Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Freedom Isn't Free

Glenn Greenwald, responding to Megan McArdle and Dan Drezner's Alfred E. Newman impersonations:
It can never be the case that there is anything profoundly wrong -- fundamentally wrong -- with the American political establishment. Why not? Because the McArdles and Drezners both support it and are part of it, and they are Good and thus can't possibly be responsible for things like "war crimes" or "torture regimes" or illegal wars of aggression. That's why the political establishment is so desperate to stay in Iraq until we "win" and to convince everyone that the public supports them again. They are desperate to wash their hands of that which they enabled so they can pretend they never did.
One of the fundamental operations of the modern state is to effect a division of labor between those who kill and those who don't. I just taught Lucio Castellano's essay, "Living With Guerrilla Warfare." Castellano writes:
The arming of the state guarantees the disarming of society; the fact that one part of society--the repressive and military apparatus--erects itself as a separate body and functions according to the laws of 'war,' guarantees that the rest of society lives in 'peace.' 'Peace' means only that 'war' has become the private matter of a few men who thrive on it (the police and the military), or of those private men who take command over all others, demonstrating through fact that they--being the guarantors of the peace of all--also govern it by being a ruling part of it.
The peace we love is just the flip-side of the war machine, but we would rather not face that fact. The outbreak of a hot war--and a war of aggression, too, like our war in Iraq--unsettles our own denial, and precipitates three aggressively virulent attempts to shore up our clean conscience.

First, there is the classic chicken-hawk response: mental and emotional identification with the war machine, coupled with an absolute avoidance of all bodily danger.

Second, there is the dissociative disorder characteristic of Versailles. This seems to be McArdle and Drezner: Marie Antoinettes of the digital age. That's over there and I'm over here--and never the twain shall meet.

Finally, there is the beautiful soul of the pacifist, who reassures themselves that, if they had their way, none of this bad stuff would happen.

Greenwald's straight ahead rule-of-law liberalism tends towards the third response at times, but I am beginning to sense a process of radicalization. I don't expect him to start recommending "learning to use violence, so as not to have to delegate it, so as not to be blackmailed by it" (as Castellano does), but...

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