Connect with us

Substacks

The Pedagogy of Power Chris Hedges

Published

on

The Enlightenment – by Mr. Fish

Subscribe now

I am standing in a classroom in a maximum security prison. It is the first class of the semester. I am facing 20 students. They have spent years, sometimes decades, incarcerated. They come from some of the poorest cities and communities in the country. Most of them are people of color. 

During the next four months they will study political philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes, Niccolò Machiavelli, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx and John Locke, those often dismissed as anachronistic by the cultural left.

It is not that the criticisms leveled against these philosophers are incorrect. They were blinded by their prejudices, as we are blinded by our prejudices. They had a habit of elevating their own cultures above others. They often defended patriarchy, could be racist and in the case of Plato and Aristotle, endorsed a slave society.  

What can these philosophers say to the issues we face — global corporate domination, the climate crisis, nuclear war and a digital universe where information, often manipulated and sometimes false, travels around the globe instantly?  Are these thinkers antiquated relics? No one in medical school is reading 19th century medical texts. Psychoanalysis has moved beyond Sigmund Freud. Physicists have advanced from Isaac Newton’s law of motion to general relativity and quantum mechanics. Economists are no longer rooted in John Stuart Mill.

But the study of political philosophy, as well as ethics, is different. Not for the answers, but for the questions. The questions have not changed since Plato wrote “The Republic.” What is justice? Do all societies inevitably decay? Are we the authors of our lives? Or is our fate determined by forces beyond our control, a series of fortuitous or unfortunate accidents? How should power be distributed? Is the good statesman, as Plato argued, a philosopher king — a thinly disguised version of Plato — who puts truth and learning above greed and lust and who understands reality? Or, as Aristotle believed, is the good statesman skilled in the exercise of power and endowed with thoughtful deliberation? What qualities are needed to wield power? Machiavelli says these include immorality, deception and violence. Hobbes writes that in war, violence and fraud become virtues. What forces can be organized to pit the power of the demos, the populace, against the rulers, to ensure justice? What are our roles and duties as citizens? How should we educate the young? When is it permissible to break the law? How is tyranny prevented or overthrown? Can human nature, as the Jacobins and communists believed, be transformed? How do we protect our dignity and freedom? What is friendship? What constitutes virtue? What is evil? What is love? How do we define a good life? Is there a God? If God does not exist, should we abide by a moral code? 

These questions thunder down through the ages, asked during different times and under different circumstances. The most radical contemporary philosophers, including Frantz Fanon author of The Wretched of the Earth, built their edifices on the foundations of the political philosophers that came before them. In Fanon’s case it was Friedrich Hegel. As Vladimir Lenin correctly said of Marx, most of his ideas could be traced to previous philosophers. Paulo Freire, the author ofPedagogy of the Oppressed,” studied philosophy. Hannah Arendt, who wrote“The Origins of Totalitarianism,” was steeped in the ancient Greeks and Augustine.

“It is indeed difficult and even misleading to talk about politics and its innermost principles without drawing to some extent upon the experiences of Greek and Roman antiquity, and this for no other reason than that men have never, either before or after, thought so highly of political activity and bestowed so much dignity upon its realm” Arendt writes in “Between Past and Future.

Cornel West, one of our most important contemporary moral philosophers, who once admonished me for not having read the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, is as conversant on Søren Kierkegaard, who he taught at Harvard, and Immanuel Kant as he is on W.E.B. DuBois, Fanon, Malcolm X and bell hooks

Subscribe now

The ancient philosophers were not oracles. Not many of us would want to inhabit Plato’s authoritarian republic, especially women, nor Hobbes’ “Leviathan,” a precursor to the totalitarian states that arose in the 20th century. Marx presciently anticipated the monolithic power of global capitalism but failed to see that, contrary to his utopian vision, it would crush socialism. But to ignore these political philosophers, to dismiss them because of their failings rather than study them for their insights is to cut ourselves off from our intellectual roots. If we do not know where we came from, we cannot know where we are going.  

If we cannot ask these fundamental questions, if we have not reflected on these concepts, if we do not understand human nature, we disempower ourselves. We become political illiterates blinded by historical amnesia. This is why the study of humanities is important. And it is why the closure of university classics and philosophy departments is an ominous sign of our encroaching cultural and intellectual death.

Political theory is not about political practice. It is about its meaning. It is about the essence of power, how it works and how it maintains itself. The most important activity in life, as Socrates and Plato remind us, is not action, but contemplation, echoing the wisdom enshrined in eastern philosophy. We cannot change the world if we cannot understand it. By digesting and critiquing the philosophers of the past, we become independent thinkers in the present. We are able to articulate our own values and beliefs, often in opposition to what these ancient philosophers advocated.  

In my first class, I spoke about Aristotle’s distinction between the good citizen and the good person. The good person’s loyalty is not to the state. The good person “acts and lives virtuously and derives happiness from that virtue.” The good citizen, on the other hand, is defined by patriotism and obedience to the state. The good person, like Socrates or Martin Luther King, Jr. inevitably comes into conflict with the state when he or she sees the state turning away from the good. The good person is often condemned as subversive. The good person is rarely rewarded by or fêted by the state. These accolades are reserved for the good citizen, whose moral compass is  circumscribed by the powerful. 

The concept of the good citizen and the good person fascinated the class, for the state has been, since their childhood, a hostile force. The outside world does not view the incarcerated, and often the poor, as good citizens. They have been excluded from that club. As outcasts, they know the immorality and hypocrisy baked into the system. This makes vital the articulation of the questions these political philosophers pose.

Sheldon Wolin, our most important contemporary and radical political philosopher, who mentored a young Cornel West when he was Princeton University’s first Black candidate for a doctorate in philosophy, gave us the vocabulary and concepts to understand the tyranny of global corporate power, a system he called “inverted totalitarianism.” As a professor at Berkeley, Wolin backed the Free Speech Movement. Wolin, while teaching at Princeton, was one of few professors who supported students occupying buildings to protest against South African apartheid. At one point, Wolin told me, the other professors in Princeton’s political science department refused to speak with him.

Wolin’s radical critique was grounded in these political philosophers, as he writes in his magisterial work, “Politics and Vision,” which my students are reading. 

“The history of political thought”, Wolin writes, “is essentially a series of commentaries, sometimes favorable, often hostile, upon its beginnings.”

You can see a three hour interview I did with Wolin shortly before his death here.

Wolin argues that “an historical perspective is more effective than any other in exposing the nature of our present predicaments; if not the source of political wisdom, it is at least the precondition.”

Neoliberalism as economic theory, he writes, is an absurdity. None of its vaunted promises are even remotely possible. Concentrating wealth in the hands of a global oligarchic elite — 1.2 percent of the world’s population holds 47.8 percent of global household wealth — while demolishing government controls and regulations, creates massive income inequality and monopoly power. It fuels political extremism and destroys democracy. But economic rationality is not the point. The point of neoliberalism is to provide ideological cover to increase the wealth and political control of the ruling oligarchs. 

This is a point Marx famously makes when he writes in his Theses on Feuerbach

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas.

As a ruling ideology, neoliberalism was a brilliant success. Starting in the 1970s, its Keynesian mainstream critics were pushed out of academia, state institutions and financial organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, and shut out of the media. Wolin, once a regular contributor to publications such as The New York Review of Books, found that because of his animus towards neoliberalism, he had difficulty publishing. Intellectual poseurs such as Milton Friedman were given prominent platforms and lavish corporate funding. They disseminated the official mantra of fringe, discredited economic theories popularized by Friedrich Hayek and the third-rate writer, Ayn Rand. Once we knelt before the dictates of the marketplace and lifted government regulations, slashed taxes for the rich, permitted the flow of money across borders, destroyed unions and signed trade deals that sent jobs to sweatshops in Mexico and China, the world would be a happier, freer and wealthier place. It was a con. But it worked.

Ideas, however esoteric they may appear to the public, matter. These ideas shape a society, even if most in the society are unfamiliar with the nuances and details of these theories.

“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood,” writes the economist John Maynard Keynes. “Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.”

Most of the great works of political philosophy have been written during a period of crisis. The breakdown of society, war, revolution and institutional and economic collapse, obliterate established belief systems and render hollow the clichés and slogans used to justify them. These instabilities and vicissitudes bring forth new ideas, new concepts, new answers to the old questions. Political thought, as Wolin writes, “is not so much a tradition of discovery as one of meaning extended over time.”

The answers to the core questions asked by political philosophers differ depending on the circumstances. The answers in my prison classroom will not be the same as those in a classroom of an elite university where students come from, and seek to become part of, the ruling class. My students are responding to very different phenomena. Their responses come out of the injustices and suffering they and their families endure. They are acutely aware of the perfidy of the ruling class. White supremacy, deindustrialization, the collapse of the justice system, the internal armies of occupation that terrorize their communities and poverty are not abstractions. The solutions they embrace will inevitably be subversive. 

The ruling class, like ruling classes throughout history, seek to keep the poor and oppressed uneducated for a reason. They do not want those cast aside by society to be given the language, concepts and intellectual tools to fight back. 

Share

The Chris Hedges Report is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

  

 

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Substacks

TGIF: WWIII May Come Tomorrow, But. . . Nellie Bowles

Published

on

By

Google employees protesting at the office. They were later fired. (Via X)

Welcome back. World War III watch over here continues. The Axis of Resistance seemed ready to kick off a major war, but then our Ayatollah stood down. The Houthi Youth at Columbia University camped out in solidarity, but the rebellion was short. Then, at press time, Israel struck back against Iran, so World War Watch resumed. You know what helps my stress? A good book. This one, by your faithful soldier, is out May 14.

→ Trump’s Gettysburg Address: Before Trump hit the campaign trail, I’d forgotten a little what he sounds like. In the amber of my mind, he was just “MAGA” and “Shithole countries” on a loop. Now, thanks to a campaign speech Saturday in Schnecksville, PA, we are back in the game with the craziest American orator who’s ever been in the game. The topic was Gettysburg. And our former president gave an impromptu slam poetry interpretation that left me snapping. 

Gettysburg, what an unbelievable battle that was. I mean, it was so much and so interesting and so vicious and horrible and so beautiful in so many different ways. It represented such a big portion of the success of this country. Gettysburg, wow. I go to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to look and to watch. And the statement of Robert E. Lee—who’s no longer in favor—did you ever notice that? He’s no longer in favor. “Never fight uphill, me boys, never fight uphill.” They were fighting uphill. He said, “Wow, that was a big mistake.” He lost his great general. They were fighting, “Never fight uphill, me boys,” but it was too late.

Vicious and horrible and beautiful. And the sun that blazes over the October sky. Who will watch the watcher? Who will sing the song of the lonely? Check out my self-published novel in the back, Trump says. 

→ Biden continues paying off successful young voters: Sorry, I mean “forgiving student debt.” Biden this week paid off another $7.4 billion in student loans, making his total student loan cancellation something like $153 billion. And by cancellation, I mean tax dollars were used to make the ledger go to zero. How much exactly? From Penn Wharton’s analysis: “We estimate that President Biden’s recently announced ‘New Plans’ to provide relief to student borrowers will cost $84 billion, in addition to the $475 billion that we previously estimated for President Biden’s SAVE plan.” But that goes to really needy people, right? Well, actually, at least 750,000 of those households are “making over $312,000 in average household income.” Meanwhile, to anyone who questions this allocation of resources, the White House answer is to shame them from official White House accounts by listing how much in pandemic loans were forgiven for House Republicans who own individual small business, which is weird because the reason businesses needed pandemic relief was because the White House banned them from operating. It’s a trap! And the only answer is to pay off every Media Studies PhD student’s loan. Colleges, for their part, are now charging up to $100,000 a year. Yes, literally. And since that’s ultimately going to be paid for by the taxpayers, why work to make it less expensive? Why cut corners when you need to remodel the cafeteria?

→ Oh, RFK’s running mate: For a flash I was thinking, Am I an RFK voter? I’m a mom who worries about plastics, and no, I don’t like how our national conversation is getting so divisive these days. And those steely blue eyes. It just felt right. But this week, my love affair hit a snag. Here’s RFK’s new vice-presidential pick, Nicole Shanahan, arguing that the Covid vaccine is not just bad, that it’s not just something she personally doesn’t want and should have the freedom to choose not to take, but that it should be banned. Over to Nicole: “Here is the devastating reality: it is not a safe vaccine, and must be recalled immediately. Many people are suffering who took it.” I guess this is really the agenda: RFK Jr. might be just asking questions, but if Nicole is chief executive, it sounds like she’s going to be executing. And that looks like legally required sound baths and astrology readings. The government understands that you want to take antibiotics, but you haven’t even tried rubbing yourself in honey yet. 

→ Wow, Kari Lake comes out as really pro-choice: Kari Lake, the Republican running for Senate in Arizona, has released a video about how she disagrees with Arizona’s total abortion ban, a ban she previously supported. I’m all for mind-changing. I actually want our politicians to put their finger to the wind every once in a while. Here’s Lake: “We as American people don’t agree on everything all of the time. But if you look at where the population is on this—a full ban on abortion is not where the people are.” 

She says, “I chose life, but I’m not every woman.” She pivots to Europe, which has all those annoyingly sensible abortion laws, and which is my exact same move: “I had the opportunity to visit Hungary, and it completely changed my view of how we should deal with this complicated, difficult issue.”

Is this Kari Lake sounding normal? In case you need to be reminded of the old Kari, here she is shaking hands with a statue. 

→ Oh no, “get out the vote” helps. . . Trump? Now that young people are for Trump and old people are for Biden, there’s another switcheroo: those who vote less or have never voted are more likely to be Trumpers. Call off the Rock the Vote campaigners! Return the blue t-shirts! The new message for Democrats to win needs to be: do not register new voters. Keep on keeping on. Stay home, save lives.


Read more

 

Continue Reading

Substacks

April 18, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

Published

on

By

I will not spend the rest of 2024 focusing on Trump and the chaos in the Republican Party, but today it has been impossible to look away.

In Trump’s election interference trial in Manhattan, Judge Juan Merchan this morning dismissed one of the selected jurors after she expressed concern for her anonymity and thus for her safety. All of the reporters in the courtroom have shared so much information about the jurors that they seemed at risk of being identified, but Fox News Channel host Jesse Watters not only ran a video segment about a juror, he suggested she was “concerning.” Trump shared the video on social media.

The juror told the judge that so much information about her had become public that her friends and family had begun to ask her if she was one of the jurors. Legal analyst Joyce White Vance noted jurors’ fear for their safety was a concern normally seen only “in a case involving violent organized crime.”

Nonetheless, by the end of the day, twelve people had been chosen to serve as jurors. Tomorrow the process will continue in order to find six alternate jurors. 

It is a courtesy for the two sides at a trial to share with each other the names of their next witnesses so the other team can prepare for them. Today the prosecution declined to provide the names of their first three witnesses to the defense lawyers out of concern that Trump would broadcast them on social media. “Mr. Trump has been tweeting about the witnesses. We’re not telling them who the witnesses are,” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said. 

Merchan said he “can’t blame them.” Trump’s defense attorney Todd Blanche offered to “commit to the court and the [prosecution] that President Trump will not [post] about any witness” on social media. “I don’t think you can make that representation,” Merchan said, in a recognition that Trump cannot be trusted, even by his own lawyers.

An article in the New York Times today confirmed that the trial will give Trump plenty of publicity, but not the kind that he prefers. Lawyer Norman L. Eisen walked through questions about what a prison sentence for Trump could look like.

Trump’s popular image is taking a hit in other ways, as well. Zac Anderson and Erin Mansfield of USA Today reported that Trump is funneling money from his campaign fundraising directly into his businesses. According to a new report filed with the Federal Election Commission, in February and March the campaign wrote checks totaling $411,287 to Mar-a-Lago and in March a check for $62,337 to Trump National Doral Miami.

Experts say it is legal for candidates to pay their own businesses for services used by the campaign so long as they pay fair market value. At the same time, they note that since Trump appears to be desperate for money, “it looks bad.”

Astonishingly, Trump’s trial was not the biggest domestic story today. Republicans in Congress were in chaos as members of the extremist Freedom Caucus worked to derail the national security supplemental bills that House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has introduced in place of the Senate bill, although they track that bill closely. 

The House Rules Committee spent the day debating the foreign aid package, which appropriates aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan separately. The Israel bill also contains $9.1 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza and other countries. A fourth bill focuses on forcing the Chinese owners of TikTok to sell the company, as well as on imposing sanctions on Russia and Iran. 

At stake in the House Rules Committee was Johnson’s plan to allow the House to debate and vote on each measure separately, and then recombine them all into a single measure if they all pass. This would allow extremist Republicans to vote against aid to Ukraine, while still tying the pieces all together to send to the Senate. As Robert Jimison outlined in the New York Times, this complicated plan meant that the Rules Committee vote to allow such a maneuver was crucial to the bill’s passage.

The extremist House Republicans were adamantly opposed to the plan because of their staunch opposition to aid for Ukraine. They wrote in a memo on Wednesday: “This tactic allows Johnson to pass priorities favored by President Biden, the swamp and the Ukraine war machine with a supermajority of House members, leaving conservatives out to dry.”

Extremists Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) vowed to throw House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) out of the speakership, but Democrats Tom Suozzi of New York and Jared Moskowitz of Florida have said they would vote to keep him in his seat, thereby defanging the attack on his leadership.

So the extremists instead tried to load the measures up with amendments prohibiting funds from being used for abortion, removing humanitarian aid for Gaza, opposing a two-state solution to the Hamas-Israel war, calling for a wall at the southern border of the U.S., defunding the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and so on.

Greene was especially active in opposition to aid to Ukraine. She tried to amend the bill to direct the president to withdraw the U.S. from NATO and demanded that any members of Congress voting for aid to Ukraine be conscripted into the Ukraine army as well as have their salaries taken to offset funding. She wanted to stop funding until Ukraine “turns over all information related to Hunter Biden and Burisma,” and to require Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to resign. More curiously, she suggested amending the Ukraine bill so that funding would require “restrictions on ethnic minorities’, including Hungarians in Transcarpathia, right to use their native languages in schools are lifted.” This language echoes a very specific piece of Russian propaganda.

Finally, Moskowitz proposed “that Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene…should be appointed as Vladimir Putin’s Special Envoy to the United States Congress.” 

Many congress members have left Washington, D.C., since Friday was to be the first day of a planned recess. This meant the partisan majority on the floor fluctuated. Olivia Beavers of Politico reported that that instability made Freedom Caucus members nervous enough to put together a Floor Action Response Team (FART—I am not making this up) to make sure other Republicans didn’t limit the power of the extremists when they were off the floor.

The name of their response team seems likely to be their way to signal their disrespect for the entire Congress. Their fellow Republicans are returning the heat. Today Mike Turner (R-OH) referred to the extremists as the Bully Caucus on MSNBC and said, “We need to get back to professionalism, we need to get back to governing, we need to get back to legislating.” Derrick Van Orden (R-WI) told Juliegrace Brufke of Axios:  “The vast majority of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives…are sick and tired of having people who…constantly blackmail the speaker of the House.”

Another Republican representative, Jake LaTurner of Kansas, announced today he will not run for reelection. He joins more than 20 other Republican representatives heading for the exits.

After all the drama, the House Rules Committee voted 6–3 tonight to advance the foreign aid package to the House floor. Three Republicans voted nay. While it is customary for the opposition party to vote against advancing bills out of the committee, the Democrats broke with tradition and voted in favor.

Notes:

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/04/18/opinion/donald-trump-trial-prison.html

https://www.politico.com/live-updates/2024/04/18/congress/hfc-on-alert-00153097

https://www.jns.org/house-rules-committee-debates-israel-aid-package-as-house-speaker-confronts-right-flank/

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/donald-trump-new-york-court-criminal-trial/

https://www.thedailybeast.com/jesse-watters-goes-juror-by-juror-to-sow-doubt-in-trump-hush-money-case

https://www.salon.com/2024/04/18/juror-quits-over-fear-of-being-outed-after-fox-news-host-singled-her-out/

https://www.rawstory.com/jake-laturner/#cxrecs_s

https://www.cnn.com/2024/04/18/politics/mike-johnson-speakership-rules

https://www.rawstory.com/freedom-caucus-2667810851/

https://rules.house.gov/bill/118/hr-8034

https://rules.house.gov/bill/118/hr-8035

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2024/04/18/trump-campaign-funnels-money-to-his-businesses/73344744007/

https://www.axios.com/2024/04/18/mike-johnson-gaetz-motion-to-vacate-ukraine

https://www.axios.com/2024/04/18/jake-laturner-retire-house-gop-kansas

https://www.axios.com/2024/03/27/house-members-retiring-quitting-productivity

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/04/18/us/politics/house-israel-ukraine-aid-package-explainer.html

YouTube:

watch?v=beb6GRGoNac

watch?v=xSvP8IAdvxA

Twitter (X):

JoyceWhiteVance/status/1780982656714362966

jayinkyiv/status/1781069691005419854

aaronblake/status/1780970065552113792

ronfilipkowski/status/1781066506463252709

Share

 

Continue Reading

Substacks

April 17, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

Published

on

By

 

Continue Reading

Shadow Banned

Copyright © 2023 mesh news project // awake, not woke // news, not narrative // deep inside the filter bubble