Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Chomsky, the Cold War and the American Civil War

cheebaism left the following comment on my post "Gaddis and Chomsky on the Cold War":

“Just to point out the quote you use to display Chomsky's second point, he does not actually say that these people are the government rather they are a small sampling that represents the same socio-economic groups that form American governments and therefore there views, norms and values will be highly correlated.”

Let’s see if Cheebaism has a point. Here are my Chomsky quotes. Cheebaism has the second one in mind, but one needs the first to understand it:

On page 4 and 5 Chomsky writes, “The British economist Joan Robinson has described the American crusade against Communism in the following terms:

‘It is obvious enough that the United States crusade against Communism is a campaign against development. By means of it the American people have been led to acquiesce in the maintenance of a huge war machine and its use by threat or actual force to try to suppress every popular movement that aims to overthrow ancient or modern tyranny and begin to find a way to overcome poverty and establish national self-respect. In those countries whose governments have been prepared to accept American support, ‘aid’ is given in a form which may do more to inhibit development than to promote it.”

“Chomsky then writes, ‘Rhetoric aside, the underlying assumption is formulated not very differently by the makers of American policy. Consider for example, how the threat of Communism to the American system is defined in an extensive study sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and the National Planning Association, a study that involved a representative segment of the tiny elite that largely determines foreign policy, whoever is technically in office. The primary threat of Communism, as they see it, is the economic transformation of the Communist powers ‘in ways which reduce their willingness and ability to complement the industrial economies of the West.’ Correspondingly, the American crusade against Communism is not a campaign against all forms of development, but only against the effort of indigenous movements to extricate their societies from the integrated world system dominated largely by American Capital, and to use their resources for their own social and economic development.’”

I responded to Chomsky as follows:

As to Chomsky’s second reference, I was offended that he implied that his referenced study “involved a represented segment of the tiny elite that largely determined foreign policy.” This group of Wilson Foundation members are the real government, he says, despite whoever is technically in office. Is there any evidence for that? I have never seen it. Histories and biographies are written about the people who determine foreign policy. Business interests may lobby, but they don’t “determine.” But perhaps Chomsky’s evidence exists and I just missed it.

COMMENT: I think Cheebaism misses Chomsky’s point by making this “tiny elite” passive bystanders or relatives as opposed to active determiners of American Foreign policy. Whoever determines Foreign Policy is the government insofar as Foreign Policy is concerned, and if a “tiny elite” determines American Foreign Policy then it is indeed “the government” in this regard. Chomsky clearly intends this referred to “representative segment” to represent the views of the “tiny elite” that determines “American policy.” And, as I go on to write, Chomsky provides no evidence to support his view.

Chomsky misses the significance of America’s goals in the Cold War in a way representative of the way British leaders missed the significance of a desire for Union on the part of the North during our Civil War.

In the September/October 2011 issue of The American Interest is a series of articles about the American Civil War. In the article “As Others Saw Us,” Howard Jones writes, “Palmerston . . . regularly dismissed Americans as frontier naïfs who had foolishly experimented with democracy and emerged with anarchy. Russell concurred that the Union had fallen apart, insisting that it could not be ‘cobbled together again’ and that the North should accept Southern secession . . . Gladstone welcomed Confederate battlefield victories as the best way to convince the Union that it could not win. . . .”

“Neither the British (and the French) nor the Union understood the other’s position on the war. London and Paris could not comprehend the concept of ‘Union’ . . . The Union was perpetual, making secession the ‘essence of anarchy’ and the Union’s stand for freedom the ‘last best hope of earth.’ Unmoved, the British and the French criticized the fighting as a waste of manpower and resources. Union successes, they insisted, furnished false hope and escalating atrocities, while Confederate victories assured independence and a quicker end to the war. Union leaders did not understand how their European counterparts could argue that the outcome of the war was clear and that continued fighting would only ratchet up the death toll on both sides. There was no room for compromise: Lincoln insisted on union, Davis on disunion. ‘It was the failure to comprehend this truth’, Adams wrote in his diary, ‘that clouded every European judgment of our affairs.’ The Imperial realists of Europe, it seemed, simply could not comprehend a war fought between equally committed idealists.”

One needs to employ a bit of Niall Ferguson’s Counter-Factualism to grasp the significance of the North’s policy during the Civil War and America’s policy during the Cold War. Had the North been defeated and the South allowed to secede from the Union there would have been two nations instead of one. American, it is safe to speculate, would never have become the world power that it is today. Also, at the time of our Civil War, America was the only region that sought the sort of Liberal Democracy that is prevalent in the world today. Fukuyama would never have written his The End of History and the Last Man, because Liberal Democracy would nave have taken hold in the world. “History” would have continued unrepentant.

And as regards the Cold War, Chomsky does not value the Wests desire to oppose Communism. He either did not consider Communism a threat, or he considered Liberal Democracy more of a threat than those who conducted the Wests foreign policy during that period. I am old enough to recall the prevailing view back in the sixties that Communism was going to win the Cold War. Chomsky, I venture to assert, treated that eventuality with equanimity. He no more values Liberal Democracy than Palmerston, Russell, and Gladstone did during an earlier time.

Palmerston, Russell and Gladstone thought that Liberal Democracy could never be created, but if it could, that it shouldn’t be. Chomsky might concede that it has been created in name only and isn’t what its advocates claim it is. He describes it in some of the same terms the Communists used during the Cold War and the Islamists use today. He is an enemy of Liberal Democracy and opposed American policy during the Cold War.

I would ask any Chomsky admirer, do you support Liberal Democracy, or do you believe some other form of government preferable? We know, sort of, what form of government Chomsky wants, Anarcho-Syndacalism. The following is a quote from Chomsky’s 1976 interview by Peter Jay ( )

“I should say to begin with that the term anarchism is used to cover quite a range of political ideas, but I would prefer to think of it as the libertarian left, and from that point of view anarchism can be conceived as a kind of voluntary socialism, that is, as libertarian socialist or anarcho-syndicalist or communist anarchist, in the tradition of, say, Bakunin and Kropotkin and others. They had in mind a highly organized form of society, but a society that was organized on the basis of organic units, organic communities. And generally, they meant by that the workplace and the neighborhood, and from those two basic units there could derive through federal arrangements a highly integrated kind of social organization which might be national or even international in scope. And these decisions could be made over a substantial range, but by delegates who are always part of the organic community from which they come, to which they return, and in which, in fact, they live.”

Good luck with that, all ye Chomskyites.

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