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The Paris Attacks In Contex

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2015 by jtoddring

Propaganda, hysteria, ultra-violence and imperialism, as usual

A people unaware of its myths is likely to continue living by them.”

– Richard Slotkin


Frankly, to even mention terrorism without putting it into context, is irresponsible in the extreme. It indicates, either a profound ignorance of history and what is happening in the world, or a profound lack of honesty and moral courage. So we will not deal in commentary and “analysis” by way of sound-bites and jingoism. (We are not news readers, but news makers, not sheep or pawns, but collective world-shapers.) In stark contrast to the ever plummeting norms of Western journalism, academia and political “leadership”, we will instead ask the deeper questions that need to be asked. That is the only way, in this or any other subject, that any clarity, and hence, any effective response, is at all possible. Otherwise, we are simply flapping our gums wildly, and parroting what we have been told (or scripted to say) and nothing good will come of it.

Our response to the horrors of terrorism is not only a moral question, but also a strategic one. If, in our rage, our fear, and our pain, we seek to destroy the terrorists, we should not go about it in ways that also destroy ourselves. But that is precisely what we are doing. Worse, we are destroying the foundations of our civilization, in the attacks on human rights, civil liberties, equality, democracy and freedom, while sowing even greater suffering and misery for both ourselves and others, and increasing the volatility, danger and instability in the world, and while further inflaming and escalating the levels of terrorism world-wide. These are the actions of madmen, not leaders. This is patently insane.

Bombing for peace is a failed strategy, both morally and also in terms of its results, as Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and other examples should have taught us by now. But we are repeating the mistakes of history gleefully, like Pavlov’s dogs reacting to the sound of a bell, and we wonder why the violence in the world keeps rising, and the world becomes more unstable and dangerous, and not less.

The war-mongers like to talk about “bombing them into the stone age” – well here is news: we are bombing ourselves into the stone age. Our response to terror has been terrifying and terrible – that is, terribly insane and counter-productive. But we seem intent, and hell-bent even, upon repeating the same failed strategies, presumably, until we destroy every shred of our civilization, or at least all of the best and most noble parts and foundations of it: such as our freedom, our civil liberties, our democracy, our human rights, and our very humanity.

Bravo for Dr. Strangelove. He is in power in Washington, London and Paris, and in many other nations as well, and the world is in a horrible state precisely because of it.

I have been too horrified by the predictably violent and insane reaction of the Western powers to the violent and insane attacks in Paris to delve deeply into them until now; but I have been watching the global trends closely since 9/11, and long before, and I knew immediately what direction and what response the West would take. We are moving rapidly in precisely the wrong direction.

We are confronting a man with a flame-thrower, and our response is to throw gasoline on him, and immolate ourselves as well as our adversary in the process. This is hardly intelligent behaviour. This is categorically insane.

Our patterned response of bombing for peace is predictably disastrous, and everyone who has any sense of history or recent events knows it, or should know it, very well. We are not only shooting ourselves in the foot – we are burning ourselves to the ground.

A very thoughtful friend, commenting on the attacks on Paris, summed it up this way. Civil liberties and freedom are dead in France – and if they are dead in France, they are dead in Europe and the Western world. This is far more ominous than even the most heinous of terrorist attacks – this is the destruction of our civilization, by our own hands.

But let’s get right to the heart of the matter, shall we? We bemoan terrorist attacks in Paris, but commit our own terrorist attacks on a weekly basis: with routine drone strikes, extrajudicial summary executions and kill lists, and by routine “regime changes” – that is, coups – along with mass bombings of civilian populations. This is disgusting behaviour, and hypocritical in the extreme, but typical of those presently in power, and the majority of those that have been in power in most nations for a very long time. And of course, such heinous and extreme acts of violence on our part, not only fail to halt terrorism, but in fact further inflame it.

Real change is needed, and urgently so. And it will not come from bombing campaigns, but from democratic revolution – at home.

Terrorism is always horrific and cowardly – so we should stop participating in it, and stop funding it; and stop pretending that bombing civilians is a reasonable response to the bombing of civilians, or that our response is anything other than another, and larger form of terrorism.

“It’s not a pretty picture of western humanity in crisis. Narcissism is not a wholesome trait. The West feels righteous in bombing; it doesn’t seem to know what else to do.”

– John Grant, Learning How Not To Rule The World, November 17, 2015

“French delusions aside, pitiless counterism is a stupid doctrine. If an insane person attacks a town, the answer is not for the entire town to become insane. If one hundred persons are killed, the remedy is not to kill a hundred thousand people. If a building is razed, the solution is not to erase an entire village. Firing bullets to alleviate pain is quack medicine. Sometimes, absorbing pain is indispensable for restoring well-being. Sometimes, even a proportionate counterforce is counterproductive. Wisdom has rarely been the forte of the war-addicted West.

Two eyes for one eye and all teeth for one tooth is the manual of sick minds. The human species cannot be surrendered to vengeful masters of any race, religion, or national anthem. We need no fiends to show us the way.”

– L. Ali Khan, Sick Over-Reactions to Islamic Terrorism, CounterPunch, November 19, 2015

“It is a cliché, of course, but there is no doubt about its truthfulness: for every terrorist we kill, ten others take his place.

Unsurprisingly, the agitators now beat the drum of war more than ever before. They argue for more violence, ‘until the last terrorist is eliminated.’ But the last terrorist is a fiction; the system will always breed new ones.

September 11, 2001 has changed our world in many ways. Above anything else, it brought to the fore questions of what governments can and must do in order to prevent acts of violence. Answers were given, but they were the wrong answers. Limitless spying and surveillance of people, torture and imprisonment in Guantánamo and other places, such as secret prisons, and the unlawful drone killing operations led to the dismantling of the rule of law and our constitutional rights and liberties on a scale that was considered unimaginable and impossible thirty years ago.”

– Heiner Flassbeck, The Attacks in Paris and Our Responsibility to Work Toward an Open and Tolerant Society, CounterPunch, November 19, 2015

“Just as America learned to distinguish between nationalism and Communism in Vietnam, so it will need to learn the difference between nationalism and terrorism in the post 9/11 world. To win the fight against terrorism requires accepting that the world has changed, that the old colonialism is no more and will not return, and that to occupy foreign places will be expensive, in lives and money. America cannot occupy the world. It has to learn to live in it.”

– Mahmood Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror

“There are two ways to do this [that is, to learn how to live in the world, and to respond intelligently, and not stupidly, to terrorism]. One, as in Vietnam, we can follow the tired old Rudy Guilianis and the young, energetic Marco Rubios and pursue a very costly 21st century military conflagration in which all parties fall prey to a learning curve that begins with terrorist acts like Paris and a relentlessly vengeful imperial reaction. Decades hence, after a great many dead and much destruction, Mamdani’s lesson will become fact for those who survive. And people will write books — like they do about World War One — on how tragically stuck in the past world leadership was circa 2015.”

– John Grant, Learning How Not To Rule The World

In our extremely short-sighted, and starkly delusional, militaristic response, we are invoking the worst and most disastrous of policies, both foreign and domestic. This alone should be enough to make us radically re-think and re-evaluate our actions, our utterly failed strategies, and our utterly failed response. But if we are to truly understand what is going on in the world, post 9/11, then we must look even deeper than this.

While Washington and its criminally complicit and morally bankrupt allies in Paris and London continue to undermine democracy and freedom around the world with covert and overt imperial warfare, as well as economic and financial terrorism (see Chomsky, Chossudovsky, Celente, Max Keiser and Paul Craig Roberts), they continue to support the neoliberal, neo-feudal imperial agenda of the corporate elite who rule the US, the EU and most of the globe. And while terrorism is real, and despicable, the “war on terror” is primarily a distraction, designed to keep the people looking elsewhere, while their nations, their rights, their freedoms, their civil liberties, their environment, their communities and their lands, their treasuries, and their futures, are systematically looted and destroyed by a rapacious and predatory corporate oligarchy, who despise democracy and care only about their own power, wealth and self-aggrandizement. This is the central fact of the matter, for all who care to see.

As Ralph Nader has said, the creeping corporate coup represents the biggest power-grab in history – and the people are being distracted from this most pressing and most threatening reality, by any means necessary or expedient. The shrill cry of terrorism just happens to be most expedient at the moment.

As Orwell knew, perpetual war is necessary for perpetual tyranny, for the people must be distracted from the real enemy at home, by a lesser enemy, or if necessary, a manufactured enemy, abroad.

(ISIS are gnats compared to the giant US military-industrial complex and its global reach, or compared with the predatory evil of Monsanto, or the giant vampire squid of Goldman Sachs, as Matt Taibbi accurately and graphically portrayed that company, to make just two comparisons from the ruling corporate elite, and a note as to their chief hired thug, which is the US military and intelligence apparatus. But hysteria and propaganda have so gripped the minds of the majority that, for the moment at least, they cannot possibly assess the dangers and threats in any remotely realistic fashion.)

The “war on terror” is the smoke screen and pretext, the justification and the cover, for on-going wars of conquest and empire abroad, and for a war on democracy and freedom, both globally and also at home.

The “war on terror” propaganda and cover must be revealed for what it is: a pretext for ruthless global hegemony and violent domination by the currently reigning corporate elite and their political servants, or prostitutes, in high office.

But if we insist on focusing on the (of course) very ugly, very horrible reality of “their” terrorism, and not our own, which dwarfs theirs many times over, then let’s at least try to deal with reality. As US intelligence agencies made clear before the invasion, occupation and mass bombing of Iraq, such actions of mass bombings, occupation and military intervention in response to terrorism (or so it was claimed to be the motive) will only increase terrorism. And this prediction proved to be entirely correct, as was absolutely predictable. Mass bombings tend to create hatred, and that fuels terrorism. You do not fight terrorism by fuelling terrorism. That much should be clear. Let us try to learn from history, shall we? Or do we wish to be forever doomed to repeat it?

“To repeat the same actions, expecting different results, is the very definition of insanity.”

– Albert Einstein

If we truly wish to deal with terrorism, and to reduce it, we will first have to begin by dealing with reality, and cease to flee ever more deeply into fantasy and delusion. That is step one. We can do nothing but harm ourselves, as well as others, until this most critical step is taken; and that will require the moral courage to look into the mirror, and to listen to the teachings and experience of history, rather than ceding our power to the dark forces of fear, vengeance and hate, and to habitual responses which have been proven to bring nothing but failure and mutual destruction.

Presently, we seem to have learned nothing from history, and so, to paraphrase Goethe, we are living hand to mouth, and worse, are sowing our own destruction. Clearly, we need to reflect deeply, and re-think our current presumptions, because every time we repeat the mistakes of history, the stakes grow higher and higher.

J. Todd Ring,
November 20, 2015

For further details and analysis see my recent articles:

Reality Check, and, Danger and Delusion: From ISIS To Ebola

Thoughts on the NDP

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2015 by jtoddring

I’d like to have confidence in the NDP, but they have become a neoliberal party, in full submission to the corporate powers and the neoliberal corporate agenda, despite the fanfare and the piece-meal token gestures.

Mulcair certainly is no Tommy Douglas, nor is he a Tony Benn. I hope I am wrong, and I’d be thrilled to be proven wrong, but he strikes me as the new Tony Blair – the lapdog of the corporate powers, and Washington’s poodle, as one British newspaper called him, and appropriately so. Show us some spine, NDP, and we will show you support. You have to merit support, not just receive it because of a posture of righteousness which is largely hollow.

The NDP continues on its stubborn, and foolish, stategically and morally disastrous path of trying to battle the Liberals for the centre. Here is news, boys and girls – the NDP will never win that battle. The Liberals are too entrenched as the party of the centre for the NDP to win by imitating the Liberals.

What the NDP needs to do, as I’ve said for years, is present a bold alternative to the other major parties. This, the NDP has refused to do, and this is why the NDP, therefore, has made itself irrelevant.

Worse than pursuing a failed strategy: trying to compete with the Liberals for the centre has to be seen within the context of a constantly shifting centre, as all of the major parties have slid far to the right over the past thirty years. So competing with the Liberals for the centre now means behaving like a right-wing party of neoliberal corporate globalization – which is an ethical disaster.

So let’s stop pretending, and change the name and the official platform of the NDP to something more honest: The New Corporatist Party: “A party dedicated to corporate profits and corporate power” – with just enough bells and whistles and banners and token gestures to conceal its true nature as a band of political prostitutes in drag as the heroes of the people.

I have to say that the Harper Conservative government presents such a grave and imminent threat to democracy in Canada, that he simply has to be defeated – even if it means for voting for the lesser of evils. For that reason alone, I think the NDP are worth supporting in ridings where they might win, just as the Liberals are worth supporting in ridings where they might win.

I have been fiercely opposed to strategic voting in the past, and in general, and even in the recent past, but I have come to feel that Harper simply must be removed from power, even if we have to hold our nose and vote for a party we have little faith in, in order to do it.

That doesn’t leave the Liberals and NDP off the hook: it simply means that they must be pressed harder, even if, or when, the people vote one or both of them into power.

October 17, 2015

A sinking world, and sane responses to it

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2015 by jtoddring

My country is sinking like a rock (for reasons of corporate oligarchy, neoliberalism, corporate rights agreements, and an addiction to oil revenues and the politics of a resource extraction-based economy, and the thorough corporate domination of the political process), though the great majority of my fellow citizens do not realize it, lost in a stupor of denial as they are (I can think of twelve countries in the Western hemisphere which are either moving in a positive direction, or at least showing some fight – and Canada is not one of them); and so too is the greater part of the world descending, and rapidly so, into a morass of injustice and ecological suicide, to say nothing of concerns for freedom, human rights and democracy, (as well as a pervasive malady, and an epidemic, of economic fundamentalism, neoliberalism and neoconservatism being the primary, and reigning, quasi-religious orthodoxies, along with other forms of ideological and even “scientific” fundamentalism, which are widespread, and far more influential today than their mirror image, which is religious fundamentalism, and an even worse epidemic of illusions of powerlessness, as well as an epidemic of apathy, denial, conformity, and undue and excessive, and frequently mad obedience to power) with only a handful of countries as the exception. How am I not to be distressed, if not anguished, and even furious, or all of the above?

All of the greatest minds and greatest spirits have echoed the same thoughts about the modern world. As David Suzuki has recently said (paraphrasing from memory), “There has never been a better time for being scared and angry….. We should get mad as hell, and then fight like hell.”

Where is the fight in us? And why should we be ashamed of being distraught with a world that is on a collision course with both tyranny and collective ecological suicide, as well as being steeped in war, violence, rampant injustice, inequality, poverty and a culture of voyeurism, vicarious living, materialism, consumerism, and a pathological aversion to the real?

As the great sociologist Erich Fromm said (again, paraphrasing from memory), “Normal only exists in relation to a profoundly abnormal norm.” “The fact that there is neurosis [or psychological strain and distress] is a good sign. It is a sign of a healthy individual, an individual that is still struggling to be fully alive, and by necessity, is struggling against a society that wishes to turn him or her into an atomaton.”

As the saying goes, “If you can keep your head when everyone around you is losing theirs – you’re not paying attention.”

Calm is good. Heart-break for the state of the world is natural. And action is vitally needed – and urgently so.

Let’s see more action, and the heart-break will fade into a memory of times past, and lessons learned.

October 7, 2015

Essential reading:

(A few among many other great books that could be included in such a list)

A Brief History of Progress – Ronald Wright

The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies – Richard Heinberg

When Technology Fails – Matt Stein

Shock Doctrine – Naomi Klein

A Game As Old As Empire – John Perkins

The End of America – Naomi Wolf

Necessary Illusions: Thought Control In Democratic Societies – Noam Chomsky

Year 501: The Conquest Continues – Noam Chomsky

Escape From Freedom – Erich Fromm

The Ecology of Freedom – Murray Bookchin

The Chalice and the Blade – Rianne Eisler

World As Lover, World As Self – Joanna Macy

Ancient Futures – Helena Norberg-Hodge

Brave New World Revisited – Aldous Huxley

Roads To Freedom – Bertrand Russell

Wisdom of the Elders – David Suzuki

Walden – Henry David Thoreau

On Civil Disobedience – Henry David Thoreau

The Discourse On Voluntary Servitude – Etienne de la Boite

Mutual Aid – Peter Kropotkin

Peter Kropotkin Was No Crackpot – Stephen Jay Gould, Natural History, June, 1997

The Hero With A Thousand Faces – Joseph Campbell

Public poll on the state of democracy: please respond – your views and your voice matter!

Posted in analysis, corporations, corporatism, democracy, economics, economy, Media, political economy, politics, social theory, sociology, sovereignty, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2011 by jtoddring

Please answer the following question below, share this poll with friends, and leave your comments as well if you wish. (Naturally, of course you can only vote once! This poll aims to be as democratic as possible!)

On Libertarianism: Right & Left

Posted in anarchism, Bakunin, Bertrand Russell, capitalism, Chomsky, communism, conservative, corporate rule, corporatism, crisis of democracy, democratic deficit, Eric Fromm, fascism, globalization, Hobbes, Jefferson, Kropotkin, left, Lenin, libertarianism, Marx, neoliberalism, philosophy, Plato, political theory, politics, right, social theory, socialism, Thoreau, war on democracy, World Economic Forum with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2007 by jtoddring

“Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”

~Albert Einstein

Libertarianism is a term that has come to be identified with the right, with limited government, ideals of freedom, free market capitalism and laissez fair economics, however, the term originally meant libertarian socialism, a libertarianism of the left. The distinction of two kinds of libertarianism, or more appropriately, a spectrum of views within what is called libertarianism, is important. Both right and left libertarianism have a deep skepticism about excessive concentrations of state power, encroachments of government power in the lives of individuals and communities, and a belief that ultimately, “That government is best which governs the least.” Beyond this agreement, there are considerable differences between libertarianism of the right and that of the left. But before the distinctions between left and right libertarianism can be discussed, we need to clarify just what is essential to a libertarian perspective, and also, to distinguish between the ideal and the immediate in terms of advocating or working towards specific goals for human society.

Thoreau expresses a very clear and lucid view of the subject, recognizing the ideal, yet also the immediate reality: ideally, and “when men are ready for it,” no government, which we shall have, and which shall be a degree of liberation not yet seen or imagined; but in the immediate sense, not “no government, but at once, a better government.” In other words, work toward and keep in mind the ideal – freedom from state power messing up and intruding on the peoples’ lives, liberty and communities, but also seek more limited victories in the short term: a better government.

I HEARTILY ACCEPT the motto, — “That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, — “That government is best which governs not at all”; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have…..But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.

– Henry David Thoreau, On Civil Disobedience

Bertrand Russell also came to the same conclusion. His cool, rational conclusion, after a very fair-minded and objective analysis, was that anarchism – from the Latin, an-archos, meaning absence of an over-arching power, not chaos – is likely the best form of human society (as well as the full and self-consistent application of libertarian values), but we are not likely ready for it; in the short term, what he called libertarian socialism is the best order for society to which we can aspire. By that he meant limited government, with all government power kept as close to the community as possible, and as close the hands of the people as possible – as Jefferson urged – but also with strong values of voluntary free association and human cooperation for mutual aid and benefit (a la Kropotkin). Ideally, and in the short term, he recommended we work toward a society where power lies primarily, not in the hands of a few bureaucrats and lobbyists in a far away capital where power is centralized, but in the hands of the people at the level of community, with federations or networks of human cooperation and solidarity, trade and communication between and among communities and individuals for their mutual benefit and protection. Jefferson would certainly agree in spirit if not in all details.

Chomsky clarifies the distinction between long-term ideals and short-term goals within a reasonable and clear-headed perspective which is skeptical of concentrated political power, or any form of social power for that matter:

“Classical anarchist thought would have been more opposed to slavery, feudalism, fascism, and so on, than it would have been to parliamentary government. There was a good reason. Classical liberal thought, and anarchism coming out of it, were opposed to any concentration of power, that is, unaccountable concentration of power. It is reasonable to make a distinction between the more accountable and less accountable. Corporations are the least accountable. So, against the corporate assault on freedom and independence, one can quickly turn to the one form of social organization that offers … public participation and … that happens to be parliamentary government. That has nothing to do with being opposed to the State. In fact, it’s a sensible support for the State.” – Noam Chomsky

This is precisely why I can admire a democratic socialist like Hugo Chavez, who was democratically elected in closely monitored free and fair elections, who has introduced and held public referenda on every major decision faced by the people of Venezuela – a thought inconceivable to the elitist politicians of Washington, Ottawa, London, Paris or Berlin – and who is presently utilizing, with great popular democratic support, the institution of constitutional parliamentary democracy to protect the people of Venezuela from the greatest threat to human freedom and well-being on the planet today: the tyranny of unaccountable private empires – the global corporate raiders. It is no contradiction, therefore, to support libertarian socialism, or left libertarianism, while admiring a social democrat like Chavez. As Chomsky put it, it’s sensible support for the state – under certain limited conditions.

Chomsky as well expresses a view of libertarian socialism, and advocates for a society based on libertarian socialist principles of freedom along with voluntary cooperation and mutual aid. And Chomsky, as well or better than any other, clarifies the distinction of right and left libertarianism. Libertarians across the spectrum are opposed to excessive concentrations of political power, as it is viewed that such high degrees of concentrated political power in society have more often than not created more harm than good – a view that is shared among Jefferson, Thoreau, Bertrand Russell, Kropotkin, Chomsky and many others.

The history of the world shows that this view is the most realistic perspective on government and political power. The opposing view, that government is the saviour and redeemer of humanity, has brought about Stalinism, Nazism, fascism, Maoism, and lately, neoconservatism, among other evils. The view that is opposed to the libertarian desire to keep political power firmly in check, sees government as a kind of benign big brother, a paternal or maternal figure, a parent that treats citizens like children, who need to be coddled and scolded, controlled for their own good. It is a dangerous elitism, breeding naturally authoritarianism. It comes from a fear of freedom, as social psychologist Eric Fromm correctly pointed out, and not just megalomaniacal dreams of power.

Plato was the most famous and influential of the “government as saviour” camp. The philosopher kings, the wise few, would rule with benign despotism over the hapless and ignorant many. Sounds desirable, maybe, until you reflect that if you do not trust people to govern themselves, how can you possibly trust them to govern others? (A flaw of basic logic which was not missed by Jefferson.)

Hobbes furthered the view, presenting the anthropologically ignorant and incorrect view that life before civilization, by which he meant life before centralized government, was “evil, nasty, brutish and short.” The revolution in anthropology that occurred in the 1970’s with the discovery of new and conclusive evidence about our human history prior to the age of empires, refutes Hobbes unequivocally. Hobbes knew nothing of anthropology, of course, and the data would not be revealed for another few centuries, but he was wrong, and we know that now – or at least, we can know that now, although almost no-one is aware that such a revolution has occurred in anthropology and our knowledge of human history: we live in a pre-Copernican time with regard to the general culture’s understanding of anthropology and human history; most still believe the sun revolves `round the earth, though the evidence to refute this fallacy has been made clear.

In any case, Hobbes was engaging in a kind of rational self-deceit. Hobbes view of human beings was jaundiced and pessimistic in the extreme. He felt, as many do, that if there was no powerful over-arching force to restrain human beings, they would instantly rip each other’s throats out, and everything would descend into a war of “all against all.” Again, the anthropological data refutes this terrified view, but even if one were to accept it for sake of argument, it simply begs the question. If you do not trust people, then why would you give a few people extraordinary power? Would this not seem even more dangerous? Who did Hobbes expect to govern us, aliens? Hobbes did not trust people, so he argued that some people have an all-powerful position in order that these people protect people from people. This should strike us as immediately self-contradictory, ridiculous and absurd.

As Jefferson said, “If you do not trust people to govern themselves, how can you trust them to govern others?” It is therefore not idealistic and utopian to think that government should be kept to a minimum of centralized, concentrated power, but on the contrary, it is a healthy and prudent skepticism that informs such a view.

(When you combine Plato, Hobbes and Machiavelli, you get the neoconservatives – or their mirror image, neoliberalism. You get wildy elitist, authoritarian, ruthless, predatory, self-delusional, megalomaniacal empire fetish. That is what we are experiencing now.)

Thoreau demolishes Hobbes’ fantasy-scape with a few strokes on the pen:

Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right. – Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience

Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice. A common and natural result of an undue respect for law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys, and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart. They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. Now, what are they? Men at all? or small movable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power? – Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience

The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others, as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders, serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God. A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it. – Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience

Libertarianism: Right and Left

The libertarianism of the right has a view of power that does not keep to its own self-consistency. It views political power as potentially dangerous, having the great potential to be abused, and therefore needing to be kept in close check. But it does not recognize economic power as a power in society, which is an oversight that is hard to fathom, such power being so plainly obvious. Because libertarians of the right tend not to recognize economic power as a form of power in society, they are unconcerned with its concentrations – even when concentrations of economic power become staggeringly large, as they have over the past twenty or thirty years. This is an oversight that is frankly dangerous, if not delusional.

Libertarians of the left share the skepticism of highly concentrated political power, but, naturally, recognize the potential for harm and abuse from excessive concentrations of economic power. Thus, in the present order of things, corporate power is to be addressed equally, along side state or governmental power. To do otherwise is to contradict oneself, and worse, to leave the door open to serious and extreme abuses of power, and also, to fascism, which, as Mussolini said, is rightly called corporatism, since it is the merger of business and the state (and that is exactly what is happening now, and on a global scale) due to the lack of foresight to correct and put in check all forms of great concentrations of power in society.

Right libertarianism questions, challenges, and repudiates high levels of concentration of political power in society – and rightfully so, I believe – yet it is, or at least has been until recently, unwilling to question the role and nature of high levels of concentrations of economic power.

This is, once again, frankly, a gross oversight, and one that makes right libertarianism a contradiction in terms: you cannot advocate limitations on powers that unduly constrict human freedom and pose threats of tyranny in a self-consistent, coherent, or even rational manner, if you are only willing to look at one form of power in society, and remain blind to others. Economic power is every bit as real as political power – some would say more so.

The 500 biggest corporations on earth now have combined revenues that total three times the GDP of the world’s biggest national economy – that of the United States. If this does not constitute power in society, I’m not sure what would.

OK, well, corporations have immense power, but that does not mean it translates into political power – does it? They are competing with one another. Yes, they are competing with one another, and they also share common interests: drive labour costs and wages down, eliminate or circumvent labour and environmental standards, find the cheapest source of labour and resources and move there, then dominate them, open borders to free flow of capital, but not to labour…..The commonalities are pretty clear.

And do they meet, discuss common interests, work together cooperatively? Of course. Wouldn’t you if you were in their position?

Do teachers join together to pursue common interests, such as decent pay, pension plans, etc.? Do janitors get together to pursue common goals of better pay and working conditions?

It is obvious, or should be, that there are common group interests – or, heaven forbid we use the term, class interests – that bring otherwise competing parties together to pursue common goals. The corporate elite are no different. This is not a conspiracy, but simply common sense.

The world’s corporate elite gather, among other places, at Davos Switzerland, every year for the World Economic Forum, and there seek to push governments to their will, to advance common interests among the elite global investment class, the billionaire class, or the class of ruling oligarchs, to every extent that they are able to do so – and that is a considerable length.

The billionaires, and the large corporations they control, do not control the world – but they certainly dominate it, and they dominate virtually every nation and government on earth, as well as dominating the global economy, the financial system and most of the media. This is, by any sane or reasonable definition, hegemonic power: corporations and the billionaires who control them, now effectively rule the world. The only way to properly define such a system or order of things, is not democracy, certainly, but oligarchy – or plutocracy, or neo-feudalism, or most starkly, and what we are fast approaching in its full, ugly form: global, neo-feudal, corporate fascism.

It is impossible to deny the very real power of corporations in society without digressing into ideological fundamentalism and willful blindness. Refusing to challenge economic concentrations of power while espousing a libertarian philosophy is self-contradictory: right libertarianism is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.

Would a laissez-fair, free-market capitalist, who supports only limited government – a libertarian as it is known on the right – be considered an oxymoron or a self-contradiction if he was also a slave owner? Of course. But it is not very different if a libertarian advocates checks and balances on political power, yet does not question the giant corporate monopolies and oligopolies that now wield more power than democratically elected governments.

Right libertarianism is truly a contradiction in terms, unless by that you mean a conservative libertarian, who also questions and challenges excessive concentrations of corporate, economic and financial power, and not only state or governmental power. U.S. Congressman and 2008 Presidential candidate Ron Paul, for example, I would describe as a conservative libertarian in this sense. He has his head on his shoulders when it comes to corporate powers, as far as I can tell. He is not stuck in ideological dogmatisms.

The left is equated – wrongly – with heavy-handed, bureaucratic, if not totalitarian government – or at least this is the view of the left that we get from the right wing; however, there are, broadly speaking, two wings or schools of thought within what has been called the left, and only one of the two fits the above description.

In the socialist movement of the 1800’s there was a definite rift, and a fierce debate, between the two very different currents of thought within what is loosely described as the political left. Marx led the wing we are most familiar with, Bakunin the other. Bakunin and the libertarian socialists were ousted, lost the battle, and were to some considerable degree eclipsed from history – at least until very recently. Bakunin warned that Marxist ideas would lead to a new form of tyranny – and of course he was right. The Soviet Union was the prime example, and Bakunin predicted the tyranny long in advance.

Now, with the Marxist-Leninist school of thought being in full disgrace within the left, as well as within the broader community of humanity world-wide, and with global neoliberal corporate capitalism experiencing a deep and profound, and rapidly growing crisis of legitimacy world-wide, with rapidly rising popular discontent, people are beginning to look for alternatives – and the alternative is becoming clear to many. That is, in the short term: a freedom-loving and anti-authoritarian, democratic socialism in the short term; and libertarian socialism in the longer term. I would say they deserve our thoughtful attention, and merit respectful consideration, at the very least, and to put it most mildly.

The War on Democracy: Unchecked Power Out of Control

Under what we should more honestly call monopoly capitalism, the era of the small shop owner being the primary economic player having long ago vanished, corporate power has become so concentrated – that is, economic power has become so enormously concentrated – that it now threatens to engulf and eviscerate all remaining democratic power of societies world wide. We should be concerned. Jefferson warned of this 200 years ago. We did not listen. We are now facing the results of our lack of foresight.

Those on the right and the left with a libertarian perspective would do well to communicate. There is a natural alliance here, if we can learn to speak in ways that are mutually understandable. There is no time for bickering or ideological warfare. We need to get together to protect the basics: decent, although flawed, human, imperfect limited government, within the framework of constitutional democracy and basic human rights and freedom.

If we do not come together, and not just right and left libertarians, but more traditional liberals, conservatives, social democrats, greens and progressives, and all who oppose the, by now undeniable, drift into oligarchy and corporate fascism, and stand together for constitutional democracy, civil liberties, human rights and freedom, all other considerations will become merely abstract, and we will find ourselves living in a brave new world, and a very dark age,  leading rapidly to ecological collapse and the end of human life on earth.

Jamie Brownlee sums up the current, central challenge to humanity at this time, in one brief and extremely lucid passage:

“At present, the state is the only institution large enough to act as a counterweight to corporate power; therefore, short-term goals should involve defending, even strengthening, those elements of the state that are accountable to public input (which are the ones constantly under attack by private power.) Opening up the state to democratic participation and improving the effectiveness and accountability of state regulation are the most realistic interim strategies for dealing with the corporate threat and the practical problems of tomorrow—problems on which people’s lives depend. In the short-term, then, political activism that directly targets corporate power should be complimented by efforts to re-democratize the state and government.”

– Jamie Brownlee, Ruling Canada, Corporate Cohesion and Democracy, 2005

As constitutional lawyer Joel Bakan, author of, The Corporation, has said, if the typical corporation really was a person, then by an exact psychological definition, it would have to be labelled as a sociopath. Even if we did not have grave misgivings about excessive concentrations of power in human society, as we should, these are not the kind of powers which we should wish to govern and rule our nations or the world. Clearly, it is time for a change – a real change, and now. The urgency cannot be overstated, or emphasized enough.

First things first – let us recapture, reclaim and renew our democracy, and “crush in its infancy”, as Thomas Jefferson said, the oligarchy, the new empire, and the excessive powers of “the new moneyed aristocracy,” which now threaten, not only democracy and freedom, but all life on earth. Then we can decide where to go from there. On this point, we must be clear.

We must gain the clarity that is urgently needed at this time, and unite and inspire, and empower the people. And we must act decisively, and now.

J. Todd Ring

April 15, 2007

Further reading:

Writings of J. Todd Ring Civil Disobedience and Other Essays (Dover Thrift Editions): Books: Henry David Thoreau Roads to Freedom: Socialism, Anarchism & Syndication: Books: Bertrand Russell The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future: Books: Riane Eisler The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy: Books: Murray Bookchin Escape from Freedom: Books: Erich Fromm The Power Elite: Books: C. Wright Mills,Alan Wolfe The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power: Books: Joel Bakan

Economist’s View: You’ll Miss Us When We’re Gone

Economist’s View: Can Democrats and Libertarians Find Common Ground?

“Their Libertarianism and Ours” – from: Don’t Think, Smile!: Notes on a Decade of Denial: Books: Ellen Willis