Monday, January 8, 2018

It's Not Even Past 5.2 - Machiavelli - First 42%

So we begin with this duality, whose title, I think, comes from Gore Vidal, but what he terms with disdain I espouse reluctantly with a vague kind of approval:

Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace

Machiavelli has the answer to why our lucky streak may not continue as well:
A prince ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war and its rules and discipline; for this is the sole art that belongs to him who rules, and it is of such force that it not only upholds those who are born princes, but it often enables men to rise from a private station to that rank. And, on the contrary, it is seen that when princes have thought more of ease of arms than they have lost their states. And the first cause of your losing it is to neglect this art; and what enables you to acquire the state is to be master of the art... For among other evils which being unarmed brings you, it causes you to be despised...
You hear this hawkishness and you can't help hearing the neoconservative echoes of Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. Hearing what sounds so much like the mantra of a perpetual war machine should make you recoil in horror. But here's a fact that might surprise you: neoconservatives hate Machiavelli. Leo Strauss, in some ways, the original neoconservative intellectuals, wrote a whole book - Thoughts on Machiavelli - arguing that virtually everything Machiavelli said was a discourse on why morality itself is a terrible thing. To neoconservatives, with their dreams of using military force to end evil forever, Machiavelli is one of their great enemies - a proto-Foucault who claims that all which matters is power, not morality. But at the same time, neoconservatives clearly owe so much to Machiavelli that it almost seems like Machiavelli is an Oedipal father figure they have to overthrow. Machiavelli merely claims that mastery of the art of war is what's necessary to preserve peace; but neoconservatives take that doctrine to the nth degree and allege that the implementation of war is how we eventually implement peace. The most extreme neoconservatives would probably allege that the more total the war, the more total the peace that follows. And yet, as Iraq has shown far better even than Vietnam did, that utopian delusion that we can create a liberal peace from war is as fundamental a misunderstanding of the aims of war as can exist. Precise war in which the targets are destroyed in the most strategic manner can create peace, but as Iraq showed, perpetual war can only create hatred. Here's Machiavelli again in the Discourses, and  he seems to be writing to us from a crystal ball about Iraq:
a people, who being accustomed to living under governments of others, not knowing to reason either on public defense or offense, not knowing the Princes or being known by them, return readily under a yoke, which often times is more heavy than that which a short time before had been taken from their necks: and they find themselves in this difficulty, even though the people is not wholly corrupt; for a people where corruption has not entirely taken over, cannot but live at all free even for a very brief time, as will be discussed below: and therefore our discussions concern those people where corruption has not expanded greatly, and where there is more of the good than of the bad [spoiled]. To the above should be added another difficulty, which is that the state which becomes free makes enemy partisans, and not friendly partisans. All those men become its enemy partisans who avail themselves of the tyrannical state, feeding on the riches of the Prince, [and] who when they are deprived of the faculty of thus availing themselves, cannot live content, and some are forced to attempt to reestablish the tyrancy so as to recover their authority.

So in addition to post-2003 Iraq, now consider Russia in the 1990's. Everything we learned in Iraq we should have already learned from our experience overseeing the transition to capitalism in Russia, only the transition in Russia was far, far more calamitous in the long term. Which brings us to our next duality:

Mercenary Army vs. Mercenary Citizens

Listen to this passage: 
And it has always been the opinion and judgement of wise men that nothing can be so uncertain or unstable as fame or power not founded on its own strength. And one's own forces are those which are composed either of subjects, citizens, or dependents; all others are mercenaries or auxiliaries...
Here in America, we have easily the world's largest army, 1.34 million active duty soldiers, and there hasn't been such a thing as conscription here for forty-five years. It's all volunteers, living a lifestyle of high discipline whose every ritual teaches them to love the for which they stand. 

So what happens if our army thinks the rest of us don't love our country as much as they do? What happens if our army thinks we aim to change what the country stands for? What happens if they feel the rest of us don't appreciate the sacrifices they make for us? 

The United States Military has increasingly become a family business. 80% of the US Military now has other members of the family serving in the military and half the military is stationed in just five states: California, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, and Texas. Afghanistan is now by far the longest war in American history. Most Americans have forgotten about it and about the people who are still making sacrifices for it, most American liberals have long since thought the war should have been over, most American progressives and socialists think that we're simply in a perpetual war to feed the military industrial complex. More and more, its atrocities are discussed in a free press - not just present crimes but historic atrocities that tarnish the idea in millions of minds that the military sacrifice of other millions is a mark to be venerated. 

This is no longer an army that is fighting to protect its country, it is the same army of professional soldiers that existed in Machiavelli's Italy, the difference is that they see us as the mercenaries. Who can quite blame them? A government that can't pay its debts gets involved in wars it can't end. After the nation building it did in Iraq and Afghanistan, the average American soldier knows more about building infrastructure than the average construction worker, and more about how to maintain rule of law than the average policeman. And given how clearly war has clearly shifted to the internet, the average soldier might know more about computer coding than the average programmer. 

Machiavelli would ask us what army of hired soldiers would fight with real passion for a monarch or a noble when they can always switch loyalties to a higher bidder or a ruler whom they think will potentially be better. But what happens when the military thinks it can switch loyalties from its ruler or its republic to itself? It's happened in so many other countries already. How many people still think America is the exception?  

So with all that in mind, listen to this passage and try to reinterpret it with modern ears:

They are ready enough to be your soldiers while you do not make war, but if war comes they take themselves off and run from the foe: which I should have little trouble to prove, for the ruin of Italy has been caused by nothing else than by resting her hopes for many years among mercenaries, and although they formerly appeared valiant amongst themselves, yet when foreigners came they showed what they were. Thus it was that Charles, King of France, was allowed to seize Italy with chalk in hand, and he who told us that the cause of it told the truth, but they were not the sins he imagined, but those which I have related. And as they were the sins of princes, it is the princes who have also suffered the penalty. 
I wish to demonstrate further the infelicity of these arms. The mercenary captains are either capable men or they are not; If they are, you cannot trust them, because they always aspire to their own greatness, either by opposing you who are their master, or others contrary to your intentions, but if the captain is not skillful, you are ruined in the usual way. 
There are states like Pakistan and Egypt where the military is the only competently run part of the country. Every industry, every civil institution, every government apparatus, declines into dysfunction, and only the military can reliably serve the public. All they demand in return is absolute power over rule of law and the treasury. Can this happen in America? Of course it can. Will it? Well, it's just one of a couple hundred different disasters that can befall this extremely decadent country of ours at any moment, and yet, we've avoided nearly all of them so far, so why should we think that streak won't continue? And that brings us to our next duality:

Heroism vs. Nurturance

So listen then to this passage:
...there is nothing proportionate between the armed and the unarmed; and it is not reasonable that he who is armed should yield obedience to he who is unarmed, or that the unarmed man should be secure among servants. Because, there being in the one disdain and the other suspicion, it is not possible for them to work well together. 
So let's not even think of the army for a moment. Just think of the Red America vs. Blue America. One is armed to the teeth. Not just professional soldiers - though it's worth noting that of the 10% of the country that is veterans, 2 in every 3 generally vote Republican. But this Red America also includes the vast majority of the possessors of the 300 or so million privately held firearms in this country (at least the firearms that are registered), and not to mention the most reliable bloc of Red America within Blue America - the police, who have readier access to firearms than anyone in America, and more legal means at their disposal to use them by far than even soldiers on active duty. 

This ultimately means two things.

1. There is a fundamental difference in ethos between the two sides of American, indeed, Northwestern, life, one of which believes in arming itself and the quality which always accompanies those who crave conflict, heroic self-reliance, the urge to prove oneself against obstacles, which means that if there are no obstacles in their way, they have an unconscious urge to create obstacles for themselves to overcome. For example, making enemies of people whose natural inclination would be to support and welcome them, to an extent which their communities never have.

Against them there are those who don't arm ourselves precisely because we crave a peaceful life, free of conflict. We don't want to be heroic, we want to support each other, we want to rely on each other, we want a community. And therefore, those who do not want to be part of our community of support are viewed with just as much disdain and suspicion (Machiavelli doesn't specify which side is which) as the others do. 

So now,

2. There will inevitably conflict between these two sides, and inevitably, the better armed side will win almost instantaneously. It is up to those of us on the more nurturant, liberal, side of the debate, the Barack Obamas, the Hillary Clintons, to be the conciliatory voice of reason. What the Bernie Sanderses and Elizabeth Warrens of America fail to understand is that our side does not have anything like the armaments to provoke the other side. If we can cool down the temperature of the debate, we can win, if the temperature goes up, we lose instantly, just as happened in 2016.

So let's just say for a moment that the impossible happened and Bernie Sanders became President as so many socialists alleged would have happened had he been nominated rather than Hillary and faced Trump. In the episode about The Godfather, we talked two weeks ago about the coup in Chile against Salvador Allende. I have no idea what sort of president Bernie Sanders would have been - the actual policies he presented were barely more progressive than Franklin Roosevelt, it was merely the temperament with which he advocated that made him so revolutionary - in some ways Sanders brought the worst of both sides to bare. Had he had done even a small fraction of what Allende did, if he successfully implemented any kind of change as President, any at all, that seemed broad-ranging, and advocated for it with the kind of scorched earth brimstone he spoke with on the campaign trail, he very well may have provoked a coup d'etat. The only way that would not happen is if socialists and progressives armed themselves to the teeth in the manner conservatives do, but if they armed themselves the way conservatives do, they would cease to represent the supportive, nurturant view of the world. They would be militants like Che Guevara and Maximillian Robespierre, and become the violence they claim to detest. Let's just say that an American Che came into conflict with an American Pinochet; we're a much more developed nation than Chile or Cuba, so  the death toll would be catastrophic. 

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