We leave the door of Destiny ajar

14 12 2015

Superficially, one might see the resemblances between Weimar and the US:

  • the concern, even hysteria, over supposedly inhuman enemies
  • polarization in society
  • economic insecurity
  • sense of wounded nationalism
  • dizzying movements within the culture
  • distrust of government
  • violence

But even more apparent is the crucial difference between the two:

  • the acceptance of Constitution itself

This is crucial because, in Weimar, large portions of the polity never accepted the constitution, never accepted the republic.

Part of this was due to, as I mentioned, the post-abdication government’s acceptance of the Armistice, and of the signing of the hated Treaty of Versailles: the German public couldn’t believe it had lost, and considered the harsh terms of the Treaty unjust. That the loss of territory, control over industrial regions, and, of course, reparations, made economic recovery difficult only heightened the skepticism toward a government which had apparently allowed all of this to happen.

Not everyone felt this way, of course. While liberal parties never managed to hold a majority in the Reichstag after 1920, the Social Democrats, the German Democratic Party, and the Catholic Center Party did hold significant chunks of parliament throughout this period, with various liberals holding the chancellorship as well.

But even had the Constitution been configured differently—the chancellor was appointed by an elected president, he was not simply the leader of the majority party or majority coalition in the Reichstag—it’s difficult to see how the republic could have overcome the irreconcilable differences in the polity itself.

Germany was divided between the reactionaries (those who wanted to restore the monarchy), the conservatives (ranging from nationalist-bourgeoisie to militarists), and liberals (social democrats, liberal-bourgeoisie); tucked in amongst these were Catholic interests, which tended toward conservatism (fear and loathing of the left) but which also appreciated the chance to participate in governance; the Communists, which by the 1920s subordinated themselves to Moscow; and various fascist groups, which had almost no role in government but which fought and killed in the streets throughout the decade.

Finally, after 1925 and with the election of Hindenburg, the republic’s president was a man who loathed the republic.

But it wasn’t just the politicians and the parties (many of which had paramilitary arms which regularly engaged in violence), but the institutions of the state itself were cool to the republic. The civil service was thoroughly conservative, as was the judiciary as well as the army. Bureaucrats, judges, and military officials rarely attacked the republic directly, but they never accepted it as legitimate; in the case of the judiciary, they would often sympathize with rightists who were brought before the bench, and raising a “patriotic” defense was often the ticket to either acquittal or a lenient sentence.

So, for example, none of the surviving conspirators in the assassination of Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau served more than five years, and only one of the conspirators involved in the Kapp putsch served any time at all.

And, most famously, the man at the head of the beer-hall putsch in Munich, one Austrian corporal named Adolph Hitler (he didn’t become a German citizen until 1932), not only wasn’t deported, he was given free rein to speechify in court, and given only a five-year sentence in ‘fortress incarceration’—of which he served only a year.

The US polity is at least somewhat polarized (there is some controversy as to how much), but one touchstone for pretty much everyone is the Constitution: everybody who is anybody says they love it.

We don’t all love it the same way, of course, but does anyone think that the assassination of the Secretary State would lead to a sentence of less than 10 years? That the attempted armed overthrow of a state government (with the announced intention to overthrow the federal government) by a non-citizen would lead to prison term of merely 5 years? and that he’d be out after a year? and not deported?

In fact, for as violent a society as the US is, our violence is, largely, non-political. This hardly makes it benign (especially when perpetrated by officials of the state, i.e., the police), but neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have paramilitary wings and their members tend not to participate in assassination attempts of political figures.

Furthermore, when someone is killed for political reasons—say, a doctor who performs abortions—most political leaders will distance themselves from the act itself (even if they do express sympathy for the motive). Just as if not more importantly, prosecutors, juries, and judges tend not to wave away such murders.

In other words, whatever the problems with our republic, most citizens, most elected officials, and most of the members filling the institutions of government, nonetheless accept the structure of the government.

I am very critical of elected officials (say, some Republicans) who suggest that other elected officials (say, some Democrats) are illegitimate, in no small part because attacks on the existence of the opposition in government is an attack on the legitimacy of the government itself—a dangerous proposition for any member of government to take. But even with Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” and the birther conspiracies and Mike Huckabee’s intimations that the president is some kind of traitor  (Jesus FUCK, Huckabee!), I have no doubt that any attempt on the life of the president, members of his Cabinet, or of anyone running for president would be met by near-universal condemnation.

(Yeah, near-universal: there will always be those who celebrate assassination, and some of the public condemners might be private celebrators, but it would be understood by all that public glee at the murder of a public official punches one’s ticket to the fringe.)

Which is to say, as much as folks may dislike the government, it’s probably not going too far to say they’d dislike the violent overthrow of that government even more.

To be continued.

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Go your own way

28 05 2014

Conservatives, like most populists, harbored deep suspicions of institutions not under their control, . . .

It’s a throwaway line in Nicole Hemmer’s re-view of three conservative texts from 1964 and their influence on the nomination of Barry Goldwater, but it shot out of the screen right at me.

OH! I thought. Oh! That makes perfect sense!

Not that you’d be suspicious of any institution not under your ilk’s control—that does not make sense, especially in a pluralist society—but that such suspicion could help to explain the resentment and fear of a politics and culture which goes its own way.

Even more, it helps to explain the disconnect within a hyper-patriot’s rants against the US: You people cannot be trusted with all that is great and good in this country and the fact that you hold power means it is no longer great and good.

They don’t live in “our” country, but in “my/not-my” country.

Anyway, I don’t know that this is necessarily a populist or even a conservative thing. Yes, populists may be skeptical of the institutions of power and conservatives might see themselves as holding the line, but as long as they can recognize that The Other—whoever The Other may be—is not alien then they can, however grudgingly, accept the legitimacy of that Other’s rule.

In other (Other?) words, it’s possible to be a populist or a conservative and a pluralist. Harder, perhaps, than it is for a liberal (ideologically, if not in day-to-day experience), but hardly impossible.

No, I think this suspicion is more a matter of authoritarianism mixed with righteousness: We must rule because we deserve to rule because we are right and you are wrong.

Not all authoritarianism is righteous—see the many, many nations run by mere kleptocrats—but righteousness fits easily within authoritarianism (of whatever sort). If you are convinced that you have the correct answers to all questions worth asking, then there’s really no point to granting space to anyone with any other answers—or questions.

It is perhaps not so odd, then, that righteousness is so often a part of anti-authoritarian politics as well. It can take the form of a kind of counter-authority—you are wrong and we should be in charge—but it can also be joined to liberationist sensibilities, as a way of shrugging off authority altogether.

The righteous authoritarian and anti-authoritarian are not, it should be said, mirror opposites. I’ve been around and have sometimes been a righteous anti-authoritarian and they (we) have been at most really irritating: it’s tough to get shit done without authority. Since they are fine with the notion of authority per se, however, righteous authoritarians have no problem taking and exercising power.

That makes them not irritating, but scary.

It also, in its own roundabout way, helps to explain why righteous authoritarians are suspicious of anyone running things who isn’t them. They assume that others will rule just as they would, so cannot trust that they might be merely unhappy under another’s rule. They thus translate that unhappiness into oppression and prepare themselves for the persecution they know is coming.

Whether or not it ever does.





This is what you’ll get when you mess with us

20 02 2013

Could it have been the wrestlers?

You know, the ones I dated, the ones for whom flirting/foreplay usually involved a hold, escape, reverse, and/or pin?

Good times.

(Pause as I take a breath, smile vaguely, and remember. . . .)

Okay. Where was I? Oh, yes, defense.

What, you didn’t get that from the opening? Yes, one very good thing (among other good things) about dating wrestlers was that I learned how to get away from wrestlers. For almost every move there is a counter-move, and as the smaller and less muscular of the pair I had to rely on those counters if I didn’t want the, ahhhh, match to end too soon.

TMI? Sorry.

Anyway, I figured out awhile ago that I am much more comfortable on defense than offense. In argumentation I can go either way (although, even there, I’m quite happy to let you go first), but in most things, I’m thinking more about how not to get clipped or caught out than how to pull ahead.

No, this hasn’t necessarily worked out well for me and yes I’m trying to take more risks, blah blah, but for once I’m not going to veer into ontology and instead remain coasting along the concrete.

Toward drones.

What, you didn’t see that veer coming?

Okay, this post at Crooks & Liars got me thinking that drones will almost certainly fly in the skies of our ever-advancing surveillance state:

So far only a dozen police departments, including ones in Miami and Seattle, have applied to the FAA for permits to fly drones. But drone advocates—who generally prefer the term UAV, for unmanned aerial vehicle—say all 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. are potential customers. They hope UAVs will soon become essential too for agriculture (checking and spraying crops, finding lost cattle), journalism (scoping out public events or celebrity backyards), weather forecasting, traffic control. “The sky’s the limit, pun intended,” says Bill Borgia, an engineer at Lockheed Martin. “Once we get UAVs in the hands of potential users, they’ll think of lots of cool applications.”

Cool applications, my ass.

One guy mentioned that the solution to drones is more drones, but in the civilian sphere, that makes no damned sense. No, in addition to trying to beat back these suckers with laws, we should also consider how to fuck with and otherwise frustrate ’em.

In theory, drones can offer unblinking eye-in-the-sky coverage. They can carry high-resolution video cameras, infrared sensors, license plate readers, listening devices and other high-tech gear. Companies have marketed drones disguised as sea gulls and other birds to mask their use.

I know zip about how these craft communicate with their pilots, but that communication could be disrupted, correct? And would it be possible to set some kind of electronic barrier around one’s household that would mess with the drone’s sensors?

Electronic monkeywrenching, is what I’m suggesting.

There are real political and ethical issues with any kind of monkeywrenching, but my cranky self can’t help but pay attention to and wonder about ways for those with less power to mess with the levers operated by the more powerful. It’s akin to James Scott’s notion of weapons of the weak, but more (c)overtly confrontational; in any case, the point is to evade claims of others to you.

I don’t seek to evade all claims—hell, as a civic republican, I think my fellow citizens may make more claims on me than they already do—but those claims must be legitimate. And I readily grant that some of the uses of drones might in fact be legitimate, but it seems to me that legitimacy must be granted rather than assumed.

In the land of the CCTV and moneymoneymoney, I am not optimistic. So bring on the jammers and wrenches—and maybe, for those gull-drones, a slingshot.