Saturday, March 19, 2011

Video: debate with Daniel Goldhagen and Libya

See the video here (start on the first segment and the next several come up). The panel was very lively (Arthur Gilbert and Lisa Conant raised interesting questions and arguments as did people from the floor, and, in response, Goldhagen made some surprising points). The panel, however, also included my debate with Daniel - see my handout here - about some important political and moral questions raised by his work. These points are underlined by the sudden switch of Obama - an extension of his previous support for militarism in Afghanistan - to US military action in Libya. See here. Today Daniel defends - and Obama and his advisor Samantha Power (A Problem from Hell, an allied account to Daniel's, omitting the US role in creating and sustaining Saddam Hussein) - emphasize what United Nations secretary Ban-ki Moon calls "the right to protect." That right, however, does not extend to those jailed and murdered in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia.

To do this, Obama pivoted against his previous policy (trying to reduce the US military presence to some extent, despite escalation in Afghanistan, in the Middle East). More importantly, he ignored Congress and the American people. There has been no effort to convince Americans that such intervention, especially at the cost of closing schools, cutting off jobs, unemployment insurance and help to the destitute and other "deficit"-reduction cutbacks, is a necessity. One might think that Goldhagen's views on genocide and the US need to intervene are far from here - that he is a voice in the wilderness - but they are today's news. Humanitarian intervention unites morally driven interventionists - Power, to her credit, opposed the Iraq war unlike David Rieff, who then turned against it and wrote eloquently about it, and in international relations, Bob Keohane - with neo-cons. As war criminals on Iraq like Robert Kagan have turned toward limited support for Egyptian democracy and urged this on Obama, even moral interventionists critical of Iraq like Power have moved toward the military "right to protect." Unless the moral interventionists face down and oppose American militarism, even what is good in this multilateral, internationally sanctioned war will be lost.

If the intervention is brief and France and Britain do most of the bombing, it might enforce a ceasefire on Libya. Ghadhafi's shift yesterday - from genocidal murder of "rats" and "outsiders" to ceasefire - is plainly a good result of the policy. But the operative word is "might." Without serious change in the devotion of the two parties to American militarism and repression abroad (Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Gaza, the ghosts of Mubarak in the continuing domination of the American-fattened Egyptian military leaders), the murder of the 9 boys gathering wood in Afghanistan and not "humanitarian" intervention, the infamous words in General Petraeus' mouth about how Afghani parents were sending out their small children to "make the US army look bad" will continue to be the dominant - in fact, overwhelming - aspect of American policy. Obama is very smart and thoughtful - but these disgraceful polices need more than "recalibration" and an ideological cover ("humanitarian intervention," the "right to protect"). He would at least have to call off the drones in Pakistan as well as getting out of Afghanistan. The continued militarism of the United States is not an answer.

Turning to the debate itself, Daniel worked with my teacher, Stanley Hoffmann, an erudite, eloquent, ironic, go your own way, often inspiring person. Daniel is a morally driven scholar who seeks to get arguments right. But his approach suffers from two major weaknesses. First, his approach to the Holocaust in Hitler’s Willing Executioners was driven by an hostility to ordinary Germans. He thought that not only were many murderers, including of children, but that any German substituted in the Police Batallion 101 he studied would have done the same thing. This is a dangerous counterfactual in that it ignores class and previous politics; more importantly, it makes the Nazi police-state all powerful and wrongly dishonors those Germans who resisted. See here. This fear of Germans bleeds into his antipathy – here largely ideological and not nearly as grounded in fact – towards “political Islam.” It also motivates his call for "right to protect" wars as the main answer to genocide.

Second, he has been much celebrated, in part justly as I say early in the debate. The reception of his book in Germany, where it was praised by Habermas, marks its great contribution – a designation of the role of many Germans in carrying out the Holocaust, which had been widely denied by neo-Nazis and some Christian Democrats. Habermas’s point is that parliamentary democracy cannot survive in Germany (it also can’t in the United States) without recognition and rejection of the racist and genocidal past.

But the second weakness also arises from the reception of the book. Goldhagen, a nice guy and rather modest, has become a celebrity. He was welcomed by “Facing the Future and Ourselves” and by Jewish Studies at the University of Denver with near reverence. That he and I had a debate was a tribute to the organizers’ fair-mindedness. For they also seemed eager to control the atmosphere, to prevent outbursts from the floor (in a large and involved audience of some 200, there were a few cheers late on from Daniel’s enthusiasts). I was grateful to meet and have the debate with Daniel, and to praise the good aspects of his work. He has also made the issue of genocide more serious intellectually (see also Worse than War) and offers many good suggestions about things that might be done to fight it.

Yet the organizers, perhaps because they were concerned about the reaction Daniel’s scholarship has provoked, leaned overly much toward celebrating him. Daniel himself was more modest, pointing out in relation to my colleague Arthur Gilbert’s first question on the controversy, that he was, after all, the protagonist, and trying to restrain himself – given that he was the speaker, that the panel was, in fact, about his books and career, not to take up too much time and engage with the panelists. Commendably, he did.

In dealing with me, Daniel had not seen the questions previously (though I had sent them to the organizers to give to him, but they hadn't). See here. Being internal to his argument – roughly, Socratic – they do not fit with the standard scholarly objections to his work. They concur with earlier critics, however, in emphasizing that he tends to view the Holocaust as a project any German, roughly from the Middle Ages on, might have engaged in. But I do two things that alter this standard picture. The first is to differentiate it from what is true in his argument, namely, that many Germans participated in the slaughter (Goldhagen’s thesis 1), distinguishing this from his inference that any randomly chosen group of Germans would have been likely to do exactly the same thing (Goldhagen's thesis 2). My second challenge to the previous debate is to emphasize how this approach, from Daniel's own point of view, cuts one off from possible allies and, thus, from effectively resisting genocide.

One might set Daniel's attitude toward "moderates" or "good Germans" in the context of Martin Luther King's. In his "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail," King responds to 8 white ministers who had written a letter calling the civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham "untimely," King an “outsider.” They, more than the Klan, blocked the black civil cights movement, demanded that blacks “wait.” King's rejection of their reactionary pleas may be the most eloquent sentences anybody has ever written about such matters:

"We now through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was 'well timed' in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word 'Wait!' It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This 'Wait!' has almost always meant 'Never!' We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that 'justice too long delayed is justice denied.'"

"We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, 'Wait!' But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertized on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children and see ominous clouds of inferiority being to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking 'Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?'; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading 'white' and 'colored'; when your first name becomes 'nigger,' your middle name becomes 'boy' (no matter how old you are) and your last name becomes 'John,' and your wife and mother are never given the respected title 'Mrs.'; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of 'nobodiness' - then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience."

Nonetheless. the civil rights movement did rely on white participants and supporters. The activists were few, he said, but very important. In contrast to at least the rhetoric of Hitler's Willing Executioners, he sought such allies.

"I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some - such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle - have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach-infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as 'dirty nigger-lovers.' Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful 'action' antidotes to combat the disease of segregation."

In addition, the Montgomery bus boycott would not have succeeded without the support of white women who picked up their maids. More importantly, many opposed segregation (were also victimized, as many of them recognized, by the patriarchy) and acted on it. King advocated nonviolence, the idea that one must stop the oppressor through mass non-cooperation, but that segregators, too, have souls, that one must love the person that could be even as one stops the criminality of the person that is.

Goldhagen is not such an advocate. He originally consigned all the Germans to the outer darkness, even though he now recognizes the shift to decency among most Germans (he apparently attributes this largely to defeat in World War II; not quite acknowledging the many things in Germany that were crushed by the Nazis which could reassert themselves post-War in a new and stronger form).

Daniel’s strategy in terms of debating with me – as it became clearer to him that that was what was going on – was to mimic Mohammed Ali’s famous tactic in Zaire: rope a dope. I have never seen this before in a debate and found it amusing. He said he agreed with almost all my criticisms of him, both of things he said and things he left out. He could not, of course, agree with my point that the government of Israel’s attempt to settle the occupied territories and “transfer,” yet again, the Palestinians was near genocidal. He spoke as if the Israeli’s government’s commitment to a two state solution were obvious and convincing whereas its continual stalling and efforts to divide the Palestinians are more obvious. Still, he recognized the danger of Avigdor Lieberman and the fascists – those who advocate “eliminationism” toward Arabs - within Israel.

But he could not recognize my point that anti-Arab racism, and not so-called political Islam is the main form of racism in the United States today, and by far the greatest danger (it was a central motivation for the aggression in Iraq, for example, and the torture and murder of Arab prisoners…).

Daniel also does not recognize that the anti-semitism of the Nazis – which we are both intent on fighting – is twisted today in a Yale-sponsored, supposedly academic group of which he is on the executive board which purports to detect a new anti-semitism toward Israel. The group is uninterested in debate. One un-answered figure at the conference, Col. (Ret.) Jonathan Fighel of the International Institute for Counter Terrorism (ICT) in Herzliya, gave a paper on “The Jihad Flotilla to Gaza: Provocative – Antisemitic – Not Humanitarian.” Translating from propaganda, Fighel calls the nonviolent people who were murdered on the relief ship, the Mavi Marmara, this past summer (8 Turkish citizens and one Turkish American) carrying food and medicine to Gaza in international waters by the Isreali military “Jihad Flotilla” See here and here.

Thus, this was not, Fighel's metaphor attempts to suggest, the Israeli government's murder of nonviolent civilians, a state terror raid on a relief ship against the genocidal Israeli/Egyptian blockade of Gaza (now the Egyptian part has been ended by the democratic uprising). But since the facts are a certain way (9 innocent people murdered aboard a relief ship in international waters), Fighel's title appears, morally and factually, crazy. This is an Orientalism which can survive in supposed “intellectual” circles only unchallenged. As the program shows here, this group - once again, Daniel is on its board - exhibits none of the scholarship or cautiousness about claims which Daniel offered in the debate.

Nonetheless, Goldhagen’s general approach to this debate - a great sign of sophistication about the arguments, perhaps produced in him by all the fierce controversy about his views over time - was to give in where he could, recognize the truth in what I was saying (as I did about his arguments), where he did not give up anything he regarded as politically vital (that so-called “political Islam” is the greatest danger in the world, that the people who rule Israel are not committing genocide toward Palestinians, and the like). Perhaps the only point at which that strategy failed was in his saying that he only wanted to discuss fighting genocide in general rather than to get caught in discussing Israel. But of course, my point was that an "eliminationist” idea, in his idiom, was present in the rabbis who advised Geneal Rontski and the Israeli army in Gaza, for instance, Yitzhak Shapira who said “it is just to kill a heathen child...” Israel, sadly, is a prime example of this issue.*

The idea of rope a dope is, as Mohammed Ali did, to take the force of the stronger, the pounding by George Foreman, on his arms for 7 rounds until Foreman had exhausted himself. Ali then knocked him out in the eighth round. So with one rejoinder to his point, citing what he actually said in Hitler’s Willing Executioners, I simply agreed with Daniel whenever he offered his expressions of agreement with my criticism. He implied, however, that I was somehow distorting what he had written. Had I continued to argue with him ("but you really said”) and quoting from his books which the audience had mostly not read, that would have increased the impression that he was really being reasonable and agreeing with me, and that I was just “pounding” him unreasonably.

But the straight way of saying what Daniel said in response to my first argument would have been – yes, I phrased the argument in such a way that it was mistaken, perhaps unfairly, by critics, as being an indictment of the German nation. That way of putting the point would make the great body of criticism by Birn, Finkelstein and Jennings et al at least comprehensible. In fact, were Goldhagen’s claim in this debate with me right, what was the fuss about? Does everyone who criticized him, like Blinn or Finkelstein or Jennings, among others - all fiercely against the Holocaust - just read badly?

In response to Goldhagen’s agreement, I cited (and the handout explaining my questions and argument spelled out here) how he rhetorically talks down every example of opposition, makes it the “few,” decent people against the whole nation of anti-semites. (see p 74 and pp. 98 and 101, inter alia, where he employs this same expression). The rhetoric and argumentative strategy of his book - Hitler's Willing Executioners - does not support the way he now characterizes his argument.

Behind this, however, lies a deeper disagreement. My colleague Arthur seems to agree with Daniel: few Germans resisted murderous anti-semitism. Arthur rightly insists on the importance of 37.3% of the German population voting for Hitler but then mistakenly infers blanket support for Hitler despite the police state). But I had already emphasized that the substantial vote for Hitler confirms only Goldhagen thesis 1 – that many ordinary Germans supported Hitler. It does nothing to say that the huge number of Germans including Jews jailed and murdered by Hitler did not and could not have resisted.

The story of Italian resistance to Mussolini which I emphasized in the debate, illustrates this point. Italians did not disrupt Mussolini for 14 years. It took participation in the Spanish Civil War to get resistance going - Germans participated too - and conditions were more favorable to an uprising in Italy. The Italian resistance hung Mussolini in 1945 (I mistakenly said 1943 in the debate). Neither Daniel, whose argument is a counterfactual (if any other Germans had been recruited to police battalion 101, they, too, would have wantonly murdered Jewish children), ignoring many features of German voting against Hitler, the swift establishment of a police state, actual examples of resistance to Hitler - the Thaelmann brigade - and exhibiting no interest in the communist underground (possibly as many as 100,000 initially).

If Goldhagen were right about this, all Egyptians would have supported Mubarak as they seemed to for 29 years – that tyranny, he might say, was an Egyptian phenomenon - Mubarak would not have been overthrown by a mass, nonviolent uprising in 18 days last month. Orientalism today among many Israeli and American leaders (for instance, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton), demeaning Arabs who arose nonviolently to fight for democracy, is the equivalent of Daniel’s and Arthur’s mistaken attitude toward the Germans. See also Yoram Meital here. Daniel's argument was wrong both morally and, in terms of political tactics, from his own point of view. I am happy that he now agrees he was mistaken, but if so, he would do better to acknowledge that, rather than suggest he never blamed Germans generally as willing Nazis.

As the discussion goes on, I at times, as Daniel pointed out, offer an extenuation for this which is moral/psychological. It is the horror of the Holocaust which gets one to think that all Germans were potential Nazis and monsters. But Daniel seeks rightly to be judged by the truth of his argument. And there the answer is, yes to thesis 1 and no, sharply to the false and bizarre thesis 2. There are, after all, many Germans who stood out against Hitler, those who fought in Spain, for example. One dishonors them by the emphasis Daniel chose.**

In responding to Daniel, I made two further points which correct a common methodological and ideological error in today’s social “science.” Daniel suggested that ordinary Germans could have done these horrors and that somehow, depending on one’s overall moral, political or legal perspective, one could ignore them. This is the claim that no factual conclusion arrived at by social science affects “values,” This is, though widely believed among academics today, an extreme and rather silly claim ’ If Hitler murdered millions of Jews, all the mental patients in Germany (some 300,000), all the Roma, all the “defective” Aryan children (some 25,000 poisoned by barbiturates), even more millions of slavs, many thousands of homosexuals and communists, etc., he is a monster. Any moral point of view passes through the universal value of human life – see Democratic Individuality ch 1 – and slaughtering millions of human beings, including children, is evil.

The Nazis needed some strange, false racist claims – that all these people are not fully human, and that further, that their existence would strangle the master race – to "justify" genocide. But those are not just “perspectival” claims. They are false empirical claims (worse yet, not on the planet, empirical claims). Thus, the fact of mass murder renders any attempt to exculpate or extenuate the Nazis morally as well as intellectually hopeless. Such beliefs can be sanctioned only by might, because the facts - the way the world is – abjectly discredit them.

Some modern philosophers have lost themselves in overly academic riddles about “truth-value” (Daniel’s phrase). The point, however, is not truth-value – in this case, a social “scientific” affectation – but seeking the truth. Revulsion at Hitler and Nazism is not a “preference”; the moral and explanatory arguments for it are easy to give. Denials of it are based on grotesque falsehoods ("the Holocaust didn’t exist," "Jews control everything," "Bolshevism is a Jewish phenomenon," "defective Aryan children need to be dispensed with," “useless eaters,” and so forth. Anyone tempted by the standard idea of value-freedom should try out offering a serious factual basis for such “values.” Then they will see that the truth in the notion of value-freedom is that one should challenge one’s biases by considering serious counter-argument and evidence, but not that no conclusion reached empirically constrains moral judgment.

The Nazis knew better. They kept the Holocaust secret as best they could (this does not deny the important point that many Germans knew about it and that being a “good German” under the Nazis was being, to some extent, complicit).

My book Democratic Individuality (Cambridge, 1990) emphasized these points in current philosophy, the history of poltical thought, and modern political science. But to identify a major error (something that goes into the corrupt predispositions of modern social “science”) will not discredit it. For social “science” by and large provides the emperor’s new clothes for an increasingly militarist, racist (the prison system contains 25% of the world’s prisoners, centered on African-Americans, despite the miraculous elections of Obama see here) and declining regime. Many have seen that American torture – under Bush and Cheney, and today revived under Obama toward Bradley Manning here and here - is at odds with decency.***

What is good in Daniel’s work is that he emphasizes the moral importance of fighting genocide. That – not the mistaken “value freedom” of some of his formulations in the debate – governs his argument. He, unfortunately, thinks that US might stop genocide by “political Islam”. But this reflects a weakness on the war in Iraq – though listen to his very thoughtful answer to a student question about Iraq in the ninth segment of the debate. He does not see this as American aggression, underpinned by lies and racism toward ordinary Arabs. He does not consider adequately how the United Nations might marshal a multiateral force to stop genocide rather than, at the United States’ behest, furthering it, for example, with the Iraq boycott (by UN statistics, the American/British/IUN boycott murdered 4,500 Iraqi children a month throughout the 1999s (Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, ch. 5). It is the failure to recognize potential opposition to genocide from below which leads him to cast America –though he recognizes some of the weaknesses -as a likely savior. Thus, his view urges the multilateral no-fly zone in Libya, criticizes, when questioned, some dark aspects of American policy, but does not name and oppose American militarism. Despite some very important things that we now agree upon, the differences remain large.

*As Edward Said emphasizes, orientalism is but the other side of the coin of serious anti-semitism. Thus, European "scholars" such as Renan argued, all Middle Eastern languages are "rigid" and "incapable of creativity." It is sad that accusations of "anti-semitism" have increasingly drifted into incarnations of Orientalism/anti-semitism.

**Daniel did study some examples of resistance to Hitler, for instance by the German women who had Jewish husbands in 1943, in Denmark and in strikes. I learned from him that it is apochryphal that the Danish King wore a yellow star. But Daniel never wrote about and did not acknowledge my point about the Thaelman brigade or investigate what happened to communists...

***see Robert W. Tucker and Daniel Hendrickson, "The Legitimacy of American Foreign Policy." Foreign Affairs, 2004 here. Jeremy Waldron wrote a 103 page review of my book on Democratic Individuality in the University of California Law Review here. His actual argument toward the end is merely a repetition of emotivism. Since that is “right” on his view, my argument must be wrong – he didn’t need the other 100 pages.

But Waldron has admirably argued against torture here. "Torture and Positive Law: Jurisprudence for the White House" was rightly cited by the English Law Lords - the English high court - in affirming an absolute moral ban on torture. Sometimes the facts are sufficient in the world, if not about slavery or Nazism as in my book, to persuade a former emotivist that torture is not a matter of taste…

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