“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.“
~Dwight D. Eisenhower, Chance for Peace speech (1953)
“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.“
~Dwight D. Eisenhower, Military-Industrial Complex Speech (1961)
“It’s not the Americans, what they are doing in this country or that, or the Germans or the French or such. It’s the dominant interests in that country. If anything, the common people in these countries are themselves also the victims. It’s their taxes that are used to raise the armies. It’s their sons and brothers and now daughters and such who go in and pay the price in blood.“
~Michael Parenti, Empire vs. Democracy (2005)
As of August 2016, the US has already appropriated, spent, or taken on obligations to spend more than $3.6 trillion in current dollars on the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria and on Homeland Security (2001 through fiscal year 2016). To this total should be added the approximately $65 billion in dedicated war spending the Department of Defense and State Department have requested for the next fiscal year, 2017, along with an additional nearly $32 billion requested for the Department of Homeland Security in 2017, and estimated spending on veterans in future years. When those are included, the total US budgetary cost of the wars reaches $4.79 trillion.
But of course, a full accounting of any war’s burdens cannot be placed in columns on a ledger. From the civilians harmed or displaced by violence, to the soldiers killed and wounded, to the children who play years later on roads and fields sown with improvised explosive devices and cluster bombs, no set of numbers can convey the human toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or how they have spilled into the neighboring states of Syria and Pakistan, and come home to the US and its allies in the form of wounded veterans and contractors. Yet, the expenditures noted on government ledgers are necessary to apprehend, even as they are so large as to be almost incomprehensible. […]
In addition, any reasonable estimate of the costs of the wars includes the fact that each war entails essentially signing rather large promissory notes to fulfill the US obligations for medical care and support for wounded veterans. These future obligations will total approximately an additional $1 trillion in medical and disability payments and additional administrative burden through 2053.
This total omits many other expenses, such as the macroeconomic costs to the US economy; the opportunity costs of not investing war dollars in alternative sectors; future interest on war borrowing; and local government and private war costs. […]
Spending on the wars has involved opportunity costs for the US economy. Although military spending does produce jobs, spending in other areas such as health care could produce more jobs. Additionally, while investment in military infrastructure grew, investment in other, nonmilitary, public infrastructure such as roads and schools did not grow at the same rate.
Finally, federal war costs exclude billions of dollars of state, municipal, and private war costs across the country – dollars spent on services for returned veterans and their families, in addition to local homeland security efforts.
The insecurity that Iraqis, Afghans, and Pakistanis face extends far beyond the guns and blasts of the war. It includes lack of secure access to food, health care, housing, employment, and clean water and sanitation, as well as the loss of community.
For war refugees, these problems are exacerbated in the face of exile. Approximately 10.1 million people in these war zones have been displaced and are living in grossly inadequate conditions.
However, even if the U.S. stopped spending on war at the end of this fiscal year, the interest costs, such as debt for borrowed funds, would continue to rise. Post-9/11 military spending was financed almost entirely by borrowing, which in turn has driven debt and interest rates, the project has previously noted.
Separate reporting late last month by the U.K.-based watchdog Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) found that the Pentagon could only account for 48 percent of small arms shipped to Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11—meaning more than half of the approximately 700,000 guns it sent overseas in the past 15 years are missing.
What’s more, a recent Inspector General audit report found a “jaw-dropping” $6.5 trillion could not be accounted for in Defense spending.
The results of Crawford’s report, released last week, follow previous estimates by prominent economists like Nobel Prize-winning Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes, whose 2008 book The Three Trillion Dollar War made similar claims.
Crawford’s report continues: “Interest costs for overseas contingency operations spending alone are projected to add more than $1 trillion dollars to the national debt by 2023. By 2053, interest costs will be at least $7.9 trillion unless the U.S. changes the way it pays for the war.”
And, Crawford notes, that’s a conservative estimate.
“No set of numbers can convey the human toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or how they have spilled into the neighboring states of Syria and Pakistan, and come home to the U.S. and its allies in the form of wounded veterans and contractors,” the report states. “Yet, the expenditures noted on government ledgers are necessary to apprehend, even as they are so large as to be almost incomprehensible.”
$4.79 trillion total exceeds spending on any single war the U.S. has ever fought.
The Congressional Research Service, for example, estimates the U.S. spent $4.4 trillion on World War II, when adjusted for inflation and converted to 2016 dollars. The Vietnam War is estimated to have cost $789.5 billion, while the Korean War cost $364.8 billion.
Even in terms of noncombat government expenditures, Crawford’s multitrillion-dollar price tag is daunting. The Interstate Highway System is believed to have cost $500 billion to construct, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. The Project Apollo missions that first sent men to the moon cost more than $135 billion in 2016 dollars. Digging the original Panama Canal is believed to have cost a little more than $9 billion. […]
But even if the U.S. stopped spending on war at the end of this fiscal year, interest costs alone on borrowing to pay for the wars will continue to grow apace,” she said. “Interest costs for overseas contingency operations spending alone are projected to add more than $1 trillion dollars to the national debt by 2023.”
The supposed reconstruction of Iraq sounds like a key example of bureaucracy taking on a life of its own, where having the results looking good on paper became more important than ensuring actual results. Massive amounts of money were thrown around to make it look like something was being accomplished, with large numbers of troops there for almost a decade to help in the process.
The illegal and unconstitutional, immoral and unjustified Iraq War has already led to the death of probably at least a half million Iraqis and possibly over a million, most of those being civilians, many of whom were women and children, and surely way more than fifty gay people died in the process—not only that, it turned a stable secular society with a thriving economy and a strong middle class into a permanent war zone where Islamic extremists have taken over, creating yet one more stronghold for terrorists.
If you take the total death toll of the War On Terror, it is in the millions. Looking at one country alone, “total avoidable Afghan deaths since 2001 under ongoing war and occupation-imposed deprivation amount to around 3 million people, about 900,000 of whom are infants under five” and “Altogether, this suggests that the total Afghan death toll due to the direct and indirect impacts of US-led intervention since the early nineties until now could be as high 3-5 million.” More broadly: “According to the figures explored here, total deaths from Western interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan since the 1990s – from direct killings and the longer-term impact of war-imposed deprivation – likely constitute around 4 million (2 million in Iraq from 1991-2003, plus 2 million from the “war on terror”), and could be as high as 6-8 million people when accounting for higher avoidable death estimates in Afghanistan.”
That is a small sampling of the kinds of things the United States and its allies have done and continue to do in the Middle East along with many other areas of the world (e.g., Latin America). In some cases, it might be a severe undercount of deaths. That doesn’t even include the crippled, traumatized, orphaned, dislocated, etc. Much of the refugee crisis right now is the result of Western actions in non-Western countries.
“Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
“Those truths are well established. They are read in every page which records the progression from a less arbitrary to a more arbitrary government, or the transition from a popular government to an aristocracy or a monarchy.”
~James Madison, Political Observations (1795)
Maybe Trump is a fascist who will destroy America. But where were these people when Obama was bombing wedding parties in Kandahar, or training jihadist militants to fight in Syria, or abetting NATO’s destructive onslaught on Libya, or plunging Ukraine into fratricidal warfare, or collecting the phone records of innocent Americans, or deporting hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers, or force-feeding prisoners at Gitmo, or providing bombs and aircraft to the Saudis to continue their genocidal war against Yemen?
Where were they?
That question was asked by Mike Whitney over at CounterPunch. And it’s a good question, directed at liberals. Where were they? It’s a question I take seriously, as I’m sympathetic to the liberal cause, even as I’m frustrated by liberal failure. Whitney states, “Can we agree that there is at least the appearance of hypocrisy here?” After a lifetime of observing liberals up close, I’m strongly inclined to argue that it is far more than mere appearance. It easily could be taken as straight hypocrisy. And I have no doubt that hypocrisy was involved for many.
But to be fair, there was much else going on. From a personal perspective, I have to admit that I never protested in the streets about Obama’s wars, although for damn sure I made my voice heard as best as I was able. I didn’t vote for Obama in 2008 and so it wasn’t as if I felt he was my responsibility. I was openly and vocally complaining of Obama even before he was elected, often arguing with partisan Democrats about him. And I didn’t stop my criticisms in the following 8 years.
The thing is I did protest against the Iraq War during the Bush administration. It was the largest protest movement in world history, at least at that time. And it happened before the war even began. Even the Vietnam War protests only happened after many years of fighting and many soldiers dead. The anti-war protests under Bush were impressive and they included people across the spectrum. Most Americans initially did not support that war and it required a lot of beating of the war drums along with deceitful propaganda to change that.
Yet public opinion and public outrage meant nothing. Not even the largest protest movement in world history could stop the oligarchs from doing what they wanted. When Obama came along, he was simply repeating the policies of Bush. Sure, new countries were involved, but it was the same old shit. It was a continuation of the War on Terror, which plenty of Democrats supported even under Bush. It’s not like Obama’s wars were shocking and came out of nowhere.
I didn’t protest because protest was proven impotent. I realized that, unless the public was well informed and unless a new narrative could take hold in the public mind and unless we the public could force politicians to comply by threat of force if necessary, outward forms of political activism could accomplish nothing. The Bush years left me demoralized. And I never believed Obama’s bullshit. It was obvious to me that Obama would do little if anything good while in office and I was proven right.
So, what were we supposed to protest? That the same old shit continues no matter what we the public do. What concerns me is that the next time I care enough to protest it will mean we are on the verge of revolution. And that might come quicker than some expect. The coming years likely will radicalize many Americans.
A book about the quagmire in Iraq came out a few years ago. It was written by Peter Van Buren, a former government official. It’s about the losing of hearts and minds and lots of money.
I haven’t read the book itself, but came across some discussion about it online. The supposed reconstruction of Iraq sounds like a key example of bureaucracy taking on a life of its own, where having the results looking good on paper became more important than ensuring actual results. Massive amounts of money were thrown around to make it look like something was being accomplished, with large numbers of troops there for almost a decade to help in the process.
The popular support for the war evaporated and by 2007 most registered voters supported troop withdrawal. The U.S. government had been discussing withdrawal in the last years of the Bush administration with Congress making a decision for withdrawal in 2007 and Bush signing an agreement involving withdrawal in 2008, although Bush had already begun withdrawal in 2007.
Obama, once in office, followed Bush’s official agreement with the Iraqi government. It would have required Obama to break Bush’s agreement for him to have refused the already declared and agreed upon plans for and promises of troop withdrawal. The plans were already set in place and already being implemented before Obama took office. For him to have changed course would have meant not only breaking a formal international agreement but changing the then established US foreign policy toward Iraq that was based on troop withdrawal.
In a Reuters article by the above author, Peter Van Buren, this pessimistic conclusion was given:
As for any sort of brokered settlement among the non-Islamic State actors in Iraq, if 170,000 American troops could not accomplish that in almost nine years of trying, retrying it on a tighter timetable with fewer resources is highly unlikely to work. It is unclear what solutions the United States has left to peddle anyway, or with what credibility it would sell them, but many groups will play along to gain access to American military power for their own ends.
It failed the first time around — according to Van Buren, it was a failure early on because of lack of leadership, seemingly because of the false assumption by the Bush administration that all it takes to win a war is large numbers of troops and large piles of money. Power and wealth. There is no evidence that leadership has improved over time.
I would add that winning the Iraq War, in the traditional sense of winning, may never have been the purpose in the first place. Even leaving the country more stable might have always been irrelevant to whatever the agenda was in seeking to maintain hegemony in the Middle East. Maybe simply destabilizing the area was always the purpose, a common strategy by both the US and USSR during the Cold War.
Did you know that about the same number of people died because of the Vietnam War as have died because of the Iraq War? That death count is a bit over a million for each war.
The main difference is that a fair number of those Vietnam War deaths were US soldiers whereas only a tiny fraction of Iraq War deaths have been US soldiers. The other difference is that the Vietnam War included a mainstream media that did its job by regularly reporting those deaths, the very thing the present mainstream media fails to do.
As long as Americans aren’t dying and don’t have to be reminded about those who are dying, most Americans don’t care and often get irritable if anyone suggests they should care. The US government could kill millions more innocent people and it still wouldn’t break through the moral indifference and blissful ignorance of the American public.
That is the brilliance of the elite in ruling the American empire. They’ve figured out how to keep the imperial subjects unaware and docile, even in this age of mass media where so much info is available.
I identify with liberalism for the reason it tends towards moderation and mediation, liberals being the only US demographic to show majority support for compromise. I can’t speak for Skepoet’s predisposition, but I could make some general guesses based on his jumping from one wing to the other (right to left) apparently without spending much if any time in the middle. He is unsurprisingly more critical toward liberalism than I, an attitude I assume he carried over to some extent from the earlier right-wing period of his life.
This brings me to the specific point I wish to discuss. In our discussion, I’ve defended liberalism against some of his criticisms. His initial views of liberalism seem to put it into the context of the policies of the Democratic Party or thereabout. That isn’t entirely wrong, but just too narrowly defined for my own understanding.
As I pointed out to him, almost half of liberals are independents and the other half that is in the Democratic Party only represents a third of the party membership. I’m an independent liberal and so I’m specifically defending the broad sense of liberalism that goes beyond partisan politics with emphasis on the psychological understanding of what motivates the liberal mindset. With their desire for compromise, partisan politics probably bothers liberals more than any other political group, partisan polarization being the complete opposite of bipartisan compromise. In this sense, liberals don’t like dogmatism or at least don’t embrace it in the way and to the extent more often seen on the far right (or even on the far left). This makes perfect sense when one looks at the psychological research where ‘liberalism’ practically equates to ‘openness to experience’, this ‘openness’ both being a strength (e.g., compromise) and a weakness (e.g., capitulation)… or, as some conservatives have stated it, don’t have a mind so open that your brains fall out.
Even though the Democratic Party isn’t specifically a liberal party, it is the party that ends up representing liberalism in the minds of many non-liberals and in the minds as well of many more mainstream liberals. Whether or not Obama is genuinely a liberal, I understand he does play the role of and uses the rhetoric of liberalism (although not in the way that makes independent liberals happy).
In the discussion with Skepoet, I was comparing the Occupy movement to the Bush era anti-war movement. Skepoet responded with the following:
How large was the anti-war movement in the US and how sincere was it? Because it effectively died when Obama went into office, but we are now in three wars instead of two.
I must admit that I was annoyed by this. Sincerity in this context seemed to imply an ideological or moral purity. As a liberal, this left-wing demand for ‘sincerity’ comes off as elitist or else just plain self-righteous. The average person doing their best to get involved is simply not good enough. I realize I might be reading too much into Skepoet’s question, but for some reason it rubbed me the wrong way. Even so, I chose to keep my emotional response out of the discussion and so responded more neutrally:
How large was the anti-war movement in the US?
As I recall from research I’ve done in the past, the US anti-war movement during the Bush administration was the largest protest movement in the US at that time. It was supposedly the largest protest movement in the world. The previous protest movement that I’m aware of that had been the largest in US history and which went global was the nuclear disarmament movement in the 1980s.
How sincere was it?
Sincerity is a relative trait. As the largest protest movement at that time, I’d say it had more sincerity than most political movements. It included libertarians, liberals, anarchists, minarchists, isolationists, pacifists, veterans, social justice Christians, and on and on.
I can’t speak for the whole movement, but I can speak for the part of the movement I was involved in here. There was a protest camp that lasted for months, having started in spring and continuing until the weather turned cold. Besides that camp, anti-war activists regularly protested for years and continues to this day. I constantly hear about anti-war protests in the US, although they get less attention in the MSM. It is far from dead. In my entire life, I’ve never experienced such a long-lasting protest movement.
Yes, the wars have continued and increased even. But you can’t blame that on the protesters. The protests continued. Also, the outrage that fueled those protests is the same outrage that fueled the Tea Party movement and now the Occupy movement. The Ron Paul libertarians were major supporters of the anti-war movement and many of them supported the Tea Party and now many of them support OWS. This is true for other political groups as well. You tend to find the same activists supporting each new manifestation of protest. They are all connected. An Occupy protest camp was formed a while back and it is the first protest camp we’ve had in Iowa City since the peace camp. Many of these people voted for Obama, but it hasn’t stopped them from voicing their outrage.
Skepoet then gave an answer that could be taken as final proof of the failure of the protester’s and of liberals in general:
I’ve been meaning to respond to this for a while, but I wanted to be very clear in my refutation of this supposed proof.
Let me point out some of the limits of generalizing too much on the basis of this “scholarly evidence”. But first let me consider the complaint itself: Democrats stopped protesting after Obama was elected. Is that true? What were the conclusions of the research?
After Obama’s election as president, Democratic participation in antiwar activities plunged, falling from 37 percent in January 2009 to a low of 19 percent in November 2009, Heaney and Rojas say.
So, the complaint was that only 1/5 of Democrats (instead of slightly above 1/3 of Democrats) were willing to protest against the wars once Obama was elected? Accepting that as true, Democrats still represented one of the highest if not the highest portions of the anti-war movement during both Republican and Democratic administrations. That is supposed to be damning evidence? That is the great failure of all liberals and Democrats? This is proof of the superiority of more radical activists?
Anyway, it’s not as if the protests against the wars stopped. And certaintly it’s not as if liberals and Democrats stopped protesting for what they believed in simply because a Democrat was president.
From surveys conducted during national antiwar actions, the researchers found that people who self-identified as Democrats represented “a major constituency in the antiwar movement during 2007 and 2008,” accounting for 37 to 54 percent of participants. Those who identified as members of third parties represented 7 to 13 percent. (The rest indicated that they were independents, Republicans, or members of more than one party.)
As I was arguing, the movement included a diversity of supporters. Democrats were at most 1/2 of the participants and possibly only ever represented a 1/3 of the movement. The anti-war movement was never just about liberals, especially not just liberal Democrats (I’m a liberal who isn’t a Democrat; I participated in the anti-war protest movement and didn’t vote for Obama). What about all of the other groups involved? Why did the Ron Paul libertarians abandon the anti-war movement in order to campaign for Ron Paul and then later to join the Tea Party?
There are many explanations. But it should be pointed out this research was done years after the point when protest movement had some of its early strong support. The anti-war protests started in 2002 and gained their strongest momentum in 2003. Why would anyone reasonably expect the movement to sustain that same energy for the next 9 years following those first protests?
The anti-war protests began as an attempt to stop the invasion in Iraq from happening at all. It failed in that, but certainly the protesters can’t be blamed for what has followed since the invasion. Being against the invasion and being for pulling out are two separate issues. I was against the invasion and yet I believe we should fix what we break. The challenge, however, has been that if we don’t try to fix it the problem could get worse and if we try to fix it the problem might get worse. There are no clear answers at this point. The only clear answer that ever was a possibility was to never invade in the first place. Once the Iraq War was started, there was little hope that protesters could hold onto. Protest increasingly became symbolic rather than pragmatically effective toward some positive end. Worse just leads to worse.
The other purpose of the anti-war movement was to sway public opinion. It is a fact that public opinion has turned away from supporting the wars, and so on that account the anti-war movement has been an unqualified success. The public has become demoralized with the wars just as the anti-war protesters have become demoralized. Everyone has become demoralized by everything that is going on: endless and pointless wars, crony capitalism, a co-opted democracy, and on and on. Even as public support turns away from the wars, there is no sense of having won anything in the process. The public support has turned away from lots of things (the drug war, the culture war, etc) and yet it feels like nothing changes. The media and the government go on as if everything is the same.
What more is expected of the anti-war movement? Protesters can’t force the government to do anything and protesters can’t solve the problems caused by the very war they’ve been against. Many people have continued to protest against war, but people have had their lives and energies focused on the other issues (such as the economy) for reasons beyond their control. With many people hurting (growing poverty and shrinking middle class, unemployment or underemployment, house foreclosures, debt, lost life savings, struggling small businesses, etc), and so people have joined other causes and movements (fighting the Patriot Act, ending Gitmo, and freeing Bradley Manning; election reform, healthcare reform, tax reform, and regulatory reform; Tea Party, Coffee Party, and Occupy movement; etc) which has diffused the energy of the anti-war movement.
Anyway, I understand the criticisms. I’m critical of almost everything in the world these days. I just don’t see why the liberals should be blamed for everything and why all liberals (nearly half of whom, according to Pew’s Beyond Red vs Blue, are Independents) should be accused of being mindless Obama drones. Were there Obama supporters who withdrew from the anti-war movement? No shit, Sherlock. Was the anti-war movement nothing more than mindless Democratic loyalists? Don’t be silly.
I must admit that I don’t get the point of the criticism you are making. The support for Bush’s wars was bipartisan. Bush and his policies gained public support after 9/11 and the American public wanted revenge. When the anti-war protests began, most Democrats weren’t involved in it. Certainly, Democratic politicians weren’t involved in those early anti-war protests. I doubt that a majority of Democratic voters have ever been involved at the same time in the anti-war protest movement. It’s too simplistic to speak about Democrats hating Bush. Most Democrats, like most other Americans, were more bothered by the Patriot Act than by the wars. As I pointed out above, most Democrats aren’t liberals.
I wouldn’t be so quick to judge anti-war activists. I looked at the research by Heaney and Rojas. I’m not sure it supports your conclusion. First, the Independents (which would include the liberal independents) have maintained strong involvement in the anti-war protests. Second, Democrats decreased involvement by half, but that still leaves 20% involved which is still a fairly large proportion and which is more than the approximately 0% of Republicans involved. Third, as Democrats involvement decreased, third party voters increased by the exact same percentage which could imply that many of the anti-war Democrats didn’t actually stop being involved but simply became third party voters (maybe as they became dissatisfied with Obama). So, the overall participation percentages somewhat balance out over the two year period, the only clear change being the label by which the anti-war activists identified themselves.
(To which I would add: If some Democrats can be criticized for having left the anti-war movement, it would only be fair to praise the high number of Democrats who remained in the movment. Furthermore, it would only be fair to criticize almost all Republicans for never having joined the movement and it would only be fair to criticize Independents in not increasing their involvement until after Obama was elected.)
It’s not as if the anti-war protest movement has died. I still see people in downtown Iowa City with signs protesting the war. Also, I was just talking to a friend the other day. He went on a road trip and stopped by an anti-war protest where some people were arrested for stepping onto a military base. I think it might be this protest:
Just because the national mainstream media doesn’t report on all of these protests around the country, it doesn’t mean they aren’t happening all the time. Just because a few Democrats you knew left the anti-war movement while campaigning for Obama, doesn’t mean that all or most people left the anti-war movement and it doesn’t even mean those Democrats didn’t later return to the anti-war movement.
“Oddly, the polls are sometimes cited to prove the ineptitude of the peace movement. With so many Americans against the war in Afghanistan, why isn’t the peace movement stronger? A fair question, yet one that omits the possibility that the efforts of local peace groups have contributed to that public skepticism.
“If the continued existence of the peace movement is unrecognized, how can this be explained? One is the complete freeze-out by the mainstream media. Since 2003, there have been no fewer than four national demonstrations attended by more than 100,000 people, yet the only one to receive coverage was the huge New York City gathering in the run-up to the Iraq War. The others were so many trees falling in the forest, which nobody could hear or see unless they were personally marching.
“But while the silence in the mainstream media is perhaps predictable, more surprising and less excusable has been the failure of progressive news outlets to provide positive attention to peace organizations. Since 2001, these alternative outlets have done an extraordinary job of reporting American actions abroad and providing sophisticated analysis of international events that are elsewhere ignored. Barely mentioned have been the mass antiwar mobilizations of the past eight years, the ongoing campaigns to move the Congress, or the steady, creative work of antiwar activists in towns and cities across the United States. The demoralizing result is a constant imbalance between the depressing news about U.S. foreign policy and the apparent lack of resistance here. Individuals who are not already part of the existing peace networks often conclude there is nothing useful to be done and focus elsewhere.
“In recent weeks, the silence has been broken by a handful of articles lamenting the absence of a peace movement and attributing its collapse to a misplaced enthusiasm for President Obama and the Democratic Party. In this narrative, the antiwar movement is characterized as nothing more than a partisan club to beat George W. Bush over the head with. Therefore, the story goes, once this particular “evildoer” had retired to Texas, the peace activists simply folded up their tents and abandoned the field. But this description takes no account of the thousands of people across the country who have organized protests for the past decade out of the conviction that the wars are wrong.”
Now I’ll respond to some of your other points.
“you ask where are all the Ron Paul anti-war activists? While there may have been some of those voices involved the bulk were clearly people who identified with the Dems & MoveOn who made it their mission to hate Bush.”
I always had the sense that a fair number of libertarians were involved in the anti-war protest movement, but I’ve never seen specific data. Is there a source of data you are basing your opinion on? Why would you assume many libertarians weren’t involved? Libertarians have tended to be anti-war for a long time. The oldest and most prominent anti-war website (antiwar.com) was started by a libertarian in 1995. The most well known libertarian (Ron Paul) is vocal about being anti-war. Certainly, libertarians hated Bush (with his policies such as the Patriot Act) about as much than liberals. It is true, though, that libertarians haven’t been known for their supporting the activism that liberals are involved in. As one article stated it:
“For that matter, where was the libertarian right during the great struggles for individual liberty in America in the last half-century? The libertarian movement has been conspicuously absent from the campaigns for civil rights for nonwhites, women, gays and lesbians. Most, if not all, libertarians support sexual and reproductive freedom (though Rand Paul has expressed doubts about federal civil rights legislation). But civil libertarian activists are found overwhelmingly on the left. Their right-wing brethren have been concerned with issues more important than civil rights, voting rights, abuses by police and the military, and the subordination of politics to religion — issues like the campaign to expand human freedom by turning highways over to toll-extracting private corporations and the crusade to funnel money from Social Security to Wall Street brokerage firms.”
Even so, I’m not the only person on the left who recognizes the role libertarians have played in the anti-war movement. Thaddeus Russell said:
“I’m a man of the Left. I was raised by socialists in Berkeley. I’ve always been on the Left. But I stumbled upon antiwar.com about three years ago and was blown away. I said ‘This is what the Left should be doing! This is what the Left should be saying!’ Libertarians and sort of paleocons–but especially libertarians like antiwar.com . . . like Ron Paul–have been the leading voices of the anti-war movement. They’ve been the most principled–the most consistent–no matter who’s president. They’ve been saying again and again and again, ‘These wars are disasters. The Empire must end.’”
On the other hand, there are libertarians who mistrust and denounce the anti-war protests as being merely ‘liberal’. In response to such a libertarian, here is what one self-identified “anti-war liberal” (username Southern Guardian) said in a forum discussion:
“I never saw the anti-war protests as a political movement, and it’s very interesting that you label the anti-war protests as purely those of liberals. Are you admitting that you and other Ron Paul supporters/libertarians never participated? The protests in 2003-2005 were anti-war, that’s it. I never saw myself apart of any political movement, infact I never even saw myself as anti-war as I personally believe it is necessary at times. My stances along with others were rather a protest against the governments campaign against Iraq specifically and lies contained within. Myself and many others supported Afghanistan efforts until the recent capture of Osama Bin Ladin. ”
He expresses my own view. I’ve never been a partisan. In fact, I can’t stand party politics. When I was involved in the anti-war movement, I never thought of it as being a movement of only or mostly Democrats. There definitely wasn’t any Democratic Party material lying around or anything. It always seemed a diverse group to me. At the Iowa City peace camp, there were students, non-students (like me), hippies, veterans, and even some homeless kids. I never asked anyone who they voted for and it didn’t seem to matter since no one asked me either. I knew Republicans were against the peace camp since at one point they temporarily set up a counter-protest camp, but at no point did I ever get the idea that libertarians weren’t welcome in the peace camp. The anti-war protest movement was a part of the protests against Bush policies in general, and it was out of that defense of civil libertarianism that the Ron Paul libertarian movement gained momentum.
“The third point is a classic liberal response that “we have to fix” the mess we made. The Iraqis have been saying for years that they want us to leave, so they should have the primary say in this matter. More importantly, the US has never had any intention of “fixing” Iraq. US policy put Saddam Hussein in power, funded his war with Iran, provided him with the WMDs, invaded and bombed Iraq in 1991, imposed the most brutal sanction regime on any country in history for 12 years, then invaded/occupied again in 2003. During this current occupation the US has set up permanent military bases, privatized much of the economy, including oil as a means to have greater longer term influence on Iraq’s economy……see Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine.””
I’m familiar with all of that. You seem to have misunderstood me. My point was that, if the US destroys the infrastructure of a country in a pointless and unjustified war, then it would be fair and just for the US to at least rebuild that infrastructure to some extent (make roads passable, make water and electric plants operable, etc). I wasn’t talking about nation-building.
I added one even more important point that critics seem oblivious of:
As for Obama, he promised that he would withdraw troops and that is what he is doing. I realize he didn’t do it as quickly as his critics would have preferred, but this seems to prove valid the anti-war protesters who decided to support Obama. If McCain had been elected, maybe there would have been no troop withdrawal at all. I’m not a fan of Obama, but I try to be fair in my assessment of his presidency.
Skepoet would have a point if Obama hadn’t fulfilled his basic promise, however imperfectly. We can argue over various factors, but the broad point remains the same.
The anti-war protesters, Democrats included, managed to accomplish two of their main goals:
They helped swayed public opinion away from supporting the war effort.
They helped bring the Iraq War ever closer to being ended.
Considering their powerful opponents, that is a massive success… even if qualified by the larger context of the War on Terror that continues in that region. It is hardly inspiring to criticize protesters even when they have victories, no matter how minor you may think those victories are. Yes, it would have been better if the wars had ended earlier, but it seems to be clear at this point that they are coming to an end. Yes, military bases and contractors will remain in Iraq for the time being; still, you should accept the victories you can get.
Looking at other criticisms, I came across the following which mentions in some detail the anti-war movement in Iowa City, the location of the peace camp I was involved with in 2003. This critic brings up some good points about what went wrong:
There is no longer an antiwar group of any relevance in Iowa City. The UIAC is dead, thanks to the departure of the best activists, the nefarious activities of an FBI informant, internal squabbles over personalities and Israel, and – last but not least – the significant demobilizing impact of a Democratic president who deceptively ran as an antiwar candidate.
What caught my attention was the reference to the FBI. I had forgotten about that. The FBI has a long history of disrupting and even destroying grassroots movements. With the Patriot Act, the FBI had been newly empowered to go even further than they would have prior to 9/11.
The outrage that greeted the run-up to the Bush-Blair Iraq war debacle generated what must have been the largest antiwar rallies and demonstrations in the history of the world. Sometimes in subzero temperatures, millions of marchers in New York, London and elsewhere took to the streets to interrupt the roar of self-righteous crypto-imperial bravado, to barge through George Bush’s strutters’ ball and its fevers of fantastical, deceptive and self-deceptive claims about Saddam Hussein’s danger to the United States and Washington’s promise to parachute democracy into Saddam’s stricken land. In the well-chosen words of one London sign, the marchers were “Shocked, Not Awed.”
Then the marches stopped.
The author then goes on to give many reasons, all of which I agree with. Grassroots is never easy even under perfect conditions, and the situation the anti-war movement faced was challenging to say the least. In response to that analysis, here is a good argument for why the death of the peace movement is greatly exaggerated:
In an article in Salon.com, Todd Gitlin writes a convincing obituary for an antiwar movement killed by a thousand blows: crushed by Bush’s pigheadedness, dumped in the media’s black hole, rendered invisible by a volunteer army and drones, overshadowed by more urgent financial crises, chastened by the “unpleasantness” of adversaries from Taliban to al-Qaida to Gadhafi. He leaves out some other daggers to the heart of the movement: grass-roots election campaigns that lured away millions of activists; betrayals by the president and groups like MoveOn who used and abused the antiwar sentiment; craven congressional reps who violate the will of their constituents by continuing to fund war; powerful lobbyists for the war industry who wield enormous power in Washington; and the utter exhaustion that sets in after 10 years of standing up to the largest military complex the world has ever seen.
Despite all these challenges, however, the reports of the death of the antiwar movement are greatly exaggerated. Sure, there are no longer millions marching in the streets — but there aren’t millions marching in American streets for any cause these days. Lacking the staying power of Tahrir Square, our weekend rallies failed to effect policy and left people disillusioned — and bored. That’s why creative and media-savvy activism 2.0 tactics — like flash mobs, Twitter culture jams and YouTube videos — have emerged that engage with the younger generation.
And that’s why the movement has transformed as well. Rather than marching in circles and chanting slogans to ourselves, we’re reaching deep into our communities to make connections between the economic crises our neighborhoods face and the wars that rob us of scarce resources.
The author then goes on to give the examples of the continued activism. Then the author concludes with the following:
Finally, we have been busy trying to insert the anti-war message in the broader movements for social and economic justice. While our message is sometimes rebuffed or marginalized in activities closely linked to the Democratic Party, at every major rally for jobs, civil rights or corporate responsibility, you’ll find anti-war activists.
As Todd Gitlin knows well, movements ebb and flow. We are certainly not at our zenith, but we are still breathing. The Arab Spring has given us new inspiration, and as the 10th anniversary of the senseless war in Afghanistan approaches in October, you can expect to see the antiwar movement not just breathing, but kicking into high gear with an open-ended mobilization in D.C. starting on Oct. 7 and artistic actions throughout the country under the banner of 10 Years and Counting. We invite Todd and others who have been writing about our demise to come join us.
Also, take for example these comments to the above article:
Posted by orbit7er Jul 21 2011 – 8:56am
My own local Peace Group has been having a Peace Vigil every Friday since September 11, 2001. We are still there… At first when Bush started the Iraq War we got middle finger salutes.. But within some months those turned to peace signs and honks of support. And every week still we get peace signs and honks of support… The vast majority of Americans want to END these Wars!
Posted by suhail_shafi Jul 21 2011 – 8:25pm
I do not think that the anti war movement is dead at all. Much of US and Western public opinion is opposed or at least skeptical of the US invasion of Iraq and the NATO attack on Libya.
If the mission of the anti war movement was to end all wars, it has indeed failed miserably. But if the mission of the movement was to galvanize public opinion against the wars, it has been an unqualified success.
This whole Solyndra mess is kind of a big deal — until you consider some of our more tenuous, poorly planned investments. There will not be a Congressional inquiry into the Bush administration’s pre-emptive war against Iraq founded on lies or into the Obama administration’s murder of more than 2,000 civilians, 160 of them children, in Pakistan as a result of continuing drone strikes.
Even on a purely monetary scale, the money lost to Solyndra is overwhelmed by the amount spent on other failed causes. The money squandered on Solyndra is measured in hundreds of millions, but a Brown University study released earlier this year puts the total cost of our “War on Terror” at $4 trillion — nearly one-third of the national debt.
There’s no return on investment, either: As I’ve written about before, the burgeoning security state and bloated surveillance industry have left us with a dearth of evidence that we are any safer now than we were 11 years ago. Meanwhile, both Afghanistan and Libya have fallen into civil war after their supposed “liberation.” And in purely humanist terms, our post-9/11 foreign policy has led to unquantifiable suffering in the form of the war crimes that inevitably stem from hostilities.
Of course I stand opposed to corporatism, whether it comes in the form of preferential treatment for loans or fat payouts to military contractors. If Solyndra circumvented the usual procedures because of politics or cronyism, there should rightfully be disciplinary actions extending to the highest level of government.
But I’m flummoxed by the incessant media attention given to these more mild cases of waste. War, and particularly the kind of nebulous open-ended war that we began after Sept. 11, 2001, is a far worse investment than Solyndra. But this is the truth that no one dares speak, and it is practically a civil heresy: Our wars have primarily been tremendous and catastrophic failures. Where they have “succeeded,” (and what counts as success?) they have led to suffering and moral compromise.
It’s a good article which I thought expressed well the problems we face. However, in the comments section, I was given example of how people can miss the point of such criticisms.
G_Dispersion wrote: “Good point Shay, It is just varying degrees of 1 F up after another.”
Here is my response to that comment:
Actually, that misses the point. It’s not about “1 F up after another”. Rather, it’s about how the money could be better spenton programs that help the American public and which the American public supports. Most Americans aren’t anti-government, although most Americans are against corporatism and the military-industrial complex.
However, it is easy to get people mad over the mistakes and corruption of government. That is the problem. The vast majority of things the government does well rarely gets much reporting. It’s the same reason deaths get reported all the time while people going on living isn’t news-worthy.
This is explained well by Francis Fukuyama in his book ‘The Origins of Political Order’:
It is quite legitimate to argue that modern governments have grown excessively large, and that they thereby limit economic growth and individual freedom. People are right to complain about unresponsive bureaucracy, corrupt politicians, and the unprincipled nature of politics. But in the developed world, we take the existence of government so much for granted that we sometimes forget how important it is, and how difficult it was to create, and what the world would look like without certain basic political institutions.
It is not only that we take democracy for granted; we also take for granted the fact that we have a state at all that can carry out certain basic functions. Fairfax County, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C., where I lived for many years, is one of the richest countries in the United States. Every winter, potholes appear in the county’s roads as a result of the seasonal freezing and thawing after winter storms. And yet by the end of the spring, all of those potholes get magically filled so no one has to worry about breaking an axle in one. If they don’t get filled, the residents of Fairfax County get angry and complain about the incompetence of local government; no one (apart from a few specialists in public administration) ever stops to think about the complex, invisible social system that makes this possible, or why it takes longer to fill potholes in the neighboring District of Columbia, or why potholes never get filled in many developing countries.
Indeed, the kinds of minimal or no-government societies envisioned by dreamers of the Left and Right are not fantasies; they actually exist in the contemporary developing world. Many parts of sub-Saharan Africa are a libertarian’s paradise. The region as a whole is a low-tax utopia, with governments often unable to collect more than about 10 percent of GDP in taxes, compared to more than 30 percent in the United States and 50 percent in parts of Europe. Rather than unleashing entrepreneurship, this low rate of taxation means that basic public services like health, education, and pothole filling are starved of funding. The physical infrastructure on which modern economy rests, like roads, court systems and police, are missing. In Somalia, where a strong central government has not existed since the late 1980s, ordinary individuals may own not just assault rifles but also rocket-propelled grenades, antiaircraft missiles, and tanks. People are free to protect their own families, and indeed are forced to do so. Nigeria has a film industry that produces as many titles as India’s famed Bollywood, but films have to earn a quick return because the government is incapable of guaranteeing intellectual property rights and preventing products from being copied illegally.
The degree to which people in developed countries take political institutions for granted was very much evident in the way that the United States planned, or failed to plan, for the aftermath of its 2003 invasion of Iraq. The U.S. administration seemed to think that democracy and a market economy were default conditions to which the country would automatically revert once Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship was removed, and seemed genuinely surprised when the Iraqi state itself collapsed in an orgy of looting and civil conflict. U.S. purposes have been similarly stymied in Afghanistan, where ten years of effort and the investment of hundreds of billions of dollars have not produced a stable, legitimate Afghan state.
Political institutions are necessary and cannot be taken for granted. A market economy and high levels of wealth don’t magically appear when you “get government out of the way”; they rest on a hidden institutional foundation of property rights, rule of law, and basic political order. A free market, a vigorous civil society, the spontaneous “wisdom of crowds” are all important components of a working democracy, but none can ultimately replace the functions of a strong, hierarchical government. There has been a broad recognition among economists in recent years that “institutions matter”: poor countries are poor not because they lack resources, but because they lack effective political institutions. We need therefore to better understand where those institutions come from.
That rant was quite satisfying. I’ve noticed lately a lot of frustrated ranting from progressive liberals, specifically from people who aren’t known for their ranting. The guy in the above video is someone I regularly watch and I don’t recall ever having seen him gone off on a rant like that. Another example of this is Thom Hartmann which I made a longer post about:
I’ve grown tired of the weak sauce moderate centrists that have taken over the Democratic Party. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama seem like nice people. I respect them as far as my respect goes for most professional politicians of the moderate centrist variety, but I don’t respect them as liberals and for damned sure I don’t respect them as progressives… because they are neither.
I’d love to see Washington politics filled with passionate defenders of progressive liberalism. People like Bernie Sanders, Anthony Weiner, and Alan Grayson. I don’t care if I entirely agree with everything these people say and do. I just want people who have strong convictions that they are willing to fight for. I don’t want professional politicians who only care about maintaining their power by maintaining the status quo, who only care about advancing their careers.
I want a functioning democracy where citizens have real influence. I want civic participation like never seen before. I want people angry and out in the streets.
I know I’m part of the problem. Like most Americans, I’m apathetic and cynical. But, at least, I’m not ignorant. I know what is going on and I know I don’t like it. I want to live in a society where everyone matters, not just the rich and powerful. I want to live in a society where justice and fairness matters.
I don’t want to live in a society where the powerful get away with lying to the public, get away with blatant corruption, get away with war crimes. Is that too much to ask for? I don’t know. I too often feel isolated in caring about any of this. The media seems to intentionally isolate us. The mainstream media personalities usually just distract us from anything of consequence. When someone in the media actually says something true and says it with passion (which usually only happens in the alternative media), I feel part of myself wake up from apathy.
I want all of society to wake up. I was reading a book about the Populist Era where a person of that time was quoted. The person spoke of it in the terms of a whole generation waking up to the corruption as if the flames of the Holy Spirit brought forth a revival across the land. It’s amazing to read about that time. People were content and apathetic… and then all of a sudden they were fighting for a whole new vision of society. What wakes up a generation like that? What is the event that finally pushes people just too far and it somehow becomes collectively determined that they can’t, won’t take it anymore? How do people go from feeling like powerless individuals to feeling like a collective force to be reckoned with?
– – –
I was looking through my books about the Populist Era, but I couldn’t find the exact quote I was thinking of. Instead, I found a couple of passages from one book that describe clearly what was going on at the time.
Rebirth of a Nation by Jackson Lears
…had demonstrated what insurgents could do by connecting monetary reform to a wide range of egalitarian and anti-monopoly policies. They could challenge the notion that government was a private (white) men’s club; they could widen the public sphere by creating common ground among the indebted classes, linking farmers and laborers, even blacks and whites. Of course these alliances were shaky and easily toppled. But they provided political outsiders—people who had never imagined themselves acting effectually in public—with a glimpse of what an insurgency could do. As the historian Lawrence Goodwyn has argued, this was a crucial moment in the creation of a “movement culture”: a mass of insurgents becoming visible (to themselves and others) as political actors for the first time.
Farther west, the Farmers’ Alliances had embarked on a similar project. The organization began in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Kansas as a counterforce to the feelings of isolation and impotence that enveloped the countryside in the 1880s. Dividing into Northern and Southern Alliances, the farmers nevertheless soon began to see themselves as part of a huge and effectual national movement—and not merely another interest group scuffling for narrow gain.
Indeed, Kansas was one of the states where the Farmers’ Alliance began to take on the characteristics of a regenerative mass movement—described by various observers as “a pentecost of politics,” “a religious revival,” and “a crusade.” Along with stump speeches by Macune and other orators, Farmers’ Alliance meetings featured long parades of wagons stretching for miles, decorated with evergreens to symbolize the “living issues” of the Alliance rather than the dead tariffs and bloody shirts of the existing two-party system. The plain people could see themselves acting politically en masse. In Kansas as elsewhere, farmers fired up by the experience of participatory democracy began to take matters into their own hands. The insurgent culture produced insurgent politics. In Harper County, Kansas, the Alliance demanded stricter usury laws; in Brown County they protested “the extortions of the binding twine trust” and proceeded “at once to the erection of a co-operative manufactory for binding twine.” This was how a democratic social movement was born.
Still, the Alliance had to overcome the power of regional and racial mistrust. Little more than twenty years earlier, Midwesterners and Southerners had been killing each other at Fredericksburg and Chickamauga. Old resentments died hard, as Garrison understood when he recommended the bloody shirt to Republican orators. At the same time, the two regions’ shared evangelical ethos began to acquire greater strength and political significance, bringing old antagonists together on common cultural terrain.
I heard once again someone stating that Democrats start more wars. To give a quick response to that statement, I’d point out that it takes both parties to start a war… and there is a big difference between wars of defense and wars of aggression. But the comment and my response isn’t all that important… or, I should say, not all that interesting to me.The reason for this is because the person was responding to a comment where I didn’t even mention either of the parties. I don’t care to defend the war record of the Democratic Party. I’m an independent liberal, not a Democrat.
“I always wonder why rightwingers love war so much. Looking past all the patriotic propaganda, destroyed lives is the reality of war. But once the soldiers come home all the lovers of war suddenly stop caring.”
Starting with this as a working hypothesis, I have two purposes for this post. First, I want to clarify what I see as the differences between ‘rightwingers’ and ‘liberals’, both being specific demographics rather than broad categories. Second, I want to determine what the data shows about each demograhic.
– – –
I’ve pointed out many times that (based on the data from Beyond Red vs. Blue) only a 1/3 of Democrats even identify as liberals and almost 1/2 of liberals are Independents. Other sources show:
According to recent surveys by the New York Times and CBS News, between 18% and 27% of American adults identify as liberal, versus moderate or conservative. In the 2008 presidential election, exit polls showed that 22% of the electorate self-identified as “liberal.”
Furthermore, Republicans and Democrats had a major ideological reversal over this past century.
“Prior to 1964, both parties had their liberal, moderate, and conservative wings, each of them influential in both parties… After 1980, the Republicans became a mostly right-wing party… while the Democrats, while keeping their left wing intact… grew a substantial moderate wing in the 1990s in place of their old conservative wing”
So-called far leftwingers such as Obama are more conservative than many past Republicans such as Eisenhower. Heck, Obama is more socially conservative in terms of his actual policies (continuing the War on Drugs, Gitmo, and torture) than many rightwing libertarians. Partisan rhetoric doesn’t mean much to me, but I do consider meaningful the differences between liberal and conservative (as general worldviews, attitudes, and psychological traits).
I’ve written about the correlation, although not equivalence, of conservatism and right-wing authoritarianism (RWA)… or, to be more specific, about the correlation that at least exists within the population of the United States (to be fair, the correlation may not exist in other countries, especially not in countries that don’t have a rightwing religious tradition). At that post I quoted the following:
It is not that all Republicans are authoritarians; nor that all Democrats are non-authoritarian. Far from it. And people adopt party affiliations for a variety of reasons. But whereas those with the authoritarian cognitive style used to be more evenly split between the parties, decades of appeals for “states rights”, “law and order”, and against ERA, gay rights and immigration reform have concentrated this particular personality type in the GOP. And the consequence of that decades-long process has been the emergence of a Republican party that is, to a remarkable degree, built on viscera — on appeals to anger and resentment, and a deeply-felt conviction that America is breaking down irretrievably and that the way to stop that process is to demonize and marginalize outgroups deemed responsible for that breakdown. And this is no longer a geographically confined phenomenon, but a fully national one.
I’ve also written about recent research showing that conservatives have a predisposition toward violence. For example, here is a description of one study:
The finding suggests that people who are particularly sensitive to signals of visual or auditory threats also tend to adopt a more defensive stance on political issues, such as immigration, gun control, defense spending and patriotism. People who are less sensitive to potential threats, by contrast, seem predisposed to hold more liberal positions on those issues.
– – –
I’m not sure how strong of conclusions can be based on any of this data, but it caused me to consider two lines of thought.
First, I was wondering if liberals are always in the minority. The challenge is that liberalism never wins in that the goalposts are always shifting. What was liberal in the past just becomes the new conservative. So, the status quo is always in a sense conservative. This can be seen, for example, with conservatives identifying with classical liberalism which is just the liberalism from past centuries turned into an unchanging ideology. Or, as another example, most Americans identify as conservative even though the positions they hold are what liberals have been fighting for since the founding of the United States (US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism).
Another reason for the minority status of liberals is that maybe liberal genetics are newer in human evolution. Satoshi Kanazawa proposed a theory along these lines in order to explain the correlation of liberalism and higher IQ.
“General intelligence, the ability to think and reason, endowed our ancestors with advantages in solving evolutionarily novel problems for which they did not have innate solutions,” says Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics and Political Science. “As a result, more intelligent people are more likely to recognize and understand such novel entities and situations than less intelligent people, and some of these entities and situations are preferences, values, and lifestyles.”
An earlier study by Kanazawa found that more intelligent individuals were more nocturnal, waking up and staying up later than less intelligent individuals. Because our ancestors lacked artificial light, they tended to wake up shortly before dawn and go to sleep shortly after dusk. Being nocturnal is evolutionarily novel.
In the current study, Kanazawa argues that humans are evolutionarily designed to be conservative, caring mostly about their family and friends, and being liberal, caring about an indefinite number of genetically unrelated strangers they never meet or interact with, is evolutionarily novel. So more intelligent children may be more likely to grow up to be liberals.
Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) support Kanazawa’s hypothesis. Young adults who subjectively identify themselves as “very liberal” have an average IQ of 106 during adolescence while those who identify themselves as “very conservative” have an average IQ of 95 during adolescence.
Similarly, religion is a byproduct of humans’ tendency to perceive agency and intention as causes of events, to see “the hands of God” at work behind otherwise natural phenomena. “Humans are evolutionarily designed to be paranoid, and they believe in God because they are paranoid,” says Kanazawa. This innate bias toward paranoia served humans well when self-preservation and protection of their families and clans depended on extreme vigilance to all potential dangers. “So, more intelligent children are more likely to grow up to go against their natural evolutionary tendency to believe in God, and they become atheists.”
Young adults who identify themselves as “not at all religious” have an average IQ of 103 during adolescence, while those who identify themselves as “very religious” have an average IQ of 97 during adolescence.
In addition, humans have always been mildly polygynous in evolutionary history. Men in polygynous marriages were not expected to be sexually exclusive to one mate, whereas men in monogamous marriages were. In sharp contrast, whether they are in a monogamous or polygynous marriage, women were always expected to be sexually exclusive to one mate. So being sexually exclusive is evolutionarily novel for men, but not for women. And the theory predicts that more intelligent men are more likely to value sexual exclusivity than less intelligent men, but general intelligence makes no difference for women’s value on sexual exclusivity. Kanazawa’s analysis of Add Health data supports these sex-specific predictions as well.
So, even though liberals have influence to varying degrees depending on the society, liberalism will likely never be the predominant attitude in any society. My suspicion is that most politicians aren’t on average as liberal as certain other similarly well-educated demographics: artists, writers, journalists, academics, scientists, grassroots activists, et cetera. It seems to me that those with strong liberalism probably wouldn’t be very interested in national public office because mainstream politics is dominated by cronyism and corporatism. The few strong liberals who do get into national politics probably don’t often advance very far in their political careers.
My second line of thought was an extension of my previous blog posts on this topic. What exactly are the real world results of these predispositions? I did some quick research to see if I would come across any new info. A couple items caught my attention.
Here is a paper about right-wing authoritarianism (and social dominance orientation) in the context of the 9/11 attack:
In sum, our study contributes to the understanding of attitudes toward restrictive political measures that were issued in the aftermath of September 11 and thus to the understanding of psychological underpinnings of threats to democracy. Predispositions like RWA, SDO, political ideology, and personal values played a significant role in this matter. Although feelings of threat from terrorism did not automatically lead to stronger endorsement of surveillance measures and restriction of civil liberties, they reinforced the effect of RWA on support for surveillance.
Even more interesting is this detail from other research about moral choices:
They offered some other scenarios too, about collateral damage in military situations, for instance, and found similar differences: Conservatives accepted collateral damage more easily if the dead were Iraqis than if they were Americans, while liberals accepted civilian deaths more readily if the dead were Americans rather than Iraqis.
That is one juicy morsel. A liberal would rather have soldiers on own their side die if it would save innocent civilians… because, afterall, a soldier is trained to fight and die to protect people. A conservative, on the other hand, is more willing to sacrifice people even if innocent just as long as they are seen as ‘other’. This is a profound difference. To the liberal, the conservative is heartless in putting patriotic loyalty over the protection of the innocent. But, to the conservative, the liberal is a traitor in their being more willing to sacrifice soldiers who are courageously protecting us. Liberals tend to empathize with all humans more equally and conservatives tend to have a group mentality of ‘us’ vs ‘them’.
I should, however, point out that the generalization about liberals being against soldiers is unfair and inaccurate.
We see that liberals and progressives are more sympathetic toward animals and foreigners than are conservatives and libertarians. Conversely, though not to the same extent, conservatives are more sympathetic toward soldiers and babies than are progressives and liberals. Criminals, drug addicts, and the homeless are again more “popular” among progressives and liberals than among conservatives and libertarians.
Sympathy here is a relative term. Absolutely speaking, progressives and liberals are very sympathetic towards babies and American soldiers, for example. It is only when sympathy is compared between different groups that significant differences emerge. For very conservative voters, American soldiers are on the top. For progressives, soldiers share fourth place with foreigners.
The implication of this would seem to be that the more liberal someone is the more they’d be reluctant to commit to wars where innocents are unnecessarily endangered. I’d think that, for this reason, liberals would be particularly against wars of aggression such as the US invasion of Iraq. Considering 2/3 of Democrats don’t identify as liberal, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that most Democratic politicians didn’t strongly oppose Bush’s warmongering right after 9/11. If my theory is correct, liberals are always in the minority even within what is considered the liberal Democratic party.
So, when the rightwingers are hot and bothered about some new xenophobic fear, it’s hard for the liberal minority to counter it. This is particularly problematic considering social stress/uncertainty, fearmongering, and violent imagery can even make liberals more open to conservative views and more willing to accept authoritarian policies.
Liberals who gleaned most of their news from television in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks increased their support for expanded police powers, bringing them closer in line with the opinions of conservatives, a study by a UW-Madison researcher shows.
In contrast, heavy newspaper reading by liberals was related to lower levels of support for expanded police powers and for limits on privacy and freedom of information, basically reinforcing the differences between liberals and conservatives, says Dietram Scheufele, a journalism professor who conducted the study.
“TV pushed the two groups together in their thinking about post-9/11 policies, such as the Patriot Act. It made liberals more conservative. It took them away from what they initially believed and pushed them more toward a more conservative law-and-order stance,” Scheufele says.
The study, soon to be published in the journal Mass Communications & Society, is based on a survey of nearly 800 residents of Tompkins County, N.Y., in the fall of 2001, shortly after the attacks. Its results have been validated by two subsequent national surveys.
The survey showed that among liberals who watched little television, about 20 percent favored more government police powers. But about 41 percent of liberals who were heavy viewers of TV news supported such measures – much closer to the 50 to 60 percent of conservatives who supported greater police powers, regardless of how much TV news they watched.
The gap between conservatives and liberals widened, however, among heavy newspaper readers.
About 39 percent of light-reading liberals backed restricting freedom of speech in the days after the attacks, versus 31 percent who were heavy newspaper readers. Among conservatives, about 66 percent favored the limits, and nearly 70 percent of heavy readers backed the restrictions.
“Newspaper reading tended to reinforce partisan leanings, partly because it is more selective, readers have more options and seek out their own viewpoints,” Scheufele says. “By contrast, TV coverage is very linear, doesn’t offer any choice and was more image driven. You saw the plane hitting the building time and time again.”
Still, the difference between liberals and conservatives remains true and relevant. Another aspect of this difference has to do with willingness to compromise and seek bipartisanship. I went into the details of this in another post where I pointed out, for example, that Republicans tend to only show strong support for Republican administrations and yet Democrats tend to show strong support no matter which party is in power. In an article I found, the author theorized the liberal attitude had to do with conflict avoidance… which the author thought most closely correlated to the personality trait of ‘agreeableness’ (a trait that both liberals and libertarians tend to test higher on than do conservatives; this could explain why both liberals and libertarians joined together in protesting against Bush starting the Iraq war):
Perhaps the concept of non-partisanship, conflict avoidance, and compromise is inherently appealing to liberal sensibilities. This can be framed as both a positive or negative trait, as being extremely conflict avoidant could relate to appeasing one’s enemies or being a moral relativist. Some in the press have observedthat “An endorsement of civility and reason is basically an endorsement of Barack Obama. ‘Reason and civility’ are practically the Democratic party’s platform.” Perhaps anyone with the motivation to promote reason and civility in politics would necessarily attract a liberal audience, regardless of how truly non-partisan one intended to be.
What psychological traits might relate to being conflict avoidant? The most obvious trait is Agreeableness, one of the Big Five dimensions of personality, depicted in the below graph ofyourmorals.org data. As you can see, liberals do score slightly higher on measures of Agreeableness, which includes questions like not finding “fault with others” and being “generally trusting”.
The effect size is fairly small though, so it might help to find some convergent evidence. I did find this paper, where a nationally representative sample was asked if people “try to avoid getting into political discussions because they can be unpleasant, whether they enjoy discussing politics even though it sometimes leads to arguments, or whether they are somewhere in between.” There was a small, but significant correlation (r=.07) between being conflict tolerant and being Republican and a smaller, but insignificant correlation (r=.03) between being conflict avoidant and being a Democrat. This paper cites 6 instances where Agreeableness is negatively linked to conservativism, but also 2 instances where it is positively linked. It seems like there may be a link between being agreeable overall and being liberal (again, with both positive and negative connotations), but the link is certainly weaker than other effects (e.g. openness to experience or conscientiousness). Perhaps whatever effect exists due to differences in Agreeableness may be magnified by lower liberal perceptions of ingroup/outgroup distinctions, leading to reduced willingness to engage in conflict with out-groups, as conservatives have heightened concerns about constructs like group loyalty.
This next study connects how all of this relates specifically to being sympathetic to others (outside of one’s focus and, I would add, outside of the focus of one’s self identity or group identity).
In a new study, UNL researchers measured both liberals’ and conservatives’ reaction to “gaze cues” — a person’s tendency to shift attention in a direction consistent with another person’s eye movements, even if it’s irrelevant to their current task — and found big differences between the two groups.
Liberals responded strongly to the prompts, consistently moving their attention in the direction suggested to them by a face on a computer screen. Conservatives, on the other hand, did not.
Why? Researchers suggested that conservatives’ value on personal autonomy might make them less likely to be influenced by others, and therefore less responsive to the visual prompts.
“We thought that political temperament may moderate the magnitude of gaze-cuing effects, but we did not expect conservatives to be completely immune to these cues,” said Michael Dodd, a UNL assistant professor of psychology and the lead author of the study.
Liberals may have followed the “gaze cues,” meanwhile, because they tend to be more responsive to others, the study suggests.
By the way, this would seem to be measuring something similar to traits such as need for closure which has been researched in terms of conservatism (but I’m not sure how strong is the correlation):
Let me return to the study about liberal and conservative view of soldiers and foreigners. Obviously, to want to treat all people equally and fairly (whether a part of one’s group or not) originates from an attitude of conflict avoidance, of ‘agreeableness’, of sympathetic responsivness. Maybe the difference (about how people treat the perceived ‘other’, whether enemy combatants or just innocent civilians) can be seen in the following video about an action the US military took in Afghanistan. The action seems typical of the conservative mindset and the response to the video seems typical of the liberal mindset.
I realize some would point out that we don’t know if anyone was necessarily killed, but then again we don’t know that no one was killed. It isn’t good policy to obliterate villages with bombs without even going into the village to make sure there are no innocent people still there.
Also, put this into context of all the innocent people who have been killed. It’s obvious the US military isn’t actually there to help the people living there. The response to 9/11 is entirely out of proportion. More people have died in our seeking national ‘defense’ and patriotic retribution than were lost on 9/11. Ten years later, we have almost no beneficial result to show for any of it. If anything, there are more terrorists and potential terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq than before we invaded.
How many innocent Americans died in the 9/11 terrorist attack?
I hear the criticisms of all this. The research is biased. Or I’m speculating too much. Or I’m just playing semantic games by separating liberalism from the Democratic Party. Or the fact that most Americans originally supported the wars. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I hear ya. I realize I’m not likely to convince anyone with an opposite opinion (confirmation bias, backfire effect, and the power of misinformation). If you don’t trust any data I have or could share, there ain’t much room for discussion of any kind. Yes, I have a liberal bias which is showing throughout this entire post… from what research interests me to the conclusions I make (I try to be aware of my biases and not get blinded by them, but my success or failure in this regard is for others to decide). I honestly don’t know how to answer criticisms about all of this. I guess just take it or leave it.
Ignoring all that, let me instead consider this issue in light of public opinion (I hope that, even if you don’t trust the opinions of liberals and scientists, you at least trust the opinions of the public). I started this post by pointing out the problems with talking about all of this in a partisan manner. I’m not going to deny that when Bush started the wars many Democrats supported him, that when Bush pushed for the Patriot Act many Democrats patriotically cheered it on… and, of course, that when Obama came into office nothing really changed (or, to put it into the language of Palin, “How’s that hopey, changey thing working out for ya?”). I just don’t care. Fuck the politicians of both parties, a pox on both of their houses. That is my analysis of that issue.
So, public opinion: What does the American people think, specifically what do various demographics think? Is there a clear distinction that can be seen between those on the left and those on the right in terms of support for recent wars?
Public opinion is a good test for the original inquiry considering these wars have very much been a bipartisan effort, but I must point out that even within the limited framework of the two party system there are still major differences to be seen. Even though the Democratic Party may not be a liberal party in the eyes of liberals, many liberals see it as their only option which is why most liberals voted for Obama (liberals want to believe in the rhetoric Democratic politicians spew just as libertarians want to believe in the rhetoric Republican politicians spew). Unfortunately, most polling is done using the categories of Republican and Democrat and I suppose the two parties are rough equivalents to conservative and liberal (in that, even though conservatives exist in both parties, significant numbers of liberals are only found in the Democratic party). Alas, I can’t entirely escape the partisan issue. So, I’ll be forced to rely on polling using partisan labels, but I’ll try to include enough other polling data to clarify the positions of rightwingers and leftwingers.
I’ll start with Afghanistan. The war there was definitely bipartisan and even supported by liberals. Those who attacked on 9/11 were located in Afghanistan, although most of them originated from Saudi Arabia. If it was a partisan issue, it would be expected that mostly Republicans supported the war during the Bush administration and mostly Democrats supported the war when Obama took over… but that isn’t what the data shows.
Support for President Barack Obama’s policy in Afghanistan turns the political landscape upside down. Democrats say 62 – 33 percent the United States should not be there, even though they strongly support President Obama heavily on virtually all other issues. Republicans, who oppose Obama on most issues, back the war 64 – 31 percent. Independent voters say 54 – 40 percent the United States should not be in Afghanistan.
It’s in fact the opposite of what partisan politics would predict. So, Republicans are bipartisan in their support of the Afghanistan War.
So, what about the Iraq War? There was moral and rational justification for the Afghanistan War, but there was no moral or rational justification for the Iraq War. The Iraq War is the very definition of a war of aggression (which is an illegal war and doesn’t meet the standards of a just war).
The political polarization regarding support for the Iraq War has been unprecedented. Recent polls by Gallup and others show that a majority of Republicans now support the war (about 70 percent, on average, versus 25 percent opposed), while an even larger majority of Democrats oppose it (about 15 percent supporting versus 80 percent opposed). At the start of the war, the partisan divide was not as great as it is today: According to a poll taken by Gallup in July 2003, Republicans overwhelmingly favored the United States’s sending troops to Iraq (by 88 percent to 12 percent), while Democrats were evenly divided (49 percent to 49 percent). But one year later, Gallup found, the public had become sharply polarized, as Democrats’ opposition to the war (82 percent versus 16 percent support) reached the exact opposite level of Republicans’ support (82 percent versus 16 percent opposed).
It’s a sad fact that many people believed the lies told by the Bush administration. The public, the media, and the politicians are all to be blamed for not strongly questioning those lies, but it should be pointed out that the two groups that did question the most were the libertarians and liberals. It also should be pointed out that it was mostly Republicans who chose to continue to believe those lies long after they were proven to be intentional misinformation.
Looking at these opinions in historic context, Gallup’s mid-2007 average finding of nearly three-fifths of the public saying the Iraq War was a mistake was somewhat more negative than the highest negative reading the organization obtained during the Korean War, when about half (51 percent) called it a mistake in February-March, 1952, but it was slightly less negative than the worst reading recorded during the Vietnam war in May 1971 (61 percent).
In neither of those conflicts, however, was the public polarized politically to the extent it is today. During the Vietnam War there was little difference by party affiliation on Gallup’s mistake question. And while the Republican/Democrat divide reached seventeen percentage points at the height of public opposition to the Korean War in 1952, when 61 percent of Republicans versus 44 percent of Democrats called it a mistake, this was hardly a third of the current fifty-five-percentage-point partisan divide over Iraq reported in the fall of 2005, when 80 percent of Democrats versus 25 percent of Republicans said the war was mistake.
In contrast to their views on Iraq, most Americans continue to support “sending military forces to Afghanistan” and are far less polarized over it. In August 2007 70 percent of the public told Gallup that sending troops to Afghanistan was not a mistake, with 88 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of Democrats concurring.
Let me clarify a confusion in the above quote. Pundits and politicians may be more polarized now than in the past, but the general public isn’t necessarily more polarized. The public has consensus on many issues. So, the differences of public opinion about different wars can’t simply be chalked up to polarization. In those past wars, there was some justification in that we perceived ourselves fighting a clear enemy who was a clear threat to national security. This wasn’t the case when we invaded Iraq.
Although the difference isn’t polarization in general, maybe it is about specifically polarized opinions about wars of aggression. Liberals and conservatives agree in supporting what are perceived as just wars. Conservatives are more supportive of wars in general, but liberals aren’t. If a war isn’t seen as clearly just, liberal support goes down. This has happened with the Iraq war which was initially perceived as just based on Bush’s lies and then later perceived as unjust (at least by liberals) once the lies were seen for what they were. The Afghanistan war, however, still can be reasonably seen as a just war or seen as having started as a just war.
Most Democrats say the war has not helped keep the U.S. secure (59 percent) while most Republicans say it has (70 percent). Independents split evenly on the question (48 percent has, 48 percent has not).
This demonstrates a difference of worldview. Those on the left believe a war of aggression just leads to more aggression. Those on the right believe that once an enemy has been declared, justly or unjustly, that enemy must be beaten into submission so that they can’t be a further threat.
This change of perception has been driven by the left, who previously claimed that Afghanistan was indeed the only proper war worth fighting:
Although 60 percent of Americans approve of how Obama has handled the situation in Afghanistan, his ratings among liberals have slipped, and majorities of liberals and Democrats alike now, for the first time, solidly oppose the war and are calling for a reduction in troop levels.
Overall, seven in 10 Democrats say the war has not been worth its costs, and fewer than one in five support an increase in troop levels.
Among the right, the war there is still seen as worth fighting and winning:
Republicans (70 percent say it is worth fighting) and conservatives (58 percent) remain the war’s strongest backers, and the issue provides a rare point of GOP support for Obama’s policies. A narrow majority of conservatives approve of the president’s handling of the war (52 percent), as do more than four in 10 Republicans (43 percent).
Interestingly, as the article states, this is a “rare point of GOP support for Obama’s policies”. And it pits both Obama and the GOP against the left and, I would guess, a Congress which will eventually reflect the constituency against the war that the numbers above show. There’s a reason for that.
That last bit of commentary fits my own analysis. On many issues, Obama’s stated opinions and policies are more in line with Republicans. Assuming Obama is a liberal, he is a very moderate and centrist liberal. Certainly, self-identified liberals take issue with labeling Obama a liberal. Yes, to the rightwinger, Obama is a liberal… but, then again, almost everyone in America is to the left of the far right (by definition).
All of this becomes more complex with more specific data.
The first two sets of data show public opinion from 2002. The third set of data is about public opinion during a past war. Interestingly, in both cases, the young are less wary about war (maybe it’s a case of wisdom coming with age). I doubt this youth support of war has anything directly to do with partisan politics. However, the youth opinion of today is essentially the same as the liberal opinion. Like liberals and Democrats in general, today’s youth initially supported both wars and since have had shrinking support, especially for the Iraq war. However, there is other more recent data which I’ve posted elsewhere. Here is the specific quote that caught my attention when looking at the report:
To be sure, Millennials remain the most likely of any generation to self-identify as liberals; they are less supportive than their elders of an assertive national security policy and more supportive of a progressive domestic social agenda. They are still more likely than any other age group to identify as Democrats.
It is interesting that they are the most liberal and most Democratic of any generation. I should clarify the two sets of youth data aren’t entirely comparable. The 2002 data refers to 18-29 year olds which would include both younger GenXers and older Millennials. GenXers are the most Republican of any generation (although younger GenXers are less Republican) and so maybe the 2002 data is too skewed to use as a comparison with the more recent Millenial data.
The liberal demographic (which is one of the youngest demographics) strongly disagrees with and most conservatives (in particular, conservative Republicans) strongly agree with the following:
Opposes lowering defense/military spending in order to reduce deficit
Using military force against countries that may seriously threaten our countrybut have not attacked us
Using military force in Iraq was the right decision
The U.S. militaryeffort in Iraq going fairly well
The interesting thing about the data is that conservative Democrats are more closely aligned with liberals than with conservative Republicans. This could be interpreted in two ways: 1) partisan politics has more effect on public opinion than does the left/right divide; or 2) conservative Democrats are far less conservative than conservative Republicans. I think both are true, but the second interpretation is important because it demonstrates how labels have different meanings in different contexts. Rightwing conservatives wouldn’t consider conservative Democrats as ‘real’ conservatives. So, when I use the term ‘rightwinger’, I’m intentionally making a distinction between the far right and the average American who identifies as conservative. I don’t think conservatives in general are warmongering, but I do think that the data shows far right conservatives (i.e., rightwingers) are more prone to support war. As a related example of this distinction, most Americans identify as conservative and most Americans don’t support torture, but most Southern Evangelicals (i.e., the religious right) do support torture. Another example about attitudes toward violence is that 28% of Republicans (but only 11% of Democrats and 11% of Independents) answered ‘yes’ to the question, “Do you think it is ever justified for citizens to take violent action against the government, or is it never justified?” As for the Iraq war, the religious right were the strongest supporters from the beginning (which might be because the president was a born-again who portrayed the War on Terrorism as a holy war).
Washington: Of the major religious groups in the United States, evangelical Christians are the biggest backers of Israel and Washington’s planned war against Iraq, says a new survey released here on 9 October by a politically potent group of fundamentalist Christians and Jews.
Some 69% of conservative Christians favour military action against Baghdad; 10 percentage points more than the US adult population as a whole.
However, it’s not necessarily just the religious right. Republicans in general remain the strongest supporters of Afghanistan despite there being little beneficial results shown for all the money spent and lives lost. Here is from very recent data:
CNN is out with a NEW POLL showing that support among Americans for the war in Afghanistan has declined dramatically in the past two years.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents are opposed to the war, while only 35 percent support it. Interestingly, perhaps even predictably, Republicans are much more likely than Democrats or independents to back the U.S. war effort.
Which brings to mind the extent to which concepts of American patriotism have been influenced — or distorted, in a sense — by Republicans with regard to our country’s military involvement in the so-called War on Terror.
For the past decade, Republicans have tended to think of themselves as more-patriotic-than-thou and have generally been enthusiastic supporters of U.S. military adventurism. They’ve been quick to characterize war dissenters as cut-and-run appeasers, if not cowards or enemy sympathizers.
The article offers some useful context by looking at public opinion over this last century (unfotunately, the graph doesn’t show the party differences):
But it wasn’t always that way. Back in the day, when the GOP was controlled mainly by isolationists, its rank-and-file was often opposed to U.S. involvement in foreign wars. Republicans were against American intervention in World War I (and vehemently opposed Woodrow Wilson’s efforts to create the League of Nation’s at the end of that war). Republicans also were staunchly opposed to U.S. involvement in World War II prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
[…] Nor were Republicans especially hawkish about U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. In a Gallup poll conducted in June of 1967, a majority of Republican respondents said Vietnam was a mistake, while only one-third of Democrats agreed with them.
Even as American forces were leaving Southeast Asia and communist forces were overrunning Vietnam and neighboring Cambodia, most Republican respondents in a 1975 Gallup poll opposed any further U.S. military aid to the friendly governments in those countries.
Briefly stated, then, Republicans tended to be fairly dovish through much of the 20th century.
That goes back to my original point. It can’t be denied that the GOP today is the war party, but that is far from saying the GOP has always been the war party. Back when the GOP had a leftwing, Republicans were much more weak in their support for war. And, back when the Democratic Party was more conservative, Democrats were much stronger in their support for war. So, support for war can’t be determined merely by partsan identification. The determining factor is whether a particular party is more conservative or more liberal.
– – –
I want to wrap this up with one last issue about confounding factors which I briefly mentioned near the beginning of this post.
Here is one view on the issue of rightwingers. The author, Corey Robin, begins with giving the history of those who first analyzed this ideological phenomenon.
This year is the 60th anniversary of the publication of The Authoritarian Personality. Once this was the most famous of Theodor Adorno’s works. Today it’s largely forgotten. With one exception: its indelible portrait of the “pseudo-conservative.” Although Richard Hofstadter is often credited with the term—his essay “The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt” appeared in 1955—it was Adorno and his three co-authors who first identified the type: that vengeful and violent citizen who avows his faith in calm and restraint while agitating for policies that “would abolish the very institutions with which he appears to identify himself.” The pseudo-conservative, in other words, is no conservative at all. Prone to “violence, anarchic impulses, and chaotic destructiveness,” he loves war and longs for bedlam in the streets. He has “little in common,” in Hofstadter’s words, “with the temperate and compromising spirit of true conservatism.”
He then presents the common distinction between the real conservative and those who supposedly are falsely identifying as conservative.
While the contrast between the true conservative and the pseudo-conservative has been drawn in different ways—the first reads Burke, the second doesn’t read; the first defends ancient liberties, the second derides them; the first seeks to limit government, the second to strengthen it—the distinction often comes down to the question of violence. Where the pseudo-conservative is captivated by war, Sullivan claims that the true conservative “wants peace and is content only with peace.” The true conservative’s endorsements of war, such as they are, are the weariest of concessions to reality. He knows that we live and love in the midst of great evil. That evil must be resisted, sometimes by violent means. All things being equal, he would like to see a world without violence. But all things are not equal, and he is not in the business of seeing the world as he’d like it to be.
For the rest of the article, Robin makes the case for this distinction being false.
The question for us, which Burke neither poses nor answers, is: What kind of political form entails this simultaneity of—or oscillation between—aggrandizement and annihilation? One possibility is hierarchy, with its twin requirements of submission and domination; the other is violence, particularly warfare, with its rigid injunction to kill or be killed. Perhaps not coincidentally, both are of great significance to conservatism as a theoretical tradition and historical practice.
Consistent with Burke’s argument, however, the conservative often favors the latter over the former. Once we are assured of our power over another being, says Burke, it loses its capacity to harm or threaten us. Make a creature useful and obedient, and “you spoil it of every thing sublime.” It becomes an object of contempt, contempt being “the attendant on a strength that is subservient and innoxious.” At least one-half, then, of the experience of hierarchy—the experience of ruling another—is incompatible with, and indeed weakens, the sublime. Confirmed of our power, we are lulled into the same ease and comfort, undergo the same inward melting, that we experience while in the throes of pleasure.
Rule may sometimes be sublime—our power is not always so assured or secure—but violence is more sublime. Most sublime of all is when the two are fused, when violence is performed for the sake of creating, defending, or recovering a regime of domination. But history does not always present such opportunities. The conservative must settle for the lesser good of war, pure and simple. Thus, when Carl Schmitt declares that the fundamental distinction in politics to which all “actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy,” he merely formalizes an axiom that had been stirring the conservative mind for more than a century.
That is an attractive argument and I’m partly persuaded by it. I do think there is some truth in it, but I’m not entirely sure it fully or perfectly captures the reality. Bob Altemeyer, in his book The Authoritarians, provides his own definition of a ‘rightwinger’.
Authoritarian followers usually support the established authorities in theirsociety, such as government officials and traditional religious leaders. Such peoplehave historically been the “proper” authorities in life, the time-honored, entitled,customary leaders, and that means a lot to most authoritarians. Psychologically thesefollowers have personalities featuring:
1) a high degree of submission to the established, legitimate authorities intheir society;
2) high levels of aggression in the name of their authorities; and
3) a high level of conventionalism.
Because the submission occurs to traditional authority, I call these followers rightwingauthoritarians. I’m using the word “right” in one of its earliest meanings, for inOld English “riht”(pronounced “writ”) as an adjective meant lawful, proper, correct,doing what the authorities said.
But then qualifies this definition by pointing out that rightwing as a psychological trait isn’t necessarily the same thing as rightwing as a political ideology.
In North America people who submit to the established authorities to extraordinary degrees often turn out to be political conservatives, 2 so you can call them “right-wingers” both in my new-fangled psychological sense and in the usual political sense as well. But someone who lived in a country long ruled by Communists and who ardently supported the Communist Party would also be one of my psychological right-wing authoritarians even though we would also say he was a political left-winger. So a right-wing authoritarian follower doesn’t necessarily have conservative political views. Instead he’s someone who readily submits to the established authorities in society, attacks others in their name, and is highly conventional. It’s an aspect of his personality, not a description of his politics. Rightwing authoritarianism is a personality trait, like being characteristically bashful or happy or grumpy or dopey.
You could have left-wing authoritarian followers as well, who support a revolutionary leader who wants to overthrow the establishment. I knew a few in the 1970s, Marxist university students who constantly spouted their chosen authorities, Lenin or Trotsky or Chairman Mao. Happily they spent most of their time fighting with each other, as lampooned in Monty Python’s Life of Brian where the People’sFront of Judea devotes most of its energy to battling, not the Romans, but the Judean People’s Front. But the left-wing authoritarians on my campus disappeared long ago. Similarly in America “the Weathermen” blew away in the wind. I’m sure one can find left-wing authoritarians here and there, but they hardly exist in sufficient number snow to threaten democracy in North America. However I have found bucketfuls of right-wing authoritarians in nearly every sample I have drawn in Canada and the United States for the past three decades. So when I speak of “authoritarian followers” in this book I mean right-wing authoritarian followers, as identified by the RWA scale.
Altemeyer clarifies this with research.
As soon as Gorbachev lifted the restraints on doing psychological research in the Soviet Union an acquaintance of mine, Andre Kamenshikov, administered a survey to students at Moscow State University with the same freedom that western researchers take for granted. The students answered the RWA scale and as well a series of questions about who was the “good guy” and who was the “bad guy” in the Cold War. For example, did the USSR start the arms race, or the USA? Would the United States launch a sneak nuclear attack on the Soviet Union if it knew it could do so without retaliation? Would the USSR do that to the United States? Does the Soviet Union have the right to invade a neighbor who looks like it might become allied with the United States? Does the USA have that right when one of its neighbors starts cozying up to the USSR? At the same time Andre was doing his study, I asked the same questions at three different American universities.
We found that in both countries the high RWAs believed their government’sversion of the Cold War more than most people did. Their officials wore the white hats, the authoritarian followers believed, and the other guys were dirty rotten warmongers. And that’s most interesting, because it means the most cock-sure belligerents in the populations on each side of the Cold War, the ones who hated and blamed each other the most, were in fact the same people, psychologically. If they had grown up on the other side of the Iron Curtain, they probably would have believed the leaders they presently despised, and despised the leaders they now trusted. They’d have been certain the side they presently thought was in the right was in the wrong, and instead embraced the beliefs they currently held in contempt.
Based on the research, several things relevant to this post can be concluded about Right-Wing Authoritarians (RWAs):
1) RWAs support/promote violence and war.
[…] high RWAs tend to make an ambiguous situation dangerous […] are likely to turn a secure situation into a dangerous one.
2) RWAs aren’t well informed (which relates to their higher rates of hypocrisy).
Dunwoody, Plane, Rice and Rothrock thus found that as late as August 2005 andJanuary 2006 high RWA Pennsylvania college students were likely to have inaccurateperceptions of the war in Iraq in all the areas tested. They believed Iraq had usedchemical or biological weapons against American troops, that Iraq’s government washighly connected with al-Qaida, that Americans had found evidence in Iraq thatSaddam was working closely with al-Qaida, that most people in the world favored theUnited States’ going to war in Iraq, and so did most people in Europe. They alsobelieved that the U.S. had found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but this wasonly statistically significant at the .09 level. In general the students were betterinformed than the American public as a whole, but the authoritarian followers amongthem still carried a lot of demonstrably erroneous beliefs around in their heads.
3) RWAs have a strong tendency to rationalize away inconvenient facts.
David Winters of the University of Michigan found in 2005 that the high RWAs in a largesample of university students believed the invasion of Iraq constituted a just war. They thoughtthe danger posed by Iraq was so great, the United States had no other choice. They thought theinvasion occurred only as a last resort, after all peaceful alternatives had been exhausted, and thatthe war would bring about more good than evil. They rejected the notion that the failure to findweapons of mass destruction showed the “pre-emptive” attack had not been necessary for selfdefense.They also rejected the suggestion that the war was conducted to control oil supplies andextend American power, or as an act of revenge. And they still believed that Saddam had beeninvolved in the 9/11 attacks.
4) RWAs, at least in the North American population, have weak correlation to fiscal conservatism and strong correlation to social conservatism.
RWA scale scores correlated highest with attitudes against samesexmarriage, abortion, drugs, pornography, women’s equality, unconventionalbehavior and free speech, and with support for the Patriot Act and America’s “right”to spread democracy by military force. In contrast, the relationships with economicissues (taxation, minimum wage, the public versus private sector, free trade) proved much weaker. The data thus indicate, as do a lot of other findings, that high RWAs are“social conservatives” to a much greater extent that they are “economic conservatives.”
To give more context in American politics, here is an excerpt from another book (Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics by Hetherington and Weiler):
Those who score high in authoritarianism tend to have a different cognitive style than those who score low. The former tend to view the world in more concrete, black and white terms (Altemeyer 2996; Stenner zoos). This is probably because they have a greater than average need for order. In contrast, those who score lower in authoritarianism have more comfort with ambiguous shades of gray, which allow for more nuanced judgments.
Perhaps because of these cognitive differences, people who are more authoritarian make stronger than average distinctions between in-groups – the groups they identify with – and out-groups – groups that they perceive challenge them. Such a tendency has the effect of imposing order and minimizing ambiguity. In addition, those who are more authoritarian embrace and work to protect existing social norms (Feldman zoo3). These conventions are time-tested in their ability to maintain order. Altering norms could result in unpredictable changes with undesirable consequences.
Since the more authoritarian view the social order as fragile and under attack (Altemeyer 1996), they tend to feel negatively about, behave aggressively toward, and be intolerant of those whom they perceive violate time-honored norms or fail to adhere to established social conventions (Stenner zoo5). Specifically, scholars have shown a strong relationship between authoritarianism and negative affect toward many minority groups. Over the past fifty years, these groups have included Jews (Adorno et al. 1950; but see Raden 1999), African Americans (Sniderman and Piazza 1993), gays (Barker and Tinnick zoo6), and Arabs after September ii (Huddy et al. zoo5).6
Authoritarianism is a particularly attractive explanation for changes in contemporary American politics because it structures opinions about both domestic and foreign policy issues. In addition to having concerns about racial difference and social change, those who are more authoritarian tend to prefer more muscular responses to threats than those who are less. A proverbial punch to the mouth of an adversary results in a less ambiguous outcome than, say, negotiation or diplomacy. Not surprisingly, scholars have consistently drawn links between authoritarianism and a hawkish attitude toward foreign policy and resolution of conflict (Lipset 11959; Eckhardt and Newcombe 11969; Altemeyer 11996; Perrin zoos). Those scoring high in authoritarianism were also more likely than those scoring low to support military action after the September 1111 terrorist attacks (Huddy et al. zoos). Viewed as a whole, research on authoritarianism suggests that the same disposition that might dispose people to be anti-black or anti-gay might also dispose them to favor military conflict over diplomacy and protecting security over preserving civil liberties. A preference for order and a need to minimize ambiguity connects both impulses.
The events from another time in history provide suggestive evidence that the same disposition motivates both. Particularly in the early 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy set his sights not only on rooting communist elements out of the State Department and other government agencies. He also focused his attention, for a time, on purging homosexuals. McCarthy pointed to supposed links between communism and homosexuality, and his speeches often made passing reference to “Communists and queers” (Johnson zoo4). Other conservative senators, including Styles Bridges, Kenneth Wherry, and Clyde Hoey, pressed the issue of homosexuality along with communism during the Red Scare as well.
All this suggests that preferences about many of the new issues on the American political agenda, such as gay rights, the war in Iraq, the proper response to terrorism, and immigration are likely structured by authoritarianism. These are all potentially divisive topics, characterized by deeply held, gut-level views. Although contemporary American politics is perhaps not polarized in a strict definitional sense, insofar as preferences are not increasing number of salient issues are structured by a deeply felt worldview, specifically authoritarianism.
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1) The Republican Party is presently associated with rightwing politics (social conservatism), but it wasn’t always.
2) Social conservatism in the US is presently correlated with Right-Wing Authoritarianism, but this correlation is partly culture dependent.
3) Right-Wing Authoritarianism has been shown in research to include a predisposition to supporting of violence and war.
Let me return to my original comment:
“I always wonder why rightwingers love war so much. Looking past all the patriotic propaganda, destroyed lives is the reality of war. But once the soldiers come home all the lovers of war suddenly stop caring.”
Have I proven this to be true? Have I at least provided enough supporting evidence?
I think I have. I haven’t necessarily explained why Right-Wing Authoritarians are the way they are, but I have provided the correlations for how Right-Wing Authoritarian attitudes play out in American politics.
If one wishes to say that this has little to do with real conservatism, I’m fine with that. I honestly admit to not being sure what true conservatism might be. The people I consider true conservatives (or, at least, respectable and reasonable conservatives) are people like John W. Dean and Meghan McCain who vocally criticize the radical rightwingers who have taken over the conservative movement. I’d love to see some other version of conservatism to take the place of the present radical rightwingers.
rethinkafghanistan — April 20, 2010 — Californias economy is in a tailspin. One in 5 Californians is out of work. Over three quarters of a million have lost their homes. Desperately needed social services have been cut to the bone. Yet residents of our state continue to pay for a senseless war in Afghanistan thats not making us safer a war that has cost California taxpayers nearly $38 billion already.
Last month, facing tuition and fee hikes of over 30 percent, public university students all over California said enough is enough, organized and went on strike. Now these students have a new message: California is wasting tens of billions of dollars on war even while making public education accessible only to the rich.
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