philosophy as not philosophy: para-ontology, hauntology, schizoanalysis

"Articulating the past historically does not mean recognizing it ‘the way it really was’. It means appropriating a memory as it flashes up in a moment of danger. Historical materialism wishes to hold fast that image of the past which unexpectedly appears to the historical subject in a moment of danger. The danger threatens both the content of the tradition and those who inherit it. For both, it is one and the same thing: the danger of becoming a tool of the ruling classes. Every age must strive anew to wrest tradition away from the conformism that is working to overpower it. The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer; he comes as the victor over the Antichrist. The only historian capable of fanning the spark of hope in the past is the one who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he is victorious. And this enemy has never ceased to be victorious."
- Walter Benjamin, Thesis VI

"The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice."
- Karl Marx, Thesis III

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Giving Rise

John McCain has recently engaged in some creative history in an attempt to cover his own tracks. As the above video recounts, he misrepresented the time-line of the War in Iraq, claiming the Anbar Awakening occurred after and because of the 'Surge' strategy, when in fact it began at least half a year prior. The next day, he claimed this was not a mistake, and that the Surge began long before it was announced as a general strategy. Rather, according to McCain, 'surge' refers to any counterinsurgency strategy whose aim is to hold and secure territory, as opposed to simply chasing enemies without regard to sustained security. In this regard, the tactical engagement that enabled the Anbar Awakening was the begining of such a strategy, which was months later announced as a general strategy, one that would oblige a great increase in troop levels.

As has been pointed out, McCain is taking great liberty with the facts here. The Surge was so-named because of the 'surge', that is, increase or rise, in troop levels, and so decribing previous tactics that were meant to be generalized as part of this strategy is misleading. Even if McCain is correct in claiming that the tactics involved in Anbar were an inspiration or model for the Surge, this would still contradict his claim that the latter caused or enabled the former. Clearly, even in McCain's revised account, the contrary is still the case.

What appears to be telling here is McCain's peculiar claim that 'surge' generally refers to 'counterinsurgency' tactics. Etymologically, 'surge' and 'insurgence' are from the same source, the Latin surgere, to rise. This is a compound of sub-, meaning 'from below', and regere, to lead straight - literally, from below to lead straight. From a position in which the only straight or right course forward is to rise or ascend, it is to lead in this way. This should resonate with my previous mediations on 'leading'. Regere itself is related to rex, 'king', and can translate the Greek arche.

'Surge' literally means to rise up, increase suddenly, swell or rush forward, and 'insurgence' modifies this, meaning to rise up against an authority or rule, to rise from below this rule and exceed it. Yet insurgency here is already complicated, in that this rising already entails being 'led straight', 'leading' here being related to 'rule'. So does this mean insurgence, in rising above a ruling power, must already have recourse to a more 'right' or 'straight' rule, one that, rather than subordinating it and keeping it below, leads it to rise and stand? More than simple academic reflections, I believe these questions bear directly on the political matter at hand.

Recalling Lacan's famous quip in response to the student rebellions of May '68, "
You are looking for a master. And you will find one." Are the Iraqi insurgents also looking for a Master, in this case, a theocratic one? This is likely the case for the most part, although there is undoubtly little consensus on the nature of this new rule. The one unifying feature we can point to, however, is that it would be a rule that leads the insurgents 'from below', and hence, is a right and straight leadership. The Nietzschean tones of these sentiments implicate far more reflective potential than I can muster here, although this is ground that needs to be covered.

In any case, it seems likely that, from the purview of American (neo-)conservatives, the insurgents themselves were only acting out under the bad influence of opportunist leaders, and the 'Surge' was in fact part of the ongoing strategy to install a 'right and straight' leadership in Iraq, one that would legitimately allow the people to 'rise above' both the unjust rule of Saddam Hussein, and the chaotic injunctions of terrorist and insurgent leaders. This right leadership that would amount to a legitimate 'rising above subordination', a legitimate 'insurgency', would of course be parliamentary democracy. For the insurgents themselves, however, this would only be the worst kind of subordination.

The problematic heart of this conflict is hence the paradox of how to recognize 'legitimate', right and straight leadership, what it means to rise above, and whether the violent rejection of rule we call 'insurgency' on the one hand, and 'spreading democracy' on the other, can be or should be arrested in the constitution of another rule, a new leader. Are the two senses of leadership, one subordinating and the other liberating, truly distinct or mutually implicated? Can they, should they, be separated and opposed?

No comments: