Revolutionary Pacifism as the best of anarcho-liberalism

Consistent with Muste’s “revolutionary pacifism,” the Sydney Peace Foundation has always emphasized peace with justice. The demands of justice can remain unfulfilled long after peace has been declared. The Santa Cruz massacre 20 years ago can serve as an illustration. One year after the massacre the United Nations adopted The Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which states that “Acts constituting enforced disappearance shall be considered a continuing offence as long as the perpetrators continue to conceal the fate and the whereabouts of persons who have disappeared and these facts remain unclarified.”

The massacre is therefore a continuing offence: the fate of the disappeared is unknown, and the offenders have not been brought to justice, including those who continue to conceal the crimes of complicity and participation. Only one indication of how far we must go to rise to some respectable level of civilized behavior. – Noam Chomsky, Revolutionary Pacifism: Choices and Prospects

The ABC National presentation on this speech can be heard or watched here. There are lots of beautiful notions in this piece, lots of hard facts, and an erudition that is impressive. Yet listening I couldn’t tell if Chomsky was an anarchist, a pacifist, or a social democrat.  While Chomsky’s analysis of the historical situation is deadly accurate, but in this analysis we see best of anarcho-liberalism.  Now, I never use that word in a positive sense so why the best:  His assertion that pacifism with justice comes simply from the population holding leaders to elementary moral principles.

History provides ample evidence to support Muste’s conclusion that “The problem after a war is with the victor, [who] thinks he has just proved that war and violence pay.” And the real answer to Muste’s question, “Who will teach him a lesson?,” can only be domestic populations, if they can adopt elementary moral principles.

Yet in all his historical analysis–other than the media obfuscating the truth which is media analysis is correct on–I must note that one is not offered any analysis as to exactly and structurally why this happens? Indeed, Chomsky offers us an appeal to the universal injunction and reciprocation of the other.  But this sort of injunction is not actually universal:

The principle is universal, or nearly so, in three further respects: it is found in some form in every moral code; it is universally applauded in words, and consistently rejected in practice.

Every major religion makes exceptions on morality for the other: Muslims do not have to treat non-believers the same as believers, Confucian ethics is filled with category types with specific and not universal duties, Christianity has historically make exceptions for non-believers, and I could go on and on.

Instead with good a barrage of examples of injustices, but no real definition of what peace with justice and revolutionary pacifism even truly is. Is this pacifism after justice has been rendered? Or is it pacifism than demands justice non-violently?  I didn’t understand A.J. Muste or Chomsky on this,  Muste’s saying that “one must be a revolutionary before one can be a pacifist.” It seems that Chomsky is arguing for the former, in that he quotes Muste again which I paraphrase as saying that we must not be too quick to judge violence against oppression even if it is wrong. Or we to aid these people in their violent struggle?  What about the odds?  Chomsky and Muste do not make that clear.

Chomsky makes a point about Obama that I endorse though:

The specialist literature and even the US Embassy in Islamabad warn that the pressures on Pakistan to take part in the US invasion, as well as US attacks in Pakistan, are “destabilizing and radicalizing Pakistan, risking a geopolitical catastrophe for the United States – and the world – which would dwarf anything that could possibly occur in Afghanistan” – quoting British military/Pakistan analyst Anatol Lieven. The assassination of bin Laden greatly heightened this risk in ways that were ignored in the general enthusiasm for assassination of suspects. The US commandos were under orders to fight their way out if necessary. They would surely have had air cover, maybe more, in which case there might have been a major confrontation with the Pakistani army, the only stable institution in Pakistan, and deeply committed to defending Pakistan’s sovereignty. Pakistan has a huge nuclear arsenal, the most rapidly expanding in the world. And the whole system is laced with radical Islamists, products of the strong US-Saudi support for the worst of Pakistan’s dictators, Zia ul-Haq, and his program of radical Islamization. This program along with Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are among Ronald Reagan’s legacies. Obama has now added the risk of nuclear explosions in London and New York, if the confrontation had led to leakage of nuclear materials to jihadis, as was plausibly feared – one of the many examples of the constant threat of nuclear weapons.

The assassination of bin Laden had a name: “Operation Geronimo.” That caused an uproar in Mexico, and was protested by the remnants of the indigenous population in the US. But elsewhere few seemed to comprehend the significance of identifying bin Laden with the heroic Apache Indian chief who led the resistance to the invaders, seeking to protect his people from the fate of “that hapless race” that John Quincy Adams eloquently described. The imperial mentality is so profound that such matters cannot even be perceived.

There were a few criticisms of Operation Geronimo – the name, the manner of its execution, and the implications. These elicited the usual furious condemnations, most unworthy of comment, though some were instructive. The most interesting was by the respected left-liberal commentator Matthew Yglesias. He patiently explained that “one of the main functions of the international institutional order is precisely to legitimate the use of deadly military force by western powers,” so it is “amazingly naïve” to suggest that the US should obey international law or other conditions that we impose on the powerless. The words are not criticism, but applause; hence one can raise only tactical objections if the US invades other countries, murders and destroys with abandon, assassinates suspects at will, and otherwise fulfills its obligations in the service of mankind. If the traditional victims see matters somewhat differently, that merely reveals their moral and intellectual backwardness. And the occasional Western critic who fails to comprehend these fundamental truths can be dismissed as “silly,” Yglesias explains – incidentally, referring specifically to me, and I cheerfully confess my guilt.

This is a valid point about the modus operandi of the Obama administration, yet the exact reasons why Obama would work against U.S. interests. Furthermore, for a man respected by many as an anarchist, he speaks of international law frankly but as if it has legitimacy.  There is a tension always felt in Chomsky: his critiques are never explicit if he thinks the “system” can be overthrown or if we can just tweak it here and there.  Indeed, one is left confused to whether Chomsky is advocating revolutionary pacifism or reformist pacifism.

Yes, Yglesias is making explicit what you’d expect to come out of John Yu’s mouth.  Many of my liberal friends will ignore this, of course, and the fact that this is actually a bit more radical than the Bush administration.  However, in another way, Chomsky is being slightly silly indeed.  He should know that sovereignty, even prior to when Carl Schmidt articulated it, is almost always rooted in the ability to make a state of exception.  The person who makes the laws must have some, if not total, immunity from them. Indeed, there is a simple Hobbesian logic to this: the primitive society is so violent that we give the monarch the only legitimate use of violence.  This is explicit in the traditions that created the modern nation state. In this Chomsky seems to make implying, although not making, an anarchist argument but then again he does not seem to be willing to say jettison the international institutions in order to fix it.    One can see this again:

These are among the natural consequences of rejecting Muste’s warning, and the main thrust of his revolutionary pacifism, which should direct us to investigating the grievances that lead to violence, and when they are legitimate, as they often are, to address them. When that advice is taken, it can succeed very well. Britain’s recent experience in Northern Ireland is a good illustration. For years, London responded to IRA terror with greater violence, escalating the cycle, which reached a bitter peak. When the government began instead to attend to the grievances, violence subsided and terror has effectively disappeared. I was in Belfast in 1993, when it was a war zone, and returned a year ago to a city with tensions, but hardly beyond the norm.

The tensions in Belfast have no been resolved, only lessened.  Tactically this makes good sense, and having an open hand is a smart tactical move. But this is tactics, not a political vision.  In a sense, this is what is to be decried in ethics as a maintainer of only the current.

Chomsky’s list of facts is dizzying, but his analysis of what those facts constitute systemically is facile in the end.   Furthermore, seems fundamentally unclear and unable to explain why people who consider themselves moral are unable to break the grit-lock on peace.  This is why I call Chomsky the best of anarcho-liberalism: it is coherent on the surface and sustained, but it is not systemic.  Chomsky is roote din analytic philosophy with the same concerns for describing and limiting the current as opposed to positing something outside of it.  This divide is a philosophical one ultimately.  In my mind there are several reasons why “moral” people cannot hold a government accountable: alienation from other humans in the means of production, cognitive dissonance and prior investment logic, formal as opposed to substantive democracy, and the nation of the interaction between capital and the state themselves.

I ask you then for all our Chomskys valid historical critique does this not ultimately lead to people quoting facts without systemic analysis, pleading on moral whether than substantive grounds, and arguing about beliefs.  While I do not think it would be fair to tar Chomsky as anti-intellectual, but he does encourage lifestyle rebellion. So he may not be an anarcho-liberal himself, but a lot of his analysis lends itself to the people who sound like Sunkara was describing. 

We need answers to why, not just what.

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About El Mono Liso

Por una civilización de la pobreza.

Posted on December 12, 2011, in Left-turn, Marxism, news and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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