Let us Avoid Hyperbole

August 3, 2018 Leave a comment

I don’t want to prematurely throw the term “fascist” at President Trump, and the term is in no way applicable to Obama. Unlike the folks at Black Agenda Report, I won’t engage in hyperbole and pretend they are equally bad. It is well that so far, Trump  echoes Obama’s reluctance to start shooting down MIGs over Syria or go to war over former Soviet Socialist Republics. It looked at first as if Trump would be under less pressure than Obama was, to generate tensions around a NATO buildup.   John McCain is no Major Kong, and neither is Hillary Clinton, but for whatever reasons both of them have spoken as if inclined towards the same kind of brinkmanship that might have obliterated civilization in October 1962.  I speak of the Cuban Missile crisis, for which I neither  admire nor blame Kennedy, but I do not praise him for that moment of the Cuban missile crisis, any more than I do for the Bay of Pigs. With respect to North and South Korea, I shall not be rash or overly optimistic, but the policies of the previous sixty-five years were not productive, and Trump may yet stumble onto something useful.  Unfortunately, the best conceivable short-term solution would seem to be a rapprochement between the two governments and some movement across the borders, at least equivalent to what existed between East and West Germany, during the eighteen year existence of the ugly Berlin Wall.  That is hardly a desirable solution, but having crossed back and forth between East and W Berlin numerous times, I will call even that disgusting situation better than what currently exists between North and South Korea.

I am one the very rare persons who managed to hold visiting professorships and actually lecture in all three of the following: East Germany, West Germany, and Austria, and I was one of those Fulbright recipients who took German courses as high as CEFR level C1. I That’s not as good as it looks on paper, but I learned enough to know that a German would have to be exceedingly ungenerous to accuse John F. Kennedy of calling himself a doughnut.

I won’t attempt to categorize or criticize Bernie Sanders.   He shares some points of similarity with Bismarck, Du Bois (ca. 1912), Thorstein Veblen, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The commonality is the attempt to administer the industrial state by technocratic elites. The flaw in that approach is the same as in the systems of Plato and Confucius. “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes.” Robert A. Heinlein was the author who first translated if for me when I was fourteen. “Who will watch the watchers.”

It is important to understand that Juvenal, who framed those words, and Heinlein who first brought them to my attention, were satirists and capable of irony.  I think I can appreciate some irony, and I shan’t be a judge in the case of my own satire, but I admire the irony of Hobbes, Voltaire and the Huxleys—both Aldous and Thomas Henry.

I am not attempting satire, however, nor am I employing metaphor, when I speak of the American Civil War as a revolution leading to a Second Republic. The war 1860-1865, was a violent revolution that led to clearing away the so-called Jeffersonian/Jacksonian “democracy” and laid the foundations of modern industrial capitalism, thereby fulfilling Lincoln’s Whig agenda of centralized banking, continental railroads.  Its far reaching results were the growth of urban complexes such as Detroit, Chicago, and Pittsburgh.  To speak of this change is no mere metaphor; it was real structural change; it marked an actual bourgeois revolution, and a rotation of elites.  But this “New Commonwealth” as it is sometimes called, collapsed in 1929, partly for reasons that Marx and Engels predicted—the inability of industrial capitalism to consume the products of its own tremendous industrial efficiency.  The so-called “Say’s Law” simply denies a truth that is self evident, and Frédéric Bastiat’s Law is faith-based superstition.

The collapse of the Great Depression necessitated the Third Republic of F. D. Roosevelt’s Military Keynesianism and L. B. Johnson’s Cold War Liberalism.   The military industrial complex, the Marshall Plan, the USIA, and NATO were among the foreign policy expressions of this era.  The domestic expressions of the Third Republic were Social Security, Medicare, the availability of low-cost, university education, racial desegregation, and the collaboration between organized labor, big government, and big insurance companies. The important presidents were Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Johnson.

Trump seems to be a significant transitional figure, but he is a messianic leader, whose followers are loyal to his personality, not to a set of ideas.   It is foolish to underestimate his intelligence, but he is contemptuous of ideology and intellectualism.  He is a greater genius than Ronald Reagan, and he is brilliant at marketing in an age where marketing is more important than the content that is packaged.  I cannot predict whether Trump has any motivation or inclination towards creating a Fourth Republic. If he has any, he has not condescended to reveal what it is, other than building his iconic wall.  Possibly, he will remain president for twelve years, or even longer; possibly he may crumble in less than four. Trump is capable of destroying the Third Republic, but I cannot predict whether he will be successful, or what form a Fourth Republic might take, after him. When the revolution comes, I am not certain whether it can or will be effected without war, pestilence, famine, and Death.

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Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” a Cynical View

January 25, 2018 Leave a comment

Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” a Cynical View

Copyright©2018 by Wilson J. Moses

January 25, 2018

Abraham Lincoln knew that the United States of America was not a “nation conceived in liberty,” nor was it “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”  Like Chief Justice Roger Taney, famous for his lengthy obiter dictum in Dred Scott v. Sandford, Lincoln had carefully read the Declaration of Independence, and he new that its principal author, Thomas Jefferson, was a slave holder, who held strong positions on black inferiority and the inferiority of women. Jefferson also believed in a “natural aristocracy” among whites. In famous lines from his Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson implied that black people should be seen as the link between apes and humans and referred to poor whites as “rubbish.” In a letter to Samuel Kercheval 5 September, 1816, Jefferson wrote that women “to prevent depravation of morals, and ambiguity of issue, could not mix promiscuously in the public meetings of men.”

But Lincoln’s purpose at Gettysburg was not to be politically or historically accurate; it was to reshape the American narrative. His purpose was to fabricate a history that would present the Union cause as a confirmation of the Nation’s founding ideals, not what it actually was—a revolution against them.   Lincoln knew, and more recently Princeton historian James M. McPherson has acknowledged, that the Civil war represented among other things, a revolt of the modern industrial capitalism of the North against the outmoded slaveholding capitalism that we refer to as “Jeffersonian Democracy.”

The “Gettysburg Address” November 19, 1863, displaced one set of facts, the existence of slavery and inequality, with alternative facts, words on parchment about liberty and equality.   On the one hand it was a fact that the United States had declared independence with the words “all men are created equal,” and it was also a fact that Thomas Jefferson, the man who wrote those words never expected them to be applied to African Americans. Jefferson made it very clear in Notes on the State of Virginia, that he believed African Americans were so inferior, they could not be absorbed into the American people and recommended that they should be deported. But on deportation, he contradicted himself in 1820, when he supported the expansion of slavery into the territories. Jefferson’s “Kentucky Resolution,” of 1799, contained, in the words of James A, Garfield “the germ of nullification and secession” that led to the Civil War. Jefferson would have considered the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 unconstitutional.

So Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” was based on a rosy fabrication of the American Foundation Myth, that would have done Ronald Reagan proud. It was an attempt to convince anyone who would listen that the “great civil war,” was a war to preserve the nation’s founding ideals, not an effort to completely revise those ideals, and ultimately to alter the Constitution by the addition of three radical amendments. One of these amendments, the Fourteenth, became foundational to the rise of nineteenth and early twentieth century industrial capitalism, a system that held potential for industrial democracy, unlike its predecessor, Jeffersonian Democracy. But industrial democracy was only imperfectly realized in the reforms of the New Deal and the Great Society.

The cycle of American business history, launched by Alexander Hamilton and augmented by Lincoln was a mixed bag. The historical irony is that while Lincoln’s revolution led to the decline of slavery, it led ultimately to such expressions as Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886), which granted citizenship rights to corporations and in 1976 in Buckley v. Valeo, which declared that money is speech, and in 2010, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which expanded the power of the financial community in American politics.

Lincoln was like Ronald Reagan, and unlike Jimmy Carter, in that he knew the importance of deceiving the American people and presenting them with an unrealistic and rosy view of their history, rather than confronting them with disturbing truths. But Lincoln was more like Carter, and less like Reagan, in that he knew the American people would some day have to accept bitter truths about their past before they would be willing to do what was right.

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Signifying Monkeys, Donald Trump, and Trickster Gods

December 4, 2017 Leave a comment

Signifying Monkeys, Donald Trump, and Trickster Gods
Copyright©2017 by Wilson J. Moses

I was just an ignorant black boy on Detroit’s East Side, when I got to know the real life counterpart of the Signifying Monkey, an expert at playing the dozens, the master of “lyin’and signifyin.” Leotis Stubbs is not his real name. I am not going to reveal his real name, because he may still be alive, and if he is, Leotis is still dangerous. But to say that someone is dangerous is not to say that he is invariably in a position to inflict cosmic harm.   There are many priests pimps and politicians like Leotis bobbing in the sea of humanity. Once in a while one of them, like an Idi Amin or an Adolph Hitler may obtain power, and then everyone is surprised to learn that some apparent buffoon, some person completely lacking in gravitas and decorum, is able to con the people, and put his evil schemes into effect.  Leotis had a genius for presenting “alternative facts;” he simply was not born with the racial and economic advantages that Donald Trump enjoyed.

Leotis quit school at sixteen, but he was smarter than most of the kids I knew, whether white or black.   Although in my circles on Detroit’s East side, almost none of the boys—white of black— went on to college. I might add that three of the black boys in my neighborhood did graduate from Harvard Law School, but that is another story for another time.   Unlike me, those destined for Harvard Law did not spend much time roaming the streets with the likes of Leotis Stubbs, which I did at the age of thirteen—when I wasn’t reading Dante or listening to Mozart.   The nuns who had me singing litanies to the sancta Dei genetrix in Catholic school did not believe that a person like Leotis could exist, and certainly not that he could be a genius. But the con man is always a genius. That is something my parents wanted me to know, and that was why they gave me the freedom (and even forced me) to roam the streets—from Rouge River to the frontiers of Grosse point; from Canadian side of Belle Isle to Six Mile Road. I covered it all on foot or on my bicycle. But I digress!

Elijah Muhammad dealt with the malicious and chaos inflicting personality in his myth of Yakub. The folklore of African Americans dealt with him as the Signifying Monkey. In Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, he is the character of Rinehart (Reynard). Many people foolishly or naively deny the very existence of a demonic figure like Yakub, the person of extraordinary genius with an evil heart. But such an Evil Monkey currently resides in the White House.

The Signifying Monkey is not to be confused with Brer Rabbit (or Anansi) for the following reason. He represents a far different manifestation of the trickster. Brer Rabbit is a “survivor,” who uses his wits to get the better of powerful enemies, who wish him ill. Signifying Monkey is a malicious imp, who uses his wits to harm others, due only to his evil nature. Brer Rabbit acts defensively when he is assaulted. Signifying Monkey initiates sadism without provocation.

At this point I must address the concept of the “Trickster God,” who outsmarts himself, as in Ben Johnson’s Renaissance drama, The Devil is an Ass. Prometheus of the Greeks, and Loki of the Germans, and Eshu Elegbara of the Yoruba, and Coyote of the American Indians are among the universal manifestations of the Trickster God or Demigod, and it is important to note that the Trickster God can have both benevolent and vicious personae.   So too does Signifying Monkey in his various appearances assume many faces.

Skip Gates and Rudy Ray Moore, by reducing the myth of Signifying Monkey only to the dimension that resembles the sympathetic figure of Brer Rabbit (Anansi) and ignoring his more maleficent manifestations, cognates of Mephistopheles and Yakub, have robbed the myth of its variegated and important dimensions.

Skip and Rudy view the Signifying Monkey as a “survivor” who resists of the Lion’s abuse of power inequality, using his wits to maneuver the Lion into a confrontation with the Elephant in which the Elephant becomes the Monkey’s unwitting tool of retribution, by battering and humiliating the Lion.   Thus the Monkey becomes the hero of a tale in which the clever victim gains agency through the use of his brains.

In an older, and almost forgotten version of the myth, the Monkey is simply a person with an evil heart who takes sadistic delight in stirring up trouble between the Lion and the Elephant and whose only investment in the outcome is that one or the other will be defeated and humiliated. — As a footnote, I shall also remark that in the wild, a lone elephant is fairly defenseless against the adult male lion, because male lions will usually attack elephants in sibling pairs, and never frontally. In the normal course of things, a zebra can be more dangerous to a lion than an elephant is, but the African American mythology is not based on any factual knowledge of African zoology.

Just as in Greek mythology, Prometheus prefigures both a Satanic destructive force and a Christlike tutelary force, so too in African American folklore Signifying Monkey can sometimes manifest himself be a diabolical chaotic force, and sometimes as an equalizer, who symbolizes retribution, redemption and equilibrium—“preserver and destroyer.”

Donald Trump is no less a Signifying Monkey than Leotis Stubbs.   He is a con man, a trickster god, with a destructive genius. To opposing elements in society he may represent either the chaotic/destructive forces or the redemptive/restorative forces in the universe.   To me he is a demonic figure, like Yakub, but to many he represents a different component of the demonic. He is an avenging angel, a populist force of justice and retribution.   The signifying monkey may be banished to the treetops, or he can symbolically descend from the branches, and he can also symbolically rise from the roots. To some he can symbolize a force that defies the “establishment,” and at the same time be a manifestation of the power of an “alternative establishment,” that infuses chaos and pathology into the sap of the grass roots.

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Thomas Jefferson, A Modern Prometheus

December 2, 2017 Leave a comment

Attached is the 400 word abstract for Wilson J. Moses’ latest book manuscript Thomas Jefferson, A Modern Prometheus: Bearer of Light and Trickster God.   Just click the link to view the PDF file.

  Jefferson Abstract 400 words Apr 26 2017 Modern Prometheus

 

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A Semi-open Letter to Two Clever Lads From Harvard Law School

August 8, 2015 Leave a comment

Paris, August 8, 2015

The figures in this New York Times article are pretty crude, and The Times is not authoritative, but IF their figures are even roughly accurate, we are in deep trouble.  There are going to be a lot of elderly people in economic distress before long.  I am afraid that while the New York Times article offers a useful analysis, it offers no meaningful response to the impending crisis.  And if the present administration has a solution, neither Barry Obama nor Eric Holder ever made a serious effort to enact it.   Social Democratic theorist, Cornell West offers no practicable solution — only mean-sprited carping, although I suppose his negativism does strike a chord.   Since Lyndon Johnson, who had at least one eye open, every subsequent government has had its head in the sand, with the possible exception of Jimmy Carter’s.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/04/business/americans-arent-saving-enough-for-retirement-but-one-change-could-help.html

Another point: – I think it is almost likely that Social Security will be modified beyond recognition, before it sees its 100th anniversary.  Medicare will be abolished, and Obamacare costs will skyrocket due to insurance company monopolies.  What this means is that masses of people will be without adequate income and lacking medical insurance by the time I reach ninety.

The person who has unencumbered net assets of 4 or 5 million dollars may feel secure, until banks and mutual funds start collapsing.  And how secure can anyone be when organized gangs start kidnapping people and demanding ransoms?  This sort of crime is already rampant in Mexico and Brazil.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_Brazil  With a real social and economic breakdown, even poor people could be extorted out of their meager Social Security income, presuming that they have any such income.

The social contract, referred to by the  French and Germans as “Solidarity,” never existed in America, except perhaps in the dreams of Thomas Paine.   In America rights come from God, not from the social contract.  At least that is what Thomas Jefferson thought, as he reclined on his pillows, and Sally Hemings poured him another glass of imported French wine from his $30,000 wine cellar.

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Owning The Declaration of Independence – Jefferson’s Pursuit of Property and Power

January 29, 2015 1 comment

Jefferson’s Ownership of the Declaration of Independence

His Pursuit of Property and Power

By Wilson J. Moses, Thursday, January 29, 2015

Jefferson’s possessiveness regarding the Declaration of Independence was no mere matter of intellectual pride; it involved material gain. He consistently derived financial and political advantages by staking a claim to its authorship. Steven Hochman says that, “While Jefferson often failed to pay his debts on time, creditors rarely complained. Generally a warm letter would be sent to him as from Leonard and Bayard in 1822, granting more time “to the author of the Declaration of Independence.”[1] Hochman’s statement reveals a generousity of spirit, but in fact, Jefferson, did not simply postpone payment on his debts; he never paid them. He left a financial burden to his heirs that was not lifted until 1878. But even Jefferson’s prideful heirs did not bear the brunt of the suffering caused by his financial genius, which was a gift for constructing air castles, somewhat different, but no less magnificent than those of Charles Ponzi and Bernard Madoff.   The chief moral difference is that Ponzi’s and Madoff’s victims were culpable partners in their own destruction. The victims of Jefferson’s financial irrresposibility were the slaves who constituted the bulk of his capital, and whose families and communities had to be liquidated at the time of his death.

Jefferson’s greatest marks of entrepreneurial genius were thus proven by his economic and his political exploitation of the Declaration of Indepencence. Never in modern history has any politician pulled off a more impressive coup. His singular reputation as a philosopher of the enlightenment rests entirely on his ownership of the preamble to that document, which consists of a few glib pontifications that he later repudiated, both in word and in deed.   Jefferson used words alone to establish himself as the creator of the Republic, without ever fighting in the revolution, and while making only the most half-hearted attempt as wartime governor of Virginia. He was absent from the country while the Constitution was being framed, and he returned just in time to continually undermine George Washington’s administration. His greatest accomplishment was heeding Madison’s advice to purchase Louisiana, in pragmatic violation of his own abstract ideological princples.

That his life contradicted in the most eggregious manner the egalitarian and libertarian ideas of the Declaration has become a boring cliche. It is less commonly acknowledged that he verbally repudiated the Declaration’s ideals both in print and in private letters. And yet, he was brilliantly capable of marketing himself as the author of the Declaration’s eternal verities. These self-evident truths had a use-value to a clever trickster who could borrow money on the basis of their sentimental appeal, but its platitudes had no application to the child laborers in Monticello’s “dark satanic mills.”

[1] Steven Harold Hochman, “Thomas Jefferson: A Personal Financial Biography” (Ph. D. dissertation, U. of Virginia, 1987). I wish to thank Henry Wiencek for providing a copy of this page.

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Robert Reich, Glenn Ford, and others

Berlin, May 22, 2014

Editorial by Wilson J. Moses

Yes, Robert Reich is a white liberal, a classification that can evoke skepticism among those African Americans who have opinions on the public ideologies of public intellectuals.  Reich served as Secretary of Labor under Clinton, then published his memoir under the revealing title, Locked in the Cabinet.  He has been called “the conscience of the Clinton administration,” if indeed that administration can be said to have possessed a conscience.  He has refrained from ad hominem attacks, and even in the attached article you will see that he employs the euphemism, “America’s big U-turn,” rather than referring specifically to either Reagan or Clinton personally.  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/05/21-2

I am more inclined to his position than to that of Glenn Ford, whose video is also attached.   Ford’s statements are honest, and intellectually sustainable, but impractical, because pure socialism, is just as contrary to human nature as pure capitalism.  Neither has ever existed and neither ever will exist. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlzxFyK_xO4#t=10

We can achieve the more regulated capitalism that Reich and Paul Krugman suggest.    The mixed economy that was first enacted by Otto von Bismarck from purely cynical motives, and copied by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration is the only practical way to go.  Both Bismarck and FDR worked with the ultimate cynical objective of “saving the day for capitalism,” and both were successful.  But those were different times, because in those times there existed large and somewhat organized labor movements, as well as a union movement, and considerable pressure from dissatisfied labor groups on the left.  The election of Obama has had the function of diverting the attention of many discontented whites away from their labor problems by hoisting the banner of white supremacy.  The same tendency is obvious in France, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries.  This cunning ability of the white master class is reminiscent of the American situation of 1860, when poor whites ignored the advice of Hinton Rowan Helper, and followed their white masters into a rebellion, and Kamikaze charges, such as the one led by Pickett at the battle of Gettysburg.  White “free soilers” like Helper, (yes, he was essentially a free soiler) showed more intelligence, despite the fact that Helper and the free soilers were just as racist as the white labor combinations that kept black workers out of the nascent labor movement, often employing violence to do so.  Only a portion of white racists were alert enough in 1860 to be anti-slavery, despite their white supremacist passions.  

In my opinion, Reich and Krugman offer an alternative to Obama, better than that offered by Glenn Ford and Cornel West, although I do not object to the presentation of facts presented by Ford and West.   I simply do not believe that there is any chance of creating the sort of social democracy that they envision.  Furthermore, I don’t think anything is gained by presenting Obama, as they do, as the enemy of the people.  Obama represents capitalist interests, to be sure, and he is guilty of a certain “cynicism.”  Of course, we would all like to see people like Barry Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in positions where they could undo the damage done by Reagan and Clinton. We cannot guarantee that either of them would do any better than Obama.   In any case, as long as Obama is in the White House, a large portion of the American electorate will be willing to cut off their collective nose to spite their collective face.  

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