Tag Archive: liberalism: Social Memory Complex

Glenn Greenwald and the Technocratic Blind Spot

I'm a big fan of Glenn Greenwald; just about every position he takes is anti-authoritarian, liberal in the best sense, and based on rule of law (which, in this age, is as close to fairness as one can expect). However, he wrote an article on the Chick-fil-a controversy that bugs me. On the narrow question of whether governments should be able to punish corporations for political advocacy, I agree with him that such punishment is unconstitutional. I take issue with his reasoning, though.

Greenwald invites us to consider a series of bills that enlist government in punishing corporations for views they express, money they donate to causes, etc. Some examples:

  • Congress enacts a law that states: No business incorporated in America, whether for-profit or non-profit, shall be permitted to donate any of its money to groups espousing liberal ideas. Any business found to be in violation of this prohibition shall be guilty of a Class A felony. Corporate donations to groups espousing conservative causes shall still be permissible and legal.
  • A city enacts an ordinance that states: Any business found to have donated money to any group that advocates same-sex marriage or abortion rights (including Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood) shall be barred from doing business within the city limits. Businesses shall still be permitted to donate money to groups which advocate against same-sex marriage or against abortion rights.

I agree with him that the above laws are unconstitutional. Government is prohibited from discriminating or giving unequal protection to the free speech rights of corporations as currently settled law stands (that was indeed one of the caveats he made). Indeed, Greenwald took pains to point out that even in the Citizens United case, not one Supreme Court justice questioned the legitimacy of corporate personhood at all (I addressed Greenwald's commentary on this matter in more detail here). I also agree with him that The Nation's Lee Fang takes an unprincipled, politically expedient position against corporate personhood -- one cannot confine one's critiques of the doctrine to only those cases where it acts against one's sense of justice. Nobody wants to be allied with a hack like Fang less than I.


Abstaining for Change
Why I will not vote for Barack Obama this year

I voted for Barack Obama in 2008. I didn't do so because I believed the hope and change hype. Since Obama changed two key positions almost immediately after winning the nomination (telecom immunity and caving to AIPAC on Iran) I had long abandoned such naivete. Instead, I voted for Obama because I thought at least he would be restrained and judicious in charge of the imperial war machine. The attitudes of the Bush years seemed more important to repudiate than the actual policies, and everything seemed to indicate that, while he wouldn't depart too much from Bush's war policy and domestic police state, he would at least go about it in a more measured, less bellicose manner.

I think after three years of Obama at the helm, we can safely put to rest any notion that he's any substantively different. Need I list the reasons? Composing "kill lists" for drone strikes that target any "military-age males" and kill scores of innocents. Duplicity on withdrawing from Iraq. Doubling down on Afghanistan. Waging a war on whistleblowers while indeminfying torturers and other criminals. Corporatized health care for all. Continuing and extending bailouts for corporate America. Crackdowns on medical marijuana despite his campaign rhetoric. The NDAA and indefinite detention of suspected terrorists.

Just as it is unwise to be reflexively partisan when voting, it's unwise to be a reflexive voter at all. I am not the kind of anarchist who believes voting is inherently evil or violent. You have to weigh each opportunity on its own, unique merits, surveying where you can make the most difference. Even when you choose to participate, most of the time the real opportunity has nothing to do with the office being contested or the people contesting it. Because the state is tied up so intricately in the civil society we want to liberate, and engaging those people is the real task anyway, we have to meet them where they're at.


Written on Sunday, June 03, 2012
Tags: election, 2012, obama, voting, democrats, liberalism, progressivism

Liberalism and Democracy
Keith Preston on Carl Schmitt

AlternativeRight.com is a site I've been interested in, if a bit wary of, since Keith Preston informed me of its launch earlier this year. I've seen some commentary there that I find not so challenging or interesting, but some of the articles provide food for thought. Of particular interest to me are the realist approaches of many on this alternative right, and acknowledging novel and new insight into the realities of our world need not necessitate the adoption of their politics nor the acceptance of their conclusions. As a staunch leftist egalitarian, I find that maintaining an open mind towards the reactionary wing forces me to ground my ideals in the human. Ignoring or rejecting the ugly is insufficient for those who take ideas and politics seriously.

Still, I was a bit taken aback when I first heard of Keith's plans for a four-part series of articles on German jurist Carl Schmitt (Part 1, Part 2). Here was a thinker who provided the legal basis for a continuity between Nazi-era totalitarianism and emergency, extra-constitutional measures in the present "War on Terror". But as it turns out, Schmitt's actual scholarship on these subjects has been rather narrowly read over the past eighty or so years. One need not adopt his advocacy for the establishment to see the problems with liberal democracies he pointed out. This passage from Keith's latest is particularly compelling:

At a fundamental level, there is an innate tension between liberalism and democracy. Liberalism is individualistic, whereas democracy sanctions the "general will" as the principle of political legitimacy. However, a consistent or coherent "general will" necessitates a level of homogeneity that by its very nature goes against the individualistic ethos of liberalism. This is the source of the "crisis of parliamentarianism" that Schmitt suggested. According to the democratic theory, rooted as it is in the ideas of Jean Jacques Rousseau, a legitimate state must reflect the "general will," but no general will can be discerned in a regime that simultaneously espouses liberalism. Lacking the homogeneity necessary for a democratic "general will," the state becomes fragmented into competing interests. Indeed, a liberal parliamentary state can actually act against the "peoples' will" and become undemocratic. By this same principle, anti-liberal states such as those organized according to the principles of fascism or Bolshevism can be democratic in so far as they reflect the "general will."


Written on Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Tags: liberalism, democracy, parliamentarianism, politics

Guess the journal, liberals

Which anti-American, anti-war magazine published an article that frames Obama's foreign policy decisions in the following "blame America" terms?

The sad truth is everything we are seeing we have already seen. Despite presidents who come and go, permanent war is a hallowed American institution. Start if you will with the War of 1812, the invasion of Mexico, and the carnage of a Civil War. Move to the mass murder of Native Americans and theft of their property, the killing, torture, and prison camps in the Philippines, then the blood-drenched 20th century. The 21st likewise dawns red. It never changes. Doves protest, hawks rule, ordinary people pay the penalty. All wars are "just."

Hint: it's also the same magazine Time called "the most anti-Bush magazine of the [past] decade."

Here's the answer. The biggest element missing from the anti-war movement is the anti-war part. Instead, you get a coalition of exotic interest groups around culture war and identity politics. Wake up - that's a language neocons speak easily (as long as the criticism can be focused beyond our borders; see the women's rights arguments for the Iraq invasion).

But as the article goes on to explain, there's a rich history of antiwar conservatism (see Bill Kauffman on this topic) rooted in American traditions and sensibilities. And it took a monumental upset in the conservative movement to override the prejudices and side projects of the modern, liberal, supposedly anti-war characters in this country. Shameful.

Written on Monday, March 15, 2010
Tags: liberalism, conservatism, foreign-policy, obama, bush