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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on June 25th, 2017
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

From TRUTHOUT:

In a recent, exclusive interview with Truthout, we asked Noam Chomsky about his take on climate change and the state of the planet. Here’s what he said:

“Every part of [the world] is trying to do something. The United States alone is trying to destroy it, and it’s not just Trump, it’s the whole Republican Party. You just can’t find words for it. And it’s not reported. It’s not discussed.”

From WASHINGTON POST:

Beyond opposing Trump, do Democrats have a message?

Perhaps Democrats thought things would be easier because of Donald Trump’s rocky start. His presidency has produced an outpouring of anger among Democrats, but will that be enough to bring about a change in the party’s fortunes? Some savvy Democratic elected officials doubt it.

By Dan Balz, June 24, 2017

Their anti-Trump fantasies are not working for them. Anger is not a plan or a policy. It only feeds those they already had and does not expand their base. If anything, it further alienates them from voters they need. This is because they not only hate Trump, they also hate those who voted for him. “I hate you because you did not vote for me” is a tough sale.

The loss in last week’s special congressional election in Georgia produced predictable handwringing and finger-pointing inside the Democratic Party. It also raised anew a question that has troubled the party through a period in which they have lost ground political. Simply put: Do Democrats have a message?

Right now, the one discernable message is opposition to President Donald Trump. That might be enough to get through next year’s midterm elections, though some savvy Democratic elected officials doubt it. What’s needed is a message that attracts voters beyond the blue-state base of the party.

The defeat in Georgia came in a district that was always extremely challenging. Nonetheless, the loss touched off a hunt for scapegoats. Some Democrats, predictably, blamed the candidate, Jon Ossoff, for failing to capitalize on a flood of money and energy among party activists motivated to send a message of opposition to the president. He may have had flaws but he and the Democrats turned out lots of voters. There just weren’t enough of them.

Other critics went up the chain of command and leveled their criticism at House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. She has held her party together in the House through many difficult fights – ask veterans of the Obama administration – but she also has become a prime target for GOP ad makers as a symbol of the Democrats’ liberal and bicoastal leanings. Pelosi, a fighter, has brushed aside the criticism.

Perhaps Democrats thought things would be easier because of Trump’s rocky start. His presidency has produced an outpouring of anger among Democrats but will that be enough to bring about a change in the party’s fortunes?

History says a president with approval ratings as low as Trump’s usually sustain substantial midterm losses. That could be the case in 2018, particularly if the Republicans end up passing a health care bill that right now is far more unpopular than Obamacare. But Trump has beaten the odds many times in his short political career. What beyond denunciations of the Republicans as heartless will the Democrats have to say to voters?

Though united in vehement opposition to the president, Democrats do not speak with one voice. Fault lines and fissures exist between the ascendant progressive wing at the grassroots and those Democrats who remain more business-friendly. While these differences are not as deep as those seen in Trump’s Republican Party, that hasn’t yet generated a compelling or fresh message to take to voters who aren’t already sold on the party.

Hillary Clinton, whose rhetoric often sounded more poll-tested than authentic, never found that compelling message during her 2016 campaign. She preferred to run a campaign by demonizing Trump and as a result drowned out her economic issues. This was a strategic gamble for which she paid a high price.

The absence of a convincing economic message did not start with Clinton. Former president Barack Obama struggled with the same during his 2012 reelection. He wanted to claim credit for a steady but slow recovery while acknowledging forthrightly the persistent growth that was rising far more rapidly for those at the top. It was a muddle at best, but he was saved the fact that Mitt Romney couldn’t speak to those stressed voters either. In 2016, however, Trump did.

Clinton’s loss forced Democrats to confront their deficiencies among white, working-class voters and the vast areas between the coasts that flipped in Trump’s direction. Their defection from the Democratic Party began well before Trump but until 2016 Democrats thought they could overcome that problem by tapping other voters. Trump showed the limits of that strategy.

The Georgia loss put a focus on a different type of voter, the well-educated suburbanites, particularly those who don’t live in deep blue states. While losing ground among working-class whites, Democrats have been gaining support among white voters with college degrees. Last fall, Clinton advisers believed she would do well enough with those college graduates to overcome projected erosion among those without college educations. She fell short of expectations, however, allowing Trump to prevail in the pivotal Midwest battlegrounds.

The Georgia district had the highest percentage of college graduates of any in the nation. Ossoff tried to win over those suburban voters with a moderate message on economic issues but it wasn’t powerful or persuasive enough to overcome the appeal of the Republican brand in an election in which the GOP made Pelosi-style Democrats a focus. Loyalty to party was strong enough to allow Karen Handel to prevail.

The long-running debate over the Democrats’ message likely will intensify as the party looks to 2018 and especially to 2020. It is a debate that the party needs. Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, writing in the American Prospect, sees a problem that goes beyond white, working-class voters to those within the Democratic base who also were left behind by the post-2008 economic gains. He argues that the part’s problem is with working class voters of all types, not just whites.

Greenberg has long been critical of the tepidness of the party’s economic message and puts some of the blame on Obama. He believes the former president’s economic message in 2012 and 2016 focused on progress in the recovery largely to the exclusion of the widespread pain that still existed. “That mix of heralding ‘progress’ while bailing out those responsible for the crisis and the real crash in incomes for working Americans was a fatal brew for Democrats,” he argues.

For progressives, the answer to this problem is clear: a boldly liberal message that attacks big corporations and Wall Street and calls for a significant increase in government’s role in reducing income and wealth inequality. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. has been aggressive in promoting exactly that, as he did during the 2016 campaign, a big investment in infrastructure, free college tuition at public colleges and universities. He has said he intends to introduce legislation he calls “Medicare for all.”

That kind of message likely will spark more internal debate, particularly among Democrats from swing districts or swing states. It points to one of the biggest challenges Democrats face as they move beyond being the anti-Trump party. That is the question of whether they are prepared to make a robust and appealing case in behalf of government in the face of continuing skepticism among many of the voters they are trying to win over. Trump might not succeed in draining the swamp, but he has tapped into sentiments about Washington that Democrat ignore at their peril.

Nor can Democrats ignore voters’ concerns about immigration. The Democrats’ message on immigration and immigrant rights (and some other cultural issues) plays well in many blue states, but it draws a much more mixed reception in those parts of the country where Trump turned the election in his direction.

In this divided era, it’s easy for either party to look at the other and conclude the opposition is in worse shape. That’s the trap for Democrats right now as they watch Trump struggle in office. But Democrats are in the minority in the House, Senate, governorships and state legislatures. Clinton may have won the popular vote but that proved about as satisfying as coming close while losing last week in Georgia. It’s no substitute for the real thing. If continued frustration with losing doesn’t prompt rethinking about the message, what will?

From OpenDEMOCRACY:

Macron and absolute responsibility
PATRICE DE BEER 23 June 2017
If there were one word to characterise these elections, it was crafted by Melenchon and is “dégagisme”, or cleaning-out.

French President Emmanuel Macron has won his ambitious and unlikely bet. After having been elected president last May at the age of 39, he now holds an absolute majority in the National Assembly, with 350 seats out of 577 – his own movement, La République En Marche (LREM), having 308 MPs, the rest being held by his centrist MoDem allies.

For a movement created only14 months ago and long considered by pundits and politicians alike as a “bubble”, this is an incredible success. Even if it is less than what the most recent opinion polls had predicted (up to 470 seats), and even though the 57% abstention rate has reached an apex in the history of the Fifth Republic.

Now that he has turned the French party system upside down, he holds all the cards to implement his promised in-depth reform of a paralysed political, economic and social system. This is what most French voters elected him for. He will marginally revamp his government, which includes ministers from left, right and centre alongside personalities from civil society, serving under the conservative 46-year-old Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, before Parliament is due to convene on June 27. Yet he has to move fast on his reforms – first of the labour market, a very divisive one, on which negotiations with unions and employers have already started – knowing by experience as the former adviser and economic minister of the last Socialist president, François Hollande, that delaying crucial decisions means having their positive effects delayed till the end of his five year tenure, if not later. He knows this so well that some of his new bills are already in the pipeline, having even been partly drafted before he took office.

If his predicted triumph has been downsized to an historical success in presiding over the demise of the two parties who ruled France in the last 60 years, it is mostly because of a massive abstention rate. Already noted during the first round, when other parties lost up to 60% of the votes obtained during the April-May presidential election, this conviction on the part of many voters that this is the only election that matters, also afflicted the Macron vote last Sunday. Some of his voters thought there was no point voting again as the dice were cast, others were not so keen to give him too big a majority. At the same time, it looks as if tactical voting from opposition voters, starting with the left and right extremes – France Insoumise (FI or Unsubdued Left) and National Front (FN) – helped defeat some LREM candidates who were ahead on the first round.

Faced by these 350 seats, conservative Républicains and their centrist allies had their worse ever score with 130 seats (against 229 in the last Parliament). Socialists slumped to 30, 10% of their previous score. They are in total disarray, having lost their historical strongholds and some MPs only having survived thanks to Macron’s support for those considered “Macron compatible”, after they voiced support in public for some of his reforms and their willingness to support his government in its first vote of confidence. A split between such recruits and the hard-liners has already occurred in the Republicains, with the same expected to ensue any moment now within the Socialists, all of which should benefit the new President.

Together for the first time, the far left and the far right will play an albeit minor role within a split opposition. FN has now 8 MPs instead of 2, including the election of its leader Ms Marine Le Pen. This is far less than they had hoped for and not enough to form a parliamentary group (a minimum of 15 MPs). The FI, the new populist party led by Jean-Luc Melenchon, has 17 MPs when it previously had none. This will give him a basis to pursue his war against Macron whom he considers as the devil incarnate of the worst type of capitalist and financial system. This is a huge disappointment for a man who still hoped a few weeks ago for a majority in Parliament and who considers Macron’s power as illegitimate because, he says, overlooking the fact that less than 2.5 millions voted for him, that it only represents 7.3 million registered voters out of 47.6 million. The Communists, rejecting fealty to the FI, cling to their 10 MPs. As for the Greens, bitterly torn among themselves, they have gone from 17 to one MP while French ecology icon, Nicolas Hulot, is now number 3 in the Philippe government, in charge of energy transition.

If there were one word to characterise these elections, it was crafted by Melenchon and is “dégagisme”, or cleaning-out. “Dégagisme” of old politicians, old parties, of the old world, to build a new one made up of several bold promises regularly repeated like mantras by this gifted orator who can hold the attention of large audiences for hours, while sporting his Mao-like jacket. “Dégagisme” for him began with his rivals on the left, starting with the PS whom he vowed to destroy and replace, and with whom he rejected any alliance, even choosing to stand against the local head of the party in Marseilles, and winning.

But it is also clear that a large majority of those who left the PS were from its moderate wing and disillusioned by Hollande as well as by his vociferous minority of hard-liners who took control of a rump party in the presidential primaries – their candidate came out fifth with only 6% of the vote at the presidential election – the rest siding with France Insoumise. So, the main beneficiary of this “dégagisme” against politicians who had been in charge for decades and were held responsible by so many of the French voters, left and right, has been Macron himself. It was they who helped him build his following before he received support from the centre and from part of the right in his “neither left nor right” or “and left and right” strategy.

Absolute majority, absolute responsibility

So the easy part of his job has now been done and a hard task lies ahead. Initially, few people believed he could be elected. Now all of a sudden they expect him to deliver. And fast. To balance his job-creating reforms by loosening up the French labour system with social reforms. To make it easier to lay-off but also to recruit. To improve the living of the less-well-off by simplifying taxes and financing health and unemployment benefits, not from wages but through a higher tax on all income, financial and corporate included, and by removing an obsolete and unjust housing tax for 80% of taxpayers.

The French want things to change for the better but are at the same time afraid of the future. And they are also reluctant to see these changes affect them directly. Difficult people to deal with! But by promoting a more benevolent type of politics, by refusing to countenance verbal abuse against his opponents, asking people in rallies to stop booing them, he has tried to promote a more peaceful atmosphere. This might pacify the political arena for a time but there will be no honeymoon: he will have to deliver.

He has started by building an image of himself as a leader. At home, by not ducking out of talking face to face with strikers fighting against the outsourcing of their jobs; booed at first, he managed at least twice to have a frank discussion with them without making, as he said, promises everyone knew he could not fulfil. Then he did the same in the international world where so many pundits said that he was too young and lacked the international exposure and guts to talk face to face with world leaders, starting with Trump and Putin. But now he will have to dirty his hands with day to day politics.

He will do this with the help of his new majority in an Assembly profoundly affected by another brand of institutional ”dégagisme”. Thanks to a recent bill, no politician can be elected for more than three terms or hold more than one position of responsibility (deputy or senator, mayor, regional counsellor). Macron has also decided to implement strict parity between women and men in his government as among his candidates for Parliament. So the new Assembly will accommodate 432 (75%) new MPs, 223 of them women (160 from LREM) instead of 155. With an average age of 48 years instead of 54 years as before, they are elected under Macron’s name. New in politics but active in business, start-ups, social services, various jobs and professions who will have to learn the tricks of the trade while remaining close to people outside Parliament. Loyal? yes, but hopefully bringing new blood, new ideas, new experience to a political world far too long endogamous and male orientated.

Will they all be up to the task? The fact is that they represent the first revolution – the title of Macron’s last book – to occur in fossilised French politics and a timely chance to bring France back as a European, and world power, thanks to his promised reforms and his pro-European stand at a moment when the EU is not that popular in the Old Continent. Just at the time when the EU’s future is at stake and Britain is starting her long, complex and, probably, bitter divorce proceedings.

As the conservative Le Figaro, criticised by readers for being too accommodating with Macron wrote on Monday, “Absolute majority, absolute responsibility”. And Le Monde’s publisher added, “Rebuild confidence”. A tough programme indeed.

‘It only needs all’: re-reading Dialectic of Enlightenment at 70

MARCEL STOETZLER 24 June 2017

Seventy years ago, Querido Verlag published a densely written book that has become a key title of modern social philosophy. Underneath its pessimistic granite surface a strangely sanguine message awaits us.

How do you make an argument against social domination when the very terms, concepts and languages at your disposal are shaped by, and in turn serve that same social domination? Probably in the way you would light a fire in a wooden stove. How would you write a book about the impossibility of writing just that book? Like a poem about the pointlessness of poems. What if your enemies’ enemies are your own worst enemies? Can you defend liberal society from its fascist enemies when you know it is the wrong state of things? You must, but dialectics may well ‘make cowards of us all’ and spoil our ‘native hue of resolution’.

Dialectic of Enlightenment[1] is a very strange book, and although it was published, in 1947, by the leading publishing house for exiled, German-language anti-fascist literature, the Querido Verlag in Amsterdam, alongside many of the biggest literary names of the time, no-one will have expected that it gradually became one of the classics of modern social philosophy.

It is a book that commits all the sins editors tend to warn against: its chapters are about wildly differing subject matters; the writing is repetitive, circular and fragmented; no argument ever seems exhausted or final and there are no explicitly stated conclusions, and certainly no trace of a policy impact trajectory. Arguments start somewhere, suddenly come to a halt and then move on to something else. If this sounds like the script for a Soviet film from the revolutionary period, then that is not totally coincidental: it is an avant-garde montage film, transcribed into philosophy.

Unsurprisingly, given that it was written during WW2 in American exile and published at the beginning of the Cold War, it does not carry its Marxism on its sleeves, but it gives clear enough hints: in the preface, Horkheimer and Adorno state that the aim of the book is ‘to explain why humanity, instead of entering a truly human state, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism’. This addresses the dialectic referenced in the title of the book. The important bit here is the ‘instead of’: the reality of barbarism was undeniable and clearly visible, but the originality of the formulation lies in its implication that humanity could have been expected to enter ‘a truly human state’ sometime earlier in the twentieth century, leaving behind its not so human state.

The promise of progress towards humanity, held by socialists (and some liberals), blew up in their faces. It would have been easy and straightforward then to write a book arguing against the holding of such hope, but this would not have been a dialectical book; Dialectic of Enlightenment undertakes to rescue this hope by looking at why progress tipped over into its opposite.

Whose barbarism?
A number of propositions have been made, at the time and later, as to who or what is to be blamed for the barbarism. Capitalism was an obvious answer, but then, capitalism does not typically and all the time produce Holocausts (and capitalists could be found among the victims). Others pointed at ‘the Germans’ and their peculiar intellectual and social history; this, too, is neither an entirely wrong nor a quite satisfying answer. Again others pointed at ‘the bureaucracy’ and modern statecraft. These surely played a role but there are plenty of state bureaucracies that do not engage in genocides and world wars, most of the time. Horkheimer and Adorno made a much stranger, more abstract and strangely radical proposition: the barbarism that destroyed civilization was a product of civilization as such. It is civilization’s self-destruction.

The attempt to formulate a theory of barbarism as the product of civilization creates a very thorny problem, though: theorizing, the attempt to bring about enlightenment, is very much the stuff of civilization, as it involves thinking, language, perceptions, concepts, images, ideas, judgements, ‘spirit’ (which in the philosophical tradition Horkheimer and Adorno came from means as much as ‘culture’). Dialectic of Enlightenment blames the destruction of enlightenment on enlightenment, i.e. on itself. The philosopher Jürgen Habermas some decades later cleverly pointed out that this is a bit of a contradiction. That was exactly the point, though: the hint is in the title, in the word ‘Dialectic’.

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Title-page of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, 1807. Wikicommons. Some rights reserved.
The book’s painful starting point is described in the preface: Horkheimer and Adorno looked for a position from which to confront fascism and found that ‘in reflecting on its own guilt’, thought finds that it lacks a language.

In the name of what exactly is it possible to challenge fascism effectively? In the languages of sociology, psychology, history, philosophy? The discourses of truth, freedom, human rights?

Barbarism… is civilization’s self-destruction.
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Here is the rub: in the period in which fascism took power these sounded hollow as they had been stripped of their authority. If this sounds familiar, it is because, almost a century later, we are in a not so different situation. Horkheimer and Adorno state – still in the preface – that fascist demagogues and liberal intellectuals feed off the same (positivist) zeitgeist, marked by the ‘self-destruction of the enlightenment’. Science and scholarship are not potent weapons against fascism anymore, and this even affects tendencies that are opposed to ‘official’, positivistic science.

The basic point here is that scientific, materialist, technological rationality is a force for good only when it is linked to the idealistic notion of general human emancipation, the goal of full rich lives for all, without suffering, exploitation and oppression. (Using a word they had good reasons to avoid, this is what Marx would have called ‘communism’). Only this link gives empirical and rationalist science its truth and significance: enlightenment needs to be ‘transcendental’, i.e. something that points beyond the actually existing reality, not unlike metaphysics in traditional philosophy. It needs to be critical, that is, in opposition to reality as it is.

The principal thesis of the book is that enlightenment purged itself of this connection to society-transcending, non-empirical, critical truth, and as early as on the second page of the preface Horkheimer and Adorno are happy to name the thinker who exemplifies for them this fatal development: Auguste Comte, the founder of positivist philosophy. They assert that in the hostile and brutal conditions of the eighteenth century – the period often described as that of ‘the Enlightenment’ – philosophy had dared to challenge the ‘infamy’ (as Voltaire called it) of the church and the society it helped maintain, while in the aftermath of the French Revolution philosophy switched sides and put itself at the service of the state. This was of course, by now, the modernising state, but still the same state. They write that the Comtean school of positivism – ‘apologists’ of the modern, capitalist society that emerged in the nineteenth century – ‘usurped’ the succession to the genuine Enlighteners, and reconciled philosophy with the forces it previously had opposed, such as the Catholic church.

Horkheimer and Adorno mention in this context the ultra-nationalist organisation Action Française, whose chief ideologist Charles Maurras had been an ardent admirer of Comte. This hint helps understand what kind of historical developments they had on their minds: while Comte himself surely saw himself in good faith as a protagonist of social reform meant to overcome-but-preserve the achievements of the Revolution, and his translation of enlightenment empiricism into the system of ‘positivist philosophy’ as a contribution to the process of modernization, his followers in many ways contributed to the development of the modern authoritarian state and, as in the case of Maurras, proto-fascism.

Dear Reader of SustainabiiTank – if you got up to here and want to read further please find the continuation starting with WATERLOO at the souce:

 www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe…

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About the author
Marcel Stoetzler is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Bangor University, Wales.
He studied at Hamburg University, Germany, and at the Universities of Greenwich and Middlesex (both London). He works on social and political theory, intellectual history and historical sociology, and has lately concentrated on various aspects of modern antisemitism, especially its interconnections with liberalism and nationalism and the emergence of the discipline of sociology. He serves on the editorial board of Patterns of Prejudice and is a fellow at the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Manchester.

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