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OCTOBER 23, 2017
Other People’s Money
Jamie Dimon,
CEO of JPMorgan
Chase bank
How JPMorgan
Chase Paid
Its Fine for
the 2008
Dispatches From
the Front Lines
Calling Out the Climate Criminals
I do not believe that the bulk of
climate-change deniers in the government, from Ted Cruz to John
Cornyn to Donald Trump and the
rest, are actually ignorant of the
scientific facts [“Climate Denialism
Kills,” Sept. 25/Oct. 2]. They will
quote science when it suits them. I
believe the situation is worse: These
people are simply in the employ
of the fossil-fuel industry, which is
desperately trying to suck a few trillion more dollars out of the earth
before it becomes as much a part of
history as the clipper ship, as will
happen within the next half-century.
These people are willfully poisoning the planet, and the future of their
grandchildren, for the short-term
gain of the Tillersons, Cheneys, et al.
This is a crime against humanity, and
history will see it that way.
John Murphy
A new
Nation series
Climate denialism alone isn’t
killing us. The destabilization of
the global climate system has been
proceeding apace for at least the
three decades since scientists like
James Hansen first issued their warnings. We’ve all contributed—in our
personal failure to adjust our lives to
address the reality, as well as in the
way we’ve enabled the control of
public policy by an oligarchy that has
insinuated itself into both parts of the
political duopoly. While Republicans
refused even to acknowledge the science, the Democrats did little more
than take the few steps that their
corporate donors found acceptable—
while much of their base remained
safely ensconced in the delusion that
we were making “progress.”
Trump & Co.’s denials have certainly not helped matters. (His nomination of a climate denialist to head
NASA, most likely to squelch any further data gathering on climate change,
is just one in a long series of overt
steps to obstruct public information
on the subject.) And the Trump administration’s policies can only serve to
worsen the situation. But that was already untenable. The extreme weather
events, the burning of a pretty sizable
portion of the western United States,
etc.—all of this is likely the result of
what we’ve collectively been allowing
to take place for many years.
The question is what to do about
it now. While we may already be at
or beyond a climate-stability tipping
point, it is our collective responsibility
to do everything in our power, from
this day forward, to make the necessary changes, both personal and political. We cannot be satisfied with simply
changing faces in the White House—
certainly not unless that means more
than just a change of banner color,
from red to blue. We must be committed for the long haul and, regardless of
party, make our political leaders treat
this as the existential crisis that it is.
Roger Hoffmann
A Dangerous Savior Complex
Regarding Rafia Zakaria’s “White
Women and the Specter of Islam”
[Aug. 28/Sept. 4]: The mixing of
American liberal feminism and global
interventionism is a concern I have
felt since the early 1970s. This article
articulates a challenge, well written
and argued, that feminism as presented by most mainstream media is
overdue to address. I hope that those
familiar with Ayaan Hirsi Ali and
Asra Nomani will review them, as
I intend to do. My profound appreMaggie Meehan
fergus falls, minn.
While American feminism deserves
criticism on numerous grounds (especially its shift from its radical roots
Comments drawn from our website
(continued on page 26)
The Nation.
since 1865
10 Policing America: White
Lies Matter; 11 Snapshot:
Stand Your Ground
3 WMDs in Las Vegas
George Zornick
4 The Catalonia
WMDs in Las Vegas
n October 1, there were 16,000 American soldiers serving in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. But it was Las Vegas
that most resembled a war zone and represented the
biggest danger to American lives that day. From the
punched-out windows of his 32nd-floor suite at the Mandalay Bay hotel,
Stephen Paddock rained down an appalling level of
destruction on a country-music concert below. Using
Assault weapons with large magazines for aman enormous cache of guns, in less than 12 minutes munition are the common denominator in these killhe single-handedly massacred 58 people and injured ings. After World War II, the US Army’s Operations
527 more. It was a deadlier day than American sol- Research Office performed a study and found that the
diers have ever suffered in Iraq or Afghanistan, and chief predictor of casualties was the number of shots
the worst mass shooting in modern US history.
fired. The military then asked the private sector to
This latest slaughter demands that the country develop a lightweight weapon with a large, detachable
grapple with gun-control issues beyond the debate magazine that could be used to inflict extreme damage
over background checks. A more fundamental ques- on the enemy. The firearms manufacturer ArmaLite
tion is at hand: How much lethal firepowanswered the call with the AR-15, which
er should citizens be allowed to possess?
became the military’s standard-issue rifle.
There will be a fierce debate about
Now weapons very similar to the
where to draw the line, but no reasonAR-15 are sold by sporting-goods stores,
able person can say the Vegas shooter
gun shops, and online retailers nationwasn’t well past it. Paddock had effecwide to any citizen with any level of
tively assembled a small ordnance depot
training, or none at all. Large magazines
in his luxury hotel suite. He had at least 23
that carry up to 100 rounds are also legal,
firearms and hundreds of rounds of amand ammunition sales are barely regumunition. A majority of those guns were
lated. The devices that Paddock used to
military-style assault weapons; some were
make his weapons fully automatic are
mounted on shooting platforms with scopes and tri- legal as well. Remarkably, Republicans in Congress
pods and outfitted with devices that made them fully plan to make lethal weapons even more dangerous:
automatic. Investigators later found 19 more guns The House may soon vote on a bill making it much
and thousands of rounds of ammunition at his home. easier for citizens to obtain silencers and armorThe destructive capacity of this arsenal is stag- piercing ammunition.
gering, but it is not out of line with the firepower
Such measures must be blocked, but the gununleashed by other mass shooters. Omar Mateen, control movement also needs to push for action
who was responsible for the 2016 massacre at the on reducing the number and kinds of weapons that
Pulse nightclub in Orlando, had three weapons, Americans can possess. Creating a nationwide regincluding an assault rifle, and hundreds of rounds of istry of gun owners and their firearms would be a
ammunition. He killed 49 people and wounded 68 start, along with enacting federal laws that prohibit
more. Adam Lanza had only 300 seconds to shoot his more than one handgun purchase per month. Three
assault rifle inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in percent of Americans already own 50 percent of
Newtown before the police engaged him, but he got the guns and can let loose military-level assaults on
off 154 rounds and killed 26 people. James Holmes any venue they choose: concerts, malls, elementary
shot 82 people inside an Aurora, Colorado, movie schools. Background checks wouldn’t have stopped
theater in 90 seconds. When Jared Loughner shot up Paddock, Mateen, Lanza, Holmes, or Loughner.
a meet-and-greet with then-Congresswoman Gabby All those guns were purchased legally. But why were
Giffords in Tucson, he fired 33 times in 19 seconds.
they allowed to be sold?
Sebastiaan Faber and
Bécquer Seguín
5 Asking for a Friend
Liza Featherstone
6 Subject to Debate
The Male-Gazer in Chief
Katha Pollitt
10 Diary of a Mad
Law Professor
Citizenship on Its Knees
Patricia J. Williams
11 Deadline Poet
Thoughts Brought
on by Trump’s
Puerto Rico Tweets
Calvin Trillin
12 Jamie Dimon and
Other People’s Money
David Dayen
JPMorgan Chase paid part
of its settlement for the
2008 mortgage crisis—with
other people’s money. A
Nation special investigation.
16 When Violence
Sasha Abramsky
The armed right wants
a street fight. Should the
progressive left oblige?
22 A New Deal
for Europe
Yanis Varoufakis and
James K. Galbraith
The EU badly needs
reform. But first it needs to
be radically reimagined.
Books &
the Arts
27 Barbarian Virtues
Samuel Moyn
32 Into the Multiverse
Sue Halpern
35 The War to End
All Wars
Geoffrey Wheatcroft
October 23, 2017
The digital version of this issue is
available to all subscribers October 5
Cover illustration by Tim Robinson.
The Nation.
Average number
of Americans
killed with guns
every day
Women shot
dead by an
intimate partner
in the US in a
typical month
number of
AR-15 assault
rifles in the US
Percentage of
the world’s
guns owned
by Americans,
who make up
5 percent of
the world’s
Size of the US
firearms industry
—Sarah Aziza
“I am
stunned by
the level of
is willing
to make
us suffer
Nelba MárquezGreene,
whose 6-year-old
daughter was
killed at Sandy
Hook, tweeting in
response to the Las
Vegas shooting
violence. When King Philip VI addressed the country on
October 3, calling Barcelona’s actions “an inadmissible
disloyalty” and making “an appeal for understanding and
harmony,” he too ignored the elephant in the room.
It could lead to the breakup of Spain.
Many Spanish politicians condemned Madrid’s heavyn Spain, the day before a vote is generally re- handed crackdown. “Today is a sad day for our democraserved for reflection: no campaign ads, speeches, cy,” Socialist Party leader Pedro Sánchez tweeted. Rajoy’s
or rallies. But on Saturday, September 30, the “repressive strategy has failed,” wrote Podemos leader
night before the Catalan independence referen- Pablo Iglesias, and only served to push the deterioration
dum, thousands of people in Barcelona not only of Spanish “democracy and coexistence to unprecedented
reflected but made a political decision: They descended limits.” But the response that echoed most widely came
on elementary schools, civic centers, and other polling from Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau: She demanded the
stations to ensure that they’d be open on the morning removal of police and called Rajoy a “coward,” denouncof the referendum. Four days earlier, Catalonia’s High ing the lack of dialogue between the Spanish and Catalan
Court—whose members are appointed in Madrid—had governments. “The Rajoy government has insisted on
ordered police to prevent the stations from opening turning to the courts, hiding behind judges and public
and to confiscate voting materials. Spain’s Constitution prosecutors to avoid its responsibility, which is to act
doesn’t allow for secession, and so the Constitutional politically. Today it has gone a step further and crossed
Court had suspended the referendum on September 7.
all the red lines,” she said, adding: “Rajoy must resign.”
On the morning of Sunday, October 1, the Interior
Among the political parties pushing for independence
Ministry deployed over 10,000 police officers brought in is Puigdemont’s conservative Catalan Democratic Party
from the rest of Spain. Social media soon deliv(PDeCat). According to journalist Guillem
ered an unending stream of videos and images
Rajoy’s police Martínez, PDeCat’s endgame has always been
showing police attacking voters and violently
a more beneficial autonomy rather than inrepression
removing ballot boxes. At the Ramon Llull
dependence. Puigdemont’s call for dialogue
has deeply
school in Barcelona, for example, riot police
appears to confirm such an interpretation, but
used rubber bullets and a human blockade to
his closest allies in this struggle, the Republialienated
prevent people from entering the building.
can Catalan Left and the Popular Unity CanCatalans.
Inside, masked officers ripped ballot boxes
didacy, are unlikely to settle for anything less
away from citizens, who chanted: “Votarem!
than independence. Meanwhile, on October 2,
Votarem!” (“We will vote! We will vote!”) By day’s end, the throngs of young Catalans took to the streets to protest the
Catalan Department of Health reported that nearly 900 continued presence of Spanish police. The next day, tens of
people had been injured, with four hospitalizations.
thousands participated in a general strike, which engulfed
The intense violence from police, who shut down only every sector of Catalan society, including the soccer team
313 of the 2,200 polling stations, didn’t dissuade the pub- F.C. Barcelona, and blocked more than 50 roads.
lic. According to the Catalan government, more
Prime Minister Rajoy’s zero-tolerance approach may
than 2.2 million of 5.3 million registered voters cast have strengthened his support among conservative Spanballots, with 90.9 percent voting Sí and 8 percent iards who reject Catalonia’s aspirations, but the repression
No for an independent Catalan republic. The Cata- has hurt Spain’s image abroad and deeply—perhaps definilan Parliament had adopted a law on September 6 tively—alienated a growing majority of Catalans. Accordcalling for a declaration of independence within 48 ing to polls before the referendum, close to 50 percent of
hours of the official results if the Sí vote won. Yet the 7.5 million Catalans favored independence, but more
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has been than 80 percent claimed the right to self-determination,
sending mixed signals. On Monday he said that he would which Spain’s Constitution denies them. After the violence
seek negotiations with Madrid: “The Catalan government on October 1, those numbers may be significantly higher.
has not decided to declare independence but has rather
The image of black-visored riot police clubbing peaceunderstood that it’s the moment to appeal to [interna- ful citizens will long haunt Catalonia’s collective memory,
tional] mediation and, if it happens, to discuss everything,” while the triumph of the vote against all odds will shape the
he said. His statement came right after the European political consciousness of generations of Catalans to come.
Union refused to get involved, maintaining that “this is an Spain is now suffering its worst constitutional crisis since
internal matter for Spain.” But on Tuesday, Puigdemont the attempted military coup of 1981. Constitutional resaid in an interview on BBC that independence would be form may be the only option to maintain a unified state—
declared within days.
which both Podemos and the Socialist Party endorse. But
Even as police were beating voters, the country’s only Podemos supports giving Spain’s regions the right
deputy prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, to conduct referendums on self-determination. The 1981
declared victory. “There has not been a referendum or coup lasted mere hours; at present, the “Catalan question”
the appearance of one,” she said on Sunday. “It never has no end in sight.
made sense to go down this path of irrationality.” That
evening, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy offered his Sebastiaan Faber is a professor of Hispanic studies at Oberlin College.
“special thanks…to the security forces, the National Bécquer Seguín is an assistant professor of Iberian studies at Johns
Police, and the Civil Guard,” with no mention of the Hopkins University.
The Catalonia Question
October 23, 2017
October 23, 2017
The Nation.
Asking for
a Friend
a F
Lack of Means Doesn’t Justify End
Dear Liza,
I’m fighting for a better world, but if that
doesn’t come along, I will be destitute when I can
no longer work. Is it OK to stockpile suicide supplies
in case of that eventuality? I don’t have family support, and most of my friends are even worse off than
I am. I’m an American now living in the United
— Temporarily Able-Bodied
Dear Able-Bodied,
am so sorry that you’ve been living with the pain
and fear that inspired this letter. You’re right, of
course: We must build better social safety nets so
no one ever asks this question. But even if socialism
doesn’t emerge in time for your old age, you’ll still
have ways to flourish.
Ann Neumann, author of The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America and a hospice volunteer,
is emphatic that suicide won’t be your best recourse.
She points out that even in this age of right-wing austerity, you have far more financial resources than you
realize, whether from national or local governments
or from charity. In the far-right United States, Social
Security, Medicare, and food stamps seem likely to
survive in some form; and while public assistance
for the elderly or disabled in the United Kingdom
is hardly generous, the poverty rate among seniors
is much lower than it is here. Help is available if you
seek it out. In fact, a 2014 report by Age UK revealed
that a key cause of poverty among older people was
the failure to take advantage of government benefits;
many don’t know what they’re entitled to or are too
proud to ask for it. An elder-law attorney can help
you figure out what forms of assistance you’re likely
to have access to (if social arrangements don’t change
as much as we hope they will).
Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A
Manifesto Against Ageism, emphasizes that the strongest factor in aging well is a robust social network—
not, perhaps surprisingly, money. Neumann agrees:
“The happiest community I regularly visit is the
senior center at the Red Hook Houses,” she says,
referring to a public-housing project in Brooklyn.
“They pool their resources and have such a sense of
community. They enjoy each other so much, and they
have a better quality of life than anyone.”
For those of us imbued with an ethic of self-
reliance, or who are happiest reading a good book in solitude, this can be
tougher than death to contemplate. “I have a horror of the collective,”
says Applewhite. “In my ideal life, I’d live alone in a turret, entertaining
a very handsome visitor now and then. But I realize I have to get over
this. Community, community, community is the only way we are going
to age affordably and comfortably.” That could mean starting to find
people now who are interested in future group-living arrangements,
perhaps where individuals agree to support one another financially if
anyone is incapacitated, as biological families and long-term couples
often do. Many find multigenerational group living to
be especially rewarding. At the very least, try to develop
deep ties with people who live nearby so you’ll be able to
Ask Liza at
help each other solve practical problems. “You have the
family you are able to create,” Neumann stresses, “and
there are places you can go to make community.” If this
asking-for-aseems daunting, Neumann adds, “tell [Able-Bodied] to
give me a call, and we will help you find your people!”
Neumann is also willing to help you find an elder-law
attorney who can advise on resources.
You are sadly not alone in wondering about your future economic
survival. In the United States, private and public pensions are in crisis,
and other neoliberal regimes have similar problems. Almost a third of
Americans over 55 have no retirement savings. As you start to think
about collective responses and build more community into your life,
remember that most people need this as much as you do.
(continued on page 8)
The Nation.
October 23, 2017
fter Playboy founder
Hugh Hefner’s death at
the age of 91, fans (of the
articles, we’re sure) filled Twitter
with effusive praise for the man
who allegedly sparked a sexual
revolution. Thankfully, sharp
minds stepped in to balance
out the record. Here are a few
highlights from Hefner’s critics:
Hugh Hefner might have died
but his renowned ability to build
an empire on the objectification
of women lives on.
editor Samhita Mukhopadhyay
Wake me up when an iconic
female media mogul who lived
her entire life in silk pajamas
dies in her mansion surrounded
by boytoys.
journalist Ann Friedman
LOL to all the sexual revolution
scholars in my mentions who
think it was Hefner that gave the
space to women to be publicly
feminist writer Jessica Valenti
Can you imagine women
a) having something as
mainstream as Playboy that
catered to their erotic id and b)
being able to publicly discuss it?
—@rgay, author Roxane Gay
Guess what: being revolutionary
while also exploiting women
isn’t revolutionary.
—@shani_o, BuzzFeed
editor Shani Hilton
—Glyn Peterson
Katha Pollitt
The Male-Gazer in Chief
It was feminism, not Hugh Hefner, that brought about sexual liberation.
ven in death, Hugh Hefner—who
died in late September at the age
of 91—continues to be a creep. As
he arranged way back in 1992, he’ll
be buried next to Marilyn Monroe, whose nude photos he published without her
consent or knowledge in the first issue of Playboy.
The male-gazer in chief sleeps eternally next to the
world’s most fetishized sex object. The ancient toad
who bullied a harem of grossed-out would-be starlets rests beside the ill-used beauty who was smart,
kind, well-read, didn’t have an orgasm until the end
of her life, and described herself as a
“sexless sex goddess.” If only Marilyn
could get up and go lie down next to
someone else.
Looking back, it seems incredible
that Playboy was ever taken for a liberatory text, even in the stodgy 1950s.
“Can man be free if woman be a slave?”
the poet Shelley asked in 1818. Hefner’s answer was: Absolutely—that’s
the whole point! Instead of (or in addition to) a graying, aproned wife, three kids, a
boring job, and a mortgage, you could, as Hefner
described the Playboy life in the first issue, “enjoy
mixing up cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two,
putting a little mood music on the phonograph,
and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet
discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex.” You
might say that Hefner invented the toxic bachelor.
Left unmentioned: You’ve still got that boring job,
even if, like Hefner, you ditched the wife and kids.
If you go by the ads—cars, stereos, liquor—being a
playboy involved making a lot of upscale purchases.
Also, poor Nietzsche. His fans are just the worst.
Playboy published important fiction and reportage in its day, whether to give adults an excuse
to buy the magazine, or to fill out the fantasy of
“sophistication” as a (largely successful) bid for
cultural respectability. Back in the day, its libertarianism extended to support for civil rights, abortion
rights, and free-speech issues, which gained it many
friends among the kind of people who read The Nation. Indeed, in 2015 our own Victor Navasky won
a lifetime-achievement award from the Hugh M.
Hefner Foundation. The list of judges and awardees
is like an honor roll of the progressive great and
good. Zephyr Teachout! Who knew.
The stumbling block, of course, was feminism.
Gloria Steinem went undercover as a bunny at Hef-
ner’s New York Playboy Club and exposed the many
indignities of the job. “Hugh Hefner is my enemy,”
said Susan Brownmiller when she appeared with
Hefner on The Dick Cavett Show in 1970, and the
feeling was definitely mutual. “These chicks are our
natural enemy,” Hefner wrote in an internal memo.
“They are unalterably opposed to the romantic boygirl society that Playboy promotes.” How half-naked
waitresses dressed in rabbit costumes and cartoons
showing rape as lighthearted fun serve to promote
a “romantic boy-girl society” is hard to explain. But
then so are the many dark episodes of life in the
Playboy Mansion: In 2014, Judy Huth
filed a lawsuit claiming that Bill Cosby
sexually assaulted her in the mansion
in 1974, when she was 15 years old; a
former valet is now telling the tabloids
about late-’70s “pig nights,” in which
Hefner’s male friends were serviced
by prostitutes. The valet also recounted instances in which Hefner—more
than once!—abandoned bunnies at
the hospital when their breast implants burst. In her tell-all memoir Down the Rabbit
Hole, Holly Madison—one of the very young Hefner “girlfriends” featured on the reality show The
Girls Next Door—painted a harrowing picture of
her time in the mansion. The women living there
had a 9 pm curfew and were constantly degraded
and belittled, and sex
with Hefner was mandatory. Even fellow “These
next-door girl Kenchicks are our
dra Wilkinson, who
presented a much natural enemy,”
more positive version Hefner wrote
of events in her own
memoir, admitted that of feminists
“I had to be very drunk in an internal
or smoke lots of weed to
survive those nights— Playboy
there was no way memo.
around it.” You have to
ignore a lot of human
suffering to buy the notion that “Hef” was a funguy genius who brought us sexual liberation. “Why
lionize Hugh Hefner, a pig, a pornographer & a
predator too?” Bette Midler tweeted. “I once went
to the ‘mansion’ in ’68 and got the clap walking thru
the door.”
What brought us whatever sexual liberation we
Requiem for
a Chauvinist
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now possess was reliable contraception, legal abortion, and, yes, feminism. It was feminism that encouraged women to consider their own
pleasure, cut through the Freudian nonsense about vaginal orgasms
and “frigidity,” mainstreamed female masturbation as a way to learn
about one’s body, and pointed out, insistently, that women are not
objects for male consumption. That last one seems a little quaint now
that the most hard-core porn—stuff that makes Playboy centerfolds
look like Victorian valentines—is just a click away, and important
feminist thinkers and activists seem unable to say that this isn’t a
good thing. It’s easier to wave away the critics of porn as Dworkinite
killjoys and prudes and talk some more about freedom of speech.
Actually, Andrea Dworkin had a point about pornography (a
category in which she would have included Playboy) not being great
for women’s equality or pleasure. Her big mistake—one of them,
anyway—was to think that it could be outlawed. Even if there were
October 23, 2017
The Nation.
no First Amendment, porn is simply too popular, too profitable, and,
especially now thanks to the Internet, too pervasive for a democratic
society to proscribe it—even if we could agree on what it was.
We rightly use the First Amendment to defend expression, but
“it’s legal” isn’t the last word on whether it has value. After we invoke
the importance of free speech—and the courts, in their wisdom, have
declared many things speech that don’t involve words, like stripping
and flag burning and (we’ll see) baking cakes—we can still critique
the actual content. Does it enlarge our perspective, does it make for
wisdom, is it just or beautiful, does it help us to be better people, more
interesting, or even just more amusing? Why is it so hard to ask what
kind of a world we make when we hail as heroic a man who saw women
as a pair of implanted breasts with a sell-by date of their 25th birthday?
It’s a conversation that Hugh Hefner did a great deal to suppress. It’s
too late for Marilyn, but not for us. Now that he’s dead, let’s talk. Q
(continued from page 5)
Stephen Kroninger
Dear Liza,
How do you handle passes from friends?
Must I socialize my sex life?
— Radical Monogamist
Dear Radical,
t is a curious fact that with every great
revolutionary movement the question of ‘free love’ comes into the
foreground,” Engels mused in 1883. Some
anticapitalist radicals—like one letter writer
last month—have balked at monogamy on the
grounds that other human beings shouldn’t be
treated as property. Similarly, utopian communities in the 19th and 20th centuries often
espoused polygamy as part of an ethic of sharing. In the 1960s, amid political turmoil, some
hippies rejected monogamy as unnatural, an
example of how social conformity alienates
us from our desires and feelings. Whatever
you think of such ideas, it makes sense that as
people start to think about alternative ways of
organizing society, they wonder if there might
be other ways of living their own lives.
For some people, the answer to the question of “free love” is an emphatic and happy
“Yes!” But for you, I’m endorsing an equally
emphatic and happy “No!” It’s hard to think
of a better reason for turning down sex than
“I don’t want to.”
Having such questions in “the foreground”
isn’t bad for you and your partner; after all,
when conventional practices (heterosexuality,
marriage, monogamy, raising kids) are more
freely chosen, they tend to become more egalitarian, more driven by desire than by social or
family pressure, and more satisfying.
As for your friends, a polite “No, thank
you—I’m flattered but monogamous” (only if
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still so common that almost no one is going to
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The Nation.
fter the deadly rally in
Charlottesville, Virginia,
Americans were forced
to confront the fact that whitesupremacist groups had proudly
and publicly resurfaced. Now another disturbing truth is emerging: Police departments, along
with correction departments
and even the military, are being
infiltrated by racist organizations.
One Philadelphia cop, according
to BuzzFeed, was outed after a
photo of his tattoos—including
an apparent Nazi “Party Eagle”
beneath the word “Fatherland”—
showed up on social media.
However alarming the trend
may be, it is not a recent one.
Beginning in the Reconstruction
era, white supremacists found a
home in law enforcement, with
many local police forces in the
South run by officers affiliated
with or sympathetic to the Ku
Klux Klan. Alabama’s infamous
Eugene “Bull” Connor, who ran
the Birmingham Police Department, conspired with KKK
members to inflict violence upon
Freedom Riders in the 1960s.
More recently, at least three
Florida police officers over a fiveyear period were found to have
been involved with the Klan.
Across the country, police
leaders have repeatedly failed
to remove avowed racists from
their ranks—even after they have
been exposed. When Philadelphia police refused to fire the
cop with the Nazi tattoo, the department explained: “As long as
you’re not violating public trust,
it’s very difficult to police.”
—Elizabeth Adetiba
Patricia J. Williams
Citizenship on Its Knees
Trump is attempting to turn peaceful protest into an offense worse than treason.
resident Trump has been busily a Democrat or a Republican, for being gay or a
tweeting that there oughta be a rule: woman—these are all situations that may trigger
“The NFL has all sorts of rules and judicial scrutiny. By the same token, contractors
regulations. The only way out for who discriminate unfairly among their customers
them is to set a rule that you can’t may trigger the same kind of scrutiny. This latter
kneel during our National Anthem!”
point will be adjudicated by the Supreme Court in
This was, of course, just one of his many forays its current term, in a complaint brought before the
in response to the recent league-wide protest begun Court by Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker. Backed
by Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the anthem by Trump’s Justice Department, Phillips maintains
to protest inequitable and excessive instances of that his religious beliefs prevent him from making
state force. Yet it seems not to matter what those wedding cakes for gay couples. Yet permitting him
who are kneeling say their action meant: “We chose to opt out of antidiscrimination laws would ultito kneel because it’s a respectful gesture,” wrote San mately undermine their application everywhere—
Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid in The
department stores, hotels, restaurants,
New York Times of his and Kaeperflorists, planes, trains, and buses. The
nick’s decision. “I remember thinking
long-standing norm of fair and equiour posture was like a flag flown at
table public accommodation would be
half-mast to mark a tragedy.”
130'&4403 rolled back to the era of Jim and Jane
No matter: To Donald Trump,
Crow. As Louise Melling of the ACLU
kneeling in sorrow is both a sign of
argues, “No bakery has to sell wedding
disrespect for the rules of the game
cakes. But if it chooses to sell wedding
and a desecration of the American
cakes it can’t turn away some customflag. If Trump were just some random
ers because of who they are.” Simiarmchair grouch, that wouldn’t be so
larly, terminating the employment of
worrisome. But he is not a private citizen; he’s our professional athletes for expressing a view that has
president, and everything he says carries the weight nothing to do with their job may be construed as a
of that office.
form of discrimination
There are at least two grave legal implications against “who they are.”
to what the president has been urging—one of
The second conTo Donald Trump,
private law, the other constitutional.
cern is a matter of
The first concern is that executive power is constitutional rights. kneeling in sorrow
being used to interfere in contract relations be- Trump has repeat- is both a sign
tween private parties. Yes, rich owners and their edly equated “taking a
rich celebrity employees, but still: private parties. knee” with desecration of disrespect for
Trump’s tweeted injunction, moreover, was de- of the American flag. the rules of
ployed by a head of state against citizens whose This is quite a conceppolitical views he doesn’t like. This resembles tual leap, but it seems the game and a
the sort of pressure applied by the House Un- to be one that many desecration of the
American Activities Committee and its Senate of his supporters have
counterpart, the Permanent Subcommittee on In- also made. Trump has American flag.
vestigations, which was chaired by Senator Joseph further warned that
McCarthy (and whose lead counsel, let it not be desecrating the flag must have “consequences—
forgotten, was Trump’s mentor, Roy Cohn). At perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” Of
least 300 members of the motion-picture industry course, the Supreme Court has ruled more than
were blacklisted as a result of that politically mo- once that disrespecting or outright destroying the
tivated purge. Few ever recovered their careers.
flag isn’t a punishable offense—and expatriation
Such heavy-handed state influence has a long has been deemed “cruel and unusual punishment”
history of legitimizing discrimination. After all, even for wartime desertion. It is very settled jurisone shouldn’t have to give up basic civil rights in prudence that, under the First, Eighth, and 14th
deference to a service or employment contract. Amendments, a citizen cannot be alienated without
A contractor who fires someone simply for being his or her clear and voluntary renunciation of that
The Thin
White Line
October 23, 2017
October 23, 2017
citizenship. Period.
And yet… President Trump has suggested all sorts of
wild things that once seemed unimaginable but that have
now or might one day come to pass. So it’s worth thinking about this notion of revoking citizenship for peaceful political protest. After all, the concept of birthright
citizenship has been present since the founding of the
Republic. Slavery presented a conspicuous exception, and
the Supreme Court’s infamous 1857 decision in Dred Scott
v. Sandford denied citizenship to any African American,
whether slave or free. The 14th Amendment was passed
after the Civil War to remedy that constitutional lacuna,
and since then American jurisprudence has resisted all efforts to deny certain groups of people citizenship rights if
they were born here. Recently, however, Republicans have
moved to rewrite or revoke the 14th Amendment in order
to deny birthright citizenship to so-called “anchor babies.”
Margarita De La Cruz stands inside her earthquakedamaged home in Atzala, Mexico. Authorities
told the 68-year-old to evacuate; instead, she has
moved into a small room in her garden.
The Nation.
I worry that Trump has even linked taking a knee
to the threat of physical danger, speculating that many
team owners joined in the league-wide manifestations of
dissent because they were “afraid of their players.” Moreover, I cannot easily disaggregate Trump’s unfounded
sense of a threatened ownership class from the far right’s
conviction that Black Lives Matter should be classified as
a “terrorist” organization. It would be ironic if protests
against the use of excessive force by police were used to
justify expatriating people or banning political movements for being “violent.”
If Trump is right that “most people agree” with him
that NFL owners are cowering and kowtowing to the
bullying of big black men, then, dear reader, we need to
ponder that insinuation with more apprehension and less
complacency than that with which the very possibility of
Trump’s election was so laughingly dismissed.
Trump has
suggested all
sorts of wild
things that
once seemed
but that may
one day come
to pass.
We wonder just who raised this man—
This lying, cheating, boastful clown.
Which parent could have taught him that
It’s cool to kick folks when they’re down?
The Nation.
Jamie Dimon and
Other People’s Money
How JPMorgan Chase paid its fine for the 2008
mortgage crisis—with phony mortgages!
Jamie Dimon,
CEO of JPMorgan
Chase bank.
October 23, 2017
The Nation.
ou know the old joke: how do you make a killing on wall
Street and never risk a loss? Easy—use other people’s money.
Jamie Dimon and his underlings at JPMorgan Chase have
perfected this dark art at America’s largest bank, which boasts
a balance sheet one-eighth the size of the entire US economy.
After JPMorgan’s deceitful activities in the housing market helped trigger the 2008 financial crash that cost millions of
Americans their jobs, homes, and life savings, punishment was in
order. Among a vast array of misconduct, JPMorgan engaged in the routine
use of “robo-signing,” which allowed bank employees to automatically sign
hundreds, even thousands, of foreclosure documents per day without verifying their contents. But in the United States, white-collar criminals rarely go
to prison; instead, they negotiate settlements. Thus, on February 9, 2012, US
Attorney General Eric Holder announced the National Mortgage Settlement,
which fined JPMorgan Chase and four other mega-banks a total of $25 billion.
JPMorgan’s share of the settlement was $5.3 billion, but only $1.1 billion
had to be paid in cash; the other $4.2 billion was to come in the form of financial relief for homeowners in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure.
The settlement called for JPMorgan to reduce the amounts owed, modify
the loan terms, and take other steps to help distressed Americans keep their
homes. A separate 2013 settlement against the bank for
deceiving mortgage investors included another $4 billion in consumer relief.
A Nation investigation can now reveal how JPMorgan
met part of its $8.2 billion settlement burden: by using
other people’s money.
“If the
Here’s how the alleged scam worked. JPMorgan moved
to forgive the mortgages of tens of thousands of home- allegations
owners; the feds, in turn, credited these canceled loans are true,
against the penalties due under the 2012 and 2013 settlements. But here’s the rub: In many instances, JPMorgan JPMorgan
was forgiving loans on properties it no longer owned.
The alleged fraud is described in internal JPMorgan everybody.”
documents, public records, testimony from homeown— former
ers and investors burned in the scam, and other evidence
Brad Miller
presented in a blockbuster lawsuit against JPMorgan,
now being heard in US District Court in New York City.
JPMorgan no longer owned the properties because
it had sold the mortgages years earlier to 21 third-party
investors, including three companies owned by Larry
Schneider. Those companies are the plaintiffs in the lawAs CEO and chairman
suit; Schneider is also aiding the federal government in a of America’s largest
related case against the bank. In a bizarre twist, a company bank, Jamie Dimon
associated with the Church of Scientology facilitated the was paid $28 million
apparent scheme. Nationwide Title Clearing, a document- in 2016.
processing company with close ties to the church, produced and filed the documents that JPMorgan needed to
claim ownership and cancel the loans.
JPMorgan, it appears, was running an elaborate shell
game. In the depths of the financial collapse, the bank
had unloaded tens of thousands of toxic loans when they
were worth next to nothing. Then, when it needed to
provide customer relief under the settlements, the bank
had paperwork created asserting that it still owned the
properties. In the process, homeowners were exploited,
investors were defrauded, and communities were left
to battle the blight caused by abandoned properties.
JPMorgan, however, came out hundreds of millions of
dollars ahead, thanks to using other people’s money.
“If the allegations are true, JPMorgan screwed everyILLUSTRATION BY TIM ROBINSON
body,” says Brad Miller, a former Democratic congressman from North Carolina who was among the strongest
advocates of financial reform on Capitol Hill until his
retirement in 2013.
In an unusual departure from most allegations of financial bad behavior, there is strong evidence that Jamie
Dimon, JPMorgan’s CEO and chairman, knew about
and helped to implement the mass loan-forgiveness
project. In two separate meetings in 2013 and 2014,
JPMorgan employees working on the project were specifically instructed not to release mortgages in Detroit
under orders from Dimon himself, according to internal
bank communications. In an apparent public-relations
ploy, JPMorgan was about to invest $100 million in Detroit’s revival. Dimon’s order to delay forgiving the mortgages in Detroit appears to have
been motivated by a fear of reputational risk. An internal JPMorgan
report warned that hard-hit cities
might take issue with bulk loan
forgiveness, which would deprive
municipal governments of property taxes on abandoned properties while further destabilizing the
housing market.
Did Dimon also know that
JPMorgan, as part of its mass loan-forgiveness project,
was forgiving loans on properties it no longer owned?
No internal bank documents confirming that knowledge
have yet surfaced, but Dimon routinely takes legal responsibility for knowing about his bank’s actions. Like
every financial CEO in the country, Dimon is obligated
by law to sign a document every year attesting to his
knowledge of and responsibility for his bank’s operations. The law establishes punishments of $1 million in
fines and imprisonment of up to 10 years for knowingly
making false certifications.
Dimon signed the required document for each of the
years that the mass loan-forgiveness project was in operation, from 2012 through 2016. Whether or not he knew
that his employees were forgiving loans the bank no longer owned, his signatures on those documents make him
potentially legally responsible.
The JPMorgan press office declined to make Dimon
available for an interview or to comment for this article.
The Nation.
Nationwide Title Clearing declined to comment on the specifics of the case
but said that it is “methodical in the validity and legality of the documents”
it produces.
Federal appointees have been complicit in this as well. E-mails show that
the Office of Mortgage Settlement Oversight, charged by the government
with ensuring the banks’ compliance with the two federal settlements, gave
JPMorgan the green light to mass-forgive its loans. This served two purposes for the bank: It could take settlement credit for forgiving the loans, and
it could also hide these loans—which JPMorgan had allegedly been handling
improperly—from the settlements’ testing regimes.
“No one in Washington seems to understand why Americans think that
different rules apply to Wall Street, and why they’re so mad about that,” said
former congressman Miller. “This is why.”
auren and robert warwick were two of the
shell game’s many victims. The Warwicks live
in Odenton, Maryland, a bedroom community
halfway between Baltimore and Washington, DC,
and had taken out a second mortgage on their
home with JPMorgan’s Chase Home Finance division.
In 2008, after the housing bubble burst and the Great
Recession started, 3.6 million Americans lost their jobs;
Lauren Warwick was one of them.
Before long, the Warwicks had virtually no income.
While Lauren looked for work, Robert was in the early
stages of starting a landscaping business. But the going
was slow, and the Warwicks fell behind on their mortgage payments. They tried to set up a modified payment
plan, to no avail: Chase demanded payment in full and
warned that foreclosure loomed. “They were horrible,”
Lauren Warwick told The Nation. “I had one [Chase
representative] say, ‘Sell the damn house—that’s all you
can do.’”
Then, one day, the hounding stopped. In October
2009, the Warwicks received a letter from 1st Fidelity Loan Services, welcoming them as new customers.
The letter explained that 1st Fidelity had purchased the
Warwicks’ mortgage from Chase, and that they should
henceforth be making an adjusted mortgage payment to
this new owner.
Lauren Warwick had never heard of 1st Fidelity, but
the letter made her more relieved than suspicious. “I’m
thinking, ‘They’re not taking my house, and they’re not
hounding me,’” she said.
Larry Schneider, 49, is the founder and president of
1st Fidelity and two other mortgage companies. He has
worked in Florida’s real-estate business for 25 years, get-
The alleged
game put
of millions
of dollars
with federal
After the housing
bubble burst in 2008,
3.6 million Americans
lost their jobs; millions
more lost their homes.
October 23, 2017
ting his start in Miami. In 2003, Schneider hit upon a
business model: If he bought distressed mortgages at a
significant discount, he could afford to offer the borrowers reduced mortgage payments. It was a win-win-win:
Borrowers remained in their homes, communities were
stabilized, and Schneider still made money.
“I was in a position where I could do what banks didn’t
want to,” Schneider says. In fact, his business model resembled what President Franklin Roosevelt did in the
1930s with the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, which
prevented nearly 1 million foreclosures while turning a
small profit. More to the point, Schneider’s model exemplified how the administrations of George W. Bush and
Barack Obama could have handled the foreclosure crisis
if they’d been more committed to helping Main Street
rather than Wall Street.
The Warwicks’ loan was one of more than 1,000 that
Schneider purchased without incident from JPMorgan’s
Chase Home Finance division starting in 2003. In 2009,
the bank offered Schneider a package deal: 3,529 primary mortgages (known as “first liens”) on which payments had been delinquent for over 180 days. Most of
the properties were located in areas where the crisis hit
hardest, such as Baltimore.
Selling distressed properties to companies like Schneider’s was part of JPMorgan’s strategy for limiting its losses
after the housing bubble collapsed. The bank owned hundreds of thousands of mortgages that had little likelihood
of being repaid. These mortgages likely carried ongoing
costs: paying property taxes, addressing municipal-code
violations, even mowing the lawn. Many also had legal defects and improper terms; if federal regulators ever scrutinized these loans, the bank would be in jeopardy.
In short, the troubled mortgages were the financial
equivalent of toxic waste. To deal with them, Chase Home
Finance created a financial toxic-waste dump: The mortgages were listed in an internal database called RCV1,
where RCV stood for “Recovery.”
Unbeknownst to Schneider, the package deal that
Chase offered him came entirely from this toxic-waste
dump. Because he’d had a good relationship with Chase
up to that point, Schneider took the deal. On February 25, 2009, he signed an agreement to buy the loans,
valued at $156 million, for only $200,000—slightly more
than one-tenth of a penny on the dollar. But the agreement turned sour fast, Schneider says.
Among a range of irregularities, perhaps the most
egregious was that Chase never provided him with all
the documentation proving ownership of the properties
in question. The data that Schneider did receive lacked
critical information, such as borrower names, addresses
of the properties, even the payment histories or amounts
due. This made it impossible for him to work with the
borrowers to modify their terms and help them stay in
their homes. Every time Schneider asked Chase about
the full documentation, he was told it was coming. It
never arrived.
Here’s the kicker: JPMorgan was still collecting payments on some of these loans and even admitted this fact
to Schneider. In December 2009, a Chase Home Finance
employee named Launi Solomon sent Schneider a list
October 23, 2017
of at least $47,695.53 in payments on his loans that the
borrowers had paid to Chase. But 10 days later, Solomon
wrote that these payments would not be transferred to
Schneider because of an internal accounting practice that
was “not reversible.” On another loan sold to Schneider,
Chase had taken out insurance against default; when
the homeowner did in fact default, Chase pocketed the
$250,000 payout rather than forward it to Schneider,
according to internal documents.
Chase even had a third-party debt collector named
Real Time Resolutions solicit Schneider’s homeowners,
seeking payments on behalf of Chase. In one such letter
from 2013, Real Time informed homeowner Maureen
Preis, of Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, that “our records indicate Chase continues to hold a lien on the above
referenced property,” even though Chase explicitly confirmed to Schneider that it had sold him the loan in 2010.
JPMorgan jumped in and out of claiming mortgage
ownership, Schneider asserts, based on whatever was
best for the bank. “If a payment comes in, it’s theirs,”
he says; “if there’s a code-enforcement issue, it’s mine.”
he shell game entered a new, more farreaching phase after JPMorgan agreed to its
federal settlements. Now the bank was obligated
to provide consumer relief worth $8.2 billion—
serious money even for JPMorgan. The solution? Return to the toxic-waste dump.
Because JPMorgan had stalled Schneider on turning
over the complete paperwork proving ownership, it took
the chance that it could still claim credit for forgiving the
loans that he now owned. Plus the settlements required
JPMorgan to show the government that it was complying with all federal regulations for mortgages. The RCV1
loans didn’t seem to meet those standards, but forgiving
them would enable the bank to hide this fact.
The Office of Mortgage Settlement Oversight gave
Chase Home Finance explicit permission to implement
this strategy. “Your business people can be relieved from
pushing forward” on presenting RCV1 loans for review,
lawyer Martha Svoboda wrote in an e-mail to Chase, as
long as the loans were canceled.
Chase dubbed this the “pre DOJ Lien Release
Project.” (To release a lien means to forgive the loan
and relinquish any ownership right to the property in
question.) The title page of an internal report on the
project lists Lisa Shepherd, vice president of property
preservation, and Steve Hemperly, head of mortgage
originations, as the executives in charge. The bank hired
Nationwide Title Clearing, the company associated
with the Church of Scientology, to file the lien releases with county offices. Erika Lance, an employee of
Nationwide, is listed as the preparer on 25 of these lien
releases seen by The Nation. Ironically, Schneider alleges, the releases were in effect “robo-signed,” since
the employees failed to verify that JPMorgan Chase
owned the loans. If Schneider is right, it means that
JPMorgan relied on the same fraudulent “robo-signing”
process that had previously gotten the bank fined by the
government to help it evade that penalty.
On September 13, 2012, Chase Home Finance mailed
The Nation.
Millions of Americans
could have kept their
homes if the federal
government had
helped Main Street
rather than Wall Street.
Dimon is
David Dayen is
one of America’s
foremost financial
journalists. Chain
of Title: How
Three Ordinary
Uncovered Wall
Street’s Great
Fraud appears
in paperback in
33,456 forgiveness letters informing borrowers of the
debt cancellation. Schneider immediately started hearing from people who said that they wouldn’t be making
further payments to him because Chase had forgiven the
loan. Some even sued Schneider for illegally charging
them for mortgages that he (supposedly) didn’t own.
When Lauren and Robert Warwick got their forgiveness letter from Chase, Lauren almost passed out. “You
will owe nothing more on the loan and your debt with
be cancelled,” the letter stated, calling this “a result of a
recent mortgage servicing settlement reached with the
states and federal government.” But for the past three
years, the Warwicks had been paying 1st Fidelity Loan
Servicing—not Chase. Lauren said she called 1st Fidelity, only to be told: “Sorry, no, I don’t care what they said
to you—you owe us the money.”
JPMorgan’s shell game unraveled because Lauren
Warwick’s neighbor worked for Michael Busch, the
speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates. After reviewing the Warwicks’ documents, Kristin Jones, Busch’s
chief of staff, outlined her suspicions to the Maryland
Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. “I’m
afraid based on the notification of loan transfer that
Chase sold [the Warwicks’] loan some years ago,” Jones
wrote. “I question whether Chase is somehow getting
credit for a write-off they never actually have to honor.”
After Schneider and various borrowers demanded answers, Chase checked a sample of over 500 forgiveness
letters. It found that 108 of the 500 loans—more than
one out of five—no longer belonged to the bank. Chase
told the Warwicks that their forgiveness letter had been
sent in error. Eventually, Chase bought back the Warwicks’ loan from Schneider, along with 12 others, and
honored the promised loan forgiveness.
ot everyone was as lucky as the warwicks.
In letters signed by vice president Patrick Boyle,
JPMorgan Chase forgave at least 49,355 mortgages in three separate increments. The bank
also forgave additional mortgages, but the exact
number is unknown because the bank stopped sending
homeowners notification letters. Nor is it known how
many of these forgiven mortgages didn’t actually belong
to JPMorgan; the bank refused The Nation’s request for
clarification. Through title searches and the discovery
process, Schneider ascertained that the bank forgave
607 loans that belonged to one of his three companies.
(continued on page 20)
The choice: Freedom
activists in Selma
confronted police
brutality with
nonviolence; facing
white supremacists in
Charlottesville, some
protesters fought
Who provides the better answer to far-right thuggery: Martin Luther King Jr. or antifa?
October 23, 2017
The Nation.
oger stone, a longtime friend and political adviser to
Donald Trump, made headlines on August 24 when he warned
that any attempt to impeach Trump would effectively trigger a
civil war. Despite this president’s near-record-low approval ratings, Stone said that impeachment would unleash “a spasm of violence in this country, an insurrection like you’ve never seen.” Any
politician who dared vote for impeachment, he added, “would be
endangering their own life.”
Stone wasn’t advocating such bloodshed, he halfheartedly asserted, merely
predicting it. But coming from a man so close to the president, the message
seemed clear enough: If threatened with removal from office, Trump might
encourage his gun-toting supporters to start shooting people, up to and including members of Congress.
In the United States, of course, the far right is heavily armed. During the
Obama years, distaste for the nation’s first black president helped drive a massive increase in gun purchases, with aggregate sales averaging over 1 million a
month during his administration. Prodded by the National Rifle Association,
most states now have open-carry or concealed-carry laws,
meaning that extremist groups can and do turn up in
public spaces armed for battle. Plus the number of whitesupremacist groups is growing rapidly, according to the
Southern Poverty Law Center, which now tracks more
than 900 hate groups.
Stone’s apocalyptic bluster came as no surprise to election of
Rashad Robinson, the executive director of Color of Trump has
Change, a nonprofit group based in New York that works
to change corporate behavior around race and social jus- not just
tice. No modern American politician has exploited the se- emboldened
ductive power of violence quite like Donald Trump, and
racists; they
Robinson recognized the potential consequences of this
early on. After the 2016 election, he and Color of Change have been
created a strategy document for the approaching era of activated.”
resistance. The victory of a “change the rules” candidate — Keeanga-Yamahtta
like Trump, Robinson wrote, could rapidly unravel “long
Taylor, Princeton
held principles” in the United States, including the rule of
law. The big question was: What should we do about it?
That question has only grown more urgent over
the past several months, as seen most dramatically in “You need 500
the deadly clashes that erupted in the wake of white- people to defeat Nazis
supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virgin- nonviolently; if you
only bring 50, there
ia, which culminated in a man reported to have long- will be a fight.”
standing Nazi sympathies killing an antiracist protester
— James Brady of
and injuring 19 others by plowing into them with his car.
With far-right groups and individuals clearly itching for
a fight, should progressives and leftist radicals respond
in kind, as the antifascist activists known as “antifa” have
done in several cities over the past couple of years? Or
should they hold true to the philosophy of nonviolence
that most progressives, at most moments in American
history, have favored?
More a concept than an organization, antifa has no
membership, no central committee, no president, and
no one who can say yes or no to particular strategies.
Instead, it’s the coming together of groups of people
who are convinced that direct action—including physical violence—is the necessary response to the resurgence
of fascist groups in America.
Cornel West explicitly thanked antifa activists for saving his and other religious leaders’ lives during the mayhem in Charlottesville. “We would have been crushed
like cockroaches if it were not for the anarchists and
the antifascists” who shielded them from an approaching group of white supremacists, West said. Yet the acceptance of street fighting as a legitimate political tool
is an idea that many on the left reject, on both tactical
and ethical grounds. Antifa’s actions, says Noam Chomsky, are “a major gift to the right, including the militant
right, who are exuberant.… When confrontation shifts
to the arena of violence, it’s the toughest and most brutal
who win—and we know who that is.”
In many ways, this debate revives an age-old conundrum on the left. From mid-19th-century abolitionists
to suffragettes in the early 20th century, from union organizers in the 1930s to civil-rights and antiwar activists
in the ’60s, the question has been argued repeatedly: In
the face of violence unleashed by the state, by capital, or
by right-wing groups, how should the left respond?
The question continues to resurface in American history because, our national mythologies notwithstanding,
violence has been a defining characteristic of that history
from the start. The enslavement of African Americans
was enforced with violence, as was the subjugation of
Native Americans. There have been armed extremists on
the right—the Ku Klux Klan, the White Citizens’ Councils, the John Birch Society—as well as armed insurrectionists on the left: the early anarchists, the Weathermen, the Black Panthers.
The right, however—those promoting and defending
embedded racial, religious, economic, and gender inequities—has resorted to violence both more frequently than
the left and on a far larger scale. In the 1920s, “the Klan
had 4 million members and had strong political influence in several states,” says Michael Kazin, a professor
of history at Georgetown University. In the 1950s and
’60s, freedom activists learned to their bloody dismay that
many law-enforcement officials formally responsible for
protecting their right to peaceably assemble were, under
cover of darkness, also members of the Klan.
What makes today’s moment different from other
chaotic eras in American history is that now, it’s not
grassroots zealots or two-bit local politicians who are
encouraging violence, but rather the president of the
United States himself. Trump started flirting with violence during his campaign—saying that he would pay the
rump, the reality-tv maestro, may be using
the theatrics of violence to divert attention from
the rest of his presidency—his assault on regulatory structures, his lack of legislative accomplishments, his Russiagate legal perils—as Marshall
Ganz, a senior lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of
Government, and others have argued. But smokescreen
or not, the threat to civil society is all too real: Trump’s
aggressive rhetoric has given extremists nationwide the
impression that they, too, are now free to act on their hate.
On May 20, a white supremacist in Maryland fatally
stabbed Richard Collins III, a Bowie State University
student and recently commissioned second lieutenant
in the US Army. Six days later, two men were stabbed
to death in Portland, Oregon, after defending a Muslim
woman from a white supremacist. In Montana, Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte physically
attacked a journalist from The Guardian who had asked a
question that he didn’t like; Gianforte handily won election the next day. In Louisiana, Republican Congressman Clay Higgins advocated a holy war against “Islamic
horror,” urging: “Kill them all, for the sake of all that
is good and righteous.” In Mississippi, Republican State
Representative Karl Oliver called for “lynching” anyone
who took down a Confederate statue.
“You have what used to be more of a fringe element
being given cover to operate in the open air,” says Alicia
Garza, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter. Like numerous anti-Trump activists, lawyers, academics, and journalists, Garza regularly receives death threats. “We can’t call
the police for support,” she says, “so how do we protect
“The only option
left is for black
people to disrupt the
systems that keep us
— Black Lives Matter
Cornel West
has called
them “a
major gift to
the militant
Sasha Abramsky
is a frequent
contributor to
The Nation
and the author,
most recently,
of Jumping at
Shadows: The
Triumph of Fear
and the End of
the American
ourselves? All of us are having to take additional precautions, given that we’re in the crosshairs of a different kind
of administration than we’ve ever seen in this country.”
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, a Princeton University
professor of African-American studies, gave a commencement speech in May at Hampshire College in which she
called Trump a “racist, sexist megalomaniac.” A few
days later, Fox News and other right-wing media outlets started criticizing her, and online trolls barraged her
with threats. Taylor says she received two specific death
threats and more than 60 hate e-mails, leading her to cancel a number of public appearances. “This is a dramatic
escalation,” Taylor says. “The election of Trump has not
just emboldened racists; they have been activated.”
his was exactly the kind of violence that
Rashad Robinson at Color of Change expected
to see after Trump’s election. To plot a counterstrategy, Color of Change partnered with
MoveOn, the progressive think tank Demos
Action, and the National Domestic Workers Legacy
Fund early in 2017 to convene the “Fightback Table.”
Consisting of representatives from about 50 civil-rights,
environmental, immigrant-rights, and social-justice
organizations, the Fightback Table began to hold regular
meetings in Washington and New York. Participants
discussed nonviolent ways to fight Trump, including
strategizing a rapid response to defend the Affordable
Care Act, mobilizing in the wake of the Charlottesville
outrage, and organizing protests and political campaigns
to protect vulnerable immigrant populations, among
other actions.
Drawing on Color of Change’s particular expertise,
the Fightback Table has also explored strategies to embarrass business interests into separating themselves from
Trump’s agenda. “We’re getting more and more traction
at forcing corporations to not play both sides, to not be
neutral in this moment,” Robinson says, noting that many
businesses distanced themselves from the administration
after Trump’s “both sides were at fault” response to the
events in Charlottesville. Color of Change had already
been lobbying financial companies to stop processing
payments for far-right groups selling fascist paraphernalia
on their websites. In August, PayPal, American Express,
and several other credit-card companies announced that
they would stop working with nearly three dozen such
groups, imposing a financial squeeze that could drain
them of resources over time.
legal bills for anyone who roughed up protesters, hinting that “Second Amendment people” should assassinate
Hillary Clinton if she became president. As president,
Trump has blasted journalists in particular as “very bad
people,” even tweeting a doctored video showing him at
a WWE wrestling event slamming an opponent labeled
“CNN” to the floor. Trump also gave a presidential pardon to Joe Arpaio, the ex-sheriff of Maricopa County,
Arizona, who terrorized Latinos and others in a jail that
Arpaio gleefully described as a “concentration camp,”
and who violated the separation of powers by defying a
federal judge’s order to stop racially based policing. And,
of course, Trump found it impossible to issue a swift,
unequivocal denunciation of the swastika-waving neoNazis who invaded Charlottesville armed with rifles,
clubs, knives, and body armor.
October 23, 2017
The Fightback Table is pursuing other, similar tactics,
while also working to broaden the antifascist coalition.
“The corridors of power, whether Silicon Valley, Wall
Street, Capitol Hill, or Hollywood—we’ll be pushing
them to use their leverage to fight back against Trump,”
Robinson says. “We’ll be leveraging people power to push
legislatively,” as well as to promote “cultural change [and]
people showing up for peaceful protest. We need to build
alliances not just with progressives, but with the moderate center-right [and] folks of good faith on the right.”
“The most important principle is strength in numbers,
and not leaving it to the most targeted communities to be
the only ones standing up to these forces,” argues Naomi
Klein, the author of No Is Not Enough and a contributing editor at The Nation. “The more cross-movement
alliance-building we do, the stronger progressive forces
are in the face of state and vigilante violence.”
One silver lining of Trump’s rise to power is the collaboration it has encouraged among progressive groups
that had previously remained isolated in their respective
issue silos, maintains Annie Leonard, executive director
of Greenpeace. “I’ve dreamed of this unity and solidarity
across the left!” she says. “This level of solidarity is how
we get through this.”
For example, Unstoppable Together is a nationwide
coalition of trade unions, faith-based organizations, legal
activists, and others who are strategizing how to resist
authoritarian policies and also stand up—peacefully, publicly, and with all due speed—to the violent energies unleashed by Trump. The Highlander Center in Tennessee,
which was instrumental in nonviolent training during the
civil-rights era, has recently ramped up its efforts as well.
“We have to make sure we’re skilled up on nonviolence and de-escalation training,” Leonard says. Having
long been targeted by state and vigilante violence internationally, Greenpeace is now educating a new generation of organizers in the United States on the most
effective responses to violent provocation. During a justconcluded “Summer of Resistance,” Greenpeace says, it
trained 2,000 people in 14 cities on the theory and techniques of nonviolent action. “Be awake but not afraid” is
one guidepost, Leonard says. Another is to “engage with
opponents outside of their areas of strength. If they have
the guns, don’t shoot [guns]!”
“You want to lead with a more compelling vision of
the future than your adversaries have,” explains activisttrainer James Brady of Greenpeace, adding that you
also need lots of people to show up and put skin in the
game. “People misunderstand what nonviolence means.
It means you try every possible means at your disposal to
change the course of a conversation. If you want to shut
down a group of neo-Nazis with nonviolence, you need
500 people. If you only have 50 people, you’re going to
have a fight.”
But a fight is exactly what’s needed, antifa advocates
reply, using as analogies the antifascist battles of the 1930s
and the antiracist and antifascist struggles in Europe in the
1980s. “It’s an act of self-defense, community defense, and
minority defense to shut them down by any means necessary,” says journalist Natasha Lennard, who has written
extensively on the networks of activists who come together
The Nation.
under the “antifa” banner. “Quite often the property damage is aimed toward
disruption. Make a venue aware that if they fall prey to this free-speech myth
and have white supremacists speak, there’s a promise of disruption.” Writing
in The Nation on the eve of Trump’s inauguration, Lennard quoted a New York
City antifa group’s declaration: “If Trump tries to register Muslims and engage
in mass deportations, a petition is not going to stop it.”
Jeff Rousset, a longtime grassroots organizer in Philadelphia and Boston,
disagrees. He argues that the antifa strategy invites catastrophe and “could
actually accelerate the rise of fascism. It makes conservatives feel that they are
under attack, and then they side with the extreme right.”
“This is not about who controls the most violence; it’s about who controls
the legitimacy of the political space,” insists Erica Chenoweth, the co-author
of Why Civil Disobedience Works. Chenoweth cites Martin Luther King Jr.’s
advocacy of nonviolent yet uncompromising resistance to state and vigilante
violence. By maintaining discipline in the face of relentless abuse, the movement that King led attracted mass support and ultimately
helped to deliver such substantive victories as the Civil
Rights Act of 1964. Just so today, Chenoweth maintains,
progressives should use “innovative techniques” that
push progressive goals while avoiding the street fights
sought by the armed right.
The Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter
crossemployed one such technique after the National Rifle
Association released a video exhorting that only “the
clenched fist of truth” could save the country from the
anti-Trump resistance. Over images of protest marches
and sheer
and street violence and mentions of our first black presinumbers
dent, an NRA spokeswoman snarled words like “assasare making sinate,” “burn,” and “terrorize” before calling the NRA
“freedom’s safest place.” Fighting fire with fire, Black
Lives Matter released a video that was a mirror version
look small. of the NRA’s. Over images of white vigilantes and police killings, a Black Lives Matter spokeswoman declared
that “the only option left is for black people to disrupt
the systems that keep us oppressed and build the kinds of
communities in which we want to live.”
“In chaos is when change happens,” says Jo Ann Hardesty of the NAACP’s Portland, Oregon, chapter. Hardesty helped organize the chapter’s “Freedom Summer
White people have
2017” training session on nonviolent direct action, which
to show up; targeted
she regards as the path to power. “Talk to people not on
communities must
their political affiliation but their values—neighbor to
not face state and
neighbor, friend to friend, community to community.”
vigilante violence
This movement-building is starting to pay off.
The Nation.
Wherever fascist groups have mobilized recently, broad coalitions
of opponents have taken to the streets in far larger numbers. One
week after Charlottesville, tens of thousands marched peacefully
in Boston against a handful of fascists. In San Francisco, a large,
mainly peaceful crowd marched, sang, and danced against white
supremacy in general and Trump in particular. Satire, humor, absurdism, as well as the sheer numbers of energized people showing
up on the streets—all are being used to make fascists look small.
he trump era is host to many tragedies and many
absurdities. When its history is written, the normalization
of political violence should rank high on the list. Democracy
survives when a community or a country makes powerful
and sustained efforts to resolve its differences peacefully. It
dies when individuals try to impose their visions through force and
to consolidate power through intimidation.
In 2017, we stand on a precipice. President Trump has all but
endorsed violence against the media, against political opponents,
and against marginalized racial, religious, and sexual groups. He has
(continued from page 15)
The lien-release project overall allowed
JPMorgan to take hundreds of millions of
dollars in settlement credit.
Most of the loans that JPMorgan
released—and received settlement credit
for—were all but worthless. Homeowners
had abandoned the homes years earlier, expecting JPMorgan to foreclose, only to have
the bank forgive the loan after the fact. That
forgiveness transferred responsibility for
paying back taxes and making repairs back
to the homeowner. It was like a recurring
horror story in which “zombie foreclosures”
were resurrected from the dead to wreak
havoc on people’s financial lives.
Federal officials knew about the problems and did nothing. In July 2014, the City
of Milwaukee wrote to Joseph Smith, the
federal oversight monitor, alerting him that
“thousands of homeowners” were engulfed
in legal nightmares because of the confusion that banks had sown about who really
owned their mortgages. In a deposition for
the lawsuit against JPMorgan Chase, Smith
admitted that he did not recall responding
to the City of Milwaukee’s letter.
If you pay taxes in a municipality where
JPMorgan spun its trickery, you helped
pick up the tab. The bank’s shell game prevented municipalities from knowing who
actually owned distressed properties and
could be held legally liable for maintaining
them and paying property taxes. As a result,
abandoned properties deteriorated further,
spreading urban blight and impeding economic recovery. “Who’s going to pay for
the demolition [of abandoned buildings]
or [the necessary extra] police presence?”
asks Brent Tantillo, Schneider’s lawyer. “As
October 23, 2017
used his bully pulpit to sow fear, discord, and division, perhaps hoping to provoke his opponents as well as his supporters into embracing violence. In that case, Trump may calculate, the political middle
might tolerate him as a strongman who restores “law and order” by
cracking down on dissent and sweeping the streets clean of riffraff.
This is how demagogues have always operated. The challenge
for the resistance is to douse the fires of violence that Trump is fanning while building a powerful, inclusive opposition that doesn’t
need physical force to succeed. On a pragmatic level, violence from
the left would likely lead to a law-and-order crackdown, as it did in
the 1960s, when Richard Nixon tapped into the latent racism and
cultural fears of the “silent majority.” Moreover, any lurch toward
violence would deprive progressives of the moral high ground—
vital territory to hold in turbulent times. Although we certainly must
stand firm against the Trump regime, we must do so peacefully,
gracefully, and without compromising our movement’s potential
or our core values. Fascism is peculiarly good at making people act
shamefully; in resisting Trump, we must remain peaceful in the face
of violent provocation and keep faith with who we truly are.
a taxpayer, it’s you.”
Such economic fallout may help explain why Jamie Dimon directed that
JPMorgan’s mass forgiveness of loans exempt Detroit, a city where JPMorgan has
a long history. The bank’s predecessor, the
National Bank of Detroit, has been a fixture in the city for over 80 years; its relationships with General Motors and Ford
go back to the 1930s. And JPMorgan employees knew perfectly well that mass loan
forgiveness might create difficulties. The
2012 internal report warned that cities
might react negatively to the sheer number of forgiven loans, which would lower
tax revenues while adding costs. Noting
that some of the cities in question were
clients of JPMorgan Chase, the report
warned that the project posed a risk to the
bank’s reputation.
Reputational risk was the exact opposite of what JPMorgan hoped to achieve in
Detroit. So the bank decided to delay the
mass forgiveness of loans in Detroit and
surrounding Wayne County until after the
$100 million investment was announced.
Dimon himself ordered the delay, according
to the minutes of JPMorgan Chase meetings that cite the bank’s chairman and CEO
by name. Dimon then went to Detroit to
announce the investment on May 21, 2014,
reaping positive coverage from The New
York Times, USA Today, and other local and
national news outlets. Since June 1, 2014,
JPMorgan has released 10,229 liens in
Wayne County, according to public records;
the bank declined to state how many of
these were part of the lien-release project.
Both of Larry Schneider’s lawsuits alleging fraud on JPMorgan Chase’s part re-
main active in federal courts. The Justice
Department could also still file charges
against JPMorgan, Jamie Dimon, or both,
because Schneider’s case was excluded from
the federal settlement agreements.
Few would expect Jeff Sessions’s Justice Department to pursue such a case,
but what this sorry episode most highlights is the pathetic disciplining of Wall
Street during the Obama administration.
JPMorgan’s litany of acknowledged criminal abuses over the past decade reads like
a rap sheet, extending well beyond mortgage fraud to encompass practically every
part of the bank’s business. But instead of
holding JPMorgan’s executives responsible for what looks like a criminal racket,
Obama’s Justice Department negotiated
weak settlement after weak settlement.
Adding insult to injury, JPMorgan then
wriggled out of paying its full penalties by
using other people’s money.
The larger lessons here command special attention in the Trump era. Negotiating weak settlements that don’t force
mega-banks to even pay their fines, much
less put executives in prison, turns the
concept of accountability into a mirthless
farce. Telegraphing to executives that they
will emerge unscathed after committing
crimes not only invites further crimes; it
makes another financial crisis more likely.
The widespread belief that the United
States has a two-tiered system of justice—
that the game is rigged for the rich and the
powerful—also enabled the rise of Trump.
We cannot expect Americans to trust a system that lets Wall Street fraudsters roam
free while millions of hard-working taxQ
payers get the shaft.
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Hablamos Español
A New Deal
for Europe
The EU is facing a crisis of legitimacy.
Without wholesale reconstruction, it will disintegrate.
October 23, 2017
The Nation.
he american new deal of franklin roosevelt’s first
two terms combined the goals of financial stabilization,
reconstruction, conservation, and employment—jobs for
the jobless; public works; power systems and new industries,
especially in the South; soil conservation and reforestation
to battle the Dust Bowl; and a potent mix of regulations and
insurance to assert public power over high finance.
Europe today needs all of these. Its overgrown banks, haunted by the specter
of insolvency, are pushing households into foreclosures and evictions across the
continent, and at an accelerating scale in the most depressed countries. States
are bankrupt and will only become more so as the European Central Bank begins to tighten under pressure from German savers crushed by negative interest rates. Like America 80 years ago, Europe has a vast
periphery. In its South, there is a semi-permanent Great
Depression, whereas in the East there is great need for new
and renewed industries, transport networks, housing, and
Any retreat
social investments. Above all, Europeans need jobs.
Unlike the United States in the 1930s, Europe is to the
also facing the menace of disintegration, as the absence
of a democratic federal system has spawned a crisis of
legitimacy. Paralysis in the face of deindustrialization will only
and chronic unemployment is breeding a toxic politics benefit the
throughout Europe, with a postmodern form of fascism
threatening some countries and a sense of hopelessness
elsewhere. Europe has not yet suffered ecological calami- forces of
ties comparable to those in the past few weeks in Texas, the ugly
Florida, and Puerto Rico; but they are coming, in the
form of droughts, rising sea levels, and (most immedi- right.
ately) unstoppable waves of refugees from conflict and
climate change in the Middle East and Africa.
The Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25)
has therefore proposed a European New Deal (END),
inspired by FDR but designed for European conditions.
Chief among these is the sad fact that the European
Union is a weak and limited thing—a confederacy, more
or less. The crisis has made it virtually impossible even to
discuss the creation of a US-style federation in Europe,
with full powers to budget and mobilize for the emergencies at hand. European polities are so alienated by the
authoritarian incompetence of the current leadership— Yanis Varoufakis
exemplified by the crushing of the Greek government in (above) is the
2015 and the heavy-handed approach of the European former finance
Commission to Brexit—that an increase in central powers minister of Greece
(“more Europe,” as they say) would almost certainly meet and co-founder of
heavy resistance. So it is necessary to work within existing the Democracy in
charters and treaties to bring about stabilization by means Europe Movement
of a European New Deal before hope is restored and the 2025. James K.
Galbraith (below)
creation of new, democratic, federal, pan-European instiis a professor at
tutions—even a proper European Constitution—can be the University of
discussed sensibly and with cool heads.
Texas at Austin
To this END, we have proposed the following pro- and an adviser
grams for all European countries, independent of whether to DiEM25.
they are in the European Union or the eurozone:
UÑрÅii›ÑÓÅ>›È‹Ó‹ ›]ђi`ÑLçÑ>ћiåÑ>€i›VçÑåˆ ÈiÑ>‹–Ñ‹ÈÑ
to provide a continent-wide infrastructure focusing on
the green Energy Union and the technological sovereignty that Europe desperately needs.
UÑV › –‹VÑ>›`ÑÈ V‹>’ÑÈÓ>L‹’‹ë>Ӌ ›]Ѱŋ›V‹°>’’çÑӈŠހˆÑ
a jobs-guarantee program to offer employment to all
Europeans seeking work in their home countries. The
jobs should pay a decent moderate wage keyed to naILLUSTRATION BY CURT MERLO
tional conditions, ending the involuntary migration
flows within Europe that have been the cause of much
discontent, and tied to a food-and-energy-stamps program and to social housing.
UÑÑޛ‹äiÅÈ>’Ñ`‹ä‹`i›`Ñӈ>ÓÑå ޒ`Ñ>’’ åÑÞÅ °i>›ÑV‹Ó‹zens to share in the returns of capital and automation,
democratizing the economic sphere and preventing the
next crisis of low aggregate demand due to the workerdisplacement effect of artificial intelligence.
Specifically for the eurozone, we propose a series of
therapeutic policy interventions whose great advantage
is that they need no European Union treaty changes,
but can be implemented under a broad interpretation of
existing rules:
UÑÑÈÓi°ŠLçŠÈÓi°ÑL>›‘‹›€Ñޛ‹ ›Ñӈ>ÓѲ>³Ñi–Þ’>ÓiÈÑӈiÑVÅiation, by the Roosevelt administration, of the Federal
Deposit Insurance Corporation; and (b) restructures all
of Europe’s problem banks, placing them under effective social control.
UÑÑ°Å €Å>–ÑLçÑ刋VˆÑӈiÑÞÅ °i>›Ñ
i›ÓÅ>’Ñ>›‘Ñ–i`‹ates between states and money markets to reduce their
total debt burden, but without money-printing or making Germany pay for, or guarantee, the public debt of
deficit countries.
UÑÑ ˆ>°ÓiÅÑ §§r’‹‘iÑ °ÞL’‹VŠ`iLÓÑ ÅiÈÓÅÞVÓÞŋ›€Ñ w>V‹’‹ÓçÑ
for unpayable legacy debts (e.g., Greece’s).
How are these programs to be funded in the
absence of a federal treasury or a central bank with a
suitable remit?
The Green Transition Works Authority will be
funded by a combination of (a) the European Investment Bank, which has the capacity to issue the necessary bonds, while the European Central Bank can stand
by in the secondary markets ready to purchase the EIB’s
bonds, bolster their value, and reduce the interest payments; and (b) a continent-wide carbon tax.
For economic and social stabilization, we propose the
creation of a European Equity Depository, into which
the following income streams will flow: profits from the
financial assets purchased by Europe’s central banks (in
the context of their monetary operations); other centralbank profits; and a pan-European inheritance tax.
Finally, a percentage of shares from every corporate
initial public offering and capital increase should be
socialized and transferred to the European Equity Depository. The accumulating dividends, plus levies on the
derived distribution of intellectual-property rights and
on common-knowledge monopolies, will then fund a
universal basic dividend.
Then there is the euro. The currency shared by 19 of
the EU’s member states cannot be preserved in its current form, resembling as it does the gold-exchange standard, whose 1929 collapse led to the Great Depression.
The euro has political and symbolic importance, both
for its champions and its foes, but monetary systems are
tools, not ends in themselves. So the euro must either
adapt or cease to exist.
The reality is that Europe created a common currency
with an inflexible central bank and no federal state; that
arrangement has ended in a predictable debt deflation.
As a result, already the European monetary system is falling apart. There are
countries (Denmark and Britain) that will never join the euro. There are others (Sweden, Poland, and Hungary among them) that are supposed to join in
the future but apparently have no intention of doing so. And then there are
Cyprus and Greece, which under capital controls have a de facto dual-currency
system, since a euro in a Cypriot or Greek bank cannot be exchanged freely
for a euro in paper or in another country’s banks. Lastly, some countries in the
eurozone would be better off outside, including rich countries like Finland.
Given these realities, the vision of a comprehensive continental currency
is not going to be realized. The European establishment must accept that
false hope is bad strategy. Work should begin now on a new round of monetary reforms for Europe, giving the indebted countries of the region degrees
of freedom without which the grapes of wrath will continue to “grow heavy
for the vintage.”
To this effect, DiEM25’s European New Deal is proposing a moderate,
technically simple reform: the creation of a public digital-payments platform
in every eurozone country. Using the existing digital platform of their nation’s
tax office, taxpayers would be given the opportunity to purchase digital tax
credits, which they could use to pay one another
or to extinguish future taxes at a substantial discount. These credits would be denominated in
euros but transferable only between taxpayers of
a single country, and would thus be impervious
to sharp capital flight. Meanwhile, governments
would be able to create a limited number of these
“fiscal euros,” to be given to citizens in need or
for the funding of public projects.
Fiscal euros would allow stressed governments to stimulate demand, lessen the tax burden, and, ultimately, reduce the crushing power of the
We need
European Central Bank. In the long term, these public
digital-payment platforms can form a managed system a panof country-specific euros that work like an International European
Clearing Union, a modernized version of John Maynard
Keynes’s 1944 vision of what the Bretton Woods system network
of rebel
should have been like—but, tragically, was not.
iem25’s european new deal provides,
we believe, the best chance for holding the
European Union together. But should it be
held together? Many progressive voices in
Europe (and beyond) have been calling for
the disbandment of the EU, due to its irredeemably neoliberal architecture, and a return to the nation-state as the
realm in which democratic politics can be rebuilt before
a new internationalism can spring up again, this time on
solid foundations. They point, in much the same way as
Burkean Brexiteers did, to the absence of a European
demos on which a pan-European democracy can rely.
DiEM25 begs to differ. Societies in Europe are facing
four major socioeconomic challenges with the hallmarks
of climate change. Just as global warming can never be
addressed at the national level, even though local and
national action is imperative, the same applies to the crises of (a) public debt, (b) banking, (c) exceptionally low
investment (relative to savings), and (d) rising poverty.
These will either be dealt with effectively at a European
level or not at all, thus ensuring that any retreat to the
nation-state will only benefit the xenophobic, militantly
parochial forces of the ugly right.
Beyond the practical need for a pan-European ap-
October 23, 2017
The Nation.
cities, rebel
and rebel
proach, DiEM25 embarks from something the left used
to understand well: When Marx and Engels adopted
their slogan “proletarians of the world unite,” they were
not rejecting the importance of national culture or of the
nation-state. Instead, they were rejecting the idea of a “national interest” and the view that struggles must prioritize
the realm of the nation-state. The notion that we must return to a one-nation/one-parliament/one-demos frame of
mind would puzzle the left’s 19th-century pioneers, as it
would puzzle progressives of the early and mid-20th century, who dreamed of, and struggled for, a transnational
republic from the Atlantic to as far east as possible.
The left, lest we forget, traditionally opposed the
bourgeois belief in a one-to-one relationship between
a nation and a sovereign parliament. We counterargued
that identity is something we create through political
struggle: class struggle, the struggle against patriarchy,
the struggle to smash gender and sexual stereotypes, and
emancipation from empire, racism, xenophobia, and the
practices of mass surveillance.
In today’s Europe, this spirit is not well served by calling for the split of the EU into neatly delineated national
realms. DiEM25’s alternative approach is to issue a call
to arms to all Europeans to join in what we term “constructive disobedience.” First, we offer a well-thoughtout policy agenda for every nook and cranny of Europe,
to be implemented at a pan-European level; then, when
the establishment predictably turns it down, we embark
on massive disobedience, including governmental disobedience (which is what one of us practiced when representing Greece in the Eurogroup in 2015).
In this sense, DiEM25’s European New Deal is the
constructive part, which should inspire Europeans regarding what can draw us together into a single, transnational progressive agenda, so that we can organize the
disobedience necessary at the local, national, and panEuropean level. This is the way forward for progressives
seeking practical solutions to problems that wreck the
lives of the many across our continent.
DiEM25, therefore, by calling for a pan-European
campaign of disobedience with the transnational elites
in order to create the European demos that will bring
about Europe’s democracy, is in tune with the left’s traditional approach. In this Gramscian spirit, DiEM25 insists
that our European rebellion should happen everywhere,
in towns, regions, nation-state capitals, and in Brussels,
without prioritizing any level over any other. The European New Deal, therefore, is a practical policy agenda
for bringing together a pan-European network of rebel
cities, rebel prefectures, and rebel governments into a
progressive movement that becomes hegemonic in Italy,
in Greece, in England—indeed, anywhere in Europe.
f course, one may cheekily ask: “why
stop at the European level? As internationalists, why don’t you campaign for worldwide democracy—for an International
New Deal?” Our answer is that we are
doing precisely that (see the July 6 New York Times
op-ed by Yanis Varoufakis, “A New Deal for the 21st
Century”). Ideally, DiEM25 should link up with a
October 23, 2017
The Nation.
Democracy in the Americas movement, which Bernie Sanders’s
“political revolution” could spark, as long as it extends beyond the
US-Mexican border to include Latin America. And then onward
to the Democracy in the Middle East, Democracy in Asia, and
Democracy in Africa movements. But given that history has,
for better or worse, delivered an internally borderless European
Union, with common policies on the environment and a variety of
other realms, progressives must defend our really existing absence
of borders, the existing EU commons of climate-change policy,
even the Erasmus exchange program that gives young Europeans
the opportunity to mingle in a borderless educational system.
Turning against these splendid artifacts of an otherwise regressive
EU is not consistent with what the left ought to be about.
So, yes, the European Union should and must be saved, and here
are just a few of the reasons why:
UÑÞÅ °iш>ÈÑ° ’‹Ó‹V>’Ñ>›`ÑÈ V‹>’ÑÈÓ>›`>Å`ÈÑw ÅÑ`i– VÅ>VçÑ>›`шÞman rights, as well as for health and safety and the environment,
that will not be respected if the continent splits back into national fiefs. In this respect, the cases of Poland and Hungary are
already disturbing enough.
UÑ ›Ói€Å>Ói`Ñ °Å `ÞVӋ ›Ñ ›iÓå őÈÑ >ÅiÑ iwxV‹i›Ó]Ñ >›`Ñ °>ÅÓÑ wÑ ÓˆiÑ
warp and woof of modern economic life. Disrupting them is extremely costly, as the experiences of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia showed.
vulnerable to speculative movements of their currencies, the caprices of international investors, and the vagaries of their local oligarchies as they were before the European project got under way.
UÑ* °Þ’>Ӌ ›Ñ– äi–i›ÓÈÑV>›› ÓÑLiÑÈÓ °°i`]Ñ>›`ÑӈiçÑå ޒ`ÑLicome even more toxic politically if new barriers and electrified
fences were built. The evidence for this is clear in Britain in the
wake of the Brexit vote, and in Austria, Hungary, and elsewhere.
In the long run, europe needs a democratic governing
structure, a proper budget, and the consolidation of many functions now maintained at the national level, with savings in some
areas (the military), more uniform and effective protection of the
weaker European citizens, greater effective sovereignty at the
state and municipal level, and—last but not least—a common
approach to the postcapitalist forms of production and distribution made inescapable by new technologies and the energy and
environmental crisis.
But this will be possible only after European peoples come to
appreciate the continent as a constructive force in their lives—as
a visible, palpable, useful presence. And that cannot happen until
the structure and ideologies of European economic management
have been changed, until there is a full escape from the dysfunctional molds in which those ideas were initially framed.
Is this politically difficult? You bet! But Bernie Sanders and
Jeremy Corbyn have shown that clear, sensible ideas—brave
enough to challenge the entire existing system, but not unprecedented or utopian—can persuade large numbers of people. Europeans are ready for this. They know that Europe is in danger
because it is undemocratic and, consequently, misanthropic when
faced with crisis.
Europe now needs an antidote to Euro-TINA: the toxic doctrine that “there is no alternative” within the European Union—
except, perhaps, disintegration. That is what the Democracy in
Europe Movement, DiEM25, and its European New Deal are
about. And this is why we are determined to take our agenda to
ballot boxes all over Europe by 2019.
October 23, 2017
The Nation.
The Nation.
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(continued from page 2)
to the mainstream), this stunning attack on American feminism is way off the mark.
First, “right-wing feminism”
is an oxymoron: Kellyanne
Conway, Ann Coulter, and
Pamela Geller are not feminists
by any stretch.
Second, the alliance between
feminism and military interventionists to “liberate” Muslim
women is a fantasy, the Feminist
Majority Foundation notwithstanding. I have spent my long
personal and professional life
fighting for women’s rights, and
I know of no feminist who supports military intervention, much
less to rescue Muslim women.
Third, if feminists imagine gender equality as a value
“inherently and essentially belonging to white and Western
society,” why are we fighting
mightily to install gender equality in Western culture, where it
clearly doesn’t exist?
Finally, the author seems
fixated on feminist antipathy
toward Islam and its oppression of women, but she fails to
note that feminism far more
often condemns expressions
of the Christian religion—
evangelical Christianity, Catholicism, the Baptist Church,
etc.—insofar as they oppress
women. Feminist expressions
of concern for the plight of
women in traditional Islam and
traditional Christianity are legitimate, not the use of women
as “victim, escapee, or pawn.”
Rosemary Agonito
empowerment being put forward by women like Kellyanne
Conway, Ann Coulter, Pamela
Geller, and others. When people say “right-wing feminism”
is an oxymoron, they exclude it
from analysis and preclude an
investigation into how it corrodes progress toward the goal
of gender equality.
You deploy the same tactic
when you say that, since you
don’t personally know feminists
who support military intervention, none exist. As I point
out in my latest book, Veil,
women like Gloria Steinem,
Eve Ensler, and Meryl Streep
all signed a letter to President
George W. Bush asking him
to “take emergency action to
protect the lives and secure the
future of Afghan women.”
Moreover, the continuation
of the struggle to install equality within Western society does
not preclude its export to lesser
feminists elsewhere; in fact,
as I show, the export of these
ideas has become crucial to the
struggle at home.
Finally, I am “fixated” on
feminist antipathy to Islam and
Muslim countries because the
deafening feminist silence on
the co-option of gender equality
by those pushing a war agenda
has killed hundreds of thousands
of Iraqi and Afghan women and
has all but destroyed grassroots
feminism within these contexts.
The fact that I am “fixated”
while you are not is precisely the
Rafia Zakaria
Rafia Zakaria Replies
Carrying a Tune
Thank you, Rosemary Agonito, for your letter and for
reading the article. I must say
that I find the tendency to
discard terms like “right-wing
feminism” onerous, not least
because it prevents the rest of
us from considering and evaluating the duplicitous models of
Regarding Puzzle No. 3439
[Aug. 28/Sept. 4]: I assume
both Joshua Kosman and
Henri Picciotto are fine musicians since, despite eight anagrams of A, E, I, N, R, S, T,
there were no “tin ears.”
Carolanne Steinebach
syracuse, n.y.
twisp, wash.
Books & the Arts.
James Scott has spent a lifetime documenting the horrors of
the modern state. But does he miss the freedoms only it can afford?
eople are going paleo; it is the
height of trendiness. Edit wheat
out of your diet, the multiplatform
advice goes, especially if you want
lower blood pressure or rock-hard
abs. James C. Scott says there is much
more at stake. Grain is not just bad for
one’s health; it is the fruit of a ghastly
disaster long ago that brought with it
the domestication of other plants and
animals, and even of ourselves. Worst
Samuel Moyn teaches law and history at Yale.
His new book, Not Enough: Human Rights
in an Unequal World, is forthcoming from
Harvard University Press in April 2018.
of all, it is bound up with the origins of
that most baleful thing, the state, which
has bred horrors from its beginnings,
propagating vast moral and material hierarchies and the murderous violence
of resource wars over the ages. What
began with fire, the state set ablaze:
Grain cultivation, according to Scott,
helped inaugurate the “Anthropocene,”
in which humanity continues to change
its own environment beyond all recognition. The “bounty” of civilization under
the auspices of the state has proved to be
a lie, and it is going to take a lot more
than giving up gluten for life to improve.
In his sparkling new book, Against
Against the Grain
A Deep History of the Earliest States
By James C. Scott
Yale University Press. 336 pp. $26
the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest
States, Scott makes his case by tracing,
step by unholy step, how human beings
were led first into the agricultural fields
and then into the domain of the state,
bringing a vast set of conscripts into the
army of supposed advancement. Starting
with the fire that introduced “landscaping,” Scott tracks how we domesticated
not merely herd animals to do the grunt
work of agriculture but also many human
beings—notably slaves, who for a long time
were conceived as beasts of burden within
the human domain. In its own fashion, even
the new ruling class became herdlike, tame
animals who recast every facet of life in the
grim service of their crops, which grew their
humans as much as the other way around.
With its dramatic leap backward into
ancient Mesopotamia, Against the Grain is
a departure for Scott, who before now has
stuck much more closely to his expertise in
20th-century Southeast Asia. Yet the new
book is also a kind of fulfillment. Like all
of Scott’s work, it forces you to reconsider
your most basic commitments about freedom and politics in response to his caustic
doubts. But if his career reaches a climax in
this book, it also makes clear the need to
resist his conclusions—and not only for the
sake of your daily bread.
or decades, Scott has cut a remarkable
and unique figure in the academic
landscape. No one provides a better
model of how to operate in the modern university and reap the benefits of
its learning, while transcending the worst
shortcomings of compartmentalization and
wooden thinking. Trained as a political scientist, Scott has since departed from any
single field, refusing cramped horizons for
the sake of free inquiry. He has developed
a model of social theory that combines insightful description with grand speculation,
allowing his books to flit across diverse areas
and, in turn, to be widely read. Above all, he
has a preternatural gift for illustrating the
power of states and the creativity of those
responding to them with details from everyday life. And his disarming style makes him
most enjoyable company—even when he is
accusing civilization of evil, extolling “barbarian” virtues, and telling his readers that
they have had the bad luck to be born amidst
the moral ruins, mesmerized by the distracting grandeur of the states that enslave them.
Scott was born along the Delaware River
in small-town New Jersey in 1936. He grew
up a follower of Franklin Roosevelt, like his
father, who was a country doctor. After his
father’s early death, Scott attended a Quaker
school on a scholarship and went to Williams College, before spending a year traveling around the Burmese countryside and
in Paris as a representative of the National
Student Association.
Scott opted for a doctorate in political
science at Yale in the early 1960s, and his
first work was dutiful but undistinguished.
A disciple of the now-forgotten scholar
Robert Lane, who argued that the best in-
October 23, 2017
The Nation.
sights into the ideology of groups depended
on interviewing their members in-depth,
Scott went to Malaysia and applied Lane’s
method to the country’s new postcolonial
elite. What became his first book, Political
Ideology in Malaysia, was a monument to the
sort of derivative and workmanlike scholarship that his whole subsequent career has
attempted to topple.
When Scott’s debut was published in
1968, it was the height of the Vietnam
War. He had taken a job as a professor of
Southeast Asian politics at the University
of Wisconsin and put himself at the center
of the campus antiwar movement. As with
so many others of his generation, the war
was decisive for his intellectual life. It made
him critical of American power abroad,
and in later years he would still recall his
contempt for his fellow political scientist
Samuel Huntington, who had advanced
the theory that the displacement of peasants from their homes would make them
more compliant—effectively an argument
that the American forces should bomb the
Vietnamese into resettlement.
Many Southeast Asia experts, unsurprisingly, were in the vanguard of academic resistance to the war, and Scott’s political views
from this period—gained through teach-ins
and amid fractious faculty politics—pervade
his scholarship. Even when he is writing
about ancient Mesopotamia, Scott is not far
from his youthful preoccupations, labeling
the origins of civilization a “late-Neolithic
multispecies resettlement camp.” But the
larger lesson he drew from Vietnam was to
be skeptical of the theories and practices of
modernization of all stripes, including those
of Marxism. When one looks at the sweep
of postcolonial history, including the genocidal sequel to the American involvement in
Cambodia, capitalist and communist states
alike reveal themselves as recipes for cruelty.
Scott soon left Wisconsin to return to
Yale, where he has taught for decades. On
arrival, he published The Moral Economy of
the Peasant (1976), his first book in a remarkable series of classics. In their interpretations
of European history, Karl Polanyi and E.P.
Thompson had argued that before capitalism, there existed a premodern “moral
economy” organized by the lower classes
that centered on the importance of a subsistence minimum. People demanded—of
one another and their political masters—the
fulfillment of basic needs and organized
their lives around this demand. Scott globalized Polanyi’s and Thompson’s claims
by attributing the same ethics to peasants
everywhere—including the Southeast Asian
peasants so visibly in revolt in the 1960s.
Beyond seeking basic subsistence, Scott also
claimed, the peasants neither desired nor
sought modern affluence or material equality; they treated the politics of the state not
as a world to win, but rather as an officious
interference with their own premodern selfinsurance against disaster or, at most, as a
backstop when their own strategies failed.
The trouble, Scott explained, was that modern rulers, colonial or postcolonial, mainly
interfered, often stoking massive uprisings.
The lesson was plain: Outsiders should
either stay out of the way or concentrate on
helping peasants help themselves.
The book marked Scott’s break with
political science as usual and, perhaps above
all, his development of a winningly independent style that has since emerged more
and more clearly. Scott’s political ambition
was to save the depiction of a premodern
moral order in Polanyi and Thompson from
what he apparently believed was their own
devotion to state-centered forms of social
democracy (in Polanyi’s case) or socialism
(in Thompson’s). In showing how political
authorities were most interested in taxing
peasants, rather than guaranteeing their
basic livelihoods, Scott may have already
been harboring a deeper skepticism about
the state. But he had not yet become an
anarchist—after all, in Scott’s picture, good
political authority could indeed respond if
collective self-insurance broke down (usually because harvests failed). Scott’s study of
the peasantry was a transitional book: It was
both more professional in its tone and less
concerned with the implacable rivalry that
he has since taken up between the state and
its opponents.
t must have been around this point that
Scott started reading one of his most
enduring influences, the French anthropologist Pierre Clastres. Clastres, who
died in a car accident in 1977, was an
anarchist who wrote studies of “primitive”
life based on his time among South American
tribes. According to Clastres, states of all
kinds were pretty much equally bad, however
different they were from one another, and all
portended the climacteric of 20th-century
totalitarianism. Primitive humans, somehow
in advance, already knew enough to preserve
themselves from the inevitably slippery slope
into the horror of the state. A peasantry
self-insuring against starvation, then, looked
like it was far gone down the road to perdition and already condemned to a life of
penury under a political authority destined
to become terroristic sooner or later. Scott
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differed in personal style, shunning the more
melodramatic features of Clastres’s vision in
favor of a plainspoken and well-researched
scholarship. But he embraced the main
thrust of Clastres’s argument and, armed
with his insights, he now broke through to
the subject of his mature inquiry: state oppression and ordinary resistance.
Scott’s study of resistance came in two remarkable books: Weapons of the Weak (1985)
and Domination and the Arts of Resistance
(1990). With the memory of Vietnam receding and the high tide of peasant revolt going
out, Scott concluded that it was a rare thing
for agrarian miseries to explode into revolutions, which always devoured their own
children in any case. When the state held all
the cards, most often peasants were thrown
back on their own creative attempts to game
the system. After two years in a small village
in Malaysia, Scott reported back in Weapons
of the Weak with an extraordinary inventory
of peasant “infrapolitics.” These were “prosaic” forms of opposing power, such as “foot
dragging, dissimulation, false compliance,
pilfering, feigned ignorance, slander, arson,
sabotage, and so forth.”
Scott warned against romanticizing these
prosaic forms, for their effect was always
defensive in nature and usually softened the
blow of state power without capturing or
reimagining it. But his new books on “the
arts of resistance” marked a shift in Scott’s
own politics: If, in his earlier work, he had
referred to peasant defiance as “an alternative moral universe in embryo,” he now lost
faith in any real form of redemptive politics. Scott was not alone in this. Many ’60s
radicals, by the 1980s, had given up on their
radical dreams of emancipation, and future
intellectual history may record how Scott’s
work played a role in helping them to recover, especially on the far left after its identification with Marxism. Scott still claimed a
vestigial affiliation with Marxism by casting
peasant resistance as “class struggle,” but he
no longer believed in a historical exit from it,
especially since the struggles for national liberation around the world were going south.
But it was in another pair of works, Seeing
Like a State (1998) and The Art of Not Being
Governed (2009), that the stigma Scott applied
to “certain schemes to improve the human
condition” through government gained its
most sophisticated expression. In the first,
Scott’s most admired book, he offered an
empirical survey married to homespun social
theory to show that states around the world,
whether capitalist or communist, developed
or postcolonial, were projects of subordination. They pioneered unprecedented forms
The Nation.
of making social life “legible” and therefore
easier to control. In the second book, which
begins with an epigraph from Clastres to the
effect that history is not so much about class
struggle to win control of state power but
rather about struggles against the state itself,
Scott furthered these arguments. Returning
to Southeast Asia, The Art of Not Being Governed vividly depicted how states established
iron control in agricultural areas, while those
who resisted these encroachments climbed
up into highlands beyond their reach.
Like all of his other work, Scott’s portrait of the panoptic ambitions of states—an
emphasis that led many readers to liken him
to Michel Foucault—was so potent because
it was not mere declaration or denunciation but extraordinary description. It was
so well-done that it seemed unanswerable
as a criticism of governmental tyranny. The
parade of horrors to which 20th-century
states everywhere led—from the great leaps
forward under communism to only slightly
less repressive ventures under capitalism,
and from global-development schemes to
African “villagization” under postcolonial
authority—made it hard to imagine celebrating them ever again.
ut if you view history as an unalterable dialectic of state oppression and
ordinary resistance, inevitably you will
also wonder how it got started—and
whether it was inevitable. This genealogical task is the central ambition of Scott’s
new book. He mentions Clastres only once
in Against the Grain, but a remark by one of
Clastres’s friends applies perfectly to it: Scott
has “the audacity of someone who wants to
get to the root of evil and cut.” The story
Scott hopes to tell, he explains, will make
a start toward a “twelve-step recovery program” from the common belief in the beneficent rise of the state, including the benefits of
“civilization” even in its modern form.
Since the book deals not only with the
ancient world but what is now the Middle
East, Scott disarmingly presents himself as a
poacher attempting to provide an outsider’s
digest of the already established scholarship
in the field. But a lot more is going on in
Against the Grain than a book report: Scott
believes that he has made several advances
thanks to his outsider status, and he has
unmistakably imported a prior intellectual
project—the prosecution of the state—into
the literature about how the first examples of
it were born.
Surprisingly, in the first half of the book,
Scott demonstrates how many things—
including the invention of agriculture itself—
October 23, 2017
were brought about without necessitating
the rise of state power. In the beginning,
Scott writes, was fire, which domesticated not
merely the landscape but humanity itself. Yet
the die was not cast here. The same was true
of the rise of sedentary communities, which
Scott is convinced took place in wetlands that
did not commit their denizens to widespread
agriculture and did not necessarily develop
into states. Scott even applies this disaggregating argument to the rise of a more intense
crop cultivation, which he argues began episodically as part of the wetlands mix and may
have occurred elsewhere too.
After a chapter on what he calls the
“domus complex”—in which stable groups
of humans gathered themselves and an assortment of nonhuman animals—Scott
turns to the central puzzle of his book: How
did the state come about? Interpreting what
is known about the ancient kingdom of Uruk
(where Gilgamesh may have ruled), Scott
ends up casting little light. He observes
that the concentration of human beings in
increasingly agricultural circumstances was
certainly a precondition for the founding
of the state, with its political hierarchies,
extractive taxation, and mass service. But the
gathering of more people in one place did
not necessarily birth states. Instead, Scott
defers to a traditional explanation on this
subject: that it was when these agricultural
societies began to falter in the face of aridity
that the “assembled population” of the early
domus began to transition to something like
the state. Like Clastres, he contends that no
one wanted this to happen, and so it must
have occurred with “a pistol at their collective temple.” Drought was probably the
weapon in question.
That Scott presents as his major finding
that eons separated the development of cultivation and the rise of the state not only cuts
against any conclusion that the pathways
into state bondage were inevitable; it also
goes far to undermine Scott’s entire outlook.
The fact that nothing about the innovations
of fire and agriculture and “incipient urbanism” necessarily required states and their
iniquities means that many of the good
things “civilization” has brought are indeed
separable from its greatest evils and therefore do not necessarily deserve the opprobrium implied by both the title and the argument of his book. Though Scott does not
observe it, the first half of Against the Grain
reads like a paean to a different style of agricultural civilization in the making: the best
of a stateless hunting-and-gathering society
tweaked in the name of bread. It also suggests a lesson that Scott would never draw:
October 23, 2017
that the state itself has never been given on
a take-it-or-leave-it basis. He acknowledges
that there is no decisive moment when the
state emerged and no single feature that defines it. In his challenge to the inevitability
of the state after fire and even agriculture,
Scott misses the chance to develop a theory
of the variety of governments, not only in
the past but also in the future.
However, Scott remains so stricken by
the sheer evil of the state that he turns in
the balance of his book to critically interpret
the accoutrements of the Mesopotamian
state, accentuating the negative. It vastly
transformed agriculture (emphasizing governable cereals), erected walls (as much for
confinement as protection), invented writing (“a new form of control” by the budding
technocracy), expanded slavery (to convert
humans from free spirits into pack animals),
and declared war without end (since prisoners were easy prey for the increasingly
necessary bondage and drudgery). In its
early phases, much-vaunted “civilization”—
backed as it was by the instruments and violence of the state—was not a pretty picture.
It was a golden age for only one group, Scott
opines in a virtuoso chapter: the barbarians
who subsisted along its periphery, and who
could make their nonstate lives even better than before by poaching what the state
had brought about. For those in the state’s
clutches, however, life was tedious monotony and servile hierarchy. No wonder that, in
another provocative chapter, Scott suggests
that when early states self-destructed, it was
not necessarily a bad thing, despite all the
chaos and disorder that have given their
“collapse” a bad name.
The term “dark ages,” Scott explains, is
merely a bit of civilized slander. The freedom
that people enjoyed once the flame of civilization went out actually made them better
off. Not yet schooled by outside examples in
maintaining the conditions of their own continuity, early states were often experiments
that regularly failed—until a more enduring
oppression set in, enabling later states to
speed along the path to a more complete and
irrevocable modern domination.
cott’s view of the state has always been
attractive to some leftists, who have
found solace in his depiction of the
microscopic possibilities of flouting
a state power that they cannot overthrow. But Scott has also proved popular with
another group: economic libertarians. They
understand that he is their ally. Reading him
with a squint, they appreciate his vociferous
critiques of state power as abetting their own
The Nation.
dreams of freedom. Scott is visibly nervous
about this fan club, since even after he gave
up any flirtation with Marxism, he has always
viewed “free markets” as breeding their own
sorts of hierarchy and oppression.
Still, the elective affinity of antistatists
is far from incidental to understanding the
limits of Scott’s project. Both anarchists and
neoliberals have combined in our time to
obscure the fact that, to date, the
state has been the most successful technology known to
history for imagining and
institutionalizing liberty
and equality, even though
it has often failed and has
never worked perfectly.
Scott rarely mentions
the forms of social justice
that only modernity and its
states have permitted and put
into practice, however faulty and
outweighed by state crime and excess
they are. Instead, he has sought to project an
immemorial dialectic between the state and
its enemies onto the whole of human history.
This has made him one of the greatest teachers of how costly modernity has been; yet it
has also caused him to obscure the fact that
modern states could strive not simply for civilizational splendor, but also for the freedom
and equality of all.
Because the state has never developed on
a take-it-or-leave-it basis, modern humans
have attempted to make it serve their emancipation rather than their oppression. As if
modern capitalism were not distinctive in a
host of ways, Scott instead emphasizes that
the age-old regimentation of human beings
marching to the “metronome” of the crop
cycle set up the basic template for it. Analogously, the liberty and equality that so many
moderns have taken to justify government as
an agent of progress are little more to Scott
than pretexts for more oppression. He sees
no escape other than the flight that barbarians and mountain men have tried since the
state arose.
Correspondingly, Scott’s vague suggestions of the “egalitarianism” of nonstate peoples—and especially, in his new book, of our
hunting-and-gathering ancestors—are never
seriously defended. Where Clastres had the
courage of his convictions and lionized primitive torture and war as the price of ostensible
equality and freedom (in a particularly vivid
scene, for example, he depicted the expulsion of a homosexual as part of the package
of prestate life), Scott’s rosy suggestion that
life was peachy before bread came is never
argued, except by showing the alternative to
be terrible.
Scott covers war once the state appeared,
and slavery too, but he only glancingly acknowledges that they were endemic among
the hunter-gatherers who came before. In his
revulsion at state oppression, Scott also says
little about the forms of social oppression that
government does not impose, even though
they have always been part of human existence and have often been a worse
taskmaster (perhaps especially
for women).
But in the end it is not so
much that Scott is unfair
to what people have long
glorified as civilization,
since he shines a powerful
light on its dark side. It is
not so much, either, that
he romanticizes the lives of
those who were dismissed as
“savages” by their often murderous enemies, dazzlingly highlighting
strategies of resistance by ordinary people
past and present. In fact, Scott’s case for the
prosecution, and his attempt to bear witness
to those defending themselves against states,
have always been the most arresting and unforgettable features of his work. But when he
turns judge, Scott condemns civilization according to standards that are civilization’s—
and modernity’s—own, without ever reflecting on this fact.
“Philosophers who have examined the
foundations of society have all felt the necessity of going back to the state of nature,”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau once remarked, “but
none of them has reached it.” A sometime
primitivist like Scott, Rousseau wanted to
overturn his predecessor Thomas Hobbes’s
depiction of pre-state life as nasty, brutish,
and short, by showing that civilized life had
produced the evils superimposed on the
natural condition of humanity. But two can
play that game. What if the very standards
by which its inhabitants find their civilization still wanting are owed to civilization
itself? If freedom and equality are things
that only a specific set of events in the
modern history of the state has allowed
us to value, then Scott’s project to go back
before its origin to find earlier expressions
of them is a projection onto our ancestors,
not the discovery of an alternative world to
be won by turning our backs on modernity.
And it is surely no excuse to give up the task
of saving our civilizations and states in the
name of the modern values only they have
allowed propounding.
Yet Scott is so enamored with the versatility of our hunting-and-gathering an-
October 23, 2017
The Nation.
cestors—especially when compared with
the monotonies of grain cultivation—that
he never thinks to describe how they
interpreted the freedom and equality he
assigns to them. He never confronts the
possibility that only a new kind of state
could make new kinds of ideals possi-
ble, including his own. His fascinating
presentation of human self-domestication
is a highlight of Against the Grain. But
like Clastres—and, more indirectly,
Friedrich Nietzsche before him—Scott
is implicitly judging the state wanting by
criteria that are unthinkable without its
rise. He not only ignores the tremendous
defects of “uncivilized” life, but he also
fails to reflect on the absence in it of the
ideals of liberty and equality that alone
could justify his admiration. Scott is a
product of the modern state who does not
care to know it.
In Nicole Krauss’s new novel, the worlds of fact and fiction blur
abbalists explain creation as the deliberate retreat of God to make space
for the rest of us. “When it arose in
God’s will to create the world, He
first withdrew Himself and in the
void that was left, He created the world,”
explains Rabbi Menachem Klausner, the
persistent, shambling resident theologian
in Nicole Krauss’s protean new novel, ForSue Halpern is the author of the forthcoming novel
Summer Hours at the Robbers Library. She is a
scholar in residence at Middlebury College.
est Dark. “This is why,” Klausner continues,
“the rabbis tell us that a broken heart...has
a vacancy, and the vacancy has the potential
to be filled with the infinite.”
Brokenness and attempted repair animate Forest Dark. Krauss presents two
stories that run parallel to each other in
alternating chapters, never intersecting
or overtly acknowledging the other. That
the stories never ultimately merge is as
much a philosophical as a narrative choice:
Though we live among others and even
derive meaning from them, Krauss sugILLUSTRATION BY TIM ROBINSON
Forest Dark
By Nicole Krauss
HarperCollins. 304 pp. $27.99
gests, all constructions of the self are, in
the end, solitary.
Forest Dark’s first story concerns an
aging New York lawyer, Jules Epstein,
who is in the midst of an existential
reckoning. Written in the third person,
Epstein’s story serves as an anchor for the
febrile, fantastical second account, narrated by a writer named Nicole who, like
October 23, 2017
the Nicole who has written this book, is
a successful middle-aged novelist who has
been living in Brooklyn with her husband
and two children. Both Epstein and Nicole have left New York for Tel Aviv, he
ahead of her, and both have decamped to
the massive beachfront redoubt of the Tel
Aviv Hilton.
Epstein’s life “unspooled from [Tel
Aviv],” the city of his birth, and he has
been drawn back after the death of his
parents. Nicole, whose domestic life is unraveling and whose work life is faltering, is
there, ostensibly, in search of a story: She’s
heard that someone fell to his death from
a balcony at the hotel, a place where she’d
spent summers as a child. It’s an odd story
to chase, though the metaphor of the falling man makes a certain emotional sense.
It also leaves the reader wondering: Was it
Jules Epstein?
Epstein is a familiar type, a thickskinned, tough-talking, combative, selfmade, fabulously wealthy Jewish New
Yorker. Belief is anathema to him—he’s
a realist, with a realist’s fetish for the
tangible, which often comes down to the
things that he can buy. Which is why, when
Epstein leaves his firm, divorces his wife,
and starts divesting himself of all the things
by which success is measured, people think
he is ill, or depressed, or nuts. How else
to explain his sudden lack of interest in
money and the monuments to himself that
he has built with it—the museum-quality
art collection, the Bentley, the upscale
real estate—to remind himself and others
that he is important and real? And who
is he to those around him if not a man of
great means, a writer of checks in large denominations to philanthropies and family
members? It is poignant and instructive to
watch them want nothing more for Epstein
than for him to stay the same.
Epstein meets Klausner, the Kabbalist
rabbi, at a charity dinner in New York, and
then again—by chance?—on the plane to Israel. Epstein assumes he’s just one in a long
line of supplicants looking for a donation to
a pet project, and he is not wrong. Klausner
is organizing a reunion of the descendants
of King David, one of whom, according to
the rabbi, is Epstein himself. Epstein could
make him disappear by opening his checkbook, but, uncharacteristically, he does not.
Instead, he finds himself in a cramped car,
traveling to Safed in the northern Galilee
to celebrate the Sabbath with Klausner and
his followers in a house near one occupied
by Isaac Luria, one of the most influential
mystical thinkers of the 16th century. When
The Nation.
Epstein asks the rabbi why he named the
place Gilgul—“it sticks in the throat a little,
if you ask me”—Klausner tells him it’s because the name he really wanted, (“Livnot
U’Lehibanot—to build and be built”) was
already taken by the Hasidic meditation
retreat, funded by the Jewish Federation of
Palm Beach, down the street.
Krauss is having fun here, as she often
does with Epstein. Whatever else is changing in him, his sense of irony remains
intact. “What was it with religious Jews
and their plastic bags,” he muses, driving
through Safed. “Why did these people who
had been wandering for thousands of years
not invest in more reliable luggage?”
Gilgul, which means “cycle” or “wheel”
in Hebrew, has another meaning altogether
in Kabbalah: the transmigration of the soul
to a higher spiritual plane. Whether Epstein
is capable of such a journey, or even interested in one, is questionable: He’s come to
Israel to find a suitable memorial for his
parents, and he does, eventually, commissioning the creation of a massive forest.
Yet his parents, Sol and Edie, were
two people “who went perpendicular to
everything and parallel to nothing, who
couldn’t let be and had something to say
about everything,” and through whom Epstein learned “that he could be ruthless.” In
Israel, however, the fight has gone out of
him, and he’s surprised to find that without
it, there is little inside him. But absence,
vacancy—as Klausner, paraphrasing Luria,
has instructed him—is the precondition
for creation. Strip away artifice, and there
is the soul.
nd what of Forest Dark’s other main
character, who may or may not be
the real and famous Nicole Krauss,
the National Book Award nominee,
divorced now from the equally famous Jonathan Safran Foer, himself the
author, recently, of a novel about a failed
marriage? All characters, even real ones,
Krauss seems to be saying, are the products of self-invention. But she is playing with us too, relaying conversations
with actual (Googleable) people, providing
photographs of actual (Googleable) buildings, and including bits of her actual (also
Googleable) history. Yet this is hardly an
exercise in creative nonfiction. Though
facts are stitched into the fabric of the narrative, they exist to unsettle the reader, not
to ground the story. If anything, they give
it an otherworldly feeling, where it’s often
impossible to know if the events that seem
made up might actually be true, too.
Nicole has recently become obsessed
with the “multiverse,” the idea that there are
a multitude of worlds, an infinite number of
them, each with its own physical laws:
[I]n a multiverse, the concepts of
known and unknown are rendered useless, for everything is equally known
and unknown.… Since Descartes,
knowledge has been empowered to a
nearly unimaginable degree. But in
the end it didn’t lead to the mastery
and possession of nature he imagined,
only to the illusion of its mastery and
possession.… The more he talks about
following a straight line out of the forest, the more appealing it sounds to me
to get lost in that forest, where once
we lived in wonder, and understood
it to be a prerequisite for an authentic
awareness of being and the world.
Conventions—like marriage, like narrative structures, like the very idea of a
universe—bind. Multiverse cosmology
appeals to Nicole because it allows for
anything and everything, eliminating the
categories of rational and irrational and
nonrational and offering, instead, access
to dimensions of consciousness otherwise
denied. She’s experienced the multiverse
herself: once in her youth, and then—surprisingly, and with great clarity—as an
adult, coming through the door of her
house and knowing, with certainty, that she
“was in the house already. I was myself, I
felt utterly normal in my own skin, and yet
at the same time I also had the sudden sense
that I was no longer confined to my body.”
As readers of Forest Dark, we inhabit the
multiverse too: There is Nicole the writer,
and Nicole the narrator, and no border
between them.
Krauss’s disquisitions on metaphysics,
cosmology, and etymology, which can be
challenging to read, are central to Nicole’s
story. Here is a woman who has been married
for 10 years, who is the mother of two children, and whose life, bounded by those two
realities, no longer makes sense. She is having
trouble sleeping. She is having trouble writing. And writing itself has begun to feel like
a contrivance—safe, in its way, but forsaken.
“More and more,” Nicole observes,
it had felt to me that in the things
I wrote, the degree of artifice was
greater than the degree of truth,
that the cost of administering a form
to what was essentially formless was
akin to the cost of breaking the spirit of an animal that is too dangerous
The Nation.
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to otherwise live with.… The more
I wrote, the more suspect the good
sense and studied beauty achieved
by the mechanisms of narrative
seemed to me.
t should come as no surprise, then, that
Forest Dark doesn’t follow a standard
narrative path. Near the end, Krauss
asks: “At what moment does one fall out
of a marriage?” Her answer—“I think
I left mine by falling out of time…having
given up any attachment to sequence”—
describes the design of the novel itself.
Nicole’s story in particular is nonlinear
and disorienting, as facts are superimposed on fiction and as fiction challenges
credulity. Having traveled to the Tel Aviv
Hilton in search of a story that no one can
corroborate—a story that may or may
not have happened—she ends up in the
company of an elderly man named Eliezer
Friedman, who may or may not have
worked for the Mossad. Friedman is eager
to meet Nicole—like many in Israel, he
knows her work—and when he does, he
tells her a story that may or may not be
true: that Franz Kafka did not die in Vienna
of consumption at the age of 40, as everyone believes; nor was he buried in a grave
in Prague next to the father he despised.
Instead, says Friedman, those stories were
fictions that allowed the writer to emigrate
to Palestine under an assumed name, take
up residence first on a kibbutz and later
in a cottage on the edge of the desert,
and live out his days as an unassuming
and unrecognized gardener. Meanwhile,
October 23, 2017
Friedman adds, Kafka’s unpublished work
has been moldering away in an apartment
in Tel Aviv.
Friedman’s unlikely tale is tied to an indisputable fact: the protracted lawsuit between the State of Israel and Eva Hoffe over
Kafka’s papers. Hoffe had inherited them
from her mother, Esther Hoffe, who, as
Max Brod’s personal secretary, had inherited them from Brod, who, as Kafka’s close
friend, had been instructed to burn them,
unread, upon the writer’s death. Brod,
who emigrated to Palestine in 1939, failed
to abide by those instructions, instead
shepherding much, but not all, of Kafka’s
work into print. Esther Hoffe, likewise,
may or may not have abided by Brod’s instructions, selling the original manuscript
of The Trial for about $2 million and then
leaving the rest of the papers to Eva and
her sister. It was around then that the
Israeli government intervened, arguing
that Kafka’s papers were national treasures
that deserved to reside in the national archives—and not in the suboptimal conditions of Eva’s small Tel Aviv apartment. (In
an interview with Haaretz earlier this year,
she did call it “a kennel.”)
To add further veracity to Friedman’s
story, Krauss has included a grainy photo
of Hoffe’s Spinoza Street apartment building. The windows are gated and wrapped
in wire mesh, “the sort used to cage small
animals.” And, she goes on, “the bay of
windows, meant to allow for a kind of open
sunroom, was grotesquely imprisoned by
the rusted bars and filthy cage, patched or
reinforced at the corners by the energetic
attentiveness borne of paranoia.” Friedman has driven over there and left Nicole
in the car while he goes inside. When he
comes out, he’s got a beat-up suitcase that
may or may not contain Kafka’s papers, as
well as a proposal for Nicole: to complete
one of Kafka’s unfinished manuscripts, a
play that Friedman would like to turn into
a film.
It’s an audacious request on top of a
crazy—but plausible?—revisionist history,
and she does not reject it out of hand. Instead, her fevered, dissociative response—
which takes place over days, deep in the
Judaean Desert and possibly in Kafka’s
abandoned cottage—effects a metamorphosis of consciousness rather than form.
Nicole (the character) doesn’t turn into a
large insect, but she does emerge as Nicole
(the writer) not only with a story to tell, but
with a way to subvert the telling—and so to
create this work of imagination and revelaQ
tion and reparation.
October 23, 2017
The Nation.
A New York demonstration against World War I in 1915.
The ardent but flawed movement against World War I
n words oft quoted and all too true,
George Kennan called the outbreak of
war in August 1914 “the great seminal
catastrophe” of the last century. It led to
the deaths in battle of more than 10 million men, the collapse of four great multinational empires, the Bolshevik Revolution in
Russia, years of further violence, a crisis of
democratic government, the rise of fascism,
Hitler’s assumption of power in Germany,
and then a new and more terrible war with
Geoffrey Wheatcroft is an English journalist and
author. His books include The Controversy of
Zion, The Strange Death of Tory England,
and Yo, Blair! He is finishing a study of Churchill’s
life and afterlife.
scores of millions dead. You might say that
Gavrilo Princip, who fired the first shot on
June 28, 1914, had much to answer for.
Over the weeks that followed the assassination at Sarajevo, one great European
power after another was dragged in: the
Central Powers of Germany and AustriaHungary ranged against the Entente of
France, Great Britain, and Russia. But one
great power stood aside—if such a power it
was. No American troops had ever fought
in Europe, and the US Army, while adequate for the purposes of extirpating the
indigenous inhabitants and beating up the
Mexicans, barely existed beside the larger
European armies. All the same, in the halfcentury between Civil War and Great War,
War Against War
The American Fight for Peace 1914–1918
By Michael Kazin
Simon & Schuster. 400 pp. $28
the population of the United States had
more than doubled, from 38 million to 92
million—more numerous than any European state save Russia—while an explosive
industrial revolution saw coal production
double in the two decades before 1914
and the production of crude steel increase
sevenfold. These were the raw materials of
modern war. Whether the American people
liked it or not, their country looked like a
great military power waiting to be born.
Many did not like it. Apart from a deep
traditional aversion to war, and the unforgotten sufferings of the Civil War, half of
the country’s industrial workers were European immigrants or the children of those
immigrants. As President Woodrow Wilson
said, “the people of the United States are
drawn from many nations, and chiefly from
the nations now at war.” When the First
World War began, well-informed observers
reckoned that more Americans, if forced to
choose, would rather fight against than for
that Entente. German Americans were then
nearly a tenth of the population and had no
desire to fight against their ancestral homeland; millions of Irish Americans didn’t
want to fight for England; and nor did many
Russian-born Jews want to fight on the side
of the czar, whose persecution they had fled.
For the better part of three years, Wilson “kept us out of the war,” as the slogan
for his 1916 reelection campaign claimed.
But in early 1917, he decided that entering
the conflict was inevitable, and Congress
declared war. The vote was not unanimous—373 to 50 in the House, and 82 to six
in the Senate—and it came after a bitter debate that stretched over a whole weekend, with the Senate sitting all
through Saturday, and ended
only with those changes in
the upper house’s procedural rules that recently made possible
the confirmation of
Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee.
Yes, history does come
around in unlikely ways.
As The Times of London
had it the next day: “The size
of the pacifist vote and the length
of the debate were due to the unexpected
revolt of Mr Kitchen [sic], the Democratic
floor leader—a provincially minded Southern politician, who before now has plagued
the President by his obstinate stupidity.
His followers consisted of ignoramuses like
himself, Socialists, extreme Radicals, and a
few normally innocuous people apparently
intimidated by pacifist demonstrations.”
For the British, desperate to see American troops on the Western Front, House
majority leader Claude Kitchin and his followers, along with those socialists and radicals, appeared narrow-minded and selfish.
For Michael Kazin, they are the heroes
of the story he passionately relates in his
new book, War Against War: The American
Fight for Peace, 1914–1918. At the outset,
Kazin says that he believes the United States
The Nation.
should not have taken part in the war,
and his account of the failed but ardent
movement that tried to prevent the country
from joining it is impressive and moving,
although it also presents difficulties: Kazin
can more easily admire radical and feminist
opponents than someone like Kitchin, a
North Carolina Democrat and intransigent
segregationist. Likewise, his account of what
went wrong at the end of the war also poses
problems: What was meant to be “the war
to end wars” was followed, in Central and
Eastern Europe and beyond, by five years of
bloodletting that was more widespread and
more horrible than the Western Front had
known—and with still darker consequences.
oth sides of the debate over whether
or not to enter the war included highly disparate elements. In the war party
were liberals like John Dewey and the
writers at The New Republic, Wilson’s
favorite publication, who persuaded themselves, and then Wilson, that by entering
the war, the United States could help make
a better world. But it also included Theodore Roosevelt—the unlikeliest winner
of the Nobel Peace Prize there
has ever been if it weren’t
for Henry Kissinger—who
rather horribly saw battle
as a form of therapy:
“By war alone can we
acquire those virile
qualities necessary to
win in the stern strife
of actual life.”
On the other side,
the war was opposed by
the radical and progressive
left, as well as a very diverse
group of politicians. Robert La
Follette, the famous progressive senator
from Wisconsin, found himself in strange
alliance with men like Kitchin, who had
once organized “White Supremacy Clubs.”
Along with them were the socialist Morris
Hillquit, the social activist Jane Addams,
and a powerful women’s movement for
peace that organized marches in New York.
The suffragist Helen Frances Garrison Villard and the formidable radical Crystal
Eastman joined the campaign against war;
sheet music for the song “I Didn’t Raise
My Boy to Be a Soldier” sold 700,000 copies; and the “War Against War” agitprop
exhibition in Brooklyn in the spring of
1916 attracted 5,000 to 10,000 visitors a
day. Peaceniks traveled to conferences in
neutral European countries that attracted
like-minded people from the warring na-
October 23, 2017
tions; they organized across the country,
and, even after America entered the war,
Hillquit managed to win more than a fifth of
the vote in the New York mayoral election
in 1917 on an antiwar platform.
Through 1915 and 1916, the crux of the
debate wasn’t the war itself but preparations for it. The National Security League
was founded in 1914, supported by industrialists and financiers like Cornelius
Vanderbilt, Bernard Baruch, and Henry
Clay Frick; it agitated for a much larger
Army and for a draft. This would remain
a source of bitter contention even after the
country went to war and a draft was put in
place. On the other side, La Follette introduced a Senate resolution in February 1915
proposing a conference to secure “the early
cessation of hostilities,” and his wife, Belle
La Follette, helped found the Women’s
Peace Party, which enjoyed a large following and collaborated with the International
Congress of Women. But just as the peace
party had feared, calls for increased “security” steadily paved the way for entering
the war. Even as 1917 began, and Wilson
continued to meet with Belle La Follette’s
WPP activists, it was clear that the country
was now headed into the conflict.
Why the war began in 1914, and whose
responsibility it was, are questions that
have been fiercely—and inconclusively—
debated in Europe for the past hundred
years. So has the question of why the United
States did, at last, enter the war—or why the
peace movement failed. Then and since,
some have discerned a dark plot involving
Anglophiles like Edward House, Wilson’s
political adviser and traveling representative, conspiring to take the country to war.
On the whole, simpler explanations are
to be preferred. For one thing, American
sentiment was undeniably and radically
changed by German brutality. As a German professor ruefully acknowledged at
the time, “the three names Louvain [in
Belgium, where a great library had been
burned down by German soldiers], Rheims
[where the medieval cathedral had been
shelled], Lusitania [the ocean liner torpedoed by a U-boat in 1915], in almost equal
measure have wiped out sympathy with
Germany in America.”
More than that, Wilson could plausibly
claim in the spring of 1917 that his hand was
forced by unrestricted submarine warfare in
the North Atlantic and the grotesque “Zimmermann telegram” that Germany had sent
Mexico promising the restoration of Texas,
New Mexico, and Arizona in return for attacking its northern neighbor. Of course, it
October 23, 2017
was the wont of Wilson and many others
to persuade themselves that they supported
war for the noblest motives, even if the dissenters rightly saw through that. And the
dissenters warned also, as Missouri Senator
William Stone said, that if the country went
to war, “we would never again have the same
old Republic.”
His fears proved horribly prescient.
Amid an ugly mood of coarse jingoism,
nativism, and racism, Wilson used the war
to create America’s first national-security
state, including passage of the Espionage
and Sedition acts and an unsurpassed assault
on civil liberties. During the last year of the
war and the years immediately following,
there were bloody race riots, the Red Scare
and the Palmer raids, the recrudescence of
the Ku Klux Klan, and the flagrantly racist
immigration acts passed by Congress as
postwar America withdrew into its shell.
The extraordinary Randolph Bourne forewarned much of this but died in 1918, before
he could see the frightening accuracy of his
prediction: “War is the health of the state,”
Bourne had lamented. “It automatically sets
in motion throughout society those irresistible forces for uniformity, for passionate cooperation with the government in coercing
into obedience the minority groups and individuals which lack the larger herd sense.”
s he makes clear, Kazin isn’t writing
as an unconditional pacifist, nor does
he think that all wars are wrong.
Instead, his argument contrasts the
“bad war” the United States entered
in 1917 with the “good war” it entered in
1941. But this is too simple a view of both
wars, in moral and political terms. The late
John Grigg, a man who saw action in the
second war, once made the plausible case
that the First World War was the “nobler
war”: At least those killed in it were almost
all soldiers in uniform, whereas most of
those killed during the Second World War
were civilians. What’s more, many of the
criticisms leveled against the First World
War, notably Bourne’s warning of an allpowerful and dehumanizing state, could
also be made of the second. And, indeed,
they were: A few critics, like Dwight Macdonald, opposed that war not only in principle but because of the way it was being
waged, notably the killing of hundreds of
thousands of civilians by bombing.
Nor is it easy to see how, in contrast
to the First World War, the second was
what Kazin calls “an unavoidable conflict
in which Americans were arguably fighting
for national survival.” To the contrary, it
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wasn’t only avoidable but avoided, at least
until December 1941, at which point Hitler
controlled most of Europe, the Wehrmacht
was at the gates of Moscow, the Germans
had already murdered a million Jews in
the East—and the American embassy in
Berlin remained open. Even after Pearl
Harbor, it was not certain that Franklin
Roosevelt would commit the country to war with Germany, until
Hitler solved that dilemma by declaring war on
the United States—not
the other way round.
Again, Kazin wants
to distinguish his heroes in 1916 from the
America First group in
1940. But just as the
opponents of the Great
War ranged from radicals
to racists, so those who opposed American entry into the
next war ranged from sympathizers
with the Third Reich like Charles Lindbergh to Macdonald and other Trotskyists.
Kazin also offers a debatable reading
of why the combatant nations failed to
achieve a lasting peace at the conflict’s end.
He argues that “the United States won the
Great War but lost the peace,” because
Wilson was forced “to agree to a punitive
settlement” that sowed the seeds of resentment that led to the Second World War.
But an alternate case can be made, and
indeed has been by some historians, that
Wilson’s real error was not how he made
war, but how he made peace. First, he portentously announced his Fourteen Points
(the Good Lord only had Ten Commandments, observed a cynical Clémenceau)
and demanded that “the relations of the
several Balkan states to one another [be]
determined by friendly counsel along historically established lines of allegiance and
nationality.” Just how difficult those pompous and ignorant words were to put into
practice was soon shown, and their legacy
besets us still. From today’s vantage point,
Lord Robert Cecil, the English statesman
and proponent of the League of Nations,
seems wiser when he said, “Whether a new
Europe with two or three additional Slav
states will be more peaceful than the old
seems to me, I confess, very doubtful.”
But then, having decided to enter the
war, Wilson should have followed that logic
by fighting it to its conclusion. Allowing
the Germans to believe that they had not
been defeated, as they had, opened the way
for nationalist demagogues who claimed
that the army had been stabbed in the back
by the “November criminals,” the politicians in Berlin, and the Jews.
Even then, the United States was the
one power that might have prevented another and more terrible war. Adam Tooze
showed in The Deluge that the European
leaders were desperate for American help
after the war ended: “A joint solution...was clearly necessary to
escape the impasse of the
age of imperialist rivalry,”
Tooze writes, and the
miseries that ensued
for Europe stemmed
from “the failure of the
United States to cooperate with the efforts
of the French, British,
Germans and the Japanese to stabilize a viable
world economy and to establish new institutions of collective security.”
Those miseries began early: The violence that tore Europe apart in the Second
World War started almost as soon as the
first one had ended. As Robert Gerwarth
relates in his new history, The Vanquished,
civil war and ethnic violence had already
engulfed much of Europe and beyond by
the early 1920s. Reds and Whites fought
each other savagely in Russia, Finland,
and Hungary, and the rise of a new
national Turkish state from the ashes of the
Ottoman Empire was marked by extreme
violence against the Greek community of
Asia Minor, culminating in a hideous orgy
of rape and massacre at Smyrna in 1922.
Not content with murdering Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, the Freikorps
roamed through the Baltic states slaughtering with unimaginable brutality. As one
of the Freikorps members observed, “We
laughed when they told us that the war was
over, because we were the war.”
There may be lessons in all this, although perhaps not the ones that Kazin
thinks. Arthur Koestler used to say that you
can’t help people being right for the wrong
reason, and it’s also possible to be wrong
for the right reason. One may share Kazin’s
admiration for the noble spirit of these warriors for peace while reluctantly disagreeing with them. War is hell, and whether
there is such a thing as a good or just war
is debatable, but some are necessary. And
yet they too leave disaster in their wake. As
Winston Churchill said all too truly of this
war to end all wars: “Both sides, victors and
vanquished, were ruined.”
October 23, 2017
The Nation.
Puzzle No. 3444
1 Comic Louis wearing extremely meager support for the
spine (8)
5 Much obliged, Eliot hugs Williams (6)
9 In Miami, one Scottish playwright (7)
10 Skillful catcher and pitcher rejected rule involving baseball
windup (7)
26 Winter conveyance made of pine surrounding large piece
of ebony (6)
27 Harsh Russian region to the east of good German
territory’s western border? (8)
1 Newlywed’s second-rate car (5)
2 Gave Celsius over Fahrenheit, and got it wrong (9)
3 Darned creep’s bet won, overlooking the odds (6)
4 For the most part, display colored vessel full of hydrogen?
That’s just a guess (4,2,3,4)
6 Goth busted in stylish, small sneakers (4-4)
7 New York and half of London fused synthetic material (5)
8 Extra fee: sudden increase to limit burn (9)
10 Simply enter uninvited, with gold for a politician (6,7)
13 Unfortunately, Ruth declaims around 500 times in a
week (9)
15 Inaccurately named creature—a kind of dog with
protruding appendage—is below deck (5,4)
16 Searching for fish: a serving of tuna-and-cod sashimi? (8)
19 Say no to a thing (6)
21 Scandinavian bouquet contains roses, originally (5)
23 Sneak taking off with artist’s equipment (5)
11 Herb, in the mountains, wields each bit at least once (9)
12 Like J. & H., going after shelter (5)
13 Famous Amos doughnuts (4)
ACROSS 1 pun 9 “a tax” 10 TUN(IS + I)A
14 Saint Jack, notably, getting approval for a revealing
pastime? (5,5)
13 D + ONE 14 “weight and sea”
17 Foolishly unearth den below (10)
18 E’s destiny (4)
11 DIS + APP EAR 12 MAN + I + C
18 PAL + IND + ROME 19 2 defs.
21 TI(LD)E 23 L + EVIA(THA)N (naïve
rev., hat anag.) 26 anag. 27 GORE + TEX
28 letter bank
DOWN 1 A(WAR)D 2 ARTIS (anag.)
20 Power of misbehavior—that’s gross (5)
+ ANAL 3 E + ’S + CAPE 4 alternate letters
22 Prefigure a silent cost (9)
7 RO + SIN 8 anag. 13 DIP + H + THONG
24 Indisposed while traveling, risk CIA disruption (7)
25 Speaker’s blnd? (7)
5 LIT + ERA + TIM[e] 6 OR + NAME + NT
15 A + P + RIL(FOO[d])L 16 anag. 17 anag.
20 FAB + [b]RIC[k] 22 L + ENIN (rev.)
24 VI[r]GIL 25 NIX + ON (rev.)
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