Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Some things I've been trying to work through after reading a lot of Foucault...what do you guys think? cc doesn't think I have it right...

1) Ultimately, power should not be defined merely as the ability or capacity to act, nor even as the ability or capacity to act in relation to others in a social system. The definition of power as capacity to act assumes a self-contained, pre-existing actor whose needs and desires to act are self-originated. We might better understand power to be the social relations which constitute not only the needs and desires but the very identities of the actors. Just as gender is totally socially constructed, so are other aspects of identity; just as sexual desire acquires meaning only through culture, so it is with all our needs; and an understanding of power is more than an understanding of the capacity to act, it is an understanding of the unequal relations of social and cultural construction.

2) As historians, our work tends to be organized around the concept of empowerment, a concept that entangles the liberal conceptions of power and of freedom. Empowerment defines power as a substance to be distributed among pre-existing, autonomous individuals and groups, not a social relation that constitutes those individuals and groups---and it promises freedom as the reward for the proper distribution of power. As historians, the questions that drive our work tend to be those suggested by the conception of empowerment: Who wielded power over whom? How did members of a subjugated group demonstrate their resistance? How was the struggle for freedom fought? Important as these questions are, they do not cover the breadth or the depth of power relations in any given time and place. We need to expand our question set to better understand power as a constitutive force. As it stands, our commitment to empowerment as the end of history puts blinders on our view of social violence.

3) This is not to absolve those who reap the benefits of power effects, nor to advocate for the primacy of structure over agency, but to suggest the need to reframe questions about social violence and domination in our intellectual culture. The stakes are high. Our liberal assumptions about the nature of power made the current war in the Middle East seem justified, as Americans backed the project of "empowering" Iraqis by giving them the vote---and our commitment to an universalist emancipatory gender narrative made it seem natural that rationalizations for invading Afghanistan should shift from talk of retaliation for 9/11 to talk of the degradation of Muslim women under the Taliban.

4) Emphases on agency and on resistance are meant to work toward social change, empowering people in the present by highlighting the empowerment of people in the past, creating a proud heritage for subordinated people today. However, there are possible problems with this approach. To begin with, we must be careful about the connection between agency and liberal individualism. The emancipatory narratives celebrated by a focus on resistance to subordination resemble the bootstrap narratives of the classical liberal self-made man, not only in that both are essentially narratives of self-empowerment, but that both tend toward essentially liberal notions of social progress based in individual human agency. These liberal conceptions of individual agency and self-empowerment have long been mobilized as tactics to over-freight the individual with responsibility for his or her own social circumstances, and to mask systems of inequality. Celebrating the power of the subordinated individual or group does not necessarily make them more powerful; in fact, it can evade the necessity of addressing ongoing social violence.

5) Further, by reifying resistance as a basic human impulse and a moral act, we mark those in whom we don't recognize resistance as less-than-fully-realized humans. Groups who do not resist as we think they should are relegated to what has been described as the waiting room of progressive teleology, where they will stay until their consciousness is raised and they begin their struggle for freedom. This set of assumptions about the course of history and the nature of humanity does violence to the meaningfulness of those groups' existence. Progressive teleology notwithstanding, it is possible to find fulfillment without reference to the liberal notion of freedom. Thinking of power as relational and constitutive goes quite a ways toward understanding the complexities of these situations.

Monday, December 24, 2007

World War IV In Context

A Brief History of Neoconservative Cultural Hegemony

As legend has it, neoconservatism as a political ideology in the United States is rooted in the 1930s at “Alcove 1” of the City College of New York cafeteria, where a group of noncommunist socialists gathered to discuss politics separately from the communists in Alcove 2. In addition to many rotating participants—including the late New York Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan—this group of anti-Stalinists who flirted briefly with Trotskyism was centered around four men subsequently known as the “The New York (Jewish) Intellectuals”: Daniel Bell, Irving Howe, Nathan Glazer, and Irving Kristol. Born in 1920 into an Orthodox Jewish family in Brooklyn, Kristol is often considered the godfather of the clan after being the first to embrace the “neoconservative” label when former comrades on the Left used it pejoratively against the Alcove 1 group amid their steady rightward drift after the Second World War. Jokingly calling himself a “liberal mugged by reality,” Kristol was in many respects the leader of this vocal, and often antagonistic intellectual force. [1]

In this context, Kristol describes his political family as being “children of the Great Depression, veterans (literal or not) of World War II, who accepted the New Deal in principle, and had little affection for the kind of isolationism that then permeated American conservatism.” By the late 1960s, he continues, “As the ‘counterculture’ engulfed our universities and began to refashion our popular culture, we discovered that traditional ‘bourgeois’ values were what we had believed in all along.” Kristol adds: “the spectrum of neoconservatism became ever broader, even as the spectrum of liberalism became ever narrower, even more dogmatically left-leaning.” [2] Thus as political migrants moving from Left to Right, neoconservatives were positioned at the center of a dynamic transformation as Stalin’s betrayal of the Soviet Union’s revolutionary heritage fractured the Communist International and splintered Marxist-Leninist parties throughout Europe and the United States. Then following World War Two, elite US foreign policymakers developed blueprints for the imperial domination of the globe in an “American century,” and subsequently produced as ideological justification an epic struggle between communist and capitalist civilizations that developed into a paradigmatic “cold war” between the “totalitarian” East and Western “free world.”

In what was viewed as a semi-autonomous “cultural cold war” fought in the realm of ideology and propaganda, “the war of ideas,” official efforts were made to cultivate the nascent “noncommunist Left” in Europe and the United States. Kristol and the New York (Jewish) Intellectuals were, in this context, on the front lines of state-sanctioned combat against the remnants of communist and socialist praxis on the New Left. Thus in 1953 Kristol co-founded and, until 1958 co-edited the British literary journal Encounter, which was later revealed to have received funding from the Central Intelligence Agency. As Kristol recollects:
Encounter was accused of being a ‘Cold War’ magazine, which in a sense was true enough. It was published by the Congress for Cultural Freedom [founded in 1950], which was later revealed to be financed by the CIA. As a cultural-political journal, it published many fine literary essays, literary criticism, art criticism, short stories, and poetry, and in sheer bulk they probably preponderated. But there is no doubt its ideological core—its ‘mission,’ as it were—was to counteract, insofar as it were possible, the anti-American, pro-Soviet views of a large segment of the intellectual elites in the Western democracies and in the English-speaking Commonwealth. [3]
Prior to starting Encounter, Kristol had been from 1947-1953 the managing editor of Commentary magazine (1945-Present), by far the most significant platform for the public articulation of neoconservative ideology. [4] Leaving Encounter in the hands of his comrade Melvin J. Lasky in 1958, Kristol founded another cultural journal in 1965 along with Daniel Bell and Nathan Glazer, The Public Interest, and in 1985 created its foreign affairs equivalent The National Interest. Throughout the course of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, as Kristol and fellow New York (Jewish) Intellectuals expanded and solidified their ranks, this emerging neoconservative bloc played a foundational role in the production of anticommunist discourse and propaganda. Also pivotal to the development of this ideological constellation were individuals such as Norman Podhoretz, who served as editor-in-chief of Commentary from 1960 to 1995, and Democratic Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington (also known as “the Senator from Boeing”)--a stalwart anticommunist and pro-Israel legislator who founded the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (CDM) in 1972.

The CDM served as yet another major vessel for the convergence of anticommunist “cold war liberals,” and in this respect was closely affiliated with the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD). The CPD had been founded in 1950 as a military-industrial lobby organized to help launch the “cold war” propaganda campaign by publicizing the content of National Security Memorandum 68: United States Objectives and Programs for National Security, which laid the justificatory groundwork for the use of political, military and socioeconomic pressure to combat the global expansion of Soviet power and communist ideology. [5] When the architect of NSC 68, Paul Nitze helped revive the CPD in 1976, it soon began serving as s central node of neoconservative articulation for the development of ruling class hegemony. [6] While Kristol was perhaps the first “official” neoconservative convert, a wave of “cold war liberals” soon began similar migrations from the Left (and the Democratic Party) to eventually merge forces with the “Reagan Revolution” led by a New Right coalition of corporate-financial elite, religious fundamentalists, and ideological “cold warriors.”

A substantially widened neoconservative force-field thus emerged to encompass individuals from the CPD and “Scoop Jackson’s” senatorial staff, including Richard Pipes, Richard Perle, and Paul Wolfowitz, who became players in the Reagan-Bush regime after their instrumental participation in the now infamous “Team B.” This group was organized in 1976 under the leadership of George H.W. Bush during his final days as CIA Director to provide an unofficial “competitive threat assessment” that would demonstrate continuing Soviet nuclear capabilities necessitating a rejection of détente and the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) agreements first produced under the “realist” regime of Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon. Given that Wolfowitz, Perle, and other neoconservaitves including Douglas Feith have been described sensationally as the sinister masterminds of a “‘Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal’ that hijacked U.S. foreign policy” after 9/11, [7] it is noteworthy that Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, as well as George H. W. Bush began their stormy relationships with neoconservatism in the late 1970s “cold war” context of internecine struggle between the “realist” and idealist” (pro and anti-détente) factions of the US foreign policymaking establishment.

Meanwhile, a certain web of intellectual cross-fertilization emerged between Paul Wolfowitz, when he studied at the University of Chicago and absorbed the philosophy and social theory of conservative luminaries Leo Strauss, Allan Bloom, and Albert Wohlstetter, which was infused into the ideologies of many “Scoop” Jackson aides and others in the emerging neoconservative bloc. Although the significance of this connection has been grossly overstated in many analyses of neoconservatives as “Straussians,” there was nonetheless a transmission of certain political-intellectual traditions from Strauss to Bloom to Wolfowitz and other allies in the bloc such as Francis Fukuyama, who studied under Bloom at Cornell University and served in Reagan’s State Department with I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby while Wolfowitz and Perle worked at the Pentagon.

By the time Pearle and Wolfowitz arrived on the scene, neoconservative ideology had come to represent a fierce opposition to the domestic progressive Left coupled with support for unfettered American power abroad. This phenomenon is perhaps best symbolized by Reagan’s first Ambassador to the United Nation’s (1981-1985), Jeanne Kirkpatrck, who in 1984 characterized her opponents as “San Francisco democrats” belonging to the “blame-America-first” crowd full of communist sympathizers. At the same time, she became (in)famous for having developed the “Kirkpatrick Doctrine,” which formed a major theoretical component of the Regan-Bush plan for the “rollback,” as opposed to mere “containment,” of Soviet power. Kirkpatrick had argued in a widely read 1979 article in Commentary that “A realistic policy which aims at protecting our own interest and assisting…less developed nations will need to face the unpleasant fact that, if victorious, violent insurgency headed by Marxist revolutionaries is unlikely to lead to anything but totalitarian tyranny.” [8]

Published at a moment in time when two significant anti-Soviet battlefronts were emerging in Central America and Central Asia, Kirkpatrick’s “Dictatorships and Double Standards” offered a moral rationale for supporting the “Contra” counterrevolutionaries against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, a theme soon easily extended to the Islamic warriors fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. Such forces attached to rightwing regimes, no matter how authoritarian, were always worth supporting in opposition to leftwing dictatorships whose “totalitarianism” was naturally more antithetical to American interests. Reagan therefore publicly justified his regime’s alignment with the brutal Contra terrorists through conclusions such as his 1985 argument that “The Sandinista dictatorship of Nicaragua, with full Cuban-Soviet bloc support, not only persecutes its people…but arms and provides bases for Communist terrorists attacking neighboring states. Support for freedom fighters is self-defense.” [9]

Thus having entering into the upper-echelons of political power with the resurgent anticommunist crusade under Reagan-Bush, the neoconservative bloc continued its ideological and political struggle although its influence became neutralized during the 1990s. One of the primary neoconservative goals during this time was to pressure for the overthrow (rather than containment) of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, [10] while Perle and others assisted the hard-line Zionist Likud leadership in Israel devise its plan for A Clean Break from the “land for peace” process. [11] Being better placed under Bush-Cheney than they ever were in the Reagan-Bush regime, the neoconservative bloc’s influence rose precipitously following 9/11 as the axis revolving around Wolfowitz and Perle (also known as “the prince of darkness) helped initiate the commonsensical articulation of a generational struggle against “Islamo-fascism.” Through a reformulation of the “war on terror” it had begun in the 1980s—alongside Israeli allies—targeting a Soviet sponsored “terror network” centered around the Palestine Liberation Organization, the neoconservative bloc guided policy towards the 2003 invasion of Iraq in concordance with its imperial geopolitical vision explicated by The Project for the New American Century. [12] As the “regime change” enterprise in Iraq sputtered and threaten the tenuous hegemony of “war on terror” and future plans to “remake the Middle-East,” the neoconservative bloc was instrumental to the reactivation of the Committee on the Present Danger in 2004 under the slogan: “fighting terrorism and the ideologies that drive it.” [13]

From this truncated thumbnail sketch presented in the form of a “potted history,” it should be obvious enough that, while their collectivity may indeed contain some elements of a cabal, special interest group, and counterrevolutionary vanguard—as many of their opponents have variously charged—a dispassionate critical analysis might best describe neoconservatives as the nucleus of a Gramscian historical bloc engaged steadily since the 1950s in an ideological struggle to reproduce the cultural hegemony sustaining American empire. While a number of scholars have begun accounting for the peculiar influence of neoconservatism within the context of post-9/11 policy and in light of specific historical developments, there is still a need for much further investigation into the complex processes through which the neoconservative bloc has reproduced cultural hegemony.

[1] See: Joseph Dorman, Arguing the World: The New York Intellectuals in Their Own Words, (University of Chicago Press, 2001)l; Mark Gerson, The Neoconservative Vision: From the Cold War to Culture Wars (New York: Madison Books, 1997); Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke, American Alone: The Neo-Conservatives and the Global Order (NewYork: Cambridge University Press, 2004), Irving Kristol, Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea (New York: The Free Press, 1995) James Nuechterlein, “Neoconservatism & Irving Kristol,” Commentary, August 1984; Alan M. Wald, The New York Intellectuals: The Rise and Decline of the Anti-Stalinist Left from the1930s to the 1980s (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987); Ruth Wise, “The New York (Jewish) Intellectuals,” Commentary, November, 1987.
[2] Kristol, Neoconservatism, x.
[3] Kristol, Neoconservatism, 481.
[4] Founded by the American Jewish Committee at the end of World War Two, Commentary describes itself as “America’s premier monthly magazine of opinion and a pivotal voice in American intellectual life.” As its website explains: “Since its inception in 1945, and increasingly after it emerged as the flagship of
neoconservatism in the 1970’s, the magazine has been consistently engaged with several large, interrelated questions: the fate of democracy and of democratic ideas in a world threatened by totalitarian ideologies; the state of American and Western security; the future of the Jews, Judaism, and Jewish culture in Israel, the United States, and around the world; and the preservation of high culture in an age of political correctness and the collapse of critical standards. See: (accessed December 14, 2007).
[5] See: “NSC 68: United States Objectives and Programs for National Security.” Federation of American Scientists, April 14, 1950. (accessed December 14, 2007). Coinciding with the outbreak of the Korean War, this document added an ideological component to George Kennan’s realist “containment theory” pertaining solely to the geopolitical aspects of anti-Soviet struggle. At the same time, NSC 68 was the product of a radical bureaucratic reshuffling of the US foreign policy establishment that, in the National Security Act of 1947, effectively created an “imperial presidency” empowered to conduct war and espionage in secret both at home and abroad.
[6] Reagan, who once identified as a New Deal Democrat during his days as an actor, joined the second CPD in 1979 in the midst of his Republican presidential primary campaign. In this process, he built a coalition with many of future advisors including Richard Pipes, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz (all former “Scoop” Jackson aids), Max Kampelman, Eugene Rostow, Eliot Abrams; and cabinet officers including National Security Advisor Richard V. Allen, Secretary of State George Shultz, CIA Director William Casey, and UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick.
[7] Dana Milbank, “Colonel Finally Saw Whites of Their Eyes” Washington Post, October 20, 2005, (accessed December 14, 2007).
[8] Jeane Kirkpatrick, “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” Commentary, November 1979, 45.
[9] See: “Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress on the State of the Union,” Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, February 6, 1985, (accessed December 14, 2007).
[10] See: “Letter to President Clinton on Iraq,” The Project for the New American Century, January 26 1998, (accessed December 15, 2007).
[11] See: Richard Perle, et al, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” (Jerusalem: The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, 1996), 1, (accessed December 15, 2007).
[12] See: Thomas Donnelly, Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century, (Washington DC: A Report of the Project for the New American Century, September 2000). See:
“Publications/Reports,”; and “Letter to President Bush on the War on Terrorism,” Project for the New American Century, September 20, 2001,, (accessed December 15, 2007).
[13] See: (accessed December 14, 2007).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Foreign and Familiar

The Foreign and Familiar

You have come to our country at a most exciting time, though at a somewhat awkward stage, when we are negotiating the challenging transition from a traditional order to a progressive humanist society. This new complex of buildings erected on land reclaimed from the sea stands in dramatic contrast to the slum areas that blight our city. The contrast of shrine and shanty symbolizes the shining future against our impoverished past.
-Imelda Marcos, October 1976

In speaking these words, Imelda Marcos, first lady and governor of Metropolitan Manila, attempted to articulate the Marcos government’s self-perceived position of leadership in the third world. In hopes of impressing the thousands of delegates visiting for the 1976 annual International Monetary Fund-World Bank meeting, the Marcos government erected fifteen new luxury hotels, a new international airport, and a state of the art convention center. Just four years earlier, President Ferdinand Marcos had declared a state of emergency, citing what he felt was a need to hold together an unraveling nation. The declaration of martial law led to the repression of civil rights, increase in police and military surveillance and activity, and the Marcos monopolization of key industries, such as energy, communications, and construction. These dictatorial actions did not deter foreign investors, who actually welcomed the economic and political security that the Marcos government advertised. So as host of the IMF-WB annual meeting, the Marcos government hoped to image the modern Philippine nation at the forefront of the developing third world. To structure this representation more than $500 million in foreign loans were utilized for construction, over 10,000 urban squatters were removed, and numbers of those imprisoned because of political opposition to the government swelled to 20,000.

No doubt, returning to the opening passage, the “shining future” that Imelda Marcos alludes to is manifest in the cosmetic reorganization of Manila preceding the IMF-WB meeting. Furthermore the “new complex of buildings erected on land reclaimed from the sea” demonstrates the Philippine’s modern mastery over nature. And yet it is her “contrast of shrine and shanty” as demonstrative of this “shining future” that reveals the spatial and temporal paradox of the developing Philippine nation-state. The paradox is this: in order to demonstrate its development, the Philippines must constantly set its course toward the modern “shining future” (progressive humanist society) by juxtaposing its present (shrine and shanty) against its cultural past (traditional order). And yet from recent scholarship on the nation, the seemingly paradoxical preservation of national culture is in actuality essential to the future of the modern nation-state.

To expand this argument let us briefly look to the intimate relationship between History and nation in Prasenjit Duara’s seminal text Rescuing History from the Nation. Duara asserts that during the 18th century, co-constitutive of modern History is the emergence of the nation as the dominant vehicle in which to project the self-aware subject. History thus evolves as the essential technology utilized by the state in order to appropriate diverging contingencies of the emerging nation. Moreover, key in understanding this process is the prevailing hegemonic belief that “modern History is meaningless” without a methodological subject, “that which remains even as it changes.” Thus, the emerging modern nation-state along with modern national leaders (who draw on discourses of what Duara calls the people-nation) can only legitimately claim its “privilege and sovereignty” by becoming the only “subject of History.” In other words the nation-state can only assert its right to sovereignty through its construction of a primordial origin: culture. Thus culture, vestige of the natural, traditional, and the pre-modern, and in the case of the Philippines, pre-colonial past, must be spatialized and protected. This protection is achieved through the evolutionary narrative of History, in which all memories and contingencies become collapsed into one teleological narrative. It is also, as I will demonstrate through the construction projects of the Marcos government, integrated into the material structures of the public space.

The construction project leading up to the IMF-WB was not an isolated surge of productivity. Rather the 1970s in the Philippines must be seen as a decade saturated with large scale construction projects. Powered by foreign loans, large scale construction projects were not only marked by the aforementioned luxury housing and airport constructions or the expanding network of roads, urban buildings, and state of the art hospitals, but also cultural exhibit halls. The Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Museum of Philippine Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, and the Museum of Philippine Costumes were some of the most notable and most accessible large scale projects undertaken by the post-Martial Law government. Clustered together in an interlocking network built on the previously mentioned “reclaimed” Manila Bay, they eventually came to be known as the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex (CCPC). Intended for the public gaze, the CCPC’s exhibits consciously invoked a multiplicity of elements from various ethnic groups throughout the Philippines’s history and territory. The range included various contemporary ethnic minorities such as the indigenous tribes of Northern Luzon or the Muslim communities of Mindanao to the pre-colonial remnants of ancient Malay societies. For example the Nayong Pilipino, a cultural theme park built in 1972, displayed the most prominent ethnic groups of the archipelago. The exhibits systematically presented the customs, traditions, costumes, and “tribal facial features” of each ethnic group. Interspersed with these representations of people were scaled down recreations of familiar geological landmarks, such as the “Ifugao Rice Terraces, the Mayon Volcano, the Chocolate Hills of Bohol, and Lanao Lake.” Thus a spatializing effect occurs. This system of display collapses the spatial and temporal boundaries separating the contemporary ethnic groups and their ‘native habitats’ into the simplified space of the Historical past. In addition designs meant to invoke traditional culture such as the bahay kubo or the roof shaped like a salakot, to the frequent use of the pre-modern alphabet baybayin, were built into the architecture. Even the construction material, material such as coconut tree lumber, was consciously utilized in order to celebrate the native. In sum the Marcos government’s design and construction of these structures, the use of symbols, the subjects of exhibition, and the very material itself used to house these exhibits, culled from ‘traditional’ Philippine cultural symbols both past and present in order to present the state as both promoter and protector of national culture.
And yet, returning to Duara, integral to the nation-state’s claim to sovereignty is the promise of the future. Duara explains this process further.

Thus while on the one hand, nation-states glorify the ancient or eternal character of the nation, they also seek to emphasize the unprecedented nature of the nation-state, because it is only in this form that the people-nation has been able to realize itself as the self-conscious subject of History.

It is this self-realization that positions the nation-state to “launch into a modern future” in which all diverging memories and contingencies would be eventually, at the end of History, sublimated. The nation is thus presented “simultaneously as essentially atavistic and unprecedentedly novel.” In other words, key to its existence, the modern nation-state must sublate “the other in the self.”

For the Marcos government the modern could only be articulated as the West, or better put: the foreign. Hence, through the integration of Western inspired architectural design, modern construction material, the purchase of art from ‘ancient’ civilizations and ‘classical’ societies, and in addition by receiving funds from foreign capital and by displaying ‘traditional culture’ to tourist gazes, the foreign was embedded in and combined with the familiarity of culture. Therefore, the Marcos government, through its large scale constructions of the 1970s, in particular the public-aimed cultural centers, consciously built and displayed the contrasting foreign in the familiar. Thus, the “awkward stage” of “shrine and shanty” cannot be seen as the paradox of the developing third world nation, but rather as a co-constitutive relationship essential to the modern nation-state’s future.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I don't know if I'm actually this optimistic...but here it is...

In A New Philosophy of History, published in 1995, Frank Ankersmit and Hans Kellner have gathered a series of essays exploring the linguistic turn in the study of history. In the introduction to the collection, Kellner argues that "history can be redescribed as a discourse that is fundamentally rhetorical, and that representing the past takes place through the creation of powerful, persuasive images which can be best understood as created objects, models, metaphors or proposals about reality." (2) The essays discuss the nature and the impact of this turn toward language, describing a disciplinary shift from a focus on facts to a focus on meaning. They consider an important set of questions; they ask, as Berkhofer does, "What is the relationship between the historian in the present and the historical actors of the (postulated) past as mediated through the historian's text?" (174) On a more basic level, they ask, as Partner does, "How can we depend on words to connect us to reality?" (32) And finally, they react to the proposition that what we consider reality is no more than a social construction.

Predictably, given the discipline, the first section of the volume places this turn toward language in historical perspective. Nancy Partner suggests that since Herodotus the line between written history and fiction has shifted according to the cultural demands placed on historical knowledge, and that an insistence on factual accuracy over fictional representations of truth should be understood in cultural terms. While Partner takes the long view in historicizing the conventions of history writing, Richard Vann and Arthur Danto focus on the much shorter period around the linguistic turn itself. Vann begins in 1960 with the founding of the journal History and Theory, and concludes in 1975, tracing the journal's shift from discussions of positivist historical explanation and causality to debates about language and Hayden White's arguments about narrative. Danto, meanwhile, interprets the linguistic turn as a paradigm shift, inspired ironically enough by the conception of the paradigm shift in 1962 by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Before the shift, historical thought revolved around C.G. Hempel's "covering-law" models of historical explanation, but with the idea of the paradigm shift, Danto asserts, "Kuhn advanced a view of history so powerful that, rather than being an applied science, as Hempel holds history to be, history came to be the matrix for viewing all the sciences." (72) "This transformation was consolidated," he notes, "under the immense prestige of Foucault's archeologizing politics of science." (72) In Danto's view, history's linguistic turn was in fact an historical turn, and in light of Partner's insights, it was also a cultural turn. It involved a growing consciousness that what we perceive as reality is always filtered through language and culture, and that what we conceive as the past is available to us only through indeterminate representation. This consciousness challenges the foundational assumptions of the discipline, questioning the accessibility of, or even the existence of---or perhaps most disturbingly, the relevance of---such things as scientific truth, historical fact, and a unified past.

A central theme around which these problems have been elaborated is the concept of narrative. With the growing consciousness of language has emerged a concern for the implications of narrative, both on the level of the monograph, as detailed by Hayden White, and at the level of the disciplinary synthesis, or, as Robert Berkhofer has called it, the Great Story. Before Hayden White, as Vann notes, the narrative language of history was thought to be not only transparent, but often devoid of any historical explanation. Beginning with the essay "The Burden of History" published in 1966, and continuing with Metahistory in 1973, Hayden White shows that the narrative form of history-writing carries immense implicit explanatory weight. White argues that historical narratives follow the emplotments typical of fictional narratives, that these emplotments inescapably convey ideological judgments, and that the same event may be emplotted---and thereby explained---in different ways without sacrificing historical accuracy. History-writing, then, is not a scientific enterprise but an aesthetic one, and historical explanation, ultimately a question of ethics.

Allan Megill and Robert Berkhofer extend these concerns to the level of the Grand Narrative, or the Great Story, underscoring the political implications of a single authorized version of a universal past. Historicizing the notion of a universal history, Megill traces a progression of four attitudes toward the idea, beginning in the 18th century, when it was considered that there was a single universal history whose course was already known and determined by God, through the 19th century, when it was thought that there was a single universal history whose course was not yet known but could be determined through empirical research, to the early 20th century, when, although a universal history was still assumed, it was acknowledged that it could never be definitively written, and finally to the late 20th century, when the existence of a single unified past was called into question. As most of the contributers to this volume indicate, all historical accounts are written from a specific perspective, and reflect, as Danto puts it, the World according to X. Past reality, too, was always lived from a certain viewpoint, within a World according to X. In privileging certain historical accounts over others, we are privileging certain voices, past and present, over others, and this is inescapably a political act. It is also, of course, an inescapable act, given the nature of historical production. It would be neither possible nor interesting to detail all Worlds according to all Xs, and so we must privilege certain past voices and ignore others, and in doing so we make of the multiplicity of pasts a single unified version, which, as Berkhofer notes, finally privileges our own authorial voice as "the single, ultimate mediator between the past and the present. In the end," he says, "the historian's authority depends upon such a practice." (183) Further, Berkhofer points to the implications of this practice beyond the discipline, noting the importance of written history as a frame for identity and as a nationalist enterprise. "Whose and what viewpoint defines reality," he asserts, is "basic to the whole idea of hegemony." (177) History written from a Western, liberal, middle-class, white, Protestant, heterosexual, male perspective reproduces the naturalness and dominance of that perspective. A consciousness of these politics, I believe, is well worth the loss of a certain disciplinary cohesion.

Does the recognition that it is impossible to establish historical truth, then, paradoxically allow us to approach that truth more closely by making us more aware of the problems and the politics of knowing? Does this book present a coherent New Philosophy of History along these lines? In keeping with his view that the linguistic turn was in fact an historical turn, Danto argues that "the new philosophy of history is in effect a new understanding of ourselves as through and through historical," (85) which sounds hopeful for our discipline. Berkhofer calls for a new vision of historical authority, which can take into account a multiplicity of pasts as well as a multiplicity of voices. Megill, too, insists upon a consciousness of multiplicity and of fictionality in historical writing, and upon an ability to theorize across disciplines. All the contributors point to the importance of an awareness of the power language and of the politics of the authorial voice.

Perhaps the best way to define a new philosophy of history around these questions is to highlight the tensions inherent in historical writing; tensions between the worlds of the present and the worlds of the past in historical writing; tensions between a need to assume that reality is real and an understanding of reality as socially, culturally, linguistically, and historically constructed; tensions between a need to assume a single unified past and an understanding of the multiplicity of pasts; tensions between the conventions of objective distance and the demands for subjective judgment in approaching historical truth; and tensions between the inclusive and the exclusive functions of narrative and historical synthesis.

Even on this side of the linguistic turn, as Nancy Partner points out, we continue to act "as though invisible guardian angels of epistemology would always spread protecting wings over facts, past reality, true accounts, and authentic versions; as though the highly defensible, if not quite definitive version would always be available when we really needed it." (22) This is perhaps not as much of a problem as it might seem.

I assume that most of you remember Radika's metaphor about the blind men and the elephant. The metaphor recognizes the blindness of our search for historical truth, but it assumes that although we're blind, we've all managed to stumble upon the same elephant---that we're all poking away at a unified past reality. Further, the metaphor invites us to assume a doubled role where we're not only blindly patting at a trunk or a tail, but we're also omniscient viewers who can look down on the elephant as a totality and name it for what it is. I think that precisely in this doubleness, Radika's metaphor remains apt, that for the sake of disciplinary coherence we can treat our elephant as a unity, even as we acknowledge its multiplicity, to give it prior existence even as we reflect that it is us who have constructed it, and that we can continue simultaneously to assume roles of blindness and omniscience, especially if we continue to reflect on the politics of our doing so.

A brief etymology of the contemporary failed state

Prior to the 1990s, the phrase “failed state” remained strictly utilized by those either writing about the economy or the natural sciences. Yet during the 1990s the term “failed state” quickly came into fashion[1], frequently in response to various crises in several third world nations, such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, Somalia or Haiti. Soon as the decade moved along, the term “failed state” had suddenly usurped the common title of “developing nation.” In addition the sentiments within such writing had shifted from humanitarian and economic explorations to security and intervention. The invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq accelerated the spread of its use, not only within scholarly studies but also within popular discourse. Noam Chomsky’s quaintly titled Failed States clearly capitalizes on this popularity by criticizing American foreign policy through an examination of, what he identifies as domestic failings of the American democratic system.[2] Although admirable, Chomsky never critically engages such a categorization, but rather resolves to simply question which nations are categorized and in what order they are put in. This paper will first briefly interrogate the etymology of the “failed state” and second look at some possible causes as to what caused this shift. Finally this paper will consider several intellectual questions pertaining to the reality of the “failed state”.

To begin, the “failed state” as a recently popular phrase is not mentioned in the Oxford English Dictionary’s definitions of state. Yet the Oxford Online Reference defined the “failed state” as:

A nation or comparable administrative jurisdiction in which essential infrastructure, including health services, law enforcement, and other necessities for collective and personal health and safety, has broken down because of lawlessness and anarchy. A sharp rise in all or most indicators of population ill health and premature death occurs in failed states.[3]

In this sense, the definition of a “failed state” exists internally. Meaning the state’s crisis can be located within clearly demarcated territorial borders. Furthermore the implied sentiments of this definition rely on the state’s inability to provide for the individuals that live within its territory. A state is thus a “failed state” if it cannot maintain civil order or reasonably prevent non state controlled violence or death. Yet as mentioned earlier, as the 1990s continued, the popularity of its usage corresponded with the perception of the failed state’s threat to the security of stable states: the first world.

Numerous scholars such as Daniel Thurer have determined that the three primary historical causes for “failed states” are the end of the cold war, colonial heritage, and technological and economic modernization.[4] All of these factors are firmly intertwined with questions of human rights and sovereignty, which are in turn concepts deeply rooted within the etymology of the state. According to the OED the word “state” can be interpreted as the natural manner or condition of existence[5] as well as the modern political concept of sovereignty or rule over territory[6]. Taking this into account, the utilization of “failed state” discursively determines as well as illegitimates governments. Not only that, but by unmistakably identifying a “failed state” the non-failing or stable states of the first world can normalize and legitimize its own government, by striving toward its ideal opposite. Not only that, but by unmistakably identifying a “failed state” and by striving toward its opposite, the non-failing or sustainable states of the first world can normalize and legitimize its own government. Thus, first world nations, such as the United States can further swell into its constructed self-perceived role as world policemen, intervening in states that threaten international security. Recent evidence of this popular discursive trend of intervention over sovereignty can be found in the propagation of non-government affiliated think tanks such as Fund for Peace or the “failed States Index” published by Foreign Policy. Consequently the clear endpoint is not self-determination of nations within an international system but rather intervention and tutelage in creating a stable and secure world.

In this paper I have briefly interrogated the origins of this relatively recent yet increasingly popular phrase. Locating it in the wake of the cold war, the concept of the “failed state” originally became attractive to many scholars who were apprehensive of what they saw as the intensifying instability of developing nations. These uncertainties inevitably shifted from a humanitarian concern for other nations to fears for the security of the current international system. I then looked to the etymology of the “state” and attempted to connect it to notions of natural existence as well as the political concept of sovereignty. In addition I brought into question supposedly objective measurements of failed, failing, and stable states. Furthermore, this paper explores the matter in which intervention policies are encouraged and legitimized as a result of these expert measurements and reports on failed states.

In conclusion this brief consideration of the etymology and current usage of the “failed state” leads to broader questions regarding expertise and its role in producing the reality it claims to objectively study. In the case of the “failed state” how do experts, academics, and intellectuals contend with their roles as legitimating intervention in “failed states” and in addition constructing the reality of stable or sustainable states. Finally to broaden this line of questioning, one can even begin to look at the “failed state” through questions such as ethics, space, culture, colonialism and modernity. Extending these questions thus provides further critique of historical conceptions of the state and contemporary state policy.

[1] Weiss, Thomas George. The United Nations and Changing World Politics (5th ed.), (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2007), 117.

[2] Chomsky, Noam. Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy, (New York, NY: Metropolitan Books, 2006), 1.

[3] "failed state" A Dictionary of Public Health. Ed. John M. Last, Oxford University Press, 2007. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of Washington. 14 October 2007

[4] Thurer, Daniel. “Der Wegfall effektiver Staatsgewalt: der 'Failed State'”, published in Berichte der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Völkerrecht, Vol. 34, Heidelberg, 1995, pp. 9-47. ICRC translation of the original German text

[5] I. Condition, manner of existing. 1. a. A combination of circumstances or attributes belonging for the time being to a person or thing; a particular manner or way of existing, as defined by the presence of certain circumstances or attributes; a condition. Sometimes qualified by an adj. or a following phrasal genitive.
state of nature: see NATURE n. 14. state of siege: the condition of undergoing investment by a hostile army; also transf.

[6] 28. a. A particular form of polity or government. the state, the form of government and constitution established in a country; e.g. the popular state, democracy (cf. F. état populaire). state royal: a monarchy. Obs. b. A republic, non-monarchical commonwealth. Obs. c. transf. Applied to a University. Obs. 29. a. the state: the body politic as organized for supreme civil rule and government; the political organization which is the basis of civil government (either generally and abstractly, or in a particular country); hence, the supreme civil power and government vested in a country or nation. b. distinguished from ‘the church’ or ecclesiastical organization and authority. In the phr. church and state the article is dropped. 30. a. A body of people occupying a defined territory and organized under a sovereign government. Hence occas. the territory occupied by such a body.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Manliness and Civilization:

"The interesting thing about 'civilization' is not what was meant by the term, but the multiple ways it was used to legitimize different sorts of claims to power." p. 23

Friday, May 25, 2007

Anti-immigrant and Pro-Black

This is an interesting, though not unique situation. I recently came across this article written in the Black Commentator by Bill Fletcher Jr. regarding the recent twist in the anti-immigrant campaign by the "Coalition for the future American worker." The ad features a prominent civil rights veteran by the name of T. Willard Fair, decrying amnesty for illegal immigrant labor. What makes this interesting is Fair's rationale: that amnesty means less jobs for African Americans. You can find the article here. Although the editorial doesn't necessarily take on the subject as well as I'd hoped, the theme of the article remained intriguing.