Sacred Harp 61: ‘Sweet Rivers’

Sweet rivers of redeeming love
Lie just before mine eye,
Had I the pinions of a dove
I’d to those rivers fly;
I’d rise superior to my pain,
With joy outstrip the wind,
I’d cross o’er Jordan’s stormy waves,
And leave the world behind.

A few more days, or years at most,
My troubles will be o’er;
I hope to join the heav’nly host
On Canaan’s happy shore.
My raptured soul shall drink and feast
In love’s unbounded sea:
The glorious hope of endless rest
Is ravishing for me.


Market panic attack, Greek edition

Never have I seen Wall Street and the stock markets this scared in my life, in anyone’s lifetime. You don’t see it in the numbers or trades, but in the periphery, the things they talk about. They’ve realized that people are starting to notice a detachment between how the markets work and how reality works. You see the paranoia in Greece and Spain. Something’s coming for them, not in the way they wanted to.

Karl Polanyi, that venerable economist, once referred to the economy as merely another social institution. Social institutions last only as long as the people believe in them. What we have seen in the past couple is an indication that people are slowly starting to the realize that the market economy, by default, does not benefit them but benefits from them. When they stop believing in the market, it starts to really panic.

The market economy has become the golden idol of the mainstream left and right since the hammer and sickle fell from the Kremlin, and loyalty to its whims is the truest symbol of elitism there is. There’s a reason the term “caviar socialist” exists, after all. But when the market, in its Molochian chaos, decides to step on a nation, the situation tends to not end very well for it.

Greece will be the first example of this. Today, the general election triggered by the Hellenic Parliament’s refusal to elect Wall Street/World Bank fat cat Stavros Dimas into the sinecure position of President will bring about a massive change. For the first time, a leftist party not directed by a single Marxist idea but rather broad range of thinking will enter government. The Coalition of the Radical Left, known by its Greek shorthand SYRIZA, will win the election. It’s only uncertain just how much.

The handwringing I noticed in the weeks leading up to this election reflects the paranoia of the markets. The Independent, that piece of toilet paper that happily wipes the ass of the market after it shits, called SYRIZA, a legitimate political party that has been in existence for more than two decades and has no militant wing to speak of, “rebels,” and its leader Alexis Tsipras a communist Harry Potter. Some call that “cheeky British humor.” I call that “pissing in your trousers.”

Bloomberg, run by a man who practically played a lapdog to Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan while he was Mayor of New York during Occupy, wasn’t that much better. It has flustered at the thought of SYRIZA winning the election, but at least acknowledged it happening. But it tried to soothe old Dimon and his gang of losers first by saying that former political scion George Papandreou’s new party To Kinima would prevent the markets from being troubled. Once it realized that Papandreou was merely leeching off voters of the sclerotic Panhellenic Socialist Movement/PASOK, it, along with the Financial Times, fawned over Stavros Theodorakis’ To Potami as being a “kingmaker” that will tame SYRIZA’s supposed ambitions. Now they’re saying that Tsipras might find it easier to have a coalition partner, simply because he can backpedal on his rhetoric. As if he has to do that. It’s laughable, really.

What the markets fail to realize is that a lot of this is their doing. Greece is in a mess because the markets begged for them to act like Americans upon joining the Euro, along with taking a sour bet by running a Summer Olympics that will take as much time to pay off as the Vietnam War. Then, when it was clear that this was a terrible idea, they expected the country to turn arch-conservative with its finances.

These efforts at market excess were curried by the elites, led by PASOK and the conservative New Democracy. It is elite by every standard: Papandreou is a member of a dynasty that dates back to the first Prime Minister after liberation from the Germans, and whose father was the first socialist PM in Greece after the end of the junta in the 60s and 70s. His family had emigrated to America before he was born, only to immigrate back when it seemed like a good idea. He was roommates at Amherst with his eventual rival and current Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. Both went on to even more elite schools after that: Papandreou to the London School of Economics because they tend to shun foreigners at Oxbridge, Samaras to Harvard. How posh can you get?

So it’s obvious that the power structure, despite looking like there’s some political spectrum, was built entirely on keeping the markets happy. While the Greeks enjoyed somewhat decent economic growth bolstered partly by the Olympic Games, ND cooked the books and PASOK allowed it to happen, creating an illusion of glory. The establishment had it under control, with the only release valves being the Communists under Joseph Stalin and the Popular Orthodox Rally.

Then the banks of Wall Street overcooked their books and screwed everyone over.

When Papandreou came to power in 2009, his lieutenant, the somewhat less posh Evangelios Venezelos, discovered the cooked books. The PM announced the problem and tried to get it under control, but this being the Great Recession, the odds of that happening were similar to finding water in California these days. One thing led to another, and the next thing you know, the Greeks became the storied boogeymen that were out to destroy the somehow already haggard European Union, setting off a chain of bailouts on the continental periphery. It was only by imposing severe and draconian austerity measures that supposedly were in the best interests of the Greeks that the continent was saved. The country was expected to become Germany, and suffer while they do so. The markets were relieved.

This latter narrative is what the markets, and the EU, would like to believe. In the country itself, however, we see a different narrative: If you aren’t in the elite, chances are you’re unemployed, or you know a friend who was. Maybe you know some friends who are homeless and are transient, especially if you’re young. If you have a job, you took a massive pay cut back in 2011 if you were lucky enough not to get laid off. You feel worthless. You don’t need to go far to know that, outside of your country, your nationality is now an epithet for sloth and dubiousness.

The markets, symbolized by the Euro, had betrayed you. Economists would say you deserve it, citing the overwrought Summer Olympics and that you have a hard time paying taxes. But those excuses can only last so long. While you don’t hate Europe, you don’t like the fact that it’s stepping on your head for something you don’t entirely control.

More importantly, the establishment betrayed you. PASOK first, then ND. Sure, Samaras put up a nice facade at first, attacking the bailouts and throwing out one of his most significant rivals in the party for daring to support them. But when push came to shove, he turned heel the moment it became clear that his continued control of the country would count on it. So both parties are still shamelessly praying to the golden idol.

The feeling of anti-establishment thinking has never been stronger in Greece. And there are few people who come close to leading that sentiment than Alexis Tsipras. Born mere days after the fascist junta fell, he’s as anti-elite as they come: Local to Athens, his parents were from the countryside. While active in politics, he studied engineering at a great local university and worked in construction for a while.

Tsipras has come to represent a unique strain of leftist thinking: One built on the diversity of opinion rather than a singular agenda. Unlike the American left, overtaken by social radicals intent on squabbling over who is the biggest victim in the room, he’s kept everyone on the same page. After all, everyone in the room is equally in the room is a victim, for they are Greeks beaten down by the bean-counters in Brussels and New York as well as the elites in PASOK and ND.

He cuts himself as young (only 40), charming and cunning. But more importantly, he’s actually competent as a leader: With such strains of thinking as classical Marxism, Trotskyism, feminism, ecosocialism, eurocommunism, even super minor strains of leftist thought like Luxembergism, you would think that SYRIZA wouldn’t last a few weeks as a small group, let alone 10 years as an electoral coalition and political entity. But that is a testament to Tsipras’ leadership.

He’s also a fighter, and that’s what makes him dangerous. Rather simply making a case on being a leftist party, he turned this election and the previous two into a referendum on the euro that has been stepping on them. Just by being that alone and unique in how they handle it was SYRIZA able to take over PASOK as not only the party of the left but also a legitimate alternative to what had been standard European politics.

It’s important to understand this election is not a referendum on the European Union. Outside of the neo-fascist Golden Dawn, the nationalist Independent Greeks and one or two factions of SYRIZA, everyone in Greece wants to stay in Europe. Their problem has never really been with Europe as a whole. The problem is the market economy that seems intent on ensuring the only thing Greece is allowed to do is suffer. It’s just that SYRIZA is more willing to let an exit from the euro be an option than anyone else in the room, and that’s what scares the markets. It means the Greeks don’t believe in them anymore.

Which brings me to To Potami, or The River. The current estimates are saying that SYRIZA will be a few seats short of an absolute majority (though it’s possible that they could still get it, especially if the Independent Greeks don’t get enough votes), meaning they will need to partner with another party to run the government. Golden Dawn is out of the question, the Independent Greeks are bit too rightist for their own good (though they could still join on a patriotic front), and the Communists are still run by Joseph Stalin.

Which leaves To Potami, run by talk show host Theodorakis. People are making them out to be some form of “taming” force because SYRIZA will need the votes, and To Potami would rather stay on the euro. The problem is that they are not taking into account a couple key points:

  1. Theodorakis and Tsipras are closer in belief on the bailout documents that have been harming Greece than most believe,
  2. Theodorakis has no political experience whatsoever.

The last two TV personalities that started a political party and entered a democratic parliament were Beppe Grillo in Italy and Yair Lapid in Israel. The former has let his 5-Star Movement self-immolate due to Occupy-level infighting, while the latter was eating out of Bibi Netanyahu’s hand until he realized the food was shit and called his Yesh Atid out of the Knesset. Both are polling poorly now. The odds are likely that Tsipras could easily outplay Theodorakis. If the former can control a bunch of Trotskyists and feminists with giant egos, what’s one talk show host?

ND will not win reelection this time around, that much is certain despite bailed out Goldman Sachs’ claims to the contrary. They betrayed the populace, and their partners will be either non-existent (the Democratic Left) or close to it (PASOK). They were very close to defeat the last time, and were likely only saved because their friends in Brussels still had some sway over the populace. Not anymore.

So what happens after the election? Things get fun. Over the course of the election campaign, outsiders from Europe, including World Bank snout and EU prez Jean-Claude Juncker, had made the ever ominous elitist threat that they “hope” the Greeks will make the “right decision.” ECB president Mario Draghi has threatened to prevent access to the way-too-late quantitative easing program if SYRIZA dares to try to move the foot off the country’s head.

However, the last time the Greeks were asked to be treated like this, their response was a rather simple one: “όχι!”

No wonder you can smell the markets’ fear.

(Image source)

Israel as tabernacle of the American empire

I wrote the following at least three years ago (probably more like four) as a think-piece on what was appearing then, and now certainly seems indisputable, to be the death of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The intention was to address exactly why Israel had become such a leading object of idolatry in American nationalism, and to a large extent well beyond it. This question is most timely now in the aftermath of the Hebdo massacres, when the question has justly been raised why there are frank hypocrisies regarding taboos around Judaism and Islam, if anything to a more startling degree in France than the U.S. But those who have raised this discussion seem totally focused on what is, and not why it is. Here, then, is a rather brief and concise illustration of the answer.

The now all-but-universally acknowledged death of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has vast implications far beyond that long-suffering small strip of land on the Mediterranean coast. The imminent collapse of the so-called Jewish state represents nothing more or less than a blow to the Achilles’ heel which has held up the entire international system enforced by American power.

Protests about four thousand years of history in eretz yisrael notwithstanding, no other nation on Earth has ever leaned so heavily on international law, and the approval of outsiders generally, for its very existence. Only Israel has premised its existence on a mandate of the long dead League of Nations, that cynical instrument of European imperialism. And when the United Nations emerged out of the horrible war that the League’s very founding made inevitable, it was to them that the Zionists appealed for permission to establish their state. No other nation would feel it necessary to invoke a resolution of the United Nations in its declaration of independence. It is as though some representative of “the world” had to validate the Zionist faith that there did in fact exist a “Jewish nation.”

Of course, this veneer of international justice could not have been operative without a certain leap of faith by the great powers who brought it about. For they, too, had to be made to believe that Hitler was essentially right about the Jews – that is, that they were an alien presence in the lands they called home – and therefore needed to be given a nation-state of their own. Yet it was the pious instinct in the western imagination that led to their eager construction of Jewish statehood. The redemption of the Jews and the end of their alleged exile, in a modern international template, flowed as naturally from the Protestant ethic as the spirit of capitalism. To invoke specific interpretations of the Book of Revelation in this connection, whether of the early 19th or late 20th century, is simply superfluous.

Still, we are left with the vexing question of what can explain the centrality Israel seized, not just in American foreign policy, but in the sacred story of the American empire. In his book America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism, Anatol Lieven made the indispensable argument that the “special relationship” between America and Israel is not history’s first instance of a great power being manipulated by a small client state. His precedent is the relationship of Russia and Serbia a century ago, wherein the Russian Empire’s sacred story of pan-Slavic nationalism and leadership of Orthodox Christianity led it into war against the Habsburg Empire in 1914, thus setting in motion the war that ended European civilization. History is certainly rhyming, if not repeating, as America’s commitment to the State of Israel has in part led it into what has amounted to an unwinnable war against the Islamic world, threatening the whole existing world order with it.

Israel is, to America, the ultimate symbol of itself as a force for good in the world, representing the salvation of the Jews as the heroic outcome of the Second World War, the “good war” myth at the heart of the sacred story of the American empire. America and Israel are bound by the fact that they are the only two countries whose very national identity is dependent upon the vitality of the international system inaugurated by that war. They are bound by their shared constant need for another Hitler to destroy. Consider the history of the Second World War. What began for England and France as the war to liberate Poland from Hitler only succeeded in giving all of Eastern Europe to Stalin. What became for America the war to liberate East Asia from Imperial Japan led to precious little besides the conquest of China by the greatest mass murderer in human history.

Only the salvation of the Jews from Hitler’s mad scheme of extermination was left to justify, ex post facto, the most destructive war in human history and the vast empire America acquired by it. It is no accident that the rise of the so-called “holocaust industry” reached its apogee in the immediate aftermath of the end of the Cold War. As Murray Rothbard pointed out at the time, the release of “Schindler’s List” and the opening of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, occurring within the space of one or two years, was perfectly timed to establish a grand narrative of American righteousness to take on the various dime-store genocides that marked “the end of history.”

Thus in keeping with Woodrow Wilson’s original world-redemptive ambitions, for both America and the international system he envisioned, the American empire was the god that brought about the essential event to usher forth the millennial reign, which the Living God had not – the redemption of Israel.

There are no doubt those who feel that this is nothing more than a retreat into mysticism in order to exculpate responsibility for America’s downfall from the corrupt influence of the Israel lobby. Answering this is the following excerpt from the indispensable essay “The Fall of Modernity” by Michael Vlahos in The American Conservative:

The imperial narrative of the grand nation thus becomes its double-edged sword. In day-to-day politics, it reminds the people of their strength and unity. Even more important for external imperial relations, narrative becomes the badge of legitimacy as lead nation. But the imperial narrative also makes the grand nation vulnerable to symbolic attack, a weak strategic position because the empire must maintain not only its material interests but the perfect integrity of the tabernacle – and as symbolic edifice, the imperial narrative is brittle and relatively easy to attack. Moreover, if it is attacked successfully, regaining lost authority requires disproportionate effort so great as to risk being self-defeating. Even empires that are truly decadent and surely should know better – for whom even the smallest shock might unleash a historical avalanche – have put defense of the narrative above reality.

Without discounting the enormously successful influence-peddling of AIPAC and others, this is precisely why the American political class has been so heavily invested not merely in the survival of Israel as a Jewish state, but in its success at vanquishing the Islamofascist enemy.

Nor can it be denied that the effete European appeasers of neoconservative imagination have just as great an investment at stake. Because Israel’s official rationale for its just existence relies so heavily on specific international legislation, for it to be imperiled represents a uniquely powerful comeuppance to the international system. For ultimately, the creation of Israel is a legacy of those few short years when the United States and the Soviet Union more-or-less sincerely believed that they would be partners in empire through the United Nations, as Britain and France had been through the League of Nations. The European Union has as its own sacred story that it is destined to restore the promise of that moment. Thankfully, the threat to its credibility posed by the fate of Israel is the least of its problems.

Israel’s central place in America’s sacred story can easily explain some of the more puzzling behavior of the latter in recent years. As Tony Judt wrote in diagnosing neoconservatism and its apologists, “for the U.S. to imitate Israel wholesale, to import that tiny country’s self-destructive, intemperate response to any hostility or opposition and to make it the leitmotif of American foreign policy – that is simply bizarre.” Yet what this has meant in practice, such as following the Israeli torture handbook at Abu Ghraib, is simply par for the course. American nationalists have come to take such pride in Israel and its methods because they naturally see this ultimate symbol of themselves as a force for good as worthy of emulation.

Let no one mistake any of this for some fiendish plot by the elders of Zion. On the contrary, the tragedy is that the Jewish people found themselves forced into this role. If modern ideology, most notably Marxism, was ultimately based on a simulacrum of the drama of exodus and redemption, Zionism, and the American sacred story with it, sought to recreate this literally as no alternative could. In other words, a religious narrative of the Holocaust followed by literal redemption in the creation of Israel effectively replaced the historic Jewish religion. There thus emerged the largely subconscious, yet sometimes explicit belief of both the American Jewish establishment and the larger American political class that they were fighting for the survival of the actually existing Kingdom of God. This is precisely why Israel represents the apotheosis, and the downfall, of modernity.

One can only pray that the Jewish religion, mother of western ethics and jurisprudence, will ultimately survive this heresy. Yet the epitaph of the State of Israel shall identify it as having been the principal culprit in fulfilling the prophecy of John Quincy Adams of the American empire: “She might become the dictatress of the world, but she would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit.”

‘American Sniper’ in Indian country

My review of the movie is up at TAC:

The New York Times review of “Lawrence of Arabia” from 1962 complains that we don’t really get to know the titular character, a fault Bosley Crowther blames on “the concept of telling the story of this self-tortured man against a background of action that has the characteristic of a mammoth Western film.”

“American Sniper” feels the same way, both in character and background. For most people, consideration of the similarities between Western expansion and America’s permanent presence in the Middle East starts and ends with how one feels about “cowboy president” jokes. But in less self-conscious times, no less than the venerable Robert Kaplan once referred to Little Bighorn as “the 9/11 of its day.”

Did Jeff Flake think Robert Mugabe was a T.S. Eliot fan too?

Charles Johnson uncovers the masters thesis of Sen. Jeff Flake, the main GOP supporter of rapprochement with Cuba. It, uh, doesn’t speak well of his judgment:

The entire premise of Flake’s thesis, “Zimbabwe: Rhetoric vs. Reality,” (below) is that Mugabe really isn’t a Socialist and is “on the side of the West.”

“After a visit to the country with exposure to the amount of private enterprise and limited government interference in the economy, as well as recognizing the viable existence of a second party, one would clearly see that Zimbabwe is more on the side of the West,” Flake wrote.

Flake doubted that Mugabe really was a socialist. “What is the reason for Mugabe’s continuing lip service to socialism? Perhaps Mugabe never believed in following the socialist path at all,” he wrote. “Mugabe may have come to the conclusion that the socialist model of development is bankrupt in the African context.”
Flake continued arguing that “despite the Marxist-Leninist rhetoric, Zimbabwe has not moved towards a high degree of socialism under Mugabe.”

Now, let’s give Sen. Flake the benefit of the doubt; his thesis was exceptionally ill-timed. It was turned in in 1987, the year Zimbabwe’s decline began to accelerate as Mugabe assumed new powers, and major collectivization schemes had yet to take place. But still, we would rightly take a dim view of a masters thesis from 1935 just before the Nuremberg Laws saying Hitler displayed a “gulf between rhetoric and reality” (Flake’s words).

Really wanting socialist revolutionaries to be on your side is different from really wanting national socialists to be on your side. Wyndham Lewis is pretty much forgotten, but in 2008, we see columns in the New York Times about how, despite the lack of evidence, Mugabe was a secret T.S. Eliot fan (h/t Moldbug).

Those parts of the West that didn’t quite support left-wing anti-colonial movements were deeply invested in the notion that the transition to majority rule in Africa would be painless and orderly. The United Church of Christ was firmly in the former camp, however, and had a long history with Mugabe’s regime. That was fine when he was a revolutionary socialist, but less fine when he started oppressing gays. One of the presidents of ZANU, Ndabaningi Sithole, was a UCC minister. He gave an interview in 1995 saying the revolution was kindled by, of all people, Swedes:

Tor Sellström: There was an early involvement by the Nordic countries in the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe. How can you explain that? Did it start with the missions?

Ndabaningi Sithole: Well, to begin with it was an involvement by the missions. Sweden had a very big mission in this country at Mnene. Incidentally, my first child was born at that mission. When the struggle started, somehow the good-hearted people at Mnene sympathized with the African nationalist cause and we were able to send some of our fellows to Sweden. My own son, for instance, got into a family there. They looked after him. My daughter also got there through a Swedish family. But it is not only my family that benefited from being kept by Swedish families during the struggle, but other families as well. They benefited a great deal.

Flake is a Mormon, though, and we usually expect more sober assessments from them.


America needs to get back to religion, no matter what libertarians say

Here’s a quick lesson for young, self-styled libertarians: Nick Gillespie’s punk-rock stylings and irreverent attitude are not a formula for success.

Admittedly, few in the budding millennial libertarian “generation” will believe me. They are busy celebrating pot freedom and the right to marry whoever they want. Clearly, somewhere along the line between Leonard Read and the New York Times-dubbed “libertarian moment,” freedom turned into blissful sodomy and getting stoned. Should the trend continue, libertarianism will wither, and rightly so.

Gillespie, who is a thought leader in the trendy libertine-leaning freedom movement, is championing the decline. From his soapbox at Reason magazine, he preaches the principles of free association and non-aggression. Much of his work is laudable; his wittiness is a great tool showing how foolish the warmongers in Congress are. But even the wisest jokester is not immune to stupidity. Gillespie’s attitude, anti-authoritarian as it is, is a road map of the perilous direction that libertarianism is trending.

In a recent diatribe, the black jacketed sermonizer attempts to correct Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal on a topic of high importance: God and America. The governor, who is a convert to Catholicism, recently told a group of Christians and Jewish leaders the country has drifted away from God. This path is dangerous for America, he averred. As a possible 2016 presidential candidate looking to court social conservatives, Jindal was unambiguous about his warning, telling the crowd, “We have tried everything and now it is time to turn back to God.”

This is all wrong according to Gillespie. Issues of public policy, spending and debt, entitlement programs, civil liberties, and militarization are not matters of spiritual conviction. When it comes to politics, he maintains, “God has nothing to do with any of that.”