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The Political Animal

Ukraine and Legitimacy

UkraineIt is fascinating to witness with events in Ukraine an enduring controversy of history in the making. Controversies arise all the time, of course, but some are drawn in more dramatic relief than others, and one of those is Ukraine, 2013-14. Most Western exponents of liberal democracy, of both right and left – by no means all – are adamant that Ukraine represents one more natural social outburst of the desire for freedom and democracy, and a rejection of the democratically-styled authoritarianism that is just one form of corrupt oligarchism. One needn’t dissent from this view to find many of the forces for good in these events, as they zealously and uncritically perceive themselves, to have been inept and, in part, opportunistic and blind causes of their own effect.

The opportunism lay in grasping at the chance to wrest Ukraine free from Russia’s domination, and to do so with so little apparent forethought or preparation or principled consistency. Join that incoherent rationale for Western behavior, both before and after the overthrow of Yanukovych, to what should have been the predictable motivation for Putin to react as he has and you have the grounds for the Russian president’s own opportunistic case and action – and for the predictable defense of it on the Western far right and left.

In that last instance, Patrick L. Smith, at Salon, in “Propaganda, lies and the New York Times: Everything you really need to know about Ukraine” makes just the pro-Russian, anti-Western case the title promises. Like other Western-critic, Russia-rationalizers Smith goes heavy on rightist influence over the Ukrainian uprising.

The decisive influence of ultra-right extremists, some openly committed to an ideology of violence, some whose political ancestors sided with the Nazis to oppose the Soviets, is a matter of record. Svoboda and Right Sector, the two most organized of these groups, now propose to rise into national politics. Right Sector’s leader, Dmytro Yarosh, intends to run for president. The New York Times just described him as “an expert with firebombs” during the street protest period.

These people are thugs by any other name.

This is just one reason, says Smith, that “[t]he more I scrutinize it, the more the American case on Ukraine is held together with spit and baling wire.” Of course, it is not just the “American” case, but that is another topic. So is Smith anymore consistent that the American government he criticizes?

Next Sunday Crimeans will vote in a referendum as to whether they wish to break with the rest of Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. The semi-autonomous region’s parliament has already voted to do so, and good enough that they put the thought to a popular vote.

But no. Self-determination was the guiding principle when demonstrators and pols with records as election losers pushed Yanukovych out and got done via a coup (I insist on the word) what they could not manage in polling booths. But it cannot apply in Crimea’s case. The Crimeans are illegitimate and have no right to such a vote.

“[G]ood enough that they put the thought to a popular vote”? So is Smith accepting events in Kiev as expressive, however extra-legal, of legitimate self-determination or not? Is he criticizing them or resorting to their example to justify the Crimean referendum? Both, we see, in a prime, if covert, example of the argumentative reversal. And somehow, in Smith’s own coup against reason, and his exposition of “everything you really need to know about Ukraine,” he does not tell us this:

The reaction to all this in Crimea does not appear to have been done democratically or by the book.

Armed men assumed to be Russian troops or pro-Russian militia stormed the Crimea Parliament building and locked it down. Anatoly Mogiliov, the president of Crimea, who is a member of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, was ordered out.

In a session not open to the public, the Crimea parliament allegedly appointed Sergei Askyonov as prime minister of Crimea. Askyonov is a member of a small, obscure political group called from the Russian Unity Party, which won too few votes in parliamentary elections in 2012 to win even one seat in Kiev.

Nor, to balance his reporting on “ultra-right extremists” in Ukraine, does Smith include this, about the new Crimean prime minister, in “everything”:

“He wasn’t a criminal big shot,” said Andriy Senchenko, now a member of Ukraine’s Batkivshchyna party, which was at the forefront of the Kiev protests that led last month to the downfall of pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych. Senchenko described Aksyonov as a “brigade leader” in a gang that was often involved in extortion rackets.

While Senchenko is not unbiased — his party opposes Aksyonov’s push for Crimea to become part of Russia — the editor of the region’s main pro-Russian newspaper, Crimean Truth, also accused Aksyonov of being in a criminal gang. Mikhail Bakharev made the allegations five years ago, when Aksyonov first emerged on Crimea’s political scene.

Well, so everybody in the pristine realm of national and international power politics will have dirty targets at which to aim a crooked figure. But at least everyone is consistent in principle in how they shape and against whom they direct their arguments, yes? Clearly, no. Among the many consequences of Western carelessness in Ukraine is the opportunity for the Putins and the Smiths to so muddy the waters over the issue of legitimacy.

Was the just completed Crimean referendum legitimate? Was the Ukrainian parliamentary vote to remove Yanukovych from office – compelled by the threat of the streets – legitimate? What constitutes governmental legitimacy? What warrants action to remove by extra-legal action a presiding government, previously recognized as legal? In whom rests the authority to carry out this extra-legal removal, to then assume the authority, on what basis, to govern? When is almost everyone’s liberating revolution a less romantic “mob-action” instead, in which the legitimacy of the complaint in uprising and of the forces rising up in substitution of those governing may be called into question? These are just a few of the questions in political philosophy that may apply, and generally speaking, in practical terms, the determinant of the answer is the existent ideological perspective of those making the judgment.

The ideological perspective on this issue of those adhering to liberal democracy, right and left, is likely best expressed by John Rawls, in Justice As Fairness, that

political power is legitimate only when it is exercised in accordance with a constitution (written or unwritten) the essentials of which all citizens, as reasonable and rational, can endorse in the light of their common human reason. This is the liberal principle of legitimacy.

Add to this some representation of Max Weber’s concept of legal-rational authority, “a set of rules and rule-bound institutions” where “creating and changing the rules are outside of the control of those who administer them,” and we probably have the nut shell of legal administrative procedure leading to democratic justice that most in the West would endorse.

One difficulty, however, is that such would describe what is legitimate, or a standard against which some government might fall short. But how far short may it fall before most of us would agree that legitimacy has been lost, so that some usurpation of authority may be attempted? And whence the legitimacy of the usurping forces?

We pretend when we argue about such crises as Ukraine and Crimea that there is some clear and settled standard by which to make these latter judgments, but there is not. Usurpations of power, by glorious and other revolutions, with the reactions against them, are always ad hoc affairs with makeshift and evolving ethical rationales. In 1969, 71 nations granted diplomatic recognition to the Republic of China on Taiwan, with only 48 recognizing the Peoples Republic of China on the mainland. By 2013, only 22 nations recognized the ROC, while recognition of the PRC had grown to 172. This evolution in the perception of the legitimacy of these two governments did not arise out of any objective improvement in the argument for the PRC over that of the ROC – unless, of course, material facts are considered to influence, along with morality, a political determination, which, of course, they are. The PRC holds, indeed, the mainland, is far larger, more populous, more militarily, and – most important of all – more economically powerful. “Legitimacy” bends beneath the wheel of material reality.

The 2008 declaration of independence of Kosovo is not recognized by Serbia or the Serbian administered North Kosovo. Because of Russian objection, Kosovo will not likely soon be granted a UN seat, yet it has received 110 recognitions as an independent state, and the International Court of Justice advisory opinion on Kosovo stated that Kosovo’s declaration did not violate international law. Kosovo’s government is and will be recognized as legitimate because, right or wrong, international bodies will have reached consensus on it legitimacy and no power strong enough will be acting to prevent the exercise of that government’s authority.

These are the realties that will develop over time in Ukraine and Crimea. It is important to note for the future, however, that the current uncertainty is not just the product of Russia’s role as bad actor, but also the strategic ineptitude of the West. Without attempting any objectively considered defense of the overthrow of Yanukovych within a coherent philosophic framework, the EU and US assert the legitimacy of the usurpation, truly, in the faith that their side and agents represent the substance of democratic justice, even if the procedure has to be made up as events proceed. Further discoveries of Yanukovych’s corruption, subsequent to his flight, are post hoc justifications, and Russia is Russia, and so illegitimate in its power plays on the face of them. Not surprisingly, as I argued before, Putin genuinely believes otherwise. Events, tactics, and countless opportunities to weaken in resolve will determine the real end.

The EU and US acted as if this would be a second go at the 2004-05 Orange Revolution, with another chance to get it right and get Russia and its Ukrainian stand-ins gone. But the course of the Orange Revolution was ultimately decided by a Ukrainian Supreme Court decision and new elections. There was no overthrow of a democratically-elected leader and Putin was not fully the power then that he is now. None of this seems to have been taken into account in anticipating the magnitude of what was occurring. The Western nations, so blinded by their sense of moral superiority, could not see that their advice and guidance of Ukrainian government opponents – rather disingenuously self-styled as just the innocent advocacy of democracy, even as it excused the threat of the streets – would be perceived by Putin as interference and aggression.

Because the West played geopolitics without a playbook – they are, don’t you know, so nineteenth century – numbered among the West’s failures thus far is the opening, from more than one direction, to challenge the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian government, which has become the rationale of all consequent Russian actions.

AJA

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Creative

New Fiction

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My short story “La Revolución” is at the Ampersand Review.

I spent a week. Gary worked as a critic for a music magazine, so even when he had to work, I tagged along. The music was everywhere. Gary and Pilar, his second wife, lived in Miramar, a wide open, breezy Havana suburb. They ran a paladar, one of the unofficial private restaurants that people operate out of some of the large, multi-story, former private homes of that Embassy area. Pilar was a raven-haired beauty, bursting with sensuality and very gracious to me. She set us up with food and a couple of Mojitos that day I arrived, then left for the afternoon.

“No, stay,” I said.

She said, “Old friends. So many years apart. You need to know each other again. Later we’ll have dinner.”

And that’s what we did. Got to know each other again. When I was done bringing Gary to the present, he said, “You were always so shy. Just take her by the arm and start walking her home. She’ll let you. Don’t ask.”

He was talking about Regina. Gary always cared about his friends. He loved his friendships.

“She’s an alcoholic, Gary.”

“What, you’re afraid she won’t amount to anything in life? You like each other. Keep each other company.”

Gary and Pilar had been married almost fifteen years. She was forty-five. Gary left his first wife for her, after twenty years.

“It was the worst thing I ever did.”

I must have looked shocked.

“I don’t mean I regret it. That’s not it. A woman like Pilar? Pilar and music. The rest doesn’t matter.”

He saw me try to understand.

“It’s the worst thing I ever did to another person.” I could see him remember the pain. “The worst. And the thing is, I’d do it again.”

I was silent. “So things are good with Pilar?” I said after a while.

“They’ve been great.” He emptied his glass. “You remember that Bertolucci film Last Tango in Paris?”

He surprised me again. “Yeah?”

“Near the end Brando suddenly decides that he actually does want to know this woman, and he wants her to know him. He starts chasing her out of the tango hall, scaring the shit out of her, telling her everything he can about himself in a rush. He calls out above the music, ‘I got a prostate the size of a potato, but I’m still a pretty good stick man.’ I love that line. I think Brando ad-libbed it.”

Gary chewed on a mint leaf. He raised his eyebrows at me. “I got a prostate the size of a potato.”

I nodded. “These are good,” I said, draining my glass.

“Wait till you try the Havana Club. Siete. It’s like a warm fire in the winter going down.”

I never did bring up the politics of it all. Who was I to, anyway? And what might he have been feeling after all that had happened, or hadn’t.

“You’ve been happy here?” I asked instead.

“I love it,” he said. He glanced out the window toward the sea. “I don’t know. In the summer, when the breeze blows through the palms, or when the hurricanes make you feel like the island’s just a boat on the water, and you’re riding it out for all you can make of it, whatever moments there are. When the rhythm comes up and a woman like Pilar tosses her hips. And the maracas rattle and a man rolls his shoulders.” Now he looked at me. “It’s supposed to be an atheist society, right? After all this, there’s nothing?” He paused. “It’s the opposite of nothing.”

Start from the beginning and read the rest here.

AJA

Photo by DeviantArt user trace-on.  Used under a Creative Commons 3.0 License

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The Political Animal

Wikileaks, Anonymous, LulzSec, the MSM and the Entropic Drift toward Crap

The problem with government is not government. It’s people. People make up government, so of course it represents all the flaws we find in people. But as Churchill remarked of democracy, that it “is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time,” the only form of social organization worse than institutionalized government is no government. Left and right extremists, from Tea Partiers who seek to “starve the beast” to Wikileakers, Anonymizers and LulzSecers who believe in “true freedom, online as well, as the real-life realm” are utopians masquerading as common folk or techno-visionaries rather than the more rudimentary optical kind. Lord, or whoever is filling in, spare us from utopians. See, for this: the Twentieth Century, or the French Revolution. The American Revolution, among its beauties, was not utopian. It’s the pursuit of happiness, my friend, not happiness.

We learned yesterday that Wiki’s latest Leak, not actually new, did not redact the names of individuals whose lives might well be endangered by the outing. We are informed by Der Spiegel, that the exposure of identities was “accident.”

The ongoing conflict between WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his former German spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg has led to the accidental release of confidential data that was in WikiLeaks’ possession. Since the beginning of the year, an encrypted file has been circulating on the Internet containing the collection of around 251,000 US State Department documents that WikiLeaks obtained in spring 2010 and made public in November 2010.

The Washington Post, however, reported yesterday that this “accident” is only “possibly” so.

The official WikiLeaks Twitter account has played down the impact of the report. “Current story being spun about wild cables, including from Spiegel, is significantly incorrect,” read one tweet sent out around 10 a.m., Eastern time. “WikiLeaks ‘insurance’ files have not been decrypted. All press are currently misreporting. There is an issue, but not that issue,” the account wrote again at 3 p.m., A third message reading, “There has been no ‘leak at WikiLeaks’. The issue relates to a mainstream media partner and a malicious individual,” followed soon afterward. [Emphasis added]

So, much as Powell jockeyed with Cheney, Assange and Domscheit-Berg, who founded the rival OpenLeaks, have their own contention going on. I am certainly glad, though, as I know are you, that they at least have assumed these powerful positions of responsibility, with state secrets and lives under their not-so-great care, as the consequence of democratic processes. They have been vetted as to training and reputation and subjected to popular review, and are held accountable, at least in theory (theory about all we have these days in the realm of holding the powerful accountable), by established mechanisms of oversight.

No? Oh.

And they do count among the powerful these days. Do you have the power to disturb and disrupt governments, influence and lose lives all over the world? But at least they represent you and your interests more than does Leviathan government, because, because….

Among those who so uncritically and incoherently support the smashing of the system at which Wikileaks plays are those who pleasure vicariously, or even play a role in, the hack attacks on government, banking, and commerce by Anonymous and LulzSec, the latter of which, by name, acts (or acted?) for the sheer juvenile, anarchic joy of disruption. Where once we had Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay, now we have the bedroom-dwelling virtual inhabitants of World of Warcraft and The Matrix offering us “the plan” for their war against – they actually say it – “the system.”

Far fucking out, man.

If we wouldn’t all be better off with their, in fact, working for Activision Blizzard, they are, alternatively, caught because they can’t get enough of Xbox.

We understand how it begins, with governments of and for the wealthy and powerful, with political processes that further cynically devolve into standardized dissimulation and manipulation. Add to this a mainstream media establishment that normalizes the behavior, abets it with a love of “the game” and with an essential cowardice. (Who can name an interviewer on Dick Cheney’s memoir publicity tour who has asked him about torture rather than “harsh interrogation”?)

Crap, you understand, is not just excrement. It is nonsense, drivel. It is falsehood, exaggeration, and propaganda. We swim in it. Human beings are natural producers of it. Government is the attempt to clean it up, provide more latrines, even build a hut from it. But government, made up of people, will inevitably, in not too long, become full of it. What to do then is the greatest of challenges. However, the notion that we will be led to some form of liberation by self-selected, disaffected egoists and cyber-social malcontents who produce the same crap, but merely know better than the rest of us how to encode it, doesn’t pass the smell test for anyone without his head up his ass or is not the intellectual court jester of authoritarianism.

Or do you think Anonymous is better than Mark Zuckerberg, and what do you do when Anonymous, like government, can’t get its act together? Well, at least you’ll have some say in the matter.

AJA

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The Political Animal

Rebellion and Revolution

With the current events in Egypt following upon the still unfolding story in Tunisia, the nature and potential consequences of revolutionary upheaval are much on people’s minds. For Egypt, as generally for the Middle East, democrats everywhere celebrate the swell of a common spirit of liberty seeking to throw off shackles. Realists, even among democrats, worry, too, knowing the politics and players of the region, about what may yet follow that could betray the initial free and liberating spirit. There is every reason to anticipate – and signs – that Islamist parties of varying levels of extremity will seek to advance their causes amid the flux of events.  So far, with some measure of regrettable death and criminality, the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, unfolding, offer hope in the general spirit and conduct of those nations’ citizens. Much remains to occur and be witnessed.

Thinking of what hangs in the balance in these revolutions, I was reminded of Albert CamusThe Rebel (L’homme révolté). In the 1951 work Camus examined  the rebel’s act in terms of origins and ends. He considered what impels rebellion, the human limits it seeks to throw off and its commitment, in throwing off those limits, to an understanding of the human condition. A recognition of the immorality of oppressively imposing limitations on any of us,  reasoned Camus, imposes limits too on what the rebel may do in claiming his own freedom.

When Camus wrote, it was in the context already of several decades of Marxist utopianism, and of European Left rationalization of that utopianism’s essential excess, before, even, any comprehensive knowledge of the totality of communist crimes, with much still to come. A not dissimilar form of rationalization for ideological and political excess exists at the far reaches of the Left today. It exists, too, in the Islamism that might still play a role in these revolutions being played out before us, with roots in the unreason of doctrinal theology. For the Western Left, Camus might say, the unreason is that which lies at the end of reason, reason that believes it can reach and even enact an absolute.

from Part V: Thought at the Meridian


from “Moderation and Excess”:

[R]ebellion with no other limits but historical expediency signifies unlimited slavery. To escape this fate, the revolutionary mind, if it wants to remain alive, must therefore return again to the sources of rebellion and draw its inspiration from the only system of thought which is faithful to its origins: thought that recognizes limits.

from “Beyond Nihilism”:

There does exist for man, therefore, a way of acting and of thinking which is possible on the level of moderation to which he belongs. Every undertaking that is more ambitious than this proves to be contradictory. The absolute is not attained nor, above all, created through history. Politics is not religion, or if it is, then it is nothing but the Inquisition.

from “Rebellion and Murder”:

It is then possible to say that rebellion, when it develops into destruction, is illogical. Claiming the unity of the human condition, it is a force of life, not of death. Its most profound logic is not the logic of  destruction; it is the logic of creation. Its movement, in order to remain authentic, must never abandon any of the terms of the contradiction that sustains it. It must be faithful to the yes that it contains as well as to the no that nihilistic interpretations isolate in rebellion. The logic of the rebel is to want to serve justice so as not to add to the injustice of the human condition, to insist on plain language so as not to increase the universal falsehood, and to wager, in spite of human misery, for happiness. Nihilistic passion, adding to falsehood and injustice, destroys in its fury its original demands and thus deprives rebellion of its most cogent reasons. It kills in the fond conviction that this world is dedicated to death. The consequence of rebellion, on the contrary, is to refuse to legitimize murder because rebellion, in principle, is a protest against death.

from “Beyond Nihilism”:

Rebellion proves in this way that it is the very movement of life and that it cannot be denied without renouncing life. Its purest outburst, on each occasion, gives birth to existence. Thus it is love and fecundity or it is nothing at all. Revolution without honor, calculated revolution which, in preferring an abstract concept of man to a man of flesh and blood, denies existence as many times as is necessary, puts resentment in the place of love. Immediately rebellion, forgetful of its generous origins, allows itself to be contaminated by resentment; it denies life, dashes toward destruction, and raises up the grimacing cohorts of petty rebels, embryo slaves all of them, who end by offering themselves for sale, today, in all the market-places of Europe, to no matter what form of servitude. It is no longer either revolution or rebellion but rancor, malice, and tyranny. Then, when revolution in the name of power and of history becomes a murderous and immoderate mechanism, a new rebellion is consecrated in the name of moderation and of life.

For all this, Camus was spurned by Sartre and excoriated by much of the French Left.  Time only proved him right, then and now, and in 1957 he won his Nobel Prize for Literature.

AJA

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The Political Animal

the sad red earth, Leading the Fight against Neo-Creationist Astrophysics

What he said ——>Link.

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