Monday, September 10, 2007

This Happy Meal (Still) Kills Fascists

If you want an oversimplification of people in the Middle East, they are entrepreneurs. They’re commercial people. They’re people we can get along with. And when they can develop their own reasons for modifying some of the ancient interpretations to make themselves part of the modern world, it really works. So I’m very open to doing more business with them, having more interchange with them, getting Americans to understand who they are and what they are.
- Rudolph Giuliani talking in the latest New York Times Magazine.

This is a man not afraid to ask the hard-hitting questions of this islamofascistic -- as his trusted adviser Norman Podhoretz calls (all of) them -- people. Not only the essential though somewhat elementary who are they (they're Islamofascist Arabs from the Middle East who also happen to be entrepreneurs, as he clearly explains in the opening sentence), but the far more important what are they. We know they're humans, because we've seen them talk and stuff. We know they have at least the capacity for goodness because they like to buy things and become rich, filthy rich, like bin Laden rich, or George Bush or Carlos Slim Helú rich. But the question of what persists. How do we know what they are, I mean, really. How do I know they're not just figments of my imagination, put there by one of those deceiving Middle Eastern god to trick me? Giuliani! Help us make sense of this crazy world, where radical doubt undermines the very commercial nature that ties us together! Please remind us once again that Thomas Paine, and Benjamin Constant, and Thomas Friedman, and all those other dudes were right when they said that the bad men would stop killing us when they became persuaded of the beauty of the market, and especially McDonalds.

McDonalds rules!


Blogger The Sheriff said...

This is not only the logic of political reform in the Middle East, but I would venture to say it is the fundamental paradigm of development rhetoric. Deep within every poor, unwashed Global Southerner lies an entrepreneur waiting to be untapped. This model clearly drives microcredit and microfinance schemes,

1:59 PM  
Blogger Robot said...

I'm not so sure I see "clear" and absolute parallels between microcredit schemes and the kind of broader developmental rhetoric noted here. First, from an empirical point of view, the former have proven to be vastly more beneficial for lifting people out of poverty than the latter. A large reason for this is that microcredit -- at least to my knowledge -- does not have a history of exploitation and hypocrisy as the Washington Consensus had and has. I refer here to now familiar narrative of agricultural subsidies for the rich and laissez-faireism for the poor --things which would obviously be merely the starting point of your criticisms, sheriff.

But maybe I'm missing something. Could you expand on how you view both the larger, institutional programs as partners with their micro "brothers"... other than saying they're both capitalistic (which they are) and profit-seeking (which they are).

3:05 PM  
Blogger Scantron said...

Along with Beinart's review of Stormin' Norman and Michael Ledeen, Ian Buruma in the NYRB has jumped on the bandwagon of those who think these maniacs worthy of comment, if only to demolish them.

Buruma notes, as Beinart does, Podhoretz's strange affinity for violent imagery and Schmittian friend/foe distinctions. Adjectives and descriptors littering the review include "zany," "dangerous form of hysteria," "severe ideological blindness," "unhinged," "absurd," "nonsensical," "cheap...calumny," "ideological fanaticism," and "right-wing ideologue." (That's a lot of ideology!)

(Coincidentally, another bristlingly liberal piece in this week's issue of NYRB uses much the same language: Ronald Dworkin's assessment of the Roberts Supreme Court. In just the first paragraph we are to understand that a "revolution" has occurred following the appointment of two "ultra-right-wing justices" which is "Jacobin" in its "disdain for tradition and precedent." A new "unbreakable phalanx" has formed, and by the article's end Dworkin is predicting "the continued subversion of the American constitution. The worst is yet to come."
That is quite a charge to be hefted at the highest judges in the nation. I've never seen Dworkin, usually such an accomodating presence, so piqued.)

Buruma and Beinart assess the work of Podhoretz before mentioning his role in the Rudy campaign (which is obviouly their assignment--a book review--and not the other way around), but Bai's piece is the most helpful in seeing the bigger picture: Podhoretz as a component in the arsenal of Giuliani, the real danger (Podhoretz's actual ideas are clearly garbage and don't deserve critical scrutiny). Rudy is becoming the favored psychoanalytic subject of campaign commentators, and rightly so: his petty authoritarianism and blind faith in rapacious corporate capitalism are matched by an almost intentional know-nothingness and a private life far more scandalous than (Bill) Clinton's. Hillary, the frontrunner with the closest amount of personal demons, nevertheless looks like a girl scout compared to America's mayor. Other examples of Rudy case studies:

Interestingly (purely interesting: it doesn't prove or disprove anything), some of the American founders did not subscribe to the "commerce=peace" thesis you bring up re: Constant and Friedman. Writing in the Federalist no. 6, Hamilton notes, in what is a prescient preemption of Kant's argument of 1795, that "there are still to be found visionary, or designing men, who stand ready to advocate the paradox of perpetual peace between the states...the spirit of commerce has a tendency to soften the manners of men, and to extinguish those inflammable humours which has so often kindled wars...Has it not, on the contrary, invariably been found, that momentary passions, and immediate interests, have a more active and imperious control over human conduct, than general or remote considerations of policy, utility, or justice?...Has commerce hitherto done anything more than change the objects of war?"

Just because your Washington quote from the other day was so juicy.

7:12 PM  
Blogger The Sheriff said...

Well I think that there's two things going on here. Well three. There was more comment after the comma that somehow got cut off. As far as I've studied into these operations, the fundamental, sometimes explicit sometimes not, assumption is that people are just entrepreneurs waiting to get out.

The hypocrisy of the Washington consensus is clear no doubt. I mean, they're using currently fashionable rhetoric and jargon to market basically a very tried and true bill of goods. However, there is a difference between let's say cold war rhetoric which more extolled the virtues of capitalism as a system, and the current rhetoric which focuses on a sort of species-being of entrepreneurialism. Strangely enough, for instance, the US encouraged pretty significant degrees of land reform in the third world as an alternative to communism; oftentimes this had legitimately good effects.

Now however, there's much more of a focus on this sort of Cartesian subject who thinks, therefore he is capable of making money.

I wanted more to just talk about the development or nuancing of the jargon. I may have criticized and compared a bit here, granted in a very sporadic fashion, but the initial thrust of the comment was more to point out the strength of this sort of speech and the pervasiveness it has attained.

PS- there's a negligible or shrinking difference between the "institotional programs" and the "micro-brothers". Grameen bank itself, amongst others, operates as the de facto government of Bangladesh, deploying a full complement of police and social controls over a population which is very significantly in its pocket.

9:39 PM  
Blogger John Liberty said...

At the very least, we can see clearly that Gulliani's attitude and analysis is something that is likely to bring more trouble and misunderstanding, though he claims otherwise.

8:33 PM  

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