Thursday, June 25, 2009


      Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade uses contemporary archaeological techniques and discoveries to make deeper and more interesting a theme of Friedrich Engels’ Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.  Engels was attractively anti-sexist and connected the oppression – the imprisonment, the reduction to chattels – of women to the emergence of high status, certain kinds of property (in slaves and women), and a repressive state (a “special body of armed men” as Lenin later name it) to keep the down the subordinates.  He suggests that original or primitive communism preceded these later forms.

     What Marija Gimbutas and Eisler identify sharply is the Neolithic, agricultural societies, spiritually led by women and emphasizing life, which as Eisler suggests, have a partnership and not a domination model of how society should be organized.  Theirs is a richer picture of an earlier and different society.  As I have described about Crete and Atlantis (here, here and here), there is a lot of evidence for this different kind of organization.  The Indo-Europeans were hunter tribes,  partriarchal, with a great emphasis on weapons,  fighting and subordinating and enslaving (the Nazis worshipped the supposed Aryan blood-lines of these warriors).  The transition to their rule is quite an ugly one.

     What is powerful about Eisler’s argument, strengthening Engels’s account of early communism,  is the insight that human life does not have to be militarist and destructive.  In the age of Obama, there is new hope in the United States and the world.  Yet the American government is still the slave of the military-industrial complex.  There is a link between the hierarchical social organizations which wielded  the  first weaponry,  as Eisler shows, and nuclear weaponry.  Sociobiologists often want to infer a genetic basis to aggression and violence.  These are certainly a human possibility as much of history has shown.  But that they are necessary to humans is false, as, for example,  these very different trading and non-warlike social organizations, extending in historic time even into Crete from 2900 to 1400 BC (and for a long epoch earlier in the Cycladic islands and old Europe) highlight. 

     Humanity is now faced with a situation in which continued modern wars, including the recent Bush enterprises, one of which Obama is plainly continuing and with regard to Pakistan, worsening,  are not survivable in even the medium run. They wreak deep environmental and human damage (for instance, our poisoned with depleted uranium and often homeless soldiers, many of whom will die young; others, however, will now be with us, from this war, as the Vietnam veteran homeless linger, for another 50 years)  The election of Obama represents a significant shift in the vision of the United States, for instance,  about global warming.  But that the military-industrial-financial complex can be defeated or re-channeled is not clear (trying to deal with the complex fictiveness of the financial economy, it is not yet clear that Obama himself even understands this danger).  But the Engels-Eisler argument (there are others as well) and modern nonviolent movements  help to indicate alternate possibilities.  

       Another striking political implication of Eisler’s argument is on the origin of fascism.  In the tombs of ancient warriors, the men are buried with their weapons around them, “their” women and slaves often sacrificed with them.  The idea of the Fuehrer, il Duce, one man rule comes from the initial acts of patriarchal domination.  Refurbished in the 20th century by the needs of a capitalism threatened by class war and the Russian Revolution, fascism seems a modern political phenomenon.  Mussolini was an atheist.  Hitler used the most modern and efficient means to commit genocide against Jews,  Roma,  slavs and others.  But the authoritarian or fascist phenomenon cuts against all modern political thought, falls outside any reasonable conception of modern politics and aims to suppress it.  As I argue in Democratic Individuality,  all decent modern political thought, conservative, liberal and radical, seeks to forge those economic, social and political institutions which facilitate or at least do not too much obstruct each individual in pursuing the life that she sees fit, and changing that conception, so long as she doesn’t (fundamentally, violently) harm others. That is the core notion of democratic individuality at a high level of abstraction.  Great social theoretical and empirical differences divide, say, anarchists and conservatives, but on this underlying moral judgment, they agree.  For instance, conservatives in the current period have been leading defenders of habeas corpus and the rule of law as opposed to tyranny and  torture.  In this respect, I find myself a thoroughgoing conservative  - it is the part of the view they share with other modern views,  but often with more self-awareness; the emphasis on habeas corpus contrasts markedly with Cheney’s authoritarianism and the tearing up of the Constitution.

      Fascists and authoritarians disagree in kind with these modern views.  In hating the supposed decadence (i.e. the extension of freedom) of modern society, they revel in warlikeness: one man, one leader, every one else the follower, the subordinate, heavily policed.  Perhaps Engels and particularly Eisler help situate this view.  It is a decadent modern perversion of the old patriarchal model (it is not tribal since many indigenous people live differently, as of course, the women-led Neolithic civilizations did).

       In this context, it is worth emphasizing, once again, that the so-called neoconservative view,  despite some fantasized affection for democracy – imposing democracy at gun-point is a racist enterprise –is a form of authoritarian imperialism.  It is not a conservative  view,  a modern view, or a decent one.  It has taken over the Washington Post editorial page, the Wall Street Journal and the Denver Post. It is in love with torture.  Its representatives aim through bombing Iran to wreak further destruction.  Senator Joseph Lieberman today admires the Iranian people for their courageous demonstrations, but just yesterday (and tomorrow) wants to bomb them.  They are not faces to him but pawns.  The Iranian rebellion has helped to make us aware of whom our government is being asked to murder.  It has temporarily helped to isolate neoconservatives.  But the mainstream media treats these views as respectable (it denies that there are laws against torture, as the recent controversy about National Public Radio's and the New York Times's refusal to use the term torture for crimes committed by American officials highlights). They remain a stone's throw away from power and Obama's complex path about state secrets, to some extent, shields them. Neoconservativism  needs to be put out of business in American politics.


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