Empires despise laws. Now the U.S. Empire desires to dominate Syria, in contravention of United Nations Charter and the Geneva Conventions. But when the Geneva Conventions and International Laws of War and Commerce were created and put into force, there was still a belief that nations of the world could live in harmony by being rational and reasonable, and following an agreed-upon set of norms and rules of law that kept nations bound. But when the postmodern assault on reason and norms of ethical interchange commenced, combined with the emergence of the acquisitive, capitalistic, and militaristic U.S. as the world’s reigning empire, the consequence was the complete surrender of such notions of cooperation between nations as set by and in the international rule of law and the ethical and rational conditions that permitted discourse, and most importantly the evaporation of the possibility of a peace that was not based in the oppressive operations of hegemon running its own worldwide empire. One of the primary conditions that allowed the U.S. Empire to grow was a spurning of a commitment to rational and ethical norms of thought and discourse, which by definition acknowledges the equality of the other party to discourse while simultaneously allowing for conscious self-direction and self-correction, and perhaps more importantly, the rejection of the universal jurisdiction of law and its application as our common ethic. All of American culture, to say nothing of the corporate elites of the empire, mowed down these parameters of thought and discourse like a summer lawn, with the result that the mobsterism of the Empire is all we’re left with, the last vestiges of our failed experiment with democracy.
On the other side, with the media joining the mobsters as their mouthpiece, and with no norms of critical thinking, informed discourse, and ethical principles taken by the media to be necessary and basic to any analyses of the current conditions of our national and international affairs, any analysis appealing to such guidelines is simply dismissed by reducing it to a competing ideology or “metaphor” to the reigning neoconservative one. Hence, the methods of propaganda once championed by Walter Lippmann and Edward Bernays have been jealously cultivated on the left without overtly admitting that we have reduced ourselves simply to “doing our own propaganda” by messaging our respective metaphors, as if that type of analysis would make any further headway into critique of and halt to the Mobster Empire’s abuses.
The result of all this is that we find ourselves today in that “never again” cultural space—the space where totalitarianism is ascending. Perhaps now it is even beyond the “never again” to the “never”—i.e. that totalitarianism is in ascendancy right here in America. Just as prior to Hitler’s rise in Germany, the culture was immersed in irrationality and rejection of moral and rational norms and emphases, so today we find that we have arrived at that very same cultural position. That such irrationalism is a prelude to fascism has been well documented in the philosophical writings on World War II, and one can appeal to authors such as Georg Lukacs, Karl Popper, and Peter Drucker for detailed and cogent support and analyses of this phenomenon. The point here is that, under the sustained attack on reason and ethical values, a baseless and thus paradoxical irrationalism arises that allows for totalitarian forms of rule, both at home and abroad.
The solution can only be a return to some form of sanity—i.e. rationally-supported, communicable, unifying principles and aspirations, most specifically with a goal of inculcating a sense of a common good ethics—or the result will be a common political suicide. What postmodern elites understand but postmodern disciples do not, is that with the death of the primacy of reason comes the death of truth, and with the death of truth, all knowledge, ethics, and self-conscious social commonality have come to be taken as relative, and a true politics thereby becomes hopeless. In its stead politics becomes a means of raw competition for power and geo-political and resource control, if not just power for its own sake. Further, no criticism is possible from any quarter of society, since the criticism would just be ignored or dismantled under postmodern intellectual pretenses of proclaiming the death of such implied objective standards. Meanwhile, as the living standards of workers continue to plummet and the planet heats up, no pushback is possible because a relativist and individualist culture that results from denial of rational and ethical basics by definition will not unify, since there is no understanding of a self-grounding set of principles Even if they are politically involved, that involvement is seen as simply a commitment to one’s chosen relative ideology with its own metaphor—e.g. President Obama and/or the Democratic Party—and not to truth and justice, the latter two of which takes some combination of rational and ethical thinking.
The political purpose of individual rational thinking and commitment to an ethical good has always been to prevent the lower impulses of our nature from taking over the human condition—i.e. brutality, self-centeredness, manipulation, hatred, class exclusion, etc. With the removal of the conditions that sought as its collective goal the best type of human interchange, and that might have prevented or significantly mitigated the corporate takeover of America and the American Empire, there is now nothing on which liberals can stand together to fight: not justice, not ethics, not reason, not the quest for truth. And we are all suffering as a consequence, with no bedrock principle or set of principles around which to unify. And as we have seen in the last six years, common suffering does not result in common unity or common organizing. It will take something else to kick-start a new revolution against the depressive conditions of neoliberal policies of greed and class oppression. Even Marx and (really) Engels’ call that “you have nothing to lose but your chains” is insufficient to a dis-integrated population.
Some might object to this analysis on the grounds that it is too abstract: that if the social conditions of poverty, oppression, and the recognition of a rapidly-dwindling middle-class lifestyle are insufficient to move people, then it is unlikely a commitment to a new principle or a generalized call to rationality and justice will move people to unify. But this objection presumes that human values are locked into the vicissitudes of history alone. Contrary to that, witness the following facts. First, in WWII, the Western Allies defeated Hitler and his band of fascists, but they did not defeat the philosophy of fascism and totalitarianism. It is always a danger that this philosophy will rise again where great political and economic power is concentrated, as it is now in the United States, and thus it is that we must address if we are to avoid totalitarianism in the future.
Second, how did the civil rights movement progress and gain part of what they sought, at least in terms of voting rights? They were organized around a set of principles, summarized by Martin Luther King as “justice,” which he defined in terms of fairness, equality, and freedom from oppression. Those were the driving forces of the civil rights movement. There was far more to the movement, of course, but without the principles, the truth of which they thought self-evident and grounding of their cause, they would not have had the pole around which to center their thoughts and actions, and without which no organization would have been possible.
Finally, analogous to the case being made here, the main requirement environmentalists have for decades claimed that is needed is a change in our national philosophy, to one that moves deliberately and with full ethical intent away from fossil fuel reliance to renewable energy. They are not suggesting that social conditions will evolve so that this can become the case; they have consistently argued that a change in philosophy is needed to allow a move in this direction.
So the persistent anti-war voices we are currently seeing and hearing in liberal media outlets need to take the philosophy behind their anti-war stand and make it a wider principle: become unified with the voices of environmentalists, and civil rights advocates, and media activists, and the voices of democratic reform in general. This is a perfect moment for finding a set of organizing and unifying principles to rally progressives into a unity. These principles are going to have to be seen as universal if they are to be successful. It will also require a commitment to truth, not to some “ideology” or “metaphor.” But these shifts will imply a return to reason and ethical principle as a primary element in and of political discourse. This will certainly be counter to the current American culture. If this also is at cross-purposes with old-school liberals, with their focus on self, relativism, and the reduction of rational, ethical, and political discourse to simple ideology or metaphor, that is so much the worse for liberalism in general, and so much the better for the mobster Empire, which will continue until it either literally runs out of gas, or, more quickly and decisively, is overcome by the unified voices of the people.
What are the chances of unifying our principles so that we can unify our voices in a pushback against the Empire? At this point, any analysis would have to answer “virtually none,” since Americans at this point in our history do not care to embrace that which is crucial to our own existence as a democracy: unity with other citizens whose interests are diverse from our own, a sense of commonality with other nations rather than differences (e.g. “those Islamist terrorists,” or more generally in our history, “those savage others”), rational thinking, ethical values, informed citizen discourse, and a commitment to the rule of law (i.e. law’s universal application). But without these fundamental beliefs, the U.S. will continue to sink into a dark history of a country that had a chance to make democracy work, but whose surrender to its lower impulses resulted in a national character that prevented it from happening.
Dr. Robert P. Abele holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Marquette University He is the author of three books: A User’s Guide to the USA PATRIOT Act (2005); The Anatomy of a Deception: A Logical and Ethical Analysis of the Decision to Invade Iraq (2009); Democracy Gone: A Chronicle of the Last Chapters of the Great American Democratic Experiment (2009). He contributed eleven chapters to the Encyclopedia of Global Justice, from The Hague: Springer Press (October, 2011). Dr. Abele is a professor of philosophy at Diablo Valley College, located in Pleasant Hill, California in the San Francisco Bay area. His web site is www.spotlightonfreedom.com