Sunday, December 02, 2007

A Tale of Two Tyrants

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

Putin out-Bushes Bush. In Russia, Vladimir Putin is supported by pro-Kremlin "youth groups" who equate or associate domestic opposition to Putin with supporters of George W. Bush. "You will not succeed in creating a revolution in Russia", they shout. Russia, they say, will never have an "American" style government. Bush, it seems, has not only created a tyranny in the US,
he inspires the domestic support for tyranny abroad.
Ten thousand young commissars — their title borrowed from the Communist Party leaders of the Soviet era — came here to learn to be Russia's next generation of tycoons and political leaders. Equally important, they came to prepare to stamp out any challenge from opposition groups to President Vladimir Putin's government.

All were summoned by Nashi, a pro-Kremlin organization that pays homage to Putin and seeks to promote Russia's resurrection as a superpower capable of frustrating what leaders call Western "imperialism."

--Russian youth rally at pro-Putin camp, USA Today

It has apparently never occurred to these young Russian "brownshirts" that, from my perspective, there is not a dime's worth of difference between Putin's increasingly fascist tyranny and that of George W. Bush in the US. If anything, Putin has outdone Bush even as Bush's excesses inspire support for Putin in the Russian homeland. As I have denounced the growing disparities of income in the US, a burgeoning oil industry has made possible even worse inequalities in Russia. My message to Putin's young supporters is this: you already have an Americanized government in the person of one Vladimir Putin and it is as bad as oil fascism American style --or worse!

In both Putin and Bush are found tyrants in the process of silencing dissent, consolidating power, procuring riches for their cronies. Both men are supported by a corporate "community" grown rich as a result of "fascist" policies. Bush is propped up by a dowager oil industry that must seek new resources abroad as it supports Bush adventures that promise them a pay-off.

Putin, meanwhile, has the luxury of presiding over a producing, domestic oil industry that need only punch a hole in the ground to pump up black gold. Putin is propped up for as long as the wells will pump. Putin and Bush are products of what can be only be described as "military/industrial" complexes. Wars are conceived by such "complexes" and wars are fought for their benefit.

It was all foreseen, prominently by St. Thomas More during the reign of Henry VIII.

...so God help me, I can perceive nothing but a certain conspiracy of rich men procuring their own commodities under the name and title of the commonwealth. They invent and devise all means and crafts, first how to keep safely, without fear of losing, that they have unjustly gathered together, and next how to hire and abuse the work and labour of the poor for as little money as may be.

-Of the Religions in Utopia, St. Thomas More
In 1795, Immanuel Kant wrote an essay called "Perpetual Peace". I find that interesting in view of the fact that we now find ourselves --by virtue of leadership both incompetent and criminal --in a state of "Perpetual War" In his treatise, Kant made quick work of the very concept of aggressive war:
A state is not, like the ground which it occupies, a piece of property (patrimonium). It is a society of men whom no one else has any right to command or to dispose except the state itself. It is a trunk with its own roots. But to incorporate it into another state, like a graft, is to destroy its existence as a moral person, reducing it to a thing; such incorporation thus contradicts the idea of the original contract without which no right over a people can be conceived.

--Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace

It could be argued that the United States has not, cannot "annex" Iraq --though Bush may have had that in mind. Every other ex post facto case for war has turned out to have been untrue, most often just black-hearted, deliberate, harmful, immoral lies! Though he will not admit it, Bush proposes to administer "our" new acquisition by way of puppet governments. What is falsely called an insurgency, however, has already plunged Iraq into Civil War. And because U.S. puppets do not have widespread support throughout this conquered territory, it lays bare the hypocrisy of the Bush position. Kant seems prescient when describing the political motivations behind wars of aggression:
...it is in part a new kind of industry for gaining ascendancy by means of family alliances and without expenditure of forces, and in part a way of extending one's domain.

--Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace

Believing war to be antithetical to reason, Kant advocated a federation of states bound by a covenant forbidding all war. Literally, a "United Nations". Kant, perhaps influenced by Montesquieu, describes a state in which an executive branch and a legislative branch are separate. Every form of government, Kant maintains, which is not representative is, in his view, "...without form".

It's interesting to speculate how revulsion to Robespierre's "Reign of Terror" may have moderated Kant's views.

Are the enemies within not the allies of the enemies without? The assassins who tear our country apart, the intriguers who buy the consciences that hold the people's mandate; the traitors who sell them; the mercenary pamphleteers hired to dishonor the people's cause, to kill public virtue, to stir up the fire of civil discord, and to prepare political counterrevolution by moral counterrevolution-are all those men less guilty or less dangerous than the tyrants whom they serve?

--Robespierre, On the Moral and Political Principles of Domestic Policy
I can only speculate that Robespierre's defense, above, was written after his "reign of terror" seemed to have turned upon itself and its own moderating elements. An example of its excesses is the execution of Lavoisier, one of twenty-eight French tax collectors, a powerful figure in the unpopular Ferme Générale. Lavoisier was branded a traitor during the Reign of Terror, convicted and guillotined on May 8, 1794. He was 50.

In our time, Joseph McCarthy and more recently George Bush exemplify demagoguery. You are either with us or you are for the terrorists! The Bush administration has repeatedly warned of additional "terrorist" attacks, "warnings" that are, in fact, thinly veiled threats to both the American people, American allies, indeed, the world. The implications are clear enough: dissent will not be tolerated; anyone daring to oppose Bush is considered to be in alliance with terrorists; those not conforming to the Bush orthodoxy with be dealt with by Bush's "Reign of Terror".

At home, the GOP simply, conveniently, and fallaciously defines "terror" as anything at odds with GOP dogma, orthodoxy, or propaganda. That orthodoxy, however, was described by Kant in 1795 when he referred to it in the words quoted above: "...it is in part a new kind of industry for gaining ascendancy by means of family alliances." A fair question arises: "has the GOP come to believe its own propaganda?"

According to Bertrand Russell, Kant is suspicious of Democracy and warns that the creation of the "executive" branch may lead to despotism. He most certainly had Robespierre in mind. Kant's "state" however, need not be without a King and he proclaims that a "perfect government" is more easily achieved by monarchy.

Nevertheless, it is a mistake to conclude that we must not aspire to Democracy because someone like Bush or Robespierre may pervert it or exploit it. Kant's position cannot persuade us that we must return to an era in which "Kings" rule by "divine right". Kant, however, may be considered to be a warning that if Democracy is not nurtured, it will most certainly be subverted by "...a new kind of industry". Kant could not have imagined what the US has made of this "new kind of industry" , this Military/Industrial complex!

Kant's use of terminology like "the whole people" seems akin to Jean-Jacques Rousseau about whom Sebastien Parmentier has written extensively on this blog [Sebastien Parmentier: Jean-Jacques Rousseau Between the lines]. Ironically, Rousseau seems also to have similarly inspired developments that both Kant and Rousseau would have preferred to avoid:
"If there had been no Rousseau, there would have been no Revolution, and without the Revolution, I should have been impossible."

--Napoleon

Kant presaged a "League of Nations" or "United Nations" and timidly described a separation of powers not nearly as well thought out as our own James Madison et al had already conceived at Philadelphia. It is interesting that Bush and Putin are the vanguard of a process that will consolidate their absolute and fascist powers. Given the apparatus at his command, his record with regard to a free press and the economic policies which have created an almost unimaginably wealthy elite, Putin is now poised to assume a permanent dictatorship. Bush, meanwhile, is content to compete with the likes of Warren Harding for "worst president ever". Certainly, he has worked assiduously to undo the advances we associate with the enlightenment and has thumbed his flared nostrils at Kant's dream of a "United Nations".

It the meantime, the US, another "dream" of Enlightenment thinkers, is itself becoming what it was never intended to be. William Ewert Gladstone called the US Constitution"...the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man" It is tragic that it will die slowly of a thousand cuts.

In 1935, Sinclair Lewis penned the cautionary tale, It Can’t Happen Here, chronicling the fictional rise of Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip, who becomes President against the protests of Franklin D. Roosevelt and America’s saner citizens.

A charismatic Senator who claims to champion the common man, Windrip is in the pocket of big business (i.e. Corpos), is favored by religious extremists, and though he talks of freedom and prosperity for all, he eventually becomes the ultimate crony capitalist. Boosted by Hearst newspapers (the FOX News of its day), he neuters both Congress and the Supreme Court, before stripping people of their liberties and installing a fascist dictatorship.

-- Maureen Farrell, Can It Happen Here?
It did happen here! And it has happened in Russia.
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