Sunday, April 17, 2016

In 2016 Can we Learn from the Ideologies of the 20th Century?

Fascism in the 1930s...other versions exist today.
This semester I am teaching a course on 20th century European history.  I suggest to students that one way of understanding much of our content is through a growing series of claims for different kinds of rights by Europeans and people living in European empires in Africa and Asia.  Connected to that framework is the idea that we can understand the 20th century in part through the rise and fall or the ebb and flow of various ideologies which appealed to different people at different times in different places.  Proponents of each of these ideologies had strikingly different things to say about the best balance between citizen and state, individual and society.   
One of these ideologies that is central for understanding the 20th century is liberalism.  In common parlance in the U.S., "liberalism" tends to be a broad and ultimately fairly meaningless term used to characterize ideas of the center and left which offer wildly varying prescriptions for the organization of societies and economies.  As a Europeanist I understand liberalism to mean something fairly particular (although not necessarily coherent), with origins in the 19th century.  
Europeans in the 19th century understood liberalism to signify support for the growth of a broadly secular state, for the expansion of particular civic rights (including the right to vote), and for an economy based on the captivating fiction of the "free market."  The role of the state was to protect a global free market.  In liberal “practice” that meant forcing markets in Asia and Latin America open to prevent local industrialization that would compete with European products and to begin a deluge of European-produced goods into these consumer markets, simultaneously extracting raw materials necessary for the production of those and other goods.  Although liberal states made forays into "law and order" and urban reform, liberals regarded their state's primary purpose as promoting the national interest through a strong military, and rigging global markets for new industrial and financial elites (which they described as the “free market”).
Liberalism gained adherents at the expense of older conservative philosophies about economy and society that had persisted in states where power and wealth were derived from land.  New financial and industrial elites replaced the landed aristocracy in many positions of power, and created a new narrative about the power of liberal ideas to transform lives and livelihoods.  
But large numbers of Europeans living in urban and connected settings developed greater expectations of their state as they saw the benefits of industrialization spread unevenly across society.  Workers increasingly banded together to promote safer working conditions, better compensation and representation, and shorter working hours.
A third 19th century ideology, communism, proved appealing to the working classes that were beginning to dominate numerically in more industrialized European states.  In strong contrast to liberalism, communists tended to emphasize class rather than national solidarity.  They envisioned a transformative role for the working class rather than the middle class.  Crucially, communists advocated a state dominated by the interests of the working class that did not shrink from managing or intervening in the economy.  Indeed, the economy and society were to be engineered to benefit society as a whole rather than those individuals who seemed marked as virtuous by their wealth in liberal society.  And the core industries associated with industrial wealth were to be brought under collective control to ensure that the wealth they generated flowed to the population as a whole rather than accumulating in the hands of the few.
Between the wars, communism represented a strong alternative to liberalism
Communism was extremely alluring throughout the 19th century, although it was not until the early 20th century that it became associated with a state.  Most European states until 1917 could be associated with liberalism or conservatism.  Recognizing the threat that Communism posed to its ideological dominance in industrialized states, some liberals modified their attachment to the free market, and argued for reform.  They also came to promote, both from fear and conviction, the piecemeal development of programs to alleviate the worst of the hardships associated with modern life in an industrialized world.  These "new liberals" sought to finish off the landed aristocracy, and also took key positions in countries like Britain during the First World War when they attempted to harness the powers of the state in the service of an abstract national cause that sent millions of their citizens to die in trenches across Western and Eastern Europe.
After the First World War, however, both liberals and conservatives in government retreated from the deployment of state power in the service of state aims, and broadly reoriented themselves toward the liberal view of the economy and the liberal view of government.  Europeans and others wondered why, if the state could successfully manage a war-time economy to pursue national goals, it could not do the same in peace-time to secure gains for the working and middle class.
Economic tumult shook Europe in the early 1920s, and returned with a vengeance in 1929.  In the face of depression and political violence, liberalism looked frail globally, and liberals looked incomprehensibly dogmatic and dangerous in refusing to acknowledge that there was a role for a strong state in addressing the extraordinary hardship that came to define many people’s lives.
The basic immorality of liberal economics and the dismal failure of the liberal imagination at a moment of economic crisis provided an opening for two other ideologies to enter the scene in the interwar years.
The dysfunctional nature of the Russian government during the First World War, plus a host of historical factors, helped to set the stage for the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, which suddenly placed Communism more visibly on the map of European states.  Soviet governments varied in their toleration of market instruments, but in spite of the increasing brutality of that state in the later 1920s and 1930s, it became a model to which some Western Europeans and Americans looked because of the increasing frailty of liberalism during the interwar years.  
Liberalism has proved a pervasive ideology in the 20th century.
The Soviet Union pursued ambitions policies of industrialization and growth, coupled with new modes of social organization that shielded much of the population from the worst of the 1930s.  While the U.S. and Western Europe appeared to crumble in the face of Depression, the Soviet Union looked like a slick, modern, technological state that didn’t shrink from intervening forcefully on behalf of its population.  Western observers often failed to see the spectacular and violent excesses of that state, because at a time when their own populations were subjected to massive, liberal structural violence, their gaze was focused on how the USSR provided a political and economic alternative.
Fascism first grasped state power in Italy during the 1920s, and cast itself as a vital and energetic ideology, better suited to mastering the complexities of a violent and uncertain modern world that seemed plagued by political instability and economic depression.  It emerged in Germany because the crushing effects of depression were coupled with a punitive peace settlement that had blamed Germany for starting the First World War.  Fascists deployed populist rhetoric, but largely allied themselves with "big business."  Fascism deplored liberal and communist cosmopolitanism, attacked the internationalism of the 1920s, and relentlessly promoted the ethnically and linguistically defined Nation as the core unit of social organization.  The rights of individuals were subordinated to the needs of the state.
Fascists used rearmament and the construction of gigantic militaries to lower unemployment numbers, simultaneously stripping others of citizen rights.  They stoked a sense of grievance, encouraging their citizens and subjects to see themselves as surrounded by a threatening world full of lesser people.  They promised to make the racially-defined people “great again” through war and violence, both against the wider world and against groups at home who were defined as subversives.
Fascist states drew the world into a second global conflict in 1939, which led to their defeat.
But in Europe in particular (and the U.S. to a lesser degree), peoples and states realized that the tools of liberalism were unsuited for both war and peace, and that there was a need for developing a new kind of state.  
The growth of social democracy represented perhaps the final real ideological innovation of twentieth century Europe.  Social Democrats cast their ideology as an alternative to both communism and liberalism.  It would preserve the liberal respect for individual civil rights, while marking a sharp break from the glorification of the free market and a non-interventionist state.  It would simultaneously learn from communists’ protections of social and economic rights, while avoiding efforts to extirpate markets altogether.
Social democracies varied across Europe, but they held in common a commitment to an integrated welfare state which in many instances provided a full complement of services relating to health, education, income, and family support to all members of society, free at the point of access, and supported by progressive taxation.  This marked a sharp break from the liberal pursuit of piecemeal social programs that tended to mark those who used them as irresponsible deviants.  In social democratic states, welfare services were universal, and provided points of solidarity and even national pride.
Social democratic states have not avoided social strife or economic uncertainty.  But their fibre has routinely proved far more robust than liberal states.  They might see less growth, but that is coupled by far greater security and far more widespread prosperity.  They have inspired far more trust in their citizens, and the strength of their welfare institutions have been far less vulnerable in moments of global and national volatility.
Social democracy has proved far better equipped to handle the challenges of the 20th century.
As we contemplate our candidates for the presidency in 2016, U.S. citizens are confronted by individuals who represent a few of these twentieth century ideologies.  Since the 1970s, the U.S. has been dominated by a broadly liberal consensus, involving most Republicans and Democrats.  Elected officials from those two parties have shared a general commitment to a state that sees its primary mission as strong national defense (which has led to the growth of a rogue national security state...a story for another post); to the creation and maintenance of a range of poorly funded, piecemeal social programs that carry with them strong stigmas for the poor; to a reluctance to develop cohesive welfare programs; and to a fantasy that balancing a budget is a virtuous end in itself, rather than a highly political process that determines the fate of 300 million people.
To be sure, the Republican Party was less committed to those social programs than the Democrats, and its members tended to be more evangelical on the question of “free markets”, brandishing the word like some fetish to ward off the realities of the unequal world they had created.
The right-ward shift and more open racism of the Republican Party over the past eight years has generated candidates like Donald Trump.  He maintains a commitment to the basic immorality and inconsistency of liberal “free market” economics, but combines it with rhetorical populism (which he in turn entirely ignores in his tax plans).  He also adds an intense nationalism, xenophobia, and attack on a failed political consensus of which he was part and from which he benefited.  In this respect, he and most of the Republican party are shifting towards a variant of fascism.
This is unsurprising given the damage liberal economics have done to our country over the past decades, and the economic uncertainty we have faced.  While social democratic Europe largely committed itself to a full employment economy, the U.S. embraced the liberal terror of inflation and accepted as a fact of life that large numbers of people can be unemployed, often attacking the unemployed as morally depraved.
If Trump and Cruz represent the rise of fascism at a moment of liberal frailty, Hillary Clinton represents that liberalism.  She recognizes the problems of untethered liberal economics, but her remedy is a series of disconnected social programs that are designed to treat the symptom rather than the disease.  Partly because of socialization, and partly out of conviction, Clinton refuses to contemplate the benefits of social democracy, even dismissing them as un-American when it comes to higher education.
Bernie Sanders represents an imperfect and moderate version of social democracy, asking us to create a new kind of state.  His politics would put him on the right-wing of most European social democratic parties, but he represents a radical break for the U.S.  He is arguing for a small version of the kind of package of interlinked programs that transformed destitute European states in the 1940s and 1950s and dramatically enhanced the lives of their citizens.
The 1930s were a moment when the weaknesses of liberalism were exposed, and when people who were fearful and angry with their dysfunctional states turned to extreme ideologies like fascism.  The creation of social democratic welfare states in the 1940s and 1950s was designed to give people another kind of state: a stronger, more accountable, more responsive state that was respectful of economic rights as well as civil rights.  

We never had that moment in the U.S., and today we again find our liberal state inadequate to the task.  People here are now tempted by the hatred and substanceless populism of Republican fascism.  We should confront that fascism wherever we find it.  But we should also be aware that the half-measures of liberalism do not represent the only alternative, and that there are historical precedents and existing examples of alternative--better--states that people have created to address the pressing desires and needs of their citizens.  

Friday, April 15, 2016

Crisis at the University of California

Later this month, University of California President Janet Napolitano will make a visit to Redding, in the far north of California.  During her visit, she will likely encounter community members and activists who will ask her about the possibility of opening a UC campus in the region.  Advocates for a UC Redding imagine a north state campus that would not only provide an easier path to higher education for local students, but also see the potential for a university in the region to generate social and economic revitalization.
It is telling that even in deeply conservative northern California it is possible to find not just people willing to testify to the transformative effects of public higher education, but a grassroots movement that is forging connections with civic leaders to advocate for the construction of a university in their backyard out of a recognition of the role that California's universities have historically played in the state.
Napolitano makes this visit at a time when UC seems to be lurching from one crisis to another.  The system has been under-funded for decades, and its students have been under mounting strain since a vindictive Governor Reagan introduced tuition in the 1970s.  Its de facto privatization has led to strains with a state government that wants to exercise control over the institution but can't persuade the public to offer sufficient funds to give it any clout.
Californians' impression of UC is of an institution that has wandered from its path of public service and appears obsessed with growing the governing caste of administrators who appear to be singularly inept, particularly given the scale of their salaries.  And while its faculty and students and staff labor daily to maintain a reputation for world-class education, UC's administrative leadership seems flawed at virtually every level.
UC Berkeley's administration stands accused of covering up or slowing the process of investigating sexual harassment, and appears to have a double standard for handling harassment claims leveled by tenured faculty.  It’s Chancellor evidently failed to report the extent of this problem to the UC President, who had to learn about it when it hit the news.
UC Davis’ Chancellor, Linda Katehi, presided over a botched and unnecessarily violent response to student protests in 2011, a set of events which tarnished her reputation.  Her response was to spend $175,000 to “scrub the internet of negative online postings”.  “Some payments,” the Sacramento Bee wrote, “were made in hopes of improving the results computer users obtained when searching for information about the university or Katehi.”  
Not only is the effort to re-write the history of the university administration’s violent assault on students offensive, Katehi’s decision to spend large sums of money on doing so demonstrates a warped sense of priorities to students and community members.
An even more vivid illustration of Katehi’s abysmal leadership is the revelation that she earned $70,000 moonlighting on behalf of a for-profit education company that has been investigated by a U.S. Senate committee, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Attorneys General of various states.  She also earned nearly half a million dollars over several years for work on the side for a textbook company.
It’s common for people who labor for low wages to work multiple jobs, but Katehi’s UC Davis salary is $424,000.  
The UC Board of Regents has long argued that the University’s administrators need to be paid high salaries because of their brilliance and in order to attract them to work for California’s system.
But apparently neither a $420,000 salary nor the opportunity to work on an amazing campus of the world’s most extraordinary university system are enough to keep Katehi committed to UC Davis and its community of students, faculty, and staff.  What she did was apparently legal, but also so incredibly, self-evidently destructive and immoral that UC President Janet Napolitano’s decision to keep her on as Chancellor smacks of contempt for UC Davis’ community.  
That community deserves a Chancellor who gives them her undivided attention and who isn’t simultaneously beholden to for-profit education enterprises that represent values starkly opposed to those embodied by the University of California.  If UC Davis doesn’t want to have to spend money sanitizing the internet, it should fire Katehi and fire someone who isn’t going to compromise the university’s reputation and the safety of its students.
Meanwhile, UC’s budget woes have returned.  UC Berkeley is preparing to cut 500 employees from the campus’ payroll in the face of a $150 million deficit, but you can bet few if any of those employees will come from the bloated administration.  They are more likely to be the support staff that allow academic and research units to function, and their removal is likely to place greater burdens on faculty, researchers, graduate students, and remaining staff in a way that compromises the mission and work of those people.  
In its quest for reinvigoration, the University of California now faces three obstacles:
-Its own administration, which has become enamored of and invested in a de facto privatization process and which seems intent on sabotaging the administration through its absurd antics and arguments.
-State leadership, in the form of a Governor who has been a longtime foe of UC and who is committed to “fiscal responsibility” rather than social responsibility, and who persists in understanding budgets as an end rather than a means to pursuing policies and supporting institutions that do good for people.
-California’s public, which has been instructed by politicians since the days of Ronald Reagan to see UC as an extravagant institution.  While many Californians can testify first-hand to the work that UC does in educating students, providing jobs, making innovations in technology, medicine, economics, and social thought, and in acting as an “upward mobility” machine, California’s voters have failed to invest in the university.
I think we are at a moment where the public is prepared to re-commit to UC, but arguments for re-investment become almost impossible to make when the UC President and Regents prize administrative salaries over student tuition cuts, and when they defend campus leaders who are uncommitted and incompetent.
I spent ten years at two UC campuses as a student, and taught on one campus for four of those years.  To me it remains a magical, inspiring institution, that provides space for students and others to learn, explore, and think about their place in the world.  It provides an educational experience--and a reputation to match--that situate students well to enter the workforce.  And when campuses mesh with the communities around them I think we see how universities are anything but ivory towers, and are instead places that are tied in every way to the world around them.

I hope that Californians will begin to fund UC adequately.  And I hope that we can see some big changes in UC leadership to reflect the priorities of the campus and state communities.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Do Black Lives Matter Over There?

Last year, during the early months of the presidential primary cycle, groups called Black Lives Matter began to follow presidential candidates, maintaining a presence at rallies, calling candidates out on stage, and highlighting their central concern: that black and brown Americans suffer disproportionately from police violence.  The narratives surrounding that violence suggested that those lives didn't matter as much as they should, and that they were held in less regard than the lives of white Americans.  
On the Republican side, contenders chose to attack the protesters, implying without reference to reality or to the protestors' words, that by emphasizing black lives, they were suggesting that not all lives matter, whereas in fact the protesters were doing just the reverse.*
On the Democratic side, however, Black Lives Matter made real traction.  They pushed the three candidates to utter the names of recent victims of police violence.  And all three of the original Democratic candidates (Martin O'Malley has since exited the stage) began to discuss police violence, racial inequality, and the need for reform of the criminal justice system.  Left to their own devices, the Democratic candidates would have tiptoed around these issues of fundamental importance.  But Black Lives Matter, and their methods--condemned as too aggressive by some of the candidates' own supporters--forced Democratic candidates to confront the persistence of inequality along racial lines in our country.
Both Bernie Sanders, with his historic commitment to civil rights campaigns, and Hillary Clinton, with her decidedly mixed record inside of the Democratic Party, have reassured voters with words and policy proposals that black lives do in fact matter.  And to their credit they have grappled, not always successfully, with how to avoid marginalizing a younger generation of activists.  
However, in the case of both candidates, it is clear that there are exceptions to their rhetoric, and one glaring one in particular.  When the candidates discuss foreign policy, it becomes rapidly clear that black and brown lives cease to matter when they exist outside of U.S. borders.  
Take the use of weaponized drones, the weapon of choice in the War of Terror as waged under President Obama.  There are multiple programs for state murder in which drones are used to target people in South Asia, the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, and the Sahel.  
In some programs, individuals on a kill list are murdered because of known acts, contacts, or plans in which they are involved.  Their identities are known, although there is no judicial process involved.  These programs make a mockery of notions of justice.
More disturbing still are those programs that resemble the very systems of profiling and violence that Clinton and Sanders have condemned in our own country.  In these programs, “targets” are evaluated using disposition matrices which track their movements and patterns of behavior, and allow for subjects to be murdered on the basis of probability estimates that they pose a threat of some kind.  In other words, subjects are the victims of profiling, wherein they are evaluated and possibly killed based on their approximation to a profile rather than anything they have actually done.
The savagery of drone warfare--which President Obama sought to remove from Congressional oversight--is perhaps best illustrated by the Guardian’s discovery that in a quest to kill 41 named individuals the Obama administration killed 1,147 people.  For a “targeted” and “precise” form of warfare, the “collateral damage” is tremendous.  And that “collateral damage” comprises people who may in some cases be associates of the dead and who might in other cases be passers-by who became casualties of U.S. foreign policy’s disregard for legal process.  
Both Clinton and Sanders support the continuation of a drone campaign.  Clinton has given them her full-throated support from both inside and outside the administration, and Sanders has suggested that he would reform rather than end such programs, praising drones because they allow the U.S. to forego the use of intervention on the ground.  
Clinton goes further than Sanders by embracing an essentially neo-conservative framework for foreign policy, which imagines that military power can and should be used to re-make the world: some states in the image of the U.S.; others are to be re-worked to better serve the strategic and economic interests of our country.  She has emphasized her “expertise” and “experience” during this campaign.
But that record is a terrifyingly vivid demonstration of how little black and brown lives in other parts of the world matter to Clinton in the conduct of international affairs. The wars she supported and advocated in Afghanistan and Iraq claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of citizens of those states while destroying the infrastructure and institutions that supported the livelihoods of millions more.  Her advocacy of intervention in Libya and Syria, though motivated by humanitarian concerns, has had similar consequences in the case of the former.  And her support for regime change in Honduras plunged a country’s population, most visibly its children, into a state of uncertainty with chronically circumscribed opportunities and has sparked waves of outward migration.
Her relentless and unconditional backing of an increasingly unbalanced Israeli state in its violence against a Palestinian population cast as a frightening “Other” not only illustrates just how poor a diplomat and strategist she is, but has had the effect of shoring up systematic inequality that rebounds to the disadvantage of Israeli citizens and Palestinian subjects.  
And her backing of authoritarian regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and elsewhere across the Middle East helps to enshrine a regional and global regime of inequality and injustice.
Some of Clinton’s actions are motivated by base, nationalistic calculations, and her fulsome embrace of a barbaric War of Terror.  In other cases, she is motivated by humanitarian concern.  But it is a version of humanitarianism that seems to be about acting without evaluating the consequences, and about salving the conscience of western actors rather than assessing what behavior is actually likely to have positive consequences for those people in danger.  
Both Clinton and Sanders are guilty, albeit to different degrees, of neglecting how U.S. international policy generates tremendous violence in the world, violence that disproportionately affects people of color.  
If these two candidates are willing to claim that Black Lives Matter, shouldn’t they be asked to reconcile that claim with the adverse consequences of their records and policy for black and brown people around the world?  They are asking to be elected President of the United States, and part of their responsibility ought to be framing a more moral international policy that takes account of how it affects the lives and livelihoods of people around the world.
One of our political parties and its candidates have pledge to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity, to much acclaim from many of their backers.  Surely we—and more importantly the people around the world who watch our process with apprehension—deserve better from Clinton and Sanders?
* A very good explanation of Black Lives Matter for those who think that it means that other lives don’t: “Bob is sitting at the dinner table.  Everyone else gets a plate of food except Bob.  Bob says ‘Bob deserves food.’  Everyone at the table responds with ‘Everyone deserves food’ and continues eating.  Although Everyone Deserves Food is a true statement, it does nothing to rectify the fact that BOB HAS NO FOOD!!”