and are we so sure it won’t?) I don’t think we, let alone Mr. A, will be thinking in decades. The falling birthrate is a “metaphor” for Westernization, and can even Mr. A be sure of his troops for another 2 generations?

    Not that I “expect” all-out war, but what did they expect in 1938? And si vis pacem, para bellum. The Hezbollah non-victory is certainly not going to make our enemies less confident.

    I certainly didn’t say that the Islamists speak “authentically” for Tradition. Did the Bolsheviks speak “authentically” for the Proletariat? I don’t think “authenticity” is a very useful concept, whether in GA or even in Heidegger. Its real referent is the acceptance of transcendence, which is the structure of the sign. We live with it, but can never “accept” it except paradoxically; and I can always call your paradox “inauthentic,” since it is by nature “logically flawed.”

    In any case what is at stake here is the resentment of the “traditional” world, not because they are really defending traditional values, but because they can use tradition as the guarantee of their resentment. But to the extent that one must respect one’s adversary as a human being, this at least gives all this rage a “world-historical” significance; you can’t agree with resentment, accept it as a “legitimate” view of the world, but you have to try to understand it in terms as close as possible to the resentful Other’s self-perception that nevertheless reveal it as resentment (rather than “injustice”).

    As for knowing whether my piece contributes in the long run to increasing rather than reducing resentment: all I can say is that I am trying to face reality as it now appears to me. We have to see the situation as a potential “end-of-history,” that is, take it seriously. That doesn’t tell us what to do, but it puts us in the proper attitude. I think Podhoretz has a similar goal (for a qualitatively larger audience), as did the Jerusalem Post reporter Adam recommended to me the other day, who thought Israel should defeat Hezbollah in a way maximally unspinnable by them as victory.

    To be constructive, since I know Adam and I agree on the basic sense of urgency, etc., what do you think we should we as thinkers be doing to improve the current situation at home (where our audience, such as it is, resides) and on the world scale? -eric gans

    Comment by gans — August 16, 2006 @ 11:37 pm

  4. While I don’t know if this is an answer to Professor Gans’ question:

    “what do you think we should we as thinkers be doing to improve the current situation at home (where our audience, such as it is, resides) and on the world scale?”,

    but I can’t help but think as I read these texts that aren’t we somehow forgetting the power of language to “defer violence”? All the talk seems to be about using violence to defer worse violence — isn’t that the situation that was present before the originary event?

    Can’t we find a way to use language for what it seemingly was invented, as Professor Gans has tried to explain, deferring violence? Is there a way to conduct a conversation between Modernity and Tradition, between civilizations? Somehow working to begin or extend this conversation or conversations seems like a important goal emerging from a group of people who have worked so hard to try to help re-vision the foundational nature of language and culture.

    Jeff Wild

    Comment by jeffwild — August 17, 2006 @ 12:11 am

  5. I ‘ll start with the basic distinction I was hoping to draw and then move on to some of the other questions you raise. Implicit in the “final conflict” is two fully formed camps, unalterably opposed and incompatible–for this to be the case, you must place the Third World, or at least Islamic masses, firmly in the Islamist camp. That’s why, it seems to me, the logic of your argument required you to “telescope” the process of Islamic infiltration into Europe, so as it make it coincide with Iran’s acquisition of the bomb–a kind of acceleration of the crisis in which all the battles become one big battle and, especially, all those who are wavering and indecisive will flock to one camp or the other, seems implicit here.

    I see the situation as more divided, both on their side and ours. Strictly speaking, is there a “we” at this point? There is no real resistance to Islamic totalitarianism in the Islamic world because there is no frame within which such resistance can be expressed, except by the very bravest. This is the work of the “Bush Doctrine,” which carefully avoids implicating (sometimes, of course, naively or perhaps deliberately underplaying broader tendencies–that’s part of politics) Islam as a whole. I saw the Chronicle as aligned with people whom I admire greatly and have learned a lot from (like Caroline Glick–and also Diana West of the Washington Times and Andrew McCarthy of NRO) who believe the Bush Doctrine is based on illusions and the Muslim world cannot be democratized and we simply need to focus on destroying our enemies. (This is why Podhorotz focuses so much on conservatives who have turned away from the Bush Doctrine.) I acknowledge that this position may turn out to be right, but I don’t think we lose anything by acting as if it’s wrong because, contrary to their claims, assuming that democratization is possible in the Muslim world does not imply that we must appease our enemies. We can be the enemies of a democratically elected government, since we know that democracy involves more than elections and we can insist that a genocidal terrorist regime, even if elected, is not really democratic. This introduces complications, but so does painting ourselves in a corner by claiming that an entire part of the world is intrinsically inimical to us.

    So, we of course agree on the main things–like that Bush would be extraordinarily derelict in allowing Iran to acquire a bomb, or to leave office without neutralizing the Iranian regime in some way. And, of course, “final conflict” could be read very broadly, to include a decades long struggle (but, again, I note that you seem to reject this interpretation), so perhaps I could adopt and modify rather than objecting to the phrase. But I don’t think “final conflict” best captures the dual struggle in place, between defenders of civilization on the one hand and the white guilt/victimary axis on the other hand. I agree with the need for some designation marking the world historical character of this struggle, in which the future of civilization really is at stake, and with a very uncertain outcome. But it’s the kind of battle we could only lose if we prove incapable of fighting it coherently–more like the Romans vs. the barbarians than us vs. the Nazis or Communists (the Communists could draw upon genuinely committed Westerners, while the Islamists, with few exceptions depend primarily upon Westerners who are willing to take them on as “clients,” so to speak). It’s more of an internal test, and I see attempts to inflate the enemy as deflecting attention to what is really an easier task, something we know how to do: kill lots of people who want to kill us. The harder thing which, again, has not quite been captured yet, is to take 9/11 as as sign transcending and preserving the ethical revelation of “Auschwitz,” which is the source of White Guilt, but can’t be only that. And this is the task of anthropological inquiry.

    Did I leave anything unanswered? I should say that I hope for a dialogue between these two positions–I certainly don’t simply “reject” yours, as I hope I’ve made clear. But it seems to me that the Bush Doctrine represents the more “authentic” deferral at this point, being not only strikingly new but world historical in scope and anthropologically profound, that it is currently embattled among conservatives, that it is extraordinary that such a consistent and noble approach should have been put in place under such conditions–and that therefore I want to be numbered among the few who have been with it from beginning to end (and to have it represented forcefully within GA).

    Comment by adam — August 17, 2006 @ 6:25 am

  6. Just a note to say that was a powerful Chronicle, possibly the best. There are too many things to think about for me to focus at present into any coherent comments, and I am not sure to what extent I am “on board” with everything presented in the Chronicle, but the mere effort to put things on the radar screen and frame them so lucidly in terms of global resentments is praiseworthy.

    Comment by Matthew Taylor — August 17, 2006 @ 6:36 am

  7. I am afraid that what I am going to write will put me in the camp of the White Guilt, but so be it, as any sort of classification, while very comforting, is inevitably sacrificing the shades of colour to the pseudo-structured vision (i.e. liberals vs. conservatives, White Guilt vs White Pride, Modernity vs. Tradition). This said, the classification does exist, but it constantly requires revisions, additions, and modifications.
    To cut to the chase, it would greatly help us to keep in mind an even elementary historical frame of reference. Let us pick the two major phenomena that may explain the current Final Conflict: modern Israel and Islamic terror. 1948 marked the passing of the UN resolution creating the modern state of Israel. It helps to remember that the same resolution has commemorated the creation of another modern state, Palestine. But the accent and concern were directed, for obvious reasons, toward Israel.
    The creation of the state of Israel was problematic, as it chose to ignore the geo-political realities on the ground. To point out in passing, the logic behind the process of the creation takes the Biblical tradition as its justification and the point of origin. By giving to the Jews the “sacred land” that is rightfully theirs, the West has created the state whose principle is anything but modern. There is no separation between the Church and the State. Ignoring the religious islamic make up of the local populace, the founders of the modern Israel offered the traditional muslims to either leave without ever being able to return or to accept becoming the subjects of the Judaic State. Why is it so surprising that great many could not accept becoming the citizens of Israel? The rest is, as they say, history. The generations of rejects living in camps in economic darkness and constant misery have created the furtile ground for the extremism and the hatered. This resentment has become directed at the US as well as the staunchest ally if Israel.
    As we see, the resentment is logically justified. Israel today is still, oficially, the state of and for the Jews. Being democratic, its present survival depends on maintaining of the Jewish majority. As such, any discussion of the so called right of return is out of the question. But it is not at all, at least not at the outset, the conflict between the marked driven modernity and the Tradition. It is when this original injustice has collided with the market dominated West, that the resentment has become directed against the West in general.
    The terrorism has to be distinguished between the acts taking place in Israel and the international terrorism symbolised by the 9/11 and the Al-Qaida. When the two parties at the table are engaged in the negotiations, the talking may only bear fruit when each of them wants something that the other has. If however, one party has what the other wants, but not vice-versa, there is no incentive for the holder of the goods to share it. In such an untenable situation, the other party creates the good that the other covets. And it the case of the Palestinians that is peace. What to do in a situation like this? If I were writing this in the 50s, I would say to keep talking. But now the environment on the ground is more difficult. The original injustice has created the crowds of terrorists who refuse to negotiate. In so doing, it must be said, they emulate the Israel’s strategy. No matter what it is, it is impossible to talk to people who ablsolutely vow the destruction of Israel, even if it was the marriage between the West and Israel that led to the conception of this violent and ugly son.
    The international terrorism is a bit different. When the US troops have deployed near the sacred Islamic sites in Mecca and Medina, it has created, to put it in mild terms, somewhat of an annoyance. What else should one expect? We mock the Islamic mysoginy, the dress code and the bigotry. And it is our right to dislike their darkness. But when we come to them, this right disappears. If we don’t understand this fact, we create the annoyance.
    The question is why the american troops should be there even after the defeat of Sadam? Why is this region so important to the American interests? I would refer you to Emmannuel Todd’s latest book (circa. 2004). We, in the States, are not absolutely dependent on the mid-eastern oil, we have Mexico, Canada, Alasca, Gulf of Mexico, Hugo Chavez, Nigeria etc, in the relative proximity and stability. It is Europe whose survival depends on the uninterrupted flow of liquid gold from Saudi Arabia and other regional players. The US being a net-importer, depends for survival of its current economic model, on the continued perception of its domestic stability coupled with the high investment returns. How to foster such a perception in a more and more competitive world? By being more and more competitive, the naive would reply. And they would forget the other part of the answer, which is making the adversary appear less stable. So, when EU by introducing the common currency has thratened the US hegemony as the World’s most attractive bazaar, where the net exporters would sell their produce, keeping an american muscle on the european pulse would appear a well thought out strategy, from the US perspective. But, I am only explaining here why the Americans are in Saudi Arabia.
    The second reason for them being there is to protect the local tyrainical regimes, whose only virtue is in their secular aspect. Yes, we all know, that if a democracy were to come to Saudi Arabia, to Jordan, to Egypt or to Morocco, the Bin Ladens of the world would become presidents and prime ministers. And that is where the US finds itself in a bind. On the one hand, during the Cold War, it has become associated with the brave defence of the freedoms and the democratic principles. On the other, it protects the tyrants in Pakistan, S. Arabia, just as it did in Chile ( ill famous Augusto Pinochet). How can such a policy be taken seriously and be respected? And even more, how can it be said to represent the Modernity? Does the absence of any honour, of any principle, of any continuity now become parts of Modernity? If the answer is positive, the Tradition suddenly holds some attraction, does it?
    Of course, the reality is different. There is no Tradition vs. Modernity war. The West is fighting its own crazed sons, who are blinded by the hatered, which at the outset was generated by a just resentment againt the injustice.
    “What to do?”- ask we together with Chernishevsky. No matter what we decide, but the lack of vision of the better solution is not an excuse to persevere in the past crimes. I refer here to the Iraq invasion. We went there under the false and criminal pretense. The fact that we messed up and have created the legal vacuum does not justify the continued invasion. The Irakis resist by killing the invadors, regardless of the fact that the invador has freed them from the joug of a ruthless dictator. The Soviets being killed by millions at the end of the 30s did not welcome the German Army as their liberators. Why should Irakis?
    So, there is the war between the hatred having usurped the Tradition to its cause and the unjust behaviour of the country having from its end usurped the banner of Modernity and the name of the West. The war does need to be fought, but maybe gradual removing of the original injustices would at least stop feeding the resentment.

    Comment by yevgeny — August 17, 2006 @ 1:58 pm

  8. A couple of comments. First, while the legitimacy of Israel can be debated forever, their claim is as least as good as any other group in the region, by historical precedent in Biblical times, by centuries of persecution and exile including their near extermination by the Nazis, and by UN proclamation. Setting aside history for a moment, the Israel state exists and it is not going away. Israel has recognized in principle the Palestinian nation and its right to exist. The Palestinians have not granted the same to the Israelites. When they do, then serious negotiations can begin and peace can be achieved. Not before.

    As for the invasion of Iraq. The declaration of war against the US on 9/11 by Islamic terrorism changed the rules of international diplomacy. While Saddam may or may not have had direct connections with Al Queda, he was a terrorist dictator who invaded Kuwait, used and developed weapons of mass destruction (even if he did not possess them at the time of the invasion), and massacred his own people.

    Comment by Q — August 18, 2006 @ 9:31 am

  9. I would add to my above comments that US troops remain in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government.

    Comment by Q — August 18, 2006 @ 9:56 am

  10. Everything Q says is right, but the interesting thing is that it’s hardly even necessary to respond to these arguments now–it’s not so much that they’re obviously wrong as that they are irrelevant. It would be like entertaining German complaints about the Treaty of Versailles in 1943–the complaints might all be justified but are a bit beside the point now. Muslims with grievances against the West, the US and Israel have chosen, shall we say, a rather different “venue” for pursuing those grievances than the language of diplomatic give and take. It would be wrong to address even just complaints now because they would inevitably be intepreted as victories for terrorism and hence provoke further outrages and gain support for the terrorist gangs. On the other hand, once the terrorists are completely crushed and the Islamic totalitarians completely repudiated, especially if this takes place with the help of those they claim to represent, it will be possible to speak of many things.

    Comment by adam — August 18, 2006 @ 10:31 am

  11. I will try to pull a few scattered thoughts together, going back more toward the original scope of the Chronicle.

    When I think of the market, or global consumer capitalism, I see some problems with it re: terror. First, I think that there was some French thinker (Aron?) whose critique of capitalism was (something to the effect) that it perpetually produces guilt-ridden children of privilege who feel the need to expiate their guilt by acting on some utopian rage or another. In other words, given the market system, there’s a perpetual fifth column (typically inhabiting the middle or upper middle class strata) trying to expiate its guilt (in benefitting from this same market system) by ripping it down, or at least making gestures in that direction. Though this plurality within developed countries may not necessarily aid and abet terror, it is very hard to imagine it opposing terror in any realistic way, and must, of course, always interpret any action against terror as part of “the system” that oppresses blah, blah, blah. The fact that these gestures go on without skipping a beat even when terrorists openly propose societies that subjugate women, are intolerant, are virulently anti-semitic, publically execute homosexuals, etc. etc. is depressing proof that this perpetual fifth column is essentially content-free; its the gesture that counts. We’re always stuck with this fifth column because we’re always stuck with Judeo-Christian guilt (and the fifth column is the inevitable distorted form of Judeo-Christian guilt that arises in a successful market economy).

    Things look more bleak to me than this, however, because one thing that most of us will agree we have to address is, in fact, this huge global gap between countries successfully integrated into the global economy and those not. With the new rules this is much, much harder, because the countries that can resist terror with some success are either totalitarian or decidedly autocratic, or liberal democracies with the means to build a security apparatus. The biggest victims of terror now (though I could be proved wrong in hours) are Iraqis. Excepting Israel, the victims of terror have almost always mostly been third world victims, and terror is, and I am afraid will increasingly be, a weapon deployed freely to extort and subvert any nascent democratic movement. So, in these places, the only way to “share the wealth” will be some form of paternalistic distribution (cf Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Chavez in Venezuela), etc. Or absolute chaos like in Somalia, etc. etc.

    In other words, this is a huge blow most especially for the poorest countries. The global gap will get even worse, and the more privileged countries will be more and more like gated communities.

    In this sense, I feel that to counteract this trend, it is very important what goes on in Africa, and that it is very important to encourage economic and structural development there, and through non-military means. The conventional intermational institutions for distributing aid are of course largely corrupt and laughably ineffective, so we should not look there. But nevertheless, in many ways, Africa is our future–or so I think.

    Comment by Matthew Taylor — August 19, 2006 @ 8:35 am

  12. I gather that the majority of the participants would subscribe to the following view point: If a bully walks around the school yard and kicks everybody’s behind, it is a regretable state of affairs. When those whose behinds are kicked complain, try to negotiate, they are laughed at. Very well. Then the bully having established his domain decides not to be a bully anymore. Time passes, but the kicked behinds are still sore. And when their unfortunate owners (of the sore behinds), start to kick back, they are suddenly expected to chose a diplomatic avenues for channeling their grievances. Why? It is laughable at the least. First, the bully has to return what it had taken by kicking butts, then the negotionations can be had.
    I am not at all advocating the death of Israel, or the return of the West Bank, realising fully that such a gesture would subject the heart of Israel to the missles of terror. I am now talking about the principle.
    The honoured participats seem to embrace the moral relativity and take it rather far. I explain myself. We tend to consider the society that sells itself to the tribal/ethnic rhetoric to be a bit lagging behind in its evolution. When we separate people into Blacks and Whites, Americans and aliens, gays and hetoros, and when we refuse to see anything other than this primitive division, we have the work to do. And we have done this work, or constantly doing it, or at least trying to do it. Now, when we say that there is no Fairness or Justice other than the one that is just for us, for the West, for the Market, we inevitably fall into the hole from which we are desperately trying to climb.
    If I live in the Market system and benefit from it, it does not mean that I forego the moral right to acknowledge its shortcomings. If I live in the US, it does not mean that I have to wrap myself in the flag and drink my vodka to the boring “God bless the US.” Great many people would not agree, and they would be simplistic in their disagreement. It is this “fifth column” that drives the progress trying to improve the Market system and to maybe one day even to give God a reason to bless the US.
    How can we blame the Islamists for trying to spread their Halifat and at the same time try desperately to spread our Market? How are we better? Yes, they kill the homosexuals, proclaim the death to Israel, make their women wear hijab. But we, in trying to spread our Phillips curve and the economies of scale, do not flinch by killing millions of their innocents, by constantly raping Africa for its natural riches. If we continue along the same lines, we are the same.
    We may hope to understand this only when and if we realise that there is such a concept of Fairness, not our Fairness or theirs, but this blind abstract Fairness that teaches not to take what is not yours even if you can.

    Comment by yevgeny — August 19, 2006 @ 1:33 pm

  13. It seems to me that the moral relativism is yours, Yevgeny–if we can’t prefer the market and democracy over honor killings and dhimmitude, what kinds of choices can we make–why be on the side of the bully’s victim, for that matter? Maybe the bully really believes in his “bullyism”–who are we to say?

    To make your case, you need to at the same time present the market system as just another system of domination, based on domination and exploitation. Meanwhile, to sustain the morality of your own critique, you must also acknowledge that it can “evolve,” and move beyond “tribal” divisions (how would you make a case for moving beyond “primitive divisions” in Saudi Arabia?). But that’s the choice, then–support and participate in the system that can evolve or support the system that not only can’t (or at least shows no signs of doing so, except perhaps under the influence of the other system) but increasingly seeks to destroy its competitor. I’ll accept your skewed metaphor, that the U.S. has been the “bully” (while reserving the right to dispute it on another occasion–I don’t think Soviet and Eastern European–or Iranian–dissidents, to take just one example, would completely agree)–if the bully has indeed decided to move beyond his bullyism, which is to say, to take responsibility for maintaining the system, he would indeed be derelict in his duty to accept a few “kicks in the butt” because that right away corrupts the system by accepting the principle of free lance “butt-kicking.” And those who will creep in through that loophole will not be those most deserving of a revenge kick–it will be those who have their own agenda, one which is best advanced by punching open such loopholes as wide as possible (you mention Africans, but they are not flying planes into buildings and blowing themselves up in busses–what, exactly, have we done to the Saudis or Pakistanis other than figure prominently in their paranoid, sensationalist, state controlled media driven fantasies?).

    It is only through acceptance of the market system that the principle of fairness you mention can be realized–that you must give in order to receiev is precisely the antithesis of taking what you can. And, in case you haven’t noticed, we have not seized the Saudi oil fields, which would surely be simple enough from a sheer military perspective.

    Comment by adam — August 19, 2006 @ 3:20 pm

  14. I think living in the “market system” (which has, in my opinion, other weaknesses in the current context that I did not have time to go into above) definitely places upon those within it a moral obligation–as yevgeny says, and not just an option–to “share the wealth,” to extend its benefits. The assumption of the left is that they ARE discharging this obligation (by being for or against this and that) and that their partisan opponents are NOT (by being for or against the other thing). This assumption is, I think, quite wrong, yet is seldom subject to internal critique–and when it is subject to external critique the accusation of being on the side of the “oppressor” can be hurled at the critiquer quick as lightning. Thus, the leftist seems to carry on within a rigid and buffered moral system, unable to examine its strengths and weaknesses. Conservatives and conservative converts, who have actually adapted over many decades, and in fact absorbed most primary liberal values, are so used to being implausibly called the oppressor that it has little effect and is in fact a sort of running joke.

    But, whatever. Among the other problems I have with the “market system” in this context are as follows:

    The “market system” I think is not itself anything that people will want very much to fight/die/kill for–this is, and will always be, a strong point of the leftist critique, animated by a Judeo-Christian guilt that, however distorted it gets, has some definite heft behind it. In fact, though GA is very sharp in drawing out the importance of the global exchange system freed, for good or ill, from sacred strictures, I feel that that’s not all that the market is. I think (and this is no doubt crude and uninformed) the “market” is just the outcome of human resourcefulness, adaptability, and creativity given somewhat free play in the productive sphere. It will “happen,” given certain basic freedoms and minimally non-corrupt governing and regulating structures. It seems that the left (at least after Bill Clinton) will never acknowledge this–the wealth is already “out there,” and it has to be distributed evenly. Well, no, it has to be generated, not simply controlled and distributed. (“It’s the economy, stupid.”)

    But I guess what I’m saying is that the “market” is neither ends nor means but one (of other) outcomes given minimal freedoms and guarantees.

    The other problem with the “market” in and of itself–as Dr. Gans may be suggesting here and there in the Chronicle–is that in itself it possesses no regenerative values. Hence, for instance, the demographic decline in Asia and the West. The “market,” in and of itself, just produces a languid hedonism, where kids are a headache and an investment of time and energy with no obvious payback. If terrorist and terrorist sympathizers smell blood and vulnerability here, they are not exactly incorrect.

    Here the “fifth column” comes in again, because any suggestion that all is not quite right within liberal democracies and the “market system” in terms of its basic values will be met with thundering denunciations of being reactionary and blah blah blah. Thus, the fifth column element is in one sense the most ardent defender of the what the terrorists most despise (sheer hedonism and secularism), yet because of Judeo-Christian guilt and automatic deference to whoever claims to stand in for the oppressed Other, very unlikely to oppose any program advanced by the terrorists, be it eighty or ninety times more oppressive than the “reactionary” forces that they thunder against in their own society. (The cognitive dissonance has reached the level of fingernails scraping down a blackboard, boosted by rock-concert sized amplifiers.)

    Meanwhile, what’s with China and Russia? To them its still the old power game. To some extent they “have to” be against America and the “West” just out of force of habit (the enemy of my enemy). Either this is inevitable, or the result of very poor diplomatic ball-rolling on the part of the US, or both.

    I don’t see the way out of this.

    However, I do see the importance of the engagement with, especially, much of Africa and other impoverished regions, and it also seems something that can redirect the moral energies of people within the market system. And let’s face it, when we’re within the market system we are, all of us, to a greater or lesser extent, morally psychotic with regard to wealth, security, privilege, etc.

    Comment by Matthew Taylor — August 19, 2006 @ 6:11 pm

  15. Adam. First, let me address the moral relativism clause. To start, let us make a thing clear: the conflict, even according to Prof. Gans, is between the Market and the Tradition. Note here, that it is not between the Market and the Islam. The radicals have hijacked the Tradition. As such, the opposition is simply between the cartesian pure reasonable system based upon the values of Adam Smith (invisible hand, supply and demand, laissez-faire capitalism, trickle down effect etc.) and the Other (not necessarily violent bearded women killers) who accepts the presence of something different, the values and the ways of doing things that are not necessarily outwardly reasonable in the cartesian sence of the word.
    If we posit the World view avoiding the rhetorically effective extremes, then the decent thing to adopt is the tolerance toward difference. For example, if you opt in favour of a smaller government, and, by the same token, accept the under-provisions of resources for the common good/externality projects, you should not consider your position to be the only one which is “appropriate”, as there are other variations of the Market (United States vs. Norhern European socialism).
    Nobody is defending the archaic stagnant ways of the radical Islam. Let us not forget however, that the West has had its dark ages, the Inquisition, most notably. We have evolved through mass murder, through the intolerance to where we are today. Islam is the youngest of the main religions of the world. They are now where we were 500 years ago in terms of their societal evolution. They should be left alone, to evolve, to devolop. But such is the ideal situation. They sit on what the West needs: oil. That is the problem. Couple that with the neo-con intolerance and neo-existentialist ethics (Sartrian “I choose for the whole humankind”), and you have the current US mainstream discourse.
    We may even attempt to look at the current situation from the Girardian tools. Somewhat just criticism of the White guilt phenomenon throws the swing in the other extreme. If we are not to feel guilty, it immediately means that we are justified to feel superior. If the partisans of the White Guilt would deneg the merits of the western civilisation and sing the hymns of the Incas and/or the Maya, the other side would reject the wisdom and the art of the Incas and/or the Maya and laugh at their cannibalism refusing to see anything beyond this extreme social trait radically opposed to what is our way. The golden middle would seem to be somewhere in between: acknowledging the merits of the Other without feeling ourselved diminished in the process. And the merit criteria is not at all the closeness of the Other to Me.
    The strong case fot capitalism is in the fact that it is the only social/economic organisation that embraces and tries to manage the vice of human nature (selfishness, greed, mainly). As such, any other system would immediately be accompanied by the mechanisms of repression. History has always shown, that the repression of human nature is bound to fail. Its failure will be permanent, if it is the result of internal contradictions. Any arrival of the wise enlightened invador will only defer its demise. The goings on in Iraq are the case in point, the tough talk on Iran is another example in which the tyrant’s popularity grows on the face of the outside enemy.
    The use of force will only provide the political capital and illusion of security to the West. It has to isolate the Islam, restrict if not eliminate the immigration from the Islamic countries. At the same time, the West has to work on diminishing its newly rediscovered arrogance and intolerance of difference. In this view, the Israel’s drive to build the wall is not that bad of an idea.
    How the West can isolate itself from Islam without giving up some of its western values? I don’t see the possibility, but the necessity of such an isolation is becoming more and more evident.

    Comment by yevgeny — August 21, 2006 @ 1:42 pm

  16. I think we are speaking past each other by now. I’m not sure I see the coherence of your argument–we should tolerate but isolate, the conflict is tradition vs. modernity not modernity vs. Islam but we nevertheless need to isolate Islam, even thought the tradition has been hijacked. It seems to me like you are moving pieces around on a game board–we need to be self-confident, but not arrogant, tolerant but not weak, capitalism corresponds to human nature, but imposing capitalism would also violate it… We need to ground our discussion in anthropological concepts.

    Perhaps we should return to an important part of Gans’ Chronicle that we haven’t really addressed, and which supports his more “binary” interpretation of the current situation as opposed to my previous commentary, in which I broke down the binary into a split both within us and within the Islamic other. I tend to see totalitarian Islam as primarily parasitic on the West, with the possibility that its plans for a “Caliphate” will become relevant given enough capitulations on the part of the West; Gans puts this possibility up front, as an emergent, if not present reality, making a strong argument for the growing unification of the alienated Muslim immigrant in the West, the radicalized Islamic states, and the continued existence of traditional Islamic society. So, what does the conflict look like in those terms? What resources did the West muster and generate in its previous conflicts with Nazism and Communism, and what will we require now? What would count as victory–reconciling Islam with modernity? Destroying the capacity of the Muslim world to make war (how, given that its present means of making war already presuppose a collective lack of any such capacity)? In such conflicts, the West has always been divided–think of all the apologists for Communism in the West; in my understanding, even when the Ottomans were at the Gates of Vienna in 1683, the Western powers could not put aside their differences and confront the enemy as one. How might this be a source of strength as well as weakness? How does the originary hypothesis help us out here?

    Comment by adam — August 21, 2006 @ 9:01 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Powered by WordPress