The Dartmouth Observer
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Dartmouth Convocation 2005
When I was your age I was in the Marine Corps, having joined when I was still seventeen years old. Since I believe I am the only Marine ever to serve as an Ivy League President, I have long recognized my good fortune and recently I have recognized perhaps a singular responsibility. This past summer I visited with the Marines being treated at the Bethesda Naval Hospital, each of whom had been very seriously injured in Iraq. I thanked them for their sacrifice and I encouraged them to pursue their education - encouragement they did not, in fact, require. Several of them had enlisted following 9/11, withdrawing from school to do so, and are now ready to resume their education. On the occasion of that visit, I also learned from these hospitalized Marines, as I always do from young people. I was moved by their stories, impressed by their courage, and inspired by their enthusiasm to live lives that make a difference. It was I who was the beneficiary of my visit to them.All this and more in Wright's convocation speech. President Wright, I think, is one of best College presidents on the American scene today.
Monday, September 19, 2005
Here's a nice piece in the FT on my favorite punctuation mark, the semicolon.
Friendships: Power and Intimacy
The weekend was a busy one in which I accomplished a fair amount. Naturally, the doing of things (at least for me) leads to the pondering of life's questions. One perennial question that continues to drive me as a person, and, to a lesser extent my theology and my scholarship is the question of the human condition and our relationships with other persons. (As a side note, these relationships need not be healthy or cooperative; oftentimes, we dialogically create our relationships in webs of conflict and rejection. The relationship itself is notable if only in opposition to thing or person being related.) I have become firmly convinced that relationships have at least two relevant bases for interaction: (circumstantial) power and intimate knowledge. I wish to limit the rest of this post to considering relationships of friendship and love.
Let us consider the first of circumstantial power. Do we all remember the Bible's injunction to care for "the widow and the oppressed." Jer. 22:3 "Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place." The Bible identifies the first level of a relationship: that of circumstantial power. Here is identified those who cannot care for themselves or find themselves in situations where an outside benefactor can dramatically affect their quality of life. The orphan and the widow, in times were power and wealth concentrated in the hands of paternally-guided family, were despondent persons upon whom mercy and compassion ought to have been shown. There is also an injunction to care for "the stranger", or the one who is not normally counted as being among us. My concern here is how the Bible notes the power relationships that operate behind any potential intimacy; before a person can show compassion, or justice, to extent where a person does not let her right hand know what his left is doing, one must first account for potential power relationships.
In fact, one of the early church leaders, Ignatius, wrote to the Smyrnaeans, "But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. They have no regard for love; no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed; of the bond, or of the free; of the hungry, or of the thirsty." Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, Chapter VI. Those who despise the grace of Christ-- also here being charitably described as "opposed they are to the will of God"-- are noted by their indifference to the material and social power relations between persons. Ignatius's opinion seems to follow in the logic of the Olivet Discourse where Christ said:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on His left. Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite you in, or naked, and clothe You? And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You? And the King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' Then they themselves will also answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' Then He will answer them, saying, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Mt. 25:31-46Why is all of this important? As a proposition concerning how we know others, and isn't that what any description of the human condition seeks to detail?, the Bible suggests that relations of power are important to that knowing and those interactions. I can't truly know you, and don't truly live with you in a robust Daesin-with way, unless I acknowledge the particular material and social circumstances of our relations and our meeting. In some ways, this reading of the human condition, my reading, justifies a neo-Foucauldian intellectual obligation, expressed in his piece entitled "Intellectuals and Power", where he exhorted intellectuals to give voice to those who have no voice, and to speak for those silenced by pernicious discourses. Now without fully buying into his passive model of the dis-empowered, hence my cheeky employment of the term neo-Foucauldian, it seems that we do have this duty to aid others in speaking for themselves. (For you more shrewd observers, yes, I did change the suggestion of speaking for to a more enabling assisting in speaking.)
That bring me to my second proposition of intimate knowledge, of which I was motivated to write this entry. Intimacy suggests both community, common experience, and an emotional-geographic proximity. Or, as Aristotle put it in the Nichomachean Ethics, "time and familiarity." Janztus knows, from my arguments with him, as well as user="urielao">that I firmly believe that living occurs with and through others. With others we experience the material and social factors of life. I don't even need a strong Marxist reading of the relative weight and ubiquity of social and material factors for this to be true. A relationship of friendship is partially the sharing of two or more lives together in deeds and words. Friends experience, and construct reality together. All of us can remember times where something happened to us that causes us to pause and search for someone to contextualize said event. Whether it is an odd look in Food Court, a potentially sketchy encounter in the basement, an enjoyable meal at Lou's (after an ungodly wait), or a fun evening among friends (watching the West Wing), the presence of others gives meaning to this otherwise unremarkable assimilation of data. Most of us don't know how we feel about that person who may be hitting on us, until that discrete moment of time is unpacked and analyzed by persons we trust.
The Bible also seems to suggest this. In the night before his Crucifiction, Christ speaks to his Disciples for some time. (Generally recorded in the Book of John from Chapter 13 to 17.) In Chapter 15 He says:
Outside of living within Christ and with other Christians, we cannot hope to produce any fruit.
So is it living with others. Outside of the relationships that we have, and this was touched on briefly by
Friday, September 16, 2005
The Missing American Socialist Party, or, Why Mass Labor Parties Didn't Happen
I'm having fun in my intellectual journey of the American Civil war era and the aftermath of that, Reconstruction. What I am most shocked to discover, time and time again, is however (Jeffersonian) republican freedman claims about justice and freedom were. Whereas some of the free blacks in Louisiana espoused a paternalistic stewardship message concerning the masses of freedmen, most of the former slaves, when given a chance to articulate their views, looked forward to owning their own land, participating in the wage-labor economy irregularly, subsistence farming, and an absence of state (read: white) intervention into their daily affairs.
For many of the newly emancipated, there was not much difference between wage-labor for the southern agricultural elite or white land speculators and the bondage from which they had so recently escaped. Thus, the hope of receiving and buying land plots for individual and cooperative use was at the top of the list for the freedman, right after familial autonomy and subsistence support from their former masters. I continue to be shocked how the southern elite, and some of the poor whites, wanted the blacks to participate in the regional/national wage economy of the south at that time without any social-economic support. Many of the older blacks and the women refused to labor outside the home and were convinced that there former masters owed them a debt to provide for some of their welfare. The whites, by contrast, wanted to proletarianize the entirety of the black workforce in a laissez-fare labor environment, and was slightly upset when the older and female workers did not want to participate in the redevelopment of the southern agricultural infrastructure under white Northern business control or southern landed-gentry agricultural control buttressed by poor white and black labor.
The blacks, by and large, wanted to opt-out of this system through land ownership. Like many of their laboring counterparts in industrial capitalist Europe, black workers organized strikes, collectively bargained, and, for a short time, emerged a mass political force in the election of Republican governors, mayors, and presidents throughout the former Confederacy. I amazed how quickly a proto-socialism emerged among these blacks as they pooled monies to create banks and buy land while collectively bargaining and forming separate, autonomous political organizations through the black--generally Baptist--churches.
My intuition is that unlike some of the mass parties in Europe (and this occurs in Europe primarily between 1870 and 1890 as opposed to the black labor movement of the 1860s and 1870s) the black collective labor and political struggle never either overcame nor sublated the racist and supremacist views of American whites, and was not able to form a mass socialist/labor party. The party of labor, soft money, and immigrants in America was the Democrat National Party, which was as racist as it was progressive. The party of Lincoln, emancipation, and blacks quickly turned to industry and commercialism as the project of federal reconstruction and federal centralization of power wilted before the onslaught of state's rights, Supreme Court decisions, and systemic terrorist resistance in the South and political resistance in the North against claims of black political, economic, and social equality.
In Europe many of the socialist parties were able to make international claims and undermine nationalist sentiment through a lofty appeal to the workers of the world unite!. Mass movements, in targeting workers as workers, were able to politicize proletarianizaton, and expose the predation of industrial capitalism inchoate within wage-labor systems. This appeal never worked in America because the fundamental equality-in-suffering that was at the heart of the labor movements simply was not present in the American political and social climate. While materially many of white ethnic immigrants were as worse off as a good portion of black labor, the social and political reality quickly evolved such that racial hierarchical categorization was prior to, and, in some ways, more important than the equality-of-misery in the material circumstances. The social equality of the labor classes being non-existent among American labor prevented, in my mind, the emergence of a truly powerful and radical labor party in America.
Many such labor parties existed in Europe and were feared by the ruling classes. Though the First War World, as unnecessary as it was bloody, temporarily broke the power of the socialist labor parties, and created a social climate more amenable to despotic revolution in the East and fascist brutality in the West. The same racism and white supremacist ideology prevented the workers of the world from seeing the other predation of industrial capitalism: colonial markets. Thus the European labor-left, until well after the First World War, and arguably, the Second, did not comprehend nor acknowledge their common fate with the colonial subjects, and, in fact, rallied around the flag-waving nationalism of the imperial centers when it preached the necessity of the colonies for the continued improvement of labor conditions for the working classes.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
The Roberts Hearings
I'll be posting my thoughts and reactions to the Roberts hearings as I read the transcripts. Right now I'm in the intial stages of said hearings where Arlen Specter (R-PA(?)) is questions Judge Roberts on state decisis and precendent. Senator Specter is particularly interested in whether Judge Roberts agrees with the following claim:
SPECTER: With respect to going back again to the import of Roe and the passage of time, Supreme Court Chief Justice Rehnquist changed his views on Miranda. In the 1974 case, Michigan v. Tucker, which I'm sure you're familiar with, he did not apply Miranda -- without going into the technical reason there. But the issue came back to the court in U.S. v. Dickerson in the year 2000. And the chief justice decided that Miranda should be upheld, and he used this language: that it became, quote, so embedded in routine police practice to the point where the warnings have become a part of our national culture, close quote. Do you think that that kind of a principle would be applicable to a woman's right to choose as embodied in Roe v. Wade?Roberts really decided not the answer the question with the following dodge: "Well, I think that gets to the application of the principles in a particular case. And based on my review of the prior transcripts of every nominee sitting on the court today, that's where they've generally declined to answer: when it gets to the application of legal principles to particular cases." Thanks, John, for that little gem. Everyone before has obfuscated and equivocated, so why don't you?
That dodge is followed by another classic Roberts line a few moments later:
SPECTER: Let me move to two more points before my time is about to expire in two minutes and 35 seconds. There's a continuing debate on whether the Constitution is a living thing. And as you see Chief Justice Rehnquist shift his views on Miranda, it suggests that he would agree with Justice John Marshall Harlan's dissent in Poe, where he discusses the constitutional concept of liberty and says, quote, The traditions from which it developed, that tradition is a living thing. Would you agree with that?The question was about the Constitution being living, but thank you for narrowing your response.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT?) amazingly asks Roberts some very tough questions and just grills Roberts.
LEAHY: In his book, All the Laws But One, Chief Justice Rehnquist, the late chief justice, concluded with this sentence, The laws will not be silent in time of war but they'll speak with a somewhat different voice.Wow.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Trials, Tribunals, Charades
Former Iraqi leader--call him dictator, president, or strongman as it suites your political interests-- Saddam Hussein is slated to go on trial 19 October 2005. Unsurprisingly, Hussein's lawyers say that it will take years to address all of the charges levied against their client. The United States and Britain are, naturally, leaning heavily on the Iraqi government to try Saddam, and, at least as far as the United States is concerned, have been equally resistant to the idea that the International Criminal Court should hold these trials. This trial is very important and crucial to a number of interests on the international and domestic Iraqi scene, and, if done well, will accomplish a number of objectives, except for justice toward the victims of the former regime and fairness toward the disposed dictator.
(1) This trial is important for the current Iraqi regime.
Legal regimes primarily concern themselves with (re-)constructing a narrative of the past to achieve a consensus or verdict for the present. War crimes trials and tribunals give the domestic regimes who implement them a favorable version of the past aimed at the legitimization of the policies and public memories of the current political order. Just as the Rwandan post-Hutu dominated Habyrimana regime used the ICTR to paint a picture of genocide as they massacred Hutu refugees in Rwanda and Uganda, so the current Iraqi regime needs to construct a master villain/ criminal to justify its American-backed usurpation of power from the Baathists.
(2) America and Britain need the humanitarian intervention argument to stand.
With the other major reason for their intervention, counter-proliferation, proved baseless with a very noticeable lack of nuclear weapons, the Americans and the British need to give a reason for their illegal war that their respective publics can stomach. The worse Saddam seems, or more accurately, the worse his actions are portrayed ex post facto, the more the Second American-Iraqi War seems like a humanitarian intervention rather than an illegal international war. Like Milosevich, Saddam needs to have been a Hitler in the making; the mass killing of Kurds, the gassing of entire communities, and the brutal suppression of an independent critical public are all elements of public memory within easy reach of any intelligent propaganda machine.
International opinion also needs this war to seem like something other than a war for oil. Had Saddam been dealt with extrajudicially, then how would critical journalists and historians be able to distinguish with the 2003 American war of Aggression against Iraq from the colonial and imperialist wars of the 19th and 20th centuries where powerful countries acquired and executed local strongmen after their uses for them had pass?
(3) The trial needs to prevent the Baathist from ever coming to power.
The Baathists and their government-by-terror also need to be delegitimized by the trials. Even better if connections to Syria and Syrian-backed militants can be found in the course of the trial. The outright criminalization of the Baathist party would have been unwise; however, the complete and utter discrediting of said party, such that no respectable leader would have claim to be a neo-Baathist in the same way no German rightist politician with hopes of high office has ever claimed to be a neo-Nazi, could prove to be one of the best safeguards against a Baathist tyranny of governance-by-terror from reemerging.
(4) The institution of the rule of law-- the "independent judiciary of Iraq"--, rather than a political organization, seems more neutral than a specially appoint United States commission.
Something about legal regimes, as opposed to political organizations like a legislature or an executive branch, raises the probability that we would accept the outcome as fair. The history produced by such a legal inquiry, similar to the inquiry produced by Nuremberg, the ICTY, or the ICTR, seems less biased than say a history book released by a government. Let us forget, for the moment, that the discipline of history has been, and always will be, the search for a usable past, and pay lip service to the idea that a judiciary under strict orders from the United States government is going to give the former leader that we spent a least a decade trying to rid ourselves of anything resembling a fair trial.
What, then, would I suggest for a more fair trial? This is naturally a little naive as decoupling the process of legal inquiry from pre-existing material and social power relations is as ludicrous as it is unlikely.
(1) Investigate the circumstances of the crimes of the Hussein regime.
Unless we wish to assume that Hussein was a completely irrational actor, it would be reasonable to assume that he had reasons for perpetrating or allowing to occur the crimes which happened under his watch. Rather than looking at the last crime-- the dead bodies, the moving tanks, the invasion of Kuwait-- the court should analyze all the circumstances, domestic and international, which incentivized Saddam in making the choice that he made. A number of Western suspects may also be implicated in this.
(2) Bring all the actors responsible to answer before the court of law.
One of my main problems with the trials as they are occurring now is with Saddam being blamed for most if not all of the problems of the region the non-national victims of the former regime and its Cold War allies will never see any hope of justice. Will the execution of Saddam pay for the damages of the Iran-Iraq war? Who assist the widows and childless parents of the wars by and against Saddam? Will Saddam's dead body rebuild Iraq from two decades of devastation? Is Hussein's death rattle going to serve as justice to the servicemen of his country and other countries who fought in and against Iraq?
The establishment of liability of all the actors-- including the military leaders of other nations-- will more adequately allow the judicial institutions to address the sense of injustice and the actual loss of the families of the region.
(3) Consider the effects of the sanctions and extended the possibility of reparations.
The international economic sanctions, before they were modified, targeted the civilian population of Iraq, and laid waste to many families and the infrastructure necessary for human life today. These sanctions, no less lethal than Nazi gas chambers and no less humane to the Iraqis than the Hutu-government machetes were to the moderate Hutu and Tutsi of their countries, require reparations from all the nations who participated in the sanctions, and an accounting of the human loss of life. These victims, precursors to the thousands of Iraqis dead today from Western technologies of warfare, deserve justice.
(4) Investigate the anti-government terrorism of the Kurds.
Saddam's government was not the only institution of terror in pre-2003 Iraq. Many of the Kurdish independence groups targeted other Iraqis and Iraqi national property for terrorism in the waging of their struggle for independence. If the law is to see any crimes of the past, it must view all crimes of the past. If one war leader is to kneel before the seat of the law, then all war leaders must appear for a recounting of their deeds.
Unfortunately, I believe that the Saddam trials are going to be a farce and there is very little that we can do to stop this from being so. However, those of us who believe in "liberty and justice for all" should not sit quietly as this occurs.