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Friday, April 15, 2005



claes ryn is hardly a household name, but he is one of the more insightful political and foreign policy observers in america. his incisive book, "america the virtuous: the crisis of democracy and the quest for empire", is a near-definitive examination of the rise and influences of a militant ideological party of freedom in the united states which ignores traditional political divisions. he traces neoconservatism to a recurrent wave in western political thought that saw its first manifestation in rousseau, the jacobin party and robespierre -- who went on to slaughter thousands in "defense" of the new republic (a historical episode known simply as 'the terror') and set french armies to work all about europe. after robespierre's death under the guillotine's blade, another jacobin set about perpetuating the principles of the revolution -- napoleon.

ryn's article in american conservative takes more recent evidence -- which, it is my conclusion, almost universally supports his interpretation of events -- as conclusive proof that president bush is a "jacobin nationalist":

“Freedom” and “democracy” can mean radically different things. The president, his secretary of state, and their neoconservative idea-men have connected them with the Jacobin faith. The French Jacobins were followers of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who argued, “man was born free, but he is everywhere in chains.” For men to be liberated, inherited societies and beliefs had to be destroyed.

The French Revolution was an attempt to enact his ideas. The Jacobins dealt harshly with “evil,” guillotining conspicuous representatives of the old order and employing a general ruthlessness that culminated in the Terror. To France was assigned the mission of liberation. Europe and other parts of the world were thrust into protracted war.
ryn goes on to say much more, pointing out how jacobinism underpinned the communist revolution of 1917 and how easily the ideology has repeatedly justified mass murder and attempts at global conquest in the name of what is "virtuous". it is nietzschean heroism writ monstrous -- there is no suffering which cannot be justified by the pursuit of the holy goal.

After the implosion of the Soviet Union, the neo-Jacobin neoconservatives argued that America should use its status as the lone superpower to spread its principles. They demanded “moral clarity” in U.S. foreign policy. Good stood against evil. After 9/11, Bush became their chief spokesman. He committed the United States to what he calls “the global democratic revolution.” The war against Iraq, he said, was “the first step” in that revolution. There has been not even a hint in the president’s recent speeches that the Iraqi debacle and the tens of thousands of dead and maimed have made him question his own virtuous nationalism.
the ahistoricism of what has come to be known as neoconservatism in america is often obfuscated by trying to recharacterize popular perceptions of american history, writing out the honest intentions of earlier americans in search of peace and isolation to a fault and substituting a sort of cartoonish, steroidal america of moral invincibility, national exceptionalism and perpetual revolution -- a deception abetted by western civilization's postwar flight from history as we sink into decadence. but it does, as it is intended, represent a massive break with the english parliamentarianism of america's first century and a half.

as the united states grows increasingly bent on what i've come to see as a national suicide attempt similar to but of a dimension perhaps yet more awful than even those of the last century, i have come to deeply fear what lies ahead -- the gotterdammerung, the consumption. and i'm not at all sure that there's anything that anyone can do anymore to avert it.

i recently went to see a complete performance of wagner's masterpiece, certainly one of the great works of art in this or any civilization. its massive scope and intensity left me awed -- and troubled. wagner used the ring to deal substantially with the question of civilization and its inevitable destruction/redemption on the altar of heroic will. he first encountered schopenhauer when his libretto was already complete -- but instantaneously understood the deeper significance of what he himself had written when viewed from that new viewpoint of utter despondency. the entire cycle can be understood as a search for an end to civilization which imparts meaning to all of our efforts. wagner's wotan was ultimately unsuccessful in that search -- love and free will destroy the world and the gods, confirming the schopenhauerian view that history is meaningless, painful struggle and without direction.

it is this with which we are faced today, as the rule of law gives way to the virtuous heroism that jacobin nationalism deifies, laying the groundwork for tyranny.

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