Posts from January 2004

Hegemony and the Anti-Concept

(Crossposted as a comment on Chris Sciabarra’s Hussein, bin Laden, and Gramsci at Liberty & Power. I’ve made some minor edits for clarity and typesetting.)

Chris writes, concerning hostilities between Hussein’s secular Ba’athism and bin Laden’s Islamism: All of this brings to mind, once again, that the Arab-Islamic world is not a monolith.

This is, incidentally, one reason out of many to depise the phrase Islamo-fascism–an anti-concept cooked up in the fevered brain of Christopher Hitchens, and spread like a virus throughout the war-hawks’ sphere of intellectual influence. The phrase is anti-conceptual because it has absolutely no coherent reference; it does not pick out any category by essentials, but rather gestures at motley grab bag of (admittedly nasty) ideologies that have nothing in particular in common other than the fact that they are all held by either Arabs or Muslims. Ba’athism is arguably a form of fascism (it is definitionally pan-Arabist national socialism). But it is Arab fascism, not Muslim fascism; its politics are secular, nationalist, and particularist. Islamism is certainly Islamo, and it is certainly nasty, but it is not a form of fascism; its politics are theocratic, internationalist, and universalist. (Membership in the Ba’athist polity is conceived in terms of being born into a particular ethnic group, viz. the Arab nation; membership in the Islamist polity is conceived in terms of choosing to submit to a universalistic faith, viz. Islam, in the eyes of which all nations are equal.)

Islamism, in fact, was invented in direct opposition to the secular nationalism of pan-Arabists such as Nasser and the Iraqi and Syrian Ba’ath Party; the programme as it was originally theorized by Sayyid Qutb et al. was always mainly concerned with winning the soul of the Muslim world away from secular nationalism, whether pro-Western or anti-Western). The only things that the two have in common are:

  1. People who believe in them are either Arabs, or Muslims, or both.
  2. They endorse totalitarian politics
  3. They oppose the policies of the Euro-American powers
  4. Christopher Hitchens doesn’t like them.

But of course, neither (1) nor (2) picks out any coherent ideological kind. Arabs or Muslims does not pick out any coherent class of people except in the racialist ignorance of an unfortunate proportion of the American public (and professional political experts). (2) is certainly an important thing to know about any political ideology; but it doesn’t mean that there is a coherent tradition or body of ideology between two politics that share it (nobody tries to make a serious point of intellectual analysis by talking about fasco-Stalinism or Keynsio-Islamism). (3) is, of course, even further from categorizing by essentials; libertarians and anarchists, after all, mostly oppose the policies of the Euro-American powers; but that does not (pace Bill O’Reilly!) make for any real affiliation (whether objective or subjective) with Islamists or Ba’athists. (4) is the thing that most closely binds together everything that is called Islamo-fascism—but (4) is not a cognitive category at all; it is a shared Boo! Hiss!

Of course, boos and hisses can be legitimate uses of language; they need not be anti-concepts. But Islamo-fascism is anti-conceptual because it purports to be a serious term of analysis and criticism; in fact it cannot stand up to even the most superficial of either.

As Chris himself quite rightly points out in (among other places) Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, Rand’s work on anti-concepts and their use in the discourse of statism is illuminated when thought of in connection with Gramsci’s notion of hegemony; the anti-concept is one of the chief weapons of the intellectual bodyguard of the Leviathan. A radical libertarianism should realize that if the Leviathan looks vast and undefeatable, it’s only because it is bloated up with a lot of rhetorical gas. As Gramsci and Rand both stressed, the study of philosophy and the practice of philosophical criticism is essential to building a free society–in part because it is necessary to deflate the anti-conceptual supports that hold Leviathan up; the political upshot of philosophy should be, as it were, to put the truth in Speaking truth to power.

Onward!

Do As The W3C Says …

If you are publishing documents on the web, W3C in Web pages that use <link /> tags are more accessible for users with disabilities, and they are more easily navigable for viewers who use up-to-date web browsers that make intelligent use of web standards (such as Mozilla and Opera). So how come so many of the W3C web pages — and the very web page extolling the benefits of the <link /> tag (!) — don’t include appropriate <link /> tags?

The tip sheet, for example, is part of an ordered list of tips with an index — so why doesn’t the page define standard navigational links such as next (for the next tip) and previous (for the previous tip) and index (for the list of all the tips) and up (for the list of all the tips, or for the Quality Web homepage)?

It is unfortunately the case that you should do as the W3C says, not as they do.

(For those of you who do HTML publishing but are mystified about what link tags are and what they do, read on: I discuss it at some length in the extended entry.) Read the rest of Do As The W3C Says …

Roy Moore Found With Strange Bedfellows

photo: Bill Pryor

Bill Pryor (this is one of his more flattering portraits)

I’ve never liked Bill Pryor.

Why not? Well, there is, for example, his amicus brief in Lawrence v. Texas, in which he opines that gay sex between consenting adults is fundamentally akin to necrophilia, bestiality, possession of child pornography and even incest and pedophilia and that a right of privacy protecting the former would logically have to extend to the latter. Or there is his on-going one-man war to waste as much of Alabama tax-payers’ money as possible (in a time of fiscal crisis) by defending the state’s idiotic sex toy ban from the neferious machinations of the federal court system.

One might also mention his winning record on women’s rights–not only as a militant opponent of Roe v. Wade, but also as the only state Attorney General in the nation to file an amicus brief opposing key sections of the Violence Against Women Act in Brzonkala v. Virginia Polytechnic Institute. (The court agreed and struck down the provisions, which empowered rape survivors to seek recompensation through a civil suit in federal court. Thanks, Bill.)

Bill Pryor has, in short, made some enemies. Not surprisingly, as a dangerous theocratic Rightist, he’s a prime candidate for a Bush Administration judicial appointment to the federal bench. As much as I like to see a hometown boy making good, I can’t say that I disagree with the on-going effort by women’s rights, civil rights, and religious liberties groups to stop his nomination. And I have to say that I’m rather glad that Senate Democrats are filibustering his nomination.

But liberals and Internet anarcha-feminist weblogs are no longer the only people calling for Pryor’s nomination to be scotched.

Pryor has made some new enemies lately, and–in what may be a paradigm case for the Strange Bedfellows principle–supporters of ex-Chief Justice Roy Moore have joined the fray and called on Bush to drop the Pryor nomination.

A group of supporters of ousted Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore asked Friday that President Bush withdraw the nomination of Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor to be a federal judge.

The Rev. Frank Raddish, founder and director of the Washington-based Capitol Hill Independent Baptist Ministries, said Pryor abandoned his previous position supporting public Ten Commandments displays when he prosecuted Moore before the Alabama Court of the Judiciary.

The court removed Moore from office for refusing to obey U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson’s order to move a 5,300-pound Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building.

Given my frequent fulminations of Roy Moore’s anathemas, you may find it a bit surprising that I actually welcome Roy Moore’s supporters to the fold. And not just as a matter of political expedience–they are actually right that Bill Pryor’s stance on the prosecution of Roy Moore make him completely unfit for a federal judgeship. This may strike you as odd, since I vociferously lauded Moore’s prosecution and removal from the bench, and I think that Bill Pryor’s prosecution of Moore was entirely the right thing to do. So what gives?

The short answer is that Bill Pryor chose the right action, but he chose it for entirely the wrong reason. Pryor has urged in repeated public statements that he agrees with Moore about State-sponsored display of the Ten Commandments, but that he is prosecuting Moore because Moore defied a federal court order that both he and Moore consider to be fundamentally mistaken. Pryor’s mouthpiece put it this way: It’s one thing to support the idea of having a monument in a court building. It’s an entire [sic] different issue to support defiance of federal court orders. So Pryor’s position is this: the federal court order is a mistake; it has no foundation in Constitutional law, and is in fact an illegal violation of the prerogatives of the several states; and yet Roy Moore has no business disobeying it.

It’s bad enough to be, like Moore, a dangerous theocrat with complete contempt for the law. But how much worse is it to combine, like Pryor, theocratic Right-wing politics with blind obsequiousness to federal power? If the federal court order were in fact illegal what possible argument could there be that Roy Moore should be forced to comply with it? Roy Moore’s position in this fracas is pernicious; but Pryor’s is beneath contempt.

So welcome to the fold, Mooreans! Écrasez l’infâme.

Happy Roe v. Wade Day!

Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!

Thirty-one years ago today, the United States Supreme Court made a remarkable human rights ruling: it finally recognized that a woman has a fundamental human right to control her own body, including her uterine lining. January 22 is Roe v. Wade Day, the anniversary of the decriminalization of abortion in every state of the union, and one of the most remarkable victories of radical feminism in the late 20th century.

Radical Feminism!

Yes, I said radical feminism (gasp!). Most people don’t realize it today, but (as Susan Brownmiller documents in her history-memoir In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution) it was radical feminists–such as Kathie Sarachild and Carol Hanisch of the Redstockings, Susan Brownmiller, and Flo Kennedy–who organized and led the struggle for abortion rights, when no-one else would; it was radical feminists such as who pushed for the repeal of all abortion laws when liberal feminist groups (especially NOW) were afraid to touch the issue or thought the demands should be limited to calling for some mild reforms. It was radical feminists who understood that abortion is not just a medical issue (although it is that), or an issue of sexual privacy (although it is that, too). They framed it as an issue of choice: that is, of a woman’s human right to choose what to do with her own body. They, too, recognized that because abortion was a human right, the criminalization of abortion and the back-alley butchery that went on underground was a form of State violence against women. It was radical feminists, too, who brought the urgency and the clear justice of the cause into the public eye through consciousness-raising, through speeches, and especially through speak-outs and confrontations with the men who claimed power over them:

On the same wintry day in mid-February when NARAL’s founders were traveling to Chicago for their first conference six state legislators held a public hearing in Manhattan on some proposed liberalizing amendments to the New York [abortion] law. Typical of the times, the six legislators were men, and the speakers invited to present expert testimony were fourteen men and a Catholic nun.

On the morning of the February 13 hearing, a dozen infiltrators camouflaged in dresses and stockings entered the hearing room and spaced themselves around the chamber. Some called themselves Redstockings, and some, like Joyce Ravitz, were free-floating radicals who were practiced hands at political disruptions. Ravitz, in fact, had been on her way to another demonstration when she’d run into the Redstockings women, who convinced her to join them.

As a retired judge opined that abortion might be countenanced as a remedy after a woman had fulfilled her biological service to the community by bearing four children, Kathie Amatniek [Sarachild] leaped to her feet and shouted, Let’s hear from the real experts–women! Taking her cue, Joyce Ravitz began to declaim an impassioned oration. Ellen Willis jumped in. More women rose to their feet.

Men don’t get pregnant, men don’t bear children. Men just make laws, a demonstrator bellowed.

Why are you refusing to admit that we exist? cried another.

Girls, girls, you’ve made your point. Sit down. I’m on your side, a legislator urged, raising the temperature a notch higher.

Don’t call us girls, came the unified response. We are women!

–Susan Brownmiller, In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution, 106-107

The victory in that struggle is one of the most remarkable victories in recent history — in 1968 abortion was criminalized in every state; in 1970 the first major victory was gained with the repeal of the abortion law in New York; on January 22, 1973, only 5 years later, the United States Supreme Court recognized the right to choose in every one of the 50 states.

The passion, radical energy, and fundamental justice of that movement — a movement against the colonization of women’s bodies by the male-dominated State, and against the mutilation of women’s bodies by back-alley butchers — should never be forgotten. Take the time on Roe v. Wade Day to say a Thank you! to the radical Women’s Liberation movement, and to remember the victory that Roe v. Wade represents — for all its many limitations (which I will have more to say about later). This is a day for celebration, and don’t let the anti-choice jerks in Washington (whether they are visitors or residents) intimidate you into silence. Happy Roe v. Wade Day–and here’s to many happy returns!

Mis-State of the Union

George W. Bush

Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States (God help us all)

Well, as it turns out I did sit through it, and my pre-emptive strike was completely justified. (Although the same cannot be said for Mr. Bush.) The lies were transparent enough, but you can find a more detailed postmortem from TomPaine.com.

Some of my favorite moments:

  • President Bush has always had a bit of difficulty with the distinction between just ends and just means; last night he demonstrated it by broaching the topic of Iraq with the following winning call to bipartisan cooperation: Some in this chamber, and in our country, did not support the liberation of Iraq. (!)
  • Key provisions of the PATRIOT Act are set to expire next year. — at which an audible, though scattered, contingent of the Senate and Congress broke out in sweet, delightful, completely unscripted applause. The King’s Men tried to drown them out with their own coordinated roar (conveniently telegraphed by Mr. Vice President and Mr. Speaker, standing right behind the President), but the unexpected moment of defiance means a lot more than the scripted obeisance. Take hope!

Around the web, Tom Tomorrow points out the soft bigotry of diminished expectations:

Last year:

The United Nations concluded in 1999 that Saddam Hussein had biological weapons sufficient to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax — enough doses to kill several million people. He hasn’t accounted for that material. He’s given no evidence that he has destroyed it.

The United Nations concluded that Saddam Hussein had materials sufficient to produce more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin — enough to subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure. He hadn’t accounted for that material. He’s given no evidence that he has destroyed it.

This year:

Already, the Kay Report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities…

And even Andrew Sullivan (for God’s sake!) hated the speech (albeit because he wanted more war, less domestic policy).

There is much more that needs to be said about the State of the Union, but it is all general remarks on what the speech has become, and the larger trend in cultural politics of which it is a part. I leave the work of a proper fisking of the speech to those who are more qualified than I.

In the meantime, note that President Bush’s job performance, rating according to Zogby.com, fell last week to 49% positive vs. 50% negative and 45% reported that they would vote for any Democrat over Bush vs. 41% for Bush. Here’s to the hope that when it comes to the Bush family, like father, like son is true in more than one way.