Monday, September 20, 2010

Of imperialism and second campists

I've been thinking this since Noam Chomsky's reply to Mearsheimer and Walt (Why now? I don't know) but I want to commit it, especially the emphasized part below, to paper.

The first thing to note about it is:
But recognizing that M-W took a courageous stand, which merits praise, we still have to ask how convincing their thesis is. Not very, in my opinion.
I have to wonder why such an unconvincing argument (to Chomsky) would deserve praise and merit (from Chomsky). I've noted before that his explanation for the appeal of M&W looks a lot like Chomsky is accusing M&W of scapegoating Jews for American imperialism:
The reason, I think, is that it leaves the US government untouched on its high pinnacle of nobility, "Wilsonian idealism," etc., merely in the grip of an all-powerful force that it cannot escape.
Except Chomsky doesn't seem to recognize the familiar pattern of scapegoating Jews.
M-W focus on AIPAC and the evangelicals, but they recognize that the Lobby includes most of the political-intellectual class -- at which point the thesis loses much of its content.
What Chomsky seems to appreciate is not the argument, but the target.

Israel, for Chomsky, is a client state of the US, not the other way around. He cites several cases where Israel has furthered the interests of the US or bowed down to the interests of the US. (Here, Chomsky shares the definition of American interests with Mearsheimer and Walt as specifically being national security and business interests. I disagree with that definition.) But if Israel is a client state, it should follow that Israel has interests that we, the Left, ought to liberate Israel from American imperialism. I imagine Chomsky may agree with that so far. I've also seen others write in the same vein about how the Miltary Industrial Complex in the US profits off Israel's conflict. But it's plain that if we are to liberate Israel from American imperialism, then we, as Americans, ought to do a better job of listening to Israelis. Otherwise, we're only presenting a different face of American imperialism; you can't liberate anyone by forcing something on them. Israelis want security, and so American anti-imperialists ought to be concerned with Israeli security. Here, it's also plain that Chomsky disagrees that such a principle ought to be applied to Israel. He isn't interested in exploring how Israelis view their interests, except to criticize and undermine Israelis. It's exactly the sort of stance Moishe Postone singles out. Chomsky isn't interested in anti-imperialism, per se, but a perverted form of anti-imperialism. Chomsky is a second campist -- and here I choose the phrase second campist over similar terms such as Manichean entirely on purpose.


Anonymous said...

What do you mean by "second campist"? That is new by me.

Matt said...

Dividing the world up into camps, and siding with the other one. A good example would be Alexander Cockburn's support of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, simply because it was the Soviets against the US. In the process, he made incredibly racist statements about Afghanistan, proving he had no actual concern for the people of Afghanistan and no principles to stand on. It's the mirror image of those who supported the Taliban at the time for no better reason than they were fighting against the Soviets. There were all sorts of principles people could have argued over, from anti-imperialism to solidarity of workers worldwide, but those weren't the terms of debate. To say as people did and do, you must pick sides and be "radical", could be described as Manichean or Second Campist. I would say Manichean if I wished to emphasize the disrespect for Americans with moderate opinions. I would have used Second Campist to emphasize the failure to imagine that there are views other than those of the US or the USSR elites.

A while ago there was a video of Norman Finkelstein badgering a Lebanese reporter because she wouldn't support Hezbollah. That's second campist.

schalom libertad said...

That Finkelstein is precisely what I thought of when reading your definition of "second camp," but I don´t follow your argument about Chomsky being that way. Sorry. I don´t know if he disregards Israelis´need for security, just think he thinks power is heavily imbalanced towards Israelis, and therefore emphasizes the need for a shift in the other direction. But I could be wrong. I don´t read his work very much.

Matt said...

Well, he certainly seems to me dismissive of Israeli security concerns. As for power being heavily imbalanced, in what arena? (The
UN?) Keep in mind, everything is in the confines of his propaganda model. And this propaganda model is a huge, one-dimensional thing.