Here is her letter:
“It was always a mystery to me why the Fascists in Spain were not held accountable for their acts and why, even today, there is so much active political pressure to suppress what occurred. I suppose that the huge numbers of Disappeared Children explains much of that - too horrifying to acknowledge, and so long after the civil war ended!
Facing it would be in conflict with today's agenda of globalized uncontrolled commerce and endless ‘war on terror.’ Presumably, in U.S. high schools and colleges, where A Farewell to Arms is part of a standard syllabus of modern American authors, that book should now be renamed: An Enemy Combatant in Spain. Similarly, Bogart's line in the movie African Queen, about his participation in fighting faacism in other countries, should be struck by Homeland Security, since clearly he was an Enemy Combatant. Imagine the look in the eyes of a member of the Lincoln Brigade, upon being told that they were nothing but extremist enemy combatants and under today’s laws would have been subject to indefinite detention and torture by ‘patriots’ in Spain AND the USA.
There need to be remakes of films about the Lincoln Brigade and new films made (with some footage of interviews with actual participants), so that today's Americans develop an understanding of the principles that Americans were willing to fight for, even abroad. So that today's Americans can begin to come to grips with the horror of the complete trivialization and commoditization of the lives we are living today (Buy more stuff, feel better for a little while; indulge in TV and electronic fantasy 24 /7; we've been attacked! GO SHOPPING! the President exhorts...). There need to be films made about the Zeitgeist just prior to WWI and through the 20s and 30s in the USA:
the People's March to Washington, the Army soldiers camps in Washington, the labor strikes and the retaliations, the Pinkertons, the huge tide of progressive populists and socialists, the rage against Wall Street, the armies of folks empowered and employed by the great Works programs, the extraordinary lives of people like Clarence Darrow and Jack London and Mother Jones who agitated for the common good, etc. People just don't have a clue as to how differently people lived and organized and thought about the USA during that time [Amen!].
It is as if the period between Plymouth Rock Landing and WWI have been deemed appropriate for presentation in history books, as well as the period during and after WWII, but the period in between has been written out. Too much popular turmoil and organized efforts to make a better world for common people, apparently.
While there are plenty of written sources about these events and people, they are made so much more accessible and vivid in film, especially to today’s non-reading generation.
Thanks for the update on what is coming to light regarding those dark years in Spain.”
Sonia’s question about why there has been no accounting, let alone truth and reconciliation in Spain, has, sadly, a simple answer. In 1975, Franco died, fascism fell, democracy emerged - but in Spain, alone in Europe, this regime was not crushed in war or overthrown from below (defeated by the liberation movements in Mozambique, Angola, and Guinee-Bissau, even the fascist Salazar in Portugal was overthrown by an ironically leftist coup of military officers - an inverse of the Spanish Civil War). There was never a moment of revolutionary accountability or even the sort the US imposed in Germany with the Nuremberg trials. Those trials got some of the chief criminals, though Carl Schmitt was held for a year and then freed. As I noted about Spanish judges earlier in this series, the corrupt judges in West Germany were just recycled Nazis (see the exposes of German SDS in the 60s, which reported a German Supreme Court judge’s sentence to death during World War II of a Polish priest for telling an anti-German joke, and the like). The French resistance in a bizarrelly sexist way shaved the heads of and shunned women who had had relationships with the 'Bosch" (the Nazi occupiers), but they would have had to have overthrown the ruling class to have dealt with the fascists. Initially, to oppose Vichy - the Nazi puppet government under World War I "hero" General Petain - only Madame Michelin, the wife of the tire magnate, and Corporal de Gaulle - from the elite - joined the resistance.*
Sonia rightly emphasizes the culture of protest in the 30s that has been largely whited out in teaching and culture, except for, for example, Denzel Washington's very good movie “The Great Debaters” about a black teacher – a communist - Melvin B. Tolson, and the debate team from a Southern black college that beat Harvard in 1935, It was this atmosphere which produced the Works Progress administration and its immense artistic creativity (Diego Rivera murals in Detroit and stone walkways by waterfalls in Ithaca); it was unions, those now weakened, who gave us the week end, the eight hour day, and what is decent for ordinary people: a common good (see David Leonhardt’s striking column "In Wreckage of Lost Jobs, Lost Power" in last Wednesday's New York Times about persisting American unemployment compared to other countries and the corporate defeating of unions – of all of us – here).
Tracy Strong wrote me strikingly of his quarter in Spain in 1994. Spanish Nazis were alive and well. They celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Rudolf Hess.
“Dear Alan -- Spain is the only European country in which fascism was never defeated. When I was there for a term in 1994, there were posters all around Madrid announcing a rally to celebrate the 100 anniversary of the birth of ... Rudolf Hess.
When i was at Pittsburgh I was privileged to have as a colleague in the history department Robert Colodny who had fought in the Lincoln Brigades (and been severely wounded). His work (Berkeley PHD) was mainly on the Spanish civil war -- he remained committed and involved to progressive causes and was subject to a Red Hunt in the early 1960's. The chancellor stood behind him and eventually (after appearances before HUAC - the House Unamerican Activities Committee) charges were withdrawn (as it turns out, he apparently had NOT been a Party member). His THE STRUGGLE FOR MADRID is still important. Bob was also a central moving force (he had a background in the sciences) in the Pittsburgh History and Philosophy of Science Program whose volumes in the late 60's and 70's were central to the development of modern Science Studies. Tracy”
I thanked Tracy for the powerful story about Colodny – wounded in Spain, dragged before HUAC in the 1960s – HUAC incarnates the dishonor of elected venemous windbags who had never fought or at most fought in much less dangerous conditions hounding those who had been wounded fighting fascists though almost unarmed. HUAC was an incarnate betrayal of the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. But with the courageous support of the Chancellor at Pittsburgh and the happenstance that Colodny had not joined the Communist Party, Colodny's career was not destroyed - with the important results Tracy mentions. Why communists** who often did good and sometimes heroic things should be demonized by those of, at minimum, no moral credibility is a question that one should examine carefully, perhaps why HUAC finally collapsed...
In addition, I suggested that perhaps the long hand of Carl Schmitt, the kinship of Francoism and Nazism down to the stealing of babies, might be visible here. See part 2 of this series here. I also pointed out that Schmitt is having a revival in China. Tracy, who has long interest and experience with China (Anna Louise Strong, the radical journalist who wrote Spain in Arms and I Change Worlds, inter alia, was his great aunt) wrote a very forceful, perhaps prophetic response:
“Schmitt in Spain, Schmitt in China -- the most complex thing about China is that they are clearly going to provide a model for development for much of the Third World, esp those parts where the authorities are not tied into the US pocket by a string of dollar bills. In the last 8 years, they have produced an intercity highway system that is more extensive than the US interstate; high speed rail between major cities; they are actually doing something about ecological questions, etc etc.. They seemed to have managed to solve leadership problems (The Cultural Revolution taught them to be afraid of anything that produces chaos (luande zai houtou na, said Chen Yi in 1968: chaos lies for sure in the future). So you are sitting there in Mali and a US rep comes mouthing human rights and offering bribes and a Chinese rep comes offering the chance to get rich and to be tied into China's sphere of influence without having to worry about rights, democracy and things like that -- which do you take? No wonder they are interested in Schmitt!
In an interview I (and a bunch of others ) had with Deng Xiaoping in 1985, he said that if there were to be no war by 2020 (I think I remember the date right) there would no longer be any economic reason for going to war because China would be powerful enough economic ally to stand on its own. Today it is announced that China has surpassed Japan as an economic power. Tracy”
China is ruled by a centralized party, with diverse centers of power, including the military, but with a profound authoritarian style. China is doing smart things for infrastructure and on the environment (sadly, a contrast with the befeebled United States even under Obama, though the first stimulus did put $500 billion into the economy, often for green jobs). China has no parasitic financial sector in which there is a “derivatives” market, - in calculus tracing the rate of change; among financiers, taking bets on when companies or the government will fail - living off, battening on economic collapse. "Derivatives" are a financial "market" in misery and death. China alone recovered quickly and robustly, pursuing Keynsian policies, from the depression.
Recently, Mark Lilla, a Straussian, has wrote an article for the New Republic, noting that Schmitt and Strauss are having a revival in China (h/t Alan Moorer). He wishes to make out that the Strauss-Schmittians are lonely “philosophical” types, outside the Communist party (perhaps he recalls the image of a tiny Taoist hermit on a mountain side, but Taoists would of course be anti-authoritarians). He rightly mocks the Iraq war – the editor of the Strauss and Schmitt papers, Heinrich Meier, was the first Straussian to suggest that with that war, “an odium” had fallen over Straussianism (Leo Strauss and the Theological-Political Predicament. Introduction, p. xx). See my correspondence with John Mearsheimer about Strauss and Iraq here and here.
But Lilla has (and Meier affects, to some extent) a beneficent view of Strauss in which Strauss's “secrecy,” Lilla wishes to assure us, is connected to something decent. For a closer look at Strauss's Heideggerian Nazism and reactionary Platonism, see here and here, and William Altman’s new book: The German Stranger). What the account is right about is that Straussians have been making a considerable effort to teach and engage with Chinese students (as a Ph.D. student, Tiphaine Dickson heroically led a fight against this at Portland State).
There is no reason to think, however, that somehow pure followers of Plato and Xenophon, learning from the cruelty and brutality of the long-lasting Roman empire as the Chinese student in Lilla's article reports, will stand aside from the Communist Party, not seek a tyrant to be the “reasonable man” to (Lilla's recounting of his surprising - to him - dismissal by the Chinese student is the most striking thing in the article). In Strauss's new justly famous 1933 letter to Karl Lowith, Strauss cites Caesar’s commentaries on Virgil: spare those who bow to you, crush those who resist (the Romans eradicated Athenian resisters to the last man at the Acropolis in 79 B.C.; cutting their throats, the blood ran down the Panathenian way...). Strauss praised the principles of the Right (surprisingly, even the German right): "fascist, authoritarian, imperial.” Among these, the word authoritarian, following Schmitt (and commander in chief power today), is most important.
The conditions for authoritarian rule exist independently in China as they are growing in the US and lurk as a possibility in Europe. But the arrival of Schmitt and Strauss, particularly in China, will shape a fiercer, more repressive and self-consciously fascist regime as well as a more inept one. The Strauss-Schmitt patter on authoritarianism in the abstract is enthusiastic, but the engaging with actual policies, with the exception of criminality, nil. John Diulio, who eventually resigned from the Bush administration, labelled them aptly "the Mayberry Machiavellis." In Nazi Germany, Schmitt was a monstrous (suggesting at a legal conference he organized in 1936 inserting the name 'the Jew so and so' for every Jew who wrote in the legal literature...), but inept and outmaneuvered figure...
Andrew Sullivan this week caught Francis Fukuyama yearning for Chinese authoritarianism as well.*** Fukuyama had followed Alexander Kojeve on Western Europe as the last stage of development ("the last man" as Fukuyama misquotes Nietzsche). How quickly the wind blows and “the end of history” shifts in a new direction. Not American democracy, but a Schmittian China..…Tracy is on to something at the end of his letter.
Sadly Obama has now reinforced many aspects of the police state in the United States as Glenn Greenwald has recently underlined here. He has eschewed torture and secret sites – so far as we know – but many other aspects, including military trials for those held indefinitely at Guantanamo, are now the bipartisan order of the day, critics like Glenn or Scott Horton or Michael Ratner or me far outside the mainstream. This is what Yale Constitutional lawyer Jack Balkin calls a bipartisan (Democratic-Republican) legal regime surrounding the National Surveillance State. It is a “legal” regime to abolish the rule of law and promote executive power, or what Schmitt defined (and Strauss advocated) as sovereignty: “he is sovereign who makes the decision in the state of the exception” (Political Theology, 1923).
In 1934, Schmitt wrote a panegyric on the “night of the long knives” in which Hitler had murdered Rohm, the leader of the Storm Troopers, and thousands of others. Schmitt said that a leader is the voice of the people, gives rise to law, rather than the dull formalities of Constitutional or parliamentary legislation (as a dark Catholic, for Schmitt, the Fuehrer resembled Christ, Weimar the "Jewish" rule of law...). See here, here, and here. Despite the temporary odium of the neocons - one which the American elite is working day by day to cancel, but the odor is, for the public and in the long run, indelible - the heart of this authoritarian view, an all out attack on separation of powers in the American Constitution, has seeped deeply into the United States, even under Obama. Obama is not determined to overturn Congressional powers and sometimes acts modestly compared to Bush and Cheney, for instance by not issuing a signing statement to elide the Congressional ban on transferring Guantanamo prisoners to the United States... But how far this process is locked in, the Constitution evaporated, is visible in how much of the edifice of executive power, even about torture, Obama has consolidated...
"Reading Strauss in Beijing
China’s strange taste in Western philosophers.
December 8, 2010 | 1:41 pm THE NEW REPUBLIC
A few years ago, when I was still teaching at the University of Chicago, I had my first Chinese graduate students, a couple of earnest Beijingers who had come to the Committee on Social Thought hoping to bump into the ghost of Leo Strauss, the German-Jewish political philosopher who established his career at the university. Given the mute deference they were accustomed to giving their professors, it was hard to make out just what these young men were looking for, in Chicago or Strauss. They attended courses and worked diligently, but otherwise kept to themselves. They were in but not of Hyde Park.
At the end of their first year, I called one of them into my office to offer a little advice. He was obviously thoughtful and serious, and was already well known in Beijing intellectual circles for his writings and his translations of Western books in sociology and philosophy into Chinese. But his inability to express himself in written or spoken English had frustrated us both in a course of mine he had just taken. I began asking about his summer plans, eventually steering the conversation to the subject of English immersion programs, which I suggested he look into. “Why?” he asked. A little flummoxed, I said the obvious thing: that mastering English would allow him to engage with
foreign scholars and advance his career at home. He smiled in a slightly patronizing way and said, “I am not so sure.” Now fully flummoxed, I asked what he would be doing instead. “Oh, I will do language, but Latin, not English.” It was my turn to ask why. “I think it very important we study Romans, not just Greeks. Romans built an empire over many centuries. We must learn from them.” When he left, it was clear that I was being dismissed, not him.
This conversation came to mind recently after I returned from a month of lectures and interviews in China. I had heard that Strauss was popular there, as was, to my surprise, Carl Schmitt, the Weimar anti-liberal (and anti-Semitic) legal theorist. /The New Yorker/ had even run a piece that spoke of “the new generation’s neocon nationalists
My conversations in China reminded me of political discussions I used to have in Communist Poland in the mid-’80s, after the coup and while Solidarity’s power was at its nadir. To my surprise, the people I met then—academics, journalists, artists, writers—were more anxious to talk about Plato and Hegel than about contemporary affairs, and not as a means of escape. For them, the classics were just what dark times demanded. I was particularly impressed with the publisher of a small/samizdat/ magazine printed on terrible, waxy paper, who referred everything back to the Platonic dialogues. When post-Communist Poland failed to meet his high expectations, he became a minister in the right-wing Kaczyński government, somehow confusing Kraków with Athens, and Warsaw with Syracuse.
I don’t remember if my Polish friends were reading Schmitt at that time, but they did rely on Strauss as a guide to the political-philosophical tradition they were rediscovering outside the confines of the Communist university system. In a sense, they were retracing Strauss’s own steps. Faced with the “crisis of the West” he saw in the weak response to Nazism before World War II, and toCommunism after it, Strauss set out to recover and reformulate the original questions at the heart of the Western political tradition, which he did by leading his students and readers on a methodical march back in time, from Nietzsche to Hobbes, then to medieval Jewish and Islamic political philosophy (he avoided Christianity), and finally to Plato, Xenophon, Aristophanes, and
Thucydides. Faced with the poverty, incompetence, and weak tyranny that real, existing socialism had delivered, many Poles I knew had begun a similar intellectual journey. And today, it’s the turn of some young Chinese, who are witnessing not the collapse of Communism but itsmetamorphoses into a form of despotic state capitalism. Their response has been to learn Greek, Latin, and German.
What distinguishes these young men and women from my Polish friends is that none would describe themselves as “liberal.” The era of intellectual liberalism that began in the ’80s and spread in the ’90s, not just in Eastern Europe but in pockets around the world, is over—done in by political Islamism and Western responses to it, and by the forces of globalization that have given us a “neoliberalism” that people everywhere associate with unregulated markets, labor exploitation,environmental degradation, and official corruption. Chinese intellectuals who came of age in the decade and a half after Mao’s death were involved in intense debates over competing paths of modernization and took human rights seriously, and the period culminated in the Tiananmen movements of 1989. But, a few years later, once the party’s slogan became “to get rich is glorious,” and the Chinese began to pursue this glory, intellectuals turned against the liberal political tradition.
Liberal thought, the young ones now feel, just doesn’t help them understand the dynamics of Chinese life today or offer a model for the future. For example, everyone I spoke with, across the political spectrum, agrees that China needs a stronger state, not a weaker one—a state that follows the rule of law, is less capricious, can control local corruption, and can perform and carry out long-term planning. Their disagreements all seem to be about how a strong state should exercise its power over the economy
Enter Carl Schmitt. For four decades now, the short, elusive books by this once Nazi collaborator have attracted Western radicals too soft-minded for Marxian empiricism and charmed by the notion that /tout commence en mystique et tout finit en politique/. (Not that they’ve read Charles Péguy.) In China, though, the interest in Schmitt’s ideas seems more serious and even understandable.
Schmitt was by far the most intellectually challenging anti-liberal statist of the twentieth century. His deepest objections to liberalism were anthropological. Classical liberalism assumes the autonomy of self-sufficient individuals and treats conflict as a function of faulty social and institutional arrangements; rearrange those arrangements, and peace, prosperity, learning, and refinement will follow. Schmitt assumed the priority of conflict: Man is a political creature, in the sense that his most defining characteristic is the ability to distinguish friend and adversary. Classical liberalism sees society as having multiple, semi-autonomous spheres; Schmitt asserted the priority of the social whole (his ideal was the medieval Catholic Church) and considered the autonomy of the economy, say, or culture or religion, as a dangerous fiction. (“The political is the total, and as a result we know that any decision about whether something is /unpolitical/ is always a /political/ decision.”) Classical liberalism treats sovereignty as a kind of coin that individuals are given by nature and which they cash in as they build legitimate political institutions for themselves; Schmitt saw sovereignty as the result of an arbitrary self-founding act by a leader, a party, a class, or a nation that simply declares “thus it shall be.” Classical liberalism had little to say about war and international affairs, leaving the impression that, if only human rights were respected and markets kept free, a morally universal and pacified world order would result. For Schmitt, this was liberalism’s greatest and most revealing intellectual abdication: If you have nothing to say about war, you have nothing to say about politics. There is, he wrote, “absolutely no liberal politics, only a liberal critique of politics.”
Given the widespread dissatisfaction with the pace and character of China’s economic modernization, and the perception that it is neoliberalism at work, these ideas of Schmitt seem beyond wise; they seem prophetic. For the left, he explains, without appeal to Marxism, why the distinction between economy and politics is false and pernicious, and how liberalism functions as an ideology, ignoring or explaining away phenomena central to political life. His idea ofsovereignty, that it is established by fiat and is supported by a hidden ideology, also helps the left make sense of the strange hold free-market ideas have on people today and gives them hope that something—a disaster? a coup? a revolution?—might reestablish the Chinese state on foundations that are neither Confucian, Maoist, nor capitalist. (This is where the /mystique/ comes in.)
Students of a more conservative bent actually agree with much of the left’s critique of the new state capitalism and the social dislocations it has caused, though they are mainly concerned with maintaining “harmony” and have no fantasies (only nightmares) about China going through yet another revolutionary transformation. Their reading of history convinces them that China’s enduring challenges have always been to maintain territorial unity, keep social peace, and defend national interests against other states—challenges heightened today by global market forces and a liberal ideology that idealizes individual rights, social pluralism, and international law. Like Schmitt, they can’t make up their minds whether liberal ideas are hopelessly naïve and don’t make sense of the world we live in, or whether they are changing the world in ways that are detrimental to society and international order. These students are particularly interested in Schmitt’s prescient postwar writings about how globalization would intensify rather than diminish international conflict (this was in 1950) and how terrorism would spread as an effective response to globalization (this was in 1963). Schmitt’s conclusion—that, given the naturally adversarial nature of politics, we would all be better off with a system of geographical spheres of influence dominated by a few great powers—sits particularly well with many of the young Chinese I met.
Schmitt’s political doctrine is brutal modern statism, which poses some problems in China. Though he was a jurist with a lot to say about constitutions and the rule of law, nothing in his thinking recognizes natural limits to state authority or even explains the aims of the state beyond keeping itself together and besting its adversaries. The Chinese tradition of political thought that begins with Confucius, though in a way statist, is altogether different: Its aim is to build a just socialhierarchy where every person has a station and is bound to others by clear obligations, including the ruler, who is there to serve. Central to the functioning of such a state are the “gentlemen” (or “gentry” in some Confucius translations), men of character and conscience trained to serve the ruler by making him a better one—more rational and concerned with the people’s good. Though the Chinese students I met clearly wanted to /épater/ their teachers and me by constantly referring to Schmitt, the truth is that they want a good society, not just a strong one.
Enter Leo Strauss, again. The most controversial aspect of Strauss’s thought in the United States over the past decade, given the role some of his devotees played in concocting the latest Iraq war, is what he had to say about the “gentleman.” Taking a cue from Aristotle, Strauss distinguished between philosophers, on the one hand, and practical men who embody civic virtue and are devoted to the public good, on the other: While knowing what constitutes the good society requiresphilosophy, he taught, bringing it about and maintaining it requires gentlemen. Aristocracies recognize this need, democracies don’t—which is why the education of gentlemen is difficult in democratic societies and may need to take place in secret. Much was made of this gentlemanly idea in Straussian circles after his death, and as young Straussians became part of the Republican foreign policy /apparat/, beginning in the Reagan Administration, many began seeing themselves as members of an enlightened class guiding America through the “crisis of the West.” (This episode still awaits its satirist.) In this sense there was indeed a connection between Straussianism and the Iraq war.
But for the young Chinese I met, the distinction between sages and statesmen and the idea of an elite class educated to serve the public good make perfect sense because they are already rooted in the Chinese political tradition. What makes Strauss additionally appealing to them, apart from the grand tapestry of Western political theory he lays before them, is that he makes this ideal philosophically respectable without reference to Confucius or religion or Chinese history. He provides a bridge between their ancient tradition and our own. No one I met talked about a post-Communist China, for obvious reasons. But students did speak openly about the need for a new gentry class to direct China’s affairs, to strengthen the state by making it wiser and more just. None of them seemed particularly eager to join the Party, which they said co-opted even the most independent thinkers. For the moment, they seem content to study ancient languages, get their Ph.D.s, and take teaching jobs where they evidently hope to produce philosophers and gentlemen. They are not in a hurry. Rome wasn’t built in a day."
*In the strikes of 14 million workers and students in May 1968, De Gaulle finally organized a rightist rally of 1 million people in Paris. Among the chants and slogans was "Cohn-Bendit a Auschwitz." Daniel Cohn-Bendit was an anarchist from Germany and initial leader of the student movement, attacked by the fascists as a Jewish anarchist and by the so-called Communist Party as a :"German anarchist." As one can see from Marine LePen, Fascism is never very far in Europe even today.
Perhaps the protection of Franco-style criminality in Spain with its peaceful transition from fascism to a kind of democracy, parallels Obama's protection of American torturers.
**As Orwell's Homage to Catalonia underlines, Communist conduct toward other radicals (and in Russia to other Communists) was sometimes (in Russia, often) criminal and massively self-destructive.
***"Beijing is also doing a far more effective job than Washington of tooling its economy to meet future challenges — at least according to historian Francis Fukuyama, erstwhile neoconservative intellectual heavyweight. 'President Hu Jintao's rare state visit to Washington this week comes at a time when many Chinese see their weathering of the financial crisis as a vindication of their own system, and the beginning of an era in which U.S.-style liberal ideas will no longer be dominant,' wrote Fukuyama in Monday's Financial Times under a headline stating that the U.S. had little to teach China. "State-owned enterprises are back in vogue, and were the chosen mechanism through which Beijing administered its massive stimulus." See here and here.