Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Kissinger, "Realism," Political Theory, and Carnage

From the L.A. Times of February 8th, 2009 comes this charming photograph of our new Vice President in a geriatric Vulcan mind-meld with none other than Henry Kissinger, that loathsome tub of guts who killed a million people in East Timor, knocked over the Arbenz Administration in Chile (setting loose Pinochet's agents of death), sabotaged the Paris Peace talks that could have ended the Vietnam War in 1968, and so on.

That sabotage of those talks handed Nixon the presidency by a margin of less than one percent. Kissinger's magic espionage & treason in Paris was the second half of an astonishing, demonic miracle without which Tricky Dick could never have become President -- the first half was the murder of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. The relevant part starts at about 6:38 in this video:

...and continues in this one:

Kissinger is always associated with a school of political thought called "realism." If I understand it rightly, the central premise of this realism is that nations cannot be expected to behave ethically, nor should they be judged by the ethical standards we apply to individuals; instead, it is in the nature of nations -- both "nation-states" of the 19th Century and after, and ethnic "nations" from Antiquity to modernity -- that they must behave as animals do in an ecosystem. Apart from occasional episodes of symbiosis and altruism, the general pattern in Nature as in geopolitics is predation. Root for the gazelle if you want to, but if the lion does not kill him then her cubs will starve. As for the python, he has to eat, and so the piglets must die. So it is when God Himself sends the Hebrews (that's me) into Canaan to do some genocide and settle down in the Promised Land; and so it is when the Jews (that's me again) return there and crush the Palestinians. When the Babylonians smashed the Temple and the rest of Jerusalem in 586 BCE and beat the crap out of us, that was the same dynamic, as was the Roman disaster of 70CE, and so on. Whether we tell ourselves that we lost any given war because God was punishing us for our disobedience, or that we lost because our attackers perpetrated an injustice while God was mysteriously biding His time, the "realist" view remains that power simply seeks its equilibria among nations -- just as the numerical populations of the arctic wolf and the arctic hare move in tandem, without the oversight of some outside meddler (like God or a game warden), and without appeal to morality or its lack.

The Nazi example does not fit, because the Nazi's did not generally engage in chattel-slavery to exploit the labor of their prisoners; instead they engaged in death-slavery, deliberately working their unfed prisoners to death; a campaign of scientific extermination, a celebration of maximum cruelty in which family members are forced to shoot one another, and so on. When the philologist-philosopher wrote of the "blond beast," his notion of animality was not just leonine but psychotic [see Simpson, 1995, first paragraph].

Any discussion of the Nazi period, for example, that makes no reference to the psychology of that movement and of its unique depths of human depravity, is little more than a heap of inert data. The Nazis were a defeated people, beaten and humiliated by their parents at home, by their fellow Europeans in WWI, and by the miserable indignity of a hyperinflationary depression caused in large measure by American and British demands for reparations long before the German economy had recovered any ability to provide them. As a result of all this -- especially the physical and verbal abuse of German children by German parents -- those Germans who embraced the Nazi movement were people who "wanted to drown the world in shit." They (a) engaged in classic Freudian defense mechanisms like splitting and projection, and combined them with (b) emergent technologies (IBM's punch-card computers and the various gizmos of war, death camps, and so on) and (3) supremacist ideology of pseudoscientific racism. This created a unique mixture whose toxicity was and remains unmatched. That sketch is itself an argument against "realism," since it shows that some nations behave in ways that are unspeakably worse than the mere amorality of the "animal kingdom." Although some non-human animals occasionally inflict the kind of gradual violence that resembles torture, it seems fundamentally dishonest to frame Kissingerian "Realism" as analogous to animal behavior. It isn't.

Conversely, some nations behave in ways that are far better, though this is rare. There's the quietism of introverted and stable societies, and then there's also the fleeting efflorescence of pacifism that occasionally blooms in a sublime individual leader of a great bloody imperial power -- Ashoka in ancient India, and President Kennedy in 1963, are the only two I can think of.

So: I think this "realism" of Kissenger and his ilk is a seductive mistake, a warm bath of bad faith perfectly suited to excuse all manner of butchery. It's one thing to be armed with more weapons than anyone else and then behave like a good neighbor out of prudence and sheer decency; it's quite another to make what JFK condemned as "a Pax Americana enforced on the world with American weapons of war," slaughtering millions of people for five kinds of money: corporate profits from 3rd world slave labor; war profiteering from Pentagon appropriations; tax-free & interest-free narco-dollars; direct plunder of the assetts of the conquered; and tribute/protection money.

So I am hoping Joe Biden can find someone else to pal around with.


  1. I recently read Mutual Aid by Peter Kropotkin which I enjoyed very much. I tend to think that the "dog eat dog" and "survival of the fittest" interpretation of Darwinism is flat out wrong. And not even science but a projection of the drives and beliefs of the types of people who tend to hold sway in the scientific community. I agree with Kropotkin that cooperative forces play a greater role in nature and evolution than competition.

    I am interested in reading Howard Bloom's The Global Brain. I think it may provide a more modern perspective on the same sort of thing.

  2. Kissinger is really a disgusting old toad of an excuse for a human being. Christ, what fun it would be to see him time warped to an actual warrior culture and witness the pathetic failure of his so-called views once they were apprehended in the light of any verifiable attachment to the real. An abomination of modernity is the best thing I can say about him.

    On a lighter note, good post though.


Comment please...