Countries go to war because some individual decides to go to war

As I read political history, I am distracted from understanding what happened by such typical formulations as “Country X went to war with Country Y.” On some level of understanding this is true, but unenlightening. This is just as unenlightening as the recent report that Cornel West was denied tenure by Harvard. The more enlightening description of what happened is that Cornell West was denied the right to apply for tenure by the President of Harvard, Lawrence S. Bacow. And a still more enlightening account would probe into Bacow’s reasons. [ For an analogous case, see my analysis: Andrew Chrucky, “Norman Finkelstein, DePaul, and U.S. Academia: Reductio Ad Absurdum of Centralized Universities,” July 23, 2007]

My point is that when dealing with governed institutions — whatever their nature — it is a prevalent norm to describe these institution as if they were agents. But institutions are like tools or machines which require a particular human agent to use them. And what I am calling as “enlightened” description requires identifying the human agent who makes the machine operate, and it requires a further probing into that agent’s reasons for acting as he did.

Suppose you read in a newspaper that Jones was struck and killed by a car. OK, on one level this is a correct description. But if you want to get into a more enlightened description, you would want to know where and when this happened, what were the circumstances, and who was the driver. Was this an accident? What was the condition of the driver? Was this an intentional act? Deliberate?

I am proposing a similar sort of description for the actions of governments and countries. There is always some “decider” in the government (as President W. George Bush, Jr. described himself — accurately).

Let’s consider the infamous case of the U.S. dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
Such an act requires the decision of the Commander and Chief of the Armed Forces: the President of the United States. The responsible agent in this case was Harry S. Truman. And to get some enlightenment, we would need to understand his reasons.

Let’s consider another example. The fall of Constantinople in 1453. On one level, we can describe this event as a successful siege of Constantinople by the Turks. But on a more enlightening level, the siege was the decision of Sultan Mohammed II for whatever reasons.

What am I driving at? It is clear to me that great battles and wars are the decisions of powerful individuals. By “powerful,” I simply mean that they can get others to do what they want. They can use others as chess pawns for their ambitions. Who are these “pawns”? Soldiers and civilians!

Take any battle or war. On both sides, after the battle or war there are countless dead, disabled, sick and suffering. Consider the so-called American Civil War (1861-65). Wikipedia lists 616,222-1,000,000+ dead. Who was the decider who wanted to “preserve the union”? Abraham Lincoln!

Political history with its battles and wars, including the maintenance of internal “order,” is the history of megalomaniacs and other ambitious individuals who sacrifice the lives of countless others for their own profits and glory.

The lesson I draw from this reflection is that the principle of the separation of powers in government should include the separation of powers in the executive branch, as is done, for example, in Switzerland. Switzerland has a seven-member Federal Council; whereas everywhere else there is either a sole President, a Prime-Minister, or sometimes both.

Social Diseases and their Symptoms: Reform and/or Revolution

I watch and read what are called “progressive” items. And I tend to cheer for so-called “progressive” politicians. But on reflection they all are — what Eduard Bernstein called — Reformists rather than Revolutionists, as were, for example, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht

What is the difference? To use the analogy with diseases, there are causes of a disease and there are symptoms. A reformist is, in my view, someone who treats the symptoms; a revolutionist is someone who treats the causes.

As concerns addressing the public, let’s face it, for such people to live fairly well in the modern world requires an income. This includes teachers, writers, journalists, media hosts and internet personalities, and politicians. One way of doing this is to have some kind of public forum, and attract donations, subscriptions, and advertisers. A book, a piece of writing, a performance, or a movie is — more or less — a one time attraction which will generate an immediate income. But a steadier source of income comes from a newspaper, a journal, a “show” — or movie-wise, a “serial.” [I myself after hoping for donations to this site, have turned to monetizing through advertising.]

To make my point about Reformists as contrasted with Revolutionists, let me concentrate on my favorite news hour: “Democracy Now,” which the host, Amy Goodman, calls a “show.” It starts off with a news summary concerned with war and peace, and then proceeds to concentrate on some specific topic or to conduct an interview. It intersperses a piece of music during transitions.

I have no quarrel with the topics covered. They are all concerned with the major symptoms of the social diseases — so many deaths here and there because of a war, a revolution, a disease; so much poverty, unemployment, homelessness here and there; bad leaders elected and corruption here and there; protests and brutal repressions here and there. The litany of evils continues show after show.

The show proposes anodynes: change this politician and change this law. What is missing from consideration are the causes of these social symptoms. And to deal with the causes there is need to transition to a Revolutionary stance. But dwelling on a revolutionary stance is counter-productive to a political “show” — which aims to entertain while delivering some remedial message. Actually the best form of this approach was practiced by George Carlin, the comedian, who couched his social and political commentary in the guise of comedy.

In my view — as was the view of many revolutionaries — the disease is Capitalism, and its sustainer, the State.

Although I think that Noam Chomsky has the best insights into the Social Problems — it takes will power to listen to his monotone voice. I find Chris Hedges’ preacher-like delivery more focused and succinct.

The main immediate global problem, as Chomsky keeps repeating, is that humans are destroying the ecosystem, and thus themselves. And, in my view, the direct cause of this is human overpopulation.

And the power of doing anything about this and other social problems such as capitalism is the central (federal) government — the State. The clearest understanding of how the State arises and its nature is to be found in the small book by Franz Oppenheimer, The State, 1914.
And there are two revolutionary attitudes toward the State: one is to take control of the State (this was done by Napoleon, Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler, among others). This is also the Macro-Democratic parliamentary method of electing a President, Prime-Minister, or other single “deciders.” The other method is to dispense with the State in favor of bottom-up micro-democratic communities (anarchism).

But where in a progressive news show like “Democracy Now,” is there a suggestion that the Swiss government is better than that of the United States? Where is the criticism of the U.S. Constitution as was undertaken by Lysander Spooner? And where among the pundits is there an understanding of Capitalism as a denying people free access to subsistence land?

“Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime”

I am sure you have heard this proverb many times. The proverb uses fish to stand for all food. It could be rephrased as: “Give a man some food and you will feed him for a day. Teach him to get his own food, and he will be fed for a lifetime.” The idea is to make a person self-sufficient.

However, the proverb presupposes two things. First, that you are allowed to fish in a particular place for free. But this is not true in places such as Illinois (where I live). I am allowed to fish only if I purchase a fishing license. Second, this assumes that there are fish in the water where I wish to fish. But given our ecological policies, there may not be any fish to fish for; or, they may be diseased and inedible.

Generalizing, in order to get food on your own, you must have free access to subsistence land. For the time being, there are indigenous stateless people who do have some limited free access; the rest of us who live in States, have to purchase or rent such subsistence land.

Two Foundations of Capitalism

Capitalism is best understood as a method to create a pool of people who must work to survive (proletarians). This method — carried out by the State in the form of laws — is twofold: (1) forbid free access to subsistence land, (2) introduce a property tax. [The British in Africa called it a “hut tax.”]

The consequence is that even after buying a property and getting rid of a mortgage on the property, no one can live on such a property for free because there is a rent to be paid to the government — a property tax.

I came across an interesting article explaining the origin of property taxes:

Alana Semuels, “The Feudal Origins of America’s Most-Hated Tax,” The Atlantic, August 24, 2016.

Her source of information seems to be:

Jonathan R. T. Hughes, The Governmental Habit Redux: Economic Control from Colonial Times to the Present, 1991.

The Dilemma of Evil

I can understand and sympathize with either the judgment that Joe Biden is the lesser of the two evils or the judgment that Donald Trump is the lesser of the two evils. In other words, I and such people are in agreement that both Joe Biden and Donald Trump are evil. But if someone does not understand or agree that both are evil, then I consider such a person a fool.

It is abundantly clear that both the Democratic and the Republican Parties represent the interests of the rich. And this message was superbly expressed by Chris Hedges (see below):