Blogs > HNN > When No Means Yes

Jun 11, 2005 5:54 am


When No Means Yes



Mr. LeVine is professor of modern Middle Eastern history, culture, and Islamic studies at the University of California, Irvine, and author of the forthcoming books: Why They Don't Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil; and Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv and the Struggle for Palestine, 1880-1948. He is also a contributor, with Viggo Mortensen and Pilar Perez, to Twilight of Empire: Responses to Occupation. Click here to access his homepage.

"I love Europe and I'm voting no."

Perhaps no slogan better summed up the sentiments of the young Parisians I met on the day of the historic vote against the EU Constitution than this simple argument, plastered on kiosks and walls across Paris next to innumerable debate announcements and choice quotations from the two hundred plus page Draft.

While Americans redebate evolution, Europeans are hashing out one of the most important political documents of the twenty-first century. Public postering is illegal in most American cities (unless it's for profit); in Paris the "Oui" and "Non" flyers covering almost every available bit of wall signaled how seriously people took their obligation to decide their collective future.

Yet as I watched the results unfold a few blocks from the Bastille on May 29, it was increasingly clear that for all the debate's intensity, most mainstream commentators couldn't understand how people could rationally vote no. Pundits accused "fantastical France" of favoring a "Soviet economy" to the neoliberal alternative offered by the Constitution, of wanting to "turn back the clock," of "turning against the modern world."

And then there were the American commentators, who argued in even nastier fashion that the vote demonstrated a "reflexive loathing of the United States as the source of all evil," and of "ceaselessly indulg[ing] in infantile anti-market rhetoric."

Clearly, to the Constitution's supporters there could be no rational reason for a rewrite. But having just finished my third book this year, I don't know what the fuss is about. The EU constitution is still a "draft;" apparently, like the draft of each of my books, it's going to need quite a bit of editing before it's ready to be "published." From this perspective, French and Dutch voters—the Constitution's rightful editors—are just doing their job: letting the authors know that it's too long, too complicated and strays too far from the highest ideals of Europe to be acceptable in its current form.

As young first-time voters in the middle-class, artsy 11th arrondissement neighborhood where I was staying proudly announced their (technically secret) vote before dropping it into the carton, they little resembled the combination of far Right and Left immigrant-fearing luddites with no understanding of the complexities of the globalized world portrayed by "Oui" supporters. Rather they were concerned, quite simply, that a yes vote would bring about the gutting of France's vaunted social safety net—one of the singular achievements of post-War Europe—at precisely the moment that global integration threatens to make their economic lives more precarious than ever before.

Most French understand that the country's standard of living and wealth have increased steadily as it has integrated into the world economy in the last two decades. But so has unemployment and inercommunal hostility. And the millions who participated in heated debates on the Constitution seem much more aware than the average American about how, along with unprecedented wealth, two decades of neoliberalism has brought unprecedented inequality, increasing poverty, a hyper-consumerist culture that runs roughshod over well-tested social practices, and a class system that is more rigid than any time in recent memory.

Yet despite its problems, France (like the Netherlands) has managed to increase its level of human development more than the United States, while its GDP has remained higher than the European average. And both of these feats were achieved without rending the social compact that once operated in the US and still, however fragile, defines the French and Dutch societies. Picking up on the slogan of the "alter-globalization" movement, what many French voters were saying is that "another Europe is possible" than the overly-bureaucratized, liberalized and walmartized version drafted by the Constitution's authors.

In this vision they are joined by the thousands of heavy metal and hiphop fans at the "Festival of Young Musicians" I attended in Casablanca days after the vote. It may be hard for Americans to picture Muslims playing heavy metal or punk; but as one leading artist explained to me, "We play heavy metal because our lives are heavy metal."

Not surprisingly, as the festival proceeded a friend with strong ties to the country's main religious movement lamented the latest violent Government crackdown against protesters in the Western Sahara, which will further pack the country's lethally overcrowded jails with political prisoners. But in this key American ally in the war on terror, a 2003 Terrorism Law effectively prohibits newspapers or activists from disagreeing with any Government policy.

Unable to poster or publicly debate their country's future and the impact of the Government's (largely ineffectual) liberalization programs on ordinary citizens, young and increasingly cosmopolitan--and out of work--Moroccans look toward Europe, Islam, heavy metal or some combination of the three to imagine another world, one that lives up to the ideals French and Dutch voters so vociferously debated. To stop them the government blends old-fashioned repression with attempts to coopt, or at least distract, Morocco's exploding youth culture by sponsoring home-grown versions of "American Idol" and even Christian Heavy Metal festivals organized by American evangelicals tied to the Bush Administration.

As I checked into my Paris-Casablanca flight a couple of businessmen lamented the defeat of corporate power represented by the no vote as they sped through first class check-in on their way to the Air France "Petroleum Club" lounge. They are probably right to do so; for in its wake activists across Europe and the its neighboring regions will continue forging their own interconnections as they work to resist political and economic systems in which they have little stake and imagine ones in which they do. In that sense, if the newspaper Liberation argued that "the no is neither right nor left, it is very fragile," the "other world" that is inspiring young activists on both sides of the Mediterranean is a strong foundation for the democratic and just future Europe's leaders were once unafraid to dream of.




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omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Which Omar do you have in mind?


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007


If "no means yes" does "ahem" mean a question so "fundamenta"l and obvious that it requires an answer even before it is posed ?


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007


Valid and useful insights, Mr. Spence. A rarity on this website. I suspect that if you were to relocate permanently back to the U.S. you would discover that the "conservative movement" that you "grew up with" has been appropriated by hypocrites who care not a hoot about its principles except insofar as they can be mouthed in service of quite inimical goals.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Several of the crankier and more reflexive posters here are either unaware or unwilling to admit that Europe is several dozen independent sovereign countries containing an even larger diversity of languages and cultural quirks. In this respect, the differences with America are significant and historically determined, which is perhaps why visitors to a website that only pretends to be about history sometimes have difficulty grasping them.

Of course there are many European-wide institutions and one of the most important is the Euro currency. One way to gauge how the market values the Euro is to look at The Economist's "Big Mac Index" (in the latest issue). On this basis, the Euro was 17% more highly valued than the dollar (last week). People whose method of relating to the world relies heavily on applying kneejerk labels might come up with a variety of categorizations for this periodical, but one would be hard-pressed to find any such designation further remote from reality than "Marxist".


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

I am assuredly not a Marxist. If LeVine were, and were thereby typical of HNN, I would have nothing against a campaign of exposure and ridicule such as appears here for the umpteenth time in comments posted to this website with great heat and little light.

I think I can safely assert, however, that a real Marxist would not acknowledge the USSR for example as a truly Marxist state but as a perversion thereof. Much the same as a die-hard free-marketeer would point out that Enron's outrages were built much more on state graft and private criminal abuse than on any general deficiencies of capitalism.
If you read the Communist Manifesto you'll see that it calls for such economically crippling measures as an 8 hour day and a progressive income tax. The United States has not collapsed into state-dominated tyranny just yet, despite having such laws on the books for nearly a century.

The point I was making earlier in this thread, utterly lost in the last few postings (surprise suprise), is that Marxism has about as much to do with what is going on in EU today as do Michael Jackson's sleeping patterns.
If LeVine were a devotee of the gutter trash noise mislabelled "hip hop music" (to take a random and purely hypothetical example of a minor character imperfection), I would not try to attack his views on the mood of French voters based on his at some quite separate point also blasting his ears out with cuss-words.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

There was a good piece on the "Non" to the European constitutional amendments by Vanke at http://hnn.us/articles/12298.html
on last week's HNN (once in a while sober and insightful articles slip through the filters and appear here). In essence his point was: much ado about nothing. Now we have returned here to the usual HNN nonsense-fest. Contrary to the typical warped distortion and paranoia-mongering by some of the usual cast of HNN characters, the recent votes in Europe had next to nothing to do with Marx, terrorism, or "alterglobalization". Of course there are and probably always will be lively lunatic fringe elements in Europe, as in America and elsewhere, but fundamentally most people have had enough BS from their political leaders. Once in a while (e.g. USA ,2004) they swallow it wholesale, but more typically (as in France and Netherlands last month) it is flung back in the faces of the crooked and corrupt politicians.


Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 6/26/2005

i would just like to thank everyone who commented on this piece. it was very helpful and even fun to read all the insightful critiques.
mark


N. Friedman - 6/21/2005

Bill,

We still study Aristotle. We still study Plato. We still study Newton. Most of what these thinkers thought has been shown to be faulty.

I have no interest in studying Chomsky as he is, in my view, a light weight - other than in his actual field of study. I cannot say that about Marx. His theories have proved fruitful in the same way that other writers, like Aristotle, have erroneous theories which have proven fruitful.

Again: I am not an advocate of anything Marxist or of his theories. I merely note that his theories are important and some of his theories have some value, even today. But, over all, I agree with you that his theory has led to much horror in the world. So do not confuse me with some other people.




Bill Heuisler - 6/21/2005

Mr. Friedman,
Using your logic, we should devote whole careers, divisions of disciplines and reams of long socio-ecomomic references to the engineering of Titanics, the salubrious placement of cities under volcanoes and the benefits of Smoot-Hawley Tariffs.

The self aggrandizing and proselytizing of the Hobsbawms, Moskowitzes, Chomskys and Foners leads me to wonder at their delusion and - mirror image - the delusions of those who take them seriously. I'd be far less skeptical if as much ink and passion was spent on the real thinkers who built the modern Western success story: John Knox, Adam Smith, Allan Ramsay, Lord Kames, David Hume, William Robertson, John Witherspoon and John Home. These leaders of the Scottish Enlightenment established the basis for our modern Democracy and the engine of its freedom, Capitalism. Since these eighteenth century principles have been such a success you would think scholars would parade the theories and proudly teach the names and words.

But no. It's so chic to be Left - so cool to portray failure as success and masquerade as a thinker. Again, we raise them up by our attention. What does that make us?
Bill Heuisler


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 6/21/2005

Mr. Friedman,
Very well said!

I would also add Marx's "dialectical materialism" and the class struggle as things that provide great value for understanding many social, political, and economic problems.


N. Friedman - 6/20/2005

Bill,

I think a few posters would call me an "it."

I note that I graduated from Vassar more than 25 years ago. You should not, however, assume as a result that I am a female. However, if you read some of my posts, I have occassionally and on request removed the veil or, alternatively - so as not to give any clues - pulled down my pants. So I am honoring your wish for mystery.

Regarding your question - assuming I understand what you are asking -, I do not think that learning always needs to be morally edifying. So, it certainly makes sense to teach about communism, just like we teach about fascism and Nazism.

So far as Marxist analysis is concerned, I would start with Marx himself and ignore much of what his followers think.

His analysis of history is not entirely wrong so that parts of it could be employed in an analysis without automatically leading to nonsense. In particular, his view regarding technology being an engine around which societal ideas exist and evolve is not implausible. His theory that there is something predictable to understanding history as involving clashes between those in power and those who work is also not entirely implausible unless taken to the exclusion of other causal agents.

His view that workers, particularly in his time, ought unite to demand a better deal is not monstrous.

Where his theory becomes monstrous, in my view, is where he becomes utopian, believing that the state will wither away and where he shows great contempt for those who do not share his enthusiam or those who are drunk on religion.

On the other hand, I note that his main predictions are mostly all wrong. He was wrong that liberal society could not come to protect average people fairly well. He was wrong that liberal society could not survive a severe economic crisis. He was wrong in thinking that the "people" sided with communism when faced with a severe economic collapse. He was wrong about Germany. He was wrong about the US. Etc., etc.

I note that I think that there are far better models for historians, if they need to look to a pre-set model to analyze a historical problem.

On the other hand, to paraphrase Nietzsche, the mistakes of great thinkers are more important than the truths of plodders. And, Marx certainly qualifies as one of the great thinkers of the 19th Century, even though he was misguided.



Bill Heuisler - 6/20/2005

Mr. Friedman,
Someone recently referred to you as she, or her, don't remember which, but I'm currently reading Cecilia Holland's "The Angel and the Sword" about the Frankish legend of Roderick the Beardless, (Forge 2000) and can't help wondering. Don't tell me! I'm enjoying the mystery.

First, I never thought you were a Marxist. We agree on so many things - Israel in particular - and we disagree on others so amicably that I enjoy bouncing questions off your well-developed frame of mind.

That established, please respond to my last post if you can make the time.

"...explain what lessons of utility and/or importance a Marxist teacher can empart to students by virtue of their aberrant devotion to a historic fiasco....responsible for the destruction of whole societies and the imprisonment and deaths of millions upon millions of innocents.

Such cost. Not one instance of virtue or success stems from Marxism or its vehicle Communism. Why teach it? Why even refer to it? But particularly, why use such warped alienated and morally bankrupt arguments, words and references in an argument on a history site?

Thanks and stay enigmatic.
Bill


N. Friedman - 6/20/2005

Bill,

One. I am not a Marxist. Two. I certainly do not intentionally hawk for Marxists or univerity professors of any stripe. Three, I cannot stomach Marx particular after I read his comments regarding Jews and blacks - about whom he clearly, despite what some apologists claim, harbored rather nasty prejudices, even by the standards of the 19th Century -.

I think you are correct that the USSR, Cambodia, China, etc., look to Marx for spiritual guidance. I think I said that in an earlier post to the current article.

On the other hand, I think that the regimes founded in the name of Marx owe more to Sparta and Plato than they do to Marx, whatever the various Marxist regimes' intentions. Which policies of Marx do you think the USSR or the other people's republics followed?

I further note: an objection to communism is broader than an objection to Marxism since, in fact, Marxism is a species of communist theory.






Bill Heuisler - 6/20/2005

Mr. Friedman,
Sparta and Plato have as much to do with modern Marxism and Communism as the Nibelungen legends had to do with Hitler's Mein Kampf and its attendant Nazism.

Your bringing this argument up bothers me. Why bother?
You decend to trivia in search of what? Notice my second sentence includes the word "modern" before Marxism and Communism. The word codified refers to the arrangement of the various teachings of Hegel and Engels into coherent doctrines of surplus value, class conflict and the exploitation of the working class. Marx wrote he believed the role of Communism was to ease the birth-pangs of the historic evolution into a Marxist classless society.

You are far too intelligent and learned to miss the point that Communism in China, Cuba, Vietnam and elsewhere has Marx as spiritual and organizational guide. Mao, Raul and Ho all professed Marxism and proclaim Communism. Did they know something academic Marxists missed? Or do academic Marxists merely search for a lucrative affectation? The important, MODERN (sorry - blood pressure) difference is that Marx promoted an expansive and international spread of his doctrine - by force, if necessary. Recall his words, "Philosophers have previously tried to explain the world, our task is to change it."

Before giving aid and comfort to trendy apologists for Marxism in Academe, please explain how Plato's Republic or Lycurgus'dual Dorian kings had designs to overthrow the existing order of the rest of the world. And while you're at it, explain what lessons of utility and/or importance a Marxist teacher can empart to students by virtue of their aberrant devotion to a historic fiasco.
Let's not forget that that very fiasco is responsible for the destruction of whole societies and the imprisonment and deaths of millions upon millions of innocents.

Such cost. Not one instance of virtue or success stems from Marxism or its vehicle Communism. Why teach it? Why even refer to it? But particularly, why use such warped alienated and morally bankrupt arguments, words and references in an argument on a history site?

It would be as though you and I proclaimed our worth and wisdom by membership in the Society of the Piltdown Man and got paid to teach students all about the notorious fraud...without mentioning it's a fraud.
Bill Heuisler


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 6/20/2005

Mr. Friedman,
As usual, your are absolutely correct in your posts.

Bill,
You ask, “What possible difference could it make to you if people think modern Marxism and Communism are synonymous? Why do you insist on defending the dubious honor of Marxism?”

I do not defend Marxism, as I am not a Marxist. What I defend is intellectual honesty. The difference it makes to me that people think they are synonymous is that they are not synonymous. The one is simply not the same as the other. I would make the same point is people suggested that Nazism was the same as feudalism. I don’t defend either, but they are not the same thing. I would also defend Marxism as an ideology that is more complex than simply being anti-American or pro-European.

The differences are not “minor details.” I do not know any Communists, but I do know Marxists and you are mistaken if you believe that they look at Stalin or Mao with anything other than contempt for their human rights (or lack thereof). I can assure you, there are no friends of Communism in any academic department that I have ever encountered.


N. Friedman - 6/20/2005

Bill,

I think you have stepped far outside of the evidence.

Sparta was the ancient world's equivalent of the USSR - or, more precisely, Cambodia -. And Plato includes a far more realistic and complete rendition of communism in The Republic than Marx has done. Plato even imagined the thought police.


Bill Heuisler - 6/19/2005

Adam,
Your stubborn refusal to admit reality is amusing. What possible difference could it make to you if people think modern Marxism and Communism are synonymous? Why do you insist on defending the dubious honor of Marxism?

Communes existed for centuries, yes. But Marx codified Communism the way the Apostles codified Christianity - the way Mohammad codified Islam, and the way Moses codified Judism. Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto. He did not write the Marxist Manifesto. To say the two are different is to make distinctions out of minor details.

And Marx admits it himself. In the preface to the 1882 Russian edition of the Manifesto - his last published writing, Adam - Marx hoped that a revolution in Russia might become "the signal for a proletarian revolution in the West, so that both complement each other" so Russia, despite pre-capitalist characteristics, "may serve as the starting-point for a communist development." Read it.

That's reality, Adam, not some fuzzy academic excuse-list so Marxist professors can keep their hands clean and not be identified with Twentieth Century Communist horrors. They don't deserve your defense.
Bill


N. Friedman - 6/19/2005

Adam,

So far as I know, Lenin and Stalin thought they were good Marxist/Leninists. I also recall - and correct me if I am wrong - that some Marxist claim that Marx was not wedded to the stage theory.

While I think that the stages theory is necessary to Marx's dialectic theory - not to mention to what he adopts from Hegel -, that does not seem to matter much to most Marxists. Which is to say, Marxists all seemed to be enamored of the USSR until it was shown to be a fascistic police state and even then many stayed with the program.

I think the better answer is (a) communism and Marxism are not synonymous, (b) communism has roots going at least back to Plato and (c) communism, as thought out in practice, has, as advocated by Plato, necessitated a police state. Marx, by contrast, advocated that at a certain stage of political development, communism might come to be as a form of a withering away of the state (i.e. as a free society), not an imposed philosophy as Plato advocated. My gut reaction is that Plato was correct and that people do not have a communal center.



Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 6/19/2005

1) “If you had bothered to read my first post 6/12 on the article you could've perhaps understood my objections.”

I have not addressed your objections because that was not the point of my observations. I will leave that to the author and others. My post was not the few points of concern about the article, but the accusations and assumptions you make in your post, accusations which I believe are simply baseless, based on this article (I don’t know anything about Mr. LeVine’s other articles).

2) “Does that sound like I think the article is Marxist (whatever that could possibly mean)?”

Yes, as a matter of fact, it sounds like exactly that.

3) “As to the myth of Marx believing in a progressively evolving Communism, that's what you said, isn't it?
If so, it's not correct. I pointed that out. What could I be implying? And to say China is not Marxist is like saying the Greek Patriarch is not christian. If China's not Communist, then exactly what is it?”

You have answered your own question. China is communist, not Marxist. The fact that you believe the two to be perfectly synonymous was exactly what I object to. As to the “myth,” Marx said clearly that society would develop from Feudalism, to Socialism, to Capitalism, NOT as what happened in Russia, from Feudalism straight to Communism.

4) “If you'd care to address the issues I brought up, that'd be great.”

What else have I been doing? You may call anyone anything you like, but that should not stop me from pointing out its irrelevancy.


Bill Heuisler - 6/19/2005

Adam,
Do you really think I'm stupid? You wrote that I,
"...simply assumed that the article was Marxist and then continued on with that assumption as if it were an insult."
If you had bothered to read my first post 6/12 on the article you could've perhaps understood my objections. Here are the first few lines:

"Mr. LeVine,
Viewing life through a Marxist perspective leads to error and confusion. You fault the US by writing, "France (like the Netherlands) has managed to increase its level of human development more than the United States, while its GDP has remained higher than the European average."

But you never say what "level of human development" is. Does it mean taller or richer or happier? More important, you never bother to mention how European GDP and general standard of living is far below the US. Not important?
Or perhaps reality doesn't fit your political template.

A 2004 study, done by economists, Bergstrom and Gidehag, called "EU vs. USA" found that most European countries rank below the U.S. average in gross domestic product per capita. In fact, US per capita GDP was 32% higher than the EU average in 2000 and hasn't closed since."

Does that sound like I think the article is Marxist (whatever that could possibly mean)?

As to the myth of Marx believing in a progressively evolving Communism, that's what you said, isn't it?
If so, it's not correct. I pointed that out. What could I be implying? And to say China is not Marxist is like saying the Greek Patriarch is not christian. If China's not Communist, then exactly what is it?

If you'd care to address the issues I brought up, that'd be great. And don't be so thin skinned; I don't give a damn if you're an Anarcho-syndicalist with a bad case of hives as long as you discuss issues with panache.
Bill


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 6/18/2005

1) “Neither Russia nor China had had a bourgeois-democratic transmutation when communists seized power. In history, this bourgeois-democratic progression - Capitalism to Socialism to Communism - has never occurred. You've repeated a myth made up by trendy academics who would rather not face the unpleasant truth about their adopted enthusiasm.”

I am not really sure what you are implying here about me. I know that they have never occurred, that is exactly my point. What myth have I repeated, and who has made it up? What exactly is this “unpleasant truth” and to whom? To me? Neither Russia or China are Marxist, though both are/were totalitarian, despotic, and give little concern to their own people.

2) “Dismissing my Marxist characterization as oversimplified or unsophisticated ignores historic reality and neglects the oversimplification in LeVine's dogmatic perceptions of the EU vote - and his warped vision of the US.”

I do not agree. In your first post on this thread, you simply assumed that the article was Marxist and then continued on with that assumption as if it were an insult. It is my opinion, nothing more, that you use the term pejoratively against anyone who does not agree with you in an effort to de-legitimize anything they say. This is sharp contrast to a genuine critique against Marxist theory or philosophy, but makes sense only if one believes that Marxism = the Soviet Union and Marx = Stalin. That is how I have read your post, anyway.


Bill Heuisler - 6/18/2005

Mr. Halsey,
We agree about the cake. Our wealthy Democracy has evolved into a money-driven plutocracy where elections can be influenced - and opinions molded and driven - by amounts of money far beyond the reach of the demos.
Best,
Bill Heuisler


Bill Heuisler - 6/18/2005

Adam,
You wrote, "Marx believed that society would progress slowly through Capitalism, than Socialism, than Communism. Lennin did not appreciate this reality and chose to force Communism through revolution."
You're wrong. Marx believed in revolution.

Marx's 1872 introduction to the Communist Manifesto referred to the Paris Commune as follows:
"...in view of the practical experience gained, first in the February Revolution, and then, still more, in the Paris Commune, where the proletariat for the first time held political power for two whole months, this programme has in some details been antiquated. One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that "the working class cannot simply lay hold of ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes."

In fact, according to Marx and Lenin, the proletariat only wins power by proletarian revolution. They realized this revolution must be violent because they knew the bourgoisie wouldn't give up power by electoral means.

You will recall Edouard Bernstein argued it was possible to sieze power peacefully by winning elections. Orthodox Marxists called this revisionism. Revisionism has been an epithet ever since. Revisionism was also used to describe people as not being "revolutionary" enough.

Neither Russia nor China had had a bourgeois-democratic transmutation when communists seized power. In history, this bourgeois-democratic progression - Capitalism to Socialism to Communism - has never occurred. You've repeated a myth made up by trendy academics who would rather not face the unpleasant truth about their adopted enthusiasm.

Dismissing my Marxist characterization as oversimplified or unsophisticated ignores historic reality and neglects the oversimplification in LeVine's dogmatic perceptions of the EU vote - and his warped vision of the US.
Bill Heuisler


N. Friedman - 6/18/2005

Adam,

Your point 1: "I am not really sure what such a person would be if not a Marxist."

A person might accept part, but not all, of the Marxist critique including all of the above propositions. Such a person might believe that the end result is endless process in which those who control the resources control the world, now and forever. And such a person might conclude that this is the best of all possible worlds.

Or, the person might accept the above premises but acknowledge that they are likely, not proven, assertions. Or the person might believe that the above propositions are the best tools to get at historical truth. Etc., etc.

On the other hand, more often than not, the more of the above propositions a person accepts, the more likely the person is a Marxist.

On your proposition 2: "I don’t know how compatible it would be with the Islamic world."

As a matter of science - something that Marxists claim to believe in -, a proposition must have universal significance. Which is to say, if Marxism explains history, it must apply outside of Europe or be incorrect.

I note that, in my view, there are three questions that interest me in the Muslim regions: (1) how a small group controlled a large empire consisting primarily of non-Muslims, (2) what happened to all the non-Muslims and (3) what are the dynamics of Muslim region society today.

I think that a careful study of the possible answers to the first two questions renders Marxism a non-viable theory. The non-Muslims, after all, never quite accepted the ideology of the minority Muslims. The non-Muslims were
conquered nations subject to various forms of the dhimma. In time, such peoples came to accept their lot in life and to be, in a sense (although not the modern sense) a tolerated majority without control of their own national or complete control of their cultural identity. And, in time, the escape - other than bouts of massacres, slavery, deportation and flight - was to adopt, at least outwardly, the ideology (i.e. religion) of the Muslims. And, in time, their children came to believe in the ideology.

Today, of course, the issue is different. Now, the Muslims are the clear majority. The non-Muslims seek either accomodation (as many Christians, other than Maronites and Copts, have done) but advocating Arab nationalism. The acceptance of that ideology being that, as Arabs rather than Christians, they can be accepted. The problem with that view is what Michel Aflaq famously said, namely, that Arab nationalism is Islam so that the demands on Christian Arabs is always ratcheting up. Aflaq, by the way, eventually converted to Islam.

The other alternative is rebellion of one form or the other. Such is the fate of the Maronites and the Copts, among others (and, to some extent, even though they are Muslim, the Kurds and the Bahai'a, viewed as Muslim apostates of sorts, suffer horribly). I note that the leaders of the Copts have tended to opt for accomodation while the Copt on the street, on the other hand, has, from what I have read, had a different attitude. I note that the Copts, in particular, are suffering terribly at this point with their women being raped, their places of worship being defiled, etc., etc., and pretty much without any legal recourse.

And, in a sense, the Israelis - especially Jews from Arab countries - can be understood as part of the same process. Israel was the ultimate modern rebellion, in that it was successful, against Islam and Jews from Arab countries were, in a sense, in violation of the dhimma, being accused of having contact with European Jews in the dispute with the Arabs that led to Israel's creation.

I would think that there ought to be somewhere a good Marxist analysis which explains the contemporary Muslim regions from the point of view of the non-Muslims - as they are the group which suffers most (despite all the rhetoric about Palestinian Arabs and I do not deny that Palestinian Arabs sometimes suffer although, as you know, I think they are captives of their ideology who, were they to assess the world a bit more objectively, might better reach a settlement with the Israelis. See e.g. Judea Pearl [Daniel Pearl's dad], Dialogue of the deaf, at http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1118888333134&p=1006953079865 ). I have not seen it yet. And, I might note, that in places seemingly controlled by Islamists, as in Gaza, Christians suffer beyond all imagination.


N. Friedman - 6/18/2005

Professor,

I never said you are a Marxist. I have no idea about your point of view. I have only read a few short articles you have written.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 6/18/2005

1) “I would think that one could believe that "all history is the history of class struggle," "Capitalism gives rise to antagonistic classes," "Capitalism uses war to further its own ends" without being a Marxist.”

You may be correct, but I am not really sure what such a person would be if not a Marxist. After all, Marx was primarily concerns with the deficiencies of the current system rather than what Communism actually would look like. His critique of the industrial working class was actually quite brilliant and valid, even if his supposed solutions (which was not about violent revolution as Stalin envisioned it) left much to be desired.

2) “One of the things which most amuse me about contemporary Marxists is that they often ignore the position that "all history is the history of class struggle." Hence, when examining the Muslim regions, almost no Marxists I know of examine the power structure within that society but instead focus only on exploitation by the west and, most particularly, the US.”

This may be true, although all of the Marxists that I know are Euro-centric in their analysis. Since Marxism developed out of the European industrial revolution, I don’t know how compatible it would be with the Islamic world. That being said, most Marxist’s do credit international behavior on class reasons (i.e. we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq for the oil, in other words).

I would not disagree with your concern about Marxist constantly blaming the West for all the ills in the world and refusing to see non-Western countries as anything but a victim. I suspect that this is because most Marxists are from the West, and since their focus of study is mostly theoretical, they have had very little training on the actual realities of international relations.

I agree completely with your analysis of Muslim societies. Certainly, the class aspect of the Muslim world has been largely forgotten, as it has in Africa and even in the US among African-Americans. In short, Marx is, unfortunately, a child of the West, studied mostly by Westerners and applied to the only thing those people really know about: Western societies.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 6/18/2005

1) “The discussion of Marxism cannot be irrelevant in a world still mouldering the bones of millions of its victims.”

I believe you are referring to Communism, which may have its intellectual roots in Marxism, but is not the same at all. Marx believed that society would progress slowly through Capitalism, than Socialism, than Communism. Lennin did not appreciate this reality and chose to force Communism through revolution. Neither Lennin nor Stalin ever lived in a communist state by Marx’s definition. The word has come to mean a totalitarian dictatorship, but the theoretical world of Communism was very different, and I believe, can never be actually achieved any more than we can ever know about Hobbes “state of nature.”

By calling everyone who is critical of the US a Marxist, or assuming that bringing up class struggle (which is very much alive and well in the US, though to a lesser degree than Europe) makes one a Marxist is simply meant as an insult, nothing more.

2) “LeVine's prose reeks with proletarian allegory and anti American rote (as supposed asides that reveal mind-set).
I reacted to it as I would a bandit: remark the menace rather than argue metaphysics.”

This may be true, but that does not make one a Marxist, unless you expand the definition to include anyone and everyone who is critical of capitalism. This strips Marxism of its fundamental aspects and reduces it to one simple standard: cynicism of the rich and empathy for the poor.

Never did I say that I agree with MeVine by the way. I merely think that his arguments should be debated on their merit rather than calling someone a “Marxist,” misrepresenting both them and the term.

In point of fact, I believe that LeVine has exaggerated the situation in the United State, and is obviously critical of the American system (which has been accused of being socialist and communist as much as it has been accused of being capitalist).

In short Bill, your frustration over the article may be warranted, however since Marxism is a legitimate intellectual ideology, taught along side liberalism, realism, neoliberalism, neorealism, etc. it is only fair to distinguish between true Marxists, of which practical Communism has little relation to, and people who are critical of the US and see the world through class struggle.


Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 6/18/2005

i think this last posting is very important. a lot of work has been done on class dynamics in the middle east from a local as opposed to euro-centric perspective. this subject is indeed one of the main foci of the last generation of historical scholarship on the region, especially of the ottoman empire, egypt, palestine, syria and iraq.

as for the comments that supposedly reveal me to be a marxist, i can't imagine what else to say in this regard. they have literally nothing to do with the fundamental points of marxist politics, although the analysis is, like any critically informed scholarship today, informed by marxian theory. if someone wants to equate the use by scholars, however far removed from the source, of marx's methodologies with being a supporter of stalin, i don't think there's any basis for a discussion.


Frank Halsey - 6/18/2005

There is a lot behind those two words, "individual freedom". I’m sure you know that democracy means, literally, rule by the people, and the "people" don’t really rule literally at all (even Athenian democracy was a partial political democracy). The elites do the ruling in most democracies, even in social or monarchial democracies found in Europe. So I see no stark differences here, since marxists and socialists also have their elite. Democracy usually has a masked elitism but on the other hand, the positive concept of freedom is usually associated with self-realization through political institutions in society, which are supposed to express the "general will". But then, of course, the question immediately arises: which type of societal institution expresses this general will? I am not arguing that you are wrong at all but it is difficult for all of us to have our cake and eat it too, no matter what form of government and at times it can feel that a negation of the negation has taken place, that is , things have turned so far around we are back where we started from concerning individual freedoms, civil rights, etc., in a complex society. I feel we have lost a lot of them again because of what Bertrand Russell once predicted: regimentation.


N. Friedman - 6/18/2005

Adam,

I would think that one could believe that "all history is the history of class struggle," "Capitalism gives rise to antagonistic classes," "Capitalism uses war to further its own ends" without being a Marxist.

On the other hand, add the notion that "The state, and international politics, will inevitably wither away" and the person is probably a Marxist. In fact, subtract the first three elements but retain the fourth and you probably still have a Marxist.

I think an idea more decisive, at least in today's world, than the last notion is Marx's belief that "philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point however is to change it." That theory has more sway among current Marxist scholars I have read than it may have had on Marx.

One of the things which most amuse me about contemporary Marxists is that they often ignore the position that "all history is the history of class struggle." Hence, when examining the Muslim regions, almost no Marxists I know of examine the power structure within that society but instead focus only on exploitation by the west and, most particularly, the US. While I would not deny that the US has a role, it is surely not the only issue to deserve analysis by any scholar.

What I find troubling with most Marxists - and this is why I find most, albeit not all, Marxists to be hacks - is that they tend to see only the role of the US (or the West, more generally) in the Middle East, as if only the US, but not Arab class structure (or anything else in the Middle East [other than, of course, Israel, a country which has taken on a magical role and been turned into an anti-totem of sorts]) played any role at all in what occurs in places like Egypt. Hence the phrase "philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point however is to change it" has become the real marker of contemporary Marxism, as such Marxists appear to want to change the power structure of the world more than they want to make a good faith attempt to understand the world.

If ever there were an area where there would be value in examining the role of class (whether or not by Marxist analysis), it is in Muslim dominated societies.

I might add that what would be found might be a bit disconcerting for some Marxists since not everything in the Muslim regions can, so far as I can discern, be explained in material or economic terms. Which is to say, religion itself is a political force, not merely something employed by the rulers to controlled their subjects and not simply a product of class or politics or economics.


Bill Heuisler - 6/17/2005

Mr. Halsey,
The differences are stark. In another post "Metaphoric Marx" I go on at near soporific length about them. In two words, the difference is individual freedom.
Bill Heuisler


Bill Heuisler - 6/17/2005

Adam,
The discussion of Marxism cannot be irrelevant in a world still mouldering the bones of millions of its victims.

Setting aside verbal gymnastics, the fundamental basis of Marxism is the Materialistic Dialectic and Communism is its practice. We are referring to the literal domination of society by the working man. But reality is clear: said dominators are never working men, but are always elites.

More to the point, Marxism changes the relationship and interaction between Joseph Conrad's agent, butcher and policeman - changes life's words, pillows and dining tables. There's no vague philosophical tint to the hammer of thought on the anvil of omnipotent State. Hyperbole? Kampuchea and Novosibirskiye are fruits of the same seed, surged through branches of differed societies, but begun with the same distributive hand - the same passionate (altruistic?) intent, the same idea.

LeVine's prose reeks with proletarian allegory and anti American rote (as supposed asides that reveal mind-set).
I reacted to it as I would a bandit: remark the menace rather than argue metaphysics.

Again, LeVine examples:

"Public postering is illegal in most American cities (unless it's for profit.)"

Pundits accused "fantastical France" of favoring a "Soviet economy" to the neoliberal alternative offered by the Constitution, of wanting to "turn back the clock," of "turning against the modern world."

"American...argued in even nastier fashion that the vote demonstrated a "reflexive loathing of the United States as the source of all evil," and of "ceaselessly indulg[ing] in infantile anti-market rhetoric."

"...seem much more aware than the average American about how, along with unprecedented wealth, two decades of neoliberalism has brought unprecedented inequality, increasing poverty, a hyper-consumerist culture that runs roughshod over well-tested social practices, and a class system that is more rigid than any time in recent memory." This passage (well tested?) is almost comical.

"Yet despite its problems, France (like the Netherlands) has managed to increase its level of human development more than the United States, while its GDP has remained higher than the European average. And both of these feats were achieved without rending the social compact that once operated in the US and still, however fragile, defines the French and Dutch societies."

Adam, sorry my take seems offensive, nit-picking or trivial, but LeVine picked this fight quite literally on his terms and, while you may wish to argue about the various strains of influenza, (another metaphor!) they all come from the same viral strain, and all are deadly.
Bill Heuisler


Daniel Philip Iggers - 6/17/2005

I don't think Omar understood the "Ahem". I think the point being made was that Omar's post was inappropriate to the point of being embarrassing. Instead of posting a comment on the substance of the article, Omar posted a message that amounted to "Hi, prof, you're terrific!", which he should have put in a private email.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 6/17/2005

I am not saying anything at all about Europe, actually, as I find the discussion of Marxism to be irrelevant to the discussion of Europe right now.

As for the elements of Marxism, they are taken directly from a dictionary of International Relations that I happen to have sitting on my bookshelf. Those are not the only elements, but they are the most important. There is also the historic dialectic to take into account as well. I would have some difficulty understanding how someone can believe in all of those elements but not be called a Marxist.


N. Friedman - 6/17/2005

Peter,

Your comment is posted after mine but does not address my comments. And, moreover, you did not address the one post that was directed at you (in which I basically agreed with your position regarding Marxism and the EU).

And note: I think I agree with your post above except the part which appears to insult me rather gratuitously.

I might add: you ought to consider responding to my post above which is directed to the EU being anti-democratic. Or, perhaps you cannot lower yourself to address me or, more likely, you dismiss positions you do not quite understand.


Andrew Morton - 6/17/2005

From wikipedia:

"The UN Human Development Index (HDI) measures poverty, literacy, education, life expectancy, and other factors"

But does it take into account immigration? I suspect not - it appears to be static.

In which case it may not be a good way of comparing the US and Europe. The US has much higher immigration rates and immigrants will score relatively poorly on poverty, literacy, education and, I suspect, life expectancy.


Frank Halsey - 6/17/2005

Mr.Moshe,

Concerning the first three elements of Marxism:

Are you saying there is no class struggle going on at this moment in Europe in any shape or form?
That there are no antagonistic groups within Europe roaming around, like the neonazis for instance who are now coming from the parents of middle class Germans?
Are you also saying that Capitalistic countries don't use war to further their own ends? The answers to these questions are obvious if one has followed the news during the last decades.

You can believe in all these things and not be a Marxist. I totally agree with all you are saying but I was wondering after I saw your description what the difference is.


Frank Halsey - 6/17/2005

Don’t misread the title. At the risk of being irrelevant, politically incorrect, and incurring the wrath of certain posters, it could be in the cards that in the future, a future form of socialism might end up being the real democracy. Under the proposed EU constitution that was rightly voted down by the French and the Dutch, Democracy would have submerged even deeper than it already is in Europe. What comes down from Belgium is not always transparent to the people of Europe. A socialistic form of Marxism is still deeply embedded in European culture and continues to have a global relevance few people care to admit. What happened in The Netherlands and France is significant because it allowed "the people" to unite and give voice, something Marx would have crowed about. The dialectical still stirs. Maybe French and Dutch Democracy is realer than American Democracy in this instance. Although I am not Marxist, a case could be made that democracy(capitalism) and marxism are not opposites at all. "law", "truth", or "justice" is something in name only for both isms.


N. Friedman - 6/16/2005

Bill,

I am not a Marxist so I was not defending Marxism or Marxists. Having a wife from the former USSR, I know rather first hand what a moral disaster Marxism is. So, please do not confuse me with them. While I am not a rightist, I am most assuredly not a Marxist or leftist. Call me eclectic (smile). :)

My only point was that one can, in theory, call oneself a Marxist and be a real scholar. But, as I said, very few are in my experience. Most of those I have read are hacks.

In answer to your question, I do not think any avowedly Marxist state has been anything but a complete disaster - economically, politically and morally -.

If, however, you include democratic socialist states as perhaps, to some extent, looking to Marx for some guidance, then Sweden has done rather well. The same, but to a lesser extent, for Austria.

I note that the Israelis at one time also looked somewhat overtly to Marx and yet did rather well. However, since allying with the US, the Israelis have looked more to the American example and have, apart from all the wars that drag things down, done very well. That suggests that there is more than one way to skin a cat.


Bill Heuisler - 6/16/2005

Mr Friedman,
And more amazing, is that these are usually intelligent people in the thrall of some ideological obsession rather than in pursuit of the truth.

Learning from one who does not share your point of view depends on what they have to offer. Marxism - and the more extreme versions of so-called Democratic Socialism - has less than nothing to offer an economist or a historian who has been paying attention.

A scholar who seriously proffers Marxism as either a valuable philosophy or as an alternative to Capitalism has not been paying attention to the monumental failure that creed has produced in human and economic terms.

Questions: where has Marxism produced a modicum of good for the country, economy or common man who embraced it?
And why do so many academics think Marxism has something to offer?
Bill


N. Friedman - 6/16/2005

Bill,

I have not red LeVine enough to gage his overall viewpoint.

I do note that at least one or two Marxists (e.g. Marx) have sometimes written with care and attention to evidence. So I would not automatically hold against LeVine the fact - if we are to judge his presentation of history -, if you are correct, that he has a Marxist viewpoint. My trouble with the current breed of Marxists is that they have nearly all ceased showing any fidelity to fact. (In simple terms, they ends and only the ends are what counts to them.)

In my view, you should be able to learn from someone who does not share your point of view. So, I do not automatically discount Marxists even though I am not a Marxist. However, I am cognizant of the fact that few Marxists, at this point, care about facts so, except in rare cases, what they argue tends often to be mere ideology. Not always, mind you, but most of the time.




Bill Heuisler - 6/16/2005

Mr. Friedman,
To assert the EU or the vote against the constitution is Marxist would be inane and I agree what the Europeans are doing is not Marxist. My contention is that LeVine sees all things through a Marxist prism and he attacks the US in every piece because we aren't sufficient from his odd frame of reference.

Hanson is a treasure, an excellent historian who can write. Just ordered Ye'or's new book.
Bill Heuisler


N. Friedman - 6/16/2005

Peter,

For a rare change, you have, between insulting your fellow posters and this website, actually said something intelligent. I agree that what the Europeans are doing is not Marxist.

On the other hand, the issue with the EU is one of democracy - or, to be exact, the EU's drive to destroy Europe's democracies -. I once pointed you to an article by historian and scholar Bat Ye'or about the Euro-Arab Dialogue. You pooh poohed the article and Ms. Ye'or. Now, you will note, a detailed book studying the EAD has come out. It is called Eurabia and it received rather good reviews.

I note that you have called the book's author, Bat Ye'or, a crank. Historian Victor Davis Hanson evidently disagrees with your assessment of Bat Ye'or. He writes, at http://www.victorhanson.com/articles/Private%20Papers/Question%20Log/December.html , (in response to the question, which I post first in italics):

Are you familiar with the work of Bat Ye’or and the issue of Dhimmitude, as well as her more recent research into the issue of Eurabia? I tend to be somewhat skeptical of ‘conspiracy’ theories (not that her views on Eurabia are conspiratorial in the classic sense), but it does suggest some rather worrying possibilities with regard to European alliances with Arab causes (and personalities) and the long term implications this has for American-European relations.

Hanson: Yes, I am familiar with her work. She is not a conspiracist at all, but an empiricist, whose work is based on observation, facts, and logic: look at the demography of Europe; look at the history of Christians living under Muslims (going to Church in Saudi Arabia is not the same as worshipping in a mosque in Madrid); and read not what Western elites say about Muslim clerics, but what Muslim clerics themselves say. So, yes, she is a scholar and should not be dismissed because her views bother us because they are largely insightful. Europe has a gut-check time coming very soon as it ponders Islamic populations in its own borders, the admission of Turkey into the EU (in some ways very good for the US, a disaster for Europe), and nuclear missile capability of Iran. We shall see whether it reawakens or not.

Bat Ye'or's book Eurabia is a study, among other things, of just how anti-democratic the EU has become.

As explained in David Pryce-Jones review of her book ( http://www.benadorassociates.com/article/14174 ):

Much of what she records looks like the routine of international meetings that keep diplomats immersed in tedious routines of their own design. There they go from Barcelona, to Lahore, to Naples and Hamburg and Venice. But out pour the resolutions, in pours the European taxpayer's money, and lo and behold, shoals of new organizations are spawned, a Parliamentary Association for Euro-Arab Cooperation, a Euro-Mediterranean Partnership program, a Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership, and so on, as in the reproductive process of the amoeba.

And:

Ordinary people who are still in the dark about the way the Euro-Arab Dialogue is refashioning their lives may one day rebel — in which case, Bat Ye'or and this book will seem prophetic. Or they may sink helplessly into dhimmitude, in which case Bat Ye'or will be ignored and her book unobtainable. Either way, she is a Cassandra, a brave and far-sighted spirit.

As Professor Bruce Thorton, in his review of her book, notes ( http://victorhanson.com/articles/thornton032605.html ):

The oil embargo was followed by the creation of the Euro-Arab Dialogue (EAD), which in turn spun off numerous organs of European-Arab rapprochement, such as the Parliamentary Association for Euro-Arab Cooperation (PAEAC), all funded by European taxpayers mostly ignorant of what these functionaries and bureaucrats have been doing with their money.

In other words, the EU, on questions of basic policy, has created an entirely below radar policies. And worse than that: the policies set by the EU are not even known to exist by the vast, vast majority of Europeans. Which is to say, whether or not farsighted or foolish, the policies are outside of anything you and I might judge to be democratic.


Bill Heuisler - 6/16/2005

Mr. Spence,
You keep saying you don't know enough about economic and social theory, but you obviously know far more than the author of the article. You do yourself an injustice. Thanks for serious, well-informed responses. We agree on quite a bit and we can read the clear verdict of history.
Bill


Bill Heuisler - 6/16/2005

Mr. LeVine,
Instead of engaging you continue to whine. Now you attack Churchhill. When you "briefly look at" things (like studies and ISM) they tend to disappear from discussion. Conversation with you is like talking a two-year-old into eating oatmeal. I wonder why HNN bothers.
You are certainly not worth my time.
Bill Heuisler


Bill Heuisler - 6/16/2005

Mr. Mendez,
My "bastard" definition is repeated on your wikipedia citation, but then it's refined and redefined. Your other citation is fascinating in its turgid detail, but nearly totally opaque in its point of view and its conclusion. I'm interested in clarity of thought and real ideas.

Is your point of view that Capitalism and Marxism are too complex for discussion by mere mortals? That's a shame, but pretensions sometimes get in the way of good sense. For instance, Mr. Mendez, you might reexamine comments that Marxism is not a political ideology and that Marxism is a way to understand social reality. No, Marxism is essentially political in that its utilization effects the lives of real people. Marxism is not a way to understand reality, it's a way to understand madness and failure over a hundred years. Would studying the mind of Jeffery Dahmer be a way to understand reality? Of course not, it would be an abnormal psyche class. Marxism's importance or relevance is measured by results like everything else.

This is a history site. Marxism is really rather simple - from an empirical, historic viewpoint, a human disaster.
You may see it as an interesting experiment, but many millions of human beings have died as a result of Marx's odious assumptions about human nature, private property and the State. Craving complexity to seem intellectual is the worst kind of self-delusion.

Don't worry about misspelling my name, I do it often.
Bill Heuisler


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 6/16/2005

Sergio,
I have refrained from dignifying such childish name-calling thus far from certain HNN posters, but I will say that you are, of course, correct, as anyone who has any knowledge on international relations knows. Marxism is neither Communism nor Socialism per se

The essential elements of Marxism are as follows:
- All history is the history of class struggle
- Capitalism gives rise to antagonistic classes
- Capitalism uses war to further its own ends
- The state, and international politics, will inevitably wither away

If you do not believe this, you are not a true Marxist.

Nothing in the article here has anything to do with any of this kind of argument. The use of “Marxist” on this site is nothing more than an empty insult based on the assumption that Marxism=Communism=Stalinism=Socialism=evil=anti-American, etc.

It should be noted that even within his own lifetime, Marx saw his name used by the ignorant as a pejorative term, so twisted in meaning and absent of thought, he is once said to have remarked, “I am not a Marxist!”

I should also add that anyone who thinks that America, or any other industrialized nation, practices capitalism and shuns socialism had a skewed interpretation of those terms.


Sergio Alejandro M?ndez - 6/16/2005

Opss..sorry, I meant "Heuisler", not Heuser...sorry. By the way, here a couple of links that may be helpfull on the issue of capitalism:

http://hnn.us/blogs/entries/10020.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitalism


Sergio Alejandro M?ndez - 6/16/2005

Mr Heuser:

I wonder what have you actually have read about marxism and capitalism. You criticize "bastard" definitions of capitalism, yet you give a really bastard one (I wonder if you ever read the extense literature regarding the term...from neo clasical economists, passing by sociologists like Max Weber, Marxian approach and even historians aproach -say Braudel or Wallerstein-). You have some nerve to define such a complex term like capitalism in a sentence is ludicrous. Capitalism is a complex system, where private private property is only a small part (lets ignore your diatribe about how great it is..that is not part of a serious description in any serious discipline).

The same happens with your understanding of marxism. First at all, marxism is NOT a political ideology in the first hand. Marxism is a comprehensive way to understand social reality, that requires in its philosophy a certain degree of political compromise. That doesnt mean anybody who uses marxist analitical tools is a marxist in their politics, partially or totally. But then, I wonder..how much have you actually read from marx to come with such expert claims about marxism? My guess is that not to much, aside the "comunist manifesto"...


Sergio Alejandro M?ndez - 6/16/2005

I don´t see the problem of being labaled a marxist. The term is a respectable academic trend with a tremendous impact on sociology and history.


James Spence - 6/16/2005

Mr. Heuisler,
Socialism, like everything, is based on something else, just like the Jesus movement is based on "communism", but it doesn’t mean it’s Marxist in any practical sense. (I wish I where a philosopher who could explain the meaning and meaninglessness of words in a language) Democracy, democratic government began as a Greek concept and it’s now the opposite of what America and other countries practice today. Just like there is no such thing as a pure race there is no such thing as pure socialism or democracy, and it comes in all forms good and bad. The form of government and socio-economic order as you believe it should exist may not be viable in the Europe of today. Yet forms of capitalism thrive here and if any Marxist got in the way they’d be squashed. I believe nobody truly wants to be a "Marxist" in Europe. The forces of recent history, especially in the former East block countries have changed peoples outlook despite the setbacks, the current miserable conditions. It takes time, it is a process, but it will change. The number of millionaires are growing by the year. The people who own their own businesses here decide when they will work and how far they want to go. But they also have laws they are subordinate to just like American businesses do. I don't think you are saying that the US economy is not regulated but we all live by the regs in one way or another. Yes, the laws here can be more stifling and sometimes even ridiculous, especially in Italy, but long ago I was surprised to discover it was easier to start up a legitimate business in The Netherlands that in the United States. People in Europe are creative and devious and I can only imagine how much more simpler regulations or less of them would increase productivity.

"Explain how markets restricted by taxes, government regulation and forced unionism will attract capital and be responsive to free marketplaces."

If I take your statement at face value, you are correct, capital will not be attracted. But this is too complex, for me anyway, to explain for each EU state but in Italy, you are also correct, taxes are high, the government gouges you for every euro you make (yet that has a familiar ring in the US also), but here it makes people want to work less to pay less taxes therefore less capital flow more drain on the social system. Yet… the majority of people in Italy spend more per year on luxury items then I’ve seen anywhere else. But there’s exists a deep black market off-the-books and government regulations are avoided in countless ways and depending on where you work not everyone has to join a union. With a social protection net, unions aren’t even necessary. Corruption? Sure. But tell me there’s no corruption in American society, that there are politicians who don’t put extra unauthorized money into their pockets, that the US Constitution has always been obeyed to the letter.

Although I still stand on my original post here I agree on some of your points of view about the EU today.


Michael Barnes Thomin - 6/16/2005

"My Victoria Secret catalogue arrives each week. Now that can be called a Godsend...or at least a depiction of His finer works."

Bill, I think we've finally found something we agree upon!

Best regards,
Michael


Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 6/16/2005

you cite the swedish study as if it is the write of god. i have only briefly looked at it and already, as i indicated in previous posts, find several problems with it. other commenters have indicated as or more eloquently than i have other problems with using the data that study focused on a primary measures of wealth or development.

to be honest, i find your tone quite disagreeable and not in the spirit of honest and civil communication. i have already done the o'reilly show once and don't feel like repeating the experience with you every time i put up a posting. you continue to put words and feelings into my mouth such as 'you don't like this country' and explaining why i woulnd't complain about cuba if i was making a living writing poetry there, etc. nor do you seem able to accept that there are many varities of socio-economic systems that countries/societies can choose besides some mythical black-and-white caricature of 'capitalism' and 'socialism' as quoted by winston churchill--the man, by the way, who introduced the use of poison gas and mass aerial bombardments of civilians to iraq as (if i remember correctly) colonial secretary in 1920. if churchill's worldview is your model for capitalism, go ahead and call me a marxist.


Bill Heuisler - 6/16/2005

Mr. LeVine,
Your datum were refuted thoroughly by that Swedish study of 2004 that I cited a half dozen posts ago. Remember?
And your sense of humor is as quirky as your logic. You wrote, "I still find it funny...why anyone who criticizes the US is automatically "anti" US." Are you trying to be complicated? Subtle? You've failed miserably.

You see, Mr LeVine, we humans show dislike for something by criticizing it. If you were constantly bitching about Cuba, I'd figure you didn't like the place. But if you were living there and making a decent living writing poetry, I'll bet you wouldn't dare a discouraging word.
Guess it's all a matter of context, isn't it?

So don't try to have it both ways. You don't like this country, but you don't want to seem to be an ungrateful wretch. A familiar ploy, tiresome and cowardly.

Your multiple definitions of Capitalism are equally slippery and disengenuous. Capitalism is the private ownership of the means of production and has been the greatest engine for individual freedom since its beginnings. Any reduction or regulation of free markets by government has always had the equivalent reduction of individual freedoms. Bastard formulations of Capitalism are like adding water to the gas in your car - they change the formula and reduce the energy quite quickly.

As Churchhill said, "The inherent vice of Capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of Socialism is the equal sharing of miseries."

Address issues. Stop whining about being misunderstood. We understand you. What is that human development you're so proud of? Answer the plain numbers in the Swedish study. Explain what's wrong with profit.
Bill Heuisler


Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 6/16/2005

please define 'capitalism.' you seem to be assuming that america's 'really existing capitalism' is the only capitalism that either can or should exist. but this is not supported by the many other kinds of capitalism that have existed and continue to exist, including the 'welfare capitalism' inspired by the keynesian-fordist model that helped generate the unprecedented post-world war II economic boom, and its counterpart in europe.

and using words like class does not make someone a marxist, and i never used the terms 'utility of labor'. i don't even know what that means...

i still find it funny why anyone who criticizes the US is automatically "anti" US. i suppose jeremiah, hosea, amos and company were self-hating hebrews? or mlk an anti-american (he was certainly called that, of course...). why can people not vigorously criticize a government or set of policies without being labelled with ridiculous blanket terms like "anti-US" or "anti-capitalist". these kinds of accusation are certainly not condusive to informative discussion. and as for unsupported, i certainly have supported them. you may not like my arguments or data, feel free to refute them.


Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 6/16/2005

your comment about making the labor movement global is right on the mark. this is the point, and why agreements like nafta, the wto, etc. could have done good if they had sought to even the playing field by raising the bar for workers in terms of wages, conditions, etc. rather than loweing them, which has done so much damage. but i guess saying is just more proof that i am a marxist--although i seem to have lost my communist party membership card at the spa...


Bill Heuisler - 6/15/2005

Mr. Spence,
You say Europe rejected historical connections to Marx and his ideas, but you label over-managed stagnant, high-unemployment, over-unionised economies Socialist. Fine. Socialism is based in original Marxist thought. You call the European market, Capitalist, but describe a fully regulated ecomomy. Explain how markets restricted by taxes, government regulation and forced unionism will attract capital and be responsive to free marketplaces.

Where's the tipping point, Capitalism to Marxism? My description of LeVine stems from other articles as well as already-stated quotes. Marxism is a descriptive term meaning class warfare, utility of Labor and rejection of Capitalism, investment and inherited wealth.

The reasons for the EU defeat - along with immigration policies installed without votes of the people - were the desire for representation closer to people, nationalism, unemployment and a vague sense of an ongoing coup de etat by the elite. I appreciated LeVine's assessments of local buzz, but his anti-US, anti-Capitalist overviews and comments were unsupported and superfluous.
Bill Heuisler


Bill Heuisler - 6/15/2005

Hey Michael,
Godsend? No. I like Sears, Home Depot and places like Eddie Baur, Plaza Liquors and Olive Garden. Pedestrian and comfortable, but far trendier than Walmart. My objection was to Mr. LeVine's objection to the homely market-driven hoi polloi in the US. Marxists pretend to love the worker, but they really despise him and all his lowly trappings. They know better. My Victoria Secret catalogue arrives each week. Now that can be called a Godsend...or at least a depiction of His finer works.
Best, Bill


Frederick Thomas - 6/15/2005

Mr. LeVine:

Thank you for the article, which as noted elsewhere makes as good an argument as can be made for the "further left" point of view.

It has been extensively noted that free capitalist societies generate much better living standards than do communist or socialist societies, so I make my argument on another basis: Strong leftist societies murder their citizens in astonishingly high numbers.

According to "Death by Government", the former Soviet Union murdered over 63 millions, some in great numbers such as the liquidation of the Kulaks, (in English, that is the murder of the Ukranians,) which cost 10 million according to Stalin himself, but mostly killing was done in groups of a thousand or two. The crime was always the same, failure to believe in the "religious dogma" of the government, and the uniform arrogance of socialists that their dogma is more important that anyone's life.

Others have been equally hideous, 35 million in China, about the same across eastern europe,and 3 million in tiny Cambodia, from which a good friend managed to flee before the got her. Her two older sisters were killed in a rice paddy by pick-axes. It is easy to understand why these horror merchants are hated and feared by so many.

Then there is the fact that the NAZIs called themselves the "National Socialist German Worker's Party", or "NSDAP", and followed a socialist line in many domestic respects, but in any case shared a terrific concentration of power in the hands of government.

It is my feeling that the horrific concentration of power represented by this new "basic law" echoed too much of a bad past for Europeans. Socialist power is a long trail of murder for so many.


Sergio Ramirez - 6/15/2005

Those are some pretty vague statements, but yes, I think if one is going to devote oneself to criticizing abuses on one side (as you have) one should hold the other to the same standard.
Good luck with your continued research into the ISM/Hamas links.


Sergio Alejandro M?ndez - 6/15/2005

This discusion is interesting. Of course the question of human development and the way to compare the US to the EU depends on what you see as priorities of the people. It is true that that the US has a larger per capita incoming and that the average American worker consumes more. But then what? The average american works far more time, usually in two jobs, with less laboral protections, with less vacations, with no healthcare coverage (like 40 millions without healthcare insurance in the US if not wrong), while the european worker has all those advantages even if he consumes less. That doesnt mean the EU is not in the need of serious reform. As I see it, the EU requires important tax cuts on small and middle buisness, and stop corporate welfare (look at Airbus and its agricultural industry). That will certainly help to reduce deficits, push the economy without a major sacrifice of its welfare state. That and to be more open in their imigration policies (which I think, is the biggest advantage the US has over the EU).

Finally, it is true that the flexibility of other markets concerning labor laws is a disadvantage to Europe. But the solution is not to push for the destruction of the welfare state, but rather, to make the labor movement global, so coporations cannot continue to exploit chinesse or african workers as cheap labor. The moment some basic standards on labor are set in the world, big buisness will not be able to cheat and look for quasi slave works overseas.


James Spence - 6/15/2005

Had planned on returning in 2000 but will, for the moment, settle for Italy.


Michael Barnes Thomin - 6/15/2005

"Dripping with contempt for a successful corporation that sells good products at low prices and hires many people at decent wages. Please name a comparable French firm or drop the sneer."

Low prices and hiring many people, yes (only because their old places of employment had to shut down due to the "competition"). But good products and decent wages? What exactly do you mean by "good" and "decent"? "Good" as in lasts about a year and then mysteriously stops working (I am referring to my television)? "Decent" as in having enough money to put food on the table, pay rent (rent not mortgage), and maybe have enough left over to have cable... but forget about health insurance and your children's college education. But hey, at least the employee's can buy their quality goods at low, low, prices... Have a Nice Day :)! Do not get me wrong, I am not saying Wal-Mart is evil, (it is a terrible place but that doesn't make it evil) but to pass it off as some Godsend to humanity is quite a stretch. There are lots of flavors of tea in the world and I guess that the Wal-Mart brew just is not very pleasant to my taste buds. In fact, it makes me vomit.

All in fun,
Michael


James Spence - 6/15/2005

Having read all I could stand to read of the 450 page EU constitution, I realized why the Dutch and the French said No. Although I didn’t understand it all I also realized the control over people lives in it was too much and too rigid. Yet now I also find it strange when some believe the "EU" is anti-democratic or that there are certain Marxist tendencies to it. In decision making, the newest constitution ,that is now dead, would have replace the old one under which countries, according to their heavyweight status, got specific numbers of votes. It would actually have become more democratic than it is now yet at the same time the EU would have more completely embraced globalisation which is more in line what America wants. And what is Marxist about Europe now? The Commuist Manifesto was an indictment against capitalism. There are social democratic parties in power in a number of Western nations, but they long ago distanced themselves from their historical connections to Marx and his ideas. I have spent 20 years in Europe so far and Marxism is passé and capitalism has been here a long time and will stay. The latest EU constitution left as it is would have left Europe open to forces less under the people’s control.

The argument that Bergstrom and Gidehag, made is a mathematical study that doesn’t reveal the real picture behind America or Europe, and they state so in the article. Therefore America has nothing to be smug about. What a $100 buys in America and Europe paints a different picture. The $37,000 homes I peeked into in America I wanted quickly get out of. We Americans have a lot of things and attached a lot of importance to them. Too much for what is considered a "Christian" nation. On the other hand Europe has its rigidity that stifles economic growth. It still has class divisions that can determine what a child will grow up to be. It has "no go" scum areas just like America. It has a social protection net that is straining at the seams. But America is also straining at the seams in its ownership society for the upper class. By 2050, America will be a different country. Americans of European descent will be less than half the U.S. population and rapidly become a shrinking minority thanks to the Bush amnesty of 8 to 12 million illegal aliens. The conservative movement that I grew up with didn’t believe in open borders ideology.


Nathaniel Brian Bates - 6/15/2005

The French had every right to defend their sovereignty against the EU super-government. For once, I fully agree with them without reservation.


E. Simon - 6/14/2005

if your answer to "who, specifically, are these 'elites'?" is a circular definition merely restating the same terms as the question, i'm not sure how you can mean this to go anywhere. definitions usually are more precise and only incorporate the referenced term as part of an example, not as part of the definition itself. and how you got to confusing free movement within the u.s. or e.u. with immigration from beyond the borders of either is anyone's guess.


Bill Heuisler - 6/14/2005

Mr. LeVine,
Your commentary on the election and the Paris-jejune scene was quite interesting, but you went out of your way to show contempt for the US and Capitalism.

Class? You Marxists see Class Systems in fevered dreams. The US has many voluntary ethnic and social divisions in housing and in societal minglings, but no de juris, or involuntary class seperation in a country where a share-cropper's daughter can be a Federal Judge and where poor Texas and Arkansas boys can aspire to become Congressmen, Governors and Presidents.

"poverty and malnutrition among young children..." Where?The so-called war on poverty has thrown hundreds of billions (more than the post-war GNP of France and Holland) at poverty and malnutrition in the US. If there is a malnourished child in this country, it is not for lack of agencies, money or good will. The NY Times has very little credibility among most sentient Americans.

My Marxism label applies to the following LeVine quotes:
"Public postering is illegal in most American cities (unless it's for profit" What's wrong with profit?

"...American commentators, who argued in even nastier fashion that the vote demonstrated a "reflexive loathing of the United States as the source of all evil," and of "ceaselessly indulg[ing] in infantile anti-market rhetoric." Nasty is beside the point. Is it true?

"...they were concerned, quite simply, that a yes vote would bring about the gutting of France's vaunted social safety net—one of the singular achievements of post-War Europe..." Vaunted? Where? Havana?

"...millions...seem much more aware than the average American about how, along with unprecedented wealth, two decades of neoliberalism has brought unprecedented inequality, increasing poverty, a hyper-consumerist culture that runs roughshod over well-tested social practices, and a class system that is more rigid than any time in recent memory." Confusing, contradictory and profuse with meaningless words and phrases... or Marxist.

"Yet despite its problems, France (like the Netherlands) has managed to increase its level of human development more than the United States, while its GDP has remained higher than the European average. And both of these feats were achieved without rending the social compact that once operated in the US and still, however fragile, defines the French and Dutch societies." Increased its level of human development? For the second time, Mr. LeVine, what the hell does that mean? Instead of whining about my terms, please explain your own words.

"...walmartized version..." Dripping with contempt for a successful corporation that sells good products at low prices and hires many people at decent wages. Please name a comparable French firm or drop the sneer.
Bill Heuisler


N. Friedman - 6/14/2005

Professor,

I have no difficulty understanding what the EU is. And I think that a united Europe would, over the long run, probably be a force force the for the good. However, the EU, as currently constituted, is elitist and anti-democratic. You ought to investigate the history of the Euro-Arab Dialogue and the organizations and agreements it and its sucessors spawned entirely under the radar. Yet, this organization is a major contributor to (a) Europe's political position vis a vis the Arab regions, (b) Europe's political position regarding the Arab Israeli dispute, (c), Europe's political position regarding the US, (d) Europe's policies encouraging immigration from the Arab regions and, most importantly for Europe's social stability, (e) the disasterous decision - evidently a conscious, but largely secret, decision - not to assimilate the immigrants.

Such is what happens when elites rule.


Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 6/14/2005

yes, the question will be what will happen now. will the alter globalization movement be able to build momemtum, the Right, or will everything just sort of stumble along, which is sadly the most likely outcome.


Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 6/14/2005

it depends on how much stronger the US government wants to be vis-a-vis other powers. as of now, i believe we spend more than the rest of the world combined. yet it's still a relatively small portion of the total gdp. but within an ideology where government should be smaller except for military/security and related expenditures, the money matters bc there is in a sense a zero-sum game for dividing tax revenue. if you're spending hundreds of billions of defense, funding for cancer research or education, etc. is going to suffer.


Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 6/14/2005

what is the 'eu'? that's the problem. if you mean the eu bureaucracy, certainly you're right and that's one of the main things people voted against, although i think for the sub group i was looking at it wasn't the most important issue. but the 'eu' as an ideal can be very democratic. and that's the positive thing people meant when they said 'i love europe and i'm voting no' or a dozen similar slogans i saw/read/heard...


Jeff Vanke - 6/14/2005

Thanks, Peter Clark.

Last week, I intentionally neglected to discuss the motives of the non/nee voters. They came from very different camps. Almost all sides are concerned about uncontrolled immigration, for economic and crime reasons both. Many in France relished the opportunity to rebuke Chirac on anything.

But Levine is right that many in France see the EU as an agent of neoliberalism (which is ironic because British Tory objections are the obverse, EU as an agent of socialism). And the French do prefer to sacrifice more individual freedoms in exchange for welfare guarantees, than do many of their partner nationalities in the EU -- such as the Dutch, who just as much want to avoid French market restrictions as the French want to avoid market volatility.

Since so little was at stake, it was very easy for these varied bedfellows to vote on the same side.


N. Friedman - 6/14/2005

Professor,

The information I had came from listening to one of NPR's new show. They reported what people who said after they voted and, most particularly, that people who lived under the EURO were most concerned that the value of their money and, hence, standard of living, had dropped terribly. What can I say. It reminds me of 1991 when Bush I reported that the economy was not doing bad while average people thought otherwise.

In any event, that is a minor point. The EU is anti-democratic. That is the main issue, at least in my view.


Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 6/14/2005

i would agree with much of this comment, except i would not agree that much of the alterglobalization movement is 'fringe' as you perhaps are suggesting. the leaders of the movement played an important role in shaping the debate in france and were constantly on tv, writing opeds, organizing debates. le monde, if i remember correctly, said that the margin of victory for the no corresponded almost exactly to the margin of the split within the left/socialist camp that the alterglobalization groups were crucial in developing, where the leaders were 'oui' and the grass roots forces were decidedly 'non'...


Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 6/14/2005

i answer as many posts as i can when i think they raise substantive points that warrant a response. i'm sorry if you equate not answering you or some other questioner with having no integrity.

if you are referring to the ISM querry, i am still working on it. i don't take the accusations lightly, however i will state here that i have yet to find anything that would change my opinion that the ISM people i have met on the ground are true soldiers of piece. still, i disagree as i said with some of the statements as diana mentioned them, and moreover, if any ISM people have aided terrorists they should be punished. but even if a very small number of activists have crossed that line and become involved in some way in the violence, this is nothing compared to the utter trampling of the line by the israeli state in its decades long occupation. certainly if one is going to exert tremendous effort criticizing the ISM, which is fine by me, then a proportional amount of effort should be spent criticizing the occupation. shouldn't all sides be judged by the same standard?


Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 6/14/2005

in fact the free movement of labor across boundaries is not part of any of the european or american system. thus the quota system on immigration and the illegal worker problems in both the US and eu. the elites are the political and economic elites who usually are well connected to each other and ensure the system functions to their benefit. who else would they be? they exist in every country of course. i'm not sure what your question is asking.


Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 6/14/2005

so anyone who criticizes america is a marxist? a marxist is someone who subscribes to marx's political philosophy and, one would imagine, seeks a socialist revolution and dictatorship of the proletariat. i don't recall mentioning either in my piece. perhaps the duck is in fact a goose or some other bird you don't recognize?

please refute any of the charges i made against the american economy. as for our class system, see the series on class in america in the ny times of the last month. perhaps the ny times is a marxist publication as well?

as for inequality and poverty, said newspaper just published a story today about increasing poverty and malnutrition among young children in said country.

as for europe being some kind of socialist nirvana, which you and some other commentators seem to be assuming i'm arguing -- i did no such thing. i merely pointed out that the people i spoke with and the literature i read focused on these issues. if that's too marxist for you, sorry!

as for standards of living dropping in euro countries, that doesn't alter the fact that the hdi levels in france and the netherlands rose more than in the US; again, what does 'standard of living'? these terms are thrown around so loosely as if they have obvious meaning and can be substituted for each other but this is not the case. how is the standard of living measure? by what criteria? etc. this is a major problem in discussing poverty and growth issues, and quite often economists will choose a 'market basket of goods' that makes sense to them but not to the citizens of the country or region being analyzed. this is probably not the issue in france, but one could see what the HDI level could go up while the 'standard of living' would go down. it's all how you define things.


E. Simon - 6/13/2005

if free movement of labor isn't the part of the "Anglo-" model to which you object, then which part is? can you be specific when you refer to political/economic "elites" and how they are wrongly(?) maintaining a dominant position? it seems companies everywhere get breaks from the political establishment in charge of the local area(s) that benefits their business.


Bill Heuisler - 6/13/2005

Mr. LeVine,
Looks and talks like a duck. Please supply me with other terms to describe your arguments which invariably begin with class warfare and end with social engineering.

Marxist describes your political thought-process better than any other term. Don't be defensive about your odd beliefs - you have the right. Marx and Hegel, Kritiks and Manifestos shine forth in the article two weeks ago where your social archetype of poverty, inequality and class-warfare in Chiapas was used to illustrate the terrorist point-of-view so sympathetically and to attack the US.

This week you haul out the same tattered banalities as though they signified real thought or acute observation:
"...unprecedented wealth, two decades of neoliberalism has brought unprecedented inequality, increasing poverty, a hyper-consumerist culture that runs roughshod over well-tested social practices, and a class system that is more rigid than any time in recent memory." Familiar stuff.

Increasing poverty? Inequality? Class system? Could this really be France? Supply the bourgeoisie with examples. And your, "well-tested social practices" must mean the increasing control of the economy through higher taxes and government-sponsored syndicalism while welfare grows nearly as fast as unemployment and infrastructure dies.
Marxism? What else. We've seen it all before in many countries this century - in every case failed or failing.

The EU rejection was a rejection of the ideas behind part of the Communist Manifesto (sec 2):
"In proportion as the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end."

Those rigid class systems ruin everything, don't they?
Bill Heuisler


Omar Granados - 6/13/2005

Wow did I create quite a debate... Umm Mr. Ramirez, what do you mean by ahem after my comments??? Your comment is rather, how can I put it, quite amusing. Ahem seems to be universal to asking questions I presume... ta ta..


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 6/13/2005

Since there are no other military superpowers other than the United States, it is hard to say what role military expenditures has on depressing social welfare policies. However, it should be noted that the United States has had little problem in the past with both funding its military budget, even in times of war, and with increasing its social welfare policies. I have little doubt that with American ingenuity and economy, we could easily afford both sensible and modern welfare policies as well as the strongest modern military in the world.

Europe could surely do the same although, like us, they will need to examine their priorities and decide on a balance between welfare spending, taxation, and defense spending that meets their wants.

They will have to make some difficult decisions anyway, for the demographic problem that you cite.


N. Friedman - 6/13/2005

Professor,

One point noted by many commentators is that - and seemingly contrary to what you assert - standards of living have dropped precipitously in Euro countries. Such is a result of the currency itself.

The more important point, however, regarding the EU is not the idea of a united Europe but the concern that the EU mechanism is anti-democratic. You might, since it relates to your interest, investigate the history of the Euro-Arab Dialogue which spawned many other institutions in Europe.

Such EAD has run basically under the radar - a product of bureaucracy rather than democracy - yet has substantially alterred the face of Europe (as it sets norms for immigration, for government policy regarding technology transfer to the Arab regions and serves as a controller of what is taught in schools in Europe regarding the Arab regions, the history of Islam, etc.) as it is the major catalyst behind Europe's effort to create a Euro-Mediteranean community involving the Arab regions.

Whether or not a Euro-Arab conglomerate would be a good thing, the process - involving a fundamental policy question - has not even come to the public's attention much less had any of the debate that one expects from a democracy.


Edward Siegler - 6/13/2005

The elephant in the room here is the fact that Europe's population is rapidly aging at a rate that is perhaps unprecedented for any population in history. The implications of this are enormous, but let's look at just one: The generous levels of social spending prevelant in Europe today are almost guaranteed to decline. Fewer workers means less tax revenue and an older population means greatly increased pension and medical costs. This equation is a grim one, and cannot be addressed by drawing contrasts between how the evil empire, um, I mean the U.S., and Europe runs things.

One more thing: Europe will increasingly have to foot the bill for its defense as the U.S. committs ever less in this department. In the past, the U.S. military commitment has allowed Europe to use resources that would otherwise be used on defense for social spending.


Sergio Ramirez - 6/13/2005

Sorry, I meant the Omar above!


Sergio Ramirez - 6/13/2005

LeVine seems to have adopted the policy of not answering selected posters (Friedman, Appelbaum, myself). I wonder if he might at least explain how he justifies ignoring some of the fundamental questions we've asked? When provided with overwhelming evidence challenging his assertions, a historian with integrity cannot ignore them.


Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 6/13/2005

all these replies are assuming that i'm making a general argument about all of europe or even all of france. what i was discussing was how a fairly cosmopolitan set of young people understands their vote, and how this relates to a similar group of people across the mediterranean--many of whom would love to join that migration to europe and are effectively prevented from doing so (except illegally).

the issue of labor migration and its impact on wages for 'indigenous' workers in western/northern european countries is of utmost importance. i agree that this kind of migration is crucial to the comprehensive integration of europe; and that its prevention, as has happened with the newly acceeded countries that are being prevented from allowing their citizens to work freely across the EU, is flat out wrong both ethically and economically. but i don't believe that the alternative has to be the british or even american model. a lot of it has to do with national economic and political elites in countries like france or italy being unwilling to give up their dominant position within their home countries. but hopefully this debate will help bring some fresh arguments to the table.


Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 6/13/2005

am i really a marxist? who decides this? why is it that every time some one writes something that doesn't follow neoliberal/neoclassical orthodoxy they're automatically 'marxist.' please explain where and how the last posting is 'marxist'--ie, what parts of marx's theories do i explicitly invoke or use?

as to your numbers, they are very interesting. i won't comment till i have a chance to review the study personally. what i will say is 'level of human development' corresponds to the human development index scores as published by the UN, world bank, etc.

also, i don't know what you mean that the european 'standard of living is way below the US.' which country? by what definition? gdp? what does that mean? the average european can't afford two gas-guzzling suvs and a 3,000 square foot house and several tvs? what happens when you factor out the richest 10% of the population which is so heavily skewed toward the US?

moreover, as i check the sources, it seems your swedish friends haven't looked at the stats. according the the latest un hum. dev. report, sweden ranks in 4th place, while the US is in 7th place. both france and the netherlands are below.

also, as i look briefly at the study you cite as i'm writing this, i see that the use of gdp was specifically as a guide to comparing productivity between the two regions. but productivity is not the same thing as human development. if you want to compare the US and EU strictly from a "capitalistic" framework of efficiency, productivity and how many cars/tvs people own, then surely the US is the place to be. but the social costs are extremely high, as i articulated in my piece. moreover, from the perspective of the young french people i met, they were not comparing themselves to some ideal US suburban family whose lifestyle they neither can hope, nor in many cases want, to match, but rather to the prospect of a liberalized, privatized social sector that is increasingly unable to offer any kind of social safety net at precisely the moment when the globalization of european economy along neoliberal lines puts them at most risk. i don't think one has to be marxist to sympathize with this predicament, do you?

but seriously, i think you have a marx festish or something...


E. Simon - 6/13/2005

Europe will probably not go back on allowing for open borders and immigration within. But this backlash against open exchanges of capital and labor markets will only create more pressure on the former. If French, German, Italian, British companies can't expand eastward in their hiring, poorer Eastern European families, assuming their desire to eat is as high as in the aforementioned countries, and assuming that the aforementioned companies still want to grow and hire, will migrate to the West. We can already see how this strains countries like unified Germany, imagine what the effects will be among non-homogeneous populations? I think it could be a good thing, like in the U.S., but that will depend on how these European countries handle it. They certainly seem to be doing a horrible job at making their Mid-East populations feel welcome. But one thing is certain, in their zeal for preserving and preserving and preserving the past, one thing has got to give. They can either maintain distinct, individual national cultures or generous social welfare models, but not both. Perhaps for the good of efforts to unify the continent, it will be the former that goes.


E. Simon - 6/13/2005

and I almost forgot the least important one: "working."


E. Simon - 6/13/2005

... the Eastern Europeans, that is. You see, Mr. Levine, the Socialism embraced by France is a national brand, they have yet to explain how to graft that "model" onto Europe as a whole. And the reason that they haven't yet, is probably because they can't. For GDP to increase, some of this newfangled market "neoliberalism," or as the rest of us refer to it, buying, selling, trading, ya know, economic activity, needs to spread and mingle in order to allow the Eastern Europe to, heaven forbid, compete. There will be winners and losers in order for quality of life to increase in the aggregate. But this is still less ghastly than the only two alternatives: 1) fix a government-regulated social welfare market across the continent so that all can be subject to the ill effects of the same static GDP, or 2) allow the French patricians their wish for economies to remain effectively nationalized. Of course, this will be accompanied by the stagnation of European labor markets and at the expense of any true continent-wide economic union, a surefire nail in the coffin of political union.

Of course, Europe could always choose to do what the U.S. does and simply give corporate welfare to the biggest companies across the continent, regardless of national affiliation. But I think it will take them even longer to come around to something that idiotic. And besides, they're making so much progress on the other front.


Bill Heuisler - 6/12/2005

Mr. LeVine,
Viewing life through a Marxist perspective leads to error and confusion. You fault the US by writing, "France (like the Netherlands) has managed to increase its level of human development more than the United States, while its GDP has remained higher than the European average."

But you never say what "level of human development" is. Does it mean taller or richer or happier? More important, you never bother to mention how European GDP and general standard of living is far below the US. Not important?
Or perhaps reality doesn't fit your political template.

A 2004 study, done by economists, Bergstrom and Gidehag, called "EU vs. USA" found that most European countries rank below the U.S. average in gross domestic product per capita. In fact, US per capita GDP was 32% higher than the EU average in 2000 and hasn't closed since.

Marxists say they care about the working man. Reality?Higher per capita GDP allows an average American to consume about $10,000 more than an average European each year. Average Americans have more TVs, vehicles and personal computers than Europeans. "Most Americans have a standard of living which the majority of Europeans will never come anywhere near," Bergstrom and Gidehag say.

The study also says the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line has dropped to 12% from 22% since 1959. In 1999, 25% of American households were low income (income less than $25,000 per annum). In Sweden's model welfare state 40% of its households would be considered low-income by the same standard.

Same study: In the US 45.9% of "poor" own their homes, 72.8% have a car and almost 77% have air conditioning, which remains a luxury in most of Western Europe. The average living space for poor American households is 1,200 square feet. In Europe, the average space for all households, not just the poor, is 1,000 square feet. So what's the difference? Socialism or Marxism doesn't help the people it promises to help. This fact has become so obvious after nearly a century of empirical evidence that I wonder why the LeVines of this world don't get it.

"The expansion of the public sector into overripe welfare states in large parts of Europe is and remains the best guess as to why our continent cannot measure up to our neighbor in the west," Bergstrom and Gidehag wrote from Sweden. "In 1999, average EU tax revenues were more than 40% of GDP, and in some countries above 50%, compared with less than 30% for most of the U.S."

You criticize a successful economy because it isn't Marxist enough and expect people to take you seriously?
Bill Heuisler


Sergio Ramirez - 6/12/2005

Maybe when Omar gets in touch with LeVine he can ask him about his support for ISM?Hamas?


Diana Applebaum - 6/12/2005

In his April 1, 2005 column, Confessions of a Supposed Marxist Rockstarophile(http://hnn.us/blogs/entries/11104.html,) Mark LeVine characterizes the International Solidarity Movement as "true soldiers of peace" and angrily lashes out at Tvi Kahn for acurately accusing the ISM of "overtly endorsing terrorism."

I and others provided extensive evidence of overt ISM tendorsement of for terrorism. On April 3 LeVine wrote "as to your other pieces of information, i will investigate them and get back to you."

We are waiting to hear back from you, Mr. LeVine.


Sergio Ramirez - 6/12/2005

ahem


Omar Granados - 6/12/2005

Hey there Prof. Levine, how are you? Wel thanks for the class Middle Eastern Studies, It was a very well thought out and informative class. Now I can impress my friends about the subject of the MIddle East. I am not an expert, but I know a lot. Thank you very much because I know that the topic is redundant and can be applied to many discussions. You should e-mail me back whenever you come back to good old Irvine. As I stated earlier in the quarter I would enjoy collaborating with you in any type of research of projects that you are involved with. Even though history is not my major ,it is still one of my favorite subjects and interests. I hope your trip to the Europe and Africa have been good. You can reach me at ogranado@uci.edu. This was the best quarter ever because of my classes including your and World History 21C. Thanks, this is Omar Granados by the way.