Thursday, 8 December 2016

Counter-Trump

Such has been the coverage of the doings of American president-elect Trump that one might be forgiven for thinking that he was already in power.  Much of this coverage has been panicky and shallow: both recrimination against American liberals for their failure to understand the real situation on which Trump was able to capitalise; and dire prognostications of the future under Trump.  In such conditions, what is necessary is cool thought, though not without commitment.  The heart on fire, but the brain on ice.

Here is a fine piece from the London Review of Books, on the election, by the political theorist David Runciman:

Is this how democracy ends?


And from the same issue, Jan-Werner Muller (I like to think of him as Fintan O'Toole's best friend at Princeton, such have been his appearances in the otherwise studiously provincial and anti-intellectual books pages of the Irish Times), on 'populism':


A brace of articles from Jacobin.  Already people are nostalgic for the Obama Administration.  This is is a mistake.  Here is why:




The need to pay careful attention to Trump's support:




The credulousness and cynicism of much of the American media, which did not challenge either candidate sufficiently:




Good reading!


Conor



Defending Freedom of Speech about Israel - UCC steps up to the plate

Over the last year, a conference on Israel and its policies has been banned from the University of Southampton, not once but twice.  It was originally to be held in April 2015, but was suspended at short notice due to intense pressure on the university authorities by British pro-Zionist campaigners and the British government.   It was cancelled again in March 2016, due to the University's alleged fears that 'pro-Israel' protests would endanger the conference and its participants.

Now this conference has relocated to University College Cork, where it will be held next spring.   Some good news!

Israel conference banned in UK moves to Ireland

Conor

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Trump as Morbid Symptom

Our thinking about Trump's victory in the American presidential elections must be located within the wider framework of the rolling crisis in global capitalism.  This enables us to think the rise of Trump, the Brexit vote in Britain, the coming ascendancy of the right in France (embodied either in Marine Le Pen, or a returning Nicolas Sarkozy), and the growth of the far right in Germany, together.  These are alarming developments, but must be viewed dialectically as potentially part of ultimately positive changes.  'The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying', Gramsci famously noted in his discussion of political authority, 'and the new cannot yet be born.  In this interregnum, a great variety of mordid symptoms appear'.

Here are several articles culled from the Verso website.

Firstly, Mike Davis - virtuoso historian of Los Angeles, of disaster, and of the American working-class:



Not a Revolution – Yet


And second, Wolfgang Streeck, theorist of the end of capitalism:

Wolfgang Streeck: Markets vs. Voters


Third, Alain Badiou, unreconciled revolutionary philosopher:


And some historical comparison, from Johanna Brenner and Robert Brenner:




Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Trumped-Up

Donald Trump is the president-elect of the United States.  The liberal media in Ireland, as elsewhere, is lashing itself into an agonised froth of fury, fear, and self-loathing.  In the Irish Times, Fintan O'Toole's hermeneutical skills have risen to the level of telling us that America has told the rest of the world to fuck off.  A maudlin fool who passes as a feminist, Una Mullally, is wailing that white American women have 'failed Hillary Clinton': it doesn't seem to occur to Ms Mullally, from her redoubt on Tara St, that perhaps the real problem might be the other way around: that Mrs Clinton failed American women.

We'll all be absorbing this result for some time, but we must get away in the meantime from the idea that this was an enormous surprise.  Apart from anything else, the polling information showed that the two candidates were very close as we came up to America's election day.  A Trump victory was always on the cards.  But liberals are as capable of self-delusion as most of us, and the leadership of the American Democratic Party, along with middle-class urbanites on America's coasts and their equivalents in Europe, just could not countenance the idea that the American electorate overall could vote an authoritarian, racist misogynist ignoramus into office.  Alas, democracy, like sex, is for everyone, and the democratic process can only be less than itself if we allow such persons to be excluded from it.  

Nevertheless, the result is momentous, for America and for the international political and economic system.  And the date on which this result has been declared is one which resonates across the last century.  November 9 was the date of Kristallnacht, the pogrom in Germany against Jews and Jewish property and businesses that exposed the real character of the Nazi weltanschaung in 1938.  November 9 was also the date of the breakdown of the Berlin Wall, in 1989 - a hopeful moment whose potential has been betrayed by the putatively liberal leaders of the West over the last three decades.  With the space for an expansive and humane 'New World Order' coming in the wake of the collapse of state communism, the United States and its allies in Europe had an extraordinary opportunity for peaceful development.  Instead, in what the late Peter Gowan termed a 'Faustian bargain', the United States, under the 'liberal' and 'peacemaking' Clinton presidency, sought global dominance via its control of the world financial system, producing the conditions for a bloated and unequal growth in the 1990s and early 2000s, and laying the ground for financial turbulence and collapse in 2008.  Make no mistake: we may argue over who voted for Trump (or for Brexit in the United Kingdom), but the conditions of possibility for the new neo-authoritarian and aggressively nationalist politics were laid down in the midst of the Clinton-Blairite-EU hegemony.   

Finding intelligent reactions to the Trump victory is as yet difficult.  Here are some articles that are worth a look: 

First, Jeffrey StClair on Counterpunch:


Next, the editors of Jacobin



Adam Shatz, on the London Review of Books blog:

The Nightmare Begins


Naomi Klein on the Guardian website: 



Juan Cole from The Nation website: 

Conor

Monday, 7 November 2016

20,000

Good evenin' listeners, as the great Tommy O'Brien used to say.   At some point on November 4, while I was out of internet range in a lonely mountain valley in the West of Ireland, my number of pageviews for this blog passed the 20,000 mark.  And you aren't all bots, either!

Thank you for reading me, and if you like the blog, please pass it on to your friends or to anyone you think would be interested!  And always feel free, if you're on my occasional mailing list, to ask me to take you off it.

Conor

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Shooting and Crying - in Israel and in Ireland

The Israeli politician Shimon Peres has died at the age of 93.  His demise has brought with it an avalanche of sentimental, mendacious, mostly revolting coverage in the liberal press, including not one but two gushing, dishonest, ignorant and self-serving obituaries in the Irish Times - one from Reuters, and one presumably from an IT staffer (or maybe taken from The Guardian or the New York Times).

Shimon Peres was a relic, and his death induces elite opinion in the West to mourn the loss of a relic in which it invested a huge volume of Panglossian, narcissistic, and destructive sentiment.  Peres was the leader of Israel that Western liberals liked or wanted.  They liked or wanted him because he gave a certain gloss to the gross realities of Zionism, its murderous aggression, its crimes against Palestinians and against humanity.  Western liberals liked Peres because, unlike more rebarbative Revisionist figures such as Begin or Shamir, or even Netanyahu today, he made them feel good about protecting, respecting, trading with, doing diplomatic business with the major rogue state in the world.

But Peres was no 'symbol of peace', as the Irish Times called him.  He presided over the Zionist project in its heyday of Western approval, when Israel could do no wrong.  Yet, it was doing great wrong: attacking Egypt in 1956, conquering the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, transplanting colonial settlers to those territories from the 1970s onwards.

Specifically, Peres helped organise the 'Samson option', the Israeli nuclear programme and weapons-building project, which has never been officially acknowledged.  Israel has never signed up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, unlike its local rival, Iran.

Peres helped to negotiate the Oslo accords, which inaugurated the disastrous 1990s 'peace process'.  It was Peres's presence and authority which allowed elite politicians and opinion-makers - like the ostriches of the Irish Times - to keep the sheen of peacemaking on a process which allowed one side to go on making war.  For making war is what we must recognise Israeli settlement construction and expansion (entirely unaffected by the Oslo agreements) to be, and it was tensions around settlements (not the Palestinian suicide attacks which the Reuters obit drones on about repeatedly) which undermined whatever potential for peace there was.

Peres was Prime Minister when Israel launched 'Operation Grapes of Wrath', a devastating bombardment of south Lebanon in 1996.  Notoriously, the IDF lobbed 155mm shells into a UN base at Qana, butchering 100 Lebanese civilians who had taken shelter there.  Robert Fisk later uncovered video imagery of an IDF targeting drone in the air over Qana, which removed the slightest possibility that the massacre was a simple gunner's mistake.

Shimon Peres shot and cried, to use the brutal but truthful Israeli formulation - he did or presided over terrible things, and then managed to present to the world a putatively agonised and tragic conscience.  It's a disgusting emotional and political strategy.   Thank God he's gone.  Here are two powerful exposés of Peres, by Marc Ellis and Ilan Pappé.

First, Ellis, from the fine American Mondoweiss site:

Shimon Peres, Israel's greatest ambassador, will be remembered for ...



And here is Pappé, writing on the Electronic Intifada site:

SHIMON PERES FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF HIS VICTIMS

Conor

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The Storm from Paradise

Walter Benjamin was one of the great critical writers of the twentieth century.  Sympathetic to the Frankfurt School writers such as Theodor Adorno, but never fully affiliated to the Institut fur Sozialforschung, Benjamin lived the perilous life of a jobbing man of letters in the 1920s and 1930s in Germany, and then, as the Nazis rose to power, in France.  Scholar of German drama, connoisseur of Baudelaire, early film critic, perhaps the greatest analyst we have of urban dynamics, it's hard to categorise him and his work, which partakes of philosophy, sociology, literary criticism, literary journalism, occasionally infused by a streak of Jewish messianism.

That prophetic tone and angle is famously visible in his strange and brilliant essay 'On the Concept of History', published originally in 1940.  Like Adorno, his friend, admirer and also at times severe critic, Benjamin was influenced in his writing by Nietzsche's aphoristic style, and the 'theses' that make up 'On the Concept of History' are no ordinary arguments or statements of a systematic philosophy.  But they summon up unforgettable images and metaphors for the effort to think historically in the bad new times, none more famous than that of the 'Angelus Novus', the Angel of History.

The Storyteller, a new volume of Benjamin's creative work, joins recent volumes of autobiography, and Lecia Rosenthal's wonderful collection of his radio journalism, Radio Benjamin.  This comes from the Verso website, so often a resource of radical news and ideas.

The Storm Blowing from Paradise: Walter Benjamin and Klee's Angelus Novus

 

Conor