Monthly Archives: August 2011

Democracy after Gaddafi? Don’t Hold Your Breath

[This is my second blogpost for the Daily Telegraph, where the comments are quite interesting.]

Fouad Ajami, in a characteristic disdain for political correctness, once described the Arab world as “caught between prison and anarchy.” But the vast majority of post-Saïdian anti-Orientalists, in characteristic submission to political correctness, have been telling us all for decades that in the vibrant civil society of the Arab world, democracy is around the corner, especially in Palestine. Indeed, and ironically, George Bush’s neo-con inspired invasion of Iraq was based on the notion that, the dictator toppled and democracy introduced, democracy would spread as dictatorships fell like dominoes across the region. Despite the consistently repeated failure of these expectations, nothing seems to dent the near-religious belief in democracy’s spread to the Arab world among Western liberals who insist on projecting their own mentality on others (see Martin Kramer, Ivory Towers on Sand, chap. 4). Thus when protests spread through the Arab world last December, journalists were quick to dub it the “Arab Spring,” a harbinger, they enthused, of democracy spreading through the Middle East.

Those of us who have studied not just the institutions of democracy – constitutions, judiciaries based on equality before the law, elections, legislation – but the culture underlying it, are not so jejeune and optimistic. Social contracts demand mutual trust and an expansion of the field of the “us” to include more than one’s clan or tribe; a free press demands exceptionally high capacity for hearing public criticism; meritocracy demands that merit trump old-boy networks; successful law courts demand the renunciation of private justice/vengeance; productive societies demand respect for manual labor and an adoption of the principle for wealth accumulation of “make not take”; sustained positive-sum relations demand a restraint of envy at the success of others, and a renunciation of Schadenfreude – joy at another’s failure (Heaven on Earth, chap. 8). Unlike the way many Westerners think of it, democracy is not a computer program that you can download into any society and have it work. It’s not that everyone has to adopt these traits, just a critical mass of mutually enforcing players. But that alone is so difficult, and democracy such an astonishingly difficult accomplishment that, in the worlds of one of its most perceptive students, Eli Sagan, it’s a miracle.

So what can we anticipate coming out of the removal of the Libyan dictator Gaddafi: will it bring, as Ajami’s formula would lead us to believe, a shift from prison to anarchy? Or, as so many of us would like to believe, a shift from authoritarian to more democratic society? Given the stakes (oil wealth) and some of the players (tribal and Islamist), it’s hard, but not impossible, to imagine a vibrant democracy emerging. When the rebels cheer Western airstirkes on Gaddafi’s positions with “Allahu Akhbar,” as Barry Rubin points out, it means that they attribute success not to Western assistance, but Allah’s. Indeed, the greatest tension looks like it will be between loyalty to tribe and the accumulation of wealth and power on the one hand, or loyalty to Ummah, and the accumulation of theocratic power on the other. And, of course, this doesn’t even address the problem of the “brotherhood against democracy” that, for its own reasons opposed Gadafi, but also for its own reasons will hardly encourage real democracy. For the “modern,” technologically savvy, “pluralist,” players in whom the media invests so much of their time and their hope, to come out on top of such a struggle seems improbable. And the systematic mismanagement of these trends by Western policy-makers certainly does not help the prognosis.

As an exercise in thought experiment that might help us understand how alien democratic thought is even among the allegedly “modern” players in the “Arab Spring,” imagine a Libyan group saying (without being assaulted by raving demonstrators), “if we want democracy, then we should be establishing close relations with the only operative democracy in the region, Israel, and abandoning the conspiratorial scape-goating nonsense that Arab oppressors have been feeding us for decades about how they are our enemy. There are exceptions. And their proliferation would offer strong evidence that some have managed to rise above the kind of face-saving, vengeance-taking mentality that makes democracy so hard to sustain. Don’t hold your breath.

Islam, Modernity, and Honor-Shame Dynamics: Reflections in the Wake of Breivik

Politeness is not saying certain things lest there be violence; civility is being able to say those certain things and there won’t be violence.

Honor-shame and Islamism:

In an honor culture, it is legitimate, expected, even required to shed blood for the sake of honor. A man is not a real man until he has killed another. The need to save face, and to avenge a blackened face, justifies both quotidian lying and occasional violence. People in such cultures are, as a result, careful to be “polite”; and a genuinely free press is impossible, no matter what the laws proclaim. Public criticism is an assault on the very “face” of the person criticized.

Thus, modernity is a crucible of humiliation: alpha males have to allow others to criticize them publicly, and modern media (newspapers, pamphlets, radio and TV news, blogs) are the vast public venue of that criticism (public sphere). Similarly, modern scholarship depends on this shift from the use of violence (and other forms of imposing consensus) to settle arguments, to one that gives priority to principled dispute (public mutual contradiction) and a commitment to “tell the truth.” Modernity is based on civil, not polite discourse.

Modern, (self-)critical historiography, for example, has repeatedly challenged its own culture’s self-serving (and face-saving) narratives of the past (our side is right). They have shown particular vigor and success in “documenting” sacred texts and thereby desacralizing the religions that claimed them as divinely inspired/dictated.

Modernity represents a very painful experience for any culture (France in the Dreyfus Affair), but the benefits of this public self-criticism – sharp learning curves – make that pain worthwhile. For those who resist this aspect of modernity, however, today’s globalizing world makes it especially painful because in “saving face,” they also relegate themselves to a significantly inferior place among the (productive and powerful) nations.

This is particularly true for Islamic religious culture. In Dar al Islam, a Muslim’s contradiction/criticism of Islam was punishable by death, a fortiori did this hold true for infidels. A (relatively free) public discussion depended entirely on the good will of Muslims not to exercise their prerogative to punish those who criticized Islam. “Fundamentalist” episodes (e.g., the Almoravids in 11th century Spain) represent a vigorous reassertion of this kind of honor-shame Islam.

Modernity has been a Nakba (psychological catastrophe) for Islam, starting with Napoleon’s victory in the Battle of the Pyramids in 1798, and Islam in all its variegated currents has yet to successfully negotiate these demands of modernity. Few if any of the major currents of a currently highly innovative Islam have found a form of that religion that a) genuinely renounces the dreams of dominion and b) has success propagating in the Muslim world.

Jeffrey Goldberg: 4-D Jews, 2-D Gentiles, 1-D Muslims

Jeffrey Goldberg has published a short op-ed piece about the terrorist attacks he fears the most. In so doing, I think he thought he was trying to prevent terrible things from happening, but what I think he really did was illustrate the problem with how some people process the problem of terrorism in ways that are so deeply condescending that, in a world where “Islamophobia” is often called “racism” (as in Goldberg’s own remark about Pamela Geller as a “lunatic racist”) such condescension pushes the limits of unconscious racism.

The core of the problem so nicely illustrated by Goldberg is that he treats Muslim behavior as a force of nature, something at once predictable in the sense of a “law of nature” and something beyond all moral suasion. As Charles Jacobs put it, in discussing the “Human Rights Complex” (something Goldberg undoubtedly shares), you don’t criticize your cat for chasing mice and birds; it’s in the animal’s nature. So in listing his fears, Goldberg carefully skirts around the underlying fear – Muslim terrorism – the fear that can’t be named. Basically, Goldberg three major fears are all forces that might provoke Muslim rage.

Three Terrorist Attacks I Worry About the Most: Jeffrey Goldberg
By Jeffrey Goldberg Aug 2, 2011 3:00 AM GMT+0300 25 Comments

(Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, is a Bloomberg View columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

“One rocket, fired from right here,” my friend said. He didn’t have to complete the sentence.

A few months ago, I visited a building in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City owned by a radical yeshiva. A friend, sympathetic to my worry, took me to the roof, up a series of dark, winding staircases. We came out into the sunlight. There, seemingly close enough to touch, was the golden dome.

In Israel, the Shabak takes the threat of Jewish extremism quite seriously. But once again, lone wolves or small, self- radicalized cells are difficult to stop. And the target is exposed.

In the U.S., it’s impossible to say. Such is the nature of lone-wolf terrorism. One day, a Timothy McVeigh or an Anders Breivik is completely unknown to the public and to the authorities. The next, he has written himself into history.

Yehuda Etzion, a former member of a Jewish terrorist group in the West Bank, once drove me to the top of the Mount of Olives, to a ridge above the Garden of Gethsemane, and asked me to look out across the valley, to the Temple Mount on the far side.

Shimmering in the sunlight was the Dome of the Rock, one of the world’s most important Muslim shrines. I said that the Dome was beautiful. Etzion answered that he didn’t even see it.

I asked him what he meant. “Look, maybe it’s beautiful,” he said.“But my father told me once that there are very many nice women in the world, beautiful women, but you have only one wife. This building is not my woman. It’s my enemy’s woman. So I don’t see it.”

I asked him what he saw instead. “I see the place where the Temple will stand.”

The Temple in question is the yet-unbuilt Third Temple, which certain Jews of a messianic bent believe should be built atop the Mount (site of the first two Jewish Temples), in place of the Dome of the Rock. But how to remove the Dome? Etzion and his fellow extremists once plotted to blow it up. The Israeli internal security service, the Shabak, caught them and sent them to jail before any damage could be done. Etzion told me he didn’t regret the plot, only that it didn’t work.

It could still work, however. There are still Jewish extremists roaming the Old City of Jerusalem, and some West Bank Jewish settlements are still home to men who believe they could hasten the coming of the messiah by igniting a cataclysmic war with Islam. I’ve met these men — rabbis among them — and they believe that God would save Israel if the Muslim world rose up in anger at the destruction of what one rabbi called “the abomination.”

They are right about one thing: The Muslim world would ignite if the Dome were attacked.

Clash of Civilizations

The terrorist who imagines himself to be not merely an agent of the aggrieved, but the salvation of his civilization — these are the ones to fear. Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people July 22 in Norway because he believed Europe was under threat from Islam and multiculturalism, is the new archetype.

The ambitious terrorist of this moment in history seeks not simply to kill large numbers of innocent people, or to terrify an even greater number of people. He seeks nothing less than to provoke the thing we have so far mainly been able to avoid: a clash of civilizations.

Three attacks, in particular, I worry could have such world- changing effects. A plot against the Dome of the Rock is one.

Another would be an attack inside the U.S. of the kind that just took place in Norway — an assault by a white, Christian extremist agitated by the imagined specter of worldwide Muslim domination, either against a government target, in the Oklahoma City and Oslo manner, or against a Muslim target.

Febrile Minds

A deadly attack prompted by anxiety about the building of mosques, for instance, would do irreparable harm to America’s image as a diverse and welcoming refuge, and could trigger the clash of civilizations extremists (both anti-Muslim Americans and anti-American Muslims) so desperately seek.

Is this a possibility? Spend time on websites devoted to stopping the coming invasion of the American court system by Muslim law — an invasion that exists only in the febrile minds of anti-Muslim agitators — or visit the sites devoted to keeping mosques out of places like Murfreesboro, Tennessee. It’s not hard to imagine that an unstable person with access to explosives would try to carry these campaigns to their logical conclusions.

Having followed the Boston Mosque controversy, and tracking the English Sharia law controversy, I’d say assigning these concerns to the “febrile minds of anti-Muslm agitators” is part of the problem. It’s the only way, though, that Goldberg seems to know for suppressing the thing he fears – an attack that will provoke Muslim violence. Of course in taking this tack – radical Muslims are so crazy that we should avoid criticizing Islam lest we provoke people who provoke the worst from them – he makes the situation worse not better. If it’s not febrile minds at work, but observers of a febrile phenomenon, just how should one express oneself to warn against a serious problem (which Goldberg tacitly acknowledges throughout this post)?

Studies in Early Medieval Honor-Shame Dynamics: Aidan’s Tears at King Oswin’s Humility

This is another analysis of an early medieval text which reveals (I think) the dynamics of honor-shame culture, written as part of my book in the works: A Medievalist’s Guide to the 21st Century. (Previous one about the feud between Sichar and Chramnesind.)

On the Dangers of Compassion: Oswin and Aidan’s Tears, ca. 642

In such the struggle between warrior, lord, and peasant (in which many warriors also worked the land), compassion was a liability.  Only the ruthless ruler survived.  The History of the English Church, by the monk Bede, offers us counterpoint to Gregory of Tours’ tale of Clovis’ ruthlessness: Oswin, a “king” whose sincere adoption of Christian principles of compassion and humility proved fatal. “King” of Deira (king has a fungible meaning at this point, with England populated by at least a dozen), the Saxon Oswin had received the Celtic missionary, Aidan in his court.[1]

[Oswin] had given an extraordinarily fine horse to Bishop Aidan, which he might either use in crossing rivers, or in performing a journey upon any urgent necessity, though he was wont to travel ordinarily on foot. Some short time after, a poor man meeting him, and asking alms, he immediately dismounted, and ordered the horse, with all his royal furniture, to be given to the beggar; for he was very compassionate, a great friend to the poor, and, as is were, the father of the wretched.

Aidan, true to his Christian calling, was probably embarrassed by the gift.  He, like a later disciple, walked on foot “after the manner of the first apostles.”[2] So at the first occasion, he gave the valuable gift, probably a warhorse, to a beggar.  The inappropriateness of the gift – an insult to Oswin who had given him a sign of his favor – is like giving a Rolls Royce to a street person asking for some “spare change”: he can’t maintain it, he probably can’t even drive it.

This being told to the king, when they were going in to dinner, he said to the bishop, “Why would you, my lord bishop, give the poor man that royal horse, which was necessary for your use? Had not we many other horses of less value, and of other sorts, which would have been good enough to give to the poor, and not to give that horse, which I had particularly chosen for yourself?” To whom the bishop instantly answered, “What is it you say, O king? Is that foal of a mare more dear to you than the Son of God?”

We have a classic confrontation here between a “genuine” Christianity – the compassionate Aidan who places all people above matters of status and wealth – and a tribal warrior chief whose power derives in no small part from the trappings of power that he both wears and gives out to those whom he wishes to favor.[3] One can only imagine how Clovis would have responded to a public rebuke like this (or if any of the Christians “teaching” him would have had the temerity to rebuke him publicly).  But Oswin was an unusual man.

Cowardice and Honor: Mubarak’s Trial and the Pathologies of the Arab World

One of the most depressing things I read about honor-killings – a pretty depressing topic – was that, at least in Jordan, on suspicion of having done something wrong, the family kills the daughter (after all, the crime is blackening the family’s honor, which is about reputation, not deeds). Then you find out at the autopsy if she’s a virgin. If yes, the matter ends there; if no, you go after the suspected lover.

What this means in the clan context is, since the daughter’s own clan (her “protectors”) kill her, there’s no fear of retaliation. No one (not even international feminists) are going to defend her. The male lover is a bigger problem: he and his clan might retaliate for an unjustified killing; so you have to be more careful. As an articulation of a pathological honor-shame world, in which you concern for family honor is so great that it overrides any affection for the daughter, or even concern about whether she’s guilty or not, it’s those without protection who suffer most cruelly. A coward’s rage.

I thought of this today when I read the following analysis by Zvi Mazel about the trial of Mubarak.

Analysis: Mubarak’s trial is about the future of Egypt
08/07/2011 01:49
Will the image of an old, ailing man on a stretcher in a cage become the defining event setting Egypt on a new path?

On the first day of Hosni Mubarak’s trial last week, after the whole world had seen the ousted Egyptian president brought on a stretcher and his emaciated face peering through the bars of a huge cage, representatives of all political movements in Egypt enthused about what they called a momentous historic event.

In their own ways, they hailed justice being done and the triumph of the people of Egypt over corruption and abuse.

On behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood, Dr. Saad Katatani emphasized that the trial ushers the phase of reconstruction and development of his country.

For the Wafd, Issam Sheikha, a member of the party’s Supreme Council, stressed that this was not vengeance but a public display of justice and a clear warning to all those who would rule Egypt in the future.

William P. Collins, Library Journal Review of Heaven on Earth

Short but sweet. Can’t complain.

Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience
Richard Allen Landes
Library Journal (07/01/2011)

In a significant contribution to the study of millennialist movements, Landes (history, Boston Univ.; “Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millennial Movements”) studies the varieties of such movements across the centuries, movements that hope for a human society made perfect via an apocalypse creating heaven on earth. Landes points to apocalyptic arcs in secular history that have led us out of and back into normal time. Such movements can be dangerous when believers gain authority, whether in the founding of new religions, in secular revolutions, or in holocausts.

Landes contrasts “owls”—recorders of normal time in history—with the “roosters” of apocalyptic time who voice the hidden transcript. He carefully analyzes common elements in tribal, agrarian, modern secular, and postmodern apocalyptic movements and warns that today’s mutually reinforcing apocalyptic threats—”anthropogenic global warming” and “global jihad”—are subject to dichotomous left-right political posturing rather than sober reflection and action, amplifying the dangers of both.

VERDICT This work places Landes high among millennialism historians such as Michael Barkun (“A Culture of Conspiracy”) and Catherine Wessinger (“Millennialism, Persecution, and Violence”). Addressed to educated readers interested in religious, political, and social apocalyptic movements, it succeeds in both analyzing past catastrophic millennialist movements and predicting what the future may hold.—William P. Collins, Library of Congress Copyright 2011 Reed Business Information.

ISBN: 0199753598 | EAN: 9780199753598
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA  | Publication Date: August, 2011

Kenneth Minogue’s Review of Heaven on Earth in WSJ

Apocalypse Now And Then
It’s easy to sneer at the mad crowing of wild prophets. But they can affect the course of world history—for good or ill.


When the Rapture failed to happen on May 21, defying the prediction of a California-based radio evangelist, he and his followers no doubt felt a certain disappointment: Christ had not returned, after all, to deliver the Last Judgment. For others, though, the day’s uneventfulness was an occasion for the usual mockery and condescension. “What is quite remarkable,” wrote a blogger at the Huffington Post, “is that the ‘rapture mentality’ and the end-of-days industry should still be thriving in 2011.”

Richard Landes is not so quick to dismiss the “rapture mentality” and its kindred impulses. In “Heaven on Earth,” he argues that our civilization lacks a whole dimension of experience because it has failed to recognize the importance of apocalyptic predications and millennial aspirations. He does not deny, of course, that every prediction of grand, world-transforming woe or bliss has failed yet to arrive—as did the evangelist’s promised Rapture. But what fails, Mr. Landes insists, is by no means inconsequential.

On the contrary, the Christian religion “comes into existence at the height of apocalyptic expectation,” Mr. Landes writes, “from John the Baptist and Jesus’ millennial hopes for the imminent arrival of the ‘kingdom of heaven’ on earth.” The three monotheistic religions that we are most familiar with specialize in apocalyptic revelation.

Instead of recognizing the importance of apocalyptic thinking, Mr. Landes argues, we prefer to posit a common-sense world in which grand flights of imagination are construed as outbursts of misguided enthusiasm. Most historians, he says, make the same mistake. They view apocalyptic prophecy as a kind of falsified madness that leaves little of importance behind.

In fact, Mr. Landes says, the whole texture of our lives is deeply affected by our response to both past apocalyptic beliefs and current millennial aspirations. Nor is apocalyptic frenzy limited to the religious sphere. It also underlies the secular world of seemingly common-sense understanding.

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Heaven on Earth

By Richard Landes
(Oxford, 499 pages, $35)

We had a dose of apocalyptic anxiety not so long ago in the Y2K fear of Internet chaos. Today climate change and terrorist jihadism provoke end-of-the-world imaginings. We should not forget, of course, that during the bloodiest decades of the 20th century large areas of the world were governed by people deeply invested in Marxist or Nazi millennialism. The communist future has gone the way of most political utopias, as has the Thousand Year Reich, but social justice and sustainable living are (as one might say) alive and kicking.

Mr. Landes has written a large and impressive book that shows a vast learning. (One chapter begins: “Let us return to a series of questions posed about the aftermath of Thiota’s brief tenure as magistra of Mainz circa 848.”) And yet he also has an engagingly associative mind that lightens the burden of erudition. He does not neglect, for instance, to tell the story of Chicken Little, who thinks the sky was falling in. From this Mr. Landes generates an allegorical terminology in which “roosters” crow about new dawns, and their crowing is dismissed by “owls” who insist that reality is the dark in which we are still living. Later we are told about turkeys—Mr. Landes’s name for the millennial historians who “stand in the barnyard as roosters crow and observe their electrifying impact on the other animals.”

Since the apocalyptic roosters turn out to get things wrong, you might well expect the owls to get all the best tunes, but Mr. Landes is hesitant to condemn. The roosters play a valuable part in stimulating human endeavor, he believes, while he marks the owls down as lacking imagination. Indeed, it is the worldview of the owls that Mr. Landes aims to contest, since they are the custodians of our misleading belief in a normality only briefly interrupted by the mad crowing of the wild prophets.

According to Mr. Landes’s terminology, Jesus is a rooster, but so is Hitler with his Reich. Unusual and sometimes offensive juxtapositions cannot be avoided in such an overarching scheme. Mr. Landes says that our current belief that Nazism is the gold standard of evil is one of the reasons that we find it difficult to understand that the Nazi project was a typically apocalyptic one. One of his purposes in “Heaven on Earth” is to insist that other civilizations than our own are no less affected by the irruptions of the apocalyptic.

What Mr. Landes calls “tribal millennialism” is observable, he claims, in the case of the Xhosa in Africa, who in 1856 were persuaded by a young prophetic girl that their ancestors were returning to save them from the white man and to restore their cattle and crops to the great times of the past. To bring about this happy result, the Xhosa had merely to give up witchcraft, kill their present cattle and cease to plant crops. Successive failures of the prophecy were put down to the Xhosa’s failure to carry through the whole program.

What Mr. Landes classifies as “agrarian millennialism” is illustrated by the Taiping in China in the mid-19th century. The prophet Hong Xiuquan construed himself as the younger brother of Jesus. When the dust had settled on this millennial adventure and the imperial response to it, an estimated 20 million Chinese had been killed. Apocalyptic thinking does not always entail such a grim reckoning, Mr. Landes makes clear, but it does come freighted with history and meriting more serious consideration than many are willing to concede.

Mr. Minogue, a professor emeritus of political science at the London School of Economics, is the author, most recently, of “The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life” (Encounter).

Spielberg’s Alien “Other”

The post I wrote for the OUP blog is now officially up. Visit, pass on. Leave comment.

PomoMarx: Eagelton tries to make Marx and 21st century progressive

In my book on millennialism I have a chapter devoted to Marx in which, among other less than flattering remarks, I note the following about his “dialectical” thinking:

The totalizing discourse operates as a kind of scientistic magic, making millennial promises about total liberation—“complete” control over the instruments of production and universal intercourse. But Marx offered this promise not to the intellectuals of his age, but specifically to those then suffering the most from the throes of industrialization.

. . . Marxist revolutionaries adopt Hegel’s dialectic to prove that each step downward into deeper misery simultaneously and inevitably hastened the coming of paradise. “Imperialist” wars and “capitalist” depressions became, for the apocalyptic Marxists, what the “fortunate fall” and the “signs of the End” are for Christians, the same gratifying dialectic that Bakùnin had in mind when he announced that “the passion for destruction is a creative passion.”[1]

With such a promise comes a fury to console and soothe the agony of one’s current condition—the very crushing pains the laborer now experiences will be transformed into the opposite, the very totality of their alienation will make it possible for all to achievecomplete self-activity.

And behind the apocalyptic historical analysis lay an enticing millennial premise and promise: a “new man” would emerge on the other side of this wrenching process of alienation. Just as the French Revolution had promised a new citizen, so the Marxists promised a “new comrade”—an interesting shift, given the sad fact that “fraternity” was the first of the promises to vanish from the millennial formula of liberté, égalité, fraternité.[2] Here, over the course of the nineteenth century, revolutionaries availed themselves of John Locke’s theories about man as a blank slate who had no “innate ideas,” that is, no innate character, that rather sensory perceptions and experiences mold man. Whatever Locke believed he meant, both Enlightenment thinkers and subsequent radicals seized eagerly on this nurture versus nature perspective to believe anything possible.[3]

As in the case of many millennial texts, this one seems far less compelling with hindsight; indeed, these expectations were and still are completely unrealistic.[4] But, “[o]ne may poke holes in the theories . . . mock any number of embarrassing contradictions. None of that matters. It is the myth, as Sorel saw, and its inspirational powers that count. And apocalyptic Marxism is the perfect myth.”[5] One of the reasons that Marx succeeded in winning so many fervent disciples was not despite the bizarre reasoning here displayed, but because of it.[6]

[1]. Mendel, Vision and Violence, 153.

[2]. By the time of the Directory (1794–99), it appears in the variant: “Liberté, égalité, propriété.” See, for example, a print of the three directors (Barras, La Révellière, and Reubell), after the coup-d’état of the 18 of Fructidor (4 September 1797) entitled La trinité républicaine, BNP, Estampes, reproduced in François Furet and Denis Richet, La Révolution du 9-Thermidor au 18-Brumaire (Paris: Hachette, 1966), 123. See also Mona Ozouf, “Liberté, égalité, fraternité,” in Lieux de Mémoire, ed. Pierre Nora, 3 vol. (Paris: Gallimard, 1997), 3:4353–89.

[3]. Richard Pipes discusses the link between Locke and the Communists in Russian Revolution, 1899–1919 (London: Harvill Press, 1997), 125–36; see above on the French revolutionaries’ use of this notion, chapter 9 n. 87.

[4]. For an attempt at a sympathetic but realistic review of the completely impracticable assumptions that underlie so much of Marx’s thought about the Communist state to come, see Jon Elster, Making Sense of Marx (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 521–27. He repeatedly refers to the elements of Marx’s assumptions and allusions that are “extremely” (522) and “irredeemably Utopian” (526), of coming from “Cloud-cuckoo-land” (524). See also Axel Van den Berg’s characterization of Marx’s salvific vision as an “absurdly bucolic . . . utterly cloudy millennium.” The Immanent Utopia: From Marxism on the State to the State of Marxism (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988) 56-7,

[5]. Mendel, Vision and Violence, 152.

[6]. “Such utopian images of the future command society, however scattered and fragmentary in the writings of Marx and Engels, form an essential component of Marxist theory—and one that is essential for understanding the appeals of Marxism in the modern world.” Maurice Meisner, “Marxism and Utopianisn” in Marxism, Maosim and Utopianism, Eight Essays (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982); see also Frank E. Manuel and Fritzie P. Manuel, “Marx and Engels in the Landscape of Utopia” in Utopian Thought in the Western World (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1979), 697–716.

I also, in a subsequent chapter on the Russian revolution, note the way Western intellectuals dealt with the cognitive dissonance of the failed communist millennium:

Fellow Travelers and the Cognitive Dissonance of Failed Revolutions

The reaction of Western Marxists to the Soviet debacle, namely, the length and depth of their denial that the dream had turned into a nightmare, has astounded and puzzled most intellectuals not in thrall to Communist ideology. This is particular true since some of these people, like George Bernard Shaw and Jean-Paul Sartre, were both brilliant and otherwise known for their mordant observations on people’s “bad faith.” And yet, just like believers incapable of allowing the evidence of apocalyptic prophecy’s failure to enter their consciousness, these people could not admit to themselves or anyone else that the millennial experiment in which they had invested so much (intellectual) energy could have failed.[1]

… these pilgrims proved capable of the most extraordinary ability to ignore whatever anomalies they observed in their terrestrial paradise. George Bernard Shaw’s visit to Moscow in 1931 illustrates some of the psychology involved. A devastating critic of Western capitalism, he checked his skepticism at the border, along with the numerous tins of canned meat that his friends had given him to bring to their starving Russian friends, and arrived oblivious to all that surrounded him, including the dismay of the Russians when he told them about the jettisoned cans of meat since he “knew” there was no famine in the socialist paradise.[5] Russia served not as a case of the “real world,” subject to his penetrating criticism, but the foil for his own dislike of the world he inhabited, no matter how it welcomed the products of his socialist genius. Despite the horror that surrounded him in Russia, he came back with glowing reports. As Russell noted, Shaw “fell victim to adulation of the Soviet government and suddenly lost the power of criticism and of seeing though humbug if it came from Moscow.”[6]

[1]. One of the significant exceptions was Bertrand Russell, who, among other things coined the expression the “fallacy of the superior virtue of the oppressed,” in his 1937 essay “The Superior Virtue of the Oppressed,”Unpopular Essays (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1950). For the broader phenomenon, see  David Caute, The Fellow Travelers: A Postscript to the Enlightenment (New York: Macmillan, 1973); Paul Hollander, Political Pilgrims: Western Intellectuals in Search of the Good Society (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1998).

[5]. Eugene Lyons, Assignment in Utopia (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1937), 428–35.

[6]. Bertrand Russell, Portraits from Memory (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1956), 59; cited in Hollander, Political Pilgrims, 139.

Now, too late to add to the footnotes, Terry Eagelton, one of the major figures in the abuse of post-modernism for political purposes, comes up with a book entitled Why Marx was Right. I fisk his article for the Chronicle of Higher Education in which he summarizes his argument and tries to rehabilitate Marx for a modern progressive audience. I put Eagelton’s article in bold to distinguish from other quotes I add to this post.

For other excellent critiques, see Ron Radosh, Marx and the American Academy: When Will the High Priests ever Learn? and John Gray, The Return of an Illusion.

April 10, 2011
In Praise of Marx

By Terry Eagleton

Praising Karl Marx might seem as perverse as putting in a good word for the Boston Strangler. Were not Marx’s ideas responsible for despotism, mass murder, labor camps, economic catastrophe, and the loss of liberty for millions of men and women? Was not one of his devoted disciples a paranoid Georgian peasant by the name of Stalin, and another a brutal Chinese dictator who may well have had the blood of some 30 million of his people on his hands?

That’s much more likely 70 million. See Frank Dikötter, Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62 (2010) on the “great leap forward” alone which brought on over 45 million untimely deaths. One of the comments Dikötter highlights is the determination of Mao to downplay the number of deaths, something that, even as he pretends to admit the truth, Eagelton continues to do.

Operating on a Media-Created Holodeck: Youth on Utoya Island walk to their death

I went to see the movie Samurai with an Israeli friend who had just spent a semester teaching at Williams College in MA. When we left he referred to the scenes in which the Tom Cruise character is haunted by dreams of the massacres of Native Americans that he had participated, and said, “my students at Williams think that that’s what the Israeli army does. It’s a testimony to the power of the media that such profound distortion of reality.

The comments of a survivor from the Utoya Island massacre made an interesting remark that illustrates the problem (H/T: My Right Word)

“Some of my friends tried to stop him by talking to him. Many people thought that it was a test … comparing it to how it is to live in Gaza. So many people went to him and tried to talk to him, but they were shot immediately.”

It illustrates the point I made at opening statement at Second Draft (cited by Breivik):

Since the MSM are the eyes and ears of civil polities, and no creature blind and deaf to key data from the world about can long survive, we consider the cleansing of our mediated “doors of perception” a critical task in the years and decades ahead.

These poor youth were operating on (at least) two major misconceptions: 1) that Israelis are like Nazis, and 2) that talking is enough to change a monster. Putting the two together led them to make a fatal error in reasoning. It’s as if they were operating on a radical leftist holodeck… but they weren’t.