Eric Alterman, a nationalist socialist

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A few weeks ago I watched Bloggingheads.TV which I found really amusing. Eric Alterman was in a discussion with someone named Bill Scher. I don’t know anything about Scher aside from the fact that he makes Jonah Goldberg seem really intellectual and a deep thinker (see their diavlog). But I was struck by the following exchange over foreign policy:

Alterman: “People in these countries don’t want us, they hate us, they hate everything about us, they hate the idea of democracy, it’s inconsistent with their vision of Islamic republics, which is what they clearly want. So you just like glossing over that, but I think that’s fundamental. I think the promotion of democracy in the Arab world creates anti-American terrorists.”

Scher: “Well, I mean, democracy in the broader sense, what kind of government do those people want. It doesn’t have to be Jeffersonian-”

Alterman: “I don’t want them to have the kind of government that they want. OK. I don’t want Jordan and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to have the kind of government that they want, because they will want to kill me with it!

I generally cheered for Alterman here. Whether you are an interventionist or not, the whole rhetoric about democracy and its universal appeal on both the Left and Right has gotten out of control. Whether there is a universal yearning for democratic freedom or not, its acceptance as a background assumption in the public discourse has become nearly religious. When someone like Alterman challenges it, you see a “deer in headlights” tendency. There are few counter arguments because people assume any contrary position is either absurd or immoral. These sort of dreamy tendencies are fine when you aren’t an imperial power that has to make real-politik decisions (e.g., Iceland?), but at this point bad decisions informed by fallacious assumptions can cost a lot, at home and abroad.

To make the world as you wish it to be, you must first comprehend how it truly is.

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37 Comments

  1. My thoughts exactly. What is Bill Scher doing on there? He seems to have never had an original thought in his head and is completely unaware of how dumb he sounds.

  2. Why is the tag “gay media”? 
     
    Razib, this post reminds me of the “Asian values” argument against liberal democracy made by technocrats in places like China and Malaysia.  
     
    I agree that procedural democracy gets too much hype in Euro-American discourse. In its crassest manifestations, it’s nothing more than jihadist populism. But I also believe that rule of law – regardless of whether the law is enforced by democratic consensus or by enlightened meritocratic dictatorship – is essential for long-term security. The United States policy of supporting arbitrary monarchies in places like Saudi Arabia and Jordan may keep the peace in the short term, but governments that run on the whim of the royal family can not deliver the goods in the long run.

  3. As a former true believer (maxed out in, oh, 2000 or so) in the “democracy will solve it all!” school of thought, I am also with Alterman here.

  4. I just wanted to post here part of a comment I previously left on the Bloggingheads discussion thread. (It has too many hyperlinks to be posted here in full.) 
     
    Thanks for keeping the conversation going about foreign policy vision. I should have done the same when this fundamental disagreement between Eric and I surfaced, and elaborated my views with some examples. 
     
    I did a better job on that point when the same issue came up during an appearance of mine on MSNBC’s Tucker last September. You can see it here. Just click the lower-left YouTube screen. 
     
    When pressed by Tucker why democracy should be a key national security goal, I mentioned the most recent example of democracy having the potential to reduce terrorism, and that is the recent election of Hamas to the Palestinian government. 
     
    After Hamas was elected, the new government — wanting to stay in power and needing to deliver stability and prosperity to its people — made moves to implicitly recognize Israel. 
     
    However, these moves were thwarted, both by a significant militant faction of Hamas, and by the Bush Administration. And so, that potential was not realized, and violence and instability has continued… 
     
    …This is one reason why I argue that promoting credible democracy is not a feature of the White House and the neocons. They are interested in propping up ally governments, not it promoting bottom-up credible democracy. And our security is worse because of it. 
     
    Click here for the full comment.

  5. “Whether there is a universal yearning for democratic freedom or not, its acceptance as a background assumption in the public discourse has become nearly religious.” 
     
    I don’t see that at all. Bush is often whacked, from left and right, for believing this. When I googled “universal longing for democracy” I found two blog comments hostile to the idea, an article about a teaching foundation upset over the way the ULFD “is dismissed as an American plot,” and a Carnegie Endowment article that was at best neutral on the subject. I tried “universal desire for democracy” and most of the comments I found were against the idea. I tried “do not want democracy” and found plenty of arguing on the topic.  
     
    I tried a search at Townhall.com and pretty quickly found George Will on the subject – http://www.townhall.com/columnists/GeorgeWill/2003/08/17/democracy_everywhere ; he is not a marginal figure, but readers of The American Conservative could do better I am sure. Whether the idea is good or bad, it is being talked about, and argued against, in public, not universally accepted.  
     
    (I haven’t read Bush’s “founding text” on the subject, which is Natan Sharansky’s The Case for Democracy, and can’t tell you a thing about it.)

  6. I see approximately zero evidence that anyone in a decision-making role in the Bush administration actually supports democracy (Bush himself obviously reads whatever speech he is handed, and is most certainly *not* in a decision-making role). Here are just a few examples. 
     
    The Iranian government is just about the only reasonably democratically elected major government in the Mid East. They are now our primary enemy and target. 
     
    Al Sadr is (probably) the most popular political figure in Iraq and would come closest to winning a free election. He is our enemy and target. 
     
    Hezbollah would certainly win a free election in Lebanon, and had 80% popular support during the recent war with Israel. Hezbollah is our enemy and target. 
     
    Hamas won a reasonably free election among the Palestinians. They are our enemy and target. 
     
    We do generally support a number of undemocratic rulers in the Mid East, mostly on the grounds that since they can ignore popular sentiment, they are willing to follow our direction/orders and also are consequently less hostile to Israel. 
     
    The Bush Administration supports “democracy” in the Mid East to about the same extent that the old Soviet Union supported “democracy” in Eastern Europe. I’m sure we can find lots of old Brezhnev speeches about the sacrifices Russia undertook in order to bring the glories of “socialist democracy” to Poland and Hungary. 
     
    Essentially, the Bush/Israeli talk of “democracy” is simply a crude rhetorical weapon directed against the various current Mid East regimes, most of which are not democratic. Basically, the definition of “democratic” is to do what we want and the definition of “undemocratic” is to not do what we want. 
     
    This rhetorical weapons seems reasonably effective among the ignorant and the simple-minded, which unfortunately may actually include quite a considerable fraction of the GNXP community, at least with regard to international political matters.

  7. [value added comments please -razib]

  8. “The Iranian government is just about the only reasonably democratically elected major government in the Mid East. They are now our primary enemy and target.” 
     
    Calling the Iranian goverment “reasonably democratically elected” is stretching the definition of “reasonably” to the breaking point. Apart from that, fair points.  
     
    I do think that there is (or was) an ideologically founded drive for Democracy in the Bush admin – at least before Hamas, et al. got elected.  
     
    Finally, I do believe that Bush plays a large role in the descision-making process, and that this is a big part of the reason his presidency turned out the way it did.

  9. dobeln: 
     
    Consider that in 2000 Bush’s proposed foreign policy orientation was the exact polar opposite to what he has implemented. Also, the published books by every high-ranking Administration official I can think of indicates that Bush has no decision-making role in the Bush Administration. 
     
    Regarding Iran, remember that Ahmad. ran as the outsider candidate, with nearly the entire Iranian political establishment backing other candidates and eventually united against him in the run-off with Rafsanjani. Having outsider/populist candidates win elections despite the opposition of the entire ruling political establishment is a pretty persuasive test of “democracy” to me. 
     
    Anyway, can you think of any political state in the entire Mid East region which is remotely as close to being truly democratic as Iran? (Hamas’s Palestine being about the only other contender in my mind).

  10. But I also believe that rule of law – regardless of whether the law is enforced by democratic consensus or by enlightened meritocratic dictatorship – is essential for long-term security. 
     
    rule of law and democracy are not coterminous. i am not saying that nation/culture x will never be a democratic republic, rather, i am saying that the conditions are not fruitful right now assuming that the ends are a good balance of individual liberty and enactment of the public will. 
     
    Anyway, can you think of any political state in the entire Mid East region which is remotely as close to being truly democratic as Iran? (Hamas’s Palestine being about the only other contender in my mind). 
     
    you are excluding turkey then? and lebanon? in any case, i think doeblin’s comment seemed a bit flip, but the key is to think beyond 2 or 3 types on the spectrum of ‘democraticness.’ normed to the middle east iran is quite democratic, yes. but the veto power of the clerical elite makes it less than representative. it is more similar to the ancient roman republic, where the sparsely populated rural tribes (dominated by aristocrats) always overruled and outvoted the numerous urban tribes because of the way the system was weighted.

  11. Here is what you need to understand. The US is not a democracy. And I don’t just mean it is a republic. It is a courtocracy – really. 
     
    There are literally hundreds of decisions that “democracy” arrived at that would be considered repulsive today – some deservedly so and other not really.  
     
    These include the separate schools for black and whites, birth control, abortion, schooling for illegal immigrant, prohibiting property sales based on race/religion, interracial marriage, state appointed attorneys, etc. 
     
    Any “new” democracy will result in all sorts of outcomes such as these, and probably a lot worse. If this democracy was “imposed” by an outside entity, and anny attempt to overturn such outcomes by a non-democratic entity such as a court will be seen as a means for imposing the values of the outsider over the ?will of the people?, which in many was will be true.

  12. Turkey is a pretty fair example, though I guess I don’t really consider it part of the Mid East (as opposed to the Near East). Also, the Turkish Army has regularly intervened to overthrow elected governments which they don’t like (and occasionally hang the Prime Minister), and has made it clear it would do so again immediately if any popularly elected government proposed major changes to Ataturkian secularism. 
     
    On the other hand, Lebanon is hardly a democracy, given that it’s now gone something like fifty years without a new population census, this being because everyone knows perfectly well that the Shiites long ago became a majority. 
     
    Suppose America had gone fifty years without Congressional redistricting in order to prevent the West and the South from gaining power at the expense of the North and the East…

  13. Why is the tag “gay media”? 
     
    matt yglesias. he’s gay. 
     
    joe, the dichotomy was too broad…more later.

  14. Perhaps it’s worth allocating, say, 1% of one’s mental computing time, to the obviously miniscule but certainly troubling possibility that democracy is, in fact, a fundamentally criminal ideology
     
    I mean, of course it’s probably just a coincidence that two centuries of rule in the name of The People produced a series of massacres that made Julius Caesar look like Albert Schweitzer. Or that after the United Kingdom adopted universal suffrage its crime rate rose by a factor of 35. Or that the West returned to prosperity and stability only under a “courtocratic” political system in which popular opinion was guided by elites and populist factions were effectively repressed
     
    Nah. It couldn’t be. But still…

  15. What’s up with this “no more than three links in a comment” policy, anyway? Is it a spam thing? Hasn’t Haloscan heard of “rel = nofollow”?

  16. i’m sure halsocan hasn’t heard of it. i paid for non-sponsored version like 3 years ago, but it isn’t really feature rich.

  17. Razib sez: “Whether there is a universal yearning for democratic freedom or not, its acceptance as a background assumption in the public discourse has become nearly religious.” 
     
    Could it be that Razib is coming around to thinking that it’s OK to view some non-overtly religious phenomena as … well, religious? Though I’m happy to settle for “nearly religious,” it still seems a breakthrough …

  18. But back to the subject of the posting … 
     
    Hey, another near-religious assumption that maybe precedes the democracy thing is that we should be out spending a lot of time on foreign affairs in the first place, let alone spending huge resources trying to re-make the world.  
     
    A great quote from my man Michael Oakeshott, the great Brit philosopher. He was once asked what he thought the U.S. should do about some policy problem or other. His answer: “That’s their business.”  
     
    Too bad that the non-interfering and non-pushy and non-ambitious don’t generally get elected to office, no?

  19. I mean, of course it’s probably just a coincidence that two centuries of rule in the name of The People produced a series of massacres that made Julius Caesar look like Albert Schweitzer.  
     
    Mencius, are you trying to be provocative? Haha. “rule in the name of The People” != democracy. The most killing was done in the societies with the least democracy (R.J. Rummel).

  20. Mencius: 
     
    Democracy is not “rule in the name of the people” any more than some other form that might make that claim. Nor does its claim to be “moral” lie strictly within most people’s first association with that term. 
     
    Yet it is an essentially moral form in that it is a practical system for giving most people something that they want to a very great degree: to contine living and not to have to continually look out for opponents intent on killing them to achieve political suprermacy.  
     
    Democracy simply substitutes elections for constant warring. People join parties or even try to persuade others to their cause; the apathetic remain unengaged and free of the victimization from both sides that they’d suffer if things were settled in the more traditional manner of humankind. The key to the whole thing lies in two recognitions: 1.) other things being equal, the numerically superior side is more likely to win (thus the idea of majority rule). This has been recognized long before Von Clausewitz’ remarks about the “bigger, better-equipped battalions.”  
    2.) loss of an election dopes not result in an immediate despoliation and slaughter of the losers; after a time, they get their turn again to reverse the situation. In the interim, both sides may legitimately attempt to persuade some of their opponents to join their side. 
     
    Everyone recognizes that democracy’s not perfect. But most also agree (forget who first said it) that it’s “the worst system, except for the rest.”

  21. chairmanK, 
     
    Who convinced you that “democracy” refers only to the representative parliamentary system as it developed in the Anglo-Saxon countries?  
     
    The word is hardly of contemporary origin. If you can explain the difference between the demos, the Volk, and the People, I’d be most grateful. Most people, for example, don’t know about the Nazi enthusiasm, copied from Napoleon III, for plebiscites. 
     
    By “democracy” I mean the entire trend rooted in the English Civil War and the French Revolution. Jacob Talmon’s Origins of Totalitarian Democracy covers the latter quite nicely. 
     
    Not that the forces of representative democracy are by any means innocent of Rummelian democide. In fact, the first total war in the 20th-century style, at least since the Thirty Years War, was the Unionist invasion of the American South. It is debatable whether the Unionist movement had more in common with our present-day post-Rooseveltism or with Bonapartist or Fascist movements, but the fact that the former endorses it so enthusiastically must mean something.

  22. gene, 
     
    If you want to define “democracy” as “representative democracy in the Western postwar style,” as does chairmanK, of course I can offer no factual argument to dissuade you. This redefinition of the term is Orwellian in the strict sense of the word. But it is hardly alone in this distinction. 
     
    That said, I concur completely with your Clausewitzian characterization of this system. It is essentially designed to control the population and to replace physical violence with symbolic struggles for power. It does a pretty good job of these things and one can do much worse. 
     
    However, it should not be confused with the “natural law”, Rechtstaat or “classical liberal” system that it replaced, which compares to our “liberal democracy” as “liberal democracy” compares to, say, the East German system of government. You can still see little pieces of the Rechtstaat world in places like Hong Kong and Dubai, and may the good Lord protect them from this “democracy.”

  23. The idea of democracy as an inherent yearning is pretty well refuted by this book. It might be nice, but it’s not human nature.

  24. Mencius: Ah, so you disagree with my narrow definition of “democracy”. But this narrow definition is the one that people generally use throughout the contemporary Euro-American world. The lay usage of this term may stray far from the etymology, but this historical shift in usage is not Orwellian. Rather, it provides a useful semantic distinction: elected governments which stagecraft their own elections are veridically different from those that do not. 
     
    Also, I fail to see how Hong Kong and Dubai are good examples of Hayekian constitutional order. Hong Kong is a satellite of the Chinese party-state (which is still thoroughly totalitarian at its core). In Dubai some people are above the law (royals) whereas others are outside of it (law-wage foreign workers).

  25. chairmanK, 
     
    On the contrary, the historical shift is extremely Orwellian, because it was not an accidental shift of diction, but served the purpose of a specific political faction. That this happened well before Orwell’s time does not make it ineligible for his classification. 
     
    At the time of the American Revolution there was a general political assumption that the mercantile upper classes would favor mercantilism, a large, active state, and inflationary monetary policy. In North America these were views generally associated with Hamilton and the Federalists, who were accurately considered quasi-monarchists. The strongholds of this perspective were Boston and Philadelphia. Federalism generally corresponded to the “court party” of 18th-century England, and Federalists tended to sympathize with Britain in its conflicts against France. 
     
    There was also a general political assumption that the rural upper classes, the growing urban artisan class of “mechanics,” and the rural frontier class, would favor free trade, a small, Lockean state, and a non-inflationary monetary policy. These were views generally associated with Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican party, which generally corresponded to the “country party” of 18th-century England, and tended to sympathize with France against Britain. 
     
    “Democracy” as an ideal in the US emerged as a reaction against the disastrous and clumsy rule of the Federalists, who – if you tally up the classes mentioned above, in a thoroughly democratic manner – did not exactly command a popular majority. This is the reason we now have Republicans and Democrats, but we have no more Federalists. 
     
    Actually, however, this isn’t really true. My suspicion is that if you could bring old TJ back to life, like Viktor in “Underworld,” he would observe that the US was ruled by the Federalists and had been for the last 146 years. In fact, if you look at the system of government that Hamilton himself preferred, the Washington of today makes the Federalists look like Robert Yates. 
     
    What happened is that the Federalists adjusted their memes until they found policies that could attract mass support for a giant state. And they also adjusted their name – a la Orwell. For example, the first name that the Federalists took after it became no longer possible to call oneself a Federalist was “Whig,” which was originally a term for the English country party – the parallel of the Democrats. The second name was “Republican,” which was chosen directly for its association with Jefferson.  
     
    And in the end the Federalists, who by this time were calling themselves “progressives,” simply took over the Democratic party itself. The last Democratic president who can be described as Jeffersonian in any way, shape or form, was Grover Cleveland. The major invasions were under Bryan, Wilson, and of course FDR. This worked as well as it did for classic Orwellian reasons – voters in the South continued to support the Democrats as a party of limited government well into the 1970s.  
     
    For example, if you want a good laugh, read the 1932 Democratic presidential platform. A balanced budget? A 25% reduction in the size of government? A sound currency, for cripes sake? 
     
    Yet this was the mandate – both “democratic” and “Democratic” – which gave us the Fourth Republic, which continues to stagecraft its own elections. No rollback of the New Deal has ever been seriously contemplated by the US political system, nor can it. 
     
    Perhaps I mean “stagecraft” in a different sense than you. Like all the 20th-century “democratic” regimes, the Fourth Republic is extremely popular. It commands almost unanimous support. It is the most successful and stable of the various systems of government in the name of the People that have dominated this era, because it has shown conclusively that it can manufacture consent without outlawing its opponents. All it has to do is subsidize its supporters, and it does this with a constant holy vengeance. 
     
    The People’s Republic of China in its present form is not in any way, shape or form totalitarian. Mao’s PRC was totalitarian. Today’s PRC is a “nonpartisan” civil service state very much like ours, but without the thin veneer of democratic politics. The EU, “New Labour” Britain, and the US are all converging on the same system of government, in which all the real power is held by civil servants, journalists, judges, etc, and traditional politics is kept on in a symbolic “American Idol” form.  
     
    The PRC is in some ways preferable, because it dispenses with this pretense, and you can see its success in an economic context. Unless you are an intellectual, ordinary life in the PRC is no different from life here, and business (obviously) works a lot better. The rule of law (except in Hong Kong) could use some work. And if you are an intellectual you have to be slightly careful.  
     
    But there is no way to compare the system introduced by Deng to the totalitarian Communist states of the 20th century. It is actually a lot more like Nazi Germany, which did not make any enormous effort to suppress dissent. (The Stasi had about 100 times as many employees as the prewar Gestapo.) 
     
    Sorry for the long digression. We now return you to your regularly scheduled “scientific racism…”

  26. Mencius, I haven’t read much Burnham, but you sound an awful lot like him. Would I be correct in guessing you got some these ideas from him?

  27. Certainly, though I doubt he’d agree with it all. You also have to distinguish between early (Managerial Revolution) and late (Suicide of the West) Burnham – I prefer the later stuff. (I am currently awaiting my copy of The Machiavellians, which some people say is his best. 
     
    I think with Acton, Burnham, John T. Flynn, Jouvenel, Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Masters, Mises and Rothbard, you could patch together a pretty decent alternative history of the last 200 years. Maybe throw in some Carleton Putnam for spice, and cap it off with a class viewing of Africa Addio
     
    For people who are not used to reading older or non-mainstream prose, however, I always recommend Wolfgang Schivelbusch. Schivelbusch’s credentials both literary and political are impeccable (he is said to be a conventional social democrat), and that makes books like Three New Deals far more effective than anyone at the Mises Institute could dream of. (Small wonder that, unlike his previous book, this one has gone almost entirely unreviewed.)

  28. Perhaps I mean “stagecraft” in a different sense than you. Like all the 20th-century “democratic” regimes, the Fourth Republic is extremely popular. It commands almost unanimous support. It is the most successful and stable of the various systems of government in the name of the People that have dominated this era, because it has shown conclusively that it can manufacture consent without outlawing its opponents. 
     
    If a democratic government delivers what The People want, is it really fair to call that political “stagecraft”? Honestly, when I read people like Noam Chomsky complain about “manufactured consent”, I think that they’re being insufferably picky.  
     
    The PRC is in some ways preferable, because it dispenses with this pretense, and you can see its success in an economic context. Unless you are an intellectual, ordinary life in the PRC is no different from life here, and business (obviously) works a lot better. 
     
    Do you seriously believe this? The PRC has a monopolistic party-state, a nonsensical ideological cult (read Hu Jintao spew about “scientific” socialism in the People’s Daily), state control of all religious institutions, a functioning gulag system, no protection of private property, no enforcement of contracts, internal passports, . . .

  29. The phrase “manufactured consent” comes from Walter Lippmann, not Chomsky. Public Opinion is online and very much worth a read. (It also introduced the word “stereotype,” to which strange Orwellian things have also happened.) 
     
    Lippmann’s point is that a 20th-century democracy is not and cannot be a level playing field for ideas. The state uses its power to endorse a system of thought, which then becomes popular, leading the people to support the state. This feedback loop is extremely stable and can diverge almost arbitrarily from reality. 
     
    Of course, Lippmann saw a silver lining in this cloud: employed properly, it would allow enlightened experts, such as himself, to run the world. See also under Colonel House
     
    I am not endorsing the PRC. It has many defects in my view. It indeed puts a lot of effort into managing the psychology and perspective of its citizens. Since I believe in the separation of information and security, I disapprove strongly of this. 
     
    We could prepare a similar list of defects for the US: the Federal government controls education and the universities, etc, etc, etc. One could transform the US educational system and “mainstream media” into a Department of Information without having to make any changes in substance – simply give professors and journalists GS ranks, and so on. There are certainly some differences between the BBC and the New York Times, but the fact that one is a government agency and the other is a publicly-traded company does not strike me as obviously responsible for any of them. 
     
    None of this, however, makes the US a “totalitarian state.” Or, at least, well, the word “totalitarian” can mean anything to you – but I really think it is best to have one word for this and another word for the regimes of Stalin and Mao. For example, even the Khrushchev-Brezhnev-Chernenko period in Russia had more in common with the US today than it did with Stalinism. In what I consider a “real” totalitarian state, no one is safe. In a state that merely tries to manage public opinion in a way that promotes its own survival, you have to want to cause trouble to get in trouble.  
     
    To get yourself put in jail for your political views in the PRC today, you have to do quite a bit of work. The basic line they draw is that you can think anything, you can say anything, but you can’t organize. This is certainly not an ideal system of government in my mind, but considering the number of people who have been killed by political movements in China in the last century, I think you can excuse the Chinese for wanting a break from politics. 
     
    (Chomsky is such an ass that he is an almost infallible indicator of error. I have never known him to be right on any subject. You can make a pretty good stab at reality just by looking at the Chomskian party line and finding its the exact opposite.)

  30. Mencius, thank you for directing me to Walter Lippmann. 
     
    Of course democracy is a feedback loop which can diverge arbitrarily from reality. But if the people genuinely desire the State that they have, does it really matter how they were previously conditioned to desire such a State? “Fake” democracies are also capable of gross divergences from reality. If a polity is going to shoot off into a maladaptive direction anyway, isn’t it better for this maladaptive flight to occur via genuine voluntary participation (rather than coerced acquiescence) of the people? 
     
    From reading what you have to say about the post-Stalin USSR and the PRC, I infer that you and I construct very different metric spaces for totalitarianism. I view the distribution of contemporary states as being heavily skewed towards the totalitarian end of the space, with a relatively sparse tail of non-totalitarian states; you see much less distance between the PRC and the United States. This is a matter of metric taste, and I think that we will have to accept our disagreement. 
     
    Lastly: Chomsky’s politics may be gravely in error, but I vigorously agree with his linguistic program. (Although, I am not a linguistic, so maybe I’m not understand a critical flaw.) What do you think is so wrong with his linguistics?

  31. RKU – Al Sadr is (probably) the most popular political figure in Iraq and would come closest to winning a free election. He is our enemy and target. 
     
    Politically there is a reason we are against all that you listed. Muqtada Al-Sadr runs the Sadr Bureau and the military arm of the Sadr Bureau, which is called Jaysh Al-Mahdi (JAM). JAM is responsible for much of the violence in Iraq. Granted so is just about every other Iraqi organization of any importance. Muqtada via his leadership position is an active participant in the killing of American soldiers in Iraq. Far as Iran… they support the violence in Iraq in order to keep us tied down. Hezbollah because of there aggression towards Israel. Hamas – same reason 
     
    With regards to supporting the non-democracies, you are dead on. We (the U.S.A) support whatever government ultimately best suits our political goals. 
     
    chairmanK – If a democratic government delivers what The People want, is it really fair to call that political “stagecraft”? 
     
    Any “good” government is more than capable of letting the people know what the people want. The simple use of Marketing/PSYOP works wonders. I am not sure I would call that stagecraft though… perhaps just education or assisting the layman or propaganda if I don’t like/believe the message is good. 
     
    Mencius – (Chomsky is such an ass /…./ opposite.) 
     
    I find his ability to analyze, extract, and write about various topics to be extremely good. I just feel his final conclusions to remedy perceived ills to be flawed, hence I enjoy his books but normally draw opposite conclusions. 
     
    That aside I stood with Eric Alterman on this one. 
     
    Question: Who believes that western style Democracy is good for Iraq? I don’t.

  32. I was under the impression that the Sistani faction was more popular than Sadr, and that the Badr Brigades were larger than the Mahdi Army.

  33. I spent a limited amount of time doing some searches on the subject so as to be able to draw up a proper response with linkable articles to support what I wrote, however the articles tended to be vague and or out of date. So I am responding with a mix of my personal knowledge of the situation and conjecture. 
     
    Sistani is known by all Iraqis for sure, but to say he is more popular…. I think the last couple of years have shifted the favor to Muqtada’s organizations. With regards to JAM vrs Badr Corps – Badr Corps is practically non existent in Baghdad and Najaf when compared with JAM. I am unable to speak for other major cities in Iraq though.  
     
    There is current tension between JAM and Coalition Forces. Some JAM members use other key figures and organizations as cover stories when confronted by Coalition Forces. This would lower stats for Muqtada/Jam and raise for other groups such as Sistani supporters. 
     
    Jaysh Al-Mahdi (JAM) = Mahdi Army, Muqtada’s Army, Madhi Militia 
     
    Badr Corps = Badr Brigade

  34. On the Chomsker: 
     
    Okay, okay, I have no quarrels with context-free grammars :-) But generative grammar is hardly a recondite invention and has primarily been of use to the software industry, which would certainly have invented it with or without Chomsky. I am hardly an expert in the field, but I gather that natural language analysis (such as machine translation) has not found the Chomskian paradigm productive, and today mostly relies on statistical tools. 
     
    Chomsky’s insistence that the brain has some kind of hardwired grammar module has not held up well at all. Autistics can “see” large primes, but there is nothing in the brain that corresponds to the Sieve of Eratosthenes. As someone who knows what a module is I find the whole metaphor distracting. Neurons do not have APIs. 
     
    As for his retreaded Marxism, ’nuff said. Besch, I basically agree – Chomsky is certainly a very smart guy, and it can be fascinating to watch him draw the wrong conclusions from the wrong premises. It is certainly educational. 
     
    chairmanK, it is indeed a matter of taste – on both grounds. I think it is possible for hominids to live peacefully in a free society which does not depend on mass conditioning at all. But the historical evidence for this proposition is certainly scant, and it may just be wishful thinking on my part. As for “totalitarianism,” I will stand by my belief that the full-on Orwell complex of high Stalinism, Mao, the Kims, etc, needs its own name. But I am indifferent as to what that name should be.

  35. It seems like you need several dimensions to describe the different flavors of nasty society/government, right? One dimension is how safe normal people are, another is how political dissent is handled, still another is how minority groups are treated, and there are many others. You can live someplace where there’s no formal legal mechanism for suppressing dissent, but in practice, dissent is suppressed by the consequences applied by all your neighbors, friends, and family.  
     
    I mean, a place where moderate levels of political dissent are tolerated, but the unpopular ethnic minority is sent to death camps, is horribly nasty, but it’s a different flavor of nasty than a place where the secret police might just sweep you up for a stray word or out of random paranoia, or where the whole society gets redesigned by force, Cultural Revolution style.

  36. albatross, 
     
    Indeed. But just getting to the point where you judge a government by its actions, rather than by some ancient principle that anoints it with mystical legitimacy, is a big step for people…

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