Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Blame Americans First

Michael Lind has a very good article on what I think is perhaps the biggest myth about the American economy. The myth is that Americans are failing to successfully compete with the Chinese and other economic powers because Americans are poorly educated and are not innovative enough. Now, while I agree that there are problems with the American educational system and that perhaps Americans are not innovative enough in some areas, by and large the reality is that Chinese economic success is straight out of the mercantilist playbook, the same playbook used by most of today’s rich nations when they were trying to develop advanced economies.

Americans of all political stripes believe the education/innovation myth. The corporate-controlled media constantly pounds the myth into our brains. When the stellar Chinese PISA scores came out, it was declared our new “Sputnik moment,” a call for Americans to put down their copies of Sports Illustrated and pick up a math textbook.  I, on the other hand, think that more Americans should pick up a copy of The Ring magazine and read any article by any boxing writer worth his salt and they will find the phrase “styles make fights.” In the economic ring, systems make economies, and frankly, the neoliberal system is not working for the United States. While I do not suggest emulating the Chinese system, I do think a policy shift in favor of American economic sovereignty and the interests of the American worker is necessary.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Anti-Conservative Conservatives

Neil Clark has an excellent article detailing why David Cameron's Tories are not really conservative in any real sense. Mr. Clark makes the excellent point that neoliberalism is a destructive, anti-conservative force. Besides attacking popular public services such as libraries and post offices, neoliberals also seem to take a sick delight in seeing young people forced from their homelands because of economic devastation. Those Portuguese and other Europeans that are fleeing economic collapse at home are described as adventurous pioneers, while those who stay behind are timid creatures, too attached to hearth and home.

Of course, this standard is never applied to, say, fleeing aristocrats or other affluent types who are forced to leave their homeland because of political or economic strife. How many people responded to the stories of rich émigrés from the Soviet Union or the Islamic Republic of Iran with moralistic diatribes on the need to toughen up and the benefits of being forced to leave your home? It seems like pioneering is only good for the poor.
Indeed, we see that neoliberalism, like classical liberalism before it, rests upon a kind of twisted moralism that is antithetical to authentic conservatism, in addition to being blatantly hypocritical. Traditional conservatism, for most common folk at least, has always been about a sense of place, a sense of being a part of some kind of greater, organic whole. Traditional societies were less individualistic and more communitarian. People’s lives were enmeshed in a web of familial and religious ties. A certain degree of stability gave people a sense of belonging.

While perhaps it is possible to take the argument too far (history, of course, is full of examples of human migration), and I do have respect for those who are willing to take chances as my own ancestors did when they left Italy and Germany to try to find a better life in the United States, it is important to recognize that many immigrants throughout history were prompted by awful injustices at home, and not necessarily because they woke up one day and decided to become pioneers.

Ultimately, conservatism must, first and foremost, be the enemy of alienation, extreme individualism, and loneliness. It must protect the sense of place and oppose schemes to reduce the world’s population to a mass of high-tech nomads, connected only by Facebook and Twitter. Neoliberalism and globalization are the major enemies of conservatism today.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cross of Gold

Frank L. Cocozzelli has an interesting piece on why some right-wingers are so attracted to the gold standard. It is definitely worth a read.

The Right To Work For Less

Great article over at Mainstream Populist Democrats highlighting the negative impact of right-to-work laws.

The purpose of an economy should be the welfare of all citizens, not just executives or stockholders. Right-to-work laws make life worse for workers and should be opposed on moral as well as economic grounds.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Giuseppe Dossetti: Partisan, Politician, Priest

Part One in a series of pieces I am attempting to develop on the Italian Social Catholics.

While there were several important figures associated with the left-wing of Italian Christian Democracy, few were as influential on the ideological front as Giuseppe Dossetti. Dossetti was born on February 13, 1913, in the city of Genoa, Italy. Dossetti received a law degree from the Catholic University of Milan and was a member of the lay Catholic organization Azione Cattolica (“Catholic Action”). During World War II, Dossetti joined the anti-fascist Italian resistance, eventually holding a leadership position in the Cavriago, Emilia-Romagna branch of the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale (“National Liberation Committee” an entity comprised of various factions of the Italian underground). It was Dossetti’s role in the Italian resistance movement that allowed him to rise to prominence within the Democrazia Cristiana (“Christian Democracy” or “DC” for short), the major Catholic political party, following the end of the war.

Dossetti soon made a name for himself as the leader of the reformist “Left” faction of the DC, along with Amintore Fanfani, Giorgio La Pira, and Giuseppe Lazzati. Together, the four men were called “The Little Professors,” because of their backgrounds in academia (Dossetti had taught law at the University of Modena). Although Dossetti was the youngest of the Little Professors, he was considered the leader of the Left faction within the DC, leading many to dub the faction" the dossettiani." The dossettiani were heavily influenced by the thought of French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, whose concept of “Integral Humanism” greatly influenced Dossetti. Furthermore, as a member of the Italian resistance, Dossetti had worked side by side with communists, and although he rejected the materialism of Marxism, he saw a kernel of truth in Marxism’s critique of capitalism and was impressed by the zeal of the communist members of the resistance.

In 1945, Dossetti became vice-secretary of the DC. With the help of his colleagues, Dossetti began a crusade to turn the DC into a full-blown Christian reformist party. Through their association Civitas Humana and their journal Cronache Sociali, the dossettiani advocated various left-wing economic reforms, including land reform, worker cooperatives, public ownership, and Keynesian macroeconomic policy, all within a Christian intellectual framework. Dossetti’s appeal as a champion of the poor and working-class, as well as his credentials as a member of the Italian resistance, helped to secure a DC electoral victory in 1948.

However, tensions between Dossetti and the more moderate party leader Alcide De Gasperi would eventually lead to Dossetti’s exit from public life. By far the largest bone of contention between Dossetti and De Gasperi was the entry of Italy into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Dossetti opposed the NATO treaty, arguing that it was unnecessary as Italy had no external enemies at the time and it would ruin any chance of Italy becoming a Christian light in the world, mediating between East and West. By siding with the United States, Italy would essentially lose its freedom to be an impartial evangelizer on the world stage. Unfortunately for Dossetti, the dire economic situation in post-war Italy and the promise of Marshall Plan aid convinced most Christian Democrats that the pragmatic De Gasperi was right in his support for NATO and a closer relationship with the United States. Italy joined NATO in 1949.

Following the defeat over NATO accession, Dossetti became less and less happy with the situation within the DC. De Gasperi’s pragmatism had curbed Dossetti’s attempt to turn the DC into a force for recreating Italian society along explicitly Christian lines. Additionally, several of Dossetti’s associates, including Amintore Fanfani and Aldo Moro, also decided that a more moderate stance was necessary in order to continue to influence the DC. The uncompromising Dossetti was increasingly losing allies and by 1952, Dossetti resigned from Parliament and active political life, choosing to become a Catholic priest instead.

After 1952, Dossetti rarely engaged in party politics. He founded a monastic community and worked for peace in the Middle East. After 1952, he only ventured into Italian politics twice, first, in 1956 when the DC placed Dossetti on the ballot in a failed attempt to defeat the Communist mayor of Bologna, Giuseppe Dozza, and again in 1994 when Dossetti publicly argued against plans to scrap Italy’s parliamentary system in favor of a presidential one and encouraged Romano Prodi to campaign against Silvio Berlusconi.  Overall, however, Dossetti was no longer enthusiastic about party politics, and most of his post-political career was spent in religious work. Giuseppe Dossetti died on December 15, 1996.

While it may be tempting to dismiss Dossetti’s political career as a fleeting, quixotic attempt to create a Christian utopia in Italy, it is difficult to ignore how prescient Dossetti was when it came to certain facets of the post-war world. For example, while Dossetti was perhaps rightly criticized for describing the Soviet Union as a more “vital” society than the United States, Dossetti’s critique of American-style consumerism has turned out to be prophetic. Many of the anti-Christian values that social conservatives rail against today can be linked to the consumerist, individualist culture that has developed in the West over the last several decades. Indeed, Dossetti is interesting precisely because he was so out of step with the modern world. While he was a strong advocate of the poor and social justice, Dossetti also campaigned in favor of the indissolubility of marriage, religious education and priestly celibacy. And although Dossetti had flirted with Marxism he notably opposed most proponents of Liberation Theology.

For contemporary Christians, Dossetti is an example of a man who, while idealistic, was also keenly aware of many trends in society that more practical politicians were unable or unwilling to see.  His legacy only becomes more powerful as the reality of neoliberalism becomes clearer. All the promises about returning to traditional values, so often repeated by the champions of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, have simply failed to materialize in a world dominated by consumer values and market logic. Dossetti was able to comprehend that simply making Italians prosperous was not enough to preserve the Christian soul of a nation. Ultimately, the political and economic world would have to serve a Higher Calling.  

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Invisible Christians

It is unfortunate that it is taking large amounts of violence to wake Americans up to the fact that there are Christians living in places like Egypt and Iraq and that these communities are centuries old and in danger of being destroyed. But then again, how many Americans realize that large numbers of Japanese Christians died in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki? According to a 1962 Time magazine article, up to forty percent of Nagasaki’s Christian population was killed in the atomic bombing of the city. 

Part of the blame can probably be chalked up to a general ignorance of the outside world on the part of many Americans. But I wonder if perhaps the growing tendency to combine Christianity with aggressive American nationalism blinds many American Christians to the fact that our policies are not always in the best interests of Christians living abroad. For example, support for Muslim rebels in the Balkans and the Caucasus has largely backfired as we now see how radical many of these rebels were and how badly they have treated the Christian Serbs and Russians who were unlucky enough to come under their attack. The toppling of the admittedly dreadful regime of Saddam Hussein opened up a Pandora’s Box of sectarian violence that has devastated the Iraqi Christian population, not to mention Iraqis of all faiths.  

Perhaps many American Christians have a hard time identifying with the Christians of the East because their faith may seem “alien” to people who attend megachurches or because they may not even be “real” Christians in the eyes of some “Bible-believing” folks. In any case, I hope that by learning more about oppressed Christians abroad, we can be more critical about how our policies impact these people. The invisible are now visible.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Fringe Benefits

I am not a supporter of Lyndon LaRouche or his movement, but I do sometimes read the LaRouche movement’s publications because they are rather interesting for several reasons. For one, the LaRouche movement is fiercely dedicated to the New Deal system, and pulls no punches when it comes to attacking neoliberals, whether Republicans or Democrats or non-American leaders. Some of the most powerful attacks against austerity measures that I have ever read were penned by writers at the Executive Intelligence Review. Also, I think one can discern some kind of unified ideology behind the movement, which largely seems to be based off of Lyndon LaRouche’s interpretation of Renaissance humanism, as opposed to Enlightenment or modern secular humanism. I can definitely find at least some common ground here, even though I strongly disagree with the way the LaRouche movement characterizes the Middle Ages and some great Catholic thinkers, such as G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, mostly from a failure to understand what distributism really means.  

But what has really caught my attention was the recent announcement that six “LaRouche Democrats” will be running for office in 2012. While I don’t think the LaRouche movement has much of a chance to win a great deal of political power, isn’t it interesting that somebody like Lyndon LaRouche and his movement represent what so many New Deal Democrats have been longing for? A commitment to infrastructure development, domestic manufacturing, opposition to fiscal austerity that crushes the old and robs the young of their future, and support for muscular financial regulation are all part of the LaRouche movement platform. How many major Democrats have been as vocally supportive of such New Deal ideas? 

Yet, I still can’t support the LaRouche movement. The wild conspiracy theories, the bizarre hatred of the British monarchy and general anti-British bigotry (I know the constant use of the term “British Empire” is supposed to refer to some nefarious international financial cabal that just happens to be operating out of the City of London, but I still get the sense that the antipathy for Britain runs much deeper than that) as well as reports about the movement being cult-like and involved in shady financial dealings and other odd activities leads me to reject the LaRouche movement.

Still, I think it is telling that men like Lyndon LaRouche and Ron Paul (so great on so many subjects, but his support for Austrian School economics is a major letdown for left-populists like myself) often make more sense than more “mainstream” politicians. Both men and their movements are a mix of good and bad ideas from a populist perspective, but I can understand their attraction. In an age of “triangulation” and other forms of corrupt, totally unprincipled politics, it is not surprising that fringe figures are becoming more compelling to the average citizen.