by Milo Clark
(Swans - August 1, 2005) May we look, if possible, at some available perceptions?
Several suggest that Ruling Elites (Old Sets) of the once United States of America and elsewhere, when all is stripped away, now focus on oil and war. For past times, substitute whatever commodity was the driving force then (see "Adam Smith is on Our Side" regarding mercantilism now globalism). War is the constant. Oil is a relatively new phenomenon in that all modern economies are addicted thereto. Control of that key commodity is today's root of power. Power lusts are ageless. Power lusts for war. Combining war and oil also breeds profits. Creating Islam as enemy serves both interests exceptionally well.
By declaring war on terrorism (or drugs or whatever), which everyone understands as Islam, while terrorizing domestic populations and threatening those nation-states sitting on top of oil, governance is eased, critics are muted, and exploitations overlooked.
While small dogs yap, nip, and jump around the heels of power, they are easily kicked aside and ignored. Few, indeed, pay heed, much less take action on those yappers' noises. Within the Old Sets error is neither seen nor admitted.
Perhaps all we are watching are age-old interactions of sex, money, and power. That today's Old Sets or power elites seem more blatant, less couth, and more comfortable in themselves is one of those cycles of history that never repeats but has large similarities.
Historian John Lukacs, whose works and insights I often cite, has an enduring fascination with Alexis de Tocqueville, whose travels in young America culminated in a series of reports on what he saw as nascent democratic impulses.
In 2004, seizing on revived concerns with democracy in the once United States of America and roughly 200 years since Tocqueville first came to these shores, The Atlantic commissioned French philosophe Bernard-Henri Lévy to spend some months tracking and expanding on Tocqueville's travels. His reports began in the May 2005 Issue (p. 54) and continue in June (p. 75). Tocqueville started in Newport, Rhode Island, as does Lévy.
Flags, nearly ubiquitous American flags, plethora of American flags seize Lévy's attention immediately. Flags in every form imaginable are everywhere, on everything, and on everyone.
"And then, of course, the flags; a riot of American flags at crossroads, on building fronts, on car hoods, on pay phones, on the furniture displayed in the windows along Thames Street, on the boats tied to the docks and on the moorings with no boats, on beach umbrellas, on parasols, on bicycle saddlebags; everywhere, in every form flapping in the wind or on stickers, an epidemic of flags. . . . In the end, it's the American flag that dominates. One is struck by the omnipresence of the star-spangled banner..." p. 55
"It's a little strange, this obsession with the flag. It's incomprehensible for someone, who, like me, comes from a country without a flag . . . . And where any nostalgia and concern for it, any evocation of it is a sign of an attachment to the past that has become almost ridiculous." p. 56
Having chosen a symbol through which to rule, does the Old Set mock itself in the presenter? George W. Bush is the Old Set frontman of the moment. Lévy sees him ". . . as a difficult youth, an average student, a rowdy, worrying his parents to no end. . . a string-puller snubbed by the rich sons of east coast families . . . provincial narcissist and frustrated dilettante, a bad businessman, an overgrown daddy's boy..." One who never admits he is wrong and Nya, Nya, Nya, don't have to. "How did this man become a formidable machine capable of winning (now twice) the most difficult competition in America...?"
How then is governance eased, criticism muted, exploitation overlooked?
Lévy attends both Republican and Democratic 2004 conventions where he interviews "crowds of delegates." "Some talked . . . about abortion and gay marriage . . . some explained that nothing seemed more important to them than reinforcing the role of churches or reducing the role of the urban elite . . . a return to main street instead of Wall Street . . . rehabilitation of the values of rural America . . . a concept of human rights that embraces the right to bear arms . . . hatred of Bill Clinton . . . The Senator from Massachusetts and his plutocratic wife . . . embodiments of a France . . . likened to femininity . . . decadent immorality . . . snobbish intellectualism and chic radicalism."
In short, between parties ". . . there is no difference in content or ideology . . . in the sense of an illusion that conceals from people the reality of their situation."
"These are men and women who are ready to let the questions that affect them most directly take second place to matters of principle that . . . do not have and never will have any effect on their concrete existence. Aren't they reacting as ideologues would, according to criteria that have to be called ideological?" p. 89
Politics was once called the art of the possible. Its core was pragmatic self-interest, calculation, personal ambition. Bernard-Henri Lévy found little remaining evidence of pragmatism.
Instead, fundamentalists brazenly confront ideologues. Brat-boy front man thumbs his nose. Oil and war run the system, mute criticism, and exploit with little or no effective challenge.
Is any of that actuality new?