I am trying very hard to get you to think in a different way about military and foreign affairs, and I am failing. You go on telling one another stories [all true, of course] about the bad things America has done or would do, as though you were trying to determine who the good guys and the bad guys are, and I am completely unable to get you to think beyond that frame of reference. You are all so traumatized by the dominant narrative of America as the Beacon of Freedom and Last Best Hope for Humanity that you cannot get past protesting “But, But, But, Look at Cuba, Look at Viet Nam, Look at Slavery, Look at Iran, Look at Look at Look at, Chomsky says …”
As I said, this is preaching to the choir. It provides a cheap thrill but gets us nowhere.
When we try to think clearly about what America ought to be doing, we encounter a problem, namely that America is part of a world capitalist system. Now capitalism may be a system that rests on the exploitation of workers, as Marx says. Or it may be the most revolutionary force ever to appear on earth, as Marx also says. But for better and for worse, it has conquered the globe, and so we must try at least for now to think what, if anything, that we would consider an improvement on the present state of world affairs is compatible with the basic structure of a capitalist world economic order.
You will recall that some years ago I wrote a lengthy review essay on Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Let me repeat why I found that book so important. I grew up and matured during what the French call les trentes glorieuses, the period of time when the relentless march of economic inequality reversed itself and a kinder gentler capitalism seemed to have emerged from the chaos of world depression and war. The centerpiece of Piketty’s statistical analysis is the conclusion that this period was not a transformation of capitalism but a two generation long dip followed by a return to ever greater inequality and what Piketty, using the French term, calls patrimonial capitalism [which is to say, the inheritance of vast accumulations of wealth alongside stagnation for the bottom half of society.] Most striking was Piketty’s demonstration that this is a worldwide phenomenon, regardless of local politics.
It is obvious upon even a moment’s reflection that nation-states are not going to allow for any set of social, political, or military policies that fundamentally interferes with the march of capital accumulation, because nation-states, with very few exceptions, are controlled by capitalists. The only counterforce currently powerful enough to interfere with that march is religious fanaticism, a complication that Marx did not, alas, foresee.
Tomorrow I shall try to figure out what this implies for those of us seeking a better way.