Destroyer I: He Calls It a Coup and It Sort of Was, Composing, 24/05/2016

When I write Utopias, it’s not going to be an ordinary book of philosophy, in the academic style. There’ll be philosophical interpretation and thinking, of course, and it will draw explicitly on many different texts in and out of the tradition. 

But there’ll be more going on in the book than the straight-ahead arguments of a work of philosophy. Metaphors, imagery, and personal reflections on how the world has unfolded over the last two decades will be a major part of the book’s argument too. 

At this point, I think I can safely say that, on the scale of
our whole society, he's become more metaphor than man.
It’ll be a way of understanding the world – what the legacy works of philosophy themselves are. Philosophy hits its highest intensity and its greatest value for current and future readers and writers in the tradition when a work has that level of ambition. When it’s just as much art as argument.

One of the most important of those metaphors will unfold from exploring the meanings in the years of the Bush Administration in its destruction of Iraq, the wrecking of new liberal economics, and embracing the destruction of New Orleans. 

Those events didn’t cause the political situations that have flowed from them in a direct sense – the rise of ISIS, the Trump movement, the Occupy and Sanders movement, the foundation of outrage in the cry that Black Lives Matter.

But the Bush years formed a nexus of endings and beginnings. Any attempt at a comprehensive account of the political and social currents of the West in the 21st century has to reckon with their meaning. 

Utopias will do that. Through these exploratory posts on the blog, it’s doing that pretty regularly. Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt did that in Commonwealth, though to a lesser extent. Negri and I have rather different goals in writing, after all. But the meaning of those years is important to us both.

I love how he calls the Bush years a coup. It’s a simple choice of word that clearly and directly communicates what a radical act of violence the American government unleashed on the world at the direction of Dick Cheney and George W Bush and all the rest of their administrators and advisors.

A clip from Threads, the BBC film that depicted nuclear
war and winter realistically, and will scar you for life.
The United Nations was a major part of why we never
actually experienced any of this hell.
But what was it a coup against? Not the United States government, as Bush was elected (and re-elected) fairly according to the ridiculous yet legitimate rules of their institutions. It was a coup against multilateralism, against the legitimacy of the United Nations. 

This is a long, sad journey, so I’ll spell it out over several posts this week. 

The dream of the United Nations was to overcome the the basic human tendency to want to kill each other. The UN emerged from the Second World War into an era when nuclear standoff dominated global politics. Ensuring world peace between superpowers was important not only to avoid general slaughter like the wars in Europe, China, and the Pacific. It was necessary to ensure the survival of humanity.

Genuine progress toward global peace and a more equitable human society occurred thanks to the United Nations. Generally, the UN provided a high profile diplomatic forum for conflict settlement between states, and later to pressure member countries about internal civil conflicts. 

It provides humane services for refugees around the world, and peacekeeping forces in terribly dangerous wars. It brought an end to the formal imperialist era, providing an institutional framework to negotiate national independence of more than a billion people throughout Africa and Asia from colonial oppression in European empires. 

It’s easy to focus on the failures of the United Nations from the Second World War to the Iraq Occupation, and it’s certainly easy to focus on its structural flaws. 

Any organization whose procedures allow a horrifying violator of human rights domestically and in foreign wars like Saudi Arabia on an official human rights committee has some issues they need to work through. And the Security Council needlessly entrenched the contingent arrangement of the Second World War’s victors' being leaders of a global peace organization.

I recently bought a biography of Sergio Vieira de Mello,
the career UN diplomat who led the official United
Nations mission in Baghdad after the US occupation in
2003. He only led it for a few weeks before being
blown to bits by a truck bomb along with the UN
building and more than 80 other staff. De Mello
may will become another key metaphor in Utopias.
But the UN was still a massive improvement over the violent chaos of the 50 years before its creation and the brutal global imperialism of the 100 years before that.

Then came 2003 and the United Nations was destroyed. It was one last effort to establish a unilateral, militaristic world order directed by a single world power. The goal of Bush, Cheney, and the politicians and intellectuals in their administration’s ranks, was literally making the 21st century America’s.

Multilateralism could never allow the true growth of democracy and freedom around the world, said the thinkers of Project for a New American Century. It allowed too much compromise with people Bush would simply have called “evil.” Only a massive military led by the world’s oldest and most powerful democracy could fight evil around the world.

That army of justice would land its first victory in Iraq, invading in 2003 to be greeted as liberators. The people would be set free from dictators to embrace electoral democracy. The economy would be set free from state control and immediately welcomed into the international system of free trade.

I think we all know now that they didn’t really think this through. . . . To be continued

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