Me on ‘Ethical Life in Kierkegaard and Williams’

The latest issue of the Cilicia Journal of Philosophy has just gone online. It includes my paper ‘Ethical Life in Kierkegaard and Williams’

The journal publishes article  in Turkish and English, mostly in English by academics from outside Turkey.

Go to the journal website here.

Go to the latest issue here

Go the page which has the abstract, keywords, publication details and link to the pdf here.

Direct link to pdf of my article here.

All articles can be opened online and downloaded for free.

Other contributors to this issue include a former instructor of mine at the University of Warwick, Susan Haack, now at the University of Miami. I took her courses in ‘Philosophy of Logic’ (philosophy of logic and language in practice) and ‘Metaphysics and Epistemology’. There is little or no connection between the kinds of work we do, and I have not had any contact with Professor Haack since finishing her courses, but I do enjoy the coincidence.

The remaining contributors are Nicholas Rescher, Ralph D. Ellis, James Wetzel, Gert-Jan Van der Heiden, and Raşıt Çelik.

The abstract for my article

A discussion of how the criticisms of ethical theory in Søren Kierkegaard and Bernard Williams both reinforce each other and also provide some challenges to each other. Despite Williams’ brief and dismissive encounter with Kierkegaard around the reading of a ancient tragedy, both oppose any tendency to see the characters in those tragedies as lacking in agency. Both are consistently concerned with how the individual struggles for some ethical agency and how no individual can be free of the influence of chance or error. Kierkegaard and Willliams are shown to both oppose relativism and communitarianism in ethics, along with utilitarianism and to both have an interest in plurality of ethical ideas of how to live.

War and Philosophy of Violence: Girard on Clausewitz IV

[Apocalypse and Savage War, France and Germany, Partisan and Guerilla War, Chance and Command; Perpetual Peace and Europe]

Girard’s interest in Clausewitz itself partly stems from the way in which that thought in On War can be taken up in relation to the Christian idea of the apocalypse. The ambiguous point at which limits on Satanic violence collapses preparing the return of Christ. Girard suggests that Clausewitz’ own rather dutiful more than passionate Christianity, focused on providential rather than interventionist deity who works through the details of history rather than miraculous interruptions, can be seen as part of a theology in which participation in immanent violence is part of bringing the Second Coming. This is extreme over extrapolation as a way of thinking about Clausewitz’ own understanding of religion, but is productive as a way of thinking about how Clausewitz’ thoughts on violence and war can be taken up from a theological point of view, which we could also think of in a deconstructive way around Derrida’s readings of Benjamin, Pascal, law and force, justice and divinity, theology and writing, and so on, though in Derrida’s case without a commitment to metaphysical theology and apocalypse as a literal single event.

Clausewitz’ remarks on ‘savage’ war and the violence of the people also suggest how his thought might be taken up with regard to partisan war. The use of the word ‘guerrilla’ in this context comes from Spanish resistance to the Napoleonic French, so partisan warfare was well known in Clausewitz’ time. It is perhaps a reflection of his state orientation that he does not have a sustained account of partisan war, but this has not stopped twentieth century thinkers and actors in the field of partisan warfare, since T.E. Lawrence’s The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, his account of his role in the British sponsored Arab Revolt against Ottoman rule in World War One, paying tribute to Clausewitz as a thinker about war.

Clausewitz’ own particular orientation is towards the struggle with chance and probability that he associates with the commander, who is between the rationality of the state and the violence of the people. The real focus is on the great general who integrates all parts of the trinity as he also integrates tactical and strategic levels of thinking into his awareness of chance and is able to create a force, a will, strong enough to break the will of the enemy. We may well suspect Clausewitz of overemphasising genius in war, but his own account is always more than explanation from innate genius, and clearly who the commander is makes a difference in war, as well as the interaction of forces and powers sketched by Clausewitz as the ‘trinity’.

The opposite pole to Clausewitz’ philosophy of violence might be taken as Kant’s slightly earlier essays calling for perpetual peace and global federation. Given how much Kant qualifies these aspirations, the gap may not be so great. For Clausewitz, peace is the goal of war, and he believe that the defeat of France accompanied by a radical weakening of France could bring at least relative peace to Europe, in which he saw a confederal Germany as central. At the beginning of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, Germany was of course a confederation with the historical legacy name, Holy Roman Empire, in which the president was supplied on a hereditary basis by the Habsburg family in Austria which had its own central European Empire partly overlapping with the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The Vienna Congress, itself a kind of temporary federation of European powers, at the end created a German Confederation dominated by a mutually balancing duality of Austria and Prussia, with participation from external powers with German possessions (UK, Denmark, and the Netherlands). It should also be remembered that for Kant a world of law governed republics would be a sign of the Apocalyptic violence that interests Girard.

War and Philosophy of Violence: Girard on Clausewitz III

[mimetic violence in literature and anthropology, rationality and politics in Clausewitz’ theory of war, Clausewitz’ contemporary relevance, limits of Girard as reader of Clausewtiz]

The Clausewitzian trinity is one way for Girard to continue his earlier work on the distinct status of a Christianity as an escape from mimetic violence, sacrifice, and myth. The most influential instances of this in Girard’s output are his work on the novel in Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structures [Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque/Romantic lie and novelistic truth], and his later work of social and anthropological philosophy Violence and the Sacred. In the earlier work, desire is seen as structured by competition with an other who is also ourself. This conditions the nature of novelistic love, sometimes leading to overt violence and always structured by a destructive attitude to both the competitor and the object of desire, also structuring an associated quest for authenticity in French literature which cannot be achieved because of the mimetic nature of desire, except in a more or less disguised moment of sacral escape from ambition and earthly love into altruistic self-abnegation.

In Violence and the Sacred, the structuring of society around recognition of similarity in which recognition means a comparison in which we wish to become and destroy our opposite produces scapegoats and myths of punitive divinities, from which human societies only escape through the idea of a God who sacrifices himself, so ending the idea of a scapegoat, so introducing a way of limiting mimetic violence that does not resort to the murder of someone assigned the burden of enemy status. Girard’s interest in Clausewitz may suggest some instability in this notion in that Girard recognises in a him, or attributes to him a Pascalian sense that without divine justice there is only force, and also finds an apocalyptic force in Clausewitz, which leads us to the topic of recognition and violence in Clausewitz, war as a duel to determine the dominant will.

In the first book of On War, Clausewitz builds up the idea of a war as the imposition of will through violence in a rivalry of two wills, a duel between two nations. Clausewitz is not just assuming an essential will of a nation, abstracted from difference and conflict within that nation. The capacity for a provisionally single will to be created from the elements of a society and a state is necessary for the conduct of war, and therefore for the continuation of the state and the people of that state so long as the social world is a world in which state interests are pursued through violence.

Though Clausewitz is deeply concerned with the strategic and tactical analyses, which aid an army at war on behalf of a state, the outcome of war can never just be a technical issue or an issue of the quality of the education of senior officers. The intellectual  capacities of the military commanders and the state leaders can only make the most of an existing level of willingness for soldiers, and the people from which they come, to endure sacrifice. The most dubious interpretations of Clausewitz (including remarks by Girard who should not be read as a commentator on that author) tend to assume that the war as the extension of politics remark and the rational role of politics in the trinity mark Clausewitz as a thinker only able to deal with very contained forms of war between uniformed armies on clearly demarcated battlefields under the command of relatively rational generals, themselves under even more rational political direction. From these assumptions come the claim that Clausewitz’ thought is not adapted to the age of nuclear weapons (as Hannah Arendt presumes) and irregular warfare (as Carl Schmitt presumes). Clausewitz does not however presume that war is rational and contained, even if he does focus on battles of that kind between distinguished generals like Napoleon Bonaparte and his own mentor Gerhard von Scharnhorst. Clausewitz does allow for a war which is ‘savage’, that is not contained by reason, so that the primordial violence of the people destroys everything in its way. Clausewitz certainly has no idea of weapons capable to destroying whole cities, and maybe human society of any kind if used in large enough numbers, but he had the idea of a war of absolute destruction, which can be extended to include nuclear war.

War and Philosophy of Violence: Girard on Clausewitz II

[Politics and war intertwined, mimetic violence and literary studies, Clausewtiz’ trinity and its political meaning]

Girard’s engagement with Clausewitz suggests that a complete philosophy of violence must include the more general issues of military studies, so that a complete social and political philosophy comprises the philosophy of war. Foucault acknowledged this in Society Must be Defended when he suggested that Clausewitz’ famous dictum ‘war is the continuation of politics/policy by other means’ be reversed so that politics is the continuation of war, a view reflected in his discussion  of ‘race war’ in those lectures, along with the discussion of military institutions and particularly of waw as a part of a social war in Discipline and Punish.

Clausewitz’ dictum is more than the truism that war serves some political end, as it may seem when circulating out of context as it frequently foes, as what he is arguing is that military strength rests on political will, apparent in the battle field through the determination of troops; and that we cannot make a clear distinction between even detailed objectives in military operations and the political activity of the state behind those operations, determining what the objectives should be and the acceptable means for obtaining those objectives. Military operations are a form of political activity with the goal of imposing the will of one state upon another as a basic political activity, even at the limits of politics and because it is at the limits of politics, which for Girard converges with and anticipates all the discussions of recognition, ressentiment, descralisation and violence in the nineteenth century, including Hegel, Hölderlin, Tocqueville, Dostoevsky, and Nietzsche. The contingency of violence in Clausewitz outruns the rationalisations offered from Hegel onwards, though Girard is maybe open to accusation of finding his own way of rationalising violence by giving it a goal in the Christian Apocalypse, always present in the constant immanence of violence (including ressentiment) in Clausewitz’ discussion.

Clausewitz was familiar with Enlightenment philosophy and he also had some familiarity with German Idealism and Romanticism, and at time explicitly tries to bring a dialectical approach into On War, but the Idealist references may at least in part be through commentaries rather than a close engagement with Kant, or later figures, though he did go so far as to write a letter to Fichte. Together with that partly secondary reception of German Idealism and Romanticism, On War, brings earlier Enlightenment approaches to the history and nature of civil society, which influenced Kant et al, into that rather uncivil area of war which has nevertheless permeated all civil societies.

The great majority of what Girard has to say about Clausewitz refers to Book One ‘On the Nature of War’ from On War (about one hundred pages in the most authoritative translation, Michael Howard and Peter Paret). The  most important theme in Girard’s discussion of Clausewitz is the struggle for recognition through the use of violence as it relates to Girard’s own work on mimetic violence.

A second theme for Girard, connected with the first one, is that of the trinity in On War, discussed in a passage that takes up less than a page and forms part 28 of Chapter One, ‘The Consequences for Theory’. The three elements of the trinity are: primordial violence (der ursprünglichen Gewaltsamkeit), a blind natural force; hatred (dem Haß) the play of chance and probability in which creativity appears; enmity (der Feindschaft), which is subordinate to political reason. They correspond, though not in a completely discrete way (and the categories of the trinity are to be understood as interactive and ‘dialectical’ rather than as discrete concepts) with: the people (Volke), the commander (Feldherrn) and the army (Heer), the government (Regierung).

The primordial violence-people pole relates to passions inherent in the people. The enmity-commander and army pole relates to the play of courage and talent which itself comes from both probability and chance and the character of the commander. The enmity-government pole related to politics. The three parts of the trinity all have their own laws, but also interact and Clausewitz himself seems to struggle with how this might work, being oddly insistent that  politics is the business of government at the end of the passage for example, and appropriately at the beginning of the passage he refers to a ‘paradoxical trinity’.

European Union: Creative Destruction Wave? (me at Notes On Liberty)

Some thoughts in reply to Edwin’s recent very interesting piece on the European Union.

The Greek crisis, the refugees crisis and the recently announced German suspension of the Schengen agreement on free movement are all very testing for the European Union. I certainly agree with Edwin that ideas of a highly integrated European Union superstate are in a bad state, but that has been the case for some time now, it is just that some European Commission people and ‘federalist’ enthusiasts have been very slow to realise this. I put ‘federalist’ in the scare quotes because ‘federalist’ can mean so many things as a form of relation between existing states and should not be only identified with highly integrated forms of federation in which the central state is dominant. Any such idea was effectively killed off  years ago by a mixture of British opt outs from the Maastricht Treaty and the Danish referendum rejection of that treaty.

For the rest (and there is a lot more) read on here.

Comments on Turkey, Russia and Europe

I said a lot on social media today, so I thought I would make a blog post out of it. I’m not sure I will make this a regular feature, but it might be one way of making use of my tendency to say a lot on Twitter and Facebook. Everyone is very welcome to ‘friend’ or ‘follow’ me on Facebook (Barry Stocker), where everything is on ‘public’ settings and I accept any ‘friend’ request which is not obviously for some nefarious purpose; and like most people on Twitter I have an open setting, so everyone can see my tweets, my preferred account is now @barryDstocker, though an older one still contains the same tweets). Anyway go to those places if you want to see a bit more detail.

News from Turkey: the Jewish-Turkish businessman Ishak Alaton is investigated for links with the ‘Parallel Stare’ at the AKP likes to describe the Gülenci religious community with which it used to be a close ally (a coincidence that a Jew is targetted, I think not, this is the government that claimed Gezi Protestors were working for the ‘interest lobby’, and we all know what buttons that was supposed to push) ; one of the biggest media groups (Doğan) is being investigated for ‘supporting terrorism’ (may I suggest the real crime of the Doğan group which represent middle of the road Turkish opinion is to oppose the AKP and criticise Erdoğan); the AKP deputy who led the violent attack on the Hurriyet newspaper (part of the Dogan group) and openly supports the Syrian branch of Al Qaeda has been elected to a national committee of the AKP and has announced that he should have attacked the Hurriyet journalists earlier; a citizen being prosecuted for ‘insulting’ Erdoğan on twitter points out the case refers to something written by someone else as a comment on her tweet. So another normal day in Erdoğan’s Turkey.

Oh yes and one of the most internationally prominent former supporters of AKP, Mustafa Akyol (a bit of an enthusiast for Muslim-Ottoman identity, so let’s not have any nonsense about Islamophobia) says there is no democracy in Turkey outside the bare fact of elections.

Earthquake in European balance of power approaches! Montenegro may join Nato! Go here for linked story from Atlantic Council.

Sweden (as well as Montenegro!) may join Nato (link in English language Swedish newspaper here). Opinion poll shows joining Nato to be more popular than staying out. This is after the Russian foreign office threatened ‘retaliation’ if Sweden joined Nato, anyway support for membership was already rising and defence co-operation with neighbours is increasing. This in a country which has stayed out of European wars since the Napoleonic period, and has been neutralist in identity for a long time. Well done Mr Putin, you are changing the European balance of power, just like the 19th century master statesmen you obviously wish to emulate. Err, don’t think Bismarck, Cavour, Palmerston, or Metternich succeeded in shifting the balance of power against themselves though.

War and Philosophy of Violence: Girard on Clausewitz I

As promised last two posts on issues around French military history, negative American perceptions, and the real deep influence of French military methods and technology, including counter-insuregency strategy, connects with some more philosophical posting.

I’m posting a paper I gave at the Society for European Philosophy-Forum for European Philosophy Conference on New Frontiers, University of Dundee (Scotland, UK) earlier this month. The title of my paper on the conference program was ‘European Frontiers and Philosophies of Violence’, but the title of this post is a more accurate reflection of the content. I’ll post the paper in approximately 800 word chunks. I won’t post the whole paper on as I think it is really an occasional paper for an event. The ideas will be taken up in later papers which I will probably post on and hopefully use in publications. The presentation and therefore what I am posting here reflects my work on philosophy of war, political and social philosophy, philosophy of Europe in the context of interests in the history of European philosophy, and its context in the history of Europe.

Girard’s work on Carl von Clausewitz is presented through conversations with Benoît Chantre, in Achever Clausewitz, translated into English as Battling to the End. The change in title is unfortunate in concealing the original tribute to the importance of Clausewitz and more generally to the philosophy of war as part of social and political philosophy. The conversations are wide ranging and loosely focused on Vom Kriege [On War] edited by Clausewitz’ widow Marie (von Brühl before her marriage) after his death in 1831. Unlike his wife, Carl was not from an aristocratic background and first fought in a battle at the age of 12. That is at the battle of Valmy, where the army of revolutionary France first showed a capacity to stand up to the armies of the old European monarchies. The battle was not very large and was a stalemate (though often presented as an outright victory), but nevertheless that an army raised from the people and inspired by the ideology of a new republic (officially proclaimed two days after the battle), could stand up to the army of Prussia, Frederick the Great’s army largely officered by the hereditary aristocracy, was a shock as great as the many that resulted from the process of the French Revolution on though the republican and imperial phases.

In his politics, Clausewitz remained loyal to the Prussian crown and monarchism. While sympathetic to republicanism as an ideal, and and admirer of ancient republics, he thought of republican ideas as better achieved of it in monarchies that allowed citizen participation in public affairs rather than what he regarded as a political loyalty based on terror, which was how he regarded the nascent French Republic, views in line with Montesquieu’s analyses of republics and monarchies in the mid-eighteenth century, which is probably not an accident. Raymond Aron’s lengthy commentary on Clausewitz, which is one of the major points of reference in Girard’s discussion, puts him in the context of eighteenth and nineteenth century French liberalism.

Despite Clausewitz’ scepticism about modern democratic republics, there is something inherently democratic in idea that war can only be prosecuted most vigorously on the basis of popular will, and that is one of the themes of his monumental work in the theory of war, which as we shall see forms part of the key passage on the trinity of war. Clausewitz himself aimed for a dialectical approach to the life of concepts as we shall also see in the ‘trinity’ passage, so we can think of the ides of the ‘people’ he has in the trinity itself as owning something to revolutionary democratic  republicanism, particularly remembering Tocqueville’s suggestion in Democracy in America that democracy arose as such an irresistible an idea through European history, so that even the opposition to democracy became part of the growth of democracy.

As Aron notes, On War belongs in a class of maybe two, along with Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War as a book universally read in military academies, and this carries on  globally amongst all groups engaged in war, so that copies of On War have reportedly been found in the former safe houses of Al Qaeda. Girard’s main concern in these discussions of Clausewitz is, however, not his contribution to military studies, but rather how his thought about war can be taken up from the point of view of Girard’s previous work on violence, sacrifice and mimesis in anthropology, literary studies and theology. Girard has very little indeed to say about military theory, military history, or military technology, though  was not a prime concern for Clausewitz himself. There is one brief and not very well focused discussion of the role of tank design in the Fall of France, along with the place of Charles de Gaulle at that time in military and political affairs, and that is about it.

More on the French Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkey Smear: the Junk History Behind it

And following on from the last post, here is a link to Jonah Goldberg’s shameful cheese-eating French surrender monkey article, which I’m afraid did help set the tone for a very ugly response from some parts of US commentary and politics to the French having a different point of view about whether it was a good idea to invade Iraq, as if only ‘cowardice’ or ‘treason’ to ‘the West’ could explain a different prudential judgement, which has now anyway become the widespread judgement in Britain and the US.

The most grotesque expression of the hysteria and panic that a major western country disagreed with the US policy was the renaming of French Fries  (known as chips in Britain) as Liberty Fries in Congressional cafeterias. This itself referred back to the rather more justified renaming of German foods with reference to liberty, so hamburgers became liberty steaks and sauerkraut became liberty cabbage. ,

The comparison of French opposition to an invasion which most of the world outside the US rejected with the crimes of Nazi Germany was simply morally despicable and reflects a bullying, angry intolerance in a significant part of the US right which is still with us, though expressed in other ways, as in the current success of the buffoonish populist Donald Trump in the Republican primaries.

Now to look at the content of the article, the painfully bad history proffered by Godlberg, who clearly thinks he is being frightfully clever and funny, Yes the article has a humorous aspect in intention (can’t see it works though) but it also clearly much more or much less than that in circulating nonsensical claims and assumptions about history as a substitute for informed argument and accurate knowledge.

The French did not surrender Paris without firing a shot. There were 100 000 French casualties in the Fall of France, in which France was also trying to protect Dutch and Belgian territory, something of great help to the Nazis who cut of this force by surprise thrust through northern France from Belgium. British troops were also cut off and British forces left France before the final fall, so really ‘surrender monkey’ abuse should apply to Britain as well with regard to the Fall of France, though not later events of course.

French troops who shot on the Americans during operation Torch, (landings in Morocco late 1942) were Vichy French, that is the army of the collaborationist regime as opposed to the Free French under Charles de Gaulle who played a role in expelling Vichy and Nazi forces from north Africa. Goldberg fails to understand the difference or maliciously creates confusion on this score so that appears all French forces of the time were firing on the American forces.

Goldberg also does not mention that Roosevelt and the US administration of the time leaned a long way in Vichy’s direction and were trying to hand over France to Admiral Darlan, the deputy head of the regime under Marshall Petain. Only Darlan’s rather murky assassination put an end to US plans to prefer the ‘surrender-monkey’ Vichy French to the non ‘surrender-monkey’ (I presume both groups enjoyed eating good French cheese) Free French who refused to surrender and fought on after the Fall of France.

Goldberg then jumps through history to the 1980s when France declined to allow the US air force to pass through to bomb Libya in response to a terrorist attack. I’m not saying this was the right French decision, but Goldberg omits to mention that it was an international public relations disaster for the US, with apparent civilian deaths, allowing Gaddafi’s regime to appear the victim of great power bullying, and was strongly criticised in the UK though Thatcher supported the operation. As I say my judgment is open, but maybe in that instance the French were a bit more prudential, and one should think about that instead of automatically shouting Treason!

According to Goldberg the French ‘stuck’ the US with Vietnam. Well, the US gave aid to France from early stage in its war against Ho Chi Minh and Vietnamese communists, so chose to enter the war early on rather then the French ‘sticking’ it on them. It is American military historians have concluded that the US Army of the time when the US was fully committed to Vietnam and then the rest of what was French Indochina, arrogantly and foolishly failed to use French experience and knowledge in the region.

A lot of what is intellectually sound in the US army comes from a reaction to that amongst other failings in Vietnam and a determination to learn from mistakes there. US counter-insurgency methods lean heavily on the French experience in Algeria, where the army performed well in a rather brutal kind of way, but just couldn’t mach the political hold of Algerian nationalism on the population.

The brutality itself influenced the US, torture was used in Algeria and defended as a part of counter-insurgency in quite sophisticated (if morally awful) terms and this is an important part of the thinking behind ‘special’ measures against Guantanamo detainees. So the worst aspects of the War on Terror were influenced by a French model, even as Republican politicians drove themselves into a frenzy of France bashing.

Two French officers who participated in the counter-insurgency operation, Roger Trinquier and Marcel Bigeard, are known as writers and thinkers about war, with Trinquier particularly well known as a theorist of counter-insurgency  including a role for torture, which both defended. The character of Colonel Mathieu in Gilles Pontecorvo’s well known film set in the Algerian Independence War, The Battle of Algiers, who is seen to authorise the use of torture, is based on a composite of officers from the conflict including Bigeard and Trinquier, so a notable couple of military officers in various ways.

Goldberg is correct to say that postwar France exaggerated the role of the French Resistance and of Free French forces in WW2, but this sort of nationalist exaggeration is hardly unique to France, the US (and Britain and any number of other countries) are equally disposed to self-serving exaggerated versions of history. Goldberg claims France had nothing to do with Nato during most of the Cold War. In fact, France was a member all the way through.

De Gaulle took French troops out of the military structure only, that is he refused to allow French units to come under command of any other nation, while keeping France in Nato and keeping French troops in Germany against any possible Warsaw pact. This aversion to coming under foreign command is very strong in the US, so Goldberg’s complaint here is particularly absurd. France has anyway since rejoined the Nato command hierarchy.

Goldberg claims that President François Mitterand wished to keep a socialist east Germany. This can only refer to Mitterand opposing reunification of Germany after the Berlin Wall came down. Unification was also opposed by Margaret Thatcher, as Goldberg fails to mention. The point about preventing unification in both cases was power rivalry not maintaining socialism in the east. There was indeed a brief period when it looked like a continuing East German state might opt for a non-USSR style of socialism. That didn’t last, was not relevant to British or French schemes to prevent unification, and anyway the centre-right came to power in the east of Germany before unification.

Goldberg’s complaints that many French intellectuals engage in knee jerk anti-Americanism and hypocritical claims to moral purity have some justification, the same level of justification as complaints that American opinion formers create anti-French myths. That is both complaints have at least a little justification at any time, and alarmingly high levels of justification at times. Goldberg still surfaces a serious authoritative conservative commentator, I will always associate him with ignorance, bad history, and blustering xenophobia.

Military History, the French Surrender Monkey Smear and Current Alliances

Blogging through the latest volume of Foucault lecture has been interrupted as I went to a conference in Dundee (Scotland) and got back to Istanbul in time to start getting ready for the new semester. I will both be dealing with my topic at the conference and getting back to Foucault soon. In the meantime (and this will connect with what I was talking about at the conference, though my conference talk was a great deal more abstract and general in its concerns, as is appropriate at a philosophy conference), I’m turning a recent Facebook post, and some internet browsing, on topics fairly new to my blogging of military history and current military affairs.

Now I’m offering a comparatively refined post, compared with the Facebook post (I can be found on Facebook easily, I can be ‘followed’ and I am happy to accept all friend requests which are not scams) on France’s place in military affairs, now and in the past, by way of reaction to the thoroughly contemptible and ignorant ‘surrender monkey’ insult thrown at France by parts of the American right at the time of the Second Persian Gulf War, i.e. George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, which France declined to support.

In some ways this seems a very old story now, as France is at present just as much of a military partner of the US as the UK is, and is possibly a more useful ally for the moment. Nevertheless, I think the topic is of continuing relevance with regard to national and nationalist rewriting of history, the presentation of countries as having a character, and the way understanding of history is taken up by and influences political debate.

We have seen in a very crude way how historical assumptions are used in political debate, and the historical-political narratives in circulation still underestimate the degree to which a Franco-American partnership has been important and the degree to which Britain’s relation with the US, while distinctive, is not the only major US partnership in Europe, now or in the past.  This of course is relevant to my recent long series of posts at Notes On Liberty (all reblogged here recently so just go down the list of recent posts and you’ll be there quickly)) on the inadequacy of seeing Britain, as part of the Anglosphere, distinct from continental Europe for reasons which include its supposed unique global role for a European country, in partnership with the USA.

A leading US military historian counters the ‘French surrender monkey’ nonsense.

In a video posted on YourTune of a talk given at the US Army War College,  Michael S. Neiberg, now a Professor at the US Army War College, explains the role of the French Army in defeating Germany in World War One, focused on the Second Battle of the Marne, which he argues was the real beginning of the end for the Kaiser’s army, and which was mostly French soldiers (including colonial forces from Vietnam and west Africa).

This position is  in contrast to the more frequent emphasis placed on the the slightly later Battle of Amiens, a more British centred campaign. Neiberg is  very sober, serious and careful in his presentation of the history, but clearly intends to counter the ‘surrender monkey’ insult from the Second Gulf War period, and look at how it has roots before the Iraq War. During that war, Jonah Goldeberg who is still treated as a heavyweight conservative thinker with authoritative views, turned a good joke in The Simpsons (Season Six, Episode 22, Groundsman Willy calls the French ‘cheese eating surrender monkeys’) into a very nasty journalistic-political meme as a substitute for a genuine discussion of exactly how good an idea the Bush invasion of Iraq was.

In Neiberg’s account It was during the thirties that the British and Americans tended to promote a downplaying of the French role in World War One and the influence of the French army on the US army, the US army in fact in WWI and the 20s completely admired and copied the French army on Neiberg’s account, though they were a bit slow to understanding why headlong offensives driving straight at Berlin were not realistic in WWI.

Neiberg suggests that the ‘surrender monkey’ attitude is then reinforced by a failure to understand how the extreme suffering of World War One, much greater than that of Britain or the US which did not suffer occupation or any fighting at all in their homeland territory, affected French morale when the Nazis achieved a strategic breakthrough in 1940. It is interesting to compare and contrast Neiberg, Professor at the intellectual apex of the US armed forces (and whatever else you think about the US military you would be very foolish indeed, Jonah Goldberg foolish, if you didn’t recognise there are some really seriously smart people in the US officer corps and educational institutions), with overrated bloviators like Goldberg.

The evidence is clear against any narrative in which Anglosphere Britain as superior to and excluding of a European Britain. And even despite the American turn away from France in the 1930s, WWII US tank design was strongly influenced by the French. If you are at all interested in that kind of thing, and I recommend becoming interested in that kind of thing in order to have a full grasp of the role of both violence and technology in human society, try comparing the Char B1 Bis and S35 Somua on the French side, with the US M3 ‘Lee’ or ‘Grant’ and the M4 ‘Sherman’. And the Leclerc tank now is better than the Abrams M1A2 (along with earlier variants)!

As a coda to the above, it is well worth looking at Step Up To Support France, an article by three members of the Atlantic Council including a former US assistant secretary of state for defence, arguing for Nato to buy the two Mistral helicopter carriers that France was contracted to sell to Russia before Russian soldiers entered Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine, since France cancelled the contract at considerable cost, creating a good opportunity to compensate France for an action to the benefit of the Atlantic alliance, as well as increasing Nato’s central military capacities.

France has also gained status in the US for its actions in northern and western Africa, particularly Mali, against fundamentalist terrorists. For me, the current actions against ISIS, and similar movements, along with the current build up of military forces and co-operation to deter Putin from further interventions in politically weak parts of the post-Soviet sphere are the necessary and justified side of Nato, and a broader Atlantic alliance in which non-Nato members such as Finland and Sweden are increasing co-operation. Of course co-operation against ISIS could be said to be trying to clear up a mess created by earlier neoconservative adventurism, which France rightly resisted, and has its risks, but the chaos created by ISIS is affecting Europe now and it is not possible to treat the issue as something beyond the European sphere which can be ignored.

Blogging Foucault’s most recently published lectures, Théories et institutions pénales. IV

(Commentary on Theories et institutions pénale. Cours au Collège de France, 1971-1972. Paris: Seuil/Gallimard, 2015)

1st December, 1971 (continued and concluded)

The goal of the bourgeoise in its shifting struggles/alliances with the aristocracy and the monarchy described in previous posts on this lecture is a unitary repressive system, which is statist, judicial, and policed. A unitary system that is masked by the claim that the judiciary is independent of the state and the police, creating the idea of neutrality between classes, rather than the reality of promoting bourgeois interests.

The other side of the bourgeois movement towards a unitary system is the popular revolts which do not have that goal, and in Foucault’s account do not seem to have any goal other than a kind of rebellion as restoration of lost rights and a mimicry of royal power. Foucault singles out the Normandy example of sedition he has already discussed as the most radical revolt, particularly by way of comparison with Aquitaine (another more southern part of western France associated with England in medieval history, the Duke of Normandy conquered  England in 1066 and Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry II of England in the next century bringing the Duchy of Aquitaine with her), where a leading aristocrat loyal to the king had quickly restored order.

Foucault suggests that the Norman revolt attracted a large part of the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy, because it was more radical, leaving the upper classes in  a position where they saw the only hope of order in a calming alliance with the lower class protest, rather than because they sympathised with that protest (though what Foucault has already said suggests that they may to some degree welcomed a reaction to intrusive royal power) .

In Normandy the protest presented itself as a movement of the poorest who to some degree stood outside legality. It was not a movement of complete criminality and radical illegality, like those who refused to pay taxes or were outright brigands. The revolted adopted the signs and rituals of royal power sot that documents like state documents in appearance were signed, like the king’s signature, and circulated on behalf of the revolt.

There was no one king figure in the revolt and different individuals wrote  a ‘signature’ on different documents, but there was a wish to use the substance of royal power and all its signs even while in conflict with the king. The insurrectionists ran courts and an administration, issuing documents, making arrest, ordering punishments. They raised troops in another participation in the expressions of royal power, and exercised discipline over soldiers. Even the attacks on the property of those they considered enemies were dressed up in the rituals of official power.

They were not against law, but for a law which both claimed to be the law of the king and was a new exercise of law (Foucault seems to suggest that the participants in the revolt themselves did not understand the possibilities of the new law they were exercising in a manner that followed the old law). This exercise of power in very proper official ways did not make the sedition any more acceptable to the forces of  old order, even if at the local level some of those people co-operated with the sedition.

The end of the revolt was followed in the long term by a historical covering over of that period of new power. The old order was re-established as a reconquest of territory, a re-appropriation of power, and a redistribution of the instances of power, so as a radical reaction against a radical revolt nor just as a normal restoration of order after some localised disturbance.

(Foucault seems to gesture at a war of conquest and a formation of the state through internal colonisation. The already loose sovereignty of the monarchy was shaken by the revolt but the journey to a unitary state is hastened in a process which is a form of conquest of territory and colonisation, imposition of a strong power over the periphery, even if as restoration rather than expansion. The growth of internal state is inherently a kind of a conquest as well as a kind of civil war. The civil domain in question is changed first by the revolt and then by the restoration of order which is more than just restoration. These revolts are to some significant extent against loss of medieval privileges and exemptions, but create a new kind of power, which stimulates a reaction advancing the kind of power the revolt resisted. So Foucault elevates the achievements of the Normandy revolt in relation to comparative historical neglect, but implicitly has a pessimistic view in which they stimulated what they rejected).